Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Co-Op review

Reposted from rapreviews.com, where it was the featured review.

“The Co-Op” DJ Envy and RED Café, Koch records
reviewed by Patrick Taylor

Wikipedia defines a co-op (short for cooperative) as an “autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.” I’ve mostly seen the model applied to health food stores and housing. Now DJ Envy and RED Café have applied it to hip hop.

Or not. Other than the fact that this album is a cooperative effort between DJ Envy and Red Café, there isn’t anything here that has anything in common with whole foods or shared housing. Still, as a duo, Envy and Red work together nicely. Envy supplies a steady supply of glossy, New York beats for Red to work with. Standout tracks include the bumping synths of "What It Be Like," the 80s bounce of "What It Do," featuring a verse by Remy Martin, the reggae of "Ghetto Children," and the Neptunes-lite of "Dolla Bill." He also misfires a few times, like with the melodramatic synths on "Move Like A G" and the uber-cheesy "Shakedown 4 Life."

While Envy sets up some nice shots, Red Café doesn’t always get it in the basket. He is of the Lil’ Wayne school of hip hop, ie. rappers who rap about the same old gangsta bullshit with enough originality and wit to make it sound good. Unfortunately, Red Café isn’t quite as original or witty as Weezy, Listening to him rhyme, I could understand both why he has made such a splash on the mixtape scene , and why he has been shuffled around between three or four record labels. He’s got skills, but he’s not always, shall we say, maximizing his full potential. He’s pulling punches, rapping about the same tired shit when he should be taking it to another level. Take "Invincible," which has a ridiculous chorus:

"Shakedown invincible
Never let a nigga get the best of you
Always keep a chopper next to you
You know, .38 Spesh-u-al
Let it go like (Pow Pow Pow)
Let it go like (Blau Blau Blau)"

Red Alert also frequently indulges in that dubious but popular rhyming style where you just repeat a word or phrase as a rhyme:

"Ocean 11 motion, loking toting Mac 11
Poke him both him and his unborn son
Arm and Hammer man
Oakland 211
Shoot first when I bang I'm the last to run
Matter fact, can't remember when last I run
When last I ran
I rather blam
My hood more like Afghanistan
Goddamn it man"

The major problem with this album can be summed up by the skits, which chronicle the life and death of MC Death Murder Homicide, a rapper who comes off tough on his records but is in fact a total dork who loves Justin Timberlake. The first skit is funny, and I was thinking, “OK, Red Café is commenting about how wack gangsta rappers are, and how lame it is to rap about violence.” However, the Death Murder Homicide trilogy ends with the MC being killed by Red Café for lightly dissing him. I realized that what Red Café was REALLY trying to say with the skit is that phony myspace gangsta rappers are wack, because they don’t really come from the streets like he does. It’s an unconvincing argument, and makes for some unconvincing rhymes.

"The Co-Op" has some good beats and some decent rhymes, but I think that Red Café can do better than this. I respect that he comes from the streets and wants to use that in his lyrics, but he needs to find a more original and creative way to leverage being shot and being in prison. As it stands on “The Co-Op.” he just sounds like a million other rappers doing the same thing, backed by beats that are good, but not good enough to truly stand out.

Sandpeople review

Reposted from rapreviews.com

Yet another Portland crew that I wanted to like more than I did. Maybe I'm just prejudiced against white rappers.

“Honest Racket” Sandpeople, Sandpeople Music, www.sandpeoplemusic.com
reviewed by Patrick Taylor

This is the third album by Portland’s Sandpeople, an eleven-member collective who have been around since 2004. The group includes Al-One, Ethic, Iam, Gold, Illmaculate, Only, Mo-B, Sapient, Simple, and DJ Spark. Their bio mentions the fact that most of the crew hadn’t even met when they recorded their debut album, “Points of View,” and it was only after recording their follow-up “All In Vain” began that they all were introduced. “Honest Racket” offers up sixteen tracks of underground, Northwest hip hop, adding to a vibrant scene that includes acts like Othello and the Lifesavas.

The album starts off with the crew flying their indie flag high over an industrial beat by Sapient:

"I duck the limelight proudly
If you see me then you probably wouldn't doubt me
When I say there's nothing Hollywood about me
Fucking A-list just a bunch of K-Fed's claiming they made it
Made what? (I made it to the top, dog!)
Shut up, you ain't made shit
Most your fame's derived from luck
Right place at the right time
If you get signed it doesn’t matter if you suck you'll do just fine
Lose your mind thinking you're God's gift to music that speaks the truth
Until your 15 minutes are up and we're like 'Where the fuck did you go?'
Now that we out of the gates our crew makes its case for hardest working
We 10 deep these pens speak but we remain observant
Make ends meet but rent's cheap and music's most important
Now we got heads either nodding or turning towards Portland"

I definitely respect where these guys are coming from. I like the fact that the Sandpeople are DIY and underground, and I appreciate that they go for more honest, thoughtful lyrics. They talk about the frustrations of being young and broke on "Lose It," and on the beautifully sad "Not Alright" they drop lines like "sharpie my existence on the inside of your eye/so you'll never forget the vision in which beauty lies/I'm ugly/or says the two-way mirror." I particularly enjoyed the more psychedelic side of their work. I'm a huge fan of Lil' Wayne's "I Feel Like Dying," and it always makes me happy to see other artists go off in a trippy, drugged-out direction (lyrically, that is).

Simple and Sapient provide all of the beats, and most of them are on point. They particularly excel at infusing an electronica quality to their work, perhaps a remnant of Simple's days as a trance DJ. They also layer in a lot of different types of instruments, like the acoustic guitar and xylophone on "I Don't Care," the drum, bass, and organ on "Group Home," and the horns on "The Air We Breath." Some of the tracks are too mellow or generic sounding for my taste, but for the most part they do a good job on the knobs and turntables.

It was impossible for me to keep track of all of the MCs, but not all of them are genius on the mic. There are a few of them whose flow has an exaggerated, forced quality that I just can’t get into. I call it the Eminem disease where MCs try to ape Marshall Mathers' when he's being VERY SERIOUS. It ends up sounding too much like play-acting, and not enough like rapping.

The Sandpeople have a lot going for them, but “Honest Racket” doesn’t quite manage to harness their magic. The end result is an album that is decent but not great, made by a crew who are more exciting because of their potential than their output to date. Still, I’d rather listen to a crew like the Sandpeople, who are at least trying to take rap in an interesting and positive direction, than suffer yet another gangsta crew bragging about crimes they haven’t committed and jewelry they can’t afford. “Honest Racket” may not get heavy rotation on my stereo, but I’m going to keep my eye on Portland.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Nas has done it again...

According to www.sohh.com, Nas is planning on naming his upcoming album "Ni**er." I'm not sure if that is how it will be printed on the album, or if that is just what the label is calling it. One Brooklyn politician is already threatening Universal with legal and monetary actions.

What's rad about this, besides the fact that it is more blatant controversy-pandering by Nas (oh he of "Hip Hop is Dead"), is that the album will be impossible to ask for or talk about. We can't say "Nas' new album 'Nigger'", and you can't pronounce "Ni**er". Very Prince-like. I'd love to think that Nas is trying to engage the public in a conversation about what that word means, but really, I think he is just admitting his increasing cultural irrelevance and making a bold move to sell more records.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Lance Hahn 1967 – 2007

Lance Hahn died this week at the age of 40. He had been ill for some time with kidney disease, and finally succumbed to it. Lance was a fixture of the SF punk scene for years. His band J Church was named after the Muni line that serviced SF’s very punk Mission district. He worked at Epicenter, the volunteer-run (and defunct) record store. He wrote regular columns in MaximumRockNRoll, and had been working on a book about anarcho punk bands. His label, Honeybear, put out stuff by J Church as well as other bands.

I used to see him around in the late nineties. He was a well-fed guy with long hair, and he was instantly recognizable. I had a few J Church CDs, and while they’ve never been my favorite band, I always admired his prolificacy and handle on a pop song. Hahn was a punk lifer who was in it for the long haul.

Here’s a fact – Shitty things happen to good people, especially shitty medical things. I’m sorry Lance died so young, but he definitely did not waste his time here on earth.

Dev Rocka

Reposted from Rapreviews.com
“Night Shift” Dev Rocka, Good Hands Records www.myspace.com/goodhandsrecords

By Patrick Taylor

“Night Shift” is a compilation from Philidelphia producer Kevin Devine, AKA Dev Rocka. Dev provides the beats, with rhymes by Reef the Lost Cauze, Planet Asia, Maylay Sparks, and Killah Priest. It is a great introduction to a talented producer, as well as a solid album.

Dev constructs his beats using his trusty MPC 2000 and turntables, mixing a nice, fat drum sound with samples. The result is classic East Coast hip hop: hard beats, cinematic instrumentation, and an overall feel that is as coldly beautiful as the East Coast itself. His music pays homage to masters like DJ Premier and the Rza, without sounding derivative.
The best way to describe “Night Shift” is classic hip hop as only people from the region that invented the genre can produce. The South may have bounce, and the West Coast may have G-funk, but only the East Coast can truly bring the cinematic boom-bap epitomized by artists like Mobb Deep, Gangstarr, and the Wu.

The raw beats are complimented by raw rhymes from a stable of rappers both well-known and relatively new to the game. Maylay Sparks sums it up on "Relax":

"I try to write something different
Not about the drinks or getting spliffted
Exemplify why I'm really gifted
Mic cord stay twisted around my arms dropping realistic
Shit to quench your thirst like mystic
Don't forget that it's a privilege to be involved in the music business"

One of the album's finest lyrical moments comes in "Vocab and Knowledge," when Drac calls out fake gangstas:

"Hundred dollar sneakers, nothing in the bank
Acting like a gunner when you fronting with a shank
Thinking like the masses your ass is grass is a catastrophe waiting to happen
So start strapping on your thinking cap and crack a book
A little vocab and knowledge to scholar from crook
In case you hadn't noticed
Somehow it's uncool to act like you know what you're talking about"

There are a lot of rappers who put out albums with ten different producers, so “Night Shift” is a nice change of pace. In a way it makes more sense sonically for a single producer to work with ten different rappers. “Night Shift” doesn’t feel like a compilation, and works well as an album.

The only real problem I have with “Night Shift” is that it is in danger of being slept on. With so many high-profile hip hop albums coming out this Fall, a little-known producer’s album doesn’t have good shot of making a dent. That’s a shame, because “Night Shift” is one of the better releases this year. Fans of “real” hip hop better check this out, because it is destined to be regarded as an underrated classic in ten years.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Bad Brains

When I was an angst-ridden adolescent first getting into punk 20 years ago, I had to scour to find bands to check out. I didn’t have the internet, none of my friends were into punk, and so I was left to explore this genre on my own. I really wish I had come across the Bad Brains debut back then, instead of now.

Simply put, this is a classic album, and an essential hardcore album. It ranks up there with Minor Threat’s eps, the Circle Jerks “Group Sex,” the Germs debut, Black Flag’s early stuff, Discharges 1st ep, etc. etc. The Brains were/are melodic and fast as hell. They could also play their instruments, which is a novel idea. I put this on my headphones and it gives me the same jolt that I used to get in my teens listening to the Descendents or Minor Threat. Maybe it’s a little pathetic that a grown-ass man could still tap into his teenage angst, but fuggit. As a side note, it’s also weird to me that the music i get nostalgic about is hardcore punk. I wonder what my kids will think of it?

Insane Poetry

Reprinted from www.rapreviews.com
nsane Poetry :: Fallen From Grace :: Long Range Distribution
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor

On the intro to "Fallen From Grace," the fourth album by SoCal underground rap crew Insane Poetry, MC Cyco makes it clear that being an underground legend is hardly a lucrative prospect. He describes working 12-hour days at a bullshit job to pay the bills and alimony. He presents "Fallen From Grace" as a last-ditch effort by a man on the edge of financial ruin and insanity, one last chance to make it in the rap game and prove to himself and the haters in his life that he truly is a rapper. It is a startlingly emotional plea, and adds an element of rawness and honesty to the album.

Insane Poetry's 1992 classic "Grim Reality" laid out the template for horrorcore, and they don't stray too far from that genre on this disc. "Kill You," "Boyz In A Box," and "Murderland" all invoke horror film imagery to describe life on the streets. However, just as on "Grim Reality," Insane Poetry is aware that the grim has to be balanced by the reality, and there are a lot of tracks devoted to describing the realitiesof life. This is where the album shines the most, with Cyco stepping in like an elder statesmen. On "The Game of Life" he warns young rappers about the danger of flirting with gangbanging:

"I'm in the struggle between life and death
So I have to take wiser steps to avoid putting my life in jep
Now that I'm older I had to harness my fury
Took the chip off my shoulder
The world has gotten colder
So fuck that killer talk too many niggas caught slipping
Gang banging when they spitting
Not realizing the friction
Ambitions of a rider
Until the hot slugs burning inside them
Killers mashing off you hear the burning tires
Peeling off after the shots rang out
Scene bloody Clorox can get the stains out
Blew his brains out while getting blamed from a chicken in his Monte Carlo
Don't look startled when that heats drawn
And the reaper comes in the form of slugs"

It is these non-horrorcore tracks that make "Fallen From Grace" worth checking out, and keep it from being monotonous and boring. Cyco barks out his rhymes in a cadence that reminded me of Tupac, minus the sensitivity. He makes his connection to Pac clear in the title track:

"Here come my magnum opus
witness my fall from grace
as the camera focus
I spit it all in your face
What the fuck you figure
Reminiscing of the great Pac and Machiavelli
The specialist specializing in doom
I am the great knowledge that was buried in King Solomon's tomb
Follow me and just swallow this shroom
And let your brain cells ride to the dark side of the moon"

The true star of the album is Jason "JP" Pearl, who handles production. He offers up seventeen tracks of future funk that sound as good as any West Coast producer has to offer. Highlights include "The Game of Life" with its creeping guitar, "Black Widow" with its spacey take on "Love to Love You," the farting funk of "Heartless," and the triumphant keyboard stabs of "Revenge." JP may not have the budget of a Dre or Timbaland, but it doesn't show in his beats. I love West Coast G-funk, and Insane Poetry serves it up in spades.

"Fallen From Grace" isn't the classic that "Grim Reality" is, but it is a solid album by longstanding underground legends. I don't know if it will cure all of Cyco's financial worries, or free him from the drudgery of his day job, but it should prove once and for all that he is a rapper to reckon with.

Bangers and Cash

Reprinted from www.rapreviews.com

Spank Rock and Benny Blanco :: Bangers & Cash :: Downtown Records
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor

One of my favorite albums of 2006 was "Yoyoyoyoyo," the debut by Spank Rock. Spank Rock embody the Baltimore sound: equal parts hip hop, electro, Miami bass, and electronica, all distilled through a little hipster irony. The album was an ode to partying, sex, and having a good time. On this EP, producer Armani XXXchange steps aside so Benny Blanco can have a chance at the boards. Blanco and MC Naeem Juwan go to their roots, paying homage to the 2 Live Crew while giving that dirty Miami bass sound a facelift.

The cover of the disc is an homage to "As Nasty As They Wanna Be," and four of the tracks sample the Miami raunch kings. "Shake That" opens with Luke and Crew declaring "Welcome to the fuck shop!" before Naeem raps:

"I got a dollar for you push it put your ass up on that pole If your friend over there lick it then you might earn $20 more How your knees don't bend with your hand flat on the floor? See the sweat drip to your kush from your doody hole"

The beat, like all the tracks here, is all groin-punching bass, handclap beats, hi-hat snaps, and synth flourishes. It's booty-shaking and brilliant. Speaking of booty-shaking, "B-O-O-T-A-Y" is an adrenaline rush that mashes Miami bass with electro glitch and a siren to create a frenetic ode to the female posterior.

The best track is "Loose," an ode to hotties with naughty bodies at the club. The lyrics manage to both diss and pay homage to hoochie mammas:

"She a hoochie watch the miniskirt ride up Dimes and pennies twerp get it hotter Hootchies wanna get on the guest list Eat a small dinner so they fit in their dresses Fuck a meal go for bills big breasted Shoot it like gas I'm serving dick for breakfast Pussy pop she like three things The club, money, sex, yes just like hip hop Did a full strut when we pulled up Said she liked D's I said "These nuts" Ain't that what you want A Hilton and a Trump Making sex tapes get dick get cum All this money make a bitch go dumb Coke on the table make the bitch go numb She ain't nothing but a hoochie mamma Hoodrat, hoodrat, hoochie mamma"

Amanda Blank contributes a verse defending the ladies, but lines like "I fuck to bust nuts, fuck a man's respect/I rap for money to spend and to keep my panties wet," would hardly impress bell hooks.

"Pu$$y" mixes things up with its screwed vocals. "Bitch!" is the oddest track on the album: It samples the signature expletive from NWA's "A Bitch Iz A Bitch," but mashes it with ambient synthesizer chords, a house beat, and a chorus that has a Trent Reznor sound-alike repeating "Cop Killer." It's bizarre, but kind of awesome.

Or rather, it would be, except for the fact that "Bitch!" is repeated about fifty times during the three minute track. I get that they are riffing off of 2 Live Crew, I get that they like sex, drugs, and partying, but it gets old and childish. The song titles read out "Shake That. B-O-O-T-A-Y. Loose. Pu$$y. Bitch!" Come one, guys, really? At a certain point, if you look like an asshole, and you are rapping like an asshole, you are probably an asshole. Spank Rock seem to want to dabble in old school uber-sexism with hipster irony, but it's still the same old bullshit that wasn't ok when Uncle Luther was doing it.

"Bangers & Cash" sounds amazing, and based on the beats alone would be the ultimate party record. Benny Blanco has truly updated the Miami Bass sound for this millennium; it's just a shame they couldn't update the lyrics as well. I don't want Spank Rock to stop making songs about fucking and partying; I just want them to do it a little more intelligently.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Othello Review

My review of Othello's album is below. I actually pulled some punches in my review. I REALLY did not like this. At first, I liked the live music and the fact that it referenced classic East Coast hip hop. But the more I listened, the more I hated it, to the point that it would make me angry when it was on. The problem is, the music is fucking cheesy, and the whole thing has this hippy/christian vibe that I can't get with. I got into hip hop as a way to get AWAY from hippiedom. In general, I am not a fan of "conscious" hip hop when it becomes cheesy, lite-jazz bohemian bullshit. So. Not my cup of tea, but then I think the Roots are boring as fuck too.

"Alive at the Assembly Line" Othello , Hip Hop Is Music www.hiphopismusic.com

reposted from www.rapreviews.com

Seattle-born, Portland-based Othello is the musical child of A Tribe Called Quest, the Roots and Talib Kweli. He combines positive lyrics with jazzy, sometimes live beats to create music that references the classic late-90s Rawkus days while trying to find its own niche. “Live at the Assembly Line” is his second album, following up on last year’s “Classic.”

Production is handled by L Mind, Stro and Mr. Jay of the Procussions, and D-Minor and M-Phazes of Wax Reform. Some of the beats are programmed, but a lot of them feature live instruments by Othello’s band the Black Notes. The live music is the best aspect of "Alive at the Assembly Line." I'm a drummer, and hearing live drums on a track sounds amazing. They are warm, funky, and miles better than the cold, trebly synth beats too many producers are rocking these days.

I have two issues with this disc. One is that while I like how the music was recorded, I don’t actually like the music itself. It's too jammy, jazzy, and neo-soul for my taste. That isn’t to say that it’s bad, but definitely not my cup of tea. The other issue I have is that while I appreciate Othello’s positive, conscious lyrics, his rapid-fire flow make it difficult to understand what he was saying, and what I did understand didn’t blow me away. "We all face rough times ahead/Steady being pushed until we find the ledge/Step back and smooth it out," he rhymes on "Smooth It Out," and it sounds like the same message I've heard 100 times from 100 other "conscious" rappers. Don’t get me wrong, he is nice on the mic, but his mellow, upbeat flow just didn't move me.

I’m happy that there are artists like Othello creating interesting and positive hip hop music. He is a talented MC with a nice sound that should appeal to fans of golden age, jazzy hip hop. However, while I'm glad “Alive at the Assembly Line” exists, and while I can appreciate it on an intellectual level, I don’t actually enjoy listening to it. Keep doing what you do, Othello, but forgive me if I take a pass.

