While my man Mike Tyson sits in a cell located deep within the correctional facility in Indiana that he's had to call home for the past few years, preparing to soon be released and unleashed on the hapless world of pro boxing once again (ooh, I feel sorry for the first kid who faces him in the ring - have those smelling salts ready!), you should know that there's another Mike residing in the Hoosier state who's making his mark. Not by demolishing 220-lb men with rib-fracturing body shots and frightful uppercuts, but by mining the rarest of beats and breaks, clearly earning his distinction as one of the unknown masters of the beat game.
For those who ain't up yet, the Mike I'm referring to is Mike van Olden, a native of Indiana who happens to be one of the most knowledgeable people I've met on the subject of beats. Now I realize you might be saying to yourself, "Indiana? What da hell they know about beats in Indiana?" I know, I know... I might have said the same thing a while back. But as a wise man told us in 1987, "It ain't where you're from, it’s where you’re at." And with a record collection estimated in the area of around 10,000 pieces (accumulated in just over four years), Mike is undoubtedly stompin' with the big dogs.
"When I first started, I was like everybody in the world: I looked through soul first", Mike explained to me. "I think I've found the majority of the stuff in soul, although you never can say all of it. You can completely respect somebody when they find a new soul beat, because I think it's been totally devoured. [From there], soul naturally progressed into jazz, and then blues. Blues: people underestimate it. TONS of breaks in blues! It's all the same, really."
The question is, how does a kid living "in the middle' of a cornfield", as he puts it, get so deeply involved in hunting for beats? "I used to work for Sweetwater Sound here in Fort Wayne, which is a big mail-order place. Through them I met a big rap producer, and I told him I had a whole bunch of these beats that nobody has! I really didn't, because the stuff I had wasn't that rare. But he happened to not be up on these beats. So he hired me, flew me out to where he was, and paid me four hundred dollars for about ten beats. [When I got back home] I was so built up on finding these beats because somebody actually paid me to find them! I just had to keep topping myself so I could call him up and say, 'Okay, I got a new one!'"
From there the obsession grew. "Like everybody, I started buying stuff from the cheap bins. About five years ago, the stuff that everybody's looking for now wasn't worth anything. I'd literally buy everything in the dollar bins. And the dealer that I bought most of my records from, he didn't care anything about soul. This is Indiana, nobody buys soul in Indiana! So [that's how I got] the rarer ones, like Harlem Underground. I found a couple of those in the dollar bins, sealed. And I still have them."
Mike became good friends with the dealer, eventually explaining to him that he was buying up all of these records in search of beats. That led to access to the dealer's back room (you know how dealers always have those secretive back rooms where all the real goodies are), where Mike went through every single record that was stashed away back there. "After that I had a huge collection, and I just had to keep topping myself. So now I'm traveling around the U.S. A girlfriend of mine happens to work for one of the airlines, so I get these real cheap rates. I'll take a couple of weeks and go through Ohio, to Kentucky and Tennessee. While I'm in Tennessee, I'll take a rental car to Atlanta. But the thing is, you can't start going places looking for stuff until after you've pretty much dug through everything in your area, because you need to know what's junk. You never mean to know what records are rare, but when you start looking for beats, all of a sudden you become like a record collector."
With all of these uncommon beats now at his disposal, you know that Mike's not just letting them accumulate dust. He's released a number of breakbeat CDs and LPs (Rhythm Madness vols. 1-3, Finger Juice Broke Beats and Drum Crazy vols. 2-5), and now he's stepping into doing some serious production work on his own. Mike supplied butters for off-the-top wunderkind Supernatural back when he was still chillin’ around the way, as well as assisting Me Phi Me on some of his projects. And through his company Needledrop, Mike is producing phat tracks for Relativity rappers Spliff, as well as a few other projects that you should keep an eye out for.
While I was interviewing Mike, he just couldn’t resist playing some of his jewels for me, mostly phat psychedelic rock beats (one of his specialties). This is how a little bit of the listening session went:
MIKE: Let me play you some New York Mary. They sound like a jazz group. They've got good drums and bass.
M: You know what I’m sayin'?
M: Sounds like jazz, but they look rough. They've got a Harley on their front cover. They don't look like the kind of guys who would just pick up a saxophone and start playing jazz. Psychedelic rock, it's not defined, so if you think it's psych rock, it's psych rock.
M: You know what's funny? You'll hear a beat, and out of the blue two weeks later, bam, somebody'll tell you about it or you'll find it.
M: My friends hate me because every time we listen to a new rap song, I'll say, 'Oh, that's the Bill Cosby beat...Oh, that's New York Rock & Roll Ensemble'. They think
I'm bragging [laughs]. Anyway, there's a group called Limousine, which is also called the Faith band. That's a phat beat.
M: [Limousine and Faith] are the same group, but different names. They released it on GSF records, then re-released it on some other label. It's got congas, but it's good.
M: You want the Limousine copy on GSF. You can find the same album, it's a black album by the Faith group. It's the exact same album, except it was mixed differently. The congas are panned on the Limousine copy, but not on the other album.
M: Uh, lessee...there's Harlis: it's a pretty weird beat. It's good but it's fast. Here you go. [Mike was right, it is a weird beat.]
M: Yeah, if you're doing a faster song...
M: Right, or do time stretching: compression and expansion...
S: What kind of sampler do you use?
S: Okay, cool.
M: I'll play this Cold Grit beat. It's a 45 instrumental. (Now this is the shit! Slow and funky as hell, son.) I slowed it way down, but...
M: So I definitely should give that one away, huh?
Before I end this off, I just want to clarify a little something for any of my New York or east coast people who thought I dissed 'em in my True Urban Funnies comic strip a few months back. Dissing the east was not my intention at all - hell, I grew up in the New York tristate area and I live in PhiIly now! Let me just say that although I'm definitely a born-and-raised east coast kid (and that will probably always show through), I truly believe what we've been saying in the ‘Sheet for awhile now: that "it ain't about the coasts" and that we should all be "working towards a unified hip-hop nation". All I was doing in my comic was giving due respect to west coast hip hop: there's no denying that for the past few years, the west has blown up past the east in terms of sales. That's just a fact. Personally, who sells and who doesn't makes no difference to me. I got love for anybody who's true to the music, wherever they're from. Be they Guru or Nas from New York, Casual or Del from the Bay Area, The Alkaholiks or The Pharcyde from LA, Common Sense from Chicago, or anybody else who's down for their crown. The Soulman will not feed into any stupid east/west rivalries, 'cause that shit is just played-out. Anybody wishing to contact beatmeister Mike van Olden can reach him at [firstname.lastname@example.org]. And don't forget about writing your friendly neighborhood Soulman.