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Posts Tagged ‘new album’

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.

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.

Review: The Antlers, Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out

 

The Antlers are a Brooklyn based group signed to French Kiss records, one of the labels in which I am doing artist development and promotions for. Although The Antlers aren’t one of the bands I’m working with, they are still certainly one to write about especially after their phenomenal appearance last night on Leno.

The group is best known for their previous album Hospice, a conceptual album that was in essence a love story between a hospice worker and a terminally ill patient, each track furthering the story line right up to it’s tragic and foreseen end.

And yes..it was just as heart breaking and intense as it sounds.

So, I was pleased to hear that the group recently released the album Burst Apart–and was equally as excited to hear that Burst Apart was not a conceptual piece about cuddly bunnies exploding in a firework accident or anything–instead it’s just a damn good album. It’s still emotional and intense–just not as potent and intimidating as Hospice was.

One of the standout tracks from Burst Apart is Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out, a track that immediately sweeps you in with Peter Silbermans captivating voice–a voice that seems to be a mix of Ben Gibbard, Brendon Urie and even Conor Oberst at certain spots.

The heavy atmosphere of the track–such as the swift guitar rhythm, swooshing hi-hats, and subtle electronics– only exemplify the powerful vocals and lyrics of Silberman.

The lyrics are simple but effective–the music really takes hold over the lyrics and becomes a vehicle that drives the vocals in all the right locations.

Despite the music and lyrics meshing so well together– the content of the song is still something to take notice of. The track tells a story of heartbreak and the self destruction that pursues in it’s aftermath.

“One bad night I’ll hold the glass until the glass can hold me down
And one bad night I’ll spill and spill until my feet begin to drown
And one bad night I’ll hear you calling me to help you not pass out”

Upon further investigating the album each track has a similar charm–beautiful progression, emotional lyrics, and on point instrumentation. The subtly in production is also just as charming–slight hints of electronica on the intros and outros–and for the slower tunes: just the right amount of vocal/guitar effect that creates a beautiful and welcoming space. A space that invites you to sit down and experience the message, emotion, and triumph of the album.

For an introduction to The Antlers and what they have to offer, take a listen to Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out and stay tuned for a review of Burst Apart.

(I’d write one today but I want a few more days with this gem, so spoiler alert: It’s a good one.)

Or hey, just go pick up the album  here.

Thanks for reading.

 

Image Courtesy of Stereo Gum.

Album Stream: Shabazz Palaces, Black Up

A few weeks ago I posted a small review of Swerve by Shabazz Palaces which is a track off of their album Black Up, which drops June 28th at Sub Pop.

In the review I praised the track for it’s familiar but unique sound that taps toes and breaks genres.

Recently the great folks over at NPR have the album up for stream in it’s entirety, so check it out! The group has a very unique sound–smooth vocals rapping over intricate electronics and unique drum beats.

Stream it here.

Give it a spin, and check out other streaming albums at NPR as well.

Image Courtesy of Sub Pop

Cover: Wonder Bear-Runaway

 

I hold an affinity for “good” cover songs, and it goes far deeper than just the new “spin” aspect of it.

I think cover songs say something about the art  that is held within songwriting and production. It shows us that the smallest nuances and slightest changes in the way a piece is sung or produced can transform the entire setting and mood of a song.

For instance, take Nothing Compares 2 U by Sinead O’ Connor. The song was originally written by Prince and was intended as a happy upbeat song, a duet in which a man and a woman are happily saying to one another, “Baby, nothing compares to you.”

However, slow down the tempo, make slight rhythmic adjustments and give the song to Irish crooner Sinead O’Connor and the song becomes a heartbreaking tale of a woman crying out for her lost lover. Which is the complete antithesis of Prince’s joy filled, soulful,toe tapping love song.

Compare them here and here.

(Prince is notorious for not allowing his music on youtube, so no telling how long that link will be up.)

Point being though, I find immense art in various aspects of music. There is an art in writing the lyrics–yet another art involved in performing it, and another art withheld in mixing and producing. Covers just show how much subtly matters in music and how an artist can take a piece and transform it into something entirely their own.

Wonder Bear is a (young) “bedroom pop” duo that hit the scene a year or so ago and have released three EP’s via their Band Camp page.

One of the EP’s that is currently getting rave reviews is Avalanche which is actually a concept piece detailing the tales of four Alaskan teenagers. Apart from the EP’s, Wonder Bear also put out a few cover songs that I stumbled across that I came to enjoy. One in particular was a rendition of Runaway by Kanye West.

In this version of Runaway some of Kanye’s more controversial moments are looped–clips such as his infamous post-katrina tirade and his Taylor Swift VMA ambush. Using these soundbites in the intro as well as the outro–seem to put more emphasis on the “runaway” lines of the song. The clips seem to act like voices in the head of the singer, echoing out to him.

The track becomes more of a story in which the protagonist is tormented by his own actions and plans to runaway. The guilt over comes the singer so much that he is also telling his loved ones to..“just run away, run away from me, baby.” 

Now, in no way am I trying to claim that it’s better than the original–it’s simply a fun take on a popular tune–but it shows how small changes to a song can make a huge impact on its content.

For more free tunes from Wonder Bear check out their Band Camp page here. 

A (small) Sneak Peak at: J. Cole’s Untitled Album

J. Cole’s still untitled album has been the talk of the town in recent weeks. Cole was supposed to drop the album in early May–but due to factors such as legal clearing of samples, leaks, a possible spot from Jay Z, and word from his label–the album has been delayed just a tiny bit.

In a recent post, I took a look at J. Coles single– Return of Simba. A song that not so subtly had Cole telling us that he just couldn’t wait to be King, when the crown is passed down by his mentors Kanye West and Shawn “Jay Z” Carter.

This album is very much supposed to be Coles coronation process and has everyone anticipating whether Coles hype and Hova’s endorsement will actually be the crowning of new rap royalty–or will fall short, all talk and no action.

Cole is no stranger to the “rap game”.  He has had guest spots on numerous Roc-A Fella tracks and his mix tapes have been extremely successful. So all of this “King” talk could certainly hold merit, especially after  listening to tracks such as Lights Please, Dreams and I Get Up, three songs that sparked my interest for young Cole and his future endeavors.

So what do we know about his untitled album?

We do know that he is being very meticulous with it–he hasn’t picked a name yet because he wants the name to fit the sound of it–which is admirable.

The album has been covered with secrecy but leaks and new information seems to break out at just the right moments to keep everyone talking.

So far we know the album will have 15 tracks including the leaked/released tracks Who Dat, Work Out and Cheer Up. Some of the tracks are ones we have heard before via mixtapes, but Cole has also stated that some of the tracks are ones he has always thought were “too good for mix tapes” so he has been saving them for the album.

It’s hard to say what the over all feel for the album will be–but we can look at the released tracks and gain a very small taste of what to expect upon the albums arrival.

As a disclaimer: No one seems to know the order of the tracks, so I just put them in order of release. Also, I can’t do justice to the lyrical content–it’s great, so take a listen.

1. Who Dat

One of his early tracks Who Dat is fortunately not another poorly done tribute to the New Orleans saints, but rather a horn based passionate track about Cole’s rising stardom and the work he endured to get where he is. It’s a rallying cry for his new album–a track in which he speaks of his success while also having a few choice words for his “haters”. Great lines in this one too, it’s very much a song that’s introducing the world to Cole and his musical ability.

Quote:  “Cloud told me “ain’t you roc? well? where the fuck yo chain at?” Guess it’s somethin like your girl, nigga it aint came yet.”

2. Work Out

The recently released Work Out has all the feeling of a 1990’s gangster rap joint–reminiscent of TuPacs California Love but mixed with a modern flow and the flair of J. Cole. The track incorporates a sample of Kanye’s Work Out Plan and lyrics from Paula Abdul’s Straight Up. The song is catchy and is a great release that creates just the buzz that Cole’s album needs.

Quote: (The beat trumps any quote in this tune, sorry just have to give props on it.)

3. Cheer Up

Cheer Up shows Cole’s softer side as he narrarates life advice to a girl on the track. Cole shows not only maturity in his rapping technique but also maturity through his real world wisdom–an aspect very much lost in main stream rap.

It mirrors the days of early rap where artists rhymed about struggles and overcoming social stigmas. The feeling of the song is very familiar to Tupacs Changes even quoting the line, “I wake up every morning and I ask myself, is life worth living or should I blast myself?”.   The ability to craft a good song that inspires without being cheesy is very impressive.

Quote:

Yeah school girl, cool girl. Your dress is sexy and your momma is a cougar. So she let you do the grown folk’s thing. Let you hang with them boys and they play you like a fool girl”

Impressive is a good word not only for Cheer Up– but for all of his recently released tracks.

Of course, after I write this he could come at us with two or three more–but so far, we are looking at a solid release from Cole that just may live up to all of the hype.

Keep your ears and eyes peeled for more album news as it surfaces.

Thanks for reading!

Image Courtesy of J. Cole Fans

Band to Check Out: The Weeknd

I am trying to find the words to describe the various movements going on in music today–movements such as electronica, low-fi and dubstep.

Words, I can’t find but what I find interesting is that even thought these genres stand tall in their own right, musicians are still out there improving upon them–artists still mix genres and styles to create something unique that they can call their own.

The Weeknd is a toronto based R&B singer who wonderfully incorporates lowfi backtracks and subtle electronics to his songs that give them a very surreal and intimate feeling–traits that you want to find in an R&B track.

His tracks have that home-grown feelings that appeals not only to R&B fans but to indie fans as well. So, if you thought indie music was only for hipsters and folks who drink PBR you were surely mistaken. Indie simply means homegrown, self created–a style that promotes expression and freedom. That being said “underground”, indie music and the internet music community seems to be embracing this indie R&B style. Artists are emerging such as The Weeknd who have this very unique R&B meets electronica feel to them. (See also Frank Ocean and How To Dress Well).

R&B is notorious for being a narrative style art, an art that includes great melodies but also great stories–and Weeknd surely has that on tap.

Weeknds break out mixtape House of Balloons, that was endorsed by musicians such as Drake, was a surefire hit. The group has a knack for creating atmosphere for every track–and that atmosphere seems to be a spaced out, drug induced atmosphere where the singer is in a perpetual spiral and isn’t sure if he hates it or loves it–but he clings to it–he identifies with it.

As you listen to the mix tape you can envision a post-party atmosphere, a hazy environment–the singer wakes up off the floor surrounded by half dead strangers and empty beer bottles–coke residue still on the glass coffee table–he is unsure about his life and seems to regret his choices but it’s all that he knows, so he keeps living this lifestyle.

The mix tape is straight out of a 1980’s Bret Easton Ellis novel. Ellis often wrote about the cocaine trends in the 80’s, he would watch his friends become ghosts at high profile parties and watch them struggle to find themselves the following morning–trying to remember who they were amidst the post party downfall, crawling hung over and crashing from the drugs.

Such a similar atmosphere is found in Weeknds tracks. Songs like Glass Table Girls are clearly about coke, while other tracks are about break ups, mistakes, and using sex and drugs as a means of numbing inner turmoils.

Weeknds song content is raw–it’s real–and it’s powerful.

Even the track names tell a story–with names such as Coming Down and The Party and After Party. The whole mix tape reads like a novel–the singer is telling you of his escapades, his regretful party nights, and his terrifying drug experiences.

What makes their content successful isn’t just the narrative lyrics–but also the instrumental tracks and production styles.  Weekends instrumentals create this “open space” and this space puts the emphasis on the emotive vocals and lyrics. You get this “space” via reverb, echo effects, and soft electronic that’s mixed with traditional r&b sounds. It becomes a surreal and intimate experience that instantly draws you in, whether you like it or not.

One track getting a lot of attention right now is Wicked Games, a song about the singer leaving his girl–and drowning his confusion, sorrow, and guilt with drugs and sex.

Deep down he knows what he did wasn’t right–his girl didn’t do a thing wrong–but he left her, and he will dabble in drugs and promiscuity to keep himself from thinking of the wrongs he has committed. At one point in the song he is begging a stripper  to tell him that she loves him–even if she doesn’t–he just needs her to justify his behavior..his flawed thought process.

He is singing that he needs “off of this”off of this life, off of this downward spiral, but in the same breath, he needs all of it too. He needs all of it to keep his sanity, and to keep his mind from veering off into the reality that he keeps hidden by the drug abuse and sex.

So, that being said, he accepts the high of this lifestyle fully and remains in this state in order to escape his flawed reality.

..told you it was intense.

Listening to a track by The Weeknd  you learn more about the singer, and listening to the mix tape is like reading a novel–you get to know the singer through and through, and you actually start to feel for the guy–even if he seems to enjoy the downward spiral.

So enjoy the current R&B trend. Check out The Weeknds Wicked Games or download the free mix tape from their website here.

It can get intense, but it’s surely something fresh and something that you can’t help but appreciate.

Image courtesy of The Weeknd