Statik Selektah : What Goes Around

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Since 2011’s Population Control established his distinct brand of boom bap, Bostonian producer Statik Selektah has been busy bringing together some of the game’s finest to bless his instrumentals. On What Goes Around the Pro Era tour DJ and Showoff Records founder continues that tradition, boasting an illustrious line-up of dream collabs spanning from NY street anthems with rap legends to weeded-out jazz flips led by the new generation. As the title cut sets things off with huge horn loops, Lil Fame and Ea$y Money pen heavy bars, while Joey Bada$$ shines on Carry On and stand-out anthem Slum Villain. The Thrill Is Back sees Statik layer crisp breaks under lounging piano lines for Styles P and Talib Kweli to exalt with eloquent flows; while Dilated Peoples get busy on Back For You‘s DJ Honda-inspired Golden Era bounce, and Ab Soul and Jon Connor pen killer features on the laidback funk of Alarm Clock.

Pro Era emcee’s CJ Fly and Nyck Caution drop fly rhymes alongside Black Dave and Josh Xantus over My Time’s mellow horns; then Statik uses his influential position to introduce Sincere’s gifted wordplay on Fugazi, loops crystalline sax notes over two different breaks to back Jon Connor and Ransom’s distinctive lyrical styles on The Chopper; and unites D Block, Organized Konfusion and Slaughterhouse on Down Like This. Killafornia veteran B Real slays on Overdose, penning one of the freshest rhymes on the album, before Boldy James gives you Something to Cry For, and Astro and Dessy Hinds flow fluid on Rise Above‘s melodic chops. Once this ill LP finalizes it’s all-out lyrical attack with a Bun B and Posdenous feature, it’s clear that integrity’s the name of the game for Statik Selektah; as he continues to drop genre-defining dopeness with every new release, keeping the realness in the forefront for 2014.

Buy it here.

Peace.

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J Rawls : The Legacy

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J Rawls should need no introduction. As the producer behind the dusted loops on the Beastie’s Schadrach remix, the syrupy sounds on Black Star’s Brown Skin Lady, Lone Catalyst’s classic piano piece Due Process, and the Asheru and Blue Black collab Dear You, he’s crafted some of the underground’s most beloved tunes during his two decades in the game. With this final album as an artist, Rawls humbly steps back from the boards to produce only one of The Legacy‘s thirteen tracks; leaving the beats in the capable hands of Kev Brown, Mighty DR, Rashad, and more as he shares the mic with Oddisee, Masta Ace and Blueprint.

Barb Fant’s resonant metaphors begin the record on a poetic note, leading into the upbeat grooves on My People as Rawls pens a sagacious overview of the game atop a sample flip that Badu and Dilla fans will recognize; Speak from experience, I ain’t here to preach, the culture’s for entertainment, but it can still be used to teach. Bombeardo’s uplifting instrumental for Bills sets swinging soul chops in motion for Rawls and Masta Ace to bless with quality rhymes befitting their veteran status; while the title track finds J reminiscing on his career over a catchy melody from Lakim, joined by Scienz Of Life emcee John Robinson, and Ceezar; who’s stand-out verse flows powerful like Big L and Dessy Hinds combined.

Lootpack’s Crate Diggin’ gets a contemporary counterpart as Keisha Soleil’s sweet melodies adorn the digger’s anthem Pure Love; with Rawls offering an ode to the sore knees and dusty fingers that have driven his production career. ‘Diggin’ is an art, do the knowledge, you can win it, cuz it ain’t Hip Hop if it ain’t no sample in it.’ Rashad’s sun-baked sounds make Rio a memorable single, as Rawls rhymes in double time before easing back into a mid-paced cadence on One Time. 

Southside harks back to the first time J saw the ASR10, Kev Brown’s dope piano loop on Mr Cool makes for another infectious tune, and Rob Riley keeps the cool jazz lingering in the air on Nonstop.  With an appreciation for everyone he’s worked with along the way, The Rest Of My Life comes straight from the heart; Illa J’s feature deserves props as he switches his usual laidback flows for soulful melodies, singing his ass off to provide a memorable hook; and as JG The Juggernaut ruminates over a Common sample on Omega, this final chapter of J Rawl’s solo career is as solid as swansongs come.

Buy it here.

4/5

Peace.

Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton : This Is Stones Throw Records

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 After years of patchy information on Stones Throw’s often publicity-shy artists,  the new documentary from Jeff Broadway does an impressive job of de-mystifying the L.A-based label’s most enigmatic personalities. Using archival footage that spans from the early eighties up until now; Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton charts the hard work Peanut Butter Wolf has put in to share the music he enjoys with the world. Interviews interpolated throughout keep things objective, and the juxtaposition of grainy home video footage with glossy new film situates the style somewhere between The Art Of Rap and American: The Bill Hicks Story. As Wolf’s habit of saving lunch money to buy records blooms into label aspirations, the film splits it’s time evenly between the lesser-known bands and the more established musicians, illuminating every aspect of the label not included on their earlier video releases 101 and In Living The True Gods.

With a diverse roster that boasts some of the most respected names in the underground, the film packs plenty of highlights; Jonwayne records skateboard trucks into FL Studio for shakers, Baron Zen’s noisy garage-electro blurs genre borders, Talib Kweli relives hearing Lootpack for the first time, and Common fondly reminisces on J Dilla’s early morning beatmaking sessions. As the narrative unfurls chronologically, Madlib’s musical journey from building beats in a bomb shelter to the month-long shroom-mangled mindstate that birthed Lord Quas comes to life through rare home video footage; and J Dilla’s highly influential sound gets much deserved props through heartfelt interviews with friends.

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Perhaps fittingly there’s no new interview from DOOM; and although most of the insight into the ever-elusive super villain comes through audio clips from his Red Bull lecture, the section dedicated to Metal Finger’s uniquely intricate lyricism still provides enough unseen footage to keep fans happy. The soundtrack sees new beats from Madlib mingling amongst selections from each of the featured musicians, while the extra features include the half hour mini-doc Extra Special Loving For The People.

 Despite the inevitable struggles experienced when running a label that places the importance of good music over monetary gain; Stones Throw has enjoyed a recent resurgence in popularity thanks to the steadfast dedication of acts like Homeboy Sandman and J Rocc, and the creative passion of more recent signees such as Dam Funk. Wolf’s willingness to gamble on the creative vision he sees in up-and-coming musicians is commendable, and Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton does an amazing job at capturing this creative hub’s love for music, and the constant behind-the-scenes work it takes to sustain a D.I.Y label amidst an ever-changing economic climate.

Buy the CD & DVD bundle from the usual online spots, or rent it from itunes here.

4/5

Peace.

Yasiin Gaye

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The melding of Yasiin Bey’s soulful poeticisms and Marvin Gaye’s transcendental harmonies was always destined to be a heavenly combination no matter who was  behind the blend. Thankfully for music lovers, the divine inspiration to concoct this project struck Nashville producer Amerigo Gazaway; known for his remixes imbued with an audible respect for the original artists, and an inventiveness that breathes new life into old classics. After he released Fela Soul, his storming synthesis of De La Soul and Fela Kuti back in 2011; the then 26 year old producer set his sights upon the back catalogues of two more legendary ensembles with Bizarre Tribe; A Quest To The Pharcyde. This dream collab was a pivotal release in the ‘mash up’ sub genre of sample-based beatmaking, taking well-loved material that was firmly ingrained in the collective consciousness of Hip Hop’s loyal core and distilling it’s essence anew.

When this first release in the Soul Mates series announced it’s arrival by fusing two of my all-time favourite songs on Inner City Travellin’ Man; the way in which this talented producer seamlessly incorporated so many sounds from both tracks was stunning, as was the harmony created between these diverse musical elements. What I was expecting was a hip hop reinterpretation of Marvin’s melodies topped with Yasiin’s vocals; what I got was a highly musical collaboration between two generations of America’s most prolifically poignant writers mediated by Amerigo Gazaway’s attentive ear. From the introductory interview that sets the scene DJ Honda initially orchestrated, to the organ break half way through, and right on up to Gaye’s vocal climax; the song is a sample-flipping tour-de-force. 

Black Star’s self titled album is one of the classics that got me into this thing we call Hip Hop back when I was 14; so it’s hard for me to count the amount of times I’ve tried to keep up when imitating the rapid rhymes Kweli and Mos sprayed on Definition. The relaxed reinterpretation found on Definition Of Infinity not only allows you time to digest the quickfire content both MCs relay; but also demonstrates the ability of the pair, as the pacing and delivery they demonstrated can be fully appreciated within this slower setting. I Want You’ Til The Summertime‘s serene sounds send Gaye’s anthemic Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology) sailing into I Want You on a breeze cooler than Gazaway’s sense of style. The arrangement is deceptively complex despite sounding simple; the chops are clean, and the transitions between sections are as smooth as Bey’s words. The OG sample Ayatollah flipped on Black on Both Sides plays out to introduce the big-band swing (like Duke Ellington) of Gazaway’s Ms Fat Booty retakeas Amerigo takes the iconic song and gives it a Berry Gordy sheen, sounding like showtunes playing at Hitsville U.S.A. Teddy Pendergrass adds his sensual sounds to a slower, soulful Yasiin flow as Gazaway drops The Panties; taking a more romantic approach to match Marvin’s seductive side and beginning a theme that continues on Workin’ It Out, another chilled tune that extends the previous song’s seven minute sprawl and solidifies it into a short burst of soul that sees Bey playing lothario once more.

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Mathematics is the quintessential Premier sound, and one of the greatest collabs ever recorded; you could lay those lines over the Sesame Street theme and I’d still rap my ass off like it was the hardest tune since Bring Your Whole Crew. By the time ‘buka buka buka buka’ kicks in, all doubts have already been laid to rest; Peculiar Mathematics keeps Premo’s sense of stomp and tactfully emulates the HQ DJ’s instantly identifiable hat and kick sounds without biting, Gazaway even finds time to slip in ‘Do your math’ and Understanding microphone mathematics’ for even more dope sample points. “T” Plays a Cool Loop plays more cool loops than the title suggests, and provides a welcome interlude after so many mind-blowing  melds of style so far. This fairly straight-ahead genre piece takes jazz, DJ Shadow’s knack for placing vocal sample and Madlib’s seamless use of drum rolls and knits them together with Amerigo’s sterling sense of structure; leaving Yasiin’s whirlwind verse off Common’s Hurricane to kick off the upbeat, party vibes on Time (To Get It Together). After the chorus is where the song really takes shape, breaking the mould it previously set to expand the celebratory atmosphere as Gazaway gets rowdy; stacking layers of claps and ad-libs from Marvin into a flurry of sound that emanates disco fervour.

All you see is crime in the city right?’ Inner City Breathin’ is the most outright Hip Hop beat on the tape, the drums have that thick 2000XL sound, and the simple three note refrain that made Respiration so effective occasionally rears it’s head amongst the bustling crowd of sound that this intuitive beat maker structures, with a busy urban feel that although cluttered, remains clear. The second movement that underscores Tammi Terrell’s sweet vocals is as amazingly atmospheric as the first, and adds another groove to this already rich re-imagining. Kanye and West are two words you won’t see me type too often; but on Two Worlds even Yeezus’s presence can’t dampen the fire Bey’s breath stokes as his rhymes fly fast and Amerigo penultimately ends the tape with another amazing audio amalgamation. Soul Mates Radio finishes this first half off with dulcet doo-wop croons and some affirmations on the idea of soul mates; before a shout to the Tribe once again with a computerised voiceover that could have come straight off Midnight Marauders. Side two can’t come soon enough.

5/5.

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*After writing this with the purpose of promoting YG & giving you the link to download it, the RIAA have filed a takedown notice against Amerigo Gazaway, barring him from offering this amazing album to the people. To support his work, encourage the release of the second half, and add pressure to allow the first side’s re-release, share this piece via your social networks, tweet Amerigo your support, and stay up on developments via his bandcamp and website. Apologies for writing a thousand words on why you need this tape then denying it you! Hopefully it’ll be back out soon, if he charged twenty quid for the tape to fund clearing the samples I’d buy it straight away.

Peace.