Released in November of 2012, NYC based hip hop artist PremRock's latest release, Mark's Wild Years, uses Tom Waits as the singular source for sample material on his 13 track confessional of an album. Given Tom Waits' pension for dramatic imagery and inventive instrumental grooves, it is amazing that it took this long for someone in the hip hop world to find their own voice alongside Waits.
Given the range of samples used from across Waits' career it is immediately clear that PremRock is both an extensive fan of Waits, and that he has carefully dug through his full catelog for samples where the musical and lyrical content fits his own agenda. For instance, the album opens up the the classic Waits tune Step Right Up where the driving jazz bass line is an effective surface layer for PremRock's own quick rhymes. Nevertheless, he stays true to the original lyrical theme of the song, and even uses the Waits line "How do we do it?" like a kind of melodic horn line that gives the song a really memorable and slick hook.
This is exactly why Step Right Up is a perfect opener for the album. PremRock has essentially constructed an album where he is respectfully injecting his own talents into the sound world of Tom Waits. I say respectfully because he has not simply pillaged Waits' catalog for cool samples, but he is also using Waits' own lyrical images and stories to springboard his own. Therefore, this album is not hip hop kitsch of doing something just for the sake of it's own newness, but rather, it is a young artist paying homage to a master artist by using his material to showcase their similarities.
For my taste, I enjoy the back tracks of Drunk On The Moon and Dirt In The Ground because hip hop needs more horn sections and because it's also nice to hear a rapper work over top of a harmonic progression and not just a series of percussive samples. I believe that these two were particularly effective in this effort. In general regard to the album, only one thing is absolutely certain, if the listener of Mark's Wild Years is an obsessive Tom Waits fan (as most fans of Tom Waits are) they will enjoy the listening experience because PremRock is putting forth an interesting dissection of Waits in a kaleidoscopic version of itself. By contrast, if the listener is strictly a hip hop fan then they will enjoy that PremRock is a talented young rapper who delivers content that is bigger than the album's concept.
You can find more PremRock on Twitter, Facebook, and his webpage.