Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Who is Fury?

Probably not this guy.

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

Revivalist Jazz Rappers, ever listen to Yaggfu Front?

So, I suppose I'm back for the summer. Sorry for the long absence, my lone reader. Last semester kinda kicked the crap out of me and left me in a ditch in Delaware County, PA to slowly die of exposure, but somehow I managed to crawl back home, presumably stronger and wiser than I was before. Anyway, here's a post I was trying to work on, I dunno, five months ago and lost the energy for.

Featuring a two-legged police dog that chomps fuckers up

Jazz rap has gotten kinda boring. I can't tell you why it's happened, but somewhere between 1994 and 2009 it became less innovative and energetic and became more like easy listening. I'm not talking about fusion projects like Yesterday's New Quintet, but instead about stuff that's informed by a true school, boom-bap aesthetic. Ironically, a lot of the qualities that made 90s jazzy boom-bap great, at least for me, aren't easily found in its present form. The drums aren't as rhythmically off-kilter or layered, and the samples/instrumentation wouldn't sound out of place on your local smooth jazz station. The rappers who adopt this style tend to be more passive on the mic than just about anybody, as if their true-school sound and positivity are enough to make up for their lack of charisma, limited flows, etc. The playful virtuosity showcased by dudes like Dres and Bootie Brown can be traced down more easily to Wayne and Freeway than, let's say, Substantial or present-day Guru, even (though his superproductions aren't informed by a "jazzy" aesthetic anymore, I guess). Contemporary jazz rap is basically the closest hip-hop has gotten to approximating muzak.

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?