Tag Archives: album review

Album of the Week: “The Low End Theory” by A Tribe Called Quest

lowendtheory

Daniel’s Thought

“Once again a case of your feet in my Nike’s/ If a crowd is in my realm I’m saying, ‘mic please’/ Hip-hop is living, can’t yank the plug/ If you do the result, will end up kind of bugged”

“Be alert, look alive, and act like you know”

“A special shot of peace goes out to all my pals, you see/ And a middle finger goes for all you punk MCs”

“East Coast stomping, ripping and romping”

“Industry rule number four thousand and eighty/ Record company people are shady”

Gus’ Thought

There is no question that A Tribe Called Quest is one of the most legendary hip-hop groups of all time. For the last twenty-five years, Q-tip’s signature velvety voice and Phife Dawg’s relentless staccato flow have influenced hip-hop heads, young and old alike. Released in 1991, The Low End Theory, contains a laid-back feel that is heavily influenced by jazz and the experiential narrative of two twenty-something African-American men from St. Albans, Queens.

Featuring guest bassist Ron Carter, The Low End Theory is driven by the low, pulsing notes of stand up bass. Whether its “Butter,” “Jazz (We’ve Got), or “Verses From The Abstract,” the pulse stays on the far backside of the beat, creating the perfect backdrop for Phife and Tip to tell their stories. With DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad on the 1’s and 2’s as well as features from Busta Rhymes, Sadat X and Diamond D, The Low End Theory is a primary document of sorts, allowing us to revisit the sounds and feelings of parts of hip-hop in the early 90’s.

On The Low End Theory, A Tribe Called Quest’s second album, they are in no rush to explain anything to you. Instead, the tempos are in the perfect spot for them to get there, when Tip and the Five Foot Assassin are good and ready. Don’t get me wrong, they want to rap and tell you their stories through the art form that is music. However, as they’ve done throughout their entire career, they do it on their own terms, at their own pace. Thinking about how the music industry is so heavily influenced and based around one-hit-wonders and what’s trending, it’s important to appreciate the artists, past and present, that make the music they want to make, for themselves, despite the industry. With The Low End Theory, A Tribe Called Quest did this, and continues to do so.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Album of the Week: “Food & Liquor” by Lupe Fiasco

foodandliquor

Daniel’s Thought

If you can compare an artist’s debut album with any other debut album out there, Lupe Fiasco would be somewhere near what Phonte, Big Pooh and 9th Wonder did as Little Brother with Listening, or what El-P did with Fantastic Damage. These records weren’t necessarily five-mic classics, but they were a nice change from the ordinary, further pushing the hip-hop sphere of sound. With Food & Liquor, Lupe comes from Chicago’s west side to throw a variety of songs that tackle serious topics hidden underneath slippery wordplay.

The title of Lupe’s debut is a definitive way to look at life’s constant battles, with good (food) always battling evil (liquor). On “American Terrorist,” he discusses America’s history of terrorist activity (“Don’t give the black man food/ Give red man liquor“), while “Hurt Me Soul” tackles Lupe’s own struggle with hip-hop and its patriarchal stronghold. With these strong themes and topics, Lupe makes it a mission to articulate them through his own artistic vision, relaying a tangling maze of rhythm, rhymes and a clear cadence. “Kick, Push” rocks the stereo with quick-cutting rhymes about growing up, and “Sunshine” chronicles a first date under a sheath of extended metaphors and interchanging rhyming bars (“Never met her before/ But I think I like her like a metaphor/ It’s hard to get”).

Creativity dominates Food & Liquor, but there’s also a clear and straightforward message of positivity here, and with what seems to be of little effort, Lupe Fiasco delivers on his debut.

Gus’ Thought

Most people first encountered Lupe Fiasco’s high-pitched flow when he declared, “guess who’s on third?/ Lupe steal like Lupin the third” on Kanye West’s classic “Touch The Sky.” A year later, the Chicago MC would drop his debut record, Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor, and take the hip-hop world by storm. Food & Liquor is the perfect blend of personal reflection and larger social commentary, that reveals another side to hip-hop in Chicago that can be compared to the legends such as Common or Kanye in a new-age type of way.

Right from the get-go, Ayesha Jaco recites a poem layered with the sound of cars zooming by and the endless banter of men and women. It feels as though you are standing on a Chicago corner, taking in every detail. This is because Jaco illustrates the history, way of life and energy of the city corner, while also setting us up for the main idea behind much of the record. The final lines of the poem are:

“The days of Malcolm and Martin have ended/ Our hope has descended and off to the side/ Waiting for the re-installment of the revolution/ Because we are dying at the cost of our own pollution/ But God has another solution, that has evolved from the hood/ I present one who turns, the FIASCO to good.”

From there Lupe recites the opening lines to the Qu’ran and begins to tell his story in album form.

Many things make Food & Liquor a worthwhile album. For me, there are two specific aspects that make it great. First, the illustrative wordplay is engaging and makes you hang onto every syllable for fear of missing something. On the fifth track “I Gotcha,” Lupe spits:

My perfume pursued them everywhere that they went/ You don’t want a loan leave my cologne alone/ It’s a little too strong for you to be putting on/ Trust me I say this justly/ I went from musty to musky and y’all can’t mush me/ I warn y’all cornballs I Hush Puppies.”

I’m obviously not going to sit here and claim that these are the most socially “conscious” bars of all time. However, in this case, that’s not the point. Lupe demonstrates how words can be used to creatively diss people without even reverting to easy-to-use cuss words. This is just one example and there are many more throughout on tracks such as “Sunshine,” “He Say She Say” and “The Cool.”

The second aspect to this album that is great goes with the first. Through his lyrics, Lupe presents himself as a multifaceted MC that can speak to many different, and equally important topics. His Muslim faith is a huge part of his identity and you hear that. “Kick, Push,” is a commentary on boyhood, individuality, skate culture and love. “American Terrorist” problematizes the history of imperialism in the United States. On the ninth track, “Daydreamin,’” Lupe satirizes gangsta-rap culture while also shining a light on conditions in the hood. If you watch or read interviews by Lupe Fiasco, he is someone that has much to say and is known to be outspoken on a lot of different issues. As his debut album, Food & Liquor serves as an introduction into some of these thoughts and opinions as he seamlessly transitions over the course of sixteen tracks.

As an MC, Lupe reminds us of the power of words. Featured guests such as Jay-Z, Jill Scott, Gemini and Matthew Santos drop in, adding lyrical and vocal accents to the already intact work. With production from Kanye West, Prolyfic, Soundtrakk and The Neptunes, the beats add the final layer to all that has been said, sung and recited. Lupe Fiasco is referred to as an influential figure in hip-hop because of what he has done and continues to do within the culture. He has a way of mixing satire and criticism that is hard to come by. On his debut album, Lupe Fiasco’s The Food & Liquor, you can hear where some of that comes from.

Tagged , , , , ,

Album of the Week: “Cosmogramma” by Flying Lotus

WARPCD195Packshot_480

Flying Lotus
Cosmogramma
Warp Records, 2010

Daniel’s Thought

Cosmogramma is like a bottled up piece of experimental exploration that takes you to the outer reaches of space. It spoils even the most ignorant listener with grossly engaging fills of jazz, hip-hop and electronic trance, all while remaining stunningly composed. Bordering as one big forty-five minute epic, Cosmogramma never at one point can be picked apart; it stands more as a fusion of swirling sound that takes you to the highest musical stage, and then slowly lets you drift down to catch your breath.

Opening track “Clock Catcher” bleeps and bloops through a cavalcade of electronic tumbling and strings that are plucked right out of the instruments. Its rattles and quick-hitting percussion could stand as either video game fodder or the soundtrack to a futuristic horror flick, and with this experimentation the imagery comparisons are endless. “Computer Face/ /Pure Being” relies on a mid-song synth breakdown that imposes its will over the hundreds of other sounds glistening on the track, and as if accompanying Rogue Squadron as they take down the Death Star, this space-like cut sends vectors of sound all over the place like a tumbling X-Wing. The Thom Yorke assisted track “…And The World Laughs With You” dances with pulsating hums and interjecting high-pitched vocal samples, while the percussion skips on a trip-hop ride into the mind of FlyLo. “Zodiac Shit” takes a pretty easy-going hip-hop approach and spreads itself like it’s accompanying the video game Galaga, as elements of jazz-fusion and strings drive the theme forward. “Recoiled” is smothered with jazz drumming and saxophone swells to start, but as the song progresses, FlyLo flips the switch and turns it into a jaunting slow African jam that’s eventually engulfed in a harrowing synth overlay.

