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Posts from September 2007

B.I.G.'s Brother

(wall art by graphic artist dcipher at the Donnycarney wall in Dublin, Ireland)

Today is the 11th anniversary of the death of one our heroes in hip-hop -- Tupac Amaru Shakur (bka 2Pac, aka Makaveli).

Tributes are everywhere thoughout the Internets[sic].

Here are my tributes from last year on the tenth anniversary of 2Pac's untimely death:

Requiem for an Immortal: 10 Years, So Many Tears

How Long Are We Gonna Mourn Him?

I Ain't Mad At Cha

And below are few others:

Poet/cultural thinker/activist hardCore offers his everlasting tribute to 2Pac.

hardCore does it again with another great tribute to 2Pac.

A Poem By Tupac Shakur

Real Talk NY: Top Five 2Pac Videos

Rest In Power, Tupac . . .


Post Graduate

Not to keep harping on the faux album sales battle between Kanye West and 50 Cent, but I just want to bring to your attention two music reviews that sum up my opinions on 'Ye's near-classic Graduation disc and 50's musically uneven -- if not disappointing -- LP, Curtis.

First, esteemed music journalist Dan Charas types a spot-on assessment of Fiddy's effort. I love this critique:

"With Curtis, 50 still does what he does best: write tight pop songs about guns, girls and green over the best beats money can buy. But the charm is gone. Hearing a broke rapper brag about cash is quaint. Having a multimillionaire bully you with his financials is just mean."

Yeah, 50, you're bully. But I digress. I don't mind if 50 brags about stacking chips, what shocks me is that 50 still brags about busting gats ("My Gun Go Off"). And he offers no revelation on his fame or anything introspective. With a title like Curtis, I would expect to hear something about the man behind the Vitamin water, instead, we get empty bravado. But a spotlight needs to be shine on beat maverick Jake One -- "All of Me" (featuring Mary J. Blige) feels like a monster hit record. The beat is fire and Fiddy steps up on the lyrical end.

Another well-knowned pop critic Ann Powers writes a great critical review of Graduation. Here's a pull-up quote:

"Graduation shows West in both modes. That's not surprising, since this album is as much a self-assessment as it is an assertion of superiority. Like a devoted comrade engaged in some cleansing self-criticism, West fully exposes the self hip-hop demands that he be: the pugnacious, narcissistic, bling-grubbing power player with a "head so big, you can't sit behind me." But even as his lyrics on battle cries such as "Stronger," "Champion" and "The Glory" verge on embarrassing self-worship, the music -- and the way the words interact with the music -- reveals another story, of West's conflicted desire to go beyond the hip-hop lineage that generated those very clichés."

And Jay Smooth offers the "Real Truth Behind the 50 and Kanye Album Battle."
(*Although I encourage everyone to go out and buy 50 or Kanye's discs this week.)

And finally, some people are little salty at me for calling Kanye West a "Hip-Hop Genius."

Sorry, these ears don't lie. And my eyes don't lie either.

Watch Kanye's superb new video for the "Good Life" (featuring the cameo king T-Pain), right HERE.

In the spirit of Obtusity, I will try to write a review on this clip in a future post. But for now, this excellent video proves that K-Weezy is indeed a hip-hop genius -- both musically and visually. And if you don't think so, you are just hating. Stop it!


Always Remember . . .

. . . And never forget.

It's time to reflect on 9/11.

I would like to send out my prayers and rememberance to the families of the fallen 9/11 heroes in New York, the Pentagon and in Pennslyvania.

I'm not going to list a bunch of 9-11 links to memorials on the web. But they are two items you that you should check out.

Fresh from Thirty Three Jones is upset that two of the biggest rappers in hip-hop -- Kanye and 50 -- would exploit the most tragic day in America to hype up their own album releases. In the middle of his justifiable rant, there is a heart-tugging reflection on what 9/11 means to him and how the day impacted his life.

And it seems every year at this time, this question is always asked --
Are We Safe From a Terrorist Attack?


And The Winner Is . . .

I copped Kanye West's Graduation and 50 Cent's Curtis CDs over the weekend, and after several listens, I have to say, that Kanye West has the better disc of the two.

And I also agree with music journalists Joey and Jeff Weiss . . .

Kanye West's educational-themed LP Graduation is indeed the best album of 2007, so far.

It's a magna cum lauding™ (*no homo) collection that brilliantly shows why Kanye is one of rap's most polarizing figures -- either you love him or hate him. The set boasts forward-thinking productions, lyrical bravado, catchy punchlines and head-nodding bangers you expect from the Louis Vuitton Don.

Yes, 'Ye maybe an egotistical blowhard . . . but when it comes to rap music