Main Source consisted of three members, legendary producer and emcee, Large Professor, and two talented DJs, Sir Scratch and K-Cut. According to Large Pro, the group’s formation was not the result of an organic friendship, but a shared love for making music. After releasing Breaking Atoms and a couple of singles, the trio broke up citing creative differences. While Large Pro went solo, K-Cut and Sir Scratch teamed up with Mikey D to release a second Main Source album entitled, Fuck What You Think. The album sat on the shelf for four years due to conflicts with the record label. It was finally released in 1998 to little or no fanfare. Although Fuck What You Think was a decent sophomore effort, it falls considerably short of the high expectations established by their previous work with Large Professor.
Breaking Atoms is a masterful blend of lyrics, production, and turntablism. Unlike many of its contemporary counterparts, none of the tracks can be regarded as filler. Every song is a solid piece of work displaying thoughtfulness, ingenuity, and versatility. Large Professor contributes the lion’s share of the album’s content by providing both production and lyrics. Even though he is commonly acknowledged for his extensive list of production credits, Breaking Atoms serves as a testament to his skill as a song writer and emcee. With a strong, straightforward delivery, astute word play and clever use of metaphors, he breaks down concepts like troubled relationships, police brutality and people’s hypocritical use of language, turning atypical topics into classic compositions like “Looking at the Front Door”, “Just a Friendly Game of Baseball”, and “Peace Is Not the Word to Play.
A large portion of Breaking Atoms’ legendary status and widespread influence can be attributed to its production. Indeed, it is Large Pro’s choice of samples and skillful arrangements that distinguish the LP from other releases of the same era. Each track contains multiple layers of funk, soul, and jazz blended into cohesive instrumentals that compliment the song’s concept with the appropriate mood. The samples are often accompanied by looped breaks or boom-bap drums, chopped up and reassembled via the SP-1200. Then there’s the creative use of filters to isolate bass lines and other instruments, an approach that has inspired countless producers to incorporate the same technique in their tracks, including heavy weights like DJ Premier and Pete Rock. Without a doubt, the beats on Breaking Atoms established Large Professor as one of Queen’s most prominent producers, placing him in high demand for future collaborations with artists like Mobb Deep, Slick Rick, and Nas.
After its initial release in 1991, Breaking Atoms was out-of-print until 1997 when it was repressed with eight additional tracks by Wild Pitch Records. The more recent 2006 reissue, courtesy of the Japanese import label P-Vine Records, includes seven bonus tracks, two of which, “Looking at the Front Door (uncut)” and “Time”, have been unreleased until now. The uncut edition of “Looking at the Front Door” is basically a re-edit of the album version. Instrumentally, no new elements have been added, only subtly rearranged or dropped. For instance, Donald Byrd’s “Think Twice” is more prominent in the breaks, the scratching has been limited to one segment and the Detroit Emeralds sample at the end of the album version is missing. Lyrically, the song has been reduced to two verses instead of three with a few new lines added: “I got a nickel and dime dame that loves to complain, hates my game, puts shame in my name.” The song “Time” sounds like a classic Main Source track from ’91: sample heavy instrumental, boom-bap drums, scratching in the chorus and socially conscious lyrics. The song is dope. It leaves one to conclude that the only reason it was withheld from the ’91 release is that it doesn’t quite fit in with the overall vibe of the album.
1991 was a great year for hip hop. It is the latter end of the golden age, an era blessed by outstanding releases from quintessential groups like Run DMC, Public Enemy, Gang Starr, and A Tribe Called Quest. It was a time when you could take a chance on an unknown artist and come up on some great material nine out of ten times. That’s how I discovered Breaking Atoms. I remember standing under the sterile lights of Sam Goody examining the cassette, clueless about the content, but intrigued by the cover; three brothers focused on a record atomizing under a needle. I purchased it based strictly on that image and my positive track record with blind purchases so far. Suffice to say I was not disappointed. Even in the midst of the golden age, Breaking Atoms was an album that rarely left my deck. This reissue captures that nostalgic period in time. Yes, the price is expensive, reflecting its import status. However, if you don’t scoop it up now, you may end up paying twice as much on Ebay later. This classic has a history of going in and out of print erratically, don’t sleep.
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