WWPD? (What would Poe do?) Sticky bud, rare vinyl – and the haunting breakbeat that will not be silenced.
BY MITCH MYERS
It was the tail end of 1994
and noted hip-hop producer Amon Tillado was living the high life and running
out of money. Tillado once ruled the airwaves, but hadn’t produced a memorable
recording in years. He was desperate for a hit but he’d burnt through his
relationships with several beat-merchants and now had a shady reputation,
notorious for skewed publishing deals and withheld royalties.
Kid Fortunate was peddling
old vinyl at the Roosevelt Hotel on East 45th Street when he first
met Tillado. Seeing him at the Roosevelt record show a couple more times, the
Kid eventually played some rare forgotten breakbeats for the famous producer.
One particular old funk beat captured Tillado’s imagination – he knew it could
be used for something really big. The vintage beat was perfect and Amon was
willing to pay good money for it, even promising an album credit to Fortunate
if the beat was used.
Despite Amon’s hard sell, Kid
Fortunate smugly refused the deal, insisting that he’d promised the perfect
beat to Prince Be from PM Dawn-who was still flush with cash from the triumph
of “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss.” Kid Fortunate was also dismissive of Amon’s
status as a producer, which displeased Tillado more than anything else.
It was true he hadn’t
produced any important recordings for a long time, but Tillado was still a
popular, well-connected guy. Hell, Amon was the only person to attend Willie
Nelson’s Farm Aid and the recording sessions for Dr. Dre’s debut solo album The Chronic that same year – he liked to
think that he still knew what was happening.
The DJ had spurned his offer
and insulted him, but Amon showed no sign of taking umbrage. Rather, he kept
schmoozing Kid Fortunate that whole week right up to New Year’s Eve. He also
learned that Fortunate had one particular soft spot – not only did the DJ
consider himself an expert on old soul, funk and jazz recordings, he also fancied
himself a true connoisseur of the finest marijuana.
It was late afternoon on
December 31st and the two had bumped into each other on the street
in Midtown. After discussing their respective plans for that evening’s
celebration-Fortunate on his way to spin records in the East Village, Tillado
committed to an elite party on the Upper West Side – Amon casually offered to
give the Kid some really high-grade smoke, some “Willie Nelson shit”…his Most
Salacious weed…to help usher in the New Year.
Intrigued, Kid Fortunate
agreed to a quick visit of Tillado’s three-story brownstone on West 58th. As a
bachelor, Amon occupied the entire building and had live-in help. When they
arrived Amon mentioned that he’d given the butler and his wife the week off for
the holiday. Kid Fortunate was openly sarcastic about Tillado having a butler,
but the producer acted as if he hadn’t noticed the snide remarks.
Had all this occurred due to
simple coincidence or by virtue of careful planning? A fair question, as it was
only after Amon became satisfied that no one else knew Kid Fortunate was at his
home – and learned the DJ had yet to play the perfect beat for PM Dawn – that
he decided to punish the Kid for his impudence.
Amon insisted on giving Kid
Fortunate a tour of his beloved brownstone, where each level’s décor was done
up in a different color. Starting at the amazing library on the top floor – aptly
dubbed the Green Room – Tillado pulled out a long glass pipe filled with some
super sticky Sensimilla, which when ignited set off a huge coughing fit on the
part of Kid Fortunate. The Kid’s eyes were watering and bloodshot and he kept
on hacking for several minutes until he was able to down a glass of orange
When Kid Fortunate had
finally recovered from his encounter with the sticky Sensimilla, Amon led him
down a narrow stairway onto the second floor, which was tastefully decorated in
pure azure blue. There they settled in Tillado’s blue-hued study, where the
producer prepped a large Graffix Bong with fresh ice and loaded the bowl with
some knee-buckling AK-47 that had been smuggled in from the Netherlands just
the week before.
Amon noted how wasteful Kid
Fortunate was as the young DJ torched the bong’s contents, greedily inhaling it
all in one massive hit before inevitably exploding into another series of
horrifying coughs. Tillado chided the Kid, gently suggesting that he go home
and rest up before the evening, and perhaps the Most Salacious might be too
much for him to handle.
Dismissing the producer’s
warning, Kid Fortunate asserted that the cough was a mere nothing and he was
ready to sample all the weed Tillado had to offer, especially the Most
Salacious. Despite his protestations, Kid Fortunate was becoming increasingly
unsteady and wasted to the point of fatigue. Thoroughly self-absorbed, he
showed no patience for Tillado’s anecdotes about the talents of yesteryear and
was oblivious to the memorabilia scattered throughout the grand blue room.
Forging ahead at Kid
Fortunate’s insistence, they stumbled down the stairway and came out on the
magnificent main floor, which was bathed in a dark ruby red. The pair sank into
a massive couch in the front room as Amon brandished a bag of clustered buds
(replete with fine red hairs that matched the room’s décor) he called “Master
Kush.” Tillado quickly twisted the pungent buds into a modest-looking joint,
pushed a makeshift filter into one end, and handed it to his guest.
Although Kid Fortunate
thought he was prepared to inhale the Kush, he was mistaken. After just one
toke he was overwhelmed by another coughing fit of serious proportions. With
more liquids on hand and Amon offering throat lozenges, Fortunate collected
himself as quickly as he could and then added to his fading bravado by
insisting they sample the Most Salacious before it got too late. He also made
sure to convey that he was still expecting some salacious buds to take home
with him as Tillado had promised.
Amon diplomatically reminded
Kid Fortunate that the smoke didn’t seem to be going down very easily that day,
and offered him a rain check on their burning adventure should he like to take
a pass. But Fortunate was adamant about proceeding, and urged his host to
continue the tour and produce the Most Salacious before his time ran out. “As
you wish,” said Amon, “there’s not much further to go.”
Leading Kid Fortunate down to
the basement, Amon explained how the space had once been used as a wine cellar
but he was now converting it into his very own home studio. To Kid Fortunate’s
tired eyes, the room was unimpressive. The dank area was only half constructed
with one wall still exposed. There were splattered dropcloths covering audio
equipment, building materials stacked on top of furniture, and the ceiling
sported an uneven coat of bland white primer.
Then Kid Fortunate’s attitude
caught up with him. He’d been clutching his saddlebag of old LPs throughout his
tour of the brownstone, mostly rare vinyl he’d planned to use that night,
including the album with Tillado’s “perfect beat.” Noticing a turntable amid
the equipment, he momentarily forgot about the Most Salacious and decided to
play the track so coveted by his host. As he cued up the rare record, Fortunate
let it be known that he’d promised the breakbeat to PM Dawn unheard, but wasn’t
likely to see him any time soon.
In his stoned condition, Kid
Fortunate expected Amon Tillado to at least double his previous offer for the
recording, but the producer merely smiled and bid him to sit in front of the
mixing console to fiddle with the breakbeat himself. This was a gesture the Kid
could not refuse. In a matter of moments he’d isolated the perfect beat, slowed
it down a bit and added a slight echo, making the rhythm feel even more
elemental and seductive than before.
With his eyes closed, Kid
Fortunate was absolutely rhapsodic. He was immersed in the music and just about
to press his host for the Most Salacious when Amon came up from behind him and
wrapped a sheet of plastic around his face, holding him down and suffocating
the DJ while the beat played on. Kid Fortunate struggled wildly but was unable
to escape Tillado’s deadly grasp. The producer noted ironically how Fortunate’s
fading heart had perfectly matched the beat before his life essence was
Amon wrapped the body in
sheets of plastic and insulation. He wrapped and he wrapped and he wrapped
until he could wrap no more. Then he pushed the sealed corpse into the studio’s
unfinished wall. “The ultimate in soundproofing,” he thought to himself.
After making a brief
appearance at the New Year’s Eve party on the Upper West Side Tillado returned
home and spent the next three weeks working alone on his studio. He even
covered the walls with some acoustic tile that had been part of the original
Sun Studio in Memphis. By February he was finished, and no one had even asked
him once about poor Kid Fortunate.
It seemed the city had
forgotten that Kid Fortunate ever existed. A couple of the Kid’s friends were
concerned when he hadn’t shown up to spin records on New Year’s Eve, but the consensus
was that he must have gone home for the holidays and would turn up again
eventually. There was a bit of a fuss when Fortunate’s landlady put all of his
belongings out on the street, but the record hounds on his block grabbed up
everything of value before a single night fell.
In the springtime, Amon could
contain himself no longer. Arranging a gig at his home studio with an
up-and-coming rapper was no trouble, and after securing substantial co-writing
royalties and additional points for producing, Tillado dropped a sampled loop
of the perfect beat – just the way Kid Fortunate had mixed it – right onto the
record’s most infectious track.
To say the track was
successful would be an understatement. Amon’s sage instincts had been right
about the perfect beat and the song stayed high on the charts for months.
Accolades and money came streaming in from every direction. The beat became
ubiquitous and the song was even licensed for a car commercial. Other DJs were
sampling Tillado’s beat as well the original recording, which shot up in value
before being reissued and made available on CD or vinyl for about twelve
By winter Tillado was
wealthier than ever, and more popular too. He already had plenty of high-priced
gigs lined up for the following year and formed his own record label in the
interim. Everyone was saying that Amon, the rapper, and their smash track were
a sure bet for multiple GRAMMY awards. So it was with nothing less than
audacious confidence that he decided to celebrate his good fortune by throwing
a little party, at his home, on New Year’s Eve.
All sorts of characters came
to the bash. This included the rapper and his crew, music industry honchos,
over a dozen beautiful young women, two movie stars and Tillado’s attorney.
They were partying on every floor but most of the action was down in his plush
basement studio. Almost everybody was jammed in the playback room drinking
Cristal, snorting cocaine and smoking huge blunts. As the New Year loomed Amon
turned down the music for the countdown. The clock struck twelve, and there was
much kissing and hugging and high fives all around.
Amon had saved his own party
favor for the midnight hour. As a treat he lit up an entire joint of the Most
Salacious all for himself. Puffing extravagantly on his salacious weed, he
suddenly heard the music come back on and became angry, demanding to know who
was messing with his sound system.
Then Amon recognized that it
was the perfect beat that he was hearing. At first he thought it was just
another remix of his celebrated track someone had slipped onto the stereo, but
it was clearly the original breakbeat – echoing, elemental, electronic and
stripped bare – looping over and over and reverberating in his ears.
The volume, however, was
still turned down and the sound system remained untouched. Amon began to shout
and swear, insisting that someone must stop the pulsing beat immediately.
Everyone in the room just turned and stared. No one else had heard anything at
all and they assumed Amon was just stoned and clowning around.
Then Amon started smashing up
the place, trying vainly to eliminate the source of the haunting breakbeat. The
party broke up in a hurry after he destroyed the mixing console and began
breaking into the studio’s beautifully tiled walls. And they say that Amon Tillado was still
raving, drooling and muttering about the perfect beat when the authorities
finally showed up a little while later.
(With apologies to E. A. Poe… Mitch
Myers is a freelance writer, radio commentator, curator of the Silverstein
Archive in Chicago and author of The Boy Who Cried Freebird: Rock & Roll
Fables and Sonic Storytelling.)
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