Archive for April, 2007

Southern Comfort

southern comfort.jpgTitle: Southern Comfort
Artist: Anthony Hamilton
Label: Merovingian
Catalog No.: CD MRV 000002
Date: 2007

SERIOUS LISTENERS ONLY!

Its only April, but I can’t see another R&B album this year being better than Southern Comfort. As of late, Southern music has been dominated by rap. There have been a few R&B artists here and there, but money, cars, drugs, and women have been the dominant themes. Anthony Hamilton breathes a breath of fresh air not only into the South, but also into the onslaught of watered down R&B playing on the radio.

“They Don’t Know Why” is a smooth track that kicks off what the listener hopes to be a never ending litany of great music. Hamilton’s voice immediately takes over and places the listener into a trance. But alas, the album only has ten tracks, leaving the listener wondering why so few songs. Unlike so many albums, however, Southern Comfort has not one wasted track.

If you are serious about your R&B or have matured past Omarion’s “Icebox,” check out Anthony Hamilton. You won’t be disappointed.

Posted by Ernest DuBose

View review April 10th, 2007

JazzFunkHipHoPoetry

paradise.jpgTitle: JazzFunkHipHoPoetry
Artist: Paradise
Label: True Vibe
Catalog No.: 8 37101 13505 4 (UPC)
Date: 2006

The Bay area’s spoken word artist Richard “Paradise” Moore collaborated with musician Bill Jackson to create JazzFunkHipHopoetry (pronounced Jazz-Funk-Hip Hop-a tree), a fusion of music and spoken word. This short, seven track sampling of Moore’s poetry never quite manages to realize the potential suggested by the album’s title, and ends abruptly before being able to redeem itself.

JazzFunkHipHopoetry gives “remix” a brand new definition. The album parallels an amateur open mic night, rehashing the same instrumental accompaniment throughout the majority of the album. There is little jazz, a bass line reminiscent of funk, and hip hop is missing altogether. “How to be a Black Man in America” and “Keepers of the Flame” sound undeniably similar, the slight difference being the key change in the instrumentals. Moore’s delivery in “It’s OK to Be a Black Girl” and “Ain’t Yo Mama Black” seems somewhat forced and, in certain instances, rambling, which takes away from the message in his words. Yet Moore’s positive and socially conscious message is what ultimately keeps the album afloat since such messages and reflections, especially about African Americans, are a rarity in contemporary music.

JazzFunkHipHopoetry should have spent a little more time in the studio for development. Its intention is in the right place, but it falls short on delivery.

Posted by Regina N. Barnett

View review April 10th, 2007

Roots Daughters

rastas.jpgTitle: Roots Daughters: The Women of Rastafari
Artists: Various
Label: MVD Visual
Catalog No: DRG-227
Date: 2006, 1992

Roots Daughters is a notable documentary that investigates the role of women in the Rastafarian faith. Filmed in 1992 and released on DVD in 2006, Czech-Canadian director and Rasta convert Bianca Nyavingi Brynda traces the roots of Rastafari to the development of syncratic religions in the African Diasporia of the Caribbean. Rastafari developed out of resistance to the colonial oppression of the early twentieth century based on the prophecy of Marcus Garvey that a black king would arise in Africa and signal the time of Africa’s redemption. The coronation of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie of Ethiopia in 1930 was seen as the fulfillment of this prophecy and a sign that Rasta’s time was at hand. Since its inception, Rastafari philosophy and culture has grown into a worldwide movement galvanized by the music and messages of legendary reggae star Bob Marley.

Shot on location in Jamaica, Guyana, South America, and Canada, Roots Daughters is a collection of reasonings from 16 Rasta women about their day to day lives, costumes, practices, mores and their status within the hierarchy of the movement. Starring legendary reggae singer Judy Mowatt , this documentary gives insight into the various types of women that are in the movement. The film begins with a brief description and history that exposes the matrilineal roots of the Nyahbinghi sect of Rastafari. Roots Daughters then delves into the lives of the modern Rasta woman covering issues such as diet, significance of dreadlocks, polygamy, birth control, menstruation, and the role of Rasta women. At this point the film juxtaposes the expectations of women vs. men in areas such as leadership, drumming, and worship. The film culminates by stressing the importance of education with a look at a school that was opened to serve Rasta families. The final collection of reasoning’s is a plea for Rasta women to become aware of her connection to Rastafari.

Roots Daughters is a rare look into the Rastafarian movement from the view point of the Rasta woman. Music is interlaced in the film with drumming and chanting typical to Nyahbinghi. Judy Mowatt performs her song “Warrior Queen” early on in the film as a message for Rasta woman to project pride and strength in herself by knowing her roots. The film also includes Mowatt performing two songs live as part of the bonus features. Roots Daughters is a critical film that presents an unbiased representation of Rasta women. The film itself is poignant, giving explicit insight into an extremely marginal group and serves as a model for Rasta women’s potential.

Posted by Heather O’Sullivan

View review April 10th, 2007

RS2

rhonda.jpgTitle: RS2
Artist: Rhonda Smith
Label: 215 Records
Catalog No.: 215-2038
Date: 2006

Prince is notably responsible for the careers of such musicians as Shelia E, Sheena Easton, and Vanity. Many, however, would be surprised to learn that the “godson of funk” is also responsible for the discovery of long time bassist, singer, and songwriter Rhonda Smith. Smith began playing the bass when she was only twelve years old. Spending ten years touring with Prince, Smith honed her skills not only on the bass, but also on the piccolo and acoustic guitar. Years under Prince’s tutelage have created a songstress who is gifted as an instrumentalist, writer, and producer. Additionally it has given her a style that makes her hard to ignore. Yet Smith is far from being a Prince clone, or even reminiscent of many of the ladies often associated with his purple highness.

Growing up in Montreal, Smith was raised in a musical family and took advantage of being musically trained in jazz at McGill University. Before she graduated Smith began touring and became known for her virtuosity. These combined elements helped Smith become an artist that dabbles in everything from jazz, to rock, and funk. Though she may not be individually a household name as of yet, she has worked with artists that are, such as Chaka Khan, Beyonce, T. I., Erykah Badu, Patti Austin, Patti Labelle, Little Richard, Justin Timberlake, Najee, and George Clinton. These collaborations alone prove that Smith is a versatile artist.

Her debut solo CD, Intellipop, was released in 2000 on the Slow Wine label and featured groove focused jazz. This album showcased not only her ability as a bassist but also as a lyricist, arranger, and producer. Her follow up sophomore album is RS2, which features collaborations with Prince and gospel’s Fred Hammond. Listeners could easily miss the transitions between songs as they seem to all flow seamlessly together. This is a testament to the artistry of Smith as not all of the songs would typically be classified in the same genre. “To Get With You” would be considered jazz-funk fusion while “Country Music,” which is a duet with Marcus Waller, is more of a blues track. While the album lacks consistency in that regard, Smith manages to make it work and maintains cohesion throughout.

Smith is an amazing instrumentalist; however, her vocals seem to take a backseat. This is a CD that would be great to relax to or sit back with a glass of wine. Nothing about the CD would be great cause for one to get up and play along with their air guitar. While RS2 works as a testimony to Smith’s talent and versatility, the tracks lack any real innovation that may cause her to be a star to look out for. With that said, however, it still remains evident why Smith has received the awards and recognition that she has. As Prince has been known to say, “This is Rhonda, and she is funky.”

Posted by Brandon Houston

View review April 10th, 2007

German Lugers

snow goons.jpgTitle: German Lugers
Artist: Snowgoons
Label: Babygrande Records
Catalog No: BBGCD205
Date: 2007

The Snowgoons are a German production team consisting of founder Det, DJ Illegal, Torben, and DJ Waxwork.; all major players on the international hip hop scene. Formed in 1999 by Det and DJ Illegal, the Snowgoons have produced music by many underground artists including Sean Price, O.C., and J. Sands. Torben and DJ Waxwork joined the crew in 2006 which added more diversity to the Snowgoon sound. German Lugers is the crew’s debut release for underground upstart Babygrande Records.

The Snowgoons do not have a signature which prevents monotony, a common downfall of many producer-based albums. “Never,” featuring vocals by Army of the Pharoh’s member Reef the Lost Cause, is an up-tempo battle track featuring a pseudo-club beat and hot lyrics from Reef. Boot Camp Click’s Sean Price, former Jedi Mind Trick Jus Allah, and Douja Raze team up on “Gunz” which features a menacing beat that perfectly accentuates each MC’s delivery. On “Nothin You Say,” Edo G spits his thoughts on hip hop over a spirited beat featuring electronic strings and Primo-esque cuts on the hook. M.I.A. rapper Last Emperor makes an appearance on “Man of the Year,” and sounds re-energized over the Snowgoon’s triumphant beat. Other standouts include “Teacher’s Trademark” featuring Wise Intelligent, “Wait A Minute” featuring the Kreators, and “Real World” with Born Unique.

Although filled with hot production, this album falters when the Snowgoons’ beats are paired with sub-par vocal performances. “Thinking About Me,” “German Lugers,” and “It’s Yours” feature strong beats, but very underwhelming performances. The Snowgoons’ beats do not stand up on their own and must be accompanied by good vocals in order to shine.

While solid producers, it appears that the Snowgoons should have spent more time developing their sound before dropping an album. They do little to distinguish themselves from other producers and have released an album featuring some good songs, but it is only a few steps up from mediocrity. It will be interesting to see how the Snowgoons develop their sound over the next few years and hopefully their next release will showcase their true talent.

Posted by Langston Collin Wilkins

View review April 10th, 2007

Smokey Robinson and the Miracles

smokey2.jpgTitle: Definitive Performances, 1963-1987
Artist: Smokey Robinson and the Miracles
Label: Hip-O Records
Catalog No.: B0007976-09
Date: 2006

This is the third Motown DVD produced by David Peck and Phil Galloway for Reelin’ In The Years; their previous efforts include Marvin Gaye: The Real Thing in Performance 1964-1981, and The Temptations-Get Ready: The Definitive Performances 1965-1972. What’s unique about Smokey Robinson and the Miracles: Definitive Performances 1963-1987 is the documentary style. In August 2006, Robinson, Pete Moore and Bobby Rogers (three of the original Miracles) were flown to San Diego for a five-hour interview with Rob Bowman. The DVD cuts back and forth between interview segments and the performance footage, providing insight into the stories behind the songs. These interview segments alone are enough to recommend the DVD, and Bowman’s extensive liner notes illustrated with numerous archival photographs provide the icing on the cake. 

The performances are arranged in chronological order from 1963-1987, with the exception of the first track, “Shop Around,” which was originally recorded in late 1960, but the earliest footage is from a 1965 performance on the Detroit dance show Teen Town. This is followed by the most amazing footage on the DVD, filmed during the Motortown Revue at the Apollo Theatre in 1963 and featuring a five minute version of “You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me/Bring It On Home To Me.” Performing live before a black audience, Robinson really cuts loose in a very un-Motown manner, both in terms of his emotionally charged vocal delivery and unrestricted movement. The Apollo performance is also notable in that it includes the only footage of Claudette Rogers, an original member of the Miracles whose vocals are heard on all of their recordings through the early 1970s, but who had stopped touring with the group in the mid-1960s after marrying Robinson. The other notable live performance, “Ooh Baby,” is from Murray the K’s It’s What’s Happening Baby, filmed in 1965. The seven additional segments featuring the original group are all drawn from television appearances (the last two in full color), ending with “Tears of a Clown” from the Don Knotts Show in 1970. All are lip synched and display the mild mannered choreography and restrained delivery more typical of Motown, and obviously more acceptable to a mainstream audience.

From here the DVD fast forwards to 1976. Robinson had left the group to become a VP at Motown and was replaced by Billy Griffen. Two clips show the newly constituted Miracles in the brightest pink suits imaginable, performing “Do It Baby” and the disco hit “Love Machine,” which reached number one on the pop charts and was their biggest hit of the post-Smokey era.

The final segments feature three of Smokey Robinson’s solo performances from 1980-1987. These are the least interesting segments on the DVD as they reflect Robinson’s ”Quiet Storm” perioda far cry from the raw emotion shown in “You’ve Got a Hold on Me” from twenty years prior. Bonus features include additional interviews, original lead and background vocal tracks, and a wonderful clip of Smokey, Pete and Bobby viewing the 1963 Apollo performance footage for the first time in 40 years (check out the look of utter disbelief on Smokey’s face!).

The sound and picture has been completely restored, and the TV audio was replaced with original master recordings, making for an excellent presentation. Overall, the DVD offers a captivating overview of the Miracles, Motown’s first million-selling group, and lead singer Smokey Robinson, who was also an acclaimed songwriter and producer. Smokey Robinson and the Miracles: Definitive Performances 1963-1987 is definately a must have for any fan of Motown, and highly recommended for library collections.

Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

 

View review April 10th, 2007

bees + things + flowers

incog.jpgTitle: bees + things + flowers
Artist: Incognito
Label: Narada Jazz
Catalog No.: 0946 3 70179 2 0
Date: 2006

If you are a fan of acid jazz pioneer Roy Ayers, a glance at the title of Incognito’s latest release, bees + things + flowers, and the first track of the album, “Everybody Loves the Sunshine,” will let you know exactly what you’re in for. For listeners who may not be familiar with the UK-based soul collective Incognito or the 1970s output of vibraphonist extraordinaire, Roy Ayers, the sound of bees + things + flowers can be described best as soul music that fits the breeziness and earthiness of spring.

Jean-Paul “Bluey” Maunick, the central force of Incognito, has established his music collective as a mainstay for intercontinental soul music hipsters the world over. But by keeping covers of artists like Stevie Wonder as an important part of the Incognito canon, he has also kept the music open to all. In that way Incognito has survived, in various incarnations, for nearly the last thirty years.

Bees + things + flowers is a combination of three ingredients: covers, Incognito classics, and new songs. What unites them is Bluey’s jazzy and soulful production. The project includes four covers and the best of the four, surprisingly, is “Everybody Loves the Sunshine.” While the original is arguably perfect, Bluey’s guitar, a fresh drum sound, and Joy Rose’s vocals give the song a fresh dusting that is a testament to Incognito’s creativity. A close second in the cover category is their rendition of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “That’s the Way of the World.” While no vocals on that song can ever come close to Maurice White’s unique delivery, the retouched bass along with the guitar solo give this great classic a nice lift.

Not content to just include previously recorded material on bees + things + flowers, Bluey also added four new songs. The best of these is “Crave,” a soulful love ballad that is steeped in the warm sound of a Fender Rhodes keyboard, well-blended three-part vocal harmony, and a steady percussive undercurrent. The strength of the album is its synergy and seamlessness. Unfortunately, there are a couple of moments where bits and pieces of songs don’t seem to fully conform. Carleen Anderson’s vocals on “Summer in the City” are just odd enough to strike the ear the wrong way and for the wrong reason. The same can be said for the usually powerful vocalist Jocelyn Brown on “Always There.” Fortunately, she redeems herself on “Raise.”

Now that the deep freeze of winter is behind us, the vibe of Incognito’s bees + things + flowers is a lovely aural entry into spring. Maybe it is the organic nature of the title or the airiness of the instrumental arrangements but this project seems like a nice breeze in the otherwise cacophonous world of popular music.

Posted by fredara mareva

View review April 10th, 2007

Wisemen Approaching

wisemen.jpgTitle: Wisemen Approaching
Artist: Wisemen
Label: Babygrande Records
Catalog No: BBGCD305
Date: 2007

The Wisemen are a Detroit based, Wu-Tang affiliated group consisting of rapper/producers Bronze Nazareth and Kevlaar 7 as well as MC’s Phillie and Salute. In 2006, Bronze Nazareth released his debut solo album, The Great Migration, to much critical acclaim. This heralded release helped lay the foundation for the Wisemen’s debut album, Wisemen Approaching (2007), released on the underground hip hop promised land, Babygrande Records.

The Wisemen’s sound is rooted in the contemporary Wu-Tang sound (2000 – present), which typically consists of raw lyrics delivered over hard hitting drums and soul samples. “Iconoclasts” is by far the album’s standout track as the Wisemen, along with super-lyricists Killah Priest and Vast Aire of Cannibal Ox, practice verbal gymnastics over a horn ladened beat. On “Associated,” Bronze Nazareth provides an up-tempo beat on which the Wisemen spit effective battle rhymes and Wu-Tang Killer Bee GZA makes you forget that he is 40 years old. “Mixture of Muhammed” employs a beautiful vocal sample and a well placed drum roll that perfectly accompanies Kevlaar 7’s aggressive delivery. Other notable songs include “Goblins” and “Welcome Home.”

This album includes a bunch of good songs, but aside from “Iconoclasts,” there are no tracks that really stand out. Furthermore, Bronze Nazareth is an excellent MC, but the other group members appear virtually invisible under Bronze’s enormous shadow. This album could have used more concept songs, which would have made it much more interesting as a whole.

Wisemen Approaching is 15 tracks of raw New York hip hop. Bronze Nazareth shines both vocally and behind the boards while his other group members provide adequate support. With their debut release out of the way, the Wisemen’s future seems very bright.

Posted by Langston Collin Wilkins

View review April 10th, 2007

Afro-Punk

afro-punk.jpgTitle: Afro-Punk
Director: James Spooner
Label: Image Entertainment
Catalog No.: JOS3223DVD
Date: 2006 (DVD release)

When most people think of punk music, or the culture associated with it, the image of a young, angry white male or female comes to mind. Rarely do people think of young black people participating in subcultures outside of hip hop. This idea, however, merely shows the lack of dialogue about the diversity within the black community. James Spooner set out to begin that dialogue in his documentary Afro-Punk. Roughly an hour long, Afro-Punk follows African American youth that dare to pursue the aesthetic that most appeals to them, despite what others may feel about their participation in this predominantly white musical and cultural genre.

Afro-Punk features interviews with youth from all over the country that associate themselves not only with the music but also the lifestyle that is affiliated with being punk. Many interesting issues are raised such as racism, loneliness, interracial dating, black power, and the rightful ownership of rock music. The interviews help the viewer develop a firmer grasp of what it means to be a punk kid, and shows that what may initially appear to be a contradiction to “blackness” actually very much parallels the black experience in America. One young lady featured in the documentary, Tamar-Kali Brown, states, “Being caught in a system you can’t identify with, or that you don’t support. . . and being contrary, that’s the true energy of what being punk is.” Brown even goes so far as to suggest that Nina Simone is a historical example of punk angst in black musicians. Also featured are exclusive interviews with members of Fishbone, 24-7 Spyz, Dead Kennedys, and TV on the Radio.

Included within the actual documentary are clips from Bad Brains performances from the early 1980s. Heavily influenced by Rastafarianism, the Washington, D.C. based group was notably the first black punk band to enjoy commercial success and their recording career now spans two decades. Band member Darryl A. Jenifer even goes so far as to suggest that Bad Brains was responsible for the mosh pit (many scenes of these pits are featured in the documentary). The inclusion of the historic Bad Brains footage is integral to understanding that the young people portraited in the documentary are not the first blacks to participate and draw cross-cultural influences from the genre.

Dedicated to “every black kid ever called nigger, and every white kid that thinks they know what that means,” Afro-Punk is a must see for anyone that considers themselves a cultural connoisseur. Although within the documentary itself there are very few musical performances, the bonus features include performances by Brown, Yaphet Kotto, Apollo Heights, Bushman, and a few others. Though some may disagree with Spooner’s decision to place the live performances separate from the interviews in the documentary, it does focus the viewer’s attention on the issues raised by the participants and allows them to then switch to the music to better grasp some of the concepts introduced throughout.

The sound quality on some of the performances is poor, making it difficult to actually hear the vocalist, but this is largely due to the fact that its taken from live concert footage. The viewer is still able to see and hear the performances well enough to understand what is going on. Also included in the bonus features are deleted scenes, additional interviews, and a director’s commentary. As with any documentary or other format that features interviews, one must ever be mindful of editing and the context in which comments are made. Afro-Punk is no exception in that regard; however, it presents a well-balanced exploration into the lives of young black punk rockers grappling with issues of identity and race.

Punk rock kids, and other young black people that find themselves outside of the black mainstream, will certainly enjoy the work that Spooner has done in helping others understand their angst. Afro-Punk is only the beginning of the dialogue. Spooner does a masterful job of jumpstarting the conversation by showing that there are alternative ways to be black.

Posted by Brandon Houston

Editor’s note: Originally released as a motion picture in 2003 under the title Afro-Punk: The ‘Rock n Roll Nigger’ Experience.

View review April 10th, 2007

Mind Control

mind control.jpgTitle: Mind Control
Artist: Stephen Marley
Label: Universal-Republic
Catalog No: B000B354-02
Date: 2007

With five Grammy’s already under his belt, Stephen Marley’s debut album Mind Control is certain to net one more. Second eldest son of Reggae icon Bob Marley, Stephen began playing guitar at age seven, earning his come upping with his siblings in the Melody Makers. In the mid ’90s, as a seasoned musician, Stephen chose to work behind the scenes as a producer, collaborating with many artists including his brothers Damian and Julian. Mind Control thrusts Stephen out from behind the control boards into the forefront of the Marley legacy.

Mind Control is a blend of hip hop, R&B, and Latin flavor with reggae at the baseline. The album is an intimate look at the many sides of Stephen Marley featuring a star-studded list of special guests. Themes of social-consciousness are apparent in both the title track and “Chase Dem,” the latter a song that condemns corrupt politicians. Marley cites Ray Charles as a musical influence and pays tribute with his sultry reggae version of “Lonely Avenue.” Mashing up the dance floor with the songs “The Traffic Jam,” featuring Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley, and the infectious “Let Her Dance,” featuring Maya Azucena and Illestr8 with its driving beat and flamenco guitar, Marley lets loose his playful side. The softer side comes to light in the song “Hey Baby,” featuring Mos Def, a lullaby that Stephen would sing to his children to comfort them while he was away on tour with the Melody Makers.

Not only is Mind Control a dynamic body of work, its production is pure genius. The enhanced CD contains a bonus feature video of “The Traffic Jam” which should definitely be played through a system that is equipped with a sub-woofer for full effect. On March 29, kicking off his two month U.S. tour to a sold out crowd in Bloomington, Indiana, Stephen, standing side by side with his brother Damian, illustrated how well the album translates into live performance. Jah Rastafari!

Posted by Heather O’Sullivan

View review April 10th, 2007

Hip Hop is Dead

Nas.jpgTitle: Hip Hop is Dead
Artist: Nas
Label: Def Jam
Catalog No: 000722902
Date: 2006

No hip hop album has been as highly anticipated as Nas’s Hip Hop is Dead (December 2006). This is due to its title fanning the flames of an already conflict filled hip hop world, and because it is Nas’s first release on Def Jam, a label headed by one-time foe Jay-Z. From street corner to internet message board, hip hop heads around the world impatiently waited for this album to land on planet earth.

Nasir Jones has been heralded since he premiered on Main Source’s “Live at the BBQ” back in 1992. His debut album, Illmatic (1994), sent shockwaves through the hip hop community and still stands as one of the greatest hip hop releases of all time. The period from 1996-2000 saw Nas making blatant attempts at commercial success while sacrificing his artistry in the process. Most recently, he has experienced a rebirth, effectively balancing artistic agency with commercial demands.

The album opens with two tracks, “Money Over Bullsh*t” and “You Can’t Kill Me,” provided by Illmatic producer L.E.S. These tracks are vintage Nas, as his energy and battle rhymes recall mid ’90s era New York hip hop. “Carry On Tradition” finds Nas on his quest to resurrect real hip hop over a beat produced by commercial hip hop super hero Scott Storch. This contradiction does not prevent the track from being a banger, however. On “Where Are they Now,” Salaam Remi’s old school beat provides the proper backdrop for Nas’s stroll down memory lane, as the names of M.I.A. rappers such as Positive K and Lakim Shabazz are mentioned.

Although the title track, “Hip Hop is Dead,” employs the same Iron Butterfly sample from the lead single of his previous album, it is a dope song that features solid verses from Nas and a rock tinge reminiscent of Run DMC and Rick Rubin’s signature sound. On “Hold Down the Block,” newcomer Mark Batson’s boom-bap beat and Nas’s street lyricism provides the closest thing to a Nas/DJ Premier collaboration. Other notable tracks include surprisingly good collaborations with Snoop Dogg and the Game on “Play on Playa” and “Hustlers” respectively, the Kanye West assisted “Still Dreaming,” and the album’s second single “Can’t Forget About You.”

By far, the album’s signature song is the Jay-Z collaboration “Black Republican.” Once the ink was dry on Nas’s Def Jam contract, this rumored pairing left many Nas fans buzzing with excitement. The musical accompaniment is again provided by New York staple LES, who created a triumphant beat worthy of the momentous occasion. After about a minute of boasting, Jay-Z begins to rip a verse that could have single handedly brought his comeback album, “Kingdom Come” (2006), out of the realm of mediocrity. Although Jay-Z’s verse is remarkable, it is difficult to pay close attention to it due to the impending Nas verse which would begin the closest thing to hip hop Nirvana. Songs like “Black Republic” provide the blueprint for others to follow in their quest to create timeless music.

This album does contain a few missteps. “Who Killed It?” is by far the worst song in Nas’s catalogue and one of the worst hip hop songs by a legendary artist in recent memory. Both Will I Am’s horrendous manipulation of the beat to Eric B. and Rakim’s “I Aint No Joke” and Nas’s terrible imitation of an old man make the song one that should have never been created. “Blunt Ashes” suffers from a mediocre beat provided by basketball star Chris Webber and a poor performance by Nas. Unlike other greats, such as Jay-Z and the Notorious B.I.G., Nas is not capable of effectively incorporating diverse vocal styles and this song is a good example of that. Other songs suffer from bland production. For such a great rapper, Nas has a very poor ear for beats. He should either use the minimalist production style featured on Tupac’s Me Against the World (1995) and his own God’s Son (2002), or use A-list New York producers such as DJ Premier, Pete Rock, or Large Professor. One would think that recording for Def Jam would solve his beat selection problem, but that did not occur on this release.

Overall, Hip Hop is Dead is another solid release from Nas. Aside for a few mistakes, his vocal performance was excellent throughout and the beats were either excellent or tolerable. While this was not the masterpiece that many expected it to be, it further cements Nas’s place as the greatest rapper alive and proves that hip hop is, in fact, not dead, but very much alive and well.

Posted by Langston Collin Wilkins

View review April 10th, 2007

Welcome to the April Issue

This month we’re covering a wide range of genres. From the underground hip hop label Babygrande there are new releases by the Snow Goons, a German production team, and the Detroit based Wisemen, featuring Wu-Tang affiliated producer Bronze Nazareth. Also included is Hip Hop Is Dead, the much-anticipated album by Nas, and JazzFunkHipHoPoetry, featuring the poetry of Richard “Paradise” Moore. Continuing our focus on black rock, we’re highlighting a new CD by Prince protégé Rhonda Smith and the DVD Afro-Punk. Two new reggae additions include Stephen Marley’s debut album Mind Control and the DVD Roots Daughters, which explores the role of women in the Rastafarian faith and stars legendary reggae singer Judy Mowatt. Motown fans won’t want to miss the third DVD produced by Reelin’ in the Years for Hip-O Records, featuring historical performances by Smokey Robinson and The Miracles. Rounding out this issue are the latest releases from Anthony Hamilton and the UK-based soul collective Incognito.

View review April 10th, 2007

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