James Bishop is a beatmaker and a producer, a calling that is inestimably vital though often invisible to casual hip-hop listeners. He won last year's S.L.U.M. Fest Beat Battle competition, and his tracks have served as the base for standout songs from Indiana Rome and other local rappers. He favors a slick '70s soul vibe, and the recently released beat tape Cookin' Soul shows off the richness of this palette and its accessibility with more modern production and rhythms. Smooth, syrupy soul has been fertile ground for producers since hip-hop started, and JBJR works in that tradition by pairing sampled soul with clicky, stuttering rhythms. Sometimes it sounds like Gamble and Huff's entire catalog got scrambled in a sequencer, and that's never really a bad thing.
Crate diggers will enjoy playing a little train-spotting on this pay-what-you-want collection — "The Water Sign" rides on a disembodied bit of "The Age of Aquarius," and Curtis Mayfield's ballad "The Makings of You" gets whirled into some orchestral pyschedelia on "Of You." Bishop shows a deft hand on the Mayfield cut, letting the harpsichords ring out and decay naturally while punctuating the beat with manipulated string and horn sections. JBJR's more modern instrumentals suggest a native simplicity that works well in this context — "Soulful" is three minutes of hi-hat hits, finger snaps and a twinkly piano refrain. It takes on a meditative quality when devoid of vocals, and that happens a few times on the tape. Cookin' Soul works on a few levels: As a C.V. of Bishop's talents, it shows that he's adept at a rich but somewhat limited style of production; as a stand-alone unit, it's perfect vibe music that is unobtrusive but artfully nuanced. And, of course, these tracks will likely end up as the bed to someone's latest verse.