“It’s Music, its spirituality; they’re really one and the same to me.”In a discussion about rap it was repeated to me that the art form was dead. It's a cop out that has been floating since before Nas decided to decry it with his Def Jam debut but it begs the question what defines the death of an art form? Nas didn't have the answer and neither do I. I do have some hot tracks for you that caught my ear in December. Surprisingly just as the year was coming to a close I was still finding some fresh rap and routinely disproving my own criticisms of the years Hip Hop offerings.
The first three tracks here fall into that category. Aarophat & Illustrate have been making noise for years and uniting as Black Noise sounds great. Hip Hop that is jazzy and smoothed out but still thumps. The Dynas come through for a guest verse and it sounds like they have been riding together from day one. Chops grabs an old a cappella from the Drake and Nickelus F sessions and turns “Look At The Ice” into a party anthem. The screaming repetition on the hook and Chops celebratory beat reel you and then Drake's pre Wayne tainted flow closes the deal.
The Internet has provided any number of regional artists the opportunity to spread their brand. Generally it doesn't mean much other than (if you are lucky) a few thousand extra downloads. I'm a sucker for a great cover, name or concept and C.B.News had the former with a solid line of guests and an introspective title. Nothing more than your typical emcee from any borough is pretty much what he amounts too yet the tape isn't without some stellar moments. Skyzoo holds down a verse and Infinite Tracks laces the beat that starts with a haunting piano melody before the drums drop and News deep voice has you feeling like you are running away from hell.
And as if to emerge from the darkness the following track comes courtesy of Pinch from his 07 release Underwater Dancehall. “Angels in the Rain” is a serene and passive piece of mellow dubstep work that shows how versatile the “genre” is and how far across the spectrum a producer can take his tunes. Capturing Indi Kaur's vocals behind what I can only describe as a waterfall adds a mystical quality to this track that is certainly one of the most melodic and trance inducing pieces of music I've heard all year.
Of course I love my Jet Set Hip Hop and the track of the moment has been and remains to be in my mind “Icing” from the lovely ladies in Thee Satisfaction and Mr. OC Notes. Words don't do this less than 2 minute jam justice but from OC's beat that features a great piano (sample?) chord with some grimy and gritty drums and the voices of all involved. This is beautiful music.
Rakim dropped a pile of mediocrity in The Seventh Seal which shouldn't be surprising but is none the less a disappointment. The man is doing exactly what he wants with his music though and that is admirable. If you want a good review of the album check this. The track that I couldn't escape from the album was “Put It All To Music” which could easily be the soundtrack to my life as I can't go more than a few hours without some sounds in my ears. Rakim crafts an upbeat song all about they joys of having music in your life. Music lovers across the board should be able to relate to this.
Nacho Patrol dropped a 12” towards the end of last year that caught a little bit of attention but was underwhelming. “Mind World” was one of the four songs contained on the single and from the opening creepy sounds you know something special is about to happen. Sounding like it's straight out of the Fela! soundtrack and by the man himself is only half the achievement. Put this on and vibe out.
Mazarati is a group Dam Funk hipped me too and I'm glad he did. Thank you Mr. Funk for once again shedding the light on some much deserving baby making music. Sometimes the slow jams are fitting and “I Guess It's All Over” shows the band crafting a melancholy melody capturing the mood of lost love perfectly. Music to feel.
Wu-Tang off shoot Think Differently dropped the second compilation in their Wu meets Indie series and this time they prove to be ahead of the curve lacing a number of Wu bangers with beats from some of the hottest Dubstep and electronic producers doing it right now. Scuba Synthe utilizes the pain and anger in the vocals of Bronze Nazareth, Solomon Childs & Byata with a slow and hollow beat with almost bassless drums that carry no reverb that accentuates the seriousness of “Street Corners” - espeically on the closing verse from Byata when she opens chillingly spitting “The first seed of a dope fiend she ADD/Needle park offspring bourgeoisie wannabe/While her siblings is rich living she ain't bitching/Mamas working 2 jobs trying to maintain a living.”
Can't get to depressing around here though! DJ Shadow dropped this little mash up some time in his life span as a musician and it has just recently entered my frame of reference. Taking a great funk instrumental (Let's take bets – is this a Shadow beat or one of those rare 45s he is famous for?) and placing Tears 4 Fears “Shout” a cappella behind it. If this doesn't put a smile on your face and a swing in your step you might have no pulse. I think this is about to be my new early morning rising jam.
I always loved me some Blueprint and like many I've been curious where he has been (aside from that Greenhouse joint he and Illogic just dropped – You up on that? Cop it here) and I must not have been the only one. From BK-One's stellar Radio Do Canibal project “Blue Balls” is Print at his storytelling best relaying the ills of sampling and the fears the courts have instilled in our artists. He also addresses the oft forgotten fact that “What you think is great/I think is just alright/And what I think is great you might think ain't tight/It's just music man/Ain't no right or wrong/No formula can teach people how to write a song/No guarantee that the people gonna like a song.” Real talk that might save a lot of your so called artists some trouble.
Mr. FileJerk Astronomar hipped me to BC dubsteppers Excision and Datsik but it wasn't until I heard Darwin drop it at the Cudi show that it really hit me just how heavy it is. The shit knocks and if an emcee were to ever attempt to fuck with it and succeed? DAMN. But as it is the instrumental is a beast. With grimey, mechanical like synths, drums and so much BAAAASSSSSSS not even Uncle Luke would know what to do “Swagga” is the hardest thing out right now.
Dizzee Rascal continues to grow on me exponential. After learning the back story to his most recent album I gained a lot of respect for the dude and the fact of the matter is he makes some great music. The grime isn't as prevalent on Tongue N Cheek, in fact my selection “Chillin Wiv Da Man Dem” sounds like it could be a vintage Pete Rock beat and Diz takes the opportunity to relay the joys of just kicking it with your boys.
Guido just appeared out of nowhere to me having seen his name associated with Joker over at RA but never hearing anything from the man I just wrote him off. Damn what a mistake that was. This guy isn't on Joker's wavelength. He is in his own fucking dimension. Crafting what I could only dub Sythensizer Blues music for the next generation “Beautiful Complication” with Aarya is that crack you need in your life.
Rappers rarely impress on stage. I'm not trying to sound jaded, but after you've seen a fair few perform it all starts to seem the same. This is one of the many reasons the Hip Hop in Seattle is on and cracking: Live Performance. The live performance is what got me talking about Stevie Crooks. This dude blew my mind at Vera in the last year. Coming out on stage in a ski mask this tall and lanky dude emerges just spewing bars at the crowd. It was one of those moments when you know that rap is the shit you need and love. After a stellar set I had to have some music to bump. It took a bit but I found his free tape and the shit is just as fresh as his set and the bars are still in tact. Grabbing Ahmad & Jamal's “Back In The Days” beat Mr. Crooks handles it with ease and makes me think about being a kid again.
Sooner or later I'm gonna get to listening to this Lovage album I found forever ago. You'd think that after finding such a beautiful track like “Stroker Ace” I'd be all over the rest of it but I'm not. I can't escape “Ace.” It's haunting in all the right ways. With the trade mark trip hop drums and stellar vocals along with an assortment of samples and instrumentation it's something I'm glad I've heard.
Speaking of Astronomar earlier, how about his own jam “Rock The Boogie”? This shit is bananas! Chopping MJ to perfection and killing the beat with change ups and awesome drums throughout, I can't wait to hear this get a spin in a club. I see it doing nothing but make the roof blow off that motherfucker! Get your dance on.
Before things get too hot thanks to Mar, let's slow it down with Platnum. I know next to nothing but she is on Sonar Kollectiv the ever inventive German label that dropped A Christmas Selection this past holiday season and with my mission to establish a solid collection of good Christmas music I had to check it. “Drink My Wine” is beauty like an old painting. Or a vintage dress. Or a dusty Al Green record. You can hear the dubbed in dust lightly in the background of the song yet I'm not even mad. It only helps create the atmosphere for her low voice to pierce your consciousness and make you care. Heavy but oh so necessary.
And to keep it in the mellow mood how about them They Live cats? That They LA Soul getting bumped in your whip? I need to burn a copy for the ride. But you can rest assured it's working it's way up the play count list in the iTunes. “They Live, They Love, They Leave” caught me with the sample but then as it continues on you discover so much more to it. From Infamous Cool Kid's over dubbing vocals in the background to Gatsby's super laid back first verse, I love this song. You will too. Get They LA Soul.
The closing track to this months heatrocks comes from Grizzly Bear/Neon Indian. Neon Indian had an album, Psychic Chasms, in 09 that was worth the price of admission. Sadly I chose to neglect the genius, missing him while in town. Grizzly Bear I know nothing about (other than that video of Jay-Z watching them) but I've seen them on some year end lists and they are on Warp, may be worth a listen. Any voices one way or another for them? Either way this Neon Indian remix of “Cheerleader” is fucking brilliant. Reminding me of all the things that made Dam Funk's Animal Collective “Summertime Clothes” remix special and adding some heavy synth change ups make this more head noddable and club friendly. Both pluses in my book!
Thanks for riding with me for another month. I'm excited for 2010, having a job is a big ego boost and having a team around you that is always busy and pushing you forward is a great feeling. I look forward to this year being better than the last. See you next month.
Get them heatrocks!