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Posts Tagged ‘Hip-Hop’

Riley & Morello Sweep Streets With Their New Social Club

Posted by Scotio on June 17, 2009

2009

I’m going to start this off being honest. I haven’t heard of The Coup, or even Boots Riley for that matter, until I found out that Tom Morello(of Rage Against The Machine fame) was doing a new group. The fact that Morello, one of the greatest guitarists of our time, was going back to the electric guitar for recording was something to rejoice over. I mean, let’s face it, The Nightwatchman wasn’t something that “everyone” could get into. Then, after finding out that Boots Riley was a “conscious” and controversial rapper, I couldn’t help but be intrigued… and sensing a weird feeling of deja vu. Street Sweeper Social Club, with it’s self-titled debut album, holds more towards Rage Against The Machine than it does Morello’s other works.

“100 Little Curses” is a display of Boots Riley’s quirky tongue-in-cheek wordplay along with Morello’s amazing finger action(get your mind out of the gutter!). On the verses, Riley politely wishes various ill-mannered hopes towards materialistic, plastic surgery loving, designer label craving, television children raising, reality-tv watching, hostile corporate takeover initiating, cocaine snorting, MTV My Super Sweet 16 funding sheeple of today(and yes, he covers all of those things inside of the chorus of the song). To say that his sentiments aren’t humourous is to say that you have a stick lodged up your butt so far that tapping on the end of what is sticking out would cause it to hit against your heart and change its beating pattern. This young man is witty and gives something that the incredible Zack De La Rocha wouldn’t: Comedy with his message. Morello, handling Bass & Lead guitar work(on all songs for the LP), gives RATM fans something that they’ve been salivating for in quite a while: new material of the same vein. His Bass work is good though isn’t as accomplished as Tim Commerford’s, but he more than makes up for that with his sensational solo on the song. Going from a heavy funk sound to a riff that makes you want to check and see if he has some relation to Hendrix.

“Clap For The Killers” comes on like a villain’s theme song. The intro to it is a head-turning segment that demands attention and sparks interest for anyone with love for stringed instrument plucking. Riley rides the instrumental workings laid down by Morello & Stanton Moore effortlessly. His flow… uhh… flows like melted butter pouring over the music. Though Stanton is a good drummer, Brad Wilk is sorely missed here. The drum work sort of plays the bench for the track. You barely notice it behind Morello & Riley. Only when Morello is holding a note do you realize that there are actually drums on the song. Not necessarily a good look, but all the other workings allow forgiveness to take place. Though, to his credit, the drums are more prominent and noticeable at the beginning of the song. Anyone who only looks to lyrics at face-value would assume that Riley is taking a “Big Ups To Crooks” within his words. Where, on the first verse, he speaks up for those whom fights the system and are being labeled “wrong” for standing up for what’s right. Then, on the second verse, he speaks on the true criminals and killers whom run the system and attacks those of misfortune to keep them under control. Finally, on his third verse, he speaks to all the so-called self-proclaimed “gangstas” aka the fake-wannabes. He verbally reminds them of who they really are and that they’ll never achieve to become who they are pretending to be.

There are some moves that don’t quite go so fluidly with the newfound group. Like the track “Shock You Again”, which comes off like a missing song from Saul Williams before him and Trent Reznor became musically connected. Granted, I am a fan of Saul’s old work, it’s just that this track gets lost in that similarity. It doesn’t quite distinguish it’s own identity. And, that’s something that this new group needs to do to kill off any and all naysayers that may and will pop up against it. The preceding track, “Somewhere In The World It’s Midnight” falls prey to the same circumstance. This time, instead of Mr. Williams, it brings strong comparisons to the obvious(Rage Against The Machine, for those who aren’t keeping up). Morello’s work is just as lovely as it always is, even incorporating a more western/bluesy riff for the verse work which probably spawned from The Nightwatchman. Riley, on the other hand, sort of comes off like a less agressive de la Rocha. His southern drawl makes it so that his delivery isn’t as intense, but his vibe strikes the same chords that Zack struck with his lyrics. Again, it’s not a bad track, it just feels more like a new song that was originally tried out with the rest of RATM and then converted over to SSSC format.

They do use Riley’s southern influence in a very productive method with the track “Promenade.” In a tempo akin to how the “move-caller” for a Square Dance “sings” out what to do next, Riley belts out his politically conscious lyrics over Morello’s simple musical structure. The chorus shifts gears and becomes something closer to Disco-Punk/Dance-Punk in fashion. It’s moving and hip swaying. If the whole song was like this, they could sneak this in under the radar and attack the commercial market. Thankfully, they aren’t playing sneak attacks, here. On “Megablast” Street Sweeper Social Club takes no prisoners. It’s either move with it or get rolled over. The power of the track is undeniable. Riley fully shows to the listeners that he is a highly skilled emcee, first and foremost. Morello makes the guitar wail like Justin Hawkins(of The Darkness fame) while having the bass bring that extra rumble in your belly reminiscent of the Peter Gunn theme with way more bad-ass attached.

Sure, there are way too open comparisons against Street Sweeper Social Club and Rage Against The Machine. If you even want they both are a four word band name and have the same number of syllables, too. They are both politically fueled. They both have Tom Morello playing an integral part of the band. But, you shouldn’t discard nor praise SSSC off of those facts alone. It’s its own animal, with its own respect to be held for or against it. With that being said, even if there isn’t another RATM album to come into fruition, let us hope that another SSSC album comes down the pipeline. Music wasn’t the same when voices like these left the mainstream. Though all the players are seasoned, they are still rookies in terms of playing together as a cohesive unit. Even with that against them, they are still well enough equipped to take it all the way to the goal line on their first try.

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Common Controls The Hip-Hopniverse With His Mind

Posted by Scotio on December 1, 2008

I know it’s been a while since I last released a review on something. Situations of life has caused me to not be able to do so. But, I’ll be delivering a review(and maybe try to squeeze in a few more) right now.

Common(born Lonnie Lynn), and emcee heralded in the hip-hop community, is geared up and ready to unleash his new(and 8th) album, titled Universal Mind Control. Now, most of you have probably heard the lead single to this song collective, but I’m sure you thought that it was merely a gimmick to gain attention. One that would leave you with a bunch of soulful Hip-Hop tracks behind it. Well, sorry to burst your bubble, folks. That’s not the case. The whole album moves in this new and(for Common) uncharted territory. It’s hard to call it flat out Commercial Rap, as the man with the pen is still very lyrical with his delivery. Yet, at the same time, all of you purists out there would have a tough time biting down on this being labeled Hip-Hop.

Now, before I go into my usual task and manner of review I’d like to touch on something I stated in the last sentence. Folks seem to have a very tough time dealing with anything new in terms of the Hip-Hop label. Just because it’s not a constant looping of old soul music that you’ve heard a thousand times and know exactly where the sample came from does not, I repeat, does NOT mean that the offering isn’t Hip-Hop. Now, I won’t say that the silliness of Lil Wayne, Yung Joc, Young Jeezy or even Kanye’s radical departure with his 3rd & 4th albums constitute as Hip-Hop either. They don’t, not in the least bit. But, what this album is, truly, can be called Hip-Hop. The musical artform that showcased and thrived on difference, experimentation and creativity. Much like how the Trip-Hop classification has grown plentfold since it’s original incarnation, so has Hip-Hop. There’s more than one face to this creature, and it’s time to embrace those other faces and not hold dearly to that only one. Don’t go tagging things that clearly lack intelligence, creativity and true lyricism as Hip-Hop, but don’t shy away from something new and air freshening in that stale room that you locked yourself inside of.

With that being stated, allow us to continue down our routine path, shall we. . . The intro of the album is a woman speaking to the listen in the French language. Saidly, I haven’t fully gotten knuckle deep with that language since High School. So, I’m not the one that you should come to for a translation(Note: If/When I do find out, I will post it here). Followed by that spoken piece, you’re treated to the single that you’re familiar with from the album, the title cut(“Universal Mind Control”). This song houses combinations of robotic future and tribal past. With the brilliant use of Star Trek inspired Synths & the sounds of live drumming(Pharrell is a drummer, you know?) The Neptunes showcase why they were the music industry’s top-billed producers at the beginning of the decade. With the work here, it’s a great closer to the dynamic opening that they had starting in 2000(though in the middle, they did flip-flop for a while). Common, though, has never appeared to be more in tune with a beat than he is here. Flowing in and out of the beat like a master weaver unveils something that Mr. Lynn has been hiding under his gatsby hat for some time. His cadence is perfectly timed. He speaks each word without giving the listener worry of garbled over words and sentences that most in his place would have done. It’s seriously a great track, and a good display for Common & The Neptunes to show that Hip-Hop isn’t a box.

Another surpriser is the track “Make My Day” featuring the crooning of Cee-Lo(member of Goodie Mob, one half of Gnarls Barkley). Honestly, when I first heard this, I was a bit confused. It was just something that you didn’t imagine Common on(I act like Electric Circus didn’t happen). The track is produced by Mr. DJ of OutKast fame. And, yes, the beat does sound like something that Big Boi and Andre 3000 should be featured on(Do I smell a feature remix collab?). Common does a sing-song flow on the track. Not in that annoying “hey I can sing” type of deal. More of a happening that occurs when you’re having fun and talking like you’re in some sort of Show Tune movie. I know that if you’re as silly as I am, part of you has to force yourself not to bust out with the Carlton Banks dance while listening to this song. It’s a fine testament of how he feels of his woman. Though most would argue that this would have been better served as it’s original summer song intention, you could argue against it if you’re really deeply emotionally connected to a female. Because, if you are, just being around her would make a wintery white day feel as warm as summer. No, it’s not sappy, it’s realistic. Grow up, people!

A track that I’m not all that into, and I kind of feel bad about it, is the one titled “Changes.” It’s just something about the song that just alludes and doesn’t fully connect. It’s too magical in a fantasy sense, the music. Not Sci-Fi like majority of the rest of the album, but it sounds like something that should be featured in a Jim Henson movie. It’s too distracting. Plus, with Common uttering lines like “I spoke like a child/I wrote like a child/I always smiled, let my mind float like a child” doesn’t help to take away that storybook feeling that the song emits. It’s just something about it. I can’t say it’s outright bad, it just leaves you lost without any directions to find a common ground between you and Common(pun intended). Another misstep is the track “Punch Drunk Love.” It feels TOO much like a Neptunes track. What I mean by that is that the song fills like something that either Pharrell or The Clipse should be on. Not someone like Common. Still, Common does give his best attempt to make the song his. And, any chances of that being accomplished is destroyed by Kanye on the chorus. His overly boastful ego just makes you dislike him and the song. When chorus comes on, you’re stuck spending too much time squinting at his attitude than you are getting deeper into the song.

There are other strange moments on this album. One of them happen to be “Gladiator.” Common raps over a distorted horn section with a marching band’s performance backing it up. Common comes out swinging as hard as he can. At times, he seems to end up hitting himself in his arm sailing that seems like he’s kind of flailing his arms to bring fear into his fictional opponent. It’s a nice song to get your adrenaline and courage pumped up, but not something that you would sit there and listen while in a chilled or party-happy mode. Pharrell featured on the hook complete contrasts the rest of the song. Surely, that was the plan. But, you can’t do it too drastically, or it ends up looking like a self-parody. And, in a very strong sense, that is how this song can be viewed. Star Trak’s new band Chester French makes an appearance on “What A World.” The lead singer, oddly, sounds like Pharrell. Don’t know if that’s intentional, or just coincidental. Either or, it does work for this song. Easily Neptune-ized through and through, the track brings a sense of funk that hasn’t really been felt by the duo since they produced that Austin Power’s third movie lead single by Beyonce(Work It Out is what the song is called, people). Common coasts on it suavely like the most mellow of Cat Daddies from the 70’s who entered into the early 80’s rap scene. “Announcement,” again, featuring Pharrell(his on almost as many tracks as Common is) seems like a updated and revamped version of something Bad Boy Records would have put out during their hayday. But, that could also be attributed to the pretty blatant Notorious B.I.G. lines and hommages used throughout the song(Hell, even Pharrell huskies up his voice for rapping a full verse). The only thing that throws it off from the whole Bad Boy vibe is Common using the word “Finna” during the chorus. Though, that isn’t a bad thing. It wouldn’t be right if he got stuck under that tab of duplication.

Now, I saved the best for last: The best song on this offering is the closing track “Everywhere” featuring the iconic trip-hop voice of Martina Topley-Bird(From Tricky’s Maxinquaye fame and even her solo material). Mr. DJ returns as the producer for this one. It’s just brilliant and dynamic. Mr. DJ’s work could easily contest that of newly megaproducer Danger Mouse. Martina clearly controls this song. It’s almost like it’s hers featuring Common, instead. Her voice is properly layered and still enchantingly airy. When Common comes on, he doesn’t disturb what was already laid out on the song. He fits into it accordingly, and, at times, seeming like Black Thought of The Roots on the track. I say that because of his use of flow, his ability to adapt to the track and not ruin it, and even his lyrical pattern. Not that he stole it from him, they are friends after all. But, it is a good tribute paid to his often overlooked friend. The song truly does sound like a missing track from her Blue God album released earlier this year. With Common’s 1 verse on the song, it’s hard to believe that it wasn’t originally that. If it was, Kudos to Common for being wise enough to throw it on his album.

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PSY/OPSogist Helps Open Hip-Hop’s 3rd Eye

Posted by Scotio on July 19, 2008

Yesterday, before I began my trek out of the house to go and see The Dark Knight(review of that coming soon) I was given some music that I was asked to review(album: Suffused With Static). Since I’m always eager to hear new stuff, I accepted it. Once I heard that it was by an unsigned artist(PSY/OPSogist), I was both excited and skeptical about pushing play once it was loaded into my iPod. But, alas, the play button was pushed as I made my journey from home to cinema.

What flew out of my headphones and into my ears was something I wasn’t expecting(granted, I should have figured it out by the genre classification applied to it by the creator: Fucking Ill). Of course the Intro of the music kicked in. It was a heavily distorted voice over what sounded like Vinyl minor scratching and a music box from the 1800s playing in the background. As the sound started to build, so did my eyebrow. I wasn’t sure where the path of this was going to lead. It was either one of two paths that this was going to go down: 1.) Leading to a pit of despair, 2.) A saying of a single profane word that would come about with every beat shift.

So, when the first actual track kicked in (“Birth, Space And Time”), it sounded like an opening to an industrial rock piece. But, that was just a ploy. A ruse, if you will. He tricked me. It was Hip-Hop . . . which was just what I originally assumed it would be from the Intro. But, it wasn’t crappy Hip-Hop, nor was it one filled with lyrical overstatements. It was just the beats talking for him. And, the song had a sense of magic, to me. Sadly, I don’t feel magic with much Hip-Hop, today. The last time that happened was in 2005, when I heard the instrumental music of a female producer by the name of Buttafly Plague and her “unreleased” album called Instru-Mental Bliss, Vol. 1. Before that, it was when I heard Danger Mouse‘s production for the Grey Album(No, Jay-Z wasn’t a factor in that. I give all the respects to DM).

So, for me to classify someone in that highly elite category of mine is really something to be in awe over. The second full song, third track, “Between The Keys” only helped to keep the magic alive. The piano riffs and the standing bass inside of the song was just really pushing me to look around as if someone else was able to hear the music, too. You know, to share the experience of hearing something that truly is masterful. It was just something really incredible and thought provoking. My only complaint was that, he didn’t switch up the drums. If he would have thrown something in like a drum pattern shift, or even slow down his drums and add distortion to it, it would have been insane.

On the track “TIME (a. Not Just Madness b. Clarity c. Anaethetised)” PSY/OPS flips a soundbite of one of the best movies of 2007: Michael Clayton. The scene where the character Arthur Edens(played by Tom Wilkinson) is talking to Michael about his coming to clarity whilst he was submerged inside of his insanity due to him not taking his medication. I felt that the speech given by the character was not only a giant WTF, but also holding some sort of truth to it all. It was really dynamic. So, for PSY/OPS to add that in there was a giant kudos, from me. But, not only did he do that, but the music creates and constructs around that soundbite and others featured in the song is like if Tyler Bates would forge a production duo with James Lavelle(during the first leg of the act U.N.K.L.E.). It’s cinematic, it’s moving, and it’s heart pumping. It gives you the feeling that, for that particular moment of time, your life is a movie.

PSY/OPS has a good scope of sounds and soundbites. He masterfully adds in pieces of various movies and television shows that adds to the moment of his music and not distract from it like a lot of producers end up doing haphazardly. On “Potent Spirits,” he throws his bid in from Early 90’s revival Hip-Hop. It’s fun, soulful, and intelligent. His samples are done eloquently. Placing the vibing era somewhere between a Good Times episode and an Gangstarr concert. On “Opposing Drives,” he brings the type of bass attack that would make Dirty South car enthusiasts climax on themselves when they play this song in their stereo. It isn’t a speedy adrenaline pumping sensation, but rather a “2 miles an hour” type of moment.

With “V-SIS”, PSY/OPS uses simple mid-90’s East Coast drums with a standing bass. The pattern of the standing bass’s riff is one very similar to an Oriental style of music. Due to that, it gives off a feeling that you’re listening to a “Ghetto Ninja” theme song. The drums, as stated, aren’t complicated, nor are they abrasive. They add the right touch with their simplicity. His use of electronic melodies and sounds for the song only heightens the mood, from the eerie ambience at the beginning to the wall of noise in the middle ending with the playful crystal chimes mixed up with a the child hissing and breathing out in a rhythmic fashion. The man is good at what he does.

All in all, I was very impressed with the music from beginning to end. There were a few pieces here and there that I wished he would either punch a little harder, or throw in a more blatant surprise. But, aside from that, the album is very solid. It’s a shame that he isn’t signed and doesn’t have a strong following behind him. He deserves it. I’m not sure of his race, but music isn’t racial. Music is a universal thing, regardless of where it originates. Still, I know people will feel the need to pick at it because it’s Urban Music(When the hell did Black music become known as Urban?). But, for me, it doesn’t matter. As I stated, this is in my elite Hip-Hop category for the first decade of the 2000’s right along with Danger Mouse’s Grey Album production and Buttafly Plague’s Instru-Mental Bliss, Vol. 1. As they say, good things come in a package of 3’s. So, this rounds out that Tri-Force, for me. It’s witty, playful, smart, and good music. I’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t enjoy DJ Shadow, U.N.K.L.E., Hi-Tek, or even Tricky not to enjoy this offering. If you don’t enjoy it, you’re not connecting to things properly. Plus, the man offers it for free.

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