Archive for September, 2006

Gwen McCrae Sings TK

h42506ma6lq.jpgTitle: Gwen McCrae Sings TK
Artist: Gwen McCrae          
Label: Henry Stone Music
Year: 2006, 1983
Catalog No.: HSM 6001-2

Let’s go back, way back, as they say, back in the day to take a stroll down memory lane. And the person to take us there is Gwen McCrae as she sings 14 of the biggest hits from the best selling albums of TK Records and its founder Henry Stone.

This diva’s interpretations of some of TK’s classic disco-flavored songs provides for a complete make-over of the originals. Accompanied by most of the studio musicians and artists from the original recordings (Latimore, Timmy Thomas, Little Beaver, and George “Chocolate” Perry), McCrae adds her sensuous, sultry, smoky, alto voice to songs ranging from “Rock Your Baby” to “Clean Up Woman.”  

Standout tracks are “What you won’t do for love” and “Please don’t go” which clearly show that McCrae’s voice is still strong and full of fire, and demonstrate that over time she has developed a much fuller sound. Some of the songs are performed as duets with the original recording artists. The best of these is the teaming of McCrae with Latimore on his blues classic “Let’s straighten it out” and the duet with Timmy Thomas on “Why can’t we live together.”

Gwen McCrae became an international star in 1975 with the chart-topping success of the Grammy-nominated song “Rockin’ Chair” (reinterpreted on this CD). Her self-titled 1981 Atlantic album reached the top of the R&B and pop charts and yielded the smash single “Funky Sensation.” Now, three decades later, she is still enjoying worldwide fame for her sensuous voice and classy brand of soul. So if we want to go back, back in the day, the best person to take us there is Gwen McCrae.

Posted by Clark D. Whitlow

View review September 6th, 2006

Funky Funky New Orleans 5

B000A2IPAU.01._AA240_SCLZZZZZZZ_.jpgTitle: Funky Funky New Orleans 5
Artists: Compilation
Label: Funky Delicacies (Tuff City Records)
Catalog No.: DEL CD 0072
Date: 2005

Old School hip-hop connoisseurs most likely identify the Tuff City Records label with its connection to early hip-hop. With an artist roster that included The 45 King, Cold Crush Brothers, Davy DMX, and Spoonie Gee, among others, the underground popularity of this label amongst true hip-hoppers is evident. However, Tuff City has channeled the majority of its creative energies into reissuing black music– a novel idea, since few labels in North America focus primarily on reissuing black music (it is widely known among black music collectors and scholars that most black music reissues come from Europe).

Funky Delicacies, one of several Tuff City subsidiaries, has released obscure yet timeless treasures on the 17 tracks of Funky Funky New Orleans 5. This compilation presents rare and unreleased music recorded from 1969-1976 by funk artists from New Orleans who are lesser known than many of their contemporaries. However, this does not suggest an inferior musical presentation. The compilation highlights quality musicianship and stylistic traits that are also found in the music of well-known artists. For instance, “Lover and a Friend,” recorded by Eddie Bo and Inez Cheatham, is reminiscent of Carla Thomas and Otis Redding’s recording of “Tramp.” Muchos Plus’s recording of “Funky Sheriff” presents a groove that puts one in the mindset of War’s “Me and Baby Brother.”  “Tweedie Pie,” recorded by Raymond Winnfield, uses the same rhythmic foundation as King Floyd’s recording of “Groove Me.”  Most striking is the Dome City Orchestra’s recording of “Higher, Higher,” which is a spin-off of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “That’s The Way of The World.” While there are some differences in dialect, vocal quality and degree of rhythmic cohesiveness, the stylistic similarities demonstrate essential funk characteristics such as earthy grooves that are bass heavy, collective or communal attitudes emphasizing the party environment, and percussive vocal and instrumental delivery, along with others that are geographically reinterpreted.

There are no liner notes, only track listings and credits. The CD cover brandishes images of artists in funky apparel reflecting the funky style of New Orleans, which is more simplistic than the style of artists such as Earth, Wind & Fire, the Ohio Players, and Kool & the Gang.  In short, Funky Funky New Orleans 5 is a pleasant surprise for those who are not only interested in dancing, but who also want to experience funk music performed by artists who deserve acknowledgement for their contributions to the funk tradition.

Posted by Tyron Cooper

Editor’s note: This is the 5th release in Tuff City’s Funky Funky New Orleans series and is also available on LP.    

View review September 6th, 2006

Eddie Murphy: Comedian

B000EQ47V8.01._AA240_SCLZZZZZZZ_V62370689_.jpgTitle: Eddie Murphy: Comedian
Artist: Eddie Murphy
Label: Columbia/Legacy
Year: 2006, 1983
Catalog No.: 82876 81282 2
Genre: Comedy

Eddie Murphy recorded this CD in 1983 at the tender age of 22, and it’s an early demonstration of his true comic genius. This youthful Eddie Murphy is raw, raunchy and extremely sexually explicit, but he is also extremely funny. If you like to laugh so hard that it makes your liver quiver then you will love Eddie Murphy: Comedian. Richard Pryor once wrote that he thought Eddie Murphy’s comedy was too mean and on this CD Murphy is just as crude and rude as he wants to be and nothing is sacred.

Murphy is not afraid to tackle any subject or anyone. All is fair game for his razor sharp wit, from bashing gays, to jokes about modern women and even jokes about Stevie Wonder. His comedy is characterized by frequent cursing and adult subject matter hence the advisory on the label for explicit material. This CD is not for the faint of heart or those easily offended. This is the hungry Eddie Murphy, fresh from his SNL success and movie debut in 48 Hrs. but before his rise to mega star status that came the following year with Beverly Hills Cop.

Eddie Murphy: Comedian was followed by Delirious (1983 video) and Eddie Murphy Raw (1987 film), which firmly established Murphy as the prince of comedy and heir apparent to Richard Pryor, the reigning king. Eddie Murphy: Comedian is a must for comedy lovers in general and for Eddie Murphy fans in particular. I am a fan of the man.

Posted by Clark D. Whitlow

View review September 6th, 2006

Texas Gospel Volume 1: Come On Over Here

texasgospel.jpg.w180h177.jpgTitle: Texas Gospel Volume 1: Come on Over Here
Artist: Various Artists
Label: Acrobat Music
Catalog No.: AMCD 4209
Date: 2005

Texas plays a central role in the early development of African-American gospel. Texas was home to blind pianist Arizona Dranes, who is credited for bringing “barrelhouse” styled piano into gospel in the 1920s. Texas also claims among its children the innovative vocal group The Soul Stirrers, who first broke with established Jubilee style of quartet singing to develop a lead and harmony approach soon to become the norm in gospel vocal group harmony. Acrobat Music’s Texas Gospel Volume 1: Come on Over Here is a collection of gospel groups that recorded for Don Robey’s Houston-based Peacock label between 1951 and 1953. Robey himself is the thread that holds this collection together, and in a sense the title seems a little misinformed, as few of these groups were based in Texas, and thus this does not represent a coherent regional tradition as the title implies. To add to the confusion, Acrobat Music makes clear on their website that this is a label survey and not a regional one. However, it appears that relatively few of these sides have been re-issued before, so this collection is certainly most welcome.

It is with a group closely related to The Soul Stirrers that Texas Gospel Volume 1: Come on Over Here kicks off. Weary of its incessant touring, The Soul Stirrers’ great lead vocalist R. H. Harris quit the group in 1950 and settled in Chicago, founding The Christland Singers. They are represented here by four 1951 sides made for Peacock. Harris is an amazing vocalist, and it is easy to relate his style to those who followed his example–on “I Know My Jesus is the Light” he sounds like Sam Cooke, who replaced him in The Soul Stirrers. In “In a Few More Days” Harris sounds like Ray Charles, and Charles later made a specialty of Harris’s song “Walk Around.” Although he ultimately left The Christland Singers and the group continued without him, Harris did not do a great deal of recording after his departure; indeed, a vocal injury prevented him from singing at all late in life. So these four songs with The Christland Singers remain especially precious testaments to Harris’ vocal artistry.

The remainder is both a mixed bag and an embarrassment of riches, even among recordings of artists about which nothing is known-–and there are many of these. It shows that Robey was a man with a good ear for gospel, even if he didn’t rely on local talent exclusively to populate his Houston-based label. So even though the premise is a little off kilter, Texas Gospel Volume 1: Come on Over Here still delivers the goods in a big way.

Posted by Uncle Dave Lewis

View review September 6th, 2006

Good Bread Alley

B000FDEU4Y.01._AA240_SCLZZZZZZZ_V62622762_.jpgTitle: Good Bread Alley
Artist: Carl Hancock Rux
Label: Thirsty Ear
Catalog No.: THI-57168-2
Date: 2006

Carl Hancock Rux, who in 1994 was named by the New York Times as “One of 30 artists under the age of 30 most likely to influence culture over the next 30 years,” is well on his way to fulfilling this prediction. The recipient of a score of art and literary prizes and commissions, this author, poet, playwright, and performance artist shows no sign of slowing down any time soon. Rux has dabbled in a wide range of projects, including collaborations with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Co., and Urban Bush Women, and he recently performed in the title role of the Robert Wilson/Bernice Johnson Reagon opera The Temptation of St. Anthony. On the horizon are two operas (he’s writing the librettos) including The Blackamoor Angel, based on the life of an ex-slave and companion to Mozart, and Makandal, about the Haitian slave uprising with music by Daniel Bernard Roumain.

Good Bread Alley is the third CD in the Rux oeuvre and is more musical than his previous efforts. Often compared to Gil Scott-Heron, Rux’s verse is also full of political and social commentary, but on this album he sings his own lyrics more frequently than he raps, and the musical accompaniment samples just about every genre. From the opening title song set over a bluesy background, the tracks run the gamut from hip hop to jazz to R&B and everywhere in between, finally settling on a gospel-tinged cover of Bill Wither’s anti-war song, “I can’t write left-handed” (the only song not written by Rux). Notable tracks include “Lies,” co-authored by Vernon Reid (founder of the Black Rock Coalition); “Black of My Shadow,” which weaves together fragments of spirituals and Billie Holiday’s “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” in and through Rux’s haunting lyrics; “Living Room,” a commentary on domestic violence; and perhaps thrown in just for fun, “All the Rock Stars (for Kurt Cobain).”  Impossible to classify, this CD is both thought-provoking and mezmerizing, definately worth repeated listenings and comtemplation.

Oh, and did I mention that Rux is also a novelist? His most recent book, Asphalt, was described by the LA Times as “a hallucinatory journey of a displaced DJ, set in a sooty, just-a-day-after-tomorrow future.” Wait, there’s more. Rux’s oratoria, Mycenae, loosely based on Asphalt and his epic poem Mycenae, will be premiered this October at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. As described in the press release, the oratorio “draws its dramatic frame from Jean Racine’s retelling of the myth of Hippolytus on the road of Mycenae, as well as from 20th-century dream theory [and features] ritualized choreography and dynamic streams of images set to Rux’s hypnotic rhythms (Jaco van Schalkwyk, who was responsible for the samples on Good Bread Alley, is listed as the video designer). Carl Hancock Rux is definitely an artist to watch.

we’ll retire ourselves to the belly of the beast
and lease our flesh and bones for naught
ought we divorce ourselves
from the governments who
sent their-sent us
our own demise?
Watch them as they feed and swell
Quell their hunger as warmongers
They’ll feed on flesh and bones there-
We divorce ourselves from spirit and flesh
Did we not see it comin’?
(from Good Bread Alley)

Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review September 6th, 2006

The Watts Prophets

B000AA4KAG.01._AA240_SCLZZZZZZZ_.jpgTitle: Things Gonna Get Greater: The Watts Prophets, 1969-1971
Artist: The Watts Prophets
Label: Water Records
Year: 2005
Catalog No.: Water 157

The Watts Prophets (Anthony “Amde” Hamilton, Otis O’Solomon, and Richard Dedeaux) rose to prominence fresh off the heels of the Watts race riots of 1965. The Watts Prophets took “rap,” or “street poetry” as it was called back in the ‘60s, to the stage. Things Gonna Get Greater is material taken from two previous albums that were almost out of print and very hard to find–Rappin’ Black in a White World (1971), and The Black Voices on the Streets of Watts (1969). These two albums frightened a lot of people when they were originally released and as a consequence the Watts Prophets were labeled as black militants. With titles like “There’s a difference between a Black man and a Nigger,” the Watts Prophets tried to put the civil rights struggle in perspective with “rap” or street poetry using minimal musical accompaniment, while expressing the anger and frustration of the black experience of living in a white America.

Following the example of their Harlem contemporaries, The Last Poets, who in fact were the first commercially successful recorded avant-guard poets, the Watts Prophets decided to record their work in the great oral tradition of black culture and thus planted the roots of West Coast rap music. If anyone wants to trace the origins West Coast rap or, if you are just interested in the roots of hip-hop and rap music, then you must start the digging here. The influence of the Watts Prophets can be seen in the songs of top rappers like Dr. Dre, DJ Quik, DJ Shadow, Too Short and the Digable Planets, all of whom have sampled from their work.

Even by today’s standards of rap music this work is hard to take since it challenges the African American community and indeed all of humanity to look at the way human beings treat one another and how we treat ourselves. This is not a CD for the faint of heart.

Posted by Clark D.Whitlow

View review September 6th, 2006

One More Day

B000GRTR38.01._AA240_SCLZZZZZZZ_V59714603_.jpgTitle: One More Day 
Artist: Kenny Smith
Label: Shake It Records
Catalog No.: Shake 551
Date: 2006, 1964-1975

By day, Kenny Smith is an insurance salesman who continues ply his trade in Cincinnati. In the off-hours, however, Smith has long pursued a sideline as a writer and performer of Soul-styled hits, and his involvement in the genre goes back to its beginnings. Although Smith succeeded in scoring an influential European soul hit in 1971 with “Lord, What Happened?,” his output, for the most part, is scattered among a miscellany of small-label 45s, some existing in only two or three known copies. As part of their commitment to exploring the Cincinnati music scene in depth, Shake It Records has gathered many such Smith-related artifacts from far and wide in compiling One More Day. This is designated as the first entry in Shake It’s Cincinnati Soul Spectrum series and if subsequent volumes stand up to the quality of this initial entry, then fans of obscure Soul music have reason to rejoice.

Kenny Smith primarily viewed himself as a writer rather than a performer, and recorded with the intention of placing a given song with other, already established artists. Nonetheless, Smith was a charismatic singer whose own ability was better than the average for singers on demonstration records, and probably preferable to anyone he could have hired for the job. And the quality of the musicians he worked with, although largely unknown now, was outstanding; just check out the groove on 1969’s “Go For Your Self (Parts I & II),” edited together on this release. As he was mainly a writer, Smith did not feel limited by the need to establish himself in a particular bag, whether it be strictly in soul, funk or sacred music. One aspect of One More Day that makes it so exciting is the broad range of ideas employed; Smith’s work encompasses doo wop, weird novelty effects (as in the ultra-rare single “Skunkie”) and even mid-60s Garage pop. Kenny Smith was clearly a brilliant guy who carved out his own little corner of Soul-styled pop away from the mainstream, yet still made it count–the liner notes quote him in a 1975 interview as saying, “I know it’s a rough game, but it can be done. It goes beyond money and I won’t accept defeat.” This sense of optimism typifies everything that Smith puts his hand to here.

Word has it that the release of One More Day has rekindled Smith’s interest in performing, and that he is putting together a band to revive his hits in a live context; indeed, Smith has never abandoned his interest in songwriting even though this compilation stops in 1975. This is yet another reason to rejoice, and if you have an interest in Soul, chances are you will want Shake It Records’ One More Day.

Posted by Uncle Dave Lewis

View review September 6th, 2006

Paul Freeman Introduces David N. Baker

david baker.jpgTitle: Paul Freeman Introduces…David N. Baker
Artist: Czech National Symphony Orchestra; Paul Freeman, cond.
Label: Albany Records
Catalog No.: Troy 843
Date: 2006

David Baker (b.1931) is one of the greatest composers America has ever produced. His highly individual, ingenious writing style reflects a type of eclecticism enjoyed by only few composers who understand how to successfully synthesize various elements from jazz and classical music. Paul Freeman introduces…David N. Baker is a compilation CD that demonstrates the self-proclaimed influence composers like Bela Bartok, Duke Ellington, and Charles Ives have had over Baker’s style by showcasing four of his works written and/or revised between 1973 and 2004, including Kosbro, Concert Piece for Trombone and String Orchestra, Fantasy on Themes from Mask of the Red Death, and Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra.

“Kosbro,” which is an acronym for “Keep On Steppin’, Brothers,” was composed in 1973 and later revised in 1975.  Written at a time in America’s history where Black people were crawling out of segregation and stepping into new found freedoms, Baker’s music depicts the push of excitement, the pull of uncertainty felt by many Blacks after realizing they no longer had to sit in the back of the bus or drink from “colored only” water fountains, and the encouragement to be successful beyond integration. Most fascinating is that Baker’s socially conscious proclamation is made with the use of 2nd Viennese composer, Arnold Schoenberg’s, dodecaphonic system, coupled with a driving ostinato reminiscent of both Ellington and Bartok, in addition to the use of metric modulation, a technique made popular by American composer George Crumb.

“Concert Piece for Trombone and String Orchestra” is a neo-Romantic work encompassing three movements, masterfully performed by trombonist Jiri Novotny.  The piece was completed in 1991 after Dee Stewart, former Philadelphia Orchestra trombonist, commissioned Baker. Despite the varying characters of each melody contained within the individual movements, they are equally memorable and are supported by idiomatic string lines that weave a supportive fabric around the trombone’s melodic content. Each movement stretches the limitations of the trombonist and culminates with a cadenza in the third movement that explores the entire gamut of performance possibilities.

“Fantasy on Themes from Masque of the Red Death Ballet” was written in 1998 for the Indiana University Ballet Theatre’s production of Edgar Allan Poe’s Masque of the Red DeathIn this fantasy, as well as the full ballet version, Baker incorporates the “Dies Irae,” a famous 13th century Latin hymn, to represent death, which is a practice used by many composers such as Hector Berlioz in his work, Symphonie Fantastique. The performance of this piece by the Czech National Symphony Orchestra is quite stunning, and despite the absence of dancers one can easily detect the program on which Baker wrote due to the skillful direction of Paul Freeman.

“Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra,” composed in 1998 and revised in 2004, is a work in three movements written for and dedicated to Indiana University’s Associate Professor of Saxophone and Jazz Studies, Tom Walsh. I have had the pleasure of enjoying Walsh’s artistry live, and his performance on this CD is no less than great. This piece is a wonderful example of the success that Baker has enjoyed through his marriage of the jazz and classical languages.  Baker’s use of thematic transformation is prevalent throughout all three movements, as he produces a variety of musical styles based on the melodic cell initially performed by the saxophone at the beginning of the first movement.

For anyone not familiar with David Baker’s vast musical output, Paul Freeman introduces…David N. Baker is a wonderful compact disc to use as a vehicle for becoming acquainted with his writing. In addition to experiencing Baker’s phenomenal abilities, you have the opportunity to enjoy them at the optimal level of quality by way of Paul Freeman and the Czech National Symphony Orchestra’s performances, in addition to the talents of soloists Jiri Novotny and Tom Walsh. 

Posted by Marian Harrison

Editor’s note: This is vol. 12 in the Albany Record’s series Paul Freeman Introduces, which presents new music for orchestra. Previous volumes have included works by James Kimo Williams, Wendell Logan and Adolphus Hailstork.

View review September 6th, 2006

Legend of the Wu-Tang: the Videos

B000FJAAH4.01._AA240_SCLZZZZZZZ_V62365680_.jpgTitle: Legend of the Wu-Tang: the Videos
Artist: Wu-Tang Clan
Label: Columbia Legacy/Sony BMG
Catalog No.: 82876 81423 9 
Date: 2006

Legend of the Wu-Tang is a chronology of hip hop group Wu-Tang Clan’s signature videos beginning with their first release, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) in 1993, to the release of Iron Flag in 2001. The chronology ends in 2004 with the song “Old Man” by Masta Killa, featuring Ol’ Dirty Bastard and RZA (all three are members of Wu-Tang Clan)–the final release from Ol’ Dirty Bastard who died later that same year. Also included is Enter the Wu-Tang, a 21-minute previously unreleased documentary from 1994.

The DVD showcases videos from some of the Wu-Tang Clan’s most influential albums: Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (1993), Wu-Tang Forever (1999), The W (2000), and Iron Flag (2001). Beginning with six videos from their first album, Legend introduces a Wu-Tang fan to the essentials of Wu: the identities of the Clan’s nine founding MCs, the song “C.R.E.A.M.” (Cash Rules Everything Around Me), and Wu-Tang’s references to Hong Kong action cinema and Samurai films. 

The next three videos, from 1999’s Wu-Tang Forever, feature much better production, a factor often expected in the transition from a debut album to a sophomore effort. Videos of this period also begin to feature more dancing women, more crowds and live performances, and more money being flashed and passed around.

With the release of The W in 2000, the Wu-Tang Clan began to create more dramatic videos. Featured on this segment of the DVD are “Protect Ya Neck (The Jump Off),” “Gravel Pit,” and “Careful,” all three of which focus on similar themes of time travel and authenticity. In “Protect Ya Neck,” the Clan travels in a club elevator back to 1988 in which all of the MCs wear ‘80s rap styles and make fun of LL Cool J.  In “Gravel Pit,” they travel in the same elevator back to 2,000,000 BC, arriving in some vague African past where they encounter dinosaurs, diamonds, gambling, and dancing women. “Careful” is essentially a gun fight in a club in which LL Cool J and many others are shot and killed.  This segment concludes with a video featuring Issac Hayes in which Wu-Tang MCs Ghostface Killah and RZA mourn the violent, turbulent state of the United States.

After a final video in this chronology from the album Iron Flag, the 1994 documentary Enter the Wu-Tang begins. This portion is confusingly mislabeled on the liner notes on the back cover of the DVD, which indicates that two bonus videos, an alternate version of “Method Man” and “Old Man,” should come before the documentary.  However, these two videos occur after the documentary in the sequence of chapters on the DVD. The documentary includes footage from a live performance in 1994, as well as group and individual interviews. Speaking from the group and in the individual interview, Genius, or GZA, relays Wu-Tang’s hip hop philosophy. He explains that as a Clan, they are “lyrical assassins” with a “sword style of rapping.” To them, the tongue is symbolic of the sword, and with the utterance of the sound “wu,” the tongue makes the sound of wind, the sound made as a sword comes towards the neck. GZA also briefly references the group’s grounding in Islam, mathematics, and Five Percenter ideology.

Fans will thoroughly enjoy this new video compilation and will also appreciate the documentary, which highlights the role of each MC in the group. Legend of the Wu-Tang makes clear the Wu-Tang Clan’s profound and lasting influence in the hip hop music industry. 

For further information: Felicia M. Miyakawa.  2005.  Five Percenter Rap: God Hop’s Music, Message, and Black Muslim Mission.  Bloomington: Indiana University Press.  (A study of the musical, historical, and cultural elements and impacts of Five Percenter ideologies in hip hop.)

Posted by Denise Dalphond    

 

 

 

View review September 6th, 2006

Late Orchestration

kanye west.jpgTitle: Late Orchestration
Artist: Kanye West
Label: Island/Def Jam
Catalog no.: VFC91328 (DVD)
Date: 2006

Following hot on the heels of last year’s Late Registration, Chicago rapper Kanye West recently released the similarly titled follow up, Late Orchestration. Though many of the same tracks are included, Late Orchestration differs in two significant ways. First, it represents West’s only live recording to date, performed at London’s Abbey Road Studios last September in front of 300 hand-picked fans. Second, in an interesting twist, West has added a 17-piece all-female string ensemble, rather amusingly garbed in black gowns with painted-on eye masks. Guest appearances are made by Chicago pal and protégé Lupe Fiasco, as well as John Legend, Consequence, and GLT.

Late Orchestration plays more like a “best of” compilation, drawing primarily from Late Registration while also featuring West’s biggest hits from College Dropout, including the Grammy Award winning “Jesus Walks” (co-written by Rhymefest) along with “Through the Wire,” “Workout Plan,” and “All Falls Down.” Many of these work exceptionally well in the new arrangements by Rosie Wetters and Tommy D. One of the highlights is “Heard ‘Em Say,” featuring John Legend on piano and back-up vocals, and I found the string arrangement for “Gone” to be particularly interesting in terms of the harmonic structure. Perhaps the formal attire and concert hall setting, including an appreciative yet somewhat restrained British audience, combined with the string section and rather conservative 5.1 surround mix, might be hard to swallow for some hard core rap fans. But West’s idea to juxtapose rap with classical music by layering strings with scratching and synths in an attempt to expand the genre and appeal to a wider audience really seems to work (can anyone say “crossover?”).

Though Late Orchestration has been released on both CD and DVD, the latter is definitely recommended, since it includes the promo videos for “Diamonds from Sierra Leone,” “Gold Digger,” and “Touch the Sky,” in addition to an amusing animated version of “Heard ‘Em Say,” a 12 minute live interview, and special behind-the-scenes features. Any fan of Kanye West who hasn’t been able to catch his recent live performances (which apparently have also included the string arrangements) will be clamoring for this DVD. And I dare say the performance might even be enjoyable for those who do not customarily venture into the rap genre.

Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review September 6th, 2006

Cash on Delivery

B000AA303E.01._AA240_SCLZZZZZZZ_V66561353_1.jpgTitle: Cash on Delivery
Artist: Ray Cash
Label: Sony Urban Music/Columbia
Catalog No.: 82796 92685 2
Date: 2006

Ray Cash is the latest Cleveland, Ohio incarnation of the street hustler. Following in the tradition of fellow Cleveland rap group Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Ray Cash’s debut album, Cash on Delivery, describes the derelict reality of Cleveland living. The opening interlude is a satirical wake-up call of ‘hood atrocities. While Cash’s quick and adept flow is often reminiscent of early Andre Benjamin and Ludacris, he simultaneously gives his own unique, lyrical cadence. The opening track, “The Payback,” is a hard-hitting, driving track that seems to announce Ray Cash’s arrival, but his slight drawl is still able to rise above the beat. In “The Payback” Cash asserts, “I’m needy and so I need more than demi, plus the flow is good and plenty/ You can pick your favorite rapper innie-minnie-miney-moe/ Compared to me they tiny though, now say something.”

The album progresses through the usual hip hop subjects including sexual prowess on “Sex Appeal,” the life of a drug dealer on “Dope Game,” and racial oppression on “F*** Amerikkka.” Although the subject matter is a little mundane, cameos by Houston rap legends Bun B and Scarface help split the lyrical monotony. Much of the production of Cash on Delivery is heavily influenced by popular snap music and crunk production. The production on “The Bomb” (featuring Yummy) is an exception as it samples George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog” and is more in the vein of the West Coast rap sound.

In the end, Ray Cash’s Cash on Delivery is a solid performance and commendable attempt to put Cleveland back in the middle of the hip hop music mainstream.

Posted by Fredara Mareva Hadley

View review September 6th, 2006

Blue Collar

B000BUE5AU.01._AA240_SCLZZZZZZZ_V59382553_1.jpgTitle: Blue Collar
Artist: Rhymefest
Label: J Records ; Allido Records 
Catalog No.: 82876-70371-2
Date: 2006

Even before the release of his debut CD Blue Collar, Chicago-born rapper Rhymefest had found considerable success co-writing Kanye West’s 2004 mega-hit “Jesus Walks.” Unfortunately, while Rhymefest’s CD is full of competent and comical lyrics there is no song that lyrically equals “Jesus Walks.” But the great production, high profile cameos (including an appearance by Kanye West), and overall personality of the album more than compensate for a lack of lyrical substance.

The CD begins with the sermonic vignette “Feel Free” (featuring Q-Tip) which leads directly into “Dynomite (Going Postal),” a hard driving assault on supposed rap “thugs” and the announcement of Rhymefest’s “blue collar” arrival. He proclaims, “You think these niggaz is thugs, they officers/ Call the officers, tell ‘em get ‘em officers, ‘fore I show you/ ‘Bout a killer or a man or a giant when I stand.”

“Bullet” (featuring Citizen Cope) is an insightful lyrical moment that contemplates how black men with few other options are enticed to join the military. Rhymefest observes, “He ain’t really a killa though, takin’ a lotta risks/ This is what a poor person do for a scholarship/ He turned around and got a face full of hollow-tips/ But don’t be mad, he died for the flag.” The album also includes typical sexual hip hop fodder such as “All Girls Cheat” (featuring Mario) and the sympathy anthem for women, “Sister” (featuring Mike Payne). The last track of the album is a comical rap entitled “Build Me Up” and features the late O.D.B. This gem does not belong at the tail end of the album!

The production of Blue Collar draws on some of hip hop’s greatest producers including Mark Ronson, No I.D., Kanye West, and Just Blaze. In spite of Rhymefest’s animated delivery and above average ability, the album lacks the momentum and cohesion we might have hoped for from this fresh new artist. Instead, Blue Collar is an amalgamation of tracks by hot producers and predictable cameos.

Posted by Fredara Mareva

Editor’s Note: Check out the Chicago Tribune Magazine feature on Chicago rap artists

View review September 6th, 2006

Welcome To The September Issue

Welcome to the September “Back to School” issue of Black Grooves. This month we’re taking a look at some new releases by Midwest artists, including the debut albums of Chicago’s Rhymefest and Cleveland’s Ray Cash, as well as Kanye West’s new DVD, Late Orchestration, recorded live at Abbey Road Studios (with a string section!). We’re also featuring a retrospective of Cincinnati soul legend Kenny Smith, and from right here in Bloomington, Indiana, we’ve got the lowdown on the latest release from the indefatigable David Baker. Taking a really hard left turn, there’s a special reissue from The Watts Prophets and a new CD by Carl Hancock Rux, which together offer some of the greatest social commentary ever put on disc. Rounding out this issue is a compilation of classic Wu-Tang Clan videos, 1950s gospel music from the Texas-based Peacock label, some early Eddie Murphy, and as always, a dash of old school funk and soul.  

View review September 6th, 2006

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