Tuesday, August 04, 2009

On Second Thought: The Shaken Up And Spun Out Over You Edition (Part II)

"Rebel To The Grain"---Blue Sky Black Death (LimeLinx)
"Rebel To The Grain"---Blue Sky Black Death (YSI)

*This track features original source material previously sampled on classic joints by the almighty Wu-Tang Clan . "The Way We Were/Try To Remember" by Gladys Knight & The Pips, Wendy Rene's "After Laughter (Comes Tears)", and "Is It Because I'm Black?" by Syl Johnson are a few examples of what's in the mix.

*Blue Sky Black Death, a Cali-based production duo consisting of Kingston and Young God, initially leaked "Rebel To The Grain" and "Slapbox With Jesus" in June 2007. Both tracks are firmly rooted in the early Wu-Tang aesthetic, but the Bay Area beatsmiths were remarkably innovative in their approach to revisiting the contents of RZA's bottomless crates.

*Currently, the joints are still pending official release as a limited 7" on Mush Records

*Blue Sky Black Death has a history of dropping beats for several Wu affiliates, including Holocaust, Sunz Of Man, Hell Razah, Shabazz the Disciple, and Prodigal Sunn.

Outside of the Clan circle, the duo has also worked (both independently and collectively) with many other stalwarts of the hip hop underground, such as Jean Grae, Jus Allah, Ill Bill, Ras Kass, Pep Love, Sabac Red, Chief Kamachi, Crooked I, Wise Intelligent, Awol One, A-Plus, and Mikah 9.

*Critically acclaimed for their masterful blending of samples with live instrumentation, the duo has received an enthusiastic nod from the likes of XLR8R, RapReviews.com, Allmusic, and PopMatters, in addition to earning a spot on URB's 'Next 100' list.

*Stay tuned to BSBD via MySpace

"Heart"---Cool Calm Pete (LimeLinx)
"Heart"---Cool Calm Pete (YSI)

*Released on the internets at the end of May, "Heart" was offered as a free and legal download courtesy of Def Jux Records. CCP fans remain hopeful that this digital-only single could trumpet the imminent release of the MC's long-awaited sophomore LP, Leonard Z.

*Once again, this joint was up for consideration as part of a Souled On Samples segment, but the fact that Pete engages and interacts with Nina Simone's vocals on the cut marginally qualifies it as a call and response/half-baked remake thing that's a little fuzzy in terms of categorization.

At any rate, I just mentioned several weeks ago that I'm skeptical about artists interpolating/sampling/chopping/emulating/shitting all over Nina Simone's work. Although CCP's hypnotically lazy wordplay doesn't match the caliber of Ohene's Nina Simone project on an intellectual level, I'm still thoroughly diggin' the rhymesayer's idiosyncratic approach to her material~ in.a.weird.way.

*If you aren't up on this crazy gifted MC/producer from Queens, NY, you should definitely check out Lost and the Loosies EP, as well as his work with the underground outfit Babbletron. Extra credit granted to my fellow geeks who elect to dig even deeper...

Souled On Sample:
*Stencil by Sinero

"Peace Of Mind"---Nina Simone (LimeLinx)
"Peace Of Mind"---Nina Simone (YSI)

*Sampled on "Heart" by Cool Calm Pete

*Written by Nick Woods and arranged by Horace Ott, Nina's rendition of this song first appeared on her 'Nuff Said! LP. It was also released as a B-side to the "Do What You Gotta Do" single in 1968 (RCA Victor 47-9602) and appears on several miscellaneous anthologies of her material.

*"Peace Of Mind", as well as the majority of the other tracks on Nuff Said!, was recorded at the Westbury Music Fair on April 7, 1968. From both a personal and historical perspective, this was undoubtedly one of Nina's most poignant and essential performances of all time. The show was held three days after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and her entire program that night was dedicated to his memory.

A very vocal and active participant in the civil rights movement, Simone made the following observation in her memoirs (I Put A Spell On You: The Autobiography Of Nina Simone):

"For a while people walked around in a kind of daze and I wept along with them, but I couldn't understand why they were surprised by Martin's assassination: we'd already lost Malcolm, Medgar Evers, Emmett Till, and hundreds, thousands of others down through our history. What happened on the 4th of April was no freak tragedy, it was the traditional white American tactic for getting rid of the black leaders it couldn't suppress in any other way. A desperate act by a country with nowhere to hide anymore. Stupid, too, because the thing that died along with Martin in Memphis that day was non-violence, we all knew that. It was a time for bitterness- almost funny if it hadn't been so sad."

*Three Dog Night also released a partial cover, "Intro Poem: Mistakes And Illusions/Peace Of Mind" on their 1971 Harmony LP.

The verdict? A valiant effort on the part of the popular American rock band, but you know...nothing surpasses Nina.

"A Change Is Going To Come"---Baby Huey (LimeLinx)
"A Change Is Going To Come"---Baby Huey (YSI)

(I initially posted this track in 2006, but the link is fucked and it definitely bears repeating)

*Written by Sam Cooke; first recorded by Cooke in December of 1963 at RCA's studio in Los Angeles. The song was released the following year, both as a single and on the Ain't That Good News LP.

*Cooke's inspiration for penning the classic tune was derived from a confluence of internal struggles and trying life experiences. As an artist and entertainer with broad commercial appeal, Cooke was perpetually tormented by the difficulty of balancing his personal convictions with the probability that taking a firm stance on racial issues would alienate his white audience. He aspired to writing more meaningful material than the light-hearted, bleached out, radio-friendly fare that sustained his popularity~ he became fully enthralled with the potency of protest songs such as Bob Dylan's "Blowin' In The Wind" (which Cooke honored with an outstanding cover).

The year that he wrote "A Change Is Gonna Come", Cooke and his bandmates made an attempt to register at a motel in Shreveport, Louisiana. Unbeknownst to them, they had entered a whites-only establishment, and the entourage was peremptorily arrested on a bullshit charge of disturbing the peace. This brush with the law was a particularly dehumanizing experience for Cooke, but it was certainly not an isolated incident. The singer suffered endless racial indignities throughout his lifetime and career, including being assaulted by police in Birmingham for drinking from a whites-only water fountain.

Cooke's impassioned lyrics bear a burdened sense of hopefulness that is undeniably rooted in the culmination of these painful and cataclysmic events. Having also endured the loss of his 18-month-old son earlier that same year, the strain and wearied optimism he struggled with is perfectly encapsulated in the lamentation/reconciliation of the final verse: "There have been times that I thought I couldn't last for long/but now I think I'm able to carry on/It's been a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come."

*Nearly a year after Cooke recorded the track, he was fatally shot at a hotel in Los Angeles. "A Change Is Gonna Come" was released as a single two weeks later, rapidly climbing the charts and gaining historical significance as the soul man's distinctly memorable farewell.

*An enlightening interview with Peter Guralnick, author of Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke, is posted at Jerry Jazz Musician for those who wish to dig deeper.

*"A Change Is Gonna Come" was ranked at #12 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time.

*The song has inspired an absolutely insane number of cover versions~ the most thorough list I know of can be found here. I'm only familiar with about half of the remakes cited, but Baby Huey's rendition is easily my favorite interpretation amongst those I've heard.

To briefly run down the history, I'll quote...ahem...myself:

Baby Huey's version appeared on his only album, The Baby Huey Story: The Living Legend. The LP was released on Curtis Mayfield's Curtom label in 1971, but unfortunately, Huey had passed away months prior to this, following a drug-related heart attack in a Chicago hotel room. Afterwards, The Baby Sitters briefly attempted to continue their career by replacing Huey with a teenage girl named Chaka Khan. The rest, of course, is soul history...

*The moral of the story is this: if you ever decide to record a version of this song, you should probably stay the fuck outta Holiday Inn for a long minute, son...

"I'm Through Trying To Prove My Love To You"---Millie Jackson (LimeLinx)
"I'm Through Trying To Prove My Love To You"---Millie Jackson (YSI)

*Written by Bobby Womack; originally appeared on his 1973 Facts Of Life LP

*Millie Jackson's exceptional cover appeared on her 1974 LP, Caught Up.

*Concept albums have always been somewhat of a rarity amongst soul/R&B artists, which is part of what makes Caught Up such a thoroughly engaging and essential masterpiece of the genre. Jackson's signature mistress schtick and occasionally bizarre album covers often led to her being misunderstood, underappreciated...laughable even...but if you fail to see any artistic value in her work, chances are you've missed the the boat.

The 'other woman' is perhaps one of the least respected and most reviled archetypes in all of modern society, and yet, most of us have slept with her or been her at some point in our heavily veiled, secret past. Truth be told, love triangles are every bit as essential to the story of human relationships as monogamy could ever hope to be. The problem with approaching this subject with a degree of honesty is that it somehow disrupts our fairy tale projection of love's imaginary ideal, and we simply can't live happily ever after if some other bitch is standing in the way. Right???

The genius of Millie is that she sort of had this all figured out before many of us were ready to hear it~ perhaps that's why she so often comes across as callous and unapologetic when singing or rapping about her scandalous little trysts. Society's outward indignance towards outside relationships and extramarital affairs clearly fails to apply when we're gettin' our own freaky on behind closed doors.

Caught Up is a dichotomous soul opera that explores the mistress' viewpoint on the A-side, and the wife's perspective on the flip. "I'm Through Trying To Prove My Love To You" is, for me, the indisputable centerpiece of the latter. Jackson's trademark ad libs reconstruct the Womack original, depicting a married woman who's grown tired of her husband's lyin', cheatin' ways. Not only has she finally gathered the strength to get the fuck outta Dodge, we discover that she has her own little piece of ass on the side. Niiiiccceee. While it still doesn't qualify as a feminist anthem, it certainly has more backbone than all those "i'mma stand by my man, even if he feeds me ALPO" songs that many of her female contemporaries were releasing at the time.

*If you can dig where Millie's comin' from, go deeper

"Wichita Lineman"---New Apocalypse (LimeLinx)
"Wichita Lineman"---New Apocalypse (YSI)

*Written by Jimmy Webb in 1968 for Glen Campbell, who released the song that same year. Campbells' version peaked at #3 on the pop charts, managing to hang out in the Billboard Top 100 for a total of 15 weeks. The single also made waves on the country and adult contemporary charts, and was certified gold in January of 1969.

*Not only did Rolling Stone rank it at #192 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time, but Blender magazine gave it a nod as one of the best songs ever as well. Their well-researched feature on the track details quite a bit of the backstory behind the song.

*Other covers of the song have been rendered by Young-Holt Unlimited, R.E.M., Dennis Brown, Ray Charles, The Fatback Band, Charlie Byrd, Cassandra Wilson, O.C. Smith, Johnny Cash, The Meters, Kool & The Gang, Sammy Davis Jr., and more. The worst rendition of all time? That dubious distinction likely belongs to Jim Nabors, aka Gomer Pyle. I mean...arrrgghhhh...what the fuck was he thinking?

*New Apocalyse's funky/jazzy remake of the track was released in 1967 on their Stainless Soul LP. A tight instrumental outfit that's often compared to The Meters, New Apocalypse had a short-lived contract with MTA Records. Famed recording engineer George Massenburg worked with the musicians to achieve their impeccable sound, but their material was regrettably overlooked.

Michael Meros, who played piano/organ with the group, went on to have a relatively successful career in music. Although he worked with well-known artists such as Leon Russell and Ringo Starr, his most memorable stint was as the Beach Boys' touring keyboardist from 1979 through 2000.

I've always hoped to come across this obscure album on one of my digging expeditions, but the stars haven't aligned themselves in my favor yet. Nevertheless, one of the soul children recently came through with a digital copy, and for the moment, just having it in my iPod will suffice (gracias David).

Stainless Soul is a rarity to begin with, but it's become increasingly elusive as DJs and collectors spread the word about how truly break-tastic it is. Their cover of "Get Out Of My Life Woman" has been sampled at least a zillion times, and the album is frequently sought after on the strength of that track alone. While I'm clearly not against digging specifically for original source material, anyone who's fortunate enough to cop this LP should definitely hang on every note that the rest of the album has to offer.

My favorite track on Stainless Soul is frequently interchangeable, but their take on "Wichita Lineman" has become an essential staple of my 3am insomniac grooves. This is no small feat considering that I'm not a huge fan of the original, nor most of the other interpretations I've heard (however, Smokey Robinson's graceful rendition is another noteworthy exception).

New Apocalypse's take starts out leaning a bit towards the sluggish side, but the excitement progressively builds until it has you by the throat, and you're caught up in the rapture, Anita Baker style (minus the charismatic vocal "calisthenics", of course). Good stuff, kids...good stuff.

"Dakari (Nicolay Remix)"---The Last Poets feat. Keith Murray (LimeLinx)
"Dakari (Nicolay Remix)"---The Last Poets feat. Keith Murray (YSI)

*The second installment in producer Nicolay's Off The Shelf series speaks volumes as to why I'm so hyped about the master beatsmith's recent decision to clear out his vault. His incredible "Dakari" remix dropped right on time as far as I'm concerned...nevermind that it spent the better part of five years accumulating dust.

It's always somewhat baffling when material of this magnitude gets held in reserve, but Nicolay posted a relatively straightforward breakdown on the delay:

Things don't always work out as you would hope, and the reasons why usually have little to do with music, and all the more with the people "behind the scenes", as the following example illustrates. Of course, not everyone in the music industry is a shark, but it certainly is my personal experience that the good people are exceptions that prove the rule.

At the end of 2004, I was contacted by a fairly well-known indie hip-hop label's A&R (Artist & Repertoire) director (who shall remain anonymous). The guy was working on a new project with legendary group The Last Poets, and he wanted to see if I could remix a song called "Dakari" track that also featured Keith Murray. The remix was intended for a 12" single to promote the album, and would potentially even be included on the album as they were not too thrilled about the beat that was used for the original track. Eager to expand both my range and my resume, I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to reach a new audience, and we came to an agreement that worked for all parties involved. I finished the remix in January of 2005.

To make a long story short, the A&R guy never held up his end of the agreement, and never made good on the agreed compensation, using every excuse known to man before falling off the map and abandoning the entire project. And so the remix never came out. Until today! Big up to The Last Poets (Umar Bin Hassan + Abiodun Oyewole) and Keith Murray. Enjoy, and thanks for listening, Nicolay

Be sure to catch up on any episodes of Off The Shelf you may have missed (especially his tribute to Bob James), and stay tuned for future installments at nicolaymusic.com.

"My Adidas (Nomadic Remix)"---Run-DMC (LimeLinx)
"My Adidas (Nomadic Remix)"---Run-DMC (YSI)

*"My Adidas" was the first single from Run-DMC's 1986 Raising Hell LP (b/w "Peter Piper"). It was written by Joseph Simmons and Darryl McDaniels; produced by Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin.

*While it didn't achieve the crossover appeal of "Walk This Way", anyone who knows shit about hip hop can explain why "My Adidas" is not only a classic, but a phenomenon. Not to be inhospitable, but you may not belong here if you've never heard this joint.

*DMC elucidates the song's origins:

*In the pre-NWA days, Ice Cube and Dr Dre had a regional hit with a parody of this song called "My Penis". It's crazy to ponder how the evolution of gangsta rap may have been altered if these guys had become the Weird Al Yankovics of hip hop...

*Please don't ask what prompted me to throw this in the mix today~ just feelin' this again for some reason. Nomadic's remix of "My Adidas" is from his 2006 Back To The Beat project...which makes it a throwback inside of a throwback, or something equally confounding that my brain can't quite decipher.

Anyway, I liked the majority of Nomadic's spins on old school hip hop classics, in part because he didn't aim to upstage the originals~ that's treacherous ground when you're remixing the likes of Run-DMC, Audio Two, Eric B and Rakim, The Beastie Boys, Grandmaster Flash, etc. His concept was grounded in simply paying a respectful homage to the music of his youth, and I can definitely get down with the laidback, soulful vibe he bestowed upon most of these tracks. The beat on his "My Adidas" remix samples "Give Me One Good Reason Why" by the Soul Children, and...what the hell...here you go:


"Give Me One Good Reason Why"---Soul Children (LimeLinx)
"Give Me One Good Reason Why"---Soul Children (YSI)

*More free Nomadic tracks and info via MySpace and Latchkey Recordings

"Shook Hands In Brooklyn"---Minty Fresh Beats (LimeLinx)
"Shook Hands In Brooklyn"---Minty Fresh Beats (YSI)

"Reckoner Encore (Instrumental)"---Jaydiohead (LimeLinx)
"Reckoner Encore (Instrumental)"---Jaydiohead (YSI)

*"Shook Hands In Brooklyn" is a mix containing lyrical elements from "My Downfall" by Notorious B.I.G. ; The "Reckoner Encore" instrumental samples "Reckoner" from Radiohead's In Rainbows LP.

*DJ/producer Max Tannone has as many aliases as Madlib or Doom, but I promise you that he's entirely worth the trouble. Many of his earliest tracks were credited to Minty Fresh Beats, but apparently he had to surrender that moniker for legal reasons. His most celebrated project to date was Jaydiohead, a highly acclaimed collection of Jay-Z vs. Radiohead mash-ups.

As you know, I try to incorporate Jay and Radiohead into a lot of my posts...sideways if necessary. Remarkably, I never did a feature on the project because I included a couple of the tracks in my Insomniac's Tribute To Radiohead mix. Despite the fact that I employed a rather subtle approach to giving Jaydiohead a shout, I was essentially on the same page with every hipster fuck on the interwebs who thought this could be the Second Coming of The Grey Album, or whatever...

Not long ago, I received 5 more tracks from Max called Jaydiohead: The Encore. To be honest, I wondered if this addendum was really necessary~ either too much of a good thing or grasping at straws to elongate the proverbial 15 minutes of fame. While I'm still not as in love with these as the first set he released, I've been listening to the instrumental versions on repeat. I never thought the day would come, but I'm...at least temporarily...a bit bored by hearing Jay's lyrics mashed and rehashed into infinity. The beats, however, are all kinds of lovely.

I went back and downloaded all of Tannone's work, and "Shook Hands In Brooklyn" emerged as a paragon of his abilities. Arguably, I could be just as fatigued by hearing Biggie mashed and rehashed once again, but dammit...this is dope.

*Stay up on the artist formerly known as Minty Fresh Beats via MySpace and Jaydiohead.com. Free downloads, hotdogs, kittens, party hats, and yeah...pretty much whatever you want.

Word From Your Moms:

"In order to rise from its own ashes, a phoenix first must burn."

"The only lasting truth is change."

~Both quotes by Octavia Butler; all due respect to esg


Jos-B said...

Speaking of "A Change is Gonna Come" covers, have you ever heard Ben Sollee's? He's this southern, softvoiced cellist/singer-songwriter who released an album containing it a year or two back, he rewrote the lyrics to better fit his own position, and i think he did a great job.

Also, anything to say/blog concerning Stones Throw's latest faux retro soulman Mayer Hawthorne? Personally, even though he may not be a world-class singer, I think he stays true to the style of music he's trying to evoke, and you can tell he really loves soul. His album (which leaked a few weeks ago) has been in constant rotation on my iPod for a while now.

Anonymous said...

thanks for the information on max tannone, jaydiohead is really cool

Jeff said...

The Scholar goes yard, knocking them out of the park. Thanks for the intro to New Apocalypse and the reminders on Soul Children and Baby Huey. And of course you cannot go wrong with Millie Jackson.

Nice work, and keep on keepin' on!

Jaz said...

Incredible post here Scholar, props

Anonymous said...

Damn, that DMC clip is the first time I've ever heard anyone associated with Run DMC be that articulate about their story.

Scholar said...

Jos~Pretty sure I haven't heard any of Ben Sollee's music, so I appreciate the recommendation.

As far as Mayer Hawthorne is concerned, I featured a remix of "Just Ain't Gonna Work Out" in my last post. I'm reluctant to embrace most of the players in the retro soul movement, but like you, I actually kinda dig Hawthorne's style.

The biggest impediment to featuring his work is that Stones Throw tends to get bitchy about their material being posted, so I have to choose my battles wisely.

Thanks for reading and for your comments.

Anon1~ You're welcome; I think Max is well on his way to doing big things.

Hi Jeff~ It's great to hear from you...your kind words are always a source of inspiration.

I realized the other day that I'd only posted one or two Millie tracks EVER, which is strange because I'm always trying to get the word out about soul divas. Sometimes I'm so busy digging for rarities, I overlook the obvious. And Baby Huey...what a powerhouse he was.

I think you'd like the whole New Apocalypse album. If you can't find it, I'll send you my vinyl rip.

Be well my friend...

Jaz~Well I'll be damned. Been a while since I've heard from you, but I'm glad to know you still pass through sometimes. Gratitude for the props.

Anon2~ Agreed. When I got this from YouTube I read a few of the comments over there, and a bunch of idiots were making fun of his voice. Apparently they don't realize he has spasmodic dysphonia, or they do and were just trying to be ignorant.

The first time I saw this clip, it gave me a much greater appreciation for the track.


Anonymous said...

nice one, as always. even though i kinda prefer bobby womack's version of the track, i LOVE millie jackson, and "Caught Up" is my JOINT. Besides being uncomfortably familiar with the sitcheation (um), i just think her voice, particularly on tracks like "the rap," walks beautifully between intense vulnerability and... gangsta. and that's talent. also appreciated the nina simone and baby huey joints; played together they were kinda sobering, and who doesn't need that from time to time? stay up.
- jc

chrome said...

great fucking post. dude you are monster wid it. I'll be digging later on

"I be Sam Cooke all up in your rhyme book". don't ask, some random rhyme heard somewhere.

Anonymous said...

Hey Scholar~ You know I only come around here when I feel I have something to say. Digging the post. Leaves a lot on a woman's mind.;)

Word from your moms, speaks volumes that only you would understand.

Stay together.

Love ya,

Raggedy said...

Dammit! I love Baby Huey's version of the Sam Cooke calssic.
Thanks for sharing

Dane meets Simone said...

well i guess i don't belong. but i love your posts anyway. some of us got to learn what we never knew.

Anonymous said...

hello... hapi blogging... have a nice day! just visiting here....

ekko said...

I really dig your blog. If you're interested in trading links, let me know at http://www.berkeleyplaceblog.com

Scholar said...

JC~ intense vulnerability and gangsta is my steez...lol

chrome~ you da man, partner. i appreciate you always coming 'round to help me stay lifted. hope you're well, cousin.

PK~ that last statement has al green playing in my head on repeat. love you back.

raggedy~ i understand that dammit emotion when you come across something amazing.

really like your blog, btw. well played, sister.

dana~ no worries...you belong. i'm just a sarcastic jackass sometimes, that's all. thanks for reading and i truly hope you'll stick around.

hapi~ i'm hapi you said something. gracias.

ekko~ i'm definitely down for a link exchange. i don't have a chance to visit other spots as much as i'd like, but i'm a longtime fan of berkeley place. peace.

MiztickleLyrikal said...

magnificent melodies my music maestro

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