If any genre is allowed to be self-referencing and creatively recyclable then you have to give hip-hop a pass on that score. Any genre born from sampling, splicing and slicing, rewording and reworking can always be forgiven for taking classics of their own genre, in this case Salt-n-Pepa’s iconic Push It, as a core vibe for a new musical outing. But if that is what gets you through the door, it is what lies beyond it that makes the track stand out.
If you need proof that the world is becoming an ever smaller and more connected place you just have to look at the blends and cross-references that crop up in the art forms of the 21st century. Canadian based Cameroonian artist MD Lyonga is the perfect representation of this and his latest e.p. is a deft mix of styles and genres garnered from many different cultures and countries. As you would expect from an artist with one foot in either continent there is a wonderful clash of western rap and R&B infused pop with the more exotic beats and rhythms of west Africa’s rich musical heritage.
We Journalists love our genres, our pigeon-holes, our easy handles, but this one has got even me stumped. But that’s a good thing right? If it is easy to pin down then you have probably heard it, or at least something similar, before. Where you attempt to pace Phantom Phunk in the scheme of things really depends on which aspect of the sound you pick up on first. Hip-hop vocals blended with soulful-pop responses, electro-rock back beats, warped indie guitars and a strange neo-psychedelic vibe surrounding everything. Intrigued?
Describing themselves more as a collaborative project than a band, this musical tribe comprising of LiKWUiD on vocals, music director Zaven Embree and honorary member Willie Green in the role of engineer and producer, are the perfect response to the world we find ourselves in today. They stand for non-conformity and creativity as a way to promote love, peace, prosperity and aim to re-unite the disparate tribes that mankind is continually dividing into. Ebony Stoned is also a response to the patriarchal society that they see around them, the greed of capitalism and a rallying cry to instil hope, particularly in women, as the gender balance seems to be tipping against them at an increasing rate in the current political climate.
The song is an intense and relentless blast of forward thinking hip-hop energy, beat and groove topped off with a machine gun delivery of hard hitting rap salvos. A staccato explosion of attitude, it swaggers with militancy and confidence and bravely swaps the route through easy melody for punch after sonic punch. The result is a euphoric and tense musical message, one that you are unlikely to forget any time soon.
This is the third time I have reviewed a release from this artist in as many months, you can’t deny that he has to be one of the hardest working rappers out there. You would have thought that by now I would be getting quite familiar with his style, his approach, his attitude towards making music. Well, to be honest the more I hear the less sure of where he fits in to the grand scheme of things and this 4 year retrospective doesn’t help to clarify things much.
But that is the sort of artist I like, one who deals in curveballs, swerves expectation and gives you not what you want but what you never in realised that you wanted. This hefty musical tome embraces hip-hop, rap, reggae, urban electro, R&B and more but it is how they are joined together, (w)rapped around each other or somehow brutally collided that produces the goods. It’s raw, roughly woven, roots, underground and lo-fi. You will recognise the building blocks but the finished sonic architecture will make you think twice about what urban music can be in the modern age and more importantly where it might be going.
Whilst many rappers and hip-hop artists seem content to sing about personal gain, the glitz, the glamour, the game, of getting the trappings that seem to go hand in hand with the genre, 4 Wheel City find their inspiration in higher concerns. The album title immediately tells us that the writing comes from a deeper and more meaningful place but this is more than an album of devotional music thought. It discusses a wide range of subjects, social issues, political events, persistent day to day problems and universal world concerns.
Proving that terms such as rap, hip-hop and urban music are too broad to really be of much use, Namel “Tapwaterz” Norris and Ricardo “Rickfire” Velasquez have created an album that neither revels in the past glories of the genre nor simply settles for a commercial route to chart success and a quick buck. Instead they deal with big issues head on, whilst setting eloquent and often elegant words, to music that redefines what those genres can be in the modern age.
Songs such as Burning of the Tiki Torches are particularly powerful, discussing the broad and broken political landscape and calling for unity and Disabled Lives Matter looks at hot topics such as the Puerto Rican floods from the point of view of how it affects those less able to deal with the physical aspects of such a disaster. A song made all the more poignant with a similar storm currently battering the US east coast even as I write this. Leaders of The New World looks at a possible future inspired by people turning away from greed and exploitation and leading by example and Music sees them celebrating the part that creativity plays in their life.
It’s a fascinating album, one that flys in the face of mumbling bedroom rappers searching for a celebrity life-style that seems to have become the norm. It looks the grim reality’s of the modern world straight in the eye and forces the listener to engage in the discussion. It pushes generic boundaries beyond the streets where it grew up and into a sort of provocative urban world music. It is also a timely reminder that music can indeed be a powerful force, can be used as a platform to cause debate, can make the listener both feel and think, two things that seem in short supply in these dark modern days.
It is nice to know that in this world were a lot of rap and hip-hop has been dumbed down to mumbling bedroom wannabes talking in street tough cliches over the same off the shelf meandering beats, that occasionally you can still stumble across something which reminds you of the golden age. Apologies For The Delay swaggers like an old school hip-hop classic but is nothing if not forward looking too, talking in the language of today and adding a real street edge and dark anticipation through the choice and flow of words. It is sharp, punchy and for a change revels in its own lyricism, something which seems to have ironically been lost from the genres which arose from a cappella street poetry.
If opening salvo Apologies harks back to a big 90’s sound, subsequent tracks show that Shegz is not just a one trick pony. Fire plays with off-beat reggae, Glue wanders slicker, chilled R&B territory and Don’t Touch My Creps is a truly new creation taking elements that you may be familiar with but putting them together in totally new and original ways.
Hip-Hop, rap and the whole urban sound has come a long way since it was first found hanging around on the street corners of The Bronx but Shegz proves that it is far from having run its course, if anything it has just as much energy and imagination as it ever did. Perhaps more.
Proving that there is a still plenty of sonic exploration to be done in the very broad urban music field, Fabp has delivered an album which thwarts expectations. It’s very easy to see the musical building blocks he uses to create this suite of eleven songs, a gentle, often ambient hip-hop, restrained and spacious sung-raps, reggae grooves, R&B melodies and strange electronic pop hybrids. In that respect he is working in fairly familiar territory but as always it isn’t about the basic materials but what you build with them that counts. You don’t look at the nature of the bricks when you are being beguiled by the architecture.
It’s an album which adds some unexpected elements to the hip-hop/rap music mix. There is an understatement and a wonderful space created by the unhurried and chilled nature of the delivery. Even more surprising are songs like Greatest Artists which somehow come on like a bit of a boast but which are actually dripping with a humble, matter of fact poignancy.
Dirty Lil’ Communications shows that not every song has to be big and clever, has to try too hard to show off and play the role of the alpha male. Sometimes just forging an original path, being brave enough to do your own thing and not follow the musical fads and fashions is its own reward. Fabp isn’t leader of the pack for one simple fact. He is so far ahead of the pack that they barely know how to follow him.
I’m always wary around rap, hip-hop, urban…call it what you will… music. Not that there is inherently anything wrong with such genres, of course not, it’s just that as part of my music writing income there is a place where I am employed to review new, emerging and unsigned music from a more A’n’R point of view. It means that most of it is low budget, most is pretty unreconstructed and most of it is rap. And sadly for every one shinning gem I find, I have to wade through dozens of mumbling, bedroom based, self-aggrandising misogynists blending trap beats with whatever pre-programmed electronica was on the pre-settings of their Casio keyboard. Thankfully DEVMO is everything that is not.
It just goes to show you that even though Change My Mind is constructed using a lot of the same sonic building blocks, skittering trap beats, glitchy and pulsing electronica, fast and flowing rap and edgy and socially poignant lyrical content, it does a number of things that those urban wannabes don’t. It makes clever sonic choices, offers interesting arrangements, uses its imagination and wanders wilfully across the dynamic spectrum. Everything that the aforementioned also rans could only dream of.
Changed My Mind in particular wanders through some dark and sensual places, flitting between and flirting with both the profound and the profane, it bears its soul and throws caution to the wind and Kylie Jenner is a mesh of intense pop textures, futuristic dreamscapes and celebrity adulation. Get My Shit Together is a hip-hop-pop hybrid, all off-kilter dance groove and slick word play. The individual sonic components may be familiar but the way they are put together is astounding. A builder may stack bricks but it takes an architect to create beauty.
In a world where I often feel that rap music has gone down a certain rabbit hole, DEVMO is the Alice that holds a mirror up to Wonderland by showing it how ridiculous it is, just by not following the rules. It pricks its bubble of pretension and self-importance and reminds me that there are indeed artists who represent a bright new future for the genre. You just have to know where to look.
Hip-hop, rap and all of those urban off shoots and sub-genres have built a, possibly unwarranted, reputation for promoting self-aggrandisement and material gain. There is nothing wrong with wanting to better yourself, its just that bettering yourself isn’t always about having, sometimes it is about feeling. Lil Noovie‘s dedication to Jahseh Dwayne Onfroy, aka rapper XXXTentacion, is about feeling, and remembering too, but it is also about love and an end to the tensions and violence that take people away so young.
The song lets the vocals do most of the work, puts the message front and centre and drives on a trippy, skittering trap beat and smooth electronica and little else. It is this space that makes the song hit home so effectively, rather than the musical tricks and studio layering that is often used to create weight to the song, it is the atmosphere and anticipation in the spaces between the beats and words that makes the message more powerful. A song about remembering but a song about change. I just hope enough people are listening.
I spend so much of my time trying to find something new to say about music that lands on my desk with the label R&B attached, music that is really just production line pop with the same stolen groove and an eye on a quick buck, that I have taken to dreading anything which turns up with such moniker attached. Perhaps it is such a backdrop of unoriginality that makes Agency’s Exponents e.p shine so brightly, though more likely it is that what’s going on here is actually something a bit special, cool and totally original, a collection of songs created by thinking so far out of the box that they can’t even see the box in the rear-view mirror as they take this musical vehicle for a spin down the highway.
Take opening salvo Darkness for example. Most artists would want to make a big and obvious impact to kick the record off, Agency opt for a wonderfully weird and glitchy a capella introduction, much more memorable in its otherness than the usual bombastic offerings. It then proceeds to play with everything from sweeping pop balladry to hip-hop grooves, from up beat soul to mainstream commercial infectiousness. In just this opening track they seem to cover more musical ground than many acts take the first decade of their career and four albums to encapsulate.
Moonlight weaves more ambient threads together, smooth soulfulness, sultry grooves and a wonderful use of space to create atmosphere and anticipation between the notes and the beats and Daylight is the perfect dance floor wind down as the club slips into the early hours chill mode. Nothing Easy About Me, the final slice of this five song offering, is a brilliantly eclectic musical cut up of spoken word and strangely affected musical interludes.
And whilst it is easy to assign these tracks to broad generic labels, that doesn’t even begin to do them justice as even when they can be pinned down to such normal classifications the songs seem to be constantly either creating new sub-genres within them or making leaps across those generic fences and gene-splicing music and ideas that seem to have passed everyone else by. The ability to do this, to almost turn accepted musical forms on their head and still come away with something cohesive, intriguing and accessible is a trick most can’t carry off. And when they are not reinventing the core concepts of soul, R&B, hip-hop, ambient pop and the like, they are creating wonderfully smooth, musically elegant and lyrically eloquent songs.
If it wasn’t for the fact that you can’t help but love everything about them, they would make you jealous enough to hate them…in a good way, at least.
In difficult and emotional times it can often be hard to process the hand that life deals you, the reality of situations can be overwhelming. Everyone approaches things differently, you do what you have to do to get through. Often you can better focus your thoughts by writing them down, or in the case of Joey The Bull, turning them into the lyrics of a song. The Perfect Human Being is therefor a letter to his mother, a dedication and an outpouring of emotion but one more focused and orderly due to the time spent collecting that wave of emotion and thoughts into a more logical arrangement. It is a confessional, a prayer even, a list of questions, ones that require no answer, it is just enough that they have been asked out loud. Maybe the universe listens to use, maybe it is just enough to hear yourself say what you feel. The answer probably lies somewhere between the two.
Musically The Perfect Human Being references old school hip-hop but rather than follow those pioneers down their often confrontational and challenging path, it laces those same beats and sonic building blocks with a passion, ultimate soul searching and a musical melancholy that was rarely present in those formative years. Classical strings add a musical elegance to this familiar urban sound, softens the edges and tugs at the heartstrings of the listener, the lyrics deliver an eloquence that is a mile above the usual self-aggrandisement and gangster stance of the rest of pack.
The Perfect Human Being is that rarest of songs, one that is written from a totally personal place but which is so universally relatable that it goes beyond the one to one conversation that it at first seems to be. Despite its intimate nature there are moments when you forget that this is a personally penned message and hear phrases and words that relate to your own and indeed everyones life. Music is made for a myriad of reasons, from the throw-away to the memorable, the universal to the intimate. But it is at its most powerful, most poignant, most relevant when it comes from the heart. Joey The Bull writes not only from his heart but from the very depths of his soul. Maybe that is when the healing can begin.
Revelling in the past is all very well and good but the best music, or at least the most original, seems to be made as people move things forward. It’s evolution, it’s forward-thinking, it is the way the world turns. Jackie Dope is the sound of the world turning and music moving into pastures new. Yes, you can break the song apart and find very recognisable musical building blocks being used, but it is what they are used to build which is the real charm.
Over a lazy and sultry hip-hop groove he hangs soulful vibes, trippy electronica, deft rap flows and a wonderful use of space and anticipation. It certainly beats with a chilled hip-hop heart but it also evokes a timeless soul, commercial R&B and a strange blend of cocktail lounge sophistication and urban street smarts.
But I guess that is how the whole scene rolls forward and you can run a thread through blues, jazz and soul that eventually takes you to hip-hop and then beyond as that in turn has evolved into its own offshoots and sub-genres But they all come from the underground, form honest expression, from the street, from the heart, which is why blending them together seems such a natural thing to do. Then again, there always has to be someone who gets there first!
Hip-Hop has come along way from the street corners and community centres of late 70’s South Brooklyn and whilst musically it still holds on to the same beats and rhythms, raps and rhymes as it has travelled through time and across the world from its difficult birth on those tough streets it has in turn continued to evolve. Like all music bends and bows to other cultures, other sounds, other fashion and the hip-hop of today is a varied and mercurial beast.
Panda T and the Shinobi Tempura is a classic example of the growth of the genre taking in elements as disparate and diverse as Japanese culture, ambient alt-pop, rap, urban dance, found sounds taken from film and media as well as the more expected rapped lyrics and poetic flow. It is not only the best of old school influences and new generic explorations, it is also a deft blend of east and west, of orient and occident, intricacy and directness, the profound and the profane.
Revelling in the past is all very well and good but the best music, or at least the most original, seems to be made as people move things forward. It’s all about evolution, it’s about forward-thinking, it is the way the world turns and Shinobi Tempura is the sound of the world not only turning but shrinking as cultures collide and new music is forged from the heat of these interactions. Panda T pulls together various urban strands, skittering trap beats, hip-hop rhythms , cool rap flows and strange and glitchy electro-groove musical motifs and even a few sultry R&B tones and smooth, late night smokey vibes as well as the references and explorations of Japanese culture.
Ocean View has a really chilled, ambient feel, sun drenched and sassy, effortlessly cool and ultra hip, whilst Ricky The Ruler is built from brooding drama and staccato rhymes. Hulu is an intense blast of word play and Erykah Badu is a confident and groovesome opening salvo.
It’s an album that tips its hat to the past whilst shaping the future and it does really feel like a first, a bold step forward, a post-urban style that pushes beyond the rules and regulations. Ignores the fickle finger of fashion and has no time for musical guardians and narrow-minded pedants telling it what hip-hop, pop, rap, trap, electronic music or any other genre should be about.
And it is this addictive combination of hypnotic vocal delivery and trippy accessibility which really moves the ball forward, breaks out of the comfort zones and offers a new take on an old sound. It is the perfect eulogy for the streets, the hustle, the hassle, the grime and the game, it plays to stereotypical images but it drips with dark reality. If ever rap music spoke of the lives and aspirations of the young urban experience, this is where it is said most eloquently in raps own first language.
By his own admission, Robert Boog isn’t a natural musician, but he is naturally a creative soul, as a string of work in literature and movie script-writing will attest to. And like all creatives he knows that it is the idea and the ability to make something happen rather than just the performance which is the key thing. The wonders of the modern age means that you can take your ideas and connect with others, bring in the people and the skills that enable you to get you across the finishing line and very often do it without even leaving your office chair. And that is exactly what he has done here.
Drive ’n’ Text sits at a place on the musical Venn diagram where hip-hop shares space with a dark infomercial, one, as the name suggests, about the dangers of texting whilst driving and narrated from the point of view of death watching on. But whilst being informative, it also cuts it as a great piece of urban music, is delivered via flowing narratives and confident beats, the street-level language making the message even more poignant and the easy groove of the song making it totally accessible.
Not only a great use of a musical platform, not to mention a good tune, it is thought provoking and poetic in a grime and realistic sort of way but more than that it is a testament to the ability to come at such a project as a non-musician and through the power of technology and collaboration to end up with something really cool.
If rock music is known for producing the big, bombastic anthems and hip-hop for being the cooler underground way of getting a musical message across, then it is surprising that more people don’t mix the core elements of both genres. That is what Furyus and DJ Dee Kimble do on Pull Through and the results are great. It combines the lyrical flow and eloquent rap of the urban experience and the muscle and drive of the rock sound.
The one thing that both types of music do share is their ability to stand on a soapbox and make themselves heard, to be a rallying point and Pull Through, as the name would suggest, is about getting through hard times. As such the song is built on positive vibes, optimism and hope, acts as a support to those who might feel that life is dealing them a rough hand, a call for strength and unity, a reminder that humans are resilient creatures and that better times are always around the corner.
Urban rock? Rap with guitar driven chops? Hip-Hope? Call it what you will, it may wilfully cross generic musical lines, but it is all the better for not sticking to the rules.
Any track that is topped and tailed with the strains of Withnail and I wins my respect irrespective of what they do to fill the space between those soundbites. For these are clearly people of taste and didn’t a wise man once say that there are two sorts of people in this world, those who know it to be the greatest, not to mention most quotable, film of all time and those who have yet to see it. No, well they should have.
Although pursuing their own, separate careers, Big Toast and Jack Diggs have been collaborating on various projects for over a decade and now present Call It On, the full length album which is home to this track. There is something of the Sleaford Mods vibe but only because like them they have re-worked old-school, gritty UK hip-hop sounds, samples garnered from crate digging, studio deftness and an ear for the cool, clock themselves in the same urban anti-fashion and deliver a brutal scatter gun salvo of lyrics and poetic flows.
I guess I make the reference mainly because the aforementioned Nottingham agitators are the best known of the genre but turn a few stones, look down a few dark alleyways, find a few underground clubs and invite only parties and you will find acts like this and a whole wealth of talent that are ready to give them a run for their money.
There is something interesting about listening to music being preformed in a language that you don’t understand. The lyrics, rather than becoming the point of communication, the story, the message, are instead transformed into a mixture of instrumentation and emotion, still conveying feeling and mood but doing so at a more basic, intuitive level. Hip-hop has always been about the message, the word play and the lyrical dexterity but on occasions such as this it instead works on a more primal level creating atmosphere and instead of talking to the brain in direct terms communicates with the listeners soul via some sort of empathic osmosis.
Le Soleil Ne Brille Plus, which even with my limited French I think means something like The Sun Doesn’t Always Shine, is all you need to pick up the flavor of the song, the video and the lyrical mood will do the rest. But also the music behind the voice is suitably melancholy, a far cry from the usual bombastic nature of music coming from the hip-hop quarter. It plays with restraint and understatement, the beats are sparse, the music a deft mix of electronic washes, brooding bass drones and some lovely fluid jazz guitar wandering around just on the edge of the song.
So Novia may prove to be the master of deconstruction but the main thing that he uses to piece his musical building blocks back together, the musical glue if you like, is space. It is the atmosphere, the gap between the beat, the things which aren’t played, the mid song breakdown and the pause between the lyrics, or in my case the lack of direct communication, which make it all work so well. Many musicians believe the most powerful form of communication is to get up front and in the listeners face… or at least in their ears but Le Soleil Ne Brille Plus shows that less is most definitely more and that absorbing music by empathic osmosis is equally…no, make that so much more effective.
We already know that Satish can deliver the goods in the studio, La Reina Cubana put any doubts to rest with its blend of hip-hop rhythms and Latin sass, lyrical salvos and infectious grooves. But for many the test comes with the live performance, this is after all music whose disparate threads were found on the street corners of South Bronx, Caribbean dancehalls and South American carnivals, backstreet celebrations and DIY party gatherings. It existed in a live setting long before it got anywhere near a studio.
This time around we get to experience Satish, here using his alias of Satish Dat Beast, playing the modern descendant of those past party scenes, a live rooftop performance delivered with his trademark verve and vigour. A far cry from the current wave of bedroom rap mumblers claiming hip-hop heritage but essentially welding outdated cliches to the same electronica backing tracks, Satish proves that he can deliver it live too. This is hip-hop remembering where it comes from and embracing the future, the latin groove being up-dated for an up-town, up-scale, urban audience. A celebration of the fairer sex and a damn good tune that gets people moving and proving once again that Satish is just the man for the job.
Lead single She Put a Spell on Me is funky stuff for sure. Steeped in 70’s funk ethic, the excessive and effortless groove of 80’s Prince and fusing R&B, rock guitar and hip-hop rap and flow, it wanders between the downtown hustle and the uptown glitz, the urban and the urbane. As a calling card it is certainly going to draw the moth-like listeners to this beguiling flame of an e.p. but once there you realise that it is the eclecticism of this song which sums up this e.p. as a whole rather than providing its signature sound.
That Look is more of an early synth pop piece, existing at the point when the underground sounds were starting to be courted by a wider audience and more commercially minded, somewhere between the cultish, elitist underground of the late seventies and the more accessible and commercial sound of the next decade. Last Days starts in a similar place but delivers funky raps rather than pop rhymes and Performer is the song where all the previous threads come together…and more. It drives on a glam rock stomp, distant, early U2-esque guitars, Bee Gees harmonies, bruising rock-hop grooves and spoken raps, and still evoking the aforementioned P word in all his mercurial majesty.
Dark Day Afternoon is a beguiling collection of songs, playing with the decades, re-inventing, re-imagining and subverting as it goes. The references are great, the premise is brilliant and the conclusions are out of this world. It’s safe to say the boy done good. Good? Make that great!
Paradame sounds like the perfect artist for this post-genre world that we find ourselves in. There was a time when music was strangely tribal, that unwritten rules dictated that members of one broad musical base couldn’t be a fan of others. Punks didn’t go to prog gigs, Indie kids didn’t hit the commercial dance floors, rap and goth would cross the road to avoid each other. Thankfully all of that nonsense is behind us and only the other day I found myself sat in a coffee shop opposite a kid in guyliner and a Ramones t-shirt clutching a couple of Steely Dan vinyls he’d found going cheap. I just hope that he was using his laptop to obtain tickets for a Taylor Swift tour but that may be asking too much of the analogy.
Anyway, the point is, this is the world I have been looking forward too for a long time, one where rules, expectations and perceived protocol don’t matter and we are free to explore any musical avenue that takes our ear. This too is the world of Paradame. Hurricane, the lead single and album opener, gently splices electro-pop, hip-hop and futuristic R&B, vocals wander between street corner rap delivers and pure pop and the result is glorious and also liberating.
Whilst songs such as Break This are straighter takes on R&B and soul reinventions for the modern age, it is Wave which really shows the scope of her music, a futuristic and beguiling electro-rap driving along off-kilter dance grooves and a Darkwave soul. Ursula is built on minimal, pulsating music and atmospherics and the fact that album closer, A Thin Line, begins with the closing soliloquy from one of my favourite films, Blade Runner, only makes me love her music more.
Cobra is a fantastic prospect, a skittering sci-fi laced rap built on skittering trap percussion and sumptuous harmonies, odd and otherworldly, punchy yet poised. When most people creating music built on such a groove are talking about their hood and their streets, Paradame prefers to turn things into a galaxy and genre hopping piece of escapism.
Lyrically, she also comes from a clever place. Whereas many people working in such urban infused musical genres tend to use lyrics to evoke cliched aggrandisement about their environment, their ambitions and their material wealth, Aye! Priori is a soul-searching album. Its words and the scenes and scenarios they paint explores the head, the heart and the very soul, personal narratives perhaps but the messages here are universally transferable from artist to listener. An album which is both musically big and lyrically clever! Why has no one thought of that before?
Listen to the album HERE
The fact that I have been saying the same thing more and more in music reviews lately means that there must be something going on. Some music is all about having fun, about letting off steam, about just enjoying the moment and moving on, and that’s fine, but I am finding more and more music crossing the review desk that has something more to say, a deeper rooted agenda, a message. A lot of musical movements have their birth in action and reaction. Rock and roll, hip-hop and punk were all borne out of boredom, dissatisfaction, intolerance and unrest and there seems to be an upswell of artists who wish to address those issues once more. And whilst the likes of Idles do it with and iron fist, The Judex rabble-rouse and Ignacio Pena uses articulate rock, Nine Beats Collective have subtler but no less poignant musical weapons to hand.
They blend soul, hip-hop, funk, jazz, rock…anything that comes to hand really but lyrically they rely on much older ideals. They take ancient writings, wisdom taken from The Biblical Beatitudes and weave it through their music. The songs become a call for tolerance and understanding, taking their lead from archaic communication and hearing in them the whispers of another world and the invitation to a path of recovery and hoping that the empty hand is a mightier weapon than the sword.
The music often takes the form of spoken word over soothing and groovesome musical vehicles, from short jazz backed sound bites such as Purgatory to the gang vocal driven Call ‘Em Out (chants would be a fine thing) but it also evolves via evocative instrumentals such as Song For The Earth and funky and joyous workouts like Wild World.
It is a new approach to music, a new form, a new genre and it isn’t everyday that I get to say that. But this is a totally new approach one that blends wonderful new musical fusions with the fundamentals of what it means, and what has largely been forgotten, to be human.
There is something boundless about Go Go Satish (aka Satish Dat Beast) music and it comes as no surprise that his own personal story is one that has seen him grow up and travel in many different and varied cultures, from South America to Europe and of course his native USA. And it is this diversity which informs his music, it being a blend of old school hip-hop sass, reggae groove, latin swagger and even a pop awareness that makes his music accessible and genre hopping beyond the boundaries of urban music.
My review desk and inbox is full of New York rappers, singing about New York streets and New York aspirations (replace New York with any urban sprawl) and it is that parochialism, that narrow experience which means that whilst some of it is good, much of it follows the same music lines driven my the same references, musical, geographical, cultural and otherwise. Go Go Satish sounds more like a citizen of the world, a global troubadour collecting music, playing with genre and fitting together music which general would cross the street to avoid being seen next to each other.
Because of that La Reina Cubana is a strutting and groovesome piece, existing where a latin sun and a Caribbean beach party dance a tango with the rap and hip-hop of the meaner Stateside urban experience. But more than anything, it is as infectious as hell, and that is the bottom line for any music of this nature.
The west coast of America, and California in particular has been described in music many times, from the Beach Boys harmonious surf pop to the hippy haze of The Mamas and The Papas, the slick acoustic rock of The Eagles and of course the dexterous, folkie asides of Led Zeppelin. It is natural that those who live there want to enshrine it in song and those who dream of it want to conjure musical myths and explore their ambitions for it. Brice Sedgwick does both. Back with his trademark understated and considered blends of dance groove and more mediative pop, Venice is a collection of songs written from someone who calls it home. If the geographically the place itself isn’t always the subject at hand, it is always there in the music, a backdrop painted from the subtle hues and supple brushstrokes of the soundscapes and smooth sonics from which he builds his songs.
The title track is a gentle piano piece, part personal narrative, part poetic description of the scenes and scenarios that the story plays through and at the other extreme Symmetry runs on a funky, hip-pop groove. Between this minimalism and these dance grooves that he uses as his parameters, the songs have plenty of room to explore ideas, fuse genres and wander interesting and unique pathways. Mondays Aren’t Blue In California is a sultry little minx of a song and Boy’s Don’t Cry is a lilting pop ballad that with the right tail wind and a lucky roll of the dice could easily become a chart bothering concern.
Venice is Brice on top form; if Pacifico laid out a stall talking about the realities of life and its harder edges wrapped up in the smoothest of sonic trappings, Venice reveals that not only was this not a one trick wonder as he continues to really delivers the goods. The goods in this case being songs that raise even his own already high benchmarks.
I’ve had a run of acts come my way of late that fall into the broad hip-hop/rap spectrum and who claim to be really pushing the boundaries of what the genre can be as we move forward into a new era. Most, however, has been the sonic equivalent of dropping a hand grenade into the middle of the listener’s expectations and then trying to rearrange the debris into new and pleasing shapes. Sure, you really shake things, and then some, but you also find that the result is normally, well…a total disaster.
What is so clever about Damian Redd’s approach at finding new ways forward, new directions for hip-hop, rap and the various urban music threads which lie at the core of this music is that instead of pushing outwards into more tenuous and fractured realms, as some artists are trying to do, he instead looks inward to pop, chilled dance floor beats and even 80’s infused electronica to create his sound. Whereas so many of his fellow artists are trying to create music by blending disparate genres which have no business hanging out with each other into chimeric and unsatisfying new styles, Redd reunites hip-hop with its pop roots.
And the result is the best of both worlds as Caught in a Fantasy drives on a confident lyrical flow and some deep and intriguing scenarios being painted with those words but it is underpinned by a real old school synth motor-groove, trippy-trappy beats and some equally intriguing and intricate music details, glitchy sounds and strange peripheral motifs. Music is cyclical, we all know that, but the great thing is that every time a nostalgic sound or a long forgotten scene comes back into the zeitgeist of the current age, artists get a chance to reimagine it, reinvent it, use those original musical colours to paint anew.
And that is what Caught in a Fantasy is all about, it tips its hat to the past whilst shaping the future and it does really feel like a first, a bold step forward, a post-genre style that pushes beyond the rules and regulations, ignores the fickle finger of fashion and has no time for musical guardians and narrow-minded pedants telling it what hip-hop, pop, rap, electronic dance music or any other genre should be about. Actually, maybe we should stop using genres, labels, pigeon-holes altogether, after all it really is lazy journalists, like myself, who employ them to make our lives easier, after all Damian Redd clearly isn’t worried about genres and their narrow demarcations and maybe that is a lesson to all of us.
At last! One of the advantages of being a freelance reviewer, someone who writes about any music irrespective of genre, style, location or place in the musical hierarchy means that I get a good overview of what the new music landscape looks like. The disadvantage is also that I get a good overview of what the new music landscape looks like. Don’t get me wrong, all creativity is to be celebrated but in this era of cheap and accessible technology it seems that quality control is at a minimum. This seems especially true in the hip-hop and rap circles and a wave of back bedroom would be celebrities who think that programming a few beats from the package that came with their PC software and auto-tuning the hell out of a few cliches is all that is required.
Thank the gods of music for acts like Well Dressed Villains. Hide Your Valuables comes to these weary ears like a breath of fresh air. Hip-hop may beat at its core but it is the genre-hopping creativity that they use to drive that central sound and the musical landscapes that they leave joyride through that makes this stand out from the pack.
One moment they are revelling in hip-hop’s 90’s golden age, the next they are creating mutant, dystopian dance music, it drips with urban cool and rock muscle, tips its natty fedora to the old-school and heads into the sunrise of a new era dancing to a whole new beat..a beat purely of their own design.
Hip-Hop may have grown from a street corner, a cappella, lyrical battle ground but like any musical genre it has come a long way since that formative early eighties learning curve. It has evolved and explored along the way, given birth to a number of sub-genres and become part of the most lucrative end of the music industry. But that isn’t to say that it has got comfortable with its lot and is happy to relax and revel in past glories. Anything but! Track Seven Band are living proof of this and their blending of classic hip-hop dexterity with established rock muscle is proof that things are still moving forward.
This isn’t the first time that the two genres have found ways to work together but the results have largely been hard rock songs with rapped deliveries, bustling with rage and angst, here though, there is something more balanced at work, less about one genre plundering from another but instead a wonderfully sonic symbiosis. From the lyrical attack to the underlying groove it beats with a hip-hop heart but this is enhanced by guitar lines which come from a fairly understated rock place and drums and piano lines that add a brilliant soul vibe to the song.
So it is soul, rock and hip-hop, it is built on classic lines and generously tips its hat to the past but it is also wonderfully forward thinking, the sound of things moving on rather than of rose-tinted backward glances or plundered nostalgia. It is also wonderfully understated, especially when compared with what the rock/hip-hop fusion normally results in. There are no overplayed rock guitars filling every space between the lyrics, no onslaught of beats and boisterousness, no rock cliche. Instead the song has room to breath and the guitars sit behind, emphasising rather than domination, adding deft musical detail rather than trying to steal the show.
The result is a song with room to breath, lyrics which are framed rather than fighting to be heard and there is room for some sweet piano lines to weave through the centre ground and this room to let all these musical ideas co-exist is what really takes this song over the line. It feels natural and honest rather than forced or put together in some sort of generic fusion box ticking exercise and is also the perfect calling card for the EP of the same name from which it is taken.
Music has to change to offer something new, write a new footnote in the annals of music history and The Try and The Fail feels a lot more than a footnote, possibly the introductory paragraph to a chapter called “What Hip-Hop Did Next.”
Revelling in the past is all very well and good but the best music, or at least the most original, seems to be made as people move things forward. It’s evolution, it’s forward-thinking, it is the way the world turns. Miles Casella is the sound of the world turning and music moving into pastures new. Yes, you can break the song apart and find very recognisable musical building blocks being used, but it is what they are used to build which is the real charm.
Over a lazy and sultry trip-hop groove he hangs soulful vibes, cool jazz, sensual saxophones and wonderfully affected vocals. Hey Fine beats with a hip-hop heart but it also evokes a timeless blues bar jam, and a strange blend of cocktail lounge sophistication and urban street smarts. But I guess that is how the whole scene rolls forward and you can run a thread through blues, jazz and soul that eventually takes you to hip-hop and then beyond as that in turn has evolved into its own offshoots and sub-genres But they all come from the underground, form honest expression, from the heart, which is why blending them together seems such a natural thing to do. So natural that it is amazing that no one has managed to weave them together this brilliantly before. Then again, there always has to be someone who gets there first!
There does seem to be a change in the urban genres of late, hip-hop, rap and R&B seems to be struggling to write its next chapter and whilst you have to admire anyone who tries to find new musical ground to conquer, thread new ideas and styles together, most of these musical experiments seem to have been the sonic equivalent of dropping a hand grenade into the middle of the listener’s expectations and then trying to rearrange the debris into new and pleasing shapes. Sure, you really shake things, and then some, but you also find that the result is normally, well…a total disaster. But all these terrible chimeric creations and monstrous genre-splicing acts merely to highlight just how right Miles Casella gets it.
And even though there is a wonderful familiarity to the song, Hey Fine does feel like a first, a bold step forward, a post-genre style that pushes beyond the rules and regulations, ignores the fickle finger of fashion and has no time for musical guardians and narrow-minded pedants telling it what hip-hop should be about. Maybe we should stop using genres, labels, pigeon-holes altogether, after all it really is lazy journalists, like myself, who employ them to make our lives easier, after all Miles Casella clearly isn’t worried about genres and their narrow demarcations and maybe that is a lesson to all of us.
It is nice to know that in this world were a lot of rap and hip-hop has been dumbed down to mumbling bedroom wannabes talking in street tough cliches over the same off the shelf meandering beats that occasionally you can still stumble across something which reminds you of the golden age. Juliet sparks and swaggers like an old school hip-hop classic. It is sharp, punchy and for a change revels in its own lyricism, something which seems to have ironically been lost from the genres which arose from a cappella street poetry.
East Coast lyrical dexterity meets underlying West Coast swagger, golden age 90’s vibes but laced with the fresh and exploratory sound of the contemporary scene, Conniry is the perfect blend of familiarity and forward thinking, of knowing your place in musical history and being brave enough to write your own chapter. The lyrics are filled with street philosophy and social commentary and land perfectly on the listener with style and confidence and the whole affair is spacious, allowing every word and every beat room to breathe and so work more effectively. A game raising musical slice if ever there was one.
Find out more at the links below
Southern hip-hop collective Band of The Hawk is back with a new slice of their unique blend of urban cool. Dirty Dollars Reloaded displays their usual confident and complex raps, crossing vocalist one minute, harmonising the next, a mix of smoothness and dexterous tangents all set to chilled, hypnotic grooves, a trippy-trap percussive vibe and meandering synth washes. The biggest problem facing them is not that their music isn’t great, it is, but rather that so many artists are absorbing the sound of collectives like them and creating a scene of copycats. When so many artists are fighting for the same territory, it is easy to forget who claimed it first.
As a calling card for Houey Freeman’s forthcoming LP Godbody Jones it is a teasing and tantalising proposition, a window into a world where old school swagger collides with modern sophistication and a worthy addition to the Band of The Hawk related music stall. I just hope that with so many artists wilful plundering the sounds and styles, ideals and imaginations of fellow creatives and unique innovators, that Band of The Hawk and all of its associates get their musical day in the sun before some cynical wannabe with more label funds and less ethics gets there first.