Afro Samurai

Afro samurai.jpgTitle: Afro Samurai: The Soundtrack
Artist: RZA
Label: Koch
Catalog No: KOC-CD-4188
Date: 2007

Afro Samurai is a violent Japanese anime series featuring the voice of actor Samuel L. Jackson in the lead role. Premiered on Spike TV in Jan. 2007 (and soon to be released on DVD), the musical score for the series was prepared by Wu-Tang Clan super producer/rapper/composer RZA and was recently released by Koch Records. Over the course of 25 tracks, Afro Samurai: The Sountrack provides a healthy mix of hip hop, funk, and soul and further adds to the RZA’s already rich legacy.

RZA is most well-known as the brains behind the legendary group Wu-Tang Clan. Since 1992, RZA and the Wu-Tang Clan have released numerous hip hop classics including their first two group albums—Enter the Wu-Tang: The 36 Chambers (1992) and Wu-Tang Forever (1997)—plus the solo albums GZA/Genius Liquid Swords (1995), Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx (1995), Old Dirty Bastard’s Return to the 36 Chambers: The Thirty Version, and Ghostface Killah’s Iron Man (1996); all produced by the RZA. Furthermore, RZA has produced well-received musical scores for a number of movies including Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai, Kill Bill Vols. 1 and 2, and Blade: Trinity.

Afro Samurai: The Soundtrack is a very experimental album that contains a number of soul and funk pieces; two genres that RZA has not previously mastered. The overt hip hop pieces on the album are, unsurprisingly, very strong. “Certified Samurai” is a banger that features Talib Kweli and Free Murda dropping hot verses over an old school drum pattern and a vocal sample provided by Suga Bang. On “Jus a Lil Dude” A Tribe Called Quest rapper Q-Tip sounds rejuvenated over RZA’s triumphant horn part. On “Cameo Afro,” Big Daddy Kane and GZA prove that 40 is the new 20 as the two old school Brooklyn MCs trade verses over RZA’s brilliant beat.

Aside from the hip hop pieces, the two best songs on the album are the back to back Stone Mecca/RZA soul collaborations “Oh” and “The Walk.” Although the ordering of these songs somewhat corrupts the albums nearly flawless sequence, the outstanding quality of the tracks are unquestionable. Stone Mecca’s strong and unique voice meshes well with RZA’s neo-soul meets boom-bap sound. Also, the brief funk/soul instrumentals are adequate segues between the full-length tracks.

Afro Samurai: The Soundtrack is definitely one of RZA’s finest releases. Although he is very much a hip hop veteran, the successful experimentation on this album proves that he is ever-growing as an artist. If the forthcoming Wu-Tang releases are nearly as good as this, then the group will once again reign over the hip hop nation.

Posted by Langston Collin Wilkins

JazzFunkHipHoPoetry

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

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

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

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

Posted by Regina N. Barnett

The Watts Prophets

B000AA4KAG.01._AA240_SCLZZZZZZZ_.jpgTitle: Things Gonna Get Greater: The Watts Prophets, 1969-1971
Artist: The Watts Prophets
Label: Water Records
Year: 2005
Catalog No.: Water 157

The Watts Prophets (Anthony “Amde” Hamilton, Otis O’Solomon, and Richard Dedeaux) rose to prominence fresh off the heels of the Watts race riots of 1965. The Watts Prophets took “rap,” or “street poetry” as it was called back in the ‘60s, to the stage. Things Gonna Get Greater is material taken from two previous albums that were almost out of print and very hard to find–Rappin’ Black in a White World (1971), and The Black Voices on the Streets of Watts (1969). These two albums frightened a lot of people when they were originally released and as a consequence the Watts Prophets were labeled as black militants. With titles like “There’s a difference between a Black man and a Nigger,” the Watts Prophets tried to put the civil rights struggle in perspective with “rap” or street poetry using minimal musical accompaniment, while expressing the anger and frustration of the black experience of living in a white America.

Following the example of their Harlem contemporaries, The Last Poets, who in fact were the first commercially successful recorded avant-guard poets, the Watts Prophets decided to record their work in the great oral tradition of black culture and thus planted the roots of West Coast rap music. If anyone wants to trace the origins West Coast rap or, if you are just interested in the roots of hip-hop and rap music, then you must start the digging here. The influence of the Watts Prophets can be seen in the songs of top rappers like Dr. Dre, DJ Quik, DJ Shadow, Too Short and the Digable Planets, all of whom have sampled from their work.

Even by today’s standards of rap music this work is hard to take since it challenges the African American community and indeed all of humanity to look at the way human beings treat one another and how we treat ourselves. This is not a CD for the faint of heart.

Posted by Clark D.Whitlow

Good Bread Alley

B000FDEU4Y.01._AA240_SCLZZZZZZZ_V62622762_.jpgTitle: Good Bread Alley
Artist: Carl Hancock Rux
Label: Thirsty Ear
Catalog No.: THI-57168-2
Date: 2006

Carl Hancock Rux, who in 1994 was named by the New York Times as “One of 30 artists under the age of 30 most likely to influence culture over the next 30 years,” is well on his way to fulfilling this prediction. The recipient of a score of art and literary prizes and commissions, this author, poet, playwright, and performance artist shows no sign of slowing down any time soon. Rux has dabbled in a wide range of projects, including collaborations with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Co., and Urban Bush Women, and he recently performed in the title role of the Robert Wilson/Bernice Johnson Reagon opera The Temptation of St. Anthony. On the horizon are two operas (he’s writing the librettos) including The Blackamoor Angel, based on the life of an ex-slave and companion to Mozart, and Makandal, about the Haitian slave uprising with music by Daniel Bernard Roumain.

Good Bread Alley is the third CD in the Rux oeuvre and is more musical than his previous efforts. Often compared to Gil Scott-Heron, Rux’s verse is also full of political and social commentary, but on this album he sings his own lyrics more frequently than he raps, and the musical accompaniment samples just about every genre. From the opening title song set over a bluesy background, the tracks run the gamut from hip hop to jazz to R&B and everywhere in between, finally settling on a gospel-tinged cover of Bill Wither’s anti-war song, “I can’t write left-handed” (the only song not written by Rux). Notable tracks include “Lies,” co-authored by Vernon Reid (founder of the Black Rock Coalition); “Black of My Shadow,” which weaves together fragments of spirituals and Billie Holiday’s “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” in and through Rux’s haunting lyrics; “Living Room,” a commentary on domestic violence; and perhaps thrown in just for fun, “All the Rock Stars (for Kurt Cobain).”  Impossible to classify, this CD is both thought-provoking and mezmerizing, definately worth repeated listenings and comtemplation.

Oh, and did I mention that Rux is also a novelist? Continue reading

Eddie Murphy: Comedian

B000EQ47V8.01._AA240_SCLZZZZZZZ_V62370689_.jpgTitle: Eddie Murphy: Comedian
Artist: Eddie Murphy
Label: Columbia/Legacy
Year: 2006, 1983
Catalog No.: 82876 81282 2
Genre: Comedy

Eddie Murphy recorded this CD in 1983 at the tender age of 22, and it’s an early demonstration of his true comic genius. This youthful Eddie Murphy is raw, raunchy and extremely sexually explicit, but he is also extremely funny. If you like to laugh so hard that it makes your liver quiver then you will love Eddie Murphy: Comedian. Richard Pryor once wrote that he thought Eddie Murphy’s comedy was too mean and on this CD Murphy is just as crude and rude as he wants to be and nothing is sacred.

Murphy is not afraid to tackle any subject or anyone. All is fair game for his razor sharp wit, from bashing gays, to jokes about modern women and even jokes about Stevie Wonder. His comedy is characterized by frequent cursing and adult subject matter hence the advisory on the label for explicit material. This CD is not for the faint of heart or those easily offended. This is the hungry Eddie Murphy, fresh from his SNL success and movie debut in 48 Hrs. but before his rise to mega star status that came the following year with Beverly Hills Cop.

Eddie Murphy: Comedian was followed by Delirious (1983 video) and Eddie Murphy Raw (1987 film), which firmly established Murphy as the prince of comedy and heir apparent to Richard Pryor, the reigning king. Eddie Murphy: Comedian is a must for comedy lovers in general and for Eddie Murphy fans in particular. I am a fan of the man.

Posted by Clark D. Whitlow