Cosmogramma is the epitome of positive experimentation. Based mainly on electronic tunes that replicate futuristic sci-fi imagery, Flying Lotus is able to incorporate elements of hip-hop, jazz, funk and trance in-between to create a pure masterpiece.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Album of the Week: “Thirty Eight” by Apollo Brown

apollo-brown-thirty-eight

Apollo Brown
Thirty Eight
Mello Music Group, 2014

Daniel’s Thought

Apollo Brown is one of the most cinematic producers of our generation. Painting pictures on MPC murals, the way he can fluctuate his sound to varying projects while retaining his patented style is one of the greatest accomplishments very few producers achieve these days. From the blue-collar sound and feel of Ugly Heroes, to the gritty slam of Dice Game, to his re-working of Adrian Younge’s Twelve Reasons to Die, every project Apollo embarks on is an individual branch on his overall tree of sound. Like any branch from a tree, there are characteristics that are shared among many of the other branches, but also characteristics unlike any other branch hanging on the tree.

Thirty Eight is his newest project, and as it crackles and spits, clear-cut imagery and cinematic sounds burst from the record’s framework. “All You Know” rattles with Apollo’s coveted hard-hitting boom-bap and intense sound cuts (this time a quick synth one-hitter), but it also twinkles and rattles as if it’s playing along to a Great Gatsby-like car chase. On “Dirt on the Ground,” the production is layered into typical Apollo Brown fashion, with repetitive samples ooh’ing and ahh’ing throughout the track, but there’s also an added background buzzing that makes the song accompany the visuals to something like Road to Perdition. The album’s big surprise, “Felonious,” glides smoothly under a rush of synth pads and a cool and collected guitar melody that shows us what tricks Apollo Brown has hiding for us at every turn.

So yes, with Thirty Eight you’ll hear the quirks and familiarities Apollo Brown is known for. But you’ll also hear new and intriguing sounds that he is unleashing for the first time as an overall ode to 70s Blaxploitation soundtracks. Much like any tree and its branches, Apollo’s discography has all the features you expect to hear and new ones sprouting with each branch.

Gus’ Thought 

There is no question that over the years, Apollo Brown has established himself as one of the most consistently bangin’ producers in hip-hop. Whether he is making beats for a group (The Left and Ugly Heroes), an individual MC (Boog Brown, Hassaan Mackey, Guilty Simpson and OC) or an instrumental album, there is a cleanliness to his music that allows him to work in many different situations. While Apollo Brown beats have come to be associated with heavy sampling and hefty drums, he has still been able to create different sounding beats and adapt to the various projects he’s been a part of. There is certainly a formula to the way he does things and its a damn good one. His most recent instrumental project, Thirty Eight, showcases this. The predominant musical characteristics are recognizably Apollo Brown. However, he brings a completely new thematic element to this album that is much scratchier and rough around the edges.

Released in April 2014, Thirty Eight is more soundtrack-like than anything else, the music painting vivid scenes when bumped at the appropriate levels. The description of the record via the Bandcamp Page reads:

These are suites sounding from long barrels held by lone men lurking in grimy project hallways. Tinged with revenge and regret, shrouded in thick tendrils of hollow-point smoke, the songs have all the makings of an epic gangster tragedy. They’re also great when paired with anything Raymond Chandler.”

With its lack of lyricism, the brilliance of a well-made instrumental album is that it allows the listener to imagine. Brown’s Thirty Eight does this extremely well, creating a vast expanse of musical landscapes and potential stories. With blaring horns and a slow tempo, “The Warning” sounds like the build up to a drive-by shooting in 1940’s Los Angeles. “Lonely and Cold” could accompany a scene in a 1970’s Blaxploitation film set within a murky shipyard stacked with smuggled goods. The twangs of “The Laughter Faded” creates a terribly hollow feeling of despair and the loss of prosperity and good times as the title suggests.

With Thirty Eight, Apollo Brown has created an album that should be a welcome addition to the rotation to those that already support Apollo’s work as well as for those that aren’t as familiar. Using certain elements of his tried and true method of sampling while adding new textures and styles to his sound, Thirty Eight comes across as a much needed soundtrack to the Noir/ Mafioso/ Blaxploitation genres that are colorful and full of drama. The beauty of this record is that it allows the listener to create their own ideas and stories without abandoning Brown’s overall vision of the project. Additionally, Apollo Brown continues to demonstrate why he is one of the most dependable and skilled producers around.

Tagged , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: