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B.o.B ft Andre 3000, Play The Guitar

B.o.B sent shockwaves through 2011 with both his tracks “Airplanes” and “Nothin’ On You”, and it looks like he may be closing out the year with another chart topper–“Play The Guitar” featuring Andre 3000.

The track itself incorporates a very catchy guitar riff, scratch beat and steady drum track. Upon listening, it seems as if a hook is missing and instead the “hook” is a loop of B.o.B saying, “play the guitar”.

It works, but it seems a bit lacking–especially when B.o.B usually has supplied very “hook-centric” tracks in the past.

The instrumental though is right on–it’s part funk, rock and reggae, and the aforementioned “play the guitar” hook really does vibe well with the overall composition of the track.

B.o.B opens up the song with a pretty strong verse but Andre 3000 certainly steals the show with his elaborate verses and unique rhyming style.

Nonetheless the track will serve as a great tune to hear on the radio on your morning commute–or even a track to plug in while you’re going for a nice jog

However, if anything, this song just makes me anticipate an Outkast reunion because Andre 3000 delivers his section with grace and over all perfection.

Give it a spin and tell us whatcha think!

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Album Review/Stream: The Weeknd, Echoes of Silence

 

R&B artist The Weeknd has created quite the buzz in 2011 for his unique sound, digital based releases and mainstream endorsements from the likes of Drake and Lady Gaga.

Throughout the year he has released a “trilogy” of mixtapes with the (massively popular) House of Balloons dropping in March, Thursday dropping in August and now Echoes of Silence hitting the interweb in late December. With over 50,000 downloads on the first day of the release, Echoes of Silence is proving to be another strong testament of Weeknds great talent and innovative nature.

One admirable aspect of Weekends music is his knack and ability to set a “mood”. In the past few decades we have seen artists rely heavily on the “single” as a way to push their work. With this trend catching on, few musicians have treated albums as a piece of art–a lot of albums have started to lack continuity. Fortunately, The Weeknd brings back album continuity and crafts tracks that feed off of one another, ultimately telling a story and setting a captivating ambiance from start to finish.

For instance, House of Balloons told the story of a drug fueled youth making harsh decisions but yet, it’s all they know. He told this story through not only lyrical content, but my production effects and crafty composition.

This is certainly no different for his newest release, Echoes of Silence which has that same “story telling”, ambient feel and beautiful production.

Production wise, the piece is what we would expect from the Canadian singer. The way the tracks are pieced together feature the vocals fading in and out over ambient effects and white noise. Although something like this could easily become a novelty, the effects are delivered masterfully and compliment the vocals in each and every track.

When discussing sound/genre on Echoes of Silence, we are actually treated to something a bit new.

The Weeknd has been praised for his unique sound as he combines R&B, hip-hop and bits of ambient rock. In Echoes of Silence, we start to see Weeknds vocals shine a bit more than usual and we really get a glimpse of his impressive vocal prowess.

Another noticeable feature on the album is that his tracks are a bit more “rock-centric” than usual. Weeknd carefully uses rock based fills to effortlessly carry the songs from one track to the next. This smooth build can be seen in the transition between Initiation and Same Old Song, which uses a bass line and subtle snare beat to switch tracks without killing the flow.

The tracks themselves are some of the best we have seen from The Weeknd!

The album starts off with D.D which is a remake of the Michael Jackson classic, Dirty Diana. Not only are the vocals spot on, but the way the track was produced is simply flawless. Remixes and remakes are terribly intricate and tricky to perfect. You really have to bring something new to the table to pull it off–and The Weekdn definitely gives Dirty Diana a new twist and flavor.

The song incorporates a haunting ambient background and a very passionate singing style–which is in contrast from the passive style we have heard from him in the past. He truly hones in on Jackson and the remake serves as a beautiful rendition and a fitting tribute. The song starts off with very light vocals and quickly builds into clamoring drums, belting vocals and a building bass groove. The production and composition are astounding with great build ups and break downs. If were to only choose one song to listen to this album–it’d be this one! Its some of the best we’ve heard out of all three of his albums.

From D.D the album transitions smoothly into Montreal which is a bit more vocal and story based than D.D. In Montreal, we hear the story of heart break and strange love, which are two common themes found in all of The Weeknds work. The instrumentation is rather simple–a few steady snare beats, a piano and vocals–but the over all outcome is hauntingly beautiful.

Although D.D and Montreal are two of my favorite tracks, every track is crafted perfectly. Although the album was intended to be heard to from start to finish–each track can certainly be enjoyed on its own. This in itself speaks volumes for The Weeknds talent. The “stories” that he is known for are also there as he delivers a drama full of heart ache, frustration and betrayl.

This is definitely a great piece to close up 2011.

Stream the album above or  download the track from his website here.

Enjoy.

Maya Angelou disappointed in Common’s lyrics on his new album.

While the whole world is buzzing over Common’s new release The Dreamer, The Believer, collaborator and poetry legend Maya Angelou isn’t too happy with the result. Angelou, who recites a poem on the track The Dreamer, wags her finger at Common and is disappointed in his word choice on the track.

She tells the NY Post:

“I had no idea that Common was using the piece we had done together on [a track] in which he also used the ‘N’ word numerous times. I’m surprised and disappointed. I don’t know why he chose to do that. I had never heard him use that [word] before. I admired him so because he wasn’t singing the line of least resistance.”

Common was quick to reply with:

“I told her what ‘The Dreamer’ was about and what I wanted to get across to people. I wanted young people to hear this and feel like they could really accomplish their dreams.”

It seems to me that Common used the term, but not in a harmful way. He intended the track to be a meaningful piece for young people, and may have tried to connect to young folks by using some of the lingo that comes with the territory.

Nonetheless, they both remain two poetic masters and both contributed to a fantastic album.

You be the judge and check out the album that dropped December 20th!

Common, The Dreamer, The Believer

 

Hip Hop has qualities that are intrinsically based upon social and political revolution. Hip Hop began as a purely underground phenomena with its roots dating back to 1960 spoken word Jazz poetry–a form of poetry that often touched upon social injustice and contemporary issues of society.

In the coming decades, another revolution would soon occur. This revolution came in the form of DJ culture, which would soon lay the framework for modern day sampling and digital art. DJs began playing records simultaneously, mixing and mashing different instrumental tracks for their wildly popular block parties.

As DJing and Jazz poetry joined forces, we were met with poets using their passion driven rhymes over the funk/disco inspired beats of the DJs. Poets would often use this musical medium to touch upon the civil rights and race issues that were prevalent in 1960-70’s America.

This underground movement grew up and graduated to become modern day Hip Hop music.

So as Hip Hop evolved numerous artists clung to their social injustice roots, commonly writing rhymes that touched on intricate social matters. This evolution occurred in numerous facets–and even today when “pop” driven rap fills the airwaves, there are still a few artists who incorporate that twinge of spoken word poetry and civil movement into their music.

One master of this “poetic” “roots” based Hip Hop is Chicago native, Common. Common commercially busted on the underground scene in 1994 during the hey day of Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur. Despite the popularity of “gangster rap”, Common combined street smarts and a “story-like” flow that would later inspire other Chicago artists such as Lupe Fiasco, Twista, and even Kanye West who was a young protege of Common and his crew.

Even though 1994 was his first commercial release, he still remained fairly underground until a year later when he found himself in an infamous hip-hop feud.

In 1995 Common released the track I used to love H.E.R, in which he described how mainstream hip-hop has degraded women and in turn has created detrimental effects on black culture. Commons bars in the track ignited a feud with NWA rapper, Ice Cube. Cube took some of his bars as a subliminal diss towards West Coast Hip Hop. This feud led to numerous diss tracks being sent back and forth, ultimately ending with Commons track “The Bitch In You” which combined intellectually driven bars with fiery passion and production.

This feud helped to put Common on the map, and his feud with a more mainstream rapper opened up an entirely new fan base for Common. Fans, critics and former Common-bashers garnered a whole new respect for Common and showed the world that his talent was both raw as well as intellectual.

Ever since the 1990’s feud, Common has been know for his street smarts, wisdom and sharp tongue. Common has been notorious in hip hop, slam poetry circuits, production circles and even acting.

For me, I became a fan of Common a bit late in the game. His 2005 release “Be” was everything I wanted in a hip-hop album. Catchy hooks, thought provoking rhymes and excellent production quality. This was also a collaborative effort with his former protege and his good friend, Kanye West.

Earlier this year, after a discussion of our favorite “high school jams” my girlfriend brought up Commons 2005 effort and it soon became the soundtrack to our Spring semester. That spring I also found out that Common was in the studio, working on his new album The Dreamer, The Believer.

So after much anticipation, I finally have sat down with the album and have given it a thorough listen.

The album is a 12 track piece featuring appearences from Maya Angelou, his father Lonnie Lynn, Nas, and John Legend. The album was also produced by his long time collaborator and friend, NO I.D.

The album starts off strong and passionate with the title track, The Dreamer, which features laid back vocals a smooth instrumental and an outro conducting by the great Maya Angelou. The Dreamer greatly personifies the style and genre that Common has masterfully crafted.

Another key track is Sweet which appears to be a diss track and is in the same style of “The Bitch in You”. The title itself is an allusion to rappers that rap and sing about love while using poor metaphors and sugary meaningless lyrics. In a recent interview Common admitted that the track was directed towards Drake and to “anyone else who wishes to take it“.

Raw (How You Like It) changes the feel of the album to more upbeat and passionate. The lyrical based sample meshes perfectly with Commons style and gives off an easy but powerful vibe. The hook is also catchy and the “la la la la la” will keep playing in your head long after your listen is over.

Celebrate is also another track to take note of. If you enjoyed Common’s Be, and the track Love Is then you will enjoy this track, too. Celebrate incorporates a very similar rhyme scheme and structure. But don’t get me wrong, it’s not a remake by any means. The track still has that Common edge that he is known for.

On the track The Believer, Common teams with John Legend that greatly brings the entire album to a prose filled enigmatic breakdown.

The piece is certainly one to check out and is a great album that will have people talking for months to come. Check it out!

 

Favorite Tracks: Raw, Celebrate and The Believer.

Martians vs. Goblins, Game ft. Tyler, The Creator and Lil Wayne

 

This week has been a rather prosperous one for music. On the heels of releases from Asher Roth and Common we also have a video release from the other side of the spectrum. Just last night The Game featuring Tyler, the Creator and Lil Wayne released the video for Martians vs. Goblins.

The track has been out for a minute now and is off Games Red Album.

Although the video was just released and I got to admit, I’m kind of digging it.

Now, I am not really a fan of “shock rap” and I have had mixed feelings about both Tyler and Wayne for quite some time, but when seeing this video you can’t help but better grasp the psyche of these three artists.

The video features Game and Tyler battling it out in a haunted asylum, while Weezy remains absent. The videography is rather impressive and also refreshing since the music video has certainly become a lost art.

Also, be sure to take note how well Game and Tyler flow together. Both artists incorporate that slow laid back style that still delivers hard punches.

Keepin’ this one short and sweet. Check out the video!

 

Black Star, You Already Knew

 

Black Star is being extremely generous this Thanksgiving weekend as they released two tracks in a 24 hour period. Just yesterday I wrote of their new track “Fix Up” which is set to be released off their 2012 reunion album.

Well a few hours later the duo released “You Already Knew” which is to be released on an Aretha Franklin inspired tribute album–and it’s just as soulful as you would imagine.

The track incorporates Black Star’s unique rapping style with a slowed Aretha Franklin sample–it’s slow, smooth and showcases both the legendary swagger of Aretha, Mos Def and Talib Kweli.

The sample actually mirrors some of the other sampling styles made famous by other Chicago based rappers such as Kanye West, who found fame in using old soul samples sped up and pitched. Granted, Black Star came before Kanye, it’s certainly refreshing to see a slow paced soulful sample to bump to.

Since I recently posted about the duo just a day ago–I’ll cut to the chase!
Check the track out above, and keep your ears open for the new Aretha inspired album which is in the works as we speak.

 

A Clash of Cultures: The Mixed Mindset of the Recording Industry.

In 2007, on a cold January night a SWAT team seized the New York apartment and studio of Tyree “DJ Drama” Simmons, and seized hundreds of CD’s, software, and computer equipment. Authorities subsequently arrested Simmons and held him on racketeering charges with a $10,000 bail.

The bust was conducting by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), and was coordinated due to Simmons massive distribution of his underground mix tapes.

Simmons is a highly revered DJ in the hip-hop scene and shot to stardom in the past  two decades due to his famous tapes that include both well known musicians as well as up and comers. However, this is no tale of an infamous music pirate–you probably have come across some of Simmons work before knowingly or unknowingly, as he’s pretty well known.

The interesting angle to this story is the fact that Simmons mix tapes have been such a staple in the hip-hop community that major labels have been funding Simmons work for years in hopes that his tapes can help garner publicity for their rising new artists. A few artists that attribute their stardom to Simmons mix tapes include, T.I., Chingy, 50 Cent and even hip-hop mogul, Sean “Diddy” Combs.

So, in this scenario, we have major record labels such as Bad Boy (Universal Music) and Def Jam (Warner Music) funding Simmons mix tapes, but in the same breath, we have the RIAA arresting Simmons on racketeering charges for simply doing what the major labels have been funding him to do.

So, what is the issue here? Why is the industry seemingly so schizophrenic? Is this a simple case of the right hand not knowing what the left is doing, or is this a more in-depth issue?

Another example of the mixed mindset of the industry is the widely seen success of sample based music and its trends.

For instance, the technique and sub-genre “Mash Up” has become so popular that DJ/Mash Up Artist Danger Mouse released a mash up of both The Beatles “The White Album” and Jay Z’s “The Black Album” to create “The Gray Album”.

Danger Mouse’s work met critical acclaim to the point where Rolling Stone Magazine named it “one of the best albums of the decade.” However, in a twist of irony, due to copyright restrictions the album was never released for commercial profit, and even its free streams were met with hostility from the RIAA and major record labels and publishers.

My final quip that showcases the mixed mindset of the industry is the mass popularity of other sample based artists that can never release their work. For instance, dub step and electronic artists such as Pretty Lights and Skrillex attract hundreds of thousands of people to their concerts, though, due to copyright law, they can never release their work commercially despite their popularity.

In no way am I stating that I am against copyright law, I am simply stating that legislation has yet to meet up with the technological innovations of our generation. We are living in a time where major labels fund mix tapes and then turn around and prosecute their producer. We are living in an era where artists can pack out stadiums but can never release their work commercially. We are abiding in a time where an industry leader such as Rolling Stone  can deem an album “one of the best of the decade”, but if it were to be released, the artist would be sued and fined.

However, the most awful thing is that if their work was to be released (illegally) it wouldn’t be seen as an artistic endeavor–it would be degraded by the RIAA as piracy and theft.

The solution to this issue is far beyond the scope of this article. However, I believe that we can better understand this “industry schizophrenia” if we explore the clash in cultures of our current generation with the generations that have come before it.

Current Copyright legislation was founded in 1976, however, most of the current issues we see are based upon technological innovations that stemmed with the rise of the internet, circa 1993. So, it becomes obvious how Copyright law can lag behind when it comes to current issues that have stemmed from the internet and recent technology.

However, the clash in culture doesn’t come from the technology itself–the clash actually stems from how the Internet has completely re-written the way information is approached.

Prior to the internet, information was only privy to media outlets such as print, news and radio. If you needed information, you only had a few outlets to choose from. Similarly, if you wanted to share information and you weren’t a broadcaster–you had a very limited audience.

With the surface of the internet, everyone could now be informers, cultivators and even amateur journalists. For the first time, there was no monopoly on media, and now information could freely be shared by anyone. We began to see average Joe bloggers post their views to millions, and we all see it daily with billions of Facebook statuses and Tweets continuously sharing information.

In a similar fashion, the 1990’s also brought rise to P2P file-sharing, and it brought user-friendly mixing software such as Pro-Tools, Audacity and Garageband– so now, not only was the “information monopoly” abandoned, but so was the “music production monopoly”.

Due to this, anyone could now be an artist, a producer, or a DJ.

As time progressed, the current generation grew up with the ability and technology to speak to the masses and they had access to media like no one ever has before.

The current generation is a generation that legal expert Larry Lessig deems, “The Read/Write generation” where the generations before it are deemed the “Read Only” generation.

The Read Only generation, is a generation that is accustomed to there being a fine line between producer and consumer. A generation that is used to listening to a record, a cassette or a CD and not being able to interact with it.

In comparison, the Read/Write generation is a generation that is accustomed to interacting with and adding onto media and entertainment. For instance, adding upon a Wikipedia article is an example of Read/Write culture, compiling a playlist on your Mp3 is Read/Write culture.

However, the most relevant example is taking a song and remixing, taking two tracks and combining them–and taking a piece of work and rearranging it to say something different. That, too, is Read/Write culture.

A relevant story that Lessig tells to teach people about Read Only and Read/Write culture is a story that stems from an incident with legendary composer, John Phillip Sousa.

With the onslaught of phonographs Sousa complained to congress that due to these “talking machines” people would no longer sing songs together, they would no longer compose, he said that the towns used to “flourish” with songs written by its youth. He said folks would take family songs and build upon them and constantly compose and create. Sousa said that these talking machines would put a strangle hold on creativity and we will all soon “lose our vocal chords”.

In a way, Sousa was correct, with the phonograph there was a line created between artist and consumer, for the first time someone held the monopoly on who was a musician and who was not. These phonographs soon became record players, which became cassettes, which became CD’s, and for the first time there was a clear and bold division between artist and non-artist, between producer and observer. There was now a clear cut line between musician and non musician.

As a result of this, millions of vocal chords were truly lost.

The emergence of Read/Write culture through sample based music, mash-ups and DJ culture is a revival of the vocal chords that Sousa spoke so passionately about. Our current generation is simply taking art and remixing to say something differently, composing it differently.

Though, the worst part of this, is that the way the laws are written the current generation cannot deem themselves “artistic” or as “innovators”.

Due to the way the laws are written, the current generation must do their art in private or else they will be deemed “pirates” and “law breakers”.

It’s certainly a shame that artistic conquests can be deemed illegal and unworthy of public consumption simply because the law has failed to catch up with the technological and social advances.

So, to all of you underground artists fighting the good fight–keep it up. Things are the way they are not because of injustice, but due to a musical revolution that you are on the heels of.

The industry has never seen such a rise in it’s history since the establishment of Sousa’s “talking machines” and it’s only a matter of time before the legalities meet up with the technological and social advances. Plus, with the establishment of alternative licenses such as Creative Commons and the massive popularity of electronic and sampled music the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter as we are only becoming more established in this current age of Read/Write culture.

-wta