Thursday, September 26, 2013

MGK Is Dope As Hell And You Should Be Optimistic About Hip-Hop

There's been a wave of new rappers in the last few years. The old guard has died away - guys like 50 Cent can't get any of the old momentum and Kanye West, while still prominent, doesn't get attention the way he used. All these new faces are diverse - Macklemore, Yelawolf, Kendrick Lamar and my favorite - MGK. Machine Gun Kelly.

MGK is ridiculous. The guy is 23 years old - four years younger than me, seven years younger than Macklemore and even younger than Yelawolf - but his music is stronger than either of them and deeper than anything I write. MGK knows what hip-hop is supposed to sound like - all of his beats have sounded like they could murder the best sub wofer. Check out "Chip Off The Block," the first track he came out with in the mainstream:


 MGK is tatted up and gruff - he's not apologizing. I'm sure his music will appeal to suburban white boys who would normally be scared of black music but his entourage in his video looks like hip-hop should. He's also prematurely balding which makes me like him alot. "Cleveland" was just as strong as "Chip Off The Block." The production is so stellar - using a distorted shout of "Cleveland!" with synths that progress in volume throughout the song - you can definitely feel MGK's passion and his love for his town:


 So at this point you know MGK can make bangers but any rapper can do that, right? Macklemore is big because he talks big issues - no other rapper or musician in any genre really took a hard stance in favor of gay marriage, talked bluntly about white privilege (at least in a mature tone) or addressed economic anxiety - all things Macklemore did with "Same Love," "White Privilege" and "Thrift Shop." Well check out out "Home Soon" with one lyric that really hit home:

 "Even with eighteen degrees you could be jobless with Uncle Sam in your pockets." 

 Shit. I guess we have moved past gangsta rap and in to brutally honest gangsta rap. I have a Bachelor's Degree and I do okay - I have money in my wallet but I have taken government benefits and not really found myself living the high life because of a degree. It was no guarantee of anything.

People say hip-hop is dead and there is certainly still alot of nonsense and crap in it but I think alot of this new crop shows a level of consciousness, clarity and intelligence that was very rare ten years ago. There is reason to be optimistic.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

New VNV Nation - Retaliate

I have yet to hear VNV Nation disappoint and they don't hear. VNV has this song up for free too - you can download it right here.


Thanks, Dyllyn Greenwood, for telling me about this. RA Scion was dope and I didn't even know it.

New Music! RA Scion and Daniel Blue - Constant

As we move past ignorance and stupidity, let's move forward with some progressive hip-hop that moves this genre and music itself in to new territories of creativity and expression. Seattle rapper RA Scion is always good for that and he has a project coming up with folk singer Daniel Blue that sounds very, very promising....

Lord Jamar And A Few Clips Of Why It's Okay If You Hate Hip-Hop

You know I love hip-hop and all that - I very much appreciate the genre - but Jesus, I am getting tired of this crap. I have years when I consciously avoid rap and usually get pulled in by friends or a good record, only to want to leave due to assholes like this guy, Lord Jamar:


 I turned that off 3 minutes in because I'm not clueless enough to not see where the video was headed. What other great glimpse in to rap culture did we get from Vlad TV? "Obie Trice on Surviving Getting Shot in the Head."


 Yeah, so the stereotypes about this culture being ignorant and violent are certainly there for a reason. Ugh, I'm sure I'll come back in to it years from now - if the genre is kept alive by people like Macklemore, who aren't mentally retarded and don't hold mental retardation as some sort of cultural value.

Some moments really make me want to take Blood Is One and make it a general music site. It gets very embarrassing to say you like rap sometimes - for real. Alot of hip-hop doesn't only celebrate ignorance but celebrates willful ignorance. I wish these people knew how disgustaning they are. I hope Jamar realizes that there are substantial parts of the black population itself that hate hip-hop and it is precisely because of people like him or the culture that nearly killed Obie Trice that that is the case. Hip-hop was the first major musical genre to incorporate poetry in to popular music - people like Macklemore are the reason the genre will survive. People like Lord Jamar are why it might not.

I mean for real, Jamar, what do you want? Maybe listening before you speak would be a good idea before lecturing white rappers - Macklemore recorded songs like "White Privilege" and seems about as respectful towards the black community that came before as he could possibly be. It's you that has the respect problem. I can name more than a few rappers who are more than likely gay on the DL and even more gay or bisexual black celebrities - that's the reality and Macklemore's success shows that most people aren't down with ignorant rap anymore. And thank God for that.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Vvibe Moore - Stan

This is pretty impressive. Good job, Vvibe Moore - I never heard anyone freestyle over the beat for "Stan" before.


Saturday, September 21, 2013

The New Eminem Album Cover Is Sort Of Brilliant

I have hated on alot the newest single, "Berzerk," for Eminem's upcoming Marshall Mathers LP 2 but I may have to take it back after seeing the possible cover:

Eminem is apparently trying to go back to his roots and I just don't get that with the song "Berzerk." I actually listened to it several times in hopes of figuring it out and it still didn't make sense. MMLP 2 was an extremely dark, dark album with an abruptly upbeat and fake song in "The Real Slim Shady" and I imagine this will be similar. This is the original album cover for the Marshall Mathers LP, all the way back in 2000:

The real Eminem can be pretty depressing and hardcore - he usually brings out the "Without Me" or "My Name Is" Slim Shady to get radio play. This cover is sort of brilliant though, in more ways than one. Detroit has become a worse place along with the rest of America - for the house he grew up in to be condemned now is really poignant and says as much as needs to be said about how the world has changed. Eminem has made alot of public service posts in advocacy of Detroit before so I imagine he choose this cover on purpose.

Prozak - We All Fall Down

This song pretty much encapsulates how I think alot of us feels about this world right now....


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Art Of Sampling Part Two: The Defense

A friend of mine recently sent me an article called "An Open Letter To Pharrell Williams," which is written by Nicholas Payton. Payton plays the trumpet and, at 39, seemed to make a distinct choice by going in to jazz when most musicians, especially from his ethnic and geographic background, were going to hip-hop and electronic music. His words are pretty brutal:

 And to those of you who say I know nothing about Hiphop, if “Blurred Lines” is Hiphop, I don’t want to know anything about it. So let me officially go on record now and say that I hate Hiphop. There are certain artists who claim Hiphop that I dig, but Hiphop as a whole is wack. It’s a parasitic culture that preys on real musicians for its livelihood. I may not know anything about Hiphop, but I don’t have to. Without real artists and musicians like me, you’d have nothing to steal. I know enough about it all to know that. 

 There's alot of hostility towards hip-hop and, as someone who has been involved in and has seen the very, very worst of it up close, I don't really argue with most of that hostility [any more].

In fact, when my friend sent me that quote, the first thing I thought about was the fact that Payton likely models himself after guys like Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Right before he died, Miles actually tapped in to the world of hip-hop but Miles was certainly a man of a different era. I couldn't really see Kind of Blue or Bitch's Brew being released now - not because the inspiration isn't there but simply because of how music is distributed. People actually bought records back in the 1960s - like real records. With downloading so abundant (all you need is a laptop to get any music ever made on your computer for free), it's only music fanatics like myself who buy music now. I'm not sure that epic rock albums like Pink Floyd's Animals or Wish You Were Here would be released now either.

However, to defame and take on Pharrell Williams so harshly seems really strange to me. If I recall correctly, Pharrell was more of the crooning side of the Neptunes - it's not really necessary for a crooner to know what a "Dominant 7th" is. Most of the music creation was on the part of Chad Hugo.

As far as crooning goes, Pharrell is at least as talented as all the R&B greats - which is what he was comparing to by alluding to Marvin Gaye. His work with Daft Punk is as stellar in production as any music I have heard in a very long time:

 If stealing from other people's music or borrowing it or whatever term you want to use is a cardinal sin that means rejection from the world of respectable music, then we're going to have to reject alot of music. Michael Jackson was no musical wizard - most of the songs on his most successful album, Thriller, was the work of Seattle's own Quincy Jones. The video for Thriller in fact was ripped pretty directly from an Indian musical that came out only years before:


 (If you look up Golimaar on Google, you'll get a 2010 copyright which is totally wrong. The film was made in the 70s and the video I uploaded post in 2006.) Likewise, Elvis and the Beatles are well known for "stealing" music from black creators. If you ask the average music fan about "Why Don't We Do It In The Road," they will bring up The White Album and not Chuck Berry. It's similar with Eric Clapton and Bob Marley. The Star Wars movies ripped off a whole bunch of movie serials and action movies from the 1930s-1950s. Quentin Tarantino borrowed the ideas of 1970s kung fu films and blaxploitation films to the point of having the stars of those films, like Pam Grier or Gordon Liu, enlisted in his movies.

 The best sampling I have ever heard in music (and Pharrell Williams' group is actually way less guilty of sampling than Kanye West or RZA) has been minute and not used the music sampled as the entire backdrop but instead as an element that carried through all of the music. Since we are talking about Marvin Gaye, a great example of this is the nine minute long "Modern Marvel" song by Mos Def - which drifts from acapella poetry reading style singing by Mos in to an equally long tribute to Marvin Gaye, asking very poignant questions about whether Marvin Gaye would be disappointed or pleased with the modern world.


 The sampling of Marvin in that song is subtle enough that it is really the equivalent of a back-up singer. Technology is such that it's far less expensive to sample something than to employ back-up singers. Mos has performed with live bands and recorded with them - he is not immune to "real" music. You could say that's laziness, sure, but technology does do that. My writing has stayed pretty dense even in a digital world but I often use links whereas, if I had been writing for a magazine twenty years ago, I would have had to include extensive references.

I think that the older music fans who heard the songs originally (like Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On?", which Mos Def sampled) should step out of their own zone for a little bit. For someone who is raised with certain songs, it may be disturbing to hear them chopped up by their children or grandchildren but it should surely beat no one hearing the songs ever again.

 Having been born about fifteen years after "What's Going On" came out, I am really not sure that I would have ever listened to the original if I had not first heard Mos Def's take on it - I listened to alot of Marvin afterwards. I would never have thought to listen to Marvin's deeper cuts like "Anger" if Mos Def hadn't been there first. Sampling, in moderation, isn't ripping off but instead may keep the music alive.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Art of Sampling: Bobby Womack

I wanted to make another post illustrating what sampling sounds like, when done right, in hip-hop. It took alot of thought to arrive at the best illustration of this but I finally arrived on one classic song: Bobby Womack's "Across 110th Street. "Across 100th Street" is a really incredible song - the 1970s were an era after Civil Rights, when much of America's black population had left the Deep South and settled in America's biggest cities. The result wasn't pretty - America is famous for its inner city ghettoes and housing projects - I saw some of them up close when I was in New York as a kid. The projects often seemed blocky, not quite situated properly - as if they were simply there to warehouse people as opposed to giving them a home. The lyrics in this song are so powerful - hip-hop was probably more intimate with the culture of the ghetto and the projects than soul music but Womack really tells the story of living in the ghetto without glorification. In fact, he literally says in the song that he isn't proud of his behavior:
I was the third brother of five, Doing whatever I could to survive, I'm not saying what I did was all right, Trying to get out of the ghetto was a day to day fight.
My best friend gave me a copy of the Across 110th Street soundtrack on vinyl during high school. I think it's still at my family's house. The movie that it was used in, also called Across 110th Street, isn't really deserving of the song - it's raw blaxploitation - an era of film that gave African Americans more attention than American cinema ever had before but not in the most respectful manner. Quentin Tarantino, who grew up on blaxploitation, used this song perfectly in Jackie Brown. Granted, Tarantino has used violence and ridiculous imagery every bit as bad as the worst blaxploitation but his filmmaking chops come out in a scene in Jackie Brown where Jackie, played by Pam Grier, is moved to tears while listening to this song - all of the drama that she had weathered for several decades finally cracking her shell. Being ever the strong woman, the tears are only faint - a rare subtlety in the often in-your-face world of Quentin Tarantino. (There is alot of subtlety and emotion in Jackie Brown - it is definitely one of Tarantino's best films.) The song is utilized in the beginning of Jackie Brown too but I couldn't find a clip of that.


 A scene that beautiful really makes you wonder why Tarantino resorts to violence so much. He is certainly capable of much more. Like most major soul songs, hip-hop producer have had their way with "Across 110th Street." One notable effort is "Walking Through The Darkness" by Tekitha, a female singer who showed up on many Wu-Tang Clan songs when they were popular. It was on the soundtrack for Ghost Dog, a movie starring Forest Whitaker about a modern day samurai.


 It's that guitar riff that really makes Bobby Womack's track so haunting. Tekitha's version sounds almost like the ghost of the original song. Tekitha really held her own on that song, a track I would find intimidating to touch if I were an R&B singer. Tekitha's career isn't over - she put out an album called Prelude in 2010. Let's hope she gains alot of popularity - she deserves it with such talent. To show how sampling can be used in many different directions, Womack's classic song is used in a much more upbeat manner with Destro Destructo's track "Along For The Ride:"


 While Tekitha made a melancholy effort out of "Across 110th Street," Destro, a Portland rapper and part of the massive Oldominion Northwest rap crew, made a club banger out of it. Even so Destro still channels the meaning of the original song with lyrics like

Been through enough for four lifetimes, with no lifeline and still made it through our grind.

"Across 110th Street" is a song about getting out of the ghetto. In different ways, Tekitha, Quentin Tarantino and Destro Destructo (three very different artists from three very different ethnic and geographic backgrounds) all used Womack's song to channel the process of moving forward through life's struggles. Bobby Womack is still alive - pushing 69 years old - and more than likely he has followed the artists and filmmakers who have taken his work and moved it in new directions. I hope he enjoyed them as much as I did.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Kool Keith Says "Goodbye" To Rap

Dr. Octagynecologist put in almost 25 years of amazing music. If this is it, I appreciated it while it lasted. I can't say that I blame him.


Alot of rappers have talked about retiring and not done it but I think Kool Keith might really be serious. Underground hip-hop is not an easy job - you have to do the whole musical process with people who are often very sensitive and ego driven and often asked to do it completely free thanks to downloading - relying on stage shows and merchandise to survive. Throw in jealousy, a music industry that looks down on the genre, etc. and it's easy to see why the genre is declining. Keith is literally the first rapper I ever heard in my life - this song converted me for life when I was in middle school:

2003 Flashback: Pharoahe Monch - Agent Orange

Also posted at Gonzo Times. Back in 2003, I was present at several anti-war protests in Seattle - there were quite a few. Bush was about to invade Iraq and the opposition was at a fever pitch. I was a fan of most of the songs that came out during that period in opposition - everyone from Beastie Boys to Pharoahe Monch pitched in.

Pharoahe is a favorite of this website and his lyrics literally inspired the website title itself. It's about ten years and we seemed to have dodged a bullet from our current president launching a war like his predecessor had - neither of them are bad men but the tendency to want to "push the button" in that position of power seems a little too great for anyone of any stripe to resist. Pharoahe is an Obama supporter, from his lyrics, but his music hasn't failed to continue to be politically provocative and illuminating because the current president is preferable to the previous.

"Agent Orange," released on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, was a taste of the fusionist sound that he continued with albums like Desire and W.A.R. - the talk of weapons of mass destruction, chemical weapons and the title itself, Agent Orange, eludes to one of the many times this country itself has used chemical weapons on developing countries.

Between Positive, Real And Glorification

What you say is very important so one should always mind their words - I was talking with my friend Michael R. Detelj recently about the disclaimer I have on the right side of the website. Michael has a musical project called Details:

The tone is a little bit harsh in the disclaimer - I am saying that negative music that promotes violence is not really welcome on the site:

Blood Is One is always interested in new artists. However, if you want our site to promote you, remember these guidelines: all the music we promote here is positive. We do not endorse anything that glorifies violence, denegrates women or perpetuates ignorance and stereotypes. There are plenty of other sites that sell that sort of music.

  I've been involved in hip-hop at some level for about eleven years - I didn't always listen to conscious rap and I admit to listening to alot of 50 Cent, Busta Rhymes, Wu-Tang Clan, Beanie Sigel, Eminem (and Eminem during his more vulgar period - he has calmed down exponentially now), Tupac and Nas - all artists who glorified violence. However, there was a layer of fantasy world elements to all of that music.

Part of why that disclaimer is up there at all is because, when I first started this website and then with the design that my graphic designer gave me, people associated it with violence. One person even said to me "I don't like the title - I think we've seen enough violence in the inner city." The title is actually taken from a Pharoahe Monch song called "Shine" where he says "Multiple skin tones, the blood is one."

I'm never leaving hip-hop but I prefer to post music and endorse music that is better suited to real life struggles - that is really what I mean by the disclaimer, for any artists that may wondering. I think much of our perception of the world has shifted in recent years - at least as far as hip-hop is concerned. Of all the music I have been given, only some of it has been what could be described as "gangsta rap." It's clearly in the minority.

When we talked, we mentioned Atmosphere, a production and rap duo that actually got really, really popular around 2004 or so and then just petered out. Atmosphere is still around and rapper Slug is still himself. Here's a good effort just produced and featuring Brother Ali:


 Depression, mass shootings, Paul Wellstone, incarceration all mentioned in one song - not the prettiest stuff at all but not glorifying. The music of Details is also obviously not totally positive - depression and family drama are serious things but they are real things. That is exactly the sort of thing I prefer to have on this site.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Elton John - Home Again (Official Lyric Video)

Elvis Costello isn't the only one doing exceptionally good music at the twilight of his career. This song is as good as any Elton did in the 1970s.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Roots And Elvis Costello Make Beautiful Music Together

You know The Roots, right? That pretty stellar hip-hop group with a unique sound because, for the most part, all the instruments are live (they've done a few more standard rap songs and use a lot of keyboards, so it's "for the most part.") ?uestlove is a pretty well known face for hip-hop and is often brought in for documentaries like The Otherside or basically as a representative of the more intellectual, nuanced side of the genre.

Well, indie rock pioneer Elvis Costello and ?uestlove's band are getting together - the product is the album Wise Up Ghost. Admittedly the first single, which has been promoted alot on YouTube and other sites, "Walk Us Uptown," was a bit disappointing - it sounded too standard and too much like the work that Costello was already doing. The whole point of a collaboration like this would be to meld the two different creative worlds of Costello and ?uestlove and that song didn't do it.

It's a good thing that song didn't represent the whole package. Some of the music is simply incredible. If for some reason you're only able to listen to one track from the entire album from Wise Up Ghost, listen to "Come the Meantimes." ?uestlove really pioneered on this song - alot of the staples of modern hip-hop are there - the high hats, claps and loops that would be uneventful in a standard rap track suddenly just sound ridiculous underneath the smooth crooning of Elvis Costello.

The only complaint I have here is that the synergy between the hip-hop world and the indie rock of Elvis Costello is too mild. It would have been good if rapper Black Thought, who has been on every single other Roots album produced, would have appeared - even on just one track. I don't think it would be awkward - songs like "The Seed 2.0" had Black Thought rapping with a pretty healthy chorus by a R&B singer Cody Chesnutt.

That's really the only imperfection though. Elvis Costello is 59 years old. ?uestlove is 42. Hip-hop did already exist when Costello started in popular music but it certainly hadn't developed to the point it has now. Costello not only stepped over the Generation Gap but poured concrete in to it with this album - few artists at this point in his career maintain their old creative energy. Costello actually has sparked new creative energy. Brilliance.

You can listen to the whole thing on NPR. Make sure that you use headphones or speakers with strong bass. The bass is easily one of the best features of the whole album.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Perry Porter - Apollo 11

Thanks so much to Ms. Caroline Li with GO HARD SUPERSTAR for telling me about this magic. So dope! I'm not really totally sure what to think of it or at least to articulate about it. Haha. tI generally don't like Dubstep but this guy makes it more than bearable. Just listen.


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Minority Report And DJax - 90's Kid

New music from my buddy.


Macklemore - Inhale Deep

A little bit of Macklemore before he blew up.

Northwest Spitterz: Sonny Bonoho

Thanks to Dyllyn Greenwood for sending me this. Love it!


Washed Up 50?

Curtis Jackson -

I listened to your song "Warning You." I can appreciate that you really want to get back in to the music industry and sell records again along with clothing lines, celebrity appearances and all that awesome stuff that comes with being famous.

I also get that your image is that of a "gangsta rapper" - your big thing when you made it big was getting shot 9 times and surviving. You posed with guns or throwing bullets dozens of times.

However, you know, as we all do, that gangsta rap is over. Like done like a baked potato. One of the biggest rappers in hip-hop, Macklemore, raps about gay marriage and second hand shopping. Kanye West is Kanye. Wiz Khalifa, Kendrick Lamar, Yelawolf - some of these guys like to tough talk but none of them are gangsta rappers.

You are a smart guy - you collaborated with Robert Greene for a cool book that I liked alot - The 50th Law. You talk about all sorts of serious intellectual stuff in that book - why can't you do that in music? WTF? This music you're doing now makes no sense at all. You're tough talking about shooting people - shooting who? - over a Dubstep beat with Skylar Grey singing the hook. (Grey is a favorite of Eminem's too - she's a gifted singer but her singing sounds awkward with Marshall as well.)

You've probably noticed that your colleagues - Eminem, Snoop [Lion], Nas, Jay-Z - these people have all moved on. They have done new things and made new kinds of music. You're smart enough to rap about something else - this is just gross music. People are more intelligent than this - they know when something is real and this is about as real as processed cheese.