Reviews

N.A.S.A

Friday, May 1st, 2009 | News, Reviews | 2 Comments
N.A.S.A

N.A.S.A – Spirit of Apollo. ‘Houston, we don’t have a problem here’
I’ll be honest; there hasn’t been a lot in the world of hip hop that has grabbed my attention lately. I’ve listened to plenty of albums, some good, some not so good, but none that have really made me want to listen again and again. Then came ‘The Spirit of Apollo’, the innovative and funky debut effort from two creative producers who call themselves N.A.S.A. Comprised of Sam Spiegel (aka Squeak E. Clean, brother of Spike Jonze) and Ze Gonzalez (aka DJ Zegon), N.A.S.A first attracted my attention with their almost bizarre collection of collaborations; the prospect of Talking Heads frontman David Byrne trading verses with the likes of Chuck D, Chali 2na and Gift of Gab, The RZA sharing a track with John Frusciante, and Ol’ Dirty Bastard rhyming with the taunting Karen O of trendy Yeah Yeah Yeah’s fame, was obviously intriguing, and certainly refreshing  in what has become a slightly stale game.

A common love of Brazilian funk (N.A.S.A. is an acronym for North America/South America) led to Spiegel and Gonzalez forming the joint venture and starting work on what is one of the trendiest and most innovative releases for some time.  Think Handsome Boy Modelling School, but with a bit of South American flair, complete with its own solid collection of impressive names from across the hip hop playground, and a few from outside it even! And the Duo has their fingers on the pulse, the pairing of production to MC’s is spot on; from the poppy electro-tinged “Gifted”, featuring Kanye West and Santogold, to the dark drums and gritty electric guitar loop on RZA’s track (not to mention the eerie wailing of Barbie Hatch), N.A.S.A appear to have set out to create the perfect beats for the artists on each track. Even the odd combinations are enjoyable; this is none more evident than in “Spacious Thoughts”, which sees abstract verbal warfare from Kool Keith paired off against the bizarre growl of Tom Waits on the chorus.

N.A.S.A – Way Down feat. The RZA, Barbie Hatch and John Frusciante

Before N.A.S.A came along, Santogold and Spankrock were among the last two discoveries that had sparked my interest with any significance. Pleasingly, both appear on this album! Diverse artists as far as hip hop goes, their combination on the upbeat electro-hip hop banger “Whatchadoin?” will have you dancing for sure.  Spank Rock bounces through his verses with M.I.A and Santogold chanting the catchy sing-a-long chorus together; easily one of my favourite tracks. Santogold also appears on “Gifted” with Kanye, one of the other standouts on the album, although soon to be a radio nuisance I’m sure. Love him or hate him though, this is a very catchy track, perfect for Mr West’s style. Ol’ Dirty Bastard shouts out to N.A.S.A from the grave in one of my other favourites, “Strange Enough”.  Apparently the last track he recorded (uh… heard that before…), Spiegel and Gonzalez have done Dirt Dog proud with a huge head-nodder to go with his trademark  killer rhyme style, with strong support from Fatlip and Karen O on the hook. Chali 2na pops up twice, and although he’s possibly getting a bit stale (and I’m a big fan of his!), produces a great party track with the legendary George Clinton, who was apparently in an ‘altered state of mind’ (are we surprised?….).

N.A.S.A – Gifted feat. Kanye West, Santogold and Lykke Li

I could go on all night here; track with Method Man worth mentioning, Ghostface kicks it with The Cool Kids, Del is back in funky style joined by DJ Q-Bert, and the two tracks with David Byrne from Talking Heads are again really strong tracks. This production combination has definitely got it down right here, tight tracks with the perfect rappers, singers and musicians on them; this album, having taking 5 years to complete, was obviously a labour of love that has paid dividends for the Duo. In addition to the album, the group intends to release a full-length documentary film of the making of the album including interviews with the guest who featured on the album, and  behind-the-scenes footage from the studio sessions, check a sneak-peek here for a bit more of an insight into this amazing project:

N.A.S.A. – Spirit of Apollo trailer

This is a very clever album from N.A.S.A., just when hip hop was losing its grip a little bit (well, for me anyway) comes an album that will appeal to hip hop fans from across the entire genre, and no doubt a few on the edge as well (we’ve all got friends who ‘don’t listen to hip hop’…);  infamous well proven hip hop artists like Del, KRS-One, some Wu-Tang royalty and Pharcyde fam mix it up with modern musical heavyweights Kanye West, Santogold and Karen O, not to forget legends outside the hip hop realm such as George Clinton, David Byrne and Tom Waits. Without straying too far from their love of Brazilian funk, N.A.S.A combine indie, hip hop, funk an d rock with ease, and overwhelmingly succeed in their debut mission of bringing artists from across the musical spectrum together to create something fresh and different.

