Thursday, August 30, 2007
Madlib is back on the scene as the Beatkonducta, this time giving us 34 more tracks all inspired by and sampling Indian music. It makes sense that he is reaching out internationally – I’m pretty sure he already owns every jazz and funk record ever made.
I love everything Madlib does because he loves music, and even when it doesn’t quite work his stuff is worth checking out. I like this CD, but not as much as I liked the last Beatkonducta disc. I have the same complaints I had with the last one – the tracks are too short (never more than 2 minutes), you never can get into a groove, and it’s geared more towards trippyness and experimentation than head-bobbing. What this disc is missing is FUNK. By sampling so much Indian stuff, Madlib sacrifices the groove. I liked a lot of the tracks on here, but 34 tracks of Indian music may be a little too much.
But whatever. It’s madlib, it’s out there, it’s worth owning.
Friday, August 17, 2007
Panacea :: The Scenic Route :: Glow-in-the-Dark/Rawkus Records
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor
"The Scenic Route" is D.C. duo Panacea's sophomore effort, coming just a year after "Ink is My Drink". Their relationship with Rawkus is fitting; Like a lot of Rawkus' past and present roster, Panacea are trying to take hip-hop to another level while paying homage to its roots. Panacea is comprised of Raw Poetic on rhymes and K-Murdock on beats. One of Panacea's biggest strengths is that they are a collaborative duo who are responsible for the sound of the entire album, rather than the more typical scenario of a solo rapper pairing with ten different producers. The result is that "The Scenic Route" sounds like an ALBUM rather than just a bunch of singles glommed together.
The intro makes it clear that "The Scenic Route" is not your average hip-hop record. Over a spacey sample, a voice that could do promos for PBS announces: "In life, there exist people whose imaginations are so wildly vivid that they often confuse what is reality and what is, in fact, fantasy. This is the story of one of those people, the story of a man who dreams awake."
Lyrically, Raw Poetic is definitely not lacking in imagination. He has impressive skills, and creates some incredibly complex rhymes, with rhymes within rhymes and metaphors within metaphors. On the title track he spits:
"You want to share my life and times and everyone before me
And still take you on a flow like bubbles that support me
Well help then
They keep me afloat
And I'll be backstroking on the flow of my life because it's dope
And dope is an unnatural high
And I'm a natural guy
Won't cut my hair just so my afro will rise
Love Mother Earth because She's my natural guide"
He shows off some impressive verbal dexterity on "Aim High", where he raps over an intricate jazz beat, which he matches with an equally intricate flow:
"Insanity sometimes be making me howl
On the mountain top like a lion I growl
I look down
Because of this creation I'm bound
Everything that I denounce I'm taking with me through sound"
I couldn't always follow Raw Poetic's lyrical twists and turns, but even when I got lost, I still enjoyed his flow, breath control, and the way he effortlessly strings words together. His topics are on point as well, taking a decidedly mature look at relationships, love, and creativity.
K-Murdock's beats perfectly compliment Raw Poetic's rhymes. Murdock is obviously inspired by East Coast masters like Pete Rock and DJ Premier, which is evident in the jazz influence and crisp drum sounds on "The Scenic Route”. However, Murdock is no mere imitator: he has a sound all his own, incorporating prog rock elements and other unusual samples to create something that references the past while blazing new territory. His production work is more polished than on "Ink Is My Drink”, and the whole album has a nice, mellow vibe to it. This is definitely a headphone album, because there a ton of nuances that Murcock has inserted into every track, from the jazz guitar in "Walk in the Park” to the various old-school samples.
"The Scenic Route” isn't the most banging hip-hop album of '07, but it is one of the more enjoyable listens I've had this year. Panacea have created a cohesive, mature work that is bursting with creativity. I don't know if "The Scenic Route” is a cure-all for whatever ails you, but it will definitely stay in heavy rotation on my ipod.
Music Vibes: 8 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 8 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8 of 10
Originally posted: August 7, 2007
DJ Kay Slay and T-Hud
"First Name 36 Last Name Point 5 Vol. 1"
Nutty Boys Entertainment Group
As reviewed by Patrick Taylor
T-Hud is the stage name of Troy Hudson, whose day job is playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Like Shaq and Ron Artest, he is also an aspiring rapper, and the founder/CEO of Nutty Boys Entertainment Group. This disc is a mixtape featuring songs on his upcoming "Undrafted" debut album.
This being a mixtape, none of the production work or songwriting is credited, and I'm not sure how many of the beats are original and whether any were jacked from other artists. Whoever the producers are, they did a damn good job. "Bulletproof" and "Back It Up" are sparse, trunk-rattling crunk ala Lil Jon and David Banner; "How I Like 'Em" is sleazy, strip-club funk. "On That", with its congo drum and synth pulse, has a sinister beauty that is on par with the Neptunes' work on "Hell Hath No Fury." Another standout track is "Whatever", which chops up several second-long soul samples to create a bizarre sound collage. The only real disappointments production-wise are the incredibly cheesy "Go Gettas", which has a sample that could have come from an inspirational after-school special from the 1980s, and the lackluster "White 550s", which is also the first single. The rest of the disc is solid, South-leaning commercial hip-hop.
As a rapper, T-Hud isn't terrible. He isn't great, and I definitely wasn't blown away by his flow, but he holds is own and doesn't embarrass himself or the listener. Lyrically, he is lacking, and that's where it becomes obvious that he is an outsider to the game trying to find a way in. He thankfully avoids making a lot of basketball metaphors, but he ends up being so desperate to prove that he is still street that it becomes ridiculous. This album is one big front, with T-Hud trying his best to prove to the world that underneath his baller persona, he is actually a thug. On "Back It Up" he raps:
"550 through the city
22s in the wintertime
Hundreds in my pocket
Ben Franklin is a friend of mine
Mossberg in the trunk
Lap is a tech-9
Think I'm lying?
Think I'm lying?
I'm rich, bitch, the hummer's mine
Sitting on 29s
Candy paint dripping
Inside peanut butter
If you think I'm slipping
Inside still gutter
The league is new, dude
Don't let it fool you
I'm from the hood motherfucker
I got twos too"
T-Hud is a ball player. He makes millions of dollars a year. So why is he fronting like he's a 19-year-old gangsta fresh out of the hood? Does he really ride around with a shotgun in hi s trunk looking to shoot anyone who crosses him? I understand the necessity in hip-hop for street cred, but that doesn't mean bragging about stuff you clearly are not involved in, and declaring "I'll gun ya and then your body will be shaking from the trauma." T-Hud is an NBA player, not a hustler, and he should stop acting like he's a thug.
Given how uptight the NBA is about how its players present themselves, I was surprised to hear T-Hud dropping lines like:
"Purple, chronic, sticky, dro
That's all a playa blow, that's all a playa blow
Rolling in my chevy through the hood I'm feeling (bulletproof)
I wish a nigga would can't you see I'm feeling (bulletproof)
Smoking on that good sipping yak and feeling (bulletproof)"
It makes for a catchy song, but he is just begging to get pulled over or have a surprise drug test. On other tracks he brags about flipping keys, cooking crack, and being a gangsta. He is obviously taking inspiration from reformed drug dealers like Biggie and Jay-Z, whom he compares himself to. What T-Hud misses, along with a lot of rappers today, is that what makes artists like Biggie, T.I., and the Clipse so good isn't that they rap about selling crack and being involved in illegal business. Those guys have charisma, flow, and talent, and are able to flip language around to make even the most mundane recounting of a drug deal seem like something clever and innovative. It's not their subject matter, it's the way they rap about their subject matter. In a recent interview, Talib Kweli said that he blamed the recent drop in quality hip-hop releases on the hustler mentality, where all these young rappers think that you just need to spit a few lines about cooking crack and capping fools and you have an album, losing the lyricism and artistry of hip-hop. T-Hud falls into this trap, and his record suffers because of it.
T-Hud gets some assistance from Freeway, David Banner, and the Three 6 Mafia, who are all featured on different tracks. They drop a few decent bars which add some credibility to the project, and their expert intervention is welcome. I wish T-Hud had made a record solely devoted to flossing and partying, something along the lines of Paul Wall's "The People's Champ." As it is, this mixtape makes for decent background music, so long as you don't listen to the words.
Music Vibes: 7.5 out of 10 Lyric Vibes: 5 out of 10 Total Vibes: 6.5 out of 10
Citizens of Sleep: "Sometimes I Just Can't Get Outraged Over Copyright Law" www.barakanoel.com
Citizens of Sleep are an indie hip-hop act out of Oberlin, Ohio. They are comprised of emcees Sacrifice, !nk, Baraka Noel, and UR$, with production work by The Economy of China, Sean Blaze, G the Future and UR$. Baraka and Sacrifice are also founders of Freestyle Theater, a hip-hop theater company. I won’t lie – I was really scared when I read the words “hip-hop theater”, and I was anticipating the worst. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to find 13 tracks of thoughtful, progressive hip-hop that would not be out of place on Anticon or Def Jux.
The beats are strong throughout the disc. Opener “Exodus” has a gentle piano loop and a with a haunting female voice. "Lullaby" has pounding, off-kilter piano with maniacal laughter that adds tension as Baraka drops lyrics like:
"I know bombs are dropping, but damn
Abstract concepts are not what I want to talk about
Let's slow down
I know now my privilege is such
I ain't really had to deal with too much”
Other highlights include a beat built around an old soul riff on “Neverlove”, the mellow and introspective "Apollo and Tappan", and "Battle Cry for the End of the World" which has an intensity that reminds me of Public Enemy.
This disc also features some of the better lyrics I’ve heard in a while, with all the emcees showcasing some serious verbal calisthenics. They bring a much-needed infusion of intelligent wordplay to hip-hop, and move miles beyond the standard “jewels, guns and hos” subject matter that a lot of rappers are mired in. They tackle the Iraq war, the Virgina Tech shootings, depression, relationships, absent fathers, white privilege, and of course, the state of hip-hop. The Citizens avoid being preachy or sounding too full of their own brilliance, which is a problem some conscious rappers have. Instead, they spit lines like:
"Had to call my mother just to wonder what to call my father
When I was seven years old someone told me
What heaven is and how life packages end in severance
And how benevolence comes to those who bend to it
Later found out that's bullshit
Just medicine for how the world gets
Linked to fears of the afterlife"
Like the best hip-hop songs, the lyrics stick with you, and each listen provides an opportunity to unravel their language and discover something new. The Citizens put the poetry back in hip-hop. They also have a sense of humor, and sex, weed and food all get the proper respect here. One of my favorite tracks was “Breakfast”, which is basically a seven-minute freestyle with all of the members getting a chance goof off. Another great track is "By Your Side" which appears twice on the album, with different lyrics. It features a lonely piano chord with a ticking beat, and an old-timey singer on the hook. On the remix, Sacrifice raps:
"Excessive regret used to cheat
Disrespected my ex
It's complex to express
I resent that I can't ever repent
Condemned to get remembered for events I'd rather forget
Have to admit I want a child but can't begin to commit
I don't want to keep with monogamy or misogyny
Here's my apology
I fall between
Not fond of either"
This disc isn’t without its drawbacks. On “City of Sleep”, the levels on the vocals are messed up, they bungle some of their verses, and it sounds amateurish. The title track is a little too precious for its own good, and sees the crew falling into self-righteous territory. Also, while I admire the lack of macho posturing, sometimes they get a little too “emo” for their own good. They occasionally cross that fine line between being sensitive and being whiney, harping a little too much on their insecurities and personal issues.
For the most part, however, this is a great disc. It's available free on www.barakanoel.com, so there is no reason not to cop it. Citizens of Sleep is a promising group, and I'm looking forward to checking out their future releases.
Music Vibes: 8.0 out of 10 Lyric Vibes: 8.0 out of 10 Total Vibes: 8.0 out of 10
This was originally a featured review on RapReviews.com back in July.
Akir "Legacy" Babygrande, www.babygrande.com
As reviewed by Patrick Taylor
Akir is from New York, and it shows. He has a flow and voice similar to Nas. His beats share some of the somber sparseness of classic Mobb Deep, and the jazz influence of DJ Premier. He shares the politicized anger of KRS-One and Public Enemy, and the thoughtful lyrics of Talib Kweli. He even introduces his debut, "Legacy", with Abiodun Oyewole of the Last Poets. Over a playful string-infused beat, Oyewole rails about the loss of the revolutionary ideals of the Sixties:
"We got high on Blackness
Held our black fists up
Told the devil to suck
And made a commitment to disrupt the world
Kill a cop a day
Give white girls no play
Make America pay for all her wicked ways
The shit was on!
Then it was gone
Just like an episode on TV
It got cancelled, and there was nothing to see
Panthers were turned into little pussycats
Revolution was commercialized
And had nothing to do with Black
But we never stopped making babies
They came out breathing the vapors of our aborted revolution."
That intro makes it clear where Akir is coming from. He is a product of 1960s idealism, with a healthy dose of Y2K realism. He is conscious without being preachy, street without glamorizing nihilism and materialism, and progressive without being boring. He doesn't bother with talking about his whip or his jewels, and he doesn't waste too much breath criticizing those who do. Instead he presents an alternative to hip-hop that crassly celebrates the hustle. His rhymes are full of people who dream of being rich and partying, but struggle to make ends meet, work shit jobs to pay the bills, and whose only options seem to be prison or wage slavery. On "Kunta Kinte", he rhymes:
"Tryna be a player but nobody coaches
Consuming with your credit cards swarm you like locusts
Though they show interest you'll never know to invest
Cause they know interest will lock you deep in debt
Writing checks for your rent"
As much as I don't want to reduce Akir to merely the second coming of Nas, I can't help but hear a little "Illmatic" in Akir's vivid, harsh descriptions of life. He paints a clear image of being a hungry young rapper on "These R the Blues":
"Wake up in the morning
Got the yearning for herb
Pause for a minute
Pour my beer on the curb
Yawn then I spit it
A bottomless pit
No food in my stomach
Two days I ain't shit"
Even his romantic "Tropical Fantasy" is brought down to earth. While Akir rhymes about going to "Costa Rica Antigua or Dominica/Linens with a mean cuff shirt/Matching the sneakers/Ganja I reek of," Jean Grae brings it back to earth, reminding him about "Dirty buildings and steel doors/The damn trap/Can't blast out/Maxed out." Then she tells him:
"See we already blessed
Forgetting the stress
They're pennies, yes
But, see, many are without anything or less."
Like executive producer Immortal Technique, Akir has a political bent that is all too rare in hip-hop these days. He offers some astute insight into how African Americans are often denied voting rights on "Politricks" and attacks the incompetent, racist response to Hurricane Katrina on "The Louisiana Purchase". Even beyond his content, he is an amazing lyricist: He raps on 19 tracks on this disc, and I didn't hear one lame rhyme.
The music is equally solid. His One Enterprise production company handles the majority of the beats, with Akir sharing most of the credit, and handling the entire production on a few tracks. The beats range from acoustic guitar and strings on "Tropical Fantasy" to a more spare and sinister piano/drum combo on"Grind" and "These R the Blues." "Homeward Bound" has a bossanova feel to it, and "Politriks" sounds as if it samples the soundtrack to a 60s thriller. The whole disc has a slightly understated quality that I associate with a lot of classic New York hip hop. Akir isn’t trying to hit you over the head with hooks or glossy production. Instead, he has crafted an album that plays on the strengths of its lyrics, and demands and deserves repeated listens.
Babygrande is reissuing this album, which originally came out in 2005. I hope that means that Akir is prepping some new material, and we won’t have to wait long to hear more from this talented rapper. With "Legacy" Akir has proven that he does indeed Always Keep It Real, that New York is still relevant, and that hip hop ain't dead.
Music Vibes: 8 out of 10 Lyric Vibes: 9 out of 10 Total Vibes 8.5 out of 10
99 Posse "La Vida Que Vendra"
Released in 2001
As reviewed by Patrick Taylor
We always talk about hip hop in terms of East Coast, West Coast, or the South. It might make more sense for us to talk about it in terms of Eastern Europe, Western Africa, and South America, because hip hop is a global, not American, phenomenon. You are just as likely to hear DMX or Jay-Z blaring out of car stereos in Bratislava or Rio as you are to hear it in the Bronx. In the last twenty years, thousands of regional scenes have popped up across the globe full of hip hop heads reinterpreting the genre in their own tongue and for their own circumstances.
99 Posse (pronounced "nove-nove") formed around 1991at a centro sociale in Naples, Italy called Officina 99. Centro sociali, or social centers, are kind of like community art and activity spaces, with a definite socialist bent. 99 Posse formed in order to have a vehicle for their political and social views. It's fitting that they were from Naples. Like a lot of cities where American hip hop has flourished, Naples suffers from underemployment, poverty, crime, and corruption. There is also a lot of prejudice directed at Neapolitans, and the entire Italian South, by Northern Italians. In short, Naples is about as ghetto as Italy can get, and the same pressures and struggles that have inspired rappers in the US inspired the 99 Posse.
From the moment they were formed, the group was politically motivated. Like most of the Italian Left, 99 Posse were anti-imperialism, pro-minority, pro-immigrant, and sympathetic to communism. They were for marijuana and the working man, and against the government, the mob, and bosses. The anti-Mafia vibe in their music is in stark contrast to American hip hop, where the gangsta is often looked up to as an entrepreneur working outside the confines of the system.
99 Posse were also different from their American peers in that they were a musical group, not just a posse of rappers. The group included rapper Zulù, singer/rapper Meg Kaya Pezz8 on beats, JRM on bass, and Sacha Ricci on keys. They mixed rock, pop, techno, trip-hop, reggae, and hip hop into a Technicolor concoction that is not unlike the Black Eyed Peas, albeit less commercial.
“La Vida Que Vendra” (Spanish for "The Life That Will Come"), their sixth and final studio album, came out in 2001. It was an exciting time for the Left, who were still feeling the adrenaline from the 1999 WTO riots in Seattle. The anti-globalization movement was in full swing, and there was an optimism that young radicals across the planet could unite and fight corporate dominance and put political and economic power back in the hands of the People. “La Vida Que Vendra” is brimming with the hopefulness and righteous anger of the time.
The album starts with “Commincia Addesso” (“It Begins Now”), a call to arms which features Meg and Zulu rallying against privatization and wage slavery. The song's political lyrics and driving beat set the stage for the rest of the album. It’s followed by “ L’Anguilla” (“The Eel”) in which Zulu uses the eel as a metaphor for himself, slipping and slithering under the radar of the mainstream to subvert and sabotage. Over a bouncing beat laced with surf guitars, he lets loose one of my favorite hip hop disses ever –“va fa mmocc’a chi’v’e’ mmuorto”, a Neapolitan dis that means “go give head to your dead relatives.” I love their use of Neopolitan dialect. It adds a regional flavor that serves the same role as American hip hop slang, while making the finished product wholly Italian.
Another highlight is the rocking, bass-heavy “Esplosione Imminente” ("Imminent Explosion"), which is about all the whole breed of disaffected underclass ready to stand up against the system and fight the powers that be. Given the violence that the world has fallen into since this album dropped, the song seems eerily prescient. The most pop song on the disc is “Commutwist”, which laments how socialism has fallen out of favor in recent years, claiming that it is so out of mode to be communist that they dance the twist. For all its bouncy goofiness, it is rooted in solid convictions and lines like:
“E poi c’é la flessibilità
a nuova moda a tutti ormai nota
che ci divide tutti a metà
chi more ’e famme e chi va in Europa”
(and now there is the flexibility, a new way that has already been noted, that divides the entire world in half – those who die of hunger, and those who go to Europe.)
I don’t know if the song was a hit in Italy, but it certainly had the possibility to be one. It was an ingenious way of spreading a serious message. Jay-Z may sport a Che shirt, but 99 lived it. This is further exemplified by "Povera Vita Mia" ("My Poor Life"), a dirge-like, mournful track that features a rapid-fire rant by Zulu about the struggles of the working class. He perfectly captures the feelings of frustration, anger, and hopelessness that are all-too common amongst the working poor.
One of the great things about 99 posse is that they are inspired by American hip hop but create their own take on it. They don’t merely imitate 50 cent or Nas or Puffy. The world does not need a bunch of global rappers sporting bling and trying to act like they are from the South Bronx or Caliope projects. We don't need half-assed, foreign-language versions of American rappers. International hip hop works best when artists are able to flip the script and put their own stamp on the art form, creating a unique voice that adds to the culture as a whole.
"La Vida Que Vendra" isn't 100% solid. Techno tracks like "Sub" or "Yankee Go Home" are pretty forgettable, and "Some Say This Some Say That" is an irritating pop-dancehall track. They also mellow it out on tracks like "A Una Donna" and "Sfumature", both of which highlight Meg's singing abilities. They are decent songs, but they also drag the album down a bit. Still, when it’s good, it’s great, and the combination of banging beats and revolutionary rhetoric is irresistible.
I'm not sure that someone without an appreciation for Italian music would be that excited by this disc. It can't begin to compare to Public Enemy or even Rage Against the Machine as far as political rap. The broad musical influences and styles on the disc might turn off some hip hop heads who don't like any techno or trip-hop in their music. However, "La Vida Que Vendra" is an excellent document of the impact hip hop has had on the world, and how other cultures have adapted hip hop into their own. It is also a eulogy of sorts of the optimistic radical anti-globalization movement that has been irreparably changed and transformed in the wake of 9/11, the riots in Genova, and the war in Iraq. Listening to this disc, I can't help but think of the Wu's question - "Can it be that it was all so simple then?"
Music Vibes: 7 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 9 of 10 Total Vibes: 8 of 10
Thursday, August 16, 2007
The lyrics go a little sumpin’ like this:
“I can play basketball with the moon
I got the whole world at my feet
Playin’ touch football on Marijuana Street
Or in a marijuana field, you are so beneath my cleats
Get high, so high that I feel like lying
Down in a cigar, roll me up & smoke me cuz
(I feel like dying)
Swimming laps around a bottle of Louie The 13th
Jumping off of a mountain into a sea of Codine
I’m at the top of the top but still I climb
And if I shall ever fall the ground will then turn to wine
Pop, Pop, I feel like flying, then I feel like frying, then
(I feel like dying)
I can mingle with the stars & throw a party on Mars
I am a prisoner locked up behind Xanax bars
I have just boarded a plane without a pilot
And violets are blue, roses are red
Daisies are yellow, the flowers are dead
Wish I can give you this feeling
I feel like buying
And if my dealer don’t have no more, then
(I feel like dying)”
It reminds me of the Beatles’ druggie stuff. I don’t know if weezy is really the best rapper alive, but he isn’t half bad.
Friday, August 10, 2007
50 has already said he’d quit making albums if Kanye outsold him. Please?
For Christmas I hope that 50 gets a therapist, and learns how to sell records without having beef with anyone who might possibly be able to get him some press time, and for Kanye, I wish humility. Just a little humility. Honestly, he isn’t a great rapper, and his production trick of speeding up soul samples is played the fuck out.
Whatever – I’ll be too busy listening to the latest Madlib record to care. I never heard a SINGLE track off of either the Massacre or Late Registration, so I’m hoping to continue that trend with the Curtis and Graduation Day.
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