Tag Archive: Wu Tang Clan

Liam’s Review’s

Prodigy & Alchemist – “Albert Einstein” (Infamous)

“Albert Einstein” sees two hip-hop veterans team up for a collaborative album for the first time, after much work on Mobb Deep albums and some of Prodigy’s solo albums. Prodigy has been rapping since his teen years and has been releasing music as both part of Mobb Deep and his own solo albums for 20 years. The Alchemist is a producer of some renown who also started his career as a teenage in a duo called Whooligans and releasing his first production job 20 years ago.

I gave Alchemist’s last solo album “Russian Roulette” a bad review as I felt it’s production was unnecessarily over the top but he’s manages to reign in these tendencies on his varied and solid album. Prodigy’s lyrics stick his hardcore hip-hop roots with street raps and subjects the order of day, however his ability to change his flow and tone across the album is impressive and keeps the listener engaged.

The album’s highlights include ‘IMDKV’ with its double time bass drum, sharp piano chords, punishing synth bass and chaotic acoustic drums circle around Prodigy’s vocals and piano in the centre of the track. ‘Give ‘Em Hell’ matches dramatic strings with subtle hip-hop drums to demonstrate Alchemist can tone things down when it’s appropriate for the song or section of a song.

‘Death Sentence’ sees Roc Marciano join the party as he and Prodigy trade hardcore New York rhymes over deep, pulsing bass guitar, acoustic drums, thin swelling strings and an ethereal synth melody. ‘R.I.P.’ features Prodigy’s Mobb Deep partner Havoc and Wu Tang Clan legend Raekwon and features great use of the classic sample “U.F.O.” by ESG, which is used textural instead as the main beat and adds an eerie atmosphere to the track. On ‘Bible Paper’ things get vey cinematic and recalls Redman classic “Smash Sumthin’ while the lush strings of ‘Brezee’ and ‘Raw Forever’ sound like lost gems from a Blaxploitation soundtrack by Isaac Hayes.

All-in-all “Albert Einstein” delivers classic hip-hop sounds from two highly respected veterans, it’s not a game changer but is a very good hip-hop album, especially for fans of classic hardcore hip-hop.

Young Fathers – “Tape Two” (Anticon)

The Scottish trio Young Fathers had self released one E.P. called “Tape One” before they found their perfect home in alternative hip-hop label Anticon, famous for releasing the music of cLOUDDEAD, Why? And their experimental-emotional hip-hop peers.

“Tape Two” opens with the emotive “I Heard” which immediately establishes that this is a group that can 1) write a great song, 2) features some of the trio’s signature sounds e.g. ghostly reverb vocals, subtle use of drums and percussion and 3) that the comparisons to TV on the Radio are fair. ‘Come to Life’ sounds like The Neptunes gone lo-fi with its dirty synth bass, tribal beat and Pharrell-like lead vocals. ‘Only Child’ puts the tribal drums upfront alongside deep piano chords tough start-stop rhymes. ‘Queen Is Dead’ is the most explicitly hip-hop track with its siren synth sound, hollow sounding bass drum and hard hitting but wet snare drum. ‘Freefalling’ sees the trio embracing a heavy Dub influence with its bass line and atmosphere aping the Jamaican genre’s sound. ‘Mr. Martyr’ is a dark and mournful highlight with sparse and deep drums and offbeat tambourine combing with distant synth chords, distorted synth bass and mournful guitar melody to create a great soundscape for both the lead vocals and rap verses. ‘Way Down In the Hole’ combines glistening synths, the group trademark lead vocals with tribal drums, siren synth effects and dirty synth bass to stunning effect. “Tape Two” finishes with the thin tribal drums, ascending and descending synth chord progression and deep synth bass buzz with spine tingling piano to round out an incredible release from a trio who promise to only get better as they evolve.

Aceyalone- “Leanin’ On Slick” (Decon)

Aceyalone is a seasoned rapper having been releasing solo album’s since 1995’s “All Balls Don’t Bounce” and having founded the Freestyle Followship in the early 1990’s. “Leanin’ on Slick” is Ace’s thirteenth solo album and kicks off in a fine style with the simple yet funky percussion, deep bass and wah-wah guitar of ’30 & Up’ which set the tone for this funky album that screams summer. It’s quickly followed by the title track which throws a James Brown vocal sample into the mix, so far, so funky. Horns make their first appearance on ‘I Can Get It Myself’ which also sports a great tumbling drum break.

‘What You Gone and Do with That’ changes the formula up with some popping electronic drums replacing the acoustic breaks that have filled the album so far and synth brass replacing the real thing. However, the track loses none of the funky swing present throughout the album. The formula gets another twist on ‘I’m No Cassanova’ with its Stax Records soul groove and lead guitar and again on “Working Man Blues” which adds acoustic guitar and the Cee-Lo Green singing the songs chorys and “Things Get Better” which revolves heavily around the lead vocals and vocal harmonies of Daniel Merriweather.

On the rapping front the album will be a letdown for those who want top draw innovative rhymes and flow, it’s not that anything wrong with Aceyalone’s rapping it’s just he’s not saying or doing anything new. Personally I enjoyed his rhymes and he can definitely deliver the mature lyrics and controlled flow of a rap veteran but it’s the musical backing that’s the star of this album. Overall though this one of the best hip-hop albums of year so far despite this one criticism.

Action Bronson and Harry Fraud – “SAAAB Stories” (Self Released)

With “SAAAB Stories” Action Bronson and Harry Fraud have delivered their best release and most varied release to date. Both rapper and produce are at the top of their game and pushing each other to do greater things.

Things kick off with ‘2 Virgins’ the first of several slower and more contemplative tracks on the E.P. its slow reverse intro and strings off set by sweet picked guitar and sour distorted guitar solo flow underneath Bronson and his hype man Big Body Bes’s rhymes. ‘Triple Backflip’ picks up where ‘2 Virgins’ left off with its gliding electric piano, snapping snare and round and warm bass drum, in the second of the track these elements are joined by mood enhancing subtle strings and nice picked guitars. ‘No Time’ is a highlight with its soloing electric piano, jazzy bass guitar and head nodding bass guitar a perfect backing for Bronson’s smutty rhymes. ‘Strictly 4 My Jeeps’ is a summer banger that comes closer to matching the brilliant ‘No Time’ and also gets your head nodding and foot tapping. ‘Alligator’ demonstrates Bronson’s storytelling abilities and with its downtempo and spooky yet dirty synth recalls Fever Ray’s excellent self titled debut album. Album closer ‘Seven Series Triplets’ rounds things out nicely with its picked bass guitar and pulse quickening beat the perfect setting for verses from Bronson, Prodigy and Wu-Tang Clan’s Raekwon.

“SAAAB Stories” sees Bronson moving away from the perception of him as a food and sex obsessed Ghostface Killah impersonator and in fact I’d have to agree with Potholes in my Blog’s assertation that on this release he sounds closer to Ghostface’s Wu Tang tag team partner Raekwon. “SAAAB Stories” is the best hip-hop release of 2013 bar Adrian Younge and Ghostface Killah’s exceptional “12 Reasons to Die”, this is an essential release!!!

Boards of Canada – “Tomorrow’s Harvest” (Warp)

After all the mysterious codes, album playback’s in a desert and media hype we finally have the new album from Boards of Canada. “Tomorrow’s Harvest” doesn’t disappoint and stands up alongside the rest of Boards of Canada’s stellar back catalogue. There are two things that you notice after you first listen to the album 1) this isn’t a playful album filled with childlike nostalgia like “Music Has The Right To Children” (1998) 2) this is the most rhythmic Boards of Canada album to date from the drum beats the verge on hip-hop at times to the Vangelis style arpeggios and shifting synth textures.

The album opens with synthetic horn fanfare that purposefully recalls the introduction to an 80’s T.V. show, however this is a misleading and by second track and single ‘Reach for the Dead’ a few minutes later its clear this is going to a much darker proposition. The next track ‘White Cyclosa’ plunges us further into the darkness with its dread inducing synth drone, minimal echoing synth melody and unsettling shifting synth tones that rear their ugly head two minutes in. On ‘Jacquard Causeway’ a semi industrial beat competes with a curving synth melody and its counterpoint. As the song progresses more echoing synth melodies are added and the beat has acoustic layers added and feels looser as time goes on.

With its thin lightly modulated synth line and ethereal sounding vocal textures ‘Cold Earth’ is one of only tracks on the album that recalls earlier Boards of Canada releases albeit with a skittering beat and melody that jumps erratically around the beat and stereo field. ‘Sick Times’ also recalls earlier releases but with a darker, tenser atmosphere and thick, serrated electronic drums competing for the listener’s attention. ‘Collapse’ acts as the centrepiece to the albums palindrome structure it’s groaning reversed vocal effects set the disturbing tone and the Vangelis style arpeggio is another one of the albums key tropes. Next up is the album most playful track ‘Palace Posy’ with its bouncing synth bass and melody play off an almost head nodding hip-hop beat later a delayed synth stab and rhythmic synth melody kick and give the track yet more rhythmic variation, the closest thing to pop song that Boards of Canada have produced to date. ‘Split Your Infinities’ is another album highlight that opens with huge swath of synth drone and twinkling distant synth arpeggio, all this is underpinned by a crunchy beat and lo-fi vocal sample that come in, in the tracks second half. After the intensity of ‘Split Your Infinities’ and ‘Uritual’ the lighter and more pleasant ‘Nothing Is Real’ gives the listener a chance to relax, a pattern it repeated across the album’s structure.

The closer trio of tracks is one of the finest I’ve heard this year, starting with the digital degraded rhythmic synth riff and deep twanging bass guitar of ‘New Seeds’ which recalls Ennio Morricone’s finest soundtrack work but with a modern electronic twist. The track also has some great vocal textures and treated acoustic drums. ‘Come to Dust’ perfectly balances the darker and lighter elements of the album sound combining a deep  synth drone and distant vocal texture with a spacious beat and synth melody and topping it all off with a fast moving arpeggio. The album finishes with ‘Semena Mertvykh’ and the album deepest and darkest synth drone which is twinned with a synth melody so distant it sounds like its coming from down a deep pit, static and tape hiss add to the track’s creepy, dark atmosphere.

There was a eight year wait between Boards of Canada’s last album “The Campfire Headphase” and “Tomorrow’s Harvest” but the wait was worth it with Boards of Canada producing another exceptional album.

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

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