Archive for the ‘New Tapes’ Category

Black Milk’s Album of the Year

September 20, 2010

Drums, drums, and more crashing drums. It was difficult for a large swath of Dilla fans to overlook the obvious characteristics that Black Milk’s sound shared with Dilla’s since he came on the scene: drums, drums, and drums. However, on Album of the Year, Black Milk really stepped up his game with live drums (utilizing a live 4-piece band); this becomes the emblem of AOTY and easily carries the album. “Keep It Going” sounds like “Give The Drummer Sum” part two, which was the signature track of Black Milk’s last album, Tronic. He also has some great baselines throughout AOTY, particularly on the introductory “365”. Sonically, Album of the Year doesn’t let down.

I found Black Milk’s guest spots curious, and agree with Kyle: several of the featured artists add minimally to AOTY’s overall sound. From the range of artists that Black Milk has worked with, I would think he’d be able to do better than Danny Brown. Listen, I know Danny Brown gets props in Detroit, but his spot on the cleverly named “Black & Brown” is weak. (I thought the same thing about him on Dilla’s “Dilla Bot v. the Hybrid” from Jay Stay Paid. It’s too bad, too, because that “Black & Brown” beat bangs. I also agree somewhat with Kyle regarding “Deadly Medley.” Elzhi doesn’t sound like himself (not sure if this is recording, or anything circumstantial). Being a huge Elzhi fan, I wasn’t moved by his verse. I think Black Milk and Royce both go hard on “Deadly Medly,” however, and that track is going to get lots of spins.

One aspect of AOTY’s sound I really like are the “interludes” between tracks, i.e. how Black Milk changes the beat up and lets it ride out during transitions between one track and the next. It reminds me of what Questlove & Dilla did on Common’s Like Water For Chocolate. I often think that adds to an albums overall progression, and adds a little something extra musically.

Lyrically, Black Milk is, as he’s always been for me, hard to pin down. He doesn’t have the punchlines of Elzhi, nor is is his flow Phonte [formerly] of Little Brother or Blu. But he’s got something few emcees do: he’s a producer, and it sounds like either he makes beats to suit his flow, or he tailors his flow to enrich the beat. Like Dilla and T3, Black Milk has a flow that sticks and moves, and even without the hard punchlines, he sounds good. This isn’t to say he doesn’t have some good lines. However, Black Milk rhymes like a producer: with the overall sound paramount, and demonstrating care in making sure his delivery fits with the beat (rather than a battle emcee who’s always on the attack, e.g. Guilty Simpson). One listen to “Gospel Psychadelic Rock” and you’ll hear what I mean. Black Milk shows some lyrical growth on “Distortion;” not solely because of the material/topic, but because he does so without sounding corny, speaking on the medical condition of his manager & the death of Baatin. I always respect when artists are introspective/personable, but it’s not always easy to pull off, especially in the midst of an album that is sonically akin to a thunderstorm. There isn’t much going wrong on “Distortion”: banging drums, grounded baseline, and mood-exuding guitar.

“Gospel Psychedelic Rock” is an incredibly dope track: the perfect compromise between straight hip-hop and a cornucopia of sounds; the track utilizes drums, guitar, insane baseline, scratches, samples, and a great hook, “Better watch out here we come, here we go.” Black Milk can be heard in the background saying something to the effect of “yeah, we destroy shit,” and that’s pretty much what he does on this track. Beat is crazy (and gets doper as I ruminate about it). Classic Black Milk. This track and “Keep Going” are exactly why I love Black Milk.

“Closing Chapter” serves as a proper ending to any album of the year. Topically, Black Milk explores his influences and sources of inspiration/strength over a guitar riff and, consistent with the rest of the album, great drums. Like “Gospel Psychedelic Rock,” Black Milk’s flow is perfect for the beat. The only thing “Closing Chapter” is missing is Common’s Pop (yeah, of Pop’s Rap fame) extolling some knowledge as the beat simplifies and fades.

So, does Black Milk have the album of the year? At the very least, he does have the album of his year. On the production side, this album is nearly flawless. I would be hard pressed to enumerate anything more I would have wanted sonically. Album of the Year seems to need some lyrical power to put it over the top, however. I can only imagine what this would have sounded like with Blu, (more) Elzhi, or Pharoahe Monch on it. Or, alternatively, what it would have sounded like with only Black Milk. A handful of thin parts of the ice, namely Danny Brown and “Oh Girl,” which I could do without, while weak, do little to damage the full scope of the album.


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.

Dred Scott – “Breakin’ Combs” (1994)

September 1, 2008

As I get ready to go back to school, I’ve been trying to bookend my summer. Bookending always involve playing some dope music. I’ve been revisiting The Nonce’s World Ultimate for the umptheenth time (revisit my revisit), along with Down South’s Lost in Brooklyn (thanks to WTR for reminding me of this), and Dred Scott’s Breakin’ Combs. I put these albums on consecutively, and I have unbelievable beat, after dope beat.

Dred Scott’s funky beats are par for the course for 1994. Heavy with funk and jazz samples (check the beat and tale of the West Coast-sounding “They Don’t Know”). Scott handles all the production on this once-recondite classic (I think it’s more well known now, thanks to the blogosphere). I’m not sure why I didn’t know about this back then. Dred Scott’s beats resplendently parallel the beats of more notorious “Golden Era” producers, namely Pete Rock. And like Pete Rock, his music taste is incredible, and affords Breakin’ Combs with a constant layering of amazing samples. Many of these samples are, I’m sure, more well-known and recognizable now then they were in 1994 (again, thanks to the blogosphere), but I can’t help but think that had I heard this in 1994, I would have most certainly bugged out when listening to tracks like the opener, “Back in the Day,” and the closer, “Frankie’s Groove.” The latter is a jam-session instrumental, heavy on the piano and bass. And yes, Breakin’ Combs is also spotted frequently with all the horns one could want; see the aforementioned “Back in the Day.”

Dred Scott is comparably able on the mic. However, he doesn’t really have the presence or signature sound that many of his more popular contemporaries had, and I surmise that may have been a reason why Breakin’ Combs never found its niche. For example, some tracks have him sounding something like Brand Nubian, in both delivery and subject matter. For example, “Swingin’ From The Tree” has Scott doing his Sadat X as he delves into the many perspectives of black culture; in an indirect way of promoting unity, Dred Scott puts all people in a ship that is sinking as the differing groups fight to promulgate their way over others’. The story ends with everyone in the ship sinking together, in disunity. “Check The Vibe” is a Tribe Called Quest-sounding, laid-back track, complete with female singer on the chorus; for Tribe it was Vinia Mojica, while Scott employs Adrian Evans, whose debut album, Adriana Evans, Scott would lend lots of production to in 1997.

One of my favorite tracks is “They Don’t Know.” On it, Scott cooly talks of his skills. Of course, some fool in a club is bound to try and break the flow (don’t you hate when that happens?); in this case, it’s a blunted “fool” with “gold on the two front teeth.” After agreeing to a beat challenge, in which Scott puts his gear on the line, they shook hands, Scott “rocked it,” and walked away with “two gold teeth in his pocket.” That’s hip hop.

Breakin’ Combs, like so many albums from its period, plays amazing from front to back. Should you get your hands on this album, you’ll have a good hour of captivating and nostalgic beats, and lyrics that while not too heavy, are captivating and put most contemporary emcees to shame. In light of a what is considered lyrical content these days, Dred Scott shows how lyrics and flow were taken for granted back in the 90’s. This is particularly true when paired with the amazing beats that paint Breakin’ Combs.

Order restored

May 31, 2008

With the addition of a new network card, via a new computer, and the inclusion of an Apple Time Machine to my world, I’ve finally restored some normalcy to my own WWW. No more manipulating the rabbit ears to check my email.

My inconsistent WWW over the previous month has left me feeling a bit out of the loop. I’m not sure how accurate my own perception is, however. I’ve still managed to procure Tanya Morgan’s The Bridge, Kidz in the Hall’s, The In Crowd, Al Green’s Lay It Down, Jackson Conti’s Sujinho, and most recently, Common Market’s Black Patch War. I’d say that’s a pretty good yield for a month. Isn’t it interesting that there’s an apparent correlation between my WWW access and music acquisition? I can’t say I saw this coming in 1998, when I was still racing to Music in Your Ear on Thayer St. with my boy Skillz to cop Blackstar and The Love Movement.

Thanks to WTR for throwing that Common Markets track out there. I’ve been listening to Black Patch War for literally 24 straight hours. Sabzi’s production is a subtle throwback. Kind of reminds me of late 1990’s Shawn J. Period, employing lots of floating horns, flutes, scratches, etc. And RA Scion makes me think of Talib Kweli without the nasal congestion. Feel of album is akin to the contemporary-old school-feel goodness that has been coming out of the Pacific NW, see Blue Scholars & Ohmega W-W-Watts, Watts. (Note: I’ve also added Common Market, conveniently located on the WWW too).

Al Green’s Lay It Down. Talk about a throwback. Maybe I’m an ageist, but I usually don’t get too amped when old school cats come out with new albums. It’s a long story I suppose, but in short, it has something to do with the given, now-aged artist, attempting to contemporize their style in a new context. It’s a tough task. Or…maybe I am just an ageist…(or maybe I just have the bad tastes of Mariah Carey and Mary J. Blige in mind). Whatever the case, Lay It Down exudes the familiar Al Green of I’m Still In Love With You…30+ years later. Much of this credit of course is due to the man himself. His voice is as smooth as ever. Green’s adlibs are fresh. The man is soulful. The title track, featuring Anthony Hamilton, has Green all over the musical scale, but it works just as it did on “Call Me.” On the production side, The Randy Watson Experience (James Poyser & Questlove) continue to make amazing music. The backdrop they provide Lay It Down preserves Al Green’s soulful crooning. Some how they manage to capture soul of Green’s early days within a 2008 context. At points through Lay It Down, it’s difficult to date the song. That’s the definition of timeless.

Sujinho brings together Madlib and Brazillian drummer/percussionist Mamao, as Jackson Conti (their respective last names). Sujinho is Madlib doing his homework. This isn’t him simply diggin’ through some crates and putting a YNQ spin on some old standard, or concealing some 1964 drumline in some far-out, Quasimoto-Monk Hughes amalgamation. This is Madlib, as Otis Jackson, being the music fan and doing his homework; traveling to South America; eating local cuisine; and kickin’ with an old-school drummer. The result plays like a jam session. Sure, it’s got that now-classic YNQ style to it – the indiscrete shifts in tracks, the occasionally discordance of sounds – but this time, you can hear that more than one person and his imaginary friends are playing together. Madlib and Mamao have made what I presume all jazz-fusion albums of the 60’s and 70’s were like. A few dudes getting together and trading industry secrets, and experimenting. This is nicely demonstrated on “Brazillian Sugar.” Honestly, I’m still digesting the final product. While I’m not a music theorist and cannot dissect the the technicalities, I can judge feelings sounds provide; the overall sound is dynamic, feel-good, & is a perfect Spring-Summer soundtrack.

Anticipating the following:

May 19, 2008

In addition to Al Green & Dwele (Sketches of a Man), the following on my own radar:

– Raashan Ahmad – The Push. Raashan Ahmad is from Crown City Rockers, of Earth Tones fame. I haven’t heard anything off of it, but I’m curious…is all.

– N.E.R.D. – Seeing Sounds.

– Foreign Exchange – Leave It All Behind.

– J-Live – What Happened Next. Always interested to hear this guy on the mic. Always luke warm on some of the production that backs him.

The In Crowd

May 6, 2008

It’s been a tough two weeks around my crib. Internet is acting a fool…or some related apparatus is. Whichever the case, my access to the WWW has been limited and unpredictable. I feel like one of my Constitutional rights is being violated here. I’m not sure how the Founding Fathers would have anticipated the Web, though.

At any rate, I feel like I’ve relegated to the Dark Ages. As far as I’m concerned, the Earth is flat; and the epicenter of the universe. That’s how I feel about music right now. Being that I refuse to listen to the radio, the internet has, for several years now, been my primary source for reading about and listening to new music. I DID actually try to listen to the radio today while I drove to a meeting…I made it through about 17 seconds of what I presume was a Lil’ Wayne song featuring some up-and-coming crooner who I don’t know about.

I don’t know where to start. I’ve spun through my ATCQ discography this week. I still maintain that Erykah’s New Amerykah is the hottest album of 2008. Max Kelleman of ESPNRadio (one of my other brief radio stops today) talked about Mobb Deep as “Shook Ones” played in the background. Him and whichever guy hangs in the studio with him curtly discussed what one has to do to be an “official Queens Bridge murderer.” Good question Max.

Okay. So new music. I just purchased Kidz in the Hall’s The In Crowd. I’ve yet to listened to it. Based on their first album, School Was My Hustle, and the two “mixtapes” that hit the internet, I’m looking forward to getting into this. Re School Was My Hustle – honestly, while I like it, only a portion of the album has any replay value for me. I’m hoping their second offering shows some learning/growth from their debut. I think Double-O has it in him to be a GREAT producer. Anyone who has copped it, thoughts?

CLE @ BOS. I’m out.

Peace and happy listening. Here’s to me sorting this internet out.

NOTE: I was just reminded that Al Green’s Lay It Down drops this month!

UPDATE, 05/08 – “The Black Out” is bangin’ inside my ear drum right now.

The Tree of Music

April 21, 2008

Eddie Gale – Eddie Gale’s Ghetto Music, 1968 Blue Note Records

Insight and ancestry. Two inter-related concepts that highlight the importance of the oft-cited “knowledge of self.” Insight and ancestry also provide context. Within music, insight and ancestry have helped me broaden my tastes and musical aptitude. As such, I think it’s important to occasionally climb down hip hop’s family tree and explore its roots.

I’ve just recently stumbled upon Eddie Gale’s Ghetto Music. This is certainly one of those albums that flawlessly recapitulates the form and movement that constitutes great music; similar to the more renowned works of John Coltrane, Fela Kuti, or Sergio Mendes, to name but a few. Reminding myself that I’m still learning to listen to jazz, a few spins through this album has the feel of timelessness, should timelessness be an emotion. With its 1968 release date in mind, it is certainly reminiscent of a time when free form in music paralleled the free ideals that echoed throughout the late 50’s and 1960’s. For example, the use of a choir in the opener, “The Rain,” and the closing “The Coming of Gwilu,” provide a soulful demonstration of people and unity, a subtle, if manufactured, symbol of the civil rights movement. I was impressed to read in this 2004 review that Eddie Gale’s Ghetto Music enlist 17 artists: from Eddie Gale on trumpet, steel drum, Jamaican thumb piano, and even bird whistle; his sister Joann Gale on vocals and production (“The Rain”); through a slew of other singers, horn players, and bassists. This album is truly a lesson in unity.

With all those cooks in the kitchen, you may think Ghetto Music may sound disconnected, especially with all the sounds and styles that Gale utilizes throughout. For example, “Fulton Street” is a seeming celebration of a community comprised of different people, or sounds. With the choir chanting “Fulton Street!” and Gale employing an all-orchestral attack as he leads on trumpet, its punctuated toward the end with bass and drum solos, before the choir and orchestra join hands again.

One of my favorites of the five track set is “The Coming of Gwilu.” It begins subtly, with the bird whistle, followed by what is presumably the Jamaican thumb piano, and a flute solo, before the drum- and bass-lines move in. The choir comes in with a classic call and response delivery; finally Gale and the other horns join the procession. “The Coming of Gwilu,” conjures an image of a forming parade: beginning with the whistling bird, floating down a street; it alerts the next marcher, who runs out of his of her house; the flute is alerted to the parade, and runs out of his or her house to join…and so forth and so on…until the entire orchestra (all 17 artists for all I know) are joined together, signaling the coming of Gwilu…down Fulton St. perhaps. Why not?

The aspect of this album I enjoy the most is the interpretive value it holds. A collection of so many artists and sounds is bound to be subjective. For me, it’s the celebration of unity. A poignant message in 1968. A message that has experienced a rebirth in 2008. And such is Eddie Gale’s Ghetto Music: dated on one hand; timeless on the other. I’ve searched the net for reviews of this album and have found very few, including the one I’ve linked to above; check here for a comprehensive look at the Eddie Gale – he’s as essential as his music as the people he’s worked with span the musical world. I think the listening experience of Ghetto Music can lead to some great interpretations. Feel free to share your own.

Two closing notes. First, the album art is great. In 1968, was there a more powerful image than a unified procession, with dogs in tow? Secondly, this album reminds me of Max Roach’s We Insist (Freedom Now Suite) from eight years earlier. The diverse sounds and inspiring unity they produced parallels Ghetto Music.

UPDATE: Check this review out as it also covers Gale’s follow-up, Black Rhythm Happening.

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.

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.

Time Machine: Lightheaded’s “Pure Thoughts” (2002)

December 10, 2007

An album I was introduced to when backtracking through Ohmega Watts’s discography once I heard and became enamored with his 2005 debut, The Find, Lightheaded (Braille, Ohmega Watts, Othello (on the mics) and Canadian producer, Munshine) collectively debuted with the Pure Thoughts, a care-free, thoughtful throwback to the West Coast pace – laid-back. To my dismay at the time, Ohmega doesn’t contribute to the production, but Munshine provides a familiar, soulfunk backdrop which embraces like a hug. It’s easy to get comfortable with his sound – he uses some choice samples, including the same sample Kanye used for Common’s “Start the Show,” yeah, those steel drums, for “Blink of an Eye.” He also uses a sample ATCQ used on “PT Cruise,” along with, 9th Wonder/Joe Scudda’s “Just Don’t Speak,” from 9th’s Dream Merchant Vol. 1. Production stays within convention, but familiarity breeds content, no?

Content of Pure Thoughts is light, and in line with other West Coast acts, e.g. Del, The Pharcyde, Alkaholiks: fun, heartening at times, and aligned with aforementioned Lefties, care-free. Ohmega and the crew only lightly press on themes more obvious on recent releases, e.g. Watts Happening, but perpetuate a subtle sense of hip-hop integrity. You won’t find any machismo-laden lyrics here. The feeling is all about collective restoration, not uplifting oneself by downgrading others. “Completion,” for example, features Lightheaded pondering the meaning of life over a pleasant keyboard-backed beat. “Lightheaded Anthem” feels good and works as a great track to bump on your commute to work/school/dentist/christmas shopping…anywhere you need a pep talk. Lightheaded, in this case, is an appropriate adjective to describe these 3 emcees and 1 producer. Pure Thoughts is a fast-paced, uplifting listen that won’t have your head clogged with any fillers or downers.

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.

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.

Ohmega Watts: “Jason Kidd & Vince Carter of this Hip Hop”

October 27, 2007

I’ve finally had some time to dedicate a good sit-down to take in Watts Happening in its entiriety. As previously noted, I’ve been anticipating more from Ohmega Watts ever since I was smitten with his “solo” debut, The Find, in 2005. Early listens had me excited: Watts has continued the eclectic sounds that painted much of The Find – his use of breakbeats leads to an undeniable hip hop record; however, between tracks, it transitions between soul and/or Brazilian groove with both drums and horns dominating several tracks.

Watts Happening begins with “What It Worth,” driven by a classic drum break and very reminiscent of some of his earlier work on his debut & Lightheaded’s The Wrong Way (2006). While it’s difficult to generalize a theme to all Watts Happening‘s tracks, I think his creative use of drums may be the closest to such a generalization, particularly across the first few tracks.

As has been previously noted, the albums first highlight is “Model Citizen,” a mellow, positivity-perpetuating track in which Ohmega Watts opens his arms to being a “guiding light” to others. Despite his laidback rhymes, his point is obvious – and this contributes to another theme that can be heard throughout the album: Ohmega Watts’ unpretentious and accessible demeanor. (It’s nice to see others are also feelin’ this track).

One my favorite tracks on the album is “Eyes & Ears,” with Jneiro Jarel. As soon as I saw this colloboration on the track listing, I knew this was going to be dope. Ohmega Watts & Jneiro Jarel have a vibe that reminds of the Madlib & MF Doom collab – just these two cats vibin’ to some tunes, worrying not of perpetuating some manufactured image…again, accessibility adds an intangibility to the music.

“Roc The Bells,” with Watts’ Lightheaded compatriots, Braille & Othello, works as another great collaboration, although I’m not really feeling the hook – kind of annoying after several times through the album. Still, I really like how the guests (and certainly most guests throughout Watts Happening) blend in, and Lightheaded demonstrates that chemistry that made their two releases so enjoyable.

After “Roc The Bells,” the album takes a few obvious turns in sound. Both “Adaptacao,” with Tita Lima, and “Saywhayusay” have a distinct samba feel. Immediately after, “Are You Satisfied” hits with a funky break, and a great guest spot by Sugarpie Desanto; I have no knowledge of who Sugarpie is to be honest, but I love this track…reminds me of some 70’s soul we might hear from Darondo or Lee Fields.

Overall, Watts Happening‘s appeal lies in its diversity and certainly Ohmega Watts’ ability to utilize a broad palette of sounds. More & more, I find myself drawn to albums like this whose sound is less easily categorized. (also see majority of Madlib projects, and Jneiro Jarel’s Three Piece Puzzle & his recent Shapes of Broad Minds project). Also, Ohmega Watts’ lyrics, while not mind-blowing, compliment the production, seamlessly lying within the beat. They also paint a portrait of him as a laidback emcee/producer who doesn’t need to rely on cheap, “ringtone rapper” hooks/lyrics – for me, his unassuming style speaks louder than the sharpest tongue.

And let me not forget the instrumental disc. Kyle made a great point: you listen to the first 18 tracks of the album, and develop a rapport with it. Then you check the instrumentals and totally add to the original 18. I feel comfortable saying that the instrumental tracks play just as well as albums like Oh No’s Dr. No’s Oxperiment & some of the Madlib instrumentals…you truly are getting 2 albums for the price of…well, for the price of 1…

Related sounds worthy of consideration: Diverse’s One A.M.; Dr. Who Dat’s Beat Journey

Ohmega Watts – “Just think…”

October 11, 2007

…what if you can just be a, kid again, and waste the day, never worry about life or tooth decay… – from “Model Citizen”

Yeah, I’m know it’s already been out for 3 days & I’ve yet to comment on it, but I’m working on (that is, just started bumpin’ it). Ohmega’s Watts Happening may be the most anticipated album for me this year (right up there with Jneiro Jarel’s Shape of Broad Minds project…and we’ll see if LB’s Get Back ever gets released in 2007). I was completely enamored with The Find; a genre-melding cornucopia of sounds, upbeat lyrics & production. That album definitely highlighted what I love about hip hip and I’ve been anxious to hear the new album.

Admittedly, I just got into it yesterday – it’s been a busy music week & I wanted to make sure I had some time to sit down and listen. Already, I’m really feeling “Model Citizen,” a laid back PSA on the role of adults (particularly fathers) in the lives of our children. Sorry, I couldn’t find a less corny way to describe it, but if you’ve read anything on here (specifically earlier posts of TT), you know I am wary of hip hop that has seemingly slipped into an acquisitive irresponsibility. Avoiding the soap box, “Model Citizen” is a thoughtful reflection on parent, media, and celebrity influence on kids; Ohmega also inconspicuously speaks on family dynamics, setting up a message that builds up the role of fathers, which is sorely needed – just the opinion of a long time hip hip listener.

He proves that it’s not unhip hop to be empathic:

A lot of kids can’t even say they love someone, cause nobody ever cared, but I stand correct, cause I’m somebody right here…

Offering himself as guide:

Cause here I am, a young man, with only hope to share, at one point & time, see I truly didn’t care, now I be the same light like the one that guided me

On “artists” (hip hop community and beyond perhaps?):

These artists neglect you, sayin’ they don’t give a what, they’re more concerned with making a buck

Just a feel good song that demonstrates that some in the hip hop community care. Interestingly, Ohmega Watts’s music is right up there with Jneiro & Madlib (among many) in stylistic experimentation; certainly moreso than some of these other “artists” who claim their artistic priority tops any community responsibility, e.g. “Yo, I’m just expressing myself through my art.” (Not hating, just highlighting a disparity.)

Certainly more to come on Watts Happening…stay tuned…

Congrats to Common…

August 20, 2007

While I was away, Finding Forever found itself #1 on the US Billboard 200! I wonder how much of that was influenced by the huge success of BE; still glad to see it up there.

I tell you one thing, I was itching to hear that album upon my return. “Start The Show” been on my mind’s ear on the regular. I still listen to “I Want You” with indifference, however.

I’ve also had time to read some other reviews now that the albums been out for a few weeks. I haven’t really read anything too surprising – interesting how most reviews seem warm in temperature but all conclude that it’s a dope album. Kyle made a great point regarding its sequencing that definitely works for me, although I didn’t realize it until he mentioned it: the juxtaposition between bangers and more laid-back joints definitely gives the albums sound a distinctive shape; overall, the bangers are minimal, but the sonically, you can hear the change as the album progresses. As Kyle said, you’re kind of lulled by “U, Black Maybe,” then “The Game” hits hard.

I’m currently bumpin’ the itunes (& UK) bonus track, “Play Your Cards Right,” with Bilal. I love the original track, “Under The Street Light” by Joe Bataan, who has made an appearance on TT. In addition to that horn sample, you know Karriem Riggins had to throw that Detroit bang into it.

Found “Finding Forever” & Stevie

August 2, 2007

I’d be remissed to let this week pass without dedicating a few thoughts to Common’s Finding Forever, or as I conceptualize it, “Be, the extended version.” (I don’t mean that in a derogatory manner). Really, after listening to this several times through (the beauty of a brief album), it flows from the sound of Be nearly seamlessly. In reading the thoughts of other bloggers, some have intimated that Finding Forever contains throwaway joints from Be; I assume they mean that with a deprecating tinge. I wouldn’t go that far.

The things I love about Finding Forever:

First, I love Common’s optimism. This seems to be a characteristic that’s always been thumping in his chest, but really took off on Like Water For Chocolate – at least in the sense that it was readily tangible to his listeners. Again, I love his optimism. Not only for his perpetuation of love between people, respect for women and children; but also how he lets that conspiculously shine through his music. Secondly, I love Pops. Damn, Pops is always droppin’ knowledge.

I really like “Start the Show.” Are those steal drums?

I love “Break My Heart.” Admittedly, I think “And your clothes are tight, but you don’t seem gay/I said nah, that’s dude from N’Sync-ay” is cheesy…(Did he just call JT out?) But, that sample, as simple as it is, is brilliant. I don’t know its source…anybody? That sample = instant smile. Besides, it reminds of something Michael Jackson would be on.

Finally, I really dig “The People” (We need to get a Dwele post on here) and “Misunderstood.” I am usually skeptical when a producer attempts to sample a song as popular, and classic, as Nina’s “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood;” it usually comes off as cheesy or tacky. However, dude does a great job of using that, especially at the end.

Okay, a few points of contention. One, I’m still on the fence with “I Want You.” While the hook is great, the rest of the track nearly bores me, sonically and lyrically. When I see Will.I.Am on a track, I always think “Like That,” which he geeked down…but his stuff is hot and cold for me. This track is warm… Also, I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about “Drivin’ Me Wild.” I really like Lily Allen on the hook. I hear this is set to be the album’s next single, and I think it fulfills the successful single formula. In the end, I’m going to end up liking this song.

Overall, and I’ll keep this short: I really like the album. If you peruse my ‘likes’ versus potential down sides, mathemetically it’s clear that it’s a good album (# of likes > # of points of contention). While it may sound similar to Be, it’s not…it’s Finding Forever. If anything, I interpret the comparison positively. Common & Kanye demonstrate consistency…and in the shoes of such a great album, consistency is an absolute compliment. And let’s be honest, those “points of contention” are minor, and within the context of the entire album, they’re less than conspicuous. They certainly aren’t skipped over…I am easily able to listen go to stop. Like its predecessor, it maintains a continious sound, and it packages it in a succinct, pleasant package to boot. As long as Common keeps producing quality like this, I’ll keep finding him…forever?

Okay, real brief. I listened to Stevie’s Where I’m Coming From today and damn man, “Think of Me As Your Soldier” is killer! Stevie knew how to make a love song! That’s actually a great album, front to back. (See: “If You Really Love Me” & “Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer,” nice way to tie this in with Common, no? Check One Day It’ll All Make Sense and it’ll all make sense. If “Think of Me As Your Soldier” renders the heart weightless, “Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer” drops it right back into your stomach like a boulder. Still beautiful).

Albums that are going to come out on a Tuesday…

July 31, 2007

Today is Tuesday. Albums come out on Tuesdays; and rather than discussing albums that drop today (like Common’s Finding Forever), I’m going to look toward future Tuesdays. And in the future, albums from Madlib, Oh No, & M.I.A. can be expected. Now, a brief review of those three artists may make it clear why two are in the same posts – you may think it would make sense to include brothers Madlib & Oh No in the same post. Same mother. Same record label. Both releasing albums in August. Both albums are instrumental. Both albums draw heavily on exotic samples. In the case of Madlib’s, well, he raids cast off Bollywood soundtracks. Younger brother’s Dr. No’s Oxperiment broadens his digging and includes the chopped sounds of Lebanon, Turkey, & Greece. You sense a theme here?

This is where M.I.A. comes in. She too has an album dropping in August. And if you’re familiar with her Arular, you may have guessed the link between her and the Jackson brother releases. M.I.A.’s KALA, much like its predecessor, incorporates sounds that span the globe: Sri Lankan, African, Indian, and Turkish, (I think I hear bag pipes in there too). Looking at the tracklisting, it appears the only Timbaland contribution is “Come Around,” the bonus track that closed out his Timbaland Presents Shock Value. At any rate, this appears to be a truly global endeavor. In addition to the great sounds, M.I.A. also offers thoughts on her world. For example, the lead single seeks to find out “how many boyz are raw/how many no money boyz are rowdy/how many boyz start a war?” Similiar to Arular, it appears KALA is draped in class and ideology clashes, which is given substance when paralleled with the fact that she spent a portion of her childhood in Sri Lanka during civil war. (According to an interview with Rolling Stone, her father was a revolutionary figher in Sri Lanka nicknamed, Arular). Admittedly, I’m not an expert in M.I.A. or her music, but I thought highly of Arular, and am looking forward to her newest offering. Needless to say, I love the amalgamation of seeming discordant sounds.

My realization is there is a seemingly unlimited source of sounds out there [points out the window] and it’s great to see hip hop artists tap into it. Sure, neither Madlib nor Oh No are the first to do so. But they manage to find some exotic $h!t and chop, flip, and arrange it into hip hop. If nothing else, their projects may make other “wordly” sounds more palatable to hip hop ears. Once again, Stonesthrow has reminded me that they’re not afraid of much. In relation to M.I.A., it may be that American hip hop and the international scene are coming full circle. The way I see, the more sounds available, the more potential to make some hot $h!t.

With that, I say bring on the August releases. This has been a pretty fruitful music year and I am looking forward to finishing it out. Hey, don’t forget to get your Finding Forever, need to support the less cacophonous too.

UPDATE: “Come Around” was one of my favorite tracks on Timbaland’s Shock Value, but it comes off as boring along side some of the other tracks on KALA.

Sa-Ra Creative Partners – “The Hollywood Recordings”

May 17, 2007

Sa-Ra Creative Partners – The Hollywood Recordings
Babygrande Records (2007)

The next tape is a real banger… this week is going to be fun. 

If I had to describe Sa-Ra’s sound, I’d say its Dr. Dre, J Dilla and Pharrell meet Prince and Parliament. Even though none of Sa-Ra’s members are from Detroit, the group has harnessed a sound that is decidedly modern Motown.  It’s that robo-soul, with drunk unquantized drum patterns, deep basslines, and synthy soul melodies. 

I first heard about this three-man group in 2005, courtesy of Waajeed and Saadiq’s Platinum Pied Pipers LP.  However tongue in cheek the “Platinum” modifer was, Waajeed‘s intention was indeed to act as a pied piper of sorts, presenting a huge group of new talent to the hip-hop disapora.  And he hit the ball out of the park. While most of the featured artists were Detroit-based (Waajeed himself, Dilla, Ta’Raach, Tiombe Lockhart, et al.), Sa-Ra also made an appearance on the cut, “Deep Inside.” The Detroit techno influence was evident from the start.  “Deep Inside” was a pulsating, funky track with these very interesting choral-like vocals.  At this point, Sa-Ra was, at least in my mind, riding in on the buzz associated with this new Detroit sound and had also garned a good amount of industry buzz when they got signed to Kanye’s GOOD Music label. In short, by 2005 you knew things were going to happen for these guys.

In the ensuing three years, Sa-Ra released several singles and mixtape before they hit label drama and rumors that they might disband.  The Double Dutch / Death of a Star 12″ appeared on Ubiquity in 2004. Then in 2005, iTunes mysteriously published a self-titled “partial album”, also on Ubiquity, but the full album itself never surfaced (BTW, this “album” contains a great rendition of Sly’s “Just Like a Baby” worth copping). 2005 also saw Sa-Ra drop The Second Time Around EP–with more rave reviews.  Release after release, their stuff just banged. It was consistently dope, and left you waiting for the LP to drop.

Well, they finally managed to drop the Hollywood Recordings on Koch’s Babygrande Records in April of 2007.  While most of it is new material, several of the older songs appear, and when the title is taken into consideration, you get the impression that Sa-Ra saw this album as a means of cataloging this 2004-2007 period of their work (if they were more accomplished artists, you could almost see “2004-2007” printed on the cover, next to the title).

Getting back to their sound, here’s what Sa-Ra has to say about itself:

“[I]f Sa-Ra’s music is too advanced, too spiritual, too heavy, don’t worry.  It makes sense.  It is a continuation of the work of music’s most significant artists.
‘You look at James Brown, Prince, Jimi Hendrix, John Coltrane, Parliament — all of the originals, the Gs of whatever they did — people didn’t get it at first,’ Shafiq says.  ‘It wasn’t until they made it cool.  Then, when they made it cool, everybody was doing it.  Our job is to make history, not to entertain.  Our job is to change, add and contribute to what the greats have already contributed.'”

Nah, but what do you really think Shafiq? I guess modesty isn’t their game…

What I find most interesting about the album so far is that Sa-Ra somehow manages to release an a startlingly unique LP that, at the same time, reminds you of a million other artists. They are one of a kind, but all of a kind. It is sure to give us lots to yap about.


And to wet the TT whistle, here’s the artsy-fartsy new video to the first single off the album, “Feel the Bass” (feat. Talib Kweli):

PS: I vow to not use the relatively hollow word “unique” ever again when describing Sa-Ra. That’s word.