In 1996, when Busta Rhymes roared his way onto the pop charts with ”Woo-Hah!! Got You All in Check,” he wasn’t the only one who got a check. Canadian composer Galt MacDermot, whose piano-driven ”Space” Rhymes sampled and who had long been loved by hip-hop producers like Pete Rock and Buckwild for his jazzy grooves, also made a profit. ”I wouldn’t say you make a lot of money for that,” says the man who actually got rich from scoring the 1967 musical Hair, ”but if the record company is legit like Busta Rhymes’ was, then they pay you.”
Sample searchers will salivate over Up From the Basement: Unreleased Tracks — Vol. 1&2, which draws from MacDermot’s massive back catalog. Born in Montreal in 1928 to a diplomat, MacDermot grew up devouring North American jazz and R&B and African rhythms. Over several decades, he performed with plenty of jazz greats and produced a stunning surplus of material.
In the mid-’90s, many baggy-denimed beat diggers ferried out to MacDermot’s Staten Island, N.Y., home, seeking unreleased riffs to refashion into rap, earning him a new generation of fans. ”It’s just a feeling,” says DJ-producer Madlib of MacDermot’s sound. ”It hits your soul.” To prove it, Madlib will release a seven-inch of his MacDermot remixes this month. MacDermot has heard Madlib’s takes and likes them — but he no longer follows hip-hop. ”I don’t listen to it too much because I don’t hear any development,” he says. ”There’s no real stories. I lived in Africa, and there you’d hear guys ‘rapping’ — it wasn’t the same rhythm, but they’d talk with drums going — and it was exciting.”
Though MacDermot feels rap is ”too limited,” he admits, ”I’ve set an awful lot of words to music, but I wouldn’t know how to take it where it should go.” A hip-hop Hair, perhaps?