Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Macklemore Steals Home on Record Labels, Naysayers

Hip-Hop Thievery

Criticize it for being 'hipster-hop.' Dismiss it for its Pacific Northwest slant and origin. Clown the artist for eschewing major label fortunes to retain control of his music and image. But don't say Macklemore hasn't beaten the odds by charting his own course.

A full 36 hours since its release and his debut full-length album alongside producer Ryan Lewis, The Heist, sits alone atop both the iTunes ALBUMS and HIP-HOP charts, besting new releases from the likes of Pink, Jay-Z, Muse, Kiss, and Mumford and Sons, all of whom pack the punch of multinational PR and marketing machines in their back pockets.

10/9/12, Seattle WA
While he continues to be ignored in some purist rap circles, the accomplishments and accolades continue to pile up ; an appearance on the cover of XXL Magazine this year as a nominee for 'Freshman of the Year' (despite being more than a decade on in his rap career) ; inking a deal with Miller to use his track "Can't Hold Us" in a commercial endorsement ; sold-out American AND European tours in the last year with stops from Los Angeles to New York, Dublin to Prague ; an already underway and mostly-sold-out world tour in support of The Heist, including a triumphant homecoming show with upwards of 8,000 tickets sold.

Mack is unconventional, to be sure. He raps about his love for second-hand clothes while others drop names like Hermes and Gucci just to get free samples. He supports gay marriage while travelling in and among the most traditionally homophobic of musical genres. And his ongoing struggle with chemical addiction has been a chance for him to inspire fans through the joys of his success since achieving sobriety, rather than celebrate the wobbly, weeded-out musings of his contemporaries.

In an art form that trots out the word 'real' as both noun and adjective, a look at the dictionary definition is warranted:

1re·al -  a : not artificial, fraudulent, or illusory : genuine b : having objective independent existence

His jeans may be tapered. His shows may be full of mostly-white 80's-and-90's-babies. Hell, he may fade into obscurity after this like so many of his Seattle-bred predecessors. But at this moment, nobody can tell Macklemore that his success is 'artificial,' 'fraudulent,' or 'illusory.' To the contrary, its as real as 'real' can get.

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' The Heist was independently released under Alternative Distribution Alliance on October 9th, and is available on Itunes and record stores throughout the US:

Saturday, May 5, 2012

R.I.P. Nathaniel Hornblower
Beastie Boys : Generation X's Musical, Cultural Bellwether

Following the death of Kurt Cobain in 1994, Rolling Stone's David Fricke famously--some say infamously--suggested the late Nirvana front man was the modern-day equivalent of Beatles co-impresario John Lennon, saying in part "...(like Lennon, Cobain) was writing very much from the heart, very directly, and he didn't play according to the rules."

Music purists lined up to chastise Fricke, dismissing the notion that a three-piece, three chord, post-punk grunge band could even approximate the level of musical and cultural impact enjoyed by the sainted lad(s) from Liverpool.
Yauch : Earth's Baddest Buddhist

If Cobain can even loosely be compared to Lennon, then the death this week of Adam "MCA" Yauch--co-founder of seminal hip-hop band Beastie Boys--will have many 50-and-under observers likening the imprint left by the Brooklyn-bred trio to that of a certain British foursome.

Consider, for starters, the music. Originally formed as a hardcore punk band in 1979, the Beasties attained some moderate local success in support of groups like Bad Brains and the Dead Kennedy's before releasing their first hip-hop track, "Cooky Puss", in 1983. This led to further incorporation of rap into their live shows, their eventual collaboration with Ruck Rubin via his upstart Def Jam Records, and finally, in 1986, the release of Licensed to Ill. The album became the first rap LP to reach #1 on the Billboard album chart, and the best-selling rap album of the decade. It skyrocketed the group to international stardom and launched them on a world tour. Along the way, tracks like "(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)" and "No Sleep Till Brooklyn" became bonafide party/rap classics.

The Licensed to Ill tour also earned the group a well-honed party boy reputation ; the stage show featured caged female dancers and a giant inflatable penis. Several European crowds were whipped into riotous frenzies, with the Beasties accused of inciting/provoking crowds with their profane, beer-can-smashing antics.

With this as a backdrop, most observers predicted more meat head-friendly fare. But their next two projects--1988's Paul's Boutique, and Check Your Head, released in 1992--marked experimental departures for the group, and are held up as examples of their trailblazing musical style. On Boutique (ranked #156 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time), the Beasties pioneered the use of multi-layering amidst a staggering amount of musical sampling, cementing it as one of the great hip-hop recordings in history (despite less than stellar critical response at the time). Examples of this sampling approach can be heard on tracks like "Car Thief" :

Beastie Boys - Car Thief by Bro Hug

On Check Your Head, released on the group's own Grand Royal record label, the Beasties picked up their instruments once again, and embarked on perhaps their most groundbreaking recording to date. A sizzling, simmering mix of hip-hop, instrumental R&B, Latin, funk, and hardcore punk, the album achieved double-platinum status in the U.S., and ushered in the format for what would become their live/touring package; the use of turntable and sample-based beats, interspersed with 'live' or instrumental performances. Their awesome musical hybrid can be seen in this live performance of "Something's Got To Give" from the documentary "Awesome: I F**kin' Shot That!" (directed by the late Yauch himself):

Live instrumentation--with Yauch on bass, Michael "Mike D." Diamond on drums, and Adam "Ad-Rock" Horovitz on guitar (Horovitz was also the primary beatmaker/studio producer)--remained a staple for the group.  Beginning with Check Your Head, the Beasties also collaborated with the likes of studio engineer Mario Caldato, Jr., keyboardist Mark "Money Mark" Nishita, DJ Hurricane, and frenetic turntablist/contributing musician Mixmaster Mike. This expanded musical approach was most famously realized on tracks like  "Sabrosa" (from 1994's Ill Communication), and, most recently, "Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament," from 2011's Hot Sauce Committee Part Two:

Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament by Beastie Boys

The band broke plenty of non-musical ground as well. Their videos--most notably their collaborations with acclaimed director Spike Jonze--often became instant spawning grounds for fashion trends, just by virtue of an item's appearance on one off the band members. In 1992's "So What'cha Want," it was flannel shirts, vintage tees, and wool hats. For Jonze's "Sabotage," the group made the un-coolest of bad 70's cop fashion cool again ; this time it was mustaches and aviator sunglasses. Later years saw them turn to Carhartt-style work wear in videos like "Intergalactic" (from 1997's Hello Nasty). Even back in the formative days of Licensed to Ill, Mike D. single handedly (if unintentionally) inspired a worldwide rash of automobile emblem theft by adorning himself with a large Volkswagen insignia attached to a chain-link necklace.

But perhaps the most telling representation of the Beasties' cross-generational influence and appeal lies in their most recent work, the video for "Make Some Noise,"  the lead single off what proved to be their final album, Hot Sauce Committee Part Two. Directed--fittingly--by Yauch alter-ego Nathaniel Hornblower, the clip is a who's who of comedy, film, and pop culture stars both past and present, with Elijah Wood, Danny McBride, and Seth Rogen playing a slightly swollen version of the Beasties circa 1986. John C. Reilly, Will Ferrell, and Jack Black supply the fast-forwarded version of the group, and cameos throughout the 29-minute short film range from Stanley Tucci, Susan Sarandon, and Ted Danson, to Zach Galifanakis, Steve Buscemi, and Maya Rudolph, none of whom seem the least bit inhibited by appearing in a production that includes willful property destruction, drug use, and an alarming amount of mutual group urination. "Its hard to find anyone in popular culture who's not a fan of the Beastie Boys," said MTV Music Group president Van Toffler, "...and any comedian would jump at the chance to be in a Beastie Boys video because they were so loud and unforgettable."

"Make Some Noise" not only re-illustrates the Beasties' singular influence in the realm of music videos (many consider their impact on MTV to be on par with that of Michael Jackson), but perhaps their most important contribution to rap music in general ; the acceptance of the genre by mainstream white America. While inducting the group into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last month, L.L. Cool J. praised the trio's proselytization of hip-hop , saying in part, "Run D.M.C. brought rap to the edge of Suburbia, the Beasties drove it right to the center of town."

