Saturday, August 29, 2009

Some Real Time With Jay-Z

I set up the DVR to record HBO's Real Time With Bill Maher last night before I went out, and had a chance to watch it this morning. I watch the show regularly. I like the panel discussions, "New Rules", and even though Bill Maher does come off as a pompous, arrogant prick that sometimes belittles people, he often makes a great deal of sense. Plus, maybe people do need to be talked down to sometimes. He's not lying when he says this is a stupid country, and some tough love is probably needed to at least try to get people to wake the fuck up and stop being so thoughtless.

But, anyway back to hip hop. Jay-Z was on the show. No panel. Just he and Maher for maybe twenty minutes or so. It was fine to watch, but I was disappointed. I thought about it, and I realized why. It seems whenever he is interviewed for a non-hip hop audience we get the same interview. I guess because most of the people watching, it is assumed, do not know Jay or his music. The same questions are always posed, the same issues discussed. Inevitably, we have to hear the interviewer ask him to talk about how he doesn't write his rhymes down at all, and whether or not that's true. Well, all of us have known this since like the late 90's, so this topic is pretty annoying by now. And, I couldn't really tell from the way Maher posed the question if he knew how this came to be or not. He said he has been a long time fan though, so I'd think he would've came across the spoken intro to "Breathe Easy (Lyrical Exercise)" on The Blueprint. Which brings me to my own question: How many people are really listening to what is being said? Or, more importantly how it is being said?

A detailed breakdown of Jay-Z's above average rhyme skill is a subject for another post entirely. However, I noticed Maher mentioned how clever many of his rhymes are and was going to ask about some of them. But then, he didn't. He mentioned several rhymes that meant something to be sure (i.e. "I ain't crossover, I brought the suburbs to the hood", "I used to take for granted why I was put on this planet"), but he didn't delve into the intricate rhyme patterns, use of alliteration, consonance, allusion, etc. that make up so much of Jay-Z's best work. Instead, Maher chose to keep it simple for whatever reason, and Jigga did not help the conversation to go where it needed to either. And, that was his fault. The result was a wasted opportunity to really explore what makes the rhymes of Jay-Z better than everyone else's (most of the time, anyway).

When I said all of this to my wife, she joked that she would much rather see Jay go on Inside The Actor's Studio because James Lipton would break-that-shit-down. I had to agree. People actually in the hip hop community, and who's audience is the same have the ability to do a much better interview because they don't have to cater to those who are nowhere near being "in the know". All that surface shit has been covered already, so now we can go deeper and further. I've heard a few good interviews with Jay-Z over the years and even recently, but not nearly good enough. They spend too much time talking about beef and trends, and not enough talking about the art. What we really need is a hip hop scholar on the level of a James Lipton with all things acting, who can really explore what it means to be a great MC, and who can interview hip hop contributors in this way.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

In Case You Missed It...

This is one of many albums that you should definitely pick up if you missed it last year (check an earlier post for my whole listing of worthwhile albums in '08). Detroit's Elzhi, once (and still??) a member of Slum Village (a strangely mediocre group IMO) is simply one of the best MC's alive and rhyming today. This "debut" album entitled The Preface features several other notable Detroit MCs, but it's Elzhi himself who shines throughout this entire project. He seems to never run out of ill lines, and his concepts are original and well thought out. For example, check out the opening to "Guessing Game" and tell me you aren't curious to 'play'...

"Here we go (go) let's play the game (game)/ try to guess the word that I'ma use I'll explain (lain)/ I'ma end at each and every line just the same (same)/ you fill in the blank before I say it, that's the aim (aim)/...I welcome ya'll to the introduction/ to learn how to play here's the instructions/ a couple rules to show you how to gain function/ yo I'ma take a double, take a double syllable and split it down the middle so it's no longer even/ the first half stay the last half leavin'/ so now the end of the line sound deceivin'/ so figure out the word to match before I change the meanin'..."

What follows is an ingenious song idea that is perfectly executed with help from Black Milk's top-notch production, concentrating on what I tend to prefer in hip hop tracks, the drums. Black Milk, in fact, produces all but two tracks on The Preface...yet another reason to give it a listen (BM's solo effort "Tronic" is also one of the best albums of '08). The fun doesn't stop there though, as Elzhi proceeds to offer track after track of superior wordplay by anyone's standards. Few out today can match his talent.

If I had to, I might liken his style to Pontiac, MI's One Be Lo. However, if you've ever heard of One Be Lo, then you have probably heard this album already. The best thing about Elzhi is that he takes the time to come up with original material for his music. He's not satisfied with using the same old topics and trying to survive on punchlines alone (think Fabolous). On this album is an intricate journey through his dreams ("Talking in my Sleep"), an exploratory ode using nouns with names of colors in them ("Colors"), and many many more. And the whole thing isn't even concept-based. Elzhi's got tracks where he just rhymes about how nice he is too - only these songs prove it (see "Brag Swag" - fucking unbelievable). The best thing about The Preface is that it is interesting to the listener throughout. It's original. It's clever. It makes you think. And, it's dope in every way, start to finish.

Listen to Elzhi's album The Preface closely. Trust me, you will be amazed.

Monday, August 17, 2009

My Shadow Weighs A Ton

So, one hip hop artist that I absolutely love is K-Os. He's consistent, but rarely the same. He uses (and plays) live instruments, raps and sings, and successfully blends the borders between hip hop, blues, soul, rock, reggae, folk, and on and on. Clever concepts, witty lyrics, beautiful song structure. K-Os comes from Canada, a land with a flourishing hip hop scene right now. I'm afraid I'm gonna forget some, but a few other notables from Canada in recent years include Kardinal Official (Akon's label now), Saukrates (Redman's label, I think), DL Incognito, producer Marco Polo (most recently released an album with Torae on Duck Down), and, of course, the mainstream's current golden child (though undeniably talented on the mic) Drake.

I first heard of K-Os when I saw the video for "Commandante" off of 2004's Joyful Rebellion (Exit is the album prior). I thought it was cool, but it kind of got put on the back burner and then disappeared from my mind. Later, completely by accident, I came across his album online, remembered who he was, and decided to download track by track. I was amazed at what I heard. I must've listened to that CD 20 times in a row. Later, I made the purchase to support such a fresh voice in hip hop, and music in general. In 2007, K-Os released Atlantis, and this year brings a brand new album entitled Yes! Check it out and buy a copy if you like it. The first vid is a live performance. The sound quality's not great, but live footage rarely is unless professionally done. Just wanted to give a look at a show of his, live band, K-Os playing harmonica, etc. I have yet to witness him live myself. Vid#2 is the studio version of the same song though. Also, below is a third clip - the actual video for another track on the new album. Right now, I have to say that I like his last two a little better, but Yes! is growing on me by the day. Enjoy...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

G&E: A Hidden Gem...For Me

I first downloaded this new album from Cali's The Grouch & Eligh titled 'Say G&E!' after seeing Slug (of Atmosphere) was featured on a song. That alone said to me it's worth a listen. A closer look at the tracklist with features from Gift of Gab, Pigeon John, and Blu, and I was sold (ignoring the Mistah F.A.B. appearance).

I'm familiar with G&E, but I wouldn't consider myself a fan of either necessarily. I like the Living Legends crew work (of which they are members) for the most part - probably like many outside of the left coast, I first heard of them after getting into MURS. I also knew that The Grouch produced the first Felt album, the nearly three-deep collaborative effort between MURS and Slug which uses a different producer to contribute all of the music each time out - I personally think that 'Felt 2' produced by Atmosphere's Ant is much better. But, the twosome's solo efforts (of which there are A LOT) and side group projects haven't really grabbed me in the past.

Maybe they just don't have a sound that intrigues me, or lyrics strong enough to compensate. Or, maybe I just haven't been paying enough attention. To be honest, the first listen I gave this album was not without it's distractions and interruptions. I heard it once, and I guess because it didn't find it's way through my mind's static at the time I thought it was just average at best and moved on to something else. Never giving it another thought.

A few weeks ago though, a video post for "Boom", the Slug featured track, was posted. I gave it a look, thought it was cool. Not my favorite song, but I like Slug's flow a lot. I scrolled down to the c-section and saw one post that claimed that this was the worst track on the whole album. Oh, and that the album was their favorite of the year. Although I thought that claim of greatness was definitely a stretch, I thought there may be something I missed the first time around, so I pulled it back out and took it to the lab a second time.

Needless to say since I'm writing this post, I'd like to change my answer please. I was thoroughly impressed this time around. The album is full of orginal music backdrops to accompany the equally good lyrics in most cases. The guest verses fit in well with the duo, but never overshadow what they themselves bring to the table. The potent lyricism from Grouch & Eligh is never more prominent, however, than on the extremely bold and brave "River Runs Dry". I don't think I've ever heard a hip hop track about respecting the environment, and I have to applaud these two for having the balls to step up to the plate and do it - and do it well.

I'm really glad that I chose to give this album another chance. Proof that sometimes it's good to talk and listen to other heads out there on the internet. You may get educated on some good music that was right under your nose. 'Say G&E!' is on its way to becoming one of my favorite albums of the year. And now that I've realized it, I'll be making the purchase of an official copy as soon as possible. I'll also be on the lookout to support them live on the off chance that they do a show in Cincinnati some time soon.

Say G&E!!!!!!!