Saturday, October 30, 2010

(Finnegans) Wake in Progress

Just discovered an awesome (relatively new) website, one of the most impressive and coolest things I've seen on the interwebs in quite some time. A very talented graphic artist named Stephen Crowe is posting illustrations of pages from Finnegans Wake. The illustrations range in style just like the book does and the visuals hold multiple meanings and interpretations but so often he chose such stunningly perfect (and creative) ways to illustrate the puzzley dreambook's sentences like this one for Bygmester Finnegan's fall:

And then there's this beauty which I think perfectly captures the whole essence of the Wake:

This last one is my favorite and the most impressive one he's done so far, from page 7 of the Wake.

I recommend you check it out and if you've never heard or read about Finnegans Wake, check out his 'About' page as he very briefly sums it up pretty well.

I'm in love with this stuff and I hope he makes them available in purchasable prints soon.

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Should also mention that I found another (relatively) new Joyce-focused blog with a cool name (taken from Ulysses). This post made me very happy; apparently there's a Finnegans Wake quote beautifully tiled into a wall in a Manhattan subway station.

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And to conclude, a beautiful musical poem with Wake-esque elements:

Beauty & Destruction

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Interview: Bronze Nazareth & Kevlaar 7 Discuss New Wisemen Album Children of a Lesser God

For the last four years, there have been no contemporary musicians whose music I've enjoyed more than the newest and strongest branch of Wu-Tang's vast, evergrowing family tree, Bronze Nazareth and, more recently, his brother Kevlaar 7 along with their group The Wisemen. In 2006, Bronze's debut album The Great Migration left me permanently awestruck with its combination of melodic bombastic beats and cerebral-emotional, memorable rhymes and I was floored by the quality of his next release. In February 2007, Wisemen Approaching was released, an album on which Bronze introduced his own army of emcees to the world including his brother Kevlaar 7 who powerfully displayed his talents for production as well as pure lyrical slaughter. The rest of the cast is no different, these are emcees who approach writing a verse with the precision of a man building a miniature ship inside a bottle and deliver their words with the passion of a starving man singing for food.

Since then, they've put out a couple of mixtapes to try to satiate the hungry fans but it's been their next full-length album that we've all been waiting for. And, as of this past Tuesday, it's here. Their brand new sophomore LP Children of a Lesser God features a revamped team of Detroit emcees (Bronze & Kevlaar plus Phillie, Salute, Illah Dayz, and June Megalodon) rapping over beats that mix dulcet instruments with creative, cracking hip hop drums.

Bronze and Kevlaar (real names Justin and Kevin Cross) were gracious enough to bless A Building Roam with an interview discussing their new album, their group, and how they approach their art form. Enjoy.

I want to start off by saying congratulations on the release of your new album. It’s been a long time coming, over three years since the debut album Wisemen Approaching. Listening to Children of a Lesser God, it seems like you guys have really updated the sound while still maintaining the core of pure hip hop.

BRONZE: Thanks! Definitely feel like we had the people waiting but in this business there’s many politics that get in the way of real music and its outlet. We had a few obstacles and had to play a waiting game for a minute or we would have been to the rescue earlier. The whole squad is glad to be back on the verge, and we keep it updated because it’s all genuine, and real life. Authenticity never gets outdated.

KEVLAAR 7: Appreciate all the love and support always; we worked HARD on this joint. It was our aim to update the sound, but at the same time keep the sound of that pure hip hop in the mix. We will never lose that.
There’s a lot of live instruments on the album, at time it reminds me a little bit of Jay-Z’s “Unplugged” album with The Roots, how did you incorporate these into the creative process? Was that the plan from the start or was it added in later on?

KEVLAAR 7: Bronze brought Project Lionheart into the mix, and really we just asked them to compliment whatever beats we sent them with live instrumentation, with Bronze suggesting what instruments to incorporate into a beat and blend it with the actual sample. That was the plan from jump. The live shit helped bring a bigger sound overall…

BRONZE: Exactly. Big shouts to Caleb Cunningham and the very talented Project Lionheart. I call Caleb the live instruments director. I basically knew what I wanted to add to each of the beats, some of them already had a lot going on, such as “Panic In Vision Park” so we left those alone. The ones I knew would sound good with instrumentation, I could hear it, I knew what Lionheart could do, so I asked for horns on this one or a bassline on this one or whatever whatever. Unlike many session musicians, PJL knows how to execute exactly what I asked for, and keep it hip hop. It all fit perfectly!

Have you given consideration to doing a live performance of the album with a live band providing all the instrumentation?

KEVLAAR 7: That’s crazy that you say that because me and Bronze was just talking about the possibility of doing a tour with Project Lionheart, and doing purely live shows, Roots style. That shit would be CRAZY, I would LOVE to pull that off…

BRONZE: Yeah I actually was able to perform live with the whole Lionheart Band on two show dates in Seattle, it was beautiful! Myself and June Mega had a blast on stage there. To have a tour with the band would be glorious! We’ve talked about it, but like K said we’d really have to pull some strings to pull it off.

What is the meaning behind that awesome title, "Children of a Lesser God." I saw on Wikipedia that there was a movie with that title about a speech teacher at a school for deaf students which reminds me of the title for the upcoming Bronze solo "School for the Blindman."

KEVLAAR 7: Phillie and Bronze really came up with that title. It was going to be the title for the first album, but it didn’t fit for a debut album title. What it means is that throughout the trials of life, at some points when shit is so fucked up, a lot of things come into question…The Wisemen have all asked themselves if our God was lesser at one time or another…It’s a reality in a lot more people’s minds than people would like to think…

BRONZE: Every man who has had trouble, setbacks, and trials so severe sometimes that he might question the higher power, not lose faith but have questions. This is nothing to doubt God or anything but the intro says it all really where the speaker is like ‘I been here before, asking for God’s help, a lot of times, okay? And my situation is not getting any sunnier’ he then suggests that ‘maybe God isn’t carrying his end of the weight’… You can sometimes look at someone who is prospering, and wonder why you haven’t been blessed as much, you might feel like you have a lesser or weaker god. That speaks to us, we’ve all been there - I know I’ve wondered sometimes why God has not answered my prayers, a lot of people get there. So we represent for those people who have questions and go astray from their faith.

You’ve got the legendary Wu-Tang dartsmith Raekwon featured on “Thirsty Fish” and I know you guys just filmed a video for the song with him. What’s it like working with the Chef?

BRONZE: Yeah we ended up getting some footage of Rae to add to the video, so it should look pretty dope. He was nothing but gracious, and him and his people showed a lot of love to me, Kev and June Mega. Ever since my relationship with Raekwon developed, he has been the realest nigga! Much respect and appreciation towards him and his camp!

KEVLAAR 7: Word, hopefully everything goes how it should go for that video, but we also shot one for “Faith Doctrine” which will drop b4 “Thirsty fish”. We met up with Rae in Chicago and he showed nothing but love, blessings on the song. He said the beat was on some back-in-the-day hardcore Wu shit. Real Genuine brother, for real.

Might we see more collaborations with Rae in the near future?

KEVLAAR 7:  I would love to work with Rae more, no doubt. He’s a legend, and brings a lot of experience and wisdom to the table; so if you have a co-sign from Shallah Rae, you doing something RIGHT…I truly appreciate Bronze for making that happen, and allowing Rae to bless some of my production, he could have kept that in the vault for his own shit if he so desired.

BRONZE: Yeah Rae will end up on a few more beats of mine, I’m not gonna speak on exactly what - but it’s definitely more coming. He hit me today and told me the pre video for Thirsty Fish looks like crack, so I’ma continue to nurture our relationship and keep sending him this heat, and we gonna keep it right!

The first album, Wisemen Approaching, had a pretty dark sound overall. On this one it seems like you guys were having a little more fun (like the old men chattering on “Get U Shot” or the Richard Pryor samples). Is it because you’re more established now?

BRONZE: I can’t even say this was done purposely, it was really just the way we were feeling when those joints were made.  All of us were in a certain place when Wisemen Approaching was constructed. Fresh off the block, or still in the streets, escaping tragedy narrowly, Phillie and I had our first babies on the way at the same time (that birthed ‘up there beyond’). Those days we just happened to let it all out over super rough dark beats. This new album, was more like a sigh than a hostile reaction. Instead of ‘Founder of Pain’, we said this shit ‘makes me want a shot’ of liquor!. It is a bit lighter though I agree, perhaps it’s our expansion.

KEVLAAR 7: I wouldn’t say that us having more fun on this record really has anything to do with being more established, because nothing is “more established” except the Wisemen name, and our individual titles. We’re still going through the same trials and tribulations we were going through before Wisemen Approaching came out. But that’s life. Long story short, we wanted to show our range a little more with this album, and I also would say this album shows our growth as artists. True artists grow from project to project. I feel we still haven’t reached our pinnacle though.
Who is doing the talking on “Get U Shot”?

KEVLAAR 7: That’s JB and Cleveland just shooting the shit about the Wisemen crew! [Laughter] I knew that question would come eventually. That’s me and Break Bred FOOLIN’! Trying to get my Oscar nod, you feel me? LOL! We’re imitating old cats we been around or are related to…Old cats be HYSTERICAL yo…like Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence in Life…HILARIOUS…JB and Cleveland will be recurring characters in the future.
Tell me about Illah Dayz, his absence from the first album, and his big contribution to Children of a Lesser God.

KEVLAAR 7: Illah was absent from Wisemen Approaching album because of his unfortunate car accident where he was left paralyzed from the waist down…That brother has more strength than almost anyone I’ve ever had the privilege to know. The accident happened on a night after probably the first recording session for Wisemen Approaching. Illah’s contribution to Children of a Lesser God was huge, because he comes with such visual verses, and on top of that his style of word play…I’ve never heard word play like his. It’s ill, and ORIGINAL.

BRONZE: Yeah we actually recorded “Super Bowl Cipher” that night. That was the last time he was walking. The accident happened right around the corner from our spot on Ward Street in Detroit, maybe five minutes after the session ended. He was in the hospital, unconscious, laid up for quite awhile, so we had to keep rocking in his honor.  I feel horribly bad about it, and somewhat feel responsible for that because we shouldn’t have let him leave so late, it was like 5 AM. But I only live with the guilt, he lives with the chair. Soon though with stem cells we’ll rock live with him stalking the stage like he should be. He is the strongest brother I’ve met, maybe ever. He did a 4 or 5 year bid then a few years later, he gets hit in the car. It’s unbelievable the trials he’s been through and is able to keep his head up, where some of us would crumble.

One of my favorite tracks on the album is “Lucy,” the drums are so powerful, the tempo is fast, and the verses are amazing. I wonder, though, is it just bad relationships with women you’re talking about or is there a double-meaning to it?

BRONZE: My verse is really about a relationship yet with a twist.  I speak on all the sinful shit me and this woman have done, been through our negative routines, how we enjoyed the devilishness but at the very end the twist comes, I’m saying ‘yeah we did all this wild shit, but now we got kids, so it’s time to slow down and live right!’ So at the end I say ‘now we got seeds/ proceed to slow the leaves / Lucy straighten your bottle / the club closed at three!” Then the hook come and sums my verse up: love ain’t what it used to be!

KEVLAAR 7: On my verse I can tell you that it is about bad relationships with certain women in my life, and how my or our relationship with hip hop has been over the course of time, with all the ups and downs, and shit…

[Here's a snippet from "Lucy"]

I'm really impressed with the track from Big Rube where he's speaking poetry over a beautiful Bronze beat. I had never heard of Big Rube before, didn't know he was this good. What led to his great contribution to the album?

KEVLAAR 7: You never heard of Big Rube?! Wow! I have always been a HUGE Outkast/Goodie Mob/ Dungeon family fan ever since 1993 and Southernplayalistic…I first heard Big Rube on that album and he made an appearance on all of Outkasts and Goodie Mob albums, spitting CLASSIC poetry that would uplift and teach. He was also a member of the group Society of Soul, and yo, that album is CLASSIC too. What led to him getting on the album was, me being a big fan, I hit him on twitter; I said my piece, and asked if he had a contact so I could get at him. Rube hit me with his email contact and from there it was ON. Bronze and I sent him a few beats a piece to choose from, and he laid a BEAUTIFUL verse for us, much respect to Big Rube and the whole Dungeon family…

BRONZE: You’ve definitely heard of Big Rube bro! My favorite piece by him was on ATLiens just before 13th Floor, he is gifted with words and wisdom, so only right that he joined forces with the WISEMEN.

Okay, I remember that ATLiens track now. So, Kevlaar you've got a bigger contribution of beats to this album than the last and your beat batting average has been superb these last few years. What is your history as a producer? And what equipment do you guys make beats on, the ASR-10?

KEVLAAR 7: Thanks I appreciate the props on my production. I’ve worked VERY hard to perfect it since Bronze laid the blueprint out for me. I still haven’t perfected it, but I’m going to keep smashing the production out. I try to keep my batting average like my man Miguel Cabrera, WORD! Of course, my production history starts with The Wisemen, and Bronze Nazareth. Me and Bronze produced “Fragments” together on Think Differently. Then I did 4 tracks on Wisemen Approaching, our debut album. I’ve done joints on the Almighty album, I did a couple tracks on Cilvaringz “I” dvd, a joint for Inspectah Deck called “Get down wit me” off of his album Resident Patient; a couple of upcoming tracks for Cappadonna, and most recently me and Bronze did the joint “Medical Kush” off of the brother Hell Razah’s album Heaven Razah…as far as equipment I use Cool Edit Pro and Pro tools.

[Here's one of Kevlaar's instrumentals that was featured on the aforementioned Cilvaringz DVD. This is a personal classic.]

One thing we didn’t hear too much of on Wisemen Approaching or even The Great Migration is all the quotes and interludes from films or other sources. You guys used them to great effect on mixtapes in the past and now there are a few very good ones on this album (especially the intro). How do you choose these and what effect do you hope to achieve with them?

KEVLAAR 7: Basically we just look for movie clips or excerpts from speeches or what have you that would fit or enhance what the concept of a certain joint is, or the feeling we’re looking for… eloquent type shit.

BRONZE: I really use them to connect things. I might search for hours, for instance the clips on Faith Doctrine….about how he didn’t read it or witness it, he ‘lived it’. That’s us! We don’t portray ourselves falsely, you will not hear me say I’m a gangster or thug, but I will get by. I call myself a survivor, cause you can put me anywhere and I will survive. At the end of the song the speaker mentions something about, hard work and faith – so that’s our faith doctrine, it connected to the hook and we’re all rhyming about making it. I like to connect all elements, so it’s easily cohesive.

That opening exchange is so potent and perfectly leads into the album's cinematic opening track. Are you willing to divulge where that's from?

KEVLAAR 7:  Yeah, Bronze is a MASTER with placing the movie clips on a song or an album. All of the skits tie the album together too, there is a vision for everything on our projects.

BRONZE: I won’t say where it’s from but it’s an easy find….

Do you have a personal favorite track on the new album? Or at least a favorite beat or verse...

KEVLAAR 7: Wow…that’s hard for me…it may change, but my favorite track would be “Victorious Hoods” as of right now…my favorite beat is easy to me; “Panic in Vision Park”…and my favorite verse is Bronze’s clip on “Makes me want a shot”…CLASSIC.

BRONZE: Favorite track is probably Faith Doctrine, it came together so well, and I found the clips that fit our ‘righteous survival’ feel on that joint.  Favorite beat is tied between Faith Doctrine & Corn Liquor Thoughts….my favorite verse right now is…Phillie on Faith Doctrine or me on makes me Want a Shot…can’t really decide lol

When I’m listening to some of these songs I detect that there’s just an insane amount of thought and craftsmanship. For example, the verses often seem to have connecting threads to one another or identical patterns. Tell me about the creative process of a song. Who does the “directing”? How do you decide who will spit on a track and in what order?

KEVLAAR 7: I can say that every line is carefully written and thought over several times before its final. Lyrics can be subject to change all the way up until it’s time to mix the joint. With me there are a lot of abstract words or lines that I use, that may just describe how I am feeling emotionally at the time; a verbally descriptive picture of the colors in my mind, I guess…This is an art. Anyone of us can do some directing of a song at any given time because we are a team like that, and everyone has come with an idea or concept that we’ve incorporated into the album. It is usually the producer of the joint we’re recording that does most or all of the “directing” of a song. As far as who ends up on a final track it would be whoever was present during the crafting of the song, and who pens the illest verses…period…Or there have been times that a certain song we felt called for 1 of us specifically. But we’ve all been cut from a song at one time or another.

BRONZE: The process is an attempt to perfect the art we’ve placed on the song. Many times, a verse will get cut, if I feel like the verse didn’t do the beat justice, it’s gotta go! Or sometimes it might even be a nice verse but it may not fit the theme of the song. We’ll use that verse elsewhere. As far as directing, I do handle a lot of that, but it’s just that – direction. For instance, Lucy...I came with the beat and Illah pulled out this verse about his ex who he wrote that message to. The hook had the exact line he ended his verse with ‘Love ain’t what it used to be Lucy….’ He laid it, and then I asked everyone to write a verse about their “Lucy” and we laced it. Regarding lyrics, we will pick out each other’s weak lines and say ‘yo you can come better than that!’ As captain I may have to do that more than anyone else, but that’s my job to get everyone to display their best art, or we fail as a team. 

Bronze Nazareth and Kevlaar 7. You’ve both got interesting names and I know there’s a lot of meaning behind them. Tell me about the genesis of and the meaning behind your names.

BRONZE: My name is from, you know the Wu era where you might name yourself after a kung fu movie. Cilvaringz actually gave me the Nazareth additive, and they wanted me to call myself that. I added the Bronze to represent the extreme fight by the Monks in the movie The 18 Bronzemen. In it, they had to fight 18 Bronzemen to be able to leave the Shaolin temple and live normal. I adapted Nazareth to link it to the Prophet Jesus, who had his own fights and struggles, but also healed many.

KEVLAAR 7: My name is impenetrable.  It represents perseverance, determination and resolve through the journey of life…The 7 is the number of completion. God’s number. It was also my jersey number when I played football hahahahaaa…

I also find it interesting the connection between the “Nazareth” and the “7” with your actual last name, which is Cross.

KEVLAAR 7: That is kind of ill, huh? It just happened like that, but I would say that is a representation of the natural connections that continually occur within our art…

BRONZE: Sometimes things connect without attempting, this is one of them. Hopefully that means we will stay blessed!

Synchronicity. How did the Wisemen come together originally? Have you all known each other for a long time?

KEVLAAR 7: Back in 2002, shortly after Bronze showed me the ropes on production and shit, he hit me and said yo…We should form a new group called “The 7 Wisemen”. The 7 crew members hadn’t come to fruition by the time we were ready to record and release the first album, so we went ahead and dropped “Approaching” anyway. Bronze met Salute and Phillie and brought them into the fold and shit was ALWAYS brotherly so it was only right. I met Illah in passing, and we didn’t even know each other was into the music until my girl told his girl that I fuck with the rap shit, LOL! Before that we was always looking at each other like, “who the fuck is this nigga” type attitudes, LOL! June Mega and Bronze grew up together and me and him was always fam too, and he been with us since the “Unknown” days.

Yeah I remember hearing him on the Unknown album, is that him on "This Thing of Undying Love"? How did he get that name June Megaladon?

KEVLAAR 7: I would have to go back and listen, LOL! I don’t remember but Big June did have a couple of speaking parts on the Unknown album.

BRONZE: Yeah that’s him for sure!  Back then he was named Immortal….he also is on "Everything’s So Deep," speaking in the middle of the verses I believe. We been running together for years!

Tell me about “Black Day in July."

KEVLAAR 7:  Black day in July is the name of the label myself and Bronze have formed. It’s named after the 1967 riots that were caused by a police raid of a blind pig joint in Detroit (basically an illegal after hours bar). The shit went haywire and the army was called in and all that, mad arsons, snipers, and looting; people basically tore the city of Detroit apart. It really hasn’t recovered since then, so what we’re trying to do is at least mentally resurrect the city, and people going through struggle all over the world by touching them through the music.

BRONZE: Black Day had been coming together since 2003, when we built our first studio. It was just the name, and a dream for a while. After some success I was able to get it registered as a true business, and the dream began turning to a reality. We dropped a couple releases with other labels until we could build our name enough to get some looks by distribution companies. I had to endure a couple shitty deals in order to build that name, but a man who doesn’t sacrifice, earns nothing of value! Currently we are an official label with distribution, both digital and physical, and I’m proud to say we had five or six different suitors for distribution. You will most likely see our future projects come through several different pipelines, as we will go with whichever distributor is the best fit for each project.

Read Part 2 here.

Monday, October 25, 2010


One of most striking things I've seen on television in a long time.

I'm amazed how blatantly the Goldman Sachs billionaires are infiltrating major offices of public service.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Our Greatest Contemporary Poets: Shedding Light on the Underground and Underrated in Hip Hop, Part Two

(Be sure to check out Part One)

I've already mentioned the two newest albums to sprout from the branches of the nutrient-rich Wu-Tang family tree, Children of a Lesser God and Heaven Razah, but there's been plenty more pieces of music leaking up from the underground. Here, we'll go a little bit deeper into the subterranean tunnels of independent, unpromoted, relatively unheard ingenious hip hop music.

These are folks who practice hip hop as an art form in a society that has moved increasingly far away from appreciation for aesthetics towards materialistic commercialism. As such, they are like many other starving artists: extremely talented, diligent in their craft, but not economically wealthy. And not getting nearly enough exposure since the masses aren't led towards true art anymore (except for in the field of cinema).

Aside from the thinkers and writers I enjoy and study the most like James Joyce, Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, Friedrich Nietzsche who are all long-since dead, these are my favorite writers, poets, musicians that are living. Since it seems to me they don't get nearly the attention or appreciation they deserve, perhaps they are for posterity to realize and appreciate just like we've seen happen for folks like Nietzsche and Joyce.

These are a few of my favorite artists who might be ahead of their time, or perhaps stuck in an unfortunately brainwashed time.
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Lord Beatjitzu is one of many names used by a highly talented musician who makes beats primarily on a Roland sampler, one of those technological supertoys that helped hip hop music explode. It's a little console, really not much bigger than an iPad or small laptop and it stores sounds on each of its 12 button pads that can then be played live and turned into a melody over drums. Sounds can also be distorted and tweaked in all sorts of ways and so Roland samplers are often favorites of DJs. Much of Madlib's best work has been on Roland sampling machines and The Rza, along with his students known as the Wu-Elements (Mathematics, 4th Disciple, True Master), relied primarily on a more advanced sampler called the ASR-10 made by Ensoniq.

Beatjitzu has made a name for himself releasing free beat tapes featuring mind-bogglingly polished and melodic beats with a heavy Wu-Tang influence. These tapes usually feature deep or hilarious track names and tons of kung fu film quotes, sounds, themes, and samples weaved in and out and sometimes heavily distorted DJ-style to create a full experience of sound (an example is the moving of sounds from one ear to the next to create depth). He has been known to make such tapes during a span of a single night.

Here's an example of his early work (from about three years ago) that first turned me on to his music:

After not coming out with anything new for a few months, he recently put out two brand new tapes of 9 tracks each and it may be his best work yet.

His sound consists of extremely heavy hard drums played at neck-snapping, head-cracking tempos and mixed with unbelievably mellifluous smooth-sounding sample music.

Here's a taste of the new stuff, this beat is called "Shaolin Dragon," beware of heavy sound effects:

And here's another one of my favorites, this one named "Smoke Bomb Specialist." Notice the diametrically opposed tempos of the drums and the sample music and yet he's brought them together into a perfect harmonious piece of musical art:

One of these days, soon, I will present a post exploring the works of this young master more closely but for now I will share with you his two newest tapes which are completely free. You can download them here and here. Consider it a double-feature of classic kung fu flicks. Only it's music.

I will continue to heavily endorse this gifted producer and his unheralded art work until he is properly recognized as one of the best recent artists to spring from the Wu-Tang influence (even though his is an indirect and unofficial influence) because he has been carrying this style on into the future as well as anybody else currently making music. Better than most, in fact.

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Another highly talented music maker has released a new mixtape of great material for free.

I first heard of Purpose and his group Tragic Allies a few years ago when I came across some astounding sounds off of the "Soul Purpose Mixtape" (hosted by Wu-Tang legend Killah Priest) which I subsequently acquired and listened to repeatedly for months. If you enjoy rap music, I urge you to seek that mixtape and absorb it.

Here's one of that tape's best songs, probably one of the best rap songs of the last five years and probably only a couple thousand people (max) have even heard it:
Well the same guy, Purpose, released another new mixtape entitled "Better Than Your Album," a title which seems excessively smug until you realize that it really is probably better than 95% of the cds in the "Hip Hop/Rap" section of your nearest Best Buy. You can download the album here and I'll share with you a few of its best tracks:

"City of Sin"


(if your brain cells don't tingle on this one then you shouldn't be wasting your time on this post)

And here's a personal classic; for me, this is a modern embodiment of the tragic emotion as Stephen Dedalus discusses in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. By Tragic Allies (Estee Nack and Purpose) it's called "Visual":

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A Man Called Relik is a young spoken-word poet/hip hop emcee I've recently discovered and been amazed by. I had first heard him on a mixtape compilation for a group out of Indiana called Ironworkers Guild. This was one of A Man Called Relik's solo tracks that appeared on that mixtape:

"The Darkest Hour" produced by Kevlaar 7

This guy is overflowing with talent. I'm drawing attention to these artists because I believe they, despite their lack of any sort of mass attention, are among the great artists of our time. They practice a craft (pure hip hop) that is condemned and suppressed, not only by mainstream society but even by the music industry, and especially the hip hop music industry. The executives and suits in charge of big record labels don't want to give people intelligent material, especially not through the cries of oppressed poor people, however poetically eloquent and musically gifted they may be.

We are in age in which the disparity between the rich and the poor is greater than it's ever been in recorded history. And so it follows that the ones on the bottom, especially the artists of that segment of society, will be the ones speaking most passionately as a cry for change and with a condemnation of this decrepit era. Our society and our nation has evolved towards an unrelenting reach for material wealth, an attitude which even seeped into our arts (example: The Decline of Rap Music), and now the edifice of Material Greed (aka Capitalism) is collapsing, we're in recession, and the ones at the bottom are the first to be struck by the crumples of "shattered glass and toppling masonry." And this is the kind of art they're creating:

That track is called "Fire (Reprise)" and is produced by the resident gifted beatsmith of the Ironworkers Guild, Woodenchainz.

Here's another track from this camp, very creative writing here, each verse is written in sequences using the letters B & C. The track is called "BC 2 Me" and, since they've just released a video I'll share that with you. Observe closely the 2nd verse, that's A Man Called Relik. Apprehend the absurd combination of intellect and emotion:
A Man Called Relik recently released a full album of spoken-word poetry rap over some very good beats and, if you like what you've heard from him here I highly recommend it; Stone Messiah, who produced the track in the video above, recently released an album; and Woodenchainz has just released his first real album, an EP entitled "A Beautiful View" which has some very good stuff on it. You can listen to a sampler of free tracks featuring all of these guys here on YouTube.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

"Children of a Lesser God": Shedding Light on the Underground and Underrated in Hip Hop, Part One

"If hip hop's deceased, then show me the body bag" - Bronze Nazareth

The skies and the vast air waves of this oceanic multimedia storm we constantly live in have recently produced a small flurry of extremely high quality hip hop music. You'd have to really be paying attention to the wavelengths of the underground in order to catch it but if you attempt to tune into it, trust me, it's there.

Superb, pure, artistic and intellectually rich hip hop music still exists. It really never died when its so-called "Golden Era" faded, instead it has burrowed deep into the underground to save itself from extinction during this growing catastrophe that is the violent spreading of brain-numbing, simple-minded, McDonalds Happy Meal, commercially-skewed cheap pop music branding itself as "hip hop" or "rap".

Music that was made simply to tap into someone's baser emotions (greed, instant gratification) so that they become practically hypnotized by a simple, repetitive two-note computer fart and crave its noise to the point of making it one's ringtone is not hip hop.

I will eventually write an argument of mine in which I posit that the highest version of what we call "hip hop" (basically, poetry over rhythmic beats), a version which I believe reached its height of popularity in the mid-90s, just might be the greatest art form ever. This version, which has for a while now persisted in the underground sphere of hip hop, continues to produce incredible artists but so few people know about them.

A suffocating, freshly-tarred pavement slab has covered over the monuments of hip hop's Golden Era like a new set of condos being placed on top of an enormous old art museum. The mainstream of society stopped hearing from and seeing (real) hip hop and gave up on it ever coming back again but that heart still beats. I'll show you some examples of it here. You'll be surprised how well it's doing.

Just over the last 6 months or so, but especially these last few weeks, we've been seeing the skies rain delicious jams and great albums. I'll start with the one I have been anticipating the most.

The Wisemen
"Children of a Lesser God"
The blossoming Wu-Tang farm system prospect, the musical and lyrical mastermind known as Bronze Nazareth, along with his similarly multi-talented brother Kevlaar 7, and their crew the Wisemen are about to release their second album, resonantly entitled Children of a Lesser God. Their first album in 2007 (Wisemen Approaching) and Bronze's solo album in '06 (The Great Migration) together with multiple top notch beats produced for Wu-Tang brethren the last few years, have solidified the Detroit group's reputation for consistent, extremely high quality music. Over the last few years, Bronze and Kevlaar 7 have ascended to the top of my personal list of emcees and beat-makers and so I've eagerly awaited this new material ever since it was announced in the spring of last year.

Their new album comes out in stores October 26th but I've managed to secure an early copy. And, somehow, my extremely high expectations have been met. Perhaps exceeded. This album's integration of live instrumentation and almost perfect ratio of quality-to-quantity have built towers above their previous catalogue of craftsmanship. The songs resonate loudly right from the opening title track with pattering live drums and crashed high hats lifting up passionate and eloquent lyrics, and from there the audible satisfaction doesn't fade. It's maintained like an oxygen-fed flame. These guys make albums. Not randomly smattered singles but meaningfully organized songs and themes. There is something good about every track on this album, the two or three interludes included, and on most songs the beat and lyrics are a perfect mix of dopeness.

Here is a snippet of one of my favorite tracks called "Corn Liquor Thoughts":

The album features verses from The Wisemen (Bronze and Kevlaar, plus Salute the Kid, Phillie, Illa Dayz, and June Megaladon), Raekwon, Planet Asia, Big Rube of The Dungeon Family, and Beace. It's produced by Bronze Nazareth and Kevlaar 7 with some live instruments thrown in for emphasis by Project Lionheart (and one beat produced by a producer I've never heard of named Supaa Maine).

Here's another snippet, this one from "Faith Doctrine" produced by Kevlaar 7 (and this is K7's verse):

I can't recommend this album highly enough. Take a glimpse at what's great about hip hop right now.

*  *  *

Sunz of Man member and longtime Wu-Tang affiliate Hell Razah also released his second LP (Heaven Razah) recently, interestingly enough he had dropped his first album right around the same time the Wisemen did in '07. Their two new albums go very well together; similar sounds (even a Bronze/Kevlaar beat on the Hell Razah album), themes, great quality, great hip hop music.
Razah's album takes a very deep journey, in fact, I would definitely call it a mystical album. He makes great use of symbols, stories and themes from Biblical stories while (somehow) fusing them with angelic alien abduction references and cosmic visuals, all juxtaposed with the streets and all delivered through the medium of melodic hip hop music. It's quite an effort, trust me. What makes it all the more interesting is that, shortly after completing the album, Hell Razah suffered a brain aneurysm that put him into a coma from which he is now still recovering.

It has to be one of the best albums of 2010 and maybe one of the best hip hop albums of the last couple years. Here is one of the best tracks, "Return of the Renaissance" featuring R.A. the Rugged Man:

Don't be confused by what might appear to be strange subject matter, this is some of the best hip hop being made right now and it's definitely worth checking out. Yes there's mystic flights here but when he comes down to earth there are other creative themes like a song entirely devoted to 70s blaxploitation flicks, using characters and scenes from famous films to lyrically display his own movie in a track called "Cinematic" produced by legendary Wu producer 4th Disciple.

*   *   *
More to come...let's consider this part one of a much longer post.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Previewing the 2010 ALCS: Yankees vs Rangers

With the ALCS about to begin in the next 10 minutes or so, I don't have any sort of in-depth or even surface-scratching preview because (sadly) I didn't devote the necessary time to do some research and writing on the series.

So, for your ALCS preview fix, I point you towards the boys at Pinstriped Bible where a trio of three of my favorite baseball writers have recently joined forces to write about the team I hate most. Cliff Corcoran has broken the matchup down thoroughly and decided that the Rangers have the edge in their rotation, bullpen, and bench while the Yanks have the better lineup and fielding. They're all picking the Yankees to win in six games.

This is more a hopeful prayer than a prediction but I'll say Texas Rangers in 7. Cliff Lee pitches his new team into the World Series to face his old team.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Previewing the 2010 NLCS: Phillies vs Giants

Right away the greatest thing about this series (and perhaps of the entire playoffs) is the Game 1 pitching match-up between Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum.

Last week, in his first playoff game ever, Halladay threw a no-hitter (joining Don Larsen atop that seemingly unreachable mountain peak) and the next night Lincecum threw a game that somehow might have actually been better, striking out 14 and only allowing 2 hits in a complete game shutout.

Something's gotta give in this terrific match-up and, as the two supreme aces figuratively cancel each other out with their awesomeness, it's the batters that have to step up and outdo each other. While Lincecum might strike out 23 guys and Halladay, if he needed to, could efficiently cruise into the early east coast morning without allowing too many baserunners, one of the lineups has to eventually put up a run on the board in order to win.

I'll take the Phillies to do that. And, in a battle between two teams with excellent pitching staffs, the Phillies' superior lineup should prove to be the difference.

Let's take a look at each team's four best hitters, ranking them by a Baseball Prospectus stat called True Average (it looks like batting average but it's a combination of all their offensive production--power, walks, even steals--in one number).

Phillies: RF Jayson Werth (.322 TAv)
Giants: 1B Aubrey Huff (.316 TAv)

Huff had the best year of his career at 33 and has really seemed to find his happy place in San Francisco, while Werth has been a major part of this new Phillies dynasty since he arrived in 2007, posting his best numbers this season in the last year of his contract. I love Werth's hitting ability, he's all-around awesome with plenty of doubles, homers, walks, and steals and (really going out on a limb here) I anticipate some sort of heroics and fireworks from him in this series as it could be his last go-around with the Philly band.

Phillies: 2B Chase Utley (.306 TAv)
Giants: LF Pat Burrell (.304 TAv)

Utley didn't have his best year because of a thumb injury he had to have surgically repaired which probably effected his hitting, but even in a bit of an off year he still finished #3 among all second basemen in True Average (behind Robinson Cano--almost typed "Canoe"--and Dan Uggla). When at the top of his game, Utley is probably the best hitter in this entire series.

As for Burrell, the former #1-overall pick of the Phillies has enjoyed a renaissance in his twilight. After being dumped off into the trash bin by the Phils last year and then the Rays this year, the Giants scooped him up off the street and he's meshed well with the other early-30s cast offs, putting together his best season at the plate since 2002 by OPS+. Maybe he just didn't like the American League (or having to DH).

Phillies: Catcher Carlos Ruiz (.304 TAv)
Giants: Catcher Buster Posey (.300 TAv)

Cool to see both catchers here. Between catching two no-hitters (and a great pitching staff) this season and also recording his best year with the bat (.400 OBP), Ruiz has been a major part of this Phillies steamroller. He's also becoming something of a postseason star for the Phils as he's put up a .904 OPS in 35 postseason games the last few years. His counterpart here is no slouch, in fact he's pretty awesome and I predict he'll be a local cult figure in San Francisco for years to come. Just like his experienced mitt-mate, Posey has been behind the plate catching for a very successful pitching staff and he's also thwacked. The kid is a line-drive machine, an extremely polished hitter for 22 years old, and he can hit both righties (.832 OPS) and lefties (.955). I'll be very interested to see what he does at the plate against Halladay.

Phillies: 1B Ryan Howard (.299 TAv)
Giants: CF Andres Torres (.293 TAv)

For the Giants, Torres turned in a great season after finally being given a chance to play full-time (at the age of 32) but he's totally collapsed the last month or so. In September he needed an appendectomy and hasn't hit a lick since. Howard gets way too much attention as a "run producer" by the national media but I also think the stat community underrates him a bit. There are few hitters I like to watch more than this guy because there is no one in baseball who annihilates a pitch quite like Ryan Howard. He seems to concentrate his entire 6-4, 255 lb force into the sweet spot of the bat and when he strikes the ball it's as if he can hit it into the next state. Like Utley, he spent some time on the DL and didn't have his best season but I don't expect Howard to have much trouble with either of the Giants' aces (and their strongest weapons) Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. Admittedly a small sample size, he's still smashed 7 extra-base hits in 29 at bats against those two combined for his career. I think I see fireworks...

Can the Giants possibly knock off the Phils?
The way they've closed out the season (23-7 since September 1st), the Phillies look like a Harrier jet on autopilot cruising towards a reunion clash with the defending World Series champion Yankees. And so, really, the question going into this series is whether or not the Giants can win. As much as I love Tim Lincecum, I don't think he'll be able to carve through three encounters with this Philly lineup unscathed and neither will Matt Cain. San Francisco's duo of starting lefties, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner, pose a threat to the chances of an easy sweep by the Phils and I think it will certainly be an exciting series to watch, but the Phils will take it in 5.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

New (old) Books Scooped Up Recently

Went to my favorite used book store last night and picked up some gems. Got into an interesting exchange with the cashier too when he foolishly dissed Joyce, more on that in a minute.

A few years ago there was a period I went through when I was carrying around Emerson's Nature and Selected Essays in my back pocket just because every time I read any selection from it I always found it was such an enlightening and enjoyable read, like imbibing a refreshing drink. Looking at this biography about him called The Mind on Fire I couldn't help but get it when I saw reviews that said stuff like this:
[This is] one of those exciting books that flash bolts of lightning across an entire intellectual era and up and down modern history.
And then Jung's book on Mandala Symbolism is great and has a whole bunch of illustrations of mandalas from himself, patients of his, artists, and historic art from around the world. Great pick up. Check this out:
And then the top book on the pile is a copy of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man featuring a whole bunch of critical texts and commentaries from sources like H.G. Wells, Ezra Pound, and more. Definitely will be using this to help construct my Dali-Joyce essay I'm brainstorming on right now.

The last thing I got is by far the coolest:
It's an amazing edition of Ulysses that's put together like The Bible or some other great holy book. The arabesques all over the cover are amazing and perfectly representative of the verbal arabesques that twirl throughout this entire epic. And this is the good edition of the text, not the butchered Hans Walter Gabler version. Here's some more pics, check out the gold-tipped pages.
It even has illustrations throughout the book from Kenneth Francis Dewey. This one is from the Lotus-Eaters episode.
It's a great book to have and read and such a perfect rendition of the monstrous, so thoroughly intricate novel. Before I knew this edition existed, I'd have hoped someone would make one like it.

Upon seeing the Joyce books, the cashier said "Well, these will be torture" to which I laughed thinking he was kidding. When it was clear he meant it I said "Nah man, I'm obsessed with this stuff" and he blatantly let out his foolishness with an emotional and insulting blurt of "He couldn't write a coherent sentence to save his life!" I was tempted to crack open to any page in Ulysses and teach him what a random line is saying but he then admitted (if it was indeed true) that he'd tried to read the book once and immediately gave up because it was like gibberish. My girlfriend later revealed that she was amazed at how calm I was when the guy seemed to flat out insult my favorite writer, but I explained that his reaction to Joyce is the same as most people who haven't really tried to read and understand it. It's the consensus, mainstream opinion that he's too difficult because nobody actually dares to dig in.

When I was in the cultural utopia of San Francisco last week I also scooped up a few great Joyce books, especially this one of super high-quality old photos, drawings and paintings called Joyce Images by Bob Cato and Greg Vitiello with an introduction by my old buddy Anthony Burgess. The cover is a drawing of Joyce made up of signatures ("Signatures of all things I am here to read.") of the names of Joyce's characters all weaved together.

Also got a nice copy of Harry Levin's entertaining study of Joyce (a rare and out of print book) and a newer paperback version of Ulysses to replace my current tattered copy (this was of course before I had bore witness to the huge masterpiece above).

Friday, October 8, 2010

A San Francisco Treat

Lately I've felt overwhelmed by everything going on in my world(s), particularly in the areas this blog focuses on: Sports (the baseball playoffs have begun and they've been awesome), Music (the skies have been pouring out new music, good stuff that I want to listen to and write about), and Literature (still reading plenty of Joyce material and have lots to say about it). I have a whole bunch of ideas for posts, even a couple unfinished posts, and an outline for an essay that I will not only submit to the James Joyce Quarterly but also will send in for possible presentation at the North American James Joyce Conference next year. It's pretty much the opposite of the usual writer dilemma, writer's block, in that I've got plenty to write about but just haven't been able to find the time to write lately. And when I do get free time, I feel overwhelmed by all the things that are trying to burst out of my head onto the page.

Added to all that is the fact that my job is asking me to start doing work for them while I'm home but they won't pay me for it. So, of course, I won't do it and (of course) they're trying to bamboozle me into doing it. The economy is bad, the company is struggling, etc, etc. That's what they tell me.

Well, let's try to go through some of this stuff in a clear and organized manner. Hopefully that will help me take this Building Roam thing past these hovering clouds and up to the heights I'm hoping to lift it to over these next few months.

Let's start with San Francisco.

When my girlfriend told me she wanted to go to the World Vegetarian Festival Weekend in San Francisco a few weeks ago, I immediately said yes and we began planning a little weekend road trip up to the Bay Area. It would be my first real (longer than 3 hours) road trip since my migration out to San Diego from New York in 2008. I was hyped. Somehow I hadn't realized that the Padres, the team I've followed closely and rooted for all season, would be playing their final three games of the regular season facing the Giants in San Francisco that same weekend. When the Padres went on a losing streak and relinquished their tightly held division lead to the Giants, and with baseball's other postseason spots decided already, that final series in San Francisco would become the focus of the entire baseball world.

On Friday we began our journey a bit later than we should have, not getting on the road until about 3 PM. By the time we reached Los Angeles three hours later, we found ourselves in Friday afternoon rush hour gridlock that tortured us for hours. We still had many many miles to cover until our final destination but we were stuck in LA quicksand. My girlfriend and I began to bicker, we were drowning in an ocean of cars. Before the bickering exploded into something bigger that might jeopardize the precious road trip, we got off at the closest exit and went to a gas station. I went inside to pee and buy some snacks and stood behind a couple of guys waiting for the bathroom already. "Wish I could just take a number and then go buy some stuff," I joked to the gentleman waiting at the back of the line. He proceeded to engage me surprisingly quickly into a pretty one-sided conversation in which he told me how he and his partner (standing next to him nodding every few minutes) were professional drivers who transport 16-wheeler trucks all over the country, this was their first time in Southern California and they were already sick of it because of all the traffic. He carried on for a while and I listened with great interest (what can I say, it was interesting) as he told me all about the job and even mapped out the exact routes they were traveling which reminded me of Chris Farley's security guard character spilling the beans in Wayne's World.

Once we were back on the road and refreshed, we persevered for another 7 hours or so, zooming through the darkness of California's farmlands for what seemed like forever. We made it to the hotel after 3 AM, tired and ragged but very proud of our accomplishment.

The weekend was spectacular. Everything seemed to go perfectly. We spent most of Saturday at the Veg Festival which took place in the lush arboreal enchanted forest that is Golden Gate Park and then, once I gave up on trying to get tickets for the sold out season finale against the Padres, we spent Sunday touring the city, going across the Golden Gate Bridge, and checking out a great Dali exhibit at a cool art gallery in Fishermen's Warf. The exhibit featured rare and exclusive sets of Dali's work like The Alchemy of the Philosophers and his illustration of Dante's Divine Comedy.

It felt great to be up there in that beautiful, culturally opulent city. The air was crisp and gave me an enlivened feeling, unlike the humidity and unbearable heat we've had in San Diego lately. As we walked around the streets my head kept popping forth new ideas to write and I felt like the atmosphere was working to conduct a creative electricity in my body. (Unfortunately I didn't bring my laptop or any notebooks to write in so I didn't jot anything down.)

When the Giants defeated the Padres the city was vibrant. As much as I wanted the Padres to win, it was actually very cool being in the middle of a big city like that when their team clinched a playoff spot (for the first time in 7 years). Without knowing what happened, it would have been pretty easy for one to ascertain as plenty of Giants fans zoomed through the streets honking their horns and waving orange flags and lively, skipping orange-clad fans swarmed the sidewalks.

It wasn't until today that I realized the cool subjective coincidence or synchronicity. Before this past weekend I had only been to San Francisco once, in the summer of 2008 when I visited a potential graduate school (CIIS if you must know). That time, I stayed for just three days and was alone, not really prepared to tour the city and absorb its splendor. But I did go to a Giants game. They faced the Atlanta Braves in a pretty meaningless and crappy (and freezing) game as both teams were well out of the playoff race and on their way to a 4th place finish. Now, after the Giants fought off my very own Padres in the season's final game while I was back in San Francisco again, they are facing (who else?) those same Atlanta Braves in the postseason.

Tonight I watched and marveled over Tim Lincecum's absolutely superb start against Atlanta in which he struck out 14, walked one, and allowed only 2 hits. I've said before that he is perhaps the most entertaining player in baseball right now and he was truly a spectacle tonight. The 26-year-old Lincecum is very generously listed at 5'11" and 170 lbs but he looks more like 5'9" and maybe 150. That's about how big I am. I'm simply awestruck watching this kid baffle major league hitters the way he does. Watching the Braves flail over and over again, an old thought popped into my head, a thought that used to occur to me while watching baseball as a naive young child: "are they even trying to get a hit?"

With his funky, herky jerky wind up, shoulder-length hair, and all-around skateboarder punk aura (he was busted for pot possession in the offseason) he presents an image unlike anything I've ever seen in baseball. He's like a little punk kid who goes out on the mound and makes all the older bigger guys look like idiots. And unlike the squeaky celebrations of the phenom kid in Rookie of the Year or the ugly roaring gyrations of Joba Chamberlain, Lincecum carries himself with the utmost calmness and professionalism. When he struck out the final batter tonight for his 14th strikeout (shattering the Giants franchise mark for strikeouts in a playoff game in his first career playoff game) to complete a two-hit shut out, he simply made a fist, a sign of a job well done. Not the Tiger Woods kind of over-exuberant fist pump either, this was the gesture a geeky but confident kid would make after accomplishing a new high score in a video game at an empty arcade. "Yes, I did it."

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Brief thoughts on the MLB Playoffs

Roy Halladay pitched a no-hitter in Game 1 of the NL Division Series against the Cincinnati Reds today. 'Twas the first postseason no-hitter since Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series. In fact, Larsen and Halladay are the only pitchers to ever throw a postseason no-hitter in the entire history of baseball.

This is stunning. We've witnessed history. Though, sadly, I still haven't witnessed it yet because I'm currently watching a DVR recording of the game and I'm only in the 2nd inning.

After a long, fun, exciting and eventful weekend in San Francisco, I haven't had the chance to sit down and write an MLB postseason preview and now a couple of games have already been played. I'm unhappy with myself but, since I didn't get home until Monday night, I really haven't had a chance to analyze the postseason matchups as much as I'd like to. I haven't even been able to read any of my favorite writers' playoff previews.

But I feel the need to say something about it. After all, I've already written so much about baseball on this blog that I can't just neglect to offer some predictions on the final deciding games of the season.

So, here are some thoughts on the first round matchups. (Unfortunately, they're a bit tainted by the timing of this post.)

AL Division Series

Tampa Bay Rays vs Texas Rangers
An interesting matchup between two very different teams. The Rays work the count, the Rangers hack the ball all over the place. Cliff Lee's dominance today portends disaster for the Rays as they'll surely have to get through him in another start if they are to win this series. The Rays haven't gotten much from their #2 and 3 starters down the stretch and, while I picked Tampa Bay in the preseason to play against the Phillies in the World Series, I think the Rangers will knock them out in the first round with their extremely powerful and deep lineup.

New York Yankees vs Minnesota Twins
This is a very familiar first round matchup. Previously (in 2003, 2004, and last year) the Twins didn't put up much of a fight against a powerhouse Yankee squad but now the Twins have home field advantage throughout the series and they've also got a much stronger lineup than they had in those days. They'll face a mediocre Yankee pitching staff led by workhorse lefty C.C. Sabathia (134 ERA+) with the same old stalwart Mariano Rivera at the back end. I like this Twins team very much and I think they'll push through the Yanks on their way to their first World Series in 19 years.

NL Division Series

Philadelphia Phillies vs Cincinnati Reds
I cheated by watching Roy Halladay's no-no already but...I'll take the Phillies. With Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt (three guys who could each be the ace of any major league team), nobody will beat this team. Their lineup is deep, powerful, patient and rugged; they've all been through this before. The Reds have a talented ball club and one of the best hitters in baseball (Joey Votto) but this might even be a sweep for the Phils. Yeah, I'll go with a sweep.

San Francisco Giants vs Atlanta Braves
Sigh...poor Padres. It's amazing that, completely unrelated to their final weekend series to decide the NL West, I found myself in San Francisco for the weekend. A blessing, really, although I didn't get to go see any of the games since they were all completely sold out, standing-room included. It's nice that the Padres made the 162nd game an interesting one but (perhaps this reveals that I'm not a true Padres fan), I think the Giants will be a much more fun team to watch in the postseason. Tim Lincecum alone makes this team a fun one to watch. I rooted for the Padres all year (and went to more of their games than I've ever gone to see any team in my life) but this San Francisco squad belongs in the playoffs. Their pitching is just ridiculously good and their lineup is pretty solid. And the fans actually care, in fact the city was going wild after the Giants won on Sunday. People were driving around beeping their horns and waving flags, excited orange-clad college girls roamed the streets, and I caught a glimpse of a Spanish-language news channel covering the festivities. It's a big deal for the city. San Diego didn't seem to give a shit about the Padres, sadly.

I think this will be the real "wild card" of the postseason and fittingly it's the Wild Card-winning Braves who are involved. This looks like a great matchup to me and I look for an exciting, back-and-forth series that goes the full five games. Jason Heyward will probably do something awesome, we'll undoubtedly have some great pitcher's duels with guys like Tommy Hanson, Matt Cain, Lincecum, Tim Hudson, and even rookie Madison Bumgarner on the mound. It's really gonna be fun. In the end, I'll take the Braves to go to the NLCS for a division rival battle with the Phillies.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Summer of Jazz: A Review of Installments 7 & 8 of the Madlib Medicine Show

For the summer months, the Madlib Medicine Show (a one-album-per-month series that the musical mastermind known as Madlib has blessed us with this year) shifted fully into jazz mode with Medicine Show #7: High Jazz in July and #8: Advanced Jazz in August. Although previously I've never been a fan of jazz or even given it much of a chance, Madlib's musical genius sucked me in and got me hooked. All through the summer, my ears were tuned to these new jazz releases and I even went out and purchased some of his previous jazz albums including the excellent debut Angles Without Edges by the one-man band calling himself/themselves Yesterdays New Quintet.

High Jazz is an original jazz album featuring new and unreleased tracks from some obscure and unreleased Madlib jazz projects under pseudonyms like Russell Jenkins Jazz Express, Jahari Massamba Unit,  The Kenny Cook Octet, Joe McDuphrey Experience, and The Big Black Foot Band. It's really a hodgepodge of random new and old tracks but yet it flows together seamlessly into a very nice little album. Overall the sound is very cosmic, almost shamanic sometimes but always (seemingly) done with jazz instruments.

My favorite track is the "live" rendition of "Broken Dreams" by Yesterdays New Quintet. The entire "live" performance, which is almost 15 minutes long, is excellent and has the slightly grainy and a-bit-off-key sound that a live jazz quintet would be expected to have. Except here it's one guy pretending to be five while pretending the five-man band is playing live. It's truly amazing both in thought and result. And, of the three tracks they play, "Broken Dreams" sounds the most wonderful to me with its slowly intoning heavy and deep guitar moan that actually conjures the dream music in the film Inception (how perfect that this album came out right around the same time the movie did). Over that guitar groan another melody chimes in through a piano, then an electric piano, multiple diverse drum sounds, and this all rhythmically carried along, a wagon of instruments rolling down the street producing beautiful song.

It's as though the dark moaning melody that always remains in the vibrating backdrop is the element of a dream. The whole song is a dream although it's musically depicting broken dreams. The dreams are introduced through the hopeful soft-key piano melody and then progressively we hear the sound of the "ruin of all space, shattered glass and toppling masonry," but it's all introduced and executed harmonically. (Note that the live rendition sounds different---better to me---than the original version.)

The harmonic balance of multiple different elements is one of the keys to what makes this music so gratifying and Madlib such a genius. Not only a range of different instruments and sounds but even two or three different melodic tempos are weaved together at the same time creating a musical atmosphere and a wide, spacious, mysteriously cosmic one. Using a different metaphor, Madlib's jazz music is a Jenga tower built from multiple layers of sound and tempo, swaying rhythmically in the wind.

"Reality or Dream" is another example of this. The song feels like the sounds of descending down a tube like Alice down the rabbit hole, grasping on to anything you can and dragging it down with you. There's probably over a dozen different sounds as you descend downwards here. The key recurring motif though is an eerie, Arabian flute that smoothly chimes before getting caught up in the mess of scattered objects, becoming bent and manipulated.

"Space & Time" is the smoothest track on the album, a melodically expanded jazz loop that doesn't venture as far out into experimental realms as some of the other tracks. It's closer to a hip hop beat than anything else here, even by its relatively short length (1:47) compared to the other much lengthier tracks around it. It's followed by the dusty guitar strings and soft melodic drums of "Conquistador," a track that plays like a spaghetti western space exploration flick. Music like this is truly an experience. Like a Disney ride or something. You're lifted and carried through multitudes of metamorphing scenes.

The thirteenth track, entitled "Tarzan's Theme," has stuck with me since my very first listen. It carves little holes through the conscious into the sub- or unconscious. It does this through (again) multiple melodies that are introduced and weaved together. Jangling drums (always a pleasing Madlib specialty) accompany throughout. The song is by "The Big Black Foot Band" and it naturally has that hypnotic and colorful shamanic ring to it. Even the strange and repeated chants of things like "starved killers migrate south"and "teeth, hair, teeth, teeth" seem to just go with it.

The only tracks I don't like are "Electronic Dimensions" (way too electric for me) and "High Jazz" (boring) but they really don't seem to hurt the overall feel of the album at all. They're right at the beginning and I can endure them knowing the gold that awaits over the horizon. It's impressive that, in the midst of a series of 12 albums, in a year that has seen the release of two other very good full-length jazz albums from the same guy (who's most famous for his hip hop production), we have here an album experience which promotes and rewards multiple listens. Most of the songs on here feel like they take you places. You can't really ask for more than that.

...But Madlib is the musician who keeps on giving. And so he followed up his own jazz joints with a mixtape of some of the very best jazz musicians ever. I can describe this latest Medicine Show offering no better than the cardboard tab that came affixed to it:
No. 8 - Advanced Jazz: Imagine an 80-minute music history course taking place in a dusty, hazy studio with wall-to-wall jazz vinyl---records from the past 40 years---jazz, fusion, obscure. This course will not be graded. There will be no lecture. Madlib's at the turntable. Class is now in session.
This "music history course" features audible classes on legends like Miles Davis, Ornette Colemen, John Coltrane, and Sun Ra as well as some of the others you see here crossing the Hudson:
There have been some terrific album covers in this Medicine Show series but this tops them all. Since receiving it, I've kept this CD standing up atop my desk, the small glass-cased image of Miles and his pals looking regally upon my writings.

The first thing you notice about this album is that it's LOUD. The sounds really seem to have been turned up and it works great as you can hear the depths of the live instruments and crackling, dusty old vinyl records. There are ten tracks of varying length, each named for a jazz legend and featuring a hand-picked and nicely-mixed collection of their songs. The opening is lovely: a gravelly voice speaking and settling the listener in for a comfortable musical excursion like a hypnotist preparing a patient ("are you there?") and then the pianos, horns, drums, everything, it all marches in so beautifully that I get the chills every time I hear it even though I must've listened to this opening 20 times by now. It then transitions into a jazz flute rendition that Ron Burgundy would describe as "a little Ham and Eggs."

Unlike the other great jazz(esque) mixtape in this series, Flight to Brazil, this isn't just a bunch of Madlib's favorites thrown together and played with very little interference. Instead, Madlib throws in plenty of his customary obscure skits and interludes while also weaving the songs together like a DJ, letting some play longer than others and maintaining a pretty consistent vibe while exploring the works of many different artists. The height (and hilarity) of Madlib's mixing skills here comes at the transition of tracks 2 and 3 when the former closes with a very serious-sounding man touting a film that he feels "is of great importance" and urging us "to undergo this uplifting cinematic experience" only to lead into the opening of track 3 with its hilarious mock blaxploitation trailer ("if you wanna get it together, and see the brother who predicted the weather, dress your mother up in leather, and see KING PIN").

The heart of this album, its thumping, beating, pulsating heart, is an amazing three-minute-plus drum orchestra performance in the middle of track 3 leading into the saxophone of Pharaoh Sanders. You can hear the end of it here in the promo video for the album but honestly, if you have even the slightest interest in jazz or just enjoy great music, I highly recommend picking this up this CD and hearing it in full. It'll really get your blood pumping.

Track 4, dedicated to Herbie Hancock, opens with words of wisdom that resonate and jump back and forth between each side of your headphones before taking you to new lands musically. This track features my favorite melody on the whole tape, a beautifully smooth piano over drums beginning at the 3:06 mark. It's one of those songs that sticks in one's head and pops up unbidden at random moments. Other highlights include: the entire Sun Ra track (Madlib pays proper homage to one of his oft-referenced favorites), the chilling big band track at the opening of Phil Ranelin's track, the exquisite soul track at the beginning of Deodato, and the closing horns/piano/drums from John Coltrane.

This mixtape is lively, bursting with instrumentation and energy, all delivered by Madlib from dusty old jazz records by some of the best musicians of the 20th century. It's a CD I'll probably go back and listen to 20 years from now and still enjoy. A spectacular collection of music, stitched together like an all-embracing quilt.

Note: We didn't get the expected Medicine Show #9 in September apparently because it wasn't finished on time but we may be getting two of them in October. We're at least assured of getting #10 which will be a collection of 60s and 70s soul and funk. Stay tuned for a full review of that one once I soak it in.