Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Unless you have decided to stop reading magazines, newspapers and blogs in the last two months, you have probably heard quite a bit about M.I.A. recently. I did not read the New York Times article that supposedly exposed her as a fraud by contrasting her revolutionary rhetoric with her currently privileged lifestyle, but it was hard to ignore the aftermath, which included M.I.A. tweeting the reporter's name and phone number. Spin and Rolling Stone have both done recent articles tht reference the NYT article, and try to give a balanced account of what M.I.A. says versus what she does. Ecko Complex did a puff piece on her with lots of nice pictures. Diplo, a former partner and producer, has wasted no bandwidth telling the world exactly what he thinks of MAYA, the latest album. (Spoiler alert: he doesn't like it.)
I was finally able to hear the record after reading all of this primarily negative press. I hoped the music would overshadow the hype. I was excited about M.I.A. when she debuted with "Arular" and was being hailed as the newest, most exciting thing in hip-hop. "Arular" was spotty, but where it was good, it was really good. I loved "Galang," "Pull up the People," and "Sunshowers." The album as a whole showed a lot of promise and potential and a new, fresh voice. Her second album, "Kala," was dope: much more consistent, with great beats and hooks. I still didn't understand what she was talking about half of the time, but I didn't care. I have never been sure why people spend so much time talking about her revolutionary lyrics. M.I.A.'s thoughts never seem finished, at least in her songs. Even some of her quotes in articles seem more like slogans than real revolutionary or anarchist thought. But her inability to spend enough time in the U.S. to allow Timbaland to produce all of "Kala" forced her to go in many different directions, including using full Indian drum sections, sharing the mic with street kids, remaking Bollywood classics, etc. "Kala" was a successful hodgepodge, in my opinion.
Unfortunately, the new album sucks. There was not one song I wanted to listen to more than once. There were a few I couldn't even sit through one time. M.I.A. appears to adhere to the "all publicity is good publicity" school, but the music has to back it up. This album does not. I have read reviews that talk about her subversiveness, singing lines that sound like she might be saying "I really love Allah." Whether that is what she said, or that is just what she wants you to think she said, does it matter if the song isn't any good? Unfortunately, no. The hype machine will probably continue revolving around M.I.A., but there is no substance to back it up this time around.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
It was with some trepidation that I listened to Big Boi's new solo album. Like most of us, I am a HUGE OutKast fan and have been somewhat disappointed by some of their later output, like the "Idlewild" soundtrack and some of the guest spots Andre 3000 has put out recently. I hold on just barely to hopes of a successful OutKast reunion, especially since Andre's guest spots make it sound like he's given up on rapping altogether (or should). But the press surrounding Big Boi's "Chico Dusty" project made it sound like a return to form, as did some of his performances on the late night talk show circuit. I saw him do "Shutterbugg" on Leno with a band similar to OutKast performances: dj, horns, guitar, bass, back-up vocals, hype man. It was pretty good.
And that is probably the best thing I can say about the album. It is pretty good. Highlights are "Shutterbugg," the two versions of "Shine Blockas" (remix with Bun B is the better version), and "Tangerine," featuring T.I. and Khujo from Goodie Mob. "Tangerine" is unfortunately typical misogynistic fare, but that doesn't negate the talent of the m.c.'s involved. Overall, though, the album reminded me of the "Speakerboxx/The Love Below" double album from OutKast. It was pretty good, but didn't live up to the high standards of "ATLiens," "Aquemini," or "Stankonia." That is probably not a fair standard for any solo artist leaving an amazing group, but it can't be helped. I'm interested in what our readers think, and if the rumored OutKast reunion will be better.
This is the ninth studio album by The Roots, who now have a day job playing for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. I'm still not sure how I feel about that. The Roots are one of my favorite groups, they put on an amazing live show and put out thought-provoking, challenging records. I'm glad they're making regular money, but Black Thought, the primary M.C., is underused on the program and sometimes it feels like they could be doing something else that is less silly. On the other hand, I like knowing they have a sense of humor and it is fun to guess what song they'll play for each guest's walk-on.
Anyway, "How I Got Over" was originally scheduled for February release, but was pushed back to June, reportedly by Def Jam. Is it worth the wait? Kinda. I think I am still holding The Roots up to the incredibly high standards of "Things Fall Apart," which might be unfair. No one can keep recreating the same dope album, and no one should try. Artists have to grow and change. "How I Got Over" has a theme of introspection, questioning God, looking at the problems around our communities and pondering how to change them. It also has way too many guest stars, similar to "Rising Down." Both albums are good, and challenge conventions of what hip-hop is. This is a good idea in theory. But not always great sounding in practice. The title track is very good, especially Black Thought's sung verses. He started using this style on the "Game Theory" album, to particularly good use on "Baby." "Dear God 2.0" is another good track, featuring Jim James of Monsters of Folk. It's a stellar reworking of the Monsters of Folk original, and deserves multiple listens, even if it doesn't make you nod your head until your neck hurts. Overall, the album is heavy on content and not heavy on beats. The only track that really bangs is "Web 20/20," featuring Peedi Peedi and Truck North.
The Roots have every right to make an album that makes you think. But they used to make you want to dance, too, or at least bang your head while listening on the train. Are they growing up? Getting soft? Enjoying that talk show money? Or just following their muse as real artists? I am not entirely sure.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Karl Denson's Tiny Universe @ The Brooklyn Bowl
There are certain artists, that when you say their name, you expect everyone in the vicinity to know that name. You expect them to register your statement with a big bright smile on their face in recognition of the greatness of said name that just escaped your lips. When I say Karl Denson, I immediately expect people to raise their heads, their glasses, and their hearts in salute to THE MAN who can manipulate a saxophone with the best of the best. Often times, this doesn't happen! Many of the greatest artists on the scene are, for lack of a better word, hidden, for those of us willing to seek them out.
On the other hand, if I were to say Lenny Kravitz, everyone would know that name. He is plastered all over the radio and TV and I don't ever turn those contraptions on. What is a radio again? But, saying Lenny Kravitz's name, it would register, even with the most uneducated of music lovers. What a lot of people do not know is that Karl Denson was in Lenny Kravitz's band years ago and where his fame grew. Now, not to knock him by any means, but I have and never will go to a Lenny Kravitz concert. Karl on the other hand...I will NEVER EVER EVER miss a Karl Denson show. This past weekend at the Brooklyn Bowl, Karl Denson's Tiny Universe brought THE HOUSE DOWN with funky goodness two nights in a row. I honestly, don't know where to begin...
Karl Denson's Tiny Universe @ The Brooklyn Bowl
I arrived at the venue with my friend. We thought we were running late but there was not even a line at the ID check and it was already past 9pm. OK? Again, my point being made that people don't know good music when it come and hits them in the face. But no worries, the slow start gave us plenty of time to talk with friends, maneuver to the front and lay down our belongings, setting up for the rager that was about to take place. Standing around a little while longer, still nothing so we took a trip outside. While hanging out in the fresh air, a taxi pulls up and chills by the stage door. My friend and I continue our conversation and see Pete Shapiro, owner of the Brooklyn Bowl and in my opinion, probably the luckiest man on earth, come out talking to a roadie. "I have to pay the taxi," he says, as Karl Denson steps out of the taxi and into view. "Hi Karl," I say, "JAM CRUUUUISE!" He turns and smiles :) My friend and I quickly turn away to make our way inside because NOW the show can commence!
I am at the Brooklyn Bowl so often, it seems funny to have to describe it in every review. All I am going to say this time is that it is the coolest venue in all of New York City. Hands down. Period. End of story. Get your fannys there as soon as you can. Members of Karl Denson's Tiny Universe took the stage sometime between 10:10pm and 10:30pm. OK, right up front, I am telling you this is a long review, even for my standards...the show was three hours of straight raging funk from one of my favorite artists...it's a doozie and worth the read! :) The stage was set up as follows, from left to right:
David Veith (keyboards)
Chris Littlefield (trumpet)
John Staten (drums)
Karl Denson (saxophone/flute)
Chris Stillwell (bass)
Brian Jordan (guitar)
Oh man, what a line up. Karl has put together a talented group of musicians who all deserve to be fronting their own bands. I just truly love every single player in this group and I don't say that often. Karl came out in a jacket and slacks, Brian Jordan began strumming his guitar, Karl picked up the microphone and immediately blasted into Sister Jane. And at that point there was "nothing going on but a FUNKY SONG!!" Good lord! He just slammed right into it. The horns went at it. He beckoned us to warm up our pipes and join the song. There was shouts into the audience and we returned them. "Ahh, Yaa, Yeah, Yoooo!!" Karl fiercely laced into his saxophone, screaming at us with that blessed thing then throwing it down to pick up the tambourine. First song into the night and I almost broke into tears!
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Tuesday, May 25, 2010
We wrote about the BoCoCa Arts Festival back in March but thought it was time to do a follow-up as June is around the corner. A lot of exciting things are happening in their second year! BoCoCa has partnered with the Brooklyn ArtWalk, another annual event that happens June 5th and 6th. If you stop by Atlantic Avenue, you'll most likely see performers from BoCoCa and get some information about the festival.
They've also confirmed a lot of outstanding performers this year. There will be a theater production called "Stephen King's High School: The Musical," which satirizes the popular "High School Musical" franchise. There will be visual artists with installations all around the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill and Boerum Hill. There will be "Podcast Plays" from the Conflict of Interest Theater Company.
And there will be music from a few of the groups we've talked about on this blog, (Illard Scott, Ganessa James, BR and Timebomb), as well as some other exciting bands and soloists: Rawson, a soul/rock quartet from upstate NY with a not-to-be-believed live show; Colorform, an acoustic trio (vocals, guitar, cello) that performs with a live visual artist; Gallons to Ounces, a blues/funk trio from the D.C. area that has some great live clips on Myspace and many more! What's even better if you're not getting regular stock dividends is that some of these shows are free. Check out the BoCoCa website soon for a full schedule.
Monday, May 24, 2010
We wrote about BR and Timebomb a couple months back, just because we dig them. We said it then, and we'll say it again: their live show is BANANAS. Trumpet, violin, dope mc'ing, and a tight rhythm section that keeps the crowds dancing. And now we hear they're heading out on tour. Starting this weekend, the 'Bomb is heading out to Ohio and Chicago, then back to NYC for a bunch of outdoor shows. If you're in the Midwest and reading this, thank you. Now go find this band.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
Red Baraat is a band we recently came across and they are pretty unique, something we can't say very often. They describe themselves as "the first and only dhol 'n' brass band of its kind in the States melding the infectious North Indian rhythm Bhangra with brass funk and expressing the human spirit through improvisation and a powerful live sound." They are based in Brooklyn, which is where we caught them when they performed at the Brooklyn Museum of Art for Target First Saturdays. The mixture of five horn players (clarinet/saxophone, trumpet, bass trumpet, trombone, sousaphone) and three percussionists makes for a PARTY. To us, it seemed like the Indian music was mixed with New Orleans second line. Their leader, Sunny Jain, is a very enthusiastic performer who keeps the crowd hyped.
We picked up their debut album, "Chaal Baby," last week. Although it is not as exciting as their live show, a real band should be better live and their jazz roots show up well on the recording. Our favorite track, by far, is "Punjabi Wedding Song," but "Tunak Tunak Tun" and "Hey Jamalo" are also really good. They've got a bunch of upcoming dates around NYC and you need to go check these guys out.
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Jazz Fusion!!! FUUUUUUUUSION!!! This was to be special night of music. First night of fusion music all year. God that word alone makes me tingly….There are certain things that are constantly stirring in the back of my head on any given day. Oddly enough, there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t think of fusion…of artists like Al Di Meola, Zawinul, Stanley Clark, Chick Corea, George Benson, Jean-Luc Ponty, George Duke. Just their gorgeous sounds…I hear it in my head all the time…Oh dear lord, I’m getting heated. If you have never listened to these artists, I DEMAND you download anything by them…IMMEDIATELY!....
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Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Oh, Big Sam!! You ripped us up GOOD!!!!
Big Sam's Funky Nation's New Cd: King of the Party
New York City was NOT prepared for what hit it Friday night. How do I know this? Because EVERYONE I know who attended Friday’s show was crying from the pain on Saturday after we danced OUR ASSES OFF!!!! Big Sam’s Funky Nation rolled in hard and strong to Sullivan Hall for the Album Release Party of their fourth studio album, King of the Party this past Friday. OK! I am just going to say it: Big Sam is…STRAIGHT UP…the King of the Party. What an amazing, fun, fantastic performance!
I was unable to make it for the opening acts as I had a previous engagement uptown with a group of my favorite girlfriends. Yes, just sometimes, I make room for things other then music in my life. S0, I quite literally arrived at the venue as the The High & Mighty Brass Band was wrapping up. SORRY H&MBB!!
As I entered the venue, I walked up to the right front of the stage and there they all were; the lovely members of the NYC Funk Live Group who were able to make it out that night. I was immediately bombarded with hugs, introductions and smiles. Apparently, I had missed a hell of an opener as they all seemed energized. My good pal, Russ, says “I wasn’t sure of the set list, but I got this for ya,” as he hands me The High & Mighty Brass Band’s set list from the stage!!! Enjoy:
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Friday, April 23, 2010
This is a great band with a long name. We first heard them at Webster Hall back in 2007 as part of a Battle of the Bands and we've also seen them on bills with fellow New Jerseyites Defending Champions and Hyphen-One and Daylow. The band's CDBaby page describes them as "a sexy fusion of R&B, rock, reggae and jazz with a delicious pop." We think that's a fair description. Stephanie has a great, powerful voice and is backed by a strong band featuring a horn section, guitar, bass and drums. Rob LaFalce, the drummer, also handles most of the songwriting for the band (which is more than I can say for a lot of drummers I know). These guys tour a lot along the East Coast and you should check them out. Definitely peep their single, "Cheat on My Best Friend." Always good for a sing-along.
Stephanie White and the NJ Philth Harmonic Myspace
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Sunday, April 4, 2010
Okay, this is largely true. But not entirely. If you listen to the radio (I try not to), or watch the 10 minutes a day when MTV isn't playing reality shows (I don't), you'll hear a lot of crap. Here at the Early Show, we listen to some of everything and you can tell by what we've posted about so far. When it comes to hip-hop, we like the established artists, we like the popular artists and we like the newer, underground folks. We've been huge fans of Jay-Z since Reasonable Doubt. We loved Lil' Wayne around The Carter II and whichever DJ Drama mixtape had "Cannon" on it. Swizz Beatz puts out some good stuff. Sometimes. But all of these guys also put out some crap BECAUSE THEY CAN. People buy it no matter what because it's what's "hot in the game right now." Please. In my opinion, Lil' Wayne and his Young Money clown posse set hip-hop back several years with their Grammy performance. Profanity doesn't equal quality and, for the love of God, pull your pants up.
2. Hip-hop music only uses samples and/or over-simplified synthesizers and drum machines.
Again, there is some truth to this. But it's not always a bad thing. Go back for a second to the Golden Age of Hip-Hop. We'll wait. There was a lot of creativity in sampling back then. Folks like De La Soul, Public Enemy, Biz Markie and the Beastie Boys had some sick productions where they'd take pieces of 8-10 songs and make something new and unique with them. Then the artists they borrowed/stole from found out how much money they were making. Now no one can afford to do this. So today's producers either sample one old song and let it ride, or over-do it with the synths and drum machines. It sure would be nice if some of these producers knew how to play some instruments.
Oh, wait a minute, some of them do! First off, all respect is due to the Roots. They've been doing this live hip-hop thing and making it work for longer than anyone else. (I'm not talking about the whole Jimmy Fallon thing right now.) But the Roots are not the only ones doing it. I saw a couple of great shows in the mid-90s by Common and the Fugees with live bands behind them. A lot of MCs just ask the Roots to back them up, because it's easier. On the local NYC scene, there are tons of bands doing the live hip-hop thing. Going back to the early 2000s, we had the Higher Circle and Alter Egos doing it. These days, we have BR and Timebomb, the Ideas, LAW and Planet 12, Dujeous, Hyphen-One and Daylow out of New Jersey and Swift Technique holding it down for Philadelphia. Flobots is doing their thing in Denver. There are probably more out there we don't know. Holla if we missed someone good.
3. Hip-hop is male-dominated and misogynistic.
Male-dominated? Yes. But there have always been some dope female MC's in the game: Roxanne Shante, MC Lyte, Salt 'n' Pepa, Queen Latifah, Monie Love, Missy Elliot, Lil' Kim, Foxy Brown, Jean Grae, Bahamadia, M.I.A., etc. You can make arguments that some of them had male ghost writers and that some of them used their bodies and sexuality as a crutch but I'm not making that argument. And I just heard a piece last night on NPR (what? I know.) about newer female MC's they heard at this year's SXSW: Kid Sister, Invincible and Malaga. All of them were doing innovative stuff.
