Tag Archives: Chuck D

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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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

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

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.

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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

Seeing The Music: Andre’s Guide To Funk,Soul & Jazz Documentary Essentials!

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                   During the time I was growing up,the majority of men  around me were mainly interested in watching sports on television and action films in the movie theaters. From adolescence onward, the one thing that moved me in both media were musical documentaries about the black American musical spectrum that I was then absorbing like a sponge. The understanding of rhythm and harmony I received from seeing these musicians perform,speak of their histories along with the music they made provided me with a full sensory experience far beyond what I could’ve received from the limited literature of the era I was receiving.

                        Initially I was going to combine documentary films with biopics in the same blog. Since dramatizations  are a completely different medium of film making technique? Decided instead to break them up in separate but related blogs. Also because I received a very different level of education from them as well. Before hand,some of these documentaries are very hard to find even on YouTube. Many have never even been issued on DVD. Yet I highly recommend seeking all of them out if you are looking to seek out a first hand education on the soul,jazz,funk and R&B musical spectrum.

rock-n-roll

        This aired on PBS in 1995. The eighth part of it focused specifically on the genre of funk and it’s development from James Brown on through George Clinton. The final volume focused on hip-hop. The names of Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash first came to me through watching this documentary. Not to mention the knowledge of rap’s musical roots in Jamaican reggae DJ’s such as Kool Herc. While some of the narrative commentary shows a limited understanding of the connectivity of black American music’s connectivity? The insights of interviewees such as Maceo Parker,Alan Leeds,George Clinton,Afrika Bambaataa and Chuck D are extremely insightful to what drove the music forward.

record row cradle of rhythm and blues

Narrated by the late Chess Records icon Etta James,this documentary not only opened my eyes to understanding the history of blues,soul and funk in 60’s Chicago. But was also the first glimpse I got into the idea of black American financial empowerment. Jerry Butler explained it best in this when describing how Curtis Mayfield starting his Curtom label,taking control of his publishing,took the Chicago scene into the funk era by closing down the era of people such as Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker functioning as “musical sharecroppers”.

The strong emphasis this has on United Record Distributors,the only black American record distributors  in their time run by the Leaner brothers,proved extremely significant in my understanding of black America’s experience with capitalism for years to come. And the level of communication in the civil rights era through the iconic radio station WVON,such a significant force in the city that if an artist wasn’t on their play list,record stores would not stock their music. Possibly my favorite musical documentary all told.

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It was this epic documentary mini series,hosted by Diana Ross that really allowed me to understand the internal workings of Motown records. From it’s foundational years when Berry Gordy,having failed as a record store owner in Detroit,began writing songs for Jackie Wilson. And then borrowed $800 from his family to start what become an American musical institution. A black American institution. The interviews follow Motown’s changes from it’s salad period in the mid 60’s,through the funk and disco era when the artists had the most creative control,on through Berry deferring ownership of the company in the mid 80’s through it’s resurgence with vocal boy bands and then Puff Daddy Combs remixing the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back”. A very complete and thorough history on The Sound Of Young America.

jazz-show

Overall I’d apply the same viewpoint to this documentary as I would apply to PBS’s  Rock ‘N’ Roll from seven years earlier. It’s understanding of musical connectivity,absolutely key to jazz,is more limited to the participants (such as Ken Burns  and Wynton Marsalis) perceptions of the music than it is lacking. Yet the decision to weave an internal documentary on the life and career of Louis Armstrong as a key figure in jazz is double edged: it didn’t quite succeed in term of historical continuity but did showcase how the aspect of modern black American musical might’ve derived from Armstrong’s approach. I learned about important sociological figures in the music such as Buddy Bolden,James Reese Europe and Sidney Bechet here as well. With the help of my father’s asides,this helped complete my historical understanding of jazz.

Scratch

Went to Portland Maine to see this movie,in a little movie theater underground of a local clotherie. It was actually a suitable environment for this film. It traces Grand Mixer DST’s pioneering turntable work with Herbie Hancock on his “Rockit” project. It than goes on to discuss the fine art of crate digging for used vinyl by hip-hop scratch artists. There was no irony to the fact that I was myself crate digging myself,only for my personal listening pleasure and musical enlightenment,less than an hour after seeing this in the used record stores of the city of Portland. One of those films that was both influential and validating exactly at the time I saw it.

Earth Wind & Fire Shinning Stars

Probably the one documentary I was the most excited to learn about upon it’s release. It follows the ascension of Maurice White from his childhood in Memphis to switching his college major from premed to music and playing with the Ramsey Lewis Trio before forming his first and second incarnations of Earth,Wind & Fire. The fact that bassist/trombonist Louis Satterfield,saxophonist Andrew Woolfolk,drummer Ralph Johnson and guitarist Al McKay go deeply into their own insights on how music functioned in terms of being a member of Earth Wind & Fire during it’s prime period.

Stevie Wonder Classic Albums

In terms of the Rhino Classic Album series? This now very hard to find DVD interviews all of the musicians involved in the long winded and dramatic recording sessions to what is considered Stevie Wonder’s shinning musical pinnacle. Stevie demonstrates the double keyboarded Yamaha GX-1 (known as the Dream Machine)- a polyphonic synthesizer I find sonically and visually impressive. Another favorite part is where Stevie showcases how his musical acumen allowed him to cover over for a harmonic solo at the end of “Isn’t She Lovely” that a harmonica player of his caliber shouldn’t have made. Hearing the musical insights of this mans inner visions was a hugely important musical milestone for me.

Marvin Gaye Life & Death Of

Marvin Gaye’s history has,especially in the hands of author David Ritz,was generally depicted for me literarily in extremely magisterial terms. This BBC documentary,one that came my way through a life changing act of barter in itself,really did a lot to put more of a human face on the complexities of Marvin Gaye’s musical and personal life. Through interviews with the artist himself and penetrating reenactments of the even of his childhood? I’d recommend this as the best available visual documentation on Marvin Gaye.

Tom Dowd

Tom Dowd is probably listed as the producer of more albums than anyone in American music history. This man started out working for the Manhattan Project on the atomic bomb. And his career as a producer extends throughout both the black music and rock era spectrum-an array of artists as diverse as John Coltrane to Lynyrd Skynyrd. The amazing about this documentary isn’t merely the musical history. But Down provides an inside look,right at the mixing board,onto how he instrumentally layered songs such as “Layla”. A key story for understanding the intricacies of the musical creative process.

Bob Marley

For many years Bob Marley was mainly known to me as a superficial icon of a certain local stoner culture,one that tended to feel sociopolitical change derived solely from drug use and how it changed the consciousness. This story chronicles the complex wheel of Marley’s musical life-starting from his childhood in Trenchtown,Kingston in Jamaica through his near assassination attempt in 1976 through his passing on from Melanoma in 1981. This really broke it down exactly what about his back-round and viewpoint on the Jamaican music industries corruption that motivated the sociopolitical consciousness of the reggae music he helped to pioneer and export the world over in his lifetime.

Respect Yourself

It was thanks to Netflix that I found out about this documentary about Soulville USA! Stax Records were both the rival and opposite to Motown’s business model during it’s mid 60’s heyday. This is extremely thorough on it’s representation of Stax literally rising back from the dead following the double cross of Jerry Wexler’s Atantic Records ownership over Stax’s catalog following the death of Otis Redding, the labels burgeoning social consciousness embodied in Isaac Hayes,the Staple Singers and Wattstax during the early 70’s and financial bloating bringing the label down mid decade. Than Stax came back decades later-with a music school for young musicians to boot. Especially following the creative managing of Al Bell and interviews with many of the artists from Stax’s heyday? This is the essential story of Southern Soul from when Stax really bought the funk into the music.

Michael Jackson Life Of An Icon

Michael Jackson’s story has been re-purposed in the media so many times? It is nearly impossible to approach his life story with total objectivity. Thus far,this is one documentary that does the best job of doing so. For one,it concentrates on Mike’s late teens and early adulthood in terms of his musical development. And by interviewing everyone from Bobby Taylor,who first discovered the Jackson’s performing onto 80’s era manager Frank Dileo? It strips away some of the overbearing adulation and downright hero worship that this distinctive and funky musical talent found somewhat responsible for his own end. An end that came far too soon. Probably the essential Michael Jackson documentary thus far.

unsung_logo2012-wide

Unsung is an unprecedented documentary series on the cable network TV One. The reason for it’s importance is that it profiles an often underrated musical icons from within the soul/funk spectrum. And does so with a great level of care and compassion. As of now I’ve not been privileged to see every episode of the series. Yet the stories of people such as Tammi Tarrell,David Ruffin,Donny Hathaway,Full Force,Angela Bofill and Heatwave lead singer Johnnie Wilder provided an excellent insight into artists either misrepresented or not even spoken of broadly in other media circles.

Finding Fela

It was a reference in Paul McCartney’s documentary Wingspan that first gave me indication to the name Fela Anikulapo Kuti. This story probably brings my understanding of the African American musical spectrum near to it’s final stages. My conversations with blogging partner Rique are consistently referencing Kuti. And this film really expands on that understanding. The understanding of Fela as the Nigerian James Brown,whom he in fact was very highly influenced by through travelling through America during the years of black power in the late 60’s.

While the man bought the sound and social consciousness of total rhythm into his combination of African Highlife and jazz-funk?  He also set upon living a lifestyle of breaking down conventions,largely coming out of the corruption that led to tragic events such as the murder of his own mother. This really embodies the full spectrum of emotion a life can have-from pioneering,to humorous to tragic. And it also helps bring out peoples understanding and misunderstanding of what African culture is really all about.


Sometimes when I try to encourage people to watch more documentaries,they often respond by saying that they find them boring. At the end of the day they say? They want to escape,not learn. What I’ve personally come to understand is that knowledge functions as both a destination and an escape. Just depends on how you receive it. Being lectured at about topics by a teacher isn’t always the idea method of education. Yet through documentaries on a favorite subject? One can experience first hand,sometimes comic history,joy and tears from the viewpoint of all involved.  And for me? These have all provided the ultimate in learning while being simultaneously entertained.

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Filed under 1990s, Bob Marley, Chicago, crate digging, Earth Wind & Fire, Etta James, Fela Kuti, Funk, George Clinton, Heatwave, Herbie Hancock, James Brown, Jazz, Ken Burns, Louis Armstrong, Marvin Gaye, Maurice White, Mavis Staples, Memphis Soul, Michael Jackson, Portland Maine, reggae, Stax, Stevie Wonder, Tom Dowd, Unsung series, Vee-Jay

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

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

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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

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Amazon.com, 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

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 7/5/2014: Madlib’s ‘Pinata Beats’

Pinata Beats

 

He’s been called The Beat Conductor,The Loopdigga,Quasimoto,DJ Lord Such,his own name Otis Jackson Jr,Yesterday’s New Quintet. But whatever name he chooses,Madlib is someone who crosses the barriers between two sources of musical information in my life: my friend Henrique and my father. It was my father who first started introducing me to Madlib when he shared a mutual interest with keyboardist/then local DJ Nigel Hall in his Shades of Blue and fascination with Mizell brothers period Donald Byrd. So each time a new Madlib CD came out,my father got it and we listened to it on the way home from the record store. Hearing all the layers of 70’s and 80’s soul/funk/jazz-funk samples in his music? Madlib really began to call to mind Henrique’s discussions with me about hip-hop being an important archival music for the funk,jazz and soul music that moves both of us. When this album was originally released earlier this year featuring the rapping of Freddie Gibbs? I had a feeling an album like this would follow from Madlib himself. This was what I wanted to hear. And what a thrill it is too!

With “Scarface” as the orchestral opener the album goes into the slow crawling cinematic oriented soul break of “Deeper-after which comes the the call-and-response clavinet based melodic funk of “High”-featuring the lyric “I get high” which slows down to a crawl by songs end. “Harold”,with its jazz guitar solo and “Bomb” with its symphonic electric pianos and keyboards are both deep,spare funk pieces. “S**tsville” and “Thuggin” are both beautifully dramatic pieces based on keyboard and guitar oriented orchestral soul-with the mildly classical twist a Stevie Wonder or David Sancious might add to the mix. “Real” and “Uno” are very spare pieces-more designed to focus on an MC than the music itself. “Robes” on the other hand is a melodically soulful jazz type number a beautiful female vocal looped in and out of the mix. “Broken”,”Lakers”,”Shame” and “Knicks”,the later with a male soulful vocal moan loop are all beautifully orchestrated,piano based Thom Bell style early 70’s soul ballads. The album continues on with the horn oriented intro “Watts” before going into “Pinata”-an early 70’s sitar led slow groove with the organ solo repeating again with the string refrain breaking it up now and again.

As someone who was never at all part of any aspect of hip-hop culture from the inside? I’ve had to observe the genre from without. And though I greatly admire the rapping abilities and lyrical statements of people such as The Roots’ Black Thought,Chuck D and KRS One? There are many times when certain MC’s,especially those of the more braggadocio and profane variety,to be highly distracting to the often fascinating music that is often taking place around them. Therefore the instrumental hip-hop of artists like Madlib always interest me. Since the man is obviously far,far more versed in the soul/funk spectrum than I? Have to admit I am not 100% aware of most of the artists he loops and samples in his music unless specifically indicated. But still the fact that many rap superstars give the impression that hip-hop is all about personality and not music tends to make many people forget that their is a very strong musical art form at the very core of hip-hop. Its part of the DJ based culture that rose out of the disco era. And since that mid/late 70’s era is Madlib’s favorite period to draw inspiration from? I personally champion him as a strong modern purveyor of the thoroughly music end of the hip-hop genre. And that is why I chose the instrumental version of this,as opposed to the one with Freddie Gibbs as MC. Either way,this is impressive funky soul loops,breaks and cinematic grooving delights!

*Here is the original Amazon.com review:

http://www.amazon.com/review/R1RXM661BTN9JO/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B00K5XZC78

 

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Filed under Amazon.com, DJ's, Hip-Hop, Madlib, Music Reviewing, Sampling, Soul