Category Archives: Chuck D

Looking Back at Public Enemy’s Underrated New Whirl Odor

new-whirl-odor-cover

Next Friday marks the 30th anniversary of Yo! Bum Rush the Show, the debut album by legendary political hip-hop crew Public Enemy. I have a post planned for both Andresmusictalk and my own blog, Dystopian Dance Party, to mark the occasion; but in the meantime, I thought I’d dig up a post I wrote back in 2005 about their surprisingly good album from that year, New Whirl Odor. As I note below, 2005 was at least 10 years past what anyone would consider P.E.’s “prime”; but the fact that it still turned out to be pretty great is a testament to their continued vitality and relevance. Here’s hoping they can continue to surprise us in the next 30 years.

Public Enemy frontman Chuck D is 56 years old. That’s only two years younger than my father… my father, whose favorite band is the Traveling Wilburys. This, of course, brings up all the usual questions about relevance and staying power: questions that are perhaps even more potent when applied to a rap group who made their reputation as a thoroughly of-the-moment firebrand “CNN of the black community.” But listening to New Whirl Odor–Public Enemy’s ninth album in their almost-30-year career–and reading some of the early press reactions, I’m a lot more interested in a different question: namely, when are we going to stop demanding another Nation of Millions from Public Enemy?

After all, it’s more than evident that Chuck and company couldn’t care less about recapturing their “golden era”: if Odor is stuck in any time period, it isn’t the late ’80s or even the early ’90s, but 1994, the year PE released their hugely misunderstood fifth album, Muse Sick-N-Our Mess Age. From the punning title and hand-drawn cover art to the Bomb Squad-free, live-instrumentation arrangements, Odor is a sister album of sorts to Muse Sick–and a worthy follow-up at that. But just like that earlier album, it’s unlikely that anyone will be listening until years down the line. Put simply, this was–and remains–a different group altogether from the one that recorded “Fight the Power,” “Bring the Noise,” and “Rebel Without a Pause.” The sound is mellower, atmospheric, almost minimalist; nothing like the dense sonic barrage that peaked on 1990′s Fear of a Black Planet. There’s nothing here with quite the instantaneous impact of, say, “You’re Gonna Get Yours.” In fact, unlike that seminal 1987 cut, which literally revved to life in a blur of gunning engine and squealing tires, New Whirl Odor’s title track drops in with an insistent, low-in-the-mix beat and almost subliminal swirling keyboards. Is it classic P.E.? Hardly; no song operating on wordplay that terrible ought to be considered “classic” anything. But excitement? Is any Public Enemy track not exciting?

 

What follows, I’m happy to say, is even better. “Bring That Beat Back” is the kind of thing the S1Ws were born to step to: the sound of mainstream hip-hop being marched to the gallows. “Preachin’ to the Quiet” blends live guitar with a laid-back jazz-funk loop and some truly frenetic scratching. And “MKLVFKWR” just plain kicks ass, as musically engaging as “Welcome to the Terrordome” with none of the overly defensive, anti-Semitic bravado. The Enemy is in fine form throughout: Chuck’s voice is as hefty of timbre as ever, but delivered with a restraint that becomes him, high on confidence and only a little lower on boom. Even Professor Griff takes the mic to great effect on tracks like the ambient, reggae-flavored “Revolution” and the tense, jerky “Y’all Don’t Know.” Flav, perhaps for the best, is kept largely out of the spotlight, but provides color and support with his usual panache.

Of course there are a few missteps. “66.6 Strikes Again” needlessly rehashes the cut-and-paste radio skit of Black Planet with diminishing returns, while the abysmal “What a Fool Believes” is not only the worst Public Enemy song I’ve ever heard, but one of the worst rap songs–and probably up there on the list of worst songs in general. Harsh words, I know, but to Public Enemy’s credit, New Whirl Odor’s highs far outnumber its lows… and even the lows speak to this group’s continuing vitality, their willingness to take risks. Closing track “Superman is Black in the Building” (above) stands as a testament to this: nearly twelve minutes long and not a second wasted, it’s at once an epic recap of everything that continues to make Public Enemy great, and a bold excursion into new heights of jazz-flavored funk and soul. It’s the kind of thing that makes you think twice about writing off these hip-hop elder statesmen, even if their “glory days” have long past. Because like it or not, Public Enemy doesn’t need to make another Nation of Millions. They’ve already made their first New Whirl Odor, and that’s plenty good enough.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under 2000s, 2005, Chuck D, conscious rap, Hip-Hop, Public Enemy, rap, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Say It Loud,I’m Black And I’m Proud” by Chuck D and Kyle ICE Jason

Carlton Douglas Ridenhour,better known as Public Enemy’s main emcee Chuck D,has long been part of my collective consciousness. Suppose it started when a friend my father’s came him his cassette copy of PE’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back. It wasn’t something I was encouraged to listen to at 9 years old. But a little over a decade later,I checked it out on CD myself. And onward through my conversations with this blogs co-founder and friend Henrique Hopkins,Public Enemy/Chuck D have been a consistent conversational fixture in terms of hip-hop keeping the funk alive and kicking.

During Public Enemy’s nearly 30 years of existence,Chuck D has only recorded two proper solo albums. He’s preferred to focus his energies as an individual on activism and public lecturing about important matters effecting the black American community. So its been good to have PE be his chief musical focus for that message,while he does more physical work through his political activism. Having based his entire musical career on his deep love of James Brown’s funk in particular,its more than fitting that one of the songs on his second solo album The Black In Man from 2014 is a version of JB’s “Say It Loud”.

For the most part,the song is built on Chuck’s live band playing the song very close to the way James Brown and the JB’s had done it. The drums and horns start out the song before the bass/guitar interaction comes in. The chicken scratch guitar on this version is not mixed quite as high as Jimmy Nolan’s was on the original. But the round bass line is left almost completely intact. Chuck adds some more rap style vocal accents and meter to his vocal. On the bridge however,some heavy scratching changes over to Kyle Jason’s conscious rap that goes right with the theme of the song before it comes to an abrupt stop.

One of the themes of Chuck D’s music throughout his career has been the kind of thematic power different songs can have. He has often stated this about his critiques on hip-hop-that while some of the more commercially successfully music of the genre has importance as aural escapism,its vital that the potential for hip-hop to transmit positive messages of self improvement to black America needs to be better realized. In doing “Say It Loud”,Chuck brings out that the original song actually WAS hip-hop along with that message-with it’s rhythmically rapped lyrics and message. So it works on both levels.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 2014, black power, chicken scratch guitar, Chuck D, conscious rap, drums, Funk Bass, hip-hop funk, horns, James Brown, Kyle Jason, Public Enemy, rap, scratching

Andre’s Amazon Archive: ‘Afrodeezia’ by Marcus Miller

Marcus Miller Afrodeezia

Much as I hate to admit it? As much of a Marcus Miller admirer as I am? Still don’t even come close to personally owning every single one of his albums over the years. It’s actually something on my musical bucket list though. Because Marcus is one of the bass players I admire most now because of his total involvement in any whole musical process he gets involved with. It’s not just that he’s a multi talented DIY artist.

Though he is that…multi talented DIY artist. But this album’s subtext represents what I appreciate most about him. Having recently became a spokesmen for UNESCO’s Slave Route Project? He has taken the Quincy Jones-style approach of using the connective thread of black American music to illustrate the struggles up from slavery. And this album actually reflects that ambition on a musical level as well.

One of the most interesting aspects of this particular album is that a good chunk of it follows an extremely specific rhythmic pattern,provided by a group of African and Caribbean instrumentalists whom I’ve never heard of before. “Hylife” begins the album on the funkiest end of this with Marcus’s slap bass leading the way alongside the percussion and accompanying melodic piano and vocalese. “We Were There” has a similar approach with more of a Brazilian jazz rhythmic twist.

The song also includes vocal scatting from Layla Hathaway and melodic horns in beautiful festive unison. “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” brings in Keb Mo for a very bluesy style take on the Norman Whitfield/Temptations funk classic. Same sound applies to the steel drum/rock guitar fueled “Son Of MacBeth”.”Preachers Kid” and “I Still Believe I Hear” are both somewhat more meditative numbers featuring vocal choirs and more Egyptian/Arabic style Afrocentric modalities.

The psychedelic electronica of the interlude “Prism” leads into the probing and expansively jazzy ballad “Xtraordinary” while “Water Dancer” has a bluesy jazz/fusion flavor with a great sax solo on the bridge. “I Can’t Breathe” ends the album with Marcus and Mocean Worker playing a thickly swinging funk showcasing bass clarinet and layers of guitar and keyboard with Chuck D rapping in fine form (as is typical) about the messiness of today’s revived racism.

