Thursday, August 09, 2007

Pitchfork '07: The Hip-Hop Rundown

by: Jeff Min

On Friday, July 14th I jumped on the bus, eagerly anticipating my arrival at Union Park for the Pitchfork Music Festival. I had everything with me: press pass, voice recorder, camera, extra batteries, and a bottle of water (which I sipped sparingly in order to avoid the disease traps known as port-a-potties.) During the bus ride, I organized the day’s performances into maybe’s, possibly’s, and must see’s in order to fully maximize my time at the festival. This year, the lineups were no less than jaw dropping; with the Hip-Hop acts topping my to-see list. As the bus approached Union Park, I instantly became transfixed by the vast communities of people drawn together by the gravity of ‘good’ music. Every face told a story of genuine excitement and as I jumped off the bus and walked towards the entrance gates, with each step I slowly became one of those faces.

Day 1 was simple: do whatever it takes to get front and center for GZA’s performance of the Liquid Swords album. I weaved, dodged, and occasionally strong-armed people to nab my spot. There was absolutely no way I would miss the performance of an album that soundtracked the better part of my high school days. Geeked by my good positioning, I couldn’t help but engage in conversation with the people around me. Some came from as far as D.C. others were just local cats, but together we were all just fans excited to witness something truly special. As my new found friends held down my spot, I ventured to the press tent to grab some water. As I approached the tent my eyes slowly zeroed in on two people: one was a squirrelly looking hipster, who turned out to be an interviewer for Vice magazine, and the other was the GZA. Immediately I began taking pics while listening to the interviewer launch boring and repetitive questions that could only be countered with robotic answers. Unable to take anymore of his mediocrity, I moved in as uncomfortably close as possible in order to break up the interview. Surprisingly enough, my jack move worked. Before asking my first question, I realized there wasn’t enough time to conduct a full interview, so I decided that a casual conversation would suffice. My goal was to gain insight into the persona of the ‘real’ GZA, and when I re-listen to our conversation, it sounds more like a back-and-forth between two frustrated Hip-Hop fans rather than a typical interview. I’ll never forget these GZA quotables, “Mainstream Hip-Hop is so watered down and so weak, and I have been doing Hip-Hop since I was a kid, so to see Kanye, Common, and Lupe do the things they’re doing is refreshing; to see them steer Hip-Hop back where it needs to be.” Returning to the stage after a surreal meeting with the GZA set me up for what I imagined would be an unforgettable show.

The GZA’s entrance on stage was extremely humble, and after a quick shout out to his fans he slid right into Liquid Swordz title track, sending the crowd into a frenzy. Some fans went line for line with the GZA, while others franticly waved their hands in the air. Next up was “Dual of the Iron Mic” which featured verses from special guest Cappadonna. Cap’s energy combined with the GZA’s calm demeanor, which in turn created a sly chemistry that the audience couldn’t help but appreciate. “Living in the World,” “Gold,” and “Cold World” went smoothly and as this was quickly becoming the throwback performance of the year, the DJ fumbled, and halted the show. GZA had to stop the set twice to give the DJ time to get his bearings straight. The whole fiasco boiled over when Cap stepped in and demonstrated how to fade between tracks, an embarrassing scene to say the least. The crowd never fully recovered from the DJ’s missteps and as a result, the energy began to diminish. It seemed to have hit a nerve with GZA and his body language told a tale of frustration. Both Cap and Killah Priest did their best to get back on track, and the performance rounded out nicely with “B.I.B.L.E.” and a few tracks off of Wu’s Iron Flag. Overall the show received a C+ from this reviewer with a majority of the blame resting on the confused DJ, but what really hurt the performance was an extremely annoying camerawoman. She stood in the press pit for the entire show, blocking the view of at least ten people. As GZA left stage and the Sonic Youth show began, I looked forward to the Saturday performance by the Cool Kids.

I’ve heard the story of how the Cool Kids met on MySpace and how their mixtapes have taken the online / underground world by storm, but without ever seeing them perform live I remained skeptical. The buzz has always been constant about the duo being heirs to the Chicago So who exactly are the Cool Kids? Are they Hipsters? According to them, the answer is No, but their audience demographic speaks differently, so I waited patiently to see what all the hype was about. underground, but it doesn’t take an eagle eye to spot the hipster community and their trend humping ways.

Cool Kid #1 Chuck strutted smoothly onto the stage, sporting the most fly 80’s gear I’ve seen in a while. His showmanship was confident as he got the crowd waving their hands from side to side. The levels of the music were set extremely low and people began to shout “Turn it up!” which never happened. This forced me to ‘squint’ my ears in order to catch the lyrical content. It didn’t take long for me to realize that their verses weren’t worthy enough to be considered quotable. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not bashing the Cool Kids, but I wouldn’t expect a life changing experience from their rhymes. Simply stated, they’re two kids with a non-threatening, club rap sound and lyrics tailor-made for Chicago’s hipster massive. I want the Cool Kids to succeed; I really do, because the energy of Chicago’s youth so much greater than NY or LA. What their Pitchfork set showed me was how much Chicago Hip-Hop has changed. The Chicago Crossing off another ‘must see’ off my list, I wondered how crazy the final day of the festival would be with De La Soul as a closer. underground sound is three dimensional in every aspect and even though the Cool Kids may not appeal to true schoolers, one cannot deny their stage presence, a D- performance with A+ crowd control. But based on a sub par performance, I’m hesitant to jump on their bandwagon; instead I’ll wait until the hipsters find another trend to hump, in order to witness how great the Cool Kids can be.

On day 3 I disregarded other acts and floated around the main stage waiting for the right time to sneak up front for De La. By this time a crowd had began to form around the nucleus that my new found friends and I created, and everyone was rumbling with anticipation.

Just as symptoms of restlessness began to show, Mase got the crowd hyped for what would end up being the most engaging performance of the festival. Before I knew it, thousands of fans were bobbing their heads at a breakneck pace to “Ego Trippin’.” Posdnuos started off his verse with a bang and once Dove appeared, Union Park was thrown into a whirlwind of cheers. With a brief interlude Pos and Dove divided the crowd into two halves for a debate over which half was the party side, making their respective ovation the determining factor. De La does this shtick at all their concerts, and every time is works perfectly, prompting the crowd to scream for more. Taking full advantage of the crowd’s energay, Mase dropped the beat for “Grind Date”. The barrier at the front of the stage could barely contain the first row, and just as I turned my head to prevent my hat from being thrown off, I saw the most non-Hip-Hop-looking girl screaming every line to the song. This performance was truly something special.

Giving the crowd a breath, De La charmed us with their rehearsed yet refreshing banter, which asked if they could bring a guest out. At first I thought MF Doom for “Rock Cane Flow”, then I thought Common for “The Bizness” and before I could make another guess Prince Paul emerged from backstage. After a brief introduction, they trio segued into “Pass the Plugs,” flashing everyone back to the beginning of De La’s cutting edge career. Mid-set, De La dropped a James Brown tribute and the cheers from the crowd seemed never ending. By far the most intriguing moment came during “Me, Myself, and I” where Pos subtly stated, “We hate this song.” Not many people understood or even heard his comment, so Pos explained that the top 40 hit defined De La for so long, even after their art went transcended “3 Feet High and Rising.” But they didn’t dwell on the past for too long, and the show continued with songs off of nearly every De Le album. Towards the end of their set, Dove and Pos made the clear distinction between the true fans in the crowd and the VIP “snobs” that sat back stage. It was a funny moment, and no one was visibly offended, but it made us in the front row feel just a little more important than those relaxing backstage.

With the last beat sounding around midnight, Pitchfork concluded with a booming ovation; not only for De La, but for every musician involved in this annual festival. As I headed back to the bus, faces blended with the incoherent chatter, emitting a positive vibe for everyone to enjoy later. With each step, I either kicked a piece of trash, a trinket, or piece of memorabilia, and slowly the meaning behind the festival became clear. Pitchfork: an amazing feat of comradery, art, and expression that only Chicago can host.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Demo Round-Up: Summer Edition


Welcome back to GLmag’s Demo Round-up. Every month we receive loads of promos from artists on all levels of the game. Folks on major labels, large scale indies, regional cats, and bedroom producers. What this feature focuses on are the low key releases from artists who are grinding hard for their careers. Acts who you may have never heard of, but nonetheless deserve attention despite not having big money backing or 6-digit promotional budgets.

This month we’ve got a double dose selection of homegrown Hip-hop from Brother Reade (CA) & Ignite Mindz (NC)

Brother Reade
Rap Music
Record Collection Music 2007

On the opening salvo to Rap Music where MC Jimmy Jamz states “They told me that classics never go outta style, but they do…” I was understandably apprehensive about what was to follow. Was the album going to be club bangers with superficial rhymes? Or were they going to millennium-ize Primo’s tried and true formula? The answer is a bit of both. Rap Music builds on the the stripped down 808 style of production that’s huge with the hipster set, but steers clear of subject matter that goes down easy with a 40 oz. in hand. On “It Ain’t Easy for Y’all,” producer Bobby Evans’ drum programming is highly organic, with a thumping kick, minimal hi-hats, and a rimshot but bridges the gap into 2007 with a synth-droned melody floating in the background. Lyrically, Jamz shows both humor and profundity on the hook declaring “This is for the strippers and the fans of the Clippers, Life ain’t easy for y’all.” On “Work Ain’t for Players” Evans channels his inner Dilla with snaps in lieu of snares and a kick that sounds like it’s being sucked into a black hole. “Gimme the Cash” and “The Loft Party Classics” feature Jamz spitting story rhymes on par with early Slick Rick or Ghostface on a bad day. As a whole, Brother Reade successfully creates a conscious rap album that’s neither overly preachy nor an homage to the ‘Golden Era.” By carving a progressive sound rooted in true school lyrical content, Rap Music goes a long way in proving that classics are a thing of the past.

