Tag Archives: Black Power

Yo! Bum Rush The Show At 30: Public Enemy #1!

Public Enemy have been this largely funk/soul/disco/jazz themed blog’s main reference point when it comes to hip-hop. Of course, that’s largely because of my long history with the band. Not to mention them being one of a handful of key topics between myself and blog consultant Henrique Hopkins. As much as black American music is always a forward thinking and moving creative endeavor, its might be fitting seven months after its official anniversary to explore three decades of American music dealing with the presence of Public Enemy’s debut album Yo! Bum Rush The Show.


Being someone born very directly into the 80’s? My perception of hip-hop (or rap as I’d be inclined to call it at the time) is that there were at least two evolutionary stages in the music before the middle of the decade. There was the late 70’s funk/disco oriented of Sugarhill Gang and Kurtis Blow. And than you had the synth-electro oriented approach of Afrikka Bambaatta’s & The Soul Sonic Force. While Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five straddled both approaches.

Than along came Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin’s Def Jam. And the world was introduced to the likes of Run DMC, LL Cool J and The Beastie Boys. Somewhere in that mix? Rap that was overtly sociopolitical hadn’t been greatly represented since the Furious Five’s The Message. Than out of NYC and onto Def Jam came Public Enemy,a hip-hop collective led by turntablist Terminator X and MC’s Flava Flav and group leader Chuck D.

“You’re Gonna Get Yours” starts out the album with a grooving,bass/guitar riff led jam. The song I find most fascinating here is “Sophisticated Bitch”. It is a slow burning groove telling the story of a lady unknowingly prostituting herself-set to the funky rock-guitar riffing solos of Defunkt’s/Black Rock Coalition’s Vernon Reid re-creating the bass riff from Heatwave’s hit “The Groove Line”. “Timebomb” is another extremely hard grooving number.

Interestingly enough,numbers such as “Miuzi Weighs A Ton”,”Too Much Posse”, “Rightstarter”,”Public Enemy#1″,”MPE”,the title song,”Raise The Roof”,”Megablast” and “Terminator X Speaks With His Hands” are all much more in the stripped down,808 drum machine led hip-hop vein Def Jam was championing at the time. What really bought Public Enemy out into the fore was their authoritative rap delivery on the part of everyone,as well as the more aggressive stance of the sound. Which brings me to the main distinctive quality PE had right from the start.

Throughout this album? Chuck D and company were beginning to take a sociopolitical stance that was a bit more direct and specific than anyone in hip-hop had so far. These raps are less narrative stories to illustrate a certain theme. But are more declarations of their motivations. Very much a thematic disciple of Black Power icons such as Malcolm X,Huey Newton and especially musical icon James Brown,Chuck D makes it clear he wants to bring that sense of black empowerment into his type of hip-hop.

On this album? It came off as somewhat implied message wise because PE hadn’t fully developed their distinct musical sound when they were making this album. In a sense because of that? It might be the most important album they made,because it showcased the embryo of a sound that,without the public being fully aware of it coming perhaps,was about to be unleashed by Public Enemy onto the world of hip-hop and music in general.


One of the major points brought up after this Amazon.com review I did four years ago, again with Henrique, was Yo! Bum Rush The Show‘s relationship with the intentions of the Def Jam label’s founders. This occurred in the mid 1980’s, when American pop music charts and MTV were really pushing white rock artists/bands over any music that came from black American culture. That means that, especially with rap/rock crossover’s such as the Beastie Boys and Run DMC’s duet with Aerosmith on “Walk This Way”, that Russell and Rick desired Def Jam’s style of hip-hop to appeal to a young rock audience.

Public Enemy really changed that perception of Def Jam releases. As with any artist in any genre, their debut did the need for more growth. And as most PE admirers would know, this growth occurred very quickly. The group were at this time a five piece band that included live bass/guitar as well as DJ Terminator X. And also a strong rebirth of the black American political consciousness of the 1960’s that asked black people to take care of themselves as people. This pro black,anti self destruction message illustrated everything that has come to represent Public Enemy in the last 30 years.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “The Gospel” by Alicia Keys

Alicia Keys is an artist whom myself and Henrique both have similar thoughts on. Both of us agree that she possesses the musical talent and understanding to be a major soul/funk/ jazz force for the new millennium. That being said,her albums have generally focused on instrumentally dressed up pop piano ballads-with simplistic notes that (quite frankly) do disservice to Keys’ musical abilities. Since this is such a common approach now with artists such as Sam Smith,Adele and John Legend,it even came as a surprise to me that on her November 2016 album release HERE,Alicia Keys musical vision has begun to change.

One of the first steps towards this change was Alicia Keys decision to not wear makeup for the time being. She saw the focus on the affectations of her appearance as getting in the way of her musical talent. As a natural beauty both without and (most importantly) within, Keys’ choice is a very admirable one. This year,with the Knowles sisters Beyonce and Solange both making powerful pro black album statements,Keys made a comeback with a very similar vibe to it overall. Generally a rather stripped down jazzy album, HERE  is also home to a very powerful opening song called “The Gospel”.

Keys starts singing to a piano riff that,while playing in the European classical meter,is deep in the blues pentatonic scale. She adds some honky tonk style reverb when the drums kick in. These drums are mixed somewhat higher than the piano-playing a very strident march. Keys sings the song in a fast,modern rap type rhythmic style. On the refrains,she chants “yeah yeah yeah” in the gospel soul style similar to the vocal harmonies on Funkadelic’s 1971 groove “You And Your Folks,Me And My Folks”. This is the pattern within the song that repeats until fade out.

“The Gospel” is a tense,brittle song. And its about tense times. Musically,its very much like a modern early 70’s funky soul inspired hip-hop record-especially with it being based around a pounding,extended vamp. Lyrically,its very much of a revisit of similar themes to Stevie Wonder’s “Living For The City”. Since this is not an instrumental opus with many complex parts,it focuses on a lyrical setup that doesn’t so much offer hope. But rather it paints a picture of lower class black life and a call to protest-asking “if you ain’t in the battle,how you gon’ win the fight?”. This makes it a very different type of Alicia Keys song.

 

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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.

 

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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

Anatomy of THE Original Super Heavy Funk for 4/27/2015: “Mighty Mighty (Spade And Whitey)” by The Impressions

One of the important things I’ve learned about Curtis Mayfield over the years is the extent of which his social consciousness evolved. This was also an important factor in America’s silent generation as a whole-extending across the nations color and economic lines. Starting out as mainly the composer/guitarist for The Impressions,Curtis soon became the bands lead singer as well. He became something of a windy city whiz kid-writing and producing for other acts as well. This not only changed the entire trajectory of his musical career. But re-focused the thematic priorities of himself,Sam Gooden and Fred Cash as well.

Throughout the 1960’s,this Chicago powerhouse vocal trio continually churned out songs such as “Keep On Pushing”,”Amen” and of course “People Get Ready”-all anthems of the civil rights movement and released between the march on Washington and the murder of Malcolm X. With later songs such as “We’re A Winner”? It was clear the confidence of the civil rights movement was evolving into the black power movement-for America and The Impressions. In 1969,following the murders of Martin Luther King Jr and Bobby Kennedy a year before? Donny Hathaway co-produced the bands 1969 album The Young Mod’s Forgotten Story,which included another powerful song in “Mighty Mighty (Spade And Whitey)”.

First thing heard on this song is an enthusiastic,youthful applause before a thundering drum roll inaugurates the calling outcry of the Memphis soul style  horn section that does a call and response dance with Curtis’s gurgling wah wah guitar. Throughout the main body of the song? The rolling beat is accented by a JB style mid pitched rhythm guitar. Before the horn sections emerge again,there’s a brief low blues guitar as well. On the chorus of the song,a sustained gospel style organ comes in to keep pushing the main melody of the song forward. Towards the end of the song,before the chorus closes out the song,the vocals of The Impressions completely recede while Curtis does a full Albert King style amplified blues solo.

