Comprising Canadian deejay duo Sir Scratch and K-Kut, along with emcee Large Professor, Main Source was a group that essentially came together to create magic with one album, and then went their seperate way, never to do anything as masterful as what they were able to do with this collaboration. Make no mistake, the album was a collaborative effort by all three men, but the fingerprints indicate that it was the Large Professor doing much of the heavy lifting. The group would face its end when, after the critical success of this album, the groups management (Scratch & Kut's mother) tried to force the Professor out of the group to spotlight the deejays. Only one follow up single without the Professor would surface, while the Large Professor would go on to success as a producer for other acts.
If I were to just give you a copy of this album, after the first listen you would probably assume this was a solo album from the Large Professor. From the drum & bass style of beats, to the storytelling lyrical style, Breaking Atoms is similar to Pete Rock & CL Smooth's work from around the same time. The difference, was that instead of a producer and emcee that flawlessly complimented each other, the Large Professor is the heart and sould of Main Source, with the talents of Scratch & Kut only helped to enhance the sound of the Large Professor.
When doing background research for this piece, the sound of Breaking Atoms was often compared to something from Steely Dan, a rock group known for an over the top attention to detail - often to the point where the group refuses to perform their songs live because they cannot duplicate the sound from the studio. This comparison seems to be fair, from the perspective that much of the sounds on this album were different and unique for 1991, but are somewhat common place today. At this point in time, the musical style of Drum & Bass was in its infancy, and probably a style that Main Source mimicked from independent thought, rather than influence. The musical style is pretty distinct for this point in time - fast percussion tracks with much slower basslines & jazz horn riffs looped on top. When the Professor comes in with his precise and well enunciated lyrics, a distinct style is unleashed. Bringing the sound together is the inclusion of a variety of drops and scratches, highlighting the turntable skills of the brotherly duo. The overall "Main Source" sound is foreshadowing of some of the "alternative" hiphop sounds that would come from artists like DJ Shadow and the X-ecutioners a few years later, while maintaining street cred with the lyrics that many of those acts lacked.
Breaking Atoms is in my top ten simply because there are so many good songs from this album, which sounds just as fresh today as it did upon the album's release in 1991. While "Live At the Barbecue" is often cited for being the debut of Nas, the album is full of other great songs that are actually more relevant and powerful. "Looking At The Front Door" is a great example, as the layered drum & bass sound with a smooth jazz feel show a distinct departure from typical East Coast hiphop. Other tracks, such as Peace Is Not The Word To Play and A Friendly Game of Baseball show a social consiousness, but avoid going as far as being "political" or "militant" rap.