Is it the current political atmosphere or possibly just time for the genre to once again acknowledge its roots? Whatever the reason, there is a conscious stream of artists dominating mainstream rap right now, and Talib Kweli is leading the way. Kweli is no stranger to the scene—his first collaborative group, Black Star, was formed with Mos Def in 1997—and to date, he has worked with artists Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, Just Blaze, the Beastie Boys and Kendrick Lamar. Kweli is featured on Dave Chappell’s Block Party, both as an actor and a soundtrack artist. In 2011 he founded his own label, Javotti Media, billed as “a platform for independent thinkers and doers.”* With an eye on social issues both past and present, Kweli offers us his take on 2017 with his latest, Radio Silence.
The album unlocks with “The Magic Hour,” a song that introduces the album’s concepts and purpose through magical lyricism. Opening with the ethereal sounds of strings and a choir, the tune carves its own place in the world of rap solely on these feature alone. Kweli’s opening line, “Last one to fall asleep, first one to wake up. No Doubt. It’s the Magic Hour,” layered on top of an upbeat piano riff sets the standard for the remainder of this Brooklyn phenom’s offerings. The song’s final chords fade away under Kweli’s assurance that “hip hop will flourish with nourishment and the proper care,” a parental line from one who has been there, done that, and knows how to make it last.
The philosophy continues to pour out of this rap statesman rhyme after rhyme. The second track, “Traveling Light,” thumps the pulpit of Kweli’s truth through musings about his own genesis towards the rap dimension. Unquestionably possessing a magical talent for deep lyricism, he brings Anderson .Paak’s smooth vocals into the track to compliment his message. “All of Us” unfastens the mood even further with its break-out sampling of a rally for justice. Jay Electronica of Roc Nation and powerhouse Yummy Bingham spin their consciousness right along Kweli, adding a multi-layered resonance reverberating past the very last strain of violin fade-out. The lead single, “Radio Silence,” is a blend of Kweli and Myka 9’s exceptional cypher savvy interspersed with Amber Coffman’s haunting refrains. Never one to ignore the heart strings for long, Kweli and BJ The Chicago Kid’s “The One I Love” reminds us that regardless of what’s going on, that one special person makes it all worthwhile.
Of all the offerings not explicated here—“Chips,” “Knockturnal,” “Let It Roll,” “Write at Home”—by far, the standout is “Heads Up Eyes Open.” Dedicated to late rap promoter Kenneth “Headqcouterz” Walker, this part testimonial/part inspirational melody features not only mind-bending truthfulness on topics such as police brutality and protest rights, but also functions as a call for honesty and faithfulness because “the picture is so much bigger than what we could even imagine.” Indeed. Talib Kweli’s vision is so much larger than what we typically conceptualize. This portfolio of political discourse keeps challenging and teaching long after the voices, piano riffs and handclaps fade away.
Radio Silence, through its proverbial introspections and uplifting retrospection, seamlessly moves its message through the airwaves of our minds. In Talib Kweli’s world, silence truly does speak louder than words.
Tampa native Kevin Burgess, known in the rap world as KB, takes his God-driven talents to new levels with his latest release, Today We Rebel. Providing ammunition to help us confront the anxiety of the times, KB defines what rebellion truly means in today’s world:
“To me, resistance carries with it a certain posture. The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”
Leading up to the album announcement, KB unveiled a series of visuals across his platforms, sparking social conversations and giving fans a look inside the mind of a man changed for the better into a rebellious role model for the greater good.
Sonically, Today We Rebel is a mixture of emotion and aggression. Throughout the 14-track album, you can feel the urgency in KB’s tone, serving as a reminder that we are at our best when we are truly free: “I understand now more than ever that my allegiance is to the kingdom, first and foremost. Everything falls second to that.” His offerings include the artists Aha Gazelle (“Monsters”), Ty Brasel (“Primetime”), Andy Mineo (“Not Today Satan”) and Lecrae (“Get Through It”). Lecrae and KB’s collaboration, “Sideways” from his previous album Tomorrow We Live (2015), tallies up at over 4+million hits on YouTube, and “Get Through It” is already on its own path to Greatness.
All said and done, Today We Rebel is KB drawing a line in the sand. Life, and what comes after, stops for no one. And in the case of Eternity, KB warns, the only thing that matters in the end is who you have in your corner.
The newest release from the Chicago Afrobeat Project, What Goes Up, builds upon the group’s strong foundation of recordings. The already large ensemble heavily features guest artists on its latest album, including Nigerian afrobeat drummer Tony Allen (who has worked with the legendary Fela Kuti, a pioneer of the genre) as a featured artist on each of the album’s tracks.
The Chicago Afrobeat Project has always drawn heavily from funk-influenced afrobeat styles, and, as the group’s name implies, continues this basic approach on its latest album. The 14-member ensemble features great arrangements for its full horn section on cuts like “Race Hustle,” but moves somewhat outside of traditional afrobeat expectations on other cuts, as on the extended synth intro to “Cut the Infection.” The group incorporates some jazz fusion influences on the polyrhythmic cut “Must Come Down,” interpolating wah wah guitars with African rhythms more typical of the group’s style.
Unlike the work of afrobeat pioneers like Kuti, the lyrics on What Goes Up tend to be more pop-philosophical than explicitly political, with tracks like “No Bad News” vaguely addressing the importance of ancestors and the evils of corporate pollution, but without finding specific figures to either praise or criticize. “Marker 48” continues in the same vein, arguing that humans cannot continue to exploit the Earth’s resources, but without addressing who is using most of these resources, who benefits most from extraction, or what could be done to change this pattern. This group is at its best on songs like “Afro Party,” when taking more of a celebratory than a critical lyrical tone. It is difficult to level poignant political critique in any kind of music, let alone music this sharply focused on creating textures and grooves. This group puts forth great effort, but ultimately lacks the specificity necessary to compellingly address social issues in most cases.
With that said, the Chicago Afrobeat Project can groove—each track feels great, and there’s exciting rhythms and melodies to go around. This is in large part due to the strength of its members’ musicianship and their strong connections to both afrobeat music and the other genres they incorporate into their approach. For the Chicago Afrobeat Project, the audience is What Goes Up—up out of its seat and onto the dance floor.
Following are additional albums released during October 2017—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.
Blues, Folk, Country
Darius Rucker: When Was the Last Time (Capitol Records Nashville)
Du-Rites: Greasy Listening (Redefinition)
James Armstrong: Blues Been Good to Me (Catfood)
John Lee Hooker: King of the Boogie (Craft)
Kim Wilson: Blues and Boogie, Vol. 1 (Severn)
Mighty Mo Rodgers & Baba Sissoko: Griot Blues (One Root Music )
Nico Wayne Toussaint: Plays James Cotton (Dixiefrog)
Original Blues Brothers Band: Last Shade of Blue Before Black (Severn)
Supersonic Blues Machine: Californisoul (Provogue)
Various: Stax Country (Stax/Concord)
Holiday Fantasia: Christmas After Midnight (Concord)
Leslie Odom Jr.: Simply Christmas (S-Curve)
Various: Cool Blue Christmas: Mr. Santa’s Boogie (Contrast)
Funk, Rock, Pop, Electronic Ayo: S/T (Believe Direct Limited )
Benjamin Clementine: I Tell A Fly (Virgin)
Bootsy Collins: World Wide Funk (Mascot)
Crowd Company: Sun and Stone (VLM)
Ikebe Shakedown: The Way Home (Colemine)
Jimi Hendrix Experience: American Landing Live at Monterey (DVD) (Legacy)
Kele Okereke: Fatherland (BMG)
Nubiyan Twist: S/T ( Wormfood )
Phonk Beta: Symplex 3 (digital) (Fahrenheit)
Rock Candy Funk Party: The Groove Cubed (J&R Adventures)
The Clubs: Funk on the Floor (digital)
Various: Funkadelic Reworked By Detroiters (Ace)
Gospel, Christian Rap, CCM Ada: Future Now (FreeNation)
Angella Christie: Intimate Conversations (ACSM)
Chad Brawley: WeWorship Project (digital) (CKBMusik)
Coliér McNair: Intimacy (COGEO Ent. Group)
Deanna Ransom: The Real Me EP
Earnest Pugh: Survive (Black Smoke)
Felton Hodges & The Annointed Voices: Fix It (Ecko)
Lisa Knowles-Smith & The Brown Singers: Evolution-The Legacy (EvoWorld)
Mission: All of You None of Me (RPSMG)
Optimist & Fresh Yardey: The Mission, Vol. 1 (digital)
Parxx: Uncharted (RLVNC Music Group)
Tasha Page-Lockhart: The Beautiful Project (RCA Inspiration)
The Porter’s Gate: Worksongs (Fuel Music)
Troy Sneed: Taking It Back (Tyscot)
Tye Tribbett: The Bloody Win (Motown Gospel)
Visionz Of Destiny: The Works
Williams Brothers: Timeless (Blackberry)
Jazz Céline Rudolph & Lionel Loueke: Obsessions
Chantae Cann: Sol Empowered (Ropeadope)
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah:Emancipation Procrastination (Ropeadope)
Cornell Thigpen: History (Hitman)
Ezra Collective: Juan Pablo: The Philosopher (Enter The Jungle)
Joey Alexander: JOEY.MONK.LIVE! (Motema)
Johnny O’Neal: In the Moment (Smoke Sessions)
Sherman Irby: Cerulean Canvas (Black Warrior)
Sonny Emory: Love Is the Greatest (Universal )
Various:You Need This: Introduction to Black Saint & Soul Note (1975-1985) (BBE)
Virginia Ayers Dawson: Standards of Love (Ayerplay Music)
Wadada Leo Smith: Najwa (TUM)
Wadada Leo Smith: Solo: Reflections and Meditations on Monk (TUM)
Wally Badarou: Unnamed Trilogy, Vol. 1 (Diskotopia )
Wayne Ellington: Sings ‘Unforgettable (digital)
R&B, Soul 112: Q Mike Slim Daron (eOne)
Bigg Robb: Born 2 Do This (Music Access Inc.)
Bobby Byrd: Help For My Brother – Pre-Funk Singles 1963-68 (BGP/Ace)
Boyz II Men: Under the Streetlight (Sony Masterworks)
Brik.Liam: The Ascension (digital) (Cre8Daily)
Chante’ Moore: Rise Of The Phoenix (CM7)
Charlotte Dos Santos: Cleo (Fresh Selects)
Chuck Jackson: Big NY Soul – Wand Records 1961-66 (Kent/Ace)
Curtis Harding: Face Your Fear (Anti/Epitaph)
Demetria McKinney: Officially Yours (eOne)
Detroit Emeralds: I Think Of You-Westbound Singles 1969-75 (Westbound /Ace)
Deva Mahal: S/T (Motéma Music)
Devvon Terrell: Weird Nights (digital)
dvsn: Morning After (Warner Bros.)
Eartha Kitt: I Want To Be Evil – The Wicked Eartha Kitt (Jasmine)
Eric Roberson: Fire (Blue Erro Soul)
Jackie Shane: Any Other Way (Numero)
Jamila Woods: Heavn (Jagjaguwar)
Kelela: Take Me Apart (Warp)
Kenny Latimore: Vulnerable (Sincere Soul)
Keyshia Cole: 11:11 Reset (Epic)
Leroy Hutson: Anthology 1972-1984 (Acid Jazz )
Lyrica Anderson: Adia (Empire)
Marcus Randolph & My Peeples Peeple: Transplant (American Showplace Music)
Mic Lowry: Mood (Island)
Michael Jackson: Searching for Neverland (DVD) (Lionsgate)
Mpho Sebina: Neo (digital)
Nicole Willis & UMO Jazz Orchestra: My Name Is Nicole Willis (Persephone)
PP Arnold: The Turning Tide (Kundalini Music)
Rationale: S/T (Warner Bros.)
Rhyon: Pretty Girl (Empire)
Saràyah: Feel the Vibe (Basin Street)
Tom Tripp: Red EP (Prime Sound)
Vivian Green: VGVI (Make Noise)
Rap, Hip Hop Juice Aleem: Voodu Starchild (Gamma Proforma)
Aaron Alexander: Memento Mori (Ignant Art)
Belly: Mumble Rap (Republic)
Big K.R.I.T.: 4eva Is A Mighty Long Time (BMG)
Blood Before Pride: Mimesis, Catharsis and Imitation of Art in Life (Fatbeats)
Blu & Exile: In The Beginning: Before The Heavens (Fat Beats)
Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Outlawz: Thug Brothers 3 (Real Talk Ent)
Chief Keef & Fredo Santana: Turbo Bandana mixtape
Cunninlynguists: Rose Azura Nijano (A Piece of Strange Music)
Da Flyy Hooligan: S.C.U.M. (Lux Ent.)
Dame D.O.L.L.A.: Confirmed (digital) (Front Page Music)
Earthgang: Robots (digital) (Spillage Village)
Edo.G: FreEDOm (5th & Union)
Future & Young Thug: Super Slimey (mixtape) (Epic)
GhostWryter: 27 Darvin (digital) (Never Basic Assoc.)
Gospel of Rufus: Alternate Path (Alternate Path Music Group)
Hex One: Words Worth a Thousand Pictures ( Mic-Theory)
Hustle Gang: We Want Smoke (Roc Nation/Grand Hustle)
IDK: Iwasverybad (Commission Music/BMG)
J. Stalin: Gas Nation 2 (Livewire)
Krayzie Bone: E.1999: The LeathaFace Project (Real Talk Ent.)
Krept & Konan: 7 Days & 7 Nights (mixtapes)
Lil Pump: Lil Pump (digital) (Warner Bros.)
Masta Killa: Loyalty Is Royalty ( Nature Sounds)
Meyhem Lauren & DJ Muggs: Gems from the Equinox (Soul Assassins)
Moneybagg Yo: Federal 3X (Interscope)
Playboi Carti: S/T (Interscope)
Rob Stone: Don’t Wait For It (Grove Town)
Sivion: Dark Side of the Cocoon (Illect)
Snoop Dogg: Make America Crip Again (Empire)
Stalley: Another Level (mixtape)
Swissivory: Real Dreams 2 (NoHook!/Rough Trade)
Tech N9ne Collabos: Strange Reign (Strange Music)
TeeCee 4800: Realness Over Millions 2 (digital)
Trippie Redd: A Love Letter to You 2 (mixtape)
Ty Dolla $ign: Beach House 3 (Atlantic)
Vandalyzm: Rumors of My Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated (Blue Collar Initiative)
Waka Flocka Flame: Flockavelli 2
Wu-Tang: The Saga Continues (36 Chambers ALC /eOne)
Yo Gotti: I Still Am (Epic)
Young Dolph: Thinking Out Loud (digital) (Paper Route Empire)
Young Dro: Da’ Real Atlanta (Real Talk Ent)
Young RJ: Blaq Royalty (Ne’Astra Music/Slum Village)
Young Spray: Invisible Tears (RTM)
Reggae, Dancehall Emeterians: The Magic Touch (VP)
Frightnrs: More to Say Versions (Daptone)
Jamaiel Shabaka: Land of the Rising Sun ( Roots Vibration )
Lee Perry & The Upsetters: Trojan Albums Collection, 1971-73 (Trojan)
Prodigal Son: Pure Gold (Main Street)
World, Latin Adriano Trindade & Los Quemados: Balançando o Jazz (Loop Publishing)
Da Cruz: Eco do Futuro (Boom Jah)
Diron Animal: Alone (Soundway)
Eduardo Sandoval: Caminos Abiertos (Egrem)
Elida Almeida: Kebrada (Lusafrica)
Emo Kid: Gqomtera EP (Gqom Oh! )
KOKOKO!: Tongos’a EP (ICI)
Leila Gobi: 2017 (Clermont Music )
Miles From Kinshasa: Limbo (Quality Time)
Orchestre Les Mangelepa: Last Band Standing (Strut)
Professor Rhythm: Bafana Bafana (Awesome Tapes from Africa)
Thandeka: Thandanani Ma Afrika (Chocs Pro Sound)
Various: Jukebox Mambo Vol. 3 (Jazzman )
Wyclef Jean released his Carnival III: The Fall and Rise of a Refugee, highlighting the 20th anniversary of his album The Carnival, and the 10th anniversary of Carnival II: Memoirs of an Immigrant. Like the other albums in the Carnival series, the third installment incorporates music from different parts of the world, offering an outstanding conglomerate of music for the listener. According to Jean, this multi-cultural “genre-bending album is outside the box . . . It’s a celebration of what I love about music: discovery, diversity and artistry for art’s sake.
The first thing that stands out is Jean’s inspirational words, reminding us that “we shall overcome our struggles someday.” His motivational lyrics and usage of biblical references (e.g. Zion, Golden Gates, and Psalm 23) resonate with the listener as symbols of hope, while inspiring them to pursue their goals. Another aspect of this album is Jean’s blending of polyrhythms (“Fela Kuti”), reggae (“Turn Me Good”), Afro-Cuban (“Trapicabana”), hip hop and popular music, creating a multi-cultural experience. Finally, the skillfulness and musicality displayed by each guest artist (including Jazzy Amra, T-Baby, STIX, and Emeli Sandé) adds another layer to the brilliance of this album.
Carnival III: The Fall and Rise of a Refugee sustains the legacy of Wyclef Jean’s first Carnival album, spreading the message of community, hope, and love while showing the diversity of the world stage through the art within a music compilation.
A lyricist is the ultimate giver in rap, handing out his words in the form of sweets to be collected and savored one at a time for the treats they are. Semantics of Mr. Porter proves that poetics are still in play well after the golden era thanks to the stylings of Denzil Porter. Porter, a native of North Bronx, offers his personal take on his method, which he describes as occurring “when I get a feeling, or in a mood, or something that happened at that moment… a song is something that stamps that moment for me, and also stamps the moment for the listener who relates.”
Semantics of Mr. Porter definitely owns up to its thought-provoking name. The first track, “Et Tu Brute,” is a direct reference to Caesar’s last words, “And you, Bruce?” In listening to the song, one can’t help but make the connection between the two worlds—ancient and modern—in which the way of life might have altered but the way life is hasn’t changed much at all. Porter wraps his meaning into a plethora of rhymes purposely structured around the determination one feels while chasing a dream tied to the frustration one faces in obtaining that reality. “Time Soon Come” operates semantically in much the same way, but opens the bag up further by providing a stringed instrumental background that sugars the message. As the album moves forward, Porter’s drops offer more diversity of sound in tracks such as “Right Now,” which utilizes a funk bass line as its foundation under the layered poetics of Chris Rivers, and “”What It Takes,” in which a less heavy ear-catching piano riff compliments Oswin Benjamin’s “Do you know what it takes?” call-and-response lines.
But the most riveting instances on the album happen in the form of narrative vignettes Porter mixes into his bowl of conscious thoughts. These six cut-ins provide a first-person story of a robbery, from the planning stage to the end result, and demonstrate Porter’s commitment to describing real-life choices that mark a person in ways one can’t fully comprehend until it’s too late. From his tongue-twisting rhymes and his mind-twisting thoughts, Denzil Porter is definitely a force to be reckoned with. He may not be your typical rapper, but in his own style Porter aims to inspire his listeners; to uplift them and others around them.
When you open the door to Semantics of Mr. Porter, you might get more than you bargained for, but your bag of conscious candy will provide you with unexpected surprises long after the last echoes of Porter’s voice fades into the darkness.
Ghostpoet (aka Obaro Ejimiwe) is a British vocalist and musician known for his beat-driven arrangements and meaningful lyrics, and his newest album lives up to this reputation. Dark Days + Canapés features a more alt-rock, guitar-driven sound that accompanies the artist’s most noteworthy songwriting to date.
Ghostpoet is not one to shy away from exploring tough subjects. The opening track, “Immigrant Boogie,” is a first-person account of the struggles of immigration, an all-too pertinent subject in 2017. Ghostpoet himself said that while this song is “partly intended to ask those who have questioned the arrival of refugees in recent times what they would do in the same situation,” it also aims to show that no human is truly in control of their future. The dystopian-themed video is the perfect companion to the thought-provoking content of this track:
In addition to his head-on confrontation of important social and cultural issues, the serendipitous approach Ghostpoet took to arranging the music on this album is also noteworthy. For “Freakshow,” the laughter of a gospel choir brought in to sing on a different track was used to add to the manic nature of the song. On another track, “Blind as a Bat…,” string players were encouraged to improvise so the resulting song would be less structured, much like the protagonist’s mind.
The thought put into each track on Dark Days + Canapés shines through, and this gripping album is definitely worthy of a listen, especially in the current social and political climate.
Rap-rock supergroup Prophets of Rage—featuring Chuck D (vocals) and DJ Lord (turntables) of Public Enemy, Tom Morello (guitar), Tim “Timmy C” Commerford (bass) and Brad Wilk (beats) of Rage Against The Machine, and B-Real (vocals) of Cypress Hill—coalesced in 2016 around the title of the famous Public Enemy song that opens with the line, “I got a right to be hostile, man, my people are being persecuted!” During their initial “Make America Rage Again Tour,” the group staged protest performances leading up to the U.S. Presidential election. Post-election, they’ve ramped up their tours as they take their “message to the mosh pit,” countering neo-fascist rhetoric that seems to escalate on a daily basis with their own brand of anti-establishment “rage politik” music.
The 12 tracks on the group’s full-length self-titled album represent a true collaboration, written and recorded during an intensive two week studio session. All are equally powerful, exuding caustic, socially conscious lyrics on topics ranging from economic inequality and homelessness (“Living on the 110”) to the legalization of marijuana (“Legalize Me”) to the perils of government drone surveillance (“Take Me Higher”). Other songs are intended to incite protest against ongoing political, religious, and racial injustices. As Morello proclaimed, this is “the soundtrack for the resistance in 2017.”
The most recently released single, “Hail to the Chief,” is a strong indictment of President Donald Trump, but focuses more specifically on Vice President Mike Pence as the greater evil, whose Indiana politics are linked with those of Jeff Session’s Alabama. In the video Pence is cast as Trump’s puppet master as well as his heir apparent, while Chuck D spits, “All hail to the chief who came in the name of a thief to cease peace.”
Another compelling track is “Unf*ck the World” (the video is directed by Michael Moore). In a recent interview with Uproxx, Chuck D spoke about the song’s message: “Tom [Morello] coined a statement, ‘The world won’t fix itself.’ Things don’t fix itself, you gotta make it happen. If you want to see this change, you got to get up and orchestrate that happening. . .” This message is communicated clearly in the song’s chorus: “No hatred / F*ck racists / Blank faces / Time’s changin’/ One nation / Unification / The vibration / Unf*ck the World!”
Melding two genres—rap and heavy metal—that collide in a swirling vortex of rebellion and resistance, Prophets of Rage bring their protest music to the masses. At a time when even peaceful protests face unrelenting attacks from the Oval Office’s Twitter feed, Prophets of Rage may yet convince everyone to “Give a damn, evil can’t stand yeah, when the people take a stand” (—Unf*ck the World).
The latest fruit of a century of musical dialogue and exchange between Africa, The Caribbean and America is making its presence known. Afrobeats Hot Hits introduces this new genre, described as a high-octane mash-up of Jamaican dancehall, Soca, Hip-Hop and African rhythms. Artists as diverse as Rihanna, Drake, Alicia Keys, Jidenna, Chris Brown, Sean Paul and Torey Lanez are embracing the style, poising it on the verge of an international breakthrough. Drake’s “One Dance,” probably the #1 summer anthem of 2016 features an Afrobeats groove with Afrobeats star Wizkid on the track. Alicia Keys’ “In Common” had an Afrobeats re-mix (her Swizz Beatz is reportedly a fan of the style). Wizkid’s new single “African Bad Gyal” features Chris Brown. Go to a trendy Caribbean party in New York and Miami and chances are Afrobeats will be in the mix.
This compilation, however, features the genre’s major artists like Davido and Wande Coal, and rising Nigerian stars including Rayce, Seyi Shay, 9ice, and Tekno. These artists are not yet household names, but like the genre, they stand right on the precipice. Highlights include such major hits as Kiss Daniel’s “Woju,” Timaya’s “Bum Bum”(with Jamaican star Sean Paul), Davido’s seminal “Skelewu,” Wande Coal’s “Rotate” and Skales’ “Your Body Hot.” Tiwa Savage who has sung background for Mary Blige and written for other American R&B artists, is represented by the propulsive “Ileke” while rising Nigerian songstress Kayefi shines on a re-mix by UK DJ Major Notes of her “Oreske.”
Europe is also entering the ground floor of this exciting, multi-cultural sound as well, as UK based producers and DJs have already embraced the style, which many see as the successor to such cutting edge dance styles as dubstep and grime and UK-based Ghanian artist FUSE ODG scored a major UK chart hit with an Afrobeats track. Not to be outdone, American neo-soul artist Anthony David, a fan of the Afrobeats style, recorded a straight Afrobeats track “I Don’t Mind,” with American-based Nigerian artist Mic on the re-mix, included on Afrobeats Hot Mix. This track may be the first straight Afrobeats track recorded by American artist.
Summer is officially over, but the blazin’ hot grooves will never fade as long as you make Afrobeats Hot Hits: New Urban Dance Grooves From Africa your personal soundtrack for fun in the eternal sun.
The Mothership has returned to feed “funk-starved” earthlings, bringing as its main course second-generation P-funker Garret Shider, aka Starchild, Jr. Garret, son of former Parliament-Funkadalic’s “Diaper Man” Garry Shider, serves up his own recipe of the much-needed groove, proving with this debut album that he has come into his own as an adult artist. First and second generation Clintons show up to the meal as members of Shider’s team, with George, son Tracey “Trey Lewd” Lewis and grandson Tracey “Tra’zae” Clinton providing a healthy dose of those bass/rock/horn booms indicative of the unique P-funk sound.
The set begins with “Sugar Rush,” a not-so-subtle sultry ode to all the sweetness that special person holds in our life. Shider then gets cooking with the next offering, “Bop Gun 17,” a song holding strong echoes of classic P-funk backdropped against Shider’s funky old-school falsetto. Starchild Jr.’s dose of political consciousness spills out in the form of “Hard Pill,” as Shider intonates, “When the doctor prescribes his pill it’s the side effects that’s gonna keep you ill, so go ahead and get your glass of water.” The courses just keep on coming from the center section of the funk banquet, as “Jamnastics” to “Stuck in the Middle” reinforce the concept that Shider and his bandmates have plenty of simmering soulfulness.
But it’s the final dish in the form of the title track that fully encapsulates the servings of both Shider’s. “Hand Me Down Diapers” acts as Garret’s personal tribute to his father, tracing the Shider legacy from its beginnings to current day. The song ends with a poignant guitar solo by Jr. as background to an interview conducted with the late Garry Shider, in which he explains the point of his diaper and references an upcoming album.
Showcasing P-funk’s multiple generations at their best, Hand Me Down Diapers is both a testament to Garry Shider’s legacy and a presentation of Garrett Shider’s own artistic individuality, all while holding true to the main ingredients of 1970s funk.
Big Boi, best known as part of the duo Outkast, is proving he is an exploding star in the rap universe with his third release, Boomiverse. This 12 track offering from one of Atlanta’s established legends is possibly his finest yet, and judging from the heavy hitters featured, hip hop’s finest seem to agree. Blending funk sounds, pop influences and distinctive southern hip hop, Big shows how his progressive edge with diverse stylings has morphed into what he self-describes as his symbolistic “graduation record.”
“Kill Jill” features Big along fellow Atlantians Killer Mike and Jeezy weaving their distinctively unique methods into a friendly rap battle for rhythm and rhyme bragging rights. A nostalgic reference to Andre 3000’s 1995 Source Award speech—“The South’s got something to say”—can be found within Big’s drop, reminding all of Outkast’s declaration for things to come. With the next track, “Mic Jack,” the mood changes to upbeat, dance-floor catchy that screams club vibe. But just when you get used to Levine’s smooth vocals posed against Big’s clean, deep verses, the tone returns to its slab roots with “In the South.
Having proved his multiplicity in just three songs, the remainder of Boomiverse functions as a collection of Big’s favorite goodtime rap. Snoop weighs in with classic Dogg style on “Get Wit It,” and electro-inspired Jake Troth produces the album’s deep house vibe, “Chocolate.” Boomiverse delivers exactly what one would expect from this innovative, Southern rap legend, proving once again that the South still has plenty to say about the miscellany of hip hop for years to come.
Following are additional albums released during August 2017—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.
Blues, Folk, Country Altered Five Blues Band : Charmed & Dangerous (Blind Pig)
Big Joe Turner : San Francisco 1977 (Rockbeat)
Dan Zanes and Friends: Lead Belly, Baby! (Smithsonian Folkways)
Steve Howell & Jason Weinheimer: Hundred Years From Today (Out of the Past)
Classical, Broadway McGill McHale Trio: Portraits – Works for Flute, Clarinet & Piano (Cedille)
Various: The View Upstairs (Original Cast Recording) (Broadway Records)
Comedy, Spoken Word Tiffany Haddish: She Ready! From Hood to Hollywood! (Comedy Dynamics)
Funk, Rock, Pop, Electronic Fifth Harmony: S/T (Syco Music/Epic)
Ghostpoet: Dark Days + Canapés (Play It Again Sam)
Peter Ngqibs: Let Me Go (Ananm Ent.)
Ronettes: The Colpix Years, 1961-1963 (Cornbread)
Van Hunt: Popular (digital) (Blue Note)
Gospel, Gospel Rap, CCM Brinson: Thornz (GodChaserz Ent.)
Chevelle Franklyn: Set Time (N.O.W.)
Clark Sisters: You Brought the Sunshine, Sound of Gospel 1976-1981 (Kent)
Cobbs Leonard, Tasha: Heart. Passion. Pursuit. (Motown Gospel)
Deitrick Haddon & Hill City Worship Camp: S/T (eOne)
Jared Robinson & Resurrection Worship: The Repentance
Jimmy Hicks & ACOJ: Waterway (Blacksmoke Music)
Judy Bailey: Between You and Me
Melvin Williams: Where I Started From (New Day)
Poetic Lace: King of the City (digital)
Reconcile: Streets Don’t Love You (mixtape)
Terrence Cotton: Live in Atlanta (Puretonez Productions)
The Blind Boys Of Alabama: Almost Home (BBOA Records)
TNED: Geneuslife (Royal Oath Ent)
Travis Greene: Crossover: Live From Music City (RCA Inspiration)
Jazz Andrew McCormack, ESKA: Graviton (Jazz Village)
Brenda Nicole Moorer: Brand New Heart (CD Baby)
Darren Barrett: dB-ish
Eclectik Percussions Orchestra: Traces De Vie – Traces Of Life (Passin’ Thru)
Harold Mabern : To Love and Be Loved (Smoke Sessions)
Jamire Williams: Effectual (Carlos Nino & Friend)
John Vanore : Stolen Moments: Celebrating Oliver Nelson (Acoustical Concepts)
Kris Johnson Group & Lulu Fall: The Unpaved Road (Artist Centric Music)
Najee: Poetry in Motion (Shanachie)
New Vision Sax Ensemble: Musical Journey Through Time (Zaki Publishing)
Tyshawn Sorey: Verisimilitude (PI)
Ulysses Owens, Jr. :Falling Forward (Spice of Life )
Various: Soul of a Nation: Afro-Centric Visions in the Age of Black Power (Soul Jazz)
Dial & Oatts: Rediscovered Ellington
R&B, Soul Brian McKnight : Genesis (Independent Label Services, Inc.)
D’Angelo: Brown Sugar (expanded ed.) (Virgin/Ume)
Decosta Boyce: Electrick Soul (Vintedge)
Joshua Ledet: S/T (digital) (SoNo Recording Group)
Kim Tibbs: Kim (Expansion)
R.LUM.R : Afterimage (PRMD)
The Steoples: From the Otherside (Stones Throw)
Thelma Houston: Summer Nights
Undisputed Truth : Nothing But The Truth (Kent)
V.Lace: What Love Does
Various: Soul of the 70s (Box set) (Time-Life)
Wilson Pickett: Sings Bobby Womack (Kent)
Rap, Hip Hop A$AP Ferg: Still Striving (RCA)
Akua Naru: Miner’s Canary (vinyl reissue) (Urban Era)
Andy Mineo & Wordsplayed : Magic & Bird (Reach)
Apollo Brown & Planet Asia: Anchovies (Mello Music Group)
Berner & Young Dolph: Tracking Numbers (Bern One Ent)
Chip: League of My Own II (Cash Motto)
Chris $pencer: Blessed (Perpetual Rebel)
Ea$y Money: Flyer Lansky (EA$Y MONEY)
Grieves: Running Wild (Rhymesayers)
Gunplay: The Fix Tape ( X-Ray)
Illa J: Home (Jakarta)
Japhia Life: Welcome to Heartsville (Arms Out)
Joseph Chilliams: Henry Church (mixtape)
Lil B: Black Ken (BasedWorld)
MadeinTYO: True’s World (Commission)
Mozzy: 1 Up Top Ahk (Mozzy/Empire)
Pawz One: Pick Your Poison (Below System/Dope Shit)
Perceptionists (Mr. Lif & Akrobatik): Resolution (Mello Music)
Sean Price: Imperius Rex (Duck Down Music)
Slim Thug, Killa Kyleon: Havin Thangs 2K17 (SoSouth)
Tattoo Money : Untitled EP
Too $hort: The Pimp Tape (Dangerous Music)
Wordsworth & Sam Brown: Our World Today (Fat Beats)
Reggae, Dancehall Alborosie: Freedom in Dub (Greensleeves)
Barry Brown: Step It Up Youthman (Radiation Roots)
IamStylezMusic: Back to My Roots (Blaze Ent)
New Kingston: A Kingston Story: Come From Far (Easy Star)
Rico Rodriguez & Friends: Unreleased Early Recordings (Dubstore)
Roy Panton & Yvonne Harrison: Studio Recordings 1961-70 (Liquidator)
Shurwayne Winchester: Shurwayne (VPAL Music)
Spacewave: Space Dub (Megawave)
Tanya Asaki: Simply Me (Treasure Chest Prod.)
U-Roy: Dread in Babylon (Get On Down)
World Bro. Valentino: Stay Up Zimbabwe (Limited ed.) (Analog Africa)
Jay-U Experience: Enough is Enough (Soundways)
Sibusile Xaba: Open Letter To Adoniah (Mushroom Half Hour)
Various: Afrobeats Hot Hits: New Urban Dance Grooves from Africa (Shanachie)
Black Boy: Sa E Nan Bouda’w
Various: Sweet as Broken Dates – Lost Somali Tapes from the Horn of Africa
Benjamin Booker’s appreciation for the historical social movements that helped shape the rock, gospel, and blues genres manifests in Witness, his second full album release following his self-titled debut in 2014. He calls attention to the modern day Black Lives Matter movement in his songwriting, connecting its relevance to the Civil Rights Movement.
