Filed under: Miscellaneous
I’m gonna kick this post off by upping my street credibility by like, a gazillion: my mother texted me to let me know about Tuesday night’s BBC arts documentary that propounded to explore “the life and work of the chart topping rapper and multi-millionaire businessman Jay-Z.” Great, I thought: it’s rare that we get any decent coverage of American hip hop in the British mass media; I really like Jay-Z (duh); I’m intrigued by how his Glastonbury set was ultimately so well received and believe that there’s quite a lot to consider as a British fan of the genre about the way that we – as a nation – interact and engage with American rap.
And it’s not because I think there’s anything particularly lofty at stake here as we already know that rap is global and Jay is one of its leading figureheads, but up until last June my parents and their friends had never really spoken or inquired about the man and now they do (I approach this topic scientific-like). It may not seem it for those of you across the pond, but that seems like a pretty big deal to me because I would say that Jay-Z is the first American rapper to cross over to that extent in this country, where Jonathon Ross interviews him and pretty much everyone knows who he is. I guess Hammer may have done it back in the day, but what we’re talking about here is ‘real’ hip hop and one of its key proprietors becoming a part of the everyday collective consciousness in this country.
So this could have been good, and to be fair in places the program worked reasonably well. Some of the interview segments with Jay were enjoyable as were the clips of footage from gigs in L.A., Las Vegas and New York, but unfortunately that was about it as the remainder of the show’s content was blighted by two key factors. Firstly, presenter Alan Yentob who I’m sure is a very culturally informed man outside of hip hop knew next to squat about Jay-Z or his music and secondly, at times the focus for this documentary strayed too far away from the music and tried to get ‘in deep’ about his other interests only to expose the distance between interviewer and interviewee even further. Cringe-worthy moments included the pair wandering through an art gallery which made Jay look kind of stupid (which he clearly isn’t) and Mr. Yentob incredibly uncomfortable (which presumably he was) and Yentob commenting on Jay’s compositional process of feeding off a beat “freeing up the lyrical flow.” I’m sorry old man, but I just ain’t buying it.
I guess the problem is that the aesthetics and legacy of hip hop at a core level feel in some ways distinctly at odds with what it is to be British, or at least certainly at odds with the BBC’s version of Britishness. It’s what makes me slightly uneasy telling people that I’m into rap music in this country because certainly for the majority of the population, they don’t get it and I don’t blame them. On the surface, Jay-Z’s music is too gawdy, too brash and his persona too overtly materialistic to be taken seriously by middle Britain and that’s why what this documentary needed was somebody who could in some way bridge the gap between these two worlds and make sense of it in some way. Ultimately, by placing a stuffy, middle-aged intellectual as interviewer Jay-Z: He Came, He Saw, He Conquered only served to highlight the disparity between American rap and your average Brit and in all probability left most viewers feeling even more bemused by Jay-Z, his popularity and his role in global popular culture.
Yentob started the documentary with the statement, “If there’s one rapper you need to know about it’s him.” Alan, if you’re out there, name three other rappers that someone might need to know about in 2008. Nope? Didn’t think so. If the BBC wants to be cool and informed then that’s great, but it seems like a bit of a no-brainer that if you plan on this sort of coverage you should probably get someone involved who has a vague understanding of the subject at hand in the first place. Seriously, I’m available whenever.
Filed under: Interviews
For some reason unbeknown to me I’m yet to throw up a link to my Freddie Foxxx interview that dropped over at Jeff’s spot. Missed it? Get there immediately.
Filed under: Miscellaneous
I’m deep into The Wire season 5 after finally managing to get a hold of the whole box set. If you think I’ve got time to blog ‘proper’ then you’ve got another thing coming. Drop a comment that reveals anything and I will hunt you down, I swear.
Whilst this continues, let me refer you elsewhere:
“The game’s the game” – Marlo Stanfield
P Brothers – ‘Outta Control’ ft. Roc Marciano & ‘In A Zone’ ft. Milano
taken from The Gas (Heavy Bronx, 2008)
(Excerpts at artist’s request)
Rap music in 2008 just ain’t grimy enough. Any long-winded criticism and discussion of the contemporary scene seems to conveniently pass over the fact that at a base level the aesthetics of the music have now, for the most part, become so polished and glossy that the very grittiness that defined the genre in the first place seems drowned by a swelling flood of auto-tune, pseudo-electronica and abstract post–lyrical rapping. Not that there’s anything wrong with that stuff: it has its place and it’s taking things in an interesting (if at times questionable) direction that is clearly pushing the boundaries in order to more firmly establish hip hop’s next creative phase. Thank you messieurs West and Wayne: I appreciate the service you’re doing us all. Kinda, sorta.
However, all this stuff seems to miss the point a little for me. I listen to rap music because I want it to transport me to heaving basements where condensation licks the inside of blacked-out windows. I want it to make me body slam a pensioner through a glass table and spit in their face for encouraging me to do so in the first place. I want to be moved into throwing Molotov cocktails into abandoned tenement buildings at midnight so I can stand back and watch them burn to the ground with bass and drums as my co-conspirators. Figuratively, that is. Nevertheless, I miss the unbridled aggression and ruggedness that was such an intrinsic part of the music in days gone by. The one crew that seems to understand this sentiment more than any other in 2008 is Nottingham’s very own DJs Ivory and Paul S, collectively known as the P Brothers. Who would have thought that Robin Hood’s stomping ground could produce something as sublimely raw as The Gas? Five boroughs pay attention: it’s the East Midlands who are stepping up to bring New York back.
Despite Robbie’s coverage of the crew over at Unkut, it seems valuable to briefly reflect on their output so far. Despite remembering Malcom McLaren’s ‘Buffalo Girls’ as “a big point early on” in this interview with ukhh.com from a couple of years ago, this is surprisingly the Brothers’ first full length album of their career. This isn’t to say that they haven’t been busy though, steadily dominating the well-established scene in Nottingham and pleasing more discerning UK heads with their Heavy Bronx Experience EPs and through regular collaborations with the Out Da Ville crew and protege Cappo, most notably on the overlooked 2003 release Spaz The World. They’ve dipped their toes into cross-Atlantic ventures as well, most recently working with Sadat X on Experience & Education on top of the string of 12″s that have preceded the release of this album with Boss Money, Milano, Smiley Da Ghetto Child and Ress Connected. Despite all of this you’d be forgiven for letting them slip under your radar, as it’s a position outside of the spotlight that feels entirely intentional. Showboating media-courters they ain’t and they’ve also managed to stay admirably clear of the tangible insecurities of the British scene that have been brought on by the towering shadow of its all-conquering older sibling. They just make great, universal hip hop music with no hidden agendas or chest-beating jingoism.
Onto the album. From start to finish (that’s right, the whole thing) The Gas represents a coherent cluster of cuts that are unabashedly hard and completely devoid of trend-pandering or gimmicks. ‘Cold World’ successfully sets the tone with a soulful vocal hook, melodic keys and crunchy drums that serve as the perfect platform for E.C. and Bago to get busy in style. From this point on there’s no letting up and although a discussion of every song on the album would be warranted, I’m going to stick to my personal highlights for the sake of your attention spans: ‘Outta Control’ puts forth the most mesmerising bassline I’ve heard since ‘It’s Bigger Than Hip Hop’; ‘Digital B-Boy’ marries together brutal drums and twisted digital noise in a veritable assault on your inner ear; ‘In A Zone’ is what Pete Rock should sound like in 2008 but doesn’t; ‘Don’t Question Me’ combines swirling guitar licks with downtempo drums so beautifully that I can’t even listen to it without closing my eyes. The guest MC spots are pleasingly restricted to a small handful of underground Bronxites giving the whole work a sense of continuity and in an age where most people don’t even care about albums anymore, The Gas literally demands a front to back listening experience to be fully appreciated. Ultimately, it feels like the whole package is bolstered by a sense of unwavering confidence: this is music made by aficionados, for aficionados. Don’t like it? Then screw you.
Except you will do. A lot. And it’ll be with good reason because this is hands down the most honest, genuinely slammin’ rap album I’ve heard all year. Granted it’s not exactly reinventing the wheel, but when it sounds this good who cares? The P Brothers certainly don’t, and that’s exactly why The Gas is a collection of some of the very best beats and rhymes you will hear all year.
Kool & the Gang – ‘Winter Sadness’
taken from Spirit Of The Boogie (De-Lite, 1975)
(This post is dedicated to Travis as I know he’ll be feeling it. Can you hear me, yo?!)
I stumbled upon this track whilst embarrassing myself on The Breaks’ request forum and it’s been helping me keep things on a smooth tip on virtually every Sunday afternoon since. ‘Winter Sadness’ can be found on their 1975 release Spirit Of The Boogie, although you’ll have to be prepared to shell out if you want a physical copy on CD as this is long out of print and seems to be generally sought after.
Although this may not be classified as one of the group’s biggest releases it is very enjoyable, although I prefer Light Of Worlds and Wild & Peaceful. ‘Winter Sadness’ ends up being a bit of an anomaly on the album as the remainder of the songs are much funkier and harder hitting but I always tend to prefer the mellow, downtempo material from the legendary Jersey outfit anyway. Winner!
Treat yourself to this aural candy and indulge in that guilt-free chilling that you can only truly enjoy on a Sunday. Papers on the table, cup of tea in hand and a chicken in the oven: I’m killing it right now people.
