31 December 2016

REVIEW: Childish Gambino - Awaken, My Love!

Despite 2016 being such a depressing year with all of the losses we have suffered as a culture, it's great to see artists step up in an attempt to fill the void left by their predecessors.  The era of true soul-shaking funk music pioneered by bands such as Parliament is one that is revisited by very few artists these days, as the generation gap becomes increasingly more difficult to bridge.  Also, the days of true musicianship within urban culture is hanging by a thread that continues to thin.  Out of all the artists who could have released music that pays homage to this era, I'll admit that I never would have suspected Childish Gambino to be one of them.  This has truly been the year of Donald Glover coming into his own and establishing himself as a force within urban culture; first by turning typical Black television programming upside-down with his hit show Atlanta on FX this past fall, and now with his Funkadelic-infused third studio album Awaken, My Love!.

Not only has he captured a sound birthed by the likes of George Clinton and Bootsy Collins, Gambino has managed to compile together a project that literally sounds like it belongs in the Parliament discography.  This major identity crisis may be a turn-off for some who adore the great years of early funk music, but the reason why it works is simple - the music is absolutely incredible.  Expecting another Camp or Because The Internet-type affair, I was taken aback by the album's lead single "Me And Your Mama."  It starts off like a lullaby for the first couple of minutes, and then takes off into a full-fledged funk anthem with Childish Gambino channeling all of the aforementioned artists above, while adding his own flavor into the mix.  It seems as if this was done intentionally to shock the listener into adjusting their ear, as this is NOT a Rap album in any way shape or form.  This trend continues into the album's next song, "Have Some Love," which opens with chants that sound like they were ripped straight from a '70s Blaxsploitation flick.  Gambino's staccato verses fall right on beat with the high hats throughout the song and make it somewhat difficult to make out his words, but this song is more about establishing the vibe of the ride he plans to take the listener on.  This is probably a crazy comparison, but the chorus line on "Have Some Love" is reminiscent of the Fat Albert theme song with a slower tempo, LOL.

The first true highlight comes four tracks in with "Zombies," which is an eerie, yet soulful romp that gives you a glimpse into the leeches that 'Bino has been associated with throughout the course of his journey as an artist.  Anyone who understands the decisions Donald Glover continues to make with every aspect of his career knows that he is completely against working for someone, and refuses to allow the industry to take advantage of his talent.  He cleverly juxtaposes zombies eating people with the industry feeding off talent for profit, and how the artist tends to lose their soul in the process.  The song ends with a vamp of Gambino asking 'Do you feel alive?'  This line is powerful because it poses this question to the listener; are you doing what you truly love, and have you been able to maintain your soul in the process?  People often spend their entire lives slaving over jobs they could care less about and making someone else rich in the process, instead of taking control of their situation by becoming their own boss.

The production on Awaken, My Love! is nothing short of stellar.  I've always respected Childish Gambino's talent as an artist, but when listening to this album it often became difficult to accept that this was really his project.  That is no disrespect to the brother, it's just that Awaken, My Love! is such a drastic departure not only from the style of music he usually creates, but from the quality as well.  The album's second single "Redbone" sounds like it was ripped directly from one of Prince's earliest albums.  Bino's voice reaches a register that sounds so next-level it's hard to believe that he uses no pitch correction.

If you count all of the lesser-known mixtapes, Childish Gambino has been releasing projects for nearly a decade now.  And while each mixtape and album has had its share of notable tracks, 'Bino had yet to release a complete album that I would ever highly recommend to someone who was interested in getting into his music.  I was always a big fan, but every album has had missteps that kept it from reaching the heights of which his talent demands.  Awaken, My Love! has completely shattered this notion, as this is by far Gambino's most complete project to date, and one of the best albums of 2016.


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22 December 2016

TAPE DECK: Mos Def, DMX, John Forte, Mic Geronimo, Big Pun, Canibus cypher

I've been seeing this video resurface lately on the web. So in the spirit of the holidays, I felt it right to honor the sacred tradition of regifting and pass it on to yall. The video takes place in a restaurant and features Mos Def, DMX, John Forte, Mic Geronimo, Big Pun, and Canibus in an epic late '90s cypher. On the web it says that this took place in '97 or '98, which sounds about right since most use lyrics from their respective '98 albums.

(The artist formerly know as) Mos Def starts off the cypher with bars from "RE: DEFinition". This track came from Black Star's classic duo debut (comprised of Mos Def and Talib Kweli) in September of '98. Canibus was up next, but audaciously asked to be skipped so he could anchor the cypher. DMX follows up with lyrics from "Ain't No Way", from his sophomore LP Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood, which dropped on December of '98. John Forte and Mic Geronimo continue the cypher, with the latter appearing to spit a true "freestyle". But I can't really say since I am not that well versed in either ones career. Big Pun spits fire from "The Dream Shatterer", off of his classic debut Capital Punishment, which dropped on April '98. This should have been the true cypher anchor, and I think all emcees present would agree (especially since Pun's bars drew the most reactions). But Canibus has to wrap up this legendary cypher since he decided to get brolic earlier. While def not on par with the late great Pun, Canibus delivers his hardest bars from "Second Round K.O.", his LL Cool J diss from his September '98 debut, Can-I-Bus

Peep classic cypher below.

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20 December 2016

VIDEO: Rhythm Roulette (Mass Appeal) - Salaam Remi

Here goes a stocking stuffer for you hip hip heads this holiday season, from the good elves at BITM. Last month's Rhythm Roulette episode featured Queens, NY producer Salaam Remi. Most of uall might know Salaam from his work with Nas, Amy Winehouse, Estelle or Alicia Keys; but the Queens beat maker also has production credits with Ini Kamoze, The Fugees (from el clasico, The Score), Black Sheep, Jurassic 5, Biz Markie, Beenie Man, Big Boi, Blaque, Ludacris, Carlos Santana, and a slew of other artists. The ageless wonder somehow also has keyboard credits on Kurtis Blow's Kingdom Blow (which came out in '86!). Salaam's sound ranges from soulful R&B to straight grimey NY hip hop, and throw in some Spanish pop and reggae to just totally confuse you. He might be the producer with the widest range from the Rhythm Roulette series that we've posted here. 

Salaam hit up Manhattan's A1 Record Shop to blindly pick his three records. Remi then hit up his studio from the future with: George Faith - Soulful, Danny La Rue - Danny La Rue In London, and The Who - Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy. The expression on Salaam's face while playing the first record (by Danny La Rue..which is a musical LP..like stage musical musical) is hilarious. In addition to that, Remi's George Faith pick comes from the reggae genre. But this veteran stays unfazed. Again, we see yet another amazing producer go to work and create another banger. Salaam creates his beat using every sample he could get, adding very little beside an extra kick drum or two. We even get a brief cameo from Joell Ortiz doing his best CeeLo Green impression.

Normally I say something like, "if you're a Salaam Remi fan, you def need to peep this". But honestly, it is almost impossible to not have heard any track that wasn't created by Remi. So you are probably a fan and didn't even know it. Either way, peep the video below.

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19 December 2016

REVIEW: A Tribe Called Quest - We Got It from Here... Thank You 4 Your Service

(But wait, I thought The Love Moment was blah blah blah etc.)

Yeah, well...so did the rest of us.  It's true, A Tribe Called Quest did officially disband back in 1998 after the release of The Love Movement due to personal struggles within the group.  Each member stood firm on this decision for nearly two decades while nurturing individual pursuits, but it's amazing how circumstances can soothe 18 years worth of tension.  Tribe reunited several times in recent years, but it wasn't until last year when they performed together on Fallon that Q-Tip and Phife decided it was time to squash their differences.  The next day they began working on an album in secrecy, and almost exactly a year later we received the most opportune injection of therapeutic consciousness in the form of We Got It from Here... Thank You 4 Your Service.

They say timing is everything.  Unfortunately for A Tribe Called Quest, that sentiment is bittersweet.  With issues stemming from the current state of hip hop all the way to Donald Trump inciting hatred and violence from the tone of his campaign, there was no shortage of material from which to pull from.  But this album also serves as a vessel for healing in the wake recent events surrounding the legendary Five-Foot Assassin, Phife Dawg, who lost his life before the project was completed.  On the surface, there are a lot of red flags working against this album.  It's natural to worry about whether we are getting sorry throwaway bars from Phife that he never actually recorded over these beats.  It's also not crazy to wonder if any of that classic Low End Theory or Midnight Marauders magic could be re-created after more than two decades.  We have seen so many legends act like they've run out of subject matter to talk about because they live different lives.  Luckily, A Tribe Called Quest's music was never self-absorbed.  Their music was a reflection of the times, and that is no different with We Got It from Here... Thank You 4 Your Service.

Let me just start off by saying this album is an absolute banger.  Right off the bat, "The Space Program" (re)introduces us to part-time member Jairobi and Q-Tip firing off bars so cleverly crafted that it's hard to believe it's been so long since they last collaborated.  This song sets the tone by implying that despite how fucked up things may be in the world, we are all stuck here, so find a way to make the most of it.  We only get a taste of Phife's vocals on the 2nd half of this track in the form of a vamp, (probably due to not getting around to recording his verse in time) but the Five-Footer shows up in full force on "We The People."  This charged anthem is the perfect blend of classic ATCQ evolved to 2016 standards without an ounce of compromise.  In addition to other standouts such as "Solid Wall of Sound," "The Donald" and "Black Spasmodic," these songs all exemplify what could have been, had Phife Diggy been around to see this project through to completion.  With that said, it's a shame just how few songs Phife was able to lay down vocals for on this album.  A ton of credit goes to Q-Tip for putting it all on his own shoulders and crafting such a fantastic product despite the gaping chasm left behind by Phife.  You barely notice his scarcity though, because the void is filled with long-time collaborators Busta Rhymes and Consequence on several tracks, as well as other notable features such as AndrĂ© 3000 on "Kids" and Kendrick Lamar on "Conrad Tokyo."  This album is filled to the brim with nothing but straight conscious, soul-soothing hip hop.

-cue rant-
I could have done without Consequence though.  He sucks.  Fuckin' cornball ass mouth-breather spittin Fisher Price bars amongst GODS.  I don't care about his history with Tribe, he doesn't deserve this honor.  His fake teeth get in the way of everything.  I swear this man sounds like he raps with a mouth-guard on.  I'd rather listen to Praswell's Greatest Hits than hear another Consequence verse in my life.
-end rant-

To our benefit, much like the dearth of verses from Phife Dawg, Consequence's shitty contributions do not disrupt the flow of this album in the slightest.  We Got It from Here... Thank You 4 Your Service is quite possibly Tribe's most cohesive project to date.  It may not have anything as iconic as "Scenario" or "Electric Relaxation," but the consistency from beginning to end makes it extremely accessible.  When you think about it, an album is supposed to take you on a ride.  If not, it might as well be a mixtape.

This album accomplishes three things, some of which are evident in the title itself.  First, the album was designed to address several social issues and injustices plaguing the Black community in recent years, as well as the heavily polarizing election season.  We Got It from Here... Thank You 4 Your Service is also a passing of the torch to the younger generation of emcees that are cut from that ATCQ cloth. And lastly, the latter half of the album serves as somewhat of a rhythmic eulogy to the late great Phife Dawg, whom Jairobi stated literally gave his life to create this record.  The production on the heartfelt "Lost Somebody" includes some creative choices that may go over the head of the casual listener.  The beat itself loses its focus during the hook around the 2:10 mark, almost like it's trying to hold it together emotionally while the words 'no more crying' continue to vamp.  Also, the song cuts off abruptly around the 3:22 mark, possibly signifying Phife's sudden death on March 22nd (3/22).  In a lot of ways, this album is comfort food for those of us still reeling from a brutal year that tested our resilience as a culture.  While slamming the door shut on 2016, songs like "Dis Generation" open another door to let us know the future of hip hop is in good hands.

stayfly's 2 cents
What else can be said about ATCQ’s sixth and final studio album that hasn’t been said yet? Since the crew’s 1990 debut, People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, I’ve been bumping Tribe on my boombox  speakers and Walkman headphones. We Got It From Here... Thank You 4 Your Service is an album that captures a nostalgic aura with a contemporary theme. With Q-Tip on the boards, the Tribe carefully curate their features to supplement the collectives overall sound. Tapping the likes of AndrĂ© 3000, Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, Anderson .Paak, Talib Kweli, Consequence and Busta Rhymes for lyrical assistance. This is a mostly cohesive album with very few missteps. In an era where every “rapper” seems to get participation awards, it is refreshing to get a project made by artists who care about where hip hop’s been and where it’s going. This is an album that gets better with every listen, like most great pieces of art should be.

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08 December 2016

VIDEO: Ab-Soul - D.R.U.G.S.

If you are not excited for tomorrow (Friday 9th), then you might not be a hip hop head. Not only is J. Cole dropping another potential classic album, but we are also getting the fourth studio album from Ab-Soul. The Top Dawg artist also took a 2 year break in between albums like Cole, but unfortunately the similarities for their last LPs end there. While Cole's 2014 Forest Hills Drive went double platinum and was critically acclaimed, Soul's These Days... was lackluster in comparison. Ab was following up HIS 2012 classic Control System (which is still on my weekly rotation) and couldn't seem to recreate that magic. But the Black Hippy emcee has been patiently (kinda) waiting in the wings while his other label mates dropped their projects: Kendrick had To Pimp a Butterfly and untitled unmastered., ScHoolboy Q had the Blank Face LP, and Jay Rock had 90059

Now we get the visuals to the third single from his upcoming LP, DWTW (Do What Thou Wilt). The single "D.R.U.G.S." (Don't Ruin Us God Said) has a very inconspicuous Mac Miller feature on the hook and a very eerie instrumental. Overall the track is a melancholy and candid journey through Ab's life. The song reminds me of DMX's "Slippin'". Even the videos have similar notes. The X video plays as a linear story but is cut with scenes of X in a black/red round room with arms coming through the walls (sort of a representation of his addiction demons). Ab removes typical music video themes and seems to rap from an isolated realm like DMX in his solitary black/red room. The video for "D.R.U.G.S." is basically an entire abstract representation of Ab-Soul's lyrics. 

Peep video below, and get hype. 

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02 December 2016

VIDEO: J. Cole - Eyez

2016 has been a year of peaks and valleys. And even though it feels that 2016 will end on an uncertain note (ringing in an even more uncertain next 4 years), here comes J. Cole to the rescue. OUT OF NOWHERE, yesterday saw the addition of an iTunes pre-order option for Cole's fourth studio album, 4 Your Eyez Only. The album will drop a week from today (December 9th), and will also mark the 2 year anniversary of his last sneaky ninja album release, 2014 Forest Hills Drive. That album also went sans radio single and marketing. Will 4 Your Eyez Only share other parallels with his last LP, like going double platinum? Only time will tell. 

And if the deafening buzz around his next album (again) wasn't enough, Cole dropped a documentary entitled Eyez today. It provides a candid peak behind the process of creating the album. You see behind the scenes of the production process and even watch a few bars being layed down. And if that wasn't enough, we also get to music videos for the singles "Everybody Dies" and "False Prophets". Cole is on another echelon with a select few of "new school" emcees. His growth as an artist is well documented and you can't help but root for the kid. 

Peep documentary below, and try to keep your excitement in check for the next 7 days. 7 days, til we get that soul satisfying hip hop. 

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