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.

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