Song of The Year-Blue Trash by The Dead South
The Dead South are Canadian Bluegrass. If you’ve ever listened to Bluegrass you know that the instrumentation is at the core of its success. Everything grows out of the rhythm and dexterity the banjo and the bass establish. The Dead South add gloriously to that tradition. Erik Mehlsen is basically the Lebon James of Cello. The lyrics that Nate Hilts sings on their new album ,Sugar & Joy, are stranger than Richard Nixon’s ghost. The groups fourth project is named after a lyric from the song Fat Little Killer Boy about a cannibal kid baking people into cakes. The group has been around since 2012 crafting this sound and Sugar & Joy marks the transition where they went to Muscle Shoals and did whatever felt good. They took what was already weird and spackled it with more weird.
Blue Trash comfortably navigates three different paces. I used the song to explain musical tempo to my six year old son. You can’t miss it. Trust me, if you read this blog I know your playlist doesn’t have a lot of banjo in it but lucky for all of us a little goes a long way. Just listen to Blue Trash a few times and see if your not singing along and looking for more songs. Sometimes it takes seven years to find the quintessential album that nails a bands mission statement but Sugar & Joy does. Let this music drive you like it does them and we’ll all stay alive together for a short while.
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Tagged banjo, Blue Trash, Bluegrass, CANADA!, Canadian Bluegrass, child cannibals, Folk, song of the year, Sugar & Joy, Sugar and Joy, tempo, The Dead South
Track Breakdown: Time Machine Edition-A.D. 2000 by Erykah Badu
The public perception of Badu has always been that she is nuts. She dates important musicians and messes up their heads. I have to be honest…her discography is full of songs that make perfect sense to me. She’s weird but I’m weird and the public isn’t great at keeping a safe space for us. Her second album ,Mama’s Gun, was released November 21, 2000. It must have seemed like an especially odd album because that is the same month Creed was charting unironically. The music on the charts was easy to figure out: Aguilera fit a mold perfectly, Britney Spears and N’Sync were branded within an inch of their lives. An audience looking for simple icons must have thought Badu certifiable. Only one other album in 2000 can be considered a partner to Mama’s Gun and that’s D’Angelo’s Voodoo. Both albums use a genre usually considered comforting in order to throw complex conversations at the listener.
I was definitely 20 years old and in the United States Army. We spent a lot of time going places and hiding from work that didn’t need to be done. I remember being in the Mojave desert in August under a Hummer (for shade) listening to Voodoo and Mama’s Gun. While stationed at Fort Hood I got a crash course in the levels of Southern Hip Hop (before it took over the world). My best friend was from SouthEast Atlanta and preached Dungeon Family, Kilo Ali, and Badu.
The world was so different once I picked up the language. Erykah Badu has forever after been my Neo-Soul Fiona Apple. While most major artists are hungrily announcing or pursuing accomplishments A.D. 2000 questions the nature of success. Not every Badu song is fancy poetry. Orange Moon (as an example) is just a pretty song about love. She always worked with the best musicians, the guitar-work on A.D. 2000 is light and precious and forms a groove that doesn’t resemble the hi-hat driven sound of Bag Lady or the horns dancing on Booty. Every song adds the ingredients differently. The music has to sound free in order for Badu to actually love it.
A.D. 2000 is a chant. She is really good at chants. “No you won’t be naming no buildings after me…to go down dilapidated. No you won’t be naming no buildings after me. My name won’t be misstated.” She says it over and over with very good reason. We all should. Don’t ever ever be under the impression that having a building wear your name is a huge benefit to your name. Your name should be more important than any building. You should make it that way. Paint with all the colors because you don’t have lots of time and the world is changing. Don’t ever let your name be misstated misapplied or mishandled. Guard it like Badu or Tom Waits does.
Mama’s Gun is not known as her classic. If anything, people think of it as her almost classic. Baduizm (her debut album) is supposed to be THE ONE but it never hit me as hard. We used to put A.D. 2000 on and freestyle while her voice rang in the background and the stereo set to repeat. No matter where she fits in the history of the music she has been my umbrella when the world rains down. She knows what’s important and uses her fears to focus on those things.
I remain thankful to live the rest of my life within the lessons contained in this songs chorus.
Song Review-Same As by Marc E Bassy featuring Mozzy
Marc E Bassy cannot become a pop star with pop songs. I’ve heard every project he’s ever made including his new independent album PMD. When he makes pop songs they don’t have any character and feel like they could have been written or performed by any number of people. For PMD examples try Save Me or Drip. These songs aren’t bad unless you think he’s cheesy and that is a personal taste line hard to legislate. They’re just…a lot like everything else in the genre. The more specific Marc E Bassy gets, the more Californian he sounds, the more fascinating he is. On Same As he talks about 40 ounces and fist fighting at red lights, listening to Stevie Wonder and struggling with growth. His nostalgia is specific and ties into characteristics he hasn’t managed to improve upon. His voice is (and has always been) butter but here it feeds into Mozzy’s listless monotone like the two belong together.
The crazy thing: Mozzy is a perfect example of how not to struggle with content or stardom. Mozzy does Mozzy and his fans love it. He works quickly, efficiently, doesn’t doubt himself and always has something new out that knocks. This has sharpened his sword to the point where he sounds great on a love song like Same As where other hardcore rappers would fail. He outworks the majority.
This song carried me back to an all-timer called Back In The Day by Ahmad off The Wood Soundtrack. The imagery pulls me in and sends me off into my own history. Every time I wonder if following Marc E Bassy project-after-project has paid proper dividends he gives me a song like Same As and I am back in!
CATCH THIS THROWBACK!!!
#Bandcampgold-Green Parakeet Suite by Davis
Chance The Rapper mocks 90’s hardcore hip hop in a way that ruffles my feathers. He clowns 90’s Gangsta Rap for being full of phony tough guys acting the part. He’s making the point that being genuinely silly or conscious is better than being artificially thug but that’s a dumb comp. Conscious rap has just as many fake philosophers as the 90’s had pretend tough guys. Green Parakeet Suite is a brilliant example of what authentically crafted hardcore hip hop can achieve.
I don’t mean to sound defensive of Gangsta Rap. While lots of people hear just the violence in it they miss the illustrated world it lets you inside. The cover of Green Parakeet Suite is pitch perfect. Leaning on a mountain of Nike shoeboxes Davis sips from his Henri Matisse mug while wearing a Westside Gunn hoodie(with gun and ski mask). This is the balance of materialism(not a synonym for greed but a tangible attachment to practical life), criminal instinct, and the highest aspirations of art. I am not thinking too deeply about this. He starts the project with an explanation of the Hedgehog’s Dilemma: the closer the people he loves gets the more they hurt (quills bro!) but the farther away they are the more alone he is. Davis goes from that realization to a song called Cannon Fodder about being human cannon fodder. His brain takes us from Squidward jokes to Bushido blades cleaving off excuses to mortality discussions that are not only deep but know they are, “Death is an attraction that we cannot manipulate, verbose vernacular took a quarter century to gestate.” Not all smart people are earthy and smooth or jubilant with Kit Kats. Intelligent people snarl at the world.
Gangsta Rappers are not inherently smart or stupid. Neither are conscious rappers. I get mad at anyone who views these different subgenres as sports rivals and takes a side. Hardcore rap provides a safe environment for our most hideous conversations. Joshua Virtue starts off his guest verse on Super Green with a chuckle and launches into “Ya’ll hear Bambaataa touchin’ little boys and he not shot?!” It’s an insanely difficult issue for hip hop to engage with but we can do it easily within the soulful hardcore NY landcape of Green Parakeet Suite. Channeling our authentic pain, frustration, venom, or indignant joy is the catharsis this music offers us that we can’t get just…keepin’ it positive. I hope Roc Marciano is somewhere in a mad colorful sweater bumping this.
Stream or download Green Parakeet Suite below:
Song of The Year-Shake It by Charli XCX featuring Big Freedia, Cupcakke, Brooke Candy and Pabllo Vittar
Without question XCX is my favorite pop entity. She is as dedicated to what was considered tawdry or profane as she is dance pop. As a creator she greatly enjoys lulling you into a trance and breaking that trance whether through jarring feature, insane production, or weird hook.
Her talent is the kind that can recognize other talent and enhance it. She gave hits to Iggy Azalea, Camila Cabello, Selina Gomez and more. Her pen is restless. On top of albums she pumps out loosies that bang as hard as any lead single (See: After The Afterparty featuring Lil Yachty). No one at her level of exposure could put Freedia and Cupcakke on a track comfortably with no fear of getting owned. Big Freedia makes huge N.O. Bounce music, Cupcakke is a scientific genius of sex lyrics who is only not featured by more rappers because of straight up fear.
This song starts with jarring sounds: water swishing, reverb, heavy breathing before the finger snaps give the beat permission to drop. Charli’s heavy breathing then becomes a melody as it slips into the roar of Big Freedia. This might be a strange song for you to listen to if your not familiar with these artists. You may not be used to beats switching every few seconds, dropping out coming back in, voices sneaking up on you and whispering rap verses. At some point it sounds like a pot is being hit with something in the background. The first few listens you’re just going to be stuck in the world of this odd thing. What will endure most from Charli XCX’s new album Charli is her musical IQ and the pure effort she put into the vocals on this album. Her voice has never been better executed better than it is on this album. You can feel the focus and its contagious.
Three Big Winners from Rapsody’s Eve album
Albums-With an aggregate score on Metacritic of 91 out of a 100 Rapsody’s new album Eve is not consummable in pop music chunks. While it is sixty two minutes and fifty seven seconds long It is so heavily thematic that every song acts as a vital puzzle piece in the totality of Black feminine dimension. This is more literal than hyperbole; most of the songs are named after an important black woman who made an important contribution to the world (Iman, Afeni, Serena, Whoopi, Oprah, etc).
Rapsody is my favorite female rapper in the world right now because of how elusive she is. She sneaks lines through like on the lead single Ibtihaj where she talks about how long women have led the way in hip hop. She says “Women been leading the way, since Roxanne Shante/And the Unit had Flava and Jay had Marcy neighbors that waved.” If you catch it, it is odd to think about Jay at one time having neighbors in Marcy who waved and how long ago that was. It’s a sneaky thoughtful personal image of a figure who seems so enormous now. For her pen to put the camera there is a real strong choice.
As the album’s star she never yells at people or engages theatrics. While this costs her a larger stage it creates real weight around bars that might not be considered that big a deal from someone else. On Whoopi when she sternly states “I ain’t feeling you like I ain’t feeling new Kanye,” you couldn’t help but think that might actually hurt Kanye’s feelings. She didn’t stutter or equivocate. Nothing she says is to be dismissed and critics know it. After years of putting out strong verses and solid music, fans know it as well. I watched a documentary following Rapsody. She is a nice lady in a hooded sweatshirt and if you ever need to ask what weapon she will use to defend herself against this dangerously half dead music industry…the album is the answer. It tells her story in full.
Eric G & 9th Wonder-12 out of 16 songs on Eve are produced by one of these two. 9th Wonder gets the full victory lap treatment because he has been pushing Rapsody with all the strength of his reputation for years and years. Now talking heads (like me) are running around touting Eve when they were dismissing her back in 2014.
I am very happy for Eric G to get a little of this shine. He is one of those kept label producers who remain the backbone of a unit (Elite is this for J.Cole and the Dreamville people). Rapsody sounds amazing over soul samples and smacking drums but Eric G finds a way to push the tempo. He sprinkles a little Roger Troutman into the song Aaliyah. Serena actually uses a Luther Campbell sample to set a fast tempo that pulls some of my favorite words from our narrator. He gives her soul but imbues it with strength and confidence. Rapsody has grown alongside 9th Wonder and Eric G. Eve is their moment alongside her.
Guests-Have you seen who is on this album? The lead single has GZA and D’Angelo on it. Gza does not contribute verses all over the place. He absolutely brings it like he’s happy to and he is not the only one. Nottz T’s up the perfect piano with chunky bass for Queen Latifah to flex over. J. Cole doesn’t just rap well dude gets deep into himself. His verse starts with “Born into pain” as the first three spoken words. This verse is given with deep respect to a piece of music he knows to be important. Iman captures a lot of talent in one place with JID continuing to build his guest verse portfolio , this time matching his speedbag flow with sincerity, Sir sounds buttery on the hook.
This is not a full review of Eve. If I did one of those it would be 1,500 words. I’d do 400 words just talking about how important to music Oprah is in that it brings the two best female rappers in the world together (Leikeli47 and Rapsody) over a beat (thank you Eric G!) that captures the best of both styles. It bounces with drums 47 can be proud of while giving Rapsody the sonic space to stretch out.
If this isn’t a review let it be a toast.
Glasses up for this thick novel of a thing.
May it never leave us.
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Tagged 9th Wonder, best albums of 2019, D'Angelo, Dreamville, Eric G, Eve, GZA, J Cole, JID, Leikeli47, Nottz, Queen Latifah, Rapsody
#Bandcampgold-Best U.K. Albums of 2019
As Americans we too often turn a blind eye to other countries contributions to artistic forms we start. This is odd because the world often welcomes our contributions(Kurasawa turned Westerns into Samurai movies and we turned that into Star Wars). U.K. rap has gone through its own growth and development. In 2019, the two albums I love the most from that scene have found ways to be unique in a rich world of unique interesting albums.
Nothing Great About Britain by slowthai
Do not look to me for interesting biographical information about slowthai. I found this album on a “best albums so far” list probably on DJBooth.net. The calling card here is every song crackles with energy. This dude is 24 years old with the forward motion and excitement he should have to charge from track to track. His accent is significant and it takes adjusting to but I’ve always felt that no matter where the music comes from I abide by dope hip hop. I will figure it out. This dude knows how to lace a hook that is simple and effective (see Doorman) and his flow is loud fearless and assured.
If you are listening to the deluxe edition Kwes Darko produced (or co-produced) 11 of the 17 songs and helps set the stage with off kilter burbling mid tempo production (see Dead Leaves). Darko flips a sample over piano and car rattling bass in my FAVORITE beat of the tape, Gorgeous. He keeps these beats running in 7 different directions at all times which matches up nicely to our scatterbrained unstoppable force of a narrator.
Check out the two minute sixteen second song Crack, slowthai executes the hook brilliantly and fills the song with call outs of his own behavior most rappers would shy away from. Nothing Great About Britain is a debut so he hasn’t been steered into any lanes yet. You can feel the specificity in his perspective pairing with the ease of his skill and joyful thump of the sonic universe. Don’t worry what number this is on the best of the year list. Numbers don’t matter here: slowthai is here and fun to listen to. I can throw on Nothing Great About Britain and destroy the days work from my cubicle. It’s only the beginning for our relationship through the headphones.
Stream or buy Nothing Great About Britain below:
Psychodrama by (Santan) Dave
Dave really might be a generational talent to recon with. Psychodrama is one of the best put together debut albums I have heard in years. The lyrical content is searing in laser- like focus and accuracy. On the albums last song Drama this is how he starts the first verse “I don’t know where to start. I just done my first Psychodrama and I hope the world hears my craft. I’m excited man, I pray you get to hear my craft. From my childhood my mother didn’t hear me laugh. I’m presenting you the future I don’t fear my past. I ain’t got a tattoo anywhere near my arms but best believe on my sleeve is where I wear my heart.” He also says “Thank god for the pain because it made me this.”
Dave has natural abillity he can weave melody in and carry a tune like on the song Voices. He can bring in another big talent and create a song that reflects both artists like on Location (featuring Burna Boy). Importantly, this dude is a writer. If you listen to track nine (Lesley) it is eleven minutes of fantastic storytelling that will leave you stuck in that world. My favorite song is Screwface Capital it has a haunting sample and some piano keys so Dave just goes off. One of those songs every MC needs where he pushes his chest out and roars his whole life from poverty to the prison system to sex to work ethic. While rap is full of songs about affirming Black heritage the song Black digs three levels deeper than even the best of them (example: “Black is people naming your countries on what they trade most: Coast of Ivory, Gold Coast…”). It is exciting to find someone with this much to say on this many subjects while exercising this much versatility but more importantly… this dude has a plan. He’s excited for us to get his FIRST Psychodrama. Great writers love to plan and develop and I can only imagine what this dude has for us in the future.
Stream or buy Psychodrama below:
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Tagged #BandcampGold, best albums of 2019, British Rap, Burna Boy, Dave, Kwes Darko, Nothing Great About Britain, Psychodrama, Santan Dave, slowthai, U.K. Rap