Thursday, April 29, 2010

Souled On Samples: Above The Clouds Edition

Peace soul babies~ comment allez-vous?

There's nothing I dislike more as a writer than attempting to eulogize a musician I admire who's passed into the great beyond. It's difficult enough to generate the proper flow when reminiscing about a session player that no one's ever heard of, but when iconic artists take their last breath, the odds of uttering anything unique or original are savagely diminished.

Such was the case when
Guru transitioned into the fourth dimension early last week. Even websites and publications that typically have no regard for hip hop were comin' through with articles chronicling the MC's life and death. After a while, the media saturation and sensationalism became too much to bear. I didn't want to heap one more useless commentary onto the literary junk pile, but children...this man's work has been a staple in my life for 20 long years. It seemed unconscionable not to present something in the way of a tribute, so I eventually sat down on the front stoop with a pen and pad.

What emerged wasn't exactly what I had expected. I quickly rejected the comforts of writing a third-person narrative, and started drafting a letter to the man himself. As I was writing, a barrage of Guru-related song/album titles started rushing to the forefront of my imagination. Instead of relegating them to my subconscious, I started integrating them into the framework of my letter. For those who may be less familiar with his material, I highlighted the titles in bold.

The process certainly wasn't without its stumbling blocks (never did figure out how the hell to work "Dwyck" into the equation), but I have to say it was a cathartic endeavor regardless. I tried to keep things as open and honest as I would if I had been writing to a friend. As such, I hope you won't judge the letter by literary standards~ it's more of a soul-driven freestyle than an exercise in cerebral gymnastics.

I'm punctuating the post with a few of my favorite Guru/Gang Starr samples for your digging pleasure. I've posted a few of them over the years, but good music always bears repeating.

Until next time, easy and live life to the fullest...Scholar

Peace, brother Guru~ these humble words are for you...

It's been a little over a week since black Monday, the day you departed the planet and took a transit ride to the flip side of conscious reality. Trust me, man...those you left behind are struggling to bring some positivity to the situation of your death, rendering respectful dedications and looking through the darkness for guidance as we collectively grieve the loss of one of the illest brothers to ever bless the microphone.

Your absence is still beyond comprehension~ it's 2 deep to contend with the reality of how hastily our loved ones can be here today, gone tomorrow. Even those equipped with mad knowledge of self, who understand that the cycle of life is a never ending saga, struggle to be stoic in the face of death. Many of us have been listening to your records since we were babies, so now that you're gone it's hard not to take it personal. Living in this world is never more hectic than when we lose family, friends, and those who inspire us to rise above everyday circumstances. Our hearts are heavy, my brother, and your signature question endures...who's gonna take the weight?

It's impossible to explain to the unknowing how deeply your fans feel the music, and why our oath to respect the architect has formed such an unyielding common bond. With you travelling 2 steps ahead of rival MCs and DJ Premier in deep concentration, Gang Starr steadily rose through the ranks to become undisputed hip hop royalty. Most historians of the genre concur that Premier and the Guru dropped one classic album after another, making a mockery of silly scam artists who did it all 4 tha ca$h or just to get a rep. Because the two of you had skills and so much heart, you were able to step into the arena and achieve a level of credibility and mass appeal that is ridiculously hard to earn.

The words I manifest in this eulogy signify nothing if not gratitude and the utmost respect, but an uncomfortable moment of truth does seem to be in order. I'm not sure whether or not this is how you see things from the sky, but check it...your man Solar has officially become the Yoko fuckin' Ono of hip hop. There's no shame in my game and I'm not afraid to say it~ dude has been instrumental in every ill-advised personal and work-related decision you've rendered these past few years. Right up to the point of your departure from Earth, it seems as though there's been some sort of sabotage, betrayal, or behind-the-scenes conspiracy involved.

The deathbed letter that Solar is peddling to the masses understandably has us vexed, hexed and deeply perplexed. Unlike the lyrics you spit that we internalized and committed to memory, the words you allegedly wrote in your final days don't seem to be resonating with your audience in the least. Maybe we're deluding ourselves out of loyalty to your remembrance, but from the ground, it appears that Yoko may have single-handedly authored that entire soliloquy of chaos without your knowledge or consent.

I can't begin to fathom what powers are held from beyond the grave, but damn...for the sake of all things holy in hip hop...can you please execute a way to flip the script or brainstorm a game plan for getting this brother to take a rest? It may require shutting down the entire Solar system, but now is the time for him to honor your loved ones and fans by removing his opportunistic ass from the spotlight. His silence would enable us to keep our focus where it should be: on celebrating and upholding the legacy of Guru the Great.

For the infinite blessings you've bestowed upon your audience, it will forever be all love. I'm zonin' out on one of your tapes right now (yes, know my steez), and it only reaffirms my admiration for you as both an artist and human being. You'll certainly be missed, but we can always look to the sun to find you~ keeping our eyes fixed miles above the clouds.

In Memory Of Keith Elam aka Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal

Souled On Samples:

"T Plays It Cool"---Marvin Gaye (LimeLinx)
"T Plays It Cool"---Marvin Gaye (YSI)

*Flipped on "Take a Rest"

"The Message From The Soul Sisters Parts 1 & 2"---Vicki Anderson (LimeLinx)
"The Message From The Soul Sisters Parts 1 & 2"---Vicki Anderson (YSI)

*Flipped by on "No More Mr. Nice Guy"

"Coffee Cold"---Galt MacDermot (LimeLinx)
"Coffee Cold"---Galt MacDermot (YSI)

*Flipped on "Werdz From The Ghetto Child"

"White Lightning (Imean Moonshine)"---James Brown (LimeLinx)
"White Lightning (Imean Moonshine)"---James Brown (YSI)

*Flipped on "I'm the Man"

"Ain't There Something Money Can't Buy"---Young-Holt Unlimited (LimeLinx)
"Ain't There Something Money Can't Buy"---Young-Holt Unlimited (YSI)

*Flipped on "Lovesick"

"Blind Alley"---The Emotions (LimeLinx)
"Blind Alley"---The Emotions (YSI)

*Flipped on "Comin' for Datazz"

"It's A New Day"---The Skull Snaps (LimeLinx)
"It's A New Day"---The Skull Snaps (YSI)

*Flipped on "Take It Personal"

Fundamental Supplemental:

My favorite Gang Starr videos are many...I don't wanna crash your browser, sun...but this is unquestionably a Top 10 contender:

Word From Your Moms:

"Guru, God and Self are one."~ Ramana Maharshi

Friday, April 16, 2010

It Felt Complex (But It's Really That Bass-ic)

What up, soul kids?!

It's a scorcher on the block where my shell-toe Adidas hit the street~ all the freaks and geeks who've been hiding in their houses these past few months are live and in full effect this afternoon. The sun is casting its glorious, cosmic rays onto the golden grill of Buck-Toothed Bobby; Jack-Ass Jimmy is holdin' down the corner where he religiously shakes down the locals for spare change; and Loretta the Loudmouth is hollerin' some unintelligible nonsense as she throws all her dude's shit onto the lawn in a fit of not-so-temporary insanity. Like an earthbound butterfly bursting out of its concrete cocoon, this is how things typically unfold when the funky citizens of my hometown begin to collectively celebrate their reverence for the sun. The ultra-colorful scenery is perhaps best described as a twilight zone of dysfunction, but can't help but love the many splendors of spring!

My original intention was to upload a handful of soul ballads/slow jams today, but the atmosphere in my neighborhood completely rearranged my vibe. I decided to go with some tracks that you can at least snap your neck guess is that most of us have a little bit of baby fat to work off this time of the year anyway. Holla if you hear me, Sizable Stan!

Peace, my dearly beloveds...

"Fair Skin Man"---The Afro-American Ensemble (LimeLinx)
"Fair Skin Man"---The Afro-American Ensemble (YSI)

*"Fair Skin Man" is a killer funk joint that made an everlasting impression on me the very first time I heard it. It took me a while to gather some facts about its history, but it was worth every ounce of effort as there's a really interesting story behind the song.

"Fair Skin Man" was first released as one of a few singles issued by a loose collective of Philly musicians recording under the alias of The Broad Street Gang. After achieving a degree of success on the R&B charts, some of the key players subsequently became involved in the recording of a "black rock opera" called Free The Black Man's Chains. Mitchell Rowe, the project's producer/arranger, claims that Ray Charles & The Raelettes, Daryl Hall, and Bobby Eli (founding member of MFSB) were all in attendance during the recording sessions, but none of them appear to be officially credited for their input. The Broad Street Gang's material was revisited for the ambitious project, and several new cuts were also recorded to round out the composition of the album (GSF,1972).

The underlying tale of the soul/gospel/funk opera surrounds the story of Julian Green, a man whose struggles with racism are examined in both a personal and socio-political context. The content stems from a conversation Green has with his son, who has returned from school asking his father some heavy-ass questions about slavery. Green relates the experience of moving north from the slums of Macon, Georgia to what he believed to be the Promised Land. When he arrived, his struggles with poverty persisted, but he greatly altered the course of his destiny by devoting himself to receiving an education. Having specialized in law during his collegiate years, Green utilized his knowledge and hard-won status to uplift people living in impoverished neighborhoods. Writing grants to build homes, establish schools, and found recreation/rehabilitation centers, he ultimately became a prominent figure in the black community. This led to him winning a seat in Congress, and finally, Green becomes the first African-American president of the United States. There are obviously some elements of this fictitious tale which now ring true, making this project as prophetic as it is brilliant.

A final word for all my crate diggers in the house~ if you run across this on vinyl in your lifetime, I can assure you there's no sane reason to deliberate. Snatch that sucka up with a sense of urgency...and tell 'em Scholar sent you!

"Vibration"---IV the Polymath (LimeLinx)
"Vibration"---IV the Polymath (YSI)

*The instrumentals on IV the Polymath's Never Sleep II were all created between the hours of midnight and 6 am. As a fellow insomniac, I can assure you that's when things get really funky. This Brooklyn native has an infectious sound that becomes more addictive with each successive listen, so I'd definitely encourage you to check into the sonic output of this "one-man musical energy". With the exception of the aforementioned release, his projects can be copped for free via his MySpace page.

"Taxi"--Ski Beatz ft. Mos Def/Whosane (LimeLinx)
"Taxi"--Ski Beatz ft. Mos Def/Whosane (YSI)

The snippet for this joint was released in November of last year, and if I'm lyin', I'm dyin' literally felt like an eternity before the full version hit the internets in mid-March.

David Willis (aka Ski Beatz) has enjoyed a rather industrious career in hip hop, beginning with his involvement in Original Flavor and The Bizzie Boyz during the 1980s. Going on to produce insane beats for the likes of Jay-Z and Camp Lo, Ski established a reputation for being one of the most talented, yet criminally under-appreciated, beatsmiths in the game. After spending a few years in his hometown of Greensboro, NC, he headed back to NYC to pursue new business ventures and further cement his legacy by releasing some of his finest production work to date. Many tracks from his upcoming 24 Hour Karate School mixtape (including "Taxi") have leaked onto the internets, and for the most part the reception has been exceedingly positive.

A bit of controversy about "Taxi" was sparked when Smiley The Ghetto Child claimed that he built this track with Ski for his joint "Love And Hate". I can't imagine that the two sides of the story on this will ever be reconciled, but meanwhile, there's no denying that Mos Def put a killing on this beat. Without a doubt, the music industry is hella grimy, but...sorry, man...this track still turned out to be all kinds of lovely.


If you watch TV as infrequently as I do, you may never have seen this...

"New York Is Killing Me (Remix)"---Gil Scott-Heron ft. Nas (LimeLinx)
"New York Is Killing Me (Remix)"---Gil Scott-Heron ft. Nas (YSI)

I don't know about you, but I'm still madly in love with Gil Scott-Heron's latest album, I'm New Here. I've already far exceeded my intended word count for this post, so I can only hope you've been around here long enough to realize that I have nothing but the utmost reverence for the songwriter/griot/poet/godfather of rap/vocalist/the black Bob Dylan/musician/author that is the almighty GSH. Anyone who knows the hardships this man has endured with cocaine abuse and prison stints in the past decade should understand why we expected to spot him in an alley next to a trap house waaaaaaay before the new release rack at Best Buy. Due in some part to my dismay, I actually paid hard-earned money for this LP...and you should, too. As long as I don't find out that dude blew all the proceeds on crack, Gil and I will be cool people until death do us part.

I have ambivalent feelings about this remix with Nas, but I know that many of you will definitely be down with it. I personally wish that Nasir had come slightly harder with his verses, but all things considered, this joint is still pretty hot. Shout out to Spine Magazine for the blessing.


A couple of GSH videos to promote I'm New Here:

Word From Your Moms:

“When the water starts boiling it is foolish to turn off the heat.”---Nelson Mandela

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Nod To Recovering Undercover Overlovers In The Place To Be...

As someone who drank the Kool-Aid in '97 and has been flyin' high on an insane sugar rush ever since, I consider myself the last space case you should trust to present an objective overview of Erykah Badu's latest LP, New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh). After formulating my own admittedly biased opinions as to the merits and flaws of the material, I decided to balance out my viewpoint by checking into some other writers' critiques on the album. Although I typically avoid reading music reviews to maintain some semblance of a unique perspective, I decided to loosen the fuck up and break my own idiotic/neurotic rule on this particular occasion. Sometimes soul superheroes have to be brave enough to walk the ledge, cousin!

In the years following the release of Baduizm, Erykah's wildly popular debut, the supreme vocalist has gradually progressed from being a flash-in-the-pan pop sensation to an increasingly misunderstood cult heroine. Due to the fact that her unbridled eclecticism and general weirdness has marginalized her captive audience to some extent, a shrinking subset of the population seems to take notice when she drops a new release. If for no loftier reason than the controversy surrounding her video for "Window Seat", New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh) has garnered more attention from critics than Badu's last couple of albums combined. Consequently, the pool of writers and publications that have thrown in their two cents has expanded well beyond the excited utterances of shameless overlovers such as myself. The purported truths are still entirely subjective, but perhaps less inclined towards preconceived favoritism. What follows are some of the more intriguing aspects of my findings:

Random adjectives/phrases used to characterize the material:

* Hypnotic; freeform; idiosyncratic; more personal than planetary; tripped out; fragmentary; the yang to Part One’s yin; a velvety, but still appealingly odd, exploration; a juicy slice of escapism; relaxed, personal funk that scans more like a sketchbook than an album; more like a series of vignettes than a feature film; organically joyous; a rich seam of mellow, rare groove moods; a quiet storm cocoon; an ambient amalgam of funk and soul; tender yet strong, fragile yet bold; as musically accessible as Erykah Badu can get ...

Words of praise for the album:

* "If only all of our addictions could sound as gorgeous as hers. Let the relapse begin."

* "Hers is the R&B album of the moment that actually has a hint of timelessness about it."

* "It is a smoother, more delicate and accessible affair, worthy of repeated listens not only because it’s a work of art but also because it’s so much fun. The songs go by so wonderfully and so easily, you’ll want to start over and hear it all again."

* "In an age of overprocessed music and manufactured pop stars, Badu’s free-flowing approach and quirky-cool vibe are a breath of fresh air, and when she tackles the oft-discussed topics of love and relationships, they feel new again."

* "Thankfully, Badu shows little interest in making generational claims—what's new or what's old about pop traditions—and is instead embracing whatever combinations of past, present, and future appeal to her ear."

* "The moody, soulful ambience complements Badu's insightful lyrics and mesmerizing vocals."

* "With a single flutter, she exudes both confidence and insecurity. With each fragile note, she conveys experience and doe-eyed enthusiasm, optimism and loneliness, and ends up wooing us and wowing us in the process."

* "Badu may have already invented a new genre of music - it just doesn’t have a name yet."

Those who weren't really feelin' it described it with sentences/phrases such as these:

* Oddly passive; a crashing disappointment; deliberately awkward; a truly great album that still disappoints

* "Badu's collection of samples and producers working somewhat against type result in a scattered, groove-oriented listening experience, far more intuitive and less "complete" than the previous volume."

* "Badu's music risks disappearing into its own mystic ambition. Like sand slipping through your hands, her music seems to get further away the harder you try to hold it close."

* "As too often of late, Badu sabotages her brilliance. There isn't one truly great song, though 'Window Seat' comes close."

Comparisons were drawn to the following artists:

* Marvin Gaye; Yoko Ono; Johnny Cash; Sly Stone; Prince; Curtis Mayfield; Miles Davis; Funkadelic; Ariel Pink; Sheena Easton; Pam Grier in Showtime’s L Word; Sade

** Please note: If this was a truly scientific undertaking, footnotes and citations would have undoubtedly been involved, but (shrugs) this is merely a blog for fucking entertainment purposes, sun.

There you have it, kids~ the squiggly bottom line on New Amerykah Part Two: Return Of The Ankh. As I'm sure you have observed, many writers have made an earnest attempt at pontificating about the material, but it's far too early in the album's evolutionary process for any of these assessments to be written in stone. Like any work of art, Return Of The Ankh will inevitably take on new dimensions and attributes as it undergoes the maturation process. Several years from now some of us will undoubtedly have a renewed appreciation for this album...while others will be trying to unload it on eBay for 63 cents or less. Either way, I think it will be interesting to witness how this particular narrative unfolds over time...

At any rate, despite my genuine efforts to provide a fair and balanced perspective (unlike the silly fucktards at Fox News), there can be no substitute for deciphering sounds via your own sensory perception. My favorite joint on the LP changes from one listening experience to the next, but at the moment, this track feels like the one:

"Love"---Erykah Badu (LimeLinx)
"Love"---Erykah Badu (YSI)

Fundamental Supplementals:

You thought Erykah's naked ambition in her video for "Window Seat" was mad inappropriate? It might be fun to argue that point with you, but on the contrary, I don't necessarily have a defense for that scandalous Annie girl. I mean, sheeeeit...even on a random good day, that chica still ain't tryin' to let you in on Victoria's Secret:

Souled On Sample:

If you've heard Erykah's second single from Return Of The Ankh, "Turn Me Away (Get Munny)", you should instantly recognize it as an interpolation of this Sylvia Striplin classic. This track was most notably flipped by Junior M.A.F.I.A (w/ Notorious B.I.G.) for their 1995 hit record "Get Money".

"Can't Turn Me Away"---Sylvia Striplin (LimeLinx)
"Can't Turn Me Away"---Sylvia Striplin (YSI)

Bonus Joints:

I'll leave you with a few more potentially unheard/forgotten Badu joints for you to reminisce on, soul children...

"A Child With The Blues"---Erykah Badu ft. Terence Blanchard (LimeLinx)
"A Child With The Blues"---Erykah Badu ft. Terence Blanchard (YSI)

"Poetry"---Roy Hargrove/Q-Tip/Erykah Badu/MeShell N'degeocello (LimeLinx)
"Poetry"---Roy Hargrove/Q-Tip/Erykah Badu/MeShell N'degeocello(YSI)

"Next Lifetime (Linslee Remix)"---Erykah Badu (LimeLinx)
"Next Lifetime (Linslee Remix)"---Erykah Badu (YSI)

Word From Your Moms:

"You don't see the head wraps anymore because I am the head wrap."---E. Badu