Posts Tagged ‘Soul’

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.



Great Albums: Sam Cooke, Live at The Harlem Square Club (1963)

In a recent post I spoke of Little Richard and the reasons why he was so successful in his career. I made the observation that Richard was performing in a time where segregation was prominent even in the music charts–black performers generally had to work a bit harder to break racial norms. Richard compensated by putting out a product that was wild and innovative. Due to his “struggle” to be known in the industry, you can sense Richards emotion and passion in his early work.

Just as Little Richard is deemed the father of rock and roll, there is this guy by the name of Sam Cooke who is deemed the creator and innovator of soul music.

During the 1960’s it was very common for record labels to find gospel singers and give them a “fast beat r&b style” a style that slowly grew into soul music and roots rock & roll. Cooke was no different–he started off in a gospel group called The Soul Stirrers, but quickly took off as a solo artist. He put out extremely successful tracks such as Twisting The Night Away, Wonderful World, Having A Party and the passion filled Bring It On Home To Me. (Shown above). 

Tragically, Cooke  left the world too soon at the age of 33 after a controversial shooting at a motel–leaving behind a wife and son–but he also left behind a musical legacy and one of the best albums of all time–Live At Harlem Square Club. An album that had made Rolling Stones “100 Best Records of All Time” as well as “500 Albums to Listen to Before you Die.”  The album was made just a year before he was killed, the album serves as a time capsule for Cooke’s life and legacy, but also as a time capsule for music and live performances in the 1960’s.

Immediately a few things inspire me about the album, one being the amazing sound quality for a 1963 live recording–a time where recording techniques were rather simple and tweaking any mistakes was impossible–you only had one take.

Also, I was extremely impressed with the audience–in a lot of ways–the audience makes the album due to being incredibly interactive to the point where it adds to the song.

The crowd shouting and responding to Cooke’s lines and ad libs adds mounds to the performace:

Cooke: “..and as soon as I hear my baby saying hello.”
Crowd: HELLO!

Moments like this give the album a raw, live feeling that is lost in even some modern live albums today.

I attribute the crowd’s enthusiasm to a few things.

One being that performances like this were fairly new, they were exciting! The crowd was genuinely excited to be there listening to Sam Cooke so they sang along loud and proud when Sam asked them too. Another, more importantly, is that the concert was at The Harlem Square Club–an all black club in the 1960’s in the heart of the civil rights movement.

The crowd wasn’t just proud to be there but they were proud that they had a place to call their own in a time of civil unrest. They had a place where they could be themselves, and music to call their own. They weren’t embarrassed to sing and dance, this was a rare time where they could meet together and just let loose.

Cookes singing on this album is phenomenal. As I said before, it was live so it was done in one take with no tweaking–even some of his recorded stuff is slower with added violins and cello–but here he does each song with showmanship and enthusiasm.

He was a tremendous talent, but what makes the songs even more unique are his introductions–his singing and talking over drum rolls and bass lines prior to the songs gives it more of a story feel. His conversing with the crowd beforehand is off the cuff and raw–also his amusing ad libs give each song unique character. You can tell he is having fun.

Things such as:

“And I’ll be carrying a big ole suitcase”  “Can ya’ll just imagine me lugging one of those things around? Look at me! Ha!”

“And I’m sick, so sick.” “But it ain’t that leukemia though, I ain’t sick with that.” 

These lines plus his signature laugh “Ha Ha Ha” that he encoporate in his songs–make them a conversation. Cooke is communicating with the audience rather than singing to them–it’s wonderful.

On the original version the song order is done with perfection.

The performance tells a story–on songs like Cupid  and It’s All Right he tells the crowd what to do if your girl is rumored to be messing around on you–telling the men not to beat up on your woman but to go home and whisper in her ear that it’ll be alright as long as they love you.

On Have Mercy he starts to feel the effects of his run-around girl and is begging someone to have mercy on him during his time of trouble, and then Bring It On Home To Me he tells his woman, “I don’t care who you were with baby, but just bring it to me..bring it on home to me.”

Ultimately the album ends with Having A Party where he tells his audience as the song fades to “remember to have a party where ever you’re going or where ever you’re at.”

Cooke is a master story teller, he builds up his songs and sings them as though he were telling us a story–they have continuity, emotion, and soul. It’s an experience in its own right and words don’t do justice to the feeling of the album. So find it and give it a spin. The music is great and sets the bar for future soul, rock and r&b legends such as James Brown, Stevie Wonder, even Al Green and Marvin Gaye were inspired by Cooke’s music.

Though, Live at Harlem Square Club is one of the most influential albums not solely due to it’s style and innovation–but because of the emotion felt within it. As I mentioned before, during the 1960’s black artists had to over come racially segregated music charts amongst hundreds of other things.

The album is the start of a movement, it’s a bunch of like-minded people in a club enjoying something that they can call their own. Each track oozes with something lost in current music today–creation, freedom and pride–pride that you’re performing and taking part in something that cannot be stolen from you or segregated.

Get into this album, it’s a piece of history.

Image Courtesy of RCA