Growing up in sub-saharan africa, literally demands an open mindedness as far as taste in music. This is largely due to the sheer variety of ways africans have decided to execute the human inclination towards the creation of sounds to symbolize their everyday struggles, joys and ideas. As i have grown up and aquired a somewhat greater knowledge of music, I have fallen deeper in love with old-school african music. One day as I was sitting in my living room working on my resume I came upon a new mix by quantic and this mix of Angolan semba tunes drove me nuts. Semba is essential to the basic bedrock of everything from Brazilian samba to modern day sounds of Kuduro. Its shuffling movements and intricately plucked guitar melodies have hints of Congolese style playing while having a restrained melancholic energy thats all its own. I would suggest the analog Africa release ” Angola Soundtrack-The unique sound of luanda (1968 – 1976), to any one that intends on dabbling.
After reading the Jon Caramanica article about Kanye West and his upcoming release yeezus, I began thinking about why Kanye is so interesting despite being a mainstream artist (98% of mainstream artists suck).
I began to think about how like all the super-greats he is constantly making efforts to become the unrivaled master of his craft. When one thinks of Stevie at his prime (1972 – 1976), one is impressed at how much Stevie was constantly tinkering in the studio,from incorporating new equipment, to spending mad amounts of time dubbing and overdubbing his records.
Its the Beatles effect in a sense, were musicians suddenly worked harder at sonically and conceptually pushing the sounds of there albums in order to create music that lasted the passage of time. Challenging and timeless art is rarely the product of complacency,great album creators were always tinkerers and ego maniacs. They were also sponges, incorporating the ideas of other great artists around them. Think Michael Jackson recruiting Jazz composer Quincy Jones or Heatwave songwriter Rod Temperton. MJ was deliberate about his image and every facet of it was thought over and analyzed. Most importantly Kanye is a student of music and art. He has constantly ventured outside of the urban world even when looking for collaborators think him pairing up with magnolia soundtrack producer Jon Brion for Late Registration or having cover art for graduation done by Takashi Murakami.
He is an artist that has always dared to step outside of the confines of the urban landscape for influence and ideas. He is also an avid collaborationist despite his reputation as an ego maniac. His production process is less beat maker and more producer. In how he has his stuff dubbed over dubbed and produced by different producers and a slew of sound engineers like Mike Dean. As far as message and concept,he is one of the most intelligent black artists of our time. He manages to weave narratives in which the characters are not easily confined to anyone box, kinda like the way Ice-Cubes albums managed to squeeze in the aggressiveness of street rap coupled with the ugly misogyny/homophobia of street language and a huge dash of political and cultural acuteness. He is not naively appropriating high fashion, he is not naively discussing racism and the dark side of celebrity culture. When asked about race awareness Kanye said this to Jon Carmanica for the New York Times:
No, it’s just being able to articulate yourself better. “All Falls Down” is the same [stuff]. I mean, I am my father’s son. I’m my mother’s child. That’s how I was raised. I am in the lineage of Gil Scott-Heron, great activist-type artists. But I’m also in the lineage of a Miles Davis — you know, that liked nice things also.
Personally I have not taken rap seriously for a while because a lot of it is sonically uninteresting. Lately I will like a rap song but only for 10 hours and I will never want to hear it again. Last year the only rap album I bought (two copies) was Killer Mike and EL.P’s R.A.P music. Largely because EL.P has that huge distorted skeletal sound that I love so much. A persons ears and taste are constantly meandering at least based on how much music you listen too.
As a jazz freak, its hard to take music that deals with boring chord progressions and cliched rhythms that define rap today. One thing about Kanye is say what you want, his records even when distorted are very layered and littered with tensions between minor and major chords. His music isn’t static, its dynamic and sonically adventurous. When i heard blackskinhead on SNL, I was uber excited because lately I have been exploring tons of 80s no-wave, post-punk and hardcore stuff, stuff that makes me hate the crap out of pretty and prestine over produced garbage on radio today. I have also been equally taken by minimally produced soul records, dusty distorted african funk and highlife music, basically sonic distortion and ugly sounding production is polluting my iPhone and making rounds on my record player.
Based on what i have heard and read he is going for a minimalist vibe which is what i always wanted to hear. Rick Rubin who has a background in thrash metal and understands distorted dynamics more than anyone, was consulted last minute by yeezy. Equally peaking my interest is the fact that in the NYT interview homeboy references chicago house and the legacy of chicago music which is a breath of fresh air. I am scared that on the one hand the album could completely suck and on the other hand I am super excited at what i have heard so far and the things he has said so far. His collaborators are all people whose music i admire and I am anticipating a game changing record. He is tapping Daft-Punk to give that early Homework/Human after all dirty distorted electro vibe to his record and his whole camp Hudson Mohawke,Tony Williams and S1 are all interesting and bold cats
As I was readung the NYT article, i started to think of rap albums that i felt had that cold metalic feel. Rap albums that sonically sounded so bare and distorted enough, that even my hard nosed No-Wave and punk friends had to fall in love with them. Albums that had echoes of Psychadelic-Rock and soul of the seventies while also hinting at the cold drums of No-Wave and early Detroit/Chicago techno. Records that could be frenetic as say P.E’s “take a nation” to soulful but minimal in the RZA/GZA helmed epic “Liquid Swords”.
After thinking about this I picked 10 sonically challenging outrageously raw Hip Hop masterpieces that sounded raw, did not yield to being polished.With this list I am not hinting at the idea that Kanye Is making records that sound like the albums listed. I am just looking at albums that hinted at similar sonic ideas.
In no particular order:
1. GZA: Liquid Swords
2. Cannibal Ox: Cold Vein
3. Public Enemy: it takes a nation of millions to hold us back
4. Run DMC: raising hell
5. beastie boys: check your head
6. Wu-tang clan: Enter the Wu-tang
7. Common: Electric Circus
8. Jaylib: Champion Sound
9. Madvillain: Mad villainy
10. Company Flow: Funcrusher plus
I am so geeked out I might cope two copies of Yeezus for good measure and play them both loud at the same time.
DJ mixes have become an important format in the internet age. In the world of electronic music, especially house were albums are the exception, DJ mixes are becoming one of the unique ways artists get to present a large body of work. I was introduced to the work of Disclosure, Julio Bashmore and Skream by listening to them DJ. These mixes give a glimpse into artists their respective influences and into how their creative process has evolved. Lately I have been on a 90′s house kick, due in part to the influence of Disclosure and Julio Bashmore, whose music references a lot of the 90′s stuff that i never heard before. During my excursions into the past i came upon names like Todd Edwards and MK. Two pillars of house music whose influence would be heard in UK garage and all the way to the modern stuff popping off in underground clubs today. Again its only by listening to MK spin for mixmag and then Todd Edwards for Boiler-room, that I realized just how influential these respective producers have been on the music i listen too.
Todd Edwards mix was upbeat and is a very party-worthy DJ set
The homeys Daft-Punk after an 8-year hiatus drop a very not-dancey record that spits in the face of all that is EDM today. Its a head scratching album, but an album that shows how iconic these androids are and also could teach a lot of up and comers the value of staying your course.
Then Mount Kimbie prove again that electronic music, is one of the last musical forms today, in which artists are constantly pushing the envelope and not rehashing cliches & gimmicks (yet this does not apply to all electronic musicians today). Cold Spring Fault less youth is another work of challenging and beautiful music.
Then Disclosure have dropped a solid beautiful sophisticated LP of dance music that gives a nod to the past while staying very present.
Looking forward to more inspiring stuff, as we are plunged deeper into the summer of 2013.
Taking cues from Noise-music, Hip-Hop & House, mount kimbie create music that effortlessly fuses different genres into their own individual sound. Their live performance feels very improvised despite being electronic music, they are masters at making digital instruments talk to each other in a similar manner as organic instruments. I sat listening to this performance while I was enjoying a lazy rainy-monday read.
Kanye West is a pure-Conundrum, because regardless of his wealth and success he still manages to be a very good victim of the system. All the while Kanye West is kind of a symbolic representation of the very system he often criticizes. In this song I very faintly hear criticism of the fashion industry and other superficial symbols that trap the most poor and vulnerable. I like Kanye because he in many ways has mastered the art of representing the irony that is at the heart of this here American capitalistic system. In which it feeds on the work of the poor and turns the work of the poor into a way of victimizing the very poor people’s voices it is suppose to represent. Its an interesting dichotomy. The authenticity of his argument is always in question, but his passion for creating art that confronts his and our condition, can never be questioned.
Africa is the hardest place to pigeon hole for Africans, because more than anyone we understand the complexity that goes into defining a place of such human diversity using a single noun. For everyone else (meaning outside observers) Africa is a monolithic idea. Its either an exotic excursion into lands populated by animals, and needy deprived uncivilized natives or its a place of unimaginable misery. For me one word that i think captures Africa authentically is “ancient”. no place has had human beings as long as Africa has and i think this more than anything has given this place the exotic status it holds for all men. Its an old ass-place, a place so old that every stone and animal on African soil is a part of mankinds unending but relatively recent story. I was listening to this mix of traditional Ethiopian tunes, when i was caught up in the frenzied ancient quality of the songs being played. They all possessed a purity of spirit and intent that rivals anything we hear today.
First time I ever sat down to listen to a piece of music that made me close my eyes, and take me away was when my ears were anointed by the sounds of the Notorious B.I.G.
I haven’t always been a music fan or lover. I was like most people hearing but not listening. I was attracted to the images that hip hop was associated with, not so much the music. I loved me some D.M.X, ,Nas and Mobb Deep largely because these cats were in major rotation on B.E.T at the time. I had always known biggie and had life after death the album around growing up but I never listened to it. Then one time I was in my Bone Thugs & Harmony phase, and I heard the “Notorious thugs” joint on disc two of life after death and I was just blown away by the bone thugs. Then I accidentally skipped to a song called long kiss goodnight. It’s a creepy song on every level very lyrically intense, filled with ominous references to death and the use of complex wordplay delivered effortlessly over a beat that sounded like it was produced by a mad man. The song was a perfect amalgam of emotional texture, wordplay and lyrical complexity. Lines like “I make your mouthpiece obese/ like dela reese” were mind boggling for my young ass. I was a huge Pac fan too but Pac never challenged my intellectual faculty like that. Pacs vocabulary was mundane and crass at best, but big could be crass and highly intellectual like a Richard Pryor. Life after death became my life’s soundtrack for almost a year.
In becoming a biggie fan I discovered the beauty that is inherent in music of all forms. To me biggie is the perfect artist not rapper but artist. I tell people this all the time, Pac was an icon of sociopolitical relevance and transcended hip hop in that sense. Biggie was a master of his craft, if you listen to Ten Crack Commandments you are listening to a master of his craft at work. Biggie was effortless in the same vain as a Rakim or a Big Daddy Kane, his wordplay and diction were above average and rivaled many rappers in the game. His ability to create complex imagery using words and little devices like cadence made him a poet. I keep bringing up pac because everyone wants or likes to compare them. Yet biggies hip hop equals are only Big Daddy Kane and Rakim. Big was far better than Pac ever was when it came to lyricism.
WHY IS HE THE GREATEST?
The term greatest is a qualitative statement it can’t be quantified. There is no measure; there are no statistics or points with which one can very accurately say B.I.G was the Illest/greatest. For me a great emcee needs to encompass all the accolades that making emcceing/rapping an art form. These attributes include:
Wordplay/Diction: wordplay is how an emcee chooses to use the English language as a tool to convey ideas and emotions in his music. Even great song writers like Bob Dylan or joni Michele. Wordplay can be described as wit in some places. Diction on the other hand is word choice, based on vocabulary. Rakim established this precedent he went academic on rappers he choose to use scientific terminology to show emcees that rapping was a craft that required an adept attention to detail. Biggie used terms and phrases picked from popular culture,comic books,comedy,science and film. He was very adept at making a bunch of references to random cultural ideas at lightning speed or doing it subliminally so that even for me every once a while I hear something and I realize what he was referring to in hindsight. This as a skill is really something very few emcees have done as well as biggie did it.
Storytelling: In rap this is creating a descriptive narrative in your music, in basic English telling a story in a song. Its telling a story that has a plot and an established timeline. The sickest storyteller in hip hop has to have been slick rick, yet BIG definitely took slick ricks wit and propensity for engaging banter and created a story telling ability that is unrivaled in rap today or forever. Very few greatest emcee contenders have ever really achieved this. Jay-z on 99 problems, Eminem on stan, Nas on rewind. Storytelling in rap is particularly difficult because your abilities as a story teller hinge on the complexities of your plot creating skills. Biggie called himself the Hitchcock of Hip Hop, the first time I heard that name dropped in a hip hop rhyme; he created stories that contained subplots and strange weird twists. He infused these plots with his own comedic wit and manipulation of audience expectation and comedic timing. His stories range from funny in songs like “Story to tell” to hip hop crime noir in “Somebody got to die”. Biggies albums all were well done and run in a narrative manner that make listening to life after death or ready to die an eargasmic experience.
Emotional complexity: Tupac was a very emotional complex dude in his ability to bare his soul on record and give you a firsthand view of how he felt. Yet pac communicated emotional complexity largely through feeling and not so much through play with words. Pac as a rapper was very heavy on feel and tonal manipulation. Both of them were but more pac than big. With pac you could really feel the menace in his voice less than his words. Biggie was a wordsmith and delivered emotion in a very blunt unrestrained manner that made some of his most emotional lyrics some of his most controversial. At one point in a song on ready to die he describes himself robbing and beating a pregnant woman. Something abhorrent in any social context yet he pulls it off because he is using it as an artistic device. An artistic device to give his audience a graphic first hand realization of the lengths young males in the inner city will go to get money. His songs on ready to die are very nihilistic and dark. His wordplay almost always harkens to an ominous sense of foreboding. In ready to die he truly made you feel like his back was against the wall and he was a young man who was in a mental state in which he is ready to die for his survival.
Flow/Delivery: Big on ready to die wasn’t flowing on many songs; he was screaming rapping in a style associated with cats like Ice Cube at the time. The style was menacing and in some ways disorienting. Then in life after death he slows down and begins to mouth his words in a very clean cut unruffled style. He pronounces every word with an effortless breeziness that reminds me a bit of slick rick. He does this even when he is at his most menacing in tracks like “Who shot ya”. Biggies flow is second only to Rakim in how his words seem to go so well to with the beat that it’s almost like he is singing. Flow is something that made big very unique as an emcee very few cats sounded like or could sound close to biggie.
These to me are the reasons biggie smalls is the Illest
3/9/97 WE LOST THE SICKEST RAPPER TO EVER TOUCH A MICROPHONE
Truth & Soul records, a label I have been keeping my eye own for the past five years. The label that blessed me with the El Michels band, Aloe Blacc & the Whitefield brothers all critical components of my collection. Then in 2013 a devastatingly bland year musically they served up this dish. Two nubian-nymphetes, with equally divine pipes singing over blissful and in control soul music, brightened my day and made 2013 easier to swallow. Nicole Wray an United States sister and Miss Terri Walker a UK sister creating transatlantic magic not only on this single but also on their album the self-titled lady.
I do not own the rights to this video. This video is the property of Atlantic Records 2013
The crisis of black music today is not the content being racy. I say its that true creativity is dead. Gone are the days when black musicians took you on journeys through parallel universes and defied the laws of gravity through elaborate costumes and presentations. Today we are alive in the Zombiefied world of keeping too-real, which ironically is normally not real at all. Then we have Janelle Monae a breath of fresh air, an Oasis in a desert of Zombiefied thugs and unrepentant vulgar hootchie-mamas. She struts her stuff, sings and even out-raps most the people on B.E.T & M.T.V. Then to add to the already knockout punch that is this song, she recruits another black-exile, Miss Erykah Badu. This song is everything from Prince to Sly-Outkast.
Download from Itunes Here