Tag Archives: Jay-Z

Mixtape Review(Mashup edition)-American Godfather by Jay-Z & DJ Skee

Mixtape Review (Mashup edition)-American Godfather by Jay-Z & DJ Skee

by Dan-O

It bothers me that the mixtape revolution which gave us hip hop in its modern form is hard to find traces of. You can still scour datpiff archives but when I throw “Kush and OJ” through my Amazon unlimited search bar it comes back with nothing related to Wiz Khalifa (I have not checked Itunes but Google Play didn’t have it either). The advancements in hip hop mixtapes that caused a need for Freemusicempire came on the backs of brilliant artists who will never end up in anyone’s top five (not because of lack of talent but because they aren’t in the public eye outside of the hip hop base). So I went through my external hard drive for anything with DJ and excitedly came back with DJ Skee’s American Godfather mashup.

2007 wasn’t just important for mixtapes it was important for Jay-z. American Gangster really is the dividing line between two eras. it is the last album by Dopeboy Jay. The album that followed was 2009’s Blueprint 3 which is underrated (in my opinion) but it is  Celebrity Jay on the mic.  His frame of reference was no longer what it was for Blueprint 1. American Gangster has three guest features while Blueprint 3 has TWELVE (Blueprint 1 had one guest and you know who it was). The Jay of 2007 was the same MC spawning new album versions of everything he dropped (example: Grey album & Red album variations of The Black Album) his bars albums charted with the best production and crazy videos at the height of the ROC rosters depth in terms of lyricists beat makers and raw corporate muscle but the mixtape circuit hungered for every written line. Verses felt like commandments.

American Godfather is the single greatest example of that time period in mixtapes. As a piece of classical music The Godfather soundtrack is perfect for incorporation into the hip hop sound. The horn section, the strings all move with a savy Italian grace that had to resemble nostalgia for an era long gone while conveying the shock and loss violence brings. That mournful whimsy in the orchestra sewn into the background adds even more majesty to Jay’s declarations to do it any way he can while taking in the savagery of the dealer landscape. It highlights what he misses by closing himself off emotionally. Since the original soundtrack tells the story of a good man becoming a calculating criminal leader the combination makes a lot of sense.

Listen to Pray go from pristine to gritty until the two mix. That song is a great example of what Skee brings to the table. Listen to the original Pray…he didn’t just weave in clips from The Godfather movie and sample the string section. The bassline on the American Godfather version of Pray is four times as strong.  He not only made it gorgeous with wind instruments but at the same time made it a dirtier head knocker and defiantly hip hop by dropping the beat in as savagely as he could. He made the song better.

The reverence for Jay that I referenced earlier is quite real on this mashup. The “every couplet could be a Tee Shirt” Jay-z pen game is so strong that Skee makes the decision to leave I Know absolutely naked. If you just listen to the story of it unfold in the specific detailed metaphors it signifies a real high point in the characterization within his writing. The only way to get you to focus on that is to rip the Neptunes signature sound out of the song and force you to follow the narrator;  leave you the reverberation of his voice saying “shoppin’s like coppin’ you constantly need it.” Jay is humane enough to paint tragedy onto every participant in the dealerscape because he has empathy for everyone involved. The game eats at him in ways other dealer-rappers never thought of. Jay is at his best when he is on a high level of physical real world details and emotional details at the same time.

Roc Boys being left nude for the world is even more off-putting. That song always functioned as the catchiest party song, the high point single reveling in the fun times of the dealer tale before the falling action.  By pulling out Diddy and the gang on production he leaves it ringing as a hollow moment of celebration that comes off more as a chant the main character is trying to believe but fears the finitude of.

Skee ripped the sample right out of Ignorant Shit and put guitars behind the Black Republicans beat (off Nas- Hip Hop Is Dead because mixtapes have no rules. Black Republicans is a better beat so bring it in.)  DJ Skee like Green Lantern and Don Cannon (Cannon’s redo of Drake’s first album is so much better than Drake’s first album. I didn’t even like Drake before I heard Cannon’s version) had a ceaseless desire to optimize every second of every song.  If you listen to American Godfather in the hopes of hearing everything in the Godfather soundtrack incorporated into Jay’s American Gangster album you messed up. He absolutely turns Success a thousand times better with The Godfather Waltz which binds the venomous distaste of Jay’s verse with the omniscience of Nas. The waltz creates an emotional spectrum that binds those very different emotional places but this isn’t a straight up slap together mixtape (which we see a lot of). Skee makes choices for the better of the project as if he were truly in charge with no red tape in front of him. As if the original album was raw material and he was The Dust Brothers on Paul’s Boutique freakin’ it however he saw fit.

Nino Rota couldn’t have imagined that the thickness and grandeur of his soundtrack would be clipped and repurposed in such a staggering way (even without the movie the soundtrack is an incredible listen). No one will ever convince me that a better version of Fallin’ exists than the one with Nino’s Sicilian Pastorale dialed into the beat making it sharper and meaner and more fun to listen to. It is so epic in the scale of its self-destruction. I think the beginning of The Godfather Finale is what was used for Sweet and it’s another great idea fully realized along with rearranging the order to place Sweet after Fallin’. American Godfather is born from a careful caring vision that guides it.

In 2007 when these kind of well worked visions were available for free I always wondered how many of these Livemixtape gems got to Jay. Did he hear The Billprint or American Godfather?  I never pondered if he would like them. I always hoped someone put it on for him so he could enjoy it. I knew he would love it and be proud of his influence on it.  Jay always thought about what his music would be like if he had been less commercial, he had more than a secret love for Kool G Rap and all the dark regions of hip hop far less flossy and flamboyant than he always was.  How incredible is it that his mark stretches so far people did their best work remaking his music? In my mind Hova hears the shifting going on in Blue Magic as the sample is incorporated and shakes his head like “that was the missing element,”  he heard the title track and got all scrunch faced, bobbing his head, taking nothing away from Just Blaze but DAMN those violins are sharp!

I am not one of these dudes who will write this paragraph about why Skee should have had a larger profile, gotten a bigger chance with bigger artists. Would Skee have given Ross some dope beats? Sure. Art is not sports. What you do is what you achieve; the Grammys is NOT the superbowl.  I love that hip hop has legend levels and if you’re on the bunny slopes you didn’t recognize WC holding the uzi in Friday. You’ve never heard Del Tha Funkee Homosapien rap about bad hygiene.  Whenever a popular rapper does a commercial someone says to me “Isn’t it terrible what they are doing to hip hop?!” and I smile.  That is the hot take from the bunny slopes and I get it. Consumerism has done a number on so much of our art and entertainment but not hip hop.  They don’t know how many levels we have that are protected by how much you care to know it, how much of your time you want to spend following it. Our firewalls can be cracked but pack a lunch.

To be clear this is not a mixtape of its time. It is not something you needed to have been there in the culture of its release to enjoy. This is something you could send to Danny Brown or Yachty or Uzi Vert and they would get it. They would bang their head like you will upon listening. The answer to “who did this?!” is in the same madman who played Ray Manzarek to Game’s post G-Unit Jim Morrison and gave him the canvas to paint all his malevolence on. He was there for Glasses Malone, Crooked I, Bishop Lamont and so many serious West Coast rappers best mixtape.  A solid gold first ballot mixtape hall of famer whose ad-lib created waves of relief for me and American Godfather is important to him. It would have had to be, to be done with this much care. To go seventeen tracks deep instead of a tight nine or ten. It’s careful in its construction and spiritually connected to the work of the original which is how it never seems weird that it is incorporating two movies into the world of a rap album.

I am not making the case that things were better in the era where mixtapes became more than freestyles. I never wanted to see the mixtape take the place of the album (I always liked the street clothes v. business clothes difference). I loved that mixtapes were a playground for everyone involved. Any idea that was off the marketable path, an image gamble, or outside the budget could be explored. Never anticipated that the label as we knew it would die and be washed away and the mixtape would be the only remaining path. The era of forced independence has made me look back on the formative content. Boy am I glad we built a second house before the first one washed out.

Stream or download American Godfather below:

https://www.datpiff.com/Jay-Z-DJ-Skees-American-Godfather-mixtape.9415.html

 

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Throwback Thursday-The self-destructive finale of Mobb Deep

Throwback Thursday-The self-destructive finale of Mobb Deep

by Dan-O

So its 2005. Last year Mobb Deep put out Amerikaz Nightmare which was a superb album but destroyed internally by Jay-z who pulled strings to keep the radio/video play down. 50 Cent signs Mobb Deep which is a pretty big deal because his first album in 2003 (Get Rich or Die Tryin) went DIAMOND and his follow up in 2005(The Massacre) is about to go DIAMOND again.  Not only does 50 want to sign Mobb Deep but he wants to do a song with them that will be a smash hit, he wants to place this on the movie about his come up, starring him, called Get Rich Or Die Tryin. This is really the last shot Havoc & Prodigy will have at the limelight. Their brand of dark sinister east coast goon rap only really exists in a profitable way on G-unit.

So Pearly Gates is totally designed to be that smash hit. Exile does the beat and it is the best of him. The sample flutters and then slows, smears and transforms into a cutting piano loop with knocking bass. 50 is the first voice you hear and he lays out the blueprint for what this song should accomplish. He weaves one of his infectious chorus’s under the clever conception that he could talk his way into heaven. 50 wants this song to be hardcore but empowering in the style that his movie will be, that his life is (to a certain extent). He manages to warn his enemies they can die at any time while looking humbly at where he is; amazed at the platform he has reached.

Havoc is an incredibly intelligent emcee and builds on it. He uses the religious imagery to his advantage “The dogs bark and since all the souls I took, moms pray for me with her right hand on the good book.” His verse is about how lucky he is to be alive and the divine relation to that luck. Everything is going well until Prodigy shows up and says

“Now homey if I go to hell and you make it to the pearly gates,

Tell the boss man we got beef

And tell his only son, I’m a see him when I see him

And when I see him, I’m a beat him like a movie”

In that short a span of time it’s basically all over. Prodigy threatens Christ flips off god and declares “Look, we a new breed in 2006 we don’t give a F_ about that religious B*&^S#$.” On the Drink Champs podcast 50 Cent says he was staggered by this and Ma$e was there at the time with his own theory. You can see it developing in Prodigy’s verse “Man my life is painful; pray to angels I’m praying to myself hoping I ain’t got to spank you.” Ma$e told 50 that since P had suffered Sickle Cell his whole life he’d dealt with spitting blood and passing out and basically been in pain every day. P was having a moment in that verse, maybe Exile had laced that beat too well. It sounded pristine and angelic and having lived with pain in his blood his whole life with no explanation as to why he had to tear it down to the floor. He looked right at the beat and said how dare you let us suffer “For leaving us out to dry on straight poverty.”

50 Pulled that song from the movie. He did his best to help Mobb Deep (doing 6 features on their G-Unit debut Blood Money) and Pearly Gates still came out but it was cut and chopped all through P’s verse.

In four lines Prodigy spit in the face of his best opportunity to get back on top(Blood Money came out in 2006 and Mobb Deep didn’t have a follow up album until 2014 and that was not a proper one) I honestly don’t know if it was a mistake, for him. For Prodigy, I’m sure that verse means a lot and the ability to reach up and choke your comfort is what Mobb Deep was always about.

check out Pearly Gates below:

Throwback Thursday (Mixtape Mashup edition)-The Billprint

Throwback Thursday (Mixtape Mashup edition)-The Billprint

by Dan-O

Mash up mixtapes are my favorite thing because when you flip the beat from a classic song, you hear the lyrics naked again on that first listen. Without the sonic universe seemingly fated for these words you hear them differently and feel yourself entering something new. When it works few things match it.

The Billprint does a superb job showcasing Jay and Bill. The song combinations are outrageous. While most fans of both Bill Withers and Jay-z could have come up with the Use Me/Izzo compromise, how many people would have combined Better Off Dead and Jigga That N__? How many people could imagine Girls Girls Girls parting like the red sea for Bill Withers to perform the show stopping chorus to Can We Pretend? Coming back to this 2009 mixtape is shocking.

The natural problem that mash ups have is that they destroy the original fabric of the project. If you jam Al Green into Illmatic you don’t get Illmatic as an end result. The Billprint doesn’t have that problem at all. Jay intended it as a pathway leading away from the synthetic Neptunes/Swizz Beatz sound dominating that time; a way to bring a more soulful richness to the bass driven sound of the genre. In the same sense Bill Withers first album is called Just As I Am, his next one Still Bill, every song carried with it a born-from-the-street realism. He didn’t need pageantry or advanced harmonies and dance moves he could rely on his voice and the absolute unmatched brilliance of his songwriting. So hearing Jay destroy Prodigy on Takeover while Harlem from Withers Live at Carnegie Hall album plays…the combination makes more sense than it should, this is still the spirit of taking over without any pretense.

Both of these artists provided the blueprint for countless artists. All the time making the muted anthemic and if you listen to this version of Never Change you’ll hear why it makes so much sense.

Stream or Download The Billprint below:

http://www.datpiff.com/Jay-Z-The-Billprint-mixtape.33340.html

Mixtape Review-Black Dollar by Rick Ross

Mixtape Review-Black Dollar by Rick Ross

by Dan-O

Rick Ross has been artistically splitting in half recently.  The dirty Miami bass of Hood Billionaire v. the wordy luxury of God Forgives, I Don’t. The smooth J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League Yacht Club sound of Deeper Than Rap v. the deep growling muscle of Lex Luger’s production on The Albert Anastasia Ep. The problem is not his capability to do both but the distance between the two versions of Ross. His new mixtape Black Dollar (it’s really a free album) answers the million dollar question: how do you bring it all together and make any sense out of the result?

J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League definitely leaves an imprint on Black Dollar they heighten rather than smooth out all the rough edges. The production on the first song Foreclosures is soulful to a ghostly extent that allows Ross to dig into the somber complexity of financial irresponsibility and the chaos that new money brings to the ecosystem around it. He doesn’t just talk about label deals and recouping he goes bigger “Young N’s time to act your wage! Buying belts you seen on other N’s waist. Ho’s F’ing for photos they want to post online, whole time shorty knowin’ I’m the gold mine.”  The most J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League moment is without a doubt Icon featuring Anthony Hamilton which leverages Hamilton’s soulful voice against their plush landscape.  The light piano keys might lead you to think this is a gentle celebratory song if not for Ross ceaselessly spitting fiery decadent gangsta brags.

Jay-z isn’t just directly mentioned on several occasions but the collaboration between Ross and Meek (World’s Finest) comes on a beat that flips the Reasonable Doubt beat Brooklyn’s Finest. Black Dollar as a whole has a jazzy/soulful production feel clearly derived from Jay’s Blueprint.  He wanted to take the air out of that luxury all-white-on-a-boat music and do more than growl over dirty beats. The newer streamlined middle ground gives room for our narrator to just blow. His verses are long and breezy, words just roll into each other easily and we go from crack brags to restauranteur brags feeling the link.

Bill Gates is a weird beat with an odd chunky rhythm that not everyone could manage. It’s indicative of the lyrical development of Rick Ross. He reads Robert Greene books, balances his accounts, and writes verses. Knights of The Templar is creepy as heck  partially because it develops out of a Scarface soundtrack sample but also due to how easily Ross can connect telling his story on Oprah to murder and then to Jake The Snake Roberts.

If anything feels out of place, for me, it’s Money & The Powder which is a thick slow thump through a chorus that gets repeated far too often.  It’s not a bad song it just doesn’t fit amongst the finest content present elsewhere. By contrast, Drive a Nigga Crazy is by far my favorite song on the mixtape and one of my favorite songs this year. The strings attack your ears and the beat backs it up. Ross sounds at his most confident and his flow is straight up hypnosis

The only features on Black Dollar are people Ross loves to be on songs with: Meek Mill, Wale, Future, The Dream, Anthony Hamilton, Gucci Mane who has the best guest verse, and August Alsina). However you feel about the bawse the rap world is a far more interesting place with Rick Ross, Young Jeezy, and Gucci Mane at their best. They provide motivation for the hard heads; the people who don’t care how good Drake is, dudes who want prison weight lifting music or young men huddled in smoke boxed vehicles getting motivated.  Sure the streets need Rick Ross but not just the streets you’re thinking of.  Rick Ross’s sonic universe is Game of Thrones at this point; even if you don’t watch you HAVE to know what’s going on.

stream or download Black Dollar below:

http://www.datpiff.com/Rick-Ross-Black-Dollar-mixtape.732049.html

Sample Snitch-The Look of Love by Isaac Hayes: connecting Jay-z & Irv Gotti to Burt Bacharach

Sample Snitch-The Look of Love by Isaac Hayes: connecting Jay-z & Irv Gotti to Burt Bacharach

by Dan-O

Isaac Hayes is a goldmine if you get over how weird the situation is. This is the guy who wrote nearly all the important Stax records radio hits but nearly all of his important solo tracks are folk or pop songs we consider corny, given the Hayes treatment. The Hayes treatment means it was originally four minutes long and now its eleven minutes long with minutes upon minutes of Pet Sounds layered funk, shifting tempos and lyrics that just creep in and out of it. The Look of Love was originally written by Burt Bacharach while watching Ursula Andress in the 1967 Bond spoof Casino Royale. He gave the song to Dusty Springfield who nailed a breathy version that got her an Oscar nomination. This song became very important for R&B. The Delfonics did it on their 1968 album La La Means I Love You and The Four Tops did it a year later. Hayes took it on a year after that (1970).

From the first second to about one minute and forty eight seconds of the Hayes version…that’s the guts of Can I Live, possibly Jay’s lyrical high point on Reasonable Doubt (a fun thing to argue about). This is perfect for sampling. It’s no coincidence that Hayes, James Brown, P-Funk, and the Isley Brothers were most sampled in early rap. You could make the case that these were groups everyone listened to growing up and you’d be partially right. The other part is that all these acts worked on extending the song (wordlessly). James Brown had long stretches where he was just letting the band go off while he didn’t say anything. Those seconds are prime cut and paste moments for beat creation.

Obviously this isn’t anything Hayes had in mind. He was trying to prove that the song is bigger than itself. You can think that The Look of Love is cheesy because the words prove it but a song is so much more than the words. By the seventh minute you are so deep in guitar solo you don’t care if the song ends. It’s a city of musical elements with the groove carrying the torch through the center. Isaac Hayes made Dionne Warwick songs into Operas and Burt Bacharach songs so alive that they birthed Jay the way we know him; because he wouldn’t be who he is now without that sample. If you think I’m editorializing find the Reasonable Doubt documentary and listen to Irv Gotti tell the story of him playing Jay the sample for the first time. He had the look of love alright.

Check out the Hayes Look of Love

Now listen to the Jay-z version

Throwback Thursday-Feel It In The Air by Beanie Sigel

Throwback Thursday-Feel It In The Air by Beanie Sigel

by Dan-O

Beanie has more than enough verses about smacking the face off of losers. He’s good enough at that subject matter to make you reconsider bothering him for an autograph but his most important material is fearful, paranoid and suffering. His second highest point is the majority of Jay’s Dynasty album where he sits his father down and rips him to the point of breaking down(Where Have You Been) and stands lyrically comparable to Scarface and Jay at their best (This Can’t Be Life). You can hear his focus but you can also hear how much Jay loves rapping alongside him. The reason-all the emotion Beanie let bleed out of him felt earned. Sigel was never a needy rapper plunging into the depths of moderately difficult experience just to get empathy. He had real weight to get off his chest without a hint of humblebrag.

This song and the album it comes off (The B.Coming) are his highest point and mark on the music. It was completed right before Beanie was forced to go to jail, which vastly injured its promotion. He stews in paranoia “read they body language, 85% communication non-verbal.” He warns you to be careful who you’re smoking next too, to play people like a puppet master. Heavy D had a way of providing knock out beats like this, pulling them out of his hat and finding the right hands for them. What a lot of people miss about that old Roc crew is the what if’s. What if they had stayed together and mentored Beanie into the top dude? What if Cam’ron had stayed with the right team and cranked out more hits? What if Jay never lost that sprinkle of recklessness that floated on top of his intelligence and thick skin so comfortably? At the end of the day we weren’t promised any of this music, so we take Throwback Thursday to be thankful that we have songs like this to enjoy. Next time we clown the early 2000’s rap as a fall from golden age 90’s grace….remember Beanie.

Throwback Thursday-Back In The Day by Missy Elliott featuring Jay-z

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eIc-sz7O_nA

Throwback Thursday-Back In The Day by Missy Elliott featuring Jay-z

by Dan-O

We all know now that Missy was a creative freak, mastermind of both music video and lose your mind dancefloor hip hop. When we go back to those hits we shouldn’t lose track of what she was overcoming. She wasn’t hailed as a genius while she was going double platinum on Under Construction. The counter narrative of the time (I was regrettably one of these dudes) was that Missy wasn’t hip hop at all but some gimmicky hybrid who neither rapped impressively or sang impressively but did enough of both over the right beats.

What I really enjoy about listening to Under Construction now is that it was made as a direct response to that narrative. 2002 Missy was staring down 2002 Dan and saying “I am hip hop. This genre was created by people to have fun which is what I’m creating.” Beyond that, her bars hold up like crazy. Jay brings TOP shelf energy namedropping and chuckling, loose and dangerous. Missy namechecks just as many great artists as Jay (the way she says Big Daddy Kane is full of the perfect amount of wistful longing for the past). Near the end of the song she busts out of her singing and drops a few bars at a fast pace and it’s quick but impressive. The song is full of so much joy and instead of making the case that “this is the old school hip hop and you don’t know” it has an air of inclusivity to it. Missy wishes the old school was the new school and the kids would know the joyful freedom of doing the cabbage patch and not worrying if you look silly. A lot of the younger generation did learn that hip hop has that joy nestled in its center, from Missy’s gleeful albums and blisteringly catchy singles. That’s an amazing legacy, especially since as good as Timbalands career has been front to back….nothing he was ever involved in sounded better than Missy’s albums. That’s not a coincidence.