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?
Just checked out this awesome interview with the legendary (though he would never call himself that) DJ Jazzy Jeff via HipHopDX.com and Montreality. Much love to both outlets for giving this to the world because Jeff definitely drops some knowledge and brings back some memories for folks. LOVED it!
I recently finished up a book called “You Never Give Me Your Money: The Beatles after the Break Up”. The author details the many struggles, slip ups and failures that Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr had after they decided to part ways. From divisive litigation, futile attempts to bring the group back together under public pressure and the egos that would not allow the four men to be in the same room together at many points, it’s a pretty pointing and interesting, yet pretty sad story in the end. And John Lennon may have struggled the most with post-Beatles life out of all four men, as proof of the song “Working Class Hero”. Considered by many music historians to be one of his best yet also divisive and alienating recordings, “Working Class Hero” was the result of several months of Primal Scream therapy that John and Yoko Ono went through in the early 1970s. It allowed for him to confront several demons that had been lying dormant for a long time, but also did a good job of alienating his fans. Personally, it reminds me of two Bob Dylan recordings: “Masters of War” and “The Ballad of Hollis Brown”. Lennon’s voice is extremely vulnerable and desperate when matched with the melancholy strum of the acoustic guitar. This song really puts into perspective the powerful highs and extreme lows that Lennon experienced, sometimes of his own making.
Seriously can’t get enough of this song right about now. To me, THIS is a return to form for Lupe. It really reminds me of Lupe’s style on “The Cool” times two. And the story behind it is extremely interesting too, being an updated, interpretation of George Orwell’s famous novel “Animal Farm”, which Orwell described as his own interpretation of the events leading up to the 1917 Russian Revolution and the era of Joseph Stalin. We still don’t know if this song will make Lupe’s new album, but we can only hope that it’s in the cards.
Thought it only right to give some love to one of the architects of one of the biggest and most polarizing bands of the 1960s: Keyboardist Ray Manzarek, who passed away this week at the age of 74. As one of the founding members of The Doors, Manzarek helped to being their brand of outlaw rock music to the masses with his distinctive keyboard and piano playing skills, complimenting Jim Morrison’s strange yet intoxicating lyrics perfectly. And one of the ways I was truly introduced to Manzarek and The Doors was of course through Jay-Z and the way he and Kanye sampled “Five To One” on “The Takeover”, one of Hip Hop’s greatest diss records. Here’s the original track and the sampled piece, as well. Thank you so much, Ray Manzarek.
I actually posted this to Facebook not too long ago but thought I’d also share it here. I truly do wonder what Fela Kuti’s recording sessions were like. Tracks like “Confusion”,”C.B.B.” and “Zombie” to name just a few are so layered and intricate it sounds like it took days for him and his band to record a single song. He truly was the Nigerian version of James Brown. Would have been amazed to be a fly on the wall to see some of those sessions. Want some proof? Try to see if you can get through this nearly 30-minute epic arrangement of “Confusion”. First came across this a few years ago and I was so enthralled that I sat and listened to the whole thing a couple of times. As intricate, elaborate and specific as this song is, from the drums to the horns to the call-and-response nature of the singing, I can’t even imagine how long it took to record this. Take a listen.
One of the greatest things about Hip Hop is it’s ability to take, pick, choose, borrow and sample from just about any form of music we can think of and make something new out of it, while also making the older music distinctly “Hip Hop”. Another great thing is the fact that the rules to what Hip Hop can be continue to be shattered with each passing year. This weekend, Kanye West proved that fact again by debuting two new singles, “New Slaves” and “Black Skinhead”, to the world in his own high art, high fashion, conceptual way. And he’s been doing it for years now, especially beginning with his second album, Late Registration. All we have to do is listen to songs like “Stronger”, “Roses”, “Crack Music” and pretty much all of 808s and Heartbreak and we’ll see that Yeezy has been at the forefront of pushing Hip Hop forward, and probably will continue to do so with the new album Yeezus this June. But my personal favorite song from ‘Ye that is such a grab bag of so many different kinds of genres and truly breaks the mold of what Hip Hop is and what it can be appears on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy… the song “Gorgeous”. This song is SERIOUS! It combines so many different styles, from progressive rock guitar to what sounds like drums from the opening theme to an 80s TV crime drama by the time Raekwon steps to the mic. And that theme carries on throughout MBDTF. But this song is truly a work of art, which is honestly what Kanye is going for more and more in his music making and production these days. Say what you will about him, but the man makes music that challenges us, like no other.
It’s taken me a few years to admit it publicly, but I LOVE “Hung Up” by Madonna! What can I say, I’m just a big music head all around. But it’s not only because it’s a good song, it’s because of a few little mini-obsessions that I seem to have: one being with the era of the 1970s and the music that came out of it, especially how things were moving so fast in NYC in the 70s with the growth of Disco, Punk Rock and Hip Hop all at the same time. But even more than that, I seem to have a nagging mini-obsession with music that sounds like it could have been made in the 70s but is, or at least at one time, WAS current. Between this song and “Cosmic Girl” by Jamiroqui, they both sound as if they could have been on a constant play list at Studio 54 back in ’76 and at discos across the country during the height of it’s popularity. So there you have it: glad I got that off my chest!
Here’s another video from Hip Hop duo Passalacqua out of Detroit, MI. They were the recipients of funding from the Kresge institute in Detroit and are going to be part of this five-day multidisciplinary celebration in the city celebrating visual, performance and literary artists among many others. Check out the video of Brent and Brian giving a peek into their musical world and all they’re trying to accomplish in Detroit in the video just below.
I’ve commented on Fuze the MC before very, very briefly, but I wanted to post a video in support of him because I think his story is pretty intriguing. After reading the bio that he has posted on his website and getting a bit more information of how he used his computer programming/graphic design skills to get his foot in the door industry-wise, I was impressed and I’m looking to hear much more from this dude in the future. He’s already built up a hell of a following for himself and made the right connections so far, and if he keeps on this path there’s no telling what he can do. Love the sample on the song, by the way!