Tag: Hip-Hop

MUSIC REVIEW | ***ENGLAND WEEK*** MIA – Kala (2007)

kala

Born in the London borough of Hounslow, moved to the Tamil capital of northern Sri Lanka as a baby, the daughter of an activist, spent time in hiding from the Sri Lankan army. It’s amazing that finding such massive success in such a male dominated field is one of the more boring aspects of MIA’s life. But I guess it’s all of those extreme experiences that lead to her being such a singular voice in hip hop. A singular voice who scored first hit big with the mainstream with her sophomore album, Kala.


If anyone asked me before listening to Kala how likely I thought it was that it would open with lyrics lifted from Jonathan Richmans’ Roadrunner, I would have placed the chances somewhere between Elvis still being alive and Hitler making out with Sarah Silverman. But bugger me, if this album doesn’t open with MIA quoting Richman’s lo-fi masterpiece, in Bamboo Banger. It’s bat shit crazy in the context of the trance inducing beats and monotone vocal delivery, yet somehow, it works.

Tribal drums, fat beats, traditional instruments and child chants all come together to make the even more eclectic BirdFlu.   The crazy collage approach continues through Boyz, then finds even more bizarre heights on Jimmy. Classic 70s disco cheese, infused with J-Pop geisha vocals. I’m not usually one for gimmicks or weirdness for the sake of weirdness. But the crazier Kala gets, the better it gets.

Speaking of gimmicks, but more importantly, possible gimmicks that never sink to those depths, the ethnic sounds if MIA and Kala could have so easily descended into gimmickry, but never get there. I don’t know if they’re traditional Sri Lankan or Tamil instruments and melodies she’s working with, or if she’s taking influences from all over the world, or if she’s completely inventing her sounds. But a song like Hussel is all about its tricks and weirdness, without being all about its tricks and weirdness. The result is so much greater than the sum of its quirky parts.

The same comes with Mango Pickle Down Rivers, sampling indigenous Aussie kids, rapping about fishing for bream and playing didge. Their original tracks are charming in their enthusiasm. When MIA ads her own versus in between, she manages to bring the same charm and enthusiasm, despite the major label trappings.

But it’s not all culture appropriation and juxtaposition. 20 Dollar and World Town go balls out on modern electronic and straight up hip hop beats.

Just as inexplicable as the Jonathan Richman lyric sample that opens Kala, is the guitar sample of The Clash in Paper Planes. I don’t think I’m alone in this song being the first time I became aware of MIA. I also don’t think I’m alone in that awareness coming via the trailer for Pineapple Express. That movie was OK, but never quite lived up to the expectations built by the trailer. Paper Planes though, has remained just as cool ever since.

I’m starting to think I might be an MIA fan. Not that I ever actively disliked her music, but I never felt compelled to go past her hits. It turns out, Kala proves there’s a lot more to MIA than those hits.

MIA

MUSIC REVIEW | Kanye West – The College Dropout (2004)

college-dropout
Kanye West is up there as one of the absolute kings of hip hop. Well, at least to someone like me who only has a very mainstream, commercial knowledge of the genre, Kanye West is up there as one of the absolute kings of hip hop. While it took me a long time to get to Jay Z, I never really doubted his greatness within that world. It was just something I was never in a hurry to experience for myself. Once I did, I realised he has legitimately earned his decades of praise. And when I saw that West produced so many of the Hova tracks I especially liked, I thought he had probably earned a bit if my time too. And here it is, The College Dropout.


In my limited experience with hip hop, I have never once heard a skit or sketch that added anything at all to an album. They’re never funny, always terribly executed and nothing more than speed bumps, getting in the way of any momentum an album might be on the verge of building. Why do they exist? Does anyone ever talk about how great these shit bombs are, or how much better they make an album? All that is to say, the opening track, Intro, and three or four other attempted comic asides across The College Dropout, are nothing less than absolute shit. (more…)

MUSIC REVIEW | Jay Z – Magna Carta… Holy Grail (2013)

jay-z-magna-carta-holy-grail-full-album-stream-3
Listening to Jay Z’s seminal 2001 album, The Blueprint, didn’t all of a sudden make me a hip hop fiend.  But it did make me finally kind of understand the rise of Jay Z over the last 20 odd years.  From drug dealer, the rap superstar, to pop culture trend setter, to corporate success, to what I assume will eventually be the unchallenged overlord of the entire planet Earth.  I liked it enough that I’ve listened to it a couple more times since.  And more than that, I respect his career a whole lot now.


But that shouldn’t be a surprise since The Blueprint is such a well regarded classic.  So where was Hove (yep, I’m so down with him now, I’ll drop his nick name) more than a decade later with last year’s humbly titled Magna Cart… Holy Grail?

With a lot more Justin Timberlake crooning than Jay Z rapping, I could have done with the ratio being reversed on Holy Grail.  Question:  Is it a legal requirement that every single hip hop album opens with a song declaring that artist is back and that anyone who doubted they would be, can basically shove it up their ass?

With its dirty bass and rough drums, Picasso Baby is the most experimental song I’ve heard in my very limited experience with Jay Z, and it’s pretty cool.  Its weird change in direction in the last third just makes it even more interesting.  The experimentation continues on Tom Ford.  And while it’s definitely as interesting as Picasso Baby, I can’t say it’s as good.  Its herky jerky beats and 8 bit computer game blips never quite build any momentum.

But the first real disappointment on Magna Carta comes with Fuckwithmeyouknowigotit,a song that’s as lazily slapped together and tossed off as its corny name.  F.U.T.W might not the first brag fest dressed up as a song on this album, but it could be the most blatant.  I get it Jay Z, you used to not have much, now you have lots.  Move on.  What did surprise is that I didn’t expect a reference to the character Brody from the TV show Homeland.  It’s funny imagining Jay Z and Beyonce just hanging out on the couch, catching up on the latest episode of Homeland on the DVR, after avoiding spoilers all week.  Later references to R.E.M and Stanley Kubrick are even more perplexing.

When I wrote about The Blueprint, I said it, “comes off as amazingly insecure.  Not in execution, that’s immaculate and shows why Jay Z is such an admire practitioner of what he does.  It’s just so insecure in lyrically and thematically”.  Well, after another decade of ever growing success, that insecurity is still there on Magna Carta, and most present on Heaven.  Dude, you’ve made it and you’re pretty good at what you do, you don’t have to keep telling us that.  Just in case we don’t get it though, he backs it up again immediately with Versus.  Andhe could have left Mrs Z on the couch watching Homeland instead of dragging Beyonce out for lazy and boring Part II (On the Run).

From Versus through to Beach is Better, it’s a pretty inessential trio that sounds like filler.  And when you’re crowding your album with 18 tracks, inessential filler is even more annoying than usual.  The only upside to those three clunkers is that they made me really appreciate the weirdness of BBC.  It might be awkward, and I’m not sure if I actually like it or not, but at least it’s not Versus, Heaven or Part II.

While The Blueprint was built on a solid foundation of vintage samples, there’s a lot more custom made electronica on Magna Carta… Holy Grail.  And while the musical approaches are far from similar, the unifying nature of Jay Z makes them both undeniably Jay Z records.  It also means I really like them both, just for different reasons.  If I had to choose, The Blueprint will probably prove more re-listenable to me, but Magna Carta is still more than worth a spin.

Jay Z

***2013 RECAP*** MUSIC REVIEW | Regurgitator – Dirty Pop Fantasy

Gurge

When not out and out embracing the poppiest of pop music, the ‘Gurge has always had a knack for hiding catchy pop songs under distorted guitars, dark lyrics and the odd sprinkling of hard core hip hop.  With their latest, Regurgitator tries to have it both ways.  While a lot of Dirty Pop Fantasy sounds like it could be Unit: Part 2, the rest sounds like the more modern day incarnation of Quan Yeomans and Ben Ely, heard on 2011’s SuperHappyFunTimesFrineds and 2007’s Love and Paranoia.


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MUSIC REVIEW | Regurgitator – Dirty Pop Fantasy (2013)

Gurge

When not out and out embracing the poppiest of pop music, the ‘Gurge has always had a knack for hiding catchy pop songs under distorted guitars, dark lyrics and the odd sprinkling of hard core hip hop.  With their latest, Regurgitator tries to have it both ways.  While a lot of Dirty Pop Fantasy sounds like it could be Unit: Part 2, the rest sounds like the more modern day incarnation of Quan Yeomans and Ben Ely, heard on 2011’s SuperHappyFunTimesFrineds and 2007’s Love and Paranoia.


READ FULL REVIEW