Author Archive

Deadly Medley Video

September 22, 2010

Okay, the song is growing on me. Pretty standard hip-hop video, but it does the trick. Any thoughts, Pete?

Quick Scan on “Album of the Year”

September 19, 2010

This is an excellent effort by Black Milk, props to Pete for picking it… I write here to offer a few of my initial thoughts after the first couple listens.

In general:

Lots of guitars, power keys, and multi-part harmony hooks give the album that psychedelic hip-rock feel. Other than one track with Mr. Porter on a hook, the collabs detract from the album.  It has a tremendous upbeat pace, while maintaining a mellow mood. Live instrumentation adds a soulfulness to most of the tracks, as many of them strip down to their component instrumental parts in extended interludes at the end of several tracks.

High points:

Distortion” The beat is one of the toughest on an album full of bangers, and Black is at once hype and introspective in recounting the passing of close friend Baatin.

Closed Chapter (Feat. Mr. Porter)” That high-pitched, short guitar hook gives this track a sentimental feel as Black muses about his motivations in life and work.

Disappointments:

Deadly Medley (Feat. Royce 5’9″ & Elzhi)” I was expecting a lot more here. The beat is ridiculously great, and with three of Detroit’s best emcees on one track, I expected this to be a highlight–that was not so. Royce uses this stutter flow that just sounds off-beat to me, and no killer punchlines; and Elzhi’s voice doesn’t sound like him at all.

Over Again” I’m so-so on this track. I like everything about it except the hook. I’m not crazy about Monica Blaire’s voice, but I’m still getting to know her material, which you can find collected at her MySpace page.

New Tape: Black Milk “Album of the Year”

September 18, 2010

Yessir, we’re back it. Trading Tapes is back. For the next two weeks we’ll be trading notes and insights into Black Milk’s latest LP, “Album of the Year.”

As we speak, the album is downloading off of Amazon, but you obviously can also get it at iTunes .

Just to get the critical juices flowing, I’ll throw out the Pitchfork review, which gave the album a 7.5:

Between his solo release Tronic, Fat Ray teamup The Set Up, and his production work on Elzhi’s The Preface, Black Milk’s 2008 made him look invincible. And you might note the potential tongue-in-cheek hubris in calling his follow-up Album of the Year and assume that he feels untouchable now. But the self-congratulatory name of his new release is deceptive. The year in question isn’t the 2010 that the drop date places its contention in, though anyone who loved Tronic or hard-bumping, densely expressive hip hop in general wouldn’t be off base in considering it as a candidate. The title is actually more closely connected to a different year: 2009, when Black Milk lost his close friend, Village’s Baatin, and saw his manager HexMurda go through a life-threatening experience after a stroke left him comatose.

Gilles Peterson’s “Winners of 2008”

April 6, 2008

…very quickly, I just wanted to drop a link to this week’s Worldwide show, where Gilles Peterson points out some of the best tracks from the first part of 2008.

Tracklisting:

  1. Kenneth Bager – Fragment 1 – Music For Dreams
  2. Quiet Village – Pacific Rhythm – K7!
  3. Jamie Liddel – Rope Of Sand – Warp
  4. The Invisible – Spiral – Accidental
  5. Portishead – Plastic – Island
  6. The Roots – Rising Down
  7. Outkast feat Raekwon – Royal Flash – La Face
  8. Jay Electronica – Victory of Mine – Control Freaq
  9. Erykah Badu – Soldier – Motown
  10. Erykah Badu – Twinkle – Motown
  11. Erykah Badu – Telephone – Motown
  12. Erykah Badu – Me – Motown
  13. Roger Robinson – Prayer for Angry Young Men
  14. Catalyst – How Bout Us
  15. Kissy Asplund – Phone Call
  16. Raheem Devaughn – Marathon – Jive
  17. JAM feat Jose James – Jazzy Joint – Victor
  18. Sarah Vaughn – Mystery Of Man – Edit
  19. Benjamin Herman – Theme – Roach
  20. Carlos Nino – Find A Way
  21. 2BO4 – Shadowland (01:00)
  22. Neil Cowley Trio – Little Secrets
  23. Benga – Zero M2 – Tempa
  24. Martyn- Broken – Revolver
  25. Ramadan Man – Carla – Soul Jazz
  26. Kode 9 Vs Badawi- Den of Drumz – Roir
  27. Headhunter – Locus Lotus – Initiate
  28. Elemental – Blob – Runtime
  29. Marcel Wave – Holton 47 – Freerange
  30. Henrik Schwarz – I Exist Because Of You – Nanny Tango
  31. Afefe Iku – Mirror Dance
  32. Italoboyz Vs John Coltrane- Bahia – Mothership
  33. Jose James – Desire (Moodyman mix) – Browswood
  34. Quality Control – Slippin
  35. Yaw – Where Would you Be
  36. Rosie Dame – Morning Light
  37. Eric Lau – Let It Out – Ubiquity
  38. Sunburst Band – Turn It Out – Z
  39. Real people – Rise – Papa
  40. Lizz Wright – This Is – Verve

Getting Riches…

March 29, 2008

About two months ago, I had the following to say about Guilty Simpson’s “Getting B***ches”:

“Getting B*****” is one of the last highlights from this offering. I must admit that Denaun Porter has become one of my favorite producers in the last six months or so. His beats are so crisp and loud, yet manage retain the critical amount of grime that keeps them street-worthy. His works also possess a soulful quality that is hard to describe–though it is undoubtedly aided by Mr. Porter’s unique, falsetto singing voice that finds its way onto his tracks. Guilty is dope here. This beat provides the busy, noisy, and dirty playground that Guilty Simpson needs…

Two months later, this is still one of my favorite tracks off an otherwise underwhelming LP. I’ll say it again: I think it captures Guilty and Mr. Porter at their respective best. Denaun Porter is one of the dopest in the game right now. I had thought that this track would make a good single, and it still might; but it wasn’t on the first 12″ ; however, they did release a video for “Getting B***ches” last week. Peep it:

The Economics of Sampling…

March 20, 2008

This is certainly an interesting issue, politically speaking, because there’s no big bad villain on either side for people to rally against and take sides. It’s fan vs. his favorite musician; techie-information-ager vs. the anti-establishment artist that supplies the soundtrack to his web-surfing and blogging.

So, to follow up on Pete’s post, here’s my take:

In my reading of Madlib’s comments, he was basically saying, “If you like our music, stop posting those samples, because we’re going to get hit with lawsuits and have to stop making this type of music.”

Every Google-able blog post incrementally increases the chances that an enterprising lawyer or corporate research department latches on to an uncleared sample, and files suit. Sure, the information is all discoverable on the net, but that’s why this is the information age and people pay money for other people to organize all that information into an easily-digestible format. The organization of this information is vital (and ironically, copyright-able, as well). These blog posts are doing that work for free.

Whether you pay up front by clearing the sample, or at the back-end by settling a lawsuit, sampling can be expensive for artists like Madlib, and indeed cost-prohibitive.

That is the simple economics of this game, from what I understand. If these artists complied with the strict letter of the law, they couldn’t afford to make those beats.

Ivan actually concedes this point, and ultimately agrees to cease the behavior that Madlib complained about:

Point #5: Should Underground Artists Get Leniency on Copyright Laws?

I mentioned this argument before, and I think it’s one of the the most grounded and fair-minded of them all. Here’s a board member who expressed it quite wisely:

Well if you don’t want to hear anymore classic underground albums come out in the future then keep doing what you’re doing. Realistically there is no way they could have cleared all the samples on Madvillainy, and Lib is obviously trying to prevent any lawsuits now that would both effect him financially, and potential listeners aurally as the album would be withdrawn from stores. You state that you believe all samples should be cleared, but if that was the case 90% of the great underground albums wouldn’t exist.

This leads me to the conclusion that I will now no longer complete sample sets of albums by underground artists such as Madlib. Fair enough people? See? I can be reasonable!…

Now, he goes on to address the various other (sometimes immature) comments made on his blog, and engages many of the faces of this issue as moral and legal matter, but I wanted to highlight the above passage, just so that it does not get lost in cacophony of unrest. It’s understandable to want to defend one’s self under these circumstances, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the issue: assuming he meant what I said above, Madlib was probably right.

In point #5 Ivan expresses an entirely rational position that I actually share. I think it acknowledges that, whatever one thinks about the morality of Madlib’s behavior vis a vis the original artist, and the appropriateness of a fan’s ability to discuss that sampling, as fans, we wouldn’t want to do anything that would make it no longer economically feasible for Madlib to make his music. That risk is real, and the decision on the part of the fan is cold, and rational. So, if you value Madlib’s contribution to the art form over the satisfaction that you get as a fan from public discussion of sample credits, you realize that these blog posts might not be a good idea.

After so many words have been written on the topic, Ivan may be disappointed to see such an binary explanation, but I really think that the issue forces these writers to choose what is most important to them: their sample heavy blog posts or Madlib’s music.

I don’t think that Ivan’s work is wrong in any moral sense. Far from it–it’s excellent. After thinking about the issue for a while, I just think it’s unwise, in light of the above.

The real culprit is the law (“Redirect the anger against politicians and judges, very clever, Kyle!” –Ed.). But until the law changes, the hip-hop community has to get by, and we need good music like Madlib’s to keep the art alive.

For what it’s worth, I think that an enterprising lawyer from our generation will one day convince a judge that sampling is form of “fair use”, making permission from the copyright holder unnecessary. I’m sure this has been argued unsuccessfully in the past (I haven’t done the research), but I’m hoping that as the hip-hop generation populates the legal culture, our attitudes might change, and make this argument more palatable. This might actually become a research project for me.

But if it happens, it is going to be intelligent, articulate folks like Ivan that make a difference… and this discussion is only priming the pump for that future endeavor. Let’s make it happen.

PS: Many of my references to Ivan and Madlib were merely shorthand, as this debate involves many other similarly-situated parties; pardon my laziness, Ivan.

Killa Tape Interlude…

March 20, 2008

Pete, did you peep the “Killa Tape Interlude” on the new Tanya Morgan mixtape (track 8)?

That’s why I have love for these guys. They make the music that we would make if we could make music.

“Yes We Can”

February 3, 2008

Appreciation Post: Blu & Exile “Below the Heavens”

January 31, 2008

photo.jpgSometimes this view gets me all sentimental, especially after a long walk around town. That walk gave me time to bump some albums on the iPod that I had put aside for a while. That’s why I want to bring it way back to 2007 and show some TT love to Blu and Exile’s LP “Below the Heavens”, my favorite album from 2007–and maybe the last 3 years or so.

It’s been a while since we’ve had an emcee with the package that Blu brings to the table. He mixes an accessible personality with excellent flow, clear delivery, and some clever rhymes. I ain’t crowning him the next Jigga, but he is an emcee that many should envy. More importantly, he has the “stamina”, if you will, to lace an entire 15-track album with solid rhymes. Stamina is perhaps an inexact word, because Blu also manages to avoid the fatal flaw of many emcees: over-extending one’s self. You gotta know your limits, and this guy does.

And Exile’s beats? I’ve struggled to describe his style to other beat heads, and why they should feel his shit. Without playing his music, it hasn’t worked well. I’ve tried a few metaphors that ultimately don’t work. Suffice it to say that he’s able take some of the production methods and elements that we appreciate, yet still sound authentic, instead of genre-driven.  Make no mistake, I’m cognizant of the fact that my tastes here can often fall into an identifiable market niche. My more mainstream-oriented friends are quick to remind me of this fact. But Exile is able to tweak his beats in a way that retains the elements I like, while keeping it interesting. For instance, I like the way he syncopates the high-hats on a lot of his beats. His snares have authentic sound to them. They don’t blow out your ear drums like Black Milk’s or Just Blaze’s perhaps; no matter how great of a snare it is, it just kind of plays along with all of the other elements, in a very egalitarian way. On top of all this, Exile isn’t afraid to let a beat ride out at the end of a track, or to incorporate some changes halfway into the beat. In short, Exile is an excellent producer.

