Peeling The Layers of Damn
The rewarding part of Kendrick Lamar’s album Damn is how many layers it has while not demanding anything of you. If you just want to enjoy it you can do that. I got together with my cohort Lewis Richards and we analyzed the religious themes present in the album. They are not overwhelming but each window in gives you a view of something really different. It was a lot of fun digging into it.
Stream or download the podcast below:
Sample Snitch-I Choose You and the Willie Hutch effect on hip hop
by Willie Hutch
The chorus for I Choose You has been lifted by countless rap icons from Project Pat, Wiz Khalifa and most famously UGK on Int’l Playaz Anthem (I Choose You) featuring Outkast. Willie Hutch infused his music with qualities that not only secure his music as timeless but leave a prime candidate for sampling.
As a teenager Hutch was in a doo-wop group called The Ambassadors and that form requires a tightness and discipline in the songwriting as well as the execution. A skill set that would come in handy as he transitioned to writing, producing, and arranging songs for The 5th Dimension. When he signed to RCA he actually wrote the lyrics to I’ll Be There for The Jackson 5. Writing for Motown under producers like Hal Davis demands that precision and he was so good at it Berry Gordy singed him to be staff writer, arranger, producer and musician (played guitar).
This is all to say that by the time Willie put his first solo album (Soul Portrait) out in 1969 he had a rock solid foundation in the structure of melody. The album is a seamless showcase of a perfectionist’s attention to the groove. This is all to say that I Choose You is not accidentally glorious and pimpish. He made the song for the iconic Blaxploitation film The Mack starring Max Julien and Richard Pryor. It had to soar and make Cadillac’s feel like spaceships. He knew he could draw his voice out and kick it up a notch when the horns came in.
It makes total sense that the best Southern Rap collaboration of all time happened over the pillowy pitch-perfect harmony he organized. Every word Pimp C says is dynamic and arresting (even the offensive stuff…especially the offensive stuff) Bun B is ice cold Andre is earnest emotional poetic and Big Boi bubbles.
So think about it this way: Hutch and others like Isaac Hayes cut their teeth in the back room cranking out hits before they were able to grow into their solo voice but by the time they did…they were at an advantage of experience. Keep that in mind when a new inexperienced kid takes over the world after one song; that is the world putting them at a disadvantage. When Hutch experimented, loosened the reigns and got funky he knew how to do it and never suffered the disadvantage of not knowing when it got sloppy. I Choose You is the culmination of a lot of work and when you hear it make that your reference point.
Int’l Playaz Anthem (I Choose You) by UGK and Outkast
Willie Hutch-I Choose You
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Tagged I Choose You, Int'l Playaz Anthem, Max Julien, Outkast, Project Pat, Sample Snitch, Soul Portrait, soundtracks, The Mack, UGK, Willie Hutch, Wiz Khalifa
Song of The Year-College Girls by P-Lo featuring Skizzy Mars
People who love fun hip pop music were a little let down by Lil Yachty’s debut album Teenage Emotions which turned out to be oppressively long and confusingly muddled with several elements that don’t serve Yachty well. If you are looking for the album to fill what Yachty was supposed to achieve P-Lo has done it with his new album More Than Anything.
It’s not fair to compare Yachty to P-Lo because the latter is a veteran who has worked closely with IAMSU for years and helped build the ratchet sound. P-Lo produces his own music as well as handing out bangers to other people. He knows exactly what works about his sound and builds on it without straying from it.
College Girls is the best example of P-Lo cracking the code on an earwig hit. The autotune isn’t overwhelming; the content is playfully sexual but not insulting. The baseline is amazing. Neither Yachty nor P-Lo are the world’s best MC but both have the ability to give the listener what they want, I vote for More Than Anything not just because it is six songs shorter but it is a tight shot group of the fun P-Lo knows I want to have. All the guests are in the right places. He’s been around too long to worry about proving anything. For P-Lo every song needs to win and as a listener I appreciate that.
Mixtape Review-Meekend Music by Meek Mill
The notion that your diss song is better so you kill your opponent’s careers is as real as Santa. Santa is grounded in a real factual dude from who cares how long ago who did stuff for his neighborhood but that dude is gone. The notion that Drake made a good song out of his response to Meek’s angry twitter feed and now Meek is over… is hilarious. That is probably how it worked for Busy Bee and Kool Moe Dee but let’s not pretend this hip hop is that hip hop. In this hip hop world what happened to Meek was great.
My proof is Meekend Music, the three song EP he dropped with two guests (A$AP Ferg & Young Thug). It showcases perfectly the two rules in any great Meek Mill release.
- The production needs to be weird. It’s not that Meek gets bored if the production is boring, normal Meek is good but just listen to the first song Lay. Honorable C-Note gives a trap beat pumped up by horns, with a marching band feeling and Meek delivers the best bars he has in years. The weirder the beat is (the more forward momentum it carries) the more snarling Meek gets and snarling is exactly who he really is. This is why it makes sense for A$AP Ferg to pop in; Ferg owns his gross tough guy chic and in order for Meek to achieve his best possible outcome he will need to do similar. The difference between the two is that Meek is great at fast flowing over beats that race against him. He loves to be pushed. Backboard puts him next to Young Thug and it makes more sense than most would think because while Meek has Philly tough as nails rap roots he’s also secretly weird and it is a key part of what makes him special.
- Too much Meek Mill is not good. If I had my way all his projects would be ten songs or less. On Meekend Music he doesn’t yell nearly as much as he has in the past(the beef and break up with Nicki seem to have focused him in on lyricism) but he has been guilty of yelling in place of real content before. Instead we get Left Hollywood where he reaffirms his identity and every emphasized second counts. Even when he isn’t shouting Meek has a tough time with album transitions and showcasing different dimensions on the journey of the listener. He needs to blast off and leave you wide eyed wanting more which is what Meekend Music is all about.
I hope he gets meaner and closer to his real on court personality. In basketball terms he is an Isiah Thomas, a smiling prince who is meaner than his competition. He cannot look to his left or right and cheat off his peers for answers. He is not in Drake’s lane he is in Raekwon’s lane. He has all the components to do great things and all this beefing did was stoke the drive. Now he just needs the right setting.
Stream or download Meekend Music below:
#BandcampGold-Scapegoat by KGFREEZE
As someone who is fanatical for music I do not resent the layer on the outside of the onion of interest. The layer on the outside is composed of folks who just like songs going behind them: they don’t know the artists, album, and producer and that’s a valid way to live. The layer underneath them is the problem. The poacher who checks pitchfork and follows up only to find “classics” to brag about. Beyond how annoying the condescending “Have you heard __” conversation is, it puts pressure on artists to always seek perfection which is not how art works.
The poacher robs the process of transitions.
The new KGFREEZE project Scapegoat is a perfect example of this. It is the slimy nerve-racking birth of something new not the last sanding away of rough edges. The Freeze has always been the name Kyle Gervais created for his own solo career; the players rotate underneath him while he pushes furiously in different directions. His will and vision was always centerstage but like any good coach he plays to the strength of the team he has at the time. Now is definitely the time for his new line up.
The components have vastly changed and Scapegoat is a project of adjustments and experiments. It was recorded live in a warehouse with very little tweaking. Chris Gervais comes on as drummer and brings palpitating new wave urgency to every second of his play. Chris likes it loud and once Nate Carll was brought in they were able to go to new places within the term. Nate worked with Kyle in the band Cosades back when Iphone was how Tarzan asked to make a call. I met Nate Carll once and he was so normal it was shocking but the scary part is how potent his guitar wizardry is. Of the ten songs on Scapegoat On The Hill is his baby from foot to teeth and it is gorgeous. Very few people are allowed to take up Kyle’s authorship space on a KGFREEZE album and On The Hill shows you why Kyle has the faith he has in Nate. It rolls around in guitar noise until the noise takes on shape, form and a light dance. Kyle comes in with his most delicate vocal delivery of the project and for two minutes and nineteen seconds it is a different world from any KGFREEZE song before it. It is indicative of the sweet to savage and back again Siamese Dream-ness of the new Freeze; the ability to get crazy while promising never to lose melodic focus.
Sanks is the most recognizably Kyle song on here and has an absolutely fantastic chorus. The title track fits well within the heard Freeze-verse but not everything on the project works as well. On the con side of this experiment Seyton is a novelty exploration of Pantera screaming and hard rock that the band is just not going to explore. It is a thing they wanted to do and did but doesn’t have any legs to it. Bark For Me, Tom is an infidelity concept song that doesn’t have enough lyrical bite to make up for how bland it sounds compared to the punchier songs.
The punchier songs are the real building blocks for this group. They could go a bunch of directions. My favorite songs are Connection and Insanity both a little over a minute long and indicative of this groups ability to actually give us a polished Costello style Get Happy; something that showcases short electric elegantly constructed songs in great number. They could push the volume and the guitar hero riffs of songs like Freeway of Drugs and see how large and anthemic they could make a full polished project. Either way they should not record like this again. It was a great way to showcase the difference in loudness, force his audience to buy better headphones, but in the future vocal overdubs will help Kyle’s voice stay comfortably over the sea of sound. This is not the album poachers will brag about but it could be signifying one is on the horizon.
Stream or Download Scapegoat below:
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Tagged #BandcampGold, Chris Gervais, Cool Tara, KGFREEZE, Kyle Gervais, Maine Rock, Maine Rock Bands, Nate Carll, review, Scapegoat, Siamese Dream
Album review-Drive by Shane Reis & Clarkwork
Every time I map a limitation onto Shane Reis he bursts through it. In Maine, the hip hop scene is full of people who are what they are and will be what they are, going forward. You can pick up their new album and if you liked what they did before you’ll recognize all the pieces still there. Shane is the one changing most rapidly. 2013 Shane (from my perspective) was a glue guy; the kind of player who comes off the bench with a ton of energy and grabs every rebound with his whole soul. That effort and energy brings out the best in everyone on the court and the game gets better. On the feature heavy Reis & Shine he approaches every beat with confidence and passion. 2015 Shane was starting to snarl and expand his perspective. He said “Don’t associate me with these schmoes they ain’t me(Here).” He meant it. On the collaboration project with Essence (now under her name: Sarah Violette) they sought out Rhode Island producer Clark Work and sent a message. The beats everyone is handing around aren’t good enough.
The Clark Work/ Shane Reis 2017 collaboration Drive marks a huge step forward in the relationship between these two forces. Clarkwork drives me crazy. He really enjoys experimenting with sounds and at times in his beats everything drops out for a second, pausing your vicious head nod, and then it resumes full force. He creates a rhythm out of jerky stops and starts and never lets you just lull into a trance. Weird pays off because a lot of Maine hip hop production bends backwards to pay tribute to the foundational sounds: Jazzy like Premo or Pete Rock, reminiscent of Black Moon boom bap but Drive is happening now.
1000 MPH is perfect Clarkwork as central sounds twist jerk, stop, repeat and create a melody for themselves. Shane flexes his mission statement of bullish determination to succeed. The same work ethic that pushed him this far can see the growth and is now pushing that much harder. On HadAboutEnuff Reis tightens and loosens his flow with captivating dexterity over a lean simple nasty beat from Clarkwork.
The title track is absolute magic. Clarkwork starts it with weird background chanting and waits twenty eight seconds to drop the beat with Shane attaching the hook to its introduction. Shane is affiliated with everyone important in the local hip hop scene but loosely. His flow fits anywhere at this point and the weirder Clarkwork gets the more locked in Shane is. He demolishes every second he speaks on Drive. His confidence and will power compliment the delicate lyrical balancing Sarah Violette does extraordinarily well on SMH and No More. On No More especially their voices join for a chorus that will stick directly in your head.
As undeniably dope as the title track is my favorite song is IDKWhatLoveIs. I’ve heard it a thousand times already and keep pressing play. I keep hearing sonic elements happening behind the piano, as if every Clarkwork beat is Narnia or Wonderland and you can just keep traveling into it and finding more madness. Shane is not a singer but somehow he makes the crooning work like he makes everything he does work. His written perspective on the song is a balance of confessional and appreciative. He readily serves up examples of not really being good at relationships, wondering if he is worth the trouble for his partner, at the same time being hopeful he can figure it out and thankful for the life he has.
Maine as musical scene is full of frustration and negative energy. Even the most successful entities wonder about the consistency of the audience, what they support and why….but Shane seems to turn all hostility into fuel. In rooms full of hopeless artists Shane can see the next steps and works tirelessly to achieve artistic goals in his music no one predicted but him. Drive isn’t a local album at all. It can sit next to any national release. Eight examples of the different directions these two are capable of together. How fitting that the last song is called NeverEndingGreenLight.
You can hear Drive on Apple Music, Amazon, Spotify or any other streaming service or you can buy it like I did.