Black Star, Fix Up

 

 

Hip-hop was as a revolution.

The full-force genre originally had humble beginnings as it was born the love child of Jazz poetry and 1970’s underground DJ culture. Rapping was an art form–a catalyst for young minds to project art in their own personal fashion. There was no need for sonnets or fancy prose as the “stanzas” of the streets came in the form of free-style, and just like an improvisational solo–rap was off the cuff and from the soul.

However as time progressed, so did raps lyrical content. We saw rhymes written about societal acceptance fade into raps written about material possessions. Granted, there is nothing wrong with this–one could argue that this just shows how culture has shifted in the three decades that rap has been around.

Though, I’d like to point out some of the revolutionaries who were pivotal in raps evolution. I’d like to discuss two artists that brought back that poetic flair to their music–Mos Def and Talib Kweli, better known as Black Star.

Mos Def, now known as Yasiin Bey and Talib Kweli arrived on the scene in 1997–on the heels of the deaths of both Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls. Their claim to fame was their call to end violence in hip-hop.

I said one, two, three. It’s kinda dangerous to be an M.C. They shot Tupac and Biggie. Too much violence in hip-hop.

Though, they weren’t calling for peace in the hippie flower child kind of way–they were making a statement through their work.

You see, these two gentlemen truly personified original roots hip-hop.

Their work has always had a flair of poetic nature–it’s safe to say that Black Star brought back into popularity poetic based rap where the lyrical content was deep, edgy and thought provoking. Largely due to Mos Def (Yasiin Bey), slam poetry also made a revival around this time period, and many artists reconnected with their poetic roots and brought it back to their work. Mos Def would later go on to host Def Jam Poetry on HBO for a number of years. Black Star put out some amazing stuff throughout the 90’s and the early 00’s that is considered classic today–they genuinely are the cream of the crop in terms of underground roots based hip-hop.

Around the late 90’s the duo started putting out solo material more than group material and each had huge success on their own through film, tv as well as music. It’s safe to say that both Mos Def and Kweli are widely respected in the hip-hop community.

All of this being said, I am really excited for their new album to drop in 2012! The duo appeared on the Colbert Report in October to play their new track, “Fix Up”. It serves more as an introduction than your average “banger” that you’d hear, however the song serves as a great appetizer to their 2012 reunion album.

Check it out and keep your ears open for their new releases.

 

Black Star “Fix Up”

 

Childish Gambino, The Resurgence of The Triple Threat.

Back in the good ole’ days (I speak as if I was alive then) we saw artists who were referred to as a “triple threat”, singer, dancer and actor. When contemplating this title one may conjure up thoughts of Ole’ Blue Eyes Frank Sinatra, Dancing Legend Fred Astaire, The Candy Man Sammy Davis Jr. and plenty more.

As culture has evolved, there seems to be barriers between the three. The norm now seems to be if you’re an actor–stick to acting, and if you’re a singer–stick to singing.

This could very well be due to the attempts of the triple threat gone wrong.

A short list:

Steven Seagal plays the blues.

Mariah Carey trying to act.

Bruce Willis trying to sing.

Eddie Murphy singin’ with MJ.

 

It’s a bit disheartening that these folks kinda screwed it up for the rest of ’em. Now when an actor puts out an album it’s usually dismissed fairly quickly, or when a singer puts out a movie–people can’t wait to bash it. This common mindset generally means that when a great actor is also a great musician–people are a bit hesitant about it.

Though, if they’re good enough, that hesitation will surely take a backseat, and it instantly does with Donald Glover’s musical project Childish Gambino.

I’ve written about Childish Gambino before and praised his recent EP. Not only is he rather hilarious, his hip-hop albums are definetly a testament to his multi-talented stature. Glover brings the passionate story telling flavor that’s often missed with the over produced and under written rap we hear on the radio today.

Glovers new track Bonfire, off his soon to be released album, Camp, gives us a small glimpse of whats to come.

The sample alone is terribly catchy. It combines sirens, a vocal chorus and an electric guitar that gives the track a sense of urgency. This urgency is only amplified with Glovers unique and rhythmic rapping style. His voice itself is a mix of singing/rapping/singing. His delivery seems flawless and is delivered smooth.

The song itself, Bonfire, speaks of burning up the competition, however, the song also speaks of the fire that’s burning inside of Glover.

Glover generally uses a theme of overcoming in his music as well as destroying barriers. This song is no different as Glover raps about breaking down barriers of black and white music, and being respected for his rapping skills despite being a well known actor, too. Though this theme is important to him, I can see this become an over used topic. For instance, the only time I hear anyone hating on him for being a rapper/actor is when he raps about it. Hopefully he starts to weed this topic out.

However, everything from the mixing to the tempo on this track is dead on. Bonfire gives his fans a taste of whats to come as we wait for the November 15th drop date.

Donald Glover AKA Childish Gambino is our generations take on the infamous triple threat. Comedian, Actor, Rapper.

The Rise of The Configurative and Experiential Culture in the Music Industry.

I never really understood the current electro-phenomenon that is dubstep, or as my more pretentious friends would correct me, “Post-Dubstep”, since the genre we hear now is an evolutionary product of years past.

(And I thought that prefixes like “post” and suffixes like “core” were on their way out, I guess I was mistaken. Yes, I’m talking to you post-electronic mathcore, and other nonsensical genre titles!)

Ahem, anyhow, I just could never get into it. To me, dubstep was just a combination of things I have heard before–a bit of techno/electronica with a few other flares built in.

It started to seem just like another trend that folks cling to so that they have a piece of art that they can claim as their own–a certain musical identity in which they can base their personality upon.

Now, clasping towards a musical identity isn’t a bad thing–there still exists die hard punk fans who cling to their roots and so on and so forth, and I am all about the mesh of music and it’s culture. Though to me, dubstep was just another budding fad that will slowly but surely fade out or even transform into something new.

However, it wasn’t until a few friends of mine put on a widely popular local rave that my outlook started to change. The event itself was a whopping success, partially due to the professionalism put into each aspect. One friend is a lighting technician at the Hard Rock Casino and the other friend is a successful local DJ, so they really brought their a-game. Under the bright lights, smoke machines and industrial sized bubble makers–my outlooked switched from outside observer to understander to..hell I’ll admit it, enjoyer.

Though, the phenomenon that is becoming dubstep may seem fairly simple to some–great tunes that include a good atmosphere–but to me it’s actually a bit more complex and it speaks loads about the current state of the industry. The genre really shows us about two particular aspects of the industry: the experiential aspect and the artistic aspect through cultural configuration.

To speak of the artistic aspect of dubstep, we have to talk about sampling. Sampling is the ultimate form of cultural configuration. Sampling gives people the opportunity to take multiple songs and create (configure) them into a new artistic entity. This idea of configuring existing products to create a new one is seen all throughout electronic and dubstep culture. In a similar fashion, we see configuration through the environment too. Dubstep culture takes pieces of techno (lights and rave parties), hip hop (bass beats and even rapping in some cases), rock (rock based samples) and many more to create its own culture. We are now seeing the break out of genres that enable people to create their own environment rather than just something that can be heard. This configuration becomes even more apparent when one gets their hands on the proper mixing software, and realizes that they, too, can take their stab at a decent mash-up or dubstep mix.

Dubstep also reflects the experiential aspect of music today. Everyone knows that nowadays labels and artists seek most of their revenue and promotions through live performances. Dubstep and electronic culture are no different in the way that they promote their live performances as a major part of the dubstep experience.

Dubstep proves to us that music isn’t necessarily about just music anymore–it’s about the environment and experience. Sure dubstep music can be fun just listening to it on your i-pod, however, the music takes on a whole new form when in the right place with the right people at the right time. It promotes the experience.