In all honesty? Today is the first day that I’ve ever actually heard this song. Sometimes however? A first impression (pun more intended than I was hoping it to be) can say a thousand words. On two very important levels? This song speaks to two viewpoints of the cultural changes in race relations at that time. Musically the song is just about at the perfect intersection between the contemporary funk explosions of James Brown and the Chicago style urban blues that was coming out of the Chess label only a decade earlier. Lyrically it’s a similar situation. On one hand Curtis is very earnest in schooling the young that the power structure of America will be weakened as “we’re killing up our leaders” and “we all know it’s wrong”. By the end of the song he muses “if your cut you’re gonna bleed/might I get a little deeper/human life is from the semen seed”. This song musically and lyrically speaks so deeply into the primal nature of racial violence? It deserves to be understood in 2015 as much as in the late 60’s.

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Filed under 1960's, black power, Blues, Bobby Kennedy, Chess Records, Chicago, civil rights, Curtis Mayfield, Fred Cash, Funk, funk guitar, horns, James Brown, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Sam Gooden, The Impressions, wah wah

Anatomy of THE Groove Celebrating 100 Posts for 1/23/2015-Andre’s Pick: “Human Family” by Maya Angelo ft. Shawn Rivera

With my end of this shared blog making it’s 100th post today? I wanted to personally dedicate this to the memory of the late poetess and human rights champion Maya Angelou-who left this Earth in the summer of 2014. I’ve already shared a song she did with Ashford & Simpson in the mid 90’s But during her final year she teamed up with multi instrumentalist Shawn Rivera to record her reciting her poetry rhythmically over a contemporary hip-hop style backing for the 2014 posthumous release Caged Bird Songs,which leads off with the number “Human Family”.

The song leads off with a sizzling bass synthesizer tone which goes into a higher electronic alarm sound over which Angelou declares “It is time for the preachers,the rabbis,the priests,pundits and the professors to believe in the awesome wonder of diversity”.  A driving uptempo drum machine kicks in with a song that musically interchanges instrumental gears between each refrain. The first refrain showcases a gentler variation of that synthesized alarm sounding effect playing rhythmically very much in the vein of the late 80’s Bomb Squad sound,while the second refrain features a grinding and funky rhythm guitar solo from Rivera.

Maya Angelou was one of those people who epitomized the female black American side of what writer William Strauss famously coined as the Silent Generation. This generation,born during the second half of the Harlem Renaissance into the Great Depression were likely the most important black American generation of the 20th century. They were the generation of the civil rights and black power movements,of Rosa Parks,Martin Luther King Jr,Malcolm X,Bobby Seale and Huey Newton. When there’s such a spiraling level of positive change going on? It’s always helpful to have a sage maternal figure with a kindly dignity speaking of it in the literary sense. Maya was that person. And this deeply rooted nature of hers is dripping from this song like tears of tremendous joy.

Lyrically Angelou’s poem about the human family displays a series of situations in which people can possibly relate-at one point stating that while some are serious,others live for comedy. But either way? The reception of important values are still there. The central point of the song is Angelou’s statement “in minor ways we differ,in major we’re the same”. While her very musical style of poetry comes to full flower there,using the internal comparison between the differences in major and minor chords on a musical instrument?  The song is the idea statement for understanding differences rather than trying to homogenize them to your personal liking. At a time when America has just started recovering from the onslaughts of racism denials and fears over matters such as the Ferguson shooting of Michael Brown and the witch hunt of Bill Cosby at the end of last year? This shows that even in death,Maya Angelou’s message still has the power to help heal the hearts and minds of the people.

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Filed under civil rights, Funk, Hip-Hop, Maya Angelou, Silent Generation

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.”

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