No seeds, no stems, no sticks – Leaf Dog has been bringing the game prime piff for over half a decade now. With his weed stained fingers flipping samples and fabricating tracks for both local and internationals acts, Leaf also maintains a notable influence in several acclaimed projects across the UK including The Three Amigos, Brothers of the Stone and the flyest group on the European continent – the Four Owls. BeatDust had the pleasure of chopping it up with Leaf to discuss five full bodied joints from his audio weed plate.
Jack Jetson [Wonderberry]
Like a parachuting plummet from the plateau of psychedelic psychosis – the ‘Wonderberry’ instrumental is an airy aural journey into realm of hallucinogenic hip hop. While the drums beat with a routine cadence – he balances this with deformed and abnormal chops that create colorful warped whirling patterns of both voice and instrument.
No hooks or scratches – ‘Wonderberry’ brings to mind the idea of two mad rap degenerates holing themselves up in a dank basement and embracing their disturbed inner thoughts. Signed to Leaf’s RLD Records – Nottingham’s Jack Jetson rides the beat without a safety belt with lines like “toxic flames at every turn burn like hydroponic strains, where man will murder just to earn a bit of pocket change” complements the drug addled musical vibe and takes it to a new high.
Taking us to his mindstate behind the beat, Leaf Dog confesses “I was on acid when i made this beat. I had been given a tab whilst performing not knowin that it was super strong black acid.. any way i was tripping for 4 days and in one of those days i made 6 beats and all of those beats made it to Jacks album – ‘Wonderberry’ was one of them”. The result is a chaotic and intoxicating swirl of adjusted sounds and altered states – and one of the finest hip hop tracks of 2014.
Not Like Before [The Four Owls]
Leaf Dog has the knack for crafting beats that are sophisticatedly simple and effortless perfect. Flipping six seconds from Tammi Terrell ‘I Can’t Believe You Love Me’ – ‘Not Like Before’ is a showcase of Leaf’s exceptional talent of faultless sample looping. One of the biggest hits off their debut LP Nature’s Greatest Mysteries, it’s interesting to note Leaf’s initial displeasure towards the track. “I thought this beat was shit” notes leaf speaking honestly. “My friend Bryn told me its the one! Then I got drunk listened to it and realized its dope.. BVA recorded his verse for it 2 years before the owls was born it was meant for the next 3 Amigos album that never happened”.
‘Not Like Before’ is coated in sublime texture, rhythm and lyrics. Never one to be outshone by his own production, Leaf spits nice on the mic with nuggets of nostalgia in regards to his production roots – “I used to be living on the floor with Filly G ,one of the reasons for the malnourished Leaf that you see, He gave me the pc, I used to make the beats ‘for this CD, Got passed the torch from Iz and Cool G – Much respect for that”. Opening up about his production paraphernalia – Leaf informs BeatDust “for all the beats you’ve heard from me I’ve used logic 5.5 and a pc. No MPC, no midi controller – nothing. When I started making beats I had no money so I got a pc from the dump and downloaded a copy of logic that worked and got to it. I stayed with the same shit for 6 years but now I have finally changed. I was on tour with Lord Finesse and he was hyping Ableton alot to me and showed me a few things. So now i’m on Ableton 9 i have a [Akai] MPK. I got logic 9 too but i think ableton is much better”.
Off his 2011 High Focus Records debut release From A Scarecrow’s Perspective – ‘Hope’ is a sparse and stripped-down affair. Like a well worn shoe, Leaf rips the tattered soul out of Carmel’s ‘Bad Day’ and transferred it into a fresh new pair of kicks and snares.
Leaf explains ”we used this as our intro to mine and BVA’s set back in 06-05 when I finally started making beats it was the first beat i made that I rhymed on”. A sound particularly suited to his tense melancholic vocal delivery, Leaf imbues his music with a surprisingly genuine soulfulness. With Carmel’s vocal chords adding a dreamlike element to scenes of cold reality in Leafs verses – BeatDust was keen to see if his penchant for samples had ever run him into any legal clearance issues. Not wanting to give any details away, Leaf answered “yeah I have but it wasn’t too bad – it could have been worse. All i gotta say is one love to everyone lets just make music and not beef… [laughs]”.
The disconcerting stand up bass mixes impeccably with Leaf’s slow jazz influenced high hats. The trickling of the ivory reeks of desire and emotion and pulses soberly throughout the instrumental. Bottom line – ‘Hope’ is another example of the producer’s impeccable ear for finding and flipping the perfect sample.
Piff Land – Smellington Piff
Marinated in marijuana motivated mindscapes, Piff Land is a hazy journey into the realm of the chronically imbalanced. Channeling elements of Eastern influenced ’60s drug culture – Leaf focuses on the spaciness of his production with pitched up guitars and temples of boom – bap inspired drums to create a backdrop of slightly-sinister melodies for Smellington to get his skunk on.
“This was the first track I made with Smellington Piff. Also I think it was his first ever full track that he recorded” explains Leaf. As an introductory track, Piff Land is a well chopped blend of intelligent musical craft and intoxicated energy. Leaf’s gives Smellington a smokey nerve-twisted loop blended with a lo fi bass drone that pays complement to his nasally youthful voice. The drums are straightforward and neck snapping letting the guitars warp and whirl inside them like dopamine in the brain.
Along with local acts Piff and Jeston, Leaf has also been busy creating a buzz stateside with a number of well known US artists keen to get a puff of his exotic blend – including members of the infamous Wu Tang Clan. “It was luck really” [on how he got to produce two tracks for U God’s 2013’s Keynote Speaker LP].I’ve been messaging Wu tang members for years trying to get them to listen to my beats and one day U God replied. It was a blessing to be part of that album Wu Tang got me in to this hip hop thing in the first place! We just done a song with Inspectah Deck for the new Brothers of the Stone album. We have Fame from MOP and Young Zee from The Outsidaz on there too”.
Life in the Balance [The Four Owls ft. Jam Baxter]
Tranquility like this is valuable and refreshing. Off the 2011 Nature’s Greatest Mysteries – Life in the Balance walks the tightrope between mournful and motivating. Seemingly transcendent in nature, Leaf’s sample arrangement on this Four Owls classic is impeccable – a great deal of meticulous care has gone into this work – leaving the listener with a soundscape that is both deep and premeditated. Behind the beat, Leaf simply notes “When I made life in the balance, I wish i took the intro off it so people wouldn’t know where I got the sample from!”
On the subject of sampling – BeatDust was keen to find out if Leaf Dog has any self imposed restrictions in terms of unearthing his sounds. “I sample anything, a sound is a sound to me” explains Leaf philosophically. “I get why the people say that the sound of a mp3 is shit cuz it is… but theres stuff on the net you can’t buy – just like there is stuff on wax u cant download, so its wise to mess with both not just one source”. Apart from the faultless flip of Nina Simone’s ‘Wild is the Wind’, The Life in the Balance beat is ingeniously integrated by flawless percussion. The kick, snare and especially the sombre high hats (a staple in Leaf’s production) beautifully harmonized with the sample, creating a gentle, lush quality for the mouth words to be poured over.
As Simone sings “Don’t you know you’re life itself?” in ‘Wild is the Wind’ – it is clear that there is a strong lyrical intertextuality between the two works. ‘Life in the Balance’ is full of existential issues without simple messages. BVA spits slices of social commentary with “without bad there’s no good, without wood there’s no fire. Without the hood the posh house price wouldn’t be higher. No stronger no weaker, no stupid no deeper. No dick dropping rubbish there’s no work for street sweepers”. Opposite emotions co-exist in the same nature vs nurture framework and each emcees verse is imbued with its own distinct personality. Baxter’s introspective look on the nature of the human individual adds another level to this social consciousness; “You ain’t gotta teach it shit, the change is instinctual, the pace is unthinkable, Never put your faith in a fake individual”. The lyrics share the sense of delicate darkness and atmospheric aimlessness of Leaf’s production.
The cohesion of the production is exceptional with fragments of images painted in sound instead of color . The images called up are striking and memorable and there is a cinematic, ethereal beauty about it. Simply put – Life in the Balance is the chemotherapy to the cancer of self indulgent hip hop that has infected the genre since the turn of the millennium.
Peace to Leaf Dog for helping out with this piece. Keep in touch with Leaf on his Twitter & Facebook page. To hear Leaf’s new joints, pick up Jack Jetson’s Adventures of Johnny Strange& Smellington Piff’s Notice of Eviction from the Real Life Drama Records store.