If the Beatles reflected the West's turbulent transition from conservative 50's morays to the liberated, free-loving 60's, and finally the psychedelic 1970's, certainly Beastie Boys can be considered a more modern, American-bred standard-bearer. The former went from tailored, mop-topped songs about holding hands and the pitfalls of puppy love, to long hair and beards, experimenting with musical boundaries and world religions (not to mention LSD), and becoming a cultural reference point for what registered as important to millions of people not represented by The Establishment.

The Beastie Boys certainly didn't have Vietnam or the Civil Rights Movement to contend with, but they also never shied away from social/political causes. They used the platform of an awards acceptance speech to rail against anti-Muslim stereotyping following the bombings of US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. Yauch--who himself converted to Buddhism following a visit to Nepal in the 1990's--became heavily involved in the Tibetan independence movement, co-founding the Milarepa Fund and Tibetan Freedom Concerts, dedicated to raising money and awareness for the cause. And following the debacle of the Woodstock 1999 Music Festival--which was ended prematurely due to violence, arson, and scores of reported sexual assaults--Horovitz excoriated the music industry to campaign for safer conditions for females at concerts.

Their evolution from shallow, beer-bonging agitators into the respected, elder statesman of the craft certainly mirrors the maturation of rap music from a strictly urban-based fringe movement, enjoyed primarily by inner-city youths, to an art form embraced worldwide on pop radio, in commercial endorsements, across fashion runways, and beyond. Along the way they changed the perception of what a true 'rap' act can be, not only in terms of racial makeup, but perhaps just as important, musical content. They began as teenagers in the analog era of mix tapes and turntable scratching, and stayed relevant through the digital MP3 revolution and into their late forties, somehow always remaining arbiters of youthful, rebellious cool. Along the way, they created three decades of timeless hits, a veritable life soundtrack for people age 50-and-under. And that, in this era of American Idol, disposable Internet fame, and fly-by-night musical tastes, is testament enough to their importance.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

FIRST LISTEN : Black Radio

Robert Glasper's Genre-Bending Mix of Jazz, Hip-Hop, and R&B

There are many reasons to be excited about Robert Glasper's latest musical endeavour, even before giving it a first listen. Chief among them:

Radio: lacking categorization
-His band--comprised of saxist Casey Benjamin, bassist Derrick Hodge, and drummer Chris Dave--bears the name 'Experiment.'
-Glasper, already a Grammy-nominated pianist/keyboardist of significant acclaim, is signed to Blue Note Records, long considered the standard-bearer for all things good in jazz and blues, and home to current innovators like Madlib, St. Germain, and Medeski Martin and Wood.
-Glasper, 33, is schooled in jazz, but like so many of his under-forty contemporaries, was raised on a steady dose of hip-hop. He has a demonstrated track record of straddling both genres, with stints playing keyboards on Q-Tip's acclaimed 2008 album The Renaissance, and current role as musical director for the touring band of the artist formerly known as Mos Def.
Glasper: lacking boundaries
-The list of collaborators and contributors on the album reads like a who's-who in urban music; Erykah Badu, Bilal, Chrisette Michele, Lupe Fiasco, Musiq Soulchild, the former Mr. Def (now Yasiin Bey), etc..

A pretty good start just on spec. The music does not disappoint. Badu soulfully "Badu-izes" the jazz classic "Afro Blue" ;  Fiasco rhymes his signature Chicago-cool over Glasper's acoustic piano and a soaring vocal chorus from Bilal on "Always Shine" ; Bey jumps between machine-gun spoken word and vocal scatting on the album's jam-like title track ; Glasper even closes the album with a jazzed-out cover of the seminal Nirvana smash "Smells Like Teen Spirit," using a vocoder to funk-ify Kurt Cobain's famous lyrics.

Black Radio ; Completely experimental, totally unclassifiable, and undeniably cool:
Robert Glasper feat Erykah Badu Afro Blue by Hear This Smells Like Teen Spirit ft. Robert Glasper by Zack Sekoff

Wednesday, February 29, 2012


70's Funk/Soul Legend Continues Comeback with New Album

Neo-soul revivalists like Aloe Blacc, Raphael Saadiq, and Mayer Hawthorne most certainly owe a portion of their pedigree to Lee Fields. While the more polished (but still funky) crop of modern-day/under-40 acts have enjoyed increased success and acceptance in recent years, Fields (along with contemporaries like Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley), has a career in music spanning over forty years. First singing in his church choir then getting his professional start with Kool and the Gang in the late sixties, Fields has been howling, screaming, and grunting over classic, gritty blues and R&B since before most of his modern-day emulators were even born.

Admittedly, his music has changed over the years to reflect more modern tastes, but the end result is still raw, sweaty emotion ; a highly personal sound that is chalk full of soul and cuts right to the bone. While there have certainly been lean years/decades (Jones famously spent years as a Rikers Island Prison corrections officer before beginning her comeback on a Fields studio session in the 90's), Fields plugged away and gained some national acclaim with 2009's My World, teaming with Truth and Soul Records' house band The Expressions, on tracks like "Ladies," and "My World is Empty Without You." 

His new album, A Faithful Man, is set to be released March 13th  (30-40 tour stops are planned as well) , and the first single, "You're the Kind of Girl," is below: "You're The Kind Of Girl" by Lee Fields & The Expressions by truthandsoulrecords A Faithful Man is due for release on March 13th (Truth and Soul Records).

Wednesday, February 22, 2012



De La Soul Members Reincarnate as Basement-Bound Queens Emcees ; Album Due April 2nd

Long Island hip-hop legends De La Soul could loosely be considered a 'concept' rap group. From their participation in the Native Tongues hip-hop collective alongside acts like A Tribe Called Quest and The Jungle Brothers in the late 80's/early 90's, to theme-ish albums like De la Soul is Dead and the Art Official Intelligence series, they've long been comfortable assigning a back story mythology to their work.

It seems at least two of its members are poised to take things a step further.  Kelvin 'Posdnous' Mercer and David Jude 'Dave/Trugoy' Jolicoeur are in fact presenting First Serve as an entirely new band ; a press releases describes it as "...a dynamic hip-hop group, an album, a concept, the soundtrack to a movie that has yet to be made and a fable for our times."

In the cartoonish alternate-reality seen in this comical YouTube sketch, they are Deen Whittier (Dave), and Jacob 'Pop Life' Barrrow (Pos), two young friends from Queens, New York, with "...big dreams and larger rhymes (press release)." Hunkered down in Deen's mother's basement, the pair--which bear a striking resemblance at times to Rick Ross and of the Black Eyed Peas--have just hit the big time, signing a record contract with 'Goon Time Records' (another veiled shot at the mainstream music biz?). Both their costumed alter-egos and the dance-friendly first single, "Must B the Music," have many thinking that the entire First Serve project is to serve as one big middle finger to the industry at large (not totally unfamiliar territory to De La), but one listen to the laid back, expertly-sampled "Pushin' Aside, Pushin' Along" (below), have many others thinking differently:
  De La Soul's Plug 1 & Plug 2 present First Serve - Pushin' Aside, Pushin' Along by FIRST SERVE

De La Soul's Plug 1 & Plug 2 Present...First Serve is due for release on April 2nd through Duck Down Music

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


FIRST LISTEN : Blundetto
Blundetto, Warm My Soul (Heavenly Sweetness Records)

Just in time for winter's stretch-run, a ray of sunshine from French producer/beat maker/remixer Blundetto. A sizzling, simmering concoction of dub reggae, funk, R&B, hip-hop, and Latin grooves, Warm My Soul is the second solo offering from the somewhat reclusive Parisian, and is littered with contributions from an international roster of collaborators, including ethio-jazz quintet Akale Wube, Jamaican Courtney Love, and many others. On Hercules (a cover of the Aaron Neville classic), Blundetto teams with British vocalist Hugh Coltman, and American multi-instrumentalist Shawn Lee:

Friday, February 10, 2012



A Completely Biased and Un-Scientific Guide to Music's Biggest Night

Award shows--as a general rule--are awful. With occasional exception, its a bunch of very wealthy people in a room congratulating each other on how great they are. The religious and politically-laced acceptance speeches, the contrived pairings of 'new' and 'old' artists (Elton John and Eminen come to mind), the overt campaigning by publicity firms and movie/music studios for awards like the Oscars leave so few surprises, that a Kanye West stage rush can be viewed as a welcome diversion.

