Now coming a decade after Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions this album not only arrived as OutKast’s third effort but in a time when the sample-centric mentality was still a mainstay in hip-hop. Sometimes it was interesting,sometimes fun and sometimes it was just a yawn if done in an overly predictable way. One thing a friend pointed out to me,which I should’ve guessed looking at the liner notes was this album was a direct byproduct of an era when bands such as The Roots were really talking hip-hop music into a more instrumental than a sample/scratch oriented context.
What’s unique about this is how the Organized Noize crew who put the music on this album together. Especially towards the end of this album layored jazz/soul/funk songs such as “SpottieOttieDopaliscious”,the late 70’s synth/dance/funk polyrhythmic style of “Da Art Of Storytellin Part 1” and the rhythmically complex “Liberation”,featuring vocals by Cee Lo later of Gnarls Barkley fame all have a sound that could easily make one believe they’re built on samples but they aren’t;the music is 100% organic and very much rooted in the 70’s as well as contemporary and futurist as well.
This makes a lot of sense considering Dre and Big Boi’s state of mind at the time. Both spend most of this album trading rhymes and licks at a lightening pace all regarding the correlation of cultural standards from the more Afrocentric,revolutionary 70’s culture towards the more aggressive and uncertain atmosphere on the 90’s. Tunes such as “West Savannah”,”Hold On Be Strong”,”Return Of The G” and the infamous “Rosa Parks” (apparently with the lady herself taking a certain exception to her name being used) all pull these ideas together.
It blends tales for the nostalgia of this pairs youth with the reality of drugs,romantic abandonment,dysfunction and search for hope that linked both the earlier and modern era together. Sometimes,especially in the case of Big Boi the language used may be somewhat tart for hip-hop’s detractors but if you hear past that to WHAT is being said as opposed to how it’s BEING said there’s an important story told. “Synthesizer”,featuring George Clinton and the closer “Chonkyfire” both bring together both aspects of this album together in a great way.
It’s that somewhat more retro 70’s musical aspect as well as the slower,almost G funk,live instrumental variation on the old Bomb Squad soundscape style up front. This also clues you in to the fact OutKast are more than willing to transend generational barriers with their music:the chorus are beginning to feature the Leroy Sugarfoot Bonner styled drawled vocals from Andre’ that would define albums from Stankonia and the subject matter of their raps have become significantly broader. No two OutKast albums are particularly alike and many are more or less hip-hop oriented than others. This favors a period where they’ve found the middle ground and thankfully for us received a lot of well deserved respect for their efforts.
Originally posted on September 24th,2010
LINK TO ORIGINAL REVIEW HERE!
Cee Lo’s debut album Cee-Lo Green & His Perfect Imperfections ended up being a good idea that didn’t quite meet up to it’s full potential creatively. And commercially it went down with a great big fizzle. When he was about to release his second album OutKast released their masterpiece Aquemini,actually two seperate individual statements from each member. With it’s blockbuster success,Cee Lo knew he’d have to do something to improve his luck a little the second time around. So he teamed with Antonio LA Reid,noted for his ability to created commercial success seemingly on command,for his second album. All being said it was not a bad try.
Collaborating with Pharell wasn’t a bad idea on the pumping,dance floor friendly funky soul of “The Art Of Noise” as well as “Living Again”,which doesn’t feature Pharell but sounds it. A wah wah powered spoke word funk piece “I’m Selling My Soul” is another strong number as is the melodically soulful “All Day Love Affair”,a warm hearted tribute to Cee Lo’s girlfriend. “When We Were Friends”,”Sometimes”,”Let’s Stay Together”,not the Al Green classic but sure sounds like Al as well as “Die Trying” are all potent examples of fine retro soul songwriting that would be Cee Lo’s stock in trade in the future. So it hardly matters the ten or so hip-hop numbers here still mostly leave one cold.
After this of course Cee Lo teamed up with Danger Mouse for Gnarls Barkley,a project that earned Cee Lo the same level of success OutKast did a few years earlier. Several years after Gnarles Barkley drifted apart Cee Lo re-imagined his solo career with The Lady Killer,this time with far more commercially and creatively impressive results. What is most important is how this particular album so well represents his “first solo career” so to speak. He embodies the defining characteristics of the soul artist so well. On the surface there’s a stereotypical southern hip-hopper. Just skin deep under that though is a decent,very religious family man with strong moral and social values. It’s the old blend of the spiritual and the secular. On this,that musical argument isn’t given such a big audience. It’s still there. But he’s starting to really move onto greater things.
Originally posted on August 18th,2012
Link to original review here*
For the last 16 years? D’Angelo has been missing in action as far as studio albums are concerned. While an enormous live revue in 2000 featuring his band the Soultronics-including people such as ?uestlove among the other members were hailed as some of the most promising new bands of it’s time. Of course so much as gone down in the music world since D’Angelo’s most recent and lengthy absences from recording. The call he and the Soultronics made about musicians taking the musical creative process back for themselves as really started to show itself during the latest recession-particularly within the last year or so. And with the reality of the need to free ourselves from racial hatred and privilege has all come together to create just the right atmosphere for D’Angelo and his new band the Vanguard-including former Time member in guitarist Jesse Johnson along with ?uestlove still on skins. And musically the man has a whole lot to say.
The album starts out with a deep,steely,thumping rock/funk number-both the guitar and bass lines possessed of massive funky bottoms and D’Angelo himself delivering his broad ranging,multi tracked Southern soul drawl of a voice. “1000 Deaths” samples a preacher talking about the idea of a nappy headed Jesus as the “new black messiah” over heavy funky drumming and slap bass thrusts with “D’Angelo’s heavily processed vocals accompanied closely by a staticky,revved up keyboard. “Sugar Daddy” gives a sitar led forwards/backwards looped drum oriented psychedelic soul rocker with a very probing melody. “Sugah Daddy” has this clapping,tickling percussion and this bluesy jazz/juke joint style piano commonly heard on many mid/late 70’s P-Funk records with some very scatting vocals-both solo and multi tracked. “Really Love” is a mixture of a hip-hop beat with a beautifully sensual Brazilian jazz melody.
“Back To The Future” is a two part number here-both of which take a strong countrified jazz-funk bounce with a melody that comes right from “The Charleston”,the iconic stride pianist James P.Johnson’s famous song that originated the famous dance. The second part coming near the closing of the album adds more of a bouncing Southern danceable funk rhythm to the outro. “Till It’s Done (Tutu)” is full of heavy bluesy guitar reverb and a very melodic slap bass line sharing the musical space with D’Angelo’s elaborate vocal turns. “Prayer” is a slow,dragging wah wah powered groove with a spacy synthesizer melody floating over the top. “Betray My Heart” is a swinging dyno’d up electric piano powered jazz-funk number with tons of liquid groove from top to bottom. “The Door” is a whistling powered instrumental slice of sweetly melodic sunshine pop/soul. “Another Life” closes the album with a beautiful orchestrated,thick soul ballad with D’Angelo’s high falsetto vocal calls and the ascending melody the perfect accent to the piano/sitar/drum/string swirls of the song.
One thing to say about this album is that it’s simply an amazing total musical experience! Yes that in a sentence does some it up! In fact I had to listen to much of it twice before this review to absorb just what comes out of it. If D’Angelo never recorded another album the rest of his life? This could easily be his defining swan song. Why is that? Well it just channels all the threads of D’Angelo’s musical influences. It has Stevie Wonder’s love of creating instrumentally new melodic sounds. Duke Ellington’s sense of swing and rhythmic dissonance. Al Green,Sly Stone and OutKast’s Andre 3000’s drawling vocal hiccups and stutters. Prince’s psychedelic mixtures of funk,rock and soul. Ron Isley’s high vocal cries and wails. And it doesn’t leave out the jazz age with it’s love of modern time and stride piano. And in the end? It’s all D’Angelo and all funky! Not to mention awe inspiring melodies with the power to connect to the people. And even if some of the lyrics are difficult to make out? The music says all it needs to say: differences should always be different,and lay comfortably side by side-not far apart. A grand comeback for D’Angelo linking the sociological and musical chains that made contemporary black America so special TO America!
Link To Amazon Review Here*
Filed under 2014, Afro-Futurism, Afro-Latin jazz, Al Green, alternative rock, Amazon.com, Blues, Brazil, D'Angelo, drums, Funk, Funk Bass, George Clinton, Hip-Hop, Jazz-Funk, Jesse Johnson, Marvin Gaye, Memphis Soul, Minneapolis, Music Reviewing, Neo Soul, Nu Funk, P-Funk, Prince, rhythm & blues, rock 'n' roll, Sly Stone, Southern Soul, Stevie Wonder
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