Main Source’s ‘Breaking Atoms’ Influenced a Generation of Producers
In the world of hip-hop, Queens reigns supreme when it comes to producing legendary rap talent. With revered names like Run D.M.C., LL Cool J, Kool G Rap and A Tribe Called Quest having put on for the borough, it's safe to say that the soil is fertile ground for iconic rhyme-sayers. But in addition to its rap talent, Queens also boasts a bevy of game-changing producers, including legends like Larry Smith and Marley Marl, both of whom played a monumental role in crafting the beats that would serve as templates on which generations of boardsmen would build.
One of the first leaders of the new school, in that regard, was Large Professor, who would play a pivotal role in some of the biggest album releases in hip-hop history. Born in Harlem, the rapping producer would move to Queens, where he would catch the hip-hop bug and link up with brothers K-Cut and Sir Scratch, his classmates at met at John Browne High School. Combining their forces to form the trio Main Source, the group's endeavors were financed by K-Cut and Sir Scratch's mother, who took on the role as the group's manager. Signing a deal with Wild Pitch Records, Main Source would release their debut album, Breaking Atoms, on July 23, 1991, which would go down as one of the most important hip-hop releases of all-time.
Hip-hop's sound was continuously evolving with every new piece of equipment manufactured or technique discovered. The early 1980s were filled with rap records that followed the blueprint of popular funk and disco tracks, the mid-1980s saw the emergence of more digitized, aggressive and sample-driven production. By the late 80s, sampling had become a backbone of hip-hop's sound; with Marley Marl, The Bomb Squad, and Prince Paul would usher in a renaissance. At the dawn of the 90s, Large Professor, who had honed his craft under the tutelage of the late, influential producer Paul C, would take what he learned as a pupil and utilize it to deliver masterful beats for the likes of Eric B. and Rakim, Kool G Rap, and Intelligent Hoodlum.
That early success would get his foot in the door as an elite hip-hop producer, but Large Professor's sonics wouldn't truly shine on a widespread level until Breaking Atoms dropped during the summer of 1991. Consisting of eleven original songs and one remix, Breaking Atoms is a brisk listen, but contains enough material to leave an impression on anyone that's game to give it a spin. Breaking Atoms greets us with a sample of Ike Turner and The Kings of Rhythm's "Getting Nasty" at the beginning of the album opener, "Snake Eyes," a cut that is aimed at the agents of deceit and backstabbers in his cipher. Rhyming "Rolling dice can help you or hurt you, your virtue is/Knowing when to quit cause you've hit your cash curfew/Even if you have to get swift and swindle/It's as long as you win, so close you're simple," Large Professor flows nimbly over traces of "Watermelon Man" by Johnnie Taylor, one of five samples on "Snake Eyes," a testament to Large's production ambitions.
"Snake Eyes" is followed by "Just Hanging Out," an ode to fraternizing with your friends, which also contains elements of Sister Nancy's dancehall classic "Bam Bam," which gives the track a festive air. Shouting out contemporaries like Pete Rock and CL Smooth, Large Professor also throws a nod towards a then unknown Nas with the couplet "On the problems of the weak dumb and meek, my man's deep/Like the kid from the Bridge named the rapper Nas/Me and G collect money in bars," which serves as the first mention of the ghetto griot on wax. However, the undisputed main attraction of Breaking Atoms is its lead-single, "Looking At The Front Door," a tale of romantic frustration that sees Large Professor airing his various grievances over an uptempo breakbeat. "We fight every night, now that's not kosher/I reminisce with bliss of when we was closer/And wake up to be greeted by an argument again/You act like you're ten," Extra P frets to his lover before pulling the plug on their relationship. In stark contrast to the underwhelming sales performance of Breaking Atoms, "Looking At The Front Door" would become a fan favorite, shooting to the top of the rap charts and introducing Main Source to the general public consciousness with its accompanying music video.
Large Professor and company deliver Breaking Atoms' most poignant moment with "Just a Friendly Game of Baseball," which laments the rampant police brutality against African-Americans and other minorities, a sentiment that, unfortunately, resonates twenty-five years later. Rapping "[Blam] Aww shit, another young brother hit/I better go over my man's crib and get the pump/Cause to the cops, shootin brothers is like playin baseball/And they're never in a slump," Large Professor holds no shorts detailing his angst against the boys in blue, ending off the opening verse with a vow to defend himself against murderous cops. The lines "I know a cop that's savage, his pockets stay green like cabbage/Cause he has a good batting average/No questions, just pulls out the flamer/[Blam] And his excuses get lamer" mirror the stories that movements like Black Lives Matter bring to the forefront in 2016, evidence of the track's merit as a authentic take on law enforcement.
Another highlight of Breaking Atoms comes in the form of "Peace Is Not The Word To Play," which sees Large Professor taking the urban community to task for not practicing what they preach and using the word "peace" while ignoring the very principals of it. Aside from being a seminal release in its own right, Breaking Atoms is also noted for introducing Nas to the hip-hop community with the posse-cut, "Live At The BBQ." Recalling his introduction to the Queensbridge prodigy, Large Professor reveals that his first encounter with Nas happened while the two were still teenagers. "Joe Fatal, one day after school he came to my high school and was like “yo we got this dude his name is Nas, he’s ill on the mic and we want you to produce a demo for him.” Extra P said during a 2008 interview with Cocaine Blunts.
Coming out of the gate swinging, Nas instantly reels in listeners with his now-iconic opening bars "Street's disciple, my raps are trifle/I shoot slugs from my brain just like a rifle," announcing his arrival with the gall of a proven veteran. Following that lyrical first-step with the couplet "Verbal assassin, my architect pleases/When I was 12, I went to hell for snuffing Jesus/Nasty Nas is a rebel to America/Police murderer, I'm causing hysteria," Nas effectively stamped his ticket into the annals of rap lore with one of the more significant debuts in hip-hop to date. While Large Professor and costars Joe Fatal and Akinyele laid down worthy performances of their own, "Live at the BBQ" will forever be known as the christening of Nas as rap's resident golden child, adding to the greatness that is Breaking Atoms.
While Main Source's debut failed to transform them into superstars and was met by indifference by the larger record-buying public, the album was fawned over by critics and beat-junkies alike. Writer Jonathan Shecter of The Source wrote "As a debut album, Breaking Atoms is a bright beacon of hope that New York artists can continue to advance rap to new heights of musical and lyrical depth," in his 1991 review of the release. Entertainment Weekly also waxed poetic on the merits of Breaking Atoms, with James Bernard writing "On Breaking Atoms, their full-length debut, Main Source may not break much new ground, but they offer a clever, quietly seductive collection in which the bass and drum tracks casually strut instead of stomp, and the sparse samples of guitar and horns allow the Large Professor’s voice to take center stage."
Breaking Atoms would be Main Source's sole album with Large Professor on board, as the rapper/producer would depart from the group prior to the release of their sophomore effort, Fuck What You Think, which would also be the group's final album. Large Professor attributed his reasons for breaking ties with K-Cut and Sir Scratch due to financial misappropriation on the part of their mother, Sandra McKenzie. "What happened basically was, the two DJs mother was our manager, so that started turning into a big conflict of interests because when the money was to be dispersed they got hit first," Large Professor told Cocaine Blunts. "And sometimes I wouldn’t even get hit at all. So after a while of dealing with that I had to just go ahead and make moves."
K-Cut and Sir Scratch would fade into obscurity following the release of Fuck What You Think, Large Professor's career would flourish, with his production prowess allowing him to be sought after by some of the most respected names in hip-hop. He has also remained a consistent presence behind the mic, from his solo album releases to collaborative albums with Akinyele and Cormega, respectively. Strained relationships being what they are, what can't be disputed is the magic that Large Professor, K-Cut, and Sir Scratch created with Breaking Atoms, and twenty-five years later, its impact on the way songs and albums were made in its aftermath looms larger than ever.