23 January 2014

LOCAL MUSIC: Prolific - The Set Up

A lot of artists know that Detroit music is not where it should be. The We.Are. music group is a collection of singers, producers and Mc's/rappers who are unique and creative with something to offer. Prolific is one of the artists of We.Are. Music group who released his EP, The Set Up not too long ago. I gave it a listen and was pleased with the product. Artists with this much passion is what Detroit needs to re-establish it's place in Hip-hop as to when J.Dilla, Slum Village and others were active. Prolific displays poetic talents through a couple of his tracks on this project. Other tracks like "The Set Up" and "Big Faces" is him viciously spitting at anyone against him and his camp. I salute Prolific and his whole team, they are focused and ready to eat!

Listen to "The Set Up EP" here.

Twitter: @_KJTheGreat

20 January 2014

In Case You Missed It: Yancey Boys - Sunset Blvd

     Sunset Blvd. is probably one of the best posthumous releases of J Dilla's music to date. After listening to countless projects featuring what seemed like artists using any Jay Dee beat they could get their hands on, I was somewhat conflicted about this release. Don't get me wrong, I respect Dilla's work. I understand his talent and what he brought to the game. There are a slew of tracks that he produced that I still rock to this day. Having said that, I haven't really been feeling too many of his posthumous releases.

There, I said it.

     It just felt like after his passing, there was this mad dash to release projects featuring his music, even if it was with beats that had been used multiple times over. There were even instances where you'd have to wonder if the featured emcee was even doing a Dilla track it's due justice. Be honest, you know you heard a few.

Enter Frank Nitt and Illa J.

     Frank Nitt is another shining example of the undeniable talent Detroit has a history of creating. Frank can always be counted on to deliver lyrically, especially when it comes to some Dilla productions. A few of Frank's credits include being one-half of the crew Frank-n-Dank and a solo career that includes working with such greats as Madlib, DJ Quik, and Oh No. Those of you that know of Frank Nitt know that I speak the truth. For those of you that don't, now is a good time to get familiar.

     One of the many surprises on this album is Illa J. Honestly, I expected Nitty to lyrically carry the majority of the album with Illa J dropping mediocre 16s  throughout and using his status as Jay Dee's brother to carry him through. Turns out, Illa has evolved a great deal since his initial solo release, which was also titled Yancey Boys. Whatever kinks he needed to work on to find his zone he has done in spades. Instead of leaning heavily on Nitt to deliver, Illa has instead stepped his game up. Take the track The Throwaway for example. In the track Illa acknowledges he is famous because of his brother but he is here now because of his work. If this was truly a throwaway beat for Dilla then I can't even imagine what the keepers sound like.

     In listening to the album as a whole, you can definitely hear elements from hip hop songs you remember from way back, as well as tracks you hear today. Listen to the song Jeep Volume. Personally, I don't know when Jay Dee made these beats but the latest they could have been composed was in 2006 (R.I.P.). To put it into perspective, these beats, that still sound like they were made fairly recent, are easily 8-10 years old. That is the impact of Dilla's work.

     The beats on this album alone are cause for excitement. If that wasn't enough, this album features a slew of guest spots including: Detroit massives T3 and Guilty Simpson, current heavy hitter Talib Kweli, and even greats like Posdunos (De La Soul), SlimKid3 (Pharcyde), and Common. The Yancey Boys definitely didn't need such big names, but the fact that they contributed to this project speaks o how good this album is.
Put all these things together with time tested Frank Nitt and the newfound skill in Illa J and what you end up with is a dope album from start to finish with plenty of replay value.

     In my opinion, Sunset Blvd. is the best crafted use of Dilla's beats since The Shining back in 2006. Not only does this album give access to beats only a few had heard until this point, but the way Frank and Illa breathe life into each of these tracks make this album a complete experience. I definitely recommend this one; especially for those that still need an introduction to the almighty Jay Dee.


15 January 2014

Interview: JDVBBS

Twon Jonson recently hipped the crew to a young cat from NoVa (Northern Virginia), who is on the warpath toward stardom. Ra’z Al Ghoul recently chopped it up with the extremely versatile rapper/singer JDVBBS (and NO, don’t think Drake) about his views on today’s music scene and his approach to his craft. Peep the interview and the links below

Best In The Mix: What do you classify yourself/your music as? Also, what is your stage name?

JDVBBS: My sound is "definitely married to hip-hop but sleeps around with other genres," quoting a girl I sat next to on a megabus recently. My stage name is JDVBBS. (You say the whole thing…like A Tribe Called Quest or A Pimp Named Slickback)

BITM: Haha! That’s original…so you have a promiscuous sound. How long have you been making music?

JDVBBS: For as long as I can remember. I started playing piano at age eight, singing at age 11, wrote my first 16 (bars) when I was 15 or 16.

BITM: Okay, so since you were a youngin'. Where are you from?

JDVBBS: I was born in Chicago, but we moved around a lot until about the age of two where we settled in Northern VA, which is where I was raised.

BITM: Ok, midwest to the East Coast. Who and/or what inspires you?

JDVBBS: My biggest inspiration is my family. To see my mom blowing up everyone's Facebook feed or my older brother giving me that heavy-handed dap is more comforting than most kudos. I wanna make them proud.

BITM: So you're heavily family oriented; that’s a really good look. It’s good to have a backbone in the form of family. Who is your favorite artist?

JDVBBS: Of all time? Probably a tie between MJ, Prince and Stevie Wonder. The way that they know their records inside and out gives them this innate ability to connect with their audiences. I saw Stevie play a few months ago, it was unreal.

BITM: Definitely an old soul. Of those three my favorite is Stevie Wonder. What is your favorite type of music?

JDVBBS: Hip-hop dominates my playlists more often than not but I'm a sucker for well-calculated singer-songwriter types (Sara Bareilles, Jason Mraz) and ethereal celestial shit like a spacey Ellie Goulding or The Weeknd. 

BITM: Hip-hop rules mine as well. I try to get out of that habit and incorporate more music in my life but I just love Hip-hop and rap. Speaking of other genres, how do you feel about the current state of today's music?

JDVBBS: Under-appreciated, by both the listener and the artists. Listeners complain that their favorite genres are lacking like there aren't 100 more artists with readily available music. Artists have the Madden complex (especially commercial friendly hip-hop artists): why strive to make the music better when we're gonna get paid the same? "Long as the outcome is income..."

BITM: Yeah, a lot of fans and artists are either fickle, lazy or a combination of both. I say the same thing to a lot of people who talk down on the genre. What is a song that motivates you to do anything (work out, get up in the morning, or gets you through the day)?

JDVBBS: Old Motown and soul records make me wanna be better at my craft. I sing along to an isolated vocal track of Marvin Gaye's "Heard It Through The Grapevine." I work toward my voice being as captivating as his is.

BITM: That was definitely a curve ball. I thought it was going to be a hip-hop track. What do you think you could contribute to the genre of music that you classify it as (follow up to question 1)?

JDVBBS: I plan on contributing to as many genres as I can. I wrote 'War Paint' as a means to blur the genre lines because I don't want to get typecasted. A funky guitar lick, 4 on the floor electro-synth line, halftime rap/track breakdown that gets built up by a melodic vocal round and a funky bassline. I tried to cover as many bases without covering the issue so the song wouldn't get put in a box or limit my talents.

BITM: So you're aiming to be versatile, possibly a la how Drake is, I see. What mixtapes and or projects do you have that are available?

JDVBBS: At the moment I'm phasing out most other endeavors and just focusing on me as an artist so all my old features/dj mixes/covers have been taken down on purpose. I recently released a more hip-hop oriented track, 'Just A Rapper...?' which can be found on my Soundcloud along with War Paint.

BITM: What are your ultimate goals with your music?

JDVBBS: I don't want to be limited in this music business at all. If I can be on an episode of Glee and in the BET cyphers in the same week, let's do it. If I could score the next James Cameron movie while working on a 16 for Detox then let's do it. If I was commissioned to write music for a Broadway show, let's do it. Pharrell was featured on two of the biggest hits of the year, wrote themes for 'Despicable Me 2' and co-wrote a song with my boys in RDGLDGRN all in the same year. Why can't I?

BITM: I feel you on that. If you have multiple talents you might as well shoot for the stars and succeed entirely. A lot of people don't explore other possibilities on different platforms or are even willing to venture off to test it. What was your favorite music project of 2013?

JDVBBS: It's a three-way tie between Janelle Monae's The Electric Lady, Haim's Days Are Gone and Pusha T's My Name is My Name. The nature of all those albums makes a person a fool if they try to compare them.

BITM: I have that but I still haven't listened to it! I'm so upset with myself for not listening to that. What is the most stressful thing you consistently find yourself going through at this stage while trying to make music (for example: studio time or conflicting schedules)?

JDVBBS: I really DON'T want to sound like other artists when I'm making music. I DJ a lot and I play piano and sing with wedding bands sometimes and they want you to sound EXACTLY like other artists. So when I'm creating it's hard to turn that part of me off. I work at a music studio so the logistics aren't nearly as stressful as the artistry can be sometimes.

BITM: That's coming back to versatility and how you can incorporate your own style to set yourself aside from other artists. Have you opened or performed anywhere? If so, what were your first thoughts before and after performing? Also what was the crowd’s reaction like?

JDVBBS: My most recent gig was at a hip-hop open mic just a couple weeks ago. I was on the bill for a showcase that gave me five minutes to do my thing and I carefully calculated that five minutes to show off what I could do. I tend to over analyze both before and after I'm done performing, I think the technical term for it is called A3S (Andre 3000 Syndrome). However, they also have a freestyle section and there was really only time for three of us to go. Because there's so much doing and less thinking involved I always tend to be happier with an unprepared performance than a prepared one. The crowd rocked with both which is my main goal at all times. Get the win because the W is a W, sloppy performance or not. You can always go back and watch the game tape and get better.

BITM: Nothing wrong with wanting to perfect your craft, at least that's the way I see it. It just comes down to your perception of your product but that is your own battle. Everyone should want to do better, I respect that. Word to www.DoBetterMovement.org. Is there anything that we should be looking for from you in the year 2014?

JDVBBS: A LOT, if everything goes according to plan.  The album release show is January 18th at Jammin' Java in Vienna, VA.  The debut album comes out in one week, January 21st, but I've got a crazy amount of ideas running through my head so I'm hoping to put out two or three more projects before the year is out.

BITM: Well, we’re definitely looking forward to hearing more from you and wish you the best in 2014 and beyond! Keep doing great things and boosting up that original sound.

BITM readers and JDVBBS fans make sure you are on the lookout for the album release. JDVBBS can be heard on Soundcloud at https://soundcloud.com/jdvbbs and you can follow him at www.twitter.com/jdvbbs. He’s also got his own website, where you can receive more information about his current and future projects: www.jdvbbs.com!

14 January 2014

REVIEW: Blu - Soul Amazing: part one

There was a time where I looked at him as the next up. I saw the next decade of Hip-hop led by this West Coast scientist. Cats like this rarely get steady radio spins outside of their own city, but I felt like his music was so flawless no one could front on him. A true student of the golden era, Blu dropped the timeless classic "Below the Heavens" with Exile in 2007.

...and to be honest, thas pretty much it. Don't get me wrong, he has several other projects, Johnson & Jonson being the only one that sounds professionally mastered. But all of his other projects, from Jesus, to Her Favorite Colo(u)r and Give Me The Flowers are all pretty poor albums.

We can add "Soul Amazing: part one" to that list, but for different reasons. The music isn't particularly horrible, but the way it's put together is just amateurish. Let me be clear, this is a compilation of tracks he has recorded since Below the Heavens, but he finds a way to ruin his own genius. It's so sad to hear a dude that's so gifted miss the mark in obvious areas, like talking all over your shit! If the album allowed you to zone out and enjoy Blu's exceptional lyricism, you'd see this compilation is everything that defines Blu. But for some reason he speaks over every track DJ Clue / Envy / Kay Slay style and blurts out the corniest most uninspired ad-libs over otherwise quality music.

You shouldn't have to drop any amount of money for a compilation that has anyone tossing DJ ad-libs. The man finally blesses us with good music but won't get out of his own way. It might be hard to understand without actually listening yourself.

Stream the album here

Let us know what you think @BestInTheMix @TwonJonson

06 January 2014

VIDEO: Maino - What Happened ft Jadakiss

I ain't the biggest Maino fan, but dude has been consistent throughout his career. If you want a raw hood story teller, look no further. It was really the Jada feature that caught my eye. But once I peeped the video I was impressed. Lyrically Maino isn't the strongest emcee, but while most would overcompensate, Maino stays in his lane. A true NY emcee with that smooth relaxed flow, he spits about the game (specifically the NY rap game) and how the commercial hip pop has taken over. Jadakiss comes in to complete the track like only he can. The video itself has a simple but strong message. All that whack hip hop has turned the consumers into zombies. What Happened is a good song with a great video. If you a Maino fan this video is a good way to start off the New Year. If not, peep anyway. Conceptually Maino is as strong as he has been in a while, and he keeps tight lyrics throughout a plethora of issues.