Monthly Archives: July 2014

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 7/26/2014: ‘The Evil Empire Of Everything’ by Public Enemy

Public Enemy

When I heard about Public Enemy making a comeback in 2012,I was very excited to say the least. On the other hand this comeback seemed delayed for release again and again. By the time it finally arrived it came in the form of two seperate albums. The first of them was Most Of My Heroes Still Don’t Appear On No Stamp,followed by this one as the second. That first album did a superb job at realizing PE’s sociopolitical microscope in order to visually magnify a lot of the truths and contradictions we all see,but for the most part force ourselves to deny. And it did an excellent job,especially when it came to utilizing the musical medium of “the funk” to illustrate that almost like verbally expressed pages in a book. On the second part of the comeback,the same intention is there but the approach is slightly different.

Right off the bat,the musical difference expressed here is that this album focuses on music that is more epic and cinematic. The raps themselves are similarly expressed as very lyrical verses and choruses rather than James Brown style rapping/singing. On the title song,”Don’t Give Up The Fight”,”PEace”,”ResPEct/Spit Out Your Mind”,”Riotstared” and “ICEbreaker” the overall intent here focuses more on the human side of societies ills. This is especially evident when the funk is again on heavily expressed in the music on “Beyond Trayvon”,one of my favorites in it’s tales on how racial profiling isn’t just a problem in itself,but because it now has mainstream acceptability. A similar intent shows up on “Notice (Know This)”. “Everything” is probably my favorite cut,sounding like an early 60’s James Brown soul ballad with Gerald Albright on a sax solo guest spot with Chuck actually counting the blessings of his life,and they aren’t the ones one might expect either.

The album closes with two heavily funk oriented numbers on “Broke Diva”,which goes into the self victimization and manipulations of modern femininity and closes with “Say It Like It Really Is”,where Chuck states that while he hasn’t been consistently present with PE the way he was in the late 80’s/early 90’s that he still intends to keep his message of truth and honestly going forward and expressing it to the people. This along with the second PE release of this year it was paired up with make up for an excellent comeback. While I suppose this could’ve easily been released as a double album much in the same manner as OutKast’s Speakerboxxx/ The Love Below,I can certainly Chuck D’s viewpoint for the albums as two separate entities. Both make similar points. But they express them from somewhat reverse points of view both musically and thematically. This one of the two does so more with human drama. And that makes the topics PE express all the more relatable to those listening.

Originally Posted On November 12th,2012

*Here is a link to the original review






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Filed under, Chuck D, Funk, Hip-Hop, James Brown, Music Reviewing, Public Enemy

The Anatomy of THE Groove 07/25/14 Rique’s Pick : “Generation Wrekkked” by Chuck D

The strange thing about the “Golden Age” of Hip Hop was how quickly many of the writers and fans turned on its artists, even when, in the cases of MC’s like Big Daddy Kane and Rakim, they were still relatively young. One of the most troubling things about it was not simply the fact that musical styles change and we all understand that, but also, the “Self Destruction” era thinking of an M.C making a difference was rejected as corny and out of touch by many in the hip hop journalist community. Nobody sufered from this more than the premier group of Hip Hop activism, Public Enemy. P.E’s 1993 album “Muse Sick N Hour Mess Age” was a direct sonic and lyrical antidote to Dr. Dre’s classic 1992 masterpiece “The Chronic”, basically, grown men who were not afraid to teach and preach and who’s music shook you out of your conformity (Get up offa that thang!) rather than lulled your head into a funky nod. The reviews for that album signaled the end of the classic P.E period. But it did not diminish Chuck D’s talent, voice, or his concern for his people and his art. On his 1996 solo album “The Autobiography of MistaChuck”, he struck back at the nihilism of the hip hop generation under him with “Generation Wrekkkked”, a play on the name of the generation everybody was talking about at the time, “Generation X.”

“Generation Wrekkked” features a totally different type of funk than the old P.E funk of the Bomb Squad. P.E created one of the signature funk sounds of the late ’80s and early ’90s alongside Prince, Go Go, Teddy Riley, Rick James, and Cameo. But the recognition of the gold mine in grooves of samples restricted that approach as the decade wore on. Chuck hooked up with a talented musician and singer named Kyle “Ice” Jason, and on this song, they deliver a straight up laid back funk track. The track is very simple and powerful, and it’s straight up funk. It features a classic, high toned rhythm guitar lick, sharp snare drum hits, powerful bass that does little but direct you to the power of the ONE, some sound effects, and Kyle “Ice” Jason crooning his Curtis Mayfield inspired falsetto. Over this funky soundscape, MistaChuck detailed his dissatisfaction with the Hip Hop culture of the times.

The phrase “If I can’t change the people around me/I change the people around me”, is a powerful one and one that has been a part of my thing ever since I heard it back in the ’90s. It’s also one that could be used in the “hood” or any negative environment in which ones associates and relatives stunt their growth.Chuck sounds defensive, this time not from “sucker critics”, but from Hip Hop fans and critics themselves, the very people he was doing it for! He sits “Johnny Cum Lately’s/Who didn’t recognize/how great and clever/some of these rhymes be”, on his knee for a rap lesson. Chuck’s lyrical skill had even been called to question by the new breed critics, seeing him as more motivator than talented M.C! Chuck tells them “Think quick/been flowing over those/mad vocabs and silly crabs/’for metaphors be passing your ass/like taxi cabs”- a clear riff on black mens difficulty catching cabs in New York City. Chuck basically structured his first verse as a battle rap, a scolding battle rap from a hip hop pioneer of whom “mad kids/never checking for what I said.”

Chuck’s next verse directly raises his issues with the hip hop music and culture that had then become the norm. After an extende Kyle “Ice” Jason vocalizing, Chuck talks about a “million doomed consumers” who “traded their medallions for fourty dozen six packs.”  These rappers were, like Puff Daddy, “Born under a terrible sign in 1969”. Nobody is safe, as he attacks those “Getting kicks from wack karate flicks”, as well as the mafioso style of the late ’90s rap ethos, realizing “I didn’t know under Fros we got so many Black Italians.” Chuck is basically attacking the conforming non conformity of the late Generation X rap kingdom. In the ’90s, the images of individuality, rebellion, and freedom that were popularized in the cultural revolution of the 1960s and 1970s had become its own stifiling cultural norm. Clothing styles, language, attitudes and lifestyles that had once been a breath of fresh air from “suburban conformity” had become the new “suburban conformity”, and once more, this could mean nothing but harm for the black community.

Chuck’s solo album was like water in the desert for me in the late ’90s. Almost no artist who existed or was popular at the time, from the Notorious B.I.G to Jay Z had any kind of larger social voice or promoted anything beyond themselves. One could say “they were just pure entertainment”, but unfortunately, there was much they talked about that was actually negative and harmful. This would be remedied by the rise of people such as Lauryn Hill. Now, some of the generation of fans who were fans of the Gangster talk are upset hip hop has gone toward pure entertainment. I must say, if its not going to preach a message, I’d rather see it be pure entertainment than preach negativity! If I can’t change the people around me, I change the people around me! Big props to Chuck D!

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Filed under 1990s, Blogging, Funk, Generations, Hip-Hop

Anatomy of THE Groove 7/25/2014: “Get Into My Groove” by Incognito

Following the post disco freeze out of most soul and funk music in the early 80’s? It would seem that the British music scene really kept the progression of that level of instrumental and melodic eloquence continuing. It can be heard in funk oriented bands of the new wave era such as Englands Spandau Ballet,Heaven 17,Level 42,Duran Duran and,on the rockier side of it The Clash and former Sex Pistol John Lydon’s Public Image Ltd. There was also a strong multi racial jazz based end of this scene that would emerge with Matt Bianco, which originally featured their very soulful lead singer Basia,Sade and Jean Paul Maunik’s Incognito. After a one off recording in the early 80’s,the band didn’t re-emerge again until the 90’s. During this time Incognito helped pioneer with acid jazz fusion of American jazz/funk and house music. At the very end of the decade in 1999,they released their album ‘No Time Like The Future’-featuring the song that really got me deeply into their music entitled “Get Into My Groove”.

Kicking off with a counting down type snare drum,the song goes into what is basically a contemporary hip-hop/soul drum machine rhythm with some beautifully orchestrated,cinematic soul strings. Shortly after these spirited horn charts kick in,along with two prominant bass lines in a wah wah fueled electric solo and a walking Moog synth bass one. After a brief vocalese scat from Jamiroquai front man Jason Kay,Wonderlove alumni Maysa Leak comes in for the lead vocal. She is talking about someone,a politician maybe, who is willing to preach about the woes of the world while taking no specific actions to correct them-asking “tell me how do you change the world if you haven’t got the nerve”. On the melodically ascending chorus Maysa asks this invidual to come and feel her groove,step into her shoes and that to “get into my mind,you gotta get into my groove”. After a consoling and very jazzy bridge,the song repeats that chorus with variations to the songs conclusion.

On a personal level? I feel that the post Columbine/pre (alleged) Y2K world of 1999,one defined by a great deal of paranoia and lack of hope,was in need of “people music” with a message perhaps more so than any other time in history. In America people such as Erykah Badu were beginning to deliver an Afrofuturist musical vibration of their own. But this combination of a former Stevie Wonder singer,along with a British acid jazz band also featuring backup vocals from…the lead singer of the biggest crossover act of the British acid jazz funk scene in America made a bold statement (to me anyway) that the humanistic message of the funk/jazz spectrum was every bit as alive as the music was. And this was sophistifunk at that. Yes rhythmically it actually did incorporate some of the mechanized hip-hop/soul rhythm. Yet the arrangement-with elegantly produced live strings,horns and bass synthesizers gave it that flavor of a fully formed futurist groove,modeled on the EWF/Roy Ayers musical attitude to lead the way into the new millennium.

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Filed under 1990s, Acid Jazz, Disco, Funk, Hip-Hop, Incognito, Jamiroquai, Maysa, Stevie Wonder

Andre’s First Finale With Stevie Wonder: Celebrating 40 Years Of ‘Fulfillingness’ First Finale’

Fulfillingness' First Finale

Sometimes in life,its vital to celebrate a particular work of art that’s relevant to your own creative talents. And one such even seems to have come upon us. I speak of myself and my blog partner Henrique. That work of art I am celebrating is the really of Stevie Wonder’s Fulfillingness’ First Finale-forty years ago today in fact on July 22nd,1974. Inspiration for this actually came via YouTube,a tribute video to this album posted there by my friend Brandon Ousley. One of the most interesting things he mentioned was that,in the grand outlook of popular music history Fulfillingness’ First Finale a somewhat overlooked album in comparison to his previous two recordings Talking Book and Innervisions. From that verbal launching pad,I am now going to launch into my own personal outlook on this album which…is,for me anyway the part of the very root of the musical viewpoints I present in this blog.

Since myself and Brandon have both done our own musical rundowns on the album? I am going to focus attention on the history,both for Wonder and on a personal level,with this album and discuss the music within that context. Around the time I bought my first CD copy (the original if I recall) in a 2 for $20 sale (along with Innervisions interestingly enough)  at a now defunct record store chain called Strawberries in the summer of 1996? I had just learned from author John Swenson’s paperback book on Stevie Wonder that Stevie had intended Fulfillingness’ First Finale to be a double album. But elected to release it in two parts. Later on I came to learn that Stevie had intended for the second part,alternately referred to as both FFF2 and Second Finale,in 1975 while he was working on his magnum opus Songs In The Key Of Life. Only one song from this second album of the set has been discussed to any degree. Its apparently called “The Future”,one of Stevie’s more fatalistic lyrical statements. Since I’ve never heard it along with most everyone else? Cannot comment beyond finding that history telling.

Of course Fulfillingness’ First Finale came along while Stevie was recovering from the near fatal 1973 car collision that nearly took his own life. As far as how this album effected my life lyrically and musically? It made it clear to me that different styles of making music could,in the hands of a talented composer and master of instrumentation,could coexist with enormous success and clarity. That also effected my personal appreciation of the album. Lyrics such as “It’s okay/don’t delay in smiling/there’ll be brighter days ahead” were greatly consoling during times when Stevie’s consoling,forward thinking optimism was definitely needed. One thing about this album that I do notice is Stevie showcasing the righteousness of his inner preacher. From the “god lives within” theme of “Heaven Is 10 Zillion Light Years Years Away” to the psychologically weighty musing on death in “They Won’t Go When I Go”? Stevie blends together the celebratory spirits of black spiritual-based gospel with European classical’s “sacred music” and its melodic lyricism.

One of my personal favorite songs is the heavily Brazilian oriented uptempo song “Bird Of Beauty”. It really encompasses why I’ve never needed illicit drugs,same as with Stevie,to enhance my understanding of life and emotions-that you don’t need white,red or yellow pills to have a mind excursion.  In 2002,after years of nightmares induced by her fear of flying as well as surviving,my mother decided to go skydiving. The agency that provided this made a video of the event and my mom picked “Bird Of Beauty” for the soundtrack. As much in approval as my father,who himself first heard Fulfillingness’ First Finale on the high end stereo of a friend of his youth’s in the mid 70’s,the song “Bird Of Beauty” and the albums tone of objectifying life and death-both through vocal lyricism and Stevie’s trademark invention of instrumental sounds,took on yet another level of meaning in my life.

During the time that this album would’ve been celebrating its 20th anniversary? The concept of sentimentality was viewed by many of the adolescent generation of that era with a strange mixture of suspicion,irritation and awe. Stevie Wonder’s overt expressions of this emotional sensibility was part of this condemnation for some. On the other hand? What is sentimentality anyway but an authoritative statement of emotionalism? If that is the case? Sentimentality is part of the very foundation of everything Stevie Wonder stands for. When he is in love with a woman or the world? He exhibits the most profound sense of joy. When lacking in romantic love such as in a song like “Creepin'”? He is questioning his own sense of reality. Or how the cynicism of Watergate bought out Stevie’s political preacher man on “You Haven’t Done Nothin'”-both of which feature some of his most elaborate uses of synthesizers and live rhythm in his amazing use of that form of soulful funkiness.