Ignite Mindz
Psychological Warfare
Classic Records 2007

While the southern East Coast has always boasted worthy Hip Hop acts, Black Sheep, Outkast, The Clipse, and the Timberland camp (minus Magoo) being a few notable examples, it seemed as though it wasn’t until Little Brother dropped The Listening that the underground massive realized that ‘real’ rap could come from below the Mason-Dixon line. Since then, Little Brother has split up and 9th Wonder’s production lost it’s novelty but in their wake, I still find non-snap/non-double time Southern Hip Hop being compared, almost reverently, what they created in 2003. Making strides to both build upon and escape Little Brother’s shadow is the group, Ignite Mindz. With an album cover which suggests too-complex-for-you rhymes and beatless, Def Jux-esque production lie within, Psychological Warfare flips the script completely with a hefty album of soul stirring beats and thought provoking rhymes. As an MC and producer, Ignite Mindz is 7 outta 10, but like the saying goes “Pick one thing and do it well” and that he does. Touching on topics from politics, near death experiences, to story rhymes and party and bullshit type jams, Mindz shows his versatility while avoiding “making music that only other MC’s would appreciate.” On the production side, we’re blessed with head nodders that serve a bigger purpose than to smack you in the face. Creating a definite atmosphere which, more often that not, supports his subject matter, Psychological Warfare achieves what many major label albums do not… continuity.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

RJD2 @ The Metro, 4.20.07

by Jeff Min

April 20th 2007
started out like most days with the routine of work and errands pulling my mind away from the celebration of 4/20. Plus being a bit older with heavier responsibilities I relied simply upon the notion of the RJD2 concert at the Metro to lift me to my much needed high.

The turnout was what one would expect from the super-producer extraordinaire. The line extended a block and a half away from the door, but the most unsettling part came from the line patrons. I’ve never been a huge fan of 18 and up shows simply because of the maturity level. I may be sounding like an old codger, but one can only take so many teenyboppers and aspiring hipsters before they cringe. This feeling was reinforced when a youngster came running down the block yelling, “I love Hip-Hop!!” I grit my teeth and with my fists clenched tightly in my coat pockets I prayed to the music gods that this wouldn’t be the theme of the night.

The overall set-up of the stage was stellar. I was about two waves back from the stage and saw a Micro Korg and Juno synth and to my left; three 1200’s in the back with an MPC on one side, a giant stuffed monkey in the middle, and a keyboard on the other, and finally a drum set. At that point I realized that this was going to be more than a DJ set, but rather the Chicago debut of RJ’s new band. I was excited and skeptical at the same time wondering if this experience would parallel the same feeling of seeing Michael Jordan putting on a White Sox uniform; interesting to see, but novelty at best.

The set started off with LA rapper Busdriver, and needless to say I was thoroughly impressed. His energy was non-stop as he performed six songs from his newest album RoadKillOvercoat. With his rapid fire style and distinct public service announcement type voice his lyrics were a bit incoherent, but he more than made up for it with his crowd presence and the call and response nature of most of his songs. The most engaging being “Less Yes’s More No’s,” which turned most of the Metro, from front to balcony, into a wave of bobbing hands.

The beat aspect of this set was performed live by a man Busdriver called Mike. It was interesting to see him put the beats together on the fly and tap out the drum patterns, and the overall vibe carried a melting pot of rock and early house. Mike’s presence was well received by the crowd, which created a lot of “oh, so that’s how they make beats” type reactions. It was a solid set and definitely placed the expectations high for RJ.

During the intermission I couldn’t help but notice Woody Guthrie playing constantly over the speakers. It had even passed my ear as I came in 15 minutes before the Busdriver set, and as I looked around to gauge the crowd’s reaction I noticed that people were as indifferent as I was. I thought to myself ‘how odd of a choice it was to have Guthrie constantly playing’ but as I look back, between Busdriver, Guthrie, and RJ, the crowd was being exposed to decades of music while cruising around different genres.

As RJ made his way onstage, with guitar in hand and his band mates closely behind, I focused anxiously to see if his production genius could translate over to instrumentation. With a brief thank you to the crowd he went immediately into the title track of one his most critically acclaimed albums, Since We Last Spoke. The crowd responded without hesitation as the floor shook under the weight of jumping fans. Shortly after that song, RJ and company transitioned smoothly into Exotic Talk, which kept the energy high and the fans pleased. The tempo slowed down as RJ performed instrumentals off of the albums The Third Hand and The Horror, and I couldn’t help but be impressed by how he was able to jump from the guitar, to the synth, and finally the bass. But as he was going from song to song I found myself less and less impressed with what was going on. At one point I had to restrain a yawn, and quickly realized that this was a plain, average band. If I didn’t know it was RJ onstage I would have just assumed it was a group of guys who got together and thought it would be cool to do RJD2 covers. As much as I didn’t want to believe it, I knew that this was a poor performance. So once again, I prayed to the music gods both for this display to end and also for him to hop on the Technics, which were screaming to be touched. My prayers were answered.

The band exited the stage and RJ approached the 1200’s and started the set off with his classic track 1976. Simultaneously a screen at the back of the stage began to show bizarre clips of RJ and friends playing out the scenes to what looked to be the eventual cover of Deadringer. He then began an impressive mix on three tables, which prompted the crowd to release a champion’s ovation over the synth heavy Iced Lightning. During a set that spanned classic tunes like Ghostwriter and Final Frontier, a clip was spliced onto the video screen showing a hooded stranger freestyle walking with a pair of crutches. This might sound lame in theory, but it was by far one of the freshest things I’ve seen in a while. The DJ set rounded off nicely and judging by RJ’s departure he was smart enough not to press, and leave on a high note.

The crowd refused to accept the end and the usual shouts of ‘encore’ sounded throughout the building. I rolled my eyes and hoped that it wouldn’t happen, feeling as if RJ’s band would return and ruin the high received from his DJ set. Being the artist that he is, RJ came out with acoustic guitar in hand ready to perform what would be the last song of the night. Within the first strum I recognized one of my personal favorite RJ tracks, Making Days Longer. He couldn’t have made a better choice, and the crowd (myself included) became fixated on the simplicity of such a pretty song. It turned out to be the perfect mellow low to a day that so many spent staying high.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Souls of Mischief, Icon the Mic King, Bukue One, Earatik Statik, Verbal Kent @ The Abbey, 4.23.07

by Oren Kopperl

What head could forget where they were when they first heard the lyrics “You’re irresponsible,” the effortless opening line from Souls of Mischief’s debut ’93 til Infinity? For me, it evokes a certain feeling for what was the most compelling and understated time in Hip-hop. While cats like Fat Joe have gone from D.I.T.C. to throwing bubbly and benjamins around a video set, S.O.M. and the Hieroglyphics camp have --for better or worse-- stuck to the essence of their craft. And guess what? Unlike many of their contemporaries, they can still hold it down in a live setting.

As a venue, there’s just something about The Abbey. The room is big enough and they consistently provide top-notch acts, but it can sometimes lack the warmth and personality that should embody a great venue when it comes to Hip-hop. When we’re talking about one of the most coveted golden era groups in the game, being backed by a slightly distended and muddled billing, the result can lead to mixed feelings.

Gravel Records set things off with Verbal Kent. Although, by the time I get a beer, his set is over. Chicago favorites and fellow Gravel recording artists Earatik Statik are up next, immediately injecting much needed life into the room. They quickly drew the growing crowd of fifty closer to the stage, working them up with an energetic stage presence and their signature thick, knocking production. Raw energy is definitely the backbone of a typical Earatik Statik set, and tonight was no different. Keeping the heads interested through until end, they closed with “Keep Rockin’” as DJ Rude1 brought the set to a climactic finish.

Often at shows like this a “mystery” or “surprise” guest, who’s not on the bill, will show up in support of the headlining act. And often it’s not much of a surprise when they’re revealed. So when it turned out to be Bukue One, Bay area undergrounder who just happens to be Del The Funky Homosapien’s manager, it wasn’t exactly a bombshell. A notably cheerful Bukue took the stage, engaging about half the crowd as he hopped around clutching two mics and talked about skating. Sound quality was a bit lackluster and at times he seemed almost too animated or energetic for his own good. Nevertheless, he pulled through the twenty minute set without a DJ and managed to keep the general vibe of the room intact.

After taking five minutes to start and getting noticeably irritated when host DJ Deluge told the crowd he was from New York, Philadelphia’s self proclaimed freestyle champ Icon the Mic King was all set to go. He set it off with a slightly unexpected party track, and then segued into more characteristic battle rhymes. Before long, he started his gimmicky freestyle routine where he dons a blindfold and tries to rap about the identity of objects the audience gives him. It’s interesting enough in theory, but it falls flat on its face when he can’t figure out what’s in his hand. The set was about half way over when C-Rayz Walz revealed himself as Icon’s DJ who, up to that point, was bundled up like the Unabomber standing rigid behind the decks. When he stepped out from behind the turntables to perform his own material, he actually increased the energy level of the room as the Abbey started to fill to capacity. Any momentum the set had gained, quickly evaporated by the time Icon closed with the song “Madness”.

At this point everyone in the building is ready for Souls of Mischief. While I’m walking back from the bar, a girl who appears to be quite intoxicated spills her gin and tonic on my shoes, that just three hours earlier I was debating wearing for fear of some random drunk girl spilling her gin and tonic all over them. While doing damage control on my saucy kicks, DJ Lex is blending The Alkaholiks track “Rockin’ with the Best” into Pharoahe Monche’s “Simon Says,” and it appears as if the thesaurus thumpers from Oakland are ready to roll.

Souls of Mischief take the stage to the infectious bassline of “Make Your Mind Up,” sending across the room a shockwave of hands in the air. The kids came to hear the classics and they’re getting them. Opio completely snapped on his verse of “Oakland Blackouts,” before flipping the first four bars of “Rock it like That” acappella, waiting for DJ Lex to drop the beat. White kids in funny hats are freaking out all around me as Tajai spits the opening line of “Diseshowedo.” At this point they have the room eating out of their hand. Phesto does a short verse off of “3rd Eye Vision” before A-Plus showcases some of his new solo material. A joint was passed around stage while they ran through some newer tracks, and then proceeded to blow up the room with a memorable version of “You Never Knew.” Before the applause died down, the entire crowd goes bananas when they hear the first note of “93 til’ Infinity,” and at once you could tell the night was coming to an end.

There’s something funny about an encore at a Hip-hop show. Generally the crowd is too lazy to try longer than a minute to get their favorite MC back on stage. This in turn causes the MC to reappear within 20-30 seconds, which can seem a bit pretentious. But when S.O.M. came back out to the opening horn sample of “That’s When ‘Ya Lost,” the result was anything but. With the crowd jumping in unison up until the very last measure, Souls let it all hang out for one last classic banger, assuring everyone that after all these years, they’ve still got it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Rob Swift @ The Darkroom Chicago 4.13.07


During my regular errand-running on Friday, April 13th I witnessed three separate fender benders in as many blocks. Statistically, most car accidents happen on Friday afternoons, presumably because people are rushing to get home, yakking on the their cell phones making plan
s for the evening, or are simply innocent participants to another’s missteps. So with extreme caution, I made my way back to the crib and hoped for the best, taking defensive driving to new heights. Anything to make sure the whip was in working order, able to carry my ass to Chicago’s Darkroom.

Rob Swift, who was touring to promote the release of his new DVD As the Tables Turn, was the headline performer on a scaled-down, Hip hop-centric bill which also featured Chicago mainstays, Angry Skinny (aka DJ Form) and Shon Dervis. In addition to Darkroom regulars, and music aficionados, the crowd was a veritable who’s who in Chicago Hip-Hop with artists like BeatDaddyFish, Bobby Lovelock, Alo, and Ron all making their presence known, albeit as spectators.

While the bodies slowly piled in, Form and Dervis spun seamless blends, dropping old school tracks, classics, and songs that only go over in Ch
icago (Juice’s “Freestyle or Written” anyone?) It was actually refreshing to see them perform at a new venue after recently being ‘let go’ from their multi-year run at The Note (sidenote: when will fools stop coming to the club strapped? You’re only hurting the scene with that nonsense.)

As two the few remaining DJs in town who still rock strictly wax sets, Form and Dervis hastily perused their record bags for the next track, rocking two verses and out for most of their selections. But while many Serato DJs bring back up wax in case their laptops crap out, there’s no remedy for a damaged tonearm, or in this case, a needle with bad connections. So as Dervis’ set came to a close, one turntable was having trouble with the high end. All I could think was “that wouldn’t be an issue if they were using Serato.” To each his own I guess. Although, the crowd wasn’t too concerned about the lo-fi mishap and really, if you can’t bob your head to muffled version of Dead Prez’ “Hip Hop,” you should take your audiophile sensibilities home.

The clock struck eleven, and a hooded individual made his way from the Green Room, with Rob Swift following closely behind. The stage was in chaos for a minute as sound guys and DJs both swooped in to help Rob set up his Serato interface. Yes, I said it, Serato. One of our culture’s most respected tablists was now rocking digitally. Like my man Ogun (of the Thirsty Cambodians) said “you know it’s official when dudes like Rob are using it.” As he unloaded his ‘record’ bag, which was full of Serato vinyl complete with timing strips and markings, the crowd started to pack themselves 10 deep at the front of the stage like teeny boppers at an Xtina concert.

Once the sound in the monitors was to his liking, Rob got on the mic and let the crowd know that his set would be broken into three parts. The first part, which could have easily passed for Average Joe DJ’s entire set, started off with the syncopated drum beat of The Soul Searchers “Funk for the Folks.” Rob repositioned his Bluetooth-style earpiece, and proceeded to cut the hell out of the track, beat-juggling and live remixing simultaneously. I’m guessing from the lackluster response, the majority of the crowd never heard of The Soul Searchers, let alone “Ashley’s Roachclip.” But Rob kept it moving, transitioning seamlessly into James Brown, to Booker T, and so on… all the while, chopping breaks like a butcher on meth.

After about 25 minutes of ‘warming up’ as Rob called it, he stepped to the mic again and worked the crowd with questions of Rex Grossman’s future. Taking it as a dis, one patron jokingly called out the Knicks. But just as quickly as Part One of his set ended, Part Two began. Heads weren’t ready. Any tablist can craft a decent beat juggling set, but it takes true master to build one on the fly. Upping the stakes of Part One, Rob threw in more ITF-ready tricks, behind the back juggles, and half-time chops. Selection-wise we were treated to more old school breaks, but by this point it didn’t matter if you couldn’t tell the difference between Barrabas and a hole in the wall, the crowd’s attention was firmly focused on his technique.

And for Part Three, it was all about technique. Working in a battle mode, he removed his earpiece and proceeded to plow through 10+ prepared routines. Some of which dated back to the late 90’s and other were specifically designed for this tour. He pulled out all the stops, and honestly at least half of the routines were difficult enough to land him a spot in the 2008 Eastern regional DMC finals. Playing melodies using the pitch control, manually reversing a drum beat while crabbing with the other hand, and working the fader with his spine were just a few of the tricks that made the crowd erupt with applause.

As Rob drank his 4th bottle of water, he announced that he was getting tired and wanted to head back to the hotel. Of course after paying a hefty cover charge, nobody was having it. So to silence our collective pseudo-anger, he prepped us for his ‘grand finale.’ He grabbed two new Serato records and cued up his next selection, and the crowd grew unnervingly quiet. He dropped the needle and out burst the verse “LL Cool J is hard as hell/battle anybody I don’t care who you tell.” Once the beat came in, Rob closed his eyes and began juggling the words “Rock the Bells.” Starting out at a snails pace, he slowly increased the tempo, so that by the end his hands were a blur… I have to admit it was pretty amazing. Although it was a simple juggle, he was working ‘blind’ and with incredible speed. Needless to say, the crowd ate it up and if we weren’t already on our feet, he would’ve received a standing ovation.

In the end, guys like Craze may be pushing the boundaries of the art form, but when the old guard comes through with their battle-tested routines, it’s akin to witnessing history as it was. You can’t go wrong with tried and true.

Check out Rob Swift’s MySpace page here and cop his new DVD As the Tables Turn by visiting his website.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Demo Round-Up: Back in Effect


Welcome back to GLmag’s Demo Round-up. Every month we receive loads of promos from artists on all levels of the game. Folks on major labels, large scale indies, regional cats, and bedroom producers. What this feature focuses on are the low key releases from artists who are grinding hard for their careers. Acts who you may have never heard of, but nonetheless deserve attention despite not having big money backing or 6-digit promotional budgets.

This month we’ve got a triple threat selection of homegrown Hip-hop from Yung Mars (Bay Area,) DJ Sid (Miami,) and Pro & Reg (B’more)

Yung Mars
Self Titled
Self Released 2007

The term ‘Live Hip Hop’ took on new meaning when The Roots entered onto the scene, and since then, they’ve unknowingly helped spawn countless groups who fuse live instrumentation and Hip Hop vocals. Some groups get it done right, while others struggle to keep the fusion fused. Yung Mars’ freshman debut falls in the former category. Supported by an impressive roster of musicians including three bassists, two saxophonists, one pianist/Rhodes man, and a vibes player, Mars has deftly assembled an organic Hip Hop group that could easily back Parliament or Roy Ayers. The perfect example being the track “Califunk” with its chugging guitar riff, live drumming, high pitched synth lines, and talk box interludes. “Bailar” sports a Latin-influenced rhythm and a hook sung in Spanish, while “Run with Me” has a Caribbean style beat complete with vibe runs and dancehall hand claps. Lyrically, over the course of the album, Mars’ flow becomes a bit monotonous but that fact is often countered by potent subject matter. Mostly introspective, he touches on sociological and political ills while never getting bogged down with the insurmountable task of living in today’s world. With guest DJ shots from DJ Powder and Teeko (of 4onefunk,) Yung Mars’ debut is worth tracking down even if Leonard Hubbard isn’t on your best-of shortlist.

Pro & Reg
Bricks 2 Bmore EP
Pro & Reg Records 2007

Coming off the success of their “Bricks 2 Bmore” 12inch with its guest shot by Tame One, Pro & Reg have teamed up with DJ Addikt for this EP of 2007-by-way-of-1993 Boom bap. With all but three tracks produced by Reg, the overall sound benefits from this aural cohesion. Although I doubt he would consider himself the best producer on the mic, Reg is far from a slouch. Pro on the other hand is everything his name implies. Honing his skills on the battle circuit, his insistent wit and flawless delivery serve to sell each track’s theme. This is best heard on Pro's solo track “Let’s Go,” a club banger with an unlikely organ accompaniment. One facet of Reg’s production that stands out is his use of samples in conjunction with new school drum sounds, which give his beats an old school feel and a new school bump. As far as lyrical content goes, Bricks 2 Bmore runs the gamut with everything from battle/boast cuts to conscious rap tracks. “Real Ain’t Always Right” satirizes the tall tales spouted off by your average gangsta rapper, while “Old School Rules” finds Pro & Reg deftly exchanging verses enough to make Run DMC jealous. Clocking in at just over 45 minutes and 10 tracks, Bricks 2 Bmore is more like an LP in the 1993 sense, all heaters, and no filler.

DJ Sid the Apocalypse
Buttafly Tunez
Self Released 2007

Nowadays, when anyone mentions the Miami music scene we automatically conjure up images of WMC techno parties, Trick Daddy with his ‘dro in the wind, 2 Live Crew booty shots, and Craze wrecking the wheels of steel. So to say the least, it was a welcome surprise to receive DJ Sid’s recent album, Buttafly Tunez. An all-instrumental, self-produced affair, Buttafly Tunez is more reminiscent of a dubby, Funky Porcini or DJ Cam outing than anything you’d expect from Miami. Tracks like “Jazz Me” and “Lt. Uhura” feature insanely large drums with complex programming to match. “Her Name Was Sparrow” and “Your Eyez” emit a mellow, heartfelt vibe, while “First Contact” sounds like a soundtrack to tumbling forward in space. Towards the end of the disc, Sid ventures into soulful and downtempo house territory, upping the tempo but keeping the chilled vibe on lock. I personally have an affinity for jazzed out, spacey instrumentals, so each of the album’s 19 tracks went down like water. But even for the uninitiated, DJ Sid offers enough sonic variations to keep even the most ADD afflicted individual’s head bobbing.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

WeFunk Radio : Heat from Up North

by Antti Tietäväinen

WEFUNK is a radio show from Montreal broadcasting through the prime party hours of Friday night. Hosts DJ Static and Professor Groove have blasted hot funk and soul grooves, old-school hip-hop and raw underground hip-hop over the airwaves of CKUT (McGill University) since '96. The shows have been archived to the web ( since '98, opening WEFUNK's reach to a wide international audience. I talked with the hosts of the WEFUNK, DJ Static and Professor Groove, about their show and their views on hip-hop and funk.

Introduce yourselves and tell us how WEFUNK Radio began.

DJ Static:
I've been DJing since 1994. I grew up listening to an underground hip-hop mix show in Vancouver called the Krispy Bisket Show. That inspired me to learn to DJ. When I moved to Montreal in 1995 to go to university I started training at the university radio station CKUT. Groove was training there at the same time and that's how we met.

Professor Groove:
I got turned on to funk & hip-hop listening to college radio while I was in high school. When I started university I wanted to try to get a radio show of my own so I could play funk music. At CKUT, Static and I were paired up to do a weekly training show together. We quickly realized that the funk and hip-hop we were playing made a natural combination. Since we both wanted to have a radio show, we decided to try to do a show together. We were lucky and we got a show at CKUT pretty quickly.

Can you describe what kind of hip-hop and funk you are playing and feeling? How do you see the link between these two music styles?

DJ Static: There was a time when hip-hop drew heavily on funk samples. I would say from around 88 to 94. Funk was one of the foundations that hip-hop was built on. So in my mind the two genres go together naturally. One grew out of the other, like roots and branches. One purpose of WEFUNK is to establish that connection to listeners who might not be aware of it. Like any culture, it's important to remember where you come from so you know where you're going. The same holds true for hip-hop. For the hip-hop side of WEFUNK, I try to play a mix of old and new tracks so people don't forget where the music comes from. Because hip-hop culture is growing so fast and spreading to such far corners of the world, it's important to share its history with everyone new to it. I also try to mix up the so-called underground tracks with more mainstream tracks to bridge the increasing gap in the hip-hop community between commercial and underground, to open people's mind who might only likes one or the other.

Professor Groove:
In addition to keeping the link between hip-hop and funk, I try to present a wide perspective on the funk sound from the 60s to the 80s. Some people mainly associate funk with blaxploitation soundtracks and the George Clinton/P-Funk sound that was popular in the late 70s. Although that material is important, funk goes much wider than that. There's a lot of really funky music that came before, in the early 70s and late 60s. Thanks to the influence of James Brown, as well as the social and political messages that funk was channeling in the 70s, funk was a very powerful sound. Jazz cats got caught up in being funky. Soul and R&B got really funky. Soundtracks got funky. Rock got funky. Reggae got funky. So for me, when I say I play funk music I'm not always thinking of funk as a genre, I'm going from that funk feeling that was forged in the late 60s and continues through today. You can hear that sound and that feeling in all the soul, funk, jazz, disco, and other grooves that I play under the umbrella of “funk” on WEFUNK.

We don't try to play for a particular demographic or audience, we just play the music we love and try to do it well. But as WEFUNK has grown and more and more people are listening, we've become more conscious of the wide variety of people we reach. It's important to me to share my love of this music and expose more people to these sounds. It's also important that our show remain connected with people who grew up with funk or hip-hop, and that we keep our sound relevant to the culture. Like a tree, staying rooted while reaching out.

Do you feel the music you play has a political dimension?

DJ Static:
I moved to Canada from Hong Kong when I was 11. That's when I heard hip-hop for the first time—and I fell in love with it immediately. In fact, listening to hip-hop probably helped me learn English as much as going to school did, at a time when I could barely speak a word of it! When I moved to Canada hip-hop attracted me so much because it gave me direction and a community at a time when I was uprooted and isolated as a young immigrant kid. Hip-hop at the time was real militant too. It taught me profound lessons on self-preservation in a society that doesn't always respect you and the importance of pride in yourself and your culture—lessons that I'm still trying to digest up to this day. Hip hop has always been the form of expression of people who are marginalized. That's why it's important to listen to it and the message it gives.
As I see it, hip-hop and funk both have heavily political roots. Funk in the 60s and 70s mirrored a lot of the developments in the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power Movement. A lot of the more political hip-hop around 1990 was an outcry over the conditions imposed by an extremely reactionary George Bush Sr. Of course the face of hip hop has changed a lot over the last 15 years. In the process of becoming a more mainstream music, hip hop has definitely lost its more militant edge. But at the same time, hip-hop now has more potential as a political movement than ever before precisely because of its wide reach and appeal on a global level. Check out one of my favorite documentaries of all time - Wattstax. It's about a black unity rally to commemorate the 7th anniversary of the LA Watts rebellion in 1965. Really powerful film. Powerful music, powerful speeches.

A while ago I ordered the WEFUNK Live Flavour EP, which contained freestyle and beatbox sessions from your show. It was excellent! Tell us about WEFUNK family, your friends who sometimes take part in your show. Any sessions you'll never forget?

DJ Static:
The WEFUNK family is basically friends of ours from Montreal (like Butta, Loes and Tony Ezzy) or visitors passing through Montreal (like DJ Vadim and J-Sands).

Professor Groove:
Man, a lot of great sessions have gone down on WEFUNK. J Sands' marathon 10-minute freestyle when he came down after a Lone Catalysts show… When Cuban group Obsesion came through with Lou Piensa and Butta Beats earlier this year it was bananas… lots of MCs and beatboxers throw down every year for our anniversary shows (show 150, 200, 250, etc)…. The “Appleton Rum”session in 2002 with Butta, J King and Miyagi was amusing. Throughout the show those guys worked their way through the bottle and you can hear the rhymes coming smoother then eventually getting unhinged. J King spit some crazy verses during that session…. Some of the old, old shows back in 2000 were pretty crazy too, although they're not in our audio archive unfortunately. This kid Bless came by a bunch of times back then —a 16 or 17 year old kid but he could freestyle for days. Like a freight train—you couldn't throw him off, he never missed a beat. He eventually hooked up with Guru (from Gangstarr) and put out some decent tracks, but he really comes alive in a freestyle cypher. There's some great sessions with him and MC Abdominal.

What else you do besides WEFUNK Radio?

DJ Static:
I spend a lot of time DJing. On average I play 4 gigs a week. The gigs range from DJ gigs in clubs and bars, shows with my group Nomadic Massive (I'm the DJ for the group), loft parties and breakdance competitions. In the daytime I work as a professor's assistant at McGill University here in Montreal.My boss works in the Faculty of Religious Studies, specializing in East Indian Religions, Comparative Religion, and Religious Pluralism.

Professor Groove:
I split my time between DJing and doing research. For my PhD project I'm studying how musical training can reshape the human brain. People sometimes ask me if studying the brain has helped me as a DJ —not really! But I think DJing and being a musician has helped me understand how the brain processes music. I also produce beats and am looking for MCs to work with.

DJ Static, tell us some more about the Nomadic Massive collective.

DJ Static:
Nomadic Massive is the new super group coming out of Montreal! We've only been together a year but we already have quite a reputation and following in Montreal. The group was first formed when Lou Piensa got an invitation to bring a group from Montreal down to perform at the annual Havana Hip-Hop Festival. Since he didn't have a group at the time, he asked a couple of people he knows from the Montreal hip-hop scene if they wanted to go to Cuba with him. We said yes and Nomadic Massive was formed! Our trip to Cuba really left an impression on everyone in the group, and made us into a family almost!
What sets Nomadic apart from a lot of other rap groups is the diverse nature of the group. We have 3 Haitians, a guy from France, an Argentinean, a Chilean, an Algerian, and a Chinese (myself!). We each bring to the group our different musical influences (hip-hop, dancehall, Latin music, Arabic music…) and we try to integrate all those influences into the sound of the group. As a result we cover a wide range of sounds, and appeal to a wide range of people (more than just hip-hop headz). Musically we incorporate live instruments (guitar, bass, drums), beatboxing, a singer, and turntablism, which allows us to have a richer and more varied sound than hip-hop groups that just have a couple of MCs rhyming over CD beats.

What other Canadian funk and hip-hop groups would you like to recommend to our readers?

Professor Groove:
Our friend Tony Ezzy is a crazy funk musician that has a sound like no other! His sound reminds me of Prince in the early 80s. His shit is hot! He is a really crazy performer who puts on a great live show every time. On or off stage, he's quite the character. Another group from Montreal you and your readers should look out for is Kalmunity Vibe Collective. They're a loose group of over 30 top-calibre musicians and vocalists who play a range of soulful sounds—from funk to reggae to soul and spoken word.

DJ Static:
Off the top of my head, the most important hip-hop artists from Canada are Maestro Fresh Wes, the Rascalz, Kardinal Offishall, and Swollen Members. From Montreal, the group that's best known internationally is probably Muzion (who has worked with Wyclef Jean). Because of the really diverse cultural communities that live together in Montreal, hip-hop exists in a rich musical mix that includes dancehall, reggae, reggaeton, R&B, house, etc.

Finally, tell us something about your future plans. Any shout-outs you wanna make?

DJ Static:
Share my love for the music and try to get my music out as much as I can. Shout-out to all the pioneers that paved the way and to all my family and friends who have supported me through the years.

Professor Groove:
Keep finding funky & soulful music, and sharing it with people across the globe. Thanks to all the people whose enthusiasm for good music has given me inspiration over the years—my family, friends, radio DJs while I was growing up, and all the talented musicians and DJs I have the pleasure of playing with in Montreal. Everyone who listens to WEFUNK—thanks for such amazing support over the years!

Nomadic Massive: