Sunday, 24 May 2009

Artist Spotlight...Breez Evahflowin'

Breez and DJ Chillout

A couple days ago, I said that I had never heard of Breeze Evahflowin', but that his verse on 'Same Beat: Freestyle' was exceptional. Well after conducting a little investigation into Breeze's hip-hop history, turns out I may have been sleeping on one of today's best freestyle lyricists.

Though, prior to 2001, most people hadn't heard of Breez, he had been making waves in the hip-hop community since the late 90's. As a member of the New York hip-hop collective Stronghold, Breez was came to the forefront of the nation's growing battle rap scene. In 1999, Evahflowin' was crowned National Grand Champion at the Blaze Battle Competition. Unfortunately, though his skills were recognized at such events, he still wasn't generating the popularity that someone of his caliber should have. It wasn't until January 2001, that most of the public caught their first taste of Breez. On MTV's Direct Effects, he reigned as battle champ seven weeks, effectively establishing the standing record. Two years later, Breez offered a nugget of his immense talent on the Fly EP (2003). Since then, Breez has remained relatively low key, working with hip-hop's elite underground artists and putting out a slew of independent singles, EP's, and, recently, a compilation entitled The Unearthed Past: A Collection Of Underground Hip Hop (2009). Keep an ear out for this talented MC.

Learn something (anything) everyday!

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Dose 17...Hit Me With That Shit, One Time!

1)Hit Me With That by The Beatnuts

Juju, Fashion (aka Al' Tariq), and Psycho Les tear it up on this classic Beatnuts track. Though they never garnered the fame that many of their fellow Queens rappers (Nas, Rakim, Mobb Deep) did, The Beatnuts were always equally talented. Every track on Street Level (1994) is gangster-rap classic, including "Ya Don't Stop", "Are You Ready", "Get Funky", and "2-3 Break". A great deal of credit has to go to their production, which, on this album, is simply remarkable. Take "Hit Me With That" for example. The beat samples Monty Alexander (Love and Happiness), David Axlerod (Holy Thursday, obviously), Method Man (7th Chamber), features awesome scratching, and has some weird child sounds (I think he's saying "oh", "no", and "eh"). In saying that, their MC skills cant be overlooked either. Each of these guys has a unique flow (they're all slow, smooth, and jazzy) even though most of the lyrical content drips with narcissistic self-approbation. Anyways, this is the one album I'm going to be listening to A LOT this summer.

Street Level (1994)

2)Same Beat Live Freestyle (at WKCR FM) by Y Society feat. Breeze Evahflowin'

I've really got to thank my man Kev for hooking this one up. Homie's got an ear for the illest stuff out there right now.

So I knew very little about Damu and Insight (together, Y-Society) before hearing this EP. Last year (maybe a bit longer now), Y-Society's Travel At Your Own Pace (2007) was acclaimed by many as the best hip-hop album of the year. Damu's Pete-Rockesque productions and Insight's versatile flow led people to think that it was the reemergence of jazzy poetry-styled rap. As such, the album was generally seen as a renaissance of Golden-era hip hop.

On Same Beat EP (2009), Damu takes one beat ("This Advice" from TAYOP) and shows the flexibility of his production. One track features Damu's own vocal contribution, while another showcases Insight's studio talent. However, the track really worth focusing on is the Freestyle for WKCR...

and I thought the Jay-Z/Big L freestyle only had competition from Murda Mook/Jae Millz... oh my god!

Here Insight and Breez Evahflowin (never heard of him, have you?) go crazy. Insight takes the first verse, and though he maintains his flow, sounds a bit shaky as he concludes (You gotta go out and vote/ cuz that's what you should be doin'/ Understand that if you're whack, your life's ruined). The second round goes to Evahflowin', and he's off the hook ("Circulate the lines, like the surface of the vinyl"...fuck!). Not to be outdone, Insight comes back with a vengeance. He completely restructures his rhyme scheme, rapping at speeds that would leave Twista tongue-twisted (The "Syllable Suplex" verse is unreal) and flowing with a pulse that only Big L brought to the mic (They weak preformers when you see them rock live/ thinking sales mean skills?/ that's really not wise). By the end, Insight's style morphs into some incarnation of the RZA saying,"6 confused bio-physicists"?, but he still keeps it together.

Frankly, this is the best freestyling I've heard since the days of Big L. Rather than battling each other, it's almost as though Insight and Breeze are taking on the entire rap community...guess who wins?

Check the video: Here

Check out Kev's Post: Here

Same Beat EP (2009)

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Dose 16...Perception

1)Disco: The Secretaries Blues by Beulah

It all began with humming...or at least, that's how I remember it. Nearly 3 months ago, a friend of mine was humming a tune thats vague familiarity tickled my curiosity. When I asked him for the name, he couldn't produce a solid answer and responded "I think it's Beulah". With that, we opened iTunes and proceeded to investigate. Opting for the 'track by track' method, we went through Handsome Western States (1997) until we found a tune that resembled his off-pitched crooning. "Riders on the right won't you help me, It's crowded and a bit too lonely", it seems, were the words he was missing.

Beulah's sound, on HWS, shifts between lo-fi pop and punk, all with a refreshing air of California dreaminess (what do I even mean?). Western States is also a remarkably accessible album, which cuts it apart from In The Aeroplane Over The Sea (1998), one of its contemporaries from another Elephant Six group. Though at first the album gives the illusion of simplicity, it appears that this was purposively employed to highlight specific sections with brass and string accompaniments. In the end, its short length (34 minutes and change), teen-focused content, and catchiness made me realize that I should have been listening to this instead of Nimrod, in 1997.

Also check out: Lay Low For The Letdown, The Rise And Fall Of Our Hero's Reward, and Delta (sort of like a Modest Mouse version of "In My Life")

Handsome Western States (1997)

2)The Music Never Stopped by The Grateful Dead

A month ago, I probably wouldn't have considered myself a true Dead fan. Of course, like all red-blooded Americans, I sang along to Uncle John's Band, Friend Of The Devil, and Casey Jones. And yes, I enjoyed listening to the vast majority of their music. But what separates (or perhaps more correctly 'separated') me from the true fans, was my apparent nescience regarding their versatility (especially towards their more funky songs). See, I always thought of the Dead as Americana-Jam. A sort of primitive (albeit amazing) endeavor in stretching the boundaries of rock 'n' roll. And in many respects they were.

However, my understanding of the Dead completely changed when I gave Blues For Allah (1975) a listen. What I realized, was that my preferential treatment of their older music (see: Aoxomoxoa, Workingman's Dead, American Beauty) had inadvertently blinded me to their more experimental stuff.

So am I a 'true fan' now?
No, true fans are middle aged, have dancing bears sewn onto their corduroy backpacks, and love sticking it to 'the man'. That said, I definitely have a greater appreciation for their work thanks to this album.

This album is sick. Its style is never static and the jams are enthralling. Actually, if I may be so bold (sorry Mr. Garcia, Weir, Lesh, et al.), I think it needs to be said that Blues For Allah is the wrong title for this album. Instead, perhaps we should call it something like 'Tiktaalik'. It honestly sounds like the missing link between the experimental progressive-rock of Pink Floyd (Atom Heart Mother era) and the jam sounds Phish.

Ok, so maybe that's a bit farfatched [preposterous, retarded, etc.], but honestly listen to Blues For Allah and see whether you recognize it as the Grateful Dead you thought you knew.

Blues For Allah (1975)

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Dose 15...Five Alarm Fire

1)Star/Pointro by The Roots featuring Wadud Ahmad

Set over a looping sample of Sly's hit, "Everybody is a Star, "Star" epitomizes the two best qualities of any Roots track: optimistic lyricism and a jazzy beat. Their particular message on this track reassures the audience that they too are important. Stars of the same magnitude as The Roots? Probably not, but everyone's still special in their own way and should be themselves (now where have I heard that before?).

So the message is cliched...but the song is immaculate. Black Thought's introspective lyrics and ?uest's jazzy cymbals are perfectly matched, while the Family sample is top notch (Sly's R&B tone is reshaped into a jazz ballad). If you stick around for the rest of the album you may be a bit disappointed. Songs like "Don't Say Nuthin'" (which actually says just about nothing) and "Guns Drawn" (which might sample NBA Jam Tournament Edition '94) aren't great lyrically, but beg to be blasted obnoxiously out of car windows. On the other hand, songs like "Stay Cool" and "Boom" are worth skipping entirely. Anyhow, make your way through this album and ask yourself whether The Roots still are, in the immortal words of David Brotman, "just that good!"

The Tipping Point (2004)
- Part 1
The Tipping Point (2004)- Part 2

2)Thought Process by Goodie Mob featuring Andre 3000

Holy Shit!!! I can't believe I've been sleeping on the Goodie Mob for this long. This Atlanta quartet (often paired with Outkast and other Dungeon Family members), featuring a young and presumably less rotund Cee-Lo, Khujo, Big Gipp, and T-Mo, absolutely kills it on their debut, Soul Food (1995). The most notable theme on this album is spirituality. So much so, that for moments (especially when backing tracks drop out) the soulful recitations make you wonder how this collective could have remained largely an underground sensation. As far as conscious rap goes, this is A-one.

On "Thought Process", the crew, along with Andre 3000, describe the stress of poverty and the importance of prayer in pushing on. Here Cee-Lo has the best verse, rasping, "I wanna lie to you sometimes, but I can't/ I wanna tell you that it's all good, but it ain't/ It's nigga's hurtin' and uncertain 'bout if they gon' make it or not". Only a hair less powerful is 3000's signature stream-of-consciousness verse, which crests as the beat fades out and the rest of the group is heard clapping to keep the a capella rhythm.

Soul Food (1995)

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Dose 14...Shameless Promotion

Every Street Mixtape by J-OK!

Once a champion sailor, college football player, and excellent potter, Andy Oakes has constantly found ways to reinvent himself. Oakes' first began flirting with the notion of creating music over a year ago. At the time, he and a friend thought it would be interesting to create a mash-up of artists from two distinctly different genres (How original!). Through the grueling process of learning the in's and out's of music programs, Oakes stayed determined when others were cynical. In mixing Jay-Z's verses on "Justify My Thug" with Sound Tribe Sector 9's futuristic tune "F. Word", Oakes first tasted the glory that is musical creation.

Since then, Oakes, whose moniker has changed nearly as many times as Prince's (from Jeffrey to Andy to DJ Ayo to J-OK!), has devoted himself solely to music. Though, in the last 6 months, I have been lackadaisical in following his endeavor, it seems that his interests have changed from solely DJing to rockin' the mic too.

On J-OK!'s (I'll acknowledge his 'street' name) debut showing, Every Street Mixtape (2009), he does well to set himself apart from the riff raff of the hip-hop community. An album predicated on animosity towards the trite and repetitive bullshit that passes for popular rap these days, Every Street is a poignant statement that what we need to do is return to the conscious music that was original hip hop. But, is J-OK! really going to be the one to bring us back?

Most probably not...but I support his earnest effort!


1) J-OK!'s production on the album is ill. He creates beats following the mantra of ultra producer RZA. He takes tiny snippets, as opposed to lazy chorus sampling, and loops them creating, as RZA coined, "psychedelic rap". Plus, Big A-LO's mixing and scratching is wild!

2) The lyrics are actually pretty decent...interesting....funny...what's up with the scat solo on "The Funk"? With regard to lyricism, I am especially impressed by his work on "Fire & Rain" and "What It's Like" (*sick Em impression on this track).

3) His flow isnt THAT wack! Ok, so it's kinda your cliche elementary hip hop flow (See: Hope), but you can tell he's learning as the album progresses. With that said, I'll go out on a limb and say that his rhyming style will become more stylized and personal on his next outing.

4)What J-OK lacks on the first verse of "Hope" is made up for by Barack's flow.

5) Most importantly, I must invoke the wisdom of the one and only KRS-One, and say if "MC's spit rhymes to uplift their people".... J-OK most definitely is one of 'em.

So, while it's not the debut that Illmatic (1994), Reasonable Doubt (1996), or Ready To Die (1994) were, Every Street is legit. It's definitely worth, at least, a once over, and in doing so I'm sure you'll find a couple tracks you like.

My personal favorites were "Fire & Rain", "Hope", What It's Like", and "Music Theory".

Get it at...
Every Street Mixtape (2009)