Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Was listening to the B.o.B vs. Bobby Ray tape yesterday, and I've gotta say that I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. Yes, B.o.B is great at rapping, and his guests also brought along some heat too (with two of my favorite spots coming from Killer Mike and... OJ Da Juiceman??). But surprisingly, I found myself attracted to some of the beats even more than I was to the rapping. A quick look at the credits told me that this dude Fury had produced many of the tracks that'd grabbed me so far in the tape, and also produced the two cuts that Mike and OJ appear on ("Say What You Want" and "I Am The Man," respectively). And as "I Am The Man" came on, I was greeted by a bluegrass singer crooning about his manness over a rapid banjo licks and a violin for a few seconds before the real beat kicked in. Overall, the beat itself is pretty typical stuff for 2009, a simple booming synth line accompanied by a syncopated thudding bass drum, but all the while he lets the bluegrass sample loop over and over. What makes it so interesting to me is how unassumingly experimental it is (if anyone else knows of an older rap song that has sampled bluegrass like this one, link me) -- he doesn't do much with the sample, but it's there and sounds like it really belongs to the extent that OJ Da Juiceman's trademark "ay" ad-libs (and his verse itself) somehow complement the song perfectly.
I thought the name was familiar, and upon doing a little digging, I also realized he produced my favorite beat off of Playboy Tre's Liquor Store Mascot, the "Oh My Lord Freestyle." For this one, he samples an old gospel tune that summons a playful, swing flow from Playboy Tre and Homebwoi that I haven't heard in hip-hop before. Can't wait to hear more.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
That's something of a harsh indictment, yes, but when you listen to dudes like Yaggfu Front, you realize how far the style has descended. I don't know much about them besides what you can find here, they were a trio of MCs hailing from North Carolina who released this one LP, Action Packed Adventure!, back in 1994. Now, I'm five months removed from listening to this regularly, so I cannot write with as much specificity as I'd like, but I can still easily say that this is just a very fun listen. The album opens with a skit of movie previews, one of the movies being about the aforementioned canine cop. After this, the group finds itself harassed by a crooked cop on their way to New York, takes a journey through a deserted island onto a pirate ship's plank that stands as metaphor for discovery of their creative processes, in a college chemistry lab barely passing, being stuck in friend zones, etc. Perhaps most famously, they cap the album off with bonus track "My Dick Is So Large," (just click on the link). Their deliveries are often just as scattershot as their content, so a listener gets the sense of just how scrambling and chaotic their stories tend to be. The beats, too, are uptempo and drum-laden enough to sound almost sound like your run of the mill east coast early 90s battle-rap material (which is already a good thing), but then there'll be a weird sound thrown in here or there to keep you on your toes, oftentimes mirroring themes in the MCing itself. There's just a levity and lack of pretention that makes these dudes such a pleasure to hear, maybe not too dissimilar from the rappers Brandon characterizes in his piece on goofball rappers.
So what happened to acts like these?
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Pharoahe Monch f. M.O.P - No Mercy
The most memorable rap song of the past few months for me is incidentally one that came out 9 years ago. I don't really know how to begin here, there are so many things that come together to make this into THE perfect hardcore battle rap track. Everything about it is overdone. The string part The Alchemist samples, when slowed down, sounds like it was originally written to be played as the Four Horsement are being summoned to Earth, and they're punctuated by these baritone horn blasts and timpani strikes that just add to track's franticness. Monch spits some of the most straightforwardly "hard" battle rhymes of his career, chock full of the multi rhyme patterns that have endeared him to rap nerds since his beginnings with Organized Konfusion. It is M.O.P, however, who are the real showstealers here. "Why are they yelling at me?" is the question my roommate asked when he heard Lil' Fame and Billy Danze doing their thing; but Paul, that's the entire point of the song! None of their punchlines are particularly impressive ("I got kick like Tae Kwon Do"?), but they spit like your life's at stake if you ignore them, and both of them have moments where they grab your attention by approximating machine gun fire. At the end, the beat rides on for a minute as the three cackle menacingly in the background, but I think it's also that they're laughing at how ridiculous the preceding 4 minute affair really was. They were having fun, and managed to escape the self-seriousness that makes 99% of hardcore undie rap tedious to listen to.
Nomo - Rings
This is one of those pieces that speak far better for themselves than any person really could, though this guy does a pretty good job explaining what Nomo is doing on Ghost Rock."Rings" is a fitting title for the song, as it's arranged so that each layer of instrumentation is introduced in order. The song reaches its apex with a great saxaphone solo (and eventually duet), and then each layer is removed in reverse order. It's incredible how they are able to draw such obvious inspiration from Fela Kuti while being so original.
Black Milk f. Royce Da 5'9 - Losing Out
I don't get how anybody can dismiss Black Milk as being some sort of boring, derivative boom-bap producer after listening to Tronic. While he is a skilled producer all around, his drums are really what draw me in; his percussion patterns are some of the most complex that I've heard. His flow also serves to complement, rather than distract from, his outstanding production work, something that can't be said for most producer-rappers. "Losing Out" is a great example of this, as he and Royce ride smoothly over a cymbal-driven groove supported by some crazy vocal sample in the background.
Jean Grae - My Story (Prod. 9th Wonder)
After Shapeshifters, Jeanius would most likely get my vote for most slept on album of 2008 (notice that both of these albums were crafted by female MCs... coincidence?). Although I saw it mentioned fleetingly by some during the summer, it seems to have largely (aside from this great review) escaped the critical consciousness of the Internets. This really shouldn't be the case. For one, of all the albums 9th Wonder has fully produced, Jeanius may contain his most consistently great set of beats yet. Although he is still mainly relying on soul samples and his drums still aren't crazy or whatever, I feel he does a great job varying each track's mood to suit Jean's subject matter. Jean's MCing is in peak shape as always, but there have always been complaints about her allegedly montoone and emotionless delivery. "My Story" should put these weak criticisms to rest, as she tells an intensely personal story about her struggles with abortion, faith, and family. She grabs your heart in a way that few artists, regardless of genre, ever manage to, and I'm disappointed that she hasn't gotten the acknowledgment she deserves for being brave enough to commit something like this to wax.
CYNE - Radiant Cool Boy
We needed a song like this in 2008. A rallying cry against the vacuous cynicism, "ironic" consumerism, and cultural misappropriation AS WELL as the self-congratulatory progressive worldview that has so characterized my generation. It also helps that the drums here smash something wonderful. The rest of the album is great, too, and I'd highly recommend you cop it. I'll provide yet another link (I really enjoy sharing the great work of others) to a great essay that tries to grapple with these themes.
Invincible f. Finale - Locusts (Docu-Music Video)
I've referenced this before during the summer, but it bears mentioning again. This is a moving testament to the ills of gentrification. At 10 minutes it is not overlong, and there is enough brilliant rapping interspersed between footage of Detroit and local residents to keep the impatient seated. Check for the rest of Shapeshifters if you can.
Young Jeezy - Word Play
So I may have just lost all credibility with my one backpacker reader out there, but so it goes. There's been a lot of talk about "My President" and "Put On," but it was the one-two combination of "Circulate" and "Word Play" that really grabbed me by the throat on The Recession. I love how playfully Jeezy shits on the critics who paint him stupid or whack because he isn't "lyrical" while stepping up his "lyrical" abilities. If he were angry, this song probably wouldn't have worked.
The Game f. DMX - Intro
Because this is perhaps the greatest arbitrary rap intro ever. Disagree? Well, then I rebuke you in the name of Jesus.
Pacewon and Mr. Green - Children Sing
Love the sample.
J-Live - It Don't Stop
Probably my favorite post-HHID "but hip-hop isn't dead yet!" anthem. A little corny, but I've always been a fan of J-Live's production and the energy he brings to the microphone.
Damu the Fudgemunk - Pulse Remix
I couldn't have left Damu out, especially when he blessed us with TWO great, free LPs this year, in Spare Time and Overtime. He's one of the most talented beatsmiths on the come up, and most likely my favorite. While drawing a lot upon the Golden Age jazzy boom-bap of yesteryear, Damu manages to make his music sound warmly familiar, and not boringly recycled. This is a remix of the original song "Pulse" by a wonderful group called Panacea, but as good as the original is, I prefer this version by leaps and bounds.
Nas - Queens Get The Money
I've defended Untitled enough. Though I like "Queens Get The Money" even more now than I did then.
Wale - The Artistic Integrity
I would've gone with "The Kramer" instead, but many others have already spoken to the great job Wale does in deconstructing the n-word on there, so I opted to go with this off of his fantastic Seinfeld themed The Mixtape About Nothing. He speaks on devouring lemons, life's being unfairly compared to Lupe and just about every other rapper, and being abandoned and raised by Nas. I can dig.
G-Side - G S I D E R
I have yet to fully absorb Starshipz and Rocketz, and this is very likely not the best song on the album, but tell me the combination of the emcees' slow, southern drawls, the rolling drums, the strings that sound straight out of an old Western flick, and spacey synths doesn't make you want to curl into a ball of joy. The production on every other song I've heard is also nothing short of superb. I can't even type as I listen to this.
People Under The Stairs - The Grind
PUTS quietly dropped one of the best albums of the year in Fun DMC. I would've rather put up the track "Gamin' On Ya" in which Thes flips what I assume to be an old NES sample to great success, but I couldn't find it. Still, "The Grind" is a great example of the relaxed, funky style that PUTS has gotten better at with each release.
GZA - 0% Finance
Talking about quietly dropped albums, whatever the hell happened with Pro Tools? Surprisingly few seemed to care about it, but I guess GZA didn't help by largely failing to perform any tracks off of it during his tour. In any case, GZA maintains the high caliber of writing that he's known for throughout the LP, and "0% Finance" is the most obvious example of how. Given that GZA has previously written conceptual narratives using the names of record labels, animals, and football teams, is his channeling of the auto industry to do the same thing a bit gimmicky at this point? Probably yes, but who cares? Who else could actually pull this off? In a sense, "0% Finance" is this year's antithesis to "A Milli." GZA also goes off on a 4 minute apparently stream-of-consciousness tangent, but GZA's manages to be extremely well-constructed, completely undanceable, and yet fun to listen to (not as fun as "A Milli," granted). I'd label it superior to all his own aforementioned concept tracks, perhaps save "Labels." Good work GZA, you've redeemed yourself somewhat.
Quarteto em Cy (with the Tamba Trio) - Imagem
Kinda random, but too beautiful for me not to include. Quarteto em Cy was originally a vocal group of four sisters from Brazil that was active in the bossa scene of the 60s. They still exist today, but their lineup has changed considerably with time. Anyhow, I had the good fortune of stumbling upon this gem of a group (originally consisting of four sisters named a few years ago on last.fm, and this review reminded me to check out more of their catalogue. If you have even the slightest preference for bossa nova, you will fall in love with this album and this. This isn't even my favorite song of theirs, but this was all I could find on YouTube. As listening to sublimely beautiful vocal harmonizing goes, you can do no better than Quarteto em Cy.
This list is by no means exhaustive, and I excluded most songs I've really liked that have appeared on most other lists, but if I want to include any more, I should probably do so in a second post. Thanks for reading, and happy holidays all.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
And now that I've been, I'm not sure that I'd go to another GZA show.
Let's start from the beginning. Trocadero opened its doors at 9 PM, but in anticipation of a late set, I had dinner with friends and got to Tracadero around 10. I was expecting the place to be flooded with the likes of UPenn hipsters, but I was surprised to find lots of working class white dudes in their place. There were also lots of younger black and latino kids, which was nice to see. So the Wu does have a diverse group of people who still care about them, but they just don't care enough to buy their records anymore.
Anyway, some generic, local undie group (I think they were called The Sharpest Blades?) was on stage, warning the audience not to front, talk smack behind their back, etc. All of the shows that I've been to in Philly in the past year have featured similarly unremarkable groups, which is disappointing considering the number of talented artists I've heard out of the city. Though I was impressed by how many aspiring rappers came to the show just to peddle their demos onto the crowd. Some MC named Burke gave me a copy of his CD 'Demolisten,' with a cover featuring an album collapsing and a picture of him placing headphones on. Still haven't listened to it yet, lest I end up like the building.
After a bunch of more subpar local performances, the stage was invaded by Killa Bees(!!!!!!!) around 10:45. They were a notch above the rappers that preceded them, though most failed to seriously impress besides one whose name I unfortunately can't remember. After about 15 minutes of them on stage, Killah Priest came out and ripped it. I'm not familiar with any of his stuff outside of "B.I.B.L.E," but his command on the mic made him a joy to listen to. He was backed by these thudding, grimey-yet-not-in-a-boring-way beats that started to get the place live.
My sense of time at this point is kinda distorted, but I don't think they were on for too long. After they bounced, the DJ put on some random tracks for what felt like an eternity, until the Shogun Assassin skit from "Liquid Swords" finally came on a little before midnight.
Everyone went nuts, of course, and a sea of Ws went into the air, and then GZA came out and everyone was rapping along and jumping in the air and holy shit, Liquid Swords sounds GREAT when being performed live. RZA's beats sounded almost entirely different over the booming soundsystem. GZA wasn't jumping all over the stage or anything, but he was still visibly energized, commandingly rapping both his and others' verses on most tracks like "Duel of the Iron Mic" and "Cold World." Interestingly, he tried to avoid using the n-word in the beginning of the show, replacing it with "brotha," although he kinda gave up in the middle. I wonder if it's a general thing for him or if he was prompted to do so by the white audience.
Things got a little dicey for him soon afterward, though. He did "Clan in da Front" and a few other Wu classics, which was great, then started going into the rest of his discography. I hadn't heard most of the tracks, save for "Animal Planet" and another I forget, but it was still obvious that his energy level had fallen. He kept telling the DJ to "slow it down," sometimes he'd walk off and Killah Priest would finish verses for him, etc. Although he kept promoting Pro Tools in the middle of his set, he waited until the very end to actually start performing tracks off of it. I'd been waiting for "0% Finance" all night, but by that point, he was obviously too tired to flow for the 4 straight minutes that the song would've required him to. He did "Groundbreaking" and "Paper Plates," but stuff like "Columbian Ties" or "Life is a Movie" or even "Pencil" would've translated better live than the 50 diss, I think. He peaced after those two tracks, a bit after 1 AM.
And that was that. While the first half of his set was incredible and the second part was solid (allowing for the pauses), I can't believe that it took 3 hours for the dude to come out on stage. I know he likes showing love to other aspiring rappers, but there's only so much you can do for guys named Folk & Stress, you know? I'd recommend the set to those that can see it, but go two hours late.
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Wow, this is a real shocker. A new DOOM (apparently he dropped the MF) album in six weeks with Dilla and Danger Mouse production? I'm a little skeptical about whether this will be a legit release with all original material, but I still can't help but be a little excited. I find the whole live-show impostor situation to be just as fucked as most people, his status as a "villain" notwithstanding, but at least this doesn't mean the dude is sick and that other people are just running around with his mask. The chances of Madvillainy 2 and/or Swift and Changeable coming out have also gone up from about 1 to 2 percent, as DOOM is at least showing us that he's still interested in recording.
Also just discovered today that Prince Po and Pharoahe Monch have recorded a new (as of now unreleased) track that may lead to a new Organized Konfusion album, which would be one of the greatest things I could ever hope for. I was listening to The Equinox before the end of summer, and even though people tend to shit on it, I don't think they really fell off from Stress (production just got a little more stale). This should be ill.
In other random news, RJD2 came to my school this past Saturday and opened for Broken Social Scene for this semester's "Large Scale Event." Even though generic indie rock is the usual order at Olde Club, our regular music venue (last year we only had The Last Emperor; this semester, there is NO hip-hop billed), the LSE's have been surprisingly good. The Roots were the LSE performers my first semester, and they were absolutely dopeilltastic. I even got to speak to Black Thought and shake his hand, and I spent the rest of the night running around campus throwing little girls into foliage out of sheer excitement.
Now, I didn't react to RJD2 in quite the same way, but he was also damn awesome. He surprisingly wasn't crouched over a laptop (not just mashup guys, but even Afrika Bambaataa was using a Mac when I saw him this summer), but actually had crates of vinyl with him that he played over four turntables. No microphone or acoustic guitar to be seen in his vicinity, thankfully. There was also a screen behind him where all of these weird, kinda corny but still really cool video clips were playing as he was spinning records from The Transporter, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, The Matrix, and even that old 80s orders-of-magnitude movie that every person who has taken high school physics has seen (the one with the guy and girl sleeping at the picnic). Stuff like that usually comes off as gimmicky, but I mention it because I think it really contributed to the performative aspect of the show and the sense that RJD2 wasn't taking himself too seriously.
So the show basically consisted of him recreating his tracks on Deadringer and Since We Last Spoke. But there was a bit of an improvisitory element to the show too, though, as he had some pad-keyboard device that allowed him to play drums over his instrumentals. He also had a good feel for when the crowd was beginning to fade away, throwing on "The Horror" and "Good Times Roll Pt. 2" to get everyone, and I mean everyone, really hype again. I've been saying that live DJ sets should be brought here for a long time, especially considering the amount of okayish mashup artists that've come through, and hopefully people will begin to see the light.
Anyway, I didn't stay for Broken Social Scene because I wasn't too thrilled by what I'd heard prior to the show, although I kinda regret that decision now. The two minutes of their show I heard (I returned for my umbrella) were really good, but I was about to embark on a misadventure involving high friends and Wendy's, so...
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
"The musical, titled Written in the Stars, is an original that my brother and I wrote.
It's a tale of disillusion. Eddie Hollman moves to a new community and starts his senior year at a performance high school. There he studies movement theater and gets chummy with a girl that lives next door. Throughout the show we learn about Eddie's turbulent past as he tries to break from a clown that haunts him and discover his destiny that's written in the stars.
Attached are advertisements for the show's auditions. Audition dates are Saturday, September 6th from 11am-1:00 pm, and Sunday, September 7th from 4:30-7:30 pm. Because this is a show that heavily involves movement, there will be a dance call on Sunday, September 7 also from 4:30-7:30 pm. All auditions will be held in Lang Music Building at Swarthmore College.
Thanks a lot, and I sincerely hope this clarifies any concerns. Please feel free to sign-up for an audition time posted in Parrish. Also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to continue this dialogue regarding the show's casting and vision. I look forward to seeing you at auditions!
Saturday, August 30, 2008
Invincible - Shapeshifters: I don't really have much to say that hasn't been covered in this fantastic review. The only thing really preventing me from declaring this the album of the year right now is its at-times relatively lackluster production (no beats here are outright bad), but everything else about it is remarkable. It's certainly the best thing out of Detroit that I've heard this year (and yes, I've listened to The Preface). Labeling Invincible a great lyricist is an understatement; in addition to dropping tongue twisting rhymes every other bar, she weaves a consistent and complex narrative of oppression as it manifests itself worldwide, from Ann Arbor to Detroit to Palestine, and makes a convincing case as to how music really is a "Sledgehammer" that can incite real grass-roots change. She even created a docu-music-video to "Locusts," having residents of her community in Detroit supplement the music by discussing how gentrification has affected them personally. I'm really disappointed that a record of such a high calibre has been so overlooked by the hip-hop media (AND blogosphere).
Nas - Untitled/Nigger: It's become fashionable for people to say The Nigger Tape is somehow vastly superior to Untitled, but I call bullshit on that. Granted, the beats knocked a little more, but aside from the stellar tracks "Esco Let's Go" and "Ghetto Remix" (which obviously couldn't have made the final cut), I don't think there's anything that I miss not having on the official record. And come on, you can make your own damn custom mix if you'd really like to. I still largely stand by my review, and believe that a lot of people failed to judge Nas' lyrics from a proper context. Nas is not trying to offer any concrete idea of what "success" for black America is/and should be, and he almost always DIRECTLY relates celebration of money to his life in Queensbridge, showing that the former is a product of the latter. When he talks about personal growth and having a broader worldview, he isn't being inconsistent, but is telling us that he's grown out of this mindset. Something else that's frustrated me with how this LP has been received is how Nas largely doesn't get credit for his still incredible rhyming talents. Often when this point is made, someone will retort "Well of course, it's Nas," as if that makes his achievement non-noteworthy. I'm not going to attempt to defend the production, though, as I've come to realize that enjoyment of beats is 99% a subjective thing.
Talking Heads - Remain in Light: I know I said I'd avoid obvious classics, but I'll briefly mention this because it is probably the favorite discovery I've made this summer. Few things in this world excite me as much as counterpoint and polyrhythms, and to find an album chock full of songs with MULTIPLE polyrythmic, funky grooves directly inspired by Afrobeat is almost too much to ask for. Also, where the fuck is my beautiful wife?
CYNE - Pretty Dark Things: So my original prediction was slightly off; I haven't seen ANY publication review this album, despite it definitely being one of the stronger LPs of the year. My enthusiasm for the production may have waned a little, and I would probably choose two different tracks to link to if I could do the review over, but I still stand by my basic point that album's content is more interesting than what you find your run-of-the-mill undie release (although not startling to those who read or think), and while not as thematically complex is in some ways far more accessible than Shapeshifters and other politically-oriented rap I've recently listened to.
Scientifik - Criminal: If it weren't for Dan Love's beat deconstruction of "Downlo Ho" and Max's review, I would've never heard of this great hidden gem of an album. Scientifik is a great rapper and kicks some great rhymes about how steals shit from dope dealers and disapproves of shady women, and practically every beat is perfect. The production almost always consists of hard, complex drum breaks (of the likes you don't hear these days) underneath subdued, jazzy bass and horn samples, giving the music a very consistent gloomy, wintry, yet melodic feel - essentially gritty boom-bap at its finest. Also, I nominate "As Long As You Know" as the most overlooked RZA cut in hip-hop history, as Scientifik and Edo G. just rip the track to shreds between the two of them. Sadly, Scientifik died about a year after the album was released. R.I.P.
Can't quite continue now, but I'll hopefully have time to finish this up within the next few days.