Musically, 2014 has started off pretty promising. I’m not sure if this year will top last year in terms of the really, really good Hip Hop that came out throughout 2013, but if this mix tape is any indication, it could come close. Through HipHopDX.com, I found out about trio After The Smoke and their latest mix tape/EP called Microwaves. And I can honestly that I’ve received my first surprise in terms of music this year. Yeah, it came out in late 2013, but since I’ve already done my 2013 year-end best of list on Facebook, I’ll go ahead and put this into the Sleeper category for the new year. Microwaves is a hazy, smokey and extremely cloudy listen from start to finish. In terms of lyricism, there’s not a lot being said outside of angst, self-reflection and first world problems, but a few publications have gone as far as to compare this free EP to past music from DJ Shadow and OutKast. And surprisingly, they’re not that far off. This project is filled with some of the most trippy, muddy sounds that I’ve heard from an experimental Hip Hop outfit in a minute. Incorporating lots of sing-songy soul, electronic elements and grimy Trip Hop parts, it’s definitely worth the time of anyone willing to take a listen. Though I’m not really feeling Viola Davis’ voice on “Hit to the Head”, it’s still a respectable track out of 14. “OIAM” has a muddy and sloppy but still tight feel to its makeup. But my favorite track on the entire project, unquestionably, is “D.E.A.D.”: Any song beginning with the lyrics, “Are you bored with life?/ I’m just tryna soothe ya pain, tell me who’s to blame…” is undoubtedly going to be a deliciously druggy, self-loathing guilty pleasure, which it is for me. Like a said, the first sleeper of 2014 in my opinion.
Ok, I’m TRULY not even sure what to say about this one. Apparently Kanye West kicked off his tour by having an actor portraying Christ as part of his live show. Truthfully there are SO many questions that we can come up with from this latest situation from ‘Ye: what was he thinking? What was the purpose? What message was he seeking to impart? Is this an indication he’ll be back to his old musical self? Does he believe what he says in the song “I Am A God” on his latest album? Is this blasphemy? Was it intended to be a joke? Or was it Kanye being serious and forthright? Should we even read that much into it? Is there more to the story? Like I said, SO many questions…and from what I gather there probably won’t be a whole lot of concrete answers, just more gossip and fodder for the TMZ crowd. *Sigh*
A new video for Janelle Monae’s new song “Dance Apocaplytic” is coming very, VERY soon. Even greater is the announcement that she’ll be releasing her new album, Electric Lady, in just a few months time. What can we expect from Ms. Monae? Well, if you know anything about her as an artist, and judging from the big time buzz that she got from the single “Q.U.E.E.N.”, on top of the stunning performance from the BET Awards, you know to expect the unexpected. Or, better yet, just leave any and all expectations at the door because the woman is sure to blow your mind. Yeah, I said it…
Joey Bada$$ is growing on me day by day. His new video and single, “’95 Til Infinity”, is an ode to mid 1990s New York Hip Hop, featuring Joey giving bars through a throaty, grizzly voice over floaty music, giving an interesting contrast to the song as a whole. There’s a real sense that Joey wants to pay homage to the likes of Mobb Deep, Wu Tang, Capone-n-Noreaga and others that made NYC great right before the new millennium. Glad to know there’s much much more to come from this emcee.
A friend put me up on this band just a few months ago, and since my initial introduction to them, I’ve found out a lot about Portugal. The Man. Lots of interviews with them reveal somewhat of a disdain for the mainstream music industry, but they are still managing to find a degree of success. This track from their latest album, “Evil Friends”, has a combination of a big band/driving southern rock feel to it that’s pretty hard to resist. The horns on the chorus compliment the lead singer’s switch ups between a high-pitched falsetto and a more subtle, stoic drawl. All in all, a pretty good song.
J. Cole is an interesting emcee in a number of ways and his new album, Born Sinner, which will be hitting stores soon, is probably the most anticipated Hip Hop album of 2013. But what sets Cole apart, in my personal opinion, is the fact that he owns being part of a new generation of emcees that are now beginning to both sample from classic Hip Hop music from the past, as well as doing samples OF samples. The latest example is his song “Forbidden Fruit” featuring Kendrick Lamar, in which he uses the same sample that iconic Hip Hop trio A Tribe Called Quest used on their song “Electric Relaxation” from the Album Midnight Marauders, which ironically was first released 20 years ago. J. Cole is infamous for sampling Biggie, Lauryn Hill, Kanye West and many more past a present superstars o Hip Hop. And “Forbidden Fruit” uses the sample of Ronnie Foster’s “Mystic Brew” just as effectively as Tribe did back in 1993. It’s way too early to tell whether Born Sinner or “Forbidden Fruit” will reach the status of classic material that ATCQ’s music did back in the day, but there’s no denying that Cole uses his position as a leader of the new school (no pun intended…maybe) to create his own brand of sought after Hip Hop music.
This is a BEAST of a track. I’m going to stop talking right now so you can get the proof.
Time was, D’Anegelo was on top of the R&B world with everyone else looking up, and trying to catch up. The proof was just how anticipated his sophomore album, Voodoo, was at the turn of the millennium. And upon it’s release it was hailed as both a throwback to artists like Stevie Wonder and Jimi Hendrix in it’s diverse plethora of rhythms instrumentation and abstract lyrics. One of the best examples of just how much D’Angelo had grown in a span of 4 to 5 years since the 1995 release of Brown Sugar was “Devil’s Pie”, his ode/cautionary tale about the secular trappings of the world and just how quickly they can drag us down if we don’t remain vigilant, and a song that originally appeared on the soundtrack to Hype Williams visually stunning yet questionably acted Belly, considered by at least a few Hip Hop heads to be a hood classic. “Devil’s Pie” did for Belly what Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly did for movie of the same name: it offered an antithesis to the often glamorized life of those that deal drugs to their own community, and did so convincingly. But the real beauty of “Devil’s Pie” is the perfect marriage between D’Angelo’s somewhat twisted, Armageddon-inspired song lyrics and DJ Premier’s plodding, sample-heavy, tinkling, East Coast styled production. Undoubtedly the ideal song to be featured on the soundtrack to Belly and one of the best tracks from Voodoo. One might go as far as to say that it’s the Hip Hop/R&B version of The Rolling Stones “Sympathy for the Devil” Many of us at the time didn’t realize it, but “Devil’s Pie” was the ideal warning against the ensuing commercialism that would eventually consume the Hip Hop generation.
It’s kind of crazy to think that it’s been ten years since this song was released. In the eyes of many a critic, music fan, historian, etc., this is probably the song that put the whole entire world on notice about Jack and Meg White, collectively known as The White Stripes. True, the Detroit duo actually already had lots of success previous to this song and the album it came from, Elephant. They had released three albums previous to it: The White Stripes (1999), De Stijl (2000) and White Blood Cells (2001), and quickly became independent music darlings of the music world, especially with the song “Fell In Love With a Girl”. For a good long while, even if you weren’t a rock fan or a fan of their music, you’d hear nothing but people raving about The White Stripes in the early 2000s. But “Seven Nation Army” was really where the ish hit the fan for Jack and Meg…in a good way. Meg’s simplistic but effective drumming contrasts Jack’s slicing and violently good acrobatics on guitar and bass without pause. Legend has it that the song’s name comes from the fact that as a child, Jack White used to mispronounce the name of the Salvation Army, and that he wrote the riff on a sound check in Australia. 10 years later the song is ingrained in the psyche of popular culture having pretty much replaced “We Will Rock You” by Queen as the seminal large sports event anthem, from bands playing the tune at American college football games to the voices of thousands of soccer fans in some of the worlds biggest stadiums chanting the song to rile up their respective teams. Funny how a song about gossip has seemed to take over the world.
I’ll try not to get too involved or too wordy on you here but many of you know how much of a music history junkie I am by now. And just in case folks reading this might not know (or need to be reminded of how we’re all getting older), 2013 marks the 20th anniversary of some of Hip Hop’s biggest and most landmark albums at a time when there was very much a shift away from what many folks had known Hip Hop to be for a long time towards a more commercial, mainstream yet surprisingly more gangsta rappish sound as well. Those albums are Wu Tang’s Enter The Wu Tang: 36 Chambers, Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle, and A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders. While Tribe released their third album in a run of classic material to rival that of Stevie Wonder in the 1970s, just in the form of Hip Hop, Wu Tang and Snoop were noobies on the scene releasing their first albums respectively. Each body of work had it’s own set of elements that made it stand out: Midnight Marauders was a continuation of Tribe’s jazzy and introspective yet street centered, conscious Hip Hop, while Enter The Wu Tang was had an extremely D.I.Y., gritty and grimey, stick-up kid music feel to it, and Snoop’s Doggystyle was a California microcosm of weed, women, sex, violence and G-Funk goodness. Hard to believe that each of these albums was release two decades ago. But a good thing to note is that many of the players involved in the creation of each album are still active musically (Snoop having recently switched up his style again to become Snoop Lion, Q-Tip currently working with Kendrick Lamar, and RZA having just helped Ghostface Killah release his latest studio album with 12 Reasons to Die.) So many memories when you put the tunes to some of these albums on. Let’s just reminisce for a bit, shall we?