The Beeb, The Brits & Jay-Z
October 30, 2008, 9:27 pm
Filed under: Miscellaneous

Jay-Z: He Came, He Saw, He Conquered

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.

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It’s The Links, Baby
October 27, 2008, 9:23 pm
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:

Flood brings it with a recipe and suggested aural accompaniment.

Doc Zeus takes on XXL’s freshman MCs list.

Eric continues his Top 100 of the year.

Robbie’s got a nice overview of the ubiquitous ‘Nautilus’ break.

Joey takes a look at some new hip hop jawns.

Metal Lungies revisit their Alchemist beat drop.

“The game’s the game” – Marlo Stanfield

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Blogger’s Block – Hit The Links
October 8, 2008, 7:05 pm
Filed under: Miscellaneous

So I’ve been meaning to get my arse in gear for a proper beat deconstruction, but I’m struggling to find the inspiration. I’m blaming the change in season and that pesky credit crunch.

Here are some folk who seem to be weathering the storm just fine:

Brandon completes his notes on post-lyricism.

Zilla wants to be schooled on Slick Rick.

Jeff interviews Bishop Lamont.

Eric already starts cracking on with his top 100 of the year.

Ivan keeps on killing it with the sample sets with A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing.

Robbie drops a new Sadat X track that’s been growing on me.

Kanye rocks a new colourway of the Yeezy. Oh, and premiers ‘Love Lockdown’.

Go give Jaz a hand with his requests.

Dart pays homage to the bloggerverse like no other.

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Isaac Hayes RIP
August 13, 2008, 4:05 pm
Filed under: Miscellaneous

Isaac Hayes – ‘The Feeling Keeps On Coming’
taken from Joy (Stax, 1973)

So in internet terms this tribute to the musical genius that was Isaac Hayes comes late, but I can’t let this very sad event pass without mentioning it in some way here at FDB. I’m a relative latecomer to Hayes’ work, having only really delved into his back catalogue within the last year or so, but during this period I have fallen in love with his sumptuous arrangements and am pleased that I still have treats to uncover in the future.

I doubt it’s possible that you could have avoided the various tributes that almost immediately surfaced on the net, but just in case you missed O-Dub’sFlood’s or Sach’s, go check them out now. I’m in the south of France at the moment so don’t have full access to all of my Hayes’ material, but given that the utterly fantastic ‘The Feeling Keeps On Coming’ is sitting on my hard drive I’m throwing it up as a tribute to one of the most iconic figures in Black popular culture that this world is ever likely to see. Rest in peace big man: you’ll be sorely missed.

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Beat For A Monday
August 4, 2008, 4:07 pm
Filed under: Miscellaneous

World Renown – ‘How Nice I Am (SID Remix)’ (Instrumental)
taken from How Nice I Am VLS (Warner, 1995)

I guess the whole point of this blog ish in the first place was for me to just share the music that I’m feeling at any particular point in time, so that’s exactly what this post is. I’ve been rocking the instrumental to the S.I.D. remix of World Renown’s ‘How Nice I Am’ hard all weekend, and given that I love the K-Def original so much, this is no small feat. Beautifully crispy drums, upbeat vibe and marvelous use of filters: that ol’ boom bap doesn’t come much purer. My favourite moment is at the 0.36 mark with the change up in the filtered bass, but this really is one of those beats that just carries you along until it ends leaving you wondering where the last four minutes went.

As a brief supplementary observation it also sounds ludicrously similar to something that Dilla and Q-Tip would have produced circa ‘96. The model for The Ummah aesthetic? Perhaps not, but the similarity is quite striking: see what you think.

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Crazy Like A Foxxx Release
July 18, 2008, 4:10 pm
Filed under: Miscellaneous

Freddie Foxxx – ‘Can’t Break Away’ & ‘So Tough (Mellow Mix)’
taken from Crazy Like A Foxxx (Fat Beats, 2008)

DJ Monster Crazy Like A Foxxx Preview Mix

It’s frustrating that hip hop as a genre seems to have suffered from industry nonsense more than any other over the last two decades or so, but thankfully it seems we’re reaching a point in time where people are realising that there is a demand for out of print and shelved releases from rap’s most dynamic years. The highlight for me in 2007 was the surfacing of the Ultimate Force LP, and it looks like 2008 will have a few treats in store as well, no less so than Freddie Foxxx’s previously unreleased sophomore outing Crazy Like A Foxxx, scheduled to drop at the end of this month.

I’ve been making do with the ridiculously hissy rip of the promo tape for a while now and even though the sound quality is incredibly poor, the caliber of the music still shines through: the whole album typifies the kind of rough, no frills, New York boom bap that made me fall in love with hip hop in the first place. I’ve tried to clean up the audio a little on the two tracks offered here to make them a little more listenable, but I’m literally busting to hear them in all their remastered glory. ‘Can’t Break Away’ features a lovely Curtis Mayfield guitar lick and beautifully rolling bass line that serves as the perfect opener to the album, and although the original mix of ‘So Tough’ that features Queen Latifah is slammin’, I’ve always preferred the ‘So Tough (Mellow Mix)’ that was also included on the promo tape. Whether this is the same ‘mellow’ mix as the one featured on the 12” or not is unclear to me, but Hip Hop DX suggest that there was a remix put together by Pete Rock so I guess this could be his work (although it doesn’t sound like the Chocolate Boy Wonder to me particularly). Ultimately, I can’t wait to see how the production roster is laid out track by track as the album is pretty much filler free and it’s something that has intrigued me ever since I stumbled across Crazy Like A Foxxx at the beginning of last year.

The album is due to drop at the end of the month on Fat Beats alongside the original demo version produced entirely by Buckwild, Showbiz and Lord Finesse (I think I just let out a dribble of sex wee), so there’s going to be plenty on offer for fans of that official rap business. I’ve linked to the DJ Monster preview mix above that features largely the DITC-honed originals as opposed to the final album versions which gives a tasty overview of what to expect from the bonus disc.

Wipe the drool off your keyboard and brace yourself for one of the most exciting musical events of the year so far. I can only hope that 2008 holds more treats like this in store: Pete Rock Future Flavas remixes perhaps? I won’t hold my breath…

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Jay-Z @ Glastonbury
June 29, 2008, 4:13 pm
Filed under: Miscellaneous

Peep some of the highlights on YouTube.

I don’t know how much of the furore surrounding Jay-Z’s placement as Saturday headliner at Glastonbury Festival has made it across the pond, but over in the UK it’s been impossible to get away from the controversy of an American rap artist occupying a spot that has been traditionally reserved for guitar-led anthemic rock. For whatever reason, people seem to have ignored the fact that despite two years of mudbaths and a growing proliferation of cheaper festivals avaliable to British punters, the struggle to sell all avaliable tickets for Britain’s most high profile festival has fallen firmly on Sean Carter’s shoulders. Jigga’s response? One of the most electrifying and original performances in the history of the festival.

Sadly, I wasn’t in attendance (if I had been, this post would be almost completely incomprehensible), but even from the comfort of my own living room in front of a 20″ screen it was clear that Jay-Z’s set was nothing short of extraordinary. Opening with a cover of Oasis’s ‘Wonderwall’ was a stroke of genius, sending a veritable eff you to Noel Gallagher who in the run up to the festival has been particularly outspoken about his opposition to Jigga as headline act, a diss served up with a knowing smile and a sense of inimitable grace.

From this sarcastic and intelligent opening it was a non-stop rollercoaster through the more commercial hits, with beautifully delivered acapellas and numerous other elements thrown into the mix to keep the crowd hyped. The backing band’s renditions of Amy Winehouse’s ‘Rehab’ and the Jackson 5’s ‘ABC’ sample flip provided exciting platforms for Jay to rip through a couple of sixteens, and these weren’t the only references to music outside of the hip hop realm, with Prodigy’s ‘Smack My Bitch Up’, U2’s ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ and Rhianna’s ‘Umbrella’ also cropping up during the set. It was really the pace of the performance that was most striking, with swift transitions and these multiple musical references maintaining an almost unstoppable momentum that had even the crustiest hippies waving their hands in the air and hollering like they were at a dingy basement somewhere in Brooklyn circa 1994. White people with dreadlocks can bounce and grind with the best of them, don’t ya know…

Top all this off with dazzling visuals and perfectly judged interactions with the crowd and it’s fair to say that this was a defining moment in the festival’s history. What really landed the sucker punch was that apart from Memphis Bleek acting as hypeman, this was Jay-Z and Jay-Z alone: the temptation to throw in a duet with Beyonce to ensure the crowd stayed happy was categorically eschewed and allowed Jigga to shine firmly on his own merit.

Thought that a group of muddy, largely white Brits wouldn’t appreciate the work of arguably the greatest rapper alive? You couldn’t have been more wrong: hip hop music has officially just been taken to another level. Glastonbury Festival in the house, y’all!

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