Home > 2012, chicago, dancehall, ehiopia, fusion, hip hop, House > Picks 10/29/12

Picks 10/29/12

Day late this week. You know I’m a diehard vinyl guy, but I do buy mp3s sometimes. Sorry if I disappoint. Also, my Amoeba pull was excellent, so I’m breaking it up – half now, half later.

– Pulled from a trip to Amoeba and an order from Boomkat.

Main Attrakionz – 808s and Dark Grapes II (Type, 2012)

A vital hip hop resurgence is currently in full effect, even to the degree of blogger minds declaring a second coming of the golden age. Main Attrakionz are highly representative of this “post-internet” hip hop movement that organically utilizes social media, drawing influences from every corner of the infinite span of fiber optic cable. The Oakland duo (wattup to the bay!) have emerged as one of the figureheads of the contemporary left-field low-fi hip hop movement and 808s is their brilliant calling card. To say that the release of this mixtape at the end of summer last year was well timed would be an understatement; the critical hype behind Clams Casino was frothing, A$AP Rocky’s first music videos had just dropped and Main Attrakionz tapped both artists for the standout track “Take 1.” But it wasn’t just that they tapped two hyped talents, it was that their own sound was comparable with the blunted headiness of Clams’ work, and their youngster street raps played the west coast parallel to A$AP’s Harlem tales.  Main Attrakionz were able to ride both waves to land at a place where a year later 808‘s is a more enduring work than either Instrumentals or LiveLoveA$AP.

It really took me a while to warm up to Main Attrakionz; the mixtape sounded too foreign from the hip hop I was used to. Squadda B’s voice and style are so different, I imagined the beats too subtle and I (naively) couldn’t locate any real bombs on here. But as every digger knows – there are records that you find, and then there are records that find you. I’ve learned to love the pulsing 808 hits, Squadda’s strained flow, and the thick smokey instrumentals. Tracks vary from mellow heady tracks like “Diamond of God” to real street bangers like “Nothin Gonna Change.” MondreMAN and Squadda aren’t the most impressive rappers in a Busta/Freddie Gibbs way, but they are dexterous in the way they ride the beat, melting words together or apart, lacing them with emotion and letting them linger for effect.

What I really dig most about this record is how fucking honest these lyrics are, there’s little posturing here, few gangster fantasies, no Scarface worship, and few uses of the word “bitch” or its synonyms. These two aren’t pretentious conscious rappers, but in their own way Squadda B and Mondre keep it real, keep it meek and are transparent in their love for the music. Maybe its because this is a street mixtape, maybe its because they were 19 when it was recorded, or maybe its because they’re a product of a generation that is trying to rise above the bullshit that has been mainstream rap for the last 15 years. Whatever it is, this is going to go down as one of the most important rap records released in this generation. Download it for free over at MISHKA – go ahead, they want you to. (And yes, they dropped a new record this week – it’s dope go buy it)

++

+++

Mahmoud Ahmed  – Alemye (Amha/Mississippi/Change, 1974/2012)

I first heard Mahmoud Ahmed on the 2008 Believer music issue CD and his track was an easy standout amongst the vibrant tracklist. There was something about the soulful delivery and the hauntingly penetrating music that really took hold of me. That compilation CD, but really that song in particular played a very important role in my life that summer. Among other things, it piqued my interest in African music, and thanks to an industrious roommate of mine, I pretty soon had a majority of the Ethiopiques compilation series. There is really nothing quite like the sound of “ethio-jazz,” a descriptor that can describe anything from northern soul, soulful ballads, funk bombs or dense groovy instrumental explorations. The only characteristic one can draw upon is that the music is dark, haunting, and unbelievably entrancing.

This is the third Mahmoud Ahmed vinyl reissue to come out in recent years and may be the best repress yet. Recorded in 1974, this album is buoyed by the unbelievable musicianship of the funky Ibex Band. The group is tight, and the members are highly capable of demonstrating their individual talents in nuggets of sound that are as rewarding as the star vocalist himself. On the wonderful rendition of the Ethiopian standard, “Tezeta,” the band stretches out  into a deep funk groove that burns slowly, moving forward in perpetual motion, drawing the listener into a hypnotic state. The recording has a very raw, low-fi feel to it, but if anything, the atmosphere and ambiance are further increased – giving these songs a further spiritual impact. Across the album Mahmoud Ahmed channels incantations and sermons, casting forth tales unknown by words, but understood by tone. Take a listen to the conviction in his voice on “Wogenie,” as he is accompanied by simmering organ, muted horn stabs, faint wah guitar, and thick throbs of bass.

The music moves in unison, engaging in unspoken dialog with Ahmed, a communion which makes the entire album feel like a deeply religious experience. It is that undeniable spirituality that draws me to the sound of Ethiopian music, and Mahmoud Ahmed is often the conduit. This classic sound has been enjoying quite a surge in popularity in recent years, having been sampled and reconstructed by artists from Gaslamp Killer to Nas to Ducktails. Thanks once again to Mississippi for the excellent reissue.

++

+++

Dre Skull – Loudspeaker Riddim (Mixpak, 2012)

To be perfectly honest, I basically bought this for the unbelievable Popcaan voicing above. The video has been on constant repeat since it came out, and it especially enjoys plays when I am drunk, attempting to youtube DJ at a friend’s house. I love the vibrant colors, the energy and posturing of the youths, while the tour of the streets of Jamaica is a wonderful match for Popcaan’s strong and focused social narrative.

The lyrics are representative of the classic reggae ghetto blues, opening with “Sad to say/White people ah bawl/Indian people ah bawl/Black people ah bawl” in order to right away reach out to the universal struggle that faces those who find themselves both poor and young in a world that is governed by those who are old and wealthy. It is a song of desperation, “Wey di system do fi ghetto yute? Nutten./Every day anodda madda bawl” but the singer also offers warm advice, “Suh ghetto yute don’t mek nuh silly plans/Believe in yourself be ah man.” The voicing is filled with emotion, and it is astoundingly evident that these are not just lyrics, but a real glimpse of Popcaan’s worldview.

It also helps that Dre Skull’s riddim is really great. The bass is warm, the snares sound bright and the synths reach upwards, giving the track a larger than life quality to it. As evidenced by Beenie Man’s “Hot Like Fire” voicing, it lends itself both to a focused narrative as well as being a fucking banger. Dre Skull is on the cusp of stadium sized top-40 hits as he masterfully crafts tracks that are energetic and modern, yet are not dumbed down, populist beat-by-numbers dance tracks. He’s already worked with some of the biggest names in dancehall (Sizzla, Beenie Man, Vybz Kartel), and recently worked on Snoop Lion’s album, and I don’t expect him to back down anytime soon.

++

+++

Herbie Hancock – Head Hunters (Columbia, 1973)

I first bought a copy of this album when I was 18 or 19 and not really familiar with jazz at all. I probably listened to it a few times, grooved to “Chameleon” and then relegated it to some dark corner of my collection. I eventually sold it in a big purge and for years now I’ve been meaning to pick up another copy.

Listening to “Chameleon” now, I’m completely blown away by how advanced this track is. That bass is so thick and funky, Harvey Mason’s drumming is supertight and the recording is so clear and vibrant. It’s really amazing to me that a track this deep was recorded in 1973 as it is a huge precursor to jazz-funk, boogie, and deep house. Hancock is absolutely prime on this track as he switches between clavinet, rhodes and a then brand new Arp Odyssey; and playing them each in a way that truly fits the sound of the instrument. A truly massive track that still works in almost any context today. iI it doesn’t make your head bob, your feet tap or your hips grind, then you obviously are not listening to the song.

The rest of the album pares down the boogie and is more straight-forward jazz based. Paul Jackson is funky as hell and Harvey Mason seals in the pocket. All of the songs have a deep groove and an explicit sense of adventure and cosmic exploration. The beer bottle whistle on “Watermelon Man” is just as iconic as the album cover, and this type of sound exploration is truly one of the elements that separates Herbie Hancock from his peers. He reaches for tones, arrangements, instruments, and moods not yet conjured by other jazz players. This record is one of the most pivotal in all jazz and is a clear highlight in the often-brilliant catalog of Herbie Hancock. I believe there is a repress out now, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to track down a copy of this classic.
++

+++

Disco – D – Dance Tracs (Alleviated, 1986/2012)

I’m a big Larry Heard fan, and as far as the Chicago scene is concerned, I don’t think there are any other producers in 80s that could match Heard’s soulful machine funk. His tracks always had a very warm human quality to them, and little of his catalog can be deemed as tired or cheesy, unlike a lot of his Chi-city peers. His synth tones are warm, thick and spacey, with neat rolling melodies that are too subtle to be hummable, but are masterful in keeping a solid groove.

Dance Tracs is Larry Heard’s second release and is one his most rare, so it is nice to see it get a reissue. Listening to it now, over 25 years since its release, I can’t help but think about how the dancers connected to this music when they were getting buck in the club/warehouse/community center. I can imagine DJs starting a night off with some Prince, George Clinton, Kraftwerk, Egyptian Lover, but what did the crowd think when they heard the repetitive melody and sharp claps of Larry Heard’s quite unQuincylike “Beat It“? This is music with subtle overtones, tracks that are long and repetitive, rhythmic and trance-inducing – aka exactly what I want to be dancing to when I need to escape the pressures of the outside world.

The B-side (the A on the original issue) is three tight and funky rhythm tracks. No keys, all drum machine. In Larry Heard’s RBMA lecture he talks about his history as a drummer but also his extensive practice creating patterns on drum machines. This talent really shines on these tracks. Any of them would still work today, as the kick is hard, the hi-hats crisp, yet splashy and the claps primed for climax. Overall, this is an essential piece of Chicago House history by the one of the masters of the genre. Dance.

++

+++

DJ Spinn – What You Need (Lit City Trax, 2012)

In my experience, footwork tends to be a very divisive genre. The music is hyper, noisy, and as in your face as possible. Like most everyone else, I was obsessed with footwork battle videos before I got really into the music. The move was gradual, but I clearly remember the revelatory turning point when I caught another DJ at a party dropping a really great footwork set. And really, the music is not for everyone – it is very seriously intended for dancers and most tracks are made solely to throw down at battles,  never to be released.

That being said, the footwork scene has come into its own since Planet Mu issued the first Bangs and Works compilation two years ago. A few of the compilation’s standouts, DJ Rashad, DJ Spinn, and Traxman have pooled together to start the Teklife collective and Lit City label with the purpose of educating those outside of Chicago about how the South Side gets down. Spinn’s What You Need is the label’s second release and demonstrates the elder’s take on the style. Spinn shows that footwork is a way of life, not a rigid set of musical rules, and really draws widee influences from trap, baltimore house, 70’s soul, and of course, classic juke/ghetto. Where Rashad is really an innovative producer who is taking rhythm and tonal explorations to an almost academic level, Spinn acts as his foil, and often offers more straight forward and focused on tracks that are fun, functional and relatively “normal” sounding.

The record opens up with “She Turnt Up” (above) and Spinn lays his cards out with that unstoppable hip hop banger voiced by the teknitian himself.  It bounces at midtempo with hazy synths adding a thick atmosphere as the subs rumble and skip, while trap snares crack, allowing the smooth vocals to ride the groove into its catchy hook. To date I don’t see any footwork track having as much crossover potential as this party anthem. That vibe stays strong on the album, as Spinn gives a nod to classic ghetto house in his liberal use of sampling party kings like E-40, 2 Chainz, and 2 Live Crew. Sometimes his use of other artists is less a sample and really more of a remix, such as the stunning “Mercy” (the original will never sound the same again), or the subheavy refix of the Weeknd’s “What You Need.” The peculiarity of footwork – and particularly Spinn’s vision of it – is especially present on that track, as it has a smokey lightness weighed down by massive “rubbing”  subbass (listen to it on good headphones and you’ll see what I mean),  and skittering hi-hats with vocal samples that stutter and skip to the brink of annoyance, but then release into either a massive bomb or s laidback groove. And that’s the deal with Spinn’s record – as heard on “Do My Dance” – even when he drops a club banger, lean-back twerk track, the synth tones are almost too high pitched, the snares splinter a little too harshly, yet the groove remains undoubtedly alluring, and no doubt in a way that puts the dancer’s feet first.

  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: