Tag Archives: Hip Hop

[114] Boogie Down Productions – By All Means Necessary

12 Jun

“When some get together and think of Rap
They tend to think of violence
But when they are challenged on some Rock groups
The result is always silence.”

boogie-down-productions-114-l

I don’t hate Rap, and in hindsight it seems I never did.

But perhaps more Rap music turns me off than not thanks to the perceived subject matter – too much of it glorifies a violence that I cannot relate to, one that is a little too grim, too real.

I understand that this may be a part of the appeal for fans of the genre.

The casual sexism, the profanity, the posing and posturing I could always get past, if I’m honest, when it was done with a wink and a smile.  The Rock that I regarded as my own was guilty of the same often enough.

But I never accepted the culture of gun worship which seemed to underscore so much of the Rap that found my ears.

It is with this background, and the understanding that this recording was inspired by the shooting death of BDP founder member, Scott La Rock, that I come to By All Means Necessary.

Here is the follow up to Criminal Minded, the 1987 album considered to be the herald of the Gangsta Rap wave soon to follow.  There is an irony here since – while both albums portray a grim, gun drenched reality of the South Bronx of the day – the intent was not the glorification of this culture as seen in later artists.

Songs like “Stop The Violence” and “Illegal Business” are frank and uncomfortable discussions of the balance of socio-economic power.

That said, even just a glance at the album covers makes it is easy to see where the less nuanced and responsible messages which followed might have taken their lead.

But what about the music?  That is, after all why I’m here.

It turns out these ten tracks are varied and innovative, full of long and flowing lyrical vocals over sparse yet complex beats and samples.  While I find them uneven, with some engaging me far more than others, each song is fascinating in its own right.

I even get used to intentionally flattened tones when singing rather than rapping.  This is especially noticeably on the repurposed song snippets such as in “Part Time Sucker” (riffing on Stevie Wonder’s “Part Time Lover”), but the phenomenon occurs throughout.

It is as if KRS-One is actively highlighting the importance of the intricate and at times rambling rap verses while undermining the traditional conventions of the sung chorus.

It is strange to spend so much time listening to an album so steeped in a genre which I have actively avoided for decades, but yet again, stepping outside of my comfort zone has proved to be its own reward.

The difficult questions of political and musical revolutions which BDP leave me with are fair exchange for my dismissing this sound out of hand for so long.

Next Week:  Booker T. and the MGs – Melting Pot

Owned before blogging? No. (10 of 114 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? No. (17 of 114 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (94 of 114 = 82%)

 

[96] Big Daddy Kane – Long Live The Kane

6 Feb

Released in 1988 – the year I came of age musically – Long Live The Kane showcases the very best and worst of the 80s wrapped up in one fascinating conundrum of an album.

Long Live The Kane

Long Live The Kane

Rapper Big Daddy Kane swings from staggering displays of rhythm and rhyme to the very depths of tone deaf cheese and back across the ten tracks that make up this seminal collection.

The first three songs snap, crackle and pop with humor and intelligence, catchy hooks and well crafted beats.  There are head spinning annunciations and laugh out loud pop culture references as Kane spells out his credentials at the expense of “sucker DJs”.

Even if rap has never been my favorite genre, I can’t help but be thoroughly entertained by the confidence and control on display here.

Then it all goes horribly, painfully, inexplicably off the rails.

The bland saccarine ballad that is “The Day You’re Mine” would be bad enough if the only problem was its utterly predictable sappiness, but the sung (rather than rapped) chorus is so hideously off key that it puts my previously unrivalled hatred of Liam Gallagher’s flattening of every note he ever whined into a new perspective.

After the innovation and energy of the opening, this mid-album stinker is flat out infuriating.  (I will however admit to being thankful for the fact that the song has a grammatically correct title . . .)

This atrocity is followed up by another less than stellar effort, Kane’s verbal acrobatics and deep tone watered down in his sharing the spotlight of “On The Bugged Tip” with lightweight cartoon rapper, Scoob Lover.

But, just when I’m wondering if Big Daddy has packed the back 70% of his album with filler, along comes the infectious earworminess of “Ain’t No Half Stepping” and just like that the album is irrevocably back on track, not letting up to the closing beats of “Word To The Mother (Land)”.

Once again Tom Moon has not steered me wrong when it comes to a genre with which I have just a passing familiarity, introducing me to an artist whose wordplay and attitude are obviously enjoyable and and deservedly legendary.

Next Week:  Big Star – #1 Record / Radio City

Owned before blogging? No. (9 of 96 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? No. (14 of 96 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (78 of 965 = 81%)

Guest Blogger “BK”: The Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique

16 Jun

BK is the first in a series of Guest Bloggers who agreed to share their thoughts after following along with my blog via BoardGameGeek.  I may never have met BK in person, but he nonetheless feels like a friend.

—–

By 1989 the luster had slowly began to rub off of my copy of Licensed to Ill.  I had sung along to “Slow and Low” for the last time and had retired my well used cassette to the box of leftovers.

Enter Paul’s Boutique and suddenly a group that I had seemingly outgrown, decided to grow up a little bit with me.  To this day, I have not had a car that did not have a well-worn copy of the Beastie Boy’s Paul’s Boutique in it.  It remains one thing from my sometimes misguided youth that I cannot leave behind.

After departing from Rick Rubin and Def Jam, many had written off the Beastie Boys as a One Album Wonder.  But with the help of the Dust Brothers, the Beastie Boys cemented themselves in the minds and ears of America’s youth with Paul’s Boutique.  It was experimental, it was fun and most of all, it was good.

Most of the backing tracks were samples, something that would be impossible for someone to do today.  104 songs sampled through the 53 minutes of music, most of it legally.  Even though by all accounts this album wasn’t successful when compared to the over 9 million copy selling License to Ill, what it allowed the Beastie Boys to become in the future meant it was far more important.

It allowed them to keep recreating themselves, keep growing as artists.

The slow organ intro dedicating the album to “All the Girls” leaps deftly into the sampled drums from Harvey Scales’ “Hot Foot” to introduce you to the new Beastie Boys sound.

“Shake Your Rump” was a breath of West Coast fresh air from these seemingly mindless middle class party animals.  The groove was deep, the sound was funky.  It was something no one expected from them and it was near perfect.   They still had their silly moments;  “Egg Man”, “The Sounds of Science”, “High Plains Drifter” or “Hey Ladies”, but for the most part this was a coming of age.

And for all the silliness that was “Hey Ladies”, the song was layered so densely with samples from Sweet, P-Funk All Stars, Deep Purple and nearly a dozen other artists it could have been a jumbled mess, but it came out just as smooth as the rest of the album.

The second half of the album kicks off with the strange “Three Piece Chicken Dinner” leading right into the driving guitar sounds and booming bass from Yauch and Horovitz on the track, “Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun”.  It’s the beginning of that Beastie sound we would hear in the years to come, they become more and more comfortable with their own instrumental sound.

The kicker for me on this album has always been “Shadrach”.  The story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abendnego from the Book of Daniel tells us of when three Princes who refused to bow before the statue built before King Nebuchadnezzar, the King then ordered them to be thrown into a fiery furnace.  The three princes believed that their God would save them and thusly were cast into the flames only to survive.

“Shadrach” to me, was about the Beastie Boys throwing down their gauntlet, they weren’t going to make another album like all of their predecessors.  They were going to make their own way.

And they most certainly did.

—–

BK says:

I’m just a happily married guy in Middle America, raising two kids as best my wife and I can with games, music and as much fun as we can pack into their youth. Through all of my hobbies as a kid and an adult, my music collection has always been the one constant. What started out as vinyl Abba albums, K-Tel and listening to ELO, Norman Greenbaum and T-Rex in my Uncle’s room in the early 80s has turned into digital albums instantly downloaded to my phone, what a strange technological world it is, but it’s all music to my ears.

[62] The Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique

13 Jun

Twenty years ago this month I first arrived at the summer camp that has become both career and second home, and the soundtrack of that summer was The Beastie Boys’, License To Ill.

Paul's Boutique

Paul’s Boutique

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Almost everyone I met, campers and staff, were Jewish kids from Brooklyn or Queens and they all thought they *were* Beastie Boys (even some of the girls.)

It didn’t matter that the album was already almost ten years old – License To Ill was in every Walkman, on every Jukebox, on every bus ride, and on everyone’s lips.

The pairing of comfortable rock riffs and attitude with cartoonish rhymes and tongue in cheek mischief was irresistible to me then, and the same is true two decades later of the follow up album, Paul’s Boutique.

The energy and playfulness is all encompassing, and the childish boasting of crime and violence is done with just enough of a wink that you don’t actually believe a word.

And those words! They just keep on coming, rapid-fire and relentless so that with each listen there is another reference to catch.  And another, and another.

Like Love/Hate who called themselves “the stoopidest band in the world” a few years later, The Beasties cram their frat-boy nonsense full of unexpectedly powerful social commentary, right alongside the sex and drugs and ultraviolence.

Snuck in amongst miles of lyrics designed to upset parents are shining moments of clarity, shattering the clown act, for it was clear even before the Boys spelled it out years later that it was an act.

Moments like the one midway through “Egg Man” where we hear

“You made the mistake judge a man by his race / You go through life with egg on your face.”

The juxtaposition of a line like this with the seemingly puerile near nonsense that proceeds it can’t help but catch your attention.

The album is littered with references to scientists, artists and all manner of pop culture, but it is not just the lyrics that provide a never-ending feast of “Where’s Waldo” (“Where’s Wally” if you’re English) moments.

There are entire websites devoted to documenting the hundreds of pieces of music sampled here to provide the soundscape over which the rapping occurs.

The most casual of listens reveals Johnny Cash, Led Zeppelin and The Beatles, but *everything* sounds familiar, and it turns out with good reason.  Every genre, every sound has been coopted, cut down and shaped to the needs of the song – dozens and dozens of tiny pieces for each track. They even sample License To Ill!

The result is musically stunning.

It is amazing to think that Paul’s Boutique at once took making music to another level, while at the same time garnering just enough attention to ensure that laws were soon passed (or at least enforced) meaning that no one could make music in quite this way again.

For that reason alone it would be well worth a listen in the scope of “recordings to hear before you die.” That it still sounds fresh and frisky, embarrassing and infuriating, important, ridiculous and catchy as hell all at once even twenty-five years later is way beyond gravy.

Next Week: The Beatles – A Hard Day’s Night

Owned before blogging? No. (3 of 62 = 5%)
Heard before blogging? No. (5 of 62 = 8%)
Recommend? Yes. (49 of 62 = 79%)

[47] Afrika Bambaataa – Planet Rock

28 Feb

Tom Moon led me on a merry dance with this single – a Hip Hop classic I had somehow managed to avoid until now – which left me grooving and scrambling to follow the apparent progression from Kraftwerk, through SoulSonic Force, to the Beastie Boys.

Planet Rock

Planet Rock

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The liquid, artificial drum sound that opens and anchors this 1982 hit has never been a favorite of mine.  Neither has the call and response rapping that makes up the balance of the vocals here.  Yet here the varied and interesting soundscape interspersing the vocals, nailed down by the purposeful, energetic and fascinating drum programming, attracts and then demands attention throughout the 5 minutes 20 seconds of the original 45rpm record.

The structure, and to an extent the melody, of “Planet Rock” is apparently inspired by a pair of songs by German Electropop band, Kraftwerk – “Trans-Europa Express” and “Numbers”.  After hearing “Planet Rock” for the first time, I quickly queued up the earlier tracks.

While there are thematic and musical similarities, Bambaataa and The SoulSonic Force use the now primitive but at the time revolutionary Roland technology to create a sound that is so much more warm and human than the intentionally sterile Kraftwerk pieces.

And since I was poking around in anyway, I latched onto a recurring lyric in “Planet Rock” and played the Beastie Boys “Sure Shot”.

There is no indication that “Sure Shot” owes any direct debt to the earlier song, but it was an interesting moment, transitioning from a sound I was unfamiliar with but enjoying, through a sound I knew better and had never connected with, and landing on a later sound that I know and love.

This has been a bonus effect of my seemingly ridiculous endeavor – instead of constraining my listening, I have found the list of 1000 to be a jumping off point, often for parts unknown, to sometimes unexpected places.

I somehow think Bambaataa and co. would appreciate this sentiment, this exploration and experimentation.

Owned before blogging? No. (2 of 47. 4%)
Heard before blogging? No. (4 of 47. 9%)
Recommend? Yes. (38 of 47. 81%)

Next Week: The Band – The Band

Guest Blogger Phil Sheldon: Afrika Bambaataa – Planet Rock

24 Feb

Been a while since our last guest post, so I am happy to introduce Phil Sheldon, my first guitarist whose extreme talent spoiled me for all of those who came after. (Once again, please excuse some of the English spelling . . .)

—–

When I saw “Planet Rock” on the list of albums up for review on Avri’s blog I was intrigued; because I’ve been a fan of the track for years, but I couldn’t remember there being an album with it on. I remember it as a single, but that was it; so I figured checking out the album might unearth a few hidden gems.

However, it turns out that the album is a compilation of seven singles by Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force from the mid 1980’s. The track “Planet Rock” was released as a single in 1982 and this compilation album followed later on in 1986. This was a little disappointing, as I realised there wasn’t going to necessarily be much common ground between the tracks, like many early hip-hop compilations from that time.

I looked for the album on Spotify, no dice. I looked on Amazon, one copy available at £50, at which point I realised that hearing the album in its original form seemed unlikely. Spotify to the rescue. I managed to find most of the tracks from other compilations available, although unfortunately two of the tracks were nowhere to be found.

Now I’m going to make a statement: I believe there are two tracks on this album that standout as innovative and influential classics that still sound relevant today. There are also tracks that don’t stand up to the test of time and that remain of their era.

The tracks that succeed contain some of the first foundations for the successful crossover of hip-hop, electronica and funk music. Two of those genres were relatively new at the time, which makes this crossover project all the more interesting. Funk being the more established genre, bringing some soul to the synth and vocoder party.

This crossover is brilliantly achieved on one track in particular; “Looking for the Perfect Beat”, or as I like to think of it: The Symbiotic Jig of Crazy Robot and Mister Funk.

Crazy Robot and Mister Funk are all over “Perfect Beat”; their personalities shine through in the instrumentation and the rhythms. Every vocal, drum or synth line is attributable to one or the other and it’s this interplay that makes the track an innovative and successful crossover.

Neither personality dominants; Crazy Robot gets as much of the limelight as Mister Funk, there’s plenty of mutual respect here. These two musical personas, one representing the new wave of electronica and the other more established funk music, blend so well. “Looking for the Perfect Beat” still sounds new and inspiring to me.

Listen to the intro to “Perfect Beat”, there’s the contrast; a metronomic, sixteenth-note pizzicato synth line ticking away like clockwork, underpinned by a massively syncopated, off-beat kick drum. Crazy Robot tick-tocking all over Mister Funk’s groove.

Now I personally find it very hard to dance to music that isn’t syncopated, I love funk music for this. Four to the floor dance tunes and straight ahead rock beats don’t tend to get me bopping up and down uncontrollable. The intro to Perfect Beat does, because the synth line says do the predictable, mechanical robot dance and the kick drum tells me to jump about randomly like a lunatic. My brain likes these kinds of mixed messages. Crazy Robot versus Mister Funk, a deliciously danceable formula.

The tracks that succeed the least on this compilation are the ones locked in to more recognisable existing styles; such as “Frantic Situation” and “Renegades of Funk”. They sound more like straight ahead funk tunes that have lost something for having an electronic backing band; too much reliance on Mister Funk. “Planet Rock” and “Perfect Beat” work because they are much more ambiguous stylistically and get the genre balance just right.

One notable exception is “Who You Funkin’ With”. This is a more straight ahead old school hip-hop record and it’s a kicker for a couple of reasons. Rapper Melle Mel is on it for one and he sounds great.

Secondly, the track is packed full of real instrumental parts; grinding electric guitar and pumping bass in the tradition of other Melle Mel infused old school classics. I presume Doug Wimbish, later of Living Colour fame, is playing on this track because it really rocks along! This track is a nice discovery, as I hadn’t heard it before.

I don’t have much more to say about the other tracks than that. I like them, they’re good tracks, but they haven’t withstood the ageing process in my opinion. If I want more of the “Who You Funkin’ With” vibe then it’s over to Melle Mel for other old school classics like “Beat Street”, “White Lines” and “Step Off”.

The tracks “Go-Go Pop” and “They Made a Mistake” will remain part of the mystique of all of this for me. I never found them, they may be the missing gems I was looking for to sit alongside “Planet Rock” and “Perfect Beat”, but probably not. However, like all musical journeys worth undertaking, you never really arrive at your destination. I’m sure I’ll find those tracks at some point.

Which is great, because you always have to have a little mystery in music. I’ve been a huge Bowie fan for over twenty years; but I haven’t listened to all of his albums yet. I’m saving a few for later.

The Symbiotic Jig of Crazy Robot and Mister Funk is a subtle but influential one, I’m sure I can hear the two of them dancing around each other on many other records, check out some of them from the list below if you’re curious. Happy listening!

“Closer” – Nine Inch Nails
“Countdown” – Beyonce
“Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites” – Skrillex
“Play by Play” – Autre Ne Veut
“Eple” – Royksopp

—–

Guitarist and composer Phil Sheldon first met Avri back when they both owned vinyl record players. Not much has changed; Phil still has very tolerant neighbours. Phil studied music at the London College of Music and worked as a performing guitarist for many years. Nowadays Phil can be found in his lair hacking in to computer systems, a legitimate day job apparently, while studying orchestration and trying to figure out Steely Dan chords and Bowie lyrics.

Soundcloud – https://soundcloud.com/temporalspaceclub
IMDB – http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2676290

[30] Arrested Development – 3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days in the Life of . . .

1 Nov

While it has never been my favorite genre, and there is plenty I actively dislike, Hip Hop could also have been the inspiration for my long held answer when asked what kind of music I like.

I like music that takes talent and effort to write and perform. (And late 80s / early 90s Rock which I acknowledge sometimes took neither.)

There is talent and effort on display all over the place on this week’s Recording.

3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days in the Life of . . .

3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days in the Life of . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For me, Hip Hop is the poster child (along with Country) of a genre where people will say, “I don’t like any of it.” I’ve always found this an extremely closed minded and, in all likelihood, an inaccurate statement.

Even if 99% of everything is worthless there is still that magical, meaningful 1%.

I recall liking the singles from this album at the time they hit, which is impressive because it came out at a moment in my life where I had given up on radio and spent most of my time in Rock Clubs. Yet still “Tennessee”, “People Everyday” and “Mr. Wendal” were all so ubiquitous as to not only reach an ear not listening for this sound, but to ingratiate enough that they still leave warm fuzzy feelings more than 20 years later.

Admittedly, a Hip Hop album that leans heavily on guitar samples is more likely to gain my acceptance, and the funky twiddling that underscores much of this album is comforting as the Beastie Boys were a decade earlier.

The lyrics are an odd mix of militantism and peace-and-love-and-good-happiness-stuff. It is a far cry from the gangster rap that would follow, but still far from naïve in its message of trying to get along, being proud of yourself and your heritage, interspersed with occasional random stabs of anger and violence.

I wonder if the thing I’m enjoying most is the nostalgia, whether the album would be as powerful discovered whole today.

But there are certainly songs I do not recall hearing before now which nevertheless leave a positive impression – “Children Play With Earth” for example is catchy with a purpose, without being too preachy.

So perhaps I am enjoying it this much now because it was that good back then.

Owned before blogging? No. (2 of 30. 7%)
Heard before blogging? No. (4 of 30. 13%)
Recommend? Yes. (25 of 30. 83%)

Next week: Art Ensemble Of Chicago – Urban Bushmen

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