Monday, August 31, 2009

Curren$y & Wiz Khalifa "How Fly" Review

Two of Hip Hop’s best kept secrets found each other, seemingly through a thick haze of weed smoke – stoners do tend to unite. While Curren$y did enjoy a brief moment of semi fame rolling with Lil' Wayne, he left for potentially greener pastures (addressed splendidly on “S.D.L”) and has been steadily on his grind with the Fly Society behind him. Wiz Khalifa on the other hand has been making a name for himself on both the blog scene and the tour circuit, although he hasn’t made it out to the North West yet. His hustle never did seem appreciated by Warner Brothers who saw a star years ago when they signed him, but sit on the shelf he did until finally gaining his freedom just over 2 weeks ago.

Independent is the way to roll and these two obviously share more in common than a fetish for the greenery, fresh kicks, and designer labels. The album gives you much of what you would expect and some of what you might not have. The beats are rocking almost all the way through, some however leave much to be desired as the drums just aren’t has heavy as these two need.

Wiz carries himself well. He is confident in his voice and flow and knows the lane he is aiming to fill. Riding these beats you have to ask yourself what WB was thinking with letting dude sit. Their loss as it can only mean we get to hear him more. Curren$y on the other hand has that laid back southern swagger, obviously, but don’t be quick to lump him entirely into that category as you will be at times convinced you are hearing a kid straight off a Harlem corner.

With these two together there isn’t much room for serious talk and this makes it that much better when they do take a time out to address something important. The title sums up what they are going for with this project. How fly are you? These two are flying. But unlike so many hipsters who can’t talk to you if you aren’t with what they define as “cool,” these two don’t seem cocky. They are about their own thing and aren’t interested in the trendy, twice had ideas most put on display.

Of course fly has two meanings. The other topic that commands the majority of their lyrical attention is their love for the sticky green plant. While Cypress Hill, Meth & Red and a few others had the early to mid 90s on lock with songs about getting high that sub genre of Rap has largely disappeared. You can always give shouts to Ev and Alc, of course Red & Meth are still on it, Devin too, but the new class has yet to entirely embrace the idea. Wiz & Curren$y are.

Something else these two have going for them is an energy that is invigorating. This isn’t the conscious raising rap we need more of, but it’s delivered with just as much seriousness and intensity. Through the mic they jump out at you screaming ‘LISTEN TO ME!’ Add to this beats that will certainly keep your head nodding, some clever punch lines and more depth than they are given credit for and you have this release. So roll up if that’s what you do, throw on your crispiest pair and get fly.

Download it here.

And if you missed their hilarious promotional videos check em out here!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Saturday Spin: The KLF "The White Room"

As I learn more about music from the electronic realm it amazes me how little minute details will factor into something being classified as a whole new genre. From what I can learn The KLF were innovators of something dubbed “Stadium House” - house music for stadiums? Listening to The White Room, I can see why although I can imagine stadiums being packed to rock out to this.

The album opens with some interesting vocals over subtle back ground music before flashing into an incredibly up beat house banger with a barely capable emcee riding it. His flow is staggered and feels like everything flowing should not be. While his rhymes aren't bad, nor are they great, his inability to gel with the music is a problem.

“Make it Rain” features none of the lame rapping and a better assortment of drums, synths and back ground vocals – the song feels like it could be perfect for a rainy day and music that conveys feeling like that shouldn't be denied. When they slow it down and let the music relax you can find grooves and sometimes instruments that are attention capturing.

From here we are taken through seven more tracks that fall somewhere in between. The rapper does return periodically for mixed results. While never lacking the total connection to the beat again he still feels out of place over these hyped up massive tracks. Filled with electronic drums, simplistic early 90s synth sounds and some creative use of voice manipulation – I'm unsure if they are using the vocorder or voice box, although I think it's the former.

They deliver huge break downs only to bang you in the head again utilizing string sections to some times cool results. The female vocalists employed here add much more to the tracks they are present on, but this could be as much personal preference as I generally tend to enjoy music from the electronic genres that feature ladies laying it down. Maybe their vocal range is just more fiting? Anyone know a great male singer who gets down on some electronic tunes?

The White Room isn't a bad album, but it is certainly dated. It was intended to have a companion disc, The Black Room, that was going to be darker and more ominous – that would be something I'm interested in hearing. As for this album, it's been an experience to hear it and today it shall be filed away. There are elements here that show some great expertise in programing and perhaps even what it took to rock a crowd almost 20 years ago.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Q & A with Othello

In a dark parking spot behind Rotture on the final day of the PDX Pop Fest 2009 I climbed into Othello's (of Lightheaded) whip to chop it up with him about the town, Hip Hop and music. A laid back dude, he had a lot to say and was a great conversationalist. After seeing him rock a set the night before at The Someday Lounge, I knew the Lightheaded reunion that was about to take place on stage (above picture is from there set) was gonna be something special. They rocked it right and had the crowd going crazy - which I can't say I saw much of the rest of that night. Allow me to introduce to you Othello.

Q: Where are the three members of Lightheaded living at the moment?
A: I'm living in Beaverton. Braille is living in Beaverton, actually right next door [Braille has since announced he will be moving to San Marcos, CA towards the end of the year]. We share the same wall. We got these town house type spots in Beaverton. We ended up moving into the same neighborhood at the same time. Ohmega is up in Seattle. Right when I moved back here from Michigan, he moved about a month before up there. Yup, Braille and I next door neighbors and Ohmega up there.

Q: Has that made progress happen on the Lo-Fi Heights project?
A: Yes and no. Not as much as it needs to be coming to an end and being wrapped up cause we've been working on it for the last three years. It's been difficult because I was in Michigan and the way Lightheaded operates it just takes all of us to be in the same place. We've made a lot of progress but it hasn't been consistent or consecutive, just here and there. It'll get done, slowly but surely.

Q: Are you guys all working on solo projects then?
A: Yeah. Ohmega is working on a project with Regan Fykes called M64. Braille just finished a record with Symbolic One of Strange Fruit Project, he put that out a few months ago – Cloud Nineteen, and he is working on a new record – Audibly Enhanced Dreams. It's really sweet, kind of eclectic record. Very theme driven. I just finished a record with DJ Vajra out of Denver, Colorado and got a few other projects I'm working on. If I were to go through the list it'd be no wonder why Lightheaded isn't getting done. I don't want to put myself on blast. [laughs]

Q: Given all of the different locations you guys have lived and toured too, what is it you have seen elsewhere that the Portland scene needs to step forward and keep on growing?
A: To be honest, I think that is a question for a lot of other places. Portland is already really healthy. Really the people that make up the scene here share a common goal and that is to see the city to succeed. I remember a few years ago when Lifesavas first got put on and they were making all this noise and all of a sudden there was a lot of attention. Then Boom Bap Project got picked up by Rhymesayers and then people started paying attention to the Northwest like there are some good artists out there Hip Hop wise. Cool Nutz has been playing over here for a long time and there are a few cats that are really starting to make a name for themselves. I think that Portland sets a good standard for a lot of scenes because there is a lot of camaraderie here and people kind of network and keep up together, where as a lot of scenes there are really really good artists but the community might be so spread out that nobody really networks the way they should. Portland really does set a good example of a city that is healthy as far as people always hate on their own place like oh such and such needs to do this, or this venue needs to do this more but really in comparison to a lot of scenes Portland is pretty healthy.

Q: What is the relationship with Tres Records? Was it beneficial and are you guys still working with them?
A: Yeah it was very beneficial. Any opportunity we seize as a whole and as individuals we see as lucrative to one degree or another whether it be getting us in front of a new audience or expanding what we already have and that is pretty much what Tres was able to offer and they believed in what we did. A bunch of great guys, Thes One is kind of the godfather of it and they were passing through Portland, him and J-Live and they heard our set – we opened up and Thes was like 'Yo we should talk.' I'm like yeah let's talk. Some boys of mine are starting this label up called Tres, they're putting out 12 inches and they are looking for artists. And the story goes, they ended up picking us up and putting out Wrong Way and we are working on Lo-Fi Heights now.

Q: The Northwest and Oregon especially aren't really centers of attention for the media, for the rest of the country, how does that influence the art that comes from the town?
A: I've been in and out for the last five to six years. For me coming back it's definitely changed and I know there is a lot more focus being put on Portland. Like last night at the gig with Tony Ozier there was like four or five people in there from Michigan, two of which I knew back in Michigan who were just visiting on a trip like 'I want to come check it out, this place is amazing – Utopia man! It's like you ride a mountain bike up the street, then come to the Hip Hop shop and then go to your local coffee stand. It has a lot to offer!' I think it's one of the country’s best kept secrets. Even though Nike is from here and Intel does there thing here, it's so up in the far Northwest it just kind of remains untapped but slowly but surely it's becoming a really hip city and people are coming from all over the world to live here and I think it's only a matter of time before it starts getting a whole lot of shine. But it's like you know when you take somebody who is attention hungry and you give them attention and they just feed off of it and sometimes they just become beasts. If I look at Portland like being a person, it doesn't seem like Portland is really attention hungry. It’s like that person who is cool, calm, collect, is confident in what it's able to do. I got my thing together, I have a lot to offer, I work hard and you know if you want to feature me, or talk about me, or take pictures of me that's cool but I'm not going to let it go to my head. I think that is kind of where Portland is, there is a lot of level headed people here.

Q: You just moved out from Michigan, given how the Detroit scene is thriving right now did you make some connections in that town while living there?
A: Yeah. Everybody from One Be Lo, we became really good friends. Black Milk, Buff1, The whole AML crew, Now On, there's a lot of people. Ran into Guilty a few times. Octane & Illite. There are a lot of talented individuals, the thing about Detroit, I don't want to say it's like crabs in a bucket – it's not that. It’s just that there are a lot of people doing it. It is a hot bed for talent and motivation, not in the sense of mountains and trees and these beautiful things to look at, but hardships and struggle and factories and blue collar working and getting by and that struggle produces what I would say is some of the best music that has ever been. It really changed the world from Stevie Wonder, to Grand Funk Railroad, Simon & Garfunkel, and Dilla, Diana Ross and you think about it and it's so much stuff. It's an interesting place, it's inspiring to me in different ways cause you see people take that struggle and make something amazing out of it.

Q: Is there mutual artistic relationships across genres in the Portland music scene or is it kind of like the Hip Hop guys are doing their thing, the rockers are doing their thing, etc?
A: You see people collaborate ever now and then. Here's the thing about it, I think the live musicians – I don't think there'll be a lot of hybrid records between, like, Vursatyl is doing a record with Viva Voce, but they'll collab on songs, or like Ohmega Watts does some stuff with Viva Voce and there's some people that are kind of like avant-garde like it's just music, it's not necessarily Hip Hop it's just some music and they will collaborate with different artists. You see that especially with some of these musicians they be playing in a rock band, then a funk band, then a Latin band and they kind of get around all over the place so it's especially true within the music community as far as musicians go, like actually playing the instruments. When it comes to Hip Hop it's here and there. There's collaborations but not like oh did you hear these guys got together with these guys and they gonna do a record – I ain't hearing much of that. But I definitely know there is a mutual respect there.

Q: What is your favorite Hip Hop record of all time?
A: Oh man that change’s all the time.

Q: At this moment in time.

A: At this moment. The other day, I have to admit, I played Common's One Day it Will All Make Sense and I was just thoroughly impressed, again! I had the tape when I was younger and I used to bust it in my walkman on the bus. Somebody had it on their iPod and I was like man I need to listen to this again. I was just like man! Common was just seriously spitting, the songs, the beats. So I would say right now this week Common's One Day It'll All Make Sense - probably one of my favorite records.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Slaughterhouse "Slaughterhouse"

After all the hype, video blogs and constant internet chatter Slaughterhouse united for an official album. What began as what looked like drunken chatter in the lab between Joe Budden, Royce Da 5’ 9” and Joell Ortiz turned into a number of scathing tracks (“Move On,” “Fight Club,” etc.) and talk of a super group album. But like so many previous talks of collaborative albums dropping I’m unsure how serious people took them. Earlier this month all the doubters were silenced as the four headed monster came through to deliver the official self titled album.

While the hype placed fairly large expectations on this release, if there were ever four emcees who could live up to them it is these guys. Prior to the album dropping they all took time to assure the masses that the album would be surprising and demonstrate different sides from the team. Not entirely clear on what this meant, the album pretty much delivers exactly what it is we have come to expect from these guys – four of the truest emcee’s in the game boding bars. No surprises here.

Backed by a mix of known and unknown beat makers the record plays front to back with little let up of energy. If you are only vaguely familiar with how Crooked, Royce, Budden and Ortiz carry it, you are in for a treat. If you have followed any one of their careers in depth you are in for an introduction to three other like minded rappers who embody what it means to practice this art.

Hip Hop in its current state has artists trying all kinds of new things and pushing the boundaries of what it is that defines the music. You won’t find any of that here, instead be prepared to travel back in time to an era when all that mattered was if you could land a quotable in The Source. It’s not ground breaking or genre changing. It’s just rhyming at its purest.

This isn’t a bad thing but it dates the material from the jump. We’ve heard it all before. These guys have a skill at taking it too the mic more ferocious than anyone in the game. While this could prove to be a problem for anyone foolish enough to attempt a beef with them, it’s far from what warrants repeat listens.

You might rock this album from time to time; you might even give it regular play from now until the New Year. But few cuts here contain much beyond the braggadocios “I’m better than everyone” swag which does little for my mind as I scroll through my iTunes looking for what I want to put on.

