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My Favorite Album of 2019

My Favorite Album of 2019

by Dan-O

How much do I love Jidenna? I’m not even worried about what drops in the rest of November and December. Bring Frank Ocean, Drake, bring a thousand Future features! None of it will replace the uniquely fly experience of listening to 85 To Africa. My excitement for his music might come from the fact that I never cared about Classic Man. I didn’t have him in my head as anything. First time I saw him work was when he torched his performance on Luke Cage.  In 2017, he dropped The Chief and I think Pitchfork called him a “Versatile Dandy” which is the meanest compliment an English major is comfortable with.

The Chief is dope but it has a mix of songs. Some that are perfect 10’s (Trampoline, Bambi, Long Live The Chief) some that are darn good 7’s (Helicopters/Beware, The Let Out) while some are emphatically unimportant and you won’t ever come back to (last 2 songs). It got knocked for its unevenness but I always thought of it as the home run derby where the power hitter gets to flex. I was excited at what he was capable of doing.

85 To Africa doesn’t go from 10 to 7 to 4, every song is an 8.5 and you can let one song run into the next. Can’t go wrong with a triumphant intro featuring the words of the legendary Fela Kuti’s youngest son (Seun Kuti). Like a lot of the years best projects(BandanaKiwanuka,Anger ManagementRetropolitan)  this one is born from the synergistic relationship between producer and MC/singer. Nana Kwabena is listed as producer or co-producer on 10 of the 11 songs. He did 13 of 14 on The Chief. The flavor is even more consistent this time, dope artists growing together is fun. 85 To Africa decided to leave nothing extra. It is 41 minutes and out. Personality wise the album doesn’t care if you think the party is too loud. You might hear him talk about how he didn’t trust Morgan Freeman because of his earing (Babouche) or look at the cover or hear the powerfully catchy beats and think 1. This guy is trying too hard 2. These bars are too cute 3. He thinks he’s cool and I hate that.

I know he doesn’t care because the hottest Jidenna line of all time is “I don’t want my best dressed day in a casket.” He’s dedicated his time to feeling looking and living good in a way that makes him proud. On Tribe, he is espousing his crew but not in a waving guns at the other side sense. He’s flossing the culture, in the video he walks through rooms where games are played weights are lifted and he’s rapping about the varied “funky ways of dancing.” If the Cary Grant cool is too much then be gone and find someone less intimidating or more gritty to bump. Jidenna wants all the bright beautiful colors mixing because what is this all for if we aren’t appreciating the different shades? Not just skin or cultural background but of intellectual oddity, strength and essence. Strong shout out to DJ Burn One who also was involved in the utter head nod capacity of this beat. Five Points Music always.

 

The songs get prettier and prettier. Is it an escape, reading Rumi with a fly Sufi Woman? Comfortably falling asleep with her? Or heeding Jidenna’s voice as it echoes and the music stomps, shakes, and sweats on Pretty & Afraid. Thinking of it as an escape pre-supposes that the best music must suffer as the world does. It leaves suffering as the only part that’s real and paints all the smiling as a big cover up. Artificial light is bad for you but honest light replaces darkness with not just sight but clarity. If you make the suffering all that is real it is all you will have.

I hope I wasn’t the only one who sang loudly “Pop, I’m working all night JUST LIKE YOU!” as he walked us through his parents relationship (as well as his childhood) on Jungle Fever. I made fun of Pitchfork earlier but their review of this album ends with a begrudging acknowledgement that they are onto something. My 5th favorite album of this year is Burna Boy-African Giant which is monstrously catchy creative and fun Afropop in a similar sonic language. I know next to NOTHING about African music but I can see the shadow of a wave as it starts to break. Jidenna is calmly atop this one synthesizing the best parts of large sections of American and African music into something that is new and radio ready.  Nana Kwabena and Jidenna have been looking for this balance since Classic Man and in 2019 they hit on its head. May their next move be their best move.

 

 

#BandcampGold-1990 by Amerigo Gazaway & Xiomara

#BandcampGold-1990 by Amerigo Gazaway & Xiomara

by Dan-O

I used to burn cd compilations of 90’s R & B. They were semi-notorious amongst my crew (Army stuff). I called the series “Booty Music” because the 90’s were the first decade where the music said what it meant. As richly political and social as 70’s R & B remains those guys could only say so much. Aside from Between The Sheets by The Isley’s the lens is big picture not hardcore sensual.

The new album 1990 nails what was so unique about that decade in the genre.  The producer of all thirteen tracks is Amerigo Gazaway who is the master of mash-ups. If you know the careers of the artists he is mixing, he picks and matches up from deep within catalogs. This dude knows more about music than I ever will so it is a joy to learn from his new releases. I have never heard of West Coast singer Xiomara but she really hunkers down and provides beautiful delivery of very well written songs.

1990 does such a great job stretching out in all the trailblazing directions the decade explored. Some of the songs influences are quite clear. After the initial interlude we go right into a West Coast New Jack Swing tribute(Westside Swing). This is where I shout out Xiomara who shows herself to be surprisingly comfortable in different sonic environments. Her strong diction and clear vocal leadership hold everything together and keep this from being cheeky nostalgia. Bounce is a gorgeously blown kiss to the Timbaland/Missy/Ginuwine/Aaliyah explosion that tore music down and rebuilt it. SNL is still doing skits about the Pony beat. At the end it slows down into a DJ Screw pace and you realize again how damn good Gazaway is.

The best songs on the project aren’t as directly referential and are more powerful for it. That Old Alarm is one of the finest R & B songs in the genre this year. It knocks and is haunting at the same time building on weird strings and strong drums. Xiomara drifts overtop talking about getting a loved one out of her head, knowing that it will be hard but once it is done she will be able to move on “don’t come chasin’ after me/ ringing that old alarm.” Can’t Let Go is a groove that finds and holds you so tight that when the beat drops out Xiomara and friends giggle their way through a weed based parody of the chorus.

Both participants understand that 1990’s R & B was primal and personal at the same time. The beat found your guts and made YOUR BODY ALL OVER MY BODY make sense. Xiomara grounds the project with lyrics sung with ownership. It isn’t nostalgia in that pure sense, it is what Sharon Jones did for late 60’s Soul. These two breathe new life into the vessel containing what we loved to bring us closer to what it meant. Recommend this to ANYONE who ever loved this era in music. Somewhere Drake and 40 are BUMPING this.

Stream or download 1990 below:

https://amerigo.bandcamp.com/album/1990

#SampleSnitch-Curren$y and Jay Worthy ride with The Stylistics

#SampleSnitch-Curren$y and Jay Worthy ride with The Stylistics

by Dan-O

The Stylistics are a huge marker in whether you’re talking to a real R & B person. Anyone who has ever heard music can monologue on the importance of Stevie Wonder or Marvin Gaye. Those are pop stars. The self-titled 1971 Stylistics album is better than any single album Otis Redding ever released. It is in the upper strata of the genre but it’s not common knowledge. The group had a brief but critical run where the impressive falsetto of lead singer Russell Thompkins Jr gave us ‘People Make The World Go Round’ ‘Betcha By Golly, Wow’ ‘Break Up to Make Up’ so many chart toppers.

I’m assuming producer LNDN Drugs found Pay Back Is a Dog off 1973’s Rockin’ Roll Baby with a lot of excitement in his fingers. Wouldn’t surprise me if it was Curren$y’s idea to sample it. He’s been spitting over dope old school soul music for longer than we’ve had reality television. Either way, that sample is the spine of the lead track Payback from Jay Worthy, Curren$y, and LNDN Drugs collaborative album Umbrella Symphony.

It makes sense to sample The Stylistics whenever you can because Philly soul is a producer’s genre. Thom Bell and Kenny Gamble (who produced Pay Back Is A Dog) are amongst the best producers in any form of music. When you lift and loop you get the high notes and the vocal harmony but you also get the lush orchestration behind it. Both MC’s live for Atmosphere. Jay Worthy is coming off a collaborative album with Cardo and G Perico that was 100% slow head nod G-funk. Both Mc’s are imposingly consistent and greatly enriched by the environment Thom Bell put together in 1973 ( LNDN Drugs definitely got the drum kit working for some additional touches).

This isn’t a soulless business move where a sample gets snipped clipped and used for hits. This is three artists paying direct tribute to the groove. Making sure a new generation understands Kanye wasn’t the first genius producer and Prince wasn’t the first important male falsetto.

The original

Payback

My 5 favorite weird Wu-Tang songs

My 5 favorite weird Wu-Tang songs

by Dan-O

Showtime dropped a four part documentary series about the Wu-Tang Clan that is everything to anyone who has a place in their heart for the Staten Island pioneers. I am doing promo for it right now because it’s the last I can do for the MC’s who raised my hip hop mind. In salute to the sharpest swords of Shaolin I wanted to give you five songs from The Wu that are gloriously weird. The point of this grouping is that it is a mix of songs you likely know and ones you likely don’t.

Raekwon featuring 2 Chainz-F.I.L.A. World from Fly International Luxurious Art

When Wu dropped we stared at the cover and listened to the interlude where RZA explained each member like a superhero. Pretty quickly my pick was Raekwon. He wasn’t as bombastic as other options but I love how smooth he is and the weird ways his mind works. F.I.L.A. World is a great example. The first Wu member to rap with Outkast teams up with 2 Chainz on a KILLER Scram Jones beat that feels like it was made for Rick Ross. Everything fits because The Chef fits anywhere a mic plugs in.

Method Man featuring Raekwon-Meth vs. Chef from Tical

Never heard nothing like it. Track is set up like a street MC battle where we are the audience. Method Man spits fire directly against Raekwon verses. The fans always isolate who beat who on what track but no one ever sets it up as a direct contest on wax. The Wu-Tang are all swordsman convinced they can slice through anything so neither had any fear of losing. It’s my favorite Wu member (Rae) vs. the one I give the most guff to (Meth). That is a conversation for another time. This track is not just bonkers it is a necessary listen for anyone getting into The Wu. It shows you how different their talents are and how seriously they take it.

Old Dirty Bastard-Drunk Game (Sweet Sugar Pie) from Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version

Old Dirty was not a clown. Funny how the same kids that watch Heath Ledger as the Joker wax poetic on the brilliant madness of that character but can’t see the genius of ODB. He specifically set out to damage the basic structure of the hip hop album. In 1995, when Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version was released the format for a hip hop song was rigid. R & B was considered soft and you could get called weak for having an R & B hook. It was a reputational battle to be the hardest and that had a lot of cats pretending their way to the finish line.  Dirty declares his love of sweet soul music by singing his off beat love song in the most carefree yet sincere way he can. Yes he does a lot of laughing and yelling and making noises you’ll never hear anyone else make but he loves this genre and understands its relationship to Rap. This is the music his mom played for him and my Dad played for me. We can never lose this soul. Listening to Dirty fake orgasm and turn his grunting into an ad-lib was truly mind blowing for high school Dan. It was like the Joker setting mob money on fire.

Ghostface Killah featuring Jadakiss-Run from The Pretty Toney Album

The Pretty Toney album is a disturbingly overlooked classic. An important landmark in Def Jam’s shift to an R & B-first operation. They put it out with no publicity. Ghost was mad but Ghost is always mad, his focus draws from it. As a storyteller Run is a perfect illustration of his powers.  Most rappers would never write a song where they are running. They only paint pictures of themselves in positions of power. Not only does Ghost charge into the songs concept, he drills down into the details from the opening seconds. His opening bars on this are ” A Yo I jumped from the 8th floor step, hit the ground. The pound fell, cops is coming. Running through the pissy stairwells I ain’t hear nothing, buggin’, ” You interested in this story? Heck yeah. He’s not just scared and admitting it he’s frantic and builds the entire story in 19 seconds. Don’t get so wrapped up in the personalities the Clan has that you forget these are all genius level artistic talents. All time stuff. I didn’t even get a chance to talk about Jadakiss(‘I learned from the OG’s to save everything’ #classic) . That’s how good Ghost is.

Wu-Tang Clan -Hollow Bones from The W

RZA’s genius production is on full display here as he pulls and tugs at a Syl Johnson sample until it screams for mercy. The pain it emits gives Rae, Deck, and Ghost the perfect backdrop to stew in paranoia, threaten, and take drugs to numb the pain. I always love the Wu songs that are tortured and pained like this one. So few 90’s rappers were willing to explain their hood PTSD as in depth as the Clan (I love you Scarface). I wonder how many upper middle class white kids learned empathy for the economically disadvantaged from them? That isn’t a shot. I am so grateful hip hop was there for the Wu to bring them out of the situations they rapped about and even more grateful they could spend these decades teaching us what it was like and how they’ve grown.

 

P.S.

Fame by U-God featuring Styles P from The Keynote Speaker

Wu fans made fun of U-God. I am guilty. If you listen to Keynote Speaker from 2013…he’s not bad. We probably gave him too much hassle the way we did Sheek Louch for not being as good as Styles or Jada. He’s solid and grounded and has had some not good but GREAT verses. Every legendary crew has someone who became the “least favorite” and if you look at them individually, everything looks totally different. This is all to say I am sorry U-God.

 

 

 

#Bandcampgold-Black Beans by Exile x Choosey

Black Beans#Bandcampgold-Black Beans by Exile x Choosey

by Dan-O

The world makes us feel terrible. Mac Miller and Nipsey Hussle are dead. Ogres are in power and they don’t even lie to us about how old evil and full of greed/hate they are. Music is necessary, all kinds of music. Black Beans is a beam of light on the dark days and because of that it holds an important place on my favorite albums of 2019 list.

I have to start by talking about Exile. I haven’t done it enough on this blog. I’ve been debating how I feel about his strengths since Blu linked up with him for Below The Heavens. While other boom bap producers (Daringer, Roc Marciano) are superb at twisting the instrumentation and sample into an evil snarl that suits the goon rappers spitting over them; Exile is the best at optimizing his soundscape for warmth. You can listen to the Intro or the first song (I Did) and none of the production is overly dense or crowded. Exile chooses the right elements and places them properly making great use of background vocals, samples, and background vocals. His production perfectly captures that Rawkus records feeling of hearing Mos Def spit on Respiration from the Black Star album(a Hi-Tek comparison is not a bad one). Black Beans is Exile’s best work in YEARS and his work over the years was impressive before it.

If you think this album is corny I guess you’re right. If you think the loving poetic tribute to heritage at the end of the title track is corny, I’m fine with that. If you don’t understand why Choosey is rapping about the candy lady on his block on Satisfied when he could have fake murdered someone in that verse… it is a natural hip hop reaction. It’s a perfectly adequate short term coping mechanism for living on this scary cock-eyed planet. Shut all those instincts off and listen to tracks 4,5, and 6 in a row. Four is single ready it is called Low Low and the horns are PERFECT, Aloe Blacc nails the hook with pinpoint accuracy and emotion while Choosey paints the scenery of a nice day with a pretty lady. Track five is Show You and Choosey is at his most melodic. The West Coast MC doesn’t need any help on the chorus sing-rapping a hook that burrows deep in my brain to this second. It’s a relationship song without the nasty baggage. He wants to show her what the future can be and never turns into the darker or condescending tones a lot of rappers do when trying for these songs. Track six is so great. You Got It is all hand claps and mixing while Choosey spits fast but seemingly effortlessly. Jimetta Rose is another fantastic guest singer woven into the fiber of the song. You Got It has a noble mission: to get you up and dancing. These three songs get to the heart of celebration that Black Beans is crafted around.

The candy lady verse that starts Satisfied is my favorite of the album because I am corny. It is so unexpected. The first line of the song is “Every hood had a candy lady,” said with a smiling nostalgia. He’s talking lollipops and getting candy out of her hand. Choosey’s mission is to celebrate his shared black and Hispanic heritage. Through the thirteen songs he applies his determination to painting the picture to it’s smallest detail. It’s not just about lowriders, Cadillac’s, and jewelry it is about the people. In that verse he also says “Them cop’s was all in our face saying ‘don’t hang with them bangers’ N_ the gang was the neighbors…” he doesn’t shy away from the violence and terror present in his environment. America knows gangs as large scary groups but Choosey knows them as people and sums it up our national tension quite nicely with, “They hate the fact but can’t deny that we some damn creators.” Choosey knows you think you know his hood. He also knows you haven’t felt the sunshine on your face there. You haven’t kissed for the first time as Salsa spilled out of an apartment window there. Listen to the song Sangria, pour sangria over some apples and cantaloupe (don’t forget diced pineapple) and let Exile teach you how to relax as Choosey brings you where he’s always been.

Stream or Download Black Beans below:

https://choosey.bandcamp.com/album/black-beans

 

#Bandcampgold-Cover Art by Anderson Paak

#Bandcampgold-Cover Art by Anderson Paak

by Dan-O

If you didn’t know who Anderson Paak was after summer 2015 I don’t think you’re a hip hop head. When Dr. Dre came out of his cave August 7th 2015 to release Compton everyone in hip hop noted it. Thumbing through the sixteen tracks listed Paak was on six of them. I know that I let out an audible “Who the F#$% is Anderson Paak?!” That is when I found his bandcamp. Once I heard Venice I knew to pay attention to Malibu.

Now he is climbing to the top of the world. He was on Saturday Night Live playing his own drums, he was on Marc Maron talking about this covers album from 2013. I remembered having dug into that project post-Compton and threw it back into the mix. If you haven’t heard his explanation on Maron: Cover Art aims to reverse the polarity of musical manipulation. While historically black artists like Jackie Wilson get their music made into Elvis hits he wanted to take very white very good music and put the funk back in.

His cover of Seven Nation Army sold my wife on the project. The original reclaimed a good deal of swagger that post-Radiohead rock had lost and Paak by keeping the guitar parts splashy and the vocals as smooth as Brenton Wood singing Oogum Boogum (if you don’t know this song you need to) it actually raises the overall stakes on how pimpish this song is. The other high point is his cover of my favorite Beatles song (Blackbird). While Paak can get super funky and joyously silly he knows a precious moment and how to care for it. Blackbird finds the groove with fingersnaps and he gives it his absolute most concentrated effort vocally.

We love that Paak is talented can play instruments sing and rap but its way more fun that he is nuts on top of that. This dude took Neil Young’s Heart of Gold and threw rap verses on his cover of it (Nocando, himself & milo). The final product is mad weird but valuable and interesting. Cover Art is a short form introduction to the capabilities of Paak with nasty bass lines (MAPS!) and signature flair ever-present even while doing other people’s music; people who couldn’t be more different from what Paak’s music turned into. If you listen to the Maron WTF interview that’s his real secret, he’s so nuts he can sit across from an old crunchy dude like Maron and talk classic guitar rock until he’s comfortable. Year before that he was on Snoops podcast passing a blunt comparing the discographies of overlooked soul legends. If you like music Paak will get you somehow. He’s everywhere.

Stream or download Cover Art below:

https://hellfyreclub.bandcamp.com/album/cover-art

 

Song Review-10 Piece by Curren$y & Wiz Khalifa produced by Dame Grease

 

Song Review-10 Piece by Curren$y & Wiz Khalifa produced by Dame Grease

by Dan-O

The mixtape era taught artists how to sell themselves post-music industry collapse. When Wiz & Curren$y dropped How Fly they outlined their rap and lifestyle values without any A & R influence or board meetings to approve. They sent it right to us. The duo were all about girls, video games, weed, laughing, loyalty and not a lot of unnecessary stuff outside of it.

I’m glad they got together to break bread over fabulous production and check in on where they are. Curren$y says “We control the town from the couch.” Wiz says “Now we fathers, know that God got us.” I think reviews will come in saying the project is fine. Both of these guys are prolific and that bores reviewers but they have amazing chemistry and share values that trace back to Snoop. They would always prefer to be peaceful. Wiz even ends the song warning that gang life isn’t “the vibe”. On top of that they are growing older and not hiding it. They wear their collective maturity as an honor like old gunfighters who have survived terrible upheaval.

It is deeper than album of the year considerations. These guys left an imprint on the world of hip hop and I’m not sure we take enough time out of our day to think about it. The old heads know both of these dudes can SPIT so they get feature requests from the very best. The new kids know these guys have been successful over a long period and seek to know to understand how. Listen to 2009 you’ll get closer. Along the way you get to enjoy two great technicians.