Records are memories, and some of them we hold tight and we don’t question why. The Politik was a huge record for me — quite aside from the memories of 2007 it evokes, this collaboration between Mark de Clive-Lowe and Bémbé Ségué was a passage to a whole new world, of superfrenetic soul, whip-smart jazz and broken beat cool enough that everyone in a bucket hat & a tricked out MySpace profile could nod to it.
Broken Beat was a phenomenon that was primarily an influence on other musicians by the time the faltering shockwave hit them in North America. When it passed over me in the early ’00s I hardly noticed the breeze. This record started in that general current but flew clear off the canvas, off the wall and spilled over into the sky. This “alternate-universe take on a downtempo hip hop/soul record” opened up a secret subterranean passage for a deep dive, bubbling up with all the dope records I’d missed.
There were a lot. Most of these records were released primarily if not exclusively on vinyl (and in the case of the albums, CD) — but in the midst of that historical crisis when bankruptcies were blowing up the music industry’s delivery pipelines. You really couldn’t legally buy an mp3 file for a lot of records if you wanted to and Apple had yet to make the case that people, contrary to industry cops, actually did want to. The liner notes of those records were like a treasure map, guiding you through names like Dego, 4 Hero, IG Culture, Daz-I-Kue, Phil Asher and Mark de Clive-Lowe, who seemed to play keys on damn near all of them.
And if Mark de Clive-Lowe’s keys were ubiquitous, I’m not sure how you’d characterize Bémbé Ségué. The main page of her Discogs listing doesn’t do any justice to her role in the era — you have to click through to the credits to get a grasp of how omnipresent her voice was on the Future Jazz, Broken Beat, Neo- and Nu Soul records churned out of the London underground from around 1999 to 2007. The controversial practice of vocalists being credited in small type (which we addressed in the last issue of 5 Mag) makes any unofficial discography an incomplete one and probably a hopeless task, despite taking place less than 20 years ago. Her singing had an effortless quality to it — sometimes it was hard to tell if she was singing or speaking until her voice took flight and seized the reins. In retrospect it was perfect for the aesthetic of the Broken Beat scene. From working with IG Culture back in 1998 she would appear on tracks like “The Mind,” “Clear Vision” and “Likwid Biskit,” was almost the “house vocalist” for Bugz In The Attic and seemed to be on damn near every Phil Asher record that was still reverberating with crowds and especially producers in New York and Chicago and LA half a decade later.
The first time Mark de Clive-Lowe and Bémbé Ségué were on the same track, “Bémbé wasn’t even ‘Bémbé’ yet,” de Clive-Lowe remembers. That was 1998 and the track was “Thrill Seeker” by “Dub Basement.” “She laced vocals on this crazy jazz fusion broken beat track.
“We re-connected when I started making Tide’s Arising. Initially I was only going to get her on one joint (“State of the Mental”), but we really hit it off creatively and started rinsing out song after song, with Bémbé ending up being the main featured vocalist on the album.”
That one-song collaboration that turned into multiple tracks on an album then turned into a whole new project. The Politik was intended to be a collaboration “where both of us could be free of any pressure of it being a ‘Bémbé Ségué album’ or a ‘Mark de Clive-Lowe album,'” he said.
More than a decade of time has passed since it’s release date and that allows us to talk about The Politik like it’s a classic, albeit a cult classic. But time has been fortunate here. Started as a project “completely separate from everything else we do individually,” de Clive-Lowe and Ségué gave The Politik its own identity. And in the midst of a lot of tracks from an era that sound extremely same-y, there is nothing that sounds exactly like this, a record that ricochets like a pinball from sun-drenched soulful cuts to aggressive hip hop and excels at all of them. This isn’t the best entry point to either artist’s discography but it remains an essential one.
“We had so much fun,” de Clive-Lowe remembers. “Without the pressure of our own individual names being on the project, it was such a freeing experience. Even though the first track we did (‘Money (Don’t Let It Catch Ya)’) was up tempo broken beat, I loved what Bémbé had done on Tide’s Arising when we went downtempo (‘Heaven’).”
At the time, de Clive-Lowe was mostly known for broken beat but “I always loved ’90s hip hop and the extensions that came via Dilla, The Soulquarians and others.” The Politik represented “a perfect chance for us to flip it downtempo.”
The writing started on the venerable MPC3000 — “making downtempo beats, chopping samples and really getting into that style of production,” de Clive-Lowe remembers. The bulk of the album was actually recorded in a scant four days while on a tour of Canadian jazz festivals in the summer of 2006.
Four days to record the bulk of an album seems incredible. What is even more incredible is that a second album was recorded in these sessions too. Mark’s Journey 2 The Light was a Japan-only album released in 2007 by boutique label Freedom School (now available on Bandcamp); Bémbé Ségué features on 7 of those 10 tracks (all but 3 short interludes) on there, too.
“We had a week off in Vancouver between shows and got crazy productive,” he says. “We did two days in studio with Sammy Figueroa — he was playing percussion on the tour, and most of Journey 2 the Light’s music was recorded over those two days. Then we holed up in a makeshift studio, set up a mobile vocal booth and recorded most of the album’s vocals.”
The album was finished up at Mark’s home studio in West London, “always with the requisite white wine and spliffs. Sessions with Bémbé really were some of the most fun collaboration moments I’ve had with anyone.”
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Despite the high octane speed in which The Politik’s music came together, part of what makes this record seem so “big” are the other collaborators who made their way into the sessions and added something to vibe. Despite being two of the scene’s most intense and prolific songwriters, Bémbé and Mark were remarkably open to channeling the moment, bringing in four featured performers across the original 13 tracks and multiple co-producers. Waajeed lends his skills to the production of “The Essence” and “The Essence Reprise”; Daz-I-Kue co-produces “How Did They Know” and adds a big hump and faded shade to this jagged and psychoactive downtempo cut. It’s these downtempo tracks that really shine through today. “Mistaken” like “How Did They Know” is spiked with a slack, psychedelic agent — like these guys have gone so deep they’ve come through the other side permanently stoned immaculate. I guess the title “Xtra Sensory” says it all. There’s just something off-kilter, even more so than there usually is in these type of tracks.
Waajeed “came through my spot in London when he was making the Platinum Pied Pipers album and told me he wanted to do a cover of ’50 Ways To Leave Your Lover,'” de Clive-Lowe says. “So he chopped a drum break, and I did all the music for it. I remember not liking the harmony of one section of the original, so wanted to rewrite that. I think we made a classic cover that day.
“I’m pretty sure we did ‘The Essence’ that same day. I have a vague recollection of Waajeed playing me beats and me bugging out at that one and laying all the keys down in one moment of inspiration. When we were finishing up The Politik album, that track just made total sense to be the album opener, and the closer. Cosmic jazz futuristic hip hop vibes…”
Daz-I-Kue was one of the first people de Clive-Lowe had met in the West London crew. The music for “How Did They Know” was created at Bugz In The Attic’s studio. “Daz called me in to create with him, I think all the Bugz were working on demos for what would become their debut album. We both loved the vibe of what we did, but it wasn’t the right fit for the Bugz’ album, but it fit The Politik perfectly.”
Being such a hip hop-influenced project, de Clive-Lowe and Ségué recruited some of their favorite MCs to also contribute on The Politik. “Bémbé and I had gotten to know Blu from touring to LA over the previous year. I’m not sure who helped connect me with Bahamadia. Replife, I’d just done a remix for him and loved his flow, so asked him to jump on a track.
“Jason Yarde plays sax on ‘Turn the Light.’ I brought him into the studio in London for a one day session, and he recorded all the sax tracks for Journey 2 the Light and then the horn section for ‘Turn the Light’ all in that one session. He really blessed both projects that day.”
Two tracks from the Japanese import appear in the latest digital reissue on Bandcamp, most notably a supremely rubbery remix of “Money (Don’t Let It Catch Ya)” from Maddslinky, aka Zed Bias. “Black Sun” is a new track for me, substituting from “High Priestess” from my original copy of this record. (Originally slated for the album, “Black Sun” was cut after the US label “didn’t want the potential headache” of an uncleared sample. It is one of the best tracks on the album and easily one of the most accessible.)
As their only album (and it was only performed live twice, ever), The Politik instead serves as a photograph of a moment — a bullet frozen in the blurry dazzle of muzzle flash, capturing what de Clive-Lowe calls “the peak” of his many collaborations with Bémbé Ségué.
“I have a lot of US friends who know the record and consider it one of their favorite things I’ve done. I think that’s mostly to do with it being an alternate-universe take on a downtempo hip hop/soul record.
“But I enjoy listening to my old records. The albums all capture certain specific periods and times in my personal life, musical evolution, geographic location and creative community. I love that they document all of that. I’ve never put out an album that I genuinely didn’t like, so I have positive reactions revisiting them.
“I’ve done behind the scenes sessions on my Patreon talking about the making of Six Degrees and Tide’s Arising. I’m thinking The Politik might have to be next up.”