Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Mixtape Mash-Up

Above, Havoc's 'From Now On' mixtape

Work's been busy, so I haven't been posting quite as often as usual, but lately one thing I have noticed is that a lot of the stuff I've been liking lately has come in the form of mixtapes.

Now, I have a longstanding and generally mild distaste for the mixtape, as a collection of tossed-off B-sides and shitty freestyles, but I understand its function as a buzz-generator for the artist. One thing that draws me to some mixtapes is my passion for Jamaican dancehall music, which not only has mixtapes galore, but also has a variety of different artists giving their take on the same beat. Although dancehall usually takes a fairly spare beat and adds some instrumentation to go along with the verses; hip-hop mixtapes don't spice up the production much.

That said, a few have definitely caught my eye recently:

Wu-Tang South, Wu South, Vol. 1 - This Baltimore-based group, which appears to be Rush and Cappadonna, along with a few select guests and the obligatory posthumous ODB verse, has supposedly been around since 2006, and this mixtape, hosted by DJ Saki, is seeing its "official" release (whatever that means) in 2009. Normally, anything with Cappadonna on more than half the tracks hasn't warranted my praise in the past, but this is a definite exception. "Here Today" kicks things off with a soul chop and a tinny keyboard line that feels like classic Wu without being classic Wu. "Born in NYC" mixes up a dusty synth line with a heavy piano, and "NYC City Standup" actually does do the dancehall thang, flipping Redman's "Da Goodness" with a buzzing horn hit.

Havoc, From Now On - I've always been a huge Mobb Deep fan. And even though, starting with Murda Muzik, their work has been a little bit suspect (with a few notable exceptions), I always check out a new release from the QB crew. I have to say that it's kind of disheartening to see the G-Unit emblem on a Mobb Deep-affiliated record, but shit, times are tight all around. Is there even a Loud Records anymore? (Answer: Supposedly, it was resurrected as a part of Street Records, over the summer. Not confirmed). Anyway, I'm getting away from the point. This is a decent mixtape that retains the Mobb's menacing sound with a few new elements and little more flossiness ("We don't pop shots no more, we launch rockets"). The opener, "Smells Like 9/5," could have been a Hell on Earth B-side, "Letter to P" is a heart-to-heart sent out to Prodigy over a smooth soul choir and fuzzy guitar, and "24k Rap" nabs the bassline from Xzibit's "Los Angeles Times," adding some forlorn echoes along with verses from Ghostface Killah and the late J. Dilla. Definitely better than P's Product of the '80s.

Bajah + the Dry Eye Crew, Kings of Salone: the DJ Gravy Mixtape - Thanks to Doc Zeus for putting me up on this Sierra Leone-based crew. They mostly truck in dancehall, with a few dashes of hip-hop thrown in from time to time. Actually, there's a fair variety of uptempo, danceable tracks on the mixtape's brief 31 minutes, ranging from party jams ("Bondo Kallay," "Laba Laba," "Any Girl") to neck-snapping hip-hop "Rapapumpum" to gladiator dancehall (the massive "Honda"). "Makossa" flips a familiar old-school beat, and "Give Me Your Number" is straight-up rocksteady. A perfect summer disc.

Raekwon, Cuban Revolution - This is actually the second mixtape Rae's put out lately (Blood on Chef's Apron was the other) but Revolution is the latest round of material to keep everyone salivating for fall's supposed, alleged (dare I uttter it?) Cuban Linx Deuce, and it's pretty great. Featuring Ghost on a solid third of the album, it might as well be called Cuban Linx 1.5, or maybe Even More Motherfuckin' Fish. "Run Away" would fit in with any of Rae or Ghost's best solo work, "Better Shoot Something" works one of those old baroque-soul Wu loops, and "Slang Copulation" reunites out the old "Verbal Intercourse" trio with Nas, Ghost and some spooky ooh's (oh, and Cappadonna, too, but fuckit, he had his fifteen seconds earlier). Host DJ Memory Man even rounds things out with a loping soul loop that pairs up Ghost and Rae with a great Biggie verse. 

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Obscure Music Spotlight: 'Judy Sucks a Lemon for Breakfast,' by Cornershop

'Who fingered rock'n'roll...?'

If you're under 20, you probably would recognize Cornershop as the band whose awesomely-smooth "Candyman" was backing Lebon James' baby-powder-smackin' Nike commercial. And even if you're over 20, you might only know the UK band from their moderately-popular '97 single, "Brimful of Asha."

But Judy Sucks a Lemon for Breakast is the perfect time to get to know 'em.

I can't help but think frontman Tjinder Singh had the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock festival (coming up, by the way) in mind while creating Judy. I hesitate to call it "bubble-gum pop,' but in the late-'60s sense of the word, that's kind of what it is: slightly-psychedlic day-glo folk-rock with a few Eastern twists.

"Who Fingered Rock'n'Roll?" kicks things off with a straight-ahead rock beat and a gospel chorus that would do Joe Cocker proud, accented by ringing sitar plucks.

"Soul School" adds a string section and rolls even more smoothly, despite a grungy guitar crunching underneath, and tracks like the organ-grinding "The Constant Springs" and the title track even add a mellow clarinet melody.

"Free Love" mixes in more of the Singh brothers' Indian roots, setting a traditional raga melody to syncopated drums and backward guitar, and if you're not in a '60s frame of mind yet, witness the wall of chorus that anchors their cover of Manfred Mann's "Quinn the Eskimo," the most straight-forward track on the album.

If you're looking for allegorical lyrics and deep meaning, seek ye elsewhere. The largely-nonsensical libretto is a jumping-off point for the excellent music.

A few interludes hearken back 1997's hip-hop-influenced When I Was Born for the 7th Time, but for the most part, this is a near-perfect summer folk-rock record with a few well-placed freaky twists.

Hear samples at their Myspace site, and then git it.