Various Artists – 16 Bars (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

 

Title: 16 Bars (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Artist: Various
Label: Lightyear Ent.
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: November 8, 2019

 

Two time Grammy award winner and hip hop artist Speech Thomas and his band Arrested Development have spent the past few decades touring the world, seeking out opportunities to address social and racial justice issues. Since the release of their triple platinum debut album, 3 Years, 5 Month & 2 Days in the Life of (1993), they have created many different projects and facilitated opportunities for various communities. The documentary 16 Bars, currently screening on the film festival circuit, is the fruition of one of the most ground breaking projects they have released yet. The film follows the journey of Thomas and his band members as they work with inmates at the Richmond City Jail to produce written and recorded narratives about the complex issues of the criminal justice system, including the social and economic effects it has on the families these men were taken away from. In the words of Speech Thomas, “these men are behind bars… but their voices have to be heard.” Continue reading

November 2019 Black Music Releases of Note

Following are additional albums released during November 2019 across multiple genres—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves. Continue reading

October 2019 Black Music Releases of Note

Following are additional albums released during October 2019 across multiple genres—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves. Continue reading

September 2019 Black Music Releases of Note

Following are additional albums released during September 2019 across multiple genres—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.  Continue reading

Saul Williams – Encrypted and Vulnerable

 

Title: Encrypted and Vulnerable
Artist: Saul Williams
Label: Pirates Blend
Release Date: July 18, 2019
Formats: Streaming, Vinyl

 

Consider hacking into a deeper examination of the senses—visuality, audiology, tactility. Consider hacking into an observation of the world around us—geographically, temporally, contextually. Consider hacking into a scrutinization of socio-political issues—technology, leakology, trackology.

Consider hacking.

With his most current album, Saul Williams encourages us to do just that.  Self-produced Encrypted and Vulnerable is the second in a three-part series, preceded by 2016’s MartyrLoserKing, but more importantly, Williams’ work is one more piece in a much larger metaphysical puzzle. The MartyrLoserKing project —a 3-part multi-media compilation of albums, a musical film and an upcoming graphic novel focuses on governmental surveilling and silencing of global activists through the medium of Afrofuturistic performance. Of his current self-titled spoken word release, Williams describes it as “simultaneously a personal and intimately optimistic takedown on struggle, defiance, awareness, aloneness, and a takedown of heteronormative capitalistic patriarchal authoritarian politics in topics ranging from love, technology, religion, war, to migration.” Continue reading

Yugen Blakrok – Anima Mysterium

 

Title: Anima Mysterium
Artist: Yugen Blakrok
Label: I.O.T.
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: February 1, 2019

 

South Africa’s Yugen Blakrok, with her smoky voice and mesmerizing lyricism, is a fresh force to be reckoned with in the hip hop stratosphere. With the release of her debut album she captured the attention of Top Dawg Entertainment, who succinctly wove her uniqueness into “Opps” on the Black Panther soundtrack alongside Vince Staples and Kendrick Lamar. With her sophomore album Anima Mysterium, Blakrok continues to deliver mind-blowing rhymes infused with fortitude and finesse—a literal mix of sci-fi soundscapes and meditative melodies. Continue reading

Mykele Deville – Maintain

 

Title: Maintain
Artist: Mykele Deville
Label: No Trend
Formats: LP, Digital
Release date: February 22, 2019

 

Chicago is a hot bed for contemporary hip hop activism—Noname with her proactive lyrics, Chance the Rapper’s dedication to the area’s public school system. Alongside these two, poet, educator, actor and rapper Mykele Deville has entered the Chi-town scene. Dedicated to critiquing and fighting structures of oppression through self-reflection and self-critique, Deville’s new album, Maintain, is a motivational collection dedicated to the complexity of Black life. Straight out of the city’s West Side, Deville spent a year and a half writing seven songs he felt encapsulated not only the absurdity of the political moment we find ourselves in and the triumphs/failings of the Black American experiment, but also the resiliency it takes to exist and self-examine within those confines. Continue reading

Anderson .Paak – Oxnard

 

Title: Oxnard
Artist: Anderson .Paak
Label: Aftermath/Universal
Release date: November 16, 2018
Formats: CD, Vinyl, Digital

 

Since the 2016 release of his sophomore album Malibu, Anderson .Paak continues to shine. Not only did that album result in his Grammy nomination that same year for Best Urban Contemporary Artist, but he has since been featured on tracks for both established and up-and-coming artists such as A Tribe Called Quest, Chance the Rapper, Dr. Dre and Rapsody. His latest creation may well follow that same trajectory. Continue reading

Jermaine Dupri Presents So So Def 25

 

Title: Jermaine Dupri Presents So So Def 25
Artist: Various
Label: Certified Classics
Formats: LP, Digital
Release Date: October 19, 2018

 

Released in honor of So So Def’s 25th anniversary, So So Def 25 pays tribute to the pioneering Atlanta-based label with a collection of its hip-hop and R&B hits. Curated by So So Def founder Jermaine Dupri, the compilation has been released on a 12” vinyl collector’s edition by Sony Music’s Certified Classics. Featured artists include Jay-Z, Bow Wow, Ghost Town DJ, Aaliyah, and many more. Scattered amongst the So So Def classics are rarer tracks like Jagged Edge’s “Let’s Get Married (Kanye West Remix)”—one of Kanye’s early verses—as well as an explicit version of “Da B Side” by Da Brat with an alternative verse by The Notorious B.I.G. Additional playlists celebrating the anniversary can be found on So So Def’s website. Continue reading

Book – Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop

 

Title: Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop Author: Vikki Tobak
Publisher: Clarkson Potter/Random House
Format: Book (Hardcover, Kindle)
Release date: October 16, 2018

 

What could be better than a visual history of hip hop, told not only through the lenses of the photographers who shot these images, but through their personal accounts as well. What’s most unusual is the presentation of these images in the form of contact sheets, rather than prints. According to author Vikki Tobak, her goal was to reveal the photographer’s creative process and techniques, rather than assemble the curated “money shots” we typically see in print.  Continue reading

Masta Ace and Marco Polo – A Breukelen Story

 

Title: A Breukelen Story
Artist: Masta Ace and Marco Polo
Label: Fat Beats
Release Date: November 9, 2018
Formats: CD, LP, Digital

 

Brooklyn, hip hop’s locus, has nurtured some of the most legendary artists in the game. Many tributes have highlighted the borough’s significance, both to the genre and as a vital part of New York City. A Breukelen Story, Masta Ace and Marco Polo’s first official collaboration, manages to do just that and so much more. Continue reading

ILL DOOTS – Ill Doots

 

Title: Ill Doots
Artist: ILL DOOTS
Label: Ropeadope
Formats: CD, MP3
Release date: July 27, 2018

 

Over the summer, the Philadelphia hip hop collective ILL DOOTS released their self-titled album, Ill Doots. The ensemble—a group of artists, educators, and activists based in Philadelphia—is inspired by Minneapolis funk, classic rock, hip hop, neo soul, and “everything in between.” Since their early formation in 2009 at a dorm room jam session, the collective has released several albums, toured the U.S., and become a fixture on the Philly concert scene. Apart from their musical endeavors, ILL DOOTS has a community outreach program called the I Love Learning initiative that provides free workshops in schools, after school programs, churches, and community venues in Philadelphia. Continue reading

Welcome to the July 2018 Summer Rocks issue

July 2018 image 1
Welcome to the July 2018 Summer Rocks issue of Black Grooves. This month we’re looking at the many permutations of Black rock, from the psychedelic riffs on Dug Pinnick’s Tribute To Jimi (Often Imitated But Never Duplicated); to the socially conscious songs of Fantastic Negrito on Please Don’t Be Dead and Bettye Lavette’s Bob Dylan tribute Things Have Changed; to the British blues rock collaboration on Buddy Guy’s The Blues Is Alive and Well; to the multi-faceted fusions of the Stanley Clarke Band’s The Message, Shuggie Otis’s Inter-Fusion, and Serpentwithfeet’s Soil; to the folk rock of AHI’s In Our Time and the countrified soul of  Priscilla Renea’s Coloured; to the black metal of Zeal and Ardor’s Stranger Fruit; and last but not least, the foundational rock and roll on The Ballads of  Fats Domino.

Seminal jazz releases this month include Kamasi Washington’s two-disc Heaven and Earth and Dr. Michael White’s Tricentennial Rag honoring New Orlean’s 300th birthday. Yet another tribute album is Lurrie Bell & the Bell Dynasty’s Tribute to Carey Bell, featuring the four accomplished sons of the legendary Chicago blues harpist.

Also featured is gospel singer Javen’s latest album, Grace; the collaboration connecting Sengalese kora master Diali Cissokho and North Carolina band Kaira Ba on Routes; Lamont Dozier’s Reimagination of tracks previously written for other artists; and the Little Freddie King compilation Fried Rice & Chicken featuring his best tracks from the Orlean’s label. Wrapping up this issue is our list of June 2018 Releases of Note in all genres.

Serpentwithfeet – Soil

Soil

Title: Soil

Artist: Serpentwithfeet

Label: Tri-Angle/Secretly Canadian

Format: CD, LP, Digital

Release date: June 8, 2018

 

 

At first glance, you might not peg Josiah Wise as a classically trainer singer. Before transforming himself into the performance artist known as serpentwithfeet, the Baltimore-born musician spent his formative years singing gospel music in his mother’s Pentecostal church. While Wise later studied jazz as well as opera, he was also enamored ‘90s R&B—especially Brandy. Synthesizing all of these influences in his first full-length album, Soil, Wise draws connections to the sustenance of life and love, while simultaneously rebelling against today’s “symmetry and sterile soundscapes.”

Collaborating with producer Clams Casino and experimental electronic musician Katie Gately, Wise has created unique sound collages that are operatic in their own way. Casino, known for his ‘cloud rap’ productions and tracks for the likes of ASAP Rocky & Lil B (“Be Somebody”), The Weeknd, and Kelela, brings hip hop beats with a spacey, freeform style. Gately, who sculpted the sound on nearly half of the tracks on Soil, is known for constructing pieces from multiple layers and samples. Together, they offer a work that enhances Wise’s melismatic singing style with avant garde electronics and multi-layered, hyperprocessed vocals. By also eschewing standard melodies and notions of song construction, the result is more akin to freestyle.

Opening with Wise’s seductive vocals over synth clarinet arpeggios, “Whisper” is one of the album’s most compelling tracks, and perhaps the closest in form to an R&B single. Written by Gately, the song shows off Wise’s vocal range and technique, with extensive overdubbing to create a choral effect. This is one of the many songs on the album touching upon the “shame around two black men dating and loving on each other” as Wise—who is openly gay—sings, “If you whisper, only I will hear you.” “Wrong Tree” seems to expand upon this theme. As the gospel organ and hand claps evoke the conservatism of the church, the song turns more menacing with the lyrics, “The fruit I couldn’t wait to eat / suddenly began to bleed / then I heard them shouting / He climbin’ up the wrong tree.” Both Gately and Casino contributed to “Mourning Song,” the orchestral backing adding weight to the poignant lament, “I want to make a pageant of my grief.”

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Another highlight of the album is “Cherubim,” produced by Gately and the Boston-based electronic producer known as mmph. More overtly homeoerotic, the official video underscores the dramatic elements of Wise’s performance art, while the music is a seamless combination of classical, R&B, and gospel influences with rock overtones. Clams Casino’s footprint is all over “Seedless,” with its laborious beat, electronic effects and elastic rhythms, while Wise flows between song and chant. The album comes full circle with the final track, “Bless Ur Heart,” a tender, upbeat love song expressing optimism: “What was once a whisper will become a deep rumbling sound / I’ll keep a tender heart.”

Soil is a mesmerizing project full of lush harmonies and heartfelt lyrics that pushes the envelop through the electronic production, as well as the thematic material.  Undefinable, and undeniably unique, the album’s deep roots extend into many facets of the Black music spectrum.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

Maceo Parker – Life on Planet Groove Revisited

Maeco Parker
Title: Life on Planet Groove Revisited

Artist: Maceo Parker

Label: Minor Music

Format: 2-CD + DVD limited edition box set

Release date: February 14, 2018

 

 

“Gather round, space cadets and funkateers.” So begins the liner notes for Maceo Parker’s seminal 1992 live album and funk opus, Life on Planet Groove.  In honor of the 25th anniversary of the album, Minor Music has released Life on Planet Groove Revisited, which also coincides with Parker’s 75th birthday. This limited edition set includes a new analog to digital transfer of the original album, a second bonus disc, and the DVD Maceo Blow Your Horn.

As everyone likely knows, Maceo Parker was a key member of James Brown’s band in the 1960s, blasting out funky sax solos whenever JB shouted, “Maceo! Blow your horn!” Parker famously walked out on Brown in 1970 with other members of the band, who were replaced by a youthful Cincinnati led group by Bootsy and Catfish Collins. Like Bootsy, Maceo would later join up with George Clinton and contribute to various P-funk projects. Though Parker would return to Brown’s band for a few years, he struck out on his own in 1990. Soon thereafter, he wound up at a club called the Stadtgarten in Cologne, Germany, where Life on Planet Groove was recorded. His backing musicians for this performance included Fred Wesley (trombone, vocals), Pee Wee Ellis (tenor saxophone, flute, vocals), Rodney Jones (guitar), Larry Goldings (organ), and Kenwood Dennard (drums). Special guests included Vincent Henry (bass and occasional alto-sax), Prince protégé Candy Dulfer (alto), and Kym Mazelle (vocalist).

The bonus disc was drawn from the same set of dates at the Stadtgarten. The four tracks include extended versions of the Fred Wesley original “For the Elders,” Lionel Hampton’s “Hamp’s Boogie Woogie,” band member Pee Wee Ellis’s “Chicken,” a cover of James Brown’s “Cold Sweat,” and Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On.”

Also included is the DVD Maceo Blow Your Horn, featuring newly released footage filmed by Markus Gruber during recording sessions for Parker’s album Roots Revisited, which topped the jazz charts in 1990.  Most of the footage was meant for promotional purposes only and is black and white, but the sound is decent. The camera follows band members as they jam in rehearsal and lay down tracks at studios in New York (November 1989) and Cologne (1990). These clips are interspersed with interviews where Parker discusses the creative process along with anecdotes about James Brown, Fred Wesley, Pee Wee Ellis, Curtis Mayfield, George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, and Ray Charles, among others. Along the way there’s some odd filler footage of airplane wings and cityscapes. Just to be clear, this is not a documentary in the manner of My First Name Is Maceo, but rather bits and pieces of footage strung together with title cards. Regardless, the film is certainly of historical interest and any fan of Maceo Parker and his band will be grateful for its inclusion.

Life on Planet Groove Revisited is a fine tribute to the great Maceo Parker on his 75th birthday.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss