"sometimes, there's a man, well, he's the man for his time and place. he fits right in there. and that's the dude." - THE BIG LEBOWSKI (POLYGRAM, 1999)
it is difficult to watch the recent RICKY POWELL: THE INDIVIDUALIST (TIME STUDIOS, 2020) about the much BELOVED late PHOTOGRAPHER RICKY POWELL and not come off astonished at the CASUAL CHARISMA and INTUITIVE EFFORTLESSNESS with which he interacted with his SUBJECTS and life in general. his PHOTOGRAPHS, especially those that showcased the early HIP HOP scene of the 1980s (RUN-DMC, LL COOL J, BEASTIE BOYS, PUBLIC ENEMY) as well as the concurrent modern art scene of the period (JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT, KEITH HARING, FUTURA, ANDY WARHOL), showcased a level of fly-on-the-wall, BEHIND-THE-SCENES INTIMACY that made them have a sense of URGENCY and feel forever IN-THE-MOMENT. the moment is FLEETING, but POWELL's POWER as a PHOTOGRAPHER was his ability to project through his work a SEAMLESS level of integration between ARTIST and SUBJECT that can only come with the later feeling truly SECURE and COMFORTABLE in the former's presence. his gift in other words, was his (like THE DUDE) ability to be SIMPATICO with his surroundings.
one of the UNIQUE ironies is that although as a PHOTOGRAPHER who primarily shot CELEBRITIES, he was constantly not on his own turf, being on tour buses, backstage rooms, restaurants, art galleries, museums, but through his PHOTOGRAPHS these CELEBRITIES were really in his world. somebody in the film makes the comment that the purpose of these MUSICIANS and ARTISTS very existence was for him to document them, so respected was his TALENT and EYE.
i remember a relative of mine that has long worked in the FILM INDUSTRY once told me about an upcoming MUSICIAN that befriended a famous ACTOR in the 1990s. this ACTOR had access to a private jet and took his new friend on a world tour of sorts as part of his entourage which apparently lasted a few years. the musician effectively stopped writing new material and eventually returned back to a reality in which he had rent due and bills to pay. so he asked the actor for money and that was it. he was cut off. the whole experience set him back and whatever momentum his career trajectory he was on a few years prior was irreparably dashed because of his temporary dalliance with the jet set crowd and that lifestyle. watching RICKY POWELL: THE INDIVIDUALIST made me think of that scenario immediately. yes, POWELL was TIGHT with the BEASTIE BOYS and was undoubtedly part of their crew for almost a decade, you know, UNTIL HE WASNT. instead of transitioning from that experience into the next phase of his career, he instead became a HERMIT in his downtown studio apartment and effectively separated himself from society for a few decades. the film gets into his HORRIBLE upbringing by a single mother who cherished her animals more than her son, but it doesnt take a psychologist to realize that these ARTISTIC and MUSICAL COMMUNITIES POWELL so effortlessly surfed between were SURROGATE FAMILIES of sorts. and when those RELATIONSHIPS came to a natural end, he was left to make sense of the pieces.
i found this documentary to be very MELANCHOLIC with this highly CHARMING yet unbearably VULNERABLE figure of POWELL. the fact that he dies alone from cardiac arrest shortly after filming is almost too TRAGIC to take in. he had such a UNIQUE GIFT and such a preternatural EMPATHETIC ability to connect with STRANGERS, FAMOUS or otherwise. its too much to bear that he seemed to be LONELY sans a family his whole life. he almost came resigned to the fact that the search wasnt worth it. again, just DEVASTATING.
in the past two years i have been lucky enough to secure copies of both of his much SOUGHT-AFTER PHOTOGRAPHY COLLECTIONS OH SNAP! (ST. MARTIN'S GRIFFIN, 1998) and THE RICKFORD FILES (ST. MARTIN'S GRIFFIN, 1999), so i was very much motivated to seek out this documentary once i learned of its existence. i see the film as ESSENTIAL and definitely recommend it to anyone interested in the beginnings of HIP HOP or the UNDERGROUND graffiti art scene of 1980s NEW YORK CITY.
NOTABLE interview participants include PROMINENT rappers such as LL COOL J, DARRYL "DMC" MCDANIELS (RUN-DMC), CHUCK D (PUBLIC ENEMY), FAB 5 FREDDY and MIKE D (BEASTIE BOYS), producers MARIO "C" CALDATO and MARK RONSON, publishers DAVID HERSHKOVITZ (PAPER MAGAZINE) and JODI PECKMAN (ROLLING STONE) as well as NEW YORK actors like NATASHA LYONNE, LAURENCE FISHBURNE, DEBI MAZAR and VIN DIESEL, and artists like FUTURA, ZEPHYR, KAVES, MAX PERLICH, CHERYL DUNN, CEY ADAMS, SUE KWON and PATRICK MCMULLAN.
for the past ten years or so there has been a healthy dose of QUALITY LYRICISTS emerging out of the WEST COAST including KENDRICK LAMAR, AB-SOUL, YG, TY DOLLA SIGN, SCHOOLBOY Q, NIPSEY HUSSLE (RIP), JAY ROCK and LONG BEACH-native VINCE STAPLES. much like LAMAR, but less OBTUSE, when i listen to STAPLES i am confronted with an ARTIST that takes inspiration from the MILIEU of his upbringing, dropping INSIGHTFUL truths concerning URBAN LIFE from a BLACK PERSPECTIVE without necessarily voicing judgement upon such. this is the type of HIP HOP i appreciate the most as it serves as a gateway to an ENVIRONMENT and WORLDVIEW that im not accustomed to otherwise, much as FELA KUTI served as a contextualizing agent to what i witnessed upon moving to NIGERIA back in the mid 1990s.
STAPLES is ELOQUENT and POIGNANT and is a noteworthy POET well worth checking out.
the internet is an INTERESTING place.
when i did my 120th EPISODE of DEER GOD RADIO back during the height of the pandemic in april of 2021, i chose to highlight a SMALL but highly INFLUENTIAL record label responsible for some of my FAVORITE HIP HOP artists of all-time in MF DOOM, MADLIB and the producer J DILLA. it was part of an ONGOING series featuring the ROSTERS of various (mostly INDEPENDENT) RECORD LABELS including at that point LIKE-MINDED firms such as 4AD, DOMINO, STAX, GREENWAY, SUB POP and CHESS and has gone on to include DFA, CARPARK, MATADOR, WARP, NACIONAL, DISCHORD, SARGENT HOUSE, FAT POSSUM, STIFF, FOOL'S GOLD and METAL BLADE to date. for all of these SHOWS i created parodies of their respective LOGOS to say "DEER GOD" instead of their actual name. these are of varying quality but made in GOOD FUN and on SOCIAL MEDIA i routinely tag the LABEL to both let them know about the SHOW and the NONPROFIT RADIO STATION MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC as well as make them aware that i am utilizing, but absolutely not profiting off of their INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY.
what is intriguing to me is that up until this point, for three years i had gotten pretty good responses from some of the ARTISTS and LABELS that i parodied and highlighted on my BI-WEEKLY RADIO SHOW. in fact, in the two years since (and over 200+ total episodes), never anything remotely NEGATIVE happened until STONES THROW, which i will readily admit saddened me. and its not like they did anything particularly intense, just mocking me with two new versions of their circular LOGO stating "WRONG FONT" and "BUT THANKS" on TWITTER. and point taken, DEER GOD has seven letters while STONES THROW has eleven, so the font wasn't completely a one-to-one facsimile. i was just surprised that they would PUNCHING DOWN at someone promoting their LABEL and ROSTER. i took the time and effort to create a playlist of their ECLECTIC ROSTER and talk during a two-hour SHOW about why their LABEL mattered to me, and they effectively SHIT ON ME. or rather the sadly inevitable VILE comment section thereafter did. if it was a direct message from STONES THROW id have been in on the joke and laughed, but there is something about making it public and having their fans make judgements about me that kinda soured me on their whole operation. which is UNFORTUNATE. they are a RELEVANT underground LABEL that continually promotes unknown artists of an ELEVATED artistic caliber in spite of the whims of the industry at large. but i guess they are also pretty ELITIST in the process as well. my experience being case in point. or maybe i am just too THIN-SKINNED.
anyway, below is the EPISODE in question if interested. investigating MADLIB, MF DOOM and J DILLA is most definitely worth your time for the uninitiated.
REST IN PEACE DANIEL DUMILE and JAMES DEWITT YANCEY.
its hard to believe that its been something like seventeen years since the LEGENDARY SOUTHERN HIP HOP duo OUTKAST last decided to put out an album.
that may be in part due to the fact that the ATLANTA HIP HOP scene in the intervening years has long since emerged as a VERITABLE MECCA of cultural activity that has rivaled (along with HOUSTON) the traditional powerhouses that are LOS ANGELES and NEW YORK CITY. look no further than all the local artists out of ATLANTA that haven risen alongside OUTKAST or thereafter to national prominence such as CHILDISH GAMBINO, LIL JOHN, SOULJA BOY, GUCCI MANE, LIL BABY, 2 CHAINZ, KILLER MIKE, T.I., YOUNG THUG, WACKA FLOCKA FLAME, 21 SAVAGE and MIGOS. in many ways it feels like we are very much living in a COMPLEX musical world that is decidedly influenced with a UNIQUE SOUTHERN flavor and seemingly GENRE-LESS AESTHETIC that OUTKAST played an INSTRUMENTAL role in creating.
rappers BIG BOI and ANDRE 3000 are DISTINCT to one another. not exactly opposites per se but more DISPARATE CONCEPTIONS of what a HIP HOP artist should that somehow paradoxically complement one another. BIG BOI is definitely from the HARD-HITTING mold of celebrated STREETWISE lyricists like ICE CUBE, NAS, 2PAC, MOBB DEEP and RAKIM whose CRAFTSMANSHIP and preternatural ability to evoke the GRITTY and UNFILTERED ETHOS of daily URBAN BLACK life to the mic are stuff of absolute legend. ANDRE 3000 is likewise a TALENTED lyricist but seemingly more focused on EXPERIMENTAL WORDPLAY and expanding the boundaries of the FORM, writing more OPAQUE CONCEPTUAL NARRATIVES over time in the tradition of artists like Q-TIP, MADLIB, TRUGOY THE DOVE, MF DOOM, TALIB KWELI and even GEORGE CLINTON and SLY STONE. in my mind OUTKAST married those two strains of HIP HOP in a SEAMLESS fashion and the culture itself has been following that lead ever since.
i remember getting to see OUTKAST on tour in support of their STANKONIA (ARISTA, 2000) album as part of MOBY's ECLECTIC AREA:ONE tour back in 2001 and just being amazed that this dude wearing blonde wigs with football shoulder pads and feather boas was part of the same group with his more traditionally attired ATLANTA FALCONS jersey, low-brim baseball cap-wearing counterpart. of course in rap this dichotomy was nothing new at the time, just look back at PUBLIC ENEMY with the ECCENTRIC clock-adorned FLAVOR FLAV grabbing attention or WU-TANG CLAN's OL DIRTY BASTARD evading police at industry award shows and taking trophies on stage from others with MEMORABLE impromptu, heartfelt speeches like "WU-TANG is for the children." look at KANYE WEST, INSANE CLOWN POSSE, TYLER THE CREATOR, DANNY BROWN or BIZ MARKIE (RIP) for that matter. i feel like the difference with ANDRE 3000 is that his IDIOSYNCRATIC presentation was less of a calculated conceit for generating attention and more an expression of an ALTERNATIVE ARTISTIC VIEWPOINT, complete with an EXPANDED LEXICON of what constitutes MASCULINITY in HIP HOP culture. himself an acolyte of Q-TIP, i see his lineage in peers and EXPANSIVE-MINDED, THOUGHTFUL and SOCIALLY CONSCIOUS artists like FRANK OCEAN, CHILDISH GAMBINO, KENDRICK LAMAR, RUN THE JEWELS, J. COLE, AB-SOUL, LOGIC and CHANCE THE RAPPER.
seeing the sometimes intermingling manifestations of those two DISTINCT STRAINS and TRAJECTORIES of HIP HOP is endlessly FASCINATING and part of the allure of paying attention to how emerging artists RE-CONTEXTUALIZE the form itself, which is in a constant state of rebirth. unlike their ROCK AND ROLL counterparts, HIP HOP as a musical FORM is always EVOLVING and giving away to new permutations and EXPERIMENTAL SONIC JUXTAPOSITIONS that is NOVEL and EXCITING for those who choose to participate and i give some credit to OUTKAST for helping spur such, especially in the somewhat more artistically conservative 1990s.
embedded below is a recent DEER GOD RADIO episode on nonprofit internet radio station MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC that includes a playlist celebrating the career of the ICONIC ATLANTA HIP HOP duo OUTKAST. enjoy!
there are so many stellar ONGOING live PERFORMANCE video series produced and recorded by radio stations across the county, including NOTORIOUS ones by KEXP 90.3FM in SEATTLE and KCRW 89.9FM in LOS ANGELES among others. recently i discovered another great example done by KCMP 89.3 THE CURRENT in NORTHFIELD, MINNESOTA, called THE CURRENT SESSIONS which is run by MINNESOTA PUBLIC RADIO and has a broadcast range that covers the nearby "TWIN CITIES" of ST. PAUL and MINNEAPOLIS.
the visual and sound quality involved is TOP NOTCH and includes past PERFORMANCES by everyone from NOTABLE songwriters like SHARON VAN ETTEN, ROBYN HITCHCOCK and FIRST AID KIT to INDIE ROCK bands in BUILT TO SPILL, AMYL AND THE SNIFFERS and STARCRAWLER, not to mention HIP HOP acts like KILLER MIKE of RUN THE JEWELS fame. needless to say, THE CURRENT SESSIONS are definitely worth checking out.
LOS ANGELES rapper YG is everything i love about TRADITIONAL WEST COAT HIP HOP. he is unapologetically OPINIONATED lyrically with BARBED missives against both his competition and his enemies, while maintaining a WICKED sense of HUMOR. he is easily the most intellectually DEXTEROUS LYRICIST to come out of the region this side of KENDRICK LAMAR and ICE CUBE. whereas LAMAR takes full lyrical flight in IMAGINATIVE NARRATIVES with involved SCENARIOS, CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT and COMPLEX METAPHORS, i'd liken YG's style more to that of CUBE and his school of directly relating the pulse of the street in a NO BULLSHIT PRESENTATION. if anything YG ups that directness with UNRESTRAINED FLAIR, BRAVADO and SELF-AWARENESS of the inherent ABSURDITY of it all. his music videos often play up this SURREAL nature of his LYRICAL CONTENT, which involves the HORROR, KINSHIP and MORAL QUANDARIES that define GANG LIFE in south central LOS ANGELES.
i wouldnt state that he is necessarily celebrating or glamorizing GANG LIFE, but merely reporting on it in a MATTER-OF-FACT MANNER. it is what it is and such is his COMMUNITY. if outside people want to draw conclusions and judge such than they should consider their own culpability in the manufacturing of a society over generations of AMERICAN history that has limited opportunity and gutted the social fabric of minorities of every spectrum. if anything, his COMMUNITY is a source of IDENTITY, EMPOWERMENT and ART in his LYRICS, MUSIC and VISUAL PRESENTATION.
his work may be a bit CONTROVERSIAL but i feel strongly that YG is one of the most EXCITING rappers to come along in recent memory and is most definitely worth checking out.
i hate SACRAMENTO with a PASSION.
i spent my senior year of high school living with a relative in a WHITE-BREAD suburb of the state capital in the wake of 9/11 and was just appalled at the IN-YOUR-FACE JINGOISM, RACISM and just NAKED IDIOCY on full daily display. and that aftertaste very much still lingers. at the time, i kept thinking that nothing of CULTURAL VALUE has come from the area with the lone exception being the SEMINAL ALTERNATIVE METAL band DEFTONES. over the past two decades that list has been amended a bit with INNOVATIVE and IMPACTFUL acts such as HELLA, CHELSEA WOLFE, TERA MELOS and DEATH GRIPS.
when i first came across the debut mixtape EX MILITARY (THIRD WORLDS, 2011) by EXPERIMENTAL HIP HOP act DEATH GRIPS i was completely emotionally sideswiped. it didnt process. it was like this ABSURD hybrid of the highly MANIPULATED, IMAGINATIVE FOUND SOUND-enabled UNPREDICTABILITY of APHEX TWIN, the OBLITERATING sonic BRUTALITY of CONVERGE and the CONFRONTATIONAL, NO-BULLSHIT, STREETWISE LYRICISM of the WU-TANG CLAN. these component parts should not exist together, and yet they do and the sound is CHAOTIC and BEAUTIFUL in its TECHNICAL WIZARDRY, COMPOSITIONAL COMPLEXITY and EMOTIONAL RELEASE. EX MILITARY was easily one of the most ADVENTUROUS releases i had heard in decades. the whole VISUAL and AURAL AESTHETIC of DEATH GRIPS is absolute uncertainty conceived and played with UNRIVALED PRECISION. it is BRILLIANT.
the three-piece is made up of MC/vocalist RIDE, drummer ZACH HILL and keyboardist/programmer ANDY MORIN. HILL of course is a PRODIGIOUS, generationally TALENTED musician that came to UNDERGROUND prominence in the PROGRESSIVE MATH ROCK band HELLA. his METRONOMIC PRECISION on the kit is ABSURD, which is prefect in the context of DEATH GRIPS and their EXTREME DYNAMICS with EVER-SHIFTING AND COMPLEX TIME SIGNATURES and TEMPO SHIFTS designed for the maximum juxtaposition of DISSONANCE and AURAL DISLOCATION. key tacks included "BEWARE," "CULTURE SHOCK," "GUILLOTINE," "LORD OF THE GAME" and "KNOWN FOR IT." RIDE comes across as the most INTENSE and PRIMAL of ringleaders of a DEMENTED circus youd never wish to attend, guiding you through a sonic mind-field that is both OVERWHELMING and EXASPERATING in detail and UNRELENTING BRUTALITY alike. i see his function within the MUSIC as making it feel COHESIVE by providing a FOCAL POINT and an INTENT, even if such is purely CATHARTIC and EMOTIONAL in scope initially. his VOICE pulls you in and directs you through the CHAOS.
not sure what else to say. i absolutely adore this band and this mixtape. an absolutely ESSENTIAL release that is well worth checking out, much like other OPAQUE yet highly IMAGINATIVE and ORIGINAL releases of past decades like NINE INCH NAILS' THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL (INTERSCOPE, 1994), SWANS' CHILDREN OF GOD (CAROLINE, 1987), CAPTAIN BEEFHEART's TROUT MASK REPLICA (STRAIGHT, 1969) or MF DOOM's VAUDVILLE VILLAIN (SOUND-INK, 2003).
the story of SUB POP RECORDS is so fantastical, it is something akin to fairy tale. in a notoriously SELF-CANNIBALIZING industry with a irredeemably RAPACIOUS and INSATIABLE appetite for SELF-SERVING, DEVIOUS business practices and CYNICAL self-justifications for mercilessly economically raping their CLIENTS and FANS alike, it is a wonder the PACIFIC NORTHWEST INDEPENDENT record label is still standing and functioning today. and not only surviving, but in fact thriving in a MODERN POST-STREAMING DIGITAL ENVIRONMENT where culture is moving and innovating at an increasingly fast clip. since the 1980s SUB POP has basically been a beacon for INVENTIVE established and emerging MUSICIANS alike, providing a platform and opportunity for wide exposure to ARTISTS across HIP HOP, INDIE ROCK, COMEDY, ELECTRONICA, SPOKEN WORD, PUNK ROCK, INDIE POP and TRIP HOP genres alike.
SUB POP began interestingly enough not as a LABEL, but as a FANZINE and RADIO SHOW at EVERGREEN STATE COLLEGE by student and music fanatic BRUCE PAVITT. it later morphed into a NEWSPAPER COLUMN and then a LABEL as a means of putting out a compilation album of unknown local SEATTLE acts in the late 80s. this small but close scene, uniquely propelled by its ISOLATION, cultivated an EMERGING ALTERNATIVE ROCK scene that infused elements of PUNK ROCK, METAL and CLASSIC ROCK influences to create something entirely FRESH yet FAMILIAR. by SERENDIPITY and hard work, SUB POP tapped into that vein and promoted the likes of SOUNDGARDEN, GREEN RIVER, MUDHONEY, NIRVANA and so on to the present day. what i appreciate about the LABEL is that they have never attempted to put out the same thing over and over again like so many other SUCCESSFUL AMERICAN INDEPENDENT LABELS (cough, cough, EPITAPH, FAT WRECK CHORDS, etc). i see SUB POP as more akin and in-league with the LIKE-MINDED BRITISH RECORD LABELS (4AD, ROUGH TRADE, XL, MUTE, WARP and DOMINO), as well as a few AMERICAN ones as well (MATADOR, MERGE and JAGJAGUWAR), that nurture and curate INGENIOUS new ARTISTS.
whenever i feel jaded about music, SUB POP continues to be an entry point into the AVANT-GARDE of music right now. not thirty years ago at the height of a much BELOVED but IRRELEVANT and BYGONE GRUNGE movement, but right at present at this cultural moment. i just dont understand how they remained intact. its almost as if the COMMUNITY is consciously along for the ride, which is reassuring about HUMANITY in general.
and thats exciting. SUB POP is a gift to music lovers.
embedded below is a DEER GOD RADIO episode on nonprofit internet radio station MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC that includes an ECLECTIC playlist of SUB POP bands new and old, notable and upcoming. enjoy!
when you look back at the nascent HIP HOP scene in THE BRONX in the late 1970s, there was a lot of EXPERIMENTATION going on. the form itself was justing coming into being and the sonic possibilities that came with remixing one's record collection on turntables with a clever DJ running copilot was seemingly limited to one's imagination.
what is INTRIGUING about going back to the source, of which AFRIKA BAMBAATAA & SOULSONIC FORCE's EPOCHAL release PLANET ROCK: THE ALBUM (TOMMY BOY, 1986) is how informed his range was of the musical AVANT-GARDE, even going so far as to sample KRAUTROCK contemporaries KRAFTWERK for the LEGENDARY title track. in his hands (along with collaborating co-producer ARTHUR BAKER), the consciously RIGID and MACHINE-LIKE efficiency of "NUMBERS" off of KRAFTWERK's COMPUTER WORLD (KLING KLANG, 1981) became something totally unexpected: FUNKY. in the MODERN lexicon of HIP HOP as it has develop over the ensuing decades, "PLANET ROCK" has one of the DEFINING samples of the genre. so much so that the song helped provide the impetus for the ELECTRO movement that followed.
sometimes genres become more CALCIFIED over the course of their development as a form and there is this fallacy that develops that the early FORBEARERS somehow held onto this UNADULTERATED, UNALLOYED, PURE DISTILLATION of the TRUE SPIRIT of the genre. you see that type of incorrect thinking and mythologizing with everything from PUNK ROCK and the BIBLE to BASEBALL and the UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION. its a very human thing to distort the past. the further you go back, often what becomes apparent is how in flux and undetermined all these later DOGMATIC parameters were at the time of formation. HIP HOP is no different and "PLANET ROCK" is a PRIME and INTRIGUING example of such.
i would be remiss if i didnt mention the other STANDOUT track, which is "RENEGADES OF FUNK," decades later MEMORABLY covered by BAMBAATAAA acolytes RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE. lyrically the song celebrates all these BLACK EMPOWERMENT and is a bit of history lesson of such, listing past THINKERS and REVOLUTIONARIES that pushed the ball forward in terms of the LIBERATION and FREEDOM of the AFRICAN DIASPORA. in fact, BAMBAATAAA headed the UNIVERSAL ZULU NATION, an international HIP HOP awareness group he initiated while still in high school that promoted PAN-AFRICANISM and BLACK EMPOWERMENT. later NOTABLE affiliates include Q-TIP (A TRIBE CALLED QUEST), KOOL MOE DEE, BIG BOI (OUTKAST), KURTIS BLOW, IMMORTAL TECHNIQUE and ICE-T among many others.
i should also state that in recent years BAMBAATAAA has become something of a CONTROVERSIAL figure, with many allegations surfacing of his alleged involvement in the molesting of young boys going back to the 1970s. BAMBAATAAA has vehemently denied these charges and to date no charges have been leveled against him. all the same it goes without mentioning that these allegations have complicated his legacy as a HIP HOP ORIGINATOR and CULTURAL INNOVATOR of the first order.
after the career-defining twin cultural HIP HOP milestones that were THE SLIM SHADY LP (INTERSCOPE, 1999) and THE MARSHALL MATHERS LP (INTERSCOPE, 2000), DETROIT rapper EMINEM settled in and released THE EMINEM SHOW (INTERSCOPE, 2002). by the time he recorded his third album, he'd gone through the ringer publicly after resolving a CONCEALED WEAPONS CHARGE, being SUED BY HIS OWN MOTHER for defamation, as well as a lengthy DIVORCE with a related CONTESTED CUSTODY BATTLE for his young daughter. for EMINEM, his life very much felt like a WARPED spectacle that was fodder and entertainment for the masses, so why not just give them all an actual show on his third album.
the first two records were mostly produced / co-produced by DR DRE with EMINEM gaining confidence along the way. THE EMINEM SHOW is SIGNIFICANT in his catalogue as the majority of tracks are produced by EMINEM, showcasing a FIERCE new SKILLSET he developed under the watchful tutelage of DR DRE. such being the case, the piano-derived single-note MELODY LINES share a DNA link with the N.W.A. legend, as made evident on tracks like "BUSINESS," "WHITE AMERICA," "SQUARE DANCE," "WITHOUT ME" and especially "CLEANIN' OUT MY CLOSET."
i was aware of EMINEM throughout high school, as THE SLIM SHADY LP came out my freshman year and THE MARSHALL MATHERS LP my sophomore year, but i didnt initially take to his music because his stuff was popular with the jocks. and by that i mean the hockey players that TERRORIZED and BRUTALLY HAZED me and my friends as an underclassman. i was at a boarding school so there was literally no escape from those ASSHOLES and their ABUSE. by the time THE EMINEM SHOW came out, i was near the end of high school and a lot had changed. i was no longer in boarding school, having spent my junior year with my parents in KUWAIT and then senior year with a relative in SACRAMENTO after 9/11 happened that year. the company my dad worked for had a policy that his family could fly out twice a year, airfare fully paid, so it was on a five-and-a-half hour solo journey FRANKFURT-KUWAIT CITY flight that i first really dug into a copy of THE EMINEM SHOW i got at the airport and finally came to appreciate its appeal.
as with all great MCs, EMINEM is a GIFTED POET. not just technically-speaking, as the dude can INTERNAL RHYME SCHEME and CADENCE his way with DEXTERITY with the best of them, but in term of his ability to emote a wide dynamic range of mental states through his PERSONAS. he can be COY and HUMOROUS to ireedemably CAUSTIC in zero seconds flat. targets include his family, his WHITE AUDIENCE, the BUSH ADMINISTRATION, former girlfriend MARIAH CAREY, the MUSIC INDUSTRY and those who seek to censor him. besides his lyrical acrobatics, the songs work because of the sonic bedrock he's established to fortify and buttress the complex architecture that is his SOPHISTICATED RHYME SCHEMES, WORDPLAY and CULTURAL REFERENCES. it is a style that is definitely old school with prominent structural elements that give the listener an innate sense of METER and PITCH of which he is bouncing ideas off of. today's MODERN, more ABSTRACT cloud rappers don't mess with this type of beat as it limits their choices, which makes EMINEM's achievements that more SPECUTACULAR in comparison.
personally i love THE EMINEM SHOW and feel it is required listening, but in terms of his catalogue the first two albums really are where one needs to begin their journey. everything else is a variation on a THEME, including the standout THE EMINEM SHOW. definitely worth checking out.
its one of the big musical ironies of my life that it took me moving to WEST AFRICA from SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA to learn about one of the greatest WEST COAST HIP HOP groups of all-time, CYPRESS HILL. that transition happened in 1996 when i was in sixth grade and to be honest, i was completely IGNORANT about HIP HOP when i lived stateside since family didnt have cable television (much less any of my childhood friends) and none of my friends or neighborhood kids were into it. shortly after moving to NIGERIA, a LEBANESE classmate of mine (and MASSIVE POTHEAD) basically EDUCATED and INDOCTRINATED me into the church of CYPRESS HILL as he had the first three records at the time: CYPRESS HILL (COLUMBIA, 1991), BLACK SUNDAY (COLUMBIA, 1993) and III: TEMPLES OF BOOM (COLUMBIA, 1995).
while i never got into smoking MARIJUANA, i was very much taken aback by the STREETWISE LYRICISM and PROPULSIVE DELIVERY of the gifted MC tandem B-REAL and SEN DOG as well as the INGENIOUS PRODUCTION of DJ MUGGS which both had the potential to be FOREBODING as well as PSYCHEDELIC. the combination of those two elements made for a CINEMATIC AURAL EXPERIENCE that was CONTAGIOUS and INCREDIBLY COMPELLING to just get lost in for hours. in essence CYPRESS HILL was my entry point into HIP HOP. end stop. looking back at that period in the mid-1990s, NIGERIA was in a transition period whereby things got more than a little DANGEROUS at times, especially where we lived in LAGOS. years of rampant CORRUPTION effectively rendered the place the wild west. even traveling to and from school was everyday was done with an armed guard with a size-able automatic weapon. i say this to make the point that CYPRESS HILL was the absolute perfect soundtrack to this completely FUBAR situation, one in which people visibly struggled for SURVIVAL. the music at its core seemed to CELEBRATE that STRUGGLE and the FORCE OF WILL it took for those trapped in its INSIDIOUS clutches to maintain a sense of HOPE, DIGNITY and HUMANITY.
from my love CYPRESS HILL grew an appreciation for later HIP HOP artists and groups i became exposed to over the coming years including PUBLIC ENEMY, NAS, A TRIBE CALLED QUEST, ERIC B & RAKIM, THE PHARCYDE, MF DOOM, DE LA SOUL, OUTKAST, RUN THE JEWELS and the WU-TANG CLAN. and it goes beyond HIP HOP, as BRITISH TRIP HOP acts like MASSIVE ATTACK, PORTISHEAD, THIEVERY CORPORATION, SNEAKER PIMPS and TRICKY werent that far removed from what DJ MUGGS was up to on a purely SONIC LEVEL.
i know that much of their public profile is surrounded by MARIJUANA ADVOCACY (which i support), much like other NOTABLE acts like SUBLIME, 311, SLEEP, BLACK SABBATH, THE GRATEFUL DEAD and CANNIBAL CORPSE, but for me what make a CYPRESS HILL such a seminal group is their ability to coherently present a COHESIVE LYRICAL and AURAL PICTURE of life in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA for the SOCIALLY UNDERPRIVILEGED and CRIMINALLY UNDERSERVED. if WEED makes that CREATIVE PROCESS happen, then i am all here for it. they are one of the key musical groups of my youth that helped me emotionally make sense of TRAGIC surroundings and TRAUMATIC events that marked my three-year stint in LAGOS as a kid. for that i am still indebted to them.
embedded below is a DEER GOD RADIO episode on nonprofit internet radio station MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC that originally aired on new year's day back in 2020. the playlist includes music from throughout CYPRESS HILL's catalogue. enjoy!
when i think about how i got into HIP HOP, there is pretty much two eras: before hearing the WU-TANG CLAN and after hearing the WU-TANG CLAN. i was somewhat naive about RAP in general during my early years in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, but when i arrived in middle school to NIGERIA i learned about a whole host of artists ranging from CYPRESS HILL, NAS, TUPAC SHAKUR, A TRIBE CALLED QUEST, THE NOTORIOUS B.I.G. and so on. it was an EDUCATION to say the least and alongside my EXPOSURE to WEST AFRICAN artists like FELA KUTI, KING SUNNY ADE and LAGBAJA, it provided a foundation for APPRECIATING the COMPLEXITY of modern music from across the AFRICAN DIASPORA.
enter the WU-TANG CLAN.
i was in boarding school in MASSACHUSETTS and the mixed-race son of a UMASS professor who lived next door had an ENTER THE WU-TANGE (36 CHAMBERS) (LOUD, 1993) poster proudly displayed in plain view from the hallway. remarkably somehow the WU-TANG CLAN never made the journey to NIGERIA. still boggles my mind. hearing them for the first time really triggered something in my UNDERSTANDING and APPRECIATION of HIP HOP from there out. the idea that the objective was to have the most CLEVER people spitting the most CLEVER shit over the most CLEVER production possible. in WU-TANG you had all of that, with ten MCs tagging themselves in one after the other, attempting to outsmart and essentially outcompete their fellow bandmate. it was POETRY as a sport envisioned through the LEXICON and VISUAL ICONOGRAPHY of KUNG FU films as stand-in metaphors for the black experience in STATEN ISLAND. there was literally nothing out there as INTELLIGENT and CREATIVE as WU-TANG in any genre. that debut is one of those turning point records that hasnt been topped since in my opinion. and just for the sake of honesty, i worship at the high altar of A TRIBE CALLED QUEST, my all-time favorite HIP HOP group, along with PUBLIC ENEMY, OUTKAST, THE PHARCYDE, GETO BOYS, DE LA SOUL and the BEASTIE BOYS. but in reality none of those groups produced anything as TRANSFORMATIVE as WU-TANG's debut. its a PERFECT record. period.
as if that wasnt enough, there is also the less spoken about BUSINESS SAVVY and GENIUS of WU-TANG CLAN. signed to LOUD RECORDS, a subsidiary of ZOO RECORDS (of GREEN JELLY and TOOL fame), the label in essence had the rights to the catalogue of the band but not its members, which allowed all of them to sign deals with various labels, such as DEF JAM (METHOD MAN), MCA (GZA), EPIC (GHOSTFACE KILLAH, CAPPADONNA), LOUD (INSPECTAH DECK), ELEKTRA (OL' DIRTY BASTARD), BMG (RZA), PRIORITY (U-GOD), RCA (RAEKWON) and NATURE SOUNDS (MASTA KILLA). in essence this mean that most of the conglomerates at the time had a financial stake in the WU-TANG enterprise, supporting one in essence raised the profiles of the others. previous to this arrangement, all solo careers of PROMINENT members were pre-arranged to be developed and promoted by the same management and label as the main group, which effectively straddled momentum. this INNOVATIVE arrangement WU-TANG employed is now commonplace in the industry and has led to more OPPORTUNITY and DIVERSIFICATION of risk in the music business pre-NAPSTER and widespread internet-enabled file sharing.
i find myself always going back to the WU-TANG CLAN debut. you hear a verse you love and then find out that the next few hours is all about GHOSTFACE KILLAH's SUPREME CLIENTELE (EPIC, 2000) or FISHSCALE (DEF JAM, 2006) or maybe even OL' DIRTY BASTARD's RETURN TO THE 36 CHAMBERS (ELEKTRA, 1995). its a ride that is worth repeat visits.
embedded below is a DEER GOD RADIO episode on nonprofit internet radio station MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC that originally aired more than three years ago. the playlist includes music from throughout the WU-TANG CLAN catalogue, both the group and its members' various solo and outside projects. enjoy!
my instinct is to always call BULLSHIT whenever people speak nostalgically of a golden age of anything. truth is, every generation has talent. each generation also has an artistic mandate to push forward and expand the lexicon of what came before and keep the FRESH musical and LYRICAL EXPERIMENTATION going. JOEY BADA$$ is a BROOKLYN rapper that came on the scene a decade ago and was heralded as an GIFTED MC that was bringing back CONSCIOUSNESS and INTELLIGENCE back to a national scene dominated by MUMBLE RAP and fly-by-night SOUNDCLOUD artists that made the form DISPENSABLE (as argued by some OVERZEALOUS critics and old heads).
i dont know if i by into such talk, but in the past decade JOEY BADA$$ has proven to be a THOUGHTFUL and INTROSPECTIVE lyricist who much like his better known peers in J COLE and KENDRICK LAMAR, trades on a personal brand of HIP HOP that is focused on his lived EXPERIENCE (RELATIONSHIPS, PERSONAL LIBERATION, COMMUNITY, EDUCATION, etc.) and has lasted the test of time. to say i consider him in the same league as Q-TIP, TALIB KWELI, CHUCK D, BLACK THOUGHT or MOS DEF is beside the point and IRRELEVANT. i just look forward to following this guy for years to come. at the very least he is most definitely worth checking out.
the BEASTIE BOYS fifth studio album HELLO NASTY (CAPITOL, 1998) was a seminal HIP HOP album as i experienced it the summer before my freshman year of high school. i knew of their existence before due to hearing various LICENSE TO ILL (DEF JAM, 1986) tracks out of context during my elementary school years in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, but i never had their records nor strangely did anyone i knew growing up there and in WEST AFRICA. its ODD in retrospect since other MAJOR HIP HOP artists like CYPRESS HILL, A TRIBE CALLED QUEST, THE NOTORIOUS B.I.G., WU-TANG CLAN and TUPAC all seemingly made the jump overseas, but for whatever reason not the BEASTIE BOYS.
regardless, the SEMINAL HELLO NASTY album was the first BEASTIE BOYS record i ever bought and i basically worked my way backwards shortly thereafter. by this point for years my family had relocated to NEW JERSEY during the summer months (in part to by a years worth of supplies that would shipped overseas to NIGERIA) and in the summer of 1998 "INTERGALACTIC" was a monster hit on both INFLUENTIAL NYC HIP HOP stations like HOT 97 and POWER 105.1 and the ALTERNATIVE ROCK juggernaut that was 92.3 K-ROCK. that level of UBIQUITY on the airwaves, not to mention the accompanying ADAM YAUCH-directed music video on MTV at the time, made that track a particularly UNIQUE cultural moment at the time.
HELLO NASTY was co-produced with MARIO CALDATO, JR who was involved with their previous three releases ILL COMMUNICATION (CAPITOL, 1994), CHECK YOUR HEAD (CAPITOL, 1992), and PAUL'S BOUTIQUE (CAPITOL, 1989) and sonically the record is high-energy and propulsive with a clever mix of DANCEHALL, DUB, LOUNGE, DRUM & BASS elements. this is also the first BEASTIE BOYS release to feature MIX MASTER MIKE as their effective house DJ (complete with his innovative wah-wah pedal inflected vinyl scratching), a role he would continue until their break-up in the wake of YAUCH's passing from salivary gland cancer. STANDOUT tracks include "REMOTE CONTROL," "THREE MC'S AND ONE DJ," "BODY MOVIN'" and "SUPER DISCO BREAKIN'" with guest performances by the likes of MIHO HATORI (CIBO MATTO) and legendary DUB producer LEE "SCRATCH" PERRY.
everyone has their favorite BEASTIE BOYS record (mine will always be ILL COMMUNICATION), but in effect they are all great. if you are unfamiliar with their work there is no bad place to start and HELLO NASTY is as GREAT an introduction to a nearly FLAWLESS discography as you will find. definitely worth checking out.
i'll admit i was late to MAC MILLER. i was aware of him by reputation via various online music publication, but the little i saw of him, including those early music videos, left me with the UNDERWHELMED impression that i was witnessing the second coming of white frat rapper ASHER ROTH, whom i absolutely DETESTED. interestingly it wasnt until i was teaching high school abroad in VENEZUELA that some of my clued-in HIP HOP-minded seniors urged me to give his new material a second look, this being around the WATCHING MOVIES WITH THE SOUND OFF (ROSTRUM, 2013) era. what i witnessed was something more CONFESSIONAL, INTROSPECTIVE and AUTHENTIC then the BRASH, ENERGETIC, DERIVATIVE and JUVENILE early material i associated with him. that was when my opinion shifted on MAC MILLER. plus i learned shortly thereafter that my cousin's studio in BROOKLYN was utilized for sessions for the follow-up GO:OD AM (WARNER BROS, 2015) album. just want to make biases apparent upfront.
all that being said, PAUL CANTOR in his restrained and sobering biography MOST DOPE: THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE OF MAC MILLER (ABRAMS, 2022) about the doomed PITTSBURGH rapper, who was only 26 when he passed on from a drug overdose in LOS ANGELES after years of SELF ABUSE, a portrait emerges about an exuberant talent with a pure love of music finding his way to COMMERCIAL SUCCESS and hard-won ARTISTIC CREDIBILITY in a notoriously SAVAGE and often CANNIBALISTIC entertainment industry largely alone. and its that last part that is difficult to not emphasize further, as MAC MILLER gained success with no cosigns and negligible community support (or even help from onetime label-mate and fellow PITTSBURGHER WIZ KHALIFA). his journey was one that was largely SELF-PROPELLED and SELF-NAVIGATED. it was a journey of continual ARTISTIC EVOLUTION in spite of major setbacks like naysaying critical gatekeepers at prominent online music blogs, the CULTURAL APPROPRIATION claims / baggage / guilt / privilege that comes with being a caucasian rapper and a spiraling ADDICTION that insulated him from both the public, his inner circle and even his family.
when you think of cultural figures like AMY WINEHOUSE, HEATH LEDGER, JIMI HENDRIX, PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN or PRINCE among countless others that passed on from a acute drug usage there is a sense that beyond the TRAGEDY of their demise is the idea that their PUBLIC PERSONA and CHARISMATIC APPEAL functioned to effectively insulate them from outsiders rendering help. when so much outside capital investment and livelihoods are riding on the ability of an artist or actor to perform it creates a unique dynamic and incentive structure that is not always beneficial to the creative individual at the center of it. when my cousin and i had our recording studio, i remember having long discussions about what type of behavior we would or would not tolerate by our clientele. this after one rapper was particularly abusive after an extended bender. my argument was that if the dude dies on our premises, that such is that something we want on our conscious, irrespective of a recording studio being technically part of the service and hospitality industry. even hotels will boot out unruly patrons. the next morning after that heated discussion news came out that MAC MILLER had passed. an artist my cousin actually engineered sessions with.
the story of MAC MILLER is one of a CHARISMATIC, highly EMPATHETIC musician making it big despite all the odds based on his WORK ETHIC, WARM DEMEANOR, MARKETABILITY and artistic INSTINCTS to INNOVATE and EVOLVE. it is also the story of a person that became more ISOLATED as he gained more clout to the point that nobody could call him out. which was to his own detriment. this is some TRAGIC HERO level shit. if i was still teaching SOPHOCLES' ATIGONE, CHINUA ACHEBE's THINGS FALL APART, SHAKESPEARE's MACBETH or HAMLET or even F SCOTT FITZGERALD's THE GREAT GATSBY to secondary school students the figure of MAC MILLER would be a prescient modern example of such noble figure with a TRAGIC CHARACTER FLAW.
he was only 26. years later it is still SAD.
MOST DOPE is a WELL-CONSTRUCTED, exhaustively RESEARCHED book that details INTIMATE aspects of MAC MILLER's life narrative without reading as EXPLOITATIVE or SENSATIONALISTIC, which is ever more astounding given its publication only a few short years following the untimely demise of the CELEBRATED lyricist.
BEATS, RHYMES & LIFE (JIVE, 1996) is an INTRIGUING A TRIBE CALLED QUEST album in that it marks Q-TIP's growing PSYCHIC and EMOTIONAL DISTANCE from the project in the wake of producing and all around masterminding what are now considered STONE-COLD HIP HOP classics MIDNIGHT MARAUDERS (JIVE, 1991) and THE LOW END THEORY (JIVE, 1991). this record is basically where he handed some of the reigns over to outside producers, including the relatively UNKNOWN, up-and-coming DETROIT production whiz JAMES YANCEY, a.k.a. J DILLA.
when i got into A TRIBE CALLED QUEST in high school i listened to their records completely out of order. so BEATS, RHYMES & LIFE was actually the first of their albums i became acquainted with, and the hands down the track that stood above all others was the LAIDBACK, J DILLA-composed "GET A HOLD." it has this HARD-HITTING beat that is pulled way, way back and has this undeniably LAZY, BREEZY energy that is absolutely CONTAGIOUS. between that beat and hearing Q-TIP likewise stretch out the syllables in "com-for-tab-le" in the verse, i was hooked and basically sought out the rest of their discography in short order.
taken as a whole, this album suffers in comparison to its two aforementioned predecessors. funnily enough BEATS, RHYMES & LIFE reminds me of similar predicaments by bands like METALLICA, JANE'S ADDICTION or WEEZER whose above average late career work is totally OVERSHADOWED by their TRANSCENDENT earlier material. its not that its subpar, its just that it is competing with PERFECTION. and a not fully engaged Q-TIP relegates this album and its follow-up THE LOVE MOVEMENT (JIVE, 1998) to the same cultural forgotten territory despite EXCELLENT singles. interestingly enough, their final album WE GOT IT FROM HERE... THANK U FOR YOUR SERVICE (EPIC, 2016) released almost two decades later is a return to form and is arguably their FINEST hour.
is BEATS, RHYMES & LIFE worth checking out? of course. A TRIBE CALLED QUEST is arguably the GREATEST HIP HOP group of all time [my opinion], so everything they released is worth listening to, even the solo albums. "MOTIVATORS," "PHONY RAPPERS," "1NCE AGAIN," "THE JAM" and of course "GET A HOLD" are all STANDOUT tracks. but id venture that this record is best enjoyed as a supplement to their more CELEBRATED and universally REVERED earlier albums. it gives you a sense of their creative arc as a unit and what it sounds like once such an entity begins to break down.
RIP PHIFE DAWG.
there is something special about HIP HOP whereby the artist is an extension of their COMMUNITY. everyone by definition has to be from somewhere, but in HIP HOP that special role of the artist is often one of defining the STRUGGLES, HOPES and DREAMS of those they came up with in the narratives of their lyrics and being the living embodiment of such for the broader CULTURE. in some ways its an extension of the GRIOT TRADITION in WEST AFRICA, wherein traveling musicians and storytellers transmitted news and stories by foot from one neighboring VILLAGE to the next, transmitting information as gatekeepers and definers of CULTURAL IDENTITY. modern MCs, especially that of NASIR 'NAS' JONES, has that level of special relationship with his QUEENSBRIDGE PROJECTS home base and the NAS: TIME IS ILLMATIC (TRIBECA FILM INSTITUTE, 2014) documentary is an extended meditation on such through the stories transmitted through his debut album ILLMATIC (COLUMBIA, 1994), which many consider the greatest HIP HOP record ever.
i think what this film does an INCREDIBLE job of is present ILLMATIC within a HISTORICAL, POLITICAL and CULTURAL context that is positioned well beyond his QUEENS NEIGHBORHOOD, or even NEW YORK CITY for that matter. NAS as a person sees his roots in that of his father's side of the family in the DEEP SOUTH where they struggled for generations to get ahead, fighting through SLAVERY and then RECONSTRUCTION & JIM CROW right on through the CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT to modern times. his family utilized music as a coping mechanism as well as a tool to maintain familial cohesion in the face of overwhelming STRUCTURAL RACISM intently designed to pull them apart from each other and eviscerate any sense of IDENTITY or COMMUNITY. there is a definite through line between this overt utilization of STATE AUTHORITY and related POWER STRUCTURES by white racists in the SOUTH to racially obstruct a community and the modern day STRUGGLES of blacks in NEW YORK CITY in the later half of the 20th century. you have phenomena like REDLINING, WHITE FLIGHT, the CRACK EPIDEMIC, LIMITED JOB OPPORTUNITIES and UNDERFUNDED SCHOOLS along with the MASS INCARCERATION of black males that results in a long-suffering inner-city community on the decline during NAS' childhood.
NAS himself throughout the film talks about his dual role as being an extension of and expression of his COMMUNITY and it is something he obviously takes great pride in, giving a voice and platform to the QUEENSBRIDGE PROJECTS he was raised within. there is a particularly POIGNANT moment when he is told about a DANNY CLINCH photograph taken on the premises with people from his specific block, learning that most of them were DECEASED or INCARCERATED in long-term bids. this included the kids photographed as well. its reality and it is harsh. NAS figures he'd be a statistic as well, much like his close childhood friend WILLIE 'ILL WILL' GRAHAM who was struck down right before ILLMATIC was recorded. its obvious this all weighs heavy on him and that he is SERIOUS about maintaining and being a physical embodiment and manifestation of the POSITIVE aspects of his COMMUNITY.
this is the broader context for his involvement with the HIP HOP ARCHIVE at HARVARD UNIVERSITY where his lyrics and RELEVANT personal effects will be stored for posterity for future generations for research and educational purposes. for NAS this immense honor is not about his greatness as an artist per se, but more a vehicle for honoring his COMMUNITY and those that were lost along the way, such as his mother FANNIE ANN JONES, that undeniably were intertwined in his personal narrative.
it is quite POWERFUL.
it goes also without saying that there were many interview participants in this documentary, including NAS' father OLU DARA and brother JABARI 'JUNGLE' FRET, along with producers associated with ILLMATIC like LARGE PROFESSOR, Q-TIP (A TRIBE CALLED QUEST), PETE ROCK, L.E.S. and DJ PREMIER (GANG STARR). also present were early benefactors like MC SERCH (3RD BASS) who executive produced ILLMATIC and the record executive FAITH NEWMAN (COLUMBIA RECORDS) who signed him. also cant go without mentioning the involvement of the local QUEENSBRIDGE mc ROXANNE SHANTE who pushed a gifted but unknown NAS to initially perform and put him and his crew in front of her audience as well as ILLMATIC collaborator, rapper ANTHONY 'AZ' CRUZ. lastly the many admirers that participated by provided CULTURAL context include that of noted professor/activist CORNEL WEST, DJ MARLEY MARL, BUSTA RHYMES, ERYKAH BADU, PHARRELL WILLIAMS, KENDRICK LAMAR, SWIZZ BEATZ, J COLE and ALICIA KEYS.
in summation NAS: TIME IS ILLMATIC is an EXCEPTIONAL introduction to a staggering cultural achievement as well as the UPLIFTING nature of HIP HOP and its INDELIBLE relationship to the here and now of a particular COMMUNITY. that sense of poetry rooted in AUTHENTIC experience is what defines the genre and gives it its RAW POWER and ARTISTIC WEIGHT.
i am in love with TIMBALAND's UNIQUE and INNOVATIVE process of developing song ideas.
the much admired VIRGINIAN R&B / HIP HOP producer often begins his development process with SPONTANEOUS RHYTHMS he concocts while beatboxing, slapping a nearby table or somehow other manipulating a PERCUSSIVE BEAT on the spot. often in this UNADORNED form the elaborate POLYRHYTHMS he is renowned for are already well-established, which is quite INCREDIBLE. if a PATTERN is worth pursuing further with a client he will then transpose such onto a DRUM KIT, SYNTHESIZER, DRUM MACHINE, KEYBOARD PATCH or some other EXOTIC INSTRUMENTATION in a process of refinement.
the results of this process are ELABORATE RHYTHMS that feel ORGANIC and deeply connected to the HUMAN EXPERIENCE. KRAFTWERK this is not. his music, despite whatever INSTRUMENTATION is implemented, has a GROUNDED and ELEMENTAL feel to it. the HUMAN BODY is an INSTRUMENT with a STEADY BEAT that we are all attuned with. and it makes sense on some level that a RHYTHM that is conceived utilizing such an ORGANIC foundation will connect with others in spite of later embellishments and production trickery. it should be stated that often this process is tailored to the needs of the client in mind with TIMBALAND collaborating with them on the spot and SPONTANEOUSLY in the moment. its a COLLABORATION that cannot be more DIRECT, with no filters such as instruments or even lyrics in the loop. just two sets of ears and eyes following each other as their mouths manipulate and explore new MELODIC and RHYTHMIC AURAL PATTERNS together. if that description comes off sounding a bit INTIMATE, my argument is that such a process of CREATION actually is. TIMBALAND is known for repeatedly working with a small stable of GIFTED artists over the years, from MISSY ELLIOTT, AALIYAH (R.I.P.) and LUDACRIS to RIHANNA, JAY-Z and JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE. i think this fact that he is selective with which recording artists he collaborates with because the key to his CREATIVITY is that deep sense of one-to-one CONNECTION.
its hard to say if that level of INTIMATE CRAFTSMANSHIP is replicated elsewhere in the music industry, where lots of producers are seeking to entertain the wants and needs of potential clients rather than creating something UNIQUE and INNOVATIVE. doing such risks failure. TIMBALAND seems alright with such a trade-off unlike most of his peers.
INTENSE, ELABORATE, POLYRHYTHMIC beats are not in vogue at the moment in HIP HOP, much like the LYRICISM and conceptual frameworks that carried CELEBRATED past albums from ICE CUBE and A TRIBE CALLED QUEST to PUBLIC ENEMY and TUPAC SHAKUR. like all things with culture, itll eventually cycle back. my hope is TIMBALAND will be part of that next renaissance of ELEVATED ARTISTRY in HIP HOP. here is hoping.
embedded below is a DEER GOD RADIO episode on nonprofit internet radio station MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC that originally aired in late 2020 during the pandemic. the playlist includes music from throughout TIMBALAND's ECLECTIC and PROPULSIVE production catalogue. enjoy!
for all intents and purposes, SNOOP DOGG's debut album DOGGYSTYLE (DEATH ROW, 1993) is the follow-up to DR. DRE's THE CHRONIC (DEATH ROW, 1993) released just the year prior on which he guest starred on CLASSIC tracks like "FUCK WIT DRE DAY (AND EVERYBODY'S CELEBRATIN')" and "NUTHIN' BUT A 'G' THANG." the two albums are inextricably linked thanks in part to the INFLUENTIAL PARLIAMENT FUNKADELIC infused "G-FUNK" sound that is the ICONIC hallmark of the WEST COAST HIP HOP early 90s production that N.W.A. maestro DR. DRE pioneered.
in SNOOP DOGG, DR. DRE found the first what would prove to be many massively SUCCESSFUL subsequent mentees that included the likes TUPAC SHAKUR, 50 CENT and EMINEM. DR. DRE discovered him through his step-brother WARREN G, whose friend NATE DOGG was cousins with SNOOP DOGG. what he brought to the table was unbridled CHARISMA and a lazy flow that glided effortlessly over DR. DRE's compositions. arguably this was the most potent pairing of his production career as witnessed on SEMINAL WEST COAST tracks like "WHO AM I (WHAT'S MY NAME)?" and of course "GIN AND JUICE." it is contestable that DOGGYSTYLE represents the high-watermark of SNOOP DOGG's recording career as his follow-up, being recorded after his murder trial, had limited involvement with DR. DRE as SNOOP DOGG was already looking to get out of his DEATH ROW RECORDS contract and cut ties with SUGE KNIGHT, its CEO and all around enforcer. he'd bounce around on subsequent labels thereafter, from NO LIMIT and PRIORITY and STAR TRAK and work with their high profile stable of artists and producers, none admittedly being on the cultural or artistic level of DR. DRE. but for SNOOP DOGG that's probably fine because his effervescent CHARISMA and easygoing PERSONALITY made him readymade for television, film and commercials. he proved to be a natural salesman and is arguably recognized more for his comedic PERSONA than his fabled HIP HOP career as an early WEST COAST pioneer.
for me personally, i knew about SNOOP DOGG when i lived in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA up to my departure in late 1995, but it was my subsequent years living in NIGERIA where i grew to understand his international cultural celebrity. along with CYPRESS HILL, everyone i knew in LAGOS that was interested in HIP HOP write large had both THE CHRONIC and DOGGYSTYLE. as a white suburban kid, i was always struck by what mainstream BLACK artists from AMERICA translated in WEST AFRICA. like COMPTON and LONG BEACH, NIGERIA had its share of political CORRUPTION and rampant POLICE BRUTALITY. it was under this context of riding in company vans with armed guards through a troubled landscape of police bribes and no-go areas with unimaginable HUMAN SUFFERING that i took in the music of both DR. DRE and SNOOP DOGG. at least to me it translated like a hand in glove. even the embedded gallows humor of it all.
DOGGYSTYLE is not a perfect record as it is a bit inconsistent with too many skits, but as a cultural touchstone it is an absolute CLASSIC WEST COAST HIP HOP album that is undoubtedly one of the most singularly IMPACTFUL rap records ever. along with THE CHRONIC, its INFLUENCE can be witnessed in the likes of EMINEM, YG and THE GAME to SCHOOLBOY Q, XZIBIT, TYLER THE CREATOR, VINCE STAPLES and KENDRICK LAMAR.
check out HERE this recent streaming video episode of DEER GOD RADIO celebrating BRITISH HIP HOP phenomenon M.I.A.!
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