Wednesday, December 14, 2011


FIRST LISTEN : The Black Keys
The Black Keys, El Camino (Nonesuch Records)

Perhaps nothing that singer/songwriter Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney put forth for their seventh studio album could top the critical acclaim of 2010's Brothers. That LP--at once hearbreakingly sweet and melodic on tracks like Unknown Brother, then foot-stompingly savage on Tighten Up--garnered the duo three Grammys, countless magazine covers, and left them at or near the top of nearly every year-end top ten or best-of list. While their collaboration with Brian "Danger Mouse" Burton continues this go-around (Burton shares songwriting credit with The Keys for the first time), the result is somewhat more rooted in 70's classic rock, with the familiar blues accents. The other emerging consensus seems to be that Camino is the Key's 'catchiest' (i.e. pop-iest) album to date. One listen to tracks like Sister might have you thinking otherwise, as the familiar combination of grimy riff and blues-rock strut reign supreme.

Friday, December 2, 2011



10. Kanye West & Jay-Z, The Joy (feat. Curtis Mayfield)
Are these two 'macro-rap' kingpins now undeniably mainstream? Yes. Has Kanye West gone from Chicago-bred backpacker-made-good to one of the most consistently self-aggrandizing and over-the-top characters in the rap game? No question. Did their Twin Tower collaboration, Watch The Throne, catch a fair amount of heat in industry circles for its Hermes, Maybach, and Gucci-laced approach to their self-proclaimed LP of 'Luxury Rap?' Yup. Does any of this change the fact that Jay and 'Ye are still at the absolute top of the heap in terms of rhyming and producing, respectively? Me thinks not. All you need to hear is West's return to his College Dropout-era roots with his sped-up-and-re imagined sample of Curtis Mayfield's The Makings of You.  Add to this the fact that the track is co-produced by beat making virtuoso Pete Rock, and its hard to deny that the Hip-Pop Throne is safe in the hands Misters West and Carter.

9. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis,  Make the Money
He may be just the latest in a string of 206-based emcees that seems poised to achieve national stardom (and never does), but there is plenty of evidence to the contrary ; his bone-jarring appearance alongside Wiz Khalifa at September's Bumbershoot Music & Arts Festival, where he whipped 15,000+ (many of whom seemed perched to see him and nobody else) into a sweaty, hand-bobbing frenzy ; his continuing musical fellowship with producer/musical alter-ego Ryan Lewis (the pair are reportedly working on a full-length follow-up to their acclaimed Vs. EP) ; and perhaps most importantly, his current national tour, where he his selling out not just the familiar Northwest-college-and-club circuit, but venues like Slim's (San Francisco), The Troubadour (Los Angeles), Drunken Unicorn (Atlanta), Lincoln Hall (Chicago), and just last night, New York's Bowery Ballroom. Add to that the fact that his stage show includes the use of live strings, horns, and backing vocals, and there seems to be a higher ceiling for Sea-town's latest rap challengers. Need proof? Here you go:

8. Big K.R.I.T, Dreamin
With an eighteen-month run that's included two independent, self-produced releases, opening and co-headlining slots on two major tours, and a signing ceremony with iconic rap label Def Jam, its surprising that the 24 year-old native of Meridian, Mississippi has snuck up on anyone. Also surprising to some--especially in light of the Wayne-dominated ranks of Southern rap of late--is his allegiance to the Scarface/Outkast/8Ball & MJG-led movement of the 1990's. Dig a little deeper, and you discover that K.R.I.T. (short for King Remembered In Time), cites the likes of Curtis Mayfield, Bobby Womack, and Willie Hutch as his musical influences, and pretty quickly you have all the earmarks of a measured, thoughtful, and textured artist that is poised to produce loads of great music that is mature beyond his years.

Friday, October 28, 2011


Beats, Rhymes, and Strife : Michael Rapaport's Magnum Opus to A Tribe Called Quest, and Hip-Hop's Crucible Years

3. Cru-ci-ble (kroo se bel) - A place, time, or situation characterized by the confluence of powerful intellectual, social, economic, or political forces.

There's a moment in Michael Rapaport's documentary, Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, in which famed member of The Roots, ?uestlove, heralds the release of Tribe's seminal work, Midnight Marauders, as 'the last great day in classic hip-hop.'

It was November 1993. Out West, Gin and Juice, the second single from the most anticipated solo LP in the history of rap music--Snoop Dogg's Doggystyle--was ascending the charts and cementing that album's largess, and the entire landscape of rap (and music as a whole)was about to change. 

Yet back in New York, on the very same day Tribe dropped Marauders (November 9th), Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), from Staten Island collective Wu-Tang Clan, trumpeted the absolute apex of what's become known as 'classic 90's hip-hop,' and simultaneously signaled the end of that very same era.

Documenting the
'Crucible Years'
Consider for a moment what had already been released in that year ;  Black Moon's Enta da Stage, routinely mentioned as one of the standard bearers for the resurgence of 90's New York hip-hop, featuring Buck Em Down , with its Donald Byrd-inspired sample ; 93 til' infinity , by Oakland, CA's Souls of Mischief, a top-100 LP as named by The Source magazine ; Digable Planets' Reachin' (A New Refutation of Time and Space), which took home a Grammy for Best Rap Performance, and features a sampling list that reads like a who's-who of jazz/R&B greatness (Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Parliament, Earth Wind & Fire, Kool & The Gang, Curtis Mayfield) ;  Buhloone Mind State from Tribe's Native Tongue and New York brethren De la Soul, who in a single track in collaboration with Prince Paul, Breakadawn , incorporate elements from Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson, The Bar-Keys, and The Pointer Sisters(!) ; and Brand Nubian's In God We Trust, who's first single, Punks Jump Up to Get Beat Down , charted in the Billboard Hot-100. All of this in addition to fantastic releases form Lords of the Underground (Here Come the Lords), Tha Alkaholiks (21 and Over), Cypress Hill (Black Sunday), and Ice Cube (Lethal Injection).

Yes, 1993 was The Best of Times for makers and listeners of rap music. Rapaport explores this phenomena as part of his cinematic love letter, but also effectively fleshes out Tribe's undeniable contribution to production, sampling, rhyming, and hip-hop culture in general. View the trailer here: