Tuesday, November 23, 2010

128 Oz. of Haterade: 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,' by Kanye West

Apparently, 'Ye is too much super-rapper-producer for just one cover.

Since releasing the spare, overprocessed robotics of 2008's 808s & Heartbreak, Kanye West has done his best to singlehandedly wreck his own career, swiping the mic from Taylor Swift and ranting like Doc Brown in "Back to the Future" via his Twitter page.

And while Marvin Gaye would probably turn over in his grave if he heard Kanye crooning "Mercy, mercy me, that Murcielago," it's still refreshing to hear the much-more-organic sounds that pop up throughout My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy... the female chorus that backs the first single, "Power"... the strings and distorted cry on "So Appalled"... the simple, sinister piano plucks on "Runaway."

There are plenty of modern production mechanics at work, make no mistake. But two years ago, a track like "Runaway" would have done away with its driving beat and be Auto-Tuned to death. Instead, Kanye flexes a tenor voice that sounds just fine, with a guest verse from Clipse MC Pusha T.

Then again, he just can't help himself.

"Runaway" is pretty much over by the 5:30 mark, but then the strings kick back in, and an Auto-Tuned Kanye distorts his own humming for about three minutes. Which is not to say it's bad. Quite the opposite.

"Lost in the World" recaptures the hop-hop-mega-pop vibe of tracks like "Stronger" and "Champion"; "Monster" finds the Chicago native swapping verses with Jay-Z and Rick Ross, who make two appearances each; and John Legend joins in for a relationship gone awry in "Blame Game," which finds Kanye rapping alongside two chopped-and-screwed clones, before Chris Rock drops by in a hilarious, profane coda.

Kanye made a surprise visit to Rolling Stone magazine recently, and was captured on video embarking on an epic soliloquy about his own, well... "epicness" (did he compare himself to Raphael? Ohh, yes)... and Rolling Stone gave the album five stars, calling it Kanye's best yet. I wouldn't go quite that far.

Mostly, it's just really nice to hear Kanye West doing a little more rapping. Sure, he might say self-indulgent things like "if I ever wasn't the greatest/I must have missed it" and he might make videos where he's the Greek god in the center of a classical painting... but he is a nimble, clever rapper, and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is a very nice blend of who Kanye was and who he is, in both sound and substance.

Monday, November 22, 2010

OMM is Comin' Back!

In light of the fact that there hasn't been a podcast for, ohh, nearly seven months now... we're going back to being Obscure Music Monthly, your [Probably Not] No. 1 Source for music you mighta not heard, reviews, occasional live mixes at UStream.com and whatever else we can think of.

So be sure to change your bookmark (probably reaching on that one) to the original address!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Who Says Soccer Players Aren't Tough?

Zlatan Ibrahimovic and this move - straight outta motherf***in' Killer Instinct - beg to differ. I suppose you could call this karmic justice for Materazzi in exchange for his goading of Zidane in the '04 World Cup, but I think the head butt was probably punishment enough.

Monday, October 18, 2010


NEED A BEAT? Check out the beat tape and lemme know! Twenty-three beats straight from the lab, with more to follow. Click here to download, courtesy of YouSendIt.com - link will be good until Oct. 25.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


This is a very hilarious, and yet partially confusing, video. This kid really, really hates the Raiders, apparently for beating the San Diego Chargers. But then they zoom in... and he's wearing a Bears t-shirt. Wha...? Eh, doesn't matter. The best part is how his own mother is laughing at his misery:

Sunday, October 10, 2010

R.I.P. Solomon Burke

What a singer. I was looking for a YouTube posting of my personal favorite, "Get Out My Life Woman," but this will do just fine.

Friday, October 8, 2010

128 Oz. of Haterade: Rundown, Vol. 2

Well... I know this blog has a little bit of readership in the Philly area, and I don't want to alienate any readers, so I won't go off on a tangent about Scott Hartnell and his fake-ass-drip-drip jheri curl, and really the entire Flyers squad, ruining my trip to the Penguins' home opener last night. Just want to drop a few quick reviews on some local Pittsburgh hip-hop talent, along with other records that are making their way through the current rotation:

Vinny Radio, The Foundation/Slim Stario, A Star is Born - I highly recommend checking out both of these free mixtapes by Pittsburgh MCs. Vinny Radio rocks more uptempo, bouncy tracks, mainly supplied by producer P. Fish, to pair with his baritone flow, while Slim Stario slows things down with a heavier, grittier feel. Click on the links above to download both free albums.

Dave Holland Octet, Pathways - You can't argue with a bass player who's gigged with Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock, just to name two. England son Dave Holland has put in more than four decades of work, and it shows in the shifty tempos of his compositions, whether they're by way of his quartets, quintets, or big-band arrangements. His latest octet record, Pathways, continues that tradition of excellence in a live setting, whether it's the burbling, chunky bass-walk that begins "How's Never?" or the lilting swing that rides through "Sea of Marmara." For me, what makes Holland's band so appealing is the inclusion of vibraphonist/marimbist (is that last one a word? Not sure) Steve Nelson, whose limber lines snake through the melody in all the best ways.

Soulive, Rubber Soulive - Soulive has yet to release an album that I don't like. If there was going to be one, I was initially concerned that a record of Beatles covers might be it. It's not. You never heard "Revolution" be as funky as this. The audio clarity is a little muddy at times, but it's a solid set of Fab Four covers that James Brown would be proud of.

Boog Brown & Apollo Brown, Brown Study - Apollo Brown already impressed me with The Reset. This set of tunes with female MC Boog Brown is just as good. Unfortunately, it's all too rare to find a high-quality female MC, but Boog definitely fits the bill.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

128 Oz. of Haterade: The Rundown

Das Racist, Sit Down Man - "Das Racist, the number-one slept-on/You can't see us like quarks and leptons." That quick little line right there is very emblematic of the fine line straddled by Brooklyn-based Das Racist. Combining danceable beats with subject matter that seems to be about everything and nothing at the same time, the combo of Himansu Suri and Victor Vazquez have created one of the catchiest mixtapes I've listened to in quite a while. Blending hardcore hip-hop sounds with nerd-rap references, Latino music samples ("Julia"), distorted pounding beats ("A Roc Marciano Joint") and even getting a guest verse from the out-there-extraordinaire El-P (the title track), Sit Down Man is a great antidote for the current, stagnant pop-rap scene.

Lil' Wayne, I Am Not a Human Being - Maybe I'm just missing something about Weezy F. Baby. Probably not, though. Mostly, I'm just not impressed. Okay, you made like a million songs. That's great. But unlike Das Racist, who display a wide palette of sonic dexterity, there's hardly any variation throughout the entire course of Human Being, and there isn't much clever about lines like "You n****s is squares like a motherf*ckin' grid." Slow, plodding beats and cornball attempts at being some kind of southern-bounce R. Kelly characterize the majority of the album.

Buju Banton, Before the Dawn - The latest news about Buju Banton isn't his latest disc... it's his trial on drug-trafficking charges. Apparently a Florida-area police informer has recordings of the reggae/dancehall star participating in a scheme to smuggle coke. Having come a long way from his "Boom Bye Bye" days, however, Buju's more-recent work has had a much more spiritual bent to it, and Before the Dawn is no exception. Tracks like "In the Air," "Do Good" and "Battered & Bruised" are positive anthems of struggle and upliftment. There are a few questionable detours, most notably into early-'90s-rock territory with "No Smoking At All." All in all, I don't know if it's what the press release refers to as "the prophetic new album," but it's definitely got its moments.

A few other quick-hits:
Big Remo & 9th Wonder, Entrapment - Big Remo holds it down, but the most notable thing about this LP is that 9th Wonder occasionally wanders out of the sped-up-soul-sample box he's been trapped in for seemingly ever.
Brian Wilson, Reimagines George Gershwin - The legendarily quirky Beach Boy doesn't so much reimagine Gershwin, as replace classical instruments with pop ones. There are a few interesting numbers, particularly "Summertime" and a Pet Sounds recasting of "I Got Rhythm" as a beach anthem, but overall, it's just alright.
Mavis Staples, You Are Not Alone - Now this one is the real deal. Staples got together with (of all people) fellow Chi-town native Jeff Tweedy, from Wilco, who wrote a few songs and helped Mavis put together a slammin' old-school R&B record. This set would fit right in with the rest of the Staples' discography, and probably sounds even better live.
Zac Brown Band, You Get What You Give - This album is a lot more country than I was led to believe the Zac Brown Band sounded. That said, the most shocking part is probably the fact that the song featuring Jimmy Buffett doesn't completely and absolutely suck. Well, that and "Whiskey's Gone," where Brown tells a bartender to "lick his sack." Not a joke.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

My Campaign to Force Chris Berman to Shave

Chris Berman's disastrous decision to grow what appears to be a 1970s-style "upside-down Hook-'em Horns" 'stache can only result in one of two things:

1) He will get beat up for trying to out-Ditka Mike Ditka
2) He will get beat up for trying to out-Burgundy Ron Burgundy

So consider this my digital petition to persuade Boomer to shave. Feel free to leave your comment as a signature. STOP THE INSANITY!

Besides, this is going to make him look even MORE curmudgeonly the next time someone catches him on video yelling at a production assistant for the unforgivable crime of moving around off-set.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Intolerance and Ignorance from the Deep South? SURELY YOU JEST

INTERNATIONAL Burn a Koran Day, eh? That's a little
presumptuous, don't you think, you uneducated redneck?

Opposing the construction of a New York City mosque because you don't know enough about the tenets of Islam is something that reasonable people can debate.

Burning Korans on Sept. 11 in order to purposefully denigrate one of the world's major religions? Well, that just shows you're an intolerant asshole. If you don't believe that, try to imagine what the f*ck would happen if anyone, Muslim or otherwise, staged a Bible-burning on Christmas.

I'll tell you one thing that would happen. The redneck hate-mongering sh*t-ignorant minister in the photo above would probably try to cut the heads off everyone involved, and he would say it was done "in Jesus's name." (sorry: "JEEEEEEEEZUS'S NAME!")

Oh yeah, and let's not forget that Gen. David Petraeus and several Pentagon officials warned against this utter stupidity, saying it may provoke attacks on U.S. troops abroad. Right now I am watching a newsfeed of Afghans burning a U.S. flag just in the anticipation that this MIGHT happen.

So go ahead, Gainesville, Fla.-based mini-church - they have about 50 members - with your Koran-burning... you know what, there's no reason arguing about this, because this minister just said in a national news interview that "it would be tragical" if U.S. troops died because of it. Tragical... well, there's no arguing with someone this stupid. So forget it.

I am, however, 100 percent in favor of a draft sending every single person who participates in the Koran-burning to Afghanistan to serve a two-year tour of duty.

Really, what's most upsetting about this is the complete and utter silence on the part of Republican leadership, who pride themselves on being the country's Big-Dick Patriots, the ONLY party who truly supports the troops. If that were really the case, the GOP would come out against this (because let's just be honest: this minister and every single person in his congregation are clearly Glenn-Beck-watching, tea-bagging red-staters).

P.S. Yes, Florida is the Deep South. Pretty much anywhere outside the municipal limits of Orlando, Miami, Tampa and Tallahassee is the Deep, Deeeeeep Motherf*ckin' South.

Friday, September 3, 2010

C'mon, Tuesday Night...


So after the first two seasons - and the cliffhanger second-season ending I definitely didn't see coming - I'm pretty geeked up about the season 3 premiere of Sons of Anarchy this Tuesday (10 p.m., F/X). It's pretty clear to me that the Irishman who stole Jax's baby is headed to Mexico... since he'd have to sail the whole way around South America to get back to Ireland.

Once the Sons pursue him, that puts them on Mayan turf. I gotta believe Alvarez is gonna place a call to the chapter in Tijuana or Culiacán or Tamaulipas or wherever. Then again, Clay and SAMCRO know that Alvarez got hoodwinked by the Zoebelle and his white-supremacist homeboys, and could use that to their advantage.

There's also the Clay-Jax dynamic, which needs sorting out. They made peace with one another by way of Gemma's tragic situation, but it's still bubbling under the surface. We'll have to see.

Come onnnnn, Tuesday night...

Allow Me to Relay the Most F*cked-Up Dream EVER

Alright... this post is going to be pretty far outside the norm, even for me. But I can't keep this one to myself. For some reason, over the past few weeks, I've been having some of the most f'd-up dreams since I was a kid (you know, when my dreams were mostly about dinosaurs and, occasionally, about catching massive neon salamanders while saltwater-fishing with my granddad).

But the piece de resistánce came last night. Let's hit the highlights:

Part One: My wife and I are hanging out with just about every friend we've ever made in our entire lives, in a series of giant, interconnected treehouses somewhere in the forest. I'm hanging out with a friend who offers me some weed, to which I respond, "No way man, I don't smoke, and even if I did, I can't be smokin' weed. I have to pass a piss test for my new job!" I leave and head to another treehouse...

Part Two: My wife and I have a huge fight over something I couldn't recall upon waking up. Regardless, it rages to the point where we are on the verge of divorce. She leaves and heads to another treehouse to vent to some of her female friends. I follow her, and am standing below her and her friends, still arguing, and for some reason, throw a plastic bowl that hits her in the neck. One of her friends rips me a new one in front of everyone, and says I should just get lost...

Part Three: My old boss, an Irish priest from my college work-study job, emerges from one of the treehouses, and orders me to drive immediately back to Duquesne University to put gas in one of his four cars, which are in a garage at the college. I jump in my car and head out. However, when I get to Duquesne, all of the buildings are skyscrapers, they're not in the same place they used to be, and I absolutely cannot find my way around...

Part Four: A car screeches up to me, and inside are two "men in black," CIA types... and one of the guys from the original Budweiser "Wazaaaaaaaaah?" commercial. They order me into the car to help them complete some sort of spy mission. I tell them I can't, I'm about to divorce my wife and I have to get back to the forest treehouse complex.

Unfortunately, this is where the dream ended. The only part I can logically explain - believe it or not - is the guy from the Bud commercial, since I was just re-watching it the other day.

Top that. If you can, email thebeatdoctor@verizon.net or leave a comment.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

128 Oz. of Haterade: 'Meta-Historical,' by KRS-One & True Master

"I'll splatter my data on rappers that don't matter..."

KRS-One can divide hip-hop fans. Some view him as a righteous teacher-MC who has been broadcasting truth from New York City streets for more than two decades. Some view him as an overly preachy defender of a brand of hip-hop whose time may have passed.

A song titled "Gimme the '90s" isn't going to help dispel those who subscribe to the latter group. Seven skits with the Blastmaster holding court, on everything from true hip-hop to the N-word to white fear of the black man, isn't going to help, either.

But pairing up with Wu-disciple True Master for a collab album definitely helps. Once only counted among the sonic architects of the disastrous sophomore Gravediggaz record, "The Pick, the Sickle and the Shovel," True Master eventually came into his own as a credible producer, and his simple, effective loops match well with KRS's flow.

Is it kind of annoying as he philosophizes on "Palm & Fist" about metaphysical reality? Kind of. Then again, listening to some excellently casual boasting on "One of Them Days" had me bobbing my head like the first time I heard "Rappaz R.N. Dainja."

KRS's overarching philosophy is on diplay in "Old School Hip Hop": "Back in the days we threw it like this on 'em/Beats and rhymes you didn't have to wish for 'em/Beats and rhymes today you gotta fish for 'em/'Cause most rappers traded ass and tits for 'em." Now that right there is some truth, and while Kris can sometimes get a little too professor-ish, it's nuggets of greatness like those few lines that keep him near the top of any great-MCs list.

Meta-Historical coalesces best in the form of "1-2, Here's What We Gonna Do," as RZA drops by for one of his best verses in years and True Master loops a forlorn guitar; it also shines on the title track, where KRS explores history in all its forms and importance.

Is it a perfect record? No. It limps out with a couple of clunkers ("Street Rhymer," "He's Us"), but along the way, it's a good reminder of why hip-hoppers still love KRS-One.

128 Oz. of Great-erade: 'The Basics EP,' by DTMD (Dunc & Toine Makin' Dollars)

Comin' from Prince George's County, Md., right in the middle of the DMV, Dunc & Toine Makin' Dollars, a.k.a. DTMD, is a duo to watch for in the years to come.

Granted, I'm about eight months' late in discovering their excellent EP, The Basics, but I can't pass up the chance to recommend that you go to Bandcamp.com RIGHT NOW and cop the free download.

Production heads may recognize Dunc as the architect behind the clipped soul of "The Shining," from the excellent Diamond District record featuring X.O., yU and Oddisee, who has gone out of his way to rightly hype DTMD.

"I MC/I must create microphone classics/Metaphysical craftsman with musical captions/Relaxin', lettin' the draft in/The in smoke out what we ashin'/The ganja/In rap, I'm a monster/N****s comin' back like karma/But y'all gon' pay for it like a sponsor/In the element of irrelevance and drama/The current testament was heaven-sent to calm ya," Toine raps over the smooth, wavering synths of "Fantastic," kicking a verse that belies the fact that neither he nor Dunc are even 21 yet.

It would be unfair to pigeonhole DTMD as a "nerd-rap" group, but that is undoubtedly the demographic to which they will most likely appeal. That said, if you're a real hip-hop fan, chances are you'll find something to like in the horns and guitars of "Champion," the conga-syncopated bounce of "What That Mean" or the Roots-ish vibe of the closer, "Above the Clouds."

Add to that a great video and better lyrics for a song that doesn't appear on the EP, "Loan for the Lonely," and you'll see DTMD as a couple hungry youngsters that deserve your time.

DTMD on Bandcamp.com (download the EP for free here)

DTMD - A Loan For The Lonely from dunc & toine makin' dollas on Vimeo.

128 Oz. of Great-erade: 'Off the Grid,' by Dinner at the Thompson's

French singer Lucille Tee and Cali-based producer Fablive have combined to put together one of the best Franco-U.S. collaborations since French fries, a heady, psych- and hip-hop-influenced soul record that oozes cool.

Tee's vocal presence is like a less-nasal Erykah Badu, but with the same penchant for breathy, multilayered harmonies. But where Badu, for the most part, stays grounded in soul and R&B, even when working with hip-hoppers like Madlib, Dinner at the Thompson's sound on Off the Grid has the heavy knock to support a guest MC like Guilty Simpson, who shows up on the swinging "Rice'n'Beans."

Fablive's intricate production - which this particular reviewer would love to see paired up with any number of MCs - weaves hip-hop, jazz-soul, bits of electro and a heavy dose of modern psychedelia into the mix. On tracks like the twitchy "Levitating," the synth-stabbing "Whatever It Takes" and the uptempo "Different Beings" (featuring modern funkateer Lee Fields), the music is unerringly catchy, diverse and accomplished.

Three short, hidden tracks following the closer, "You are Love," also hint at the great potential this duo has to expand their range into solidly hip-hop territory.

Sit down to a little Dinner at the Thompson's; it's a well-prepared meal.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Don't Let Xenophobic Hate Cloud Your Judgement: A Keith Olbermann Joint

Thanks to Oddisee for posting this. It's a fantastic, reasoned, impassioned defense of the founding principles of this country by MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, vis á vis the proposed "Ground Zero Mosque," which is actually "a converted Burlington Coat Factory which is impossible to see from anywhere at Ground Zero."

