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Archive for the ‘Chuck D’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: THE PERCEPTIONISTS-Tiny Desk Concert #661 (October 20, 2017).

The Perceptionists are Mr. Lif [Jeffery Haynes] and Akrobatik [Jared Bridgeman] two emcees whose names rock bells among true hip-hop heads. The duo of Boston natives first teamed up as The Perceptionists in the early aughts to release Black Dialogue on El-P’s Def Jux label in 2005. Their side project went into indefinite hiatus soon afterward, but now LLif and Akrobatik are reunited on their new LP, Resolution.

In a world that often appears to be spiraling out of control, their Tiny Desk set provides a much-needed breather.

With sharp, heartfelt lyricism, The Perceptionists critique the current political climate on “Out Of Control.”  There’s some great lyrics in this song.  I especially like

Man, I’m right there with them
Keeping it funky
If I’m African American, tell me which country
Our differences shouldn’t make you wanna hunt me
When in reality every fruit came from one tree

The song has a groovy funky bass from the really animated (H)Ashish Vyas.

On “Lemme Find Out” they rhyme about the symbiotic human relationship with technology.  They say our lives are just so dominated by technology…  Mr Lif wonders “if I am living in the real reality or just a predetermined reality that I’ve been programmed with.”  Akrobatik says, “50 years from know humans are going to have craned necks from [cell phones].”  The track opens with a cool echoing somewhat sinister guitar riff from Van Gordon Martin [“Not known for shit startin’ but his name is Van Martin”]

Once again, I love Akrobatik’s rhymes:

Microchip implanted in my hip
Got me feeling like an alien that landed in a ship
Probed my frontal lobe now I’m standing here equipped
With abilities to flip
But I can’t get a grip on regular shit
I’m about to dodge my competitor’s wit
Hit them with something that they’ll never forget
Deprogram, roll up a hell of a spliff
And smoke Master Kush at the edge of a cliff

I really like the little growls that Mr Lif does at the end of the verses.

The next song is “A Different Light.”  This chorus is great:

Want to crucify me for toughest era in my life?
That’s all right…
Thought the world of you but now I see you in a different light
That’s all right…

The duo’s

conscious ethos is perfectly encapsulated by Ak’s lyrical run.  He raps: “But I’m above all of the melodrama / When they go low / We go high / Michelle Obama.”

Mr. Lif says, “Everyone enters a relationship with different levels of expectations.”  Sometimes we are looking too closely at our expectations and not looking at the other person and being present with the situations right in front of us.   The song is mellow with some gentle synths from “Chop” Lean Thomas. The end of the song has a retro flute sound.  There’s also a mellow guitar line that runs through the song.

The song tells the story of Ak’s near-death experience with a pernicious aortic dissection, as well as the betrayal of a close friend during his convalescence.

About that incident, Acrobatik raps:

I don’t need to call your name out – I ain’t trying to embarrass ya
This is not about revenge, it’s more about your character
Or lack thereof, step back there brov
How can you call someone a friend and then attack their love?

The final song is “Early Morning.”  It’s got some great funky bass and some great funky drums from “Tommy B” Benedetti.  They say they hope this resonates with us all.

As the song ends, there’s some great riffs on the guitar and then Ak says, “we can’t  make a crazy exit… don’t wanna knock shit over.”

[READ: February 13, 2017] Hip Hop Family Tree 3

Book three continues the rise of Hip-Hop and bands who really start selling big.

Interestingly, it starts with Rick Rubin setting the tone for hip hop: “Sorry but girls don’t sound good rapping” (said to Kate Schellenbach of Beastie Boys.  And then getting the Boys all dressed in matching tracksuits (Puma).  Kate gets two rather unflattering drawings of her as the Boys tell her that the three boys will be the first white rap group (with Rubin as DJ).

Two art critics also get involved with tagging and graffiti at this time. Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant take photos of the art but find time and again that “legitimate” businesses want nothing to do with this illegal work.  This also accompanies the rise of break dancing–there’s a funny page in which people think that a group of kids break dancing is actually fighting with each other.

But this book really tracks the rise of Run D.M.C., with the promise by DJ Run that he wouldn’t leave Jay behind.  He was good to his word. (more…)

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dfwSOUNDTRACK: BUILT TO SPILL-Ultimate Alternative Wavers (1993).

Bts I am going to see Built to Spill this Friday.  I was supposed to see them back in 2001, but then some bad things happened in New York City and their show was cancelled (or I opted not to go–I see on Setlist that they did play that night).  Since then, I have enjoyed each new album more than the previous one, so I am really excited to see them.

I thought it would be interesting to revisit their earlier records.  In reading about the band I learned that Doug Martsch was in Treepeople (which I didn’t know and who I don’t really know at all).  I also learned that his plan for BtS was to have just him with a different line up for each album.  That didn’t quite work out, but there has been a bit of change over the years.

Their debut album is surprisingly cohesive and right in line with their newer material.  It’s not to say that they haven’t changed or grown, but there’s a few songs on here that with a little better production could easily appear on a newer album.  Martsch’s voice sounds more or less the same, and the catchiness is already present (even if it sometimes buried under all kinds of things).  And of course, Marstch’s guitar skill is apparent throughout.  The album (released on the tiny C/Z label) also plays around a lot with experimental sounds and multitracking.  When listening closely, it gives the album a kind of lurching quality, with backing vocals and guitars at different levels of volume throughout the disc.

But “The First Song” sounds like a fully formed BtS song–the voice and guitar and catchy chorus are all there..  The only real difference is the presence of the organ in the background.  “Three Years Ago Today” feels a bit more slackery–it sounds very 90s (like the irony of the cover), which isn’t a bad thing.  The song switches between slow and fast and a completely new section later in the song.  “Revolution” opens with acoustic guitars and then an occasional really heavy electric guitar riff that seems to come from nowhere.  The end of the song is experimental with weird sounds and doubled voices and even a cough used as a kind of percussion.

“Shameful Dread” is an 8 minute song.   There’s a slow section, a fast section, a big noisy section and a coda that features the guys singing “la la la la la”.  Of course the most fun is that the song ends and then Nelson from The Simpsons says “ha ha” and a distorted kind of acoustic outro completes the last two minutes.

“Nowhere Nuthin’ Fuckup” is one of my favorite songs on the record.  There’s a sound in the background that is probably guitar but sounds like harbor seals barking.  I recently learned that the lyrics are an interpretation of the Velvet Underground’s “Oh! Sweet Nuthin.”  They aren’t exactly the same but are very close for some verses.  The rest of the music is not VU at all.  In fact the chorus gets really loud and angular.  I love the way the guitars build and then stop dramatically.

“Get a Life” opens with a wild riff that reminds me of Modest Mouse (who cite BtS as an influence), but the song quickly settles down (with more multitracked voices).  I love how at around 4 minutes a big swath of noise takes over and it is resolved with a really catchy noisy end section.  “Built to Spill” starts out slow and quiet, and grows louder with a catchy chorus.  In the background there’s all kinds of noisy guitars and superfuzzed bass.

“Lie for a Lie” is pretty much a simple song with s constant riff running throughout.  The verses are catchy, but the middle section is just crazy–with snippets of guitars, out of tune piano, a cowbell and random guitar squawking and even shouts and screams throughout the “solo” section.  “Hazy” is a slow song with many a lot of soloing.  The disc ends with the nine minute “Built Too Long, Pts 1,2 and 3”  Part 1 is a slow rumbling take on a riff (with slide guitar and piano).  It last about 90 seconds before Part 2 comes in.  It has a big fuzzy bass (with a similar if not identical riff) and wailing guitar solos.  Over the course of its five or so minutes it get twisted and morphed in various bizarre ways.  With about 30 seconds left, Chuck D shouts “Bring that beat back” and the song returns, sort of, to the opening acoustic section.

While the album definitely has a lot of “immature” moments (and why shouldn’t the band have fun?) there’s a lot of really great stuff here.

btstix

[READ: September 26, 2015] Critical Insights: David Foster Wallace

It’s unlikely that a non-academic would read a book of critical insights about an author.  Of course, if you really like an author you might be persuaded to read some dry academic prose about that author’s work.  But as it turns out, this book is not dry at all.  In fact, I found it really enjoyable (well, all but one or two articles).

One of the things that makes a book like this enjoyable (and perhaps questionable in terms of honest scholarship) is that everyone who writes essays for this collection is basically a fan of DFW’s work.  (Who wants to spend years thoroughly researching an author only to say means things about him or her anyway?).  So while there are certainly criticisms, it’s not going to be a book that bashes the author.  This is of course good for the fan of DFW and brings a pleasant tone to the book overall.

For the most part the authors of this collection were good writers who avoided a lot of jargon and made compelling arguments about either the book in question or about how it connected to something else.  I didn’t realize until after I looked at the biographies of the authors that nearly everyone writing in this book was from England or Ireland.  I don’t think that makes any difference to anything but it was unexpected to have such an Anglocentric collection about such an American writer (although one of the essays in this book is about how DFW writes globally).

Philip Coleman is the editor and he write three more or less introductory pieces.  Then there are two primary sections: Critical Insights and Critical Essays. (more…)

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primus bookSOUNDTRACK: PRIMUS-Suck on This (1990).

primus suckThis was the disc that introduced me to Primus–it was on a beach vacation with my friends Al, Joe and Rad.  Al made this the soundtrack of the drive and, man, it was weird and crazy and super cool and by the end of that trip I was hooked.

Actually I was immediately hooked when the band opened this live disc with a rough version of Rush’s “YYZ” which then launched into “John the Fisherman.”  What do you make of this band and this weird song?  Stomping bass which is doing all of the lead stuff, with guitars that are just noises and craziness but which really work with what the bass is doing (once you listen a few times, anyway).  The drums are mammoth and very prog rock.  And then there’s Les’ voice–cartoony and unconventional–sometimes deep, sometime really silly, sounds that work perfectly with the storytelling lyrics.

The quality of this recording is pretty poor, although I find that it sounds a bit better on smaller, less “good” stereos, where Ler’s guitars don’t get lost so much in the bass.  Most of these songs have been re-recorded for later albums, so perhaps the newer versions sound cleaner to me.  [Groundhog’s Day, Frizzle Fry, John the Fisherman, Pudding Time and Harold of the Rocks on Frizzle Fry and Tommy the Cat on Sailing the Seas of Cheese].

The best songs on this disc have really catchy parts: “John the Fisherman” (most of it) or the insane fast bass and wild soloing section of “Groundhog’s Day.”  Sometimes it’s just when the noise stops and Les gets a line, like “It’s Just a Matter of Opinion” (in “The Heckler”).  Although the noise there is really catchy too–listen to what Ler is playing during the funky bass section–it’s wild and amazing.

Of course “Tommy the Cat” is a major standout from all three guys.

The only song that doesn’t really work for me is “Pressman” which seems a bit too long without a lot of resolution (although the end is pretty cool).  I often get “Jellikit” (the other song that didn’t make it to a studio album) in my head, whenever I think, Did you like it?  There’s even a drum solo from Herb the Ginseng Drummer in that song

What’s fun is that the audience is totally into it and they know most of the songs–anticipating lyrics and even singing along.  And this is where “We’re Primus and we suck.” comes from.  It was a shocking debut when it came out, and it’s still pretty unusual, although not as unusual as some of their later songs would be.

[READ: January 3, 2015] Primus

As I said above, I’ve been a fan of Primus since near the beginning of their existence.  And yet, for all of my enjoyment of them, I didn’t really know all that much about their origins.  I didn’t know that the original line up was Todd Huth and Jay Lane (guitars and drums), and that the three of them wrote the songs that appear on Suck on This and much of Frizzle Fry.  Ler had to learn these unusual parts (Ler took lessons with Joe Satriani and is much more accomplished than his lack of flashiness indicates) and did so wonderfully. I also didn’t know that Les and Kirk Hammet were in the same class in high school (and that he’s the reason Les picked up a bass in the first place, even though they never formally played together).

The book is constructed as a series of quotes from a vast assortment of people.  The “cast” is two pages long and includes current and former members of the band and management as well as fans like Trey Anastasio, Matthew Bellamy (from Muse), Geddy Lee, Chuck D, Eugene Hutz, Tom Morello, Buzz Osborne, Matt Stone, Mike Watt, Hank Williams III, guys from 24-7 Spyz, Fishbone, Limbomaniacs and even Linda Perry (!).

It opens with Les talking about his high school years.  And what’s amazing is how many people who were involved in Primus are friends from when he was a kid.  If they didn’t play together, they were involved with art or management or something.  We also get the origin story of Bob Cock, which answers many questions.

Les had formed Primate (legal dispute with the band The Primates made them become Primus) with Todd and Jay.  They toured a lot and were gaining a following, but Les was always looking for something more.  He even auditioned for Metallica after Cliff Burton died (Kirk thought it sounded great but I guess James didn’t). (more…)

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hhftSOUNDTRACK: G.L.O.B.E. & WHIZ KID-“Play that Beat Mr DJ” (Double Dee & Steinski Payoff Mix) (1985).

doubledeeThe original of this song (1983) was simply the drums and simple keyboard riff.  The “Payoff Mix” done by Double Dee & Steinski added the incredibly dense layer of samples that really make this song interesting (actually the samples are more interesting than the rap).

The samples included:

  • Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel by Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five
  • Play It Sam…Play “As Time Goes By” (Avalon/As Time Goes By) by Humphrey Bogart (dialogue spoken from the movie Casablanca)
  • That’s the joint – Funky Four Plus One
  • Take the Country to N.Y. City by Hamilton Bohannon
  • Don’t Make Me Wait (Acapella) by Peech Boys
  • Stop! In The Name Of Love by Diana Ross and the Supremes
  • Rockit by Herbie Hancock
  • Situation 12″ by Yazoo
  • Starski Live at the Disco Fever by Lovebug Starski
  • World’s Famous, Hobo Scratch, D’Ya Like Scratchin’ and Buffalo Gals by Malcolm McLaren
  • Apache by Incredible Bongo Band
  • Tutti Frutti by Little Richard
  • Last Night A DJ Saved My Life by Indeep
  • I’ll Tumble 4 Ya by Culture Club
  • Speech by Fiorello La Guardia from Reading the Comics – July,1945

Double Dee & Steinski went on to make some other great mashups (and these sound amazing since they were done circa 1985).  I particularly like Lesson 3.

Here’s the one that made them famous:

[READ: November 23, 2014] Hip Hop Family Tree 2

This volume picks up right where the previous one left off in 1981.

First we meet Doug E. Fresh who, devoid of records, starts the trend of beatboxing.  We also see The Sugarhill Gang doing a rap over the song “Apache” (while dressed like Native Americans).

The book bounces back to California (Oakland this time) where we meet Too Short, a great high school rapper who is interested in making money from his skills.  We also see a young Ice-T doing his gangland thing

Then it jumps back to Rick Rubin whose love of punk and metal (these goings on are happening at the same time as Black Flag is trying out a young Henry Rollins, and Bad Brains are in high gear–and often times the crowds mix amiably) fuses with his love of rap.  he really wants to be able to capture the rawness of the live sounds of both types of music onto a record (enter the Beastie Boys).  And, strangely enough (although perhaps it should be expected), Malcolm McDowell enters the picture.  We also see Fab Five Freddy making “Change the Beat” which includes a since-very-heavily sampled “Freshhhhh” (more…)

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hhftSOUNDTRACK: “The Adventures Of Grandmaster Flash On The Wheels Of Steel” (1981).

grandThis track was one of the first records to mix songs from other artists (yes, we call it sampling now).  It was a chance for Grandmaster Flash to show off his mad mixing skills.  He used three turntables, samples from the movie Flash Gordon (nice) and this songs:

Chic – “Good Times” ; Blondie – “Rapture” ; Queen – “Another One Bites the Dust” ; Sugarhill Gang – “8th Wonder” ; The Furious Five – “Birthday Party” ; Spoonie Gee – “Monster Jam” ; Michael Viner’s Incredible Bongo Band – “Apache” ; Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five – “Freedom” ; Sugarhill Gang – “Rapper’s Delight” ; The Hellers – “Life Story”

It’s really impressive and it sounds seamless.

[READ: November 23, 2014] Hip Hop Family Tree 1

This book came across my desk at work and I was really excited to read it.  I thought I didn’t know all that much about the origins of hip hop.  And while I was largely right, I was also pleased that I knew so many of the big names.

So this is a graphic novel done by Ed Piskor.  Piskor’s style is familiar (it looks like old school indie comics, even though he was born in 1982). Now, I already said I don’t know all that much about hip hop history, so I can’t vouch for the veracity of this family tree (and I certainly suspect that Piskor likes some people and dislikes others), but I assume that this is a pretty accurate story about how hip hop came to be.

It all starts in the 1970s with DJ Kool Herc in the South Bronx.  He spins discs at parties and is hugely successful.  He starts looping records to extend the drum breaks.  His popularity inspires Grandmaster Flash who tries new techniques and Afrika Bambaataa who plays the most obscure records he can find (Kraftwerk, for instance).  Bambaataa was once a gang leader but he channeled his music into a more peaceful gang–Zulu Nation.  This group leads to some other early hip hop groups: The Treacherous Three, The Cold Crush Brothers, Funky Four Plus One (the first of the groups to feature a woman) and The Fantastic Five, (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ROCKWELL KNUCKLES-You’re Fucking Out I’m Fucking In (2011).

I downloaded this disc a while ago because I really liked “Silly Human

I listened to it again recently and realized just how much I like the whole disc.  Rockwell Knuckles has a great delivery style—a basso profundo voice—and a great sense of melody both in his delivery and his backing music.  He captures the best of Chuck D and Ice T.  “Bullet Train Army” has such a cool melody line—and the fact that he raps along with it is fantastic.  Apparently the Bullet Train Army is his posse or something, because it appears a lot on the disc.

“Silly Human” is a fantastic song—a wispy futuristic keyboard riff fizzes away behind Rockwell’s super fast delivery and funny (but not really) lyrics.  The chorus is delivered super quickly in a cool descending melody line.  And I love that someone in the background is shouting Yes Yes! YES! as he deliveries his lines.  It reminds me in strange way of The Flaming Lips.  “Play Catch” shows off his diversity of styles with this more gentle song.  I like the way the verses end with a repeated word which seems like it’s going faster because the beasts speed up,  It’s a cool trick.

“Baking Soda” has a guest rapper (I really don’t like guest rappers, I’m here for Rockwell not Tef Poe, who immediately lost my respect by having his first rhyme end with bitch—lazy!).  I don’t really care for the music behind this one either—cheesy sax and horns.   It’s made up for with “Point of No Return.”  This song has a sung chorus with a weird sci-fi-sounding melody and some great lyrics.  I haven’t really mentioned the lyrics yet but they stand out here “the early bird catches the worm, but the first sponge catches the germs) and a reference to Sojourner Truth.

The lyrics are even better on “Unstoppable” (which has a cool synthy sound over the chorus): “My competition ‘s delayed I’m rocking digital/
Ive been around the world in a day not in the physical/Artistic freedom in what I say y’all are to literal.”

The simple riff behind “Intergalactic” is also cool.  At first I wasn’t sold on Theresa Payne’s backing vocals but I think it works quite well.  I particularly love the chorus of “Supercalifragilisticexpiala-futuristic”

There’s another great delivery melody on “Motto of Today” with more cool sci-fi backing music.  “You Got It” has the great fast beats and delivery that I love out of Atlanta, even though Rockwell is from St. Louis.  There’s even a cool binary joke in the lyrics (1001001).  Guest rapper Vandalyzm fares better, although there’s more curses than actual lyrics in his verse, I think.

“Nomanisan Island” also features Tef Poe, but I like him better on this track.  But maybe that’s because the chorus is great: “No man is an island and we are never stranded”  I’m not sure though that Tef Poe should be singing the line “black tea party, we’re coming to impeach” with Obama in the white house.

“Controlled” I assume has a sample for a chorus, it slows things down nicely and the sound of the drums is fantastic.  I’m partial to the lines “Stone cold like Medusa” and  “Shows about to start, I don’t know when it will end, son/ Puppet on a string controlled by Jim Henson” (whatever that means, I like it).

“Every Angle” has a groovy chorus that I like despite itself.  Rockwell makes it flow wonderfully.  And the final track, “Natural Born Leader” opens with a simple rocking guitar riff.  When the lyrics kick in, the song soars with 70s keyboards and big guitars.

This album is really fantastic.  And while there are plenty of deserving artists out there, Rockwell Knuckles is amazing and should be huge.  Don’t be put off by the album title or the cover, this album is more about melody than a cursing.

You can download the whole album here for free.

Oh, and the reason I chose this is because of a note I had written in the margins of GR, which I thought had read No Man is an Island, but which didn’t.  Oops.

[READ: Week of February 27] Gravity’s Rainbow 1.13-1.18

I found a few of this week’s sections to be more challenging to get through.  There are a lot of long passages that are meandering–often with an unclear narrator (although the narrator usually becomes apparent by the end).  During these section, it feels like the book is just drifting of into a reverie for a while before snapping out of it and getting back to the business at hand.  And that seem apt given all of the crazy stuff that happens in the book (all of the mental/psychological ideas).

After reading a few of the posts at Infinite Zombies this week, I have new eyes for the book.  When I first read all of the sex in the book, I thought again about Joyce’s Ulysses and all of the sex that he described (shockingly for the time) and how modern writers seem to revel in writing about sex–not pornographically, just “real.”  But now, after reading Christine’s post, I had to rethink this attitude on sex.  I’ve been surprised by Pynchon’s frequent use of the words “cock” and “cunt” as anatomical names.  “Cock” in particular is a word I don’t hear used all that often in fiction and it has (to my ear) a kind of crass/vulgar connotation. And what more needs to be said about “cunt.”  I wondered if this was a Pynchon thing or a 70s thing or an I’m-too-uptight thing, but in Christine’s post she writes: “One of the things I most loathe about the other Pynchon books I’ve read is the latent, creepy, old-man sex fetish” and “the constant phallic status updates (noted in my paperback as I.P.R.s [infantile penis reference]” (which is hilarious, by the way).  This has made me even more aware of all the sex in the book–although to what end I’m not sure yet.

Jeff’s post at Infinite Zombies focuses on Roger and Jessica (I know that wasn’t the point of the post, but the mind takes what it will) and makes me think of Roger as more of a protagonist of the story.  Even more than Pirate (who, coming first, I assumed was the focus).  And  this week’s reading reveals more importance for Roger.

So on to the read: (more…)

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