Ehhhhhh, Thanks?
The Grammys are not terribly different. Winners are decided by the members of the mysterious Recording Academy. Anyone with accredited work on six tracks released via 'traditional retail method' can be  a member (they only need to fill out an application and pay $100.00 in annual dues). The good news? It seems reasonable to assume that at the end of the day, nominees are being judged by their peers. The bad news? There are thousands of recordings submitted every year, and many voters probably have actually listened to only a fraction of them. As such, there has been wide criticism leveled that the Grammy Awards are ACTUALLY decided on the basis of chart/sales performance, or record company loyalty. In 1996, Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder took the stage after winning Best Rock Performance, and famously droned, "I don't know what this means, I don't think it means anything." Get em, Ed!

Still, it is fun to attempt to predict exactly whom will be bestowed with music's highest honor, and to contrast that against my own extremely slanted and opinionated take on who/what deserves the trophy. So, in no particular order, a few of the more interesting categories:


Rolling in the Deep : Rolling in Grammys?

21- Adele
Wasting Light- Foo Fighters
Born This Way- Lady Gaga
Doo-Wops & Hooligans – Bruno Mars
Loud – Rihanna

Who Will Win: Adele
It is widely predicted that 21 will sweep the major album/artist categories

Who Should Win: Adele
One of the rare times that perception meets reality. No album had a larger impact on popular music this year. Everyone--from neo-soul hipsters to top-40 enthusiasts, high-schoolers to housewives--heard Rolling in the Deep  at least once. While there is minimal chance she will be upset in other major categories, this is one she is almost sure to win.
Bon Iver : Best New Beard?


The Band Perry
Bon Iver
Nicki Minaj

Who Will Win: Nicki Minaj

Who Should Win:  Bon Iver / J. Cole
I'd accept the trophy going to either the bearded neo-folksters, or the backpacked Jay-Z prodigy. There's something about Cole's back story--German-born, Carolina-raised, magnum cum laude graduate of St.John's University--that has me thinking he has staying power. That, and the fact that his long-awaited debut album Cole World: The Sideline Story, debuted atop the Billboard 200, Top Rap Albums AND Top R&B Albums chart.


21 -Adele
The Lady Killer – Cee Lo Green
Born This Way – Lady Gaga
Doo-Wops & Hooligans – Bruno Mars
Loud- Rihanna

Who Will Win: Adele

Who Should Win: Cee Lo Green
Actually, Adele probably should win this, but I've always had a soft spot for Cee Lo's soul-drenched solo work. While he has been plying his trade since his early-90's stint with hip-hop's Goodie Mob, and his amazing collaborations with Danger Mouse in the hit-making Gnarls Barkley, he really went macro this year. Consider the evidence:  F**k You / Forget You  being driven into the ground by the likes of commercial / television endorsements ; Green taking a seat alongside Christina Aguilera and that jerk-off from Maroon 5 as a judge on NBC's The Voice ; even notching a soft drink deal with Sprite. My selfish misgivings about my beloved Cee Lo being digested by the mainstream masses aside, The Lady Killer is another brilliant musical journey, an effortless mix of pop, dance, and neo-R&B numbers that seamlessly sprinkles in a Band of Horses cover with missing a soulful step:


Rock ‘N’ Roll Party Honoring Les Paul – Jeff Beck
Wasting Light – Foo Fighters
Come Around Sundown – Kings of Leon
I’m With You – Red Hot Chili Peppers
The Whole Love – Wilco

Who Will Win: Jeff Beck

Who Should Win: Foo Fighters
I'm reading the tea-leaves here, but there are two Rock and Roll Hall of Famers in the first nominee. Kings of Leon managed a nomination even after the predictable critical letdown following 2008's Come Around Sundown, and Wilco and Red Hot Chili Peppers are certainly worthy challengers. But I'm gonna guess that the two guitar legends at the top of the list take this one home.


Watch The Throne – Jay-Z and Kanye West
Tha Carter IV – Lil Wayne
Lasers – Lupe Fiasco
Pink Friday – Nicki Minaj
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – Kanye West

Who Will Win: Watch the Throne

Who Should Win: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
It seems everybody's favorite bum-rusher/fashionista wins either way here. Watch The Throne was one of the most anticipated rap LP's in recent memory, but Kanye's solo Fantasy plays like a rap opera ; several tracks run in the six-to-eight-minute range and are arranged in movements. On Blame Game , sounds move from drum-and-bass-derived expansions on women and watches, to 90-second string-and-piano arrangements, back into guest spots from the likes of John Legend, all without losing the signature Kanye Cool.


Bon Iver - Bon Iver
Codes and Keys - Death Cab For Cutie
Torches - Foster the People
Circuital - My Morning Jacket
The King Of Limbs - Radiohead

Who Will Win: ???

Who Should Win: Torches
Perhaps the most up-for-grabs category on the board, as there are five solid offerings here. Nobody can argue with the efforts put forth by stalwarts Radiohead or Death Cab, or the amazing year had by Wisconsin-bred Bon Iver, and its even more rare for a debut album to capture a Grammy trophy. But the L.A.-based trio's genre-bending mix of pop, rock, and melodic dance on tracks like Call it What you Want, and the obligatory Pumped Up Kicks  had many taking notice this past year. Its a long shot, but here's hoping some fresh blood gets rewarded.

The 54th Annual Grammy Awards will be held on Sunday, February 12th, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, and air on CBS at 8pm EST.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


Black Star WILL 'Keep Shining' in 2012

Late Night Performance Reveals New, Old Tracks

When Talib Kweli and Mos Def--now officially known as Yassin Bey--announced plans last year for a new album under their shared moniker Black Star (and a tour in support of said album), fans salivated at the prospect of the duo's first shared project since their legendary 1998 LP.

The particulars, however, were a little slow in coming. While the pair toured the festival circuit over last summer then launched an in-earnest US club tour in the fall, the album's first Madlib-produced track, Fix Up, was leaked very early in the year to mixed reviews, and not much was known as to the direction or substance of the long-rumored album.

Then, following a strong live showing in October on the Colbert Report that went viral, just before Thanksgiving Fix Up was officially released to itunes along with a second track available for free download, You Already Knew:

But perhaps more exciting than the track itself (a fully-mixed version with a soulful Aretha sample) was the revelation that at least one of  Black Star's latest projects will be an Aretha Franklin-inspired mix tape that actually bears the name Black Star Aretha. What's NOT known is whether this is a stand-alone release or in addition to an entirely new album of Bey/Kweli material. Talib recently told MTV Hive, "We have a bunch of songs recorded. We are just trying to figure out the best way to release them, whether it’s going to be one by one, EP or album.  Right now, the plan is to release “Fix Up” and then Yaasin is working on a Yaasin Bey Presents project and then we’ll see how it goes. [Pause, then slowly] I am working to put out a Black Star project for people to buy sometime next year."

Last night (January 3rd), the duo kicked of 2012 in style with a performance of Knew on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and then, backed by Fallon's studio band (hip-hop legends The Roots), treated the audience to a web cast-only rendition of the 1999 J-Dilla-produced classic, Little Brother, which for fans of the late, great Dilla, was chill-bump-inducing.

The beat is so legendary in hip-hop circles that the Roots' Questlove took time to record a separate four minute featurette explaining its genesis, which involves Dilla taking 32 separate half-second snippets from Roy Ayers' 1973 release Ain't Got Time , then assembling the excerpts over the course of four hours while killing time waiting to take Quest to the airport. The beat was later accidentally discovered by Black Star who added vocals, and the track was featured on the soundtrack to the 1999 Denzel Washington film The Hurricane.

The portal to get the free download of You Already Knew, is here, the Questlove featurette on J. Dilla is here, and the amazing Black Star / Roots performance of Little Brother is below: