Archive for April, 2012

25
Apr
12

Screwface Snap.

Toronto connect Run North comes through with visuals for some of his exquisite MPC work. Don’t walk south; Run North.

23
Apr
12

Goajiss.

The big homie LEO37 is at it again, this time with a video for track three for the Fanfare EP. With help from Joe Russo behind the lens, Leo plays tour guide through the typical scenes of a Taiwanese night market. “Gorgeous” was instantly a personal favorite when the EP dropped in February, and the accompanying visuals prove equally stunning.

If there was ever any doubt, it’s The Blast, ya’ll.

23
Apr
12

I ♥ Tuesdays Vol. 19: The Art of Storytelling Edition

Over my four years in Taiwan, I’ve played witness to several groans about the lack of quality hip-hop acts bringing their performance capabilities to the R.O.C. While pop icons and electronic DJs make regular visits to a wide variety of venues, there exists a glaring absence of emcees and big-name hip-hop DJs who touch down in TPE during tours of Asia.  Sure, we’ve been party to a few treats: Three 6 Mafia coming through for NYE a couple years ago was a good look, the Snoop and Dre show was derailed only by inexcusable set-up, and by all accounts, DJ Shadow shut shit down at Luxy back in September.  But in comparison to other major Asian cities, the frequent complaints are justified.

Thankfully for heads island-wide, the domestic scene remains as strong as it’s ever been.  While a burgeoning generation of hungry young emcees has been making noise with some inspired beef rap, other Taipei veterans continue to round into form via diversification of material.  Meanwhile, resident DJs at some of the city’s clubs and lounges regularly display an impeccable ear for both new and classic material (led, of course, by the Blast crew, who hold hold it down at Primo/M Bar on weekends and Marquee every Wednesday.)  And on rare occasions, two generations of DJ royalty engage in a symbolic torch passing that lives on forever in the annuls of Taiwan hip-hop lore. That is just what went down on Saturday night in Tainan, as the South’s reigning acetate heavyweight DJ 2Hands welcomed Taipei-by-way-of-Chicago noisemaker DJ Serpico to Tin Pan Alley for Make Room 7.

Sidenote: As the party reached a fever pitch, things got so violent that I intentionally smashed my own camera in the mayhem.  While the destruction was both necessary and justified, it means that we are only privy to artists’ renderings of the evening.  Thankfully, I’ve been assisted by the best in the business with hopes of truly bringing the party to life for those unable to attend.      

The atmosphere was electric as the raucous crowd prepared for 2Hands to get behind the decks.  As drinks began to flow and folks eagerly awaited the arrival of Mr. Lambert, we were informed there would be a short delay: 2Hands had thrown out his back while lifting his crates in from the van.  While we wondered if we would still be able to witness his display of vinyl vandalism, event organizers  assured us that the show would begin once Dan had his favorite turntable in place.  It wasn’t long, then, before 2Hands rolled (literally) into the booth to a chorus of cheers.

Needless to say, 2Hands wasted little time in setting the tone for the evening with a string of classic New York jams.  The mixed crowd vibed along with Dan’s seamless blends and buttery cuts, climaxing with a well-constructed mix of Keith Murray and Das EFX.  Folks were going ham when suddenly 2Hands dipped off the stage, leaving the awestruck crowd to be entertained by Tin Pan Alley’s house DJ.  Had there been some kind of emergency?

Before long, our fears were put to rest as 2Hands reemerged to unrestrained applause.  Now back in business, Dan continued to dole out classic after classic, inspiring the inner-emcee in all who attended as we rapped along with the lyrics of the Golden Era soundtrack.  Dan rarely broke from form, only crossing into the new millennium to drop a longtime favorite, Mary J. Blige’s “Family Affair.”  By mixing well-known favorites with treats for true diggers, 2Hands displayed the qualities that make him so revered and well-respected among Taiwan’s vinyl junkies.  After nearly two hours on the wheels of steel, there was little doubt that this was Dan’s night; as he removed his headphones, chants of “2Hands” could be heard throughout the venue.  I couldn’t think of a more fitting tribute to the man on the night he celebrated his 75th birthday.

Though Serp had a tough act to follow, he quickly proved that he was up to the task.  With a few of The Blast faithful in tow, Big Serp warmed his new audience with a string of East coast anthems and his precision cut game.  In what was later described by fellow headliner 2Hands as “committing an act of murder,” Chi-Town’s premier export submitted Exhibit A as to why he is mentioned among Taipei’s DJ elite.  As he ran through a barrage of classic Chicago joints, Serp surprised everyone and snatched the house mic.  

“What? Ya’ll thought I was gonna come to Tainan without the homies in tact?” Serp asked the crowd, sounding like he had just chain smoked an entire carton of Marlboro Reds. “Ladies and gentlemen, Common and Kanye West!”  As the packed house went cray, the two legendary Windy City emcees graced the stage and delivered a barrage of their hit records, much to the enjoyment of every head in the house.

Believe it or not, Serp had yet another ace up his sleeve.  He briefly halted the Chicago onslaught and once again grabbed the mic to recognize Mr. Lambert’s birthday.  “We have prepared a very special birthday gift for 2Hands tonight. Ladies, bring it out!” The crowd waited anxiously as a pair of scantly clad female assistants escorted a man onto the stage, hands bound behind his back with a black sack over his head.

“In honor of your born day, we have decided to make a sacrifice to the Hip-Hop Gods in hopes of preserving that REAL shit. The shit that’s heavy in the STREETS.” Serp then turned his attention above. “Gods, in the interest of that REAL HIP-HOP SHIT, we offer you this stain on the game as a sacrifice.” With that, Serp removed the figure’s black mask and revealed the hideous visage of none other than The Kitten Whisperer, Drizzy Drake.

Without warning, the frenzied crowd rushed the stage and began to assault Aubrey with whatever was in sight.  As M.O.P.’s “Ante Up” blared from the speakers, 2Hands and Serp exchanged satisfied head nods.  Though their crusade to preserve THAT REAL HIP-HOP SHIT was far from over, success on this night was undeniable.  While the crowd dragged Drake’s remains into the street, the two DJs dipped behind the scenes having further solidified their status as protectors of the old guard.

Truly a night to remember.  For any of you unable to attend, I feel sorry for you and any children you may have.  After all, you have stripped them of the opportunity to hear your first-hand account of the now-legendary event known as Make Room 7.  

But rest easy; there are further Make Room events to come.  Tainan will play host to more musical mayhem in the future.  Your biggest mistake would be missing the Make Room magic a second time.

Until then, I hope I’ve provided some degree of insight into an evening that will forever be scribed in Taiwan’s hip-hop history books.  Make room, MC HotDog. It’s The Blast

— Noakes

Originally published March 13, 2012 at theblast-blog.com

23
Apr
12

I ♥ Tuesdays Vol. 18

The mixtape game wins again.  Though a trifecta of intrequing releases finds a new home in record stores this week, none can overshadow the latest free project from Big K.R.I.T., who today dropped 4eva N A Day, the much-anticipated follow-up to last year’s Album of the Year contender Return of 4Eva.

K.R.I.T. has been toiling on the Southern underground scene for a minute now, but it wasn’t until 2010 that the Mississippi native garnered seized some grander love with the superb K.R.I.T. Wuz Here mixtape.  Handling double duty behind the boards and in the booth has proved to be a futile task for most who have made the attempt; K.R.I.T., though, has displayed unexpected pedigree as both a producer and emcee, and Return of 4Eva was another step in the right direction for an artist who regularly showcases maturity well beyond his 25 years. 4eva N A Day is the latest remarkable stage in the evolution of one of the hip-hop’s most promising young bloods.

Produced in its entirety by the man himself, this latest effort is stunningly cohesive and consistent.  K.R.I.T. seemingly outdoes himself with each joint, none of which inspire a reach for the skip button.  The beats are buttery and soulful; never offensive and always noddable.  On “Sky Club,” K.R.I.T. has every string in the right place, and boasts his ever-expanding mastery of a drum kit. It’s an impressive feat that several of these tracks – “Yesterday,” for example – would sound right at home in a playlist among Southern hip-hop legends like Outkast, Scarface, and UGK.  

Another thing that separates K.R.I.T. from many of his contemporaries is a knack for pertinent lyricism.  On the project’s promo single “Boobie Miles,” young Mr. Scott opens with what sounds like a coach’s halftime speech for the everyday struggle:  “You gotta play it to the end.  Only difference ‘tween a winner and a loser is a winner plays until he wins.”  Fortunately, never does K.R.I.T. come off as preachy in his messages of positivity and self-improvement; instead, it serves more as window on his own experiences, deployed as means of education for others looking to win at this game of life.

In the final verse of the tape’s title track, K.R.I.T. raps “Fact remains that I’m still the same; I’ll never change myself. I’m not counting on mainstream, ’cause love from the underground? That’s forever.”  I’d say that if K.R.I.T. keeps producing material like that found on 4eva N A Day, he won’t have a choice in who takes notice.  Perhaps it’s the kush shake talking, but this mixtape – a mixtape – is not only a prime example of the best the South has to offer hip-hop, but also an enlightening display of the elements that the Southern sound has contributed to the genre. At this rate, Justin Scott is well on the road to establishing himself as a King Remembered In Time, just as his acronymic alias prophesies.

I’m happy to say that we finally have another project, alongside Schoolboy Q’s Habits & Contradictions, that’s likely to receive consideration for year-end awards.  What’s better?  It’s free!  Don’t sleep.

Until next Tuesday, it’s The Blast, ya’ll.

— Noakes 

Originally published March 6, 2012 at theblast-blog.com

23
Apr
12

I ♥ Tuesdays Vol. 17

Due to an impromptu trip to Hong Kong, I’ve had far less time to review new material dropping this week.  The release schedule is stacked in quantity, but lacking in quality.  Fortunately, another free Web release arrived last Friday, just in time to salvage an otherwise dry week.

Early in 2011, no crew in hip-hop was generating buzz like Odd Future Wolf Gang.  Fast forward a year, and the buzz has quieted substantially.  Though critics have pointed to their novelty lyrical content as the cause for the crew’s decreasing visibility, it could be said that their collective lack of productivity, especially when compared with OF’s win streak in the previous 18 month stretch, could be responsible.  Now, with the OF Tape Vol. 2 slated for March 20, Tyler’s sophomore effort Wolf due some 8 weeks later, Frank Ocean’s next joint apparently in the works, and the debut of their Adult Swim variety program Loiter Squad approaching the Wolf Gang looks to get people talking again.  

Over the weekend, Hodgy Beats forcefully sparked the conversation with his Untitled EP.  By reaching out to a new collection of producers, Hodgy is afforded the chance to show off an unseen side of his game.  The opener “Bullshittin'” uncovers Hodgy finding a rare comfort zone on Juicy J’s rolling drums, showing significant improvement to his delivery and cadence since precious MellowHype work with Left Brain.  A pair of offerings from The Alchemist (“Cookie Coma,” “In a Dream”) bear little resemblance to the two beats contributed by Flying Lotus (“Lamented,” “Lately”), but Hodgy displays equally impressive technique over the distinct work of both producers.  Even with work from an impressive cast of established beat makers, the two highlight joints are both produced by relative newcomer Thelonious Martin.  To say the kid did his thing on these beats would be understating.  “Ave.” features gorgeously haunting piano stabs and drums that manage to ride a thin line between snappy and feathery, while “If Heaven Is a Ghetto” is eerily reminiscent of some of J Dilla’s work from ’96 to ’98.  All the while, Hodgy’s lyrics maintain a level of poignancy rarely displayed in previous efforts.

Not that I haven’t enjoyed Hodgy’s work with Left Brain in the past, but a varied cast of producers really seems to have OF’s most overlooked emcee in his zone.  

It’s a great start to a stretch that will largely determine OFWGKTA’s long term status in the industry.  If Tyler and company hope to fight off “flash in the pan” criticisms, they must continue to show growth with upcoming projects.  I’m not looking for the Wolf Gang to completely abandon the often-absurd subject matter of earlier work; but it goes without saying that, in the current ADHD climate, they can’t survive on their current formula to generate interest forever.

And what of Earl?  Perhaps the most interesting story line OF saga is the status of recently-liberated wunderkind Earl Sweatshirt.  Earl is home and, according to his Twitter feed, working alongside artists like Santigold and James Pants.  Aside from random contact with OF extended family, there is little to suggest Earl will be back in the Wolf Gang fold anytime soon.  Here’s hoping any drama is short lived, because there isn’t much material out there as good as Young Sweatshirt on a Tyler beat.

As we move into March, the release schedule continues to look rather bleak for the final month of 2012’s first quarter.  If the first two months of the year offer any indication, DatPiff and Bandcamp are poised be better sources of new hip-hop than HMV or Best Buy. Until next week, it’s The Blast, ya’ll.

Noakes

Originally published February 28, 2012 at theblast-blog.com

23
Apr
12

I ♥ Tuesdays Vol. 16

After using last week’s Tuesday column as an outlet to express my endless love (no Lionel) for hip-hop music, it’s time to return to the script for this week’s edition.  This week, I give you my thoughts on a perplexing and unexpected drop courtesy of two of Cali’s chronic connoisseurs, Blu and Madlib, who, on Sunday, suddenly blessed the Interwebs with a free stream of their collaborative effort, ucla.

Not that sporadic and out of the blu (pun alert) releases are anything new for this pairing; Madlib’s staggering productivity has led to a series of impulsive dispensations, while Blu’s highly-anticipated follow-up to Below the Heavens with Exile was liberated in Decmeber via Bandcamp, with literally no warning of the pending release.  And both cats have certainly developed a reputation for their off-kilter charisma, regularly displaying complete disregard for industry traditions and trends.

Still, a collaboration between one of the West’s most respected loop diggers and an emcee at the helm of arguably the best sleeper project of the past decade, one would expect some publicity and promotion in hopes of improving prospective financial gain.  Nope.  Nada.  Unless you count a track that leaked back in November, nothing was even known about the project besides that it may have been in the works.

So how does the collaboration’s final product fare? Disappointing, to say the least.  As you might expect – due to both Blu’s inconsistencies as of late and the project’s random emancipation – the tracks are poorly mastered (when mastered at all) and sound nowhere near finished.  Both Blu and Madlib hold up on their respective end of the collaborative union – Blu providing his usual thought-provoking lyricism by means of his ultra-comfy delivery, Madlib lending his never-boring orchestration in typical fashion, no two tracks sounding alike, all the while maintaining cohesion and the definitive Beat Konducta sound – but at no point do the two sounds merge together effectively given the overwhelming engineering issues.

I’m genuinely confounded by the decision to release ucla in its current form.  Could it be a case of Blu knowing that he couldn’t secure Madlib’s permission for an official release? Does Blu view the quality issues as an accessory to the lo-fi, analog charm that is so often associated with Madlib’s production? Is Blu looking to continue his string of erratic behavior in efforts to establish his reputation as a “true” artist (much like former Madlib collaborator DOOM and the DOOMposter bullshit)?  Whatever the reason(s) for the decision, I disagree with it wholeheartedly.  As a fan of both dudes, I was excited when rumors that they were working together began to surface.  Shit, Blu and Madlib were both involved in projects I would rank in my top ten of the 2000s (Below the Heavens and Madvillainy, respectively), and I consider both to be among the best the genre has to offer.  Naturally, the idea of them coming together for a full-length had me licking my chops.  And after seeing the cover art, I was convinced I was in for an auditory treat. 

After a few spins?  Chop licking has been reduced to head shaking. On a few occasions – “Give M Up,” for example – when the vocal distortion isn’t overly grating, we get a glimpse into the true potential of the collaboration.  Unfortunately, those moments are few and far between.  I’m left hoping that an engineer somewhere hears the project and comes through with a mastered version at some point in the fucture.  Otherwise, as disappointing as it is to admit, ucla will be doing little more than collecting dust on my shelf iTunes playlist.

The release schedule for next Tuesday looks stacked.  And that’s not even including LEO37’s Fanfare EP which is scheduled to hit record store shelves Bandcamp next Monday. Here’s hoping that at least one of those projects inspires some positivity in Your Humble Narrator.

Until then, it’s The Blast, ya’ll. 

— Noakes

Originally published February 12, 2012 at theblast-blog.com

23
Apr
12

I ♥ Tuesdays Vol. 15: Valentine’s Day Edition

When I returned to The Motherland for a visit last summer, I was confronted by my moms about some of my stuff which had been doing little more than collecting dust in my parents’ suburban abode: “Yeah, so about those turntables and records you have in the storage room; we’re going to need you to get those out of here so we have room for your niece’s toys.” Great.  Some of the few remaining valuable possessions I had left in my childhood home were causing such an incovinece that I would be forced to: a) sell them within a weeks time or b) find a new home for my dust collectors.  I flipped the decks for fair value within a couple days via online classifieds  (rest easy DJs, they were shitty Numark belt-drives), but couldn’t bear the thought of letting my wax be thumbed through by the digits of a complete stranger.

I began sifting through the few crates I’ve accumulated over the years – my pops’ original pressings, hand-me-downs from friends who had been forced to part ways with their wax, and a grip of more recent purchases – when I stumbled across a small case of old 7-inch 45s.  For the sake of nostalgia, I began flipping through and found a mixed bag of singles from the sixties, seventies, and eighties.  Two particular records caught my attention: A Def Jam pressing of Beastie Boys’ “Fight for Your Right” b/w “Paul Revere” and Run-DMC’s “Walk This Way” with Aerosmith.  I brought them out to my dad and asked him why the hell he bought those. “I didn’t,” he told me. “Those were yours. You played the shit out of them when you were little.”

My first memories of hip-hop culture spring back to being frightened by Public Enemy videos, wanting a cap with an “X” so badly without any understanding of the significance, and bawling my eyes out when my barber told me I wasn’t blessed with the “type of hair” needed for a high-top fade. Clearly, though, things went back a little further, as both “Walk This Way” and “Fight for Your Right” dropped in ’86 when I was only two. It started to make sense, then, that I had forced my grandma to buy me a pair of parachute pants and choreographed dance routines to “U Can’t Touch This” in ’90, and that I somehow convinced my dad to put cuts in my eyebrows and the sides of my hair in order to more accurately imitate Vanilla Ice as I recited “Ice Ice Baby” in front of the mirror later that year.

Then there was the time that I wore my Oakland A’s jersey and Levi’s backwards to school in 3rd grade, much to the dismay of my big sister who had to walk me to school, and the utter doubfoundment of my classmates and teacher. I didn’t really give a fuck; I felt like the miggity-mack.  Soon after, as my sister neared high school, she started dating older guys who would bring over now-classic tapes and CDs and listen to them discretely as to avoid my parents hearing; they would have flipped had they heard the torture skit on Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers or seen the album art for ATLiens (two records which I distictivly remember blowing my adolescent mind at the time of first listen.)  Shouts to those dudes, whose names I can’t remember, for schooling me in the game outside of what I was exposed to on MuchMusic’s Rap City. 

It wasn’t long before I was buying my own hip-hop albums at the local Sunrise Records; I vividly remember copping Busta Rhymes’ The Coming on cassette when I was 11, listening on low with my ear pressed against the speaker, scared to DEATH that my parents would walk in and smash the tape.  Growing up in an upper-middle-class Canadian suburb, most of my friends were more interested in The Offspring or Bush X at the time, but as hip-hop moved to the forefront of the music industry thanks mainly to the East vs. West turf wars, I suddenly became the dude in the class to come to for the newest the genre had to offer.  And I was hooked. 

Though I had flirted with it for years, hip-hop music officially became my first love by the time I entered high school.  And it has remained so to this very day.  Though I have accumulated countless life experiences, undergone imminence change as a man, and been through various other love affairs over the fifteen-odd years since, my affection for the game is the one thing that has remained steadfast throughout.  Like most relationships worth anything, hip-hop and I have had our ups and downs. But make no mistake: this love is unwavering.  Hip-hop doesn’t have any parents to impress (unless you’re counting TwoHands).  Thanks to Walkmans and iPods, there are never any distance issues to potentially get in the way.  My favorite records don’t expect flowers on their birthday, or get aggy if I forget the anniversary of their release.  And most importantly, the music is always there to lean on, in times of angersadnesspride, or celebration.

All of this to say that – while I fully acknowledge problems exist within the genre – I refuse to believe that we have witnessed the best hip-hop has to offer.  Times change, and with them, so to do expectations.  For those of you fortunate enough to have been around during the birth and and growth of the genre, I am genuinely envious and can understand how you may have become jaded.  Over the past thirty-plus years, what we now call hip-hop has shifted and expanded such a great deal that it now permeates every aspect of our popular culture.  Has it become overly commercialized along the way? One could argue that it has, but I see nothing wrong with exposure if motives remain the same.  Too often, unfortunately, they change drastically with a little limelight.

But not always.  Believe it or not, there is still a whole lot of incredible hip-hop being made in 2012.  Sure, it takes a little more sifting to discover the quality material, but it certainly is out there. The mistake is made when we blindly deafly dismiss anything new in attempts to cling to the romanticism of past classics. I went through a period when I did just that;  I felt like by embracing new movements, I was somehow betraying the classic foundation on which hip-hop had been built.  Will there ever be another Illmatic?  Sadly, no.  But I came to the realization that, if we refuse to support the continued progression of a genre in which damn near everything “traditional” has been beaten into the ground, we only hurt the chances of seeing classic records in the future.

The truth is, there is enough room for all of it: The old and the new, the rugged and the swaggy.  You say Rakim, I say Rocky.  You say Wu-Tang, I say OF. You say Snoop, I say Wiz.  You say B.I.G., I say Bronson.  You say Dirt, I say Danny. You say Common, I say Kendrick.  No, I’m not trying to compare young-bloods to unquestioned legends. But it’s important to remember that established vets were the up-and-comers at one point in time.  The difference, I believe, is that they weren’t entering the rap game under such a powerful and skeptical microscope as we have now, and as a result were afforded a chance to prove their worth before being pigeon-holed or dismissed completely. With the continued support of heads everywhere, there is no telling where the new breed of emcees and the generations that follow can take the genre.  As the great Christopher Wallace once reminded us, the sky is the limit.

I, for one, still love H.E.R.          

— Noakes  

Originally published February 14, 2012 at theblast-blog.com