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Archive for the ‘Common’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: AUGUST GREENE-Tiny Desk Concert #709 (February 21, 2018).

A collective of artists is at the core of August Greene: Common (Lonnie Rashid Lynn), keyboardist Robert Glasper and drummer Karriem Riggins have known each other for a long time.

The blurb says

August Greene was born at the White House in 2016 during a special Tiny Desk concert. It was during that unprecedented performance that the then-untitled ensemble premiered the powerful “Letter to the Free,” an original song for Ava DuVernay’s Netflix documentary 13th that eventually won an Emmy for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics.

Common says they came together to be an inspirational collective who wanted to foreground women and put women in the foreground.  It is unfortunate, then, that the first song features all men.  But their hearts are in the right place “That’s important in hip-hop, which has long been dogged by an old-line adherence to misogyny, as it lays claim to the world’s most popular genre.”

For the trio’s first visit to NPR headquarters, they brought some special guests: vocalists Brandy, Maimouna Youssef and Andra Day. The band performed four tracks from its upcoming self-titled album (out March 9 on Amazon Music), an impromptu freestyle, and Day’s Oscar-nominated collaboration with Common, “Stand Up For Something,” from the film Marshall. Common described the theme of the Tiny Desk as “Foregrounding Women,” alluding to the attendance of Brandy, Day and Youssef, as well as the spiritual presence of Glasper’s younger cousin, Loren, who passed just a few days prior.  [Common says she “transitioned” which I thought meant she was undergoing gender reassignment surgery–euphemisms are dangerous, people].

This five song Tiny Desk Concert is over half an hour and I enjoyed most of it.  I really like Common and his delivery.

August Greene’s latest single, “Black Kennedy,” connotes dreams of an African-American dynasty, the kind only a royal family assumes. The stark contrasts of disenfranchisement are highlighted by every wish expressed.

Common does the rap, which is solid (Common’s voice is so good) and Samora Pinderhughes sings the chorus. I’m rather surprised by how wimpy his voice is.  He sounds either nervous or like he can’t hit the notes he wants.  And yet somehow I find this charming and his part of the song to be very catchy.  I like the D Dummy is there scratching as well.

Up next is “Practice.”  Glasper doesn;t say much during the show, but he is hilarious when he does.  Common says Robert was playing these chords in the studio.  Glasper: “It was the best thing he ever heard” after some laughs, Common retorts: “I was like it’s a’ight.  Once we my raps, the song turned out right there.

“Practice” is how “Life takes work.  You gotta work on yourself and any craft, any relationship”  The song features one of the queens, Maimouna Youssef, we call her Mumu Fresh.  She sings backing vocals and then does a great rap

sometimes being a woman is like being black twice
i gotta shout fire instead of rape
and you tell me to act nice
look pretty stay slim don’t talk loud
don’t think, don’t feel, don’t act proud
but if I’m at my lowest how are you 100%
god made woman and man for the balance of it
so will the real men please stand up.

While Common is talking a phone goes off.  “So yo, who phone is that?”  ha ha

He talks about one of their favorite songs, “Optimistic” by Sounds of Blackness.  As a hip hop artist, I usually don’t do remakes, but as August Greene I can do what I want.

Common: Anything yo want to say rob?
Robert: Yes, i wrote your rhymes.  Just want everyone to know that.
Common: Yea that’s why on this song my rhymes are sub par cause her wrote them

Rob said we need to get brandy.  Brandy came in with that light.

With a buildup like  that I wanted to like this song a lot more than I do.  Even though Brandy’s voice sounds good, I don’t like her delivery. This was my least favorite song of the day.

He introduces: Burniss Travis on the bass; DJ Dummy, on the 1s and 2s; Karriem Riggins on drums

Common shows off a truly great freestyle.  There’s some great rhymes referencing previous tiny desk episodes, and lines like “rob g cant rhyme like me.”

Introducing that amazing “Stand Up for Something,” he says that people worried with this administration that the world is ending.  The world ain’t ending it’s just god bringing the best out of us.  What’s more important than standing up for something you believe in.  It is designed to inspire hope, to bring the message of Thurgood Marshall to a new generation: “it all means nothing if you don’t stand up for something.”

We had to bring in a revolutionary to sing it so we got the sister Andra Day here.  She jokes “I usually like to underpromise and overdeliver.” But she nails it.  She sounds amazing.  It is by far the best song of the day and a great song in general with a great old-school soul sound.

Common ends with this great rhyme

a president that trolls with hate
he don’t control our fate because god is great
when they go low when we stay in the heights
I stand for peace, love and women’s rights

Later, in “Let Go,” vocalist and August Greene collaborator Samora Pinderhughes sings of overcoming darkness within yourself and finding hope at the bottom of Pandora’s box. It’s about releasing the demons so the hands can hold the blessings.

Common says they first called it “Nirvana” because it reminded them of Nirvana “the group from the 90s who we all love.”  (I love that he had to qualify that).

Pinderhughes, sings “I need to let go.”  It’s such a nice sentiment with a groovy opening bass line and pretty keys at the end.

I love the idea of hip-hop rising to this terrible moment in our history and working together to make things better.

[READ: December 4, 2017] Pelé: The King of Soccer

When I was a kid, Pelé was the be all and end all of soccer.  He was the man like nobody else was.  So I have been surprised in the previous two decades or so to find that he is barely mentioned among the greats.  And I have a theory about that.

Most of the people who care about soccer are not from the States (this is changing a little).  And most of the people I know who support soccer are from Europe.  Pelé is Brazilian and, more importantly, he defeated a lot of Europeans.  Plus, and this is probably the real crux, Pelé was instrumental in introducing soccer to the U.S.–right when I was impressionable enough to fall for it.  My then close friend’s family was really into soccer and we went to a New York Cosmos game (I wonder when that was.  Did I see Pelé play?  I must have).

Anyhow, Pelé was a pretty amazing player, and I’m glad to have this book confirm that for me.  What’s interesting about this book, though, is that it also talks about his personal life.  He was amazing for the kids of Brazil, but a little less amazing for his family (I was surprised to see his terrible personal life in there, primarily because this is a kids book.  But it’s important not to gloss over that kind of thing, too).

I also realized that I knew absolutely nothing about Pelé.  Like, nothing at all.  So this was a great book to fill me in. (more…)

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ny928SOUNDTRACK: COMMON-Tiny Desk Concert #569 (at the White House–October 4, 2016).

comonFor the first time in Tiny Desk history, they moved the desk from Bob’s corner of the office to The White House.  Not a bad move.

Boilen explains:

the White House called and said they were putting on an event called South by South Lawn, a day-long festival filled with innovators and creators from the worlds of technology and art, including music, we jumped at the chance to get involved. We chose Common as the performer and the White House library as the space.

I don’t know much about Common.  And, I don’t know what his album tracks are like.  But for this concert, Boilen explains:

Common put together a special six-piece band of close friends that includes the great Robert Glasper, with his eloquent and delicate touch, on keyboards and Derrick Hodge, whose music spans from hip-hop to folk and has made a big imprint on the world of jazz, on bass. Common also asked his longtime friend and collaborator Bilal to sing on two songs.

I didn’t know his lyrics, but I found his songs to be thought-provoking and smart. Perfect for the White House library.  But that is apparently what Common (who used to be known as Common Sense) is all about: “morality and responsibility continue to play significant roles in his songs”

Common plays four songs: three brand new songs, along with one classic, “I Used To Love H.E.R.”

“I Used To Love H.E.R.” is a very clever ode to hip-hop in which he uses a woman as a metaphor for the genre. It’s really well done.  “Letter To The Free” is about how slavery has not really been abolished–it has just turned into mass incarceration.  “The Day The Women Took Over” is an ode to women and certainly sounds like a song that was written for the woman who was then in the White House and the woman who should have been our next president.  “Little Chicago Boy” is a tribute to his father–a man that Common has always respected.

Musically, the group sounds great–a light, jazzy feel with some great flute from his sister and perfect playing from the rest of the band.

The blurb ends

Common told us that he’d been invited to the White House many times before, including by Michelle Obama for a poetry reading back in 2011, but he was thrilled by the prospect of performing his music during Barack Obama’s final months as president.

And with the Great Liar presumably heading to the White House, this may be the last time any musician I’d want to hear will appear there again.

[READ: March 10, 2016] “Three”

This story was told in three parts with a narrative bookend holding it together.  I had to reread the “introduction” after reading the whole story to see what an interestingly crafted tale this was.

The intro begins “This is an account of three people who died.  Quite recently, one after the other….  They weren’t important, as the wide world defines ‘importance.'”

And then we meet the three people who all lived in this provincial town in the north of Italy.  She says they share no real connection either, except “purity of spirit.”

The first person was her mother-in-law Ombretta.  She was never intrusive to the narrator and even though the narrator was her son’s second wife, there was never any weirdness about that either.  There was a big celebration for her 90th birthday.  Soon after, she took ill.

And this is when the narrator realized how much she had fallen in love with Nonna Ombretta.  And as part of her summation of Ombretta’s death we learn some interesting details about her. (more…)

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commitSOUNDTRACK: KANYE WEST-Late Registration (2005).

I lateregcan’t get over how much I’ve been enjoying Kanye West’s music as of late.  So much so that I went back and bought Late Registration.  I wanted to check out his early stuff, so naturally I started with…his second album.  And it’s a really enjoyable, soulful, gospel-filled rap album. Complete with Kayne’s bizarre, humorous and often offensive lyrics.

Musically the samples are wonderful—they create a very specific feel of pop soul that both works with and sometime against the lyrics.  The album suffers from two things that I’ve found I do not like in rap, and in articular in Kayne’s albums.  It bugs me when rappers intro their songs with several “uh, yeah”s.  I don’t know why but it does and that’s how Kanye opens the disc.

And, I wish there weren’t so many guests on the record.  While I understand the guest singers who provide backing vocals, I don’t get all the guest rappers (and there are a lot: Paul Wall, GLC, Lupe Fiasco, Common, Game, Jay Z, Really Doe, Nas, Cam’ron Consequence).  I mean, I’m not here for them, so why devote so much time to others, it makes you seem like you couldn’t thin of enough to say (and we know that’s not true about Kanye).  After a few listens, I have grown to appreciate the guests, but I like Kayne’s style so much that the other guys are just distractions.

Late Registration is largely produced by Jon Brion, who has made some amazing music with Fiona Apple and Aimee Mann—and while it is certainly stripped down Brion, the flourishes that Brion often employs are apparent here.  Like the tinkly pianos and farty bass that opens “Heard ‘Em Say.”  There’s some falsetto R&B-esque vocals from the singer from Maroon 5 here—I had no idea he sang like that.  It fits very well with the song.  And the instrumental section at the end is very Brion.

“Touch the Sky” uses a long sample (slowed down quite a bit) of Curtis Mayfield’s “Move on Up.”  But the sample is so much of that original song that it almost seems like cheating.  Except that he has slowed it down and modified it somewhat, and…his raps work perfectly with it.  The other really crazy sample is from Gil Scot-Heron which samples “Home is Where the Hatred Is.”  The strange thing is that the song is 1:44 and the last 45 seconds of the song are just Scot-Heron’s song playing along by itself.  It’s weird to have given up that much to another song…but it sounds great.

“Gold Digger” is a very funny song about, well, gold diggers.  The topic isn’t new (the fact that it samples an ancient Ray Charles song attests to it), but the chorus of “I ain’t saying she’s a gold digger, but she ain’t messin’ with no broke niggers” is great.  There’s also an intro section with Jamie Foxx doing his now patented Ray Charles.  It’s a pointed song but done with a very funny twinkle in his voice (the Kayne twinkle).  “Drive Slow” is a cool slow-tempoed number with a great sample from Hank Crawford and an interesting slowing effect at the end of the song.  “Crack Music” is a great political song equating making records to selling crack.  The metaphor works well.  And this is one of Kayne’s strong pro-black songs.  It’s really powerful.

The surprising thing is the two really sensitive songs: “Hey Mama” which is a sweet song to his mother in which he promises to go back to school and get his doctorate and “Roses,” which is an angry but beautiful song about his grandmother being in the hospital.  There’s a great verse about her being poor and therefore not getting the best care: “you telling me if my grandmother was in the NBA right now she’d be okay”   As well as a line about a nurse asking for his autograph while they are worried about his grandmother—although, realistically, how often is a nurse going to meet a star like Kayne?  The end of the song has some great soulful crooning by (as far as I can read) an uncredited singer.  And I feel like Brandy, who opens up the next song really falls flat in comparison to this unnamed singer (I don’t care for the way newer black singers wail their scales).  But the Etta James sample of “My Funny Valentine” that floats through “Addiction” is gorgeous.

“Diamonds from Sierra Leone: is a surprisingly political song that samples “Diamonds are Forever.”  There’s two version on the album.  I like the remix featuring Jay-Z a lot less, in part because I’ve never been a huge Jay-Z fan, but also because his verses completely interrupt the flow of the song.  “We Major” has  a very retro, almost easy listening vibe. There’s a lot of backing vocals going on and they remind me somewhat of Ben Folds Five’s backing vocals (which is pretty weird, I suspect). This song is interesting for its talk of worrying about daughters—as with many rappers, women are bitches and hos unless they are your grandma, your mama or you daughter—which is kind of awkward, really.

“Celebration” is perhaps the weirdest juxtaposition of contents.  It’s a celebration, bitches.  A celebration apparently about the fact that he and a woman (who had a fatty) accidentally had a baby (“You my favorite accident”).   That line makes it sound like the child is at the party, which makes the chorus “Grab a drink, grab a glass, after that I grab your ass” hard to fathom.

 “Gone” has a nifty piano melody (and some cool interstitials very Brion-infused melodies) that plays under Cam’ron and Consequence’s raps.  The song is kind of a muddle (although a funny muddle) until Kanye comes in at around 4 and a half minutes.  I really like the way the album ends: with Kayne rapping “Sorry Mr West is gone” and the music completely cutting off.

The bonus tracks include the original of “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” and “We Can Make It Better” (which features Q-Tip, Talib Kweli, Common and Rhymefest). It’s an interesting track (especially the sped up backing vocals) but it seems like a bit of a throwaway (which is surprising given the number of guests).  “Late” is a unlisted bonus track which is very strange.  There’s lots of “ah ha ha has” in a posh sounding falsetto).  But there’s some witty lines in here, especially this verse:

They said the best classes go to the fastest
Sorry Mr. West there’s no good classes, and that’s what yo’ ass get
Not even electives? Not even prerequits?
You mean I missed my major by a couple of seconds?
Now I’m in the shop class or the basket weavin
With all the rest of the muh’fuckers underachievin

So Kayne is clever and stupid.  A great rapper and a not so great singer.  And amazing producer and a good song writer.  And this is as good an album as I’ve heard it was.

[READ: August 8, 2013] The Commitments

I have been reading a number of big, heavy books lately (which I have yet to post about…later in the week), so I decided to take a break with a light, fun book. And one that I’ve read before (and seen the movie of many times).  I looked on the inside cover where I wrote the date of acquisition (a thing I did for a while until I realized it was kind of silly, and yet I’m glad i did it here) October 1993, almost twenty years ago.

But aside from Jimmy playing songs on vinyl, there’s very little that’s dated about the album–which may even be the point of the book.

This is the story of a bunch of misfits in Ireland who join together to form a soul band.  The nucleus of the band is Jimmy Rabbitte, a local kid who lives and breathes music.  He had Frankie Goes to Hollywood before anyone else and he knew they were shit before anyone else.

Some of his mates have started a band (called hilariously And And! And) which plays new wave.  Jimmy tells them they should play soul instead.  He plays them some James Brown and they love it.  Which leads to the talk of music and sex.  And they are really into it.  And then there’s  the oft quoted line from the movie: “The Irish are the blacks of Europe. And Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland. And the Northside Dubliners are the blacks of Dublin. So say it once and say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud.”

And so they begin a quest to find the rest of the band.  Jimmy puts an ad in Hot Press (the Irish music magazine) and interviews everyone (some very funny jokes in there).  And the recruits form a crazy quilt of characters.  (more…)

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