Friday, January 26, 2007

Moving Pictures: Dreamgirls

So me and Banana had nothing to do this Thursday evening so we decided to see a movie like back in the old days, i.e. like two months ago before me moved into the house. So down to a late show of Dreamgirls which worked out in our favor because the weather resembled the North Pole. That coupled with the fact that everyone else has seen this movie meant that we had the whole theater for ourselves. I can't say how much that accentuates the experience. Being able to talk and laugh as loud as we wanted like we were home but having the same movie experience was amazing. I don't think I can say I had ever been in a movie theater alone like that before. Truly phenomenal.

Oh yeah the movie. Well it starts with a cowbell. From this point on, I think that there should be an initiative to increase the use of cowbells in general life, especially entertainment. When do cowbells not bring about a sense of optimism and excitement? It's pretty great. So Dreamgirls tracks the rise and fall of a Motown-like girls group from about the 60s. Originally it was a Broadway musical and in the wake of Chicago, maybe Hollywood has decided to mine that landscape for bonafide hits in the theaters. Well with Dreamgirls they succeeded.

The movie stars Jamie Foxx as the Berry Gordy like record lael impresario, Beyonce Knowles as the Diana Ross lead-usurping diva, Eddie Murphy as the sensational soul crooner also addled with a drug addiction, and the amazing Jennifer Hudson (American Idol cast-off) as the true talent who is sidestepped due to her appearance and attitude. The strength of the movie actually lies in the supporting cast, specifically Hudson and Murphy.

Now Hudson plays Effie, the diva with the talent and a couple of extra pounds. When told that she won't be lead, her face contorts to the point that you think that death might be imminent. And I cannot speak enough about her voice. Her voice could change the course of rivers if she put her mind to it. When she sings the Tony Award winning "And I'm Telling You" I was ready to leave. But there was still half a movie to go.

Murphy is also pretty surprising. His character is an amalgam of James Brown, Marvin Gaye, and David Ruffin. The Brown gives the character his early flashy performance style, Gaye gives him that conflict when he wants to do "message" songs, and Ruffin gives the character his problems with drug use and the Motown connection since Ruffin was lead singer for the Temptations. Wait Gaye was on Motown too so scratch that. Anyway, his singing lacks a little but he brings a weight to the character that is hard to express. When Foxx's character lets him know that he won't be releasing a song, the disappointment is palpable even in your seat.

Foxx and Knowles technically are the leads but in this movie I think they were asked to not mess anything up. Foxx comes off a bit dry throughout the movie. He sems detached. THe intensity he is capable of just isn't there. It feels shallow. Beyonce has decided that she wants to be white. The glued on weave and wigs are getting to be too much, she losing her melanin inspired curves and most of the time she was in makeup that looked like she was trying to be Michael Jackson's long lost baby sister. She's tolerable enough since she's never been a great actress anyway.

But I recommend everyone see it. I'm not sure what the big hubbub is over the denial of a Best Picture nomination for the Oscars is about. It's pretty great and all but nothing I would have imagined as a Best Picture contender. Still if Hudson is robbed of that statue, it would be criminal. And it would be nice for Dr. Doolittle to get one too.

A 4 Beanie picture if there ever was one.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Notes: J Dilla #2

I decided to block out the Spanish music on my sojourn up to Massachusetts tonight so since I had so much success with Dilla yesterday, I returned to him again.

Once again I was blown away with the breadth of his production. It's obvious he was much more regarded in Europe than he was here. In addition to the usual hip-hop, he touched so many different genres, like experimental soul and even poetry. It's amazing when you listen to it. If I had to live the life of a musician, I probably would choose Dilla as my archetype. He was incredibly gifted and had an extensive repository for ideas. And here he was gallivanting the globe doing the music he wanted to do. He didn't need to get the flash or name recognition. He just made dope dope beats. All from the comfort of his home, even his hospital bed, where some of his last albums were finished. Absolutely amazing.

Tracks to Check: Phat Kat - Big Booties (Yes that is the correct title, but the beat is just too good, Plus the hook is slightly comical because of its singular focus.), The Pharcyde - Drop, Frank N Dank - Push, Brand New Heavies - Saturday Nite (Ummah Remix ft. Mos Def) (Nice Marvin Gaye sample here), Bizarre - Butterfly (Maybe the surprise of the night), Copywrite - It's A Wrap, Busta Rhymes - No specific song but Busta just has a whole different vibe on the works he does with Dilla. Its more intense and focused.

Tracks not to Check: Once again 5 Elementz. Oh man atrocious. How much were they paying him? Maybe I don't like them so much because it seems like they're serious. Frank N Dank spi equally retarded things but I feel more fun coming out of them.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Notes: J Dilla

So on an expedition with the Bahene (Coffee Bean & Lady Godiva), I found myself a tad bored in an Ann Taylor. To make matters worse, the music that was supposedly there to provide a more comfortable shopping experience was in fact mildly grating on my psyche. What is a troubled boy to do? If you replied, "Dig in his pocket and fish out his 80 gig iPod," then you would be correct.

The next step was deciding what to play. It would have been easy to go to one of my already preset shuffled playlists with songs that would more or less satiate me. But at that moment I decided to not waste the potential of the device and actually listen to some of the buried treasures I had loaded on to the darn thing in the hopes that I could jumpstart myself into discovering and rediscovering the bounty that is on my computer. I didn't want anything too unfamiliar though since I still had the sisters asking me for my opinion from time to time. That's when I scrolled down to J Dilla.

J Dilla has to be my favorite producer of all time. That's one of those few statements I can make that I can unequivocally stand behind. He is the linchpin behind all the music that I hold the most dearly. He started with A Tribe Called Quest and his discography is extensive. He is one of the few fan T-shirts that I have bought voluntarily. Sadly he passed away around this time last year due to some rare blood disease. But amazingly he has dropped about two albums posthumously with another on the way this year.

But my playlist is pretty large (314) since he did so much music. So this is another one of those playlists that will have multiple entries. So all I did was hit shuffle and then....

In the middle of a midtown Ann Taylor, I was riding the train on my way to high school. Dilla's production was that of a jazz bassist who fell in love with hip-hop. If Dilla was born earlier, I can easily see him working with Miles Davis. Once again bass is a huge element of his production, but the snares are crisp too. And later on in his production he definitely experimented with a more spacey, galactical sound. But overall, 9 out of 10 Dilla songs, on instrumentals alone, make your sould move.

The one thing you can say about his productions is that often the level of performer is not up to the par of the beat. Dilla hailed from Detroit and seemingly had many friends taht also shared his love of rap, but sadly did not possess the adequate skills. Dill astill put them on, maybe because his emceeing skills weren't that significant either. Most of the productions are are wth artists who never had a shot at a record deal. Often they sound like raps that people came up with bullshitting in an apartment late at night, often with the help of THC. They're misogynistic and empty more often than not. But Dilla's production is so strong that you listen to the song anyway.
It's so sad that he didn't get the recognition that he deserved while alive. Upon his death, you would have thought that he had oodles of Grammys in his collection. I mean he even had an obituary in the New York Times. But his production for the few big name artists he worked with never really were popular hits. His most recognizable hits have been Q-Tip's "Vivrant Thing" and Common's "The Light", both artists who have perpetually made residence at the periphery of the mainstream. Sad though. My life was changed by him. How many more he could have touched we will never know.

Tracks to Check: Copywrite - Clap, Four Tet - As Serious As Your Life (Jay Dee Remix), Royce Tha 5'9" - Life Goes On, ASD - Wenn Ihr Fuhit (Yes German rap. This cat got around)

Please don't check: Anything by 5 Elementz....uggggh.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Notes: Soulquarians & Tongues #1

Bilal - 1st Born Second
De La Soul - AOI: Bionix
De La Soul - AOI: Mosaic Thump
Raphael Saadiq - As Ray Ray
9th Wonder - Back In Black
Common - BE
A Tribe Called Quest - Beats, Rhymes & Life

So in my extended procrastination of so many productive things I could be doing with my time, I decided to put on some more obscure playlists. But then I thought maybe I should actually attempt to do some of those productive things. Obscure music I find doesn't always help me focus with that. So what to play? What to play? Ah yes. Soulquarians & Tongues.

Now some history about this Soulquarians & Tongues. Now the Native Tongues were a clique of artists that offered progressive hip-hop in the early to mid-90s. The main proponents were A Tribe Called Quest & De La Soul and through them a loose collective existed. When those groups fell back in prominence, another generation was born called the Soulquarians. This new generation included loads who were the apprentices of the Native Tongues. So this is basically my favorite type of music. On my old computer, they were in separate folders because of rap and R & B limitations. But on my new incarnation, I separated them from the rap & Running & Beats and gave their own directory. And subsequently their own playlist.

Needless to say it is quite extensive. It is over 2500 songs on its own and takes up about 12 gigs on the hard drive. So there is no way I could get through the list in one sitting without the aid of cocaine or some other substance to assist. So here was number 1.

So the first choice I made was to sort them by albums and not artists which was smart. So much more variety that way. The first stop was that eccentric and peculiar character Bilal and his debut (and so far only official) album, 1st Born Second. As I was listening to it, a recurring theme was set up for all the ensuing albums: "Damn, I forgot this was that good." And there were pleasant surprises all day. If anything can be said about Bilal's album, he might have been too ambitious. I think a lot of people wanted to see him blow up, and everybody and they mama produced on this album. The first track is his, then Dr. Dre, then J Dilla, then him again. The Soulquarian production team makes an appearance as well. Funny enough, the most cohesive and seamless is the stuff he did with his friend. That comes close to the end of the album as well. Good thing everybody else keeps you gamely interested until he shows his true, unconventional style. Though he was trained in opera, it seems he uses the breathing techniques to help him manipulate random cries that he does throughout. Truly a futuristic crooner. If Andre 3000 had his voice, he would be unstoppable.
Tracks to Check: All That I Am, Sometimes, Love Poems, When Will You Call

Now the next one I planned to play was De La Soul's Art Official Intelligence - Mosaic Thump, their first installment of what was supposed to be three, but ended up being two. But I actually hit the instrumental version. So instead of actually finding the real one I just played the second one, AOI-Bionix. Now the interesting about this one is that there are more quality songs, but it's a shorter listen. MT was made after De La had been out the game for a while. There's a different producer on every track including Rockwilder, who was the producer of that moment in time. So actually the songs are all good and very listenable. As pop of an album as you can get from the Native Tongues clique. But what MT has in slick prodction, Bionix has in quality songs and lyrics. On the first installment, they really don't delve into anything too deep, only admonishing younger rappers' ignorance. Bionix however had some real songs on it where both Posdnous and Dave question their stations in life. Plus Bionix has a song that sampled Paul McCartney's famous Christmas song. So that was pretty fun.
Tracks to Check: Held Down (B), Trying People (B), Simply (B), Watch Out (B), Oooh (MT), Foolin (MT)

Next on the docket was Raphael Saadiq. Now his official membership in Native Tongues is questionable. I know I was delivered to his existence by a Q-Tip shout out on "The Remedy", a track from the Get On The Bus Soundtrack. And then I found out that he was part of the collective production group The Ummah, which had Q-Tip and Jay Dee (aka J Dilla) as well. Now As Ray Ray was an interesting CD. Sadly I didn't get to listen to it, like I worshipped his first one. I think it was mostly a timing thing. No time to really listen to it. But from the intro, it is obvious that the inspiration was Blaxploitation films of the 70's. And the album is full of crazy bass that I was unaware of on my earlier listens. This album is a jammer! Now I know why I bought it (though it was mostly because of Saadiq's extensively quality track record). This album also features two songs with Teedra Moses, who is phenomenal (her own review is forthcoming). There is something about her voice. It doesn't blow you away but it possesses a very powerful quality. I guess one could call it truth. You feel the soul behind the vocals. Sadly an overlooked album
Tracks to Check: Chic, I Want You Back, Live Without You, Rifle Love (I mean there is a gunshot in the hook. Why wouldn't you listen?)

At this point in the day, things were just playing in alphabetical order I guess. There were phone calls. There was laundry. All my ears cared about at that point was whatever was auditorially palatable and everything playing was working out just fine. Next up was a double violation of the Native Tongues-Soulquarian membership club. 9th Wonder is an amazing producer and a part of the group Little Brother, who I've talked about before. It is so apparent that Little Brother received so much inspiration from the Native Tongues and they just seem so different that I had to put them in that folder. Now this album is really 9th Wonder's remix of Jay-Z's The Black Album. So Back in Black it is. Now 9th had production on the original in the form of Threats. But this time he takes on every track. And does some amazing work. He even uses a Flora Purim (jazz singer in the 70s) sample that changes the whole scope of Dirt Off Your Shoulder. And check the crazy juxtaposition of using D'Angelo's Devil's Pie as the backdrop for a reimagined Lucifer. Genius.
Tracks to Check: Lucifer, Encore, Dirt Off Your Shoulder, Public Service Announcement; Man just listen to the whole thing.

Oh next up was BE by Chicago's finest, Common. Now this one came with a lot of fanfare because Kanye West became prominently involved in the Man formerly known as Sense's career. Only two tracks aren't produced by Mr. West (the others helmed by J Dilla. Anybody else noting a trend with Dilla. Yeah my favorite producer ever.) And I don't know. It's a pretty good album. Maybe I just didn't listen as hard because I was fatigued with all the Common I was inundated with because of the Kanye connection. And I am still a huge Common fan. Thought he was the best performer at the Roots epic shows last year at Radio City. And the concert I saw him rock in Central Park was absolutely amazing. I wish he would do a live CD cause that's when I've found him most fun. But this album is still pretty great. It's got that flow to it. But like De La with MT, it feels like he was going safe to entertain, which is his right. But I missed the depth that is available on his earlier albums. Fun for laundry though.
Tracks to Check: Love Is, Go, They Say, Food

Last but not least, it was Beats, Rhymes & Life, the first Tribe album I bought. Funny enough, I bought it because it was the #1 album of the week I walked into the store. The name was familiar because I memorized some lyrics as a youngster that temporarily endeared me to would-be bullies when I skipped a grade. So purchase made. Life changed. This is really the album that got me to the place where my hard drive threatens failure because of all the music that is on it. And with subsequent purchases, it was proved tht this wasn't even the best album they did (That would be Midnight Marauders, with Low End Theory close behind). But this one was shot down a little more than necessary. Q-Tip's cousin, Consequence, is featured a little too much. And the beats are different than earlier more jazz-happy records. But I loved it and had to buy another CD when my original was too scratched to listen to.
Tracks to Check: The Pressure, Word Play, Mind Power

So that was my wonderful trip in history and procrastination. Joy for all.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Notes: Q-Tip - Kamaal The Abstract

This morning I woke up lethargic. And broke. So I felt what better way to cheer myself up than to listen to some music I've never heard before. Okay. That wasn't the thought I had but I guess my ADD was acting up and I didn't want to listen to the same 'ol same 'ol.

So first I was listening to The New Pornographers (Freudian slip?) but I grew tired of it, though it sounds promising. Wasn't in a very rockish mood I guess. Then I moved to Joy Denalene which I have only got through half of. But that was unsatisfying as well. So then I went to some obscure Pharoahe Monch and that was pleasing. But after I heard the two or three tracks I wanted again restlessness took over.

Lo and behold, little Q-Tip hiding among the P's and R's on that long ever-growing list. So I played it. And like....


It's a wakeup playlist all in itself. Now Q-Tip has gotten a bad rap. As the leader of the seminal hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest, I think he earned a title as one of the leaders of "true" hip-hop, always caling out the Vanilla Ice's and MC Hammer's for their bastardization of his love. But then he got his own Hype Williams video and made a play for stardom and I guess that rubbed everyone the wrong way. So then he drops this Kamaal The Abstract album that is so off base that is label shelves it and drops him.

And truly, I can understand the decision. From a business standpoint, Q-Tip is either the intermediary betweeen the underground and mainstream or that sensible pop rapper. "Abstract" is neither of these. For one, he sings a whole lot more on this album. The jazz elements are there like Tribe but guitars are just as prevalent. But this boy can jam. Q-Tip was never regarded as the most amazing rapper, but he always had something to say and he could move a song along which as I recall is what is required of an emcee. And he does it well. Sometimes he sharps or flats. Sometimes songs meander to places too far down the yellowbrick road. But man, you can tell he was just feeling a vibe. And he's jamming.

This album in the 70's on some obscure jazz label would be on artsy nerds' vinyl to-get lists. Sadly it was released at the turn of the millenium when the music industry has tightly painted lines that one must fit into. Q-Tip would never be a star off this type of material. I think he realized that when he called his old friend Busta Rhymes and got a Neptunes track. But for some reason I feel like this is the real Tip. An eccentric boy who with schizophrenic musical tastes that just wanted to create some stuff he would want to bump in his house. I mean if you look at what's he's done since Tribe ended it's not hard to understand this album. I mean he was nominated for a Grammy for his work with the Chemical Brothers. How many Tribe listeners also bump Chemical Brothers? Backpacks and glowsticks don't really mesh well together.

So Q-Tip kudos. To all the people who want artists to stay to the initial bluepint, please shut up. If we stay doing the same thing, all that results is stagnation and I personally don't like algae all too much.

Tracks to bump: Do U Dig U?; Blue Girl