I realize that asking conservatives to watch this is like asking me to watch Glenn Beck's schizoid 'Network' act. The difference? Olbermann uses facts to make sense; he doesn't use fear to get ratings. I wasn't the greatest history student, but I do know that the Pilgrims came here to escape intolerance and religious persecution:

Thursday, August 26, 2010

128 Oz. of Haterade: 'Lions, Fires & Squares,' by Carolyn Malachi

The Washington Post has described Carolyn Malachi's music as "hard to put into words," but to me, it's pretty simple. If you took an empowered female, put her at the head of the P-Funk All-Stars and asked them to tone down the weirdness just a little bit, you'd have Carolyn Malachi.

The six tracks (two remixes) on Lions, Fires & Squares, purportedly influenced by the D.C. native's recent trip to South Africa, encompass slow-rolling funk, spoken-word, R&B, the occasional video-game bleep and anything else that seems to fit.

"Textual" finds Malachi requesting "Let's get textual/I think you wanna know what's on my mind/Can't talk/I gotta run/I got a gun pointed at my personal time," as an uptempo groove suddenly spins off in rivulets of triplets, with guest HHR contributing an excellent verse.

"Orion" has her falling for the ageless constellation, inviting "Hey space cowboy/I want you in my interplanetary good vibe zone" as waves of neo-soul and harmony wash over the bottom-heavy beat.

A Claire Hux remix of "Textual" gives it a club-music spin, and Kokayi adds a syncopated swagger on a remix of "Orion," but it's Malachi's smooth, sliding alto that commands the most attention.

I haven't heard her first two records yet, but I'm happy to work backwards from here. Chances are, it'll be a worthwhile journey.

128 Oz. of Haterade: 'The 7th Hour,' by 7th 7ign

It's a mixed blessing to hear a forlorn soul loop as the backing for "Spinning Wheel," the opening track from Wu-affiliate 7th 7ign's (Sign's) debut record, 7th Hour. On one hand, for an old Wu head like myself, it's a refreshing bit of nostalgia. On the other hand, there's always the chance that new-school hip-hoppers will accuse him of trying in vain to recapture the Wu's glory days.

To be sure, 7th Hour isn't going to surpass Enter the 36 Chambers on your top-albums list, but neither is it simply a throwaway Wu-crew record. 7th 7ign has a commanding vocal presence, creating interesting, slightly-cryptic verses, without descending into the massively-obscure arena that Killah Priest permanently occupies. And the production settles nicely between RZA's baroque, tortured soul and the muddy, lo-fi sound of the Killa Bees compilation records.

In particular, tracks like "Everyman Bleeds," "This is War" and "Spinning Wheel" stand out as promising examples of where 7th 7ign can go when he wants:

"The wheel starts spinning/The end is the beginning/Constant motivation my world's in rotation/My fam comes first/React you get hurt/'Cause the first shall be last and the last shall be first."

That's some old-school Wu shit right there, and it's always welcome in my record collection.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Warning to Nerds Everywhere: Sports is NOT for You

What happens when you combine Office Space, shotput and Eastern European nerds? This:

128 Oz. of Great-orade: 'Jazz Young Spirit,' by Various Artists

When I was in high school, my mother bought me a copy of the Afro-Cuban Allstars' A Toda Cuba Le Gusta, with fantastic tracks like "Maria Caracoles" and "Los Sitio Asere." It got me into Cuban jazz in a big way, branching out into Ruben Gonzalez and Ibrahim Ferrer records and even a fantastic LP whose name I still am not 100 percent sure of. I believe it's Ska Cubano.

Anyway, not since I first threw on the A.C. Allstars has a Latin jazz record grabbed my attention like this showcase of ten young musicians, despite the negligible mid-'80s bad-tie-abstract artwork on the cover.

The predominantly Cuban musicians (not everyone... Charly Sarduy is from Spain, Esperanza Spalding from Jersey City, N.Y.) rip into nearly every tune. Sarduy's "Charly en la Habana" starts off as light, uptempo funk before blasting off into chunky polyrhythms; breathy scatting intermingles with twitchy piano and percussion on "Loro," with a coda that sounds almost like a spacey Grateful Dead improv session, Spalding's vocals taking the place of Jerry Garcia. And the simple piano-and-congas combo on Marialys Pacheco's "Intro" sounds like the best song on a great '70s action-movie soundtrack.

Puerto Rico's Yasek Manzano shifts meters and slows things down a little on the abstracted, bouncy "Amnios," in addition to creating a hazy, tropical-jungle atmosphere on "Drume Negrita."

This is an out-of-control-great Latin jazz compilation.

More on Jazz Young Spirit (you can also order it, but this is a German website, where you're ordering in Euros... don't know if it's commercially available in the U.S.)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Huffington Post VIDEO: Sen. Obama vs. President Obama

Booooy, this is kind of unfortunate. All of the questions Sen. Obama had for the Bush Administration can now be asked of him... with an even more unfortunate - and very similar - dodgy line of answers. Props to the Huffington Post for compiling the clips, though, it plays very well and gives an interesting insight into the cyclical nature of politics.

Monday, August 9, 2010

My A-DIDAS: Mega Edition

Soooooo lemme ask you this: Is it just me, or do the new Adidas Mega shoes remind you of what would happen if the original black-and-red Air Jordans threw up on a pair of the old L.A. Gear Olajuwons?

And then they added... a velcro toe-strap.

128 Oz. of Haterade: 'George Kush Da Button,' by Smoke DZA

'The connect's confidential and the weed's continental..."

If you're about to throw on the new Smoke DZA joint expecting political allegory about the Bush Years and the War on Drugs... well, you're in for some disappointment. George Kush Da Button is pretty much about weed.

No matter, though. What you do get from the Harlem rapper is a laidback mixtape with a bit of an executive-lounge soundscape... no surprise considering the primary producer is Ski Beatz, the architect behind much of Jay-Z's Big Willie sound on Reasonable Doubt.

Hints of this excellent sound were on display with DZA's April 2010 EP, Substance Abuse 1.5: The Headstash, and to a lesser extent on the original Substance Abuse, which came out in February 2010. Matter of fact, this Smoke DZA cat has been pretty prolific in the past 365 days!

George Kush, though, is his most polished effort to date, despite its mixtape status. Ski, along with Kenny Beats, G14, Big K.R.I.T. and Steve-O (not that Steve-O... at least I don't think so), provide a solid bedrock of lower-midtempo head-nodders, providing ample space for DZA to wax philosophic about smoking, and the things he does before and after smoking.

Big K.R.I.T.'s beats on tracks like "I'm Saying" and "The Secret" up the BPMs a little, and lean more toward the radio-friendly side of things, but it's Ski's loping loops on songs like "We On," "Continental Kush Breakfast" and "Etc Etc" that comprise George Kush's best moments. Additionally, Steve-O slows down the loop for Masta Ace Inc.'s "Turn It Up" to nice effect on the introspective "My Life."

Is it a perfect record? No. The weed theme starts to wear a little thin after a while, but it's more of a constant presence than a unified theme. After all, this is an MC who named his first two releases Substance Abuse, and who notes confidently in "We On": "I don't care about your problems, n****/I just wanna smoke my weed/And we on this year/Give a f*** what other n****s want this year/I just wanna smoke a zone this year/Roll it up/Take a flight and we almost there."

• Smoke DZA at Amazon.com

Saturday, August 7, 2010

128 Oz. of Haterade: 'Lazers Never Die,' by Major Lazer

Guns don't kill people... lazers do...

For those of you who, like me, are perhaps thinking that the new M.I.A. joint is just a little too blippy, bloopy and glitchy (and doesn't knock nearly as well in the ride as the first two, with the fantastic exception of "Lovalot"), may I present the new Major Lazer EP.

Major Lazer is a collab between M.I.A. producers Diplo and Switch, and for a brief five songs (two originals, three remixes), gives a glimpse at some of beats Ms. Arulpragasam could have used on /\/\/\Y/\.

This EP follows Major Lazer's full-length debut, Guns Don't Kill People... Lazers Do, and continues the duo's penchant for injecting roots-rock and dancehall riddims with a healthy dose of electronica and gorilla steroids.

So if you had a tough time nodding your head to "Born Free," revel in the bouncy militant march of "Sound of Siren," which finds M.I.A. on chorus duty while dancehall star Busy Signal does his thing. The other original, "Good Enuff," is almost straight-up roots, with a few dubbed-out touches framing Collie Budz and Lindi Ortega's tale of trying to make an impression.

Angolan ravemasters Buraka Som Sistema run wild on their remix of "Bruk Out," replacing the original spare-drums arrangement with a squelchy synth run, and K.L.A.M. takes the distorted skank of "Can't Stop Now" on a run through the drum-and-bass jungle. Even Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke gets in on the action, throwing "Jump Up" down a dark, dubby well full of ghostly echoes.

Without a doubt, these are some killer lazers.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Concert Review: Dark Star Orchestra, 8/5/10, Bottle & Cork, Dewey Beach, DE

So when it comes to concerts, there's one band I've seen more than any other, and that is the Dark Star Orchestra. A college friend originally convinced me to go check 'em out while I was going to school in Pittsburgh, and they just blew me away.

They are a Grateful Dead tribute band, but they operate very differently from other tribute bands. At each concert, they will take a random setlist from the original Dead's 30 years of touring, and "recreate" the set, using the same instruments and equipment as much as possible.

Through my travels in the journalism industry, I've also had a chance to interview drummer Rob Koritz, keyboard player Rob Baracco and soundman Cameron Blietz, who are all very cool, down-to-earth guys.

Last night, at the Bottle & Cork, in Dewey Beach, they played a June 1976 show that was originally done at the Tower Theatre in Upper Darby, Pa. The set was very, very close to my dream Dead show:

Set I:
The Music Never Stopped
Mama Tried
Row Jimmy
High Time (Whaaaaat? YES!)
Looks Like Rain
Brown Eyed Women
Lazy Lightning >
Supplication Blues
Friend of the Devil
The Promised Land

Set II:
Samson & Delilah
Might as Well
Let It Grow > Drums > Let It Grow
Cosmic Charlie (Sheeeeeeeeeit!)
St. Stephen >
Not Fade Away >
St. Stephen >
Dancing in the Streets >
The Wheel
Johnny B. Goode

Encores (not part of original show):
You Ain't Woman Enough
Midnight Moonlight

I was initially a little concerned about this show, because longtime DSO lead guitarist and erstwhile "Jerry," John Kadlecik, recently left the band to form Further with Bob Weir and Phil Lesh (which I would REALLY like to hear!). Kadlecik's replacement is Jeff Mattson, who along with DSO keyboardist Rob Baracco, formed the backbone of the Zen Tricksters.

I am concerned no longer.

Despite the sound mix at the Bottle & Cork not always being the best (the lead guitarist has a tendency to get lost in the mix), Mattson is a well-worthy replacement. Several times during his solos, he got quite a reaction from the always-appreciative B&C crowd, and he even had rhythm guitarist Rob Eaton staring gape-mouthed a few times.

It doesn't seem that Mattson has found that "sweet spot" yet, where he can settle right into the groove and get that "group-mind" thing going with the other musicians, but they'll get there, no question. If I'm still here in Delaware some late September, we'll probably make the trek up to Wilmington to catch their show at The Grand.

So once again, thanks DSO, for a fantastic night.