Archive for November, 2008

28
Nov
08

Jurassic 5 – EP

jurassic5ep

Los Angeles in the early to mid-nineties was a hotbed of musical activity …especially in the west coast hip hop scene. 

On any given week you could catch some of the biggest names in the game playing at small clubs and bars throughout the city. One of the biggest spots in town for the music was a little club called The Root Down.  I saved some of their flyers from that era and I look back at them now and wonder when we’ll ever see shit going down like that again. 

In one month you could see DJ Z Trip, Blackalicious, Madlib and Ozomatli for like…ten bucks.  Better yet, all your hip hop heros were there, just wandering around the place.  (I remeber one show where I stopped and chatted with Peanutbutter Wolf for a bit while commenting that the guy next to us looked like Mos Def.  Turns out it was Mos Def.)

But the group that became the cornerstone of the LA scene was Jurassic 5 and when their now legendary “Jurassic 5 EP”dropped in 1993, they pretty much had shit on lockdown.

They got their start at a South Central open-mic hot spot called the Good Life Cafe, the place that helped spawn the careers of The Freestyle Fellowship and The Pharcyde to name a few.  Back then, they were two groups…The Rebels of Rhythm and The Unity Committee, and in early ’93 the crews collaborated on a one-off 12″ called “Unified Rebellion” that was an instant underground hit on college radio and mix shows.  Jurassic 5 was now official.

Led by MC’s Zaakir, Akil, Marc 7 and the baritone Chali 2na the group’s sound is held together by the dynamic DJ team of Cut Chemist and DJ NuMark. (Jurassic is one of the few groups out there that uses two DJs on the regular) Capitalizing on the new interest, the group released “The Jurassic 5 EP” later that year on their own indie label and sold over 200,000 copies.  Obviously the streets were hungry for the sound Jurassic 5 was peddling.

The EP is only 8 tracks long, but each track is so deftly crafted and upbeat that it feels like a full album. (Hell, Beck’s latest album is only 10 songs.)  In fact, once it hit legendary status and they got picked up by a major label, they added a few more tracks and called it “The Jurassic 5 LP.”  From the throbbing beat of ‘Jayou’ to the early hip hop feel of ‘Concrete Schoolyard’ the album remains firmly rooted in the past, while all the time looking forward.  No bad day could withstand the onslaught a listening of this album would bring.

But the real treat is and always will be the live show, as it gives the MC’s a time to truely shine and live up the their name.  If you haven’t seen it, the Cut Chemist and DJ NuMark throwdown that happens in the middle of every show is worth the price of admission alone.  To celebrate the 15 year anniversary of the album, they’ve recently released a special edition with all kinds of tasty extras for hungry ears. 

Grab it folks.

18
Nov
08

Pocketknife and Cousin Cole – Tambourine Dream

tambo

You know, you never really get a grasp on an event until it’s effects reach you sometimes.  Like our financial crisis.  The axe began to fall yesterday at my office and when they were through 23 people were gone from our office landscape.  Truth be told, some of them were pretty useless, but there more than a few who weren’t…like my boy in Customer Service.

He was one of the only guys back there who didn’t have his head firmly up his ass.  But since he never got along with the evil succubus who runs the department, he got the axe.  Right before Christmas too. Sheee-it.

It makes me sad and angry all at the same time…which I guess makes me “sangry.”

About the only thing right now that cheers me up is Pocketknife and Cousin Cole’s masterpiece of a mixtape called “Tambourine Dream,” which hits you like milk and cookies and a warm hug all at once.  I would have to say that it is just what the doctor ordered.

You may know the duo as the masterminds behind the Flagrant Fowl label who have been blowing up the scene for a hot minute now.  If I were you, I’d click that link and check their site for sweet downloadable goodness. They hit the ground running in 2006 with their first two Ep’s of remixes “Ruffle Yo Featherz” and “Tougher Than Featherz” where they remixed everyone from TI to Ram Jam.

With “Tambourine Dream” the dynamic duo spaz out on acoustic dreamscapes over dope beats with artists like Neil Young, Feist, Panda Bear, Nick Drake, John Lennon…the list is just too long and fucking awesome to cover.  Anytime someone can drop a good Nico track into the mix, I’m a happy man.

Poketknife (AKA Skooby Laposky) grew up in Iowa where he befriended legendary 70’s DJ Wolf on the basketball courts.  Even better, he ended up friends with Theo Parrish at art school and polished up his craft before moving to New York via Detroit.  Cousin Cole (AKA Cole Gerard) moved to NYC from Missouri in 97 to attend NYU.  He was mostly a hip hop head back then, but he branched out from there.  The two hooked up in 2004, both now live in Brooklyn… and the rest is DJing history.

What sets “Tambourine Dream” apart from the rest of the mixtapes isn’t just the odd selection of tracks that most DJ’s wouldn’t dream of throwing down (although that’s a big part of it for me,) but also in the way that neither DJ really overdid any of the remixes.  Seriously, this could have been a huge train wreck in the wrong hands…with all the songs losing what made them so special and becoming deluged by drums and samplers. Instead, the understated approach fits like a new pair of socks right out of the package.

Don’t sleep on this one folks, head over to TurntableLab and pick up a copy while they last.  And while you’re at it download this freaking sweet mix they did over at Allez Allez for some free ear candy.

UPDATE!  Cousin Cole posted the whole thing for free listening and download on his Soundcloud page HERE!

13
Nov
08

Sparkle – OST

sparkle

Sometimes you have to remove people from your life.  A process that Billy refers to as “making your big black book into a little black book.”  It’s a sad fact of life, but let’s face it…not everyone makes the final cut.

A year ago I started cutting one group out of my life…not because I hated them, nor because they were bad people, but I just came to the realization that I had nothing in common with them and really didn’t enjoy doing anything they enjoyed doing.

That and they were always late.

The kind of late where they tell you to show up at 2pm for a camping trip, and when you get there at 2…people are still sleeping, and three hours later people still won’t be ready to go.  That shit drove me nuts.

My friend T-Bags had it much worse recently when she began to extricate a certain girlfriend from her life…we’ll call her “Amy.”  Now I never liked Amy anyways…she was self centered, obnoxious and horribly over-dramatic. But when I asked -Bags about her reasons…she said it came down to the cock-blocking.

Apparently a few weeks ago they went out with some guy T-Bags was seeing, and at the end of the night the three of them ended up at his house.  T-Bags and her boy were ready to get their groove on, and they were showing Amy to the guest bedroom when she declared “No, I’m sleeping with you!”

T-Bags protested, but Amy insisted.  Then when they got to bed, Amy also insisted that she sleep between T-Bags and her boy because “that’s where it was warmest… and she was cold.”  How do you not get cut after pulling shit like that?

Another group that didn’t make the cut was the original cast of the 1976 film “Sparkle,’ which tells the storey of three female singers on the bumpy road to success.  The film was pretty ridiculous, although out of said ridiculousness came a decent cult following…like “Showgirls,” which is kind of funny since Warner Brothers only just reissued the film on DVD hoping to capitalize on the story’s similarity to the Oscar winning “Dreamgirls.”

sparkle_031976

But the movie doesn’t matter here.  What matters is the soundtrack! It’s all produced by the legendary Curtis Mayfield, and what’s even better is that be decided to dump the cast recordings and have Aretha Franklin take over vocal duties.  I can almost see some sort of hallway collision happening at the studio:

“Hey!  You got your Curtis Mayfield all over my Aretha Franklin!”

“And you got your Aretha all over my Curtis!!!”

“…wait a minute?!?!  This is delicious!!!”

Thank God this collision happened or you might have been left with the most forgettable Curtis soundtrack ever, instead of the gem that emerged. About the only negative thing I can say about it is that it’s too short….but since the movie was only about an hour and a half, I figure Curtis worked within the time he had.  The album is notable not only for the awesome Mayfield score and Aretha’s dramatically soulful vocals…but for having two songs that were eventually covered by En Vogue:  ‘Something He Can Feel’ and ‘Hooked on Your Love.’

This is a must for any Curtis Mayfield completist and any fan of Aretha.  And, let’s be honest…who isn’t a fan of Aretha?

09
Nov
08

DJ Shadow – Endtroducing

endtroducing

When I’m not out saving the universe, I work at a photolab as a mild mannered retoucher.  Pretty much every event that comes though gets retouched by me, and over the course of the years I can honestly say I’ve seen it all.  From pirate themed weddings to random naked “art”.

So anyhow, the other day I came upon a photo of a woman with a mustache….and not a little one.  I would put it somewhere between John Waters and Magnum PI, and dark enough to be noticeable from across the street. The kicker was that she had a matching goatee that was just starting to come in too. 

Everyone I showed it to seemed convinced she was a man dressed as a woman, but I can’t imagine any self respecting cross dresser or trannie walking out in public looking like that.  Which begs the question, does she know she has a mustache?  I can’t imagine that if someone in my family had a thick dark mustache growing in that I wouldn’t say something.

Maybe something like “Hey, what’s up with the mustache?”

Or maybe she likes it…or has a husband with a facial hair fetish who insists that she keep it.  Either way, I end up disturbed.

Why can’t I un-see these kind of things?

Moving on this week, I’ve decided to include what is perhaps on of my favorite hip hop albums of all time, DJ Shadow’s “Endtroducing.”  I know this piece of art is now pretty well known, but it wasn’t always so…and that remains part of it’s charm.  With his first album, Shadow dropped what would be the first in a series of what I call sonic grenades…mostly because there seems to be a time delay between when he drops something and when the rest of the population “get’s it.

That being said, if you ever want to get a glimpse of what the next level looks like, you can always pick up whatever DJ Shadow has recently done.  Just don’t sleep on it.

Josh “DJ Shadow” Davis was born in Davis, California and was obsessed with music from an early age…and he’s as pure a DJ you could ever hope to find.  He spent years digging through the dusty shelves at his local record store (like the one on the cover) and was soon rewarded with access to the store’s now legendary basement.  Digging through stacks of records that often reached the ceiling,  Josh began to develop an ear for the obscure and a respect for the music that most would throw away.  His first recordings reflected they style of the late 80s and early 90s era, with a distinct slant towards something that was undefinable at the time.  Something different.

His first real gig was at the UC Davis radio station KDVS and he began to explore a more experimental style and jazz infused ethic that would soon become the hallmark of his work.  After a few releases on Hollywood Records, he was contacted by Mo Wax label head James Lavelle who wanted to release his next 12″  ‘In/Flux’ on his label.  It was the move to Mo Wax that signaled the the real cohesion of the DJ Shadow sound.  The single was an underground hit, although made little waves in the mainstream. 

At least for the time being. 

Shadow’s work was never about appealing to the mainstream anyway, but the sound he had created would have far reaching repercussions that are still being felt in the music world today.  He started work on “Entroducing” soon after the success of ‘In/Flux’ and dropped it at the tail end of 1996.  Working entirely from sampled music, Davis put the whole thing together on an old MPC60. 

But it’s not just the sampling…it’s the quality of the samples, the random excursions into psychedelia and jazz, the sparse vocals and snippets of dialog from “Prince of Darkness,” and the adhesion to the core beliefs of hip hop that make this truly one of the greatest exercises the human ear had ever experienced.  Like the dialog implies, the album seems to be a broadcast from the future.  A future where music hasn’t gotten dumber…but advanced to near genius level. 

I could seriosly go on for hours about how much I love this shit…but I have to sleep sometimes. So go feed your ears.

04
Nov
08

Buena Vista Social Club – OST

I hope everyone got out to vote today.  I decided to go at 7 this morning …under the impression that it would be quick.

I was wrong.

Not that I’m complaining though…quite the contrary.  It was so inspiring to see that many folks actually getting out and participating that I found myself whistling an jaunty patriotic tune under my breath.  Go USA!

One of the issues that got some press was Barack Obama’s stance that he would sit down and talk with our enemies without any pre-conditions.  This seems like a decent idea because not talking to them doesn’t seem to be making any progress, and adding pre-conditions just make us kind of seem like arrogant pricks on the world stage.

But most of all, I think it’s time we start talking to Cuba again.

Sure Cuba did some bad things, we barely got out of the missile crisis with our world intact…but we did start that whole Bay of Pigs fiasco and try and assassinate their leader, so why not call it a draw and start over.  All our embargo is doing is denying the American people access to the best cigars and some truly awesome music.  Nowhere was this latter point more evident than in Ry Cooder’s amazing 1997 project/documentary “The Buena Vista Social Club.”

Cooder, for those who don’t know, is sort of a musical journeyman who has appeared on many albums from Randy Newman to The Rolling Stones.  When he isn’t contributing to someone else’s project, he scores movies like Wim Wenders “Paris, Texas’ and Mike Nichol’s “Primary Colors.” But deep down Cooder has a passion for old music as is evident in his own reworkings of blues, country and jazz works.  It was this passion that eventually would lead him to Cuba.

In 1996, Cooder was invited to Havana by UK producer Nick Gold to participate in a collaboration between some African High-Life musicians and traditional Cuban artists. When the African delegation’s visa’s were denied, Cooder and Gold who had traveled to Cuba from Mexico decided to go ahead and record an album of traditional Cuban Son music with the artists they did have.

Luckily, Cuban musical director Juan de Marcos González was already working on something similar for The Afro Cuban All Stars and had the right people ready to go. People like guitarist Eliades Ochoa, pianist Rubén González, bassist Orlando López, and singers like Ibrahim Ferrer, Manuel “Puntillita” Licea, and Compay Segundo.  Within three days they all got down to business at EGREM Studios in Havana, and soon found that musicians really needed no translator to work well together.

Six days later they had an album.

Full of warmth and good vibes, you’d be hard pressed to hate any of these songs.  They simply rule on such a primal level, that they over-ride any preconceived notions about music or borders.  I’m a hug fan of Ibrahim Ferrer, whose voice I can only describe as like water flowing downhill, and so my favorite song has to be ‘Dos Gardenas.’ I also recommend his solo album as well.  Rubén González’s piano work just shines, as does Orlando López’s bass playing.  Shit…I really have no favorite tracks here…I love the album as a whole.

So do yourself a favor and expand your Latin collection with a little Cuban flavor.  It goes down like a plate of fried plantains.




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