Archive for March, 2007

Crying over spilled Black Milk

March 28, 2007

No crying actually. This album is looking more and more likely as if it could be thee album of the spring/summer 2007 (I’m still holding my breath for Pharoah’s Desire). It’s good to see the love pouring in from other bloggers (pun intended)…at least the recognition that Black Milk has that quality in his beats to have some commericial spill-over success (pun intended).

Kyle & I have yet to show any love for the bonus disc which I’ve been bangin’ just as much as the main course. It features a eight instrumentals (and one vocal track) from previous releases, e.g. “Broken Wax,” Pressure,” and one of my favorite BM tracks/beats, “U’s a Freak [Bitch].” The vocal track is featured on BM’s Broken Wax EP, but the instrumental bangs just as hard. You know a producer is doing his thing when the instrumental cuts deserve their own disc.

I’m content to sit back and watch BM’s beats spread like wild fire.



“Shut It Down”

March 23, 2007

How is this not the hottest hip-hop record in New York right now? It’s almost like some Midwestern producers are more New York than New York’s own producers…

Black Milk – “Shut It Down” (iTunes)

I’ll have some more thoughts on this track, but it’s Friday and I’m punching the clock for now…

Shades of Dilla

March 22, 2007

I get the feeling that this is going to be a recurring theme here, and I don’t think that it’s by accident, but I agree with Pete that some of the Dilla-isms on Popular Demand are downright uncanny.

In particular, “Three+Sum” (which I think should have been the B-side on the 12″, or even the next single) sounds like it was ripped from what I think you can imprecisely dub Dilla’s Donuts period (including all those 2005 beat tapes that hit the internet). Pete also aptly points out that the subject-matter is similarly Dilla-tastic.

Tracks like “Sound the Alarm“, on the other hand, remind you more of Dilla’s Welcome 2 Detroit/Ruff Draft period. I challenge anyone to pick up a copy of Ruff Draft, throw on “Reckless Driving“, and tell me that you don’t hear the similarities to “Sound the Alarm.” Even the hook-writing is eerily similar.

I’ll look for the quote, but I recall one reviewer describing Milk’s beats as J Dilla without the idiosyncrasies. I think that’s right on point. His shit is just a little more polished, and just may be a litlte more palatable for mainstream hip-hop audiences. We’ll see.

First Single: “Sound the Alarm”

March 22, 2007

The first single from “Popular Demand” is “Sound the Alarm,” for which they also put out a video. If you recall, I criticized ISWHAT?! and their hip-hop hooks. Let this track stand as the perfect example of the right way to do it. The shit is infectious.

Guilty Simpson looks a little stiff, no? Big guys gotta be comfortable in their own body or else they just make everyone around them uncomfortable. Otherwise, I thought it was a solid hip-hop video, if not groundbreaking–but I would advise against watching this if you liked the video, it sort of detracts from the “realism.”

The 12″ single also includes the track “About Me” (off the Pressure mixtape) and the B-Side is “Say Something” off of the new LP.

Manage a trois

March 21, 2007

Aight, I’ve been trying to slow my head-nod down long enough to listen beyond the beats. It’s tough, believe that. You know, the conspiracy theorist in me (and this hip hop ya’ll, the music where nobody but everyone dies), has me thinking that Dilla ghost produced (pun implied) some of these beats. The drums (particularly snares) are too familiar. Then I hear how Black flows.

A number of Detroit emcess/(producers) have a similar mic presence. T3, Dilla, Ta’Raach, Black Milk – they all have that punchy rhythm that hits at the right points throughout the beat. Dilla was the master of this – hitting at the kick, or pausing with beat; Black Milk brings a similar style on Popular Demand. No where is this more evident than on “Three+Sum,” “Action,” & “Take It There.” That latter is complete will “Let’s Go’s” & “Oh’s.” Of “Three+Sum,” it’s good to see a Detroit emcee come through with the manage a track (listen to Fantastic Vols. 1 or 2, Welcome to Detroit, and anything by Frank & Dank).

