Tack Fu takes Iowa City hip hop to a new decibel

-By Richard Shirk

With a fresh voice in hip-hop production and a serious amount of Iowa City talent to draw from, Tim Tack, a.k.a. Tack-Fu, has made a national name for himself and Iowa City hip hop.

A tough idea for rock-centric critics to grasp, Tack is not an emcee. According to the liners on Yen and Slang ('98) and Chained Reaction (2000), there is hardly a peep out of Tim Tack at any point despite the fact that the albums and the label they are imprinted with bear his name. Much in the same way a film director stamps his presence upon a work while remaining unseen, Tack has made his presence known as a producer and artist in Iowa City since 1996, producing albums from Iowa CIty hip hop crews such as the Committee in between breaks in his own work. He has crafted a distinctive and recognizable style in his renderings of the functional body of a hip-hop track -- the underlying layer of beats and samples rhymed over by an emcee. Not only can these tracks stand on their own as independent works of down-tempo mood music, la Thievery Cooperation but also as a melodic brand of subversive hip-hop when combined with the rhymes of the myriad of emcees in touch with Tack.

The most convincing example of this versatility is found in the 21 tracks of Chained Reaction. Divided into Side One and Side Two, the first side contains Tack's eclectic beats rhymed over by a wide range of rappers. The different cadences and modes of delivery among the emcees is distinctive enough to carry the flow of the album without being a jarring difference, held together track to track by the canvas of Tack-Fu's looped break-beats and left-field samples.

Up and coming Portland, Oregon rapper Braille provides the melodic verse for standout "Matter of Time," complemented with a dense undercurrent of '50s television samples and a bass line seemingly extracted from an avant-garde jazz piece. Cuts such as "Selling the Hype" from Psychosomatic's Felix (the Thunder Cat) and multiple tracks from Joe Juggla and Angle throw out enough quality substance to carry over the few throw aways, such as "Throw Your Middle Finger."

Side Two leads off the instrumental portion strongly with "Return to the Apocalypse." The sampled voice of a Cold War politician proselytizing over echoed drums provides an unsettling reaction that is helped along by a rubber-ball keyboard riff by Psychosomatics's J8. Other tracks, such as "Brimstoned Hymn," a sampled Gregorian chant over a haunting and atmospheric keyboard track, almost push Tack's production skills to the point of showing off but definitely provide some allure for the collaborative and almost wholly instrumental 85 decibel Monks project.

Slated for release in the spring, 85 decibel Monks includes producers such as Chaircrusher who have been contributing largely to the Tack-Fu projects for years. Until spring, a live performance will be the only way to hear this enticing material.

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