And the good news continues, with N.A.S.A having recently announced an Australian tour this June! Given the impressive array of names on their album, one will wait in anticipation until phrase ‘international guests to be announced’ is fulfilled. Complete with orange spacesuits, four turntables and an impressive visual display as well, N.A.S.A’s live show has a big reputation so it’s sure to be one to catch!

N.A.S.A tour dates:
Thursday 4th June: SYDNEY, Oxford Arts Factory
Friday 5th June: MELBOURNE, The Esplanade Hotel
Saturday 6th June: PERTH, Shape Nightclub
Sunday 7th June: CANBERRA, Winter Warehouse Festival

Catch more of N.A.S.A at:

www.myspace.com/nasa

…Crack

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Sola Rosa – Get It Together

Monday, April 6th, 2009 | News, Reviews | 3 Comments
Sola Rosa - Get It Together

So it is now official: there is no such thing as “genres”. They were just generic classifications used to put music into arbitrary categories with stuff that sounded similar. Well these are now all outdated. The proof comes in the form of Sola Rosa’s diverse new offering ‘Get It Together’, which was recently released as the follow up to the 2005 masterpiece ‘Moves On’.

Sola Rosa has grown and developed over the years since beginning as essentially a one-man project,  started by New Zealand DJ/Producer Andrew Spraggon in 1999.  He has overseen the expansion to a fully-fledged band capable of powerhouse performances, both live and in the studio. There is a strong Latino personality and feel to the album, but it encompasses a wide and varied range of genres, which all seem to compliment each other perfectly.

Giving you the equivalent of a good mix CD or compilation album, except all the music is from the same band. Guest contributors from around the globe also add their influence, including Spikey Tee (Jah Wobble, Bomb the Bass, etc.); German globetrotter, poet and singer Bajka; UK MC Serocee; and emerging Wellingtonian songstress Iva Lamkum, who features on the new single Turn Around (which you can watch just below).  Because music is sound (and highly subjective) it’s better for you to sample it for yourself rather listen to a description, so go check out the official band site (links at the bottom).

This is an album balancing both organic and electric elements, that are fused with precision and intensity. Mixing effortlessly between all kinds of funky sounds the album incorporates parts of dub, hip hop, lounge, jazz and whatever else can help set the scene. It even includes a song that sounds like the next James Bond theme. The results of the flexible production is a eclectic mix of brilliant songs. ‘Get It Together’ is about as upbeat and party-friendly as you can get, while always remaining smooth and composed in a laid back jazzy style, it all ends up sounding like a party on a beach in South America, and everyone is invited!

Find out more about the diverse mixture of sounds from:

The band’s official website

‘Get It Together’ Album Website

Strickly uptown living
…Yossarian

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Can’t Stop Won’t Stop

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009 | Reviews | No Comments
Can't Stop Won't Stop

I like to think that I know a little bit about the history of the hip hop generation, the crossover of styles that had ignited to form a powerful new genre, and now the manipulation into sub genres which we haven’t even had time to name.

It’s been an explosion that has taken place over a few decades now, and I finally get to read what I feel is the best summary to date; Jeff Chang’s novel, ‘Can’t Stop Won’t Stop’.

Recommended by a friend from the b-girl breaking side, it covers all facets of b-boy and hip hop culture and also the the world view it has created. From the breakers, the graphers, the dj’s, and of course centre stage today… the emcee’s, rightfully this book does well to stay true to the origins of hip hop in the dj, from the transformation of reggae tracks onto dubplats in Jamaica, the flight of this new culture and idea in Kool Herc to the notorious New York Bronx, and its not so eventual viral like spread throughout the world… Can’t Stop Won’t Stop fills in so many of the blank’s of the experience of ‘being there’ that my generation of appreciators can only envisage or feel through reminiscing.

Profiles – Jeff Chang author of ‘Can’t Stop Won’t Stop’

Right now i’m just hitting talk of the days of NWA right after Public Enemy have been making waves, and already I have learned so much and come to understand so many re-occurring themes that I’ve heard over my years of listening. The actual happenings taking place in America lead me to thinking, how could we ever have an Australian or New Zealand hip hop culture that we could truly call our own. Are the off shoots of hip hop in countries around the world a homage to the original, or are they creations of their own right. Hopefully by the end of this book I will be have more light to shed on the future of the scene, but if I come up short Jeff’s got a follow up on that very topic.

For someone who doesn’t read all that much, I can recommend this book to anyone who is interested in hip hop cultures origins, and until i’m finished reading this book, I Can’t Stop, and I Won’t…

finish it in a cheesy way like that.

you can check out more of Jeff Chang at:

www.cantstopwontstop.com

…bs

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Andrews on Whiteness and EMINEM in 8-Mile, 2008

Friday, December 19th, 2008 | News, Reviews | 2 Comments
Andrews on Whiteness and EMINEM in 8-Mile, 2008

Salutations my peoples, as some of you will already know, we are developing a fuller site with a ‘community area’ being created. This area will have a fullish set of resources from where to learn, see, play, collaborate with other appreciators and educators of music, art, and our slice of culture. One of the additions that we will be lucky enough to have is from an American man named Vernon Andrews whom I met back at Canterbury University while I was studying there in the early 2000’s. I was studying Law and Finance myself, so you can imagine my surprise when I heard that there was a new guy taking a class under the banner of ‘American Studies’ called ‘Hip Hop Culture’…

I was like “what the F**K?”

so my accounting (or maybe it was statistics) studies suffered a little because even though I wasn’t enrolled in this course, I was sure enough sitting in that class with all of the other kids, and I could tell that I wasn’t alone in this by the number of people who were chilling out in the lecture hall stairways and standing areas.

So Vernon has kindly agreed to contribute some materials for the site when it is developed which can help those who wish to trace some of the roots and deeper meanings of this culture. I’m really looking forward to this area being uploaded and people being able to check out the amazing work he has put together over some time, and I am really happy to present a first piece as an introduction to what you can expect in the future…

The following exert is: Andrews on Whiteness and EMINEM in 8-Mile, 2008

While there have been key white figures in the history of producing, managing, marketing and rapping – witness the Beastie Boys, Vanilla Ice, 3rd Base, House of Pain and other “popular acts”, in addition to the many “underground acts” – no white artist has had quite the same effect on hip-hop and popular culture as Eminem. EMINEM (in all caps here, but not to follow) has managed – and been managed – to have staying power.

Eminem has teamed with Dr. Dre, or more appropriately, Dre has “discovered” Eminem, and together they have made millions. Indeed, Eminem has gone on himself to “discover” other acts such as 50 Cent. Eminem is now a “brand” as they say these days (don’t get me started on the All Blacks) and has successfully marketed himself to a broad international audience. Anger fuels his staying power, in addition to clever rhymes, “taking the piss” out of himself, and always reflecting on his whiteness and “outsider” status as, in his own words, “trailer trash.” In addition to being white, he also dies his hair blond – just in case we might have any doubt about his Caucasianess.

Eminem also has the ability to reach – to identify with — a broad swatch of middle-class America that other rappers might be “too black” for. In this sense, Eminem has almost become like the typical rock-and-roll rebel white youth can identify with without being considered a “wanna-be” (black). He has a white mother, a white father and a white outlook on the country. This is not to take anything away from his affiliation with the poor, with his association with blackness or with his skill as a rapper. But he has the ability to relate to angry white youth in a way African Americans can not.

One problem – some might say the biggest problem – white youth have in suburbia is not only fitting-in in high school, but also family dramas. I have long held that most contemporary American films lead to one theme – Family. More to the point, the re-unification of broken families (look at any disaster film and you will get the point, “where’s little Jimmy?” “We’ve got to save little Amy!” “Honey, I am coming to get you – I love you!” are common refrains that can be seen in 99% of disaster movies, and at least 80% of all other films. Don’t get me started…). In this sense, Eminem has latched on to this subterranean angst in America (American Beauty won the academy award because it perfectly encapsulated the imperfection of families in beautiful suburbs; Desperate Housewives is running with the plot) and used it to his advantage. He sings often about little “Haley,” his break-up with his ex-girlfriend (and getting back together, and breaking up again), and his love/hate relationship with his mother. Name an African American rapper who speaks as much about family dramas?

This is not a criticism. Rather it is a reflection on the differing themes of artists that might have to do with location, race, class and social dramas. After all, it would ring hollow to many if Eminem were to wax on forever about being harassed by the cops, denied jobs, and having family members on crack. Just like the Tui ads, people would say, “Yeah, right.” He does, however, touch upon the number one suburban socially acceptable dysfunction – alcoholism (via his mom). In noting this problem he is tapping into an identifiable and easily recognizable problem for white youth to relate to. And I should say it is not only about suburban whites; Eminem relates to poor whites also. If I was a poor white guy of 17 years, I’d think Eminem was a good rebellious figure for me to attach my image to without being considered a “sell-out” or “whack.”

8-Mile

In the film “8-Mile,” Eminem is shown “pre-Dre” in his early days of trailer-park living and being bullied by black rappers who whites can easily tag as “racist” for harping on the young Marshal Mathers’ whiteness. This must present at least a little cognitive dissonance for young whites who have been raised to be opposed to racism – and now seeing their new hero attacked because of, well, his race. The film, I believe, attempts to neutralize this by presenting “good blacks” – Eminem’s friends and associates who are “down” with him. The net effect, I believe, is the feeling that the protagonist has had to overcome many hurdles to achieve in the tough world or rapping, and not the least of his hurdles is that he is bullied and beaten-up. Any young male is very familiar with this theme – suburb or not – as it is a fear all youth between 10 and 18 must negotiate in adolescence. Taking a beating and – at the same time – protecting your family from any harm (he ushers his sister into the house and away from danger) is, once again, the age-old theme coming forth.

In addition, another theme of the film is to answer the unspoken question: “Why should I care about a white rapper? Who is this guy?” In this sense, the film is a stroke of genius. We feel (before the film) that rap music is by the poor, the black, the male, and the downtrodden. That represents the “authentic.” Many of our readings this semester have reflected this theme, in addition to our discussions in class. So how does Eminem authenticate himself? How does he prove he is not just the next Vanilla Ice – posing and faking and in it for the short-term cash (nothing wrong with that, by the way). He gets a beat-down, works in a factory, picks-up the hot woman, lives poorly, hangs out with black folks (and for good measure, another white guy), gets nervous before going on-stage (and thus is human and not super-cool), broods like James Dean (1950s film star known for his quietness and staring off into space), and – here it is – becomes blacker and more authentic than the black guy he’s rapping against!

This is the focal point of the film – the final rap battle. Herein we see the plot building and coming to the fore – we know that Eminem will be dissed as a shallow white boy in the final battle – so why not go ahead, Eminem says, and diss myself – taking all of the ammunition away from my opponent? This is an old debate trick we leaned back in my undergraduate days.

If you are to debate on a key issue in competition, then figure out your weakest points – and your opposition’s weakest – and use them in your own speech! It is called “stealing thunder.” If I know your strongest weapon I will try to take that away from you. Once your enemy does this, they have won a psychological battle. Eminem thus “outs” his rival as being from the suburbs, middle-class, from a two-parent home and a private school and with a white-boy’s name and with, basically, no real authenticity. Indeed, Eminem goes on to paint himself as poor, white, trailer-trash from the bad part of town and thus, really, more authentic than many black rappers who consider themselves “down.” Genius, pure and simple. Academy award, big bank, big career. Of course, one has to have the lyrics to back up all this on-screen drama, but I think he pulls it off well.

You can check out more hip hop culture from Vern when we upload the site in early 2009

…bs

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Common – new album

Sunday, December 14th, 2008 | News, Reviews | 1 Comment
Common - new album

Common, the artist formerly known as Common Sense, has released his eighth studio album ‘Universal Mind Control’ opening the album with the title track advising, “This is the new [stuff] and it don’t feel the same.” so it will be interesting to see which way he has gone with this album. Produced mostly by Neptunes super producers Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo, it’s surprising Common has time to continue to pump albums out at the rate he does with his Hollywood career seeing him in a long line of successful and not so successful films over the last few years.

Common - Universal Mind Control on the Jimmy Kimmel show

Electro beats appear to be the thing this year with Common and some of his friends like Kanye West adding a robotic sound and breakbeat edge to their beats, something that may not go down so well with old school aficionados, but at the same time could open up their appeal to a whole new market of dance music fans. Another massive change in his lyrics stand out too going from an advocate of equality and respect for women to a kind of horny school boy (again much like Kanye). After enjoying Common’s music for so long, usually with a down to earth twist on hip hop rapping about the realities, struggles, and beauty faced by everyday people, it’s hard to adjust to a more glamorous, party boy theme that he seems to have going lately, kinda begging the question also if his transition is for musical exploration or mass appeal.

An artist like Common, who has given so much to the art and culture of hip hop deserves the chance to branch out, and i’m going to listen to ‘Universal Mind Control’ a few times before passing final judgement on it, but there is one thing that he and I can agree on for sure…

“This is the new [stuff] and it don’t feel the same.”

Common feat. Lauryn Hill – Retrospect for Life

You can check out more of Common at:

www.common-music.com

www.myspace.com/common

…bs

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