- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Inspiration, not age, determines a musician’s longevity. Rapper, remixer and producer Pete Rock remains energized by his music and his fans.

Mr. Rock, 33, born Peter Phillips, says he has been tagged prematurely with the “old-school” label. He’s still releasing new CDs, including 2004’s “Soul Survivor II.” Mr. Rock, who began to make music at age 16 and has inspired today’s white-hot producers such as the Neptunes and Kanye West, decided to tour the United States this summer to showcase his skills and stay invigorated.

He’ll step out from behind the turntables to give the crowd a taste of his rhyming during his set Saturday at the 9:30 Club. He expects to perform for about 40 minutes in his middle slot between opener Truth Hurts and headliner Mr. Cheeks (from the Lost Boyz).

The 17-date tour, arranged by the artists’ management groups, gives Mr. Rock the rare chance to appear in front of a live audience.

“I haven’t toured a lot in my life,” says the accomplished sound sculptor, always adept at layering warm, jazzy samples and tight beats. During the first few tour dates, he noticed some “weird stares” from the audience. Puzzled at first, he quickly read the looks as a sign of excitement to see him in person.

There’s a nostalgia factor at play, too. It has been 12 years since Mr. Rock and former partner CL Smooth released the classic album “Mecca & the Soul Brother” and one of the genre’s most universally recognized singles, “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.).”

Wracked by grief over the death of an adored friend, Mr. Rock retreated to his basement and found the perfect horn riff in his crate of jazz records. With its soulful, looping horn and vivid lyrics, the song triggers intense personal memories of departed loved ones.

During the final mix-down, Mr. Rock played the tribute to a room full of rappers. Their tears expressed the power of his ability to evoke real emotions from a pastiche of sounds.

“Soul Survivor II,” a sequel to the 1998 original, features 15 collaborations with established rappers, including Talib Kweli and Pharoahe Monche, and newcomers Mr. Rock wants to expose to a wide audience.

As always, he gives the rappers room to show their vocal prowess between bass drum thumps. The Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA and GZA strut through a hustler’s paradise blazing with punchy horns and swirling strings on “Head Rush.” Mr. Rock lays down a seductive bass line on the bedroom-ready “It’s a Love Thing,” one of three songs to feature his former partner in rhyme, CL Smooth.

Mr. Rock will stay busy after the tour with two projects. He’s going to jump back into a New York studio to finish recording tracks with Rock Marciano, a member of the Flipmode Squad rap crew and a group known as the UN.

The next chapter in the “Soul Survivor” series will feature all female artists. Mr. Rock plans a spring or summer 2005 release for the disc.

Determined to stay a king in the hip-hop culture, Mr. Rock envisions a long career of music. “When I’m 50 years old,” he says, “I’ll still be making a beat.”

• • •

Like Pete Rock, LL Cool J began his career at age 16 and never stopped.

One of hip-hop’s original superstars, LL earned his street credibility back in 1985 as a ferocious teenage rhymer. Since then, he has recorded 10 albums, starred in the TV show “In the House” and appeared in big-budget films (“Any Given Sunday” and “Rollerball” among them). LL gives area fans an early sample of his new disc, “The DEFinition,” during his Friday show at Dream.

Equally admired for hard-edged jams and softer paeans to paramours, the man who dubbed himself “Ladies Love Cool James” flips into party mode on the new single, “Headsprung.”

Producer Tim “Timbaland” Moseley floods the track with huge beats and a tantalizingly simple chorus: “And we ‘bout to get our head sprung/and we ‘bout to get our head sprung.”

However, in his attempt to stay contemporary, LL sacrifices his distinctive vocal flavor. The song and accompanying video, overloaded with hip-hop cliches such as grinding dance-floor honeys and the artist peeling bills off a huge wad of cash make LL Cool J look like a follower rather than a leader.

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