Tag Archive: Madlib


What Kirsty’s Looking Forward to

Albums

Pantha Du Prince & The Bell Laboratory – “Elements of Light” (Rough Trade) 11th January

Sonic Fiction favourite Pantha Du Prince (Hendrik Weber) has teamed up with Norwegian musicians The Bell Laboratory for a collaborative album, “Elements of Light”. The video previews below display the German techno producer and The Bell Laboratory creating an ambitious symphony of electronics, percussion and a special bell carillon, a three-tonne instrument consisting of fifty bronze bells.

Pantha du Prince & the Bell Laboratory – Trailer 1 from Sandra Trostel on Vimeo.

Pantha du Prince & the Bell Laboratory – Trailer 2 from Sandra Trostel on Vimeo.

Apparat – “Krieg und Frieden” (Mute) 15th February

The electronic music producer returns with an album based on a German theatre production of Tolstoy’s epic War and Peace, directed by Sebastian Hartmann. Once Hartmann asked Apparat, born Sascha Ring, to contribute music to the project, the producer then spent four weeks working with a 30-piece ensemble in an empty factory alongside Apparat’s live band members Philipp Timm and Christoph Hartmann. After the piece’s final performance Ring, C. Hartmann and Timm transformed the soundtrack into a work for album release. Ring says of “Krieg und Frieden”, “It’s the first record ever that didn’t hurt at some point. It’s full of imperfection because it was made by humans.” He goes on to describe the album as “a bit of a weird record with not many beats and lots of drones.”

Grab the free ‘A Violent Sky’ now:

Function – “Incubation” (Ostgut Ton) 4th March

Nearly 20 years into Function’s career comes his solo debut album “Incubation” on the luminary Ostgut label.  As a member of Sandwell District and as a solo artist he is known for producing sleek, atmospheric techno, which he will explore further on his album, which was mastered by the respected engineer Tobias Freund. His goal,  “was to create something cinematic and heavy on imagery and emotion.” and  a “soundtrack.” The release was conceived as “one endless piece to be listened to straight through. So everything is connected and there are reoccurring themes throughout the album.” Listen to his beautiful ‘Inter’ below:

Ellen Allien – “LISm” (BPitch Control) March

Berlin icon Ellen Allien is due to release her seventh album “LISm” in March. The album is closely based on a soundtrack Allien wrote for the Drama per Musica dance recital performed in 2011 at Paris’ Spectacles Vivants Festival. She called on Bruno Pronsato to aid her with expanding the pieces and to co-produce “LISm”. As usual the album will be released through BPitch Control, the label she’s managed for over a decade.

Stream a medley of “LISm” below:

The Knife – “Shaking The Habitual” (Mute) 8th April

After seven years we will finally see the release of the Swedish brother-sister duo’s third studio album “Shaking The Habitual”. Their last was the flawless “Silent Shout” from 2006. In 2010 they released, “Tomorrow In A Year”, the collaborative album with Mt. Sims and Planningtorock that was written for an opera/performance piece based on the life and work of Charles Darwin. Both members have also released solo records under pseudonyms – Karin as the acclaimed Fever Ray and Olaf as Oni Ahyun. Light Asylum member Shannon Funchess has contributed to vocals to the album which will be released via Mute/Brille.

This video, which may or not be The Knife, leaked online could provide clues on what we can expect.

Listen to the title track from “Silent Shout” below:

Artists

Audion – Matthew Dear has hinted via Twitter that new material from his techno side project Audion could on the horizon this year. Listen to the classic ‘Mouth to Mouth’ below:

Answer Code Request – Patrick Gräser has this far released a handful of refreshingly varied, rolling techno 12″s on labels as Ostgut Ton, Marcel Dettmann’s MDR Records and Music Man. His “Main Mode” 12″ is an essential listen with other tracks of his included on Norman Nodge’s excellent “Berghain06” and Dettmann’s “Conducted” mix. Maybe in 2013 Answer Code Request will take the leap to producing a full length release.

Kompakt celebrates 20 Years

The esteemed German label will celebrate its 20th birthday in 2013 with a host of special events, including an extensive European tour, a documentary chronicling the rise of the label, a “fanzine” and re-issues. The best news yet is they of course will release new music throughout 2013. While there are no exact release dates, we can expect new albums from Justus Köhncke, Coma, The Field and Gui Boratto.

What Liam’s Looking Forward to

Albums

A$AP Rocky – “Long.Live.A$AP” 14th January

Having discovered A$AP Rocky through his “LiveLoveA$AP” (2010) I was looking to hearing his debut album and its finally coming out in just a weeks time after many delays. The album features top underground hip-hop producers such as Clams Casino, Hit Boy, A$AP Ty Beats, Soufein3000, Joey Fat Beats and Rocky himself and has already gained a Best New Music award from Pitchfork. “Long.Live.A$AP” promises to be one of the Albums of the Year 2013.

Jamie Lidell – “Jamie Lidell” 18th February

Jamie Lidell returns with his self titled fifth album in February 2013, pre release track “What A Shame” finds him returning to the electronic sound of his first two solo albums “Muddling Gear” (2000) and the brilliant “Multiply” (2005).

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – “Push the Sky Away” 18th February

The long awaited follow up to “Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!” (2008) has got me excited due to its trailer and the Gaspar Noe directed video for first single ‘We Know Who U R’, a simple but highly effective song with a video to match. I can’t wait to hear the rest of the album!!!

Low – “The Invisible Way” 18th March

In 2013 Low celebrate their 20th anniversary as a band, they will also release their 13th studio album. Produced by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy at Wilco’s Chicago studio, The Loft, the band visited the studio while on tour and decided to record with Tweedy after hearing his work on Mavis Staples “You Are Not Alone” (2010).

David Bowie – “The Next Day” March 2013

On Tuesday (8th January)  David Bowie announced his return with his 30th studio album and his first since 2003’s “Reality”. The first single from “The Next Day” is ‘Where Are We Now’ which harks back to the “Heroes” (1977) a Bowie classic. This has surprised many critics and fans alike as Bowie is generally perceived as a forward thinking artist. However, this overlooks much of Bowie’s output in the 90’s and 00’s which referenced his own back catalogue on numerous occasions. Producer Tony Visconti quickly aligned any fears of Bowie deserting his innovative roots describing the album as both “innovative” and “quite a rock album” continuing if people are looking for classic Bowie, they’ll find it on this album”.

Adrian Younge and Ghostface Killah – “Twelve Reasons to Die” early 2013

“Twelve Reasons to Die” is the result of an unlikely collaboration between producer and film score composer Adrian Younge (most famous for his work on the brilliant blaxploitation homage “Black Dynamite) and Wu Tang Clan MC Ghostface Killah. The album is executive produced by RZA (Wu Tang Clan) and comes with a comic book written by Matthew Rosenberg and Patrick Kindlon of Ashcan Press.

Factory Floor – “Title TBA” 13th May

After a good two years of singles and build up it seems that the band will finally release their much anticipated début album in May 2013 on DFA records. The album will be preceded by the single ‘Fall Back’ eight and a half minutes of slow burning dance floor intensity.

YoungBlood Brass Band – “Pax Volumi” early 2013

The latest from the band is that they have completed their new album with a release planned for early in 2013, accompanied by an extensive world tour. I look forward to hearing this explosive bands combination of raw live jazz and hip-hop elements, been much missed since the brilliant “Is That A Riot?” (2006).

Yeah Yeah Yeah’s – “Title TBA” Spring 2013

The band recently announced their new album would be out in the new year, more information as we get it.

Madvillain – “Title TBA” 2013

In a recent interview with Benji B on BBC Radio 1 Doom of Madvillain announced that the second album is almost done and he just has to finish off two songs and that if they’re finished on time the album could be out before the end of 2012. 2012 is now been and gone but the album is close to completion so hopefully it will be released before the year is out.

Artists

AlunaGeorge

AlunaGeorge’s music has been bouncing around the internet for around a year now and now the male-female duo are hotly tipped for success and finishing second in the BBC’s Sound of 2013 didn’t hurt their chances of going supernova this year. However, its their music and not polls that has me excited an combination on Timbaland and The Neptunes style beats, off kilter synths and R&B vocals instantly mark them out from the pack, while never forgetting about a hummable tune and killer hook. Their debut album “Body Music” comes out in June and I can’t wait for it. To read an interview with band on The Guardian’s website click here.

Ryan Hemsworth

Ryan Hemsworth started out providing beats for cloud rap acts such as Attrakionz and Deniro Farrar until the release of his instrumental E.P. “Last Words” late in 2012 in which he expanded out into a skewed hip-hop, ambient and dance music hybrid. His main influences are Three 6 Mafia, Mannie Fresh, Hudson Mohawke, Aphex Twin and Ryuichi Sakamoto. I look forward to hearing more material from this promising young producer.

Joey Bada$$

18 year old Joey Bada$$ released his excellent debut mixtape “1999” which perfectly recreated late 90’s New York and catapulted Bada$$ and his PRO ERA crew into the spotlight. It also drew the attention of legendary hip-hop producer DJ Premier and the two will release a free on Mountain Dew’s Green Label Sound next week.

Night Engine

Although originality isn’t their strong suit musically Night Engine do create exciting music and show the potential to develop into a great guitar pop band. They recall both Franz Ferdinand and Berlin era and early 80’s David Bowie and neither of those are bad artists to be a reminder of. Check out their debut single ‘Seventeen/Treat Me Like a Baby’ below and read more about the band here.

This is a monthly feature where classic and cult albums are revisited and reassessed for the modern listener. The only rule is that it must be a critically acclaimed or cult record released before 2000.

MF Doom – “Operation Doomsday” (Fondle ‘Em Records, 1999)

In April 2011 MF Doom’s Metal Face Records (in conjunction with Stones Throw Records) reissued the heralded underground hip-hop classic “Operation Doomsday”. In this month’s Classics Critiqued I will explore the reasons why I believe the album doesn’t deserve its seemingly unchallenged status as a ‘classic’ album. I will consider all the elements of the music including beats, production, lyrical content and Doom’s flow, I will also discuss the album’s legacy and influence on the current hip-hop generation.

Doom (Daniel Dumile – pronounced Doo-ma-lay) started his career in hip-hop in 1988 when he formed the group KMD with younger brother DJ Subroc and an MC called Rodan. At this point Doom was using the stage name Zev Love X. Rodan soon left the group and was replaced by an MC named Onyx the Birthstone Kid, in this incarnation the group signed to Elektra Records. The band released their debut album “Mr. Hood” in 1991 and their singles ‘Peachfuzz’ and ‘Who Me?’ received heavy video play on Yo! MTV Raps and Rap City. Everything seemed to be going well then in 1993 Subroc was killed by a car while crossing the Long Island expressway and in the same week the group were dropped by Elektra due to  controversial cover art of their second album “Black Bastards”.

In the aftermath Dumile retreated from the hip-hop scene suffering from disillusionment and depression and relocated from New York to Atlanta. Meanwhile, “Black Bastards” was doing the rounds as a bootleg and Doom’s star was rising on the underground hip-hop circuit. In 1997 Doom began free styling at open-mic events in Manhattan wearing a stocking over his head and developing his new persona MF Doom. The stocking became a mask: the ‘MF’ meaning Metal Face. Finally in 1999 he released his debut album “Operation Doomsday”. Initially the album didn’t cause much of a stir but with Fondle ‘Em Records bankrupcy its classic status seemed to grow due to its unavailability yet I challenge the idea that “Operation Doomsday” is a classic.

“Operation Doomsday” is not a bad album; it’s a very solid debut release from a rapper/producer that would go on to rightly dominate underground rap music in the ‘00s. However, there are a number of reasons it isn’t the classic album it held up as. Firstly the more I listen to it the more I’ve found myself feeling that it had all been done before and better. In the early ’90s, acts such as A Tribe Called Quest and Gang Starr produced similar albums of much higher quality. A Tribe Called Quest’s “People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm” (1990) and Gang Starr’s “Step In The Arena” (1991) are fine examples of jazz inspired hip-hop music. So it strikes me as strange that this album is so acclaimed, maybe it was simply good timing as hip-hop moved from one era to the next, “Operation Dommsday” provides critics with a neat link between them. Neither do I think it is Doom’s best album; that award should go to “Madvillainy” (2004), the result of his collaboration with producer/drummer Madlib though if we are just considering his solo albums then I would argue that “Vaudeville Villain” under his Viktor Vaughan alias  is better than “Operation Doomsday” on all fronts.

The Doom character isn’t as developed on “Operation Doomsday” and though this may be an unfair criticism as it’s his debut album, he had been performing as MF Doom for two years and had many years in the wilderness to devise and develop this character. The world that Doom attempts to create on “Operation Doomsday” is one that seems to have been created on the fly and the inconsistant lyrical content leaves the listener unsure of what Doom is driving at. This can cause much confusion as Doom introduces the listener to a whole universe of slang vocabulary and obscure reference points that at the time wasn’t just a Google search away and is still difficult to unravel today. The comic book character meshes better with the music of later Doom albums where he further developed his musical style into something that was truly his own.

The traditional song structures employed on “Operation Doomsday” are uninspiring compared to Doom’s later albums. Here he repeats verses where in the future he would just stop the track completely. Some tracks fade out then the backing track is brought back in for another 30-60 seconds, though this was a technique used to highlight the work of the producer it begins to grate after a few plays and doesn’t add anything to Doom’s compositions.

Despite the many holes I’ve found in the critical acclaim given to “Operation Doomsday”, its reissue last year saw many critics reinforcing the idea that it’s a classic album and rightly giving Doom credit as an influential artist whose music and lyrics have had profound effect on contemporary underground hip-hop. As Ian Cohen said in his Pitchfork review of the reissue, “The album goes a long way toward demonstrating Doom’s incalculable influence on some of the leading lights of current underground hip-hop: Lil’ B has dedicated an entire album to Doom, the lurching production style of Odd Future owes him a heavy debt (most obviously shown in “Odd Toddlers” flipping the same sample as 2004’s “One Beer”), and K.M.D.’s referential raps and playful yet incisive deconstructions of racial politics are a clear influence on Das Racist.” Cohen’s assessment perfectly sums up Doom and the legacy of “Operation Doomsday” and demonstrates this album is still very held in high regard by rock and hip-hop critics.

Listen to “Operation Doomsday” via Spotify – MF Doom – OPERATION: DOOMSDAY (Complete)

Please feel free to let me know your thoughts & opinions on “Operation Doomsday” in the comments section or via the Sonic Fiction Twitter.

This is a monthly feature where classic and cult albums are revisited and reassessed for the modern listener. The only rule is that it must be a critically acclaimed or cult record released before 2000.

A Tribe Called Quest – ‘Midnight Marauders’ (1993, Jive Records)

This month’s selection is a hip-hop classic from the early nineties that in retrospect stands as both one of the last of its kind and a precursor to what was to come in the genre. By the time ‘Midnight Marauders’ was released in 1993, A Tribe Called Quest (ATCQ) (Q-Tip – rapper/producer, Phife Dawg – rapper and DJ/producer Ali Shaheed Muhammad) were a well established conscious rap group that had already released two albums: the brilliant debut “People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm” and, ‘The Low End Theory’, which established their trademark sound. As members of the Native Tongues posse which also featured De La Soul, The Jungle Brothers, Monie Love and Queen Latifah ATCQ pioneered a form of hip-hop that was lyrically and musically opposed to the underground gangsta rap scene and the militant sound of Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions. A Tribe Called Quest’s style leant heavily on jazz samples and instrumentation such as double bass, Rhodes piano, brass riffs, producing a smooth and distinct sound that was bright without being lightweight. ‘The Low End Theory’ also brought the trio wider attention, setting them up for the more commercial sound of ‘Midnight Maunders’ and its success.

‘Midnight Maunders’ is viewed as their ‘commercial album’ and yielded their biggest hit yet with ‘Award Tour’, propelling the album into the Billboard Top Ten. The release is also their most quality-consistent album. The NME called it their “most complete work to date” and Melody Maker also complimented this new found consistency, “A Tribe Called Quest have expanded their vision with a lyrical gravitas and a musical lightness of touch that has hitherto eluded them across a whole album”. Whereas the two previous albums had consisted of a selection of highlights and the occasional filler ‘Midnight Maunders’ manages an incredible 15 tracks without a single duff moment, a real rarity in hip-hop albums, which often revolve around a few singles and a lot of filler and skits. The use of the ‘album tour guide’ that features throughout is another element that helps tie the album together while never interrupting its flow.

Combing hard drums (they had previously chosen softer sounds to compliment the jazz samples), up-tempo grooves (another new facet to their once laidback sound), jazz instrumentation and catchy hooks imbues the album with a more immediate sound. The MCs Q-Tip and Phife Dawg are on top form trading lyrics back and forth with irrepressible flows. Their near-telepathic chemistry has vastly improved compared to that on previous albums, Lyrically the album flits between socio-political topics such as police harassment and nocturnal activity (‘Midnight’), religious faith (“God Lives Through”) to candid use of the word “nigga” (‘Sucka Nigga’)” and playful braggadocio on ‘Steve Biko (Stir It Up)’ with the lyrics: “Rude boy composer, Step to me you’re over, Brothers wanna flex, You’re not Mad Cobra, MC short and black, There aint no other”, ‘Clap Your Hands’, ‘Oh My God’ (featuring a flourishing Busta Rhymes) and ‘God Lives Through’. There is a real sense of the times in which they lived with lyrics referencing Nelson Mandela being freed and South African human rights activist Steve Biko and problems with African American violence while some lyrics are more general, covering black politics and culture, particularly ‘Sucka Nigga’:

“It means that we will never grow, you know the word dummy

Other niggas in the community think its crummy

But I don’t, neither does the youth cause we

Embrace adversity it goes right with the race

And being that we use it as a term of endearment

Niggas start to bug to the dome as where the fear went”

A Tribe Called Quest were not lacking in interesting samples either and they established themselves as fine ‘diggers’ – skilled in the art of finding records to sample for production. They continued to demonstrate this skill with ‘Midnight Marauders’: ‘Award Tour’ sampled obscure jazz session musician Irvine Weldon’s ‘We Gettin’ Down’, ‘Clap Your Hands’ mixed up The Meter’s ‘Handclapping Song’ with jazz from Bob James and Lou Donaldson and Clyde McPhatter’s rock guitar is a surprising choice for ‘Lyrics to Go’. These examples indicate how ATCQ could keep people guessing when it came to their choice of samples. It wasn’t just the trio handling the music on this album either as ‘8 Million Stories’ is produced by Skeff Anselm and ‘Keep It Rollin’ by Large Professor both of whom were up and coming hip-hop producers at the time. ATCQ also gave exposure to a young Raphael Saadiq who contributes to ‘Midnight’ and Busta Rhymes (still three years away from his debut solo single) who appears on ‘Oh My God’. This also bears out the idea that A Tribe Called Quest were great promoters of other hip-hop talent with ‘Midnight Marauders’’s cover featuring headshots of hip-hop artists they respected. De La Soul, the Beastie Boys, MC Lyte and Doug E. Fresh can be spotted.

In many ways ‘Midnight Marauders’ sealed their legacy and still deserves the acclaim it received on release as the last classic of the ‘Golden Age’ of hip-hop and the last great album to be released by a member of the Native Tongues posse. Hip-hop was at a cross roads that split between the positivity of Native Tongues, the emergent forces of macho gangsta rap and the dark, underground sound of Wu Tang Clan. The darker forces would prevail in the short term but A Tribe Called Quest still managed to extend an influence beyond their time together. In the early 2000s a selection of underground hip-hop artists including Mablib, Frank ‘n’ Dank and Little Brother adopted influence from the mellow jazz vibes of ATCQ and in 2008 Kanye West sang ATCQ’s praises as an inspiration that made him want to become a rapper and producer –

“Can you remember the first record you bought?
Yeah, it was, errrr, A Tribe Called Quest ‘Low End Theory’.

Who did you look up to in terms of artists when growing up?
I mean, yeah – A Tribe Called Quest, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, George Michael. I’m thinking about when I was a little kid, LL Cool J…”

The album has featured in many Best Albums lists including The Source’s 100 Best Hip-Hop Albums of All Time, Pitchfork’s Top 100 Albums of the 1990s and The Guardian’s 100 Albums that Don’t Appear in All Other Top 100 Album Lists amongst others. ‘Midnight Marauders’ transcends its era and lives on as classic album that is well worth rediscovering.

Spotify playlist:

A Tribe Called Quest – Midnight Marauders

In November 2009 I read ‘When Will Hip-Hop Hurry Up And Die?’ as part of the Notes on the Noughties blog series for The Guardian written by Simon Reynolds. Reynolds began by discussing a piece by New York Times journalist Sasha Frere-Jones that suggested 2009 was the year that hip-hop finally died. He continued Frere-Jones’ proposal with adding that between 2005 and 2010 hip-hop had stagnated, lost its grip on the charts and even its biggest stars and producers admitted they were “bored” with a now “corny” genre. In the article and on his Blissblog Reynolds opened the subject up to question whether genres actually do die and concluded that hip-hop isn’t dead, just out of touch with the zeitgeist and a weakened commercial force.

Then in December I watched the ‘UK B-Boy Championships: World Finals’ on Channel 4. I was astonished at the moves and routines on display and how it had developed since its birth in late seventies, New York. After the programme finished an idea occurred to me. Maybe hip-hop music was stagnant but the other elements were flourishing away from the media spotlight.

In this piece I will briefly discuss the current state of hip-hop before exploring in more detail the other areas of hip-hop culture: break dancing, graffiti, outsider art and turntablism.

Though not entirely moribund, hip-hop music is in a bad way. At the commercial end and in the underground there is a lack of anything inventive and, worse, little that demonstrates the traits of an enduring classic. At the beginning of the noughties commercial hip-hop was enjoying a flush period of creation and innovation. Across the US and UK new strains and variations of the music were showing a way forward beyond the traditional samples and breaks formula. US producers including Timbaland and The Neptunes were exploring new ways of programming and manipulating beats and rhythmic measures using computer technology. Crunk and Dr. Dre produced superstars that ruled the charts and critics took on Kanye West and Lil’ Wayne as their new darlings. Though the US underground struggled to keep up due to its purism, it still produced artists and albums of note. In particular the Stone’s Throw and Def Jux labels were responsible for pioneering records by Madlib, Cannibal Ox, EL-P and Jay Dilla yet the majority of underground artists hesitating to embrace some daring records neutralised the scene. Meanwhile in the UK, artists such as Roots Manuva, Dizzee Rascal, Phi Life Cypher and producers like Lewis Parker were establishing their own brand of hip-hop and its sub-genre grime. The innovations in England were more restrained. Parker’s melancholic sound, Roots Manuva’s absorption of a wide range of influences encompassing dub, dancehall and club-orientated music led to him consistently evolving his sound throughout his career. These trendsetters, however, found increasing numbers of pale imitators riding on their coat tails, leading to a lack of faith in the scene and a realisation that the repetition hindered wider commercial success so some redeveloped their sound and image in order to achieve.  Former grime MCs Dizzee Rascal and Tinchy Stryder are among these artists and Sway is now featuring on and producing tracks for American R&B stars like Akon.

So while hip-hop music seems to be stagnating, the other areas of hip-hop culture have evolved and are thriving. In the last ten years graffiti and its relative outsider art have moved into the media spotlight thanks to the work of Banksy, Robert ‘3D’ Del Naja (Massive Attack and The Wild Bunch), Jamie Hewlett, the Faile collective and many more. The former of these art forms developed from its origins on the New York streets in the ‘70s as a way for artists to express themselves and which group they were a member of into a style that has not only entered mainstream consciousness but has commented on socio-political and international issues and ideas before traditional media. Examples of this is the brilliant satire of Zevs and Blu, the hard hitting War Paint exhibition by 3D, which informed UNKLE’s ‘War Stories’ album artwork and the original Throw Up and Wildstyle lettering has evolved into stencilling (popularised by Banksy), Stickers or Slaps, Pieces, Blockbuster and Heaven. Though it has yet to be accepted by many in the art world as ‘true art’, graffiti is being included in art galleries and becoming a wider acknowledged form of artistic expression. Even York, where I live, young people are commissioned to create works with the help of a graffiti artist. While it is hidden well out of the city centre, it’s a step in the right direction for such a tourist-oriented place and outside art.

Like graffiti, break dancing or ‘b-boying’ has also enjoyed increased media and cultural exposure in the last ten years. This has included new TV series in the form of ‘Break’, a 2006 S. Korean drama about a break dancing competition and ‘Over The Rainbow’ which centred on characters who b-boy together. Documentaries ‘The Freshest Kids: A History of B-boy (2002) recorded the evolution of b-boying and ‘Plant B-Boy’ (2007) followed competing crews as they travelled the globe. There was also the ‘B-Boy’ videogame,  the comic book ‘Hip-Hop’ that launched breaking in S. Korea in 1997, a novel called ‘Kid B’ by former b-boy Linden Dalecki and in 2005, a Volkswagen Golf GTi advert featured a CG Gene Kelly break dancing to a new breakbeat version of ‘Singing in the Rain’ by Mint Royale. A b-boy even won the woeful Britain’s Got Talent in 2008, getting the opportunity to perform to royalty and helping seal b-boying’s place as a new media force.

Before watching the B-Boy Championships I admit I wasn’t aware of b-boying’s evolution and hadn’t expected the transformation in techniques and professionalism. I have been to hip-hop club nights and seen people break dancing in a ‘cipher’, where one or two b-boys compete in the centre of a group, and while enjoyable it didn’t signify the athletic displays I witnessed in the programme. Individuals and crews demonstrated an incredible range of routines and skills and the competition also represented the international spread of this cultural component. B-boying is huge in Japan and S. Korea and I was surprised by the Dutch, Ukrainian and Russian teams’ entries. It illustrated a thriving sub-culture and the ideas expressed about hip-hop’s apparent death were underlined by the lack of any contemporary hip-hop backing the performances.

To lesser degree, as its last great period was in the ‘90s, turntablism has continued to develop throughout the noughties. It has become a wider accepted form of musical expression and the turntable is acknowledged in some quarters as a musical instrument. Brand-sponsored tours and the transition of turntablist to acclaimed producer experienced by several artists demonstrate a mainstream acceptance and documentaries such as ‘Scratch’ that document the sub-genre’s past and present and the release of ‘DJ Hero’ in collaboration with the likes of DJ Shadow, DJ Q-Bert and others are further proof of this. Another major development is the increasingly popular audio-visual turntablist who, like the internationally adored DJ Yoda and Coldcut, manipulates and scratches musical and visual elements.

Although hip-hop music is in stasis, it or any other genre cannot be pronounced dead. There are still signs of life and creativity yet I do concede that statement albums and charismatic performers are few and far between. Kanye West’s actions have been criticised (and rightly so) but there is no doubt he is one of the few rappers/producers who truly continues to espouse the hip-hop spirit. A restlessly challenging and prolific creator, his persona and sound evolve with each new release whilst still undeniably Kanye. Since ‘The College Drop-Out’ he has rarely dropped a beat and in the last 18 months alone produced the brilliant if difficult ‘808 and Heartbreaks’ and presented Jay-Z with a fully sequenced version of ‘The Blueprint Vol.3’, which was a more varied affair that showcased a new dark pop/hip-hop sound and in ‘Run This Town’ produced a stone cold classic. Furthermore West has already nearly finished creating his next record that it will surely signal another change and controversy.

The question is: what now for hip-hop music? Where does it go and who will take it into a new era? There are some possible contenders. One is LA’s Flying Lotus who has great credentials. He is signed to Warp Records, a label with a 20 year history of innovation and his collective and own label, Brainfeeder, allows him access to a range of artists and their skills. However, despite the hype around the releases I have yet to hear anything that compares to his live performances but this may be an artistic choice. Another candidate is fellow Warp signing, Glasgow’s Hudson Mohawke. Like Flying Lotus he is part of a collective, LuckyMe, and he and Flying Lotus have both been categorised into the wonky style, a sub-genre of hip-hop that incorporates unstable time signatures and sits between hip-hop and dubstep. The difference with Mohawke is that he is venturing into production for other artists and has no problem adapting his ideas for mainstream music. This may mean that the old adage of ‘today’s underground is tomorrow’s overground’ could become true for hip-hop for the first time since crunk and grime temporarily took off in the early noughties and that the other elements of hip-hop culture can only continue to find new ways to innovate and new avenues in which to endeavour. With graffiti founding its own art spaces like the Lazarides Gallery and finding its way, legally and otherwise, into traditional art galleries, people’s exposure to and understanding of this phenomenon will only improve. Alongside this, progressive theatre companies are using b-boy performances, which expand audience awareness and participation. Despite being perceived as a niche activity pursued by an elite of geeks, turntabilism has become the most high profile. It has moved into people’s living rooms and with the release of DJ Hero will engage with an entire new audience. There is a very positive outlook for these sub-cultures and I can’t wait to see the progress they make.

If you have your own suggestions feel free to discuss them in the comments section.

Spotify playlist (HHTP link, then Spotify link):

Hip-Hop Culture Blog

Hip-Hop Culture Blog

February continued where January left off only upping the ante of quality releases.

Hot Chip proved yet again to be masters of studio and stage when they delivered their new album ‘One Life Stand’, which has been rightly hailed as their most consistent effort to date and features too many catchy tunes to count. Watching them perform at Leeds Academy I could see they had continued to exponentially improve their already impressive live shows. Hot Chip demonstrated they have gained the confidence to exhibit, without arrogance, a combination of songcraft, dynamics, performance and adaptation that hit the highest levels possible.

I also invested in a Rough Trade exclusive version of the Lindstrom and Christabelle album ‘Real Life is No Cool’, as mentioned in January’s post, and was delighted with the package that also included a second disc of six remixes and a third featuring Lindstrom’s (slightly over long and repetitive) version of the carol ‘Little Drummer Boy’. These New Puritans’ album is another essential purchase and has forced me to reassess this band and I will be revisiting their debut ‘Beat Pyramid’ on Spotify soon. I continued my spending spree on new music with Zombie Zombie member Etienne Jaumet’s album ‘Night Music’, which is a brilliant distillation of techno, krautrock and horror film music that spooks and thrills in equal measure.

I also caught up with couple of release from last year. The first being Mos Def’s ‘The Ecstatic’ which deserved a place on my ‘albums of 2009’ list. Though, like all of his albums, it has a New York feel, the key difference here is that it traverses from Bollywood to Nigeria and finds Mos eschewing his wordy rapping and long tangents for short, sharp bursts of sound. The second of these releases was ‘Inspiration Information Vol.3’ by Mulatu Astatke and The Heliocentrics, a combination of Astatke’s own genre Ethio-jazz (a fusion of jazz and traditional Ethiopian melodies and harmonies) and The Heliocentric’s blaxploitation style of funk. This is must for fans of African music, The Herbaliser and The Cinematic Orchestra. Astatke’s new album ‘Mulatu Steps Ahead’ is out on 29th March and features The Heliocentrics as guests. The quality present on ‘Inspiration Information Vol.3’ is at such high level, it’s another big recommendation.

Finally I rounded off the month with a couple of classic krautrock reissues in the form of Can’s ‘Tago Mago’, an incredible double album that veers from taut funk inspired rock to paranoid synths scapes over its duration. The other was ‘Pheadra’ by Tangerine Dream. An album that many credit as a major inspiration for ambient music and modern dance music producers including Lindstrom and Prins Thomas.

This months Spotify playlist:

February 2010 playlist

February 2010 playlist

To check out in March:

Errors – ‘Come Down with Me’ 1st March

Tuung – ‘And then we saw Land’  1st March

Gonjasufi – ‘A Sufi and a Killer’ 8th March

Gorillaz – ‘Plastic Beach’ 8thMarch

Liars – ‘Sisterworld’ 8th March

The Knife – ‘Tomorrow, In A Year’ 8th March

Madlib – ‘Medicine Show Vol.3: Beat Konducta in Africa’ 22nd March

Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh 29th March

Mulatu Astatke – ‘Mulatu Steps Ahead’ 29th March

Method Man/Ghostface/Raekwaon – ‘Wu Massacre’ 29th March.

Also plenty of posts to look forward to on this blog. I’ll be covering hip-hop culture, non-musicians and a new regular feature re-evaluating classic and cult albums of the past.

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