Wednesday, April 30, 2014

DJ Rashad Review

I wrote a review of DJ Rashad's Double Cup, which is below. It's a little weak in that a) I had no idea what footwork was until I saw the headlines of his obituary and b) I talk about how druggie an album by a guy who died of a drug overdose is. I didn't mean disrespect to Rashad's friends or family, or fans of a genre that I clearly know very little about.

Originally appeared on RapReviews.

DJ Rashad, “Double Cup,” Hyperdub (
Reviewed by Patrick Taylor

Chicago footwork DJ Rashad Harden died on Saturday at 34. It’s always tragic when someone dies so young, but it is even more so with DJ Rashad given that he was just starting to truly blow up on an international scale. His last album was put out by Kode9’s influential Hyperdub label, who are probably best known for releasing music by innovative dubstep artists like Burial. Listening to “World Cup,” it’s not hard to understand why DJ Rashad’s music excited so many listeners, musicians and critics. 

For those of you not familiar with footwork (as I wasn’t until I saw it associated with DJ Rashad’s music), it’s basically ghetto house music sped up to ludicrous speeds. The name of the genre comes from the intricate and insanely fast style of dancing that people do to it. Watching footwork dancers is like watching normal dancers in fast-forward. It’s become a competitive dance, with two dancers going toe-to-toe to prove who has the better moves. 

“Double Cup” gives several good examples of why footwork has gotten so many kids working on dance moves. It combines the janky, clattering snares of street rap with the BPM’s and aggro of jungle. Rashad doesn’t flip samples, he repeats them over and over again until it sounds like the singer has a stutter. Imagine the attitude of street rap with a touch of house soul revved up to drum n’ bass speeds and you have footwork.

When your music is based on speed, there is only so fast you can go before it becomes a limitation. Slayer slowed things down after the blistering speed metal of “Reign In Blood,” and DJ Rashad takes the tempo down on much of “Double Cup.”  On several tracks he builds in the hyperactive footwork elements into a more laid-back tempo. Album opener “Feelin’” still has the chattering hi-hats and stuttering piano lines, but it is placed along a smoother, more languid backdrop. It’s like chillout music for someone with ADHD. The title track starts out hyper and aggro, but then slows things down, only to build the frenetic elements back in.

Rashad was allegedly found with narcotics and drug paraphernalia, which has led some to speculate that his death was due to an overdose. Whatever the cause of his untimely demise, “Double Cup” is a very drug-centric album. “Pass That Shit,” “Drank, Kush, Barz,” “Reggie,” I’m Too Hi” and “Acid Bit” are just the tracks that mention drugs in the titles. The music is druggie as hell too. There is the amphetamine rush and kush comas you’d expect, but there are also psychedelic elements. “Acid Bit” is a crazed drug trip that recalls Wink’s “Higher State of Consciousness,” and “I’m Too Hi” perfectly captures the feeling of taking one or too more doses than recommended by the surgeon general. If Rashad truly did overdose, it is both ironic and sad that he made a song about overindulging.

The drugginess is only one element of “Double Cup,” albeit a notable one. What really makes this album special, and makes DJ Rashad’s passing all that more sad for music fans, is how expertly he is able to weave in and out of different genres. He can go from the ratchet hip-hop of “She’s a Go” to the smooth R&B of “Let U Know” to the silky house of “Leavin’” to the West Coast gangsta lean of  “Pass That Shit.” In Rashad’s hands hip-hop, techno, house, R&B, and footwork all coexist simultaneously. It’s a shame he didn’t get to live long enough to blur the lines between genres even further.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


I've been listening to the Numero Group's recent Unwound reissue Rat Conspiracy The three-disc set (although it is only being released on vinyl and mp3) collects Unwound's first two albums and a third disc of singles and outtakes. 1993's Fake Train is and remains one of my favorite albums of all time, and it was nice to revisit 1994's New Plastic Ideals. Unwound did an amazing job of combining the energy and ferocity of hardcore with some of the noisy art-rock of Sonic Youth. The result is music that  has the aggression of hardcore with the emotional and musical complexity of post-punk and emo, with very little of the pretension or bullshit. Unwound channeled the feelings of depression, anxiety, dissatisfaction and confusion of late adolescence. Their songs are about being bored, feeling unsettled, having nervous energy that you can't contain. They alternate between pretty melodies and all-out noise, falling apart unexpectedly and then retreating into moments of quiet contemplation. I don't know what it says about me that this hits me just as hard at 39 as it did when I first heard it at 19. Maybe somethings you don't outgrow.

One song I've rediscovered with this set is "What Was Wound." It starts off as fairly typical jangly early 90s indie rock, albeit with a tempo that's a bit off. It follows the typical quiet-loud-quiet dynamic that Nirvana perfected. Unwound does it so well though, creating a feeling of unpredictability and controlled chaos. "Salt of the earth on an open wound" indeed.

If you want more proof, watch this entire show from around the time New Plastic Ideals came out, or just skip to 8:00 to watch them play "Nervous Energy" live.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Chuck Inglish Review

Chuck Inglish
Sounds Like Fun/Federal Prism 

Chicago rapper/producer Chuck Inglish emerged seven years ago as half of the retro-leaning duo Cool Kids. Their signature sound was Inglish's stripped-down beats, with booming 808s and snare slaps that sounded like early Def Jam. The Cool Kids haven't done much as a duo since 2010's "Tacklebox," but both Inglish and Sir Michael Rocks have been busy making solo mixtapes and producing for other artists. The Cool Kids have another album on the horizon for 2014, but in the meantime Inglish has just released his first solo album, "Convertibles."

Convertibles is Inglish's chance to show his diversity as a producer and a rapper. That diversity starts with his label. His Sounds Like Fun imprint is signed to Federal Prism, which is run by TV On the Radio's Dave Sitek. Cool Kids have always been on the fringes of mainstream hip-hop, and Inglish continues that trend by signing to an indie rock label.

I won't lie: the best songs on "Convertibles" are the ones that hew closest to the sound that Inglish is known for. It's hard to go wrong with old-school trunk-rattlers, which Inglish proves time and time again. "Attitude" and "Swervin'" both have pulverizing bass, although Inglish does different things with both beats. "Swervin'" is in the vein of g-funk, with the hint of a piano and snapping snares. "Attitude" has a harder beat, but contrasts it with a sung hook by BJ the Chicago Kid.
"Money Clip" is built around a driving beat with a few string and synth flourishes. The uptempo beat spurs Inglish to drop his usual laconic delivery for a more spirited flow:

"San Diego dayglow, get what you pay for
It's not everyday though, they do what we say so
Uh, def that bump
It's not a drop, it's convertible bruh
Put a rack up on it if you ain't no punk
Do it up like the steps, walk it out like a pet
Off the top, get a tip like 75 percent
This establishment was meant, washing money with the lint"

He's assisted on the track by Vic Mensa, Retch, Hassani Kwess, and Sulaiman. That's a lot of MCs for one track, and it gives it the feel of a posse cut. Most of the songs have at least one rapper and/or singer. Ab-Soul and Mac Miller offer stellar verses on "Came Thru/Easily." "Action Bronson" mixes his culinary and sexual metaphors on "Gametime." Sir Michael Rocks joins Inglish and Polyester the Saint on "Swervin'." These MCs all help offset Inglish's serviceable but not spectacular rapping. He's fine on the mic, but his rhymes have very little stakes. His label is rightly named: Inglish is all about having fun, and as a result his rhymes feel lightweight. He likes cars, he likes pretty girls, likes to have beer and weed with his friends, and doesn't like having his heart broken. To his credit he is less raunchy than many of his peers, and he gets some good wordplay in, but he rarely says anything of consequence.
Inglish doesn't waste his solo debut with a bunch of standard Chuck Inglish beats. He takes the opportunity to branch out and try different genres. "Legs" is a disco-funk with dance artist Chromeo. "Ingles (Mas O Menos)" is a combo electro/Latin club rap track with Mexican-American rapper Cap Angels. Inglish goes full Prince with Jade on "P.R.I.S.M.," which features an electric guitar solo that would make his purple majesty proud. The latter half of the album is made up of downtempo songs that show a more sensitive side and psychedelic side to Inglish.

The album ends with "Glam," a track which features singer Macie Stewart and Chance the Rapper. Chance has been on a roll for the last year, and he doesn't slow down here. His verses add depth and gravitas to what would otherwise be a pretty frivolous album.

"Rid me of my evils
God bless me and all my foolies, my disciples, and my people
Say a prayer for the nine one time
Niggas that robbed me by the Ryan one time
Go vagabond in the line one time
Bro gods, whole squad in the line one time
I know I'll see the clouds with silver line some time
So I don't even feel the need to rhyme some time
See my nigga smiling sunshine sometimes
So bring the hook around for your sun one time"

It ends with the chorus of "God loves all my niggas, nigga."

"Convertibles" isn't a perfect album. The genre-switching makes it lack cohesion, it drags a bit in its later half, and it doesn't pack much weight lyrically. Still, the combination of good-time rhymes and heavy-hitting beats makes it an album worth picking up. Inglish and crew may not have a lot to say, but they are having a good time saying it. As with all of Inglish's work, the beats are throwbacks to the old school with the technology and finesse of the twenty-teens. It's the kind of album you want to put on in your convertible while you are riding around with the top dropped enjoying a warm spring afternoon.

Originally posted on RapReviews

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Actress Review

Actress, Ghettoville, Ninja Tune (

Actress is the stage name of British producer Darren J. Cunningham, who has been performing under that moniker for the past six years. His three previous albums offered an art-damaged mash-up of ambient, dance, minimalism, and experimental music. Actress has called Ghettoville “the bleached out and black tinted conclusion of the Actress image,” and it sounds like a funeral. The bubbly warmth that underpinned his earlier work is largely absent, replaced by bleak industrial soundscapes.

Actress’s music has always challenged listeners with its sparseness and occasional dissonant elements, but there was a warmth to his earlier albums that smoothed out the rougher edges. That warmth has been hammered out of Ghettoville. At times it seems as if Actress is daring listeners to try to make it until the end of the album. He starts things off with seven minutes of slow clanging (“Forgiven”), and then gives the listener five and a half minutes of static glitch (“Street Corp.”). It’s not until “Corner,” the third song on the album, that anything like a beat appears, and it is slow and mournful. Where Actress’s earlier work was grounded in throbbing pulses, Ghettoville is lethargic and murky, crawling along at a menacing pace.

Not everything here is static, distortion and clanging. Much of the album features Actress doing what he does best: deconstructing standard electronic music templates, and creating music that is experimental yet recognizable. “Rims” is built around a sinister bassline and some clicks and whistles that’s like two songbirds having a low-riding competition. “Gaze” is a house music song bleeding through the walls of an apartment. “Image” adds some clattering Detroit techno 808s into the mix. Actress is also pushing his sound forward, adding filtered vocals and offering fractured takes on hip-hop (“Rule”) and R&B (“Rap”). These songs capture what makes Actress such a vital and important part of contemporary electronic music. His songs are stripped down to the bare essential, and he uses sounds that you wouldn’t necessarily associate with music. He explores the patterns that emerge with repetition, avoiding big buildups or breakdowns. Everything feels carefully placed without a single extraneous click or blurb. At his best, his experimentation is grounded in beats so even at their weirdest the songs still bounce.

Unfortunately, the rhythm of the album is constantly interrupted by cacophonous dirges which makes it feel unsettled. Some of the songs stick around long after their musical point has been made, and the album itself is overlong. Just when “Ghettoville” settles into an off-kilter groove like “Rims,” it gets derailed by a buzzkill like “Contagious.”

While much of Ghettoville is up to Actress's usual high standards, it is an unfriendly and uneven album. It’s the soundtrack to urban decay and depression. It’s about exploring dark places and spending an uncomfortable amount of time in them. It is also a suicide note from a pseudonym, and like many suicides, there is a selfishness and lack of regard for others in Ghettoville. Actress isn’t thinking about how his music will sound to other people. He’s not concerned with bringing listener along. He’s not attempting to make an aesthetically pleasing album, or one that sets a consistent mood.  As a result, Ghettoville is a bit of a letdown. If this truly is Actress's last gasp, he's not going out with a bang but a whimper.

Originally posted on RapReviews

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