Following are additional albums released during September 2019 across multiple genres—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves. Continue reading
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.
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
Following are additional albums released during August 2019—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves. Continue reading
Following are additional albums released during July 2019—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves. Continue reading
Following are additional albums released during June 2019—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves. Continue reading
Following are additional albums released during May 2019—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves. Continue reading
Following are additional albums released during April 2019—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves. Continue reading
Following are additional albums released during March 2019—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves. Continue reading
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
Following are additional albums released during February 2019—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves. Continue reading
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
Following are additional albums released during January 2019—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves. Continue reading
Artist: Anderson .Paak
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
Following are additional albums released during December 2018—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves. Continue reading
Title: Jermaine Dupri Presents So So Def 25
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
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
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
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 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.
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.”
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
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
Artist: Open Mike Eagle
Label: Mellow Music Group
Formats: CD, MP3, Vinyl
Release date: September 15, 2017
Urbanity has helped mold the creativity of hip hop artists in some form or the other, and thus forms the foundation of this genre. Open Mike Eagle is no exception, and his most current album, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream, demonstrates just that. The collection is a tribute to Chicago’s former South Side housing project, Robert Taylor Homes, where the young Eagle resided with family members during much of his formative years. Through his concept art, OME humanizes the forgotten ones of this former space, lending credence to their dreams of a better world for all.
“Legendary Iron Hood,” the opening track, is a smoothly-spun tale of optimism in the face of adversity. OME’s laid-back delivery and beat reminds one of a lazy walk with one eye in the clouds and one on the road ahead. An obvious downtempo influence dominates the second tune, “(How could anybody) Feel at Home,” and its lyrics of “We live in a space that should have never existed, we’re used to the taste of a human in space…It smells like if you imagined you boiled a rose and the oven is on and the coil’s exposed” deposits you right into an imagined project via sight, taste and smell. Nerdcore rapper Sammus displays her lyrical skills on “Hymnal,” and Has-Lo clips in on a later track, “95 Radios.” The apex of the collection, undisputedly, is “Brick Body Complex,” in which OME bares his narrative and his soul without pretention. But it’s the last offering, “My Auntie’s Building,” that forces attention by way of poignant activist lines such as: “They say America fights fair, but they won’t demolish your timeshare; blew up my Auntie’s building, put out her great-grandchildren.”
Lyrical and mystical, pensive yet precise. OME tears it down to the ground with his remembrance of lives lost under the rubble and dust of project demolition. As the title succinctly states, brick body kids still daydream. It’s up to us to make sure we give them something positive to dream about.
Reviewed by Amy Aiyegbusi
Label: Tru Thoughts
Release date: Nov 17, 2017
Formats: CD, Digital, LP
Sylvester Uzoma Onyejiaka II — the Austin, Texas-born arranger, multi-instrumentalist and producer who goes by the moniker Sly5thAve — returns with an orchestral tribute to the prolific DJ, producer, rapper, and mogul Dr. Dre. Culled from a live set compiled for a charity event titled “Cali-Love,” Sly5thAve’s arrangements, which were praised by Dr. Dre himself at the concert, pay tribute to Dre’s brilliance in the producer’s chair while presenting new and interesting ideas in a set of well-worn but still funky grooves.
On The Invisible Man, Sly5thAve uses Dre’s compositions as vehicles for his own interpretations and improvisations, treating gangsta rap as jazz arrangers of yesteryear treated Tin Pan Alley songs. Sly5thAve’s jazz-inflected approach to musical borrowing is heightened by Dr. Dre’s own extensive sampling of 70s P-Funk in his original music, creating layers of intertextuality for hip hop heads and jazz cats alike while retaining (at moments heightening) the cinematic qualities of the source material. Dre’s compositions have always told vivid and imaginative stories. The Invisible Man tells similar stories, with instrumental arrangements in place of most of these songs’ most memorable lyrics, to the effect of making the album feel like the really good remake of a slightly better original movie.
This album is loaded with riffs on Dre’s signature G-Funk style, with Sly5thAve and company developing tracks like “Let Me Ride,” “California Love,” and “Ain’t Nuthin’ But a G Thang” into compelling vehicles for improvisation and orchestration. Some of the album’s most interesting moments, however, come from the band’s interpretation of tracks less associated with Dre’s signature early 90s funk-based sound and more with the tracks he built for his later proteges, like the stellar readings of Dre-produced early Eminem tracks, including “Forgot about Dre,” “Guilty Conscience,” and “My Name Is.” While their lush string sections and intricate horn arrangements definitely sound different than the original versions of these numbers, these versions are so infectiously true to their musical spirit that listeners will be tempted to dust off their memory of the classic verses that appear on these songs to rap along, starting with “Y’all know me, still the same O.G.…”
Overall, Sly5thAve stays very close to both the spirit and letter of his source material, often giving his crack band opportunities to improvise over his dramatic orchestral readings of this catalog in the same way that Dre gave Snoop Doggy Dogg room to stretch out over the original versions of these songs on The Chronic. Sure, The Invisible Man is no replacement for the original cuts, but it’s a great way to get away with playing G-Funk at a dinner party.
Reviewed by Matthew Alley
Title: Tribute To My Soul Sisters
Artist: Martha High
Label: Record Kicks
Formats: CD, LP
Release date: November 17, 2017
When the holidays come around, one often thinks of James Brown. Why? He died the day after Christmas, and across the world, JB fans celebrate his legacy and discography. JB will live forever and so will his cohorts, who had the honor of touring and playing next to “Soul Brother # 1.” Bobby Byrd , Marva Whitney, Lynn Collins all are in soul heaven, but Bootsy Collins is still going strong. Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley & Pee Wee Ellis still tour. Vicki Anderson is still with us, and Martha High likewise is still with us and touring. Martha who? Yes, even for some who are JB diehards, that name is not clicking like the other names mentioned. Trust me, the real ones know her name and if you don’t, read on.
Martha High was born Martha Harvin and grew up in Washington, DC. For thirty years, she performed backup vocals for JB. Then, in 2000, she left JB and hooked up with Maceo Parker. Her new album, Tribute To My Soul Sisters, backed by Japan’s premiere funk group, Osaka Monaurail, is just that and more.
On the opening track “Think (About It),” you hear perhaps two of the most famous lines in hip hop: “Use what ya got, to get what ya want” and “It takes two to make a thing go right.” Cool C’s “The Glamorous Life” and Rob Base’s “It Takes Two” sampled those lines respectively, but it was Lyn Collins who first shouted those lines in 1971. Martha High has chops and on her version of the song she pays homage to Collins.
“This Is My Story” was originally done by The Jewels, the group High joined in the ‘60s just before they were hired to tour with JB. High’s vocals come across as praise and possess a “what a time we had” kind of vibe. “I Cried,” a track originally done by Tammi Terrell, was a eyebrow raiser. Terrell had no connection to JB, but nevertheless, High pulls it off and makes you want to seek out the original. Marva Whitney and Vicki Anderson also get their due from High.
Martha High would have fit right in on the Academy Award documentary 20 Feet From Stardom. Makes you wonder why she never became bigger in the game. The same can be said for all of the female vocalists who performed with JB.
Tribute To My Soul Sisters not only acknowledges former JB vocalists Lyn Collins, Marva, Vicki, and Tammi, but is a fine tribute to Martha High, who is still going strong and sounding great. Better late than never.
Reviewed by Eddie Bowman
Author: John Capouya
Publisher: University Press of Florida
Formats: Hardcover (408 pages), Kindle
Release date: September 26, 2017
Though the state of Florida doesn’t immediately come to mind as a hotbed of soul music, journalist John Capouya attempts to correct this oversight with his new book Florida Soul: From Ray Charles to KC and the Sunshine Band. Using his “antennae for passionate vocals and funky sounds with Florida origins,” he delves into the period from 1945-1980, when Florida produced “some of the most electric, emotive soul music this country has ever heard.” Capouya attributes this flourishing scene in part to the fact that Florida, along with Texas, was the “densest and richest segment of the chitlin’ circuit,” bringing all of the major African American artists through the state.
Each of the 20 chapters is dedicated to a particular artist or producer, some famous and others lesser known, but all contributing an interesting story: Ray Charles (“the catalyst of the entire soul explosion came from Greenville, FL”); Sam Moore (“from Miami’s Overtown neighborhood”); sax players Ernie Calhoun and Noble “Thin Man” Watts; Lavell Kamma and the 100 Hour Counts (“one of Florida’s longest-running soul groups”), the singing duo James & Bobby Purify (one chapter each); vocalists Helen Smith, Frankie Gearing, Jackie Moore, and Timmy Thomas (his 1972 anthem “Why Can’t We Live Together” is sampled in Drake’s “Hotline Bling); Latimore (who first recorded for Henry Stone), Wayne Cochran (“the white James Brown”); white soul singer Linda Lyndell; producer Papa Don Schroeder, and of course KC and the Sunshine Band. Other chapters are dedicated to the state’s most famous label owners—Henry Stone and T.K. Productions (which rightly receives two chapters) and Willie Clarke and Deep City Records—plus a chapter explaining how “The Twist Came from Tampa.” Along the way many other artists are mentioned, along with other Florida labels such as Jayville, Tener, Marlin, Leo, Alston, D & B, Glades, and Bound Sound.
Florida Soul is an engaging and informative read, placing an emphasis on the stories behind the singers and the songs gleaned from historical research as well as interviews with surviving musicians, singers, producers, deejays, and other industry personnel. The book is an important resource on a music scene that’s never been fully documented within a single volume, adding greatly to our understanding of American music and, in particular, the soul, R&B, disco and funk grooves emanating from the Sunshine State in waves the spread across the nation.
Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss