Young MC/Brainstorm (Capitol Records, 1991)
I have more of an attachment to this album than I probably should because when I was about ten years old I won a Brainstorm poster autographed by Young MC himself from some rap magazine.
For a brief period in the late 1980s English-born, Queens-raised, Los Angeles rapper Marvin “Young MC” Young was the author of the top selling rap song of all time, Tone Loc’s “Wild Thing.” (He also wrote “Funky Cold Medina.”) His debut album, Stone Cold Rhymin’, produced by Michael Ross, Matt Dike, and the Dust Brothers, is a bonafide classic, including the smash hit “Bust a Move” in addition to other fan favorites, including “Principal’s Office” and “Pick Up the Pace.”
Yet while the world stayed tuned into Young’s mainstream rap contemporary, Will Smith, it left Young behind, along with Hammer, Vanilla Ice, Kid ‘n’ Play, and many others.
Stone Cold Rhymin’ is a tough act to follow. Leaving Delicious Vinyl for Capitol and producing himself, Brainstorm has the distinct feel of a non-classic album. It may have even been a career-destroying album. But it isn’t a bad album.
Although it may be well-constructed and well-mixed, Young’s production work does not have the timeless quality associated with Ross, Dike, and the Dust Brothers. Those producers lent a Rick Rubin-esque sort of minimalism to Stone Cold Rhymin’, which Young has replaced with more of a “more is more” sound. This being a mainstream rap album from 1991, attempts at house backing tracks also appear on “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize” and elsewhere. The opening track and leadoff single, “That’s the Way Love Goes,” features a gospel-inspired lead vocal and attempts to match the easygoing wit of “Bust a Move.”
Despite the focus on danceable beats, with one heavy message after the next, Brainstorm has a tendency at times to feel more like a lecture than a party. Stone Cold Rhymin’ had its share of “well-behaved” moments too, including “Just Say No,” but they were sandwiched in between classic boasts, minimalist beats, and unforgettable hooks.
Young MC tried for a hit with “That’s the Way Love Goes” and “Keep It In Your Pants,” but without a strong single or a compelling sequence of tracks (ending the record with two nearly eight minute songs probably wasn’t a great idea either), the brilliance of Brainstorm and the artist behind it is easy to miss, which is a shame, because on track after track, Young MC proves himself as a stellar MC and first-rate story teller. Even the track called “Album Filler” really showcases his talent. The message of some of these songs is actually pretty compelling. In some small way, growing up with this album probably helped convince me to steer clear of drugs.
To my ears, the message to new artists here is “work with a producer.” The Delicious Vinyl crew Young MC worked with on the previous album knew how to package his talent into a winning hit album where one track flowed easily into the next. While Young may have been able to arrange backing tracks that resembled house music of the day, he was not able to package his considerable skill into another hit record, which is a shame, because Young MC’s story telling and flow are first rate. B+
Beyerdynamic DT-770 Pro 32 Headphones
I bought these a few years ago from Massdrop to replace a beat-up pair of Sennheiser HD-280 Pros that either my son or my cat peed on. (I don’t remember which.) Beyerdynamic are a smaller name than most of their competitors in the headphone game – Sennheiser, AKG, Sony, etc., but they have a long history, and their headphones are made in Germany, along with a small collection of ribbon, dynamic, and condenser microphones that are apparently very good.
The DT-770 Pro model is offered in several impedances. The 32 ohm model might have been the lowest impedance model at the time, but I believe Beyerdynamic has at some point made a 16 ohm version. The 32 ohm model needs less “juice” (has higher output) than the higher impedance models and is thus a better choice for use with iPhones and other portable devices. It also has a shorter cable, since long “studio cables” aren’t great for a walk in the park or a ride on the bus. I am not sure what exactly the advantage is of the less-efficient higher impedance models, but they tend to be the choice of studio pros, so there must be some advantage in the sound department.
In any event, while I use these as portable headphones, they are still big circumaural studio cans rooted in the 1970s, and they lack “today’s features.” They are not wireless, and they do not include a volume control or microphone. Although I am crazy enough to wear them at the gym they are not designed for that sort of thing.
Made of sturdy metal and retro hard textured plastic, these are a very well-constructed pair of headphones, and they come with the most ridiculous vinyl storage case (with a name tag!), which very much suggests the 1970s. The clamping force of these are pretty high, and the metal parts can actually pinch fingers in a pretty brutal way. The ear pads are very nice grey velour. The original release of this model may have had less-nice leatherette pads, but this puppy has the comfy grey velour ones. The cord, which includes the usual eighth inch plug with screw-on quarter inch adapter, is not detachable, which is disappointing, because AKG and some others include a detachable cord.
The cord in question is pretty short and not coiled. Although coiled cords can cause all sorts of problems, I like them on headphones. If these had a detachable cord like the competition multiple cord options would be handy – long and short straight cords and a coiled cord. The shortness of the cord makes them difficult to use for some studio uses where they would otherwise be useful, like recording drums. (Yes, I could get an extension.)
The sound of these is nice and detailed, if ever-so-slightly harsh in the upper frequencies. These are not a “big bass” headphone, but they are also not a “light bass” headphone like the Sennheisers they replaced. They sound good. They bring out all sorts of details in any type of music. It can be pretty fun putting these on and seeing what you have been missing out on with other headphones. Although the frequency response of these is fairly response of these is pretty flat, they seem to be a bit “scooped” in the mids, which means vocals may get less emphasis than other sounds.
As someone with big ears and outlandishly large, droopy earlobes, I appreciate that these headphones do indeed encircle my entire ear. They are very comfortable, managing to clamp pretty tight without clamping too tight.
It is also worth mentioning that, thanks to the fluffy velour pads, these are comfortable with glasses, which is not always the case with studio headphones.
Although the carrying bag is a nice touch, these do not win many points in the portability department. Some studio headphones, including some models from Sony, collapse fairly small for storage. Although the earphones pivot a bit, these don’t collapse down, and there is no way around the fact that these are a big pair of headphones.
Although these are a closed-back pair, there is apparently some very slight “openness” to the back of the headphones. I have not had a problem with sound leakage. Beyerdynamic does, however, make a model called the DT-770M with drummers and live sound engineers in mind that is completely, 100 percent closed-back and has more clamping force.
By the way, I typically use a pair of AKG K-271mkii headphones as my “studio pair,” primarily because they have a longer coiled (and removable) cord, because I am used to them, and because the Beyerdynamics are typically upstairs ready to wear on a walk or in the back yard, but I absolutely could use these as my “studio pair” instead, especially if I invested in an extension cable. The build quality on these, by the way, is quite a bit higher than the AKGs, which are made in China, are very lightweight, and have somewhat of a “toy” like quality. (AKG was bought out years ago by Harmann, who was bought out by Samsung, who don’t seem to be all that interested in the proud legacy of the AKG brand.) The AKGs, which are 55 ohms, are also noticeably lower output.That said, I do appreciate the 271’s self-adjusting headband and detachable cord. It also doesn’t pinch any fingers with clamping metal parts. Aside from the Beyers being louder, it would be hard to describe the difference in sound, except that the AKG’s might be a little less bright. At least subjectively, the Beyers do sound better.
I also own a pair of AKG’s ubiquitous K-240 headphones, which I would describe as a “somewhat uncomfortable, loose and cheap-feeling but great-sounding headphone” with a “semi-closed” back design that lets in and lets out a little bit more sound than I would prefer. Compared to these, the 240s are lower output and bassier. These are much more comfortable and heavy duty in construction.
These definitely have more bass than the Sennheisers (made in Ireland!?!) they replaced, along with better construction. They are also more comfortable, although the very-tight-clamping Sennheisers probably have better isolation. I am not sure which are higher output, but they are probably roughly in the same range. The Sennheisers are more collapsible (as well as entirely made out of plastic – including the parts you’d expect to be made out of metal).
I would recommend these headphones as a studio, casual listening, or probably gaming headphone, although for strict studio use the 80 ohm or possibly 250 ohm model may be a better bet. For casual listening, especially on the go, understand that these are a pair of big traditional wired studio cans, and you have to enjoy the look, feel, and ear-surrounding luxury to appreciate them. While they are not a perfect pair, they are a very good pair. A
Pros: clean, detailed sound; comfort; classic ’70s design; well made; nice materials; hilarious carrying bag; unobtrusive, barely-visible branding; made in Germany by a relatively small company that has been around for a long time
Cons: cable is not detachable; a bit too much treble; headband is not self-adjusting; metal pieces on sides can violently smash fingers