Tag Archives: rap

Hugh Masekela 1939-2018: “Don’t Go Lose It, Baby” (1984)

Hugh Masekela’s passing, occurring after suffering for a time with prostate cancer, reminded me of what an vital musical figure Masekela was to Apartheid era South Africa. Because of the racist political environment afflicting America at the moment, it felt appropriate to talk about Masekela’s musical life shortly after it all came to an end for him. He was born in Kwa-Guqa Township, the son of a health inspector and a social worker. He began playing piano as a child, but switched to the trumpet having been inspired by seeing the America film The Young Man With The Horn.

Masekela’s life was always politically enshrined. His first trumpet was given to him by Archbishop Trevor Huddleston-anti-apartheid chaplain at the St. Peter’s Secondary School. From his time in Johannesburg’s “native” Municipal Brass Band  through his time with Alfred Herbert’s African Jazz Revue in 1956, Masekela’s music became reflected of the inhumanity (and resulting struggles) of black South African’s under the racist system of Apartheid. He and his future wife Miriam Mekeba also toured the UK together as part of South Africa’s first blockbuster theatrical success King Kong.

By the 60’s he was recording and touring as a leader-with he and Mekeba even giving sanctuary to now radically anti apartheid exchange students. And of course having a major crossover hit instrumental with “Grazing In The Grass” on the international stage in 1968. As a flugelhornist and cornetist, his African jazz sound evolved along with the funk and disco eras to come. Reconnecting with many South African musicians in the early to mid 80’s, one song he recorded in 1984 was called “Don’t Go Lose It, Baby”. It was re recorded later. But for this occasion, I wanted to take about its original version.

Bongani Nxele’s in the pocket drums are assisted by what was likely Masekela playing the majority of the other instruments. The core if it consists of fast paced percussion and laser like synth bass stabs-all before a higher pitched synth pad takes over. Then Banjo Mosele’s rhythm guitar adds rhythmic heft. On the chorus, a quartet of female backup singers accompany Masekela’s horn. On the bridge, that horn solo takes on an echoing psychedelic affect-with a proto house music piano. Starting out the songs fading chorus, Masekela himself provides a rap before the backup singers reprise that chorus.

What brings this mix of the original “Don’t Go Lose It, Baby” to life for me is what it meant for the African musical spectrum during the mid 80’s. In its original form, this is a song that represents an Afrocentric variation on the synth pop/new wave variety of dance/funk that was already permeating the clubs of London (which Masekela had already dealt with in the 60’s) as well as the US. Masekela’s jazzy touches and nod to hip-hop with his activist style rapping of ” you’re a winner when you beat the game” give “Don’t Go Lose It, Baby” a strong musical and political relevance from its time.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Bad Ass And Blind” by Raul Midon

Raul Midon represents that strong Afro-Latin cultural and musical intersection for the mid to late 2000’s. Born in New Mexico,he and his brother Marco (currently a NASA scientist) were both blinded after birth due to an incubator malfunction. He went on to attend the University Of Miami,which he sought out for its strong jazz curriculum. He migrated to NYC after that,playing guitar for different Latin artists such as the then newcomer Shakira. While he started his solo career at the end of the 90’s,his big break came in 2005’s State Of Mind album,produced by the late great Arif Mardin.

Midon’s music was consistently a must buy,every album artist for me during the mid to late 2000’s. Being of Afro-Latin descent myself,the mans mixture of acoustic Latin jazz,soul and funk really spoke to a than strongly developing musical heart. During the 2010’s,I began neglecting following up on Midon’s career for no positive reason. And that includes his current album Bad Ass And Blind. But the other night,I decided to explore the albums songs on YouTube,where Midon had personally posted some of the albums songs. It was the title song that instantly stood out for me.

After a count off to four in Spanish,the song kicks right into gear. Its the main theme that extends musically throughout much of the song. The funky shuffling drums are accompanied by Midon’s equally bouncing acoustic rhythm guitar-along with a bubbling bass line right along for the ride. Only on one brief refrain does this rhythmic pattern change-quickly changing in rhythm to a hand clapped powered English folk/rock type melody. During the bridge of the song,Midon adds in a rap he wrote and performed before concluding the song with a rocking electric guitar solo.

“Bad Ass And Blind” has a vibe to it that reminds me somewhat of the vibe that Prince brought to his music. It has that sense of fusing a funky rhythm with acoustic folk/rock,hip-hop and rock instrumental elements. All while keeping the groove hot and alive. Midon also uses this to lyrically point out his musical uniqueness in this day and age. He discusses the modern means people use now to hear music and see videos. He also comments Stevie Wonder style on the unique musical visions his blindness engenders for him. So its an excellent example of hybridized funk grooves for 2017.

 

 

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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

Anatomy of THE Groove: “The Jungle” by War

War’s music has always fascinated me from the moment I heard it. Primarily a group of black LA musicians who came out of the Latin rock school,they began their recording career as the backing band for Eric Burden before launching out on their own. Their music became key to the development of what Rickey Vincent calls the “united funk” era-especially with their emphasis on percussive rhythmic bounce. This was helped out by the late percussionist Thomas “Papa Dee” Allen and drummer Harold Brown. It’s Brown’s birthday today. And since I view him as part of what makes War so special to me as a band,wanted to discuss a song of theirs I loved before they became the Lowrider Band.

Even though some of War’s commercial success tapered off in the late 70’s and early 80’s,I find their albums from this period to be some of their most significant creatively. During this era,a lot of the original members began to leave. And the newly regrouped War left their label of their salad days MCA in 1981. A year later the new lineup,including among others former Sly & The Family Stone saxophonist Pat Rizzo,released a new album entitled Outlaw. As a commercial entity War leaped back into life with songs such as “Cinco de Mayo” and “You’ve Got The Power”. It was an 8+ minute album closer that really got my attention,and it was called “The Jungle”.

The song begins with a snaky,multi tracked cinematic synthesizer orchestration at the beginning from Lonnie Jordan. This segues into a more blippy,digitized line. After this the main body of the song literally fades into itself. It finds Brown providing a heavy drum thump with Allen’s percussion accents. Howard Scott plays a rocking low guitar throughout along with wah wah,chimes and the squiggly “video game” synthesizer of Jordan adding to the rhythmic intensity. The spoken word/rapped lyrics are accompanied by the bands harmonizing backup choruses. A bridge of the song is held up by newcomer Luther Rabb’s sliding bass line before the song goes back to itself to fade out.

This extended song,presenting itself in a medley form thematically,is one of the most powerful slices of P-Funk to come from outside George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic. It’s more than just an influences. It fully embraces the hard grooving musical ethic and instrumental futurism to make a potent sociopolitical point-one that resonates very strong today. The lead vocal rap presents a theme similar to what Melle Mell was saying on The Furious Five’s “The Message” during the same year-that for poor black people lower class neighborhoods had become violent reservations. This combination of a driving groove and topical lyrics showcased War were still on funk’s forefront in the early 80’s.

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Filed under 1980's, drums, Funk Bass, funk rock, Harold Brown, Howard Scott, Lonnie Jordan, Luther Rabb, message songs, P-Funk, Papa Dee Allen, percussion, rock guitar, synthesizer, Uncategorized, wah wah, War

Anatomy of THE Groove: “The Dude” by Quincy Jones

Quincy Jones has been on my mind a lot lately when thinking about music. Last week in fact,my friend Henrique pointed out something he read on the back of a vinyl album about how important Quincy was to the jazz world in general. And this was at the height of his career no less. From being mentored by Clark Terry in the 1940’s up to helping shape up and coming hip-hoppers 60 years later,the evolutionary nature of Quincy’s career had me wondering how to present his music here today. The question was would it be good to express that musical arc by overviewing several songs from several decades,or focus on one song that might tell it’s own kind of story about Quincy Jones.

Last year at this time,I posted up an older review I had done for the 1981 Quincy Jones release of The Dude. Albums released under his own name always had a specific flavor to them. For example,his early albums showcased him largely as an instrumental band leader. His releases since the 70’s have generally been showcases not only for his evolving production approach,but also with the different musicians and vocalists he was involved with or mentoring at the given time. In the case of this early 80’s album,the spotlight was on James Ingram and Patti Austin. And the title track of the album said so much about where the classic Quincy Jones sound was going to be at that time.

