A7PHA – No Breaks

Bleak-hop, dancing on the edge of Cioran inspired nihilism.

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Ka and Preservation “Days with Dr Yen Lo”

Brooklyn emcee Ka and producer Preservation’s excellently executed collab album, Days with Dr Yen Lo was released May 2015. I’m deep into these cuts now, a few months later and they’re hitting every criteria for album of the year. Expert, tasteful production. Thoughtful and artful lyrics and delivery by Brooklyn rapper Ka.

This is for heads and minimalist hip hop fans.

Flipping out for the vocal hooks and bin digging melodies like the vocal, “assassin in the window…” that hits at just the right time on the track Day 22.

Vinyl is available via http://brownsvilleka.com/

Scoop the vinyl up before everyone else finds out about it.

More in depth review coming soon. As soon as the vinyl arrives at my doorstep.

My DJ Fantasy: Sexy Flash App

Ralph Lagnado, Senior Planner of International Digital Media at Woo Agency posted his company’s latest project for client Samsung on the Music Industry Forum on Linkeding.com. Its called My DJ Fantasy and it involves a limo, drinking, and VIP treatment, for the user. This super slick marketing campaign is to help launch Samungs new Q1, which is a phone/pda/gps/portable MP3 dj mixing handheld device. It’s large for a handheld, not something you can easily slip into your tight hipster jeans or Louis Vuitton clutch. However you could use it to chop lettuce for burritos after a night at the club mixing for the inevitable after party crowd. Anyway, this is the slickest, quickest flash app (the DJ mixing part if you follow it to the end) I’ve ever seen. The whole ‘choose your own adventure’ is a nice touch but cheesy.

The product itself is very intriguing, being a musician it has some fascinating possibilities, though I’m not sure it’d be any better than an iBook with Logic and Abelton Live. It’s a great example of engagement and for those in the demographic that this touches they’ll probably spend some serious time with it and possibly have repeat visits. Also, Cut Chemist is the celebrity DJ involved, so any fans of Jurassic Five and quality hip-hop will be stoked.

Really liked it with a few exceptions; there should be an option to skip the ‘choose your own adventure’ and go straight to mixing and it would be helpful to see a video of the product demoed in real time, if it was there I missed it because I’d already spent too much time playing around. I wasn’t clear what the product was right off the bat but it was really fun. Best product integrated flash app i’ve ever seen. Kudos to their development team. Now if they could integrate the fantasy into a sharable, social platform, they’d really get some life out of it.

This was a huge leap for a large company like Motorola to launch their product and I’m happy to see they put this kind of trust in web technology. Maybe iteration 2 will actually let users of the Q1 enter a mixing contest that Cut Chemist oversees and the Fantasy becomes reality.  Yo, throw me a new Sliver if you use that idea Motorola, I’ve dropped mine too many times! 

www.mydjfantasy.com

An Interview With Wyclef Jean

Here is an oldy but goody. I did a lengthy phone interview with Wyclef just as his Preachers Son record was about to get dropped. This was pre-Fugees reunion. In fact it was before any of them had begun talking about getting back together. He was an articulate artist to interview, thoughtful and somewhat guarded but definitely friendly–willing to answer questions. 

Wyclef Jean was born in Haiti and immigrated to the United States at the age of nine, settling in New York City; Jean had to learn English, “(in) twenty four hours.  Even now my first language is Creole.  That gives me a very weird style of writing.”

“Preacher’s Son is my first album,” he insists.  “It’s the first album I’ve ever done where I focus on my songwriting more than anything else.  That’s why I call it Volume One-because it’s a movement back to music.  Being a hip-hop musician, being from a reggae background and of Haitian descent, I have a lot of music in my mind.  For the first time on any record, I’m going back to that music.”

A myriad of guests grace his newest album from Patti LaBell and Carlos Santana to Missy Elliot and Redman. Ultimately the passing of Wyclef’s father inspired him to approach his songwriting differently on Preacher’s Son, he says that, “Right away I wanted to do my music differently.  I want to do things that will change people who hear it three hundred years from now, like scriptures.  The Preacher’s Son is my first step in this direction.  It’s my resurrection.”

Wyclef began rapping with his cousins group, Tranzlater Crew, which later became the Fugees.  Aside from being a talented lyric writer, Wyclef also learned how to play the guitar, recording his first solo album, The Carnival in 1997.  The brilliance and musicality felt on the Fugees break through album, The Score, was merely a taste of what Wyclef’s talent entailed.  Using his multi-cultural roots and bringing some genre expanding sensibility to The Carnival, the album was met with the praise of critics and fans alike.  It was packed with hits like “Guantanamera,” “We Trying to Stay Alive,” (a song which sampled the Bee Gee’s hit) and the beautifully well-written heart breaker, “Gone ‘Till November.”

Not only was The Carnival an introduction to a prolific songwriter, it also kept to the basic issues of his group, The Fugees alive.  The ideology of the Fugees was one of proactive positive revolution, especially with the song, “Gunpowder.”  The classic lyrics stating, “We can’t stop the violence/Because the war is not over/Until you feel love, peace in your silence.”

The Fugees were revolutionary in their presentation and delivery, Wyclef’s contribution as a songwriter and forward thinker eclipsed his role in the Fugees and solidified his career as a soloist.  One song Wyclef is particularly proud of is “Gone Till November.” “That’s where I’m talking about getting up and leaving someone, and not knowing when I’ll be back.”

Wyclef draws similarities to John Denver’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” saying, “In both songs, you’re telling the girl: “Just chill.  There’s no need to cry.  I’ll be back.”  There are themes that are universal.  It’s everyone else that puts labels on us.”

Though The Carnival was an exercise in Wyclef flexing his creativity, it was also an indication of a band that was dissolving.  Band mate Lauren Hill also decided to chance a solo project, proving her strength as a writer and met with similar success with The Miseducation of Lauren Hill.  It had some amazing hits on it and proved that the Fugees contribution wasn’t only limited to group efforts.

Wyclef says that his writing inspiration isn’t formulaic and is as simple as, “I just got stuff down on a napkin, and then it turns into something later.  In a plane, in the shower, wherever.”

Preacher’s Son concepts are executed with the help of Clive Davis producing.  Wyclef was made to take his singing further than he has on past efforts.  “I sang more on this album than I ever thought I would, ” he says.  “I paid more attention to the melodic structure.  I approached each track like I was writing songs, as opposed to just writing a rhyme, so even when I’m rappin’ there’s melody to it.  It’s rhymin’ singing.”

Wyclef’s newest effort, Preacher’s Son, set to bow on Super Tuesday, Nov 4, is an example of the eclectic and talented nature of his song writing capabilities.  Drawing from a host of influences besides his Caribbean roots like jazz, blues and world music, Preacher’s Son, will be a test for Wyclef.  A test of his longevity as a soloist and songwriter and a test of how receptive his true fans will be.

Saul Williams: Poet, Activist, Musician

This was one of those interviews that I went into with some trepidation. I knew Saul as an outspoken activist and poet, but I wasn’t familiar with his talent as a musician. Those fears were assuaged upon first listen to his self-titled sophomore album. His recent third album, The Inevitable Rise and Liberaton of Niggy Tardust, released online a la donation (his friend and album collaborator Trent Reznor pushed for digital release) respects the spoken-word tradition and machine gun lyricism of his past efforts. You can pick it up at niggytardust.com

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“Whereas, breakbeats have been the missing link connecting the diasporic
community to its drum woven past
Whereas the quantised drum has allowed the whirling mathematicians to
calculate the ever changing distance between rock and stardom.
Whereas the velocity of the spinning vinyl, cross-faded, spun backwards, and
re-released at the same given moment of recorded history, yet at a
different moment in time’s continuum has allowed history to catch up with
the present.” – “Coded Language” by Saul Williams

saul williamsPoet/actor/writer/musician/social activist/spoken-word-artist, Saul Williams burst onto the scene with his critically acclaimed performance in Slam, a film he wrote and starred in 1998 which consequently won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival (it also took the Camera d’Or at Cannes). His ability to deftly manipulate words into beautifully woven poems demonstrates his genius with the pen, but his true brilliance occurs when he performs. His Hendrix-like approach and delivery leaves audiences captivated – open mouthed and grateful for witnessing such conviction and mastery of his craft.

Yet, his poetry is only part of his gift, an ear for music instilled in him from a young age inspired by his love of hip hop and his time spent in choir, and chorus. Saul began chorus in third grade and participated in it until his senior year. During that span of time he was also a member of his fathers church gospel choir.

He’s been on tours with Blackalicious, Cursive, and Planes Mistaken for Stars and the Mars Volta, spitting words with music and without. His last book of poetry, Said the Shotgun to the Head was a fantastic success as well as two previous works She and The Seventh Octave. His intense performance and stage presence represents the focus and determination he puts behind every word he says.

His first foray into music was a relatively easy jump to make. From poet to musician, Saul made a seamless transition, cutting tracks for his first record Amethyst Rock Star with veteran producer and American Recordings owner, Rick Rubin. “Om Nia Merican (Omni-American)” was one of the most powerful tracks on the album, with a Tom Morello inspired riff that ripped throughout the song, and Saul’s highly charged lyrics were both intelligent and also an indictment of American excess and arrogance.

On his latest self-titled release, Saul manages to blend punk, hip-hop, soul and rock into a clever cocktail of songs with passionate lyrics and wicked beats. Backed on tracks like “Act III, Scene 2 (Shakespeare)” by former Rage Against the Machine front man, Zach de La Rocha, Saul Williams has enough head nodding songs to keep your feet moving and your fist pumping in the air. Admittedly, Saul’s second bout with his musical muse was much more relaxed.

Rick Rubin is not only an industry veteran, he’s a legend, and began his career recording some of the most influential hip-hop of the past 25 years. For Amethyst Rock Star, Saul had to have twenty pre-written songs before entering the studio, apparently to whittle down to a manageable track listing of possible hit songs. Or rather, songs that would all make sense on the same record.

This time around, Saul says, “It (recording process) was very laid back. It was something I did in my leisure – without any outside pressure. The first time, Rick wanted me to have twenty songs before I went into the studio and this time around I was recording stuff at home. I was having fun and my hope was for people to be able to hear that. And it worked out!”

Saul’s interest in music always coexisted with his interest in writing. He says, “My interest was peaked as a kid by hip hop so as a kid I wanted to be an MC and I was also a dancer (break dancer). And I started writing because of hip-hop. So even before I was a teenager I was writing songs in the rap sense – I would write a verse and the chorus would be me saying some braggadocios type of thing like ‘I’m the coolest kid in the world.’

Saul laughs, adding, “I was a big fan of LL Cool J!”

“So that’s where it started but then I took a big left turn with poetry and got away from that. During that time I was into listening to music and write inspired by music then at some point I was ready to turn back to music and incorporate all the poems I had done lyrically into music.”

Saul’s process for his eponymous record was relatively simple and started out almost as a way to relax. Though Saul is renowned for his writing talent, his songwriting abilities blossomed in the months between the actual recordings of the record. On this record, Saul says, “The majority of this album is music first. There are a few songs such as ‘Grippo’ and ‘Black Stacey’ that were lyrics first. There’s a song on the album called ‘Telegram’ where I had incorporated two poems into the song and I thought that worked well. In other words that was the one song where the lyrics and music where done completely separate of one another. I liked how it worked.”

Like most of his contemporaries, Saul was lucky enough to be involved in school music and was a saxophonist for a brief stint from 4th to 9th grade. “I was in chorus and band. I played Alto Sax. I didn’t keep it up the whole time and I thought it was primarily because no one ever introduced me to Coltrane or the late Jazz greats. My parents never sat me down and said ‘you are playing in the tradition of…’ So I thought it was just something really corny because I didn’t really know the history of jazz and if I had I probably would have stuck with it. If I had known it had come from such a cool place I would have stuck with it.

“But I was in chorus until 12th grade. We had a gospel choir and my father pastured a church so I was always in church choir as well. But then I was always learning how to make beats and I’ve really taught myself a lot over the past couple years.

Saul mainly composes on a Yamaha EX5, a midi keyboard with a sequencer that runs into a Roland PS1680, a digital 16-track recorder. He says, “Sometimes when I want a live feel, I’ll record from the speakers. I’ll mic the speakers, instead of running from one computer into another it’ll get it from an outside source and take in the room sound and come out much cooler.”

On the track, “Control Freak” Saul put a real hi-hat to use in syncopation with the digital beats. “The crazy thing about that song is that the drums are programmed and the hi-hat was real. I think it’s important to have a real feel in it. Even “Telegram” is a loop but on top of it I played this Theremin sounding thing live which made the whole thing sound live. There’s always elements of live stuff mixed in with the programmed stuff to give it a weird/cool feel.”

Oddly enough, Saul got some advice in song structure from Rick Rubin while preparing to record Amethyst Rock Star. “Song structure stuff I learned from studying what I was listening to. I’m learning more of my music theory now, probably because I have the attention span to learn it now. For me the best way to study song structure was to study my favorite bands. When I was working with Rick Rubin he handed me the Beatles White album and said, ‘you’re a great writer, but songwriting is a bit different. I want you to study good song structure.’ So I sat with that for ages and was like okay. Then started hearing Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone and even Radiohead and started to realize what’s happening here.’

“Cause’ what’s awesome with the jazz cats, getting into Coltrane and Miles and stuff is that these cats took the form and riffed on it. It wouldn’t be as amazing if they hadn’t taken the time to learn the form, you know? The learning process is an essential part of it; you can’t just tear it apart. It’s really awesome to think of it in those terms of just like learning and not learning and like, yeah, ‘that’s why everybody goes through learning the technique and the structure.’ Even if that’s not the way you plan on playing or plan on learning it because it seems totally uncool to you. Once you know that structure it’ll free you up in so many ways to get beyond it. That is what I think the power of bands like Radiohead. They are all studied musicians you know? And they’re like ‘screw what we studied’ because they can afford to say that because they are studied.

“And then there is the other end, getting into the history of black music, where you have the blues and most of these guys learned to play by ear. And I think there is great beauty in that too.”

http://www.saulwilliams.com