Welcome to the April 2012 issue

This month we’re featuring the new book The One: The Life and Music of James Brown along with a contest to win a free copy!! Go to the Archives of African American Music and Culture’s Facebook page, find the post “Enter the James Brown Book Giveaway” and leave a comment by Monday April 9th to be entered in the drawing.

Seattle takes center stage in this issue, with a review of three emerging hip hop artists—Chev, Khingz, and the group Theoretics—as well as new releases from Seattle label Light in the Attic including Listen, Whitey!: The Sounds of Black Power 1967 –1974 (CD and companion book), the Wendy Rene compilation After Laughter Comes Tears: Complete Stax & Volt Singles, and the reissue of Bo Diddley’s Black Gladiator, which preceded Isaac Hayes’ iconic Stax album Black Moses by a year (be sure to follow the link to hear Diddley’s operatic interlude on the song “I Don’t Like You”!).

Detroit also receives coverage, beginning with the new release by gospel group 21:03, followed by a self-titled hip hop album from Random Axe (comprised of Black Milk, Guilty Simpson and Sean Prince), and Elzhi & Will Sessions’ Elmatic (a tribute to Nas’s classic album Illmatic). Other hip hop features include recent releases from Wale, the Ferarri Boyz, Drake, and Freestyle Fellowship.

In honor of Women’s History Month which just concluded, we’re covering albums by three women in rock: Toronto’s Saidah Baba Talibah, Alexis Brown of the Kentucky metalcore band Straight Line Stitch, and the late Poly Styrene, former singer for the legendary British punk band X-Ray Spex; plus  albums by three women in gospel: Judith Christie McAllister and Lashun Pace on the Shanachie label, and Shirley Murdock on Tyscot.

Other CDs reviewed this month include a reissue of the debut album from Nigeria’s psychedelic rock group Question Mark, the compilation Let Me Tell You About the Blues-New Orleans, two releases from the DC-based reggae group See-I, the new self-titled release from The Sounds of Blackness, and Toro y Moi’s  “chillwave” album Underneath the Pine.

Enter the James Brown Book Giveaway Contest

Go to the AAAMC’s Facebook page, find the post “Enter the James Brown Book Giveaway” and leave a comment by Monday April 9th to be entered in the drawing for a free copy of The One: The Life and Music of James Brown


Title: The One: The Life and Music of James Brown

Author: R. J .Smith

Publisher:  Gotham

Formats:   Hardcover (464 P.) , Kindle edition

Release date:  March 15, 2012

“James Brown will perform 335 days this coming year, losing as much as seven pounds each performance. In an average month, he will give away 5,000 autographed photos and 1,000 pairs of James Brown cuff links.  He will wear 120 freshly laundered shirts and more than eight pairs of shoes.  He will change his performing costume 150 times and will work over eighty hours on the stage, singing, dancing and playing at least 60 songs on one of more than eight instruments.”—1970s Polygram press release.

We’ve all heard that James Brown was the hardest working man in show business, but in his new biography of the Godfather of Soul, R. J. Smith leaves no room for doubt.  Brown’s drive, his stamina, his utter determination to lift himself up and keep on going in the face of adversity are traits that Smith explores throughout the book.

The book’s title The One is a bit of a double (or triple) entendre. Few could dispute that Brown held a preeminent position within the music industry. He was, after all, the one and only Godfather of Soul. In Brown’s mind he was also inherently  special, invincible, a chosen one―not only was he “born dead” (then resuscitated by an aunt)―he miraculously survived an accidental electrocution when he was twelve.  Yet most important, as Smith relates, “the one” was Brown’s secret formula—the emphasis on the upbeat that led soul music into funkier territory—a formula that reached nearly mythic proportions in Brown’s mind.

After an introduction that very briefly traces the African origins of drumming in the Antebellum South, Smith traces Brown’s origins in “Georgialina.”  Born in South Carolina in 1933, Brown departs five years later with his family for a new beginning in Augusta, Georgia, where they move into  the black section known locally as “The Terry.”   By the time Brown turns 16, he has made his way through various odd jobs: “he picked cotton, cut down sugar cane, collected bottle caps, ran errands, delivered liquor, shined shoes, racked balls at a pool hall, helped out a Chinese grocery,”  and also picked up pocket money as a boxer.  All of which created a “powerful sense of determination” while delivering a valuable lesson about following the money.  The opening of the military Camp Gordon ca. 1941 brought new economic opportunities as well as new entertainment venues to Augusta , which also exposed young James to a wider variety of music.

Other very important early influences were Brown’s idols, boxer Beau Jack and the preacher Sweet Daddy Grace, both of whom were as adept at creating spectacles as they were at generating cash. Add to this the music emanating from Daddy Grace’s United House of Prayer and other local churches, and you start to get a sense of the people, the events, and the culture that profoundly shaped James Brown and his music.  Like Ray Charles and other soul singers, Brown was able to harness the emotions, the storytelling, the vocal delivery, and the rhythms of the Black church―in his words, the “formula” of gospel music―to create a powerful new form of secular music.

The story of Brown’s early stint in prison is well known, but Smith fleshes out his relationship with Bobby Byrd and formation of The Famous Flames following Brown’s release.  Later, while standing in for Little Richard, Brown meets drummer Charles Connor , who introduces him to syncopation that’s steeped in the second lines  of New Orleans.  A couple of years later, in 1955, Brown records his first hit song “Please, Please, Please” which Smith refers to as a “standalone emotional workout” that “communicated a soul in turmoil.” This would become Brown’s signature style for the rest of his career, his way of reaching audiences by projecting his emotions and then soaking up their responses until both singer and listener were transformed in a near religious experience.  Smith does an especially good job at describing these techniques and bringing the performances to life for the reader.

The remaining chapters trace Brown’s recordings for King Records and his relationship with owner Syd Nathan and other King employees, and later with Polydor; the evolution of Brown’s band over the years, with a special emphasis on the drummers, as well as the entrance of Bootsy Collins when “the funk moved from the drums to the bass”; Brown’s role in the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, his performances in Vietnam and Africa, and his relationship with politicians and Presidents ; and his radio stations and other business enterprises.  From beginning to end, the story of James Brown follows the transition from R&B to soul, funk, disco, and hip hop, all of which were profoundly influenced by Brown.

Throughout the book, Smith does an excellent job of analyzing Brown and his music, but always from a respectful distance.  Though Brown certainly had a sensational life, Smith does not sensationalize, a temptation some biographers are only too happy to indulge.  Better yet, Smith knows his way around music and African American history.   His extensive research for the book included interviews with many if not most of the key figures still living—Brown’s band members, relatives, managers, and friends.  Overall, The One is a major accomplishment, a superb biography of a man who was one of the major figures of American music in the 20th century, and who left an indelible imprint on the popular music and culture of several continents.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

Editor’s note:  Interviews with Bobby Byrd from the Portia K. Maultsby Collection at the Archives of African American Music and Culture were used by Smith for this book.  The AAAMC also holds the Charles Connor Collection, which includes an autobiography of Connor’s early years as a drummer.

Seattle Indie Label Digs Deep Into the Chess and Stax Vaults

Seattle-based Light In The Attic Records (LITA) is the release vehicle for the eclectic aesthetic of Matt Sullivan. In recent years, Sullivan has licensed and reissued various semi-obscure garage rock, pop and jazz albums from American and European artists, the soundtrack to the porno movie “Deep Throat,” and plenty of deep-vault soul and funk.  This is the company responsible for re-introducing funk fans to Betty Davis, and for the Seattle soul retrospective and documentary “Wheedle’s Groove.”

The latest offerings from LITA are trips into the less traveled alleys of the vaults of two classic record labels: Chess and Stax.  In the LITA tradition, both reissue CD albums offer colorful packaging, exceptional booklet notes and good sound restoration/remastering. Their new sub label, Future Days Recordings, “is a place for albums that we love that have been available before but as sub-par reissues or worse, bootlegs.”


Title: The Black Gladiator

Artist: Bo Diddley

Label: Future Days Recordings / Light In The Attic Records

Catalog No.: FDR 600

Format: CD

Release Date: March 13, 2012



By 1970, Chess Records was struggling. Founder Leonard Chess was dead, the label had been sold to tape duplicator GRT, and its heyday of hits was 10 years past.  Attempts were made to reinvent blues stars Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf for a hard-rock audience, in albums produced by Leonard Chess’s son, Marshall. Muddy soldiered through Electric Mud, and Wolf made no secret of his disdain for his album titled, This is Howlin’ Wolf’s New Album. He doesn’t like it. He didn’t like his electric guitar at first either.

Then there was Bo Diddley (born Otha Elias Bates, later Elias McDaniel).  Always diverse and adaptable in his style, Diddley embraced the new reality of screaming guitars, thundering beat and heavier sound, and enthusiastically delivered The Black Gladiator, according to the album booklet.

Working with Chess co-founder Phil Chess and veteran engineer Malcolm Chisholm, Diddley crafted an album that was modern and yet retained the traditional Diddley/Chess feel and atmosphere. Clever lyrics, traditional call-and-response blues and tremolo-heavy guitar solos were augmented by the addition of a Hammond B-3 and an overdubbed backing chorus, voiced entirely by Cookie Vee (Cornelia Redmond), a veteran member of the Diddley ensemble. And there was the album artwork: Bo Diddley in his well-worn thick-framed glasses, shirtless, clad in leather belts and armor, looking like a blues dominator, ready to punish the skeptics.

In the end, what Bo Diddley delivered was a tight, well-constructed electric blues album. There is a nice variance of tempo and topic, and the playing is uniformly excellent. The second guitarist isn’t identified, but the booklet notes speculate it was Diddley’s nephew, Ricky Jolivet (aka Bo Diddley Jr.).

Proving he was still Bo Diddley, no matter what the style or venue, he closed the album with a bookend to the 1959 hit “Say Man,” a “game of Dozens” with Jerome Green.  In the 1970 reprise, Diddley and Cookie Vee trade trash talk in a mock-operatic setting on the song “I Don’t Like You.” It’s as far-out and funny as the description suggests.  Bo Diddley was one of a kind, and his response to the changes hard-rock brought was unique and enterprising. This album stands up very well 42 years later, although critics mostly dismissed it in 1970.

Following is the official promo video:

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Title: After Laughter Comes Tears: Complete Stax & Volt Singles + Rarities 1964-65

Artist: Wendy Rene

Label: Light In The Attic Records

Catalog No.: LITA 080

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release Date: February 7, 2012




Wendy Rene (Mary Frierson) was 16 in 1963 when she, her brother Johnny and two friends formed the Drapels singing group, took a bus across Memphis to Stax Records’ studio/headquarters on McLemore Avenue, and talked their way into an audition for label president Jim Stewart. After hearing the group sing their audition, mostly original songs, he contacted their parents, signed them to a contract, and started recording them.  Her recording career was over 2 years later, and in 1967 she retired from the recording business.

The Frierson siblings walked into Stax at the right time. The label’s ballad star, Carla Thomas, was away at college, and the usually reliable soul instrumentals from Booker T & The MG’s and the Bar-Kays were not near the top of the charts in late 1963.  So Jim Stewart was eager to take a chance first on the Drapels and then on Mary Frierson, christened Wendy Rene by Otis Redding.

Although the music on this CD wears its age very well, only one song was a minor hit in its day, the bright and poppy “Bar B-Q,” written by Steve Cropper and bassist Larry Brown. The other tunes, mostly written by Mary Frierson, sometimes with her brother Johnny, are generally excellent but now-obscure soul ballads.  The playing by the Stax house band is what you’d expect: funky and punchy but somewhat laid-back compared to a Motown or Duke-Peacock sound.

Why didn’t Wendy Rene enjoy more success in the music business? Probably a combination of not standing out enough and her music being slightly “retro” by the mid-1960s. She would have fit in perfectly in the Phil Spector girl-group heyday a couple of years earlier. She also may have been a better fit in Spector’s universe, but Mary Frierson was a Memphis girl and Stax was the home of soul in Memphis. In any case, it’s nice to have these tunes back in print to enjoy today.

Following is the official promo video:

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Worth mention is the excellent booklet essay by Andria Lisle, who tracked down Mary Frierson (now Mary Cross) in 2011 and witnessed an obviously joyous trip down memory lane.  Wendy Rene’s music had a bit of resurgence in the hip hop era, with samples showing up in a tune by Wu-Tang Clan and Alicia Keys’ remake of “After Laughter” (titled “Where Do We Go From Here”), royalties from which bought the Cross family a new home.

The Drapels and Wendy Rene singles and unissued masters on this CD show how deep the Stax catalog was, that even a “minor star” produced such consistently good soul music.


Reviewed by Tom Fine





Listen Whitey! The Sights and Sounds of Black Power 1965-1975

Title: Listen Whitey! The Sights and Sounds of Black Power 1965-1975

Author: Pat Thomas

Publisher: Fantagraphics

Format: Hardcover book, 224 pages

Release date: March 5, 2012




Title: Listen Whitey! The Sights and Sounds of Black Power 1965-1975

Artists: Various

Label: Light in the Attic

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 28, 2012


Listen Whitey! The Sights and Sounds of Black Power 1965-1975 truly lives up to its name. A beautifully designed coffee table book, Listen Whitey! is Pat Thomas’s attempt at producing a “definitive catalog of Black Power-related recordings.” While there are definite problems with his portrayal of the book as a historical work due to both his lack of academic credentials and the lack of citations, it’s certainly more than worthwhile to put aside those concerns and enjoy the book for what it is: a visual feast and a record collector’s delight.

The glossy pages of this extremely readable popular history of music in the Black Power Movement are filled with amazing, never before compiled, full-color scans of rare records, album art and advertisements (see the book trailer). What really makes the contents of the book come alive, however, is the companion CD (sold separately). It’s one thing to read about these unreleased and rare records, but listening to them is a whole other experience.

Thomas describes the CD as “the soundtrack” to the text. Again, Thomas refers to the music he has selected as “essential,” but it feels much more apt to listen to this fantastic compilation as a mixtape of his Black Power favorites. Luckily, he has an amazing ear and almost every one of the sixteen tracks shines equally bright. The only songs that aren’t exactly up to par come from outside of the Black Power movement―Bob Dylan’s “George Jackson,” “Angela” by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and Roy Harper’s “I Hate the White Man.” It’s not that these tracks are bad, they just pale in comparison to the amazing, rarely heard, radical pieces from the Black community (no pun intended).

Eddie Harris’ version of his song “Silent Majority” from his album Live at Newport is a perfect vision of the political song, with witty lyrics that pointedly call out the powers that be, set to an incredibly infectious, jazzy beat and with the force and energy only found in live recordings. Marlena Shaw’s “Woman of the Ghetto” has the same raw energy and lays out the plight of Black women over a smooth, powerful groove. Perhaps the most striking song is not an unknown one, however, but rather the rare, solo version of Gil Scott-Heron’s Winter in America” that is so engagingly beautiful and simple that it sounds like a brand new song.

Following is the official trailer for the CD:

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Listen Whitey! has more to offer than just music. There are excerpts of speeches on Huey P. Newton by Stokeley Carmichael; of political comedy routines by Dick Gregory; a very historically intriguing speech by Eldridge Cleaver given in Algeria on the future of relations between the Black Panther Party and Timothy Leary; not to mention fantastically political and experimental spoken word pieces like Amiri Baraka’s surprisingly catchy “Who Will Survive American” and The Watts Prophets “Dem Niggers Ain’t Playing.” Overall, Listen Whitey!, both book and CD, will be superb additions to the collections of anyone interested in radical politics, or African American music of the 1960s and ‘70s, if they are willing to accept the aforementioned flaws and focus on the exciting primary source material of photos and recordings.

Reviewed by Dorothy Berry

Shanachie Ladies of Gospel

In 2011, Shanachie released several albums by some of the gospel industry’s leading ladies. These included releases from Kim Burrell, Lashun Pace, and Judith Christie McAllister, all of whom have ties to the Church of God in Christ, Inc. Burrell’s project The Love Album was reviewed in the February 2012 edition of Black Grooves. In this review I will take a look at the projects of Pace and McAllister. They each feature different styles of gospel music with McAllister focusing on what has come to be known as praise and worship, while Pace explores contemporary gospel with an emphasis on traditional gospel influences.


Title: Sound the Trumpet

Artist: Judith Christie McAllister

Label: Shanachie

Formats:  CD, MP3

Release date:  August 30, 2011



Throughout her career, McAllister has been celebrated as the premiere African American female voice in praise and worship music, with Shanachie billing her as the “The First Lady” of the genre. While her songs often make use of praise and worship styled phrasing and form (simple verses with repeated choruses), her harmonization, chord progressions, and improvisational technique are distinctly gospel. Her debut album, Send Judah First (2001), established her success with hit songs such as “Oh Give Thanks” and “Like the Dew” that became popular in African American worship settings across the nation. Two projects later she has released Sound the Trumpet, recorded live at Greater Allen AME Cathedral of New York. This album opens with the high energy title track “Sound the Trumpet.” McAllister’s powerful, punctuating vocals admonishes listeners to move “forward into battle with praise on your lips” and is accompanied by an impressive full-size band performing complex, syncopated rhythms. Following is the official music video:

Sound the Trumpet also includes covers of popular Christian songs and hymns. For example, McAllister offers her rendition of the frequently covered Chris Tomlin song “How Great is Our God.” Similarly, she performs a reserved yet highly expressive version of the well-known hymn “Draw Me Nearer” penned by Fanny Crosby. The song “Fire” is the most stylistically divergent piece on this album, featuring Caribbean inspired rhythms and harmonization. It is nonetheless exciting and uplifting as it progresses through several modulations, eventually settling into a “conventional” gospel sound with call and response between McAllister and her backing choir. Through this album, McAllister continues to demonstrate the reasons that her name has become synonymous with praise and worship.


Title: Reborn

Artist: Lashun Pace

Label:  Shanachie

Formats:  CD, MP3

Release date:  June 28, 2011



Lashun Pace’s Reborn was also recorded in a live worship setting at Rehoboth Church of God in Christ in Barnesville, Georgia. However, Pace’s project features a different quality of sound which in turn creates an alternate listening experience. If Sound the Trumpet captures a highly produced, contemporary worship music experience, then Reborn captures a sense of “down home” traditional African American worship. It opens with a lengthy narration recounting Pace’s musical and personal journey, expressively performed by her sister Lydia Pace. The first single from this album titled “Something to Live For” is an up-tempo praise song reminiscent of the Anointed Pace Sisters sound of the early 1990s. Following is the official music video:

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Pace truly shines in the slower ballad “You’re So Good” in which she freely improvises, interjecting throaty swells and growls. It is here that her impeccable storytelling abilities and remarkable vocal maneuvers are highlighted. She is joined by her daughter Aarion Rhodes on two selections, “He’s Able” and “Lord In You.” While she does not possess the depth and color of her mother’s voice, her facility with her instrument suggests that she is a rising talent in her own right. On this album, Pace also includes explicitly traditional pieces such as “It’s Me Oh Lord.” This piece is reflective of a congregational praise song as it features simple, repeated text with sparse instrumentation. While some of the songs on Reborn are not as captivating as others, it is refreshing to witness the return of such a talented artist.


Reviewed by Raynetta Wiggins

Nigerian rock group Question Mark

Title:  Be Nice to the People

Artist: Question Mark

Label:  Normal Records/QDK Media/Forced Exposure

Format: CD

Release Date: October 11, 2011




Be Nice to the People, by Nigeria’s psychedelic rock group Question Mark, is one of a series of reissues to capitalize on the recent renewal of interest in the 1970’s West African music scene.  While the group’s only record was considered by them to be a commercial failure at the time of its release in 1974, bandleader Frank Izuora comments in the liner notes that “now I go online and see people still talking about it, and copies selling for hundreds of dollars!”  The lineup of Question Mark includes Izuora on lead vocals and organ, Amehl Izuorah on bass guitar, Chyke Okafor on drums, Uzo Agulefo on percussion and Victor Egbe on lead guitar.

Group members spent parts of their childhoods in 1960’s London, absorbing British and American popular music and combining it with influences from their native land (most importantly Nigerian rock predecessor Ofege).  This confluence of backgrounds is obvious throughout the album and even in the instrumentation of the band.  Question Mark, with its bass, drumset, guitar and organ, has a fairly standard Western European lineup, but the addition of a percussionist on several tracks playing traditionally African drums connects the group to its local roots.

Combining the rhythmic patterns of James Brown with West African beat patterns, progressive rock guitar effects and American song structures creates a singularly individual sound for Question Mark. Be Nice to the People is most successful when the band merges all of their influences, rather than trying to carbon-copy European rock, because the blending of European with African music is what makes them interesting.  The best examples on the record may be the opener “Have You?,” which switches abruptly from a standard rock rhythm to a more African groove for a long, psychedelic solo section, showing off the fuzz guitar styling of Egbe as well as the energy of the band as a whole.  However, the title track performs the same rhythmic swap, referencing both African drum patterns and the European progressive music of contemporaries like Traffic. The song “Love” is another highlight that features reggae bass and drums, further expanding Question Mark’s sound.

Be Nice to the People may be their only album, but with it Question Mark managed to create a highly individual sound that seems to be finding a new audience and new level of appreciation every day.  As Frank Izuora put it, “Life is funny that way, isn’t it?  That’s just the power of music!”


Reviewed by Kat Rampley

Let Me Tell You About The Blues, New Orleans

Title: Let Me Tell You About The Blues, New Orleans

Artists: Various

Label: Fantastic Voyage

Catalog No.: FVDY095

Format: 3-CD set

Release Date: February 15, 2011


We are in a golden age of excellent blues and soul reissues, priced very reasonably, coming out of the U.K. Perhaps taking advantage of Europe’s shorter copyright terms, these reissue companies are able to span many decades and many different original-issue labels in their intelligently-compiled anthologies, which usually include excellent booklet texts. Sound quality varies, but is usually good to excellent, depending on what source material was available to the compilation engineers.

Fantastic Voyage has put out a series called “Let Me Tell You About the Blues” with each set focusing on a U.S. geographic area; sets have focused on Chicago, Memphis, New York, Texas, the West Coast and Detroit. The focus of this review is the 3-CD set covering New Orleans.

The first recording, “James Alley” by Richard (Rabbit) Brown, was made on March 11, 1927. The last two songs on the third disc were made in 1960. All of the songs were recorded in New Orleans, either by the city’s native musicians or acts who were regionally or nationally known and laid down a side or few in a New Orleans studio (in those cases, usually the recording venue was Cosimo Matassa’s studio). The “recorded in NOLA” theme works for the chosen tunes. There is a distinctive jump to many tunes, Zydeco instrumentation to others and particularly randy lyrics present throughout. All in all, a very NOLA flavor pervades.

Highlights include the original versions of “Good Rockin’ Tonight” (Roy Brown), “Mardi Gras In New Orleans” (Professor Longhair) and “The Things That I Used To Do” (Guitar Slim), plus early work by Fats Domino, Ray Charles and Snooks Eaglin.

Another plus for these Fantastic Voyage sets is that producers use a wide net to cast their “blues” category. This means a nice variety of artists and cuts, and in the case of this set, a generous smattering of early rhythm and blues.

There is also a logical order at work. Disc 1 covers the time period from what the booklet claims is the first blues recording native to NOLA (Rabbit Brown’s Victor sides) to the last pre-war blues recordings, by Little Brother Montgomery in 1936. The booklet states that no further blues-recording ventures took place in New Orleans until after WWII. Disc 2 begins with Roy Brown’s “Good Rockin’ Tonight” from 1947 and runs through Ray Charles’ August, 1953 session for Atlantic. Disc 3 picks up with Guitar Slim’s October, 1953 session and ends in 1960, with tunes from Snooks Eaglin and Sammy Myers.

So many good tunes are included in this set that it’s a no-brainer to highly recommend it. Add in a nicely illustrated booklet with recording dates (when available) and notes by Neil Slaven, and that’s just icing on the cake. Final recommendation point: it can be found for under $15 at Amazon associated sellers, an incredible value.


Reviewed by Tom Fine




The Sounds of Blackness

Title: The Sounds of Blackness

Artist: Sounds of Blackness

Label: Malaco Music Group

Formats:  CD, MP3

Release date: October 18, 2011



Gary Hines has done it again, and Malaco Music Group got a steal of deal by recently signing Sounds of Blackness.  From the group’s beginnings in the 1970s at Macalaster College to their four albums in the 21st century, Sounds of Blackness produces the kind of music that promotes Black Pride and shares the Good News messages of neighborly love and care.

The self-titled album is not only their first release under the Malaco label and the celebration of the 20th anniversary with Gary Hines at the choir’s helm, it is down-right good gospel music.  Throughout the 15 tracks the Minneapolis-based group celebrates Christ and blackness by fusing traditional gospel music, African beats, jazz, and many other musical genres.

The CD’s cover art reflects the music produced on the album: one of the groups familiar compilation images of Africa and America bonded together under the title The Sounds of Blackness.  Following this theme of bonding, tracks like “Togetherness” and “A Call To Healing” encourage audiences to end hate and war via encouragement, love, and solidarity.  In a tribute to the musical peacemaker John Lennon, Sounds of Blackness offers a rendition of the classic “Hey Jude” which is intended to cheerfully move listeners to a feeling of nostalgia and compels one to reconsider his/her relationships with their fellow man.

Following is the official video for the album’s hit single “Fly Again” featuring Jamecia Bennett:

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It was a breath of fresh air to hear the variety of soloists featured on the album.  Though Jamecia Bennett and Samilah Bryant’s dominant voices can be heard leading multiple songs, a bass vocalist and even one of the band’s keyboardist also get a chance to shine by leading tracks.  Considering the album’s selection of songs and variation of musical types and voices, director Gary Hines effectively shows his genius in the group’s latest project The Sounds of Blackness, which was recently recognized with a NAACP Image Award for Best World Music Album.


Reviewed by Carl Darnell


Emeralds in the Emerald City: Emerging Seattle Hip Hop Artists

Title: Charles

Artist: Chev

Label: Chev

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: December 1, 2011



When one first thinks of Seattle, what often comes to mind is grunge and coffee. Ask about the hip hop scene, and most often the response consists of Sir Mix-a-Lot and his love of women’s behinds. But (no pun intended) there’s always been a lively hip hop scene within the state of Washington, and artists like Chev continue to push attention away from California, the East and South scenes and bring it to Seattle.

There’s a lot about Charles that makes the album unique. Chev seems to have a voice that adds to already great beats and brings a new level of competence. The laid-back beats on “Beau” and “Go This Way” suit Chev’s style very well, allowing for a greater sense of expression to the point that the emotion Chev delivers feels very personable and relatable. Some of the “darker” tracks also breathe life into the album. On “Archangel,” for example, a gritty Burial-inspired beat provides the foundation for Chev to rap over. What follows is an instant classic, as Chev’s smooth voice and emotional delivery has a sincerity that echoes across the rest of the album.

What’s more, even on some of the weaker beats Chev’s voice and delivery saves the song. “Shockwave,” which sounds as though the generic guitarist at Guitar Center was let loose, is nonetheless rescued by Chev’s great flow. Charles contains an unusual amount of songs for an album, with 17 tracks clocking in at a little over an hour. Although deleting a few of the tracks would have made a much tighter album, it is hard to deny that Chev is an artist worth paying close attention to in the often overlooked Seattle hip hop scene.

For more from Chev, visit his Bandcamp at: http://chevy.bandcamp.com/


Title: Theoretics

Artist: Theoretics

Label: CDBY

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: April 19, 2011



Our next foray into Seattle concerns the live-band-backed group Theoretics. Taking a page out of the Roots’ book, the Theoretics bring together a host of musicians coming out of hip hop, funk, electronica and soul asthetics. Saying they are creating something truly unique would be an understatement. For example, take “Jekyll and Hyde,” a musical retelling of the literary classic. Featuring a funky bassline, ambient keyboards and great delivery from both Mark Hoy (Jekyll) and Chimaroke Abuachi (Hyde), “Jekyll and Hyde” is a party smash, and the video is just as great:

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However, where the Theoretics really shine and focus their energy, is with socially-conscious lyrics. “Coldworld” is a personal favorite, as the band calls for cooperation set to a funky beat, culminating with Mark Hoy rapping, “Change only occurs when soul seeks freedom /Soul seeks freedom and the mind breaks chains / If not then you are condemned to remain same / There’s only so much a man was made to sustain.” I honestly have not found a weak song on this album, and if that’s not an indication of how talented this group is and how we need more bands like them out there, then I don’t know what is.


Title: Liberation of the Monster

Artist: Khingz

Label: Wandering Worx Entertainment

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: October 27, 2011



Rounding out our trip to the Emerald City is Khingz’ Liberation of the Monster. Khingz has gained a recent reputation in Seattle, and has even opened for Blackalicious and Aceyalone with his fellow bandmates in Hi-Life Soundsystem. Liberation, then, should be a reflection of the talent required to open for two great California artists, right? Not so much.

Liberation is an album of two cities: on one side there’s the party-fueled beginning and on the other there’s the more socially-conscious ending. However, what both sections share is the lack of engaging tracks. “F.u.t.u.r.e.” stands out from the 1st half. Although Khingz does give a good delivery, the high-pitched singing can only be played so much before it becomes tiring. However, there is a diamond in the rough, and “Monster’s Lib” almost makes the lacking tracks on the album worth it. Great production by REL!G!ON, and Khingz gives a convincing performance with a solid repetition of “Your silence is a form of genocide” in the chorus. The track “For Boys Who Consider Suicide” takes the problem with “F.u.t.u.r.e.” and reverses it: nice Bollywood sample, but an average presentation by Khingz. Liberation of the Monster is thus a mixed bag; excluding “Monster’s Lib,” if it’s not the production that’s the problem, then it’s usually the lyrics.

For more on Khingz visit his Bandcamp page.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan



Random Axe

Title: Random Axe

Artist: Random Axe

Label: Duck Down Music Inc.

Format: CD, MP3

Release Date: June 14, 2011



Brooklyn meets Detroit on Random Axe and the end product is, for the most part, effective and competently executed. The triumvirate of Black Milk, Sean Prince, and Guilty Simpson come out strong early on “Random Call,” as Black Milk introduces the other artists through the hook:  “Who making hits like these? / Call up, nigga…nigga Guilty / Call up, nigga…nigga Sean P / 3-1-3 to the NYC.” Set to a steady drumbeat, the  looped female vocalization and the electronic samples all work well together. The feeling is again reciprocated on “Chewbacca,” and the music video for the song goes well beyond, featuring Chewbacca breaking his way into a Random Axe concert and dancing with fans and artists alike. Although the beat is once again good and most of the artists give a strong delivery, the guest artist, Roc Marciano, has an off-putting voice that’s too “nasally” for my tastes.

Following is the official music video for “Chewbacca”

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Much of the rest of the album follows the path laid out in the first four songs: heavy, bass-pounding beats complimented by an array of electronic and vocal samples. All three artists work well together as each delivery plays off the other to create a strong album. Black Milk, as artist and producer, really gives the album its energy with the creation of great beats. This is definitely a group that needs to get together more often.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

Live: The Journey

Title: Live: The Journey

Artist: Shirley Murdock

Label: Tyscot

Formats: CD, MP3, DVD

Release date:  October 18, 2011



Ohio native Shirley Murdock rose to acclaim in the mid-1980s through her work with funk musician Roger Troutman, which culminated with her self-titled debut album and the R&B hit single “As We Lay.” In the last decade Murdock has returned to her gospel music roots, releasing Home (2002) on T.D. Jakes’ Dexterity Sounds label, followed by Soulfood (2007) for Tyscot Records.  Now, Murdock has embarked upon her second album with Tyscot and her first live project titled Live: The Journey. Indeed, Murdock’s journey has led to an exciting new year with recent engagements as Grand Marshall of the historic Dallas MLK parade as well as an exciting performance during the 2012 Stellar Awards’ week of festivities.

Live: The Journey features a collection of original songs alongside a few selections from previous projects that speak to Murdock’s personal and musical life journey. While she has consistently produced uplifting, poignant music in the studio, the live sessions reveal her charming personality. As an evangelist and consummate performer, Murdock instantly connects with listeners, setting the stage for a handclapping, foot tapping, energetic worship service. Through the inclusion of “intro” and “reprise” tracks, Live showcases Murdock’s ability to directly communicate with an audience and share her personal experiences and feelings as they relate to the music. Murdock’s distinctive voice and singing style shines brilliantly as she admonishes the audience in North Carolina’s Broadcast Group Complex to join her in praise. During the course of the recording, she is also joined by several stellar guests including Kelly Price and Regina Belle, whose performances are equally as impressive.

The album opens (like many contemporary church services) with the praise and worship selection “He is God.”  Murdock then moves through a variety of styles showcasing her mastery of gospel performance. She readily utilizes her ability to color and manipulate her voice—a talent that made her an R&B star in the ‘80s. For example, “It’s In Your Hands” (originally released on Home) features a slow R&B-styled groove over which Murdock uses finesse rather than vocal power to express the song’s message. The lyrics suggest that listeners should “cast their cares” to the Lord by placing them in God’s hands. Murdock renders a few heartfelt moans, and sings with conviction as she tells a story through this selection. In this way, she offers a soulful meditation on resolving life’s troubles.

Following is the performance of “God Can Do Anything” from the DVD edition of the album:

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Murdock also ventures into contemporary gospel in the middle portion of the album, where she is joined by Grammy and Stellar Award-winning gospel vocalist Beverly Crawford on the up-tempo, energetic choir piece “He is the Rock.” Crawford’s voice is an excellent complement to this track as she has garnered acclaimed for her power-packed traditional-styled choral selections. Murdock also offers a highly expressive rendition of Leonard Scott’s worship song “Lord You Reign.” From the applause and distant voices collectively expressing words of praise, it appears that the audience is highly involved and invested in this piece which begins with Murdock’s solo voice as a sincere prayer to God and builds to a soaring climax, transforming the concert from a performance into a worship service.

The album concludes with a few selections that inspire listeners to achieve their dreams and believe in themselves because God loves them and will cause their ultimate success. Originally a part of her Home album, the Live single “Dream” most explicitly admonishes listeners to “hold on to the dream” because “God does not lie… and the dream cannot die.” This ballad serves as an encouraging message to any person who, like Murdock, has traveled through life aspiring to something greater. It is a reflection of the greater message of this album—that God is omniscient, omnipresent, and always willing to provide help during times of trouble. With uplifting praise and worship and down-home gospel, Live is a heart-warming expression of the life and victory of the incredible Shirley Murdock.


Reviewed by Raynetta Wiggins

Underneath the Pine

Title: Underneath the Pine

Artist: Toro y Moi

Label: Car Park Records

Formats:  CD, MP3

Release date:  February 22, 2011



If there is one thing the music from the newest generation of lo-fi, DIY, bedroom recording artists has been missing, it’s true danceability.  While the Ariel Pink’s of the world have been producing perfect, fuzzy pop songs great for head bobbing and subtle shimmying, there hasn’t been much that you can really get down to. But Toro y Moi (the stagename of Chazwick Bundick) has definitely brought the groove to chillwave with his sophomore album Underneath the Pine.

When I say “brought the groove,” don’t mistake this album for a funk explosion. The music is enveloping in its prog lushness, with tight harmonies and an encompassing sonic warmth that brings to mind Eno, French Pop, ELO and all sorts of big picture pop composers. Tracks like “How I Know” do everything a finely crafted hit should do: create a self-contained aural world that, in under five minutes, paints a mural in your brain from a rich palette of interweaving tight harmonies, melodic bass and a well-executed beat. A beat that you can dance to! A beat that lies under poignant, simple lyrics and complex layers of synthesized sound.

Following is the official music video for the single “New Beat”:

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Underneath the Pine takes you on a tour of Bundick’s creative mind, where funky bass lines and smooth keyboards illustrate the insular thoughts of a young man. It’s a tour I’m thankful to have taken, and one that I hope will be expanded upon in his future recordings.

Reviewed by Dorothy Berry

See-I and See-I Remixed

Title: See-I

Artist: See-I

Label: Fort Knox Recordings

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: June 28, 2011



A reggae scene in the United States? Believe it or not, in the nation’s capital of Washington D.C. the reggae scene has been steadily growing since the late 1980s, where See-I has been at the forefront. Finally, brothers Rootz and Zeebo Steele (the founding members of See-I) have come together with Fort Knox Recordings to release their self-titled debut album.

See-I­ looks to blend soul, funk, and reggae into one party-centric movement.  There’s already a lot of overlap between these three genres, such as reggae’s and funk’s emphasis on having the bass lead and manage, while the soulful style of singing is present in all three. It is these overlaps that lead to a very original sound in See-I, allowing the band to throw into the mix an assortment of musical ideas. For example, “Homegrown 2011” features a grooving, funky brass section while the guitar plays distorted solos reminiscent of ‘80s rock.  However, in that same song the guitarist switches to a reggae style of playing on the upbeat and adds wah-wah pedal, while the organist compliments that same upbeat rhythm. What’s so great about these changes is that it’s not done extensively or without reason, but rather to keep the party going by maintaining a fresh sound throughout the album.

Following is the official music video for “Soul Hit Man”:

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The only issue that I have is with the track “How We Do.” The transition from the previous song feels rather off, although both are among the most “laid-back” songs on the album. This is possibly due to a subdued brass section, which seems to slow everything down. Additionally, the song itself seems a little too laid-back for a party band. However, the blues from this speed bump is quickly diminished as See-I begins “The Inside Move” and the brings the album to a fitting end on “Reign In 2 Light.”


Title: See-I Remixed

Artists: Various

Label: Fort Knox Recordings

Format: MP3

Release Date: November 22, 2011


The diversity of See-I’s debut self-titled album featured soul, reggae, and funk coming together to form something truly unique. Now, in See-I Remixed, a grab bag of assorted artists brings even more diversity to the original material. Going from old school dub to modern-day dubstep, there’s something for everybody in this collection. The album kicks off in Subatomic Sound’s version of “Dangerous,” calling back the old-school dub style of extensive echo and delay, while pushing bass and drums to the forefront. Continuing on, the remix of “Soul Hit Man” by the Funk Hunters instead focuses on modern day dubstep, with wobbly bass and an overall much more electronic sound. Knight Riderz’s remix of “Blow Up” is possibly the strongest track on the album, mostly due to the great reworking of vocals to compliment the dubstep reworking of the song. What’s more, the addition of electronic instrumentation, either intentional or not, brings to mind the Power Rangers theme. Continuing on the theme of odd but creative sounds, Turntable Dubbers & Sebski’s chiptunes-esque remix of “Blow Up” teeters between dubstep with the common treatment of the bass, but also throws in sounds from Game Boys. As the album draws to a close, the party starts to die down as the last two songs are much more relaxed and ambient. Clayton & Fulcrum’s remixing of “Reign in 2 Light,” although less energetic than the previous song, transitions well to “Disturbancy,” the last track, which brings a relaxing close to the high-energy album.

There are a few remixes in the bunch that feel rather weak. Take Drumagick’s version of “Soul Hit Man,” for example. The track is full of dubstep clichés, as electric drum machines gain speed before running into a overly-wobbly bass that has been heard a thousand times over. What was nice about the Funk Hunter’s version was when it did hit the bass drop it wasn’t as intense and seemed almost ambient in comparison. Additionally, the Funk Hunter’s build-up suited the song much better. However, this seems to be an isolated incident, as the rest of the songs of the album range from average to great.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan


Title: Elmatic

Artist: Elzhi & Will Sessions

Label: The Jae.B Group

Formats: CD, LP

Release Date:  May 10, 2011



Coming together for a tribute to easily one of the top ten rap albums of the 1990s, Elzhi and Will Sessions attempt to replicate the intense delivery of Nas’s Illmatic (1994) by using the same samples on their mixtape, albeit with a live instrumental twist. With a diverse background as a hip-hop/soul/funk party/backing band, Will Sessions has an impressive resume well-suited to Illmatic’s jazzy and funky rhythm samples. Nor can we ignore Slum Village’s Elzhi, another established artist who has also collaborated with Random Axe’s Guilty Simpson, among others. It’s safe to assume, then, that this amount of talent is an effective tribute to Nas’s classic, right?

Will Sessions’ attention to detail is obvious right from the start as Elmatic kicks off with “The Genesis.” There’s a great focus on needing to stay true to the original beats, but what’s nice is that they aren’t set in stone. Instead of keeping with the sounds of the city and the sample speech, gritty keyboards and drums crescendo before going into the original Illmatic beat. It’s crazy how “Detroit State of Mind” sounds exactly like “N.Y. State of Mind.” The instrumentation sounds just like the Nas version, and if Nas had done the same rap over the two backing tracks it would be hard to tell the difference. On tracks like “The World Is Yours,” “Life’s A Bitch,” and “One Love,” where there’s a greater emphasis on jazz-oriented samples, Will Sessions shines. The tracks are extended to allow for improvisation, while simultaneously not deviating too far from the original material. This is done for just the right amount of time, as it gives a good amount of space for the backing band to express themselves musically without going overboard. Overall, the abilities of Will Sessions fits perfectly with the original material.

Following is the official video for “It Ain’t Hard To Tell”:

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It is now that we get to the most fundamental part of any rap album: the lyrics. What made Nas’s Illmatic such a respectable project was not just beats, but the lyrics. Each song flowed with sincerity and amazing verbal ability; each song tells a story that intertwines with the other. Therefore, it’s hard not to be critical of a tribute, but Elzhi definitely has the lyrical ability to deliver, and deliver he does.  The track that stands out the most, namely “Detroit State of Mind,” deserves first mention. Just like the Nas original set in Queens, “Detroit State of Mind” details the everyday life of living in inner city Detroit and is delivered strongly, most notably through the following verse:  “I knew this fly chick, pretty right, she was my type that cracked shit / Wasn’t hyped, she fell in love with the pipe / She had dreams, of being the next D. Ross or the Supremes /Overdosed in the lot, between the plot and the schemes.”  “Memory Lane” is just as good, as that necessary sincerity is once again replicated, while the topic shifts focus to Maurice Malone’s Hip-Hop Shop.  On this track Elzhi brings back the memories of the Detroit hip hop scene, including witnessing early performances of artists like Eminem back when they were just gaining popularity. Why is Elzhi so effective in both showing his love for Nas while also bringing something unique to the album? Like the original instrumentation provided by Will Sessions, Elzhi doesn’t simply repeat what Nas initially laid out in Illmatic. Instead, Elzhi makes Elmatic his own, unique version of the classic album by giving it a Detroit twist.

Fans of this album will also be interested in Will Sessions’ companion soundtrack album The Elmatic Instrumentals—a great fusion of jazz, funk, and hip hop (issued by Fat Beats in September, 2011).

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan



Title: (S)cream

Artist: Saidah Baba Talibah

Label: CLK Creative Works / Last Gang Labels

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: October 4, 2011



Saidah Baba Talibah’s debut album (S)cream is a highly produced compendium of sometimes raunchy yet always radio-friendly rockin’ jams. The Toronto-based Talibah is an incredibly experienced musician who has worked as a touring musical theater performer and as a backup singer for such luminaries as country musician Johnny Reid. With a sound that might be called a mix of Velvet Revolver and Living Colour if fronted by a salacious diva, Talibah claims sexual empowerment in songs like the title track “(S)cream” and “On My Knees” in a style usually not associated with women in the male-dominated hard rock genre. Demonstrating her versatility, Talibah also includes sweet soft love songs such as “Good Morning Baby” that could belong on the soundtrack to a soft-lit romance movie, as well as funky tracks like “Do It” that call Betty Davis to mind with their sassy, strong vocals and abundant use of wah-wah pedal.

Following is the official music video of the title track:

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(S)cream is a very strong debut album that is so well produced and presented it has the feel of a rock-opera or an experienced super group, not the rough-around-the-edges sound you expect from a first timer, and this is a welcome surprise.


Reviewed by Dorothy Berry

The Fight of our Lives

Title: The Fight of our Lives

Artist: Straight Line Stitch

Label: Entertainment One

Format: CD, MP3

Release Date: March 22, 2011



Our next look into the “Women Who Rock” scene is a heavy one: Straight Line Stitch, a metalcore / melodic metal band from Knoxville, Tennessee and their newest album, The Fight of Our Lives.  The lead singer of the band, Alexis Brown, has a vocal ability that can range from sweet melodies to high-pitched screaming. While Brown does possess considerable musical capabilities, the same can’t necessarily be said for the rest of the band.

Alexis Brown’s vocal ability is something special within the metal scene. While many artists will commonly stay within one singing style, Brown does it all. On “Conversion,” the intensity of her voice is immediately apparent as her high-pitched growling overlaps distorted guitars and double bass pedals. However, during the chorus she effortlessly reverts back to a melodic vocal style. Her range in both instances is remarkable, as the change between the two flows well. The same feelings are replicated in “Laughing in the Rearview” and “Bar Room Brawl,” albeit screaming is more common throughout. On the flip side, Brown takes a more traditional route in “Cold Front” and “One Reason,” demonstrating her diverse range and putting screams on the back burner.

Following is the official music video for “Conversion”:

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Although talented vocally, the lyrics come off as a bit cheesy and cliché. Take “Bar Room Brawl,” for example, which opens with, “There’s nothing to defend / nothing left but regret / it’s the beginning of the end / what’s it all been for?” The same dark and dreary lyrics are a formula that is repeated time and time again. At certain sections of the album, most clearly throughout “Cold Front” and “Living Dead,” the inherent angst makes me feel like I’ve been transported back to high school.

If the lyrics weren’t already a clear indication of what to expect, then the instrumentation would give it away. First off, the drummer has a deep love for the double bass drum pedal and feels the need to use it constantly; just like anything else, too much of a good thing can become tiring. Even during slower, (relatively) quiet songs the lines of bass drum hits become rather comical. However, it’s not just the drummer; the rest of the band also has an obsession with overused riffs. The guitarists aren’t exactly making anything new; I’ve heard better riff(s) in an Electric Wizard or Bongzilla song. What’s possibly the worst crime committed is the production. Everything sounds way too clean, even though there’s extensive use of distortion and other effects associated with metal. It’s almost subdued, and really kills the energy of the album.

With all the problems that seem to plague Fight of Our Lives, Alexis Brown at least provides some semblance of hope. Although extremely talented vocally, she is nonetheless bogged down by poor lyricism and instrumentation; the music feels subdued even with the drummer’s love of double bass hits and distorted guitars. The end product, then, is an album that will probably be glanced over unless you happen to already be a fan of Straight Line Stitch or a serious fan of heavy metal.


Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

Generation Indigo

Title: Generation Indigo

Artist: Poly Styrene

Label: Future Noise Music

Formats: CD, MP3, Vinyl

Release Date: April 26, 2011



The late Poly Styrene (aka Marianne Elliott-Said), who lost her battle with cancer last April, will be forever remembered for her influence on the punk rock scene, and for striving to give women the same degree of authenticity as their male counterparts. As the frontwoman for the London band X-Ray Spex, she brought a great mix of creativity and intensity to their signature song “Oh Bondage, Up Yours! and to their legendary 1978 album Germfree Adolescents. Mixing a roaring sax with Poly’s roaring vocal ability, the album became an instant classic. Although stepping back a bit from the intensity that made her famous, Poly Styrene’s final album, Generation Indigo, nonetheless expresses the same lyrical intelligence and vocal ability.

Generation Indigo is a meeting between new and old Poly Styrene, for although there are instances of early punk music woven into the album, more contemporary, electronic-based music is also utilized.  This is made immediately apparent as the album opens with I Luv Ur Sneakers” over a saxophone blended with a grimy, robotic beat. Continuing the implementation of electronics, dubstep makes an appearance in songs like “Generation Indigo” and “Code Pink Dub” which feature a wobbling bass, though near the end more traditional instrumentation takes precedence. “Colour Blind” really stands out from the rest of the album, as it contains a more traditional reggae / dub feel. A simple but effective bass line clashes with vocal reverb and drums, with Brother Culture toasting during the instrumental sections. The lyrics are strong too, as each verse ends with the lines, “But when it comes to me brethren I and I / jah simply choose to remain colour blind.”

Following is the official trailer for the album:

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Regrettably, Generation Indigo closes the book on Poly Styrene’s amazing career. Her accomplishments and her role in gaining proper recognition for women in punk music cannot be stated enough.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

Evolved: From Boys to Men

Title: Evolved: From Boys to Men

Artist: 21:03

Label: Verity

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 6, 2011



Discovered on January 21, 2003 by the notable contemporary gospel composer/producer/singer J. Moss and PAJAM production, Detroit natives Evin Martin, Torrence Greene and Jor’el Quinn named their urban gospel trio 21:03.  Success immediately followed when their debut received a Stellar Award for Best Rap/Hip Hop CD (2006) and “Cover Me” from their sophomore album Total Attention (2008) received a Grammy nomination for Best Gospel Song. After a three year hiatus, the group has returned with their third album Evolved: From Boys To Men. Featuring their interpretations of sacred messages, the album has the same R&B/hip hop flavor found in the group’s previous works, but this time with deeper testimonies.

21:03 has now been together as a group for nearly 10 years, and certainly they’ve also gone through life’s ups and downs together.  This is especially reflected in the album’s first single “Still Here,” composed by Evin Martin after he lost both of his parents within a very short span of time.  Though Martin certainly went through rough times, he was able to rediscover his faith because of the support of other members, producers, and notably the preaching of Bishop Andrew Merritt of Straight Gate International Church.  In the following video Martin explains, “Bishop Andrew Merritt was preaching about The Blood, and said the same power that conquered the grave lives on the inside of me, so I don’t have to fear death because the blood already covers that.  I’m still here because the blood still has its power.”  This emotional performance also shows us their growth “from boys to men” with an old school gospel groove:


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While 21:03 prove their new mutuality through this album, they don’t neglect their responsibility to teach/bring the messages from the Bible to the younger generation.  The musical diversity of Evolved is presented in the catchy tune “Hear Your Voice” into which the members express their hope to hear God’s voice, which is sometimes difficult  due to many distractions by messages from Facebook and Twitter.  The second single “Incredible,” with the flavor of  producer J. Moss’s strong grooves and harmonies, was a Top 20 song on gospel radio in 2011.  These songs are great examples of gospel music for the sake of the conveyance of sacred messages in contemporary ways.  The inclusion of the R&B ballad “Loving You (The Wedding Song)” also shows a different aspect of the group and should attract a broader audience.

This trio has learned through their life experiences, and they are meant to tell their stories and bring the spiritual message to the listeners through their performances.  Evolved is a great testimony from these young singers, who have promised to continue guiding new generations to the spiritual evolution.


Reviewed by Yukari Shinagawa

The Promise-Freestyle Fellowship

Title: The Promise

Artist: Freestyle Fellowship


Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: October 18, 2011


It’s been almost a decade since Freestyle Fellowship last came together to put out an album, but with The Promise it feels like they never left. Incorporating an array of unique samples and beats, Fellowship maintains the Afrocentric ideals that first gained the group so much notoriety. What must be noted is that all current members began their forays into the hip hop scene more than twenty years ago, and haven’t released any new material since 2002. Therefore, a re-introduction is in order; this is done concisely in the dark and gritty “We Are,” which outlines the content of the rest of the album and establishes their political views:

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Following hip hop protocol, the first half of Promise has each artist introducing themselves in greater detail and bragging about their own individual superiority. Generic as this may sound, they do a good job of breaking away from common trends. Firstly, “Step 2 the Side,” the best of the batch, samples a beautiful Indian funk song, complete with driving bass and that all-important nasal singing voice that repeats throughout the entire track. “Ambassadors” is one of the weaker songs on the album, and has more bragging lyrics set to a rather overplayed pop-style beat that gets tiring about halfway in. “Dart,” the last of the “re-authentication” songs, is the most disappointing. Although that dark and dirty beat returns, it doesn’t save the song from the high-pitched squeal in the repetition of “Show yo shit” and the refrain  “imma hit it with a dart / damn bullseye yeah make my mark /  waitin’ on some shit to start / imma hit ‘em y’all” is better overlooked, not warranting any serious attention.

Although somewhat stuttering in the introductory sequence, Promise’s saving grace is the Afrocentric second half that demonstrates Freestyle Fellowship’s belief in what they stand for. Although each song has its own strengths, three stand out as the best of the best. “Gimmee,” which starts the series of socially and politically-charged songs, targets the lack of self-reliance and loss of aspirations. The use of violins compliments the simple bass beat, and each artist goes into the song with an intensity lacking in the first half. “Government Lies” is exactly what the title implies: an articulation of the false promises of the government accentuated by the repetition in the beginning of “Can’t manipulate my mind” before going into a free verse rap. The verses are then repeated, but now set to a robotic, electronic beat that emphasizes the previous subject. Finally, “Daddies” has, in my opinion, the greatest message to give. Although the beat is slightly pop-oriented, it nonetheless compliments the rapping quite comfortably. Criticizing the misrepresentation of African American fathers, “Daddies” values the responsible fathers that are invested in their child’s life rather than fathers that involve themselves in gangs and/or spend their time away from their children.

A slow start resulting in a strong finish, The Promise is a very respectable effort from a group that’s been in the hip hop scene for over two decades. As reflected by the age of the group, Promise sounds more mature as compared to Fellowship’s earlier albums. These are songs of fathers that are attempting to stay relevant in an ever-changing environment. Their stumbles are most apparent when trying to do this, as evident in the first half of the album. However, if Freestyle Fellowship shifts to the values outlined in the second half of the album, it can’t be argued that their return will be a welcomed one.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

Take Care

Title: Take Care

Artist: Drake

Label: Cash Money Records Inc.

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: November 15, 2011


Take Care is Drake’s second full-length album and definitely proves he is making his mark in the rap world.  The Canadian native signed with Lil Wayne’s Young Money Entertainment in November 2009 and has already become a significant member of the recording company.  His first album, Thank Me Later (2010), has gone platinum and Take Care is also sure to be a fan favorite, with the first single “Headlines” already topping the charts.

Another hit that has gained significant popularity is the title track, “Take Care,” featuring Rihanna.  The two young powerhouse vocalists came together to produce a song that details the troubles of a failed romance and  highlights the comforts of finding a person who can help heal your broken heart and essentially “take care” of you.  The choice to record with Rihanna was definitely a smart one for Drake since her album Talk That Talk, released around the same time, has been dominating the charts.

In the following video Drake discusses his new album and explains the meaning behind the song “Ride” (courtesy of VEVO):

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Take Care is essentially a story that is being told through music, with songs that reflect Drake’s life and show how far he’s come as a rap and R&B superstar.


Reviewed by Megan Allardt


Title: Ambition

Artist: Wale

Label: Maybach Music Group/ Warner Bros.

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date:  November 1, 2011



Washington D.C. native Wale recently released his highly anticipated sophomore album Ambition, exactly two years after his widely acclaimed debut. Born Wale Victor Folarin to Nigerian immigrants, he began his rise to the top in 2006 with his song “Dig Dug,” which caught the attention of producer Mark Ronson. Shortly thereafter he was signed to Ronson’s label, Allido Records, which released several of his mixtapes and led to national media exposure.  Wale released his first album, Attention Deficit, under Interscope Records in 2008 and spun off the singles “Chillin’,” “Pretty Girls,” and “World Tour.” Even though Attention Deficit received good reviews, Interscope failed to promote Wale as an artist, which led him to sign with Rick Ross’s Maybach Music Group in 2011.

Ambition has 15 songs featuring collaborations with well-known artists such as Big Sean, Miguel, Ne-Yo, Jeremih, Lloyd and Kid Cudi.  The album spun off the hit single “Lotus Flower Bomb,” which soared to a top 10 position on Billboard’s R&B/ Hip-Hop charts.  This song, which features Miguel, has a great hook and musical selection, and the music video does a nice job of illustrating Wale’s lyrics:

As an artist, Wale has slowly gained recognition in the music industry with his songwriting skills, poetic flow, and collaborations that make him stand out as a rapper. His down to earth lyrics relate to life and everyday struggles that people can identify with. On “Legendary,” another track from Ambition, Wale points out how far he can go without fame and money. The title track, “Ambition,” follows in the same vein as “Ambitious Girl” from his mixtape More About Nothing; it is a lyrical expression of how far your dreams can take you and urges you to push towards them.

People are drawn to Wale because of his “realness” and ambition to succeed.  His sophomore album, Ambition, has exceeded people’s expectations, with poetic lyrics and beats that don’t let you skip a song.

Reviewed by Allyson Cannon

Ferrari Boyz

Title: Ferrari Boyz

Artists: Gucci Mane and Waka Flocka Flame

Label: 1017 Bricksquad/Warner Bros.

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: August 9th, 2011



As expected from the title of the album, Gucci and Waka attempt to reveal their lavish lifestyles with Ferrari Boyz. Both rappers originate from Georgia, the sixth zone to be specific. With this “street release” Gucci and Waka didn’t try anything they hadn’t done before; southern-style gangster rap with thumping, bass heavy, addicting beats. The lyrics and style of the entire album reflect a “larger than life” feel.

Ferrari Boyz gets help from other 1017 Bricksquad artists like Wooh Da Kid and Slim Dunkin. A majority of tracks were produced by Southside, the best friend of current popular super-producer Lex Luger, and his beats are truly addictive. The tracks roll and slap with thunderous percussion, and Gucci and Waka’s southern rap styled lyrics lay over them well. The album moves well, making the listener anxious to hear what crazy sounding beat is coming next.

You should not expect Ferrari Boyz to be very emotionally moving or powerful; rather, you should just enjoy the clever similes and metaphors in Gucci and Waka’s raps and the catchy production of Southside and legends Drumma Boy and Shawty Redd. “She Be Puttin On,” the second single released featuring Slim Dunkin, is about an independent woman that Gucci and Waka lust for, and is definitely the stand out track. Following is the official video:

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If you like any of Gucci and Waka’s solo projects, this is a must have and will be popular among the crowd at any party.


Reviewed by Aaron Robinson