Shep Dog Review

"Underground Strong + Pimp N' Ho Mixtape" Shep Dog, Intrinz INK Records www.myspace.com/intrinzink

Reposted from www.rapreviews.com

Shep Dog is a 50-year-old homeless man who was discovered by Intrinzik and Joe Dank spare-changing outside of a Circle K. Shep was an aspiring rapper, Intrinzik and Joe Dank own a label, and a beautiful friendship was born. Intrinzik evidently saw the perfect clown to exploit - one part ODB, three parts Rudy Ray Moore, and ten parts "Bum Fights." Shep raps exactly like you'd expect a 50-year-old panhandler to rap: badly. His lyrics are limited to bragging about getting pussy, fucking your mother, being underground, and being from Fresno. Did I mention he likes pussy and fucking your mother? Because he does. A lot. It isn't clever, it isn't funny, and it isn't enjoyable to listen to. Shep may be getting paid, and obviously is a willing participant in this debacle, but the whole thing has an exploitative vibe to it. Shep may think he's in on the joke, but the project is designed to laugh at him, not with him.

Shep mercifully only squeezes out 8 cuts, but the disc is rounded out by 23 by-numbers gangsta rap songs by a bunch of rappers you've never heard of and won't be hearing about and time soon. This doesn't add any potential value to the disc, unless you are into generic, bombastic synth beats and lines like "When life's a bitch, I give it a tampon." There is no reason for this to exist, and even less for anyone to buy it.

Nato Caliph

"Cipher Inside" Nato Caliph, F5 Records, www.f5records.com

Reposted from www.rapreviews.com

Nato Caliph is such an understated and low-key rapper that he makes Cormeaga or GZA look like Busta Rhymes. Nato doesn't spit his rhymes, he mutters them under his breath and without exerting any extra energy, as if he were ordering a cup of chamomile tea at a coffee shop. The St. Louis rapper is about as far from Nelly and the St. Lunatics as you can get, both in his delivery and his lyrics.

I'll be honest: the first time I listened to "Cipher Inside," I was not feeling it. I thought it was boring and preachy, and I couldn't get over the fact that Nato was calling for revolution in tone more fitting for the library than the microphone. The more I listened to the album, however, the more it grew on me. A lot of it has to do with the confidence in Nato's delivery. He speaks softly because he doesn't need to yell - He KNOWS he's right.

The first line he drops spells out his mission statement: "A bunch of words to a beat mean nothing if they're only helping you." Nato does his best to make every line count, and to use hip hop as a positive force. His lyrics are thoughtful, intelligent, and on point:

"They tried to put us against us and you fell for that
Nothing hurts us more than black on black
I've learned new laws so I could properly break them
Stay close so I could properly shake you
I'm better than this
Divine Allah radical on the federal's list
It's a trip
Mastered self so I could swim in the pit
I don't get in where I fit in
I fit in where I get in
You dissing me? The bottom line is you're ignorant
Because I provide music for the soul and food for spirit
With King Tut delivery and Garvey lyrics"

There is no cursing on this record, and unlike Master P, Nato doesn't use this as a publicity stunt, saying the same tired garbage without the profanity. Instead he tackles subjects like racism, black unity, and the war. One of the most powerful songs is "Death Recall," which is a eulogy to the deceased, whether it be Nato Caliph's family, friends, unborn children, or even black leaders who are no longer with us. This is NOT just Nato pouring beer on the curb for his fallen soldierz. He goes for something much more deep and personal:

"I'm bringing back my unborn seed that I didn't give a chance to
Grow up intelligent, pretty, or handsome
And I know it takes two to decide
I pushed the issue
At the time I had too much pride
I really miss you."

Nato can come off preachy at times. He's like an older brother telling you to act right, and it's not always something you want to hear. He manages to be right on enough of the time to make his peachiness palatable, and he instills his message with just enough humility to not come off arrogant or self-righteous. That isn't to say he's suffering from low self-esteem, which is clear from "Commencement Ceremony”:

“I'm from a city where we separate the more real from the realer
The only light out of this black hole is true skill
We watch movies with no substance
And eat food just the same
And wonder why a bad body can't support a bad brain
I'm beyond doing my thing
I'm watching you do me now
So peep how
I'm the calling and the redail"

The beats, provided by DJ Crucial, Kenautis Smith, Stoney Rock, Tech Supreme, and Lyfestile, are generally as understated and quietly powerful as Nato's rhymes. Many of them are built around piano and string samples, and while there are a couple uptempo numbers, this is not an album for the club. A few of the tracks suffered from recording issues, but for the most part it sounds very good, and is head bobbing if not banging.

"Cipher Inside" is one of those records that grows on you the more you listen to it. Nato Caliph may not be the most energetic rapper, but he has a quiet determination that is hard to resist. He has created an album that is the perfect antidote to flashy, shallow hip hop, and one that deserves attention.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Kala is Fucking Brilliant

I put off buying M.I.A.'s new album, Kala, for a while. I heard tracks on her myspace page, and it sounded too cacophonous. I was also a little irritated at the critical acclaim that M.I.A. had received. I felt like the Western media was praising her because she was a cute Malaysian woman making exotic music. But then I heard "Paper Planes" and my opinion changed. The track uses the Clash's "Straight to Hell" which is one of my favorite songs ever. "Straight to Hell" is about the struggles immigrants face in the West, done with brutal honesty. "Let me tell you about your blood" sings Joe Strummer. "It ain't Coca Cola, it's rice." The chorus is just as blunt: "There ain't no need for you. Go straight to hell, boys." M.I.A. reinvents the song from the immigrants perspective, turning it into an idyll about riding on paper planes. That is, until the chorus. "All I wanna do" she sings before she is cut off by three gun shots followed by the ringing of a cash register. The menace is clear, and it is both frightening and exhilirating.

There are other brilliant tracks - she pairs up with a group of young aboriginal rappers on one track, she quotes Jonathan Richman and the Pixies, she teams up with an African rapper, even Timbaland makes a (lame) appearance. The songs are noisy but lively, incorporating aspects of African, East Indian, and European music and making something that is truly global, truly multicultural. Besides that, it is a lot of fun - it's like a party on wax. When I walk around with Kala on my headphones, I can't help but bob my head and rock out. It sounds fresh, hopeful, and alive. I fucking love it. Go M.I.A.

Too Much Music

When I was a kid, I had a much closer and more personal relationship with music than I do today. I would make my mom take me to the cool record stores in downtown Santa Cruz every other week when I got my allowance. I would by a cassette or two with my twenty bucks, and then listen to it over and over and over again. I listened to "Never Mind the Bullocks" two or three times a day for months, for example. I would listen to the records so much that I knew every chord, every lyric, every drum beat. Music came to me in a trickle, and I savored it.

As I got older and had more money, I was able to buy more and more music. One or two new albums a month became three or four became four or five. However, I still had time to really savor the music and get to know the albums that I was really into.

I've hit critical mass this year. My trickle of music has become a gushing ocean, and I can't begin to digest it, much less savor it. Between my ipod, the mixtapes and free tracks I download, the discs I get to review, the stuff I borrow from my friends, the stuff I get from the library, and the stuff I actually plunk down money for, I'm averaging ten new albums a month. In fact, in the last five weeks, I've acquired 15 new albums, one of which is a five-disc collection of Charlie Parker's early material. That's a solid day's worth of music, practically. There's no way I can begin to listen to all of that, especially since I don't have a job that facilitates listening to music.

Part of this deluge of music is my desire, as I get more into music criticism, to hear as much music as I can so that I'll at least know what stuff sounds like. Part of it is just greed at wanting to have as much music as possible, part of it is consumerism, and part of it is just knowing that there is so much great stuff out there, and wanting to hear it all.

But damn - 15 cds in five weeks. A lot of those were for reviews, and I'll never listen to them again. Some of them were just out of curiosity - I burned or borrowed stuff that I missed the first time around and wanted to check out. Some, like Oh No's "Dr. NO's Oxperiment" and Madlib's "Beat Konducta in India" may not make it into heavy rotation on my ipod or cd player. Others, however, are pretty brilliant - MIA's "Kala," the National's "Boxer," for example.

The burden of excess - how typically western. Most of the world is starving, and we are trying to figure out ways to eat less. Most of the world is lucky to own a handful of albums, and I'm lamenting that I have too many to listen too.

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