Filed under: Sneaker Spot
Given that FDB is really all about the music, I’m going to resist the temptation of drilling out a 1000 word diatribe on the current trend of Nike and Jordan Brand to fuse old models from their archives to create new kicks and attempt to keep this brief. The shoe you see pictured above has spurred the sneaker fiend in me into action in no uncertain terms: I’m begging you Nike, don’t do this.
Now it’s not even like fusions/hybrids have to necessarily go awry. Off the top of my head I can think of several shoes in the Swoosh’s history where the concept of bringing together design elements from a number of different sources has worked well (see Huarache Lights Bursts as one example), but this latest planned concoction is nothing short of a travesty. For those not in the know, court legend Andre Agassi held a long-standing relationship with Nike during his career that proved incredibly fruitful in terms of great kicks. Having recently retroed both the Air Tech Challenge II and the ATC III, I was understandably hopeful of a similar treatment for the ATC IV in the coming months. It’s the black/purple/white model that has always lit the fires in my belly, an undeniably fabulous combination of colours that was set off with the use of suede and a loud yet tastefully executed tie-dye effect on the rear of the upper.
Current outlook for release? Not good. Instead it looks like Nike will be combining elements of the two recently retroed shoes with key components of the IV in a release scheduled for the beginning of 2009. The result is a bastardisation of the aesthetics of all three kicks in no uncertain terms and a shoe that looks, quite frankly, hideous. I can only hope at this stage that Nike also plan on bringing back the ATC IV in its original form alongside this release but something in my gut tells me that this isn’t going to happen.
As regular visitors to FDB, I guess that ultimately you may not care. Sneakers may be a part of hip hop, but they certainly ain’t the music. However, when you spend at least half of your waking hours looking at, discussing and obsessing over sneakers then this sort of thing becomes a serious issue. Very serious.
Somebody please help me.
Junior M.A.F.I.A. – ‘Player’s Anthem’
taken from Conspiracy (Big Beat, 1995)
New Birth – ‘You Are What I’m All About’
taken from Birth Day (RCA, 1972)
Doug E. Fresh & The Get Fresh Crew – ‘La Di Da Di’ ft. MC Ricky D
taken from The Show VLS (Reality, 1985)
1995. Ah, those heady days: The Infamous, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Liquid Swords, Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous… Conspiracy? Not so much. However, I’ll happily admit to having a bit of a soft spot for Biggie’s chums-from-around-the-way’s debut album given that it was one of a small selection of relatively random cassette tapes that I treasured during the infantile stages of my love affair with hip hop music. The unwavering power of nostalgia strikes again.
Upon more mature reflection Conspiracy is by no means a bad album, with several great tracks nestled in amongst a host of unimaginative skits and overt attempts at crossover appeal, but there’s little doubt for me that ‘Player’s Anthem’ holds its head above the rest of LP’s offerings by a country mile. I mean, if after thirteen years I still can’t resist grabbing my delicates and imagining softly fondled mammary glands during the listening experience then something must be right here, mustn’t it? Don’t misconstrue me though. It’s a great song and I’m not that shallow. Much.
All joking aside, the beat here is beautifully executed and a testament to Clark Kent’s ear for a great sample. With Kent now assuming a dominant media persona as shoe connoisseur and fashion tastemaker, it’s often easy to forget that during his time he’s produced some truly great records and although he may not be the most imaginative of producers in terms of flips and chops the man can put together a great beat. ‘Player’s Anthem’ is a case in point, with a simple loop and drums formula combining to create an end product that is infectiously bangin’ and beautifully simple. The loops in question are lifted from New Birth’s ‘You Are What I’m All About’ from their 1972 release Birth Day and can be found at the very opening of the song. My suspicion is that the percussion and vocal sighs that run throughout the Junior M.A.F.I.A. track come from the opening two bars, whilst the warm bass line that complements them is the result of a low pass filter over the first four bars of bass groove thus eliminating the superfluous vocal ‘moans’ that would otherwise complicate the track’s stripped down aesthetic. Yes, I really am that geeky. Throw in the subtle layer of melody provided by a few other samples to the mix and you’re onto a winner.
Although I usually avoid commenting on the scratched samples found in chorus hooks (you’ve got to call an end to completism at some point when you’re blogging purely for the love), I can’t resist the temptation to throw up ‘La Di Da Di’ for the hell of it. Without traversing ridiculously tired ground, there’s such a charm to the simplicity of this song that I will never grow tired of… indulge yourself people. Can you believe this thing is 23 years old?!
Ultimately, I guess that ‘Player’s Anthem’ ends up being a bit of a guilty pleasure for me. It’s certainly not the sort of thing I’d play to someone who I was trying to convert to the genre due to its played out gangster posturing and misogyny, although Biggie’s verse still sounds great, but it endures for me as a highly enjoyable cut from the era that still sounds fresh (sorry Robbie). Ill, grown folk music it ain’t. And it’s all the better for it.