One on One

Ming of Ming + FS speaks on NY schoolyards to scrap yards

The old saying goes: Rap is something you do, hip-hop is something you live. Based in New York, Ming of progressive hip-hop production duo Ming + FS couldn't agree more.

"Manhattan is our lifeblood. All the cliches are true," says Ming. "You live a hip-hop lifestyle regardless of who you are. You're forced to use subways, you see graffiti everywhere, the sounds of hip-hop bounce at you from every corner, every shop. There're B-boys and businessmen everywhere listening to hip-hop in the cement jungle. In the subway, people play weird instruments, buckets. The street performers, that multicultural randomness — that's hip-hop culture. We live and breathe and soak in that element as much we can."

Drawing from "Madhattan" (Ming + FS's pet name for their home, as well as the official name for their studio), Ming and his collaborative partner since 1996, FS, came to national prominence in the late '90s with a sound they deemed "junkyard." Mixing hip-hop, electro, drum 'n' bass and house, Ming + FS existed between the lines and behind the scenes, building a substantial licensable catalog during copious remixes and scoring commercials in between the duo's four proper full-lengths. Now, however, despite their increasingly adept incorporation of the myriad sounds, Ming + FS have junked junkyard, a term they only created to pre-empt themselves from being called turntablists, Ming says.

Shrugging off a term doesn't mean the group is slagging any portion of its audience, however. Ming + FS have gained a following by being unafraid to make music with anything — slamming car doors, mating frogs, tapping a Folgers Crystals jingle-style percolation on Ming's bald head. And unapologetically, the two have performed for anyone — playing raves, with the Roots, and on hippie-haven the Jam Cruise, among other venues.

"In our early days, we played the rave scene when it was burgeoning, but we saw we also had to go back into the war zone, play rock clubs we hadn't before — it makes the ride a little more stable since we're not dependent on any one scene," says Ming of the group's transition. The duo morphed into performers utilizing turntables as just another manipulative element in their beefy arsenal, alongside live bass, manually tweaked FX processors, crackling wah-wah from overdriven Radio Shack mono amps and custom-crafted soft-synth/sampler environments, just to name a few.

Ming + FS's new album, Back to One, is a step back, so to speak, in that while developing the album — which Ming feels is the group's most realized to date because it was done between labels and completely without external suggestion — the group intentionally went for nuanced devolution and delineation.

"This is a progressive hip-hop record, so we tried to eliminate some of the dance elements," says Ming. "Now listeners can rejoice or whatever in that 'Ming + FS' will be more concise, as house music and other projects will be under different names."

On Back to One, the name of the game is hitting the jigger with vigor, spiking each track with enough off-kilter crunch to keep attention without keeping any one formula. The opener, "Fish Eyes," is representative of Ming + FS's work: echoing samples scratching forth as rhythms escalate and ebb from mid-tempo, the firmament of hip-hop and foundation of drum 'n' bass. "Big Little Jeffrey" jumps in to jittery double-time.

Some tracks, however, primarily vocal ones, find their flow and foster it. A prime example is "Starts Somewhere," which coasts on a greasy horn grind that's pure Dirty Dirty, something you'd hear from a Caddy cruising Cee-Lo's 'hood. "Starts Somewhere" is the strongest showing from MC Napoleon Solo, who lays his paced presence on six tracks.

"We let it be pretty organic," says Ming. "We always write a lot more tracks than an album needs, so we gave Napoleon a bunch and let him pick the ones that he was feeling. Then we all got together in the studio and produced them as we were feeling them. We just walk in off the streets with the energy of that day and capture it, tweak it and send it back."

With hip-hop lives, Ming + FS stay live.