[CD Review] Steinski, 'What Does It All Mean? 1983-2006 Retrospective' (Illegal Art)

Two things stopped '80s mix-master wunderkind Steinski from achieving an enduring fame. The first was the group's name, which sounded more like Israeli slalom champions than the innovators of a pioneering cut-and-paste DJ style that ultimately proved instrumental to the success of DJ Shadow, Cut Chemist and Girl Talk. The second nemesis was United States copyright laws, which required clearance for the dozens of samples laced into the DNA of their songs, each of them a head-nodding mix of old funk breaks, quotations from pop-culture luminaries, and sonic flotsam and jetsam ranging from Herbie Hancock to Yaz to Culture Club.

Accordingly, kids today are more apt to believe Diddy's Orwellian spin that he invented the remix rather than the long-forgotten Steinski, who helped to pioneer the art form along with Jellybean Benitez and New York DJ Shep Pettibone. Indeed, it has been 25 long years since the duo of Double Dee (a commercials engineer by day born Doug Di Franco) and Steinski (Steve Stein, a hip-hop junkie, advertising exec and self-professed nice Jewish kid from the 'burbs) debuted with the now-legendary The Payoff Mix, which won then-fledgling Tommy Boy Records' remix contest for a long-forgotten 12-inch from Afrika Bambaataa affiliates, G.L.O.B.E. and Whiz Kid. Despite earning regular radio play, neither the seminal track nor the duo's other big hits, “Lesson 2 (The James Brown Mix)” and “Lesson 3 (History of Hip-Hop),” ever saw an official CD release for legal reasons. Thankfully, Illegal Art has excavated the duo's entire catalog, issuing this excellent two-disc career survey, complete with 20 pages of liner notes from critic Hua Hsu and Stein himself. The resulting What Does It All Mean? is a must for both hip-hop aficionados and anyone looking to get the proverbial party started right.

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