Monday, November 24, 2008

Quest-Rah and Viro the Virus

I have new two reviews up at RapReviews this week.

One is Quest-Rah's "The Ancient Tapes Vol. 1" mixtape. He is Islamic rapper from London, who is as heavily influenced by the Wu-Tang Clan as he is by the Koran. He isn't preachy, and has a nice Middle Eastern flair to his production work. Not bad.

The review is here. Or, paste this into your browser:

1001 Nightz - Quest-Rah

The other album I reviewed is Viro the Virus's "The Sharpest Blade." He's a Jersey MC who raps in a deliberate, enunciated style, dropping one-liners and some clever rhymes. I was into it.

My review is here.

Fressshhh - Viro The Virus

Jake One or No Such Thing As A Free Lunch

I get emails from PR folk with mp3s every once in a while, and recently I got one for Jake One's "The Truth," off of his new "White Van Music" on Rhymesayers. Jake One has done production work for G-Unit, but this project shows him flexing his indie muscles with MCs like MF Doom.

I love "The Truth." I love the beat, I love Freeway's verse, and I particularly like Brother Ali's rhymes.

So now my free mp3 is costing me $14 for the Jake One album, and another $14 for Brother Ali's record, which I have to pick up now that I've heard how amazing the man is. Twenty eight bucks, all because of a free mp3. Damn.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Machete Vox Presents The Sneak Preview Review

My review of the Machete Vox label's Sneak Preview is up now at Here.

I love this comp, and I have high hopes for this Bay Area label. It combines some of the energy of hyphy, the attitude of Too $hort, and the indie spirit of artists like DJ Shadow and Blackaliscious. My favorite track is "Street Cred Need Me" by Z-Man, who also did the album cover.

Street Cred Need Me - Z-Man

The Machete Vox sound reminds me a little of E-40, especially Boac's "I Need Money." I was never a huge E-40 fan, but I did think the cover of his album In A Major Way, in which he is cooking crack, was fugging hilarious. He also had a few good singles as part of the hyphy movement, including "Tell Me When To Go." His weirdo rhyme style is an acquired taste, and best in small doses, but it is definitely distinctive.

There is also more than a little Too $hort in the Machete Vox sound, especially on tracks like "Shuddup." I actually have never owned any Too $hort, but it was impossible to come of age in Northern California in the late 80s without hearing "Life is..Too $hort." It sounds kind of corny now, but I like it. I made a Pandora station that is all 80s gangster rap, and it's friggin' awesome. It's amazing how tame a lot of that stuff sounds now.

Anyways, there's your Bay Area hip hop history lesson.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Blake from Jawbreaker has a new band

They are called Thorns of Life. From the video above, taken from their second show ever, they sound like melodic punk-leaning indie, not unlike Jawbreaker or Jets to Brazil. I loved Jawbreaker, but was pretty unimpressed by Jets. Cautiously optimistic about this one, but at this point, he really should do whatever the hell he wants, right?

I got this from Stereogum, who got it from the Bohemian. Here.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Megatop Phoenix

I finally found a copy of Big Audio Dynamite's 1989 album Megatop Phoenix week. BAD was formed on the ashes of the Clash in 1984 by Mick Jones. They used samples, drum machines, and keyboards, creating a sound that had more to do with hip hop and dance music than punk.

Megatop Phoenix was their fourth album, and last under their original incarnation. They became BAD II in 1990, and had a hit with "Rush." Then they did a techno album, and finished things off with the pretty awful "F-Punk," which includes the catchy but inane "I Turned Out A Punk." I actually kind of like that song, even though it sucks.

Megatop is clearly influenced by the house music/rave scene that was blossoming in Britain at the time, and is dancier than BAD's work to that point. It was one of the first techno-ey albums I heard, and I was really into it Back In The Day. One of my favorite songs was "Union, Jack," which uses the drum beat from "Honky Tonk Woman," and loops it over some modern rock guitars. The lyrics are not super impressive, but they are catchy. "Take a stand/before you fall/your country needs you/to play football." Are they serious? Is he being ironic? I dunno...what i do know is that Joe Strummer was probably the lyric writer in the Clash.

Whatever. The songs are catchy, and the use of samples is pretty impressive. Maybe not "Paul's Boutique" impressive, but still.

Anyways....Megatop Phoenix. Well worth the five bucks I spent on it.

Union, Jack - Big Audio Dynamite

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Serge Severe and Mic Crenshaw reviews

I have two new reviews up at RapReviews this week from two Portland rappers on the Focused Noise label.

Mic Crenshaw does politically charged hip hop with a lot of live music. I reviewed his debut, Thinking Out Loud. I liked that he uses live music, and I liked where he was coming from politically, but it didn’t always translate into hip hop magic. There are some good tracks on it, and it’s still worth checking out. If you aren’t feeling his music, check out his non-profit, Global Fam. They help war refugees.

Serge Severe does old school battle and party raps. I reviewed Concrete Techniques, his second album. He’s pretty good, and has a fantastic producer in DJ Universal Sect.

I hear so much bullshit, that it's nice to see two rappers doing something interesting and heartfelt, and not just recycling the same tired cliches.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Dodos at Bimbos, 11/7/08

I saw the Dodos the other night at Bimbos in North Beach. I hadn't realized until they came on stage that they are essentially a two piece, with a dude on drums (Logan Kroeber) and a dude on guitar and vocals (Meric Long). They supplement this with a guy who plays percussion on some songs, and the fancy looping stuff that a lot of acts do live.

I've decided that the best music these days is stuff that fucks with established genres just enough to be interesting, but not so much that it is unlistenable. The three minute pop song has been done to death, so you need to bring something a little different to the table (unless you are Nickleback, and they've made gajillions playing different versions of the same shitty song that sounds like half-assed Pearl Jam). A lot of the bands I'm excited about these days bring something a little unique and interesting to the genres they play: Fucked Up and their shoegazer take on hardcore, Panda Bear and his adaptation of electrionic musical ideas to Beach Boys melodies, even Vampire Weekend and their preppy interpolation of West African rhythms. You gotta bring something new to the table, and the Dodos do that. They take what could be overly dear indie pop, and add an unusual rhythmic element in the form of Kroeber's drumming. It was pretty great live, especially because they messed with their songs a little to make them sound fresh. For example, they drew out the intro to their hit "Fools" to the point where it just became a drum beat, before finally going into the song. The interplay between Kroeber's beats and Meric's singing and guitar playing was also cool, and sometimes it almost didn't synch, but still worked.

I do wonder how much further they can take their sound. I feel like they've pretty much nailed the whole "guitar and drums" thing, but then the White Stripes are still making ok music, so maybe the Dodos have a future.

It was one of the most obnoxiously talkative crowds I've seen in a while. I was in the back for a while, and people at the bar where carrying on like the band was just a jukebox. I went closer to the stage, and the people next to me were talking so loud that you could hear them over the band. When you are having to yell to be heard over the band you just paid twenty bucks to see, you are a fucking moron and need to shut up. The ultimate moment was during the encore, when the woman to my right had her back to the band, and was blathering on about her relationship issues. Why not just stay home?

This video isn't from the show I saw, but gives you a good idea what they are like live.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Illa J Review

Illa J
Yancey Boys
Delicious Vinyl, 2008

I reviewed Illa J's Yancey Boys album this week on RapReviews. Here.

Illa, in case you don't know, was J Dilla aka Jay Dee aka James Yancey's younger brother. Dilla being the producer who died a few years ago from lupus. The album is alright, mostly because Dilla's beats are always worth a listen. I wasn't into the generic subject matter of the lyrics, but then Illa's older brother wasn't the world's most amazing lyricist (or rapper) ever. His main skill was behind the boards, not behind the mic. Illa does have a pretty good singing voice, and he's a decent rapper, so he's got that going for him.

The promo CD was some bullshit though. Each song was divided into five 30-40 second tracks, which makes it harder to illegal post online, and harder to listen to on an ipod. Then, ever ten seconds some jackass would say, in this lame-o voice, "HI! This is (jackass fuckface). I've found that the best way to listen to music is not to upload it, but to boom it in your jeep." What jeep, Gomer? I gotta upload it so I can listen to it in my jeep.