Together, Blue & Exile gave us what had to be one of the most coherent LPs from 2007. No track stood out as the “single” track, or the “b-side” track, or anything like that. “Below the Heavens” was a throwback to an earlier time when an album didn’t have to be all things to all people. It wasn’t an iTunes a la carte, cocktail-hour hors devours platter. It was momma-style, home cooked meal with the veggies, meat and starch all working together; from start to finish.

Blu rhymes his ass off on some serious shit here. Whether it’s about insecurity (“Dancing in the Rain”), striving for morality (“Narrow Path”), love & fidelity (“Greater Love”), upward mobility (“Good Life”), and personal humility (“Blue Collar Worker”). But he ain’t preachy–a delicate balancing act for anyone in today’s hip-hop culture which generally frowns upon serious introspection (not to be confused with Kanye’s navel-gazing, and whining on Graduation, which I discuss here). This is no small feat.

And Exile chops up a beat in way that evokes Dilla’s Donuts stuff. It’s always unpredictable, and retains the soulfulness of the original track in a way that is satisfying to the trained ear of any fan of soul music (See: “Blu Collar Worker” and my favorite track “Below the Heavens Pt. I”).

I’d like to get into more tracks at a later date, I just needed to take some time out to express my appreciation for this album. Last year was a great year for hip-hop at many levels of the industry food chain. But “Below the Heavens” stands apart from even that distinguished pack as an album worthy of comparison to my mom’s home cooking–no small compliment.

Peace…

More Nostalgic Videos

January 30, 2008

Whenever I watch Consequence’s new video for “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly”…

…Fat Joe’s “Shit is Real” video is the first one that comes to mind for some reason:

Joey Cottage Cheese! If Consequence just added a slow-mo beat down renactment scene it would have been perfect.

Group Home’s “Superstar” is another golden era video that immediately came to mind:

Snarkier persons than I might call this 90’s fetishism, but I’m not taking that bait. Call me a nostalgia-monger. I like what Consequence did with this video, and I’m sucker for any chance to relive the unsupervised moments of my childhood in which Yo! MTV Raps was that shit.

Any other suggestions Pete?

Video for Erykah’s “Honey”

January 29, 2008

…a video that helps you remember that music can be fun (which isn’t necessarily obvious to the Guilty Simpson’s of the world); see if you recognize all of the album covers, and feel free to drop some artist – album title info in the comments. Some are painfully obvious, while others are not.

Hat tip to Kanye on this one… I’ve certainly moved on from the record store scene (and think digital delivery–done properly–is superior), but this video still leaves me nostalgic for the old days.

Pete and I have talked about this 9th Wonder track being a bit bland; but this video made me forget all that, and just enjoy the music.

Review: Guilty Simpson – “Ode to the Ghetto”

January 28, 2008


Guilty Simpson – “Ode to the Ghetto”
Stones Throw Records 2008

In a word: boring…

I’ve listened to the album about 10 times or so now, and I remain unconvinced that Guilty can hold down an album on his own–even one with an all-star production lineup like this. I won’t mince words because I like Stones Throw or Madlib or Dilla or Detroit: Guilty got exposed on Ode to the Ghetto.

I initially thought that this LP had the potential to bring us back to the golden era where an album featuring sub-par emcees could still be a banger because of a ridiculous production lineup. I was wrong. I don’t know if it was an attempt to match Guilty’s lazy delivery, but even some of the producers come weak on Ode.

First, the good part.

“American Dream” is indeed dope. Pete makes the proper reference to Madlib’s Beat Konducta in India project, and that Bollywood/Near Eastern influence he’s been getting out of his system. This beat is vivid, multi-layered, and it changes frequently–necessary busy-ness when Guilty Simpson is involved. Guilty’s deadpan, baritone delivery works well here, if only as an additional layer to an otherwise stellar Madlib beat (in other words, a rapper like Phonte or Blu might not sound as great on this beat). Then again, this is a familiar formula for many of my other favorable Guilty Simpson experiences. Though I’d ultimately be disappointed, this track got me excited for the rest of the album. It was well placed.