First thing that can be said about this album is that it is political. Not in the lyrical sense as most of it is totally instrumental. But in the thoroughly musical statement it makes. With it’s basic percussive funk,fusion and blues approach? This albums brings African America and Africa itself both into clear creative focus with each other. It’s ever present sense of melody is alternately joyous,confused,sly,uneasy,romantic and sometimes even confrontational. Yet overall the general mood of the music is super relaxed and at ease with itself. It’s never just one sound. It’s a lot of different sounds meeting at their middles and harmonizing deeply. Of course,this is highly recommended as a meaningful new musical endeavor for Marcus Miller!

Originally Posted On March 17th,2015

LINK TO ORIGINAL REVIEW HERE

Read more about the Slave Route Project through UNESCO by clicking this link.

Leave a comment

Filed under 2015, Afro Funk, Afrocentrism, Amazon.com, blues funk, Brazilian Jazz, Chuck D, Keb Mo, Lalah Hathaway, Marcus Miller, message music, Mocean Worker, Music Reviewing, slap bass, Slave Route Project, UNESCO

Anatomy of THE Groove 09/05/14 Rique’s Pick : “Give We the Pride” by Chuck D & Mavis Staples

For todays Friday Funk song, we again turn to Chuck D, aka Mista Chuck, this time alongside one of the great funky soul activist matriarch singers of the Civil Rights and Black Power era’s, Ms. Mavis Staples of the Staple Singers. “Give We the Pride” is both an evolution of the self respect messages of Public Enemy as well as a milenial take on classic Staple Singers songs such as “We the People”, “This World”, and “Respect Yourself”, uber funky cuts all that encouraged self love and respect as black people moved into the new vistas at the end of the era of Jim Crow. It represents a continuation of the growth and evolution of Chuck D and Public Enemy’s sound, as Chuck raps over a band playing a new, milenial version of the type of funky soul they grew to fame and acclaim by sampling. The circle is complete, as Chuck and co have gone from keeping the funk alive by sampling it to actually laying it down with a matriarch of the music like Ms. Mavis Staples.

The track is a funky soul, late 60s, early 70s groove. Full band sound, with rhythm section augmented by organ pads, and a horn section including the heavy horns like Baritone sax. The drum beat is very kinetic and hyperactive, and the groove is based on a syncopated riff played by the bass and guitar, the instruments hit that riff for two bars and then rest, with the organ chords then taking up the space they vacated. This creates a nice stop and start feeling to the groove. The drum fills in at various points, and they very interestingly drop the drums out of the track at certain intervals to highlight the vocals, both for Chuck’s rhymes and Mavis Staples singing.

Ms. Staples vocals are fine soul grit, and her message is one that encourages black people today, young people in particular, telling them, “we need pride to survive.” She has a line I really dig where she questions black people’s current materialistic consumption, saying we don’t need all of the expensive labels, because, “Instead of worrying bout the clothes and jewlery/that don’t do nothing for me/because we got the/best, most beautiful/brown or chocolate/cocoa butter skin/in the world.” Ms. Staples lyrics are phrased like a prayer for Pride for black people in this current time, and its much appreciated from a great artist such as her who’s led many times through her art, along with her family.

While Mama Mavis prays for the children and admonishes them, Uncle Chuck takes the adults to task for being corrupters of the young, saying “I’m seeing old folks applaud/nonsense we cannot afford.” One of Chuck’s pet peeves has been what he feels is a lack of leadership and admonishment coming from our current crop of black middle aged folks and elders.

The video itself is special as well. As Chuck D takes a trip to Chicago and records with Ms. Mavis in the Chess records studio. Chuck also shoots scenes near black cultural landmarks such as the Ebony/Jet publishing building. The use of Chicago in particular is signifigant, with the rampant kiling that has been going on in that great city recently. Chuck does his part in this song and video to address and better that situation as well by pointing out the positive aspects of black peoples history and struggle in a city like Chi-Town.

“Give We the Pride” finds Chuck D in a new format for his music and message, rhyming in front of a band as hes done for the last decade, alongside one of his inspirations. Mavis Staples and The Staple Singers are one of the main influences on Public Enemy’s music, one of the reasons those brothers couldn’t see things going in a bad direction and be silent. Chucks voice is even thicker, and he rhymes in longer, more complete thoughts and sentences as opposed to the old choppy approach. Its as if the longer phrases of the new music also inspire a longer sentence structure. Chuck ain’t trying to be cute here! And the song itself is a cool merger of two different generations of artistic activists, coming together and using their great voices to motivate the people in the new Milenium. “Let me walk with my head up high/let me know that I’m fly.”

1 Comment

Filed under 1970's, 1980's, 1990s, Blogging, Chuck D, Funk, Funk Bass, Hip-Hop

HAPPY 50’TH POST FOR ANDRE! Andre’s Amazon Archive for 8-3-2014: ‘Tribb To JB’ by Chuck D

ChuckD On the first day of this month marked the official eight month point where my friend Henrique and I formed this blog. It was also the same day as the Chadwick Boseman vehicle ‘Get On Up’,the long awaited biopic on James Brown was released in theaters nationwide. So this is my own 50th post on this blog. To celebrate,I am going to be focusing in on another important tribute…to a tribute as it were: Public Enemy frontman Chuck D’s posthumous 2007 musical dedication to The Hardest Working Man In Show Business!

On Christmas Day of 2006,what was traditionally a day for giving became a sad day when someone was taken from us. That was the day The Godfather,James Brown, died. On many levels? That was a sad day for me,and JB’s passing seemed prophetic. The days of getting up,getting into it and getting involved seemed over-replaced by this cold apathy. Way I looked at it? Things had nowhere to go but up. For the last decade of his life? It concerned me greatly that James Brown’s was beginning to earn the historical presidents of being yet another celebrity train wreck. What I horrid legacy to happen to this man who’d accomplished so much in his life,and positively influenced so many. Of course we also had Chuck D,whose very reason for starting Public Enemy had to do with James Brown’s music and aestetic influence. I could think of no one else better suited to musically pay tribute to The Hardest Working Man In Show Business that Chuck D. And in the year after JB’s passing? That little pipe dream circulating in my mind shortly after the event actually came true.

The album starts out with an intro that illustrates James Brown as forever being the Godfather the entire soul/funk/hip-hop spectrum before launching into an this explosively funky tract of songs in “Soul Power”,”Make It Funky”,”Get Up,Get Into It,Get Involved” and “Say It Loud (I’m Black And I’m Proud”. Chuck raps in JB’s rhythmic style,accompanied by the James-soundalike vocalist Kyle Jason and the Banned. “Its A Man’s Man’s World” is a sleeker,somewhat more full Latin type take than James originally gave it with the Crew Grrl Order giving a female perspective on the current outlook of black femininity to support the lyrics. “King Heroin” is presented here first with the psychedelic jazz aspect of the original played up a bit more while “Talking Loud,Saying Nothing” expands on the original by making a blatant (and to my ears first in music at the time) condemnation on the George W. Bush-era military industrial political complex.

“Thank Mama For The Soul Sisters” breaks up Lynn Collins’ “It Takes To” with vocalist Ronnique Hawkins by expanding on it with classic hip-hop effects that stand somewhere between the original and its famous sampling by Rob Base in 1988. “Super Band” continues on the themes explored earlier in the album while “Funky President” again takes on George W.,this time more directly on his sociopolitical character in regard to foreign policy. The final song on the album is probably the most telling. Its a narration of “King Herion” by a girl named Autumn Asante,who according to the intro to the narration was thrown out of school for this supposed “racist recitation” after her uncle died of AIDS from heroin abuse. Hearing this coming from a young child,speaking with enormous authority,is moving almost beyond a response. Especially with her very witty and mature improvisation in saying of heroin it will “make a man forsake his own country and flag,not that there’s anything wrong with that”.

Hearing this album eight years after the fact,it really shines a vital spotlight on the societal abnormalities of America in the early aughts. Musically this album basically stays true to the flavor of JB’s originals,adding turntabling and light sampling for a synergy of James’ original vision,and how it impacted his creative descendants. And how James Brown’s sociopolitical vision,as expressed through his music and words,were more vital to this nations healing in the transition from the Bush to Obama national climates than perhaps had been thought. Since the time of this album? I have noticed a great deal more activism and outcry against social policies. More of an expression for justice and goodwill. Chuck D projects the aura of James Brown’s creative spirit here as something to be matyrized,but not pedestalized. Something to be embraced,yet not worshiped. James once said for us to “listen to the case”. But even Chuck D would likely tell you,from what he learned out of JB’s influence is that where one goes from there is up to them.

*For original review,click here to read

1 Comment

Filed under 1970's, Chuck D, Funk, Hip-Hop, James Brown, Music, Music Reviewing, Public Enemy

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 Amazon.com review

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

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