Now that record sales are dying, we are seeing a rise in genres that really promote an experiential type of culture, rather than just a song. Genres that promote great music, but also a certain environment, a certain feeling, and a certain experience. I would argue that the death of album sales, is becoming the birth of a musical society based upon musical culture and musical experience.

This is brilliance, people. Pure brilliance.

A$AP Rocky, Bass

 

I remember when I was 13 and chopped and screwed music was getting really popular. Then I heard the new ASAP Rocky track “Bass” and I was reminded why that faded out in 2002.

A$AP Rocky was born and raised in Harlem, New York and is no stranger to what he even refers to as, “the cliche’ rap lifestyle.” Rocky is well known on the underground New York rap scene and is slowly getting mainstream success. Not too long ago Rocky released “Purple Swag”, a tribute to Texas chopped and screwed legends and the subsequent youtube video reached an impressive 100k views in less than a week.

In the song Bass we hear what seems to be an angry Rocky give a peculiar cliche’ rant which further leads into a smooth rapping style that is met with a steady and rhymic drum beat.

Rocky’s impressive and laid back delivery opens the song nicely and in turn, this leads to a chopped and screwed hook. The rest of the song stays true and greatly emphasizes Rocky’s style. East Coast rap is known for its smooth delivery, raw content and melodic style–without a doubt Rocky encompasses all these traits, and even stays true to that New York zing despite the track being yet another tribute to chopped and screwed rappers. My issue has nothing to do with Rocky as an artist, just with the chopped and screwed hooks.

If we look at the history of rap, we see that it is an ever evolving force. We see trends and styles constantly coming and going–the age of the emcee, gangster rap, the rise of Chicago rap that tread on the edge of spoken word poetry, and much much more. I feel as if its only detrimental to go back in time as opposed to moving forward. In Rock’s track Bass, I find issue with the repeative use of the chopped hook, however, if one were to check out the track Grippin’ Woodgrain which uses less of a chopped hook, you can really see Rocky’s vocal prowess start to shine.

Right now hip hop is in a very interesting place. We are beginning to see many trends coming and going, and many people are making their own niche’ in the vast array of hip hop culture. OFWGKTA are becoming well known for their anti-commercial approach–even using the word “swag” in an ironic way to show the “over use” of the word. This same hate of the word swag as also been noted by A$AP Rocky on occasions. Similarly to OFWGKTA we have Kreayshawn who is also using an over the top persona (maybe?) to find her place in the rap game.

Oppositely, Rocky isn’t using chopped and screwed ironically, nor has he claimed to, he was using it as a tribute to Texas rappers. My issue with it, is that it transcends tribute and is starting to fall into the realm of gimmick. Rocky, you have tremendous talent and vocal ability. Make it your own, instead of trying to mimic the sounds of retired, and often washed up, Southern rappers.

Greetings! We’re back.

Hello all,
I apologize for the lack of posts! This blog was originally intended to act as a medium for my internship with Sony Records. Not all of the groups I wrote about were Sony related, actually most weren’t. It was simply a project to hone my writing skills and stay abreast of current industry updates. So, that being said, with the start of my senior semester and the close of my internship, I’ve put the blog on a back burner. I’m excited to say, that the blogs off the back burning, and the water is boilin’. Thank you to all who have read even when I haven’t posted in six months! I have some stellar reviews and articles coming your way.

 

-Tyler

Review: Frank Ocean, Thinking About You

Everyone is trying to stand out these days.

Every artist searches for a niche’–something that can make them stand out from the rest. Usually this isn’t a bad thing, but unfortunately artists can get so caught up in their “gimmick” that the focus takes away from their talent.

That being said, it’s very refreshing when an artists just lays down a track that eliminates the fluff–a track where they can just show off their raw skills. No need for crazy auto-tuning or a catch phrase–just performing and showing off their artistic prowess.

I think Frank Oceans new track, Thinking About You, is the perfect combination of talent and simplicity.

Ocean has been taking the industry by storm in the past year and is popping up seemingly everywhere. He has had a guest spot on the Jay-Z and Kanye collaboration, Watch The Throne, he has graced the cover of Fader magazine and will be one of the headlining acts at Voodoo Music Festival in his hometown of New Orleans, LA. His success is definitely well deserved, and his new track certainly tells us why.

In Thinking About You, Ocean is singing to a girl and asking if she thinks of him, because he has been thinking of her–for what seems like forever. Very simple story line, but the emotion held in the track is just so smooth.

The track incorporates a very spacey and mellow back beat–this space is ample room for Ocean to tell a great story about possible unrequited love, heart ache and confusion.

His beautiful falsetto echoes throughout the track “or do you not think so far ahead, because I’ve been thinking that forever” are hauntingly beautiful and really makes the track what it is–simple, raw and powerful.

I dig the track because, as stated before, the focus is on Oceans voice and the storyline. The beat combined with the lyrics create an emotion as well as a story, it’s a wonderful combination that shows off Oceans impressive vocal range. Ocean certainly knows how to use his vocals as an instrument.

This is R&B at it’s finest, but I wouldn’t even label it as R&B. The song combines dashes of soul and pieces of hip hop to just make something that’s beyond labels–just a damn good song.
Check it out!

Kanye West and Jay Z, Otis ft. Otis Redding

The clock ticks down upon the August 1st release date of  Watch The Throne, the hyped up Kanye and Jay Z collaboration that has the potential to be one of the most legendary albums in recent years.

Of course Jay Z and Kanye go way back, Jay Z was the one who gave Kanye his start as a performer– ‘Ye used to only be  known for his production skills–producing albums for not only Hova but numerous other artists, too. Jay Z was the one who signed Kayne as an artist and showed the world that Kanye had a knack not only for production, but rhyming too.

This of course snowballed into where Kanye is now, a “King” of the industry, who is just as well known and respected as the rap mogul Jay-Z.

This collaboration of two rap “kings” has had people anticipating the release–the duo dropped the release H.A.M about a year ago, which created more buzz for the effort, and news of collaborations from Frank Ocean to Beyonce has had music fans all over the globe in anticpation.

Just yesterday another release was dropped, Otis. A song that incorporates a sample from Otis Redding’s 1966 hit Try A Little Tenderness.

If you follow my blog you know my affinity for soul music as well as my love for Kanye West and Jay Z, so I was really digging the news that the two chose an old school sample. Especially when Kanye used to be famous for using old school tracks as samples in his early work. The power of the soul sample is met right off the bat, as soon as you hit play. Jay Z quips, “so soulful ain’t it?” And yes, soulful it is.

The track is fairly simple–a hip hop beat, Otis Redding vocals, and West and Jay rapping about their lives of luxury. This simplistic vibe has had many rap critics call the track a “let down” but I say the exact opposite. The track almost mirrors a “free style” and may not have any “defining” moments such as an intense music break, or an overtly catchy hook, but I think in the grand scheme of things, this track will go phenomenally well in the flow of the album.

As a single, I can understand any disappointment. The track may not be as radio friendly as H.A.M was, but it still shows off the duo’s vocal prowess–and the soul sample gives us that smooth laid back feeling that always meshes well in hip hop.

I can certainly see this track being placed in between two more “intense” tracks as a way for Kanye and Jay-Z to just let loose and flow.

“Letting loose”  is actually a great way to describe it–it serves as a track for both artists to just simply rap on without being too confined to structure.

Though when speaking of two legendary artists like Kanye and Jay Z there is no just “simply rapping”, everything they touch seems to turn to gold.

Favorite Lines:

“Luxury rap/The Hermes of verses/Sophisticated ignorance/Write my curses in cursive.”