It is appropriate that I should hit the much-delayed five-zero-zero with an album which was also tardy, numerically inclined, and from an act who’ve been occupying a very high possie on my all-time rankings since way back.
Even more exciting is that this album is a welcome return to form from an act who I felt had gone off the boil.
Despite looking like crusty old bastards, the trio have clearly supped from some magic youth-rejuvenating potion.
The album takes a thankful glance over the shoulder to a simpler time of MCing. The beats are both tinny and fat. The effects and samples feel like they were patched together in an analogue world, and I personally feel like I’m in a happier, simpler time.
The humour doesn’t seem forced. The name-dropping (Lee Majors, Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam amongst many) will have anyone under the age of about 38 scratching their head, yet it’s hard to imagine anyone not feeling the urge to throwthemselves around and to party for their MFing right to fight!
While the album is startlingly coherent, my only real criticism is the lack of an absolute killer single (other than the celeb-heavy clip above goes damn close)… but I wanna hear everything on here again.
File under: No hidden agenda
Bonus for the 500th review: the extended 30 min version of the above clip (with much more silliness and a few more famous folks):
I bought this CD from the same Vietnamese retailer as the Lamontagne album (I guess they’d alphabetised pretty well).
This combo of black-power poetisisers are one of the frequently cited forebears of hip-hop, and I already was familiar with their track When The Revolution Comes from a couple of different compilations.
This 1970 debut album is a pretty mindblowing collection of bongo-backed tirades about the plight of the black man (and presumably woman) in post-civil rights, economically depressed, Black Panther-framed inner-urban milieu (or something like that).
If you’ve ever heard any of Gil Scott Heron‘s work then you’ve got a good sense of the style, content and right-on-ness of this album.
If anything these guys are angrier, less hep-catty, and much more willing to throw around the nigger word than GSH:
This is highly entertaining stuff. It’s beat poetry without all the skivvy wearing and artiness. It stands also as a testament to an important moment in history.
You can’t dance to it, but then, there ain’t too much spoken word that you can.
File under: The seed they sew’d it
Not surprisingly a number of my reviews begin with some variation of “I was at a festival and spied…”. I say not surprising, because discovering new acts is very much a festival raison d’être for me.
K’Naan well and truly fits that bill. A few days in at a Bluesfest we sort refuge at a smallish indoor tent and were mightily impressed by this Somalian Canadian fellow and his wicked rhyming.
This album captures much of what delighted us. As K’Naan makes clear on the standout What’s Hardcore? track, his experiences in war-torn Mogadishu makes the gangsta tales from the First World pale in comparison:
K’Naan showcases a real breadth of skills and styles on here. He shifts from pared back a capella and spoken word pieces, to much more bombastic rocky numbers. He isn’t afraid to break into song. His roots in poetry and more traditional African music (of course, rapping shares these roots) are apparent.
This is hip-hop at its story-telling best. It is not a ‘background music’ album, but rather a strong testament to the spread and power of the hip-hop format.
File under: Digging this philosopher’s tome
Way back before Al Gore invented the internet and digital music, I owned two fantastic albums from the Jungle Brothers on a medium known as the cassette (a.k.a. tape).
These were the first full-lengthers in the JBs’ long career – ‘Straight Out the Jungle’ and ‘Done By the Forces of Nature’. Both were an innovative mix of hip-hop and house music, coupled with a ‘black and proud’ Africanistic thing. They were a distinctive companion pieces to the works of De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest.
This here CD was released more than a decade later, and hits none of the cassettes’ heights. The JBs’ earlier experiments with the house and dance genres are expanded, as they hook up with a Propellerhead. This means loads more simplistic chanting than warranted, a higher level of repetition, and very little quality rhyming.
That is not to say this is a tough listen. It’s all very light and breezy, and you’d have a better than 50:50 chance of getting folks dancing with the majority of the tracks. The jazz crossover on Get Down is closest to their classic material:
And here’s one of their old gems (as a reminder to myself to go shopping for those two albums on CD):
File under: What does the V stand for? And the I?…
A peril for suddenly successful acts is that they rush out a follow-up that lacks the power and pullof their breakout release.
The Hilltop Hoods didn’t fall for this trap, perhaps because of their veteran status by the time they won us over.
This album keeps up the pace, with a heap of very solid tracks. The themes often don’t venture far from their usual: Hip-hop as the big joy in a strife and struggled-filled life; the potency of these dudes’ rhyming versus the rest; and the joys of alcohol consumption:
But there is welcome attempts to stretch the boundaries. Stopping All Stations works as a layered, multi- narrative short-story on par with Michael Franti’s best efforts like Hole in the Bucket.The track is a harrowing tale of the failings of rail privatisation…
An Audience with the Devil is an amusing attempt to probe the nature of good and evil.
Musically, the sampling is still strong (although I probably don’t need any more flute riffs), with perhaps more musicality than previous releases.
All in all, this is a long player I still enjoying diving into.
File under: Aren’t all roads hard?
Like an enormous proportion of their fan base, I jumped on the Hoods’ bandwagon with this release.
There was a lot of reasons for that. Firstly, it was the first time I remember hearing them. But more than that, it was the first time I heard Aussie hiphop that felt globally competitive. The rhymes were strong and the samples and beats added up to something catchy and creative.
The guys do a great job of building a strong narrative across the album about their experiences as a band, while showcasing their skills. I love some of the passages on Dumb Enough (especially the tsunami/origami pairing):
The ‘stickiest’ track is probably the big single too. Nosebleed Section speaks to anyone whose jumped around at the front of any gig hiphop or otherwise. I love that it’s built around a relatively obscure folksinger vocal too:
The album does quite maintain the quality throughout ther 17 tracks (it gets a bit sloppy on a couple of the ‘guest’ tracks and on Walk On and Working the Mic), but this is stronger than most hiphop longplayers in my collection.
File under: Answer the call
If there is such a thing as Aussie hiphop royalty, then I guess these blokes would be the wearing the fancy robes, jaunty crowns and wielding sceptres shaped like mics.
They were the first to overcome the cultural cringe about Aussie accented raps and really win over a broad audience.
But that was an album after this one. Here they are still finding their feet and talking to much narrower, and perhaps more sophisticated, ‘home ground’ crowd.
What is clear is that the MCing maturity and acumen was already well-honed by this release. The lines are spat out at a rapid pace. They are funny, and biting, clever and thoughtful. It is refreshing and liberating to hear language and themes that are much closer to home (despite the occasional Adelaide pronunciations).
The tales of shit jobs, sneaking off on summer days, preferring pubs to clubs and struggling to make it are well-structured.
The weakness, or rather the real area for improvement, is on the musical side of things. The beats are a little laboured and lacking in variation. The samples don’t often hook.
There is all a tendency to fall-back on MC battles, which, while amusing and impressive on first listen, to get a little tiresome on repeat play.
File under: Like a stumbling foal
This album almost got reviewed back in the As, as we’d always assumed AManzi’mtoti was the act’s name here.
We picked this CD up a few years back while visiting my wife’s family in South Africa. This duo are a couple of lads from Soweto rapping mainly in Zulu.
Not surprisingly, I am even less conversant in Zulu than I am French. Thankfully, occasional tracks are predominantly English. Furthermore, Zulu seems well-suited to the genre, with a natural rhythm and also fascinating sounds.
I suspect in several instances the MCs are riffing off the language so as to create certain percussive effects.
They bring in some talented backing vocalists to flesh out various tracks (e.g. Enuff is Enuff) including Ella Fitzgerald for some of the excellent It’s Wonderful.
They also manage to deliver a very effective anthem for a whole continent (and people beyond) with African, a reggae-powered track that would do a Marley proud. They were stiff to not see this included in the recent World Cup action, especially given its unifying theme.
I enjoy the laid back vibe of this release. It evokes the smoke-hazed output of Cypress Hill. And there isn’t a vuvuzela in sight!!
File under: A tasty drop
Diving into this potentially disappointing second album from Mr Fiasco has been a revelatory experience.
After the first listen I was certain this review would be a rant about the tendency of hip hop artists to produce distancing, indulgent second albums chock full of tales about the pitfalls of being wealthy and famous (with the accompanying irony that such whining served also as bragging).
There are a load of tracks on here that superficially touch upon such topics, evoking memories of De La Soul and Eminem‘s mid-career output.
Further (digital) spins of the album, and much closer listening (plus a little secondary research) reveals the album to more complex than that. It is purportedly a ‘concept album’ about a character dealing with the trials of growing up on the street, embracing hip hop, and resisting the temptation to get all criminal on us (unlike Fiasco’s business partner).
Who know? It aint very obvious, begging the question whether it is really a successful exercise.
Irrespective, what is more apparent is that Fiasco has got adventurous in terms of structuring the music setting for his complex, captivating rhyming. It’s a little more R&B and less funk than I would like, but he is still a talent.
File under: Lupe Fonzie
I can’t remember a hip-hop release (especially by a non-pale-faced fellow) getting more attention and praise from indie-rock mags and alternative radio stations than this 2006 release, well certainly not since the halcyon days of Public Enemy and De La Soul.
Lupe’s backstory is part of the buzz – a politically aware, Muslim son of a Black Panther with a penchant for skateboarding. The music was the key driver, however. He spits out very rapid fire, articulate lyrics, laid out over string-heavy lush arrangements.
This debut effort hits the mark in the same way so many hip-hop freshmen releases seem to. Fiasco sounds different and fresh. He’s probably closest in style (to these undereducated ears) to Kanye West, but with faster rhymes and a more confrontational message. He tackles gangsta posturing head on and derides such behaviours as indicative of the limited options to young black youth.
Fiasco is very, very good at getting his message across and of penning cleverly ambiguous couplets and phrasings. Unfortunately he seems wedded to ridiculously fast beats rather than searching for a riff or other aural hook to get booties shaking. When he gets most creative, and finds a different angle (like the almost onomatopoeiac Kick, Push) it is worth getting excited:
File under: Kinda believe the hype