Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Smoke Signals: Introduction/Jaylib - Champion Sound

I have been gone for quite some time. There are a number of factors. Ummm depression. Pure laziness. Nothing really interesting to say. Sometimes not trusting my intuition. But lately a big thing that affected my absence. A fire which decimated a large percentage of my possessions. I had written drafts for this blog, but we'll see if they can be recovered. If they do, they appear with a special posting with some clever tag so they'll be distinguished.

But the fire has been a blessing in many ways strange as it is. It definitely has made me more spiritually minded. Its made me a lot more aware of myself, where I am, and where I want to be.

And on a lesser note, but really almost as important, it has helped me rediscover music. It all started the same week of the fire. Desperate for a diversion, I answered a call from a old family friend to sing with my home church's Men's Chorale. After having a date canceled to the ice storm, I was particularly excited for the chance to sing again. Man when those harmoies were hitting it was bliss. And weirdly, I saved so many CDs. I even have my old computer already backed up all over again. I've been listening to the music I still have. Devoid of my trusty playlists, I have been forced to play full albums. This has led to new discovery, rediscovery, and ultimately appreciation. Music has been an excellent help during this time and helped me remember why I used to love it so much.

So this little series will be about the albums I have had on repeat. They've all been particularly good for reason or another. Its nice to appreciate the album as a whole, even when spots get mediocre. You still get a full range of artist, or at least what they aspire to be and make their best attempts. Most often they hit the mark with varying intensities, and even if they fail you have to appreciate the try.

First up, Champion Sound by Jaylib

Two of the best underground hip-hop producers got together for a collaborative album that was monumental. Both J Dilla (aka Jay Dee nee James Yancey) and Madlib (Otis Jackson Jr.) were established producers in their own respective rights. But it just so happened that Madlib freaked some J Dilla instrumentals he found and it became a mixtape of sorts that made it back to Dilla. They then began to trade back and forth and Champion Sound is the result. Mostly Madlib (sometimes as his alter ego Quasimoto) raps over Dilla's tracks and J spits over Madlib's beats. Madlib chooses to make a sort of score with each of his beats. It sounds like each is the background music to an important scene of a movie, the type of music that is almost as important as any other aspect of the film. Dilla is his old reliable self riding driving bass rhythms for all they're worth. And neither's rhymes leave anything to be desired. But they know they're limitations and don't push too hard. The music speaks for itself. They're both so jazz influenced it sounds like an extended jam session.

There's not really much to say. The quality is what you'd expect. Neither really claims to be some superlative emcee and they never really try. Talib Kweli offers the most authenticity of skills on a driving Dilla beat on "Raw Sh*t"" but that's mostly it. The album is clever at just being something that can just be on. And periodically while hanging up that shirt or typing that Facebook note, you realize how hard your head is banging to it. I think this marks the beginning of a zenith in Madlib's career. On his songs, each of the soundscapes he creates almost sounds like he's scoring a movie. "McNasty Filth" sounds like a heist scene and the title track sounds like it could have been played in an activist movie about Africa. Dilla is his reliable self, testing out the experimentation with electtronic sounds that was more evident later in his career.

But it is a gem. Two of the best potentially blunted out of their minds just performing their craft. And it holds up more than 5 years after its release.