Breaking Atoms by Main Source (CD, Jul-1997, Wild Pitch)

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"Why's my name the Large Professor?" Read on and find out.

Jun 9, 2008 (Updated Jun 13, 2008)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Old school aesthetic, tight & succinct – no filler

Cons:Not enough people know about it

The Bottom Line: An underrated old school gem, it doesn’t get the attention it deserves despite containing all the ingredients that make other hip hop albums such recognised classics


Whenever I read top ten hip hop album lists there are always regular appearances such as Nas’ landmark debut, Public Enemy’s sophomore effort, Biggie’s Ready to Die or Eric B. & Rakim’s Paid in Full, but rarely do I see Breaking Atoms make its way on those lists, despite it being just as good and in some cases, surpassing in quality. You could blame this on the album’s out of print status, or the fact that Main Source were one of the less prolific rap groups in history – compared to line-ups like the Wu-Tang Clan and Public Enemy, it’s not hard to see why – or you could attribute it to the fact that today’s hip hop fans simply don’t appreciate underrated gems like Breaking Atoms. But simply put, Breaking Atoms is one of the Golden Age greats of hip hop, a unheralded classic that not only showcased Large Professor’s groundbreaking production style, it also introduced Nasty Nas with one of the greatest posse cuts of all time.

Led by producer/rapper Large Professor and flanked by 2 DJs - Sir Scratch and K-Cut – Main Source’s strength is in their production style. While Large Professor is a solid lyricist and manages to hold our interest for the duration of the album with a diverse range of subject matter, there’s no doubt that a majority of the acclaim lies with his innovative sampling techniques. Think about the tracks Large Professor crafted for Nas on Illmatic and just imagine that all the traits that made them such classics – the dense samples of It Ain’t Hard to Tell, the thumping bass and drums of Halftime and the laid back head nodding effect of One Time 4 Your Mind – are all here on this album. Large Professor’s production technique of utilising densely layered funk and jazz samples result in an album with a diverse range of beats and also one with an overall sonic familiarity between each track.

Speaking of Nas, at the bare age of 18, he makes one of the most revered debut verses on a hip hop track, leading people to crown him with the title of the “Second Rakim. The sheer energy and hunger expressed in the first verse of Live at the Barbeque showcased the beginning of a lengthy albeit rocky career of one of the greatest poetic prodigies of all time. Not only did Nas display a flurry of complex rhyme patterns; “Poetry attacks, paragraphs punch hard, my brain is insane, I'm out to lunch God” he also showed a uncanny knack for multisyllabic rhymes; “street's disciple, my raps are trifle I shoot slugs from my brain just like a rifle” and some outrageous statements; “kidnap the President's wife without a plan, and hangin ni**az like the Ku Klux Klan” all delivered through a smooth raspy voice and an immaculate flow.

But sort of hip hop classic would Live at the Barbeque be if it weren’t for the virtuoso production of Large Professor? Attempting to complement the energy displayed by the rappers, Large Professor laces the track with a vibrant instrumental consisting of funky bass lines, jazzy drums and upbeat vocals. Even Nasty Nas’ renowned verse couldn’t obscure that fact this is Large Professor’s show, with his trademark funky beat and a solid verse from the Large Pro as concrete evidence:

“I grab up girls like jacks
Add'em on like tax, and I'm over like Hot Trax
As far as brothers are concerned a pressure cooker from start
To finish I diminish like a cuisinart
Secondly, I'm sick of critics, who's neckin' me
(Oooh he got an afro) yo, but I get dough
Why's my name the Large Professor?
Cause I milked your cow in other words I hit your heffer
Don't talk about how you can break Rambo
That's just a bunch of mamba-ja-hambo”

Though a much better producer than he is a rapper – like so many other MC/producers; RZA, Dr. Dre – Large Professor proves himself to be a potent lyricist. With an effective baritone voice and a touch of light-heartedness Large Professor’s lyrics ranges from the old school braggadocio to more serious social commentary; evoking the days of Run-DMC, whose rapping style also revolved around braggadocio raps and serious subject matters. The two tracks Just Hangin Out and Large Professor reveals his flaunting nature with the former track describing his insane beats “and I be up in Mt. Vernon, piecein, with CL Smooth and Pete Rock makin beats that's sharper than cleats” while the latter displays more aggressive battle lyrics:

“I'll advance to your backside, foot and put
Nine prints and diss a meantimes, where the sun don't shine
So get a flah of the spotlight fast
You got kicked in the a$$ by the man with the eyes of glass
Slide from me you money kicking the dull crap
I'll make your skull snap, seeing me all at
In this here field my foot equals yield
Your brain is simple and reveal while mine is sealed
Coming up with the archeological finds
Funk drums allow me to spark you with rhymes
The mic's my instrument, my skills are infinite, catch a hint from it
Cause it's the Large Professor”

Peace is Not the Word to Play is an interesting track, revealing Large Professor’s introspective side as he contemplates the way the word ‘Peace’ is used both excessively and hypocritically by the community. As he states “the incorrect usage of the word ‘peace’ has got to cease” calling out to those who use the word peace while engaging in activities that mean anything but:

“(Peace!) Piece of what?
You can't mean P-E-A-C-E
Cause I've seen people on the streets
Shoot the next man and turn around and say peace
But that's leaving people in pieces
It's not what the meaning of peace is”

While Peace is Not the Word to Play was a sort of light social commentary, Large Professor really dishes out on Just A Friendly Game of Baseball where he directs the track at police brutality and racial profiling, using a game of baseball as an extended metaphor for the way the authorities target civilians.

“A kid caught on, but I don't know where the brother went
The umpires are the government
I guess they took him out the game, and replace him
with a pinch-hitter, in the scam he was a quitter
So the cops usually torment, I mean tournament
Win em I was sayin
You can't let the umpires, hear ya speak and battle
like the other kid you won't be playin
Cause they'll beat you til your a$$ drop
A walking gun with a shell in his hand is their mascot
And when they walk around let it be known to step lightly
The bases are loaded
My man got out from three strikes
In the skull but the knife he was carrying was dull
Instead of innings, we have endings”

Consider all the factors that people attribute to the Illmatic’s classic status – the brevity of the album (Illmatic lasted for 39 minutes, Breaking Atoms lasted for 44), the solid lyricism, tight braggadocio and depiction of urban life, old school hip hop aesthetic and last but definitely not least; the virtuoso production – and then consider which of these traits are missing from Breaking Atoms; none. Granted Large Professor’s rapping skill may not be up the standard of Nas but his fresh funky beats and innovative sampling techniques more than makes up for it. From the opening track Snake Eyes to the remix of Just A Friendly Game of Baseball, Large Professor meticulously and subtly crafts dense layers of funky and jazz samples as well as jaw-dropping scratches into a montage of sonic richness, then lacing the tracks with first class mic skills; resulting in one the tightest old school hip hop albums of all time. If there were a collection of hip hop albums that had a sure place on my top ten list; this old school classic would definitely be one of them.


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