May 30, 2006

A Nine to Five, just to Feed the Fam

What do you think is the biggest problem with hip-hop today?

Ghost: A lack of originality, that's it. Everybody's coming out the same.

Do you think that's changing? Is there anyone coming along right now that you're excited about?

Ghost: No, fuck hip-hop. I ain't feeling that shit right now. I don't even listen to hip-hop. I just do this shit because I gotta feed my family.

During a recent interview, Ghostface let it out. The secret. Cars, bitches, rims, booty, crack, skrilla. It's just the suit you put on before you go to work. Some punch time clocks, some wear ties, some rap. Honey, have you seen my yellow Jesus piece? Ya know, the ones that go with my Air Forces?

I don't care what KRS says. Rap is a job. A nine to five. You wake up and "just go through a bunch of beats and thats it." "You get the beats, you write to them, you go in the studio and lay it down. Hopefully a song comes out sounding good. If it comes out sounding good, you put it to the side with the rest of the other good ones, and you try to decide which ones you're gonna use on the album."

Period. End of story. Wake up. Rap. Go home. Pay bills. Tuck the kid in. Sleep. Repeat.

This is more than Ghostface lamenting his lack of commercial success. This is more than Ghost lamenting all of the coffee shop chicks and white dudes at his shows. This is more than Ghost lamenting over the success of Laffy Taffy. This is Ghostface revealing the game for what it is. A job.

Nothing in that equation is worth dying for.

Delfonics: La La Means I Love You (1968):

Side note:This reminds of Tarantino's Jackie Brown scene that reveals white-people-are-different-than-black people: Samuel Jackson: YOU like the Delfonics?

Robert Forster: Yeah....they're pretty good.

May 27, 2006

My Toolchest of Rhetorical Devices, An Introduction to the New World Order.

First day on the job. Play it safe. Wear something conservative. Red tie, you know, something classic. Just state the facts. The job is simple, the president makes the decisions, and he "explains those decisions to the press corps and the American people."

"Having said that, I don't want to hug the tar baby of trying to comment on the program -- the alleged program -- the existence of which I can neither confirm nor deny."

Umm what? "And would you put into English the phrase, 'hug the tar baby'?"

"Well, when we hug the tar baby -- we could trace that back to American lore."

Who's American lore is that? When you look here, tar baby seemed like the phrase to use. But, if you look here, Tony Snow should have consulted his thesaurus a little more thoroughly. Instead of apologizing, Tony gives up one of his weapons, "I'll probably take that out of my toolchest of rhetorical devices, rather than having to explain a hundred and fifty years of American culture...apparently some people are unfamiliar with the pathways of American culture, and don't realize the old Uncle Remus story where somebody hugs a tar baby."

You a slave to a page in my toolchest of rhetorical devices. Mr. Snow proved that he doesn't give a shit. Certified gangsta. He's speaking for his America. His boss' America. One hundred and fifty years of his history. One hundred and fifty years of his boss' history. That phrase may offend Americans. Not my Americans. Not my America. You know, the good ol' days.

Tar baby, please. I betcha Jed Clampett want his money back.

"The traces of the world order.
Time is getting shorter if we don't get prepared
People, it's gon' be a slaughter."

Goodie Mob: Soul Food (1995) -

May 26, 2006

A Legend is Lost. Desmond Dekker.

Desmond Dekker July 16th 1941 - May 26th 2006

``He was the first reggae superstar ... When Desmond had his first hit 'Israelites,' nobody had ever heard of Bob Marley. He was one of the nicest, gentlest persons on Earth.''

Desmond Dekker died suddenly of a heart attack today. Reggae has lost an elder statesman. Desmond was the first reggae artist that I really began listening to. He introduced me to the rhythm and soul of reggae and rocksteady. Life was a simple concept. "Keep a Cool Head." "Honor your Mother and Father." "This is the time that we all should live as one, brothers."