A pulsing,nasal synthesizer starts off the song before the drums and horns kick in. This is accompanied by opening backup that includes Syreeta Wright and Michael Jackson among a massive chorus. The horns lead into a stripped down percussion break  that’s accented by a slow crawling drum beat-over which a bluesy Fender Rhodes plays the lead keyboard line accented by Louis Johnson’s slap bass lines. The refrains start off with Austin and Ingram trading off vocals along. with Michael Boddicker’s Vocoder. Quincy himself provides a rap as the title character on several choruses after which the horns the male backup singers provide an accompanying chorus.

On the third of these choruses, the backup chorus led along by Austin sings a swinging variation of the chorus. Steve Luckather comes in to play a wah wah pedal heavy guitar line that mimics the low volume,bluesy solo on the Yamaha CS-80 synthesizer that comes out of Stevie Wonder on the bridge,which basically repeats the melodic theme of the refrain. After this the fanfarring horns that generally introduce Quincy raps instead segues into Austin’s swinging vocal choruses. There’s a repeat of the refrain after this. And the song fades out on a repeat of the chorus. Only on this one,Ingram accentuates the lyrics vocally before the song comes to an end.

Getting back to Quincy’s varied musical career,there are many qualities in this song that sum up everything he had done in his then nearly four decades of creative activity. The classic Westlake studio crew including drummer John Robinson,percussionist Paulinho Da Costa,trumpeter/arranger Jerry Hey and of course Louis Johnson play on this number. On the surface,this song written with Patti Austin and Rod Temperton has that sleek west coast production matched with the deep funk groove Quincy had been perfecting over much of the 1970’s. On that level,it’s alternately stripped down and boisterous depending on the mood the song is trying to project at a given time.

On the broader level,this song totally epitomizes the musical evolution of Quincy thus far. The accessory vocal harmonies on the chorus reflect the big band swing era as do the horns. And Stevie Wonder’s synth solo additionally brings the flavor of the blusiness that came from jazz to rock ‘n roll and onto funk and soul as well. The character of “The Dude”,represented as a stone sculpture on the cover and later to become Quincy’d mascot for his media production company,is basically an elder statesmen whose philosophy could be summed up by him stating “don’t put your moth around a check that your body can’t cash”. In this instance for me,this is Quincy’s most defining song overall up to this point.

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, big band swing, blues funk, Fender Rhodes, horns, James Ingram, Jerry Hey, John Robinson, Louis Johnson, Michael Jackson, Patti Austin, Paulinho Da Costa, percussion, Quincy Jones, QWest, rap, Rod Temperton, slap bass, Steve Luckather, Stevie Wonder, synthesizer, Uncategorized, vocoder, wah wah guitar, West Coast

Anatomy Of THE Groove for 12/3/2015: “Is This The Future?” by Fatback

For quite a long time now? I’ve wanted to feature a song by this band on this blog. Fatback (originally known as the Fatback Band) were extremely important in terms of funk’s stylistic evolution. One main reason is likely that the band was founded by a drummer Bill Curtis,who also acted as songwriter and producer. This allowed them to make strong and thickly rhythm heavy jams in the funk,disco and electro/hip-hop eras with an equally strong fluidity and degree of success. At the end of it these Brooklynites always knew how to give up the funk.

The early 80’s created a number of challenges for many of the large funk bands. In particular with the dominance of synthesizers. Again because Fatback were always musical survivors and able to carry on with their solid rhythmic base? They not only managed to make it through this era, but it allowed them to make some of their strongest and most inventive music as well. One particular one keeps sticking up uppermost in my mind for how it handled it’s own external circumstances. And that was their 1983 number entitled “Is This The Future?”.

It begins with the blurb of a round yet brittle synthesizer that opens the door for a slower paced drum machine groove. The riff that opens the albums becomes steady and accompanied by accents on Vocoder. The main body of the song is led along by a slippery bass synthesizer statement that concludes with that same higher pitched phrase that began the song. Meanwhile the chorus sustains that higher pitch more in the back round. The lyrics are thrown down in rhythmically spoken word rap style by NYC DJ Jerry Bledsoe.

In addition to that? The song features two instrumental breaks. The first of the songs breaks comes in the form of a very probing and melodic saxophone solo courtesy of Ed Jackson. After a series of falsetto harmony vocals? A complete rhythm break emerges in the song. This takes the form of a thick percussion solo in the classic clinging, clanging Fatback Band style. It’s accompanied only by the  space funk style synthesizer bleeps before the song concludes with the only sung lead vocals of this song provided a female singer whom I don’t know the name of.

In terms of the music alone? This song grows more astounding with each listen. It places a strong emphasis on the drum machine while not sacrificing the live drum/percussion sound on which Fatback developed their originally flavors. Bledsoe’s rap brings the song in tune with the then burgeoning hip-hop era-emphasizing the importance of DJ’s advancing the rap element of the music while providing a smooth, elegant delivery of the type one would hear on the radio-very different  from the more earnest delivery of most raps.

The songs overall sound and vocal delivery blend in perfectly with the lyrical content. Five years before EWF charted so successfully with “System Of Survival”? Fatback are asking questions for the early 80’s that Marvin Gaye asked over a decade earlier with Whats Going On? They speak in particular to the black silent generation,than approaching middle age who “use to eat steak and caviar,now it’s peanut butter in a candy jar”. It also reflects how Reagan era America was causing black Americans to lose hope-bluntly stating that “only a fool would wanna endorse this kind of future”. Bleak as it may sound? It’s truthfulness makes the question perhaps more important than the answers-even today.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, bass synthesizer, drum machine, elecro funk, Fatback Band, Funk, message songs, New York, Reaganomics, Uncategorized

Anatomy Of The Groove 1/2/2015-Andre’s Pick: “Only One” by Kanye West, Featuring Paul McCartney

The new year of 2015 rang in with the sound of music. And it was coming from a somewhat surprising source. Kanye West began his career as an important post millennial game changer for hip-hop. And he did so by bringing the increasingly electro-pop oriented commercial hip-hop genre back to it’s black American roots in. He did this by integrating cinematic orchestration,gospel choirs and especially sampling Ray Charles’ own game changing “I’ve Got A Woman” as the key element in his 2005 smash hit “Gold Digger”. Not to mention his racially confident stance lyrically-both in his music and public appearances. For the next two years Kanye was known primarily for his musical accomplishments. But this was about to change.

A series of controversial events in Kanye’s life from 2005 onward made him out to seem like a self serving narcissist-someone more interested in the notoriety his creativity could bring him than any healthy outward expression of it. More over? His presumably egocentric antics,especially following the sad loss of his beloved mother (and biographer) Donda after a botched surgery and his madcap adventures with wife Kim Kardasian,re-focused the attention onto the visual end of his media exposure and took energy away from why he was originally so musically revered.  And that brings me back to the turn of 2014 over to 2015 when Kayne West revealed his long discussed collaboration with international pop music icon Paul McCartney entitled “Only One”

The song begins with Kanye’s singing as opposed to rapping over a a light and simple electric piano courtesy of McCartney,what sounds to be a Wurlitzer  playing a counter melody to the one in which Kanye is singing. On the chorus another electronically derived melody features a symphony of vocal parts singing in a soaring choral fashion with an electronically auto tuned spin that additionally counters the only very light auto tuning of Kanye’s lead. Lyrically speaking the song deals with Kanye dreaming of his deceased mother sending a message to him and his daughter North (nicknamed Nori) with words of meaningful familial wisdom. At the end of the song,again over McCartney’s light touch on the Wurlitzer Kanye again channels his mother by repeating,as if at the end of a dream,”tell Nori about me,tell Nori about me”.

One theory I’ve had about Kanye’s behavior in the past several years is that much of it stems from the deep,unspoken connection in the mother/son bond. Especially the very close family bond Kanye and mother Donda had. Paul McCartney’s presence on this song is meaningful too because it was the passing of his own mother that inspired one of the Beatles most iconic songs “Let It Be”. Musically it also makes some hugely important statements. When iconic music figures are so often collaborating with newer artists on a vocal level? McCartney’s contributions to this song,much as they were with Stevie Wonder on his “A Time To Love” a decade ago, are solely musical-providing the stripped down electric piano melody. The fact that Kanye sang this song rather than rapped bough him back to his previous explorations that hip-hop and rap aren’t mutually exclusive-that conventional sung vocals should be used more. Considering this songs gentle but soulfully jazzy and funky musical statement? This points to a possible new years rebirth from the heart,mind and soul of Kanye West for 2015.

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Filed under 2015, auto tune, electric piano, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Jazz-Funk, Kanye West, Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, The Beatles, Uncategorized, Wurlitzer