Kids, don't illegally download music: it makes labels go through really irritating lengths to avoid it.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Big Takeover

So long, Mr. Bush. Don't let the door hit you on your ass on your way out.

I'm cautiously optimistic about Obama's win, and incredibly happy. Evidently, Americans are willing to elect a black man with a foreign name as president. All it takes is white guys running the country into the ground for the last eight years. Let's hope he does well. He's got quite a battle ahead of him, but all I can say is the country and the planet couldn't take four more years of Republican rule. Things are broken and fucked up, and we need to restart and try something new. So congratulations Barack, and please don't fuck up.

(the video clip is the Bad Brains doing "the Big Takeover" off of their awesome debut. I thought it was apropos given that they were African Americans, and the Democrats are about to take control of the white house and senate and shit. The Beastie Boys sampled this song on "So Watcha Want.")

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Dead Homiez

Five years after everyone else, I've discovered the magic of YouTube, and the fact that you can find old videos there. So I hunted down the video for one of my favorite songs ever, "Dead Homiez."

There's some context you have to appreciate when watching this video. When it came out, Ice Cube had released "Amerikkka's Most Wanted," and was scaring white parents and delighting white suburban kids as the "Nigga You Love to Hate." The mainstream media was painting him as Public Enemy #1 for his hateful, angry lyrics (including the infamous line about kicking a pregnant lady "in the tummy." So what did Cube do? He released "Kill at Will," an EP that included "Dead Homiez." "Dead Homiez" is the flipside of the gangsta rap that Cube had helped pioneer as a founding member of NWA. While his cohorts in NWA were still stuck in ultraviolence mode, Cube described the aftermath, and asked some hard questions, like why a funeral is the only time Black folks get to ride in a limo. The song also contains one of my favorite song lyrics ever:

"Another homie got murdered on a shakedown
His mother is at the funeral, having a nervous breakdown
Two shots hit him in the face when they blasted
A framed picture
And a closed casket."

This was also around the time that Cube did his turn as Doughboy in John Singleton's brilliant "Boyz In the Hood." And just when we white liberals were proclaiming Ice Cube the poet laureate of the hood, he went and released "Death Certificate," which contrasts his intelligent, biting rhymes with some of the most offensive, ignorant shit ever cut to wax, including attacks on blacks, whites, women, Koreans, and homosexuals. I love "Death Cerificate," even though (or perhaps because) it offends the hell out of me. A perfect example is the closer, "No Vaseline," a funky, homophobic tirade against his former NWA band members, implying that they are all homosexuals (and including gems like "you let a Jew break up our crew"). The whole idea of him dissing his bandmates by implying they like anal sex is wrong, and yet he does it in such a clever and funky way that I buy it.

So Ice Cube. There you go. The Supersuckers did a cover of this that is pretty awesome.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Willie the Kid

I reviewed Willie the Kid's Absolute Greatness CD this week on Read it here.

Willie is getting hype as a "lyrical" Southern rapper, and while I have some issues with that term, I think he's a promising rapper, one of the better I've heard in a while. Not totally unlike a Southern Nas.

Here's the video for his song "Love of Money," which I'm not crazy about. I've never been able to get into to R&B crooners singing stupid shit on hooks.

One bit of bullshit - when I did a search for "Absolute Greatness," I found about two legitamate posts, and about a million illegal downloads of the album. Way to support hip hop.

The Best Video Ever

I saw this video exactly once, years ago, back when MTV actually played videos. It's for Radiohead's "Karma Police," which is one of my favorite songs off of OK Computer. The video shows a car following a man down a lonely British country road. It pans every now and then to Thom Yorke, who is sitting in the car and half lip-synching. The man stops, exhausted, and the car backs up, revealing a line of gasoline that has been leaking. The man pulls out a match, and lights the gasoline, setting his pursuer's car on fire. Luckily, Thom escaped to continue to make music.

Also, the numbers are in, and evidently In Rainbows sold more copies online (not counting the freeloaders who downloaded it for nada) than Radiohead's previous release, Hail the Thief. The fact that Hail the Thief kind of sucked may or may not have factored in to the sales.

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