Saturday, May 28, 2011

RIP Gil Scott-Heron

Gil Scott-Heron died yesterday after returning from a trip to Europe. I don't have more details right now. The music he created in the '70s was a mixture of blues, jazz, and spoken word poetry. Today he is known as one of the godfathers of rap and hip-hop culture, laying the foundations of intricate rhyming and subject matter. He sang/rapped about the perils of drugs, institutional racism, and a myriad other subjects often related to African-American urban life. Here is his best known composition, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised." RIP, Gil.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Beastie Boys - Hot Sauce Committee Part Two

Let's start with superfluities: Hot Sauce Committee Part Two is the Beastie Boys' most top to bottom consistent album since Check Your Head (1992). It is also their best since 1998's Hello Nasty. True, they've only released one proper hip-hop album since then - 2004's To The Five Boroughs - but it's still been about 13 years since they dropped a certified Beasties classic. We're treated to hilarious group banter, "together now" rhymes at the end of phrases, two Bob Dylan quotations, bumping keyboards, and fuzzed out mics. If this album isn't getting enough respect it's because it's too classic. The beats and music sound like they could have been made any time after 1994. And that's a good thing.

The vast majority of the tunes are produced by the Beastie Boys. The main element they thread across most tracks are how keyboards are simultaneously used as rhythmic and lead elements. "Make Some Noise," track one and the first single off the album [see video above], is a great example of this. The clavinet is tweaked and sent off galloping. When the drums kick in, they take a secondary role to the keys, and the expected musical layering in hip-hop becomes inverted. The chorus also sends an direct shout-out to Public Enemy. (The last track off their 1988 masterpiece It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back is called "Party For Your Right To Fight" and samples the Beastie Boys' own "(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)". Put that together with the video send-up of their first hit, and you've got yourself an awesome post-modern mess.) Also note that this song, and throughout the album, live drums, bass, and guitar are intertwined with electronic elements.

"Nonstop Disco Powerpack" drops the keys and conjures a groove in the style as their laid-back funk from 2007's instrumental The Mix-Up. (There is a very clear reference to the beat from Spoonie Gee's 1979 single "Spoonin' Rap." The point is driven home when MCA quotes the song in his verse.) The song is an old school boast track, passing the mic from member to member while rapping about how awesome they are. MCA goes way back quoting Spoonie Gee and sending a shout-out to Afrika Bambaataa.

The Beasties take hip-hop to the future just as easily as they go old school. "Tadlock's Glasses" even sounds like post-rap. The distorted voice in the chorus and the pipe-clanging, underground sound of the keys and guitar give the tune a grungy sound. "Long Burn The Fire" is cut from the same cloth. (The reference to the song and second album by obscure Detroit rock band Black Merda [pronounced "murder"] is quintessential Beasties.) More old school references from MCA, rapping, "You're stealing my book/Like I was Grandmaster Caz." That's what Big Bank Hank from the Sugarhill Gang did in "Rapper's Delight." He wasn't smart enough to change some lyrics though, since Casanova Fly was Caz's nickname. Not surprisingly, Caz isn't listed as a co-writer and get $0 for his work in the first hip-hop smash hit. History lesson ends here.

The sweet reggae-kised jam "Don't Play No Game That I Can't Win" with Santigold and "Funky Donkey" include quotations of Bob Dylan's proto-hip-hop "Subterranean Homesick Blues." They serve as great non-sequitors, yes, but they're also perfect nuggets as to what the Beasties are all about: disparate elements from across the pop culture spectrum brought together to create art. Sometimes the Beastie Boys don't succeed in that endeavor, but on Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, they knock it out of the park.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Something here doesn't compute...

We are well underway in the inglorious and pathetic perjury trial of Barry Bonds. Quick background: in 2003 Bonds gave statements to a Grand Jury investigating steroid use in baseball saying he did not knowingly use steroids. He said his trainer, Greg Anderson, told him they were "flaxseed oil" and "arthritic cream." It is important to note that Greg Anderson is in contempt of court for refusing to testify in the current case and is currently imprisoned. Much evidence has been found declaring that Bonds knew exactly what he was taking. This what the trial is about.

An interesting side here that is being overlooked, I think, is what the trial is actually about. It is about lying under oath; it is not about whether Bonds did steroids. In fact, in their opening statement, the defense literally said that Bonds did in fact use steroids.

This to me is incredible because in 2007, Bonds emphatically said, after breaking Hank Aaron's home run record, "This record is not tainted at all. At all. Period."

Let me get this straight: he says the record is not tainted, yet he has admitted and it is part of the official record that he did take steroids? Someone is going to have to explain that one to me.

For the sake of argument, let's accept Bonds' delusions for a minute: OK, he broke the record thinking what he took was flaxseed oil and arthritic cream. So to him, the breaking of the record was not tainted. What about now, though? What about his defense saying that he did in fact use steroids? Is he going to finally admit that the record is tainted?

Regardless of his "knowledge" about what he was putting in his body was - and I firmly believe he knew precisely what he was doing - the record is absolutely and irretrievably tainted.

Will Bonds come out now and say that the home run record is tainted? Knowing his personality, we know he won't. But the thing is, we already knew that. A paragon of futility.

As if this shameful travesty of a trial isn't enough for you, let's remind ourselves that we still have to look forward to Roger Clemens' upcoming trial. Hooray.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Truth

Friday, March 18, 2011

Nate Dogg 1969 - 2011

One of the best hip-hop collaborators of all time died on March 15. The cause was complications due to a stroke. "Regulate," top video above, from 1994 was the first huge hit he was featured on. It has aged little since. "The Next Episode," released in 2000, features Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and Kurupt. Both were massive hits and were nominated for Grammy awards. His mix of menace and melancholy made his hooks unique. His voice had the smooth gloss of Michael McDonald and a hardened edge from the streets. RIP Nate.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Lil Wayne - "6 Foot 7 Foot"

Lil Wayne Ft Corey Gunz - 6 Foot 7 Foot by DJ Decko

Word on the street is that Weezy's upcoming
Tha Carter IV will have the same intensity as "6 Foot 7 Foot," his first single off the album. Judge for yourself, but I think it's on fire. One of the best hip-hop singles I've heard in a long while. Feel free to compare/contrast with its cousin, "A Milli."