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Archive for the ‘Little Brother’ Category

Spin: J. Cole’s Starry Eyes vs. Phonte’s Long View

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J. Cole’s album: Not that bad! I know, I know, that’s pretty low stakes and all, but we’re getting back to this point now where there’s a big cognitive dissonance between what rap nerds—even so-called “populist” rap nerds—are willing to big-up or shit man, at least accept, and what regular ass fans are fucking with. Also see: Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter IV. There’s a reason people like these albums and there’s a reason they like this Cole character. Nobody’s been hoodwinked here! That said, I don’t see where Cole’s career goes after this and he’s gonna have to get a little cynical and real and take some tips from someone like Phonte if he’s going to be kicking around in a decade or even like, two years from now. Also that Phonte album: Really fucking good. Better than it needs to be.

Phonte Coleman, one half of electronic R&B duo the Foreign Exchange, and formerly of defunct Durham, North Carolina, rap group Little Brother, declares at the start of his solo debut Charity Starts At Home: “I do this all for hip-hop.” Then he pauses and laughs, “I’m lying like shit, I do this for my goddamn mortgage.”

The album title makes clear that lofty goals like changing the world, one conscious rhyme at a time, have been replaced with something more practical. Phonte’s excellent, poignant album is paradoxically focused on decidedly un-hip-hop things: Getting older, realizing rap doesn’t move him too much anymore, the fuck-ups of family and friends, having a wife and kids and lots of bills…

Written by Brandon

October 5th, 2011 at 4:52 am

Pitchfork: Lil B – “Base For Your Face” [ft. Jean Grae and Phonte]

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Wrote about this totally wacky but not actually collaboration between Lil B and Phonte, Jean Grae, and 9th Wonder. For some precedent: B raps on a slurred version of 9th’s “Wonderbread” beat on “Connect The Dots” from Angels Exodus and on the latest installment of his Gorden Gartrell radio podcast, Phonte mentions that he first thought of collaborating with Lil B last year when he was planning his solo record. Total nerd stuff, but there’s also some fun rap meta-history going on here, with “Base For Your Face” sampling Flav and playing off the word “bass” the same way Public Enemy did with “Night Of The Living Baseheads.” From bass, to freebase, to #BASED, the philosophy.

Written by Brandon

March 12th, 2011 at 12:37 am

Independent Weekly: “Valient Thorr’s hard rock cosmology comes down to earth”

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A few things’ll be changing around here soon, all for the better (which means less lame links to freelance stuff and more actual content), but for right now, let me direct you to a couple of things. First, my brief teaser for Little Brother’s probably last show in their home state. For real–Phonte and Pooh should teach classes on breaking-up all classy-like and in a sense, giving their fans what their fans want, whether those fans even know it or not.

Also, did this piece on Chapel Hill, NC’s Valient Thorr, who are the kind of band it’s easy to dismiss or laugh-off but are in fact one of the weirdest, most determined, out-there, kinda metal groups around. Quick rant: As the interest in metal from supposedly hipper more “indie” type places grows, it’s avant-garde qualities are pretty much all that anybody talks about: How black metal is like noise. How doom is like drone. How hard rock is like punk. The result is a kind of washing away of all these super-influential, no bullshit bands that work or worked within a typical metal song construct (Fu Manchu, Sleep (other than Jerusalem), Electric Wizard, Masters of Reality, etc.) and indeed, are why bands can now so casually and easily send noise through their amps for hours on end and people stand and watch it. Look, it’s cool and all, but if one more hipster metal or “genuine” metalhead makes fun of post-rock or laptop shows and then tells me how awesome that Boris show was, I’ll cry. The point is, plenty of people see these bands or care about them, but they sorta fall off the edge of “indie” credibility and interest and they surely don’t give a fuck, but metal N00bs please know your history. Anyways, Valient Thorr are very much in this vein. They don’t need to add bagpipes or synthesizers or stretch their songs out to forty minutes to get the job done. They do weird, off-kilter stuff with simple garage rock effects and the urgency of lead singer Valient Himself sends it over the top and they wrap all their basic, heavy influences around a really vibrant, bizarro “We’re from space” concept that allows them to scream about politics and the state of the nation and not come off like dicks. Read my piece here:

In a jean vest with no shirt and bright red wrestling shoes, Valient Himself—the fearless, bearded and wild-eyed leader of Chapel Hill-via-Venus hard rock maniacs Valient Thorr—races to the supermarket on an emergency beer run. His main concern is the legion of parched, patient friends and fans (called “Thorriors”) who’ve come out to a Chapel Hill farmhouse on a Thursday afternoon. The band is making its video for “Double Crossed,” the first single from its fifth and latest album, Stranger.

“Double Crossed” is Valient Thorr—guitarists Eidan and Sadat Thorr, bassist Dr. Professor Nitewolf Strangees, drummer Lucian Thorr and, of course, Valient Himself—very much in their element. A punky but metal-proficient political manifesto chant-along, “Double Crossed” takes aim at the crooked money men and scheisty investors responsible for our economic ruins. The complaint, though, comes in fun, spy movie-treasonous terms.

The video is “a tribute to a lot of old music videos,” meaning the on-the-fly, goofball videos of MTV in its youthful, sincere days. On the way back to the shoot, cases of beer rattling in the backseat, Himself explains that the video is meant to invoke the silly anarchy of Twisted Sister and a rather obscure 1984 movie, The Wild Life. “It’s a fuckin’ terrible movie, but it’s got a really awesome scene where they break down a wall.” For this prattling, philosophizing frontman, the fuckin’ terrible part matters much more than the really awesome part…

Written by Brandon

September 2nd, 2010 at 5:13 pm

Independent Weekly: “To Not Be Afraid”

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Picture swiped from Phonte’s Twitter. Genuine blog content coming soon, I assure you. For now though, check out this week’s Independent Weekly because I’ve got a big cover story on Yahzarah’s The Ballad Of Purple St. James, featuring Phonte, and Nicolay from The Foreign Exchange as well. Really, these guys are making some of my favorite music right now and I can’t say it enough. Click below to read it:

The soul singer Yahzarah lounges comfortably near the window of the Beyú Caffé in downtown Durham, her poise protected from the sweltering mid-July afternoon outside. Her head is shaved, and she dons bright red heels and a short, tasteful animal print dress. In person, she presents the same singular mix of traditionalism and outré cool that defines her new LP, the excitable and often devastating Ballad of Purple St. James.

The Ballad of Purple St. James is a weird record. Not Lady Gaga Fame Monster weird or even Janelle Monae The Archandroid weird, but weird because it’s a sprawling, rarefied expression of a uniquely talented artist with a willingness to speak and sing—wonderfully—on very personal and intimate things. It’s the sort of willfully individual R&B record you don’t hear anymore.

Yahzarah smiles when she remembers handing Phonte Coleman—the Little Brother emcee who had been her frequent collaborator and friend for more than a decade—a draft of what would become her third album, The Ballad of Purple St. James. At that point, she’d been working on it for nearly three years. “He told me, ‘Nicolay and I can make you a better record,’” she recalls, surprisingly bemused. Coleman was referring to Nicolay Rook, the other half of his forward-thinking, grown-up soul group The Foreign Exchange. A record produced by these Grammy-nominated critical darlings might have afforded Yahzarah instant legitimacy and attention.

Written by Brandon

July 28th, 2010 at 10:32 pm

How Big Is Your World? New Rap.

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-UGK “7th Street (Interlude)”

There’s a million reasons why Pimp C’s death was a tragedy, but the one that UGK 4 Life mainly brings to mind is how much further Pimp could’ve–and would’ve–taken UGK’s sound. Around Dirty Money, it seemed like Pimp had found way to use his singing voice and rapping voice as extensively as his musical voice. By the time we had Pimpalation and Underground Kingz, he wasn’t giving Bun a breather for a verse or like offering an interesting contrast, he was forming his own, equally complex and rarified thesis on the world around. That his incomplete thesis would end with this demand for real-ness in the form of women not shaving their pubes is perfect.

