Archive for February, 2008

It is Erykah’s Amerykah

February 29, 2008

Erykah Badu – New Amerykah, Pt. 1 (4th World War), 2008

I’ve had New Amerykah on blast all week. I’ll say this about Erykah: so damn consistent. I was thinking tonight as I drove home from happy hour with some co-workers, bumpin’ “Me,” a sign of Erykah’s consistency is that I cannot decide which of her albums I like best. Baduizm. Mama’s Gun. Worldwide Underground. New Amerykah, Pt. 1 (4th World War). All strong from front to back, that it’s tough to find anything that would separate one from the other. Baduizm has a soulful, fresh vibe to it. Mama’s Gun features an acoustic, jazz influence. Worldwide Underground has Erykah extending her boundaries a bit. And New Amerykah is an amalgam of them all.

Admittedly, with Erykah I always remind myself that some of her subtle themes may take a while to catch onto, e.g. “So I salute you Farrakhan, cause you are me/before I end this dream, before I take one for the team.” I don’t doubt this is the case with NA. But sonically, this album is incredible. Upon my first few listens, I thought it was extended interludes, punctuated with songs. But, Erykah and her musically-blessed production team are on some next $hit here. Several of the tracks feature more than one arrangement, with songs such as “Master Teacher” and “The Hump” switching up while in progress. I’ve always been a fan of that – it reminds me of a free associative jam session. And a quick note regarding the artists she had working on this: ingenious on her part. Madlib; Karriem Riggins, Roy Hargrove, Sa-Ra, Questlove; James Poyser; 9th Wonder; Roy Ayers; Georgia Anne Muldrow (or as I like to call, the female Madlib). As individuals, they obviously had the albums collective sound in mind. As many different arrangements flow in and out of the album, its sound is seamless.

“The Healer,” hip hop anthem of sorts, implicating the wide appeal that hip hop cradles within its hands; akin to the binding nature of religion, but Erykah recognizes that hip hop span across religions. Madlib. Check. Madlib also does up “My People” as Erykah hips up the now famous Eddie Kendricks chant. As previously noted, “Soldier” is one of my favorite tracks. That flute melody is hypnotic (and reminds me of the flute on Hi-Tek’s “Music for Life” from Hi-Teknology 2: The Chip). Conveys similar mood.

“Me” has been coming on strong over the past few days. This reminds me of something that would have been on Mama’s Gun. I love the clapping percussion; bassline is jazz, undeniably; and the horns. I’m a huge advocate of horns, and the way Hargrove dances them within the beat is great. Substance wise, “Me” may have garnered the most attention, due to Erykah’s open nod to Nation of Islam leader, Louis Farrakhan, (whom has recently been rejected and denounced by Senator Obama) but as this article, from the Dallas Morning News suggests, she’s got “me” in mind for her dubious dinner guest. Politics aside, the music backing “Me” is quite a treat.

“Master Teacher” is one of the most interesting compositions on NA. Speculation was abound that Erykah and Georgia Anne Muldrow would be a dynamic duo (check “Fly Away” from Sa-Ra’s The Hollywood Recordings. And I think this Georgia produced track proves that. With the premise centered on the knowledge that nobody knows everything, Georgia’s convoluted melody and thumpin’ drums are ideal for both her and Erykah’s unique deliveries. About half way through the track, a soulful bassline takes over and Erykah gets contemplative, dreamily singing of sleeping babies, sunsets, and lovers.

The Questlove and James Poyser contribution, “The Hump” is Erykah’s vocal zenith of NA. Vocally, I think this is reminiscent of Baduizm‘s “Next Life Time,” or Mama’s Gun ‘s “Kiss Me on My Neck.” Initially, it sounds like an “I Want You” sequel, but turns out to be a commentary on the relationship between a user and her drugs. It’s almost arranged like “Green Eyes” (MG), broken into steps toward drug abuse recovery – she thinks about what’ll it be like if she can get off and how the drug rules her world; then spends a few bars rationalizing her use, “I never dun dope to cope/only smoke a joint or two…I know people do it day and night, night and day…”; finally, she throws up her hands, and wants to be done, “Lord knows I’m tired of this dope.” Classic Badu tale. “Telephone” continues the contemplative vibe, with Erykah singing a nod to those who’ve passed on. I’m not sure how accurate they are, but the internet is swarming with stories that this song is based on Dilla’s mom telling Erykah that during Dilla’s final days, he would be in a sort of hallucinogenic state, talking to ODB about giving him directions to heaven. I’ve read nothing to substantiate this, but it’s a cool concept nonetheless.

It’s been five long years between Erykah releases, but as usual, the wait is well worth it. And with her indicating that she has NA, Pt. 2 set for a release later this year, 2008 is looking bright for soul (don’t forget to check Coultrain). New Amerykah continues the consistency that we’ve come to expect from Badu. As I stated earlier, you can never discount her substance, e.g. “The Hump,” and Erykah’s dynamic interpretation of her world through her music. In my opinion, she remains one of the few artists who can pack so much depth into a commercially viable album. Musically, this album is on par with Mama’s Gun, which, in turn, I held in the same esteem as D’Angelo’s widely acclaimed Voodoo. Kyle, I think our soul music veggies have found their irrigation.

Revisiting Guilty

February 29, 2008

In January, I had this to say from leaked bits of Guilty’s Ode to the Ghetto (Stonesthrow, due out 03/25):

Lyrically, I think a Guilty album is what I need to get into his style. Thus far, he’s been a cameo guy who has impressed me at times…

It’s tough to think how Guilty will be on an entire album after mainly knowing him from verse to verse. It was very similar to Percee P – the guy went 20 or so years with random tracks and a number of cameos, and then boom, has entire album. I think it worked, although I think his potency waned as the album progressed. Guilty certainly has Percee’s grit; does he have anything else? I’m interested to see if Guilty’s rhymes/style have LP endurance.

It’s been a month, and we still have another month before Ode sees its official release, but I’m starting to see more and more “previews” on the net. I suppose it’s not surprising that the sentiments have varied. I’ve read some pretty impressive thoughts on it, and others that feel Stonesthrow has dropped the ball on this project. The world of the blogs.

The good news. You may attribute it to the axiom – familiarity breeds content – but I’ve remained warm to most of the production on Ode. But, even this has a glass-half-empty interpretation, I suppose. I think of it this way: when I first saw the production credits, I straightened my glasses and let out an “ooh wee.” But at best, from book end to book end, Ode to the Ghetto’s production is just as I felt, warm. With Dilla, Madlib, and Black Milk, it should be hot; that’s what the “ooh wee” anticipated at least. Some of my favorites include: “American Dream,” “She Won’t Stay At Home,” and “My Moment.” I agree with Kyle Re. “Kinda Live” too. I alluded to it in January: “Lately, it seems to me that Madlib’s beats are becoming a bit more formulaic,” and to a certain degree, I think that extends to most of Ode. I give the production a B-.

The not bad, but not good news. I asked myself how Guilty’s cameo grit would pulse throughout an entire album (see above). Lyrically, I get the impression that Guilty isn’t comfortable when changing roles, e.g. going from grit to for ladies. Listen, most of the cameos or random solo joints he’s had over the past 4 years, I’ve loved. When given a knockin’ drumline, he can sting like bee with the best, e.g. “My Moment” & “Footwork”; but I don’t think he can float like a butterfly, e.g. “I Must Love You,” which beat I really like, but Guilty comes off flat (imo). Over the course of an entire album, Guilty doesn’t provide (me with) enough fire, and he melts when not over a bangin’ beat.

On the one hand, part of me doesn’t want to come off as a finicky blogger who unnecessarily breaks an album down, kind of like token sex or violence in a movie. The other part of me thinks that if it’s striking me as such, I should speak my mind. After all, that’s why I blog. I commented to Kyle when he made his original “review” of Ode to the Ghetto that he shared much of what I thought, while I lacked the cojones to say it. So be it. I’m not afraid to concede that.

Ode to the Ghetto is still going to have its place in my Stonesthrow discog. It just won’t be up with Champion Sound, Charizma & PB Wolf’s Big Shots, Madvillainy or the UNQ albums; it’ll fit nicely with MED, Roc C, and Wildchild.

Breaking News: Erykah’s Amerykah

February 22, 2008

Check it. I have a few moments here – but will try and get a lengthier post up later – to follow a scoop on Erykah Badu’s new LP, New Amerykah, Part 1: 4th World War. Word on the street is that it has indeed hit the interweb. Dead ends are abound. But, I HAVE been able to check a few tracks, in addition to “The Healer” & “Honey,” the latter of which has grown on me. So, I’m bumpin’ “Soldier” right now, produced by Karriem Riggins. Heat. Got Erykah on some positive thought of mind – strong, measured drums, floating flute (?) – Riggins punctuating the track with his “Yeah,” “Ha,” & variations of “Ugh;” I listened for a “Let’s Go,” but alas, there is none. Erykah’s got a movement in mind for this: “We goin’ keep marchin’ on, until you hear that freedom song/and if you think about turnin’ back, I got that shotgun on your back…everyone knows what this songs about…” I’m feelin’ this for sure. And it also reminds me that Riggins is on Stonesthrow. Just a bit a foreshadowing.

Valentine’s Day/Coultrain

February 14, 2008

I was inspired when Peanut Butter Wolf put together a Valentine’s Day mix last year, which featured some real classics, e.g. Bobby Womack’s “How Could You Break My Heart,” and The Jacksons, “Blues Away.” Despite the expectations days like this hold, I choose to honor the underlying sentiment: the feelings of admiration and affection (insert studio audience, “Awww.”) So, that’s what I plan; a few choice selections that are great for days like today.

– Michael Jackson, “Lady In My Life”/Thriller – I know, an album full of #1’s, but often the least mentioned track off that album, in my opinion; this song is what the 90’s New Jack Swingers and current sap singers strive(d) to be like. “Lady In My Life” has it all: the bridge, the break down, the vocals…Michael takes no prisoners on this track, and whether he used this track to his advantage or not, there is no denying this song is a romancer. “I want you to stay with me…” It’s a wrap.

– Duke Ellington, “In A Sentimental Mood”/Duke Ellington & John Coltrane – I first heard this song when I was about 12 on The Cosby Show (I know I’m not the only who heard it from Bill first). Back then, I thought jazz was “grown up” business, and wanted nothing to do with it…I just went back to bumpin’ BDK. However, over the years, I’ve become quite fond of this track, particularly as the jazz part of my brain matured. Ellington’s piano is melodic, and Coltrane on sax is too slick. Slick as a fox.

– The Isley Brothers, “Don’t Say Good Night”/Go All The Way – Come on now, it’s The Isley Brothers, true pioneers of my theory that if you can sing it, you can say whatever you want, e.g. “I want to see what you’re like in bed.” (See also: R. Kelly). I sense there is no need to fortify it’s Valentine’s Day value, but hey, ya’ll need something to bump after dinner.

– Curtis Mayfield, “Now You’re Gone”/Roots – Curtis was always great for the scorned/lost love tracks, and this is my favorite of the bunch. Mayfield’s Roots was chock full of drums heard here, save for maybe “Love To Keep You In My Mind,” but the horns, drums, bass – all accentuate Mayfield’s sorrow/relief here. Of course, the emotional lead weighing on Mayfield’s heart was made famous by 9th Wonder, (check “H.U.S.T.L.E.” from Murs’s 3:16 The 9th Edition) but this track is certainly worth more than a 3-second sample.

– Dwele, “My Lova/Movement”/Some Kinda… – Love them maracas. The trombone. Guitar. Let’s be real, Dwele kills this. The highlight for me is the end, which find Dwele in quite a bind: his other girl calls, while is other girl is makin’ him breakfast. Singing won’t get you out this, my friend.

– Stevie Wonder, “I Was Made To Love Her”/I Was Made To Love Her – I know, I’ve included this in a list previously, but this song can’t be touched.

– Coultrain, “Green”/The Adventures of Seymour Liberty – I actually just recently picked this album up ($6.99 + S&H), but have been bumpin’ incessantly for the past week. I actually meant to do a post on the album yesterday, but well, I had no electricity due to snow/ice. So this serves as my segue. “Green” is actually characteristic of the sound of The Adventures of Seymour Liberty – a taste of the old school soul; if you ask me, this song IS everything Stevie Wonder IS. I’m convinced he used a Stevie track for this, but as yet, my research as turned up very little. I really dig the color analogy, “And if another voice catches your ear, you know I’m green…because no other is for you, you’re the yellow to my blue, together we make green.”

I tried my best to my homework on this guy/album. Other than the fact that he’s going to be the featured artist on the upcoming Platinum Pied Pipers album, not much is out there. Usually, the blogs are a good place to pick up on new artists, particularly ones not signed to a major. So, if TT is your first scoop on Coultrain, allow me to highly recommend…Seymour Liberty. First, it’s a great album because it matches his voice with production extremely well. Similar to guys like Anthony Hamilton and Raheem Devaughn, Coultrain has a “throwback” voice; he mends well with the older sounds that back most of the album. Contrast this with Devaughn for example, who’s voice I think is great, but I don’t always like the generic R&B beats he’s on. Songs like the aforementioned “Green,” and “Lost in Translation” make his sound difficult to place in time. Is it contemporary? More akin to Stevie’s 70’s albums? Even a ballad like “Lilac Tree” has a subtle Frank Sinatra feel to it, like Dwele’s “Some Kinda,” or Sinatra cover, “Kick Out Of You.”

“Endangered Species,” a reflective look at the role of black men in society, continues the old soul feel, borrowing the guitar and drums from the blaxpoitation era. It’s obvious Coultrain is a student of music and his sound interprets the styles laid out before him.

Back in October, Kyle and I lamented the lack of new soul, or rather the stale soul music of 2007. Coultrain’s The Adventures of Seymour Liberty is a positive sign that the groundhog has not seen its shadow, and fresh soul music is abound in 2008. (Erykah in 2 weeks, btw). I think it’s a must have. Hear for yourself at his myspace.

Dilla

February 11, 2008


Dilla dates have come and gone – I’ve spent a good amount of time perusing different accounts and write-ups over the WWW. I think this one (at Metal Lungies) is the most comprehensive, and really does a good job of putting Dilla’s role in hip hop into perspective; reader/listener accounts are great.

For me, I was enjoying Dilla beats before I knew they were Dilla beats. Admittedly, it wasn’t until Kyle gave me a mixtape (Kyle used to make the illest mixes…On cassette…Trading Tapes anyone?) the summer of 2000 with SV’s “2U4U,” that I was “officially” introduced to Dilla…or Jay Dee. Once that connection was made, past music, e.g. ATCQ, Pharcyde, Busta Rhymes, all made more sense. The drum patterns, the sampling. Stylistically unique. Sonically threaded throughout his work. Then came Common’s Like Water For Chocolate, which for many, myself included, represented a “new” Dilla sound; the same way I felt when I heard EB’s “Didn’t Cha Know.”

Back to “2U4U” – the simplicity of that beat was so new to me; I fell hard for that song – the stop-and-go flow (featured throughout Fantastic Vol. 2) was so on point for that track. Let’s face it, that album completely changed my perception of hip hop music. I had a cassette player in my ’89 Ford Escort, and due to incessant rewind-play of that song, the cassette eventually got stuck in the player. It stayed there until I sold that car. To a large man with a large beard.

One of the “reflections” shared in that post from Metal Lungies indicated that the author wasn’t into Dilla lyrically (initially). Personally, I think he was the best lyricist for his beats. I guess it makes sense – Dilla was intimately involved with every nuisance of his beats, and at times, it sounded like he was less interested in “rapping,” and more considerate of adding more depth to the beat through his rhymes/delivery.

My Dilla discography is probably the prize possession of my music collection. It’s varied enough to match virtually any mood/situation. And seeming unique to Dilla, his beats are rarely dated. Bangin’ a track from 1996 is just as fresh in 2008.

Funny anecdote – I remember when the light went off in my head that SV’s Jay Dee was the “J. Yancy” all over Tribe’s Beats, Rhymes, & Life credits, I thought, “Wait, isn’t this the guy thought to have ruined Tribe?”

I never believed it.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized that Phife’s, “Slum Village gold still danglin’ in your ear,” from “Butter” was sampled by Dilla on FV2. (also sampled by Peanut Butter Wolf for Charizma’s “Jack the Mack,” from Big Shots…Just sayin’ is all.

BTW – I love(d) BR&L.

“Yes We Can”

February 3, 2008