Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Heart Need Not Be A Lonely Hunter

Gracefully, into the night

Bobby Caldwell - "Open Your Eyes" (mp3)
(purchase here)

Sugar Minott - "Sandy" (mp3)
(purchase here)

Hello, again.

Withers has got some baggage these days, but only about as much as the next 67-year old. With mortality around the corner, the mind turns inward once again. Instead of the 17-year old wondering, "What will be?" a half-century turns the reflection to, "What has been?" No more tomorrows.

I wish I had asked him how he feels when he hears his old music. After all, seems he lived up to their lessons in turning his life toward family.

A couple seemingly unrelated numbers today, but both find comfort in company. Watching elders drift further into independence, I suppose the lesson then is to embrace the selflessness of an open heart now. Now's the time -- right, Bird?

Caldwell keeps it contemporary to Withers' grown'n sexy while Minott throws the tone further back. While the singer sticks to his known repertoir of lover's rockisms here, the selfless sentiment is a wonderful reminder -- duke has been running his own promotion company since the inception of his superstar career. From peers like Johnny Osbourne to newer folk like Junior Brooks, it's a family affair.

Not to kill the hope vibe, but shouldn't a republic be just a lil', y'know, let let me in? You'd think ours would banner ad something like a State of the Union address. 9pm EST on every major network channel.

Friday, January 27, 2006

It's a Celebrasian!

"19 Asians peppered in..." ~ that was last night for me


Yes, keeeds, double exclamation points. I'm hella mad b/c I was in rehearsals that day and found out then that the extravaganza was right around the corner from my home. Thank Mos' Highest for film. And Gondry. And the Most Beautifullest Hustle, for the head's up.

That's Entertainment?

The precinct feels the Foxx special, but Harry was all, "Whatever"

Jamie Foxx - "Love Changes" f/ Mary J. Blige (mp3)
(purchase Unpredictable here)

I should have gotten ginkgo for my money.

I managed to forget about Jamie Foxx' NBC TV special in less than 12 hours. You may have read about it already here and here. That said, I shouldn't have forgotten to write about it, especially when I watched it specifically to comment on it. Really, ginkgo.

Anyway, the special was pretty uninspiring. It was entertaining in a very predictable way with Foxx pulling out all the schticks -- the swagger, the emoting, the on-bent-knee pleading -- all of which he has done on every daytime tv/award's show already (ok, he didn't troll out the Ray call and response, though he did exhume Gravedigger -- oh no he di'nt!). However, with a little help from a peacock, the special took advantage of a baller's budget and also featured... dramatized reenactments of grandma anecdotes.

Quite frankly, having no paper is no excuse for poor presentation. And having tall stacks is an even worse excuse for piss-poor presentation. The show was that tacky, which was unfortunate considering all the potential (C'mon! Jamie making a baby? That was funny).

In seriousness, say what you will about the conspiracy theory, I was intrigued to see that the performers were, from what I could tell, all people of color (I saw you, Asian trumpeter! Duke Kamehameha looked Silver Age J-A -- and, yes, I am aware that the image is of a non-J-A person. If you didn't get the joke, look at the mullet and add what I like to call a "Kenji 'stache"). I say "intrigued" as opposed to "impressed" because the overwhelming sea of whiteness in the theatre more than made up for the lack of cream onstage. Also, seeing a stage full of performing minorities on television isn't that foreign. But on NBC? Not too shabby.

I suppose I wasn't too upset, because of the tone of a couple performances: "Love Changes" with Mary J. Blige and the closing acapella courtesy Angie Stone (hadn't heard from her in a minute; was beautiful to hear her again). By the books to an extent, even a little sloppy at times (esp. during the call and response section w/ Mary), but sincere efforts. On a related note, regarding the criticism of Foxx for 'acting' like an R&B singer, well, I should point out that performance and entertaining are arguably both forms of 'acting.' I am unsure what the difference between 'being' an R&B singer and 'acting' like an R&B singer is anyway. And if there is a distinction and it is such a crime, please explain that Idolatry show.

Anyway, as a nod to one of the evening's highlights, here's some Mary and Jamie and Baby. I'm not sure where this recording is from, but I am growing to appreciate live cuts more these days, b/c damn near all vocals in R&B, hip hop and pop get cleaned up and pitched up/down to hide mistakes. So, here's some of the 'realness.' Peep Mary's vamp towards the end of her convo w/ Foxx, it pretty much sums up how she burns. Just ragged and raw, it's that thug courvoisier, understandable smooth. And, most immportant, it's that love movement, ya dig? Apparently Babyface is somewhere back in the cut doing his thing, too, so what's to hate?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Everyday I Write the Song

"boombox gerbil" is the title
(Image copyright © 2006 Ben Cooper. All rights reserved.)

Electric President - "Grand Machine No. 12" (mp3)
(purchase here)

Last night I wrote an extended riff on a cocaine thought. I haven't quite come off of the trip, holding onto the bit while watching this peculiar doc on Duke Ellington. All this means is a lot of thoughts on musicality and how density plays within composition. All that means is I'm wondering that same ol' story, "What makes a good song?"

The short and easy is soul. And I don't mean in the performative sense, because we're talking about the song itself. Rather, I mean in the essence of the song -- there should be a purpose or a direction. Perhaps that direction is seemingly directionless or abstract in destination, like much of Andrew Hill's recent work. Perhaps that direction is explicitly clear, like NWA. Yet, as a musician, I forget how easy it is to wallow in noodling and exploration of the self, sort of like touching yourself without realizing that you're touching yourself.

Which is why Electric President is such a pleasant surprise. The press release may not have been encouraging -- "Some people might be reminded of Death Cab for Cutie's Benjamin Gibbard - but without the teenage angst" -- and even some of the lines within proved distasteful -- "I lost my taste for modern things" is really the sort of lyric that a twenty-something year old should only sing in jest (but irony is so over. That said, Ben Cooper and Alex Kane create an enjoyable record of pithy observations.

While principally a quiet guitar album, each song has been run through the production spin cycle, having parts looped, amped, distorted, etc. Postal Service minus the saccharine distrust? While the process sounds fun enough, of greater interest is the promising songwriting. Sure, "Grand Machine No.12" contains plenty of nods to contempo progressions -- check the "No Surprises" bridge -- but contains a surprising number of turns that glide by unnoticed. Like the smart joke that kills with any audience, the song has that glimmer of *unh* that anyone can recognize.

If Kool Keith doesn't need a chorus, then I don't need a conclusion. Yeah, that's poor writing.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Hug It Out


Anthony Hamilton - "Change Your World" (mp3)
(purchase here)

By now, I am sure more people have heard the news about Nas signing to Def Jam/with Jay-Z than about Cam throwing blows at Jay-Z. As another writer intimated, Jigga certainly has a PR gift for 'accidentally' leaking a story (to the NY Times, no less) at just the right time.

I have been hesitant to comment on this, simply because I really don't have anything new to add to the discourse already floating around. That said, Oliver touched upon a point that has been disturbing me. "Cynicism in today's hip-hop world is at an all time high," he writes, a sentiment prevalent in non-hip-hop worlds, as well (yes, I uckfs with the jazz cats, too). Perhaps it's an extension of Fukuyama's End of History sentiment, chalk it up to the rise in been-there-done-that-itis that has paralleled the growth of the iPod market (to paraphrase yet another writer, "Now, every kid with a 40g Pod and the complete Hall & Oates b-side collection is a musicologist"), or maybe it's just a natural defense mechanism considering how much (and how quickly) music information comes at us, but -- yes, I'm about to say it -- things just aren't what they used to be...

While most hip hop fans, myself included, know how to appreciate a good verbal spar on an aesthetic level, I am generally loath to egg on a confrontation because the last time I did that I was in, oh, elementary school. Nastack has been doing a lot of coverage getting to the bottom of the Cam-Jigga feud, one of the few comprehensive responses (what a concept, researching a topic). However, the feud also elicits a so-what from myself considering the other issues on my mind, like: why is it that when I google my president's name, the top two headlines are, "Bush defiant on wiretaps, but American voters aren't so sure;" and "US President George W. Bush compared to Oprah Winfrey?" Please, stop ig'nance in '06.

I suppose what bothers me the most is a) I spend too much time reading; and b) there is not a lot of discourse about what should be done. Hence, the reason why I appreciate the Nas-Def Jam news is because it breaks the mold, heads in another direction. No shit, it's humbling to be working for a person you were feuding with, but if we can all crawl back to someone with our tail between our legs (which we have all done at some point), then I think it is possible for two grown businessmen to enter into partnership. Hell, if you want to cry foul about rivals becoming lovers or vice versa, take a look at our president's past relationships. Here is a creative and possibly lucrative solution to Nas' career 'problem.' Nastack made the excellent point that pulling the album budget from the artist's paycheck is hardly productive -- Was I the only one who actually thought $3M per album was not a lot? If Nas is to have a commercial blow-out of a record, I highly doubt he'd be able to do it on the dime. That said, this collaboration presents Def Jam's marketing with an opportunity to challenge themselves (this shouldn't be so hard -- the bar has been set pretty low). I am just not willing to knock this approach so quickly, simply because it deviates from the norm, seems 'gay' or whatever. Sure, it may be flawed, but I won't throw the baby out with the bath water.

On a related note, this is what I'll be watching tonight. Concrete Loop pointed out how NBC has been doing the absolute minimum of promotion in a seeming attempt to intentionally sink Jamie Foxx: Unpredictable, which airs tonight at 8 pm EST on NBC. While I am a little skeptical of a network pumping out so much money on a project to intentionally and slowly scrap it, I concede that the precedent is highly suspect.

Oh, and the Anthony Hamilton song is self-explanatory. Just open yourself up to love, dukes. Or at least hug it out. Bitches.

Anthony Hamilton
[SOLD OUT] (uckf!!!)
Wednesday, January 25
Canal Room, New York NY

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

For the Keeeds

Ebony and Chai Tea

Trina f/ Lil' Wayne - "Don't Trip" (mp3)
(purchase here)

Yummy Bingham f/ Jadakiss - "Come Get It" (mp3)
(purchase here)

When I was about 20, I briefly T.A.'d at a junior high school in Berkeley, CA. Being in the throes of college righteousness, working with teenage musical sensibilities was refreshing, to say the least. For example, one of my students had an immense thing for Lil' Wayne. She didn't really take interest in classwork, certainly had her share of personal issues to work through, but would become as light as a feather at the mere mention of Weezy's name. "Lil' Wayne," her normally booming voice dropping to a breathless whisper, "I love Lil' Wayne..." intoning her devotion with a slight southern lilt. Really, it was a wonder to watch a child hardened after only 11 or 12 years of life melt for a minute to talk about how she would one day marry a 16-year old heroin-abusing rapper. She felt a bond and reached for it. Needing a common point of interest, I did my homework and, long short, ended up trading anecdotes with her on the wisdom of Weezy F.

I bring up this student mostly because I admired her sensitivity to coupling. For a kid to take interest in an Elvis or U2 is easy; they're so dolled up, after all. But for a kid to take interest in a Jerry Lee Lewis or a Hot Boy, well, that is what they call 'living on the fringe.'

An editor reminded me the other day of the popularity of thug rapper-femme songbird pairings. Kinda like a fruit-infusion twist on a lemon-lime classic, the combo varies little from the legacy of the ebony-ivory type (mis)match. "Look! We can cross lines! Anything can happen." Yet, most of these pairings were hardly revelatory, let alone all that believable. Ja and (fill in the blank), I'm lookin' at youse.

Neither of today's selections are all that new, but rather refreshing in the glut of flotsam floating about the radio. The Baddest Bitch makes the comparison with Gladys Knight and the Pips, but "Don't Trip"'s feature is squarely on her main dip and her. The aging prude in me makes me a little squeamish hearing Mr. (other) Carter intone, "And on the hush hush / We need some quiet time," but, hey, the kids are in love, so let the freaks have their way atop Mannie Fresh's heat.

On the other hand, 19 y.o. Bingham hopefully isn't getting anything else besides her beat turned out (yes, I know I am sounding like a 40 y.o. father; mind you, I still work on occasion with kids -- yes, kids -- this age) on "Come Get It." An apparent Just Blaze prodo, she sagely informs us of the story behind Jada's collabo: "He's featured on it," she said, "because every street record has to have a rapper on it." Hey, her words. In any case, this Queens native, De la favorite and muzack biz royalty (her father is Dinky Bingham, Jr., producer of New Edition, Kylie Minogue, Guy and others) with the high whine actually feels out a great counterpoint to 'Kiss' gutteral throat.

Admittedly, neither cut is burning up the charts at this point. But to hear 'em floating around gives a bit of hope: the kids are all right... you just gotta trust 'em sometimes...

Monday, January 23, 2006

It's Harder Now

Soul Survivors

Lou Rawls - "Lifetime Monologue" (mp3)
(purchase here)

Wilson Pickett - "Don't Let the Green Grass Fool You" (mp3)
(purchase here)

Jerry Butler - "Soul Survivor" (mp3)
(purchase here)

Funny how folks drop by and say hello. For me, one drifted through a sample, the other through a strip routine. Then, just as quickly, it was time for them to go.

I suppose for many the recent passings of Lou Rawls and Wilson Pickett were, at most, a momentary disturbance. Neither was discussed as being a cultural icon in the Top Ten sense, yet both were accepted as being "one of the best..."

The trouble is that music journalism often hinges on such list-making, so eulogizing becomes a 'make-up' opportunity. The result then comes off as awkward overcompensation. While the above Times and Post pieces offer lucid reminders of why Rawls and Pickett were indeed so wonderful and talented, the highlights reel approach feels numb, even of sentimentality.

I won't offer much in the way of dates and dates played, because I honestly don't know a great deal about their personal lives. However, a couple thoughts and memories:

A friend once summed up Lou Rawls' voice for me: syrupy. When I first heard that description, it made me laugh as I realized that there was such a thing as being too velvety for me. However, in certain instances, Rawls came through in a pinch. While his voice's low, rich tone probably stoked more than a handful of fires, I instead felt comforted by its paternal presence. "Lifetime Monologue" pretty much sums up the regular-guy charm he held for me, a solid speech of encouragement for anyone who has not had the time to ask, "Why?"

A counterpoint was my first response to Pickett's voice. That piercing axe slamming down "1 - 2 - 3!!!" in the intro of "Land of a 1000 Dances" was pure nut-buster. In a landscape defined by the James Brown shriek, Pickett was something completely different: a revelation, an embodiment of Soul. Subsequently, I delighted in his lurid and randy persona, a mixture of impatient urgency and sharp wit that screamed wicked. Then along came ...in Philadelphia. Recorded under the supervision of Gamble and Huff, the album reeled in the wild horse and tamed his tone with clean, crisp production. And it was mind-blowingly great. While the "Engine No. 9" break got me open, it was the down-home sensibility that provided the constant. "Green Grass"' title alone may come off trite, but Pickett rides that chorus like he's learning a new lesson each time he sings it.

Both men often sang and spoke of how life is hard to earn. Yet both also made the effort seem surmountable, worthwhile and simply human. So, as a thank you, here's another one from one of their peers. Snowmen, please take note.

Friday, January 20, 2006

It's The Remix

Just another trick of the trade

The Professionals - "Theme From 'The Godfather'" (mp3)
(purchase here)

As a storm brews, headz prep for the oncoming torrents of biting...

Seems Cam finally caught wind of Jay's Jackin' For Rhymes cut and conveniently 'reissued' it. Not to diminish the time and effort put into creating this humorous track -- whose point that Jay-Z is, in fact, a biter not a writer becomes illustrated in one of the most literal cut'n paste jobs I have heard -- but it is precisely the sort of tool used to stoke an argumentative fire: "Look! He is saying the same lines another rapper said! That's bad!" Well, that is also something musicians do: take from another. In case you don't remember, music is a discourse. Consider music based around oral traditions, such as Appalachian folk or even the work of griots, wherein songs and stories are passed down generations by allowing each performer to retell, essentially, the same song or story. Consider it the first remix, an intentional nod. So, when Jay spits that line from "Big Poppa," the idea is to connect himself with Biggie. For anyone who doesn't know and interprets that line as an invitation to open their womb to Mr. Carter, well, that's an issue of a listener in need of Hip Hop 101, ya heard?

Today's conversation isn't about lines that reference another rapper's lines. Rather, the idea of copying, which seems to me a sacrilegious act in this country. Imitation as a form of flattery is applicable only for the pre-pre-school set, a 'phase' in childhood that is quickly outgrown and left in favor of the marvelous world of unique and profound thoughts and actions. That explains why we have such grossly fascinating conversations on the daily, right? I suppose the hang-up makes sense when capitalism is taken to its logical conclusion -- from a business standpoint, you should want to be the sole person providing such and such good/service and take out all the competition. Killa! However, I feel I have watched the best minds of my generation waste their time holding the pencil in one hand, thrusting their other arm and torso around and closing the box with their head. The worry is always: defense against cheating, the threat of a foreign attack. Yet never is there a discussion of personal motivation, responsibility, nor a collective sense of trust. Then again, I suppose these are not entirely capitalist tenets, eh?

Perhaps a better way to approach this discussion is to point out the negative connotation copying has attained in today's society. Here's something to think about: situations (be they mundane or enlightening is of no matter) that can be considered both innovative and copy-cat, depending on your humble opinion. For example: Lindsay Lohan's rise to success. She can be considered a tabloid completionist, having appropriated every celeb headline: massive weight-loss, car accidents, substance abuse, emotional instability, broken relationship with sig o, broken relationship with daddy o... However, perhaps part of her appeal is precisely because she has hit each nerve at precisely the right moment, so as to expedite her rise to fame in a wholly unique fashion. The point is to see how subjectivity has tainted our collective use of the word "copying" and how that affects our ability to critically assess situations around us. Cam isn't mad at Jay because of his writing, or lack thereof. This is a business, after all.

Which brings me to today's installment, a cut from the fantastic Cult Cargo: Belize City Boil Up compilation. Although centered on the output of one label, C.E.S., during the '60s and '70s, the wide range of tracks demonstrates the tiny nation's ability to soak up influences from the Caribbeans, Central America and North America. The Professionals lead the CD's pack in diversity, covering anything from Cuban guajiras to the O'Jays. As a testament to a true musician's creative spirit, the group remakes each song with a firm understanding of purpose and loose sense of propriety. In other words, they perform each song as only they could. Funny then that they earned a reputation for "promptness and reliability" (a quality vaguely reminiscent of my new favorite blogger's penchance for "well-researched" designs; nod to Oli for the spot), because on paper they could come off as COPYCATS, right? Well, listen to their take on Puzo's theme and then discuss...

One Last Anecdote:
The child of one of my dad's friends who is an avid gamer once said, "The Japanese are not creative people. All they do is copy." My father responded that Japan cannot be beat in terms of service. Being Number One Son, I will explain father dearest's comment. In the 20th century Japan demonstrated how to successfully rebuild a nation. WWII bombed the country back to the stone age. However, with the help of Western resources, it turned a city of fire like Tokyo into a center of commerce in roughly twenty years. Twenty years. Now, it is one of the world's centers of commerce, tourism and residence. The point is that the Japanese used support in an innovative fashion to rise to the top. Take the example of Sony and how the company took Texas Instruments' junk transistors and created a ground-breaking transistor radio. Yes, a little bit of copying was involved. Call it sampling, call it The Remix. The end result remains the same.

Thursday, January 19, 2006



Cam'Ron - "You Got To Love It" (mp3; via Fader)

I suppose it's all a bit underwhelming, mostly because it took Cam so long to come and speak his mind. Was the "diamond thrown up before them shots were fired" the real reason for the delay? Um, yeah. Right.

I'm with J Smooth that precedent makes me hesitant to make a big hoopla out of this. Which is a shame because stylistically the two are suited to go toe-to-toe -- or, is that open-toed-to-toe? Then again, considering where each is at in their careers respectively, Jay is not only "at an all time high" but really could say goodbye while Cam still needs to be hungry, so this comes off as bitter.

As for the song itself, it's odd because it's not the big bang I was expecting. The Joe Camel and Coc-A-Wear shots are predictable, the beat is overblown and too long and, finally, dragging Beyonce in is a cheap shot. Like Cam doesn't have enough disses for Jay himself? Why bring in the celebrity GF? Perhaps Cam really thinks this is just Round 1 and is saving the heavy hitters for later. But how ugly will ugly get? And that's precisely why a fiasco can't be made out of this. That said, the Chali Baltimore line is kinda funny. And, of course, the sandals lines. Hilarious because I prefer flip-flops with slates.

Keep It Like A Secret

Sugar Sweet Sunshine
Nicole Willis, 2004. © Jimi Tenor

Nicole Willis and the Soul Investigators - "If This Ain't Love (Don't Know What It Is)" (mp3)
(for more sound samples and/or to purchase, click here)

The truth is it's not even in the current line-up. Still, the effect is save-it-for-a-sunny-day, "Ooh, won't this be perfect for March 20?"

Time has always been a slippery subject for Nicole Willis. She started her career in the mid-'80s, performing alongside members of The Brand New Heavies before much of their notable success. Meeting Super DJ Dimitri in the late '80s, she sang in an early line-up of Deee-Lite. Her timing with the Repercussions was impeccable, whose hit "Promise" led her to collaborate with Curtis Mayfield before his passing. Yet, since then she has been heard from only sporadically in the States.

Not to take Willis out of the running. She has been living and working in Finland for several years, releasing six solo albums since 2000. Now, she has a fantastic flash of funk'n soul, Keep Reachin' Up. Featuring an ensemble of Finns, Willis wraps herself in the warmth of analog sounds, sparkles with brass horns and shuffles to lockstep Papa Zita drums. For a generation brought up on the likes of Sharon Jones and entire labels dedicated to the Silver Age of Sound, she may come off Janey-Come-Lately. No dice, Willis is on her own, sounding younger and exuding a disarming vulnerability in her voice. "If This Ain't Love" is the lead single, ripe with springtime exultations and flute explorations. The intro alone is a calm pulse and quick roll-out from under the bed covers, the perfect wake-up remedy for those afraid of the cold. Come to think of it, I just convinced myself why this should be in my current rotation...

Special thanks to Jukka Sarapää.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Chronicles of Checking Yourself

Milkshakes: bringing all the man-children to the yard

Slant 6 - "Soda Pop-Rip Off" (mp3)
(purchase here)


Adults: Please do not pose for photos with soda in your hand.
  • First, it's classy to ass-like.
  • Second, it screams regressive childhood.
  • Third, no, diet doesn't make it better.
  • Fourth, cola is the worst offender. All I can think of is that grilled meat smell in your mouth after the initial rush of all that coca, corn syrup and sucrose.
I think C&D may be on to the same or similar idea. Check up on it.


I receive another lesson in instant karma. So, yes, this is the last time I behave so spitefully. Hopefully.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Logic Board (And The Damage Done)

Take this i-B-O-O-K and shove it

Ram Rider - "ミラーボール (RAM RIDER x meister)" (Mirrorball) (mp3)
(purchase here)

Computer completely crashed. Posts will definitely be light for the next two weeks, or until v1.0 receives an overhaul. Music may be slower in coming seeing how I may have lost my digital library.

So consider this a kind kiss off. Dipping back into the homeland stock, here's new artist Ram Rider. The Amazon link above has the incorrrect album title -- it's Portable Disco. And guess what it dew? March-worthy beats? Check. Vocoders? Check. Compressed and crunchy guitars? Check. Feathered '80s flashbacks? Check. Yes, Ram Rider is Daft Punk to the gayeth degree. And that's quite a feat. In fact, I will venture to say they out-gay Daft Punk's limpest moments. All GC (Gay Cowboy: a snide generalization of an artist or work of art that sensationalizes rather than describes with any substance or critical ability) aside, there are some wonderfully playful takes on classic deep house and disco sounds, filtered with a gang of youthful exuberance. I haven't done much homework, but I believe RR is one person and relatively new to the game, having debuted with a single only in 04. Keep an eye out, .jp on the rise. After all, Tokyo only starts at 7:00pm...

Monday, January 16, 2006

The Weight

Thinking of a master plan

Of Montreal - "Wraith Pinned To The Mist (and other games)" (mp3)
(purchase here)

Nina Simone - "Compassion" (mp3)
(purchase here)

The Carter Family - "Keep on the Sunny Side" (mp3)
(purchase here)

The response had to be anonymous.

Last night's episode of The Boondocks performed Waiting for MLK, painting the modern world in a civil rights existentialist crisis. Gil Scott was right; so will we ever fight again or continue to sit back and dismiss ODB? Must King be Montreux-bound, singing "Let's pretend we don't exist," for us to seek out clemency? Paul Lawrence Dunbar wrote how faith is met with "the boon of death," Nina sang it as if its shadow were leaning deep in the cut, so what action must take place here and now?

This obviously ain't about a hero -- c'mon, no such thing as a perfect beat, right? Cosby rang these bells in 04. His name helped make it food for the nation's thoughts, but also made his statements the pot calling the kettle black. Fine, bring it all back to our shoulders; it's about time to take up our responsibilities.

Maybe Maybelle and the Carters were onto something. Finding ones values and adhering to them. Escaping "sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity" in favor of the loving arms of an open mind. Same ol' song, hence that same ol' effect, eh?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Spots On My Apples

Lord Hasn't Been Good to Me

Mia Doi Todd - "Johnny Appleseed" (New Version) (mp3)
(purchase here)

"Please let me make it up to strangers."

The ubiquity of the creation myth. Every great story must begin with one, from the history of a nation to hip hop. Upon these broad shoulders can we build the tales to be handed down to succeeding generations, woven into the quilt that unites our lives.

Yet, how easy it is to forget ideals as want takes advantage of the needy in New Orleans (again). Must the story we truly unspool be so frayed with inequity?

It has been roughly nine years and one month since Mia Doi Todd recorded her first album, The Ewe and the Eye. A waifly woman's voice from a gal barely out of teenhood, she vividly painted her world with drive-in theatres, kangaroo pouches and cauliflower cultivation. Revisiting this material, Todd has grown immensely in confidence, yet remains humble in command. Remember the childhood stories of Johnny? Once all youthful exuberance and idealist, Todd's song becomes a mature reminder -- can we live the myth?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

You Got Me Smilin'

Source Quotable?

Fab 5 Freddy - "Change the Beat" (Original 12" French Rap Version) (mp3)
(purchase here)

DJ Cam - "Love Junkee" f/ Cameo (J Dilla remix) (mp3)
(purchase here)

Census says: non-headz wanna cop that ill-Narnia Chronic. I agree, there're some funnies. And that parody shouldn't be the trump card of quality, espcially cos this hip hop thing hasn't slowed its roll quite yet.

That said, fratboy funtime usually takes special seconds in the innovation race, so who's trippin'? Some GarageBand drums over some church bells, heavy synths, Em drayma... oh wait, doesn't this sound familiar? That's why I'm sayin': don't trip.

Here're a couple reasons to shout hip hop hooray. First, four score and twenty-something years ago, Fab 5 got freaky en Français. Glad to hear that hip hop didn't hit snooze when Sugarhill rang the wake up bell; they got busy with the hustle and pushed its boundaries. Scored the 12 at the Lab, you say? Well, I'll see your 12 and raise you 2 discs. The Celluloid Years is being rereleased this coming March, so you'll be able to get this and your entire Wild Stylish fix in one package.

Fast forward a couple dozen and hip hop's cross-continental journey makes its way back. Cam (no, not Killa) has been making the rounds for a while now, so perhaps its due time for the accolades to come in. What better way than to have your friends remix you? On his latest, Kenny Dope, Thievery and even the Funky Man Finesse stop by to lend a hand, but I know you all on Dilla's dilz, so take a bite outta this pickle. Salt washes outta this syrup-thick pro-doct, on some pre-Spacek vibe before fading Swayze on the outro. And this is from 03!

Onward forward to the year 3000 may be a stretch, but please don't think hip hop done stopped. After all, you gotta keep reachin' for tha starz! ;)

Monday, January 09, 2006

What Time is It

B.W. ~ "Before What??"

Lee Moses - "Time and Place" (mp3)
(for more information, click here)

...no matter, because every minute of it is being used today. Know your rights, and know when to use it... and right now isn't the time to talk!

But peep O-Dub's new mix for Moses and more of that Parkay goodness to hit you in the soul spot. I managed to completely trash the CD before even listening to it once through (thanks again to J for saving the day and allowing me to perform open-heart on her stereo; speaking of which, have you checked this flesh yet?), so the copy above is kinda jank. Tho no dents to O's profit margin!

Friday, January 06, 2006

Season of the Bait'n Switch

Ice Queen Cometh?

Kanye West f/ Adam Levine - "Heard 'Em Say" (mp3)
(purchase here)

Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong - "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm" (mp3)
(purchase here)

"They say people in your life are seasons / And anything that happens is for a reason."

Bells ring, rings exchanged, while others seek schooling, move on... all old adages going in one ear. More of a different ilk being hit off courtesy Mr. Kane's latest hit, albeit on a different tip. Perfect for the winter: twinkling pianos, spare beat and a somber reflection summing up the bait'n switch, the carrot'n stick, endless cycles of hope struggling against struggle. Seen the videos? Bill Plympton flips a dark (by his standards) style, b&w a perfect pad to tone down his humor. But I'm with Oli on the absolutely heartbreaking Michel Gondry version. The set up is picture perfect picture-making: children animating their dreams in a center of commerce, all symbols of hope, yet being tamed by adults, uniform and reality. The use of kids is easy but simple, a perfect match for Grandma Kane's words.

The word then becomes look within for strength. Consider Ella and Louis' romp a pat on the back to both solo and duos (and a less perverse response to Zooey and Leon's coos). No Lonely Hearts Club, just fill up on some borscht for the soul.

Disclaimer: I'll be putting up a post soon about rappers using kids which may contradict what I just said. But fugg it, that's how I roll.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Land of a Thousand Scratches

I Can Can-Can

Mike Boo - "Oaksterdam Goo" (mp3)
(purchase here)

Ricci Rucker - "Do You See the Pattern?" (mp3)
(purchase here)

First New Year's resolution: stop playing this. Really. Since Saturday, I've already logged over 48 hours and become obsessed like a true goober. However, in its spirit, I'll hit you with a 1-2 post-yesterday's post. And what better way to wash away the trap talk your neighborhood hoodrat just learned? Get pretentious with the latest from Alpha Pup Records.

Mike Boo and Ricci Rucker are two DJs from the Yay with a pair of LPs that deserve consideration, especially now that that bloody "t'ism" word can be laid to rest. Now, before you get all Crabby McCrabenstein over an album's worth of crabs and flares, hear 'em out. Boo's Dunhill Drone Committee is tonally a logical progression from Endtroducing..., heavy in mood, thick'n dark like years-old resin, mixed and scratched all the way through. That last distinction can only be shared with two other albums (D-Styles' Phantazmagorea and Boo's own Scetchbook: An Introduction to Scratch Music), but Boo shows great adeptness towards composition, so it's not all vinyl hollerin'.

If that didn't give the neighbors the tick, then Rucker's "50-minute long song" should do the trick. A combination of scratch composition, live improvisation and interpretation and studio programming, Fuga screams of time, time, time. From time signatures to the time spent to even plan such an effort, the album is technically demanding. Because Rucker reconstructed and rearranged the parts of his 20+ collaborators, there is an inherently internal logic which makes it both difficult and fascinating to crack.

Now, ain't that an after-school special thought? Technique on Technics as the dope of the day?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Whipping Post


Shawn Kane - "Like Whitney Loves Bobby" (mp3)
(purchase here)

Looking back, it really was a mess.

Echoing Mr. Chang's displeasure, the mere use of the term "conscious" to classify a segment of hip hop invoked a classist and racist odor. What, only certain "types" of hip hop were thoughtful and thought-provoking? Only Cosby generation hip hop could be validated critically and intellectually? Does "PSK" and "6 in the Morning" deserve to be lost in the miasma of "pre-gangsta," while "Ms. Fat Booty" and "Simon Says" win neo-soul Heismans? Even when covered up in "undie" or "backpacker," the candy ain't ever sweet when it's fecal.

Now, the inevitable backlash furthers the divide. Times change and kids today yap about trap and shout "skeet, skeet, skeet!" Hell, it's even kosher to crap on conscious. Granted, the diversified portfolio is welcome. Breihan takes some admittedly hilarious jabs in the aforementioned piece -- "Mos Def is now basically rap's Mars Volta." And the critique is welcome, as he articulates with more grace in this piece: "...like [Danger Doom and Common and Edan] deserve placement every time they shit something out, slight/boring or no." Both writers and listeners are responsible for being critical. It's the least you can do (besides saving up and shelling out cash).

Granted, the aforementioned articles are minor in my league and perhaps aren't the greatest examples. But I do smell a divide with a particular danger. It is a lacking quality that makes the above conversations (and most conversations I have with music critics) fairly uninspiring: the lack of love. Why talk about hip hop when you only want a certain perspective? You want the "realness," but not his/her "realness?" How much sense is that making?

Here's a little story: most of my childhood, I passively listened to music. I was obviously interested because from an early age I wanted to be a musician. However, I never really showed an interest in listening to, collecting or writing about music. Mostly because my brother did it for me. We shared a room and through him and his radio, hip hop (and countless other sounds, mostly of the metallic sort; please don't ask me for Beatles trivia) came on my radar. The knowledge helped, especially when I decided in my late teens that I couldn't hack it as a pro and went that familiar route of... yes, the musician's bread and butter: education and writing.

The key thing about this background was that I came into listening, collecting and writing from a musician's perspective, a jazz and classical music background principally. I appreciated the musician's craft, so the first distinction I made was between music that was complex (=interesting, =critically-acclaimed, =didn't sell) and simple (=uninteresting, =commercially-successful, =pop). And guess what kind of hip hop was poppin' by the time I hit the U? Yup, you guessed it. And you can also guess how I felt about it.

Fast forward a couple years and place me in the booth with my hero, Matthew Africa (yes, that is his real name). The conversation inevitably turns to favorite MCs and I yarn about Native, Mos, blah blah and MA hits me with one simple one: Jay. Jigga, what? He elaborates on not just Hova's flow, but his beat selection, his personality, his career, etc. Really, he summed up all this in a few words: "He's a smart guy."

The conversation was wonderful because it not only opened me up to a) my biases; and b) other ways to discuss music, but it also reminded me of why I really flipped for music and hip hop specifically: c) you gotta love it. It's like family: you got that uncle you mad respect, that aunt that's always buggin', the grandpa who's kinda racist, a sister you love, a sister you hate... etc. But they're family, right? So, you take them all in your arms and figure out how to deal with them as individuals.

Looking back, it's funny to me how puberty can skew priorities and throw you off course for a minute. In addition to growing up (just a hair), I have also been fortunate to have my post-legal mind blown a few more times, each incident realigning my course on what it means to love this hip hop isht. Want a piece that gets critical and loves? Grab a straw and get to sniffin'.

Which finally brings me to today's selection. I came across Shawn Kane via C&D a minute back. The rest of the record is different in tone, but I think you'll get the message from the song title alone. Without taking itself too seriously, it manages to capture both the unconditional intensity and insider's perspective of one of America's most maligned couples. Look, if even Naomi Watts can detail the fashions of her skeletons, I think we can all afford to be a little more open-hearted about music and why we're in this in the first place.

By the way, I still stand by listing Black Jack Johnson as 2004's heat to watch for.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Once Again, With Feeling...

Fire, Walk With Me

The Kingstonians - "Mix It Up" (mp3)
(purchase here)

Cheers to the new year's and welcome back. While most sites talk up changes in the coming year, bigger'n better and all the blah, I walk a different line: short'n simple.

Plus, I'm lazier than the rest.

In 2006, expect (at least I do) clear ideas, concise thoughts and soulful sounds. In other words, the same from life, aight?

So, we kick it off proper at the Dawning of a New Era, a new comp from Trojan charting "the roots of skinhead reggae." For the casual listener of Jamaican music, this means rocksteady cuts from '68-'69. For the deeper head, it means big tunes that splashed across the pond. Liners write about skins as a force in the UK and in pop culture, particularly in terms of bringing reggae to the Western mainstream. The exclusion of record biz talk and the latter observation perhaps overstates the role of a niche segment of civil society, but, hey, them peanuts were in the papers at the time. Brief thoughts are also included on how the music set this historic soundscape. 42 tracks and I've picked one, a JJ Johnson production, no less. Just a nice thought from this DJ, wouldn't you agree?