(Let's hear more like this?)

When they do break out of this mold you will be given a thoughtful song like “Pray (It’s A Shame)” about the struggles they have faced. While slightly gripping, it still falls victim to the heard it before syndrome. Recycled ideas are tired. No matter how clever your bars are, if the sentiments of your past peers are all you can deliver you should hang up the mic or plan on pleasing a niche market that isn’t ready to move on.

Slaughterhouse isn’t bad, it’s boring. These four hold immense talent yet chose to do what they’ve been doing which could be why they aren’t much further ahead of where they were as solo artists prior to the formation of the group. Sure they have probably all expanded their individual fan bases, however minimally, and they have a unified team to work with behind the scenes which for all of them has proven a down fall in the past. For four as talented individuals to not be aiming for the greatness that comes with transcendence of the past is a disappointment.

But there is always round 2.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

IAME: The Questions & The Answers

So I dropped off a little article meets review (of his new album I Am My Enemy which you need to peep if you haven't) on IAME Thursday night and now, as promised here is the full Q&A transcript. I hope you enjoyed the article and gain some insight into one of Portland's up and comers.

Q: Can you introduce yourself and give a quick history lesson of the Sandpeople?
A: My name is IAME. Basically as Sandpeople go, it was crew that started about 2004-2005. It was originally me, Moby and Simple we had a group called Red Shield and that was like the first project that I was ever involved in seriously outside of just messing around – the first album that I put out. Shortly after that period we started working with more artists within the region and decided to do a bigger crew effort and so we did this album.

This album was the very beginning stages of the group, it wasn’t like we became this group and then made an album – the group was still getting defined when we made the first album. There were some people on that first album that haven’t been able to commit to being in a group. But we’ve also gotten some new members like this dude Only1 who was a younger cat in the group. Then we got Illmaculate who was pretty well known for the battles, he became a part of the crew after the second album.

I did a solo album in 2005 and was getting a lot of production work from a couple cats in Oldominion like smoke and Zebulon dak. They lived in a house with Sleep and Syndel and we were just kicking it a bunch and there was a real good connection between all of us. Once I started getting more established a couple more cats in Oldominon took notice and it was a just a natural thing that I join with that group too.

Q: What was your progression from the first album to this tighter packaged second album?
A: This album took a lot of planning. I started working on music right away after Noise Complaints. I still don’t really stop, I’m working on new music right now but when you are trying to sell an album it takes away from the time you can spend in the studio. A lot has changed since the first album. My first album was something I really wanted to get out there. I made the album with the money it took to press it. There was no campaign, I just got it pressed and started trying to get on as many shows as I could. It was a very basic approach that most starting off musicians do.

There was a lot I was trying to accomplish with that album, I feel like it has some strong work. I feel like I’ve grown a lot as an artist since then and just gotten a better sense of who I am as an artist since then. After Noise Complaints I was working on new stuff just trying to work in a general direction of doing a new album and I would keep coming up with new ideas for what that album would be called. Eventually I started doing some songs over some Sap beats that I had and it had a certain feel that some of the other beats from other artist were missing so it made more sense to lump all the Sap beats together – he’s a fucking incredible producer.

I was able to craft this idea that I was gonna use these beats and I had him produce some more for me. Then I came up with the idea of I Am My Enemy. That was kinda how the album concept came about – it was just sort of a lot of planning for making a new album and trying to come up with something and then it just came to me.

Q: You mentioned being part of Oldominon and right now the Seattle scene is flourishing. Is the Portland scene taking some cues from that or is it trying to do it’s own thing?
A: There has been a strong connection, in terms of just the Northwest as a whole. We are so close together, like Seattle to Portland, it’s hard to not be intertwined. I know that Portland has a real dope scene and I know that Seattle has a real dope scene. It’s not exactly like if you have a strong Seattle fan base you’ll have a strong Portland following and vice versa. There are a lot of dope artists in both cities and the kind of place that you can go and see familiar faces. There are always talented artists around, but there is also a lot of saturation in both cities. Both cities do have large Hip Hop scenes and Portland in general even has a bigger music scene, rock scene, outside of the Hip Hop scene.

[Onry Ozzborn interjects “Fuck IAME” – also asks for load in time for the show]

That was just one of my fans!

Portland has this big Rock scene and stuff and it makes it interesting to do Hip Hop here because it’s not as embraced as well as the Rock music and stuff. I think there is a big population out here that are into a lot of stuff and open minded about stuff but the words local and Hip Hop don’t really register as anything. But then you go out and artists that are able to gain some success outside of the city of Portland, then they kinda gain more popularity within there own city. Like Sandpeople and Oldominon have gotten out as much as we can, touring and stuff and just trying to spread the name in other states and other countries. I think that there are people in Portland & Seattle that are constantly taking notice, it just keeps growing and growing. I think as city Portland embraces the Rock a little bit more, stands behind those artists a little bit more. It’s got some advantages and disadvantages. I think part of the reason why there is a lot of good Hip Hop and music in general is because it’s not a LA or New York. I mean Portland isn’t even a Seattle. There isn’t a lot of industry so to make our music stand out and get noticed we have to be really competitive and really make something that takes notice. You can’t really get by on being average.

Q: You talk about getting written about on blogs, I’ve seen you guys on 2dopeboyz. Are you guys wholeheartedly embracing the blogs as kinda like the new radio or is it just something you are tolerating?
A: Despite the fact that it’s a new word and a new social medium the overall concept is nothing new. There is nothing new to people reviewing art and forming opinions about it. I don’t look at it as anything different than that. Doing music and putting it out there means that you have to embrace that kind of shit, you don’t have to agree with everything people say about you. You have to put you shit out there and it’s for people to decide if they like it and if they want to write about it. If that’s something that upsetted someone then you’d be like well why did you even put your music out there in the first place. The interent in general, spreading music the way it does and other forms of media I think that word can travel fast but at the same time you are just a small fish in an extremely large ocean. There is so much shit going on, how do you stand out. To really get noticed you have to spend a lot of money on promotion, publicity and all that shit. So when you are a small independent artist hopefully you can do good enough and get enough feedback from people that somebody starts writing something that makes other people want to listen to it and just take people over one by one.

Q: You talk about coming from the suburbs and moving into the city, were you making music before coming into the city or was it once you got into the town that you really started getting into making your art?
A: I’ve been making music pretty much my whole life – making music is just writing. I have some musical background, but it’s really just as a beginner in everything. I’m just now getting better as a producer and putting out some songs that I’ve actually made the beats for. That’s something I’ve been working on for a long time.

I wrote music for probably four or five years before I was putting shit out. The first CD I put out was that Red Shield shit and that was when I was 19. When I was in High School, 13-17, I was listening to a lot of Hip Hop and writing a lot of Hip Hop but still becoming my own person. I think once I was kinda old enough and had actually gone through some life experiences, I had some actual things to say by the time I was 18-19 and between 17-19 I was just trying to get into the cities Hip Hop scene whatever way I could. I started going to Hip Hop shows when I was younger than that but around 17 was when I actually wanted to try and go out to parties where people were actually rapping at and to get down like that and at first it was just kinda a fun thing to do and a way to express myself, but for me it wasn’t like ‘oh I’m just this loud mouthed dude who wants to be in the middle of the shit.’ Cause some people are like that, just the kind of people that would never rap a day in there life but they are drunk and see a cipher and want to go rap. For me I had been writing my music and it was something I keep to myself. I became more serious about it and it was more about trying to get it out there in front of people. Ever since then, I got a little taste of it, I’ve just been grinding.

Q: Have you seen a large growth from when you first started in Portland to the artists that are active today?
A: Hip Hop wise and even just music in general. Portland seems to be pretty crackin right now. There has always been stuff coming out of Portland that was tight and I think that right now there is just a lot of good stuff in the city.

Q: Are you familiar with Glass Candy?
A: I’ve heard the name.

Q: They are from here, I just started hearing them.
A: Yeah that’s the thing, there is a lot of good stuff out of Portland.

Q: You mentioned making beats, are you sampling and digging?
A: I don’t do much diggin because I just try to get records that seem interesting to me. There’s styles that I’m interested in pursuing and I kinda know where to go to find that those records. It is something I plan to get more and more into as I get older. I would like to be the person who listens to the record before I buy them or just buy a ton of fucking records and just listen to them all the time. I have to balance it with writing, putting out albums for group projects so it gets put on the back burner at times. I wouldn’t say I’m solely a sample based artist. I try to use samples, but I try to use original stuff to. I want all my stuff to have a real sorta grimey sound to it.

Q: I grew up on the southern Oregon coast and was always into Hip Hop, but it was pretty late that I started to discover that there was Hip Hop coming from the area. At what point did you make that discovery? Who were those artists?
A: Oldominon was one of the first and Lifesavas too. There are cats that are holding it down in Portland and in the Northwest in general and there are a lot of people who have gotten popularity as of late. But I would say some of the most well known Hip Hop still comes from Oldominon, Lifesavas, Cool Nutz and Sandpeople as of late. When I was first starting to get into underground Hip Hop I got into some stuff from LA and the Bay Area and a lot of east coast Hip Hop. Some of the first Hip Hop concerts that I went to were more underground East coast artists like the Roots or something like that. I would see cats out hustling, promoting there stuff and one of those guys was Owl One (from the Sandpeople) and he was in this group called The Chosen and they were a live band. They were real dope. That was one of the first Portland Hip Hop things that I was bumping.

Q: Do you approach your writing for a Sandpeople record differently than for your solo projects?
A: Not really. I think that I try to accomplish a lot with the solo stuff that I wouldn’t get to do with a group project because you kinda just have to play your part. If you are doing group shit you can kinda organize and be like lets do this and that and get other people to rally behind your idea. But with a solo record you can do whatever you want. I kinda just try to do all the things that would seem a little too over controlling – I got this this idea, this idea, this idea. When you are working in groups, some things pan out and some things don’t so you just keep a little list in your head and start forming ideas of stuff you are gonna do on your own that you can only really do on your own. As far as the actual writing style I try to be as well rounded no matter what I’m working on.

Q: Whats in your tape deck or iPod that you are listening to right now?
A: Sleep’s new record is pretty fucking dope and Sapient’s newest record. Obviously they are both in my crew. I’m not just saying it because I have to, they are both really dope fucking records. I like that new Blaq Poet album.

Q: Primo beats?
A: Yeah for real you can’t go wrong with that, it’s always been some of my favorite shit. I’m trying to think of anything else new I’ve been bumping.

Q: Anything outside of Hip Hop?
A: No, not really. I do listen to stuff and try to absorb it but I don’t pay attention as a fan because I feel like I’m way to busy making music and other life shit. Listening to Hip Hop stuff I do like, there is not like a ton of stuff outside of Hip Hop I can say oh I’m feeling this. It’s not to say there isn’t tight shit out there that I wouldn’t feel, I just can’t think of any.

Q: What’s your favorite Hip Hop album?
A: That’s a good question, I really can’t even say at this point. I don’t know. I really don’t know. There is a lot of good music and things that have been influential in my life at different times, like Mos Def’s first album

Q: Black On Both Sides? You checked The Ecstatic?
A: No I’m sleeping.

Q: He is just continually doing new shit.
A: Outkast has been some of my favorite Hip Hop shit. Aquemini is a great record. Old Organized Konfusion, Phaorhe MOnch is one of my favorite artists. It’s hard for me to say whats my favorite album because if I like an artist and I like what they are doing at the time and I listen to the album and I like most of it its my favorite for awhile and I listen to it and then move on to the next thing. There isn’t any particular album I hold and cherish. There’s just a lot of good fucking artist and good songs.

Q: What’s your favorite drink?
A: [laughs] As of the last half of the year it’s been Jameson. Before that, I get down on the liquor and usually regret it. I was always into beer. I love fucking beer, a good fucking beer. I got introduced to Jameson and was like where the fuck have you been all my life? It’s one of my major vices at this point.

Again many thanks to IAME for taking some time from his sound check to chop it up with me! Shouts to Someday Clothing too!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Saturday Spin: Mr. Cooper "Amongst Strangers"

The drawback to downloading music (when you do it to excess that is) is that even when you hear something you don’t really hear it. You listen to it and then file it away instantly to move on to the next thing you got, like there is some kind of expiration date on the file. While I evidently have heard Mr. Cooper’s 2005 disc Amongst Strangers at some point in the past I can’t remember it, and am only vaguely familiar with his name but for a different album I can’t don’t apparently have… oh the joys of four hard drives and not enough storage space.

Perhaps it’s what he was going for, the album is called Amongst Strangers after all and in my mind while it’s not the most amazing piece of instrumental Hip Hop you have heard in your life it is interesting none the less. Where our last guest in the Saturday Spin column was all over the place pulling sounds out left and right and mashing things together that no one would expect to hear mixed and blended Mr. Cooper takes on a more subdued approach.

With twelve tracks, titled one through twelve (simplicity, if not originality, prevails in Coopers mind), we are given a crash course in your basic sample driven beat tape. While it may be a little to down tempo for some emcees any number of “underground” types could fit over these tracks with ease. Filled with ethereal sounds and dusty drums this is like mellowed boom bap. Not quite so much boom but enough to keep your head nodding.

He does tend to repeat the same pattern building up before dropping the beat out only to bring it back in with a new element and then we see more elements come along as the song progresses. But an evolving song is better than a stagnate one any day of the week.

Cooper also seems to have a thing for guitar driven loops. While I’m unsure if they are samples or live playing (another down side to downloading music) I think it’s a mix of both here. If Mr. Cooper ever reads this and is looking for more guitar driven spooky sounds he should definitely check out Gabor Szabo as he is probably the king of eerie Jazz guitar melodies. Hell you should check him out too, especially if you enjoy what Mr. Cooper has done here with his relaxing beats.

Put this on late at night and zone out – you might see some things in the sounds you weren’t prepared for. Or you might just nod along to the steady percussive features and find yourself asleep. Either way I think you may find some enjoyment listening to this disc, as repetitive as it can feel it always has a hint of change lurking in the background.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

IAME "I Am My Enemy"

Upon my arrival to PDX I almost instantly heard talk about the massive Sandpeople collective. I’d heard the name throughout my time in Seattle, but was never confronted with there music like I was once I relocated to their stomping grounds (thanks in large part to my room mate). While the crew as a whole can be heard on their impressive EP Long Story, Short from earlier this summer original member IAME dropped his sophomore full length in July and has steadily been on a mission since to spread the word about his music, his crew and our town.

“Portland has this big Rock scene and stuff and it makes it interesting to do Hip Hop here because it’s not as embraced as well as the Rock music,” says IAME. While the music may not be what first comes to mind when one thinks about Oregon, the almost five year long journey he and his people have been on seems to be making head way as they continue to make moves across the country.

“There isn’t a lot of industry so to make our music stand out and get noticed we have to be really competitive and really make something that takes notice.”

And take notice we should. With the industry in a state of disarray Sandpeople are unified like the Wu Tang army pushing forward there own brand of hard cutting beats and pure emceeing. No gimmicks here, no hipster parties either. Instead IAME delivers I Am My Enemy, a concise fourteen tracks entirely produced by Sapient – not sure what’s inspired this trend (Blu & Exile, maybe?) but I’m glad it’s continuing.

While Rock music may be what captures the hearts and ears of the Portland masses, should they get a taste of this album they might just be shocked to learn that their town can produce quality Hip Hop too.

Filled with loud drums, ominous tones and sounds, this album has served as the soundtrack to my introduction to Bridgetown. And I find it fitting. While certainly not a mash up of Rock meets Rap, the energy captured on these songs will get any crowd ready to mosh and the scratches throughout the album are so clean it’s as if the DJ is the guitar player taking his show stealing solo performance.

Lyrically you will be addressed by a serious voice that wants you to hear him. “I feel like I’ve grown a lot as an artist since then [Noise Complaints, his debut] and just gotten a better sense of who I am as an artist.”

“No Cure” sees him address all the detractors and anyone who thinks they want to test IAME. Over a great piano riff and an incredibly spooky and subtle vocal sample he demonstrates that raw bravado any emcee needs to succeed but also addresses the hard facts about making it in this business – you have to work, never slacking on your grind.

Slacking is another problem emcees can fall victim too and while IAME isn’t the second coming he sounds good on Sapient’s production and takes time to address matters of importance to him. From his relationship with his grandparents and his upbringing (“Cancer Song”) to his move into the city and departure from the suburbs (“Unlikely Candidate) IAME is a thought provoking emcee which is an admirable quality in today’s mindless entertainment industry.

“At first it was just kinda a fun thing to do and a way to express myself, but for me it wasn’t like ‘oh I’m just this loud mouthed dude who wants to be in the middle of the shit.’ Cause some people are like that, just the kind of people that would never rap a day in their life but they are drunk and see a cipher and want to go rap. For me I had been writing my music and it was something I keep [sic] to myself. I became more serious about it and it was more about trying to get it out there in front of people. Ever since then, I got a little taste of it, I’ve just been grinding.”

The drunk kid may be the one with the iTunes hit, but with his skills and dedication coupled with the grinding work ethic IAME will be the one with the long lasting career. From writing at an early age to now starting to dive into beat making, he continues to diversify and grow into the artist he wants to be on his own terms.

“You can’t really get by on being average.”

Bonus Throwback Video "The Abyss"

And if you are interested in reading the full Q&A it will be up Sunday for y'all! Many thanks to IAME for taking some time to chop it up with me outside Someday Clothing.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Fresh Espresso "Glamour."

“It's just fucking dope music.”

While the internet debates the legitimacy of this new breed of emcee's and Hip Hop artists I wanna make a distinct effort to get away from titles and labels. Good music is good music and that is what we are all looking for – or at least should be. Our parents generation might still be quick to judge when you utter the double H's but Fresh Espresso is proof that stereotypes and judgments are best left at the door.

I wouldn't advise playing this for your parents, yet I think everyone should hear their debut disc Glamour. as there is something here for everyone. Sure it's rude and loud. It's filled with electronic instruments and some samples. The singing isn't perfect. The flows are. It's high energy. It's life. It's Rik Rude and P Smoov delivering what you've never heard before but have been waiting for.

Filled with more energy than a red bull can, from the moment you hear the bass line open the album on “Espresso” it's clear this album is here to knock. Rik Rude comes in flowing over the simple bass and drum combo about his coffee addiction declaring “I need another cup” just in time for Smoov to drop the synths in. I've never been a coffee drinker but this alone makes me want to be part of the cool kids club who drink French Press and bicker about who has the best cup.

"Diamond Pistols"

The whole album isn't about their coffee fetish though. It is about having fun however and Smoov is determined to keep your head nodding along to his beautifully crated instrumentals (Smoov please take a page from a couple other well known Seattle beat makers and release these by themselves... please!?) you won't ever be bored by the music found on Glamour. Filled with an array of sounds that few are utilizing to as good of results, every track is its own unique experience yet still feels like it's part of something larger than itself. The cohesion that comes with a singular producer is in full effect.

After the up beat party that is “Diamond Pistols” and “Big or Small” they veer left and hit you with “Vader Rap” - the one song I've found people either love or hate. Personally I think it's a hidden gem. Over mashing drums they declare “let's get on the dance floor.” It's certainly a departure from the typical with Smoov singing about seeing her circuit board and Rude making outlandish claims such as he is “vader of the rap game” or that he “invented internet” but I think that is why it's so fun. You have to smile and rock to it – the synth workout throughout doesn't hurt and if you have a pulse it should make you move fulfilling their request and packing dance floors.

They aren't wholly obsessed with the party life however, and thankfully so. Smoov takes a solo turn on “Something New” where he finds time to reflect on the starving artist lifestyle and at the same time boasting about just how good he is, demonstrating that while you may be struggling to live off your art you can know that what you are doing is right and trusting that confidence will lead you in the right direction.
My tracks got more bombs than the cars in Jerusalem
and yeah I made the track
and yes the dude can rap
and yeah I wrote the hook and did the finger snaps and claps
I programmed the drum just so
when the percus roll
your stomach jumps into a somersault
I listen to Donna Summers y'all
[singing] I just want something new
And that is exactly what Fresh Espresso are doing – giving us something new. Some will hate, some will be behind and most of us will be buying the album, rocking it for our friends and playing it loud out our speakers as we cruise down the road, perhaps bringing “Girls and Fast Cars” to life if your lucky.

"Right Here"

While Smoov gets double billing as producer and emcee/singer here, Rik Rude shouldn't be forgotten with his deep voice and impeccable flow he is the perfect fit for the canvases his partner has given him. “Elegant” shows him flexing braggadocios and letting everyone know that he has been on the grind across the country seemingly finding musical contentment on the way. The mood is subdued on the brilliant “We Desire What's Real” - Rude's solo turn and a stunning example of passion being conveyed through verse.
This is my pen
this is my life
at this point music's my wife
what more can I ask for
I'm a libra with a leo
add spice to my life
because i'm a creole
speak to your soul
I got a vision
smoke green til my eyes turn crimson
I keep my head to the sky
even though the skies grey
I know it'd be better days
music's my life today
so long
my spirit is so strong
spirit is so strong
is so strong

This is my life
this is your life
this is so real
this is so chill
we desire what's real

This is my life
this is your life
this is so real
this is so chill
we desire what we feel
Of course they don't end the album on this serious note, but rather bookend the coffee filled intro with the sole guest featuring track (aside from some back up vocalists and a trumpet player) “Coffee Talk.” Mr. Lif and Grieves come through for the perfect summation to an album named after Seattle's most famous product. Lif doesn't even sound like himself and Grieves verse leaves you wondering why he didn't stay in Seattle and at the same time begging to hear whatever it is he has cooking – I'm sure NYC is only inspiring him for the better!

If you are tired of the same retreaded topics and boring nature of Hip Hop today and have been craving something that could be called that next, Fresh Espresso will give you what you've been waiting for. While Hip Hop spirals around, Smoov and Rude have taken a genre that seemed to be at its creative limit and shot off in a new direction by bringing in new sounds, new ideas and incorporating the entire personality of their city, not to mention their own contrasting styles. It may be found in the Hip Hop section at Easy Street but Glamour. is so much more... It's music that everyone needs to hear.

If you haven't seen them live, do it!