Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Beat Konducta In Africa Review

I reviewed Madlib's Medicine Show #3: Beat Konducta In Africa this week on RapReviews.
It's 78 minutes of beats made from African music. In other words, you should buy it.

Kaigen21Meiso Review

I reviewed the new Kaigen21Meiso release, Root Is the New Leaf, for RapReviews this week. It's avant hip hop in Japanese. It gave me a migraine, but I'm not a fan of experimental hip hop. This dude liked it. You can listen for yourself here.
<a href="http://kaigen.bandcamp.com/track/original-gaian-feat-ceschi-prod-by-michita">Original Gaian feat. Ceschi (prod. by Michita) by Kaigen / Curse Ov The Kaigen / Kaigen21Meiso</a>

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Madlib Medicine Show #2 Review

I reviewed Madlib's Medicine Show #2: Flight to Brazil this week at RapReviews.

It's a mix of Brazilian music, mostly jazz. A little too mellow, but still worth a listen.

Here's a clip of him making a beat from a Brazilian record:

Z-Man Review

I reviewed Z-Man's Show Up, Shut Up, and Rap EP for RapReviews two weeks ago.

You can listen to it and download it for free at Machete Vox's site, here. And you should, because it rules.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Byron Lee and the Dragonaires Revew

Originally posted on Blogcritics.org
Byron Lee and the Dragonaires
The Man and His Music
VP Records

Byron Lee holds a conflicted place in Jamaican music history. On one hand, he and his band, the Dragonaires, are credited with bringing ska to the outside world. As the backing band at the 1964 New York World's Fair, Lee and his band were most Americans' and Europeans' first introduction the the infectious sounds coming from Jamaica. On the other hand, Lee's contemporaries in the reggae and ska scene looked down upon him as being too uptown and posh, disconnected from the dance hall culture that was the focal point of Jamaican music. In some ways Lee is a Pat Boone figure, someone who brought an underground music form to a larger audience, but is criticized with sanitizing it in the process.
The new two-disc set, The Man and His Music, is a powerful defense of Byron Lee's musical legacy. True, Byron Lee's ska isn't as raw or earthy as the music produced by people like Desmond Dekker, Prince Buster, or the Skatalites. However, the uptown gloss that earned him scorn by his contemporaries has aged well. There is a breezy tropicalia feel to Lee's early work. The Dragonaires, while polished, were also talented musicians, and they captured the energy and excitement that makes early ska so timeless. Uptown or no, songs like "Soul Ska" and "Holly Holy" deserve a place among the canon of classic ska tracks.
Ska was only one of Byron Lee's many phases, however. He also experimented with rocksteady, and once he realized that the ska crowd weren't too accepting of him, he began to play calypso. That phase is represented in this collection by songs like "Sandra" and "No Love No Money," both performed by The Mighty Sparrow. Lee dabbled in lounge music, offering island-tinged versions of country western and easy listening songs like "Only A Fool" and "Empty Chair." He also did some convincing reggae, as evidenced by "Sunday Coming" and "Thinking of You." Toots Hibbert turns up to do a version of "54/46 That's My Number" that proves that Byron Lee and his band could do more than passable roots reggae.
In the eighties the band changed directions yet again, this time playing soca, a dancier version of calypso. All of the album covers from this period feature half naked women on tropical beaches. This soca phase is heavily represented here with songs like "Dancehall Soca," "Soca Butterfly," and "Blackman Come Out To Party." The soca phase also reflects a change in production quality and instrumentation.
While his work from the sixties and seventies sounds warm if primitive, the soca music has the precise, coldly digital sound typical of eighties production. Digital instruments begin to replace analog ones, and the drummer is augmented or replaced with a drum machine. Lee had some of his biggest hits in his soca phase, but I found the songs less engaging than his earlier work, and I could have lived with one or two instead of seven or eight. His later easy listening songs would have been better left off the album altogether, and do nothing to support his musical legacy.
This two-disc, forty-eight song set collects the previously released "Essential Byron Lee along with a second disc. The discs aren't arranged chronologically, which would have been helpful for an artist whose career spanned so many decades. Instead, there are sometimes jarring contrasts of musical styles and production quality. Ska songs from the early sixties are sequenced next to glossy soca numbers from the eighties, which are followed by seventies reggae, which in turn are followed by easy listening from the nineties. It doesn't make for the smoothest listening experience. Even with the dubious sequencing, The Man and His Music is a comprehensive introduction to an artist who never quite got the respect he deserved, and a worthwhile listen for any fan of Jamaican ska.

Count Bass D and DJ Pocket Review

I reviewed Count Bass D and DJ Pocket's In the Loop for RapReviews this week.

Count Bass D is an underground rapper/producer who has been around for about ten years. DJ pocket is his friend and collaborator. It reminded me of DOOM's work: hip hop beats over cheesy 80s R&B. Not brilliant, but good. Here's the video for "New Day."

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Mann/Dillon Review

I reviewed Mann's album Hated for Rapreviews this week. Detroit street rap. Not really my thing, but I thought he was good at what he does. Hey look, strippers!

I also reviewed Dillon's Cupid's Revenge EP. It was a free download, so you should check it out.

Here it is, reenacted with a blow up doll.

Alborosie Review

Originally published on Blogcritics.org

lborosie, aka Alberto D'Ascola, is a Sicilian-born reggae artist. He started performing reggae in the early nineties with the Reggae National Tickets, and has relocated to Kingston, Jamaica to be closer to the music and the home of rastafari culture. He released his debut solo album, Soul Pirate, in 2008, and a different version of this album,Escape from Babylon in 2009 via 101 Distribution. This version, with a longer title and slightly different tracklist, is being released via the venerated reggae label Greensleeves.

The idea of a Sicilian rasta isn't as big a stretch as it might initially seem. The most convincing Italian hip hop artists are from the South, so it makes sense that the South would produce convincing reggae artists as well. Sicilian is it's own language, only partially related to Italian, so learning a patois of English wouldn't have been hard for Alborosie, who grew up knowing two languages, and knowing the power that the unofficial language holds. Like Jamaica, Sicily is a relatively poor island, looked down upon by the mainland. Both islands are full of gangsters, both have strong cultural traditions, and both places understand what it is to struggle to survive.
Alborosie is also the real deal in every respect. He's a rastafarian, he sings in unaccented Jamaican patois, and he understands the music and the culture. He's also a talented musician, playing many of the instruments on the album. He combines the musicality of roots reggae with the harder electronic edge of dancehall, and his voice switches between the bark of a dancehall toaster and the soulful singing of a roots artist. Songs like "Humbleness" and "Dung A Babylon" show off his gentler side, while "Blue Movie Boo" pulses with a frenetic rhythm.
He makes his connection to roots reggae explicit by sampling Horace Andy on "Money" and "No Cocaine," and in his lyrics, which are steeped in rastafari philosophy. He sings about rastafari concerns such as praising the herb ("No Cocaine), criticizing materialism ("Money"), and criticizing Babylon. At times it feels like Rasta 101, and most of this is turf that has been covered many times before by countless reggae artists. Even the title is generic rasta. That's not to say that it's not authentic or heartfelt, but it doesn't break much new ground, and feels cliche at times. One exception is "America," a different take on Babylon that calls out America for it's infractions against the world.
Escape from Babylon to the Kingdom of Zion may not have the most original lyrical content, but it is solid musically. Alborosie manages to stay true to classic reggae while incorporating modern elements. The result is 18 songs that have the soul and melody of roots reggae with the harder edge of dancehall, proving reggae's place in the 21st century.

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