There's nothing wrong with simplicity. Written years ago, his songs still ring true today. He brought an innocence and stark reality to his music. He introduced his white audiences to the ravages of third world poverty. Beyond that beach resort, there are people slavin just for a piece of bread. All while you couldn't keep from dancing.

Them a loot,
Them a shoot,
Them a wail.
At Shanty Town.
When rude boy deh pon probation,
Then rude boy a bomb up the town.

Sadly, still rings true. A legend. He will be missed. Don't sleep. Don't forget.
The Best of Desmond Dekker: Rockin' Steady:

May 25, 2006

I put on my Adidas, headed out the door, As I pictured myself eatin more and more.

Investing in our future is tough. It takes time. Effort. Oh yeah, and some money too. We may not see results tomorrow, but persistence will pay off. When I first read this, I thought the NYC Department of Health was on to something. It's hard to eat healthy when you got two dollars in your pocket. One tropical fantasy, a dollar sandwich, a bag of Utz, and a Oatmeal Cream. Tropical is a fruit right?

Recently, the Journal of the American Medical Association released data from a thirty year study that shows poverty is one of the greatest risk factors for childhood obesity. Skipping breakfast and a heavy reliance on calories from sugar were cited as major contributors. Can I get some ketchup on my bacon-egg-n-cheese? That's another vegetable.

Access to healthy, comparably priced food options are few to nil in the Bronx. Take a walk. So, what is the city looking at doing? Fighting the "underground...segment of society" that bombs the trains. Graffiti. Twenty-five million dollars. That's one thousand times one thousand times twenty-five.

Scapegoat. The underworld as the enemy. Hip-Hop. Diabetes will not only slowly kill us, it will eat away our valuable health care dollars. Geriatric diseases are becoming pediatric diseases. Insulin, dialysis, hacked limbs, blindness will all soon be commonplace. Unfortunately, diabetes is an insidious disease, slowly altering your physiology. I need my solution now. Right now.

Spending money now on what matters will pay dividends in the future. An investment. We're already spending billions.

Fat Boys: Crushin' (1987):
How many kiddies know what a thousand times one million is?

May 24, 2006

Who Shot Ya? Who Cares?

Does this still work? You heard it here first. Future Gravy mixtape title:
"Too Hot for Hot 97."

"With Gravy's music taken out of rotation at NYC's premier radio station after a shooting incident, catch the kid on this CD!" Give me a break.

This is just getting ridiculous. Originality. Where have you gone? Maybe, it has something to do with this. Let's worry about real issues. Let's leave our mark on the world. Let's make use of what was left for us, and do something with it.

Notorious BIG and Frank Sinatra: Blue Eyes Meets Bed-Stuy:

May 22, 2006

The Voice of Protest: Diggin in the Crates.

Hip-Hop. Angry with everything. We hate haters. We'll ether our musical nemesis. We hate swagger jackers. We'll start a beef to sell some records.

No WMD's. Slept on it. Katrina. Slept on it. Bush approval ratings. Slept on it. A dialogue on race. Slept on it. A dialogue on immigration. Still sleepin. To answer MTV's question, I started diggin in the crates.

Real anger. Directed at the issues that need to be heard. Influencing fans to think outside of the entertainment box, albeit for three minutes. It's a start. These songs represent feelings distilled and translated via music. Coltrane didn't even need words to express his anger over church bombings in Alabama, "It represents, musically, something that I saw down there translated into music from inside me." What more can we ask for?

We have a lot to learn. Music can be a catalyst to action. Music helps us remember. Don't sleep.

1 - I Can't Write Left Handed - Bill Withers
2 - Compared to What - Les McCann and Eddie Harris
3 - No More War - Burning Spear
4 - Get Down - War
5 - Underground - Curtis Mayfield
6 - The Ballad of Hollis Brown - Nina Simone
7 - You Can Have Watergate But Gimme Some Bucks and I'll Be Straight Pt. 1 - Fred Wesley
8 - Money Money - Horace Andy
9 - Colored Town - Phil Ochs
10 - You Haven't Done Nothin - Stevie Wonder
11 - Someday We'll All Be Free - Donny Hathaway
12 - Alabama - John Coltrane

May 16, 2006

Bushwick Bill and the Geto Boys. A Nightmare of Depravity.

Bushwick Bill: Phantom of the Rapra (1995)
Geto Boys: Resurrection (1996)

The economic and political mood was right. Bill Clinton was in office. The Republican think tank needed to get the people thinking Republican again. The Republican think tank needed a distraction. Minorities. Violence. Sex.

Harkening back to the days of book-burning and fire and brimstone, Bob Dole, Delores Tucker and William Bennett began an attack on America's "nightmare of depravity." Rap became the enemy. The reason. The scapegoat. Suburbia was safe no more.

Or was this merely a reaction to the third world conditions in our back yards? No longer out of sight, out of mind. The 5th Ward, the South Bronx, Cabrini Green, Watts, East New York, East St Louis. The questions weren't asked and swift solutions were enacted. Burning rap records. Prominent politicians severing ties to record companies. Palliation. Band-aids on a gaping gun-shot wound.

Scarface fumed, “All I'm trying to do is tell my side of the story. This Dole muthafucka, is telling his side, so let me tell mine." Of all people, Bob Dole brought the Geto Boys out of hiatus. Willie D was suing Rap-A-Lot, but Bob Dole trumped their petty financial differences. Their voices needed to be heard. "Babyface and Luther Vandross are always talking about fuckin! In rap songs we at least talk about slapping on a condom, but all those guys are about is buck-naked fun- so who's the biggest villains? Is it us who kick reality, or them talking about sex? People should just accept it for what it is, which is music."

The moral: When America becomes involved in issues it should not become involved in, things go the way America did not intend. Rwanda, Iraq, Rap music, etc, etc, etc.

The Geto Boys finally had a mission. A message. They had focused their anger:

Jumpin’ on the rap bandwagon ain’t helpin’ it
You need to be concerned about the motherfuckin’ deficit
I’m the type of nigga throw a party when the flag burn
I’m at the point of no return

This focus resulted in an album full of not merely scare tactics, but political fury, education, and rage. Peep the Boy's remake of War's the World is a Ghetto (Bushwick's best verse, by far). Bushwick's new found energy and purpose came through in his solo record and his interviews at the time:

"Well, Bob Dole is trying to use the Geto Boys, 2 Live Crew, Cannibal Corpse, and the movie Natural Born Killers to get elected into the White House by saying that it's all senseless, mindless violence--senseless violence and mindless sex was the exact interpretation. So, this is the same man who has Senator Packwood as one of the chief executives of his campaign, who was filed for sexual harassment and molestation. He's trying to ban me for what I say, but his people are living out physical actions. This man [Packwood] actually did this. I'm talking about things that I've read, seen, or heard. This man actually committed sexual harassment, and he works for Bob Dole, who's coming against my music. And Senator Bob Dole was the same person who about eight months ago had an opportunity to ban semi-automatic weapons to be in pawn shops and be available to average citizens. He passed a bill to keep semi-automatic weapons on the street, but says my music is dangerous. Now, I give one of you a Bushwick Bill tape and give the other a semi-automatic weapon, which one do you think kills? My music is entertainment with information. A semi-automatic weapon in the hands of a fool or anybody intelligent can slip and kill. My tape can't. If it slips it'll break you have to buy another one. So him making semi-automatic weapons available to teenagers and saying music shouldn't be heard is not only immoral, but unconstitutional because it's freedom of speech. But then again, f--- the Constitution because the Constitution declared black people three-fifths human, which was equal to an ox or a cow, which was a field animal. So, basically we were exempt from the Bill Rights so f--- the government and f--- anybody that thinks I can't say what I want to say 'cause I don't give a f--- about how they feel, 'cause I'd rather be hated for who I am than loved for what I'm not."

Geto Boys: Resurrection
Bushwick Bill: Phantom of the Rapra

May 12, 2006

Timeless. The Legacy of Stevie Wonder. 5/13/1950

His best records outshine most musician's careers. He changed the shape of rhythm and blues and popular music forever. He advocated for the voiceless, before it was the thing to do. He could sing. He could play the drums. He could play the keys. He could wow a crowd. He continues to wow us. Put on a Stevie record and listen. Really listen.

Here are some of my favorite Stevie moments on record:
-The skit from Livin' for the City, followed by the angriest Stevie ever.
-The abrupt funky turn during the last minute of I Believe (When I Fall in Love it Will Be Forever).
-"Baby, you understand that? Well, I don't understand how you can't. Because, I've been to like, you know, Paris, Peru, you know, Iraq, Iran, Eurasia. You know, I speak very fluent Spanish. Todo esta bien. Chevere."
-I learned that the first clock made in America was made by a Black man.
-"I don't even have to do nothin to you. You'll cause your own country to fall."

It's impossible to measure the impact Stevie Wonder has had on American music and popular culture. His impact may best be realized by this Langston Hughes quote:
"There are people (you have probably noted it also) who have the unconscious faculty of making the world spin around themselves, throb and expand, contract and go dizzy.....

In the chemistry lab at school, did you ever hold a test tube, pouring in liquids and powders and seeing nothing happen until a certain liquid or a certain powder is poured in, and then everything begins to smoke and fume, bubble and boil, hiss to foam, and sometimes even explode? The tube is suddenly full of action and movement and life. Well, there are people like those certain powders; at a given moment they come into a room, or into a town, even into a country---and the place is never the same again. Things bubble, boil, change. Sometimes the world is changed."

Songs in the Key of Life
Disc 1:
Disc 2:
Music of My Mind
Talking Book
Fulfillingness' First Finale

May 10, 2006

The Wonder of Stevie

The Wonder of Stevie. Mixed by DJ Spinna and Bobbito.

They don't come around to often. But, once they land, they're with you forever. Armstrong, Ellington, Brown, Wonder. Carriers of the title "genius."

That's it. As Jay would say, "What more can I say?" Listen to some Stevie. It's good for the soul. If you're in NYC, let's celebrate together at the WONDER-full party, hosted by Spinna and Bobbito. Here's a preview. An album of 15 artists' renditions of Stevie tunes.

What's better than a club that plays nothin but Stevie? Exactly.

The Wonder of Stevie:

Wish Stevie a Happy Birthday with Spinna and Bobbito, 5/13/2006:

May 08, 2006

Charles Wright, N.W.A., and Walter Mosley. Out of the Ashes.

Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band: Express Yourself (Best of)
N.W.A.: Straight Outta Compton (1988)
In physics, they say, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Thankfully, the human world works quite differently.

August 11, 1965. A routine police stop. Drunken driver. African-American. Fast-forward one week. 34 dead, 200 million dollars in damage, a neighborhood torn apart, and a nation asking, Why?"

Charles Wright wrote a song. Not just a song, Express Yourself. Out of the ashes of a burned neighborhood, shattered dreams, racist cops, heavy pessimism, and general hopelessness, Charles Wright found that one sliver of hope. A beat. That primal urge to forget your troubles and shake that ass. However, this was even deeper. The power structure of Los Angeles (to quell themselves), came up with a 25 year plan for the social and economic development of South Central LA. You guess how that turned out. Charles defied that plan; come up with your own plan:

What ever you do, do it good. What ever you do, do it good. All right...
It’s not what you look like, when you’re doin´ what you’re doin´.
It’s what you’re doin´ when you’re doin´ what you look like you’re doin´!
Express Yourself! Express Yourself!

Some people have everything, and other people don’t.
But everything don’t mean a thing if it ain´t the thing you want.
Fast forward 23 years after the beginning of the 25 year plan, and you have yet another clue that that plan was more political maneuvering. NWA. White mothers, lock up your daughters. This wasn't about waiting anymore. You want somethin? Take it. NWA sampled Express Yourself and morphed it into a song of violent protest. The embers of 1965 were still burning.
Walter Mosley, 13 years old at the time of the riots, channeled his thoughts, rage, and feelings through his book, Little Scarlett. Another addition to his classic Easy Rawlins mystery series, set in post riot LA. Read a book.
As a side note, peep this statement from Charles Wright:
“The original, African-based gift of music to America is among this country’s greatest national treasures. However, the legacy of this gift is not being coveted as it should.

The most horrifying aspect of this situation is that the very musicians whom the young artists of today are imitating, sampling and – in the worst case scenarios – diluting, are systematically being phased out with each passing day. Many of them are dying in undeserved poverty and obscurity. Sadder still is that many people don’t even realize or care that this is happening. And the ones who do have some knowledge of the situation don’t have the guts to say or do anything about it. Anyone who cares to delve deeper into this will discover that the further we venture from the truth, the more confused we will become as a people, as a country and, ultimately, as a world."
Wow. I hope Charles is gettin paid.

May 05, 2006

J Dilla. You're gonna want me back.

J Dilla. Donuts (2006)
Jay Dee. Welcome 2 Detroit (2001)
J Dilla's album has a way of finding you when you need it. Released merely three days before his untimely passing, Donuts became J Dilla's greatest triumph of beat concoction.

He showed us that hip hop still had soul. Heart. Feeling. As I listened to Donuts, I realized J Dilla was saying goodbye. "I can't stand to see you cry." "You're gonna miss me..." "Broken and blue...." "Just because I really love you." This is modern blues at its finest; capturing the highs and lows of walking this earth. The somber "Time: Donut of the Heart" gives way to the kinetic horns and bass of "Glazed." J Dilla transcended his disease and gave the world Donuts. Make that negative a positive. This album didn't need rappers gettin in the way. Here's the soundtrack to your day.

Welcome 2 Detroit captures Dilla during happier times, working with local Detroit MC's. Dilla takes his turn on the mic as well. Peep his reworking of Donald Byrd's classic Think Twice (from 1974 record Stepping into Tomorrow) and his Kraftwerk inspired Big Booty Express (Trans-Europe Express). Pure electro-hip hop crack.



Welcome 2 Detroit:

May 02, 2006

David Axelrod. A tribute to the white men that incorporated black music into their vision, without exploiting it. Part 1.

David Axelrod: Songs of Innocence (1968)
David Axelrod: Songs of Experience (1969)
Cannonball Adderley: Mercy, Mercy, Mercy! (1966) produced by David Axelrod
David Axelrod: David Axelrod (2001)
David Axelrod was a rare musician. He had a vision, and he saw it to fruition. Did he take a little from the rhythm of Stax? Sure. Did he take some soundscapes from chamber music. Yes. Did he learn a bit from the arrangements of Ellington. Yes, again. However, unlike the Jolson's, Presley's, K-Fed's, Vanilla Ice's, Matisyahu's, Snow's, etc., he gave back.

Listen to Axelrod's music. You have never heard anything like it before. Unless you listen to DJ Shadow, Madlib, and a slew of hip hop's finest. Known more for his incorporation into hip hop, Axelrod was an enigma during his heyday. He made his mark in the game producing jazz records. Peep Cannonball Adderley's Mercy, Mercy, Mercy! The soul-jazz record. He spread his gospel with his horn. Cannonball was a monster on the alto. He made jazz fun. Yes, there was the burdgeoning sound of free jazz, yes, there were the jazz critics. But, there has always been the funk. And Cannon brings it.

Axelrod's first two solo records (below in one file) are a cinematic, soulful, beautiful trip. One listen and you know this guy wasn't getting any radio play. You know this guy didn't want any radio play. He made his music. Period. That's keepin' it real.

The final eponymous album is Axelrod putting the finishing touches on a record from 1969 that was never finished. Lou Rawls makes a chilling, powerful appearance Ras Kass opens the disc. Axelrod was content to play the background. The guy behind the sound. Neither black nor white. No commercials, no record deal advance, no sex appeal, no street cred, no bullet holes. Just plain and simple music.

Songs of Innocence/Songs of Experience:

David Axelrod (2001):

Mercy, Mercy, Mercy!:

Keepin' it Real

"Of course you know I feel like the bearer of bad news.
Don't want to be it, but it's needed so what have you?
Now question. Is every nigga wit dreads for the cause?
Is every nigga wit gold for the fall?
Naw. So don't get caught up in appearances."

May 01, 2006

An Unjust World, Exhibit D: Zane and Teri Woods are both considered literary figures. Chester Himes is not.

''I would sit in my room and become hysterical about the wild incredible story I was writing. And I thought I was writing realism. It never occurred to me that I was writing absurdity. Reality and absurdity are so similar in the lives of American blacks one cannot tell the difference.'' - Chester Himes

Cotton Comes to Harlem - Soundtrack, Composed by Galt MacDermott (1970)
Coffy - Soundtrack, Composed by Roy Ayers (1973)

Grave Digger and Coffin Ed weren't crooked detectives, but they were tough. They had to be tough to work in Harlem. Colored folks didn't respect cops. But they respected big shiny pistols and sudden death. It was said in Harlem that Coffin Ed's pistol would kill a rock and that Grave Digger's would bury it.

Harlem 1950. Across 110th Street. Himes used his words as a canvas to paint vivid pictures of slices of Harlem life. He used the genre of the mystery as a medium to discuss race, politics, and power. His most famous collection is his Coffin Ed and Gravedigger Jones detective series. Coffin Ed and Gravedigger Jones, two black detectives, are on the Harlem beat. The black front to the white police structure. The translators of justice to Harlem.

Himes tales are equal parts mystery, social commentary, humor, history pieces, and sheer absurdity. His style is obviuously the mold that Walter Mosley, Donald Goines, and Ishmael Reed have attempted to fill. Sometimes the only thing keeping you from crying is a good laugh. His ability to create a scene, its sites, smells, characters, sounds is best explained by a quote:

Their next stop was a dingy bar on Eighth Avenue near the corner of 112th Street. This was the neighborhood of the cheap addicts, whisky-heads, stumblebums, the flotsam of Harlem; the end of the line for the whores, the hard squeeze for the poor honest laborers, and a breeding ground for crime. Blank-eyed whores stood on the street corners swapping obscenities with twitching junkies. Muggers and thieves slouched in dark doorways waiting for someone to rob; but there wasn't anyone but each other. Children ran down the street, the dirty street littered with rotting vegetables, uncollected garbage, battered garbage cans, broken glass, dog offal - always running, ducking and dodging. God help them if they got caught. Listless mothers stood in the dark entrances of tenements and swapped talk about their men, their jobs, their poverty, their hunger, their debts, their Gods, their religions, their preachers, their children, their aches and pains, their bad luck with the numbers, and the evilness of white people. Workingmen staggered down sidewalks filled with aimless resentment, muttering curses, hating to go their hotbox hovels but having nowhere else to go.

"All I wish is that I was God for just one mother-raping second," Grave Digger said, his voice cotton-dry with rage.
"I know," Coffin Ed said. "You'd concrete the face of the mother-raping earth and turn white folks into hogs."

Cotton Comes to Harlem, one of his most famous books, was made into a movie. Ossie Davis directorial debut was a smash. Better than you'd think, for a blaxploitation flick, this movie paved the way for the buddy-cop genre. Here's the soundtrack, composed by the same man who wrote the music for Hair. The soundtrack is standard blaxploitation backdrop. It has its Madlib-sampled moments, Melba Moore-fronted tracks, and some nice horn arrangements.

Keeping with the soundtrack theme, check out Roy Ayer's Coffy. Why this doesn't get the props Superfly gets is beyond me. A classic. Possibly Roy Ayer's best record.

As a piece of history, check out this mini-documentary (featuring Madlib, Peanut-Butter Wolf) on Galt MacDermott's impact on hip-hop:

Cotton Comes to Harlem:
One more Coffy: