Hip Hop

GZA/Genius.  Pro Tools (Babygrande, August 2008)

GZA, one of the original members of the Wu-Tang Clan, once again proves he is a master of production, combining great rhymes and beats into an album that is sure to become a classic. A host of guest producers were involved as well, including Bronze Nazareth, Allah Mathematics, True Master, Arabian Knight, Jay Waxx and Black Milk. Featured artists also include GZA’s son Justice, and Wu-Tangers RZA and Masta Killa. Tracks include the ode to ghetto youth “Short Race” and the politically charged “Columbian Ties” and “Path of Destruction.”

Knarls Barkley. The Odd Couple (Downtown/Atlantic, May 2008)

The duo known as Knarls Barkley is a collaboration between producer Danger Mouse (a.k.a. Brian Burton) and Atlanta rapper/singer Cee-lo Green, a former member of the Goodie Mob who pioneered the Dirty South style.  This was one of the break-out albums for 2008, which built upon the success of their previous release St. Elsewhere.  By merging hip hop with neo-soul and blending in large doses of special effects, they’ve created a style that’s all their own.

Young Jeezy.  The Recession (Def Jam, July 2008)

When Southern rapper Young Jeezy released The Recession last summer, he probably had no idea that the economy would continue to freefall.  And he cut the final track, the Obama shout-out “My President,” well before the election.  Addressing these topics put him somewhat ahead of the pack and add a significant degree of social relevance, though its not sustained thoughout the album. Then again, maybe he’s found a new focus since it was just announced that he is performing at the “Hip Hop Inauguration Ball,” along with T.I. and LL Cool J.

Akrobatik.  Absolute Value (Fat Beats, February 2008)

Boston rapper Akrobatik, who interestingly has a side gig as an announcer for the “Sports Rap-Up” segment on Boston hip hop station 95.5 FM, released his most significant album to date in 2008.  Absolute Value positions him firmly within the socially conscious alternative rap pantheon, with tracks such as “Rain” that addresses gang violence, and “Front Steps, Pt. 2 (Tough Love)” which slams gangsta rap with the rhyme “They shut down the conscious rosters/But talk about being a pimp you’ll get an Oscar.”   Among the many guests are Talib Kweli (“Put Ya Stamp on It”), Little Brother, Chuck D, and B Real.

Will C.  Down the Dial (Double You Productions, 2008)

Compiled by Will C., a Boston area deejay,  Down the Dial is a mix of highlights from the influential radio program Rap Attack, hosted by DJ Mr. Magic and broadcast over New York’s WBLS-FM in the 1980s. Will C. combed through piles of old DATs and cassettes containing airchecks from the show, culling watershed moments from the original programs. What is unique about this project though, is the manner in which the old is mixed with the new.  “What I did with this project was absorb the format of Mr. Magic’s radio shows over a period of years . . . when I went into the studio to put together some Will C. mixes, I always kept in mind the master mixes of deejays like Marley Marl and Chilly Q on the Rap Attack. . . The end result, if all went according to plan, are moments on Down the Dial where you can’t tell if you’re hearing the vintage side of things or the new pieces.”

Rare Child

Title: Rare Child
Artist: Danielia Cotton
Label: Adrenaline
Catalog No.: ADM-101041
Release Date: May 20, 2008

Danielia Cotton came onto the rock scene in 2005 with her debut album Small White Town. Her recent sophomore effort, Rare Child, continues her signature blues rock sound, deepened by a more experienced voice. Cotton has often discussed her childhood growing up black and fatherless in a predominantly white New Jersey town. While she sang gospel at her family’s church as a child and teenager, the music she most commonly heard, and ultimately identified with, was rock. These experiences formed the core expression of Small White Town, and continue to inform Rare Child. In the opening cut, “Make U Move,” Cotton sings “I’m a little black girl who’ll rock your world,” and much of the album lives up to that promise.

Cotton’s musical style combines her soul-and blues-inflected vocals with classic rock instrumentation and harmonies, for a sound that suggests Janis Joplin fronting the Black Crowes. A touch of country twang in the guitar parts adds a southern rock element, particularly in the slower songs “Didn’t U,” “Running,” and “Let It Ride.” While several of the faster tracks (“Make U Move,” “Testify,” “Rare Child”) convey a sense of rock and roll bravado, “Didn’t U” and “Running” address heartbreak and different stages of post-breakup grief with confessional honesty. “Let It Ride” reflects the viewpoint of a more experienced musician, wearily describing life on the road and the desire to end the journey and return home. Following is a clip from a live performance of “Testify- Devil in Disguise”:

Danielia Cotton’s music revives the black roots of rock by playing up its blues and soul origins while also turning to some of its predominantly white styles, a combination that stays true to her own upbringing. Her style sounds like rock music from the 1970s, while also sounding distinctly modern. Cotton’s bluesy wail is never quite as raw or powerful as Joplin’s, but it nevertheless gives voice to her own experiences in a fresh and authentic way.

Editor’s note: In keeping with the political theme of the November ’08 issue, here is a link to Cotton’s official Obama campaign add for MoveOn.org:

Posted by Ann Schaffer