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Topic: da bookman on music for 2005

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    You Remember Back, Back In '79? Nah Nah Nah http://www.musicforamerica.org/node/98493 By da bookman on December 19, 2005 - 10:27am. Welcome to the 87th edition of The Run-Off Groove. I am John Book, and this is your favorite shit. Has the last ten years been the worst time ever in hip-hop? The "internet era", beginning in 1995 during the onslaught of the Wu-Tang Clan, is still underway, but the integrity of the music since then has been questioned many times over the years, in magazines, in newspapers, in online forums, and on television. The music has been around for many years, fought its way through mainstream acceptance and struggled through self-examination in the late 80's and early 90's. The fad that would not end made it through its initial ten years of mainstream exposure, but the dawn of the 90's put the question "is this the end?" on everyone's minds. The seeds of what was to come for the next few years were planted, be it lyrically, musically, and visually. Early rap videos were basic productions, low-budget fare when the rock guys were getting massive money for their music videos. Rap music, early on, was promoted and supported through the music, the video was just icing on the cake. You had a small handful of movies, but movies were at times seen as life ("Krush Groove") or death ("Disorderlies"). Why risk either when you can rely on your music to get by? Imagery? That was left to the album (or cassette) cover, and the music. As rap music became a moneymaker for the majors, the focus began to change. Now, a hip-hop group could (keyword "could", as in "it was possible", a decent "maybe") have a video budget close to the heavy metal guys. Heavy metal was becoming too big and pretty, it was time for the ugliness, a time to go back to the roots. And thus the big GRUNGE ROCK movement was born. It may not be talked about too much, but grunge also coincided with an era in rap music that has now become a cherished time, perhaps the "bonus beats" part of the golden era. They indirectly worked together, creating a passion for both types of music allowing fans to look back at what came before, but also be supportive of the new shit. There was a period in rap music's history in the early 1990's where artists were talking about the "bootleg beatdown", and how "it might blow up, but we won't go pop", "pop goes the weasel", keeping to the integrity of the music and the community in which helped create the support system. No one ever wanted to be too popular, for that would be a risk to the music, to taint the formula, to ruin the integrity. N.W.A and Ice-T captured the hearts of the listener, but also caused fear. It was a different perspective of what was familiar to people, and that caused a bit of tension. Yet those who were wiser knew that the music was just music. For a brief moment, it was treated equally. Before there was "gangsta" there was "hardcore", and "hardcore" meant it had dirty words. It was a bit more rough. Even if you were a hardcore Kool G. Rap & DJ Polo or 2 Live Crew fan, you had a place in your heart for a little DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince or Three Times Dope. You may have been into the collegiate wit of Young MC, but you also loved how raw Geto Boys were. King Tee was dope, but so was Master Ace. Then the internet came. There are a lot of ways to head into this argument. You cannot deny the impact rap music has made in the last ten years. It may have been sparked when KRS-One turned the simplistic "rap music" into the god-like "hip-hop". Hip-hop was not a term you threw around lightly, it was mentioned with pride, and yet KRS-One stated more or less that "if you are, then be". If you make rap music, then you are hip-hop. Suddenly, anyone who could recite a rap from The Fruity Pebbles commercial were now getting contracts. The internet helped fans discover each other, and allowed fans to discuss what was hot and what wasn't, in a manner that was very much like a big wall of graffiti. It wasn't just the wall by the corner store around the wall, it was global. The discussions were healthy. What it became is anything but. Who am I to say if what has become is worse? I'm just a fan. I'm a participant. One of the biggest influences in my own music is rap music. Is it me just getting old, simply one of those old fools at the park playing chess, wondering why things aren't as good as "they used to be"? Or by me becoming older, perhaps a bit more mature, do I have any say in the change? The music has definitely changed in the last 26 years, from a time when radio stations would refuse to play an R&B song with a brief rap in it, to where now rappers have become "R&B stars", which in literal terms means "almost as legitimate as a singer, but we'll let you pass because you obviously entertain some people, and we obviously make money off of your entertainment". Did rap music change when it suddenly accepted hip-hop as an all-encompassing term? Or did hip-hop become an ugly beast when it smelled success, and it wanted to have the same respect and treatment as Hollywood? Is this why every other hip-hop video is a take off of another movie? To me, it almost seemed the the limits that did not exist before were now put into place, there were guidelines and not many could go further. The template was created, and like a joint it was passed around. If it was anything different from the new "accepted norm", it was too collegiate, too white, too backpacker. Yet even in the early days, when Run-DMC were calling themselves the "King Of Rock" and letting people know that there were three of them and "not The Beatles", you had Schooly-D proclaiming "no more rock'n'roll". There was a sense of wanting to keep this music a thinly-veiled secret, even though it was well known in the mid-1980's. By then, it seemed no one in the mainstream really gave a shit about this music, that someone like UTFO were nothing more than a modern day Coasters. In other words, catchy but with no value. At the same time, who didn't want to share the feelings and emotions one had when they heard a great song? It was only a matter of time, not if but when. I remember seeing LL Cool J on American Bandstand doing "I Can't Live Without My Radio" at a time when the people on the radio were Duran Duran and The Go Go's. It was a time in music history when MTV was already making an impact, new wave was getting old, hard rock became the "accepted voice" of course who were allowed to speak (read "those of us who weren't considered people with disposable income"). Soul music was suffering a bit too, although Prince was someone who helped in giving it a jump start at the right time. In time, rap music would flirt with the spotlight before taking it all for itself. Maybe when it did grab the spotlight, it exploited itself for what it was worth because now the music was accepted. "Accepted" in the sense that all of the major labels could not avoid its impact and influence on youth culture, and youth culture are those with the greatest amount of disposable income. Give the kids what they want, and then give them more. On top of that, give them more variations. Even if it's crap, if you find the right team to help you promote it, there's a good chance it will sell big. I think what has changed is that there were unspoken standards, and when someone felt like they had been broken, someone would speak out. As juvenile as it might sound now, it was great to know that we looked up to someone with knowledge, to someone who had the word knowledge in his name, and we were in favor of him pushing the guy from PM Dawn offstage. I think those unspoken standards has morphed into what is considered "accepted", and it's more of a money game than "spitting game", in the sense that your value was measured by your flow and lyrics. There are a lot of rappers out today who have neither, and many others who lack both. The standard in which to "have style" and "be original" almost doesn't exist, partially because the target audience today were too young or not even born when style and originality meant everything. When you think of style and finesse, a part of it had to do with the presentation of the artist onstage and on the album cover. But if we saw someone with the jewels and the women on the cover, they best have the lyrics and flow to prove it. It was a way of saying "we're spending $8.99 on your tape, make me nod my head to your shit". If it failed, it would be a wad of Kleenex in the hole on the top of the cassette and used to record something off the radio, it was that simple. The standard that I once held with value has disappeared. Yet I have been around long enough to know what is good and what isn't. I am a mere opinion over a million, and why do I continue to fight for this? Because this "rap thing", this immortal "hip-hop thing" has been something similar to a movement. It moved me, and I continue to seek that movement. To constantly look for what moves me, to forever look for that perfect beat, I seek it all the time (and I mean seek, not 'Seek as in Soulseek). When I find it, I want people to know how I feel, to perhaps share the movement of that groove. The following is a list of the albums which moved me in 2005. Keep in mind that I did not get a chance to hear every single hip-hop album this year, it is a list of what I have heard. Most of these I reviewed in The Run-Off Groove, and for various reasons they made this one of the best years for music, period. My selections are my own. No one swayed me to pick them, no one gave me payola or peyote, I did not select them due to any affiliation with anyone. In no particular order: Access Immortal-Shades Of Reality (Early Spotter) Ambidex-The Great Potato Famine (Early Spotter) Anomaly-The Long Road (SGE) [b:26af8c079b]Archetype-Bleed For Them (Datura)[/b:26af8c079b] Bad Seed-Dirty Urine (Draft) Boom Bap Project-Reprogram (Rhymesayers) Can-U-A Stepping Stone (Can-U) Common-Be (Geffen) Edgar Allen Floe-True Links (MCEO) G.U.N.-The Greedy Ultimate E.P. (World Of Beats) Little Brother-The Minstrel Show (ABB/Atlantic) Majik Most-Molesting Hip-Hip: The Official Mix Tape (Domination) Med-Push Comes To Show (Stones Throw) Mike Boo-Dunhill Drone Committee (Alpha Pup) Mr. Greenwood & G.Riot-G-Strings (All Natural) Othello-Elevator Music (Syntax) The Pacifics-Sunday's Chicken (All Natural) Paris Zax-Unpath'd Waters (Alpha Pup) Prefuse 73-Surrounded By Silence (Warp) The Primeridian-Da Allnighta (All Natural) Princess Superstar-My Machine (K7) Ricci Rucker-FUGA (Alpha Pup) Shed Light-Perseverance (Early Spotter) [b:26af8c079b]Soundsgood-Biscuits & Gravy (Innate Sounds)[/b:26af8c079b] Written Prisms-Ellipsis (Written Prisms) Z-Trip-Shifting Gears (Hard Left/Hollywood) As you can see, the above albums are a nice mixture of music rooted from hip-hop, directly or indirectly. I listened to them, then wanted to listen to them again, and again, and again. None of them became boring. I think what became difficult for me was trying to figure out which albums stood out from the rest. That's one partial reason why I didn't want to number the list of albums above, because to me they were all equally good. Yet there were five others which managed to define, for me, what hip-hop is all about. There is no such thing as the perfect rap album, but for me, these albums came very close: 6. Atmosphere-You Can't Imagine How Much Fun We're Having (Rhymesayers) This came out a few months after Slug dropped his Felt 2 project, so I was already on a major high by the time this surfaced. As he says in the first track, he's just a man who loves rap, and along with producer Ant, You Can't Imagine How Much Fun We're Having is the kind of album we all hoped would one day surface when we were younger. Slug looks at everyone who has influenced him along the way, and in turn becomes a representative for the music he would embrace and the community which allowed him to develop his skills. The stream of consciousness which runs through this album may not be absorbed upon first listen, but once deciphered, one begins to understand its greatness. 5. Blackbird-Bird's Eye View (Alpha Pup) The mystery may be in the mask in which Blackbird wears, but perhaps the mask is one in which we wear as well. Bird's Eye View is an album which forms and shapes an emotion as soon as the music, beats, and lyrics are heard, and one can't help but want to go along for the ride. Blackbird explores the world around him, and questions everything, including the reasons why he is the way he is. The album travels through various tales of isolation, depression, and occasional bursts of happiness, and by the end he exhausts all avenues before coming to a hopeful conclusion. 4. Felt 2: A Tribute To Lisa Bonet (Rhymesayers) From punk to funk (and we're not talking about Fatboy Slim), Slug and Murs unite for the sake of dropping straight up dope shit. The succcess of an EP they did together lead them and producer Ant to come up with a full length project. The label called them two of the "most charismatic", and while a bold claim, one can't listen to these 15 tracks and not think of that phrase. Fans of both MC's will love the way they bounce back and forth with each other, with songs that will make you listen, nod, dance, and laugh at the same time. It's hard to listen to "Morris Day" and not smile. 3. Kanye West-Late Registration (Roc-A-Fella) His sense of sarcasm in a genre which at times relies on one's slyly-promoted reality is oddly mistaken as hardcore truth. Yet away from the clever means of promotion is a set of songs that hold up from start to finish. His ease with flirting with street cred and pop accessibility at the same time (sometimes in the same song) while making fun of everyone and himself is one of his redeeming qualities, along with lyrics that make you think, that "oh shit" factor. Kanye knows where he came from, knows where he's been, and fully embraces where he is now, without forgetting any of the avenues and pathways. It is very easy for him to record songs that have some sense of accessibility, and then he comes up with "Crack Music", where he shows his talents as a rapper, lyricist, and producer with the kind of effort that comes off as if it was effortless. 2. Quasimoto-The Further Adventures Of Lord Quas (Stones Throw) Quasimoto is the kind of martian that the U.S. government is afraid of, one of those weird looking organisms that might be mutate into something greater if one is not too careful. His blue fur allows him to absorb all types of pakalolo smoke from all sources, entering the kind of rooms with displays of sexual intercourses. Find a bit of that lava lamp juice and let it goosh, Quas got the kind of rhymes more twisted than a Nike swoosh. Discoveries aren't too careful, stink and funky like a Fisherman's Wharf, kefe ai mule one two three and fourf. Can one imagine Quas in old school quadraphonic, can one imagine Quas in all three members of the group who sang "Supersonic"? Lamb pie and lamb post, overdose in lotion with belly button lint, Judge Mablean is hot, I'd slap that ass like a Portagee named Clint. Remember Biz Markie's "Vapors", I think Quas' DNA is made of it, locked up real tight with the smell of a hooker's leg pit. Snapple in a homemade bong, with Katey Sagal passing peace pipes, what the hell is up with that weird mohawk in "New Jack City" worn by Wesley Snipes? Dora Montelongo is not related to Frank Longo, or that group who was on Luaka Bop, King Chango. If you like leave then you tell 'em go hele, by the way go to Gulick's and around the corner a bag of pastele. Talk to the Filipino chicken owner who with with city and county, better watch out hide meth if you hear about Dog The Bounty. Hung up and strung out on luudes, not unlike your mom who was in a train with two dudes, which is why when I'm up in her she acts like a prude, yet she praises the dilsack when I'm not even half nude. I trim kolas like your mom takes care of trim for the neighbors, Jim is what she calls it and I yell out golly as I pull out my razors. Tongue kissing, spelling ABC's one by one like Sam Kinison, sprinkle sugar powder angel dusted Dolly Madison. Cece Peniston, no I see see chichis, it's fun to grab and squeeze I raise my hands, I'm not too preachy. Bills to pay, ballerinas to lay, you smell like a wet dog Frito-Lay. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The moment I made it through this next album, I had a funny feeling it would make it on top at the end of the year. 1. Blueprint-1988 (Rhymesayers) This is the strongest album of the year, and the reasons are many. If you haven't heard it, buy it immediately and let his words and productions absorb in your pores. If you have heard it and know damn well why this is the best album of the year, take it out and play it again. Blueprint is someone who knows the power of the microphone, the honor in which to be able to hold it and speak as the lessons are conducted from the mic into the speaker. To be able to rhyme well and produce tight tracks that stand out on its own merits is exceptional, and so is this album. (NOTE: My original review of 1988 can be found at Rap Reviews.) -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Before I head out, a quick review: Impulsive!: Revolutionary Reworked (Impulse) is a new remix album where various producers had the luxury of getting into the label's vaults and manipulating some of their favorite songs. Impulse is one of my all-time favorite jazz labels, not only for their output of John Coltrane but for the music of such artists as Charles Mingus, Pharoah Sanders and Yusef Lateef among others. This album features some great interpretations by some of my favorite producers, including Kid Koala (who handles Lateef's "Bamboo Flute Blues"), Blackalicious' Chief Xcel (turning Archie Shepp's "Attica Blues" into a modern-day soul track), and Prefuse 73 (making Gabor Szabo's "Mizrab" into one of the album's highlights). Jazz purists may be turned off by a tactic which may be considered sacrilegious, and that is to even think of touching (or in this case retouching) someone else's genius. Remix and production junkies may gripe at the selection of songs that were used, since there are so many which could have been done with greater results (The RZA's remix of Mingus' "II B.S." is a perfect example), but what I like about all of the songs is that they were done with love and care for the creativity in the originals. I do hope that if Impulse is willing to allow younger kids to go through the vaults, they will continue on releasing and remastering older albums on CD, and not keep them just internet-only downloads. I think fans, both old and new, deserve better, especially for one of the greatest jazz labels to have ever existed. I definitely look forward to a second Impulse remix project. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- That's it. Next week I will end 2005 in... well, I don't know right now but I'll try to wrap up this crazy year in some fashion. If you have music you would like for me to review, e-mail me at johnbook9 [at] yahoo [dot] com and I will pass along my contact information. P.S. If anyone would like to donate a hard drive to me, it would be greatly appreciated. To everyone who has supported my column for the last 87 entries, and to all of my people back home, a big Mele Kalikimaka & Hau'oli Makahiki Hou. Happy Holidays, Happy Krimble, and let's have Christmas manapua. Mahalo nui and malama pono. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- LATE ADDITION: December 20, 2005, 9:20am. Someone read my list and knowing the kind of hip-hop I like, noted the omission of a certain album. I thought it came out in late 2004, thus the reason for it not being on the list. I went to take a look and apparently it came out in March of this year, the same month that Blueprint's album was released. Because of this, I have to make an essential addition: EDAN-Beauty And The Beat (Lewis) I know Edan has been a critic's favorite in the last year, but what got to me more than anything was the cover art: C'mon, that's funny. It looks like one of those custom made pressings you'd find at yard or garage sales, right down to the cardboard covers, but the music has much more than just a homemade appeal. Then again, that's what makes it work, the fact that it may sound "down home" (purists can hold back from the hate right now) but with a different perspective to the situation. What I look for is clever lyrics, wit, and comprehension, along with a funky landscape, not unlike a Kentucky Fried Chicken dinner where you pour gravy on the rice. Yes, it's exactly like that. The album is short and to the point, and for some it may be too brief in this era of 15 interludes and 64 cameos, but like Method Man's 1994 debut Tical (Def Jam), it's the perfect rap recipe with the precise elements. On the other hand, those who may not like things "left-of-center" may be taken aback, then again there may be many who may be taken aback by his skin tone and big hair. But as we were all taught in school, never judge a book by its cover. It hits hard when it wants, and shines like Ann Curry's hair.