When it comes right down to it? My love of this album not only stems for the fact that its very therapeutic. But that it is so as much because of Stevie’s instrumental approach on this album. Throughout this album,his use of synthesizers and his own backup harmony vocals create the sense not only of an inner vision but an inner conversation. And one that he fully intends the listener to feel with him. One thing Stevie does,perhaps more so here than on any album of his classic early 70’s period is understand very fully why his vocals function with his musical approach. He sings on every song on this album with such an enormous amount of emotional investment,wringing every last ounce of soul that he can from the always expansive musical blanket he’s creating. Stevie Wonder was able to take his near death experience and transform it into a complete celebration of life itself. That may be way the unsentimental struggle to fully understand this albums virtues. And why it would help evolve ones interests in funk,soul and jazz. So for the next 40 years of music lovers who will be celebrating this album long after Stevie Wonder has left this Earth? I live in hope it continues to inspire more musical works of art representative of the phoenix rising from the ashes of cynicism into the friendly skies of life’s great joys.

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Filed under 1970's, Fulfillingness' First Finale, Funk, Jazz, Motown, Music Reviewing, Neo Soul, Stevie Wonder

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 7/19/2014: ‘A.J. & The Jiggawatts’

AJ & The Jiggawatts


Its been known to me for quite a few years that,even after the crossover potency of funk had diminished on the radio,that the music still had a home on radio and in the record stores of the American South. That extended onward into the 90’s era when the Southern hip-hop sub-genre emerged with acts such as Mystikal,The Goodie Mob and of course OutKast as some of the most thoroughly funk oriented of hip-hoppers of their era. With the emergence of the whole Dap Tone scene during the new millennium,it also seemed that large live funk bands were suddenly becoming the domain of indie record labels-much the same as the earliest music of the original funk and early disco era had actually been. While randomly leafing through the R&B section of the record store,I came across this album. It was a large horn funk band from Nashville,usually known to me as a mecca for country music. It described AJ & The Jiggawatts as a blistering live band. But what would the studio make them out to be on this CD?

Right of the bad with the intro the album is of course abound with fast paced,uptempo horn funk such as “Throw A Fit”,”Get Wild”,”Pushin’ Forward”,”98 Degrees”,”Once And A Lifetime”,”Don’t Mess With Me” and the intense “The Drop”. These numbers are some of the most hyperactive funk I’ve ever heard,since its usually a genre I tend to associate with a slower rhythmic structure. Might be good to use James Brown’s “I’m A Greedy Man” to describe the tempo and flavor of the funk on those songs. “Back Alley Beale St” and “Brown Bottle Fever”,both with a bluesier New Orleans groove,use the lyrical metaphor of intoxication. “Typical Feeling” is a sunny,melodic groove that deals with the virtues of skepticism and reason-citing what sounds like the contemporary climate crisis as an example. “Shake It For Me” has a commanding horn fanfare throughout it while “Pimp Decisions” espouses the virtues of balancing ones needs with those of others while “Stand Up” ends the album (as a bonus track) with some strident,wah wah heavy funky soul.

Musically this is a fantastic album through and through. One of the best things about it is that it updates the sociopolitical lyrical impulses of classic funk for the post Generation X years. The ideas of “do what you want to do” and “come together,people” are superseded with the concepts of reliance on ones own views and abilities. There’s also a strong working class sensibility about the album as well-dealing with people in tight economic situations trying to keep relationships and the like afloat amid their stresses. The musicians,especially the cracker jack horn section are superb. And the production is clean and loose as they come. The only thing I am not 100% taken with is AJ Eason’s singing. While he has a powerful,assertive vocal tone and is an extremely strong songwriter/lyricist? His vocal technique itself is extremely sloppy,similar to the lead singer of the Intruders where he often loses control of his voice and is very badly off key on the choruses. While people probably have their own ideas about Eason’s singing that will differ from mine,its not enough from keeping this a stand up example of a contemporary live band funk juggernaut!

Original Review Written On July 14th,2014

*Link to original review:

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Filed under A.J. & The Jiggawatts, A.J. Eason, Blues, Funk, Generations, James Brown, Nashville, New Orleans

Anatomy of THE Groove 7/18/2014 Andre’s Pick: “Love Unleashed” By Joe

As long as we’ve known each other,the one common thread that my blogging partner Henrique and I have referenced is the rather emasculated attitude soul singer/songwriter Joe Thomas,mostly known simply as Joe,has regarding the romantic subjects of his songs. Not that he is any innovator or even the only artist of his kind with this sort of attitude or anything. But it was bought up in reference to the fact that,aside from lyrical content,the vast majority of his music simply wasn’t possessed of a great deal of instrumental vitality. Of course, instrumentalists with a strong sense of vitality were not exactly showcased very strongly on the commercial end of the soul/R&B spectrum of the mid/late 90’s in which Joe began his career either. About a month ago,Joe released a new album entitled ‘Bridges’. Aside from the albums many very surprising delights? It concludes with what I feel to be it’s most surprising ones-a song called “Love Undefeated”.

Starting off with an authoritative drum kick similar in flavor to Funadelic’s iconic “(Not Just) Knee Deep) before kicking right into a think “funk functioning as disco-dance music” type percussive rhythm with a thick,pulsing three chord bass tone matched up with an electric piano/clavinet sounding interaction for the keyboard part. Shortly after a string synthesizer brings in the melody and these joyous,harmonic horn charts come in and stay with the song throughout it. Along with some extremely James Brown/Prince type rhythmic guitar as well. Lyrically Joe sings a message to his brothers and sisters in the world to start right here,right now with their love of themselves to save the children of their generation. To “free us from the prison of our minds” as he puts it. By the time the song comes to its coda Joe is singing call and response style with the horn section singing “love undefeated/we can’t lose it if we got love”.

While admittedly I haven’t listened to an entire Joe album until this point? I personally have never heard him make any music of this sort before. As I stated i my Amazon review of the album? I felt that Joe,with his sense of compassion and thoughtfulness,would be more than capable of making some strong soul and even funk one day-that is if his romantic outlook were more well rounded and less self involved. So now not only has he delivered just that,but on the funkiest possible end-full of musically powerful keyboard parts,bass/guitar interaction and even exciting horn charts as well. The mixture of P-Funk and other late 70’s/early 80’s boogie funk elements such as “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” is also added to by the fact this is music with a message too. Joe is making “people music” here-encouraging the current younger generations not to resort to apathy and to express unleashed love. If Joe was ever going to make strong funk music? I cannot think of a much better way than this.

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Filed under Boogie Funk, Disco, Funk, Funk Bass, James Brown, Joe, Late 70's Funk, Prince

The Anatomy of the Groove 7/18/14 Rique’s Pick : “Din Daa Da” by The Roots

There is no minimizing the good Philadelphia’s Legendary Roots Crew has done in their time in the public eye as a Hip Hop based band.  The Collective has produced critically acclaimed albums, had members produce legends such as Al Green, collaborated with idiosyncratic masters like Elvis Costello, backed great singers like John Legend, and spearheaded the Neo Soul movement through the Soulquarians collective. The Roots have shouldered a heavy burden, as Questlove is well aware, of being the most prominent black band in the world. This one band has taken over in public perception, for all the great bands of the past’s jazz, funk or soul. I imagine when a black kid plays drums now days, he might hear, “Go head Questlove”.  The thing with this flag bearing is, they’ve done it while also operating in an area of Hip Hop music that can often be limiting, especially apres the Late ’80s Early ’90s “Golden Era.” Roots albums have often left me disappointed, because brilliant lyricism , crisp snares, and cozy grooves notwithstanding, they’ve rarely brought the thunderous funk the way they’re known to bring on stage. 2004’s cover of George Franz’s ’80s dance classic, “Din Daa Daa” changed all of that.  This bonus track, buried at the tail end of their “Tipping Point” album, was a funky, imporvisatory “Dazz” (disco-jazz) track that finally unleashed Questlove’s drum kit with reverbed force.

George Kranz’s song “Din Daa Daa” was the soundtrack to a magical scene in the early Hip Hop dance movie “Breakin 2: Electric Boogaloo.  Kranz scatted drum figures to himself as he unleashed drum solos in a duet format. Black Thought and Questlove do the same here to devestating effect, with Questlove conjuring up the force of jazz drummers like Elvin Jones and Art Blakey. The track was a bonus on the album, coming after a wacky rap song featuring Dave Chappelle.

The song begins with voices singing “Din Daa Daa” against voices singing the bassline for the song. A cowbell marks the time as the groove builds. Black Thought begins to scat his rhythmic phrases, reminding me of his fellow Philadelphian Bill Cosby’s drum based jazz scatting language. Questlove comes in, not playing the exact same phrases at first, but accenting them and playing around them. Quest snare drum features something rare for him, reverb! Questlove usually goes for a dry, spare community center sound that will not overpower M.C’s. He shows no such concern here as he unleashes  thundering drum rolls that linger like a flare. Quest and Tarik (Black Thought) play off each other, talk to each other, one up one another, as well as support themselves through the first go round of the tune. Tariq escalates into orgies of mouth rhythms, rapping out millitary paraddidles and a Billy Stewart esque climax, with Quest ratcheting up the intensity until about 3:25, when the song hits it’s release. The release features a solid, crisp Neo-Philly drum beat and George Kranz’s brighter than bright, uplifting “Din Daa Daa” synthesizer tones. The song alternates between the long, funky, jazzy scat and drum sections and the bright dance funk of the chorus, until it hits a funky Neo Soul breakdown at the end. The song drops in tempo, and Questlove plays a funky beat thats a combo of a shuffle blues and his trademark ultra behind drumming style he once showcased with D’Angelo, Pino Palladino and Raphael Saddiq on D’s “Voodoo” album. This section is buried in underwater sounding, delayed keyboards. It sounds like stagehands taking down band equipment after a live show, or when the D.J puts on mid century pop ballads to clear the club at the end of the night. And so ends 9 of the most joyus minutes the Roots ever recorded.

This song was very important to me and my friends when it was released in 2004. It was inspiring for a top hip hop group like The Roots to release some improvisatory, live, jazzy instrumental funk like this. Beyond the industry aspects, it was also plain ol’ fun and a gas to groove to. We use to hit the hills in San Francisco with this song as the soundtrack to our journey. The groups trademark wit and intelligence is also at display in the song selection. They didn’t cover just any old instrumental, they covered an instrumental that is also related to the hip hop idiom, being featured in a magical dance scene in one of the early hip hop movies. That gave their audience some recognition, but they took it and flipped it like jazz or Afro-Latin dance pros on stage. I can also see the more joyus sound they introduced here as a segue to the Roots of the past decade or so, the musicians who play on The Tonight Show, collaborate with pop artists, and the Questlove that writes books about Soul Train. This record contains all those years of The Roots early live prowess on one cut. Bravo!

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Filed under 1980's, Acid Jazz, Africa, Blogging, Funk, Jazz

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 7/12/2014-Janelle Monae’s ‘The Electric Lady’

Janelle Monae The Electric Lady

It actually took several listens to Janelle Monae’s full length album debut The ArchAndroid to fully grasp it’s musical virtues before even being able to review it in my head,lead alone here in black and white. That was several years ago. And the review I did do here only came after seeing her live in concert a year after that. It was a truly captivating experience: “united funk” all the way-meaningful grooves,messages and an enormous amount of involvement and communication with the audience. Strangely enough after that,a certain level of cynicism began to sink in on my part. Attitudes like…what if Monae’s intense creativity was a gimmicky fluke? Would she become a generic artist pimping the pleasure principle like so many the next time,to sell more albums? And had the early 1990’s style critical negativity gotten to me at last? How selfish of me. Here was the very fulfillment of the musical desires and imaginative ideas I’d had since adolescence manifesting itself before my eyes. Why reject that for the sake of psychically numb realism? When I heard earlier in the year her follow up was about to arrive,it was a summer of waiting with baited breath to here the musical fruits of her passions. With no hyperbole intended,I am astounded with what was heard!

Beginning with “Electric Overture”, Suit IV a swirling blend of cinema and surf rock guitar we go into “Givin’ Em What They Love”-a thudding and minimal funk-rocker featuring of course Prince himself. Having heard a version of “Q.U.E.E.N” during the summer,this Erykah Badu duet is a superbly realized Minneapolis style rhythm guitar/spicy boogie funk synthesizer. “Electric Lady” slows the groove right down to a crawl with this heavily texturized electronics bubbling up from an heavily reverbed drum and bass line-Monae and Solange Knowles’s voice blending into perfect harmony. On “Primetime” Janelle and Miguel’s male/female duet is set within the musical framework of another spare,lightly beat heavy (and therefore very funky) mid tempo ballad. “We’re Only Rock ‘N Roll” jumps right into a sleeker interpretation of the classic James Brown groove than on the previous albums “Tightrope”-as well as having a more melodically constructed song craft about it. “The Dance Apocalyptic” goes right for the heart of this uptempo Caribbean-type funk jaunt while “Look Into My Eyes” brings in the Spanish tinge with a sensually flamenco inflected tango.

Suit V begins with the beautifully cinematic orchestral 60’s type next part of the “electric overture” before going into the early 70’s Chicago soul inspired “It’s Code” which,along with “Can’t Live Without Your Love” and “Victory” bring out that “sweet funk” sound of that specific musical ethic. With it’s theatrical blend of synthesizer bass and intense rhythm “Ghetto Woman” is complexly melodic electronic funk like you’ve never heard it before-asking for sympathy for it’s character rather than the derision of society.”Sally Ride” is a tight,slowed down foot stomper of a jam that’s full of honesty and a little attitude. “Dorothy Dandridge Eyes”,with the equally talented Esperanza Spalding,is absolutely amazing-with it’s thorough understanding of jazzy style keyboard textures and sensual,truth telling rhythms. Not to mention melodic and harmony suggestions that are alternately passionate and paranoid in the best heavy on easy sophistifunk fashion before ending the album with the slow and dynamic boogie funk of “What An Experience”.

Many of the songs on this album feature interludes such as “Good Morning Midnight”,”The Chrome Shoppe” and “Our Favorite Fugitive”,narrated by DJ Crash Crash that illustrate this albums concept. Cindy Mayweather,the space faring archandroid has arrived at the threshold of an apocalypse-with only a group of Mayweather clones called the Electric Ladies providing a degree of satisfaction. Is it another P-Funk like conceptual tract? Not at all. This album is full of many different variations of what actually turns out to be a very important message to the listener. In an environment where a culture itself is almost entirely ruled by fear of one thing or another without realizing it,the best way to live life is to be aware and gain knowledge. But also to be in a position where you can change things for the better. This theme isn’t illustrated by mere preaching. There’s a theatrical storyline just as with her first two releases,as well as a set of characters with their own situations. The stage was set,the players were in place for this album and Janelle Monae more than showed she could dance-literally and figuratively. She has affirmed her place as the much needed innovator of the funk/soul/jazz/R&B spectrum and did so by diving head long into the funky gumbo of Stevie Wonder,Prince,James Brown,Gil Scott Heron and Curtis Mayfield that she channels into her musical orbit. An amazing piece of music that,on many levels,words may not be able to adequately describe.

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, 1990s, Esperanza Spalding, Funk, Janelle Monae, Minneapolis, Prince, Solange', Soul, Stevie Wonder, Women

The Anatomy of THE Groove 7/11/14 Andre’s Pick : “Touch” by Omarion

Never ceases to amaze me how much Pharrell Williams was involved in so many of what I feel are the most instrumentally exciting funk of the past decade or so. As one half of The Neptunes with Chad Hugo,Pharrell helped spin musical gold for everyone from Kelis,Justin Timberlake,Jay Z,Snoog Dogg and even Britney Spears. And by 2004 Pharrell on his own was already being singled out as a pie in the sky artist/producer whom,like Quincy Jones before him was able to showcase the connectivity of soul/funk through the post millennial hip-hop era. Then in 2005,Pharrell turned his magic to Omarian,lead singer of the hip-hop/dance boy band B2K,as he released his debut solo album ‘O’ and,most impressively on the song “Touch”.

Follow a soft “huh” by Omarian,the song kicks right into gear at full power. The drum machine kicks out a very percussive Afro-Latin uptempo groove. Layered carefully within this rhythmic bed are two powerful synthesizer lines. One is a higher,almost digitized clavinet style effect playing a complex three chord sequence in very syncopated time. Below that is a very rubbery and flamboyant Moog bass line that has a lot of jazz/blues oriented “blue notes” and is almost played in fast paced be-bop style. As Omarian asks us to get comfortable,he begins to illustrate how he has “visions and fantasies”,and lyrically stays on the one with them throughout the song-illustrating both lyrically along with The Neptunes instrumentation the seductive energy of the song itself.

It was actually my blog-mate here Henrique who first introduced me to this songs several years ago. Having had a musical education that was equal parts Stevie Wonder,Prince,Teena Marie,Steve Winwood and Todd Rundgren? I always had the utmost admiration for musically eloquent multi instrumentalists. This song simply gave me goosebumps when I first heard it. So much so I totally forgot it even had any lyrics to it. The instrumental futurism and complexity of the drum machines and harmonizing lead/bass synthesizer was simply amazing. Especially with the tremendous physical energy and vigor with which it was played. This song revealed itself to me as an outstanding template for modern day,electronically derived instrumental funk. And forever had me digging deep to see what this apparently musically ingenius Pharrell Williams was up to.


Filed under Funk, Hip-Hop, Omarion, Pharrell Willaims, Quincy Jones, Radio, Stevie Wonder, The Neptunes

The Anatomy of THE Groove 7/11/14 Rique’s Pick : “It’s Your World” by Jennifer Hudson ft R Kelly

One of the interesting things about being an admirerer of Funk, Soul and Disco in the 21st Century is the layers and layers of musical styles to uncover, from the past five decades. A musical style or effect that began in the ’70s might resonate with a younger listener as more of a musical pillar in a decade like the 1990s, when they were in their music consuming youth. In the case of Jennifer Hudson’s fantastic new R Kelly produced single, “It’s Your World”, J Hud and Kells manage to craft a performance of a track that conjures up both the original disco-funk era of the late 1970s and the Disco homages and creative reengagement of 1990s house music. It’s often been said House Music itself was a reaction to the end of Disco in the early ’80s, with Black underground clubs in Chicago (Chi Town)  and Detroit continuing to play R&B disco rarities, eventually leading to the creation of their own low budget, electronic disco dance records. The Disco inflected House and Garage genres ended up finding their way into huge mainstream records, such as Lisa Stansfield’s Barry White love letter, “All Around the World”, and Whitney Houston’s smash interpretation of Chaka Khan’s 1977  classic “I’m Every Woman.”  Jennifer Hudson manages to combine both eras in a combustible song that stands tall on its own as a true dance floor devotional.

“It’s Your World” begins with a “Boom. Tap…ta-be-di-be Boom. Tap” drum roll, sampled straight off one of this writers favorite records, Roy Ayers Ubiquity’s 1977 disco in the jungle masterpiece “Running Away.” “Running Away” is not the first song most people think of when it comes to disco, but it was a huge hit among hard core dancers, particularly in cities that would keep the flag of disco waving in the ’80s and ’90s, like New York, Paris, London, and Chicago. The drum roll sets the scene for a furiously funky disco/House music track.

The track is a mix of the actual disco thing and ’90s House. The drumming is the basic disco drum beat, amped up and on steroids, delivered from a drum machine, with sizzling open hi hats, a true ’90s house sound. A single note muted guitar riff helps protect the rhythm, in the manner of a rhythm guitar part such as the one found on Evelyn Champagne King’s “Shame.” The bass line is prominent in the mix  but not dominant, though it does dominate musically, laying down a nimble, syncopated part with a somewhat disembodied sound. The bass line clearly sets the edges of the music. Very prominent Fender Rhodes chords also feature here, which might have been buried under the horns and strings of a ’70s disco record, but have much more room to breathe in the ’90s house approach. Percussion sizzles, and bits of synth strings and brass are inserted on the choruses.

J Hud delivers a powerful, soulfully excellent vocal performance in the tradition of Soul Disco diva’s like Loleatta Halloway and Martha Wash. Her part is full of melisma, and sung with a bluesy, chesty tone. The lyrics speak of an old school topic, straight up 100% devotion, “I’ll be your servant/your slave/your everything/you ever wanted.” Hudson’s ennunciation is sharp and soulful at the same time (‘and every THANG in it”, “if you ask it, it SHALL be given.”) Hudson belts out at the top of her vocal range, beautifully soulful notes. The lyrics and vocals speak to the excess of a blissful relationship.

R Kelly’s track evolves, adding and subtracting layers until it reaches a breakdown voiced by the man himself. The breakdown takes out the drums, leaving behind percussion shakers to carry the rhythm. The Rhodes is more prominent with the extra space, revealing it’s bell toned intracacies. Kelly sings a super soulful response, promising the exact same things J Hud promised her man. He hits some stunningly powerul low notes when he sings the line, “Everything your heart desires baby.” The structure of the song itself is unique and reminiscent of the disco era, as J Hud sings along for two and a half minutes or so before Kelly gets the spotlight. After Kelly’s breakdown, he trades lines with Hudson. Over the climax of the track, the two soul singers belt out some serious, bone chilling romantic screams. R Kelly understands as a producer that, coming from the gospel tradition, an uptempo dance song is just as much a format for gymnastic vocals as a slow burn ballad. The way Hudson works the melismatic chorus of “Its Your World” reminds me of Stevie Wonders vocal stylings at the high point of the 1976 classic “I Wish”, and Hudson promises similar religous devotion to her lover as Wonder did on that song.

“It’s Your World” is a wonderful dance record, beautifully sung and constructed. The track transcends it’s ’70s and ’90s influences to become something of its own, building on Kelly’s solid work in classic sounds, from his work with Charlie Wilson and the Isley Brothers, to his “steppers music” like “Happy People”, to his recent old school albums, 2010’s “Love Letter”, and 2012’s “Write Me Back.” Hudson builds on her performances in “Dreamgirls”, and her hot boogie funk, Evelyn Champagne King  influenced single “I Can’t Describe” from last year. The result is a record that stands tall besides it’s influences as a great example of how a dance song can serve as a love devotional.  I hope Hudson has much success with it as well as the upcoming album its taken from.

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Filed under 1970's, 1990s, Acid House, Disco, Funk, Music Reviewing