Misogynistic? Yes, unfortunately. But not everyone. Step past the radio crap and you'll hear men and women writing some positive, conscious lyrics where you can tell they actually gave some thought to relations between men and women as well as other real-life issues that don't include Cristal or diamond jewelry.
4. Hip-hop is one-dimensional.
I think I've already made my point on this one. I can disprove this misconception just by listing some of my favorite hip-hop artists of all time: OutKast, the Roots, Mos Def, Public Enemy, Wu-Tang Clan, De La Soul, Brand Nubian, EPMD, MF Doom, Cee-Lo, Lauryn Hill, A Tribe Called Quest, Rakim. Need I say more? How many dimensions is that?
5. Hip-hop is dead.
The funny thing about this one is most of the people who say it continue to make hip-hop albums (I'm looking at you, Nas). Back in the day, De La Soul called their second album, "De La Soul is Dead." And they were basically stating that the style they brought on their brilliant first album of Daisy-era, hippie stuff was pretty much over. And if you think about it, the people who have created every kind of American music have gone on to completely evolve it and remove themselves from the older sub-genres. Sometimes the creators and their fans leave the music altogether to other people. I'm talking about jazz, blues, rock, and now hip-hop. Commercial hip-hop is just that: commercial. And yet, it's still ignored by people who base their ignorance on these 5 misconceptions (I'm talking to you, L Magazine. Is indie rock really the only music worth listening to? Jeez.)
I had to read this book once for an economics class (got a C minus, thank you very much) that stated that in a global economy, there was less of a need and less market for talented musicians in different parts of the world because everyone now has access to the very best worldwide. They used opera as an example. Everyone can buy Pavarotti, so they don't need their local opera singer whose name I don't know. The same seems to be happening with hip-hop. Everyone can buy Young Money or Gucci Mane, so they don't have to look for quality in their local market. But it's high time that they do.
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Gorillaz - Stylo
Sunday, March 28, 2010
This post is about a young MC out of Queens we've been following for a minute. His name is Illard Scott, and this cat definitely combines old-school flow with some hard-hitting DJ Premier-style beats. His content is on the conscious side, but he can flow about NYC, love, God, and MC'ing in general. Illard Scott has performed all over New York: at the Nuyorican Poetry Club, End of the Weak, last year's Forest Park International Music Festival, the Metro Hope Lounge in Harlem, and his own open mics in Mavi Lounge in Queens. You should check out his videos on Youtube. Dude has serious production skills and works with some of the best: DJ G-Biz and Mark Carrenceja (also known for working with the Roots). If you're tired of the same old crap in today's hip-hop, you're reading the right blog and you should give this cat a listen.
Guidon Records Website
Monday, March 22, 2010
This group debuted a couple months ago, but when I heard about them, I immediately thought, "Why didn't I hear about this sooner?" It was kinda like that Chappelle Show skit where Arsenio Hall punches a guy in the face at a wine and cheese party and goes, "Why didn't you tell me this cheese was so good, motherf***er?" Them Crooked Vultures consists of three greats in hard rock music, all famous with their own bands, all known for collaborating a lot. Josh Homme is the main songwriter, singer, guitairst for Queens of the Stone Age. He got his start with Kyuss and also releases semi-regular albums called the Desert Sessions that can include just about anyone he's friends with in music. John Paul Jones is best known as the bass player/organist/mandolin player for Led Zeppelin. I always wondered why he got kinda ignored in that band, but I think the answer to that question is Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Bonham. Jones has also played and produced with tons of people all over (I saw a clip on Questlove's Myspace page once with Jones, Questlove and Ben Harper playing "Dazed and Confused." Ridiculous.) And Dave Grohl is best known for playing drums for this little band called Nirvana, as well as fronting the Foo Fighters. Grohl has also played drums on my favorite QOTSA album, "Songs for the Deaf," drummed for Probot along with Lemmy from Motorhead, and a couple other projects I haven't heard.
We came across Devlin Miles a couple years ago and we really dig her sound. It's a combination of melody-driven pop, rock and country, with influences like Sheryl Crow and Pat Benatar (not the kind of stuff we listen to all the time), but Devlin makes it work. Devlin puts on a great live show and we've seen her perform in NYC a bunch of times, most recently in December at the Bitter End where she released her CD, "Autumn's Fires." She also composed a song to benefit suicide prevention called "The Extra Mile" and performed it for National