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 รก 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.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Long Time Ago... in a Commuter Train Far, Far Away...

Comes the greatest subway science-fiction improv adventure of our time....

Old-School Wednesday: 'Three Days of the Condor' OST

"I'm taking a survey... do you believe
the condor is an endangered species?"

On this old-school Wednesday, I'd like to take a moment to pay tribute to a siiiick old-school soundtrack. Dave Grusin's score for the 1975 Sydney Pollack film "Three Days of the Condor" is now at the top of my sampling list. Effortlessly cool from front to back, the soundtrack pulses with jazz sensibility and occasionally bounces with enough blaxploitation-era soul to go up against OSTs for "Shaft" and "Coffy."

In fact, there are actually a lot of really, really great obscure '70s movie soundtracks, from "Helles Belles" to Marvin Gaye's "Trouble Man" score and even the score from "Jerry Cotton: FBI's Top Man." And if you're looking for one that mixes a little more country music in, check out the great score for "Vanishing Point."

On top of that, the film is pretty good as well. It's essentially a look at the CIA's dirty tricks post-Vietnam, and turns on the star power of a young Robert Redford, who as a Company bookreader manages to uncover a sinister plot, evade a world-class assassin and bang a very, very hot Faye Dunaway after holding her hostage (pimpin' since been pimpin' since been PIMPIN').

Anyway, check it out here. Definitely worth your time.

128 Oz. of Haterade: 'Fresh,' by Shawn Desman

While I can't in good conscience recommend the "crooked mohawk" (above), nor can I endorse the eighth-grade-pube-'stache he's rocking on the album cover, I can recommend a good portion of Shawn Desman's Fresh, which combines the Black-Eyed Peas' future-techno vibe and Akon (without all the Auto-Tuning) into a pleasant, bouncy record.

Fresh is a head-nodder that exhibits the same flair Will.i.am seems to have for taking what could be a boring techno-based track and adding a few tweaks, bells and whistles to spice it up and keep it moving. And Desman achieves it without needing any cornball "raps" from Fergie, which is always nice.

Granted, the "Can I, can I watch? Keep on doin' what you do" chorus of "Moneyshot" is a little unnecessary, but hey? Let a Canadian-born, Italian/Portuguese player play, I suppose.

Fresh lays aside some of the rougher-edged drums of 2005's Back for More, opting for a cleaner, more-processed atmosphere. The first single, "Shiver," is about as good as modern pop R&B gets, a cascade of heavy percussion and harmony wrapped into a love song that doesn't need to venture into X-rated allegory to get its point across.

Desman leaves that to "Moneyshot," haha.

There's no need for me to go over the slow songs. You know how they sound; you know what they're about. Overall, though, Fresh is a solid step in the right direction for Desman.

More on Shawn Desman:

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

128 Oz. of Haterade: 'InDRUpendence Day," by Dru Hill

The last time something meaningful came from the Dru Hill fam, it was a solo-minded Sisqo "releasing the dragon" and going whale-tailin' as he extolled the virtues of butt-floss (as if to drive home the irrelevance, Sisqo is battling the Jimmie Van Zant Band right now on Rock & A Hard Place, a.k.a. Washed-Up Rock-Star Jeopardy). And is Sisqo wearing motorcycle gloves on the cover? In the immortal words of Riley Freeman, "Pause."

In sheer spite of all that comes InDRUpendence Day, which veers from vaguely-cheesy '90s-ish R&B ("Back to the Future," "Love MD") to decent uptempo grooves ("She Wants Me," "Whatcha Do"). "Can't Stop" finds the gang personifying their smoking and drinking as lovely ladies named Chocolate Tye and Hennessey. An allegorical masterpiece if ever there was one... but I will say that it's couched atop a nice bed of vocoder, as opposed to Auto-Tune, which is used judiciously throughout InDRUpendence Day.

Do I need a cover "(Everybody Wants to) Rule the World"? No. With talented soul acts like Mama's Gun and Georgia Anne Muldrow out there, a reunited Dru Hill just seems kind of... old.

**Bonus points if you can name any other member of Dru Hill without Googling it first. I can't.