Archive for November, 2007

Review: Wu-Tang Clan – 8 Diagrams

November 28, 2007

I’ve been bumping Wu’s new LP, 8 Diagrams, since about Friday and after about 7 or 8 listens, I’m ready to share my thoughts.

This is an extremely promising piece of work. I’m impressed. Mind you, this is coming from someone who does not own their sophomore LP Wu-Tang Forever. I’m not sure what more I can do to prove my Wu-hating credentials. Other than Ghostface’s last two LPs, I haven’t enjoyed a Wu-Tang album or a solo project since that 1999 Inspectah Deck album.

To tell you the truth, I didn’t even know about this project until I heard about Raekwon’s beef with RZA over the beats on 8 Diagrams (he said they sound like some “hippie shit”). As I mentioned to Pete earlier today, something in me said, “If Rae hates the beats, they must be good, cause dude hasn’t picked a good beat in like 32 years.”

This new CD bangs–and it does it with style. The beats are crisp. There’s a tempo to the album–that snowballing, gangstyle-beatdown type of momentum that only a group with 8 solid emcees can bring to a track. All of the emcees come correct, and show no sign of age–from what I can tell. I’ve been shaking my head at Method Man’s career for years now, but it’s like the Right-Guard commercials never happened. He kills tracks on this album.

I know the joke in some circles is, “yo, the white kid, Wu-Tang stans are going to go nuts for that RZA hippie shit.” But I don’t care if Wu has lost its street cred, I’m not afraid to say that this is some dope isht.

The album starts out fierce with “Campfire.” The main melody for this brooding track is provided by what sounds like an old black spiritual. The drums are crisp. There some changes. Method Man and Ghost deliver the first verses in classic fashion. As the tracks fades you you are left with this overwhelming sense that hip-hop has returned to a state of equilibrium, and the Wu-Tang of old is back on scene.

You should also check for “Get Them Out Ya Way Pa.” It’s a relatively bare-bones track with what sounds like a live bass, and some funky drums. But that’s what makes it an excellent canvas to reintroduce you to the Wu-Tang emcees–even Masta Killa sounds smooth here.

“Windmill” is a definitely a high point for the album. Classic Raekwon verse here. Note that there’s really no hook, just a subdued and sped-up soul singer sample over what is probably the album’s most uptempo track. U-God brings that fire too, I should add. This could have been left off of Cuban Linx.

I also recommend “Wolves” and “Unpredictable.” I take back what I said before, “Unpredictable” is the definitive track from this album. Some guy named Dexter Wiggle provides eerie, distorted vocals on the hook, which adds to the Hitchcock-esque staccato strings that RZA has trademarked. This ain’t no Gravediggaz track–no offense to their work–it’s more subtle than that, and less cheesy as a result. The screaming guitar, the power bass, and the eery vocals just work so well over that trademarked RZA sound. I really can’t do this any justice in writing. You have hear to believe it (I know if I read “screaming guitars” I probably would not check for the track–so you gotta just trust me here).

The “hippie shit” really comes to the fore on “While My Heart Gently Weeps,” a collabo with Erykah Badu and others. As you might expect, it is a cover of the Beatles track “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” It’s one of those “Can It Be All So Simple” themed songs, but it’s arranged in a way that keeps your attention. And Badu’s inclusion lends some legitimacy to what could otherwise be considered a stretch musically for the RZA. I probably won’t go back to specifically listen to this track. Not a good response to what I think is the first single, but not a bad song.

The lyrical high-point is “Stick Me For My Riches.” Check that, everything is well done here–even the sing-song hook (though it may turn off some, I suspect). It sounds authentic to me though, and doesn’t get in the way of the absolute fire that is spit on this particular track.

On “Sunlight” RZA takes over the studio and provides a theological sermon in that cryptic, stream-of-consciousness way that only he seems to understand. If you find the RZA’s idiosyncrasies as entertaining as I do, you’ll dig this one.

Track 4, “Rushing Elephants” is certainly a weak point. The generic symphonic sample sounds like that Pete Rock Soul Survivor track with Raekwon, and drowns out the otherwise quality lyrics. I’m also not crazy about Track 11, “Starter,” an ode to their respective “starter chicks.” Musically, there are some interesting things occurring on this track, but the theme, and primarily the hook, really kill this track for me. It’s somewhat cheesy.

The album ends on a fun note, with a track called “The 16th Chamber” that appears to be an unreleased track from way back in the day. You’ll hear elements of familiar verses from the various emcees. The track kind of brings the group full-circle, and for those of us who have been fans since 1993, it serves as a reminder of sorts as to why we liked these guys in the first place.

It may not make your top 10 list for 2007–like it will for me–but I think most hip-hop heads will have a hard time arguing that this is not a solid effort from a group who, save for Ghost, really needed it. Bravo.

NOTE: For further analysis, check out Ivan’s snazzy chart on his excellent blog Hip Hop Is Read. It breaks down which emcees have the most appearances on 8 Diagrams. Ghostface is quite low, and Cappadonna characteristically keeps his fans wanting more. Props to Ivan for keeping it original as always, and going Microsoft Office on that ass.


Initial thoughts…Esoteric’s “Egoclapper” (2007)

November 16, 2007

I just got my hands on Eso’s “debut,” Egoclapper, which came out in October. Just a few brief thoughts as I’ve made my way through the album. On the production tip, Egoclapper is inundated with samples, from a variety of media sources – very reminiscent of MF Doom’s Operation Doomsday. Cartoons, movies, music are represented in the mix, some tinged with subtlety, others playing a dominant role in the track. There are also news-related samples, including sports nods (to Boston of course): “Good defense from McHale,” on “Frank Miller Tank Killer.” The dusty sound, soul samples, and reliance on horns & drums all further the parallel to Operation Doomsday in my mind – e.g. the doomsdayesque sound to “Really Gly,” or comic book stylings on “Spidey Jail Break,” which also features a foreboding, synthy horn loop; they also work as a nod to the late 80’s-early 90’s hip hop sound.

I need to listen to the album to get into Esoteric’s lyrical concepts. Really, the similarities to Doom’s OD is what immediately came to mind almost immediately, and what moved me to throw something up on TT. I love OD and likewise, am feelin’ the depth that the busy production of Egoclapper creates.

Time Machine: The Nonce’s “World Ultimate” (1995)

November 15, 2007

Right now I’m listening to The Nonce’s World Ultimate, and feel it necessary to give it its due props. Sure, in some circles it may be considered an underground classic, but I know there are some very knowledgeable hip hop fans who haven’t had the opportunity to listen to this. From experience in trying to get my hands on it, the album is out of print and your best bet is to scope Amazon or some other site that supports used record/CD sales. I’m sure internet savvy listeners can get their Sherlock Holmes on and find it online too.

Sonically, World Ultimate parallels a Digible Planets-Pharcyde tip. Members Nouka Basetype & Yusef Afloat handle all the production, as per my research. Like many producers from the early to mid-90’s, they utilize a rich blend of jazz samples, creating an extremely laidback sound. Generally, the album is without any hard drums (save for “West Is…” and maybe “Eighty Five,” but both still are low-key). Safe to say, you won’t have to worry about breaking any speakers while this album slips out of your system. Similar to the likes of ATCQ and Jungle Brothers, The Nonce feature some ridiculous basslines. “Mix Tapes,” the album’s lead single, is backed by a sturdy 1-2 combo from bass. Similarly, “Hoods Like To Play” sounds like it could blend nicely with Digible Planet’s “Rebirth of Slick.” And what would a mid-90’s album be without a horn loop? “Good to Go” sounds like a Diamond D beat (imagining Big L rippin’ it), with a horn dancing in and out, alternating in its presence throughout the track. The title track works as the album’s strongest in my opinion. It’s a little more playful compared to the rest of the album and is reminiscent of a Pharcyde track. I really dig the hook, which is simply “World, world, world ultimate” repeating; you have to hear it to appreciate it.

If you’re able to get your hands and ears on this (or if you have it and need to dust it off), do so tonight. With the consistent sound/production and relatively brief play time (@ 50 minutes), it’s easy to listen to from front to back.

RE: Cassette-Oriented Nostalgia

November 7, 2007

Kyle, great look throwing that up…that sh*t is crazy nostalgia…even those bubble jackets remind me of the cats who used to play ball with us. How the hell did they play basketball with those things on? And hats…who plays in baseball hats? Always messed my J up…

My favorite joint off Illmatic is “The World Is Yours.” That piano is so 1994 it’s ridiculous. I swear man, I can close my eyes with that track on and I’m right back at Luap Snaj’s playing video games…

Cassette-Oriented Nostalgia

November 7, 2007

I was going to share my thoughts on Panacea, but this discovery just interrupted everything.

The one cassette tape that stands out in my memory more than any other is Nas’ Illmatic. I played the shit out of that damn tape. Even years after the album dropped, I lugged that tape to and from school in my walkman. It went with me to the basketball courts in my boombox. It went to friends’ houses–you get the point.

Though the cassette itself was unremarkable–sporting the ususal clear plastic with white lettering–I can still visualize it: the fading track listing, the plethora of blacktop-induced scratches, and so on. The tape was also noteworthy for me to the extent that, even as our generation witnessed the last days of the vinyl era, with the cassette, we were fortunate enough to be exposed to the now-extinct tradition of the two-sided music recording. Indeed, you’ll recall that Nas titled the track at the end of side A “Halftime.” But I digress…

Well, only the internet and its ubiquitous ability to synergize the internet research of stans across the globe could bring us something like the video below, a promotional video for Illmatic. It is essentially a mini-documentary about the making of the album, and it should be in a museum somewhere (you know I’m going to pushing the MoAAM people on this). There are interviews from Primo, Large Pro, Pete Rock, Q-Tip; if you look carefully, you’ll also see who I think is A+ (of Latch Key Child fame) on there.

For those who really want to take it back, go read the Source’s original 5-mic review for Illmatic, another relic preserved by the wondrous power of the interwebs.

[Props to the SOHH crowd for the video]

too fore won – Panacea x 2

November 6, 2007

I’ve had intentions to share my thoughts on Panacea’s recent release, The Scenic Route (here or here for the digital download), for a few weeks now. And those intentions are still aroused. However, I’ve found a slight detour to the new album, by way of an “unreleased” debut that I found about the time The Scenic Route dropped.

It was actually on the C-Box of WTR where I had noticed two cats discussing the Thinking Back, Looking Forward EP (2003), which includes the amazing “Birdfeather.” One the dudes posted a link (which I can’t find now) which made mention to a previous LP which shared the same title, which apparently came out (although was never “officially” released) before the EP. “?!” I thought. I scoured the internet (and alternately, the interweb) and found nothing, other than the link that he had posted. So I went to the source. Once there I emailed K-Murdock from Panacea, and he not only confirmed Thinking Back, Looking Forward the LP’s existence, but also hooked me up (via paypal) with the album.

Hence, you’re going to get a double shot of Panacea.

LOOKING BACK, THINKING FORWARD LP (n.d.) – The short: Includes all 5 tracks from the EP version from ’03; this is good news! The remaining 13 tracks are spotted with brief interludes, which play off the “journey” theme of looking back, thinking forward, and thoughtful beats & rhymes. This project seems a bit more sample-influenced (at least they’re more overt) than any of the subsequent albums, and perhaps this may be a reason the album never saw an “official” release. Take for example, “Screenplay/Star Stories,” which uses Heatwaves’ “Star of the Story,” a melodic narrative about one’s development as a person. Consistent with much of the Raw P’s work, it’s devoid of popular hip hop, egocentrism: “If I’m the star of my story, don’t center the camera on me/I’m a chain of events combined & realized before me.” Ultimately, the track is a journey of man/music of sorts, with Raw P & W. Ellington Felton, as the narrators, the stars of this story – the implications being that the star is a subjective role occupied by the storyteller(s) splayed across a common canvas. Another strong “newcomer” is “Classic.” Fed with a Native Tongue-esque drum- and bassline, the track works as an ode to classic hip hop, “F*ck this pop pop, give me that beat drop…” “Classic” is followed by two EP tracks, “Colorful Storms” & “Freedom Theory,” both “classic” Panacea tracks by my esteem. Love the very visual chorus of the former, supported by Bilal Salaam. “Heartache” is another track that features that “signature” Panacea sound, where Raw P reflects on the relationship between music and the hearts of its listeners/creators. Thinking Back, Looking Forward the LP is a great introduction (or prequel) to K-Murdock’s soulful production with its inconspicuous use of samples (some quite well known I’d reckon) and Raw P’s honest reflections, which also rhymes (makes for a nice hip hop album).

THE SCENIC ROUTE (2007) – This most recent serving of Panacea continues the reflective approaches heard on Thinking Back, Looking Forward and Ink Is My Drink. The relationship between K-Murdock’s production and Raw P’s rhymes intrigue me – it’s a rarity to be appreciated when you have a producer-emcee who compliment each other so well (think Pete Rock & CL); The Scenic Route demonstrates further development of this intangible coop. Right from the get go, “The Scenic Route” gets the album going, immediately sounding like a Camp Lo track, before recessing back to a soulful head-nodder, sampling Dr. Buzzard’s “Sunshower,” previously used by the likes of ATCQ and most recently, MIA. “Flashback to Stardom,” one of my favorite tracks on the album follows (incidentally featuring one of my favorite R&B voices in Raheem Devaughn). The track bellows with positivity and that sharp Raw P flow; I’m really feelin’ Devaughn’s epilogue where he sings of the boundlessness of life: “Sky high is the limit…wanna be a doctor, you can do it too; wanna be a ballplayer, do it too; wanna be a teacher, you can do it too…” (Reminds of the end of Common’s BE). Check this review from Hip Hop Connection. The reviewer uses the term “hip hip ethics,” which I really like, and may adopt, e.g. the approach Ohmega Watts takes toward music. With The Scenic Route, that’s really what we have – a balance between all that is hip hop, imbued with a social and personal awareness. Also listen to tracks like “Pops Said,” positive look at the role of a man’s pops (again, check Common out and get a dose of this), and “Walk In The Park,” which I’ve already noted works like a subtle parallel between love and a walk through a park (this analogy may also be interpreted from the album’s title). As with previous Panacea projects, the major draw of The Scenic Route is the soulful, yet hip hop sound K-Murdock sets up and listening to Raw P go “ethical” all over it. Again & again, you’ll hear him paint personal stories reflective of more general stories (refer back to Screenplay/Star Stories) – I think that’s a quality many emcees miss: the ability to convey a feeling by creating shared experiences through personal stories. It’s hard to conceptualize, let alone do through music. Raw P truly is a storyteller.

On some otha, otha, otha…

November 3, 2007

If you recall, I’ve been on hip-hop overload of late–indeed, I haven’t even peeped American Gangster yet.

So, BBC Radio One DJ Gilles Peterson’s eclectic taste has been extremely welcome in my eardrums of late. His most recent show doesn’t disappoint. It has the usual mix of downtempo jazz, house, hip-hop and soul, but also some Brazilian rhythms, and an afro-beat set mixed by Fela Kuti’s other kid, Seun. Go ahead and peep it…

Amare & Ohmega…do we have a match?

November 2, 2007