UGK 4 Life moves even further into Pimp’s odd and incalculably influential idea of “country rap tunes” (emphasis on tunes). Be it B.O-Bobby Ray, Andre 3k, or Kanye, all of them get inadvertently shown-up on this track, as Pimp drops more palpable emotion in this minute and a half of singing than dudes do on whole albums or disastrous SxSw performances. “7th Street Interlude” reminds me of those lo-fi folk songs on the last Witchdoctor album, not only in their shared ability to do a lot more than most with only a little, but in terms of like, hinting listeners towards the possibility of an all-out singing album but wisely leaving it at that…for now at least…or what should’ve been “only for now” but you know, the Pimp is dead. Contained within “7th Street Interlude” though, is the seed for a UGK nerd to sprout into the beautiful, heartbreaking R & B album Chad Butler would’ve dropped in like another decade.

-Big Pooh “Power”

Ever since Getback, it seems Little Brother have come to terms with not being superstars and the very real fact that they don’t make radio rap, and it’s made their music way more likeable, even when something as obvious as the industry’s taken on–the topic of this wonderfully off-the-cuff Delightful Bars (iTunes Version) song. Here, Pooh comes off more like a burned veteran, hoping to give warning to rapper friends as idealistic as he once was. That the song also frames itself around the nebulous concept of “Power”, is at least a little more sophisticated or like, discerning about how stuff works and the precise reasons why it sucks. “Power” is just sort of reaching-out and throwing up its hands at a loose concept that undeniably corrupts and cripples everything.

And it doesn’t hurt that it’s spit over the freakiest, Nintendo Entertainment System beat of the year (alongside Christopher “Deep” Hendersons’ “Blame It” beat for Jamie Foxx). Khrysis brings Rock N’Roll Racing computerized guitar riffs, Dragon Warrior electro-flute, and Super Mario Brothers 1-Up! effects all together into something that still bumps enough that Big Pooh and O. Dash can spit complainer rhymes to and not sound out-of-place. Right before the beat repeats its loop, it’s sorta like the part of “Swagger Like Us” when Jay does that at-first dumb but really kinda goofily transcendant “Ho-o-Ova…” speak-sing thing.

-Unladylike “Bartender”

Already mentioned this, but I’m gonna get all So Many Shrimp on you and be like, “Hey, more people should be talking about this!”…”Bartender”s beat’s real minimal and slinky with moments that max-out, vibrating and swarming around almost evil-like, especially on the hook where it’s “Kernkraft 400″ on it’s ninth shot of Grey Goose, trying to build-up proper and explode but just sort of rumbling around like too much liquor sitting at the bottom of your stomach–reminds me of that recent Diplo/Blaqstarr joint that, while we’re at it, more people should give a shit about too.

Both Unladylike members have a good sense of fast-rapping that seems to be important for all females rappers to do–why, I don’t really know–and Gunna in particular, has a way of sneaking up on you moving from a Southern style drawl to rapid-fire raps, especially when she comes out of the first hook still rapping and into the second hook. Tee isn’t quite as nimble but she’s the secret star of the group, injecting some warm ugly reality into this drank rap. More fun and self-effacing, she devotes her brief verse to the awful-feeling you get when liquor hits you all at once, touching on the not-so-smart decision that more drink’s the answer, and ends it with a hard-ass flirt/demand to meet her in the bathroom. Neither hyper-sexual or Jean Grae “true” and “natural” or whatever, Unladylike stand in that awkward place female rappers (and really maybe females in general) aren’t allowed to occupy: just hanging out, being real.

-Eddie “In Reality”

Like a Baltimore version of North Carolina’s Hall of Justus, E Major-fronted Undersound Music are becoming the go-to for really solid, forward-thinking, fun but traditionalist hip-hop. The newest project is Sound Wandering from Virginia Beach’s Eddie. Somewhere between the avant-orthodoxy of Dilla and the out-and-out weirdo-ness of Flying Lotus or Prefuse 73, Eddie’s formula of in-the-ether soul samples matched-up against clunking, trebly electronics results in a kind of middle-brow experimentation that’s a delight when most to all “conscious rap” producers are either stuck in 1996 or trying too-hard to sound like Year 3006.

“In Reality” revolves around a stretched-out strings sample that expands and contracts and sounds a little melancholy. Stacked atop it though, are some really determined drums and an echoing synth-line that sound confident and ready to take over the world. The song’s on a mission; it could score the transcendent, life-changing moment at the end of some character study. A person holding onto a big decision and standing on the beach…or on Pluto for that matter. The really odd coda where it goes all-out with the fluttering electronics and inexplicably morphs into Eddie’s cell-phone ring and an aimless one-sided phone conversation is the right kind of weird, doesn’t make sense indulgence.

Written by Brandon

March 29th, 2009 at 7:50 am

City Paper Article: Little Brother ‘Getback’ Review

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“Dropped from their label and down a member-producer 9th Wonder-the past two years have been tough on Phonte and Big Pooh of Little Brother. Surprisingly, the guys that confrontationally called their major-label album ‘The Minstrel Show’ don’t run further underground. Rather, they dropped the brash meta commentary and made Getback, a record that caters to the pop-rap crowd without losing its soul.

Little Brother always had an ear for radio rap in the past, but here the MCs internalize trends and turn them into songs that feel like hits but won’t be deleted from iTunes in six months. “Two-Step Blues” recalls instructional dance rap, but replaces “crank dat”-isms with demands to “two-step them blues away” and all-inclusive shout-outs for “everybody at the VFW.”

“Good Clothes” is every rapper’s “I got a lot of stuff” single but with a dose of honesty. It’s a critique of conspicuous consumption that implicates the group’s own quest to be fresh: “As we got on the floor, it was embarrassin’ trust me/ The saleswoman walked me straight over to husky.” “Sirens” conflates the messed-up political climate (“Go against the system, you in bed with al-Qaida/ Dog, they ain’t playing”) with cultural criticism-Phonte calls rap videos “psychological warfare” while pulling it together with a paranoid R&B hook: “They’re coming closer for you.” The rappers’ anger is aided by a decidedly mainstream beat; it’s like they took T.I.’s swagger and put it to better use.”

Written by Brandon

December 5th, 2007 at 8:40 am

How Big Is Your World? Good, Recent Rap Songs

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-8 Ball & Devius ‘Jus’ Ridin’
Click here to download ‘Jus Ridin’.
Nielsen of A Little DMX Under a Full Moon wrote about this song already, but letting me go crazy over it for a bit…this song’s off of the recently-released ‘The Vet & The Rookie’ album by 8 Ball and some new guy who isn’t great but gets the job done, named Devius. ‘The Vet & the Rookie’ is a pretty solid album and a lot of that has to do with the really great beats, many provided by Tennessee’s Montana Trax. ‘Jus’ Ridin’ is probably one of the greatest songs ever made, the sort of song that makes sense the first time you hear it. These super-clean kinda hard-ass guitars that play under the chorus, complemented by some typical Southern rap drums and an even cleaner sounding acoustic sound, with 8 Ball and Devius trading a few verses back and forth, it’s really simple and straightforward and great. The drums slightly change during each verse or an instrument is dropped-out, especially during Devius’ last verse, when its just drums and a slightly different acoustic part, it all makes the return of that riff even more exciting.

Plenty of straight rapping on this too. 8 Ball’s voice just gets deeper as he grows older and fatter, sounding like Baron Harkonnen should sound like or something, this angry, smart, decadent fat guy dropping classic lines. Devius is a good counterpoint as he raps with a youthful but still self-aware voice but he has more enthusiasm (“You know today look good”) and sounds like he’s having fun. I like Devius’ line about laughing at the chick he and his friends “ran a train on”. Also, Devius refers to himself as “Ted Deviase” or something like that, in reference to Ted “Million Dollar Man” Dibiase.

-Cam’ron ‘Glitter’
Click here to hear ‘Glitter’.
I already talked about this song on Wednesday but it fits with the general sound of the other songs here and I didn’t really discuss the beat on any level other than it being kind of downbeat and depressive (which is good). Every once in a while, a song will get this really great, warm, organic, ambient kind of sound that is like the sound equivalent of painkillers. ‘Glitter’s drums are sort of stiff and dull, they certainly don’t knock but they have a near-Primo tightness to them that anchors the song and allows for all those crazy synth stabs and chimey sounds to sort of fumble around in the background.

I really like how both of the new Cam leaked tracks are not statements on any level. They ignore all of those manic, banger-type beats we’ve come to expect from the Dips which, if you go along with the bullshit I said on Wednesday, makes sense because Cam is sort of mining this dark, depressed, over-the-hill territory. Instead of trying to remake ‘Dipset Anthem’ and ‘Get Em’ Girls’ he’s going for the sound on ‘Harlem Streets’ or ‘I.B.S’, this will disappoint a lot of fans but I like it a lot.

-Young Buck featuring Outlawz ‘Driving Down the Freeway’
Click here to download ‘Driving Down The Freeway’.
This song gets a lot of play on Sirius rap stations and Morgan State’s rap show ‘Strictly Hip-Hop’ but it’s too legitimately soulful and laid-back to become a real hit. See, people like fake chilled-out music they don’t want stuff that is like this song. What it celebrates is too minimal (just driving) and it’s energy-level too complacent to really make it in this current, utterly moronic rap radio climate. The song is produced by Hi-Tek and has the same weary but uplifting sound last heard on ‘So Tired’ from ‘Hi-Teknology 2′.

Young Buck seems to often fall-back or downplay aspects of his persona- no doubt in deference to his G-Unit goons- but here, his voice seems even more Southern than usual, as if he stopped trying to vaguely hide his accent. It also seems even more strained and booming, listen to that part where he says “Holla back baby”; he’s tapping into like, Willie D territory here, if not in content, at least in vocal performance. Of course, the real star here is that great chorus which sounds like D’Angelo if his influences were Willie Hutch and Al Green instead of Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. That chorus conjures up images of magic hour drives down the interstate; it’s careless but not empty as it is palpably soulful, even beautiful.

-Lil Wayne ‘Too Comfortable’
Click here to download ‘Too Comfortable’.
Lil Wayne does Yoga or some shit to this song. Kanye’s must’ve dug into his archives for those kinda shitty and flat ‘College Dropout’ era drums that everyone pisses on but I totally love. Putting these like “Pure Moods” new-agey strings and this fuzzy Babyface sample under it, makes it probably terrible in everybody’s mind but mine. If ‘Jus Ridin’ is the sound of painkillers, this song is what heroin sounds like or at least, painkillers with too many shots of liquor…blissed-out, hazy, and about to fall apart at any moment.

Wayne’s weirdo raps are what most people get excited about, because it’s easy to get excited about weirdo raps, but I like when he sort of gets dorky and sensitive and addresses the issues that a like, thinking twentysomething worries about. Taking his cue from that sampled chorus, he raps about the thing that I think any guy concerned about commitment with a girl worries about: That awful point where it turns from fun and perpetually new to predictable, the point where the chick gets well, too comfortable. His signature croak, works for the track, as he’s yelping out his lines of urgency, but instead of them being about eating rappers, he’s yelping about near-emo fears of a chick getting emotionally lazy. I love the part of the first verse where all the lines are questions that begin with “Don’t?”, like his reputation as a decent guy is on the line. At the same time, it’s not this pussy “baby don’t go” thing but this like real warning that if shit goes wrong, she can get the fuck out and he’ll find some other girl pretty easily. The chorus and verses become as much a threat as a declaration.

-Oren Ambarchi ‘Inamorata’
Click here to download ‘Inamorata’.
My obligatory non-rap song that I plan to toss-in for these “good rap songs” lists. From Electronic musician and guitarist Oren Ambarchi’s recent album, the pretentiously-titled ‘In the Pendulum’s Embrace’. If ‘Jus’ Ridin’ was painkillers and ‘Too Comfortable’ heroin, well this is your dead, drugged-up body in that moment where you can’t move but your heart is still beating and you’ll probably die. It starts out with some light, electronic pops and resonating buzzes that sort of slowly come together, held for longer amounts of time, and subtly increase in volume. The best thing about electronic music like this is that it’s all production, so you can sort of bliss-out on it and really focus on the details. About four minutes in, some longer drone-ish tones enter as do some metallic rumbles that move the song half out of intellectual abstract artiness because it sounds genuinely creepy. A minute or so later, strings come in, sort of swelling (as strings are wont to do) and underscored by what sounds like an organ and it becomes a pretty overwhelming listen. It’s pretty stupid when those go away and there’s still two minutes of the song left, but what are you gonna do? Hardly perfect and as I said, it’s instrumental, avant-garde-ish music that never totally breaks free of its intellectual restraints but still a moving piece.

Written by Brandon

November 2nd, 2007 at 5:20 am