The title track “Ode to the Ghetto” also works well, with Madlib’s kid brother Oh No lacing an old-schoolish drum loop over some more Near Eastern vocal samples. There are also some significant changes here, and Guilty probably writes his best hook on the album. Again, the verdict is that Guilty Simpson is only tolerable on a well-crafted, complex sort of beat. Anything less exposes his weakness as an emcee, as I’ll get into below.

“Getting B*****” is one of the last highlights from this offering. I must admit that Denaun Porter has become one of my favorite producers in the last six months or so. His beats are so crisp and loud, yet manage retain the critical amount of grime that keeps them street-worthy. His works also possess a soulful quality that is hard to describe–though it is undoubtedly aided by Mr. Porter’s unique, falsetto singing voice that finds its way onto his tracks. Guilty is dope here. This beat provides the busy, noisy, and dirty playground that Guilty Simpson needs. All of the above might as well apply to “Pigs” as well.

But that’s the extent of it…

Guilty Simpson is too often reliant on his image as a product of the streets, and lacks the lyrical skills to repackage that image into something more novel. Like many commercial rappers, he is peddling swagger, and not much else. That swagger works here and there (see tracks listed above; also see entries in my music library from Yo Gotti, Lil’ Wayne, T.I. and others), but ulitmately, the popcicle-stick-and-bubble-gum foundation of pure swag is far too weak to sustain a full-length album worthy of any critcal praise. I could see some of these tracks turning into a solid 12″, and maybe an EP, but not much else.

“Kinda Live” is a track that I think Mr. Porter should have saved for a more versatile artist (it reminds one of Jay Electronica’s “Hard to Get”); Guilty just sounds uncomfortable switching up his flow for this unorthodox arrangement. I wanted to like this track, and I’ve probably listened to it more than any other on the album, but in the end I was left with the same feeling that one gets when watching George W. Bush squirm when he’s answering a question that his aides didn’t prepare him for. This is dope track but it was not cut out for Guilty. This is not to mention the subject matter, which, now that I have mentioned it, doesn’t work here either.

“Kill Em” and “Almighty Dreadnaughtz” are the two single worst beats I’ve heard from a Stones Throw offering in a while. This wouldn’t make some myspace artist’s mixtapes. That shit was just lazy. If Mark Jackson was writing this, I’m confident he would add a, “Come on, Peanut Butter Wolf, ya better than that!

“Several of the other Madlib and Dilla beats take on that wackier tone reminiscent of some of the Jaylib material, with a more stripped down construction, which has the effect of exposing Guilty for the sub-par emcee he really is. Simple “cat, bat, hat” rhymes proliferate, and with a subtle beat, you have no choice but to focus on the lyrics. Songs like “Robbery”, “Yikes”, and “I Must Love You” take special emcees to make them work. Frankly, sometimes I think these tracks might only work with Lord Quas on the track.

“My Moment” is an interesting, synthy direction for its producer, Black Milk; yet the result is the same, Guilty’s lyrics are in the forefront, and they just put you to sleep. He ain’t talking about anything, and this truth is painfully clear when you’re forced to listen, and not distracted by a loud, multi-layer Madlib or Oh No concoction.

“Footwork” and “My Moment” kinda knock, but they’re not really my style. I’ll give Guilty the benefit of the doubt on these, but I’m not sure that this is anywhere near enough to tilt the scales for the album as a hole. Oh No did lace “Footwork” on that long outro (but you’ll note that the best part of the track is the part where Guilty ain’t rapping).

Given the high regard that many of us hold for Guilty Simpson’s friend and mentor J Dilla, Dilla’s infamous blessing upon Guilty as his “favorite emcee” made all of us stop and take notice of this guy’s career. I’ve often wondered what it was that Dilla saw in Guilty, and I listened intently for it. I guess I’ll have to keep listening–it just won’t be Ode to the Ghetto.

RATING: 2 of 5 tapes.

The Little Hater Inside Us All…

January 15, 2008

While I’m reticent about comparing my work here to that of Jay Smooth over at Ill Doctrine, I must admit that this vlog struck a nerve… just watch. [podtech content=http://media1.podtech.net/media/2007/12/PID_013220/Podtech_beating_the_little_hater.flv&postURL=http://www.podtech.net/home/4760/beating-the-little-hater&totalTime=198000&breadcrumb=f796412868384b718c7e148b37be650e]Jay captured the essence of the little hater in my head so well, I don’t feel the need to add anything.

I’ll reiterate: Illdoctrine is one of the best blogs on the internet… don’t sleep my friends; and the life lesson is especially poignant to me, because Jay Smooth played a big part in shaping my taste in music on those late Saturday nights I spent studying and listening to the radio while a freshman in college. So I listen to whenever the kid is offering wisdom.

I’m sorry for the delay, I’m rejuventated after a battle with the little hater, and I’m ready to return.

Peace…

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.

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]

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…

2nd Chance for “I Want You”?

October 22, 2007

Squire: just wondering if the video that comes out this week might change your opinion… it’s just too good of a song for you to sit on the sidelines for much longer.

T.I., “Stupid” Choices, and Guns

October 22, 2007

Timely wisdom, from one of my favorite people in hip-hop: Jay Smooth. There’s not much else one could add to his insightful commentary (background on the T.I. controversy can be found here). Enjoy:
[podtech content=http://media1.podtech.net/media/2007/10/PID_012847/Podtech_machineguns_and_stupidity.flv&postURL=http://www.podtech.net/home/4396/machine-guns-and-stupidity&totalTime=283000&breadcrumb=85dbbc7dee1d4d979597f1524f196257]
If you haven’t peeped it already, Jay Smooth’s video blog, Ill Doctrine, is easily one of the best on the internet; don’t sleep…

Reaching Outside the Box…

October 15, 2007

For me, one of the collateral effects of 2007’s hip-hop explosion has been an increased desire to reach outside the genre in the hope that I find some new soul music bubbling beneath the surface. That is, the quality of recent albums has had me listening to hip-hop all day long–and that’s a good thing. It’s not that I’m not always looking for newer, more diverse types of music, but lately I’ve been casting a larger net.

Well, I haven’t been terribly lucky. I previewed Angie Stone’s and Jill Scott’s new LPs, but wasn’t impressed. Even though the dearth of soul music in 2007 has been discussed here, for the sake of argument, I’m willing to think that maybe it’s just me and a desire for something less conventional.

Enter Steve Spacek and J. Davey. Spacek last released an album in 2005 and I believe J. Davey’s label issues are keeping their stuff away from a formal release. So I took a different angle: I came across some recent radio appearances by both artists.

Listening to DJ sets by familiar artists can often provide a unique window into their influences… and artists like Spacek and Jack Davey, who have a relatively eclectic taste in music, can make the exercise even more interesting–that is, when you’re looking for a departure from the usual.

The first link I offer is to Steve Spacek’s appearance on the Red Bull Music Academy’s new radio service. I always like to keep an ear to what dem Brits are bumpin. Here’s the playlist:

Sepalot – Touch Too Much – Eskapaden
George Mc Crae – I Get Lifted (Tangoterje Remix) – Supreme
Saian Supa Crew – Blow – Source
Main Concept – Was Geht`n – Buback
The Meters Vs Angie Stone – My Man – Scenario
Belleruche – The Itch – Hippoflex
The Katzenjammers – Cars – Red Hook
Gerardo Frisina – Conqart – Afro Art
Boozoo Bajou – Killer – !K7
Legends Of The Underground – Cafira (Seiji Mix) – K.Spirits
James Brown – Furtherout (Re-Edit) – CDR
Charlie Dark – Unknown – Ninja Tune
Small World – Develop A Style – Red Hook
A Tribe Called Quest – Love – Jive
Daz I-Kue – Get Down – Soundincolor
Tangoterje – High Jack – Supreme
Jumbonics – Baxophone – Tru Thoughts
Gumdrop – Sinking Feeling – Altered Vibes
Steve Spacek – Dollar – Soundincolor

The second link is from a J.Davey performance on the incomparable Chocolate City radio show. No playlist here, but rest assured, there’s some punk, some Prince, and a lot more to keep your attention–not to mention a discussion of their outlook and label politics. Click the picture for the audio link.

UPDATE:
In all fairness to Jilly from Philly, I just heard the full-length version for a couple tracks off her new album on Gilles Peterson’s most recent show, and both “Crown Royale” and “Insomnia” were excellent. On second thought, I might have to cop that album.

My Commencement Speech at Kanye’s Graduation

October 13, 2007

They’re ain’t nothing more bitter than the fire spit by a blogger chillin’ at home on a Friday night (by choice, but you probably don’t believe me), so I’ll try to tone this rant down.

I’ve finally had it with Kanye West. I know. It took me longer than most to come to the same inevitable conclusion that dude is just plain obnoxious–to the point where it can eventually inhibit your ability to mindlessly enjoy his music.

When he first presented himself to the masses on The College Dropout (I remember DJ Sam Figueroa playing “Through the Wire” on WRSU, or rather what he called “that new single from the guy that produced H-to-the-Izzo” and me asking “oh, he raps?”), Kanye stood before the various sects of the hip-hop community as an exceedingly compelling and dynamic personality. To the “conscious” crowd, he was… eh… self-conscious; on “All Falls Down”, he called out his own materialism, but at the same time the hip-hop culture we all love. He was human–he knew wrong from right, but admitted to not always great at acting upon that.

Kanye continued his self-loathing in “Diamonds…”, the “Diamonds…” Remix, and “Addiction” from his sophomore LP, Late Registration. Musically speaking, Kanye’s sound matured on this album, and despite his grating self-absorption, you kept listening.

But it’s now four years or so since “Through the Wire”, and in 2007 Kanye is still apologizing for his obnoxious, self-absorbed behavior on Graduation–yet he apparently hasn’t done anything to change. This is akin to the abusive husband that apologizes profusely for his conduct, goes to the meetings, buys his wife flowers, but then beats her all over again, one week later. If you actually listen to the lyrics on this new album, aside from being some of his weakest he’s ever dared to spit, it’s nothing but an exercise in navel-gazing, of the most petty variety.

I get it: you went from nothing to something. No one believed in you. You had to work in retail. Now you are rich and famous, with rich and famous people’s problems: buying too much jewelry, drunk and hot girls, paparazzi following you and your girl around, flashbulbs, and then to top it off, the disappointment of finding out that you didn’t get free tickets to a Jay-Z concert at MSG. And you wonder why heads at the barber shops talk shit about you?

If Kanye was my boy and we were bullshitting over a beer, I’d listen and pretend to care, then slap him and try to put things into perspective–“people right outside this bar can’t afford food, dunny. Food!” But Kanye ain’t my boy, and I don’t care to hear about his pathetic non-problems–not when he himself has the perception to note much larger problems in the world, like the fact that his very own Chi-City, and many others just like it, are falling apart from poverty, drugs and violence.

Part of me finds 50 Cent‘s aloof, anti-social outlook easier to tolerate. There’s an amoral humility to it. 50 never claimed to be very self-aware, so you can’t hold him to any standard. He’s just a product of the streets, he’ll tell you. It’s unfortunate, but for some reason it’s easier to ignore 50 as a “lost one” and just bang the beats and hyper-masculine posturing. It’s perhaps a metaphor for how our society is aloof to the extreme poverty and crime that occurs in our inner-cities: the cities are “lost” and thus we feel little moral responsibility for anything that goes on there.

Now that I got that out of my system, I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed Kanye’s album before I started listening to the lyrics. “Good Morning” had me amped to start the show. “Champion” got me inspired in that “Touch the Sky” kinda way. “I Wonder” has some ridiculous drums, and “Everything I Am” sounds great. Oh, and Dwele’s presence is a great touch on “Flashing Lights” with those pulsating, Paul Oakenfold-esque keys. The passion in Kanye’s delivery is perhaps unmatched amongst emcees in the game today.

It’s just that just that his message is passionately petty, and I can’t get past it.