Tuesday, November 08, 2005

"I get mad when it comes to playin' Hip-Hop"

There are advantages and disadvantages of being a "newjack". A clear advantage for me is that you can afford to (or have an excuse to be...) a lot more selective with what you check for from the years before you were listening, or before you were even born. Most 'experienced' heads are happy to point you in the right direction as far as Hip-Hop that predates you is concerned, and the internet is especially helpful with the likes of review websites, mp3s on artists' sites, etc. What's more, a sufficient 'classic' collection can be bought for next-to-nothing thanks to eBay, with enough music to keep you 'studying' for months to come. The downside, however, is that no matter how cheap you got your digitally remastered copy of 'Nation of Millions', you just weren't there to nod your head to Chuck D thinking "Hell fuckin' yeah". It's nothing to be bitter about; everyone has to start somewhere and every fan of every type of music has "homework" to do in order to make that transition from liking something and being passionate about it.

But what has caused me to make this post - which probably does sound bitter and whiny, but fuck all y'all ;) - is a realisation that I was pursuing 1980s and early 1990s Hip-Hop in a fucked up way. So obsessed was I at grabbing albums confirmed as dope by others, that I forgot that I was supposed to be looking for shit that would improve my own experience with Hip-Hop. Don't get me wrong, the majority of albums recommended to me are off-the-meter dope, with most notable examples beig 'Critical Beatdown', 'Criminal Minded', 'The Low End Theory' (the list goes on...), but as a British female born in 1985 getting into Hip-Hop circa 1997/8, I was bound not to feel everything that had been certified by mostly American males in their teens and 20s, back when I was still blissfully shitting in my diapers. I am fortunate enough to have enjoyed 99% of the shit that I have backtracked on, and it just so happens that a cluster of albums I now consider to be the best ever released were dropped when I was aged around 6-10 years.

But I have also criminally overlooked a number of releases thanks to my said former method of investigating "old skool" Hip-Hop, and because of the sheer volume of stuff I wanted to catch up on. This comment is brought on by my recent acquisition of Queen Latifah's third album, the 1993 'Black Reign'. After owning it only for one month (and buying it by complete chance...£1 on eBay, whut!!), it is steady earning its place in my 'favourites' category, and the album is let down only by the fact that 'Black Hand Side' is SO FUCKING DOPE that I keep putting it on repeat. To hear a female emcee rip shit about everyday life - sex, love, death, violence and, ahem, 'U.N.I.T.Y.' is refreshing as hell (she says...12 years later!).

It's a shame we don't have enough mainstream female emcees like her right now - unashamed of their bodies, uncompromising in their lyrical content, and truly able to kick it alongside even the best of their male counterparts. Feel free to hit up the comments and recomend some more shit to me (and not the other QL joints, they're on my when-i-get-some-fucking-money list)

So without further adeiu, here's mp3s of just 3 of my standout tracks on this pretty-much flawless album:

Black Hand Side
I Can't Understand

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Monday, November 07, 2005

Fuck this underground bullshit...we at ground level baby

So what the hell does it mean to be an underground group or artist? Well I don't know anymore.

I used to pride myself for keeping in touch with "underground hip-hop", by which I meant checking for shit that wasn't on the radar for most people. I always looked at underground artists as those who hadn't achieved any sort of commercial success. Some people label underground hip-hop as artists who don't have a big following.

Now there was a time when Dilated Peoples were underground hip-hop, they even prided themselves on being so. Then one day I switched on the T.V and the muthafuckas were on MTV with Kanye West in their video. Now nobody is pretending that shit being played on MTV at prime time is underground. So why are people still insisting they’re underground?

The biggest confusion for me has come this year. I know a lot of people who call MF Doom the best MC in underground hip-hop. Now I always considered MF Doom an underground artist, I mean he doesn't push numbers, your average person on the street doesn't know who he is and only those people who are really into hip-hop know about him. Wrong.

People I know who won't even touch hip-hop records known who MF Doom is. He was on the Gorrilaz album for fucks sake; I've see 14 year old kids going from the Pop section to the hip-hop section in HMV, looking at his shit. Dude is getting known as "that hip-hop guy in the mask". Now let me get one thing straight, I have no problem with this at all. He is dope as hell, he's probably my favourite artist in the game right now so fair play to him for getting the props he has deserved for years now. The issue I have is with people still acting like he's some sort of fucking secret. If people around the world know who you are, they buy your records, you're on an album that charts in the Pop charts....I don't think you're underground anymore.

Ok, so he isn't pushing mad numbers. "The Mouse and the Mask" is riding high in the indie charts but he's not going platinum or anything. My point is sales or popularity can't be a barometer for seeing if someone is underground or not. Shit, what about Common? A few years back people were calling him underground and now "B.E" is pushing numbers, HMV are playing it in their stores and he's on every show going. Yet nobody would go as far as to call him commercial either. So underground zealots need to step off because it is them rather than the artists making this shit up.

So what is my point with all this? Well this "underground" thing is bullshit right now. It means nothing. Right now I know a lot of heads calling One.Be.Lo the hottest thing on the underground. If he signs a deal with Interscope tomorrow and releases an album that only sells 10,000 copies, what is he then? See its bullshit.

With the internet, shit travels fast. If Doom drops a new track right now it's around the world before you know it. Yet this buzz doesn't always mean sales numbers, so is that still underground?

So what am I ranting about here? The use of the term underground? Well no I guess not, personally I still call One.Be.Lo "underground hip-hop" (which I know sounds completely hypercritical). So that's not it.

The fact that people use sales and popularity (which isn’t the same thing these days), to judge whether someone is "underground"?

Yes, shit can't go down like that anymore. I consider those artists underground who aren’t even on the radar for people who aren’t serious hip-hop heads.

I guess the reason I'm so up in arms about this comes down to something we've touched upon in Peace, Prosperity and Paper a few times. Hip Hop is in a stage right now where people are determined to put labels on things. Once they've done that, people are determined to stay within their comfort level. So it fucks me off that people are using this "underground" bullshit to define what they "should" or "shouldn't" listen to. “MF Doom is underground so I’m checking for him, Fuck Aftermath, Fuck Interscope, Fuck Def Jam” type people. Fuck You. You would rather a dope artist sells only to about a thousand people and has to hold down another job? Rather than getting some paper and setting himself/herself up and getting their music out to a wider audience? Fuck that.

Right now I know more non hip-hop fans who know MF Doom than know Young Jeezy or Juelz Santana. Now I'm in the UK so that counts for something, but either way it is clear to say the line between underground and commercial artists is no longer clear cut, and that is no bad thing. The point is, it doesn't matter anymore. It's not a case of underground = dope and commercial = crap. MF Doom isn't underground anymore but who cares. Don't let that be the reason for listening or not listening to him.. Those people going round saying "Doom is selling out son, Fuck DangerDoom and The Gorillaz", is what is wrong with hip-hop in 2005. He's not underground anymore, get used to it because that is no bad thing. If you aren't happy more and more people are experiencing this music that we have had for years now then you're part of the problem facing hip-hop right now.

Of course people can call MF Doom "indie". That might be a problem if he signs with a major, you see what I mean. Fuck this bullshit. If this rant makes no sense then I’m not surprised.

So anyway, as of now I'm rolling like this....

MF Doom, Common, Dilated Peoples etc = Ground Level.

Yep shit is on ground level so go and cop it. Peace.

MF Doom & Rza - Biochemical Equation
From "Wu Tang Meets The Indie Culture". A big time group helping take indie artists to a wider audience and make damn good hip-hop, now that's what I'm talking about.

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Thursday, November 03, 2005

the fifth element goes digital

Let's be frank - the music video has become the fifth of element of hip-hop. Moreso than any other genre, the rap video has come to be as much a form of expression in the culture as any of the four elements. Arguably, given that bombing and breaking aren't always as relevant to every rap artist or consumer, one could argue that the music video has become possibly the third most important medium of expression in hip-hop. Through the likes of MTV and BET, the grandiloquent imagery of this unique visual artform has slowly become a staple part of not only hip-hop culture but more generally our cultural zeitgeist, as evidenced by the adoption of phrases like "bling" into the Oxford English dictionary. So like I said, the music video is un-officially the fifth element. ¿Comprende?

So when Apple announced that they would start shipping the Ipod with video and more importantly, that the Itunes would start selling music videos, I almost peed on myself (well - not really but you get the idea). Finally - we'd be able to download quality copies of our favourite music videos for just a couple of dollars. Imagine, anything and everything being available at the click of a mouse button. No more would will I have to make video pause-tapes for my own personal archival purposes. Welldone Itunes.

That said, I readily acknowledge that Itunes won't be the first to make videos available on the net – on the contrary, guys like Kobra have been encoding and releasing rap videos through their own sites and P2P engines for years. In fact, I have a couple hundred music videos (many of them encoded by Kobra) that I have downloaded and archived over the years. However, the problem with digital videos in the past has been that one could never be too sure on the quality (this is of course less of a problem now with encoding technology coming of age), you were also typically restricted to the preferences of whoever ripped the videos (Kobra's always been big on Jigga videos) plus you usually had to put up with magnified pictures of scantly clad women or Tupac at the beginning of videos that the rippers use as their tags. But I really never complained - like I said, I happily downloaded 100's of MPEG videos over the years. With Itunes now selling videos, provided your favourite video is in-store you are at least guaranteed a DVD quality download (Itunes will support both QuickTime and MP4/DivX) and that it will be free from all the unnecessary prepubescent twaddle that rippers employ as tags. Videos direct to the consumer will benefit the artist too by creating a new revenue stream, that should help pay for video production costs or simply serve as an extra form of income for the artists (but then I still question whether artists have ever seen much of that Itunes money...industry rule 4080). Hopefully overtime though the net effect of the recent Apple announcement will mean that rappers will be more likely to put out interesting videos and begin to consider releasing more videos from an albums. An even more interesting proposition maybe that rappers may start releasing multiple versions of videos with the hope that the revenue from music video sales will help justify the extra costs. The thought of being able to sell videos like singles could in itself have an amazing impact on the hip-hop industry, as artists may be willing to make videos for fans regardless of whether their record company gets behind it (just imagine back in the day, Nas releasing a complete set of videos for Illimatic solely to please the fans). Prior, to the Apple announcement, hip-hop had already begun to understand the need to independently produce videos solely to meet the demands of fans - take for example 50 ]Cent creating a complete set of videos for The Massacre album (from watching the videos...many were obviously self-funded) and Kanye West privately funding multiple alternative videos for Jesus Walks.

So, it's early days – Itunes video store launched with just 2000 videos. Not much considering what's out there but hopefully enough videos to get consumers interested and more importantly, enough videos to get the record companies behind the concept. Overtime, I am hoping that the record companies start re-releasing through Itunes and other similar websites, lot's of "classic" rap videos. The idea of re-releasing videos would be conceptually similar to the way record companies re-release "classic" 12" and albums every couple of years. If your anything like me, you already currently have a milk crate full of scratchy VHS tapes with your favourite music videos and you possible also have a couple of DVD-ROMs with MPEG videos downloaded over the preceding 10 years. So the thought of finally being able to download quality copies of these videos would simply be r-i-d-i-c-o-l-o-u-s.

Anyway, here's a list of videos I am looking forward to downloading through Itunes some time soon (I guess this would be a list of my favourite videos?) - in no particular order:
Mobb Deep – "Shook Ones Pt II"
Illegal – "Get Buzy"
Ice Cube – "It was a good day"
Nas - "The World is Yours (remix)"
Fat Boys – "Fat Boys"
Flash and The Furious Five – "The Message"
PE – "Night of the Living Bassheads"
EPMD – The Big Payback
ATCQ – "Scenario"
Wu-Tang – "Triumph"
El-P – "Deep Space"
The Roots – "What they do"
Warren G – "Regulate"
Dr Dre – "Dre Day"
Busta Rhymes and ODB – "Woo Hah (Remix)"
Raekwon – "Ice Cream"
Pharcyde - "Drop"

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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

No One Broadcasts Louder Than…

There’s very little dispute about the importance of Public Enemy to Hip Hop, the only debate is their ‘relevance’ in modern day Hip Hop.

That debate is pointless though. Seriously, what the fuck are you bandwagon jumping motherfucks talking about?

Have all the issues PE were speaking about in 88 gone? Does inequality not exist anymore? Are Governments the world over not corrupt anymore?

The reality is that PE are probably more ‘relevant’ now then they’ve ever been.

In the 80’s and early 90’s shit was a lot more overt, Thatcher and Reagan didn’t give a flying fuck about hiding their objectives or their methods in comparison to the modern regimes in the UK and the USA.

The problem is most of you just don’t care do you?

Even after all the shit that’s happened in these early days of the new millennium, you just don’t care or have fallen into the mindset of “well there’s nothing I can do about it”.

Be honest with yourself you know that statement is true, I know because it’s partially true of myself.

That’s where the supposed lack of ‘relevance’ comes from along with the mindset of “music is to dance to not raise a fist in protest” or for netheads to textually masturbate over flows and clever word play rather than the actual content or meaning of the lyrics. Artists can rhyme positively about anything from domestic violence to selling crack to their community, that’s apparently more ‘relevant’ than Chuck giving his point of view on politics.

Defensively you’ll all say “They’ll never make another album like ‘It Takes A Nation’ again. Nothing could compare to the impact that made.” You’d be right, doesn’t mean that their new music isn’t any good though does it?

No Kanye, Just Blaze, (insert today's hot super producers name here) haven’t produced anything on the album. Does that mean it’s wack?

For those not stuck in the band wagon jumper mindset and who judge a record on its own merits rather than how many daps it’ll get in the Hip Hop press or from the nets large community of elitists then give ‘New Whirl Odor’ a listen.

I’m not going to preach about it being the album of the year because it’s not. Is it worth your money? Hell yeah and not just because it’s PE.

Music’s there to be enjoyed, whether that’s to dance or to relax to but at the same time it’s also a form of communication. All artists communicate through their music; it doesn’t have to be political to have a ‘message’ or a meaning. Every record you listen to has a message, whether you consciously take note of the message or not, it’s there. With PE as usual you can’t help but notice it. Whether you want to think about what they’re saying or not is another matter…

There are no revolutionary ideas here. Addressing being poor and political corruption are hardly new concepts but it’s still something that deserves to be talked about and discussed by the people it affects, i.e. the majority of us.

Sonically the album is, in parts, reminiscent of the Bomb Squad style of production although still lacking the wall of sound (wait two years and you’ll hear that again… If the album notes are to be believed.)

Chuck is still the same Chuck, which is a good thing. Would you really want Chuck to be even trying to compete with the likes of Ghostface or Jay-Z in terms of his flow and word play? Fuck no. Chuck isn’t a wack MC though and while he may not be up on the metaphors and silky smooth flows his uniqueness continues to add to the PE experience.

With the album comes a DVD, which is actually enjoyable to watch unlike many other ‘free’ DVDs that come with albums. There are 4 music videos and 3 documentaries along with some pictures and shit… Not worth buying the album solely for but an interesting addition.

The advance has been on the net for a while now and no doubt all those who were interested have already checked it out, for the rest of you give it a listen if only to break the monotony of a lot of modern Hip Hop, especially the MTV endorsed Hip Hop and also the generic ‘underground’ stuff that’s out there now.

Bring That Beat Back
Check What Ya Listenin To

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