Category Archives: Hip-Hop

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.

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

2016 is Anderson .Paak’s Year, We’re All Just Living in It

Sometime around the middle of this year, I realized that a surprisingly large proportion of the new music I loved was being made by one person: Southern Californian recording artist and producer Anderson .Paak. Paak isn’t a newcomer, per se; he’s been around since 2012, when he released his debut album under the moniker Breezy Lovejoy, and his 2014 album Venice generated some minor buzz among people who pay more attention to contemporary music than I do. But I first became aware of him right around the time a lot of other people seemed to: late 2015, when he signed with Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Records and contributed to several tracks on his new label head’s comeback record Compton.

From that description, you’d be forgiven for assuming that Anderson .Paak is a rapper–and he is, at least under the expanded definition of what constitutes a “rapper” in 2016. He contributed a freestyle (above) as part of XXL magazine’s annual “Freshman Class,” alongside other such unconventional artists as Desiigner and Lil Dicky; he was also recognizably rapping on the first track I heard from him, “Unique” by yet another generically hybrid artist, Washington, DC’s GoldLink. But that’s not all he’s doing: even on his most conventionally hip-hop songs, Paak’s flow is like a more musical, less rhythmically complex version of Kendrick Lamar‘s rasp on To Pimp a Butterfly, with a little bit of Southern soul shouting and even a dash of Morris Day‘s cartoonish jive in the mix. On “Come Down” (below), the most recent single from his album Malibu, he certainly struts like a rapper, but the groove he’s tapping into comes from a tradition that far precedes hip-hop as a genre.

And that, I suppose, is the heart of Anderson .Paak’s appeal. Like the aforementioned Kendrick, he’s undeniably contemporary, but with a deep sense of musical history: he was, in fact, recently embroiled in a minor “beef” with viral trap mumbler Lil Yachty over the responsibility of artists to be “students of the game first.” Personally, I’m not all that interested in comparing the two; I think there’s room for Anderson .Paak and Lil Yachty. But Paak’s insistence that young artists know their history says a lot about where his own work is coming from. Malibu bounces from rap-influenced heaters like “Come Down” to soulful, jazz-inflected ballads like “The Bird” to the expansive alt-hip-hop suite “The Season/Carry Me” (below), and sounds equally convincing on all fronts. It’s the work of an artist who’s deeply invested in his influences, but not beholden to them. In concert, Paak is just as versatile: moving back and forth from the front of the stage to behind the drums as the situation–and his sense of showmanship–demands.

Malibu may very well be my favorite album of 2016 so far–which is saying something, since it came out way back in January. But even outside of that album, Paak has kept coming to my attention. There he was in May with a feature for electronic producer KAYTRANDA:

Then there he was again in August with rapper Mac Miller:

Most recently, Paak has released a second full-length, Yes Lawd!, with Stones Throw producer Knxledge as NxWorries. It’s also great: a glitchier, druggier, less organic incarnation of Paak’s laid-back hip-hop soul.

I’m not gonna lie: it’s been a while since I’ve been as excited about a new artist as I am about Anderson .Paak. His blend of vintage influences with contemporary sensibilities is pretty much tailor-made for my tastes, and I can’t wait to see what he does next. And when it comes time to put together my “Best of 2016” list for Dystopian Dance Party, the only question at this point is how many separate times Paak is going to show up.

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Filed under 2010's, 2016, Contemporary R&B, Hip-Hop, Uncategorized

Prince Summer In Full Swing: ’20Ten’ turns 6!

20ten

20Ten is one of my favorite Prince albums of the new millennium before his 2014 comeback on Warner Brothers. Questlove wrote an article in Wax Poetics magazine five years ago about the 33 reasons why Prince was hip-hop. The 20Ten album provided a possible 34th reason-that being most contemporary hip-hop/R&B music with it’s stripped down drum machine/synthesizer sound is based on the same early/mid 80’s Minneapolis sound that Prince pioneered,and then returned to with this album. This is also one of very very few times I saw Prince return to the musical sound that made him so famous.

This was a difficult album for me to find. It was released shortly after Prince received a Lifetime Achievement Aware at the 2010 BET Awards. But in the UK only. And even for that as a covermount CD on British magazines like the Daily Mirror. My local record store Bullmoose would’ve had to ordered the magazines themselves to even sell copies of this. And that seems that they did because I managed to pick it up. After jamming to the first album a couple of times during that first week of having it,I went over to Amazon.com and had the following to say about it:


On his previous release Mplsound Prince was making it abundantly clear that he was reaching towards his classic one-man-band Minneapolis sound as a means of progressing into the future. This is actually a move he made on a number of occasions when his music and career seemed in question. Well right now his career isn’t in that state at all. He’s musically revered by many in this generation and was recently given a tribute on the BET Music Awards this past year. Prince himself also seems to obsessed with some strange form of eternal youth in which his music doesn’t age but his lyrical themes mature.

You will not find any explicit lyrics on this album for sure,same as you won’t find them on any of his albums since 2001. That doesn’t mean that effects the music at all because these are the most energized,lively,funky and musically sophisticated songs Prince has done in the new millennium. The album opens and ends on the same basic musical note with “Compassion” and “Everybody Loves Me” embracing the shuffling LINN drum led rockabilly styled funk with lyrics that alternately speak of both selflessness and selfishness. “Beginning Endlessly”,the amazing “Sticky Like Glue” and “Lavaux” all embrace the classic Prince all encompassing funk groove with some delicious synthesizer squiggles and layered drum and percussion tracks.

He hasn’t lost his touch as a multi instrumentalist in the least bit and actually has expanded on it to include light rhythmic nods to both hip-hop/R&B and contemporary 80’s dance revival (itself based on his own original music) without shamelessly surrendering to either style and still being himself. Songs like “Future Love Song”,”Walk In The Sand” and “Sea Of Everything” also embrace Prince’s touch with the slow jam to it’s absolute best effect. Typical of Prince he makes you flip through 75 separate 2-4 second empty tracks before we get to cut 77,which is the title song offered as a very hidden bonus selection. This is very much a TAFKAP era sounding funk/rap styled number but still his one-man-band style is very much in attendence. After all these years Prince obviously has no intent on being a fossil. He wants to keep being himself and now that he’s in his 50’s he also refuses to musically look down on those younger than them and also embraces many of their ideas into his own.


The summer season is already a few weeks in as I’m writing this. But wanted to officially inaugurate this as Prince Summer here on Andresmusictalk. It’s been underway for a few months now already. But there will continue to be a consistent emphasis on Prince’s own music here for a long time to come-as well as a continuing emphasis on the enormous influence of the many forms of the Minneapolis sound. Even if Prince himself didn’t always realize it,he is likely the last artist to really innovate musically in the funk/soul genre. And the album 20Ten is more than solid proof of this.

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Filed under 2010's, Amazon.com, funk albums, Hip-Hop, Linn Drum, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Music Reviewing, Prince, Questlove, synth brass, synthesizers, UK, Uncategorized, Wax Poetics magazine

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Funky Drummer” by James Brown & The JB’s

James Brown’s grooves importance to me is that they came to me pretty late in the game. That is in terms of discovering funk. Long before that happened on a personal level,the discovery of The Godfather within the newly emerging musical genre of hip-hop came at the same time as the advent of the computer sound sampler. Public Enemy’s Bombsquad made samples of JB’s music a mainstay in their rhythmic based sound. While I feel it important for the funk to always remain it’s own reward,JB’s music in particular would probably not be so well known to so many American’s between the ages of 20-50 without the funk archive that is sampling.

There are many JB numbers that remain a key part of the vocabulary of the samples library. One of them however remains key. It was recorded on November 20th,1969. And was released as a single five months later. Originally it was released at a two part single version-each of the parts less then three minutes a piece. When I first heard the full version on the JB box set Star Time,it made little impact on my ears or me feet. After coming back to it over a decade later,it became clear how much an understanding of JB’s rhythmic intent opened this song right up. And the name of of this important groove is called “Funky Drummer”.

The trumpets of Joe Davis and Richard Kush Griffith both play right on the beat with the songs own funky drummer Clyde Stubblefield. The main groove of the song is a vamp based on Stubblefield hitting the snare high on the second or third beat-depending on where Kush,Fred Wesley,Maceo Parker and the rest of the JB horn section happened to be hitting on the groove from. Of course Jimmy Nolan’s trademark chicken scratch guitar locks it all down along Charles Sherrell’s busy,jazzy bass line. JB plays a number of organ solos-starting short and ending more elaborately near the end of the groove while sharing a space for Maceo to solo too.

