This is everything…….
This is everything…….
Words defy just what a perfect slice of pure hip hop this is, from the man Eminem quite rightly thinks is ‘incredible’
‘Who put these pussies on top, putting out their pussy music, call it pussy pop’
Taken from the forthcoming PTSD album
Pharoahe is in the UK touring, just about now,
Feb 8th – Dublin – The Sugar Club
Feb 14th - Bristol – Sip The Juice
Feb 15th – Brixton – Plan B
Feb 18th – Sheffield - Tuesday Club
Feb 19th – Liverpool – The Kazimer
Feb 21st – Brighton – Concorde 2
Feb 22nd – Leeds – The Warehouse
Feb 23rd – Southampton – Roxx
Feb 24th – Norwich Arts Centre
Hot on the heels of Hov Said It Best, Mela Machinko released 9am Blues just before Christmas. It looks like its got a re issue over the past few weeks, or at least some fresh publicity.
An 8 track EP, 9am Blues is perfectly timed for my personal journey from work each day; and that is pretty much the perfect time to play this. 9am Blues resonates for those who are a fed up of the 9-5 humdrum. Its a perfect January and February listen; when the world is a cold and dark place, and when the bills that need paying take precedent, sadly, over the day dreams that can’t really grow til the sun comes out again. There’s hope for day dreamers, however, as Machinko tells a story of hope in the simple things in life on Sing ’Try to get a job but nobody hiring, all I can do is sing’.
Production wise this goes from hip hop to pop to blues to jazz; really its just good music, and accompanied by Machinko’s awesome soulful vocal talent. There’s less vocal acrobatics than just great singing here. Mela hits the spot if you love 60s soul and by rights she should be a huge star for hipsters listening to old Northern Soul records. Lyrically playful, its hard to avoid joining in on the ‘I need a job, I need money’ harmonising on the brilliant Employment, with its hammond organ solo.
On Trying Something New a laid back jazz club vibe, and the line ‘Ever since I was a child I always had a dream that I was free’ kind of breaks your heart before Mela proclaims, ‘I’m embracing change…I’m trying something new’. If you haven’t gone to the bandcamp page to buy this, maybe its time you did too.
The scratches, into a mellow laid back jazz beat, ‘Its 2014, hip hop gets labelled a lot of things, or should I say, a lot of things that aint hip hop gets labelled hip hop. We’re here to make it real clear; Jamla is the Squad, now lets get into it.’
When Jamla records do something, they do something special. 9th Wonder is a name synonymous with the highest quality beats and his talent is ever expanding and evolving. 9th’s olw Jamla label works with some of the finest wordsmiths in any genre at the moment. This mix tape isn’t a free one, but its well worth parting with some hard earned to get in on this. For its 25 tracks, Jamla is the squad delivers on all levels. As if to prove the point, if you can put 25 tracks out and Talib Kweli, Phonte and Elzhi feature on just one you know there really is No Competition.
Walk On By showcases the vocal silkiness of Heather Victoria singing the chorus of the classic Dionne Warwick track, with GQ providing the commentary on the stories of every day life we walk on by each day of the week without dwelling on the details of. Its those kind of stories that the rappers that feature on this record do best, the every day, thoughtful pauses on reality. 15 Minutes of Fame is a complete and utter smooth soul, but with a blues sensibility. Amidst this you get Chicago wordsmith, ADD 2 providing some grit and grime, yet always over that ‘top of the class’ production, not just from 9th but from other members the Soul Council such as Khrysis, Eric G and Kash.
The whole tape is acts as a showcase for 9th Wonder ability to spot real talent for people that like real music. Regular helpings of Rapsody and Heather Victoria hold the listener in, introducing them to some of the newer names on the label as they get the chance to showcase their skills.
1. Chance the Rapper – Cocoa Butter Kisses – Taken from arguably the mix tape of the year, my personal favourite was Cocoa Butter Kisses, which seems to sum up in one track why the mix tape was seen as so important.
2. Rapsody feat Phonte and Jay Electronica – Jedi Code – Again, from a free mix tape, this was for me the peak of Rapsody’s year. A large scale collaboration with 2 of the best around, this reminds you of how good the rap group was. Maybe some Kooley High will follow in 14???
3. Jean Grae- Fuckery Level 3000 – You’re just going to have to buy the mix tape as this won’t work so well out of context. But this is basically Jean getting taken in by her boss who’s noticed her behaviour has changed. The rap is an insight into the neurosis of an assassin trying to get a bit of work life balance between her life, her day job, her assassin job and the impending apocalypse. I hope I got that right, it takes a few listens.
4, Lorde – Royals – Well it just was a track of the year. Kiwi Lorde has taken 2013 by storm, and there’s even a Raekwon remix if you can’t bear the original.
5. Talib Kweli – Violations feat Raekwon – Tough call for Kweli’s track of the year, was between this and Favela Love for me. But I preferred Gravitas as a bit of traditional Kweli. This was easily my personal favourite from Gravitas.
6. Mela Machinko – What You Want Me To Do (I’m Sorry) – Tricky pick between this, from the Hov Said It Best project, or Sing from the recently released 9am Blues.
7. Kanye West – New Slaves – So many to chose from from Yeezus, but this just pipped it over Black Skinhead, I am a God and Bound 2. And deliberately sandwiched between two joyous tracks!
8. Janelle Monae featuring Solange – Electric Lady – One of those you can’t help but do a bit of a dance to. If this doesn’t put a smile on your face after New Slaves god knows what will.
9. Valerie June – Twined and Twisted - Might be a bit of a mood killer but this is just beautiful really. Saw her earlier in the year and is a fine live performer too.
10. Jay Z – Open Letter – Ok, so not particularly a track of the year, but as a document of 2013 this is pretty relevant. Misguided, whatever, it was a glimpse into the Hov of old.
Having put out the mix tape of the year as well Rapsody has continued to put out her creative output on soundcloud. Here’s hoping that 2014 gives us more and more of the same, if that’s a bit greedy.
2013 was a big year for some of hip hop’s biggest artists. Albums from Kanye West, Jay Z, Drake, Eminem, J Cole all had their moments. Yeezus saw a return to the raw Kanye West, reminiscent 808s and Heartbreaks, highlighting that regardless of what you may think about West, he probably actually is a creative genius just like he told you. Yeezus was released on the same day as J Cole’s Born Sinner, and much was made of that, with sales figures bandied around and so on and so forth, yet if you want to be challenged in what your listening to there really isn’t much contest between those two records. Marshall Mather’s 2 also got rave reviews as a return to form from Eminem. Jay Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail had a whole load of great publicity, and in spite of reviews being mixed, the album contains some storming tracks, Picasso Baby and Tom Ford to name but two. And of course there was Drake, who continues to divide opinion due to his being a fairly pleasant individual, ironic, seeing as people seem to hate Kanye for (supposedly) being unpleasant. Perhaps the two should get together and do some kind of Jekyll and Hyde style project.
There were of course a plethora of so called underground hip hop and hip hop related records that were truly brilliant in a way that, outside of Yeezus, nothing else really reached. Its a shame music is so compartmentalized, not just into genres but sub genres and on and on, as it tends to restrict the audience that musicians can reach. Whether it be considered alternative, backpack rap, conscious rap or whatever, what it all boils down to is good music. Jeanette Winterson once said that she didn’t care about genres, and was more interested in doing the best work she could in whatever medium.
The following is my pick of the year, and as a complete coincidence, they are all connected in some way or another.
First up, the artist responsible for the album of last year, Rapsody, put out one of the most beautifully crafted albums of the year in the form of a free mix tape. Drafting in production, once again, from 9th Wonder amongst others, Rapsody’s She Got Game picked up where The Idea of Beautiful left off. Rapsody is quietly and unassumingly taking the rap world by storm with each release. She Got Game, a play on the title of Spike Lee’s sports movie, puts Rapsody in the category sportspeople who make things look so effortlessly simple that you wonder how lesser talents make it look so hard. There are deft passes and silky moves on Coconut Oil featuring Raekwon and Mela Machinko (more on her later) and again on Feel Like (Love Love). There’s attacking flair on Generations, Special Way, Dark Knights and the DJ Premier produced Kingship, moving into aggressive, direct play, cutting through any defense like butter with Jedi Code. Coming off the bench to add some fresh legs throughout this performance are Common, Raekwon, Chance the Rapper, Phonte, Raheem DeVaughn, Ab Soul, Mac Miller, the list goes on. In too many cases collaborations can feel like the artist is a secondary figure featuring on the collaborator’s music, however in every case here, the tracks remain most definitely Rapsody tracks, with the rapper clearly in control over some better known artists. It says not only a great deal about Rapsody as an MC, but also something of the collaborating artists respect for her art and writing. That may seem like a small thing, but there are plenty of big name artists that struggle with this, plenty of people who we all love who put a record out, feature another artist, and it turns out sounding more like the collaborator than the actual lead artist. Keeping to the sporting theme, Rapsody is clearly the captain of this team, 9th Wonder provides some solid defensive work in production, its the midfield engine of Rapsody that keeps everything ticking over and keeps the philosophy of play in check throughout the mixtape. And all that for free.
Similarly on the free mixtape theme, Chance The Rapper (who features on the Rapsody mixtape) put out Acid Rap. This is well worth a listen, and I believe it may have been put out again as a payer such was the interest surrounding the release. Acid Rap was released in April and contains unique lyrical styling and delivery, a kind of uninterrupted vision into the mind of the 20 year old Chicago star. As with the best of all music, there’s a real insight into the mind of the artist, something warts and all, covering wide ranging topics and all over the top of some fairly outstanding beats.
Mela Machinko’s Hov Said It Best takes the work and words of Jay Z and has managed to turn them into one of the most soulful releases I’ve heard for some years. There are moments when this is like listening to Jay Z through the eyes of Phil Spector and Berry Gordy, before switching to more a contemporary feel and back again. This is a truly cohesive body of work that really makes it an album in the truest sense of the word, something that you might think is a dying art unless you rush to iTunes and buy this now. The record is set against the backdrop of a dating quiz show, with Pharoah Monch as the host. Whilst this could be labelled a concept album, that kind of downplays the record and its genius. Whilst I appreciate Jay Z’s output, he probably isn’t the first choice for me, Machinko’s record on the other hand is. This adds to the mystique around Jay Z’s artistic significance alongside his own Decoded book, and could quite happily sit alongside that tome in highlighting the importance of a cultural icon. 2013 was a mixed year for Hov, his own record felt good but not great, his advertising deal with Barneys gained negative publicity following racism accusations at the store’s racial profiling, even his choice of holiday destination came in for criticism by President Obama, yet this sits alongside Skyzoo’s An Ode To Reasonable Doubt (which incidentally features Mela Machinko on its opening track) as a reminder of how Jay Z’s influence has spread (regardless of his politics). Back to Hov Said It Best, a record that pays homage to Jay Z’s wordplay, and adds a light touch of humour throughout proceedings, demonstrating that far from being just a ‘good backing singer’, Mela Machinko is an incredible artist in her own right. On top of this being a great record, it had an awesome promotional trail you can catch on You Tube.
Jean Grae‘s output this year was in the form of a trilogy of EPs, the Gotham Down saga tells the story of an assassin that has been something of a running theme in much of Grae’s artistic output for some years. This is a trilogy which was released within around 6 weeks, and loosely takes the form of an aural graphic novel which takes musical story telling into all kinds of uncharted territory, and even if it has been chartered, its rarely been done with such aplomb. The combination of Jean Grae’s genius with the English language, coupled with her exquisite dramatic delivery and some beautifully evocative beats makes this feel like truly three dimensional music. Just as literature is often described as leaping off the page, Gotham Down will nourish your imagination if you let it, there’s a real sense of suspense, a feeling that you are being welcomed into a dangerous underworld where the assassin exists. Released in a deluxe edition in December 2013 Grae’s record demands that you sit down and listen, I mean really listen, and with each repeat new aspects unfold, new nuances as you get to understand, and even empathise with the central protagonist and her journey. With moments of little short of literary brilliance, moments of the darkest humour, wicked word play, and all whilst maintaining the central themes and feel of a record that was well worth the wait.
Grae’s trilogy was released on Bandcamp, giving her unbridled connections to her followers. Similarly Talib Kweli has issued Gravitas independentally following this years Prisoner of Conscious. POC was Kweli’s most mainstream sounding record since Eardrum, featuring plenty of big name collaborations. The Nelly track raised a few eyebrows, but the final outcome is something of a stand out track on the album, up there with the Seu Jorge collaboration, Favela Love, which now has a video directed by Jean Grae. Gravitas was released on December 15th, and is a completely different listen to POC, as the title suggests it sees Kweli in a self reflective mode. The record is produced by Q Tip and, upon the first few listens contains the lyricism fans have come to expect, over smooth, cinematic, jazzy and soulful beats in equal measure. Gravitas is released in physical format in February 2014. Anyone doubting that Kweli is in the upper echelon’s of hip hop (pun intended), not just lyrically, but musically, should really just listen to his last three releases. Idle Warship, POC and Gravitas are so very different, lyrically and musically, proving that imprisoning the artist in the Conscious Rapper category would be to miss the point.
Another top class release was from jazz trumpeter Maurice Mobetta Brown’s Maurice Vs Mobetta. This is a jazz hip hop offering featuring two aforementioned artists in Talib Kweli and Jean Grae. This is well worth picking up, following in a grand tradition of jazz infused hip hop it manages to keep to the sensibilities of each genre in ways that will make this a record you keep playing for many years to come. Maintaining that balance of jazz and hip hop is a fairly unique talent that’s often tried, but very rarely reaches the heights reached here.
Of course, there were plenty of other offerings, the aforementioned Yeezus was outstanding. Outside of hip hop, Valerie June’s Pushing Against A Stone invoked the spirit of Leadbelly in a bluegrass offering that avoids falling into middle class dinner party music, or rich hipsters drinking craft beer and eating grass fed burgers music, whilst also appealing to that demographic. June’s vocals are haunting, at times more akin to a brass section than a human voice, and the record has a stripped down, timeless feel that you can’t help getting swept away with.
Janelle Monae’s Electric Lady gave fans more of what they wanted really. Monae has managed to push boundaries, and has taken on a Bowie esque imagery that will stand the test of time. Electric Lady is one of those few records that you can listen to over and over without wanting to skip any tracks whatsoever, its as strong as albums come really, and it pretty much transcends genre. Its really difficult to imagine that anyone might not like this record, and if they did, well, they’d just be wrong.
Before the year’s out there’s a promise of some more work from Mela Machinko, and who knows, maybe some more Jean Grae too, checking her website daily for an update. As for 2014, my hope would be to see more artists putting their work out independently, enabling higher levels of creative freedom, and connectivity with the artists who are important, and of course a higher level of profit for the person that actually made the music.
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