Rugged and Raw (And No Longer Homeless)

November 18, 2009

Below are links to two typically hilarious (and disturbing) profiles of one of hip-hop’s most underrated players. Somehow I was less surprised to hear about R.A.’s army of bargaining hookers than the fact that he supported McCain/Palin in 2008. And here I thought Daddy Yankee was the only one.

R.A. the Rugged Man Abides (Village Voice)

R.A. the Rugged Man Really Does Bribe People With Hoo-ers (Byron Crawford)

R.A.’s Legendary Classics Vol. 1 is in stores now. Cop that.



November 13, 2009

Pete Rock & CL Smooth, live in London, Nov. 9th, 2009 (!!)

This is just what I needed to get excited about rap again.

Top This And We’ll Talk

November 12, 2009

Dear Hip-Hop,

I know I’ve been neglecting you lately: infrequent posts, little to no rotation in the home or whip, multiple days without even a glance at Nahright. I never thought I’d say this, but you just aren’t doing it for me lately. We’ve been together too long for me to beat around the bush, so let me put it to you bluntly: I’ve met another genre, and she’s incredible. Ever since discovering the classic salsa born in New York in the late 60s and nurtured on labels like Fania throughout the following two decades, I can’t bring myself to listen to anything else. To tell you the truth, it’s a lot like when we first met; I can’t believe I’ve lived this long without knowing about this music, and I have this insatiable desire to hear (and collect) as much of it as possible, in the least amount of time.

Don’t get me wrong; you still have a lot to recommend you. Sure, mainstream rap is shit, but this year alone you’ve given us dope releases by Cormega, Alchemist, Raekwon, U-God, The Jacka, Maino, and Kurupt and DJ Quik, (among others, I’m sure) even if they did share the shelves with Asher Roth, “Young Ju’ Man,” and Jay-Z’s worst album since The Blueprint 2. But it’s been a while since I’ve seen or heard anything hip-hop related that could fuck with the clip above, in which a bevy of salsa masters wile out for ten minutes straight on a Puerto Rican TV show in 1978. I’m certainly no expert on these people yet (although I’m working on it) but the group includes “El Gigante” Charlie Palmieri on keys, Patato Valdez (in the kangol) on percussion, Chocolate Armenteros on trumpet, and the great Johnny Pacheco (co-founder of Fania records and leader of the Fania all-stars) on flute. There’s also the great Machito (a pioneer of Latin Jazz) and vocals by Tito Cruz and Lalo Rodriguez. I guess the closest thing hip-hop-related to an assembly like this would be those much-hyped BET cyphers, but to be honest I haven’t even checked those out. I don’t think I could tolerate watching an Eminem freestyle in 2009, even with DJ Premier on the ones and twos.

Anyway, don’t take it too hard; I’m sure I’ll be back eventually. But you should know, you’re going to have to share me. Sure, the infatuation phase may wear off, but I don’t think my interest in salsa is going away anytime soon. So either get used to being my chick on the side, or do something exciting to win back my love. How about another D.I.T.C. album, this time with the whole crew? A Tribe Reunion? Perhaps a Nas LP with some decent production. I know: a Big Daddy Kane comeback! I could go on forever, but you get the idea. Three Gucci Mane mixtapes in one day may be enough for some people, but not for me. I think you can do better. And if you can’t, well fuck it. I’m getting plenty of stimulation as is. Now excuse me while I throw on a classic.

Forever Young (No Mr. Hudson)

November 6, 2009
Vodpod videos no longer available.

The undisputed queen of salsa, Cuban diva Celia Cruz remained current throughout her 50+year career, winning awards and cranking out hits right up until her death in 2003. Recorded only a year prior, “La negra tiene tumbao” redefines the term “late-period,” as a seventy-seven year old Celia, in various wigs and sequined outfits, rides a reggaeton-influenced rhythm with the help of  a couple of dreadlocked, Carribean rastas. Oh, and did I mention the full frontal nudity (starts at 2:40?) Talk about a hip old broad. The best part of it all is that Celia seems to be having the time of her life. She truly doesn’t seem to care about looking ridiculous or “selling out,” because, let’s face it, when you’re that popular at seventy-seven, you get a pass to do whatever the fuck you want. Which makes me wonder: Is this what the future holds for today’s (and yesterday’s) rappers? Can we look forward to an eighty-year old Ghostface struggling to support the massive gold eagle perched on his wrinkled arm? I sure hope so, but aging rappers are definitely gonna have it harder than their counterparts in virtually any other genre.

First there’s the question of content; once you hit sixty (and I’m being generous here) you really can’t continue trading in coke-boasts and threats of physical violence. Either you have to start talking about everything in the past tense, or, like Celia in the above song, tell your stories in the third person, creating younger characters who do the the things you once claimed to do yourself. Or, I suppose, you could talk about your current reality (eg. medicare, “technology these days,” and “those meddling kids” next door. Sounds like a hit!) Of course, even less likely than an emcee continuing to record well into his golden years (I think that’s inevitable, for better or for worse) is the prospect of any rapper maintaining the popularity (and profitability) of someone like Celia Cruz a full fifty years after his debut. Jay-Z probably has the greatest chance, although if his subject matter gets any more “mature” than it already has, I can’t imagine the kids will keep listening; he’s already this close to making an album about his stock portfolio.

Anyway, I guess we’ll have to wait and see. All I know is that if I live to see a seventy-five-year-old Kurupt ice-grilling and mumbling that “bitches ain’t shit,” I’ll die a very, very happy man.

The Return of Rob Odindo

November 2, 2009

Other than CL Smooth, Rob-O is probably the strongest rapper Pete Rock ever blessed with a full album of his productions. Of course, that’s small praise when the competition is Deda and the rest of the dudes from INI. Personally, I always found Rob pretty bland, but I’ll listen to pretty much anybody over a Pete Rock track (especially the mid-90’s shit INI was freaking.) After Center of Attention got shelved, I always figured Rob had found a new career; after all, I hadn’t heard anything from him since his last appearance with Pete, on 1998’s Soul Survivor. So imagine my surprise last week when, browsing the stacks at Rasputin, I stumbled upon Rhyme Pro. Less an album than a collection of singles and unreleased tracks, Rhyme Pro boasts uniformly solid production and, on songs like the biographical “Life I Live Part 2,” some surprisingly engaging performances from Rob himself. Elsewhere on the album he’s predictably boring, but at least he’s never irritating like Deda; at worst he kind of blends into the track and you just tune him out. Of course, the main reason I bought this album (well, aside from the $3.95 price tag) were the four tracks by the Chocolate Boy Wonder, none of which I’d heard before. Ostensibly recorded sometime between The Main Ingredient and Soul Survivor, these joints are smooth, laid-back, and jazzy—perfectly suited to Rob-O’s mellow flow (though he definitely gets overshadowed some by the production.) Surprisingly, they aren’t necessarily even the best songs here, as others allow Rob to acquit himself a bit better lyrically over equally solid, if different, production by a handful of lesser-knowns. Interestingly, the album includes two tracks previously released as part of INI’s Center of Attention, an album whose full production is always credited to Pete Rock. Here, however, “Don’t You Want It” and “Wunderlust” are credited to Spunk Bigga and Grap Luva, respectively. Hard to know about that one, I guess, without asking Pete. Anyway, peep the nineties-era Pete Rock tracks below, and if you like what you hear go ‘head and cop the album. Amazingly, it’s still in print.

Stay Away ft. De La Soul (download)

Mention Me ft. Meccalicious (download)

So Many Rappers ft. Pete Rock (download)

Superspectacular ft. Pete Rock (download)

Words From the Funky Man

November 2, 2009

There’s a nice little Lord Finesse interview up at Wax Poetics. Hip-hop’s renaissance man speaks on the early days of D.I.T.C., how he linked up with Big L, and getting to work with Biggie on Ready to Die. Hearing dudes like this reminisce makes me sad for the current state of hip-hop. I seriously got emotional reading this shit.

D.I.T.C. >>>

Diggin’ In the (Same) Crates

October 30, 2009

Oliver Sain — “On the Hill” (1972) (download)

Puff Daddy ft. Jay-Z & The Notorious B.I.G. — “Young G’s”

D.I.T.C. — “Day One”

You know you have low expectations for an album when you’re debating whether to buy it for the price of $1.00. Conventional wisdom should tell you that even one or two good tracks will justify the price, but you know that if the filler around those tracks is bad enough it will truly make you pine for a refund. On Tuesday, I bought Puff Daddy’s No Way Out amid just such concerns, and after giving it a listen I’m still not sure I spent my money wisely. Sure, there are some worthwhile moments on the album (mainly the four appearances by the Notorious B.I.G.) but the vast majority of Diddy’s (first) monument to his own self-importance suffers from vomit-inducing production and far too many verses by Puff himself, whose grindingly boring delivery makes the somnolent Mase sound like L.O.N.S.-era Busta Rhymes.

Aside from the “Benjamins” remix (whose beat changeup on Biggie’s verse marks one of the only surprises on an achingly predictable LP) No Way Out‘s strongest record is the Jay-Z and Biggie-helmed “Young G’s,” which again showcases the chemistry between the two Brooklyn giants, over a loop that, incredibly, was NOT lifted from a #1 record from the 1980s. When people mention “On the Hill,” from Oliver Sain’s 1972 Main Man LP, they inevitably bring up “Young G’s,” which flipped a tiny section of the song (beginning at 3:40) into a jazzy backdrop perfectly suited to the braggadocio of Hov and Biggie (let’s just not talk about Puff.)

Credit goes to Rashad Smith (who?) for placing such a banging record on an album otherwise marred by terrible production, but unfortunately for Rashad, Bronx legend Diamond flipped the same sample that same year, doing arguably a better job and resisting the jigged-out flourishes (in this case, the Kelly Price chorus)  that make even the best of No Way Out sound dated twelve years later. And while Biggie remains in a class all his own (“Young G’s” becomes infinitely more exciting the minute he starts flowing), D.I.T.C.’s “Day One” boasts five dope verses from five of NY’s finest, rather than just one amazing performance preceded by an underwhelming Jay-Z spot and a sleep-inducing verse from Puff. One of my favorite cuts of all time, “Day One” exemplifies everything great about the New York collective, reflecting the crew’s purist approach in its understated mixture of an obscure break, carefully-chosen drums, and across-the-board fire from each veteran lyricist. Which is not to take anything away from Puff’s record. It’s just hard to top perfection.