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Picks 1/14/2013

Saw Moodymann the other night for the LIFT 3rd Anniversary and I’ve gotta say it was one of the best parties I’ve ever been to. An immaculately tuned soundsystem in a small dark room thick with weed smoke and incense, and then my man KDJ drops a few Dilla tracks at about 2:30am. As he would say, “It’s like y’all in my living room right now.”

Gig Friday was poppin’. Geeman’s “Bang’t” sounded incredible in the room, and a huge sing-along to D’Angelo topped it off. Big ups to all my boys, whether on the mic or droppin beats.

Got a gig this Thursday @ MOLAA w/ Clorofila. Pretty stoked, I played with them last year but had to cut out early. This time I’ll be on the floor gettin freaky.

Pulled from the crates, bins and stacks of Amoeba, Fingerprints and Zia.

Donald Byrd – Places and Spaces (Blue Note, 1975)

By now, my deep undying love for all things Donald Byrd should be apparent. Whether it’s his work as a sideman for Hank Mobley or Coltrane in the late ’50s, his work as a leader on Blue Note in the ’60s and ’70s or his almost smooth jazz/R&B in the ’80s, the man has had one of the more worthwhile careers a digger could ever hope to come across. His sound changed with the times, but the music is consistently soulful, melodic, and subtly joyful. Poring over his catalog is like charting the evolution of popular black music in the 20th century, moving from jazz to funk, to disco, to quiet storm and eventually hip hop, as experienced on Guru’s Jazzmatazz series.

This record has been on my wantlist for years, and although I see it occasionally, it always gets passed up because it tends to come with a steep price tag. My brother and I have a ritual where whenever I visit my folks in Phoenix we’ll go out and hit a record store or two. Usually I wont pick up anything because I hate to carry shit on a plane, but this time at Zia was very different. I found this record almost instantly upon walking into the store, and when I saw it priced at $6 for a VG+ copy I almost leaped. I picked it up, found a few other scores and gladly carried them all onto the plane.

The record kicks off with “Change” and it’s an immediate change from Byrd’s prior electric work, which tended to be dark, and even the Mizell produced masterpiece Stepping Into Tomorrow had a nocturnal mood to it. Places and Spaces is very much a summer record, as the Mizell’s love for samba and Caribbean music shines and adds a very sunny and exotic quality to the album. “Change” kicks off with a sense of Carnival-esque excitement, then drops into a wonderfully funky Chuck Rainey bassline with Byrd soaring over the top. The strings are perfectly arranged, elegant but not over the top. This is a real peak time bomb, love it.

Taking the mood down a bit is “Wind Parade” (above) which is a soulful, languid track, perfect for lounging on the weekend or late night on the dancefloor. The track is pleasant and warm, and is a real pleasure to listen to. Opening up the flip, “Places and Spaces” is similar, but a bit on the sweet side. This is pre-quiet storm soul, and is basically some of the best stuff from that genre. Byrd hardly makes an appearance, but I’ve grown to trust the Mizells as much asthe man with the horn.

Ultimately though, this record can be summed up with “You and Music,” a masterful soul track that balances cheesiness with an abundance of human spirit and subtle funk. Kay Haith’s sweet vocals really carry the vibe, and help balance out Byrd’s remarkably unremarkable vocal talents. Not necessarily the greatest Byrd/Mizell jam, but certainly a damn good one. So glad to be able to put this on my shelf and in my crates.

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Yellowman – Zungguzungguguzungguzeng (Greensleeves, 1983)

PA! PA! PA! I flipped when I saw this real clean copy of this classic Dancehall bomb at Zia for the mad low price of $8. Goldenage Greensleeves dancehall records often fetch a pretty price, that is if the records ever turn up in LA at all. This was the diamond in the rough of the whole reggae/world/latin section in the store, but the score was very worth it.

Yellowman was one of the baddest of his day, revolutionizing the genre by making it raunchier, and branding a now familiar thuggish flair. His flow is fast and confident, with the ability to not only ride a groove, but to carry it.  His life has been riddled with strife, but it’s a beautiful thing to hear this man do what he does best.

Zungguzu” is one of the more famous dancehall songs, and it’s been sampled/voiced by everyone from 2Pac, Toyan, Beenieman, Blackstar, Junior MAFIA and quite a few more. The track is massive, especially as the Roots Radics band is incredibly groovy, keeping the riddims simple, but full of dynamic elements. And now is as a good as time as any to mention that the record sounds unbelievable, the mix is clear and the low end is pure subbass heaven. Yellowman is a straight up G, listening to his flow it’s easy to see not only the crossover and popularity of dancehall in NY hip hop of the late 80s, but the enduring influence of his vocal intonations and flow.

Tracks range from the more rocksteady sing-song vibe of “Good, Bad and the Ugly” to the harder, forward-looking dancehall style of “Friday Night Jamboree” (above), but overall the record is cohesive and full of bombs. Everytime I listen to the record I have a new favorite song, but as of this exact second it would be “Dem Sight the Boss,” which features a great contribution from Fathead whose lazy drawl and whine is a wonderful counterpoint to Yellowman’s flow. This is a great example of a slow song that has the ability to absolutely destroy a club – the bass looming and sweeping, ghostly organ and an easy chant to follow along to. Straight up G.

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Kassav’ – Love and Ka Dance (FM/Celluloid, 1979/1980s)

This is one of the better blind (deaf?) buys I’ve had in quite some time; I’d seen it a few times in the Caribbean section at Amoeba, but the laundry list of musicians kept me at a distance as I just assumed this was some typical imperialist culture vulture crap. But no, these guys (at least on this record) are the real deal. Parisian studio musicians applying elements of disco to more traditional music of the French Antilles. I fell in love with the music of Haiti a few years ago and have since amassed a sizable collection of francophone Caribbean music.

As I’ve said before, I’ve been inundated with records for the last month or so, and even though I’ve had this one since before Christmas, I only just put it on for the first time last week. The record struck me right away, the opener “Kassav'” (above) is a no-holds barred, no frills, disco stomper. The track features all the necessary qualities of my favorite Caribbean music: hypnotic rhythms, group vocals, fat basslines, funky horns and a deep sense of trance-like euphoria. At 10+ minutes the track is a rager and fortunately for us DJs, there is a nice little instrumental break in their, which flows into some absolutely mad percussion runs that beg to be played out.

Over on the flip, the rather pop-oriented “Nouvel” does well with salsa-indebted horns and P-funk leaning synth work, but the track is just a little too tame for my taste. The title track, “Love and Ka Dance” returns to disco and is really a huge treat. The track bumps along at midtempo, but the energy is carried with an Afrobeat influence in the horn lines and in the vocals. Lovely purchase.

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Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. city (TDE/Aftermath, 2012)

I don’t have to say shit about this record, you’ve heard it, you’ve read about it, danced to it, smoked to it, partied to it, listened to your non-rap friends talk about how amazing it is, and maybe even got naked to it. Yeah, it is the most cohesive, self-conscious, intelligent album-length narrative released in mainstream hip hop in quite some time. Yeah, it is the best hip hop record released in a while. But to me it’s a lot more than that.

The Chronic 2001 was the first CD I bought with lunch money I had saved (and for a fat middle schooler you know that’s a huge feat); I bought it the week it came out and I hid it from my strict parents. I snuck listens while my parents were at work or asleep. Only ever being to enjoy the record at full volume while on my headphones. 2001 was the first record I loved, the first record where I pored over liner notes, knew every word, knew the damn thing in and out. And for the few short years I had a car, the CD was more often than not testing the boundaries of the Camry’s bass range. So like most people with my affliction, I’ve been waiting for the fabled Detox for years (almost 14 to be exact) and with every delay, every setback, every new rumor about the album (“Shit, dog he’s working with the LA Phil!” or “Bishop Lamont gonna be his new Eminem!”) I held out hope, fueled by the rumors and blind desire.

Understandably, Dre has a big challenge to face up to, he’s been the backbone for the careers of NWA, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, the Game, 50 Cent and more, two milestone albums under his own name, as well as lending his production and/or voice to some of the most recognizable rap songs ever. It feels like there’s been a recent swell of artists coming out in defense of the often-marginalized rap producer – spreading a modern message of “give the drummer some.” And to be frank, even if it’s a track by Mike Will Made It or Just Blaze (guys who use tags), the producers behind some of rap/R&B’s biggest hits go under-appreciated by most listeners. Dr Dre is afforded a double edged sword of fame and name recognition that few other producers have ever had the pleasure of holding. I mean, what other producer could headline Coachella?

At this point in his career, why should he release an album under his own name when he’s still got a great ear for talent? If Detox were ever to come out, regardless of it’s objective quality, all scrutiny and criticism will have been magnified by years of waiting. It’s just smarter for Dre to executive produce, crafting masterpieces for other rappers. And get it straight, Good Kid is a masterpiece. Listening to this album, it’s miles away from Lamar’s Section 80; where 80 was juvenile and pretty unlistenable all the way through, Good Kid has that intangible quality of a classic to it. It sounds good, it feels good, it’s heavy with spirit and talent – but most importantly, Dre touched it. Unlike his Black Hippie cohorts whose debut full lengths have been good, but fairly unremarkable, this album is incredibly focused and primed for maximum accessibility.  Dre may not have made every beat (or even most), but you can sure as hell bet he cleaned up a lot of the Pro-Tools sessions, making sure each kick was hard and each string sample clean, making sure Kendrick’s flow sounded exactly how it needed to be. The diligence of Dre in the studio is widely documented, often taking the role of drill Sergeant, commanding all day voicing sessions. With a weaker man at the helm, nobody would be talking about how they’re sick of hearing Kendrick in the club, radio, your friend’s car or on Pitchfork. At the end of the day, Detox may never come out, but thankfully Good Kid did.

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