I’m not a producer (but I know one to ask so don’t test me), but it’s as if some producers (I speak generally) know their beats so well, that their lyrics aren’t lyrics; they are part of the beat. I watch those videos Kyle posted of BM toying around with a beat, and he’s nodding his head; listening for the slightest sound as he alters the bass’s timing here and there. The way he rhymes at times on PD, how he emphasizes sounds, and pauses – he, much like Dilla mastered, is part of the beat…I think that is the overall impression I get about BP lyrically. Not that there is some sociological message, or even that he’s glorifying some gangster image; and while the club, drink, and woman(izing) talk is present, it is ancillary to his real mission – the beats. BP, in the end (for me), is a beat tape.

RE: Black Milk’s Commercial Viability

March 20, 2007

Bottom line: he could lace tracks for 50 Cent right now; they would make some real hood shit. But does he want to? That is, if you had the choice, is 50 the right major label artist to hook up with at this moment, if you’re Milk, you want to get paid making some of his raw shit? If not, then who is? Jay? Nas? T.I.?

I was going to go this route but I wanted to keep my original post brief. 50 Cent was the exact artist that came to mind to. Not so much because of his lyrical dexterity, but he seems the prototypical artist one may consider to hit the major circuit. (And, not for nothing, but 50 usually does a good job picking beats…particularly for his singles). But, off your suggestion, I think T.I. would be a good fit. He has a lazy flow that may work really well with a Black Milk beat.

Black Milk’s Commercial Viability

March 20, 2007

Son… you read my mind with that suggestion that Milk’s shit could really get commercial run. I actually even had an entire paragraph on that written in my intro, but deleted because I wanted to talk about it later and in greater depth.

It’s just that his shit bangs like an Aftermath beat, but it’s even grimier; you can’t tell me that the streets won’t feel that. While it’s probably for the better that Milk’s Lloyd Banks collabo never got released (the LP flopped, and Banks is hardly an emcee to showcase Milk’s production), but it’s an inkling of the potential major label support this kid could get.

Bottom line: he could lace tracks for 50 Cent right now; they would make some real hood shit. But does he want to? That is, if you had the choice, is 50 the right major label artist to hook up with at this moment, if you’re Milk, and you want to get paid making some of his raw shit? Is G-Unit on its way out? If so, then who is the right person to hook up with? Jay? Nas? T.I.?

“Popular Demand” – precursory thoughts

March 20, 2007

Aight, I’m having overload after listening to this album a few times through so it may take a minute to collect my thoughts. If had to play a little word association with myself, it go something like this:

Black Milk – Detroit
Detroit – Dilla
Popular Demand – Beats
Beats – Bangin’

I had a similar beat overload the first the time I heard Champion Sound. The drums dominate and the patterns BM uses are easily identified with Dilla’s Detroit. On tracks like “Take It There,” the drums, along with an amazing sample, create a mob-inciting environment…not sure what the sample was before being cut up, but I love the chanting background BM creates with it.

In addition to thinking of beats when I think Popular Demand I also think consistency; that is, there is no lull on the production. Typical of another Detroit native. When it comes to sampled beats, I always think that the entire beat hinges on the sample used – picking out that sample and cutting it up just right is truly an art – and Black Milk’s beats revel in excellent samples. Similar to Dilla (is the Dilla comparison tired by now?), BM takes some soulful ass beats and makes them bang hard.

So, as I’m bopping my head to the beats, I can’t help but think: anyone of these beats could be a hit commercially; I can easily hear cars bumpin’ “Threesum,” “One Song,” or “Action.” It’s difficult to get inside an artist’s head though. Some strive for that commercial success, e.g. Kanye. Others, like a Dilla or Madlib seem content to succeed/produce on their own terms. I don’t know enough about Black Milk to guess where he’ll end up. He definitely has a marketable sound, particularly in the wake of the success of Kanye, and the death legacy of Dilla.

I’m going to have to listen to the album more to shed light on it lyrically – prematurely, I think Black Milk has that ill ability to flow over the hard drums, a la T3 and Dilla.

Oh yeah, one more thing: how good is it to hear T3 & Baatin together, along with Elzhi?

P.S. That studio session, ill. Love the lone light bulb (he needs to get one of those energy savers though); also love his remark on sampling: “Cats probably think I have hundreds of thousand records; it ain’t really like that though. I just got good records.” The art of sampling.

Black Milk – “Popular Demand”

March 19, 2007

Black Milk – “Popular Demand”
Fat Beats (2007)

Detroit is trying to take over right now… You probably been feeling Black Milk‘s work for years, but didn’t even know it. The 24-year-old producer/emcee out of the D has been producing for Slum Village since 2002 as part of the B.R. Gunna production team.

When I heard the “internet goin’ nuts” over Black Milk, I was skeptical, but very interested given all the hype. (I was sleeping on the B.R. Gunna connection).

I first checked out his promo mixtape, “Pressure” (free download), when it dropped a month or two ago. But I really couldn’t get into it because there wasn’t enough Milk on there (it featured a lot of his Slum Village production) and the mix was very poor.

However, when I finally got my hands on his new LP “Popular Demand” I was blown away. I feel stupid, but I’ll admit it: I slept on this cat.

The sound evokes a post-Tribe Dilla… that grittier, synthy sound that he ushered in on “Welcome to Detroit” and kept going into “Donuts” and whatever else remains of his library. Make no mistake these beats BANG, and they have that drunken griminess that Detroit is becoming known for.

Moreover, this kid has real talent as an emcee. Milk has this amazing presence on the mic and shows some versatility with his flow. As for the content of his lyrics, I’ll let him explain (hat tip:

[M]ost of my lyrical content be on some regular s**t, everyday s**t that you would hear from Jay-Z or any n***a on the radio. I talk about chicks and havin’ nice s**t and stuff like that. It’s just that them the type of beats I like to make. But the raps, they regular. I’m not a really a so-called “conscious” or “political” type rapper, that’s cool, but that’s not really me. Detroit, we the type of city where there’s a lot of street s**t goin’ on, a lot of negativity. I’mma rap about a lot of the s**t that go on here in the D, which is not no pretty type city. [Laughs] It’s a lot of f**ked up s**t goin’ on…like anywhere else.

While I feel like Pete’s pick was an experimental choice, and a good one at that (it really challenged us), this is one of those guaranteed bangers that will also be fun to delve into, but in a different kind of way.

I’ve provided here a two-part interview Milk did with Here, he’s on his home turf, and he shows his recording set-up, messes with some beats, and just talks shop. It’s a must-see.

I also reccomend checking out his interview with the Red Bull Music Academy. Those guys always put together an in depth program for real beat heads.

Review: ISWHAT?! “The Life We Chose”

March 19, 2007

ISWHAT?! – “The Life We Choose”
Hyena Records (2006)

They’re probably much better live.

ISWHAT?!‘s second LP, “The Life We Chose” provides ample evidence for this half-compliment. The album’s only two live tracks–“Kashmir” (yeah, that Kashmir) and “Pilgrimage”–really capture the energy and originality of their stage act. While I might ask for a better quality recording (it almost sounds like there was only one mic), these tracks really shine insofar they showcase emcee Napoleon Maddux’s jazz beatboxing skills and the avant garde jazz skills of saxophonist Jack Walker and bassist Matt Anderson.

But ISWHAT?! is also a hip-hop/jazz fusion act, so what of the other tracks? Well, for better and worse, they’re all over the place. Overall, emcee Napoleon spits the usual leftist, socially-conscious rapper screed: calling attention to the corporations and corrupt politicians conspiring to keep everyone poor, particularly minorities (the artists say that politics actually brought them together in the first place). But he also takes some time to call out hip-hop culture for its own foibles (discussed at length on this site all week). I’ve spent some time commending Napoleon for using this medium to talk about issues of consequence, so I do not pass judgment on these views. I’m just happy that he can offer a message of critical thought, political awareness, and social responsibility.

But let’s get into the music. After starting off with the Kashmir cover, the first studio track on the album is, “Casket”– a punchy, energetic song with Napoleon spitting what is mostly a braggadocio, uplifting, I’m-staying-positive-in-spite-of-the-hard-times kind of message. The keys and the sax make for a smooth melody, and the bass lines are aggressive (as they are consistently throughout the album). But ultimately “Casket” just sounds overproduced. To me, ISWHAT?! sounds best when they are stripped down to their core elements. Here however, you have some pretty generic scratches, the melodic but powdery keys, a moog-type rock organ that sounds like its from a Fatboy Slim track, and a repetitive beatboxing all crowding the song, trying to sound polished. Perhaps they thought this would be commercially viable, as I’ve suggested, but this is one of those places where you should just stick to what you do best.

Immediately following Casket is “Profiles”, a track that I love, and that I’ve discussed before. I’ll reiterate here that I believe that this where the ISWHAT?! experiment truly shines. It’s just drums, bass, sax, and some scratches accompanying Napoleon. It’s really stripped down, reminiscent of something from The Roots’ debut “Organix” and there definitely will be times when you do hear Black Thought in Napoleon’s delivery and flow. It’s additionally noteworthy that there’s no hook on this track–simply Jack Walker’s ode to Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.” Contrast this with the instances where ISWHAT?! tries to organize its song in a more traditional hip-hop formula, with a hook driven arrangement, and mostly lackluster results. (See: “K.N.O.C.K” and “Ill Biz”). The hooks are often just monotonous and not credible in a hip-hop sense.

When I say that the tracks are all over the place, it’s because of songs like “Front.” Here, Napoleon is rhyming over a polished trance beat that sounds like it could have came from Paul van Dyk. There is the occasional wawa-ed sax from Walker, but otherwise it just isn’t original sounding enough to persuade me to genre-hop so abruptly.

The title track “The Life We Chose” is well-done, and stands as an exception to the awful hooks found elsewhere on the album. The main melody is provided by another wawa-ed sax from Walker and it works really well, weaving in and out, from the background to the foreground (the same goes for a harmonized vocal element humming an eerie “oooooh, oooooooooh” kind of thing). The drums really knock too, and at times they sound like they are being punched in with a sampler. Overall, the entire beat is seemingly in a state of constant change, and it really keeps you interested.

The theme for “The Life We Chose” also interests me, because it seems to belie the politics discussed elsewhere on the album. This sort of message of self-responsibility–that we “choose” the path that our life ultimately takes–seems to suggest that life’s struggles are of our own creation. It seems to me the message is intended to promote empowerment (if we choose it, we can change it), but that may contradict the marxist-type arguments that appear elsewhere, suggesting that higher powers (corporations, government) are in control and responsible for our social ills. Perhaps he’s just talking about the hip-hop game. I’m confused, so take a look at the lyrics on the hook and decide for yourself:

so you a boxer with a broken nose
hands up, this is the life we chose
hot fashion model with the itchiest clothes
dress up, this is the life we chose
a farmer on the turf where the worst weeds grow
dig up, this is the life we chose
grab tissue, face issues and fight your foe
cause you know this is the life we chose

Other solid tracks to check for include “Mooch” (Pete discusses it here), “Pilgrimage” (I discuss it here), “The Voice Within”, and “Writer’s Block” (I discuss it here).

But what do all of these tracks have in common? Napoleon doesn’t rhyme on them. Ditto for “Kashmir” as was discussed above. And I don’t necessarily think he’s a poor emcee, it’s just that this album doesn’t showcase his rhyming talent well enough. I will say however, that sometimes he sounds like he’s going too fast and his delivery suffers (lines don’t get the proper emphasis, others sound rushed, that kind of thing). But dude can rhyme, and he has this super unique, half Dougie Fresh/half scat-singing beatbox style going for him. It’s just that I don’t come away from this album saying, damn get this guy a solo album.

Overall, I think “The Life We Chose” is a good effort, and an interesting composition, but it is ultimately a flawed album. The song styles can be all over the place and the attempts at traditional hip-hop sounding tracks are sub-par. The band shines on the stripped down tracks that either a) are live, or b) sound like they could have been live. That is to say, I think IsWhat?! has good thing going, but their attempt to put together a studio album falls short here.

I give the album 3.0 out of 5.0 Tapes.

Little Brother On Point…

March 18, 2007

Another line from that AP story discussed below really jumped out at me.

…Last summer, as the “Chicken Noodle Soup” song and accompanying dance became a sensation, Baltimore Sun pop critic Rashod D. Ollison mused that the dance — demonstrated in the video by young people stomping wildly from side to side — was part of the growing minstrelization of rap music.

“The music, dances and images in the video are clearly reminiscent of the era when pop culture reduced blacks to caricatures: lazy ‘coons,’ grinning ‘pickaninnies,’ sexually super-charged ‘bucks,’ ” he wrote.

Isn’t this exactly the statement that Little Brother was making with “The Minstrel Show”? Those are some smart brothers, and they deserve props–even if they kicked out 9th Wondra (kidding). But I’ll be damned if this isn’t the most scathing sort of criticism to lob at the hip-hop industry right now. It really hits on the underlying, messy issues of race at work here, and it comes from a voice within the hip-hop community. Hip-hop will never die with guys like this around.


Hip-Hip going underground?

March 18, 2007

I think that was an interesting article, particularly in the context of some of the thoughts Kyle & I have traded over the previous week; plus it includes some great quotes, e.g. ‘”I’m not removed from it, but I can’t really tell the difference between Young Jeezy and Yung Joc. It’s the same dumb stuff to me,’ says Duncan-Smith, 33.” Hilarious.

Some thoughts I have for hip-hops future:

  1. It’s not dead or dying. Instead, (and in light of some the statistics Kyle highlighted), we may see a retreat to the underground. As “popular” as some hip-hop is, there may be (and I’m speculating) a population of artists that strengthens as the public image of hip-hop seemingly continues to worsen; mainly artist whom share similar sentiments that Napolean presents on The Life We Chose.
  2. In line with a string of underground releases (Ohmega Watts, Lushlife, Kero One, Jneiro Jarel, etc.), there seems to be a movement back to the sound and style of the “Golden Era” of hip-hop. There have been some traces of this in commercial releases, but I guess only time will tell if this movement will reach the popular level of aboveground acknowledgment.
  3. As Kyle said, hip-hop has been written off in the past; similarly, its identifiable sound has gone through changes. Historically, we may simply be at a point where a shift is occurring – whether or not that is spurred by the negative public image is debatable.
  4. KRS-One says: Lesson 3 for how to be an emcee “might be contradictory or funny, but emcees should have other ways of gettin’ money, that’s to say learn other things besides music, make money elsewhere, so hip-hop, you won’t abuse it.” – “Health, Wealth, & Self” from KRS-One

Has Rap Music Hit a Wall?

March 18, 2007

That’s the question posed by a recent AP feature story, and the same question we touched on here. This article was too good to pass up mentioning it in a post.

The answer I think is all in how one defines the wall. If the “wall” is defined as the ongoing mainstream commercial viability of hip-hop, then I think it’s possible that the wall has been “hit.” But if the wall is end of the genre, or the utter lack of creativity or vibrancy within this culture, then I think you are dead wrong, and acts like ISWHAT?! are proof of that.

Some of the empirical evidence cited by the author was interesting.

Though music sales are down overall, rap sales slid a whopping 21 percent from 2005 to 2006, and for the first time in 12 years no rap album was among the top 10 sellers of the year.

A recent study by the Black Youth Project showed a majority of youth think rap has too many violent images. In a poll of black Americans by The Associated Press and AOL-Black Voices last year, 50 percent of respondents said hip-hop was a negative force in American society.

For the sake of brevity, I’ll bracket off the race issue (because that’s even more interesting). But like any market, there must be a point where the pop music market becomes saturated with thug rap. But are we seeing that right now, at this particular juncture? I can’t say that for sure (and I don’t necessarily think so), but the prospect is an interesting one to ponder as it is coming, at some point.

But you know what? Even if we are witnessing the end of the commercial viability of hip-hop, I’m not worried. I actually think hip-hop music is as strong right now as it’s ever been. The mere utterance of names like J Dilla, Ta’Raach, Black Milk, Platinum Pied Pipers, (Detroit is in house right now), Madlib, et al. is enough to rebut any suggestion that the genre is dead. And we should throw ISWHAT?! in there as well. People might write off hip-hop, but it’s been written off before–so that doesn’t worry me. Should the hip-hop “bubble” burst, the worst that could happen, in my view, is that Young Jeezy has to pinch a few pennies to make that Def Jam money stretch a little bit further… boo hoo.

viva la hip y la hop…

Heads Up

March 18, 2007

My final thoughts on “The Life We Choose” are coalescing, and should be posted tomorrow sometime, followed by the release of the next tape; and it’s a banga’…

It’s been really difficult to develop a final opinion on this LP because I’ve been going back and forth all week–even with individual tracks. But I’ve been trying to force myself to come to some sort of definitive stance by tomorrow. Heads up.

RE: RE: RE: Hot

March 17, 2007

“For me, the question always remains, how much art and I willing to sacrifice for social responsibility, or vice versa. I don’t pretend to know, nor do I think I’ll ever figure it out. Like other forms of art, a lot depends on feeling, something immeasurable, and situational. I’m satisfied knowing that for every gimmick, there’s an artist with integrity, artistic and/or social.” -Me.

In the end, we agree. I suppose that it is simply a mater of personal preference as to where each of us draws that line.

RE: RE: Hot

March 16, 2007

“For me, the question always remains, how much art and I willing to sacrifice for social responsibility, or vice versa. I don’t pretend to know, nor do I think I’ll ever figure it out. Like other forms of art, a lot depends on feeling, something immeasurable, and situational. I’m satisfied knowing that for every gimmick, there’s an artist with integrity, artistic and/or social.”Me


March 16, 2007

I don’t think you can possibly say that Run-DMC would sell records now (for that matter, neither could the Beatles). But make no mistake, they were getting paid out the ass. They were all over MTV. We’re talking about Russell Simmons and Def Jam, son. Need I say more? They were major label before anyone else was.

Rather, I cited Run-DMC only for the proposition that emcees who will say-anything-that-sounds-hot-over-the-beat have a long and well-respected history in hip-hop, and many artists from the south do, in fact, fit right into that tradition.

ADDENDUM: And about innovativeness not paying off in today’s game, I hear people spit that all of the time, I don’t think it stands up to the facts. Some of the most successful artists in the game today are what I’d call innovators: Kanye, Pharell, Timbo, Dre, Missy, Outkast. It’s just that, because the market for hip-hop has expanded, for every Kanye there are now two other crappy rappers making money. But as long as Kanye or Pharrell still exist, the genre still moves forward, and our beloved hip-hop is not at risk of dying.

World history is full of virtuoso artists that never got paid a dime for their work, yet they were not dissuaded from producing masterpieces, and we were all eventually better off for it; tis the tragic nature of art. I see hip-hop the same way. Just because ISWHAT?! or Little Brother will never sell a million records doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s some cancer in hip-hop. It’s unfortunate in some moral sense, but it’s hardly the crisis that everyone tries to make it (usually the broke rappers).


March 16, 2007

I was going to make a post about that track; I’m a big fan. I’m also really feeling “Mooch.” It reminds me of a sound check, or some lazy hour before closing time, with each element improvised; love the trumpet. In my head, there are flappers everywhere…and one at the door checking for the fuzz.

RE Run-DMC – They are so hip hop (as you and I may conceptualize it), but I think the rules now are entirely different from when they were doing their thing. Hip hop wasn’t the cash cow it is now and nobody wants to allow too much wriggle room within a system that has become so popular and lucrative. I’m not sure their innovativeness (as it was back then) would pay off now. What do you think?

RE: Hot

March 16, 2007

But if your problem is with the overabundance of misogynistic and/or materialistic lyrics, why don’t you have a problem with Dilla or Pharell? Aren’t they part of the same problem? Dilla was always talking about hitting up strip clubs, drinking, objectifying women, whips, watches, etc… We both agree that Dilla was a virtuoso producer/emcee, but the question I posed is whether our respect for those amazing skills permits us to overlook the anti-social content of his lyrics.

It’s a tough call, and that’s why I’m so reticent to start calling out any emcee whose lyrics contain negative themes–I would effectively be cutting myself off from the music I love, and Dilla would be included–genius producer or not.

New Track

March 16, 2007

After a couple weeks of listening, my general feeling about ISWHAT?! is that they’re probably better live. With that being said, the two live tracks on “The Life We Choose” are solid, with my favorite being “Pilgrimage.”

ISWHAT?! – “Pligrimige” (iTunes)

Napoleon really rips it up with the beat box here, and the scratches are on point (contrast this with the rather generic scratches and beatboxing on “Casket”). Really, everybody comes with it on this energetic track, and it’s just evidence that these guys must be an interesting act to catch live.

Napoleon notes at the outset that this track is an interpretation of Andrew Lamb’s “Pilgrimage.” Once you go back to the original, it’s obvious that the beatboxing on this track is mimicking the brash rhythms on the Andrew Lamb track. And he does one heck of a job with a difficult task.

This has been one of my favorites so far, and I highly recommend it.