Of course what really gets it going is when JB calls out  Stubblefield solo with just his snare-on-the-one beat twice in the groove. That’s the part that became the nucleus of the hip-hop beat during the sampling age. As it’s own groove,”Funky Drummer” is a straight vamp without any long musical breaks or changes in melody. In a lot of ways,it almost stands as pretty raw funk material from the JB’s. What keeps it so fresh and exciting is the amazing musical precision involved. This is probably where JB himself might’ve fully succeeded in his ambition to get his entire band to sound like a drum. And that will probably continue to remain this songs legacy in the anatomy of the funk groove.

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, Charles Sherrell, chicken scratch guitar, Clyde Stubblefield, drums, Fred Wesley, Funk, Funk Bass, Hip-Hop, horns, James Brown, Jimmy Nolan, Maceo Parker, organ, Richard Kush Griffith, Sampling, Saxophone, The JB's

People Music: The Soulful Evolution Of Sound For African America

People Music is a term Henrique and myself often use to describe message songs recorded during the soul/funk generational cycle-specifically by black artists. Political and creative liberation was a key factor in this too. It was my father,however who inspired me to write this by asking me what the most significant song was during the 50’s and 60’s civil rights movement. The most obvious choice for that was “People Get Ready” by The Impressions. Lead singer/songwriter/guitarist Curtis Mayfield was an early champion for black musicians to have creative and business control of their art. And this 1965 ballad became a huge anthem for the movement as a whole.

As the 60’s progressed,the civil rights movement seeking racial equality evolved into a concept that assumed equality of person. Especially the idea that Afrocentric qualities were beautiful and must be appreciated as such. This became known as the black power movement. The completely rhythm based genre of funk developed during this time as well. As Henrique pointed out,funk continued to be the soundtrack to the black power movement well into the 1970’s. James Brown,who laid the foundation for funk, also recorded the genres earliest and most enduring anthem for racial empowerment entitled “Say It Loud (I’m Black And I’m Proud)”.

The 70’s funk era was chocked full of message songs. All of them reflected ideas that derived from the NOI and Black Panther Party from the mid/late 60’s that black American’s required a more positive understanding of themselves and their futures. 1974 was a year that dashed a lot of the 60’s hopes in general-especially for black Americans. Still funk and it’s tributaries through jazz,soul and rock music was at it’s strongest point. Even during the post Watergate recession. The poet/singer Gil Scott Heron,who five years earlier had given us the black power anthem “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” offered up this 1974 song in reflection of a potent present but less certain tomorrow.

Hip-hop’s presence as a commercially successful entity wasn’t yet four years old when The Furious Five released what is very likely the beginning of what is known today as conscious rap. Musically based in the synthesizer based electro funk of the period,this song found Grandmaster Melle Mel dealing directly with the state of affairs of urban black America during the early years of the Reagan administration. The song takes the futuristic sounding electronic grooves and mixes in tales of urban decay and neglect. Of particular note is Melle Mel stating “don’t push me ’cause I’m close to the edge/I’m trying not to lose my head/it’s like a jungle sometimes/it’s a wonder how I keep from going under”.

Though theoretically released at the end of the previous decade,Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power” did some very significant things for black message songs at the head start of the 1990’s. It established hip-hop as a major archival medium for funk,in particular James Brown’s,through the use of electronic sampling. Not only that but the realization Chuck D and company had that “most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamp” showcased an empowering message for black Generation Xers as to just how much misrepresentation black American’s had to deal with over the centuries. And also by offering them a direct call to get involved and “fight the powers that be”.

Message songs within the black community seemed to disappear (or go totally underground) during the post 9/11 years. They were replaced by either reactionary (and often racist) patriotic anthems or simply musical silence. Suddenly a couple of years ago,longtime hip-hop/soul producer and singer Pharrell Williams emerged with “Happy”. Musically it hearkened back to the stripped down soul jazz trio sound of the mid 60’s. While it’s message was very all encompassing-asking the listener to “clap your hands if you feel that happiness is the truth”,it did open the door for black American artists to deliver new political anthems in music that were even more direct.

As I write this article,Beyonce’s performance of her newest song “Foundation” at the Superbowl,a strong pro black anthem, is generating similar controversies as were bought up during the height of the Black Panther Party and the black power movement in general. So the mid/late 2010’s are seeing black American message songs leap back into life in a huge way. Even though many people today are convinced no piece of music has any power to change the world,looking back on this history in the context of what is happening right now proves otherwise. That when it comes to being black in America, musical art is always at the forefront of the political.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1960's, 1970's, 1980's, 1990s, 2010's, Curtis Mayfield, Funk, Gil Scott Heron, Hip-Hop, James Brown, message music, message songs, Pharrell Willaims, Public Enemy, Sampling, Soul, soul jazz, The Furious Five, Uncategorized

Anatomy Of THE Groove for 12/10/2015: “Crush It” by Parliament

Yesterday marked the 35th anniversary of the final (so far) album release from Parliament. It’s an album that had my curiosity from the get go. Ended up purchasing it right after trying in vain to skate to some late 90’s uptempo country music at the local roller rink which, ironically, would’ve been an ideal place to give up some funk. Even though I already knew that even some P-Funk admirers held this album in low regard?  There was one major source of comfort for me that I learned regarding this album later on.

Although I still feel funk needs to remain it’s own reward? The Oakland,California hip-hop duo Digital Underground elected to sample primarily from this album and it’s predecessor on their own debut album a decade after this was released. Since that duo share a home city with my friend Henrique? This album has wound up being a conversational reference when we’re discussing P-Funk. The first song on the album instantly leaped out  from my CD play at home, and set the tone for what was to come. It had a very earnest title too: “Crush It”.

A two beat call leads off with a wiggly bass synth that keeps up throughout the main rhythm- percussion accented dance beat with a bouncing stride style piano. This is soon joined by Bootsy Collins’ “duck face bass” as I call it,with the main melody courtesy of Fred Wesley and his Horny Horns. On the refrains? The Brides Of Funkenstein  provide some jazzy vocalese. The main vocals of the song are spoken word exchanges between Bootsy and George Clinton himself as Sir Nose. There’s a separate and harmonically complicated vocal refrain from The Brides as the song fades out.

Musically speaking? This song showcases just about every quality that made P-Funk what it is. Interestingly enough? The boogie funk sound of using synthesizers as bass and guitar sounds with live instrumentation was in full swing during this time. While P-Funk pioneered that “video game sound” in the late 70’s? It had by this point jelled into somewhat of an instrumental signature for them by 1980. Especially when it came to relative newcomer in keyboardist David Spradley,who’d come into P-Funk on Parliament’s previous album.

George Clinton’s use of conceptual metaphor was on full swing during the course of this song. While P-Funk itself was coming apart due primarily from music industry fear over it’s ambitions as a potential “new Motown” (as George put it in his recent biography)? The concept of musical blandness/fake funk personified by Sir Nose showcases that character itself flying apart. In this song? Sir Nose Jr pledges to give up the funk in opposition to his grooveless father. So in the end? This probably showcases P-Funk defiantly sticking with their funk. Even as the genre is coming under fire during the post disco radio freeze out of the time.

 

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Filed under 1980's, bass synthesizer, Bootsy Collins, David Spradley, Fred Wesley, Funk, Funk Bass, George Clinton, Hip-Hop, humor, Oakland California, P-Funk, Parliament, synth bass, synthesizers

Anatomy Of THE Groove for 4/24/2015: “So Good” by Tuxedo

It was actually Issue 61 of Wax Poetics magazine that made me aware of the existence of this duo. During the first half decade of the 2010’s? It would seem as if funk,especially it’s analog synthesizer oriented cousin known as boogie,has been rediscovered as a vital template for contemporary soul, electronic, pop and hip-hop artists. And it’s really been healthy for instrumentalists in particular. And happily it’s emerged again from a source that has been drawn to it for over two decades at this point.

Stone Throw Records has really upped the ante in terms of celebrating live instrumental hip-hop and it’s offshoots. From the days of Peanut Butter Wolf,through the late J Dilla and Madlib. This was the beginning of hip-hop’s journey around to straight up funk again. Now Tuxedo has emerged from this brew. Staring the musical talents of Seattle native Jake One,producer for contemporary rappers such as Drake and Rick Ro$$ along with singer/songwriter Mayer Hawthorne? The duo have come out with a self titled album including songs such as “So Good” here.

Starting off with an insistent percussion accented drum beat out of the “Billie Jean”/”Ghetto Life” early 80’s “naked funk” school? A phat bass synth opens the door for a sharp,punchy and higher pitched melodic synthesizer. Both of these analog synthesizers dance and bounce rhythmically to the slow dragging funky drum of the song. This provides the musical core for Hawthorne’s vocals-assisted by an alarm like “video game” counter melodic line. A bridge of the song cuts out the bass synth and concentrates on the melodic one as an orchestral element-returning to the original electronic duet to the closeout of the song-with Hawthorne harmonizing with his own back-round vocals.

One of the things that I appreciate about this song is that it showcases the meatiest possible elements of boogie/electro funk. Jake One seems to possess a keen understanding of how much that style of funk and first generation commercial hip-hop of the early 80’s went hand and hand. The tongue in cheek video,recorded on VHS tape cable access style showcases Hawthorne,Jake One and the band performing the song in an expressionless manner. The actual song expresses a great sense of warmth and vitality in it’s melodic ideas-which lies in contrast to the loping rhythmic funk stomp underneath it all. A powerful example of modern day hard electro/boogie based synth funk.

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Filed under 2015, Billie Jean, Boogie Funk, electro funk, funk revival, Hip-Hop, J Dilla, Jake One, Madlib, Mayer Hawthorne, Peanut Butter Wolf, Stone Throw Records, synth funk, Wax Poetics magazine

Andre’s Amazon Archive 4/4/2015- ‘Experience: Jill Scott 826+’ by Jill Scott & Fatback Taffy

Experience_-Jill-Scott-826+-Disc-1-Live

Although originally inspired by jazz and funk’s incorporation into hip-hop the neo soul movement of the early/mid 90’s had certainly taken some interesting and unexpected turns by the beginning of the millennium. And no question this was part of that. After her debut Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds, Vol. 1 rocked the music world in such a huge way she released this album independently and at a reduced price. It did pretty well with fans who’d stuck by her before her years of recording I’m sure and likely did the same with those who’d been wowed by her debut. All the same this album was almost set up to be a nonevent in other ways. It disappeared off a lot of record store shelves shortly after release and is probably not her biggest seller. But it does present a wonderful and sound musical concept that has a strong appeal.

Basically what one gets here is a double album;one disc of a live concert featuring her band Fatback Taffy and another of demo level unreleased material. The live set on the first disc stands out the most. For one thing her band has a rich,creamy sound overall. Fatback Taffy have the advantage of being about to get that retro soul thing down to a tee while retaining much of hip-hop’s brooding spareness. She moves in and out of extended pieces such as “Love Rain”,”Do You Remember”,”It’s Love” and “Gettin’ In The Way” almost effortlessly as the songs thick,shuffling jazz styled funky soul textures flow from one tune to the next.

Musically the most fascinating and funky cuts is the high octane uptempo Latin percussion styled “He Loves Me” which brings to mind,of all things Stevie Wonder’s classic “Another Star”. Her overall attitude in the between song banter is one of confidence and wit. Retaining hip-hop styled musings regarding people “with naturals always supposed to be positive” she also adds she sometimes is,other times not while explaining away some easily misinterpreted lyrics from “Gettin’ In The Way”. The song titled after the band is done in a great old fashioned gospel styled rave up.

The studio disc is a whole other matter. Focused far more on the hip-hop side of her “Gotta Get Up” finds Jill having one of her self dialog about the world of duty versus personnel need. Of these tunes the chunky funk of “Gimme” and the uniquely vocally chorded “Be Ready” are the most individual of these songs but for a disc of unreleased music at this early point in a recording career,one really can’t expect complete musical evenness. That being the case one thing this album definitely isn’t lacking on is Jill’s type of self expression. She doesn’t possess the in-your-face attitude of many female hip-hop/neo/retro soul type artists. Instead she comes more from the 70’s OG era in terms of keeping her actual feelings just slightly guarded-choosing to express a more worldly outlook than an inward one. Her internal dialog is only occasionally expressed and that makes it an important element of her sound. The moody rhythmic and melodic side of her music also expresses this well. Even though she started out with a bang this album represents her intent on focusing on her music as art more than as a commodity.

Originally Posted June 24th,2011

Link to original review here*

Stay tuned to Andresmusictalk for a new weekly feature,inspired by friend and blogging partner Rique,called Anatomy of THE Original Super Heavy Funk. This will be focused on classic funk/jazz/soul songs from the early 60’s up through the disco era. And for now will be posted the first and last Monday’s of every month. Thank you!

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Filed under 2001, Fatback Taffy, Funk, Hip-Hop, Jazz-Funk, Jill Scott, Neo Soul, OG's, Soul, Stevie Wonder

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 2/28/2015: ‘Worldwide Underground” by Erykah Badu

Erykah Badu

Eryka Badu is always a human being whom I admire and respect,even more so after reading her recent interview for Wax Poetics magazine. She’s insightful,has a good socio-musical understanding and manages to deal with her unique variation on Afrocentrism very well. One of the things I will say about her though is that musically she often has some level of difficulty bringing her ideas into a clear musical focus. Her “neo-funk’ sound always grooves with jazzy rhythmic touches and as much electric piano layering and psychedelic soul musical touches as she can pack into her music. As such the three-four minute pop is not exactly her friend. On this album there’s a concerted effort to remedy that. This album,originally intended as an EP is a ten track album running about ten minutes short of an hour primarily featuring songs of either very short or very long in length.

The overall effect is not so much that of a jam band mentality but more over that of stretching out her broadly chorded and scoped melodies and harmonic effects to their maximum limit. That is exactly what happens on “Bump”,”Back In The Day (Puff)”, and “I Want You”. The overall songs stick within her basic musical framework:spare funk with an MG’s like quality of every instrumental lick counting although it’s loose rather than precise and far far cleaner produced,with puncuated bass synthesizers added for an important measure. The songs also totally split apart by the end,either with a few minutes of free form vocalese or simply slowing the tape down gradually on the songs conclusion. On “The Grind” and “Danger” she brings more hip-hop up front as she brings out that the modern inner city problems of money and the stress that comes with it are as if not more vital today than they were during the period when the music that inspired her was originally being made and the rapping in the songs,by her and others further look to that concept.

Her lyrical focus on general,sometimes non sexual romance (either internally or externally focused) are similarly open ended. The album comes to a very strong conclusion with “Think Twice”, a song in her signature style with fully acknowledges the strong influence of Donald Byrd in her music as well as “Love Of My Life Worldwide”,a more mid length and very well crafted funk song (emphasize song) with a rap provided by Queen Latifah and a very dynamic and inventive bridge. As with just about everything Erykah Badu does musically one does have to expect the unexpected from this album. That is after all part of the essence of who she is as a person and an artist and the lines aren’t as far apart as one might think. Because of the extended runs here she is about to find a little more focus than usual by stretching out the songs so her broad approach doesn’t seem too confined and held back and for the listener and music lover it’s an excellent way to present her artistry.

Originally posted on October 11th,2010

Link to original review here*

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Filed under Donald Byrd, Erykah Badu, Hip-Hop, Jazz-Funk, Nu Funk, psychedelic soul, Queen Latifah, Wax Poetics

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 1/31/2015: ‘The 20/20 Experience’ by Justin Timberlake

The 20 20 Experience

Eight years ago Justin Timberlake released his second studio album FutureSex / LoveSounds,an album very much defined by uptempo funk and EDM musical ideas and hybrids. The grooves were emphasized over the vocals a lot of the times, and it was quite a creative departure from his debut. In the time since that release Justin Timberlake has taken time to star in feature films and,for awhile seemed to be joining the ranks of Elvis Presley and Whitney Houston who traded in their musical banner for shots at the silver screen. But not only did his theatrical roles turn out to be a big success, but they seemed to have inspired him creatively as well.

During mid summer my friend Henrique informed me that Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience would be followed up by the end of September by a second volume. Seems Timberlake has recorded easily enough usable material in the last seven years for a double album. But probably knowing the economy level of most music buyers he elected to release it in two parts,also releasing the two full albums as the double set it was intended for those who haven’t gotten the first part yet.

For one thing,the idea that a contemporary recording artist to think creatively in terms of double albums (or albums period) is a profound revelation. Of course it helped that the first volume on this focused primarily on a genre one could call AOS/AOF (album oriented soul and/or funk) that hearkened back to the prime of the 70’s funk era. Of course I was eagerly anticipating this album. Of course I steered clear of streaming as I wanted to allow this album to speak for itself as I listened. From what came through that was a very good idea.

Most popularly inclined music artists today have gone backwards to a degree to emphasizing single songs again. Mainly,as with the 45 RPM record half a century ago, that format is more in tune with the age of internet based formats such as YouTube and MP3’s. Not only is Timberlake a fan of dressing and grooming himself in a sharp,elegant manner but his time in film probably exposed him more to the medium’s dynamic way of presenting its vision. So since Timberlake bought “sexy” back last time out,he is now bringing the musical quality of the album format back in a similar fashion.

The album opens with the upbeat melody and stop and start groove of “Pusher Love Girl”,with Timberlake’s sensuously subtle vocal approaching wrapping around the hiccuping rhythms as he compares a strong relationship to an addiction. Hearing it here I’ve warmed up heavily to “Suit & Tie”,a percussively rhythmic funk piece where Jay Z’s rap is perfectly in tune with the musical setting and never intrudes on Timberlake’s melodic vocal harmonies. “Don’t Hold The Wall” blends a slower 2-step dance groove with a trance music-type harmonic atmosphere,complete with East Indian singing and flutes. “Strawberry Bubblegum” is one of my favorite songs here. It begins with a lightly pulsing,spare electro funk and builds in it’s last three minutes into a afrolatin dance/funk/percussive jam.

The enormous rhythmic dynamics of “Tunnel Vision” and the slower “Spaceship Coupe” but more of the emphasis on Timberlake’s songwriting and vocals again-as he vocally harmonizes with himself Marvin Gaye side to express both the romantic and carnal side of his personality in these songs. “That Girl” is a sweetly melodic neo soul type number-led by a fantastic jazzy guitar riff that again places the focus on his singing and melodicism. “Let The Groove In” is just amazing-a hyper kinetic funk era style jam that is heavy on a genuine African percussion/tribal dance rhythm.

“Mirrors” is a very potent mixture of modern soul and progressive pop/rock that grows stronger in tone as the song progresses-especially in terms of its melodic development. The final song “Blue Ocean Floor”-with it’s spare trance/electronica sound and backwards loops takes the overall approach of this entire album to its most basic level. “Gimme What I Don’t Know (I Want)”,”True Blood” and “Murder” are driving,rhythmically thick funk of the highest order. Justin jams on the one throughout all of these-intersecting the related grooves of James Brown,Michael Jackson and Prince through his own distinctive vocals,beat boxing and sexually eccentric lyrical orientation.

His slyness,wit and assertions to freedom of expression permeate all of these. While both very well composed and rhythmically complex the 2-step hip-hop/dance styles of “Cabaret” and “TKO” are probably my least favorite here. Yet the fact they are not stereotypically overproduced does give them extra vitality and groove. “Take Back The Night” is a beautiful dance/funk odyssey-almost a follow up to “Rock Your Body” from Justified only with a fuller production. Its easily my favorite here,and one of my favorite Timberlake songs of all time. “Drink You Away” is a grinding,rocking and funky blues type number-with Timberlake supplying some grooving guitar work of his own.

And what is the overall approach of this album exactly? In a modern production concept from Justin and Timbaland,who produced the previous album, Justin Timberlake has managed to bring out a re-visitation of the cinematic psychedelic soul/funk/pop-rock sound that permeated music by Isaac Hayes and much of the Norman Whitfield era Temptations. The songs here are generally seven + minutes and therefore have enough space to develop instrumentally and vocally. But as opposed to relying on a backup vocalists and enormous orchestral instrumental passages with no vocals, Timberlake’s own talents in singing/songwriting are integrally linked to the conceptually dynamic instrumental approach this album takes.

And the mixture of tradition string and horn arrangements with modern day EDM/hip-hop electronics give this album the possibility of being the commercial fruition of how music in the last three or four years has began to grow out of the unsettling complacency its been in since the turn of the millennium. Considering this albums already strong commercial success, if an approach to music like this catches on in the coming years, the funk/soul album innovations of the century might reach their commercial golden age.

Originally Posted As Two Separate Reviews On April 15th And September 30th,2013

Links to the original reviews for both albums below:

The 20/20 Experience 1 of 2

The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2

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Filed under "Suit & Tie", Funk, Hip-Hop, James Brown, Jay Z, Justin Timberlake, Michael Jackson, Prince, The 20/20 Experience, Timbaland