Booker contemplates the possibility of death in his opening track “Right On,” an energetic soul rock song that feels like it could be played at an old-fashioned dance hall but with a heavier modern sound. Dramatically dropping in energy without losing its steady groove, “Motivation” juxtaposes the previous song, allowing listeners to focus their attention on reflections of a young Black man reasoning with his quotidian anxieties. From the sensuous aesthetic of “The Slow Drag Under” to the vintage blues pop of “Overtime,” Booker’s unmistakable vocal rasp takes center stage in a screaming whisper.
Perhaps the most meaningful feature that takes place on this album is Booker’s collaboration with the Civil Rights Movement’s musical icon Mavis Staples, who leads the gospel chorus on “Witness.” Booker wrote an artist statement about his attempt to escape the perpetual racism and violence he experienced at home and his process of writing this song during his retreat to Mexico:
I spent days in silence and eventually began to write again. I was almost entirely cut off from my home. Free from the news. Free from politics. Free from friends. What I felt was the temporary peace that can comes from looking away… It wasn’t until Trayvon Martin, a murder that took place about a hundred miles from where I went to college, and the subsequent increase in attention to black hate crimes over the next few years that I began to feel something else. Fear. Real fear. It was like every time I turned on the TV, there I was. DEAD ON THE NEWS… I knew then that there was no escape and I would have to confront the problem. This song, “Witness,” came out of this experience and the desire to do more than just watch.
Opening with an intertwining of orchestral strings reminiscent of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” Booker’s performance of “Believe” may be one of the more memorable tracks on this album. It plays as a gentle and hopeful rise out of his darker experiences and fears. His lyrics promote optimism in the face of opposition: “I’ve got dreams I can touch, I’d give them everything to keep from going under.”
Witness represents a continuation of the fight for racial equality in the United States and will surely be an important contribution to the music history of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Anytime Ice-T is involved with an album, you can bet it’s going to make musical headlines. Bloodlust, the newest offering from the metal band Body Count, definitely does that and then some. The first single, “No Lives Matter,” generated attention for the title alone after its pre-album release on February 17th, but combined with front man Ice-T’s reputation for political music, the song literally explodes in all directions at once. Will Putney, the producer for the band’s 2014 release Manslaughter, returns to assist with this project. Commenting on the album title, Ice T explains, “Bloodlust is part of the human makeup…but we know there are consequences.” Never ones to shy away from presenting what they feel are facts, Ice-T and Body Count have been offering their commentary on modern society via the platform of heavy metal since the early 1990s.
Much like their previous works, Body Count provides its fan base with a solid dose of the rock sound, complete with driving beats comprised of thick bass, percussion cadences and vigorous vocals. Each track offers unique juxtaposing surprises—from the abrupt silences within “Black Hoodie” to Ice-T’s explanation for the album at the front of “Raining In Blood/Postmortem 2017.” If you recognize sounds reminiscent of the ‘80s band Slayer, then you know your metal. The single “All Love is Lost” features Max Cavalera, a Brazilian singer and songwriter who has worked with Tom Araya of Slasher on past Soulfly collections. Dave Mustaine, thrash metalist currently leading Megadeath in addition to claiming status as original lead guitarist for Metallica, lends his seriously sick talents to the first song, “Civil War.” Rounding out the featured spots is Lamb of God’s D. Randall Blythe, adding a hardcore punk backdrop to Bloodlust’s “Walk With Me.”
Is Bloodlust an album that should be part of everyone’s collection? It depends on one’s musical taste, but it should be on everyone’s radar due to its social commentary. Pushing past the hype, the dark sounds and the seemingly endless abyss of emotion reveals a gritty, unflinching stare into the world we all know exists; one few of us are brave enough to address in such a public manner. Offering no real solutions but a few explanations of why it is what it is, Ice T and his band accomplish what they do best—forcing us to confront the monster from under the bed, in the hope we can all better understand exactly how to defeat it.
For fans of a certain 80s/90s movie series, the mere mention of a DeLorean speeds up the pulse. But for all its album cover throw-back and the artist’s well-known connection to Big Pun, Delorean proves that Chris River’s music is anything but a backward glance. Well-known in hip hop’s inner circle, Rivers has toured the country with world-renowned Def Jam artist Jadakiss, headlined a European tour, and opened up for Cypress Hill, Immortal Technique, Kool G Rap, and Big Daddy Kane. From the beginning of his career in 2012, Rivers made it obvious he was out to slay all mikes with a take-no-prisoners mentality that earned him the title of Cypher King. His career accolades and successes include performing in the 2015 NBA All Star Sprite Cypher, winning the Best Freestyle of 2016 by Team Backpack, and participating in the 2016 BET Hip Hop Awards Cypher, which was later featured as a Jam of the Week on BET JAMS.
The album features a 21-track set of River’s lyrical spinnings that challenge the listener through detailed alliteration, assonance and allegory. The title track, “Delorean,” features Bronx artist Whispers, up-and-coming in the hip hop world himself. This song sets the tone for the album, as listeners are in for a ride as they experience life through the lens of deep musings and futuristic measuring. Infused between Rivers’ offerings are three unique “Time Zones”—quick bursts of thought from Rivers, Whispers and Oswin Benjamin that smell of impromptu slams and smoky stages. “Fear of my Crown” speaks to the past and hopes for the future in ways relatable to everyone, and the last track, “Brightness”, serves as a conscious reminder to value the self, not the trappings of Self. A lyrical dragon who breathes fire with his vocal artillery and technically efficient vernacular, Chris Rivers demonstrates that in the world of hip hop, he is truly on track to be King.
In case you’re still searching for the perfect summer soundtrack, look no further than this new project from Atlanta based singer/songwriter Lonnee Stevens (aka Alonzo Stevenson) and Philadelphia-based composer/producer Antman Wonder, collectively performing as the Summer of ’96. Their group name references the watershed year for hip hop that produced landmark albums by Nas, The Fugees, OutKast, The Roots, 2Pac, and A Tribe Called Quest, among others.
Hearkening back to the golden era of hip hop, the duo use live instrumentation to weave a seductive blend of jazz, soul and rap to create a contemporary soundscape. Stressing that no samples were used in the making of this album, Antman created the original compositions which were then revised and expanded upon by Stevens. Standout tracks include the provocative “Not a Rich Man” featuring Royce 5’9, the harmonically complex “Mahogony Blue” featuring vocals by Lonnee and Teedra Moses, the multi-layered “All That Jazz,” and the cinematic “Wondersong” that’s awash with flute and strings.
Bowing out with the title track featuring Bill Kahler on sax, Antman and Stevens provide a satisfying conclusion to Splendid Things Gone Awry by showcasing their multitude of musical influences.
Sly & Robbie Present Taxi Gang In Disco Mix Style 1978-1987 is a relatively short compilation chronicling the late ‘70s and ‘80s work of the most famous “riddim” section in reggae music. Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare’s work as producers was very influential in helping to create the sounds that Jamaican music would be known for during this period. Both Sly & Robbie got their start as sessions musicians (as a drummer and bass player, respectively) before moving over to the production side of things.
The rhythm Sly and Robbie became known for featured electronic drums and vocal effects and would become commonplace in reggae under their influence. This also went on to influence the practice of “toasting” (chanting and shouting out folks over a beat), which in turn would be one of the building blocks on which rap music is based.
With this disappointingly brief eight track compilation (but still a full 58:16), Cree Records highlights cover versions of American soul and disco hits covered by Jamaican artists, produced by Sly & Robbie. Included are covers of songs made famous by Marvin Gaye, The Spinners, The Impressions and others. Both the CD and LP offer great liner notes by reggae expert Noel Hawks that set the scene for Sly & Robbie coming together and creating their unique production style.
The compilation begins with Tinga Stewart’s cover of Tony Joe White’s “Rainy Night In Georgia” (more famously covered by Brook Benton). With Sly & Robbie’s help, Stewart’s version takes what in Benton’s hands was a melancholy song of lament and turns it into a fun, danceable romp. Despite the bit of cognitive dissonance in the song, it is quite enjoyable nonetheless.
The lone female vocalist (really wish there were more) on the compilation is Marcia Griffiths of the I-Threes (backing vocalists for Bob Marley along with Rita Marley and Judy Mowatt), who covers Little Willie John’s “Fever.” Sly and Robbie’s sonic accompaniment is as sparse as the original, highlighting Griffiths’ vocals (if you enjoy this, definitely check out Griffith’s Play Me Sweet and Nice).
Two Marvin Gaye covers appear here with great results. Let’s be real for a second—nobody’s going to touch Gaye’s vocals on the original version. However, accepting this fact allows you to enjoy these covers for what they are, and both truly highlight Sly and Robbie’s production work. “Sexual Healing” adds additional rhythm to the original’s yearning groove, creating a vibe that is uniquely Jamaican. “Inner City Blues” crackles with the same urgency as Gaye’s original and sports a great reggae-fying of the bassline.
Overall, the sound quality on the compilation is fantastic as it sounds like all of the selections have been digitally remastered. Each one is presented in its full length form, including extended jams perfect for dancing and/or “toasting,” creating the vibe of a warm night in a dancehall. If you are a Sly & Robbie aficionado or you want an introduction to the influential production duo, this compilation communicates why Sly & Robbie have been so influential around the world.
Following are additional albums released during July 2017—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.
Blues, Folk, Country Jimmy Reed: Mr. Luck Complete Vee-Jay Singles (Craft)
King James & The Special Men: Act Like You Know (Special Man)
Mighty Joe Young: Live From North Side of Chicago (RockBeat)
Various: Worried Blues series (Fat Possum)
Funk, Rock, Pop, Electronic Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup: Rocks (Bear Family)
Kevin Saunderson: Heavenly Revisited (KMS)
Lafa Taylor & Aabo: Feel (Mixto)
Polyseeds: Sounds of Crenshaw Vol. 1 (Ropeadope)
Taveeta: Resurrection (Gladiator)
Toro Y Moi: Boo Boo (Carpark )
Gospel, Gospel Rap, CCM Anita Wilson: Sunday Song (eOne Music Nashville)
Anthony Brown & Group Therapy: A Long Way From Sunday (Tyscot)
Bill Moss Jr : Songbook of Praise & Worship (Salathiel)
Gene Moore: The Future (Motown Gospel)
Le’Andria Johnson: Bigger Than Me (Verity)
Ricky McDuffie & The Family: He Changed Me (Ophirgospel)
Sho Baraka: The Narrative, Vol. 2: Pianos & Politics (Columbia)
Tauren Wells: Hills and Valleys (Reunion)
Jazz Ahmad Jamal : Marseille (Jazz Village)
Bryant/Fabian/Marsalis : Do For You? (Cap)
Charles Lloyd New Quartet: Passin’ Thru (Blue Note)
Cyrus Chestnut: There’s A Sweet, Sweet Spirit (HighNote)
Dezron Douglas Quartet: Soul Jazz
Douyé: Daddy Said So (Rhombus)
Eric Gale: The Definitive Collection (Robinsongs)
Eric Roberson: Wind (Blue Erro Soul)
Gary Bartz Ntu Troop: Harlem Bush Music (reissue) (Jazz Dispensary)
Gerald Beckett: Oblivion (Summit)
Gerald Cannon: Combinations (Woodneck)
Joe Henderson & Alice Coltrane: Elements (reissue) (Jazz Dispensary)
Russell Malone: Time for the Dancers (Highnote)
Stanton Moore: With You In Mind Songs of Allen Toussaint (Cool Green)
Yolanda Brown: Love Politics War (Black Grape)
R&B, Soul Alfa Anderson: Music from My Heart (digital)
Aretha Franklin: Divas Live (MVD Visual)
Don’t Miss A Beat: My Destiny (digital)
Eddy Grant: Reparation (Ice)
Esther Phillips: Beautiful Friendship Kudu Anth. 1971-76 (SoulMusic)
Force M.D.’S: Our Favorite Joints (Goldenlane)
Harvey Mason: Sho Nuff Groovin You: Arista Anthology (BBR)
Jimmy Reed: Mr. Luck Complete Vee-Jay Singles (Craft)
LeVert: Family Reunion The Anthology (SoulMusic )
Mr. Jukes: God First (Alamo/Interscope)
Royce Lovett: Love & Other Dreams (Motown Gospel)
Sam Frazier, Jr.: Take Me Back (Big Legal Mess)
Sevyn Streeter: Girl Disrupted (Atlantic)
Ultra Naté & Quentin Harris: Black Stereo Faith (Peace Bisquit)
Various: Complete Loma Singles Vol. 1 (Real Gone Music)
Various: Foxy Brown OST (expanded) (Motown)
Rap, Hip Hop Aminé: Good For You Explicit (Republic)
Decompoze: Maintain Composure (Orchestrated Prods)
Dizzee Rascal: Raskit (Island)
DJ Harrison : HazyMoods (Stones Throw)
DJ Krush : Kakusei
Gensu Dean & Wise Intelligent: Game of Death (Mello Music)
Illa J: Home (Jakarta Records)
Issa: 21 Savage (Epic)
Madchild: The Darkest Hour (Battle Axe)
Malik Turner: Invisible Freedom (Osceola Music Group)
Marquee: Femme Fatale (Marvel/Shinigamie)
Marty Baller: Baller Nation (916% Ent.)
Meek Mill: Wins & Losses (Atlantic)
Philthy Rich: Neighborhood Supastar 4 (dig.) (Empire)
SahBabii : S.A.N.D.A.S. (Warner Bros.)
Shabazz Palaces: Quazarz Born on a Gangster Star (Sub Pop)
Snoop Dogg: Neva Left (Empire)
Stalley: New Wave (Real Talk Ent.)
The Doppelgangaz: Dopp Hopp (Groggy Pack Ent.)
Therman, Prod. Roc Marciano: Sabbath (Hardtimes)
Trae tha Truth: Tha Truth, Pt. 3 (ABN)
Tyler, The Creator: Flower Boy (Sony)
Vic Mensa: The Autobiography (Roc Nation)
Wizkid: Sounds From the Other Side (Starboy/RCA Records)
Reggae Chronixx: Chronology (Virgin)
Damian Marley: Stony Hill (Island)
Delroy Wilson: Here Comes the Heartaches (Kingston Sound)
Various: Treasure Isle Story: The Soul of Jamaica (Sanctuary)
World Rio Mira: Marimba Del Pacifico (Aya Records)
Sibusile Xaba: S/T (Mushroom Half Hour)
XOA: Mass/Mon Ecole EP (Soundway)
Jupiter & Okwess : Kin Sonic (Glitterbeat)
When RZA, leader of the iconic east coast group Wu-Tang Clan, endorses an upcoming album, rap fans from all directions are bound to take notice. On May 24, SZA found herself in the driver’s seat of anticipation alley when her album announcement date dropped in the form of a voiceover message overlaid onto SZA visuals via Top Dawg #TDE’s Twitter. Fans of the New Jersey singer responded to Ctrl with unbridled respect, resulting in a #3 spot on Billboard 200 Chart a mere 10 days after its June 9th release. Signed to Top Dawg Entertainment in 2013, Ctrl is SZA’s debut studio album featuring fellow Top Dawg artists Kendrick Lamaar and Isaiah Rashad in addition to The Y’s James Fauntleroy. Classed as an R&B and Neo Soul artist, SZA continues to dominate, garnering to date over 49 million album streams and more than 24 thousand CD purchases.
Bringing her own style of bluesy vocals to the table, SZA both croons and rasps out her heart-felt regret of long-gone-wrong in almost every song on the album. The collection’s opening track, “Supermodel,” models to the letter the back-and-forth emotions of a recent breakup, alternatively threatening revenge—“I’ve been secretly banging your homeboy”—while pleadingly begging for another chance—“I could be your supermodel if you believe, if you see it in me.”
Travis Scott picks up the story with his opening lines on “Love Galore,” seducing with his mellow “I need, I need” that almost has us believing things will work out as SZA answers with “Long as we got, Love, Love, Love.” But as the track unfolds, the relationship portrayed unravels to a thin, forgotten thread. “Doves in the Wind” showcases SZA’s vocal expertise as she melodically jumps from note to note to effortless ease, finding her own voice of self-empowerment and determination within the “sorry about your luck” lyricism.
While the rest of the album features many moments where SZA’s dreamy voice soothes regardless of the song pockets of regret, two solo tracks—“Drew Barrymore” and “20 Something” —provide a deep, introspective look into the mind of someone who’s not only wondering what went wrong, but also what can still go right. The tempos are winding, the poetics are heart-rending, and the reminiscence lingers long after SZA’s voice drifts off with the final notes.
Ctrl does exactly what RZA promises—drama is cut loose and karma is claimed—resulting in the utmost respect for SZA’s control of what promises to be a long career to come.
A few weeks back, prior to the announcement of a new record, I had a convo with the homie Langston Wilkins (@StreetfolkLCW) and the topic of Jay-Z came up. I must admit I was wondering essentially “What more does Jay-Z have to say at this point? Unless he was going to focus on, say, a skills-based album, it would almost be a lost cause.” My question was answered in spades with the release of 4:44.
As you may have seen from my review of Tribe’s We Got It From Here, Thank You 4 Your Service, I struggle with the whole “Rap music is a young man’s game” motif. To be honest, I largely believe that to be the case. I cannot tell you how annoyed I get hearing folks from my generation or prior hounding young people about how “horrible” their music is. I don’t quite get how people from my generation don’t recognize the cycle at this point. It’s my belief that Migos’ music is simply not made for my generation of rap fans, much the same as it was for rap fans of the generation before me. Do you really feel like hardcore Whodini fans were really feeling Bone Thugs-N-Harmony like that? My guess is no, and that’s okay.
Jay-Z’s new album comes into the conversation on a platform of an artist who has achieved “God” status in the game, but hasn’t made “relevant” music in a bit. While Magna Carta Holy Grail, was definitely better than Kingdom Come, it still did not have the impact of The Black Album. But this is typical of the rap game, as up to this point we have not seen many rappers age and remain relevant on the level of Jay-Z fame. Married to the one of the biggest pop stars of his generation and regularly appearing on the entertainer’s Forbes list, Jay-Z is in a different category as a celebrity. In his case, it almost seems like a risk to put out material that might be seen as lukewarm and/or “safe” in terms of legacy. Luckily for us and Jay-Z, nothing about 4:44 seems “safe” and it thankfully yields impressive results.
4:44 is set off excellently with “Kill Jay-Z,” a track that according to the artist himself was meant to kill his own ego in order to be open on the record: “Cry Jay-Z/we know the pain is real/but you can’t heal/what you never reveal.” This is an artist that recognizes the role he plays as a leader among hip hop fans and does not plan on wasting the platform. This track is followed by “The Story of OJ,” which has garnered a lot of attention due to its music video containing images of animated black caricatures comparable to those made infamous in pre-1960s America. Using a Nina Simone sample as a backdrop, the track details how Jay-Z’s thoughts on wealth have changed over the years. In particular, he takes a minute to detail a real estate deal he wishes he’d taken years ago. These moments illustrate a major focus on the album—Jay-Z is grappling with how to teach the black community at large the lessons he’s learned. You also hear elements of this in the album’s closing track, “Legacy,” which begins with his daughter Blue Ivy asking “Daddy what’s a will?” and Jay-Z discussing what he truly wants his legacy to entail for his children.
A large amount of buzz surrounding the album has centered on the title track “4:44.” The track is Jay-Z’s response to the implication of his affair revealed on Beyoncé’s magnum opus, Lemonade. Jay-Z confirms the suspicions and apologizes for his indiscretions: “I apologize/often womanized/took for my child to be born/to see through a woman’s eyes.” Producer NoID laces Jay properly here with an excellently flipped sample of Hannah Williams & The Affirmations “Late Nights and Heartbreak,” a track dealing with the difficulties of relationships. I’m not sure if there has been a tit for tat on the perspective of active artists detailing their relationship on this level since Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham during Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors period.
My favorite track of the album has to be “Smile.” On the production side, it is my favorite beat on the record. It excellently flips a sample of Stevie Wonder’s “Love’s In Need of Love Today” to amazing effect, accenting Stevie’s clavinet and choir vocals with 808 snares and bass drum hits. This creates a moody setting in which Jigga lets loose on a variety of topics. Speaking to his feelings about his mother’s struggle with her own choices, Jay-Z closes the track with a guest appearance from her that is about as real as it gets. He also addresses his own struggles with public acceptance: “Oh y’all thought I was washed/I’m at the cleaners/laundering dirty money/like the teamsters.” This line felt like a direct response to doubters like myself and trust me, it was heard.
4:44 finds Jay-Z at his most vulnerable on wax in years, yet still with a swagger that is becoming of an elder statesman. The production duties on the album were handled with aplomb by NoID, who after this release will hopefully receive some of the recognition he’s deserved for years.
For all of my “young man’s game” rambling, this is an example of what a “grown man” can do with the artform. Jay-Z’s status allows him to speak and be heard. In return, he uses the platform to not only make great art, but also pass down lessons on the importance of wealth and support of other black people and businesses. 4:44 puts to rest any of my concerns about what over-40 rap artists are capable of.
Michigan-based rapper Steven Malcolm released his self-titled debut album, Steven Malcolm, and as the much-publicized first release states, Malcolm is truly this moment’s “Hot Boy.” Rapzilla.com had the foresight to nominate him as their 2015’s Best New Artist, and the day after its release, his album shot into the top 15 of the ITunes/Hip Hop Chart. Soon after, ESPN signed the Hot Boy’s debut single for use in future NBA game coverage. None of this comes as a surprise to fans of other rappers such as Grammy winner Lecrae, KB and Andy Mineo, as Malcolm has been on the Christian hip hop/rap radar for years now. It’s obvious he has the potential to chart onto mainstream hip hop/rap as well, as his entire album’s lyrical and musical content speaks to the current generation through empowering references of God and self alike.
The 13-album set is a mix of both slow, melodic satire and upbeat, feel-good beats that showcase hip hop as its best—pounding downbeats and lyrical composition calling to both its listeners’ activist side while entertaining with a club-like, social vibe. Each song opens with its own unique riff, straight-up announcing mood and tone in a no-holds-barred fashion. “Hot Boy”’s 4-chord keyboard intro in minor key is overlaid with a vintage LP crackle, showcasing the track’s ultra-confident presence of its lead role on the album. A second 4-chord riff juxtaposed against “Fire”’s abrupt, digitized chord and subsequent echoes provide a throw-out to Malcolm’s Jamaican roots, as a distinctive reggae style dominates the entire composition.
Andy Mineo and former American Idol contestant Hollyn weigh in on one of the album’s party-rap vibe, “Party in the Hills,” while Blanca adds her own style to Malcolm’s other R&B/rap mix, “Never Let You Go.” “What Was You Thinking” makes light use of error sounds for its dominant chordal strain, similar to methodology J. Dilla used in his album Doughnuts, and the satirical poetics of “Cereal” pertain to not only breakfast choices, but also the positive end game results from choices that take one from “Growing up, I could only have some in the morning” to a “But now it’s whenever” lifestyle.
The diverse musical stylings and driving lyricism make for an exciting rap collection debut, and if this album is any indication, Steven Malcolm will continue to represent as one of the genre’s Hot Boys for many fiery moments to come.
All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ is the sophomore release from American rapper Joey Badass. The album’s title gives a taste of what Badass offers his fans this time around—political consciousness and controversy—throwbacks to the days of Ice Cube’s Amerikkka’s Most Wanted, but with a smooth, regulated flow reminiscent of the Golden Era of hip hop. All twelve tracks deal directly with poignant issues of racial discrimination and frustration, yet each does so in its own unique time and style that work to bring together an album that both refuses to remain silent but also courts the silence of social reflection.
The opening track, “Good Morning Amerikkka,” features Badass in a literal morning voice—raspy, edgy and choppy—superimposed over a vocal backgrounding of the refrain “Wake up.” The song functions as an introduction to the rest of the album, challenging its listeners through its hook phrase, “What’s freedom to you? Take a minute, think it through.” The ending showcases the song’s flowing style with a fade-out into the second track, “For My People.” This song is smooth-sounding as well, with a lyrical pleading for superpowers, peace, and modern-day heroes. Like many of the songs on this album, Badass showcases his percussion instruments, putting them front and center and fostering a polished contrast between melodious jazz sounds and jarring political wording. The rap break in the middle of the song may seem hard to interpret, but the complexity adds to its overall design and depth. Following is the official video for the powerful fourth track, “Land of the Free”:
“Devastated”—the album’s fifth offering—clearly draws from techo dance roots and combines them with catchy, repetitive lyrics that result in a smooth, rich feeling lasting long after the final tone fades. Cameos are the name of the game on at least five songs, with artists such as J. Cole, Chronixx, Styles P., School Boy Q, Pro Era members Nyck Caution and Kirk Knight, and Meechy Darko (Flatbush ZOMBiES) lending their presence. But by far, the most haunting melody is the track “Temptation,” with its intro and exit dominated by a small child expressing his frustration and desperation regarding racial discrimination and violence.
Badass delivers on his promise to address the tense atmosphere of socio-political issues, and while some might feel his message seems too weighty due to each tune’s complete devotion to current controversies, all can agree on one thing—Joey Badass’s All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ is a hip hop album whose lyrics stay with you long after the last track is spun.
The iceberg meme, “You May Know Me, but You Don’t Know Who I am,” is a worthy companion to Oddisee’s newest offering, The Iceberg. Following up his 2016 release, The Odd Tape, D.C.’s own conscious rapper now offers an album challenging the public to dig deeper into their own soul and the soul of the nation in a quest to comprehend the current political atmosphere of not only the Beltway, but the entire country as a whole. His first song of the album, “Digging Deep”, does just that—a catchy refrain “Let’s Get Into It” echoes activist voices who are making their presence known. The 12 tracks are a combination of conscious rap selections interspersed with lighter yet-still-just-as-poignant relationship analyses, such as “This Girl I Know” and “You Grew Up.” With each song, Oddisee takes us deeper into the hidden corners of the world as he knows it.
Musically, The Iceberg stays primarily true to Oddisee’s standard sound—offbeat syncopation and dominate percussive elements layered over a backdrop of jazz instrumentals that deepen and strengthen the tone. However, a few songs off the album do break novel ground, at least in Oddisee terms. The intro on “Like Really” throws the listener into a smooth, relaxed mood with soft chordal sounds and feel-good vibes not easily found in any Oddisee collection to date. On the other hand, the last track “Rights & Wrongs” has both the opposite mood effect and audio quality, with its funky, synthesized tone and dance-beat styling. Oliver St. Louis, an R&B artist born in DC and currently based in Berlin, Germany, cameos on this offering, and his style adds a fresh sound.
As the title indicates, The Iceberg both freezes Oddisee’s standardized sound with similar tried-but-true political themes while concurrently breaking new tonal ground and giving his listeners a brief glimpse into the personal life of a rapper continuing to deliver, timelessly.
K’Valentine is one of the newest young rappers to come out of Chicago, whose music scene is currently on the map due to the efforts of rappers like Chance the Rapper, Vic Mensa, Noname, and BJ The Chicago Kid. Her debut album, Here for a Reason, is the result of putting the work in on her previous mixtape projects, which drew the attention of Talib Kweli. She first met Kweli backstage at a concert in Chicago, and he later produced her 2014 mixtape Million Dollar Baby. Continuing that collaboration, Kweli is one of many artists featured on the album, including BJ The Chicago Kid, Tweet, Kendra Ross, and Scotty ATL. These collaborations offer a lot, but Valentine still holds her own throughout the rest of the album.
K’Valentine’s background is in poetry, which definitely shows throughout her verses. Her career as both a poet and a rapper was informed by a chance backstage meeting with the late great Maya Angelou, who encouraged her to continue to write. At times, the album can seem minimalistic, but never simplistic. If anything, the stripped down production, particularly on “King,” help Valentine’s message to shine through.
With this debut album, Valentine joins a long line of hard hitting female MC’s that can also hold their own with the men. Her flow is versatile, her verses personal, and she moves easily between conscious and club rap. There’s something old school about her rhymes, and she shows an ability to be a rapper that can also create R&B jams. Here For a Reason provides a consistent sound, and gives the listener a good glimpse into the kind of MC K’Valentine is going to grow into.
Pete Rock to me, represents a great deal of things. So where exactly do I begin? For starters, he just happens to be related to the late Heavy D and they all hail from Mt. Vernon, NY. In the 90’s, Pete Rock made up one half the duo with CL Smooth, and together they collaborated on some of the best hip hop of that era. If you were around, who can forget the classic line, “Pete Rock hit me, nuff respect do.” As a collector & DJ, Rock takes a back seat to no one.
On his latest outing with rapper DZA titled Dont’ Smoke Rock, Pete Rock isn’t rapping, but he supplies the beats for DZA and a host of guest rappers. Now, just in case you aren’t cognizance of current hip hop promotion, to get ears to listen one may need to stack the deck by using collaborations. It can be a both positive and, yes, a negative. For me, the jury is still out on Dont’ Smoke Rock. DZA has a nice a nice flow and is better then what is currently on the airwaves, but when the guest rapper comes in, he takes over.
On the track “Black Superhero Car,” Rick Ross is a guest, alternating verses with DZA. Now DZA, who loves to call out wrestlers or ball players, namechecks former wrestler Larry Zybysko. Zybysko over Hulk Hogan or Ric Flair? Never a good look when rappers have to use the name game. Rick Ross is Rick Ross.
“Milestone,” featuring BJ the Chicago Kid, Jadakiss and Styles P is the track I was waiting for. Opening with piano keys, the Harlem rapper DZA comes through, but again goes to what he enjoys, mentioning sports figures. This time it’s Kentucky coach John Calapari. BJ’s on the catchy hook, “I ‘m Gonna Hold You Down.” Put this track in the 90’s and we are talking classic.
With all the guest rappers on Dont’ Smoke Rock, one might wonder, what if Kendrick Lamar, Lil Wayne, Nas and J Hoova were on this CD? As the kids say now a days, it’d be lit.
October 2016 saw a strong release by the eclectic hip hop duo Soul Science Lab, a rap group that proclaims itself as “Innovative.Afro.Futuristic.Griots” on the mbira-driven first track of Plan for Paradise. This appears to be an accurate description of the music that artist and musician Chen Lo and multi-instrumentalist, composer, and producer Asante’ Amin create. The duo’s songs are compelling and innovative, indicative of the group’s sprawling vision and overall high artistic standards.
At first listen, the offbeat and hip sensibility of Plan for Paradise will likely remind listeners of work by De La Soul or A Tribe Called Quest. Like these earlier pioneers, Soul Science Lab’s soundscapes are heavily influenced by jazz and other musics of the African Diaspora. However, SSL’s music is not simply a throwback to the heyday of the Native Tongues collective. Stylistically, the music broadens out to a variety of other genres, such as the gospel shout on “Gimme That,” hard rock on “Built My City,” Spanish guitar on “Kingmaker,” and electro funk on “Spend Some Time.”
Lyrically, SSL addresses everything from their Afrofuturistic artistic vision to spiritual themes (“Supernatural”) to contemporary social issues (“I Can’t Breathe”), the latter with a rare poignancy in an age full of attempts at political music. The lyrics on Plan for Paradise, while appearing aspirational on many tracks, demonstrate a deeper understanding of the underlying themes. That is to say, the political songs aren’t political because it is fashionable to address current events—rather, they suggest the artists’ abiding concerns and nuanced understanding of the issues at hand.
Overall, Plan for Paradise is a great listen from a group whose members boast an impressive resume, both due to their collaborations with other artists and in their work with arts education (detailed on the group’s website). Listeners can hope that this is the first in a long line of innovative.Afrofuturistic albums.
Note: The album cover uses the Augmented Reality technology of Blippar to create an interactive experience, as demonstrated in this video.
Future is arguably the king of today’s trap music. Part of what has cemented such a status is the prolific nature of his releases. And, lucky for us, 2017 is apparently no different, as he released the self-titled Future on February 17 and Hndrxx, its counterpart, only seven days later. In addition to the sheer amount of music he produces, Future’s reign lies in his mastery of combining what I’ve discussed in previous reviews (of T.I. and Post Malone) as the twin modes of trap music: flex and disillusion, in which a song either narrates the trap star’s thrilling excesses or memorializes their emptiness. In each case, the value of the trap star is directly correlated to his possession of or rejection by women, putting this music squarely within the discourse I refer to as “f*ck boy consciousness.” Interestingly, Future’s most recent releases present somewhat of a bifurcation of these modes, where Future represents the flex, the excess, and Hndrxx its emotional underside. This separation makes the albums quite different from each other; Future is chock-full of quick flows and expressions of street dominance, while Future rap-sings catchy hooks and melodies on Hndrxx. However, without his signature singing juxtapozed against the hard, quick flows, the songs on Future seem to all melt together in a relatively uncompelling and somewhat boring collection. In contrast, there are more than enough rhythmic and melodic changes in the sounds of Hndrxx to keep our attention and give us a spaced-out soundtrack to show out to.
Hndrxx showcases all of what Future does best in his traditional form as a trap star “f*ck boy.” It includes the typical trap drum sequences in almost every song and sing-song autotune flows that anticipate the beat drops in his hype-up collaboration with The Weeknd on “Comin’ Out Strong” and the ‘90s-reminiscent “Damage.” Future presents a disillusioned tone to his usually slurred vocals in both the strip club-esque “Fresh Air” and the condescending “Hallucinating,” on which he asserts that his perception, even while on drugs, is the ultimate, only perception. Throughout the album, Future juxtaposes wealth and ‘hood signifiers, especially on “Lookin’ Exotic,” where women get lumped into the category of things. He buys the woman in question numerous wealth signifiers in exchange for her in turn becoming a signifier of his own masculine dominance and virility. Very much in line with contemporary trap styles, some of which he pioneered, Future excels at the stretching of word sounds which creates both a melodic structure and an effortless feeling on “Fresh Air” and “New Illuminati,” while on the latter, it brings an emotionality to his “catch no feelings” disposition in similar ways as Young Thug’s Jeffrey. In conjunction with the stretching of words sounds is Future’s signature style of muffled singing and quiet, yell-like utterances on songs like the catchy “Testify” and “Turn On Me.” In addition, on this album more than others, there is not the usual clear division between verse and chorus, and they blend together seamlessly into what feels like a single stream of f*ck boy consciousness, explicating his own feelings while always returning to a general theme mapped out by a refrain. Following is the official video for “Use Me” ((C) 2017 Epic Records):
Content-wise this album revolves centrally around issues and dynamics between the trap star and “his” women. This supposed ownership is made explicit from the outset of the album in which the first song details “[His] Collection” of women, saying, “even if I hit you once, you’re part of my collection.” On “Testify” Future renders iconic Bonnie and Clyde imagery and details the seductiveness of his lifestyle for a woman. However, he makes it clear that the labor of the relationship will be hers alone. He won’t change for her; she must assimilate to his norm, some of which, like wealth, is exciting for her, but other parts which are less so, particularly his understanding that it is he only who defines the limits of the relationship. In “Fresh Air” he feels confined in his relationship, yet when he “loses” her in “Neva Missa Lost,” the repetition of “I’m losing you and you know it… and you know it” makes it seem like it’s her who’s in denial that she’s losing him. This is an interesting turn because she’s the one leaving. In typical “f*ck boy” fashion, he thinks she’s losing out rather than he, exposing him as terribly self-centered, conceited and unaccountable. In the lackluster “I Thank U,” Future laments about a woman’s doubt of him, which he, by the moment of the song, has overcome and is on top reflecting on the unbelieving. This song positions the woman as the quintessential hater of the trap star who he must silence/put in her place. It’s not really an apology or a thanking of her; it’s a tongue-in-cheek flexing on her lack of faith.
Future takes it one step further in “Turn On Me,” in which he complains that his female counterpart will inevitably “turn” on him, without presenting any of her reasoning as to why. Because her perspective is lacking entirely, he is presented as completely unaccountable for what happens in his relationships, which allows us to relate to him without questioning his role in making her leave. In fact, part of “turning” on him is taking up relationships with others. He says: “After I give you this game, you should never let a lame hit it.” This brings to the fore the insecurity built into the persona of the trap star, as his possession of women or lack of women again is the key factor in defining himself and establishing and maintaining his status in the wider community. “Selfish” and “Sorry” might be attempts to redeem the trap star in his dealings with women, the former sounding much like a f*ckboy prayer for togetherness, even though literally every other song could be seen as an explanation for why he winds up in this position, alone. He seems not to understand this, which makes the narrator in this song come across as somewhat innocent and naive. In “Sorry” Future purports that he’s “sorry it had to be this way…sorry it looks this way,” as if he’s got no choice in his actions and they can all be chalked up to fame, saying “you see what I’ve been put up against, baby.” Considering all the previous songs, his apology feels like a weak afterthought that ultimately fails to redeem him.
All in all, the trope of the “f*ck boy” is currently all the rage in rap music style today. Whatever his faults, he seems to be endlessly compelling for this generation of rappers, as well as for their young listeners. Whether one disagrees on the basis of messed up gender politics or suspends one’s disbelief altogether, with Hndrxx, Future continues to elaborate on his formulation of the trope in incredibly seductive melodies and beautiful, though sometimes unintelligible, utterances. If the Future album falls flat, Hndrxx recuperates Future’s signature style, and its style is a testament to the humongous impact Future has had and continues to have on trap music.
Looking back, 2016 was undoubtedly a great year for black music. And one particularly interesting part was listening to the myriad ways that black musicians interpreted and performed black protest, as well as the protesters’ routine practice of taking up these songs during their protests, especially Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright.” Likewise, Atlanta rapper T.I.’s December release, Us or Else: Letter to the System, signals a turn in the amount of explicit political content of his music, as well as a consistent effort from mainstream rappers and other black music icons to speak on issues related to the Black Lives Matter movement, including such heavyweights as Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar, Jay-Z, Janelle Monáe, Killer Mike, and J. Cole. As far as the rappers go, Kendrick, Jay-Z, and J. Cole are devoted lyricists, though that is not all they do. But Killer Mike and now T.I. represent a new wave of southern trap rappers who use their music to explicitly respond to the issues and actions of the movement for black lives.
You could say T.I. entered this particular arena clearly with the August release of the single from the album, “We Will Not.” The song has a sinister melody and an anthem’s bigness and is an aggressive refusal of the race and class oppression he narrates in what is essentially a list of grievances addressed to a wide variety of unjust systems in the United States. This content is surrounded sonically by an articulation of the strength and badness—in the black usage of baad as positive—of contemporary black political activists, many of whom, I might add, are the same groups of teenagers innovating in trap music and black culture today. The album certainly demonstrates T.I.’s commitment to using his music to protest with and on behalf of the larger black community; even the long list of featured artists get completely on board with the mission, mobilizing countless Civil Rights Movement signifiers and centering their discussion primarily around police violence and mass incarceration.
In line with contemporary trap music, the sounds of the album include a steady stream of ad-libs, beat drops, autotune, excessive use of hi hats, gun sounds, filters, and especially current black “‘hood” vernacular and vocal performance. In terms of the vernacular and vocal performance, the song “Pain” works as a kind of guide to the pain of contemporary black life, the performance showing us how to feel good in its midst. This T.I. accomplishes through a type of showiness and effortlessness created through slurred vocals, the repetition of sound-phrases, and the way his flow rides the beat. The language is a compelling mix of this black vernacular and hot social justice language, and T.I. takes an introspective and encouraging, though still righteously enraged, position on today’s issues. In the song “Black Man,” the chorus sings celebratorily, “black man…drop top… there go the cops,” bringing two ideas together which have traditionally been thought of as mutually exclusive; and this is the cause of the confrontation with police in the song. This is just one example of how T.I.’s claims against white society are often represented by the “law” in the form of a white police officer—a longstanding tradition in black American culture because of the ways in which the legal system has been used by white society post-emancipation to maintain white supremacy and black exploitation and subordination.
In response to today’s attacks from the “law,” T.I. puts forth an album about race pride and action, embodied in the song “40 Acres”—a celebration of black under class values, centering the ‘hood in the conversation without being disparaging or condescending. If it’s a revolution, it’s a people’s revolution with T.I. embracing the role of race man.
In “Picture Me Mobbin,” mobbin’—moving or goin’ in with one’s squad—becomes an expression of unity, not threat. Here trap language and style gets mobilized to encourage activism, to make political action the modus operandi of the “real n*gga.” In the same breadth, T.I. lays claim to a kind of respectability of the “dope boy” in “Writer,” which is a reference to 2Pac’s “Ambitionz Az a Ridah,” but also a play on the southern accent to signify another meaning, that rap is in fact a legitimate form of literary production.
“Here We Go / Don’t Fall For That” is one of several reflection moments in the album, which T.I. uses to create a pep song for the poor, black kid in the ‘hood—acknowledging, unlike corporate media, that our communities are under siege, and trying to work against that. The advice from the trap star is “don’t get trapped,” and, ultimately, choose another way that can build you and your community up. That’s what it means to be black, strong, and baad in the world T.I. renders for us in Us or Else.
In a final moment of reflection and humbling, the album ends with T.I. calling on Jesus to “Take Da Wheel,” reinforcing the overall feeling that this is bigger than any of us individually and the belief that, in Dr. King’s words, the “arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,” even if that may only be in another world.
As a body, Us Or Else: Letter To The System is robust and full of opposition and counter-narratives, encouragement in the fight for racial justice, and an insistence on accountability from white society and systems of governance and policing. T.I. emphasizes the importance of members of the black community being responsible to each other, showing us how to feel good in the midst of the terror of today’s world. His letter to the system still brings us swag and flex in traditional Atlanta fashion. This album is a move towards devotion and commitment in bold pursuit of justice for the black underclass, asserting the “bigness” of the oppressed in terms of rage, resiliency, and joy. A tremendous effort from T.I. in an urgent time, Us Or Else goes down as one of those hugely empowering moments when black music, black radical thought, and black action intersect.
So by now most folks have heard, heard about, or read about the “new” Tribe album. The zeitgeist that was its arrival has come and gone. So, the question becomes, why write about it now? Hell, its 2017. Everyone has already moved on. Well, I wanted to sit with this one for a bit, to really let the album marinate. To see if in a world where music has become even more disposable, an album could really make me feel like I used to when I took shrink wrap off the tapes in my bedroom. I’ll get to the answer to that in a bit. Assuming you have already heard the album by now, this is my own track by track reflection on We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service (interspersed with musings about all things Tribe).
First off, I was late to even hear about Tribe releasing a new record—I was still kinda numb from the passing of Phife months earlier. (Side note: Phife on Midnight Marauders >>>>> Phife on any other Tribe Record.) Initially, I was not wholly excited about the news of a new album. I texted my main man, (former Black Grooves rap reviewer) Langston Wilkins (@StreetFolkLCW), to confirm it was actually true, and we immediately began talking about “what might be” with this new Tribe record. “Is Phife even gonna be on it?” “Would they just try to cash in?” “Will they try to ‘update’ their sound to keep up with the young folks?” “Will anybody other than us even care that Tribe is putting a record out?” Or more importantly, “Is this another one of those things people will pretend to care about then forget about immediately?” (Black Messiah, I’m looking in your direction). So I think it is fair to say I approached this record with a fair amount of trepidation. I braced myself for “what might be.”
“The Space Program.” For me this track is all about the triumphant return of Jarobi White…Yeah, I know folks will be like “he never left,” but c’mon yo. The point is he returns on the first track of the album with a fierceness that I do not recall from the last time we really heard him spit. The other major piece of this song that makes it fantastic is its core concept: “There ain’t no space program for niggas, nah you stuck here nigga.” . . . I mean, how crazy is that metaphor? The idea that everyone else would “move on to the staaaarrrsss” while black and poor will be left behind. Direct yet opaque word play is so very Tribe, but again, this track is still one for the books. Between the production, Jarobi’s verse, the hook, and song’s metaphoric depth, with one fell swoop my concerns about the album were quelled. I literally went from “cautiously optimistic” to “thank you for this wonderful gift, Tribe!”
“We The People.” This track takes the space program/Afro-futurism metaphor and pulls back the drapes completely. Tip speaks bluntly in his verse but is even more straightforward on the hook, “All you black folks, you must go / all you Mexicans, you must go / all you poor folks, you must go / Muslims and gays, boy we hate your ways.” Again, damn. Even the slight tongue in cheek nature of the hook doesn’t soften the blow, especially coming so soon after the election of Donald Trump.
“Whateva Will Be.” So this is kind of a dip for me, but is super notable during the last seconds of the song when Tribe’s “Fifth Beatle”—Consequence—shows up. I can honestly say I’ve never been so excited to hear a Consequence verse. I was so glad he was here.
“Solid Wall of Sound.” Another one of the things Langston I spent a decent amount of time discussing about the album was the apparent guest list for the record. Kendrick Lamar, Elton John, Andre 3000, Jack White and Busta Rhymes were all announced before its release. While I actually absolutely LOVE all of these artists in their own right (no seriously EJ is my dude), I couldn’t help but feel like only one of them actually belonged on what I considered a “Tribe record.” Narrow minded much? About Tribe records…Absolutely.
So “Solid Wall of Sound” is the first track with one of these high profile guests. The sample flips Elton John’s “Bennie & The Jets” and I figured it was one of those “cheat guest spots” like Ray Charles on Kanye’s “Gold Digger.” In between Tip, Phife and Busta trade hyper verses, the latter two in a patois that sounds great together, Tip really kills it too. Then out of blue (sort of?) for the last 30 seconds Elton John shows up to sing with our man Tip. So is it a “cheat guest spot”? I’m not sure, but it somehow works.
“Dis Generation.” Really love this track, which sounds like Beats, Rhymes & Life era Tribe (no, that’s not a diss), and really is cool to see “the unit B” (as an impassioned Q-Tip might put it) all in the same hut trading verses like the good ole days. Tip shouts out Joey Bada$$, Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole as “gatekeepers of flow/extensions of instinctual soul” which is extremely cool to me in a “real recognize real” sort of way. The kicker on this track, though, is Busta Rhymes—who vocally sounds like the LONS Busta Rhymes—which is kinda mind blowing to me. I literally did not realize Busta could still make his voice sound like this (I was actually waiting for Charlie, Dinco or Milo to take the mic next).
“Kids.” Okay, let’s get this out of the way. I’m a huge fan of Andre 3000. Huge (I’m an even bigger fan of Outkast proper, but I’ll save that for another review). However, what I am NOT a fan of is how we have taught ourselves to absolutely lose our minds over every nonsensical, non-linear, throwaway bar Andre throws on so and so’s remix over past 10 years. I’m not saying they are all like that, but seriously folks, we really have a problem when we are all slobbering like Pavlovian dogs at the mere mention of a 3 Stacks bar, let alone a verse. So going into the track on the Tribe album that featured Codename: Benjamin, I was cautious at best. Thankfully this track does not fall prey to any of those issues. It has a pretty solid concept and Dre and Tip trade verses that are worthy of both their overarching legacies. “Kids” would fit well on a Tribe or Outkast record, which is kind of an amazing feat in and of itself. I couldn’t help but wonder how dope the track would have been with a Big Boi verse as well…
“Melatonin.” So I haven’t really spoke on it much thus far, but the production on this record is a real highlight and cannot be understated. Q-Tip shows why, in a lot of ways, he’s a ridiculously underrated producer. I’m sure recognizing that has something to do with why the production credits on this album are credited to “Q-Tip” as opposed to “the Unit B,” like on previous Tribe records. And you know what? I’m extremely pleased about that. Particularly in the wake of the rise of the “Dilla Changed My Life” outlook on what constitutes great rap production in popular culture, I feel like Q-Tip is criminally overlooked in lieu of my man Jay Dee. (Don’t get it twisted, Dilla is one of the best ever—just making a point about how popular culture works sometimes. Rant over.)
“Melatonin” has some of my favorite production, not just in terms of the beat, but also in the way Tip utilizes the voices of guest vocalists Marsha Ambrosius and Abbey Smith to create an almost dreamlike feel during the verses. The song concept also lends itself to the “under the influence” feel, as Tip ruminates on the pluses and minuses of self-medication.
“Enough.” So in the tradition of Tribe joints like “Electric Relaxation,” “Find a Way,” and of course “Bonita Applebum, this track serves as the album’s ladies jam in the way only Tribe can deliver. Jarobi really shines here as the “spirit” or “soul” or “whatever” of A Tribe Called Quest, as he absolutely goes in on his verse to point that someone in the studio (I assume Tip) can’t contain themselves when the verse sets off. Is there another person who stepped off the mic ala Jarobi and came back like 20 years later twice as fierce? Surely there’s someone, but anyway props to “Jedi” on this one. (Side note, Tip’s production wins again, digging up the Rotary Connection sample he flipped on “Bonita” and flipping it on this song as well.)
“Mobius.” Consequence and Busta absolutely murder this track. I guess for cons, there is really some absence makes the heart grow fonder stuff at play here. I mean, I’m not sure if I ever enjoyed my man this much on the Beats, Rhymes and Life record, but he seriously came to play. He sets it off ripping over a pretty basic beat for the 45 secs or so, and then the beat switches and turns into a much more menacing and bass heavy loop that I absolutely love. As if that were not enough, the track is then mule kicked into the stratosphere by none other than ’95-era Busta Rhymes (who is seriously putting some miles on his DeLorean for this album), coming through dungeon dragon style (I know thats mixing Busta-eras, but roll with me here) and spazzes out for like a hot 24—and then just like that *Verbal Kent sound effect* he’s gone. And like a mobius strip (Tip is so clever) we are back where we started. Again, Consequence and Busta absolutely murder this track.
“Black Spasmodic.” Tracks like this really, really make Q-Tip’s point from the Beats, Rhymes and Life documentary—that recording all together in the same “hut” makes for better Tribe music. From the outset this track has the feel of the early Tribe offerings, where the love was really there for everyone. I love hearing Phife go ham on this as only he can. When in full Dynomutt mode (see the aforementioned Midnight Marauders for reference), Phife is entertaining as hell to hear spit. However, Tip’s verse on this track might be my favorite on the entire album. The verse begins with Tip explaining how Phife “be speaking to him,” then Tip moves into full on channelling as he continues. Hear me…Tip spits AS PHIFE, TO HIMSELF in a verse that not only sounds like stuff Phife would (maybe did?) actually say, but also phrased in the way PHIFE would phrase it! The craziness of that cannot be understated in my opinion. On a verse where Tip says that Phife speaks to him from beyond the grave, Tip actually stops sounding like Tip and starts sounding like Phife. As a Tribe fan, that’s seriously just kinda insane.
“The Killing Season.” Kweli comes through for his guest spot, probably to make up for his glaring absence on “Rock Rock Yall” from The Love Movement 18 years back, and sets off another political track for this record. This song serves as Tribe’s take on the violence against Black and Brown folks. Did I mention that Jarobi White did not come to play with yall on this album? Cause he clearly did not. I really love the production here and beat switch makes it even better. As an added bonus, Kanye apparently sings the hook.
“Lost Somebody.” Yo, let me be clear—this is a good song. However, Tip’s verse on “Black Spasmodic” is such a fitting tribute to Phife Dawg that the impact of this track hit me a little less hard. Jarobi and Tip spit heartfelt verses and Tip, in particular, addresses some of the friction that we saw between Phife and himself during the BR&L documentary.
“Moving Backwards.” Love both the production on this as well as guest vocalist Anderson.Paak’s contribution. Paak does his thing here. “How I’m ‘pposed to know how home feels/I ain’t even on my home field.” I mean, damn. I feel that. Also, “Oops I’m bout to get kicked outta here/Tell Mama Imma slide through” never ceases to get a chuckle out of me.
“Conrad Tokyo.” Unfortunately, this one doesn’t hit as hard some of the other tracks on the record. Even Kendrick’s verse doesn’t hit like I wanted it, by no fault of his own, as he clearly does his thing. Maybe this just went over my head a bit, but love the synth.
“Ego.” This track is kind of in the style of “What?” from Low End Theory. The Abstract goes in on the various ways in which our own egos affect every aspect of our lives. He’s also brought along Jack White, who works surprisingly well. Songs like this show why, when he’s in the zone, Tip is a great conceptual rhymer.
“The Donald.” Let me start by saying, based off tracks like “The Space Program,” “We the People,” and the title of this track, I was absolutely “The Donald” was going to be a response to the phenomenon that is Donald Trump’s ascension to the presidency. I was more than ready to hear what the Tribe might have to say about our president elect. So I was sorely disappointed, which is weird because who complains about the new Tribe album NOT having a song about Trump? That’s ludicrous.
Turns out it’s actually a dedication to Phife Dawg aka Don Juice (I have to humbly admit that I did not realize this is one of his aliases until now), which is pretty dope in its own right. Phife and Tip spit verses and Busta provides the hook. Again, tracks like this show why Phife’s presence is and will be truly missed. I love the breakdown Tip puts here, where he and Katia Cadet sing “Don Juuuuuiiiicccee” and go back and forth with Busta for the finale.
Couple of parting notes. First, I mentioned how the guest appearances seemed kinda all over the place. They all worked out in the end, but damn if it doesn’t seem like a HUGE missed opportunity to not have some of the Native Tongues appear on this record. I mean, I know I’m fanboying a bit to say it, but where the hell is everybody? De La? JBs? Black Sheep? Latifah? Even extended fam like the Beatnuts? Vinia Mojica? It’s all good because the album is great, but I will spend the rest of my life wondering what could have been.
That said, I am so incredibly thankful for this record y’all. It wasn’t like ripping off the shrink wrap of tapes like I did way back when; it was different, but great. I had literally no idea what A Tribe Called Quest album might sound like in 2016. I am very happy so say, it sounds exactly like what ATCQ should sound like in 2016!
Maybe there is hope for the Outkast reunion album I’ve been desperately wanting. We shall see . . .
Post Malone made waves in the hip-hop world in 2015 with his single “White Iverson,” a smooth, spaced-out, melodic, flexing anthem very much operating within and even expanding upon modes of contemporary trap music. Malone was quickly signed by Republic Records only months following the song’s release, and the December 9th release of Stoney is his debut album. One of Malone’s strengths on “White Iverson” is his elaboration on musical tropes being pioneered by artists like Young Thug, Future, and Rich Homie Quan, whose work could be said to explore a depressive, emotional underside of trap music. This happens mostly melodically, while the lyrical content remains constructed around “the lifestyle” of a trap star. In fact, all three of these artists’ work represents a move away from lyrical content all together, toward sounds that go where words can’t.
With Stoney, Post Malone offers his contribution to the conversation, an album of songs that work as vignettes of moments of reflection on “the lifestyle” of the trap star, frozen in time and beautifully dramatized. What Malone most excels at is rendering in sound these elaborate, decadent blocks of time in which the listener can pause the club or party scene, explore, scrutinize, and romanticize each detail of the fray. The freeze frame, slow motion feeling is created through heavy reverb, silencing percussion at certain moments, stretching word sounds (often to the point of incomprehensibility), intimate, cascading sounds and melodies, and Malone’s slow, syrupy flow, delivered in what feels like gusts. These all contribute to an overall feeling of being out of time and floating, perhaps in line with the album’s title. Stoney is a set of scenes from the party, a hyper close sonic exploration of moments in the ascent and disillusionment in the emotional life of the trap star. The feeling of the music moves back and forth between flex and disillusion; “Big Lie,” “No Option,” “White Iverson,” and “Money Made Me Do It” are good examples of former, while “Broken Whiskey Glass,” “Cold,” and “I Fall Apart” represent the latter. Both these themes often manifest in the metaphor of a woman’s rejection/fakeness or availability, placing Stoney smack in the middle of the current musical trends articulating the sounds of “f**k boy” consciousness.
However, while several of the songs take “White Iverson’s” emotional, melodic, hip-hop daze as precedent and remain mostly within a trap realm in terms of sounds, Malone goes in a different, more folk/pop direction on others. These include “Broken Whiskey Glass,” “Go Flex,” “Leave,” and “Feeling Whitney,” on which the acoustic guitars and strumming make the songs sound more campy and indie folk. What connects these songs to the others is the pause in time, the critical reflection moment, and, perhaps ironically, perhaps not, Malone’s rendering of black vernacular speech and performance practices. Present throughout the songs is an exploration along the lines of cockiness and confidence, a slow, elaborate dive into “f**k boy” insecurities and an attempt to reckon them with the glorified status “the lifestyle” affords. In this struggle, flex becomes mode and praxis, the sound and sound-practice of caring for oneself, and reigns supreme musically manifest in the swagger of the deliveries, the drops, and the changing flows. Part of the flex is a “no f**ks given” attitude, straddling the modes of flex and disillusion in its signification of both privilege and disillusion. Malone uses typical rap signifiers—jewelry, money, haters, women—to go to an emotional and even tender place for the trope within which he’s working. This is one of many signals of a trend of emotional reflection rap-singing in which the trap star’s depressive yet colossal inner life is revealed via a detached moment of reflection.
With features from Justin Bieber, Kehlani, Quavo, and 2 Chainz, Stoney joins the conversation, its unique contribution being Post Malone’s particular flair for romanticizing the twin modes of flex and disillusion and making it all poppy enough to keep us hooked.