Archives for posts with tag: Hip-Hop

Album Review: The Odd Tape, Oddisee  (Mello Music Group, May 2016)

oddtapeThe term beatmaker has been used to describe Amir Mohamed el Khalifa (a.k.a. Oddisee). Rapper and producer equally suit this prolific Washington D.C. artist. Whatever his classification, Oddisee has distinguished himself and his brainy brand of hip-hop through a mastery of beats, melody, and verse.

The Odd Tape is an instrumental release from last year and will soon be followed by his new album, The Iceberg (Mello Music Group, 2017).

The Odd Tape has 12 tracks showcasing the strong musicality that underpins Oddisee’s rap records. It’s not surprising el Khalifa cites Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul as influences, both pioneers in the use of melody within hop-hop. In fact, Oddisee seems very much modelled on the late J Dilla, perhaps the beatmaker for all time.

The Odd Tape features not only impeccable beats but also a mix of electronic and jazz instrumentation. On high rotation for me are the tracks “Brea” and “On the Table.” Some tracks are not unlike Terrace Martin’s excellent album, Velvet Portraits (Ropeadope, 2016). “Right Side of the Bed,” the only track with saxophone, is one of them.

The Iceberg drops on February 24, 2017. The first single, “Things,” is already making heads nod.

 

Related Listening:

A List of Withouts – My favourite track from Oddisee’s last album The Good Fight (Mello Music Group, 2015)

367 – from last month’s posthumous J Dilla release, Jay Dee’s Ma Dukes Collection (Yancey Media Group, 2016)

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Album Review: A Place Like This – EP, Majid Jordan (Ovo Sound/Warner Bros, 2014)

MJ500x500 On a business trip to Florida last year, an associate asked me where I was from and when I said Toronto, she said, “oh, so you must be friends with Drake.”

This went over my head at the time because she was a middle-aged Floridian who looked like her music library had plenty of Jimmy Buffet but nary a hint of hip hop. Turns out, she knew full well the notoriety that Drake (a.k.a. Aubrey Drake Graham) brought to my native city.

At the time, I hadn’t really explored Drake’s music. When I sampled his album, Nothing Was the Same (Cash Money Records, 2013), the two tracks that appealed most to me were the trancey “From Time feat. Jhene Aiko” and “Hold On We’re Going Home feat. Majid Jordan,” which hit number 1 on R&B charts last year.

Majid Jordan is a Toronto-based duo consisting of Majid Al Maskati and Jordan Ullman. Their debut EP, A Place Like This, offers more of the etherial vibe of that Drake track, with a grounding in R&B and an unabashed embrace of electronic music.

All five tracks on this EP are strong, with the title track and “Her” being the most immediately accessible. The entire EP, however has a consistent feel that makes it a quick end-to-end listen.

This project continues a promising trend in the interplay of R&B and electronic music. Acts like Jessie Ware, The Internet, Lulu James, and the excellent KING have all released soulful R&B tracks with electronic production that gives them newness without resorting to gimmickry. Also native sons of Toronto, it might be said that Al Maskati and Ullman labour in Drake’s shadow. A Place Like This surely gives Majid Jordan a place in the sun.

 

 

 

 

 

Album Review: RC & The Gritz, Pay Your Tab (Rexamillion Productions, November 2013)

payyourtabalbum-300px1RC & The Gritz is a Dallas TX based collective of R&B and Hip Hop musicians that is most famous for backing Erykah Badu from time to time. The band’s leader, RC Williams, is said to be Badu’s current musical director.

What drew me to this album was the cut featuring Badu on vocals, “Leave Me Alone,” which will surely and quickly climb numerous urban radio charts. It’s an instant classic in Badu’s repertoire and a track I had on repeat for a good dozen listens.

However, a marquee guest vocalist isn’t what makes this group’s recording debut, Pay Your Tab (Rexamillion, 2013) a record worth picking up. On the contrary, what gives this album staying power are the other tracks that showcase the substantial songwriting and musical talent of RC & The Gritz.

Pay Your Tab’s 11 tracks are solid, each in their own way. There are finger-snapping R&B cuts like “Summer Boo,” “Hush,” and “Melodies.” There is the darkly edgy hip-hop opener “C7#9,” a reggae track, “Love Love Love,” and even a cross-over pop-ready tune featuring Snoop Dogg and Raheem DeVaughn, “That Kinda Girl.”

It’s especially encouraging to me to see groups like this break out because the market for new music seems to be skewed to pop and a particularly shallow form of hip-hop. RC & The Gritz occupies a much smarter and musically advanced niche between R&B, Jazz, and Hip-Hop that is woefully underrepresented in today’s music. Kudos to Badu and the other backers of this project for giving this music a chance to spread and flourish.

The Players: RC “Rceeezy” Williams, keyboards/Vocals; Cleon Edwards, Drums; TaRon Lockett, percussion; Braylon “Brother B” Lacy, bass; Claudia Melton, vocals; and Jah Born, MPC (drum machine)

Album Review: Black Radio 2, Robert Glasper Experiment (Blue Note, 2013)

Robert-Glasper-Experiment-Black-Radio-2When Black Radio was released in early 2012, it made an immediate impact, upping the already respectable cool factor at Blue Note and delivering a surprisingly cohesive album for a hip-hop/R&B/jazz fusion project.

I was surprised to see a follow-up album, Black Radio 2, so soon after the first. To be this prolific in such a short time, one wonders what Glasper and his collaborators left on the table. Were they rushed because of the pressures of a multi-album deal? Did the success of Black Radio force his hand to replicate his formula without the same attention to detail?

None of these fears are founded. Black Radio 2, like its predecessor, delivers an impressive variety of jazz, hip-hop, and R&B. His collaborators are amazingly as diverse, notable, and suitable as with Black Radio.

The sound ranges from the Quiet Storm opener, “Baby Tonight” to the devotional closer, “Jesus Children” to the rousing rally cry of “I Stand Alone” featuring Common and Patrick Stump. Overall, R&B emerges as the dominant genre while Glasper’s distinctive piano feathers nearly every track.

A notable pattern on the album is that many tracks contain refrains or interludes that Glasper uses to varying effect — the best of which is Wayne Brady’s hysterical cameo phone message at the end of “Let it Ride,” sung by Norah Jones. And if you ever wondered what happened to Theo Huxtable, Malcolm Jamal Warner contributes to the spoken word outro on “Jesus Children.” On a more intense note, a reading from Georgetown University’s Michael Eric Dyson closes out “I Stand Alone.”

Thank God we’ve still got musicians and thinkers whose obsession with excellence and whose hunger for greatness reminds us that we should all be unsatisfied with mimicking the popular rather than mining the fertile veins of creativity that God placed deep inside each of us. – Michael Eric Dyson Interlude on “I Stand Alone”

Including this somewhat preachy missive reveals what may be Glasper’s inspiration for this album and its predecessor. Here is an accomplished jazz pianist who has stepped well outside the jazz genre. Black Radio 2 doesn’t really blur Jazz’ boundaries (like Herbie Hancock did) but may contribute to the expansion of what people perceive as jazz (like Guru did with his Jazzmatazz projects).

Musically, this album delivers so much good R&B that a debate over genre is quickly rendered inconsequential. These collaborators surely emptied out the pantheon of contemporary female vocal greats: Jill Scott, Faith Evans, Brandy, Norah Jones, Marcia Ambrosius, and Lalah Hathaway. Male vocalists Anthony Hamilton and Dwele also make solid contributions. On the Hip Hop front, Common, Snoop Dogg, and Lupe Fiasco appear (Fiasco wins extra points for incorporating F1 driver, “Kimi Raikkonen” into a rap verse).

The last time one man got this much talent to guest on his record, it was Quincy Jones.

Perhaps Glasper has risen to Dyson’s challenge, not by innovating and expanding on jazz, but by using his current standing at the apex of “jazz’ coolness” to attract A-list collaborators and make great music on his terms.

Related Posts: Black Radio, Album Review

Album Review: Black Radio, Robert Glasper Experiment, 2012

Robert Glasper is a jazz pianist who, with this outing, experiments with the fusion of jazz, hip-hop, and R&B. The experimentation in itself is not groundbreaking but the outcome is brilliant. Artists like Guru and Q-Tip have played in this space for some time but the freshness that Glasper brings is grounded in his piano accompaniments and tastefully chosen collaborations.

If rain were able to play the piano, it would sound like Robert Glasper. His style is unique, his fingers falling in succession on the keys, playing melodies in arpeggio. Listen to “Downtime” from his previous release, Double Booked, for a nice showcase of his style.

It’s that style that subtly forms a latticework of piano sounds around the vastly different and joyful tracks on Black Radio. Even before hearing the album, I was giddy to see this list of collaborators: Erykah Badu, Chrisette Michelle, Bilal, Mos Def, KING, and Ledisi all in one place!

The tracks themselves offer a range of style and even genre that keeps the record fresh on every listen. “Afro Blue” is classic Badu. “Move Love,” with KING, is a sublime groove rightfully featuring the beautiful vocals of that US-based trio. Perhaps the surprise of the lot is “Cherish the Day” a cover of a Sade song performed by Glasper and Lalah Hathaway. As a discerning Sade fan, I was skeptical. But this version retains the sparseness of Sade’s original while enhancing it tastefully with Hathaway’s take on the vocals and Glasper’s arrangement.

The one disappointment is the title track, which has moments of niceness but struggles to find a comfortable pairing of Mos Def’s rapping style with Glasper’s accompaniment. The final track, a lengthy cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is also hit and miss. Nirvana’s charms never resonated with me personally so this final criticism may more be my own bias then a comment on the track. It is admittedly an original take where Glasper pulls off an extended use of a vocoder. For this, he gets points for channelling Herbie Hancock.

Overall, this is a precious collection of well thought-through collaborations, original musicianship, and great melodies. It is substantial, which for a fusion project, is saying something.

(at press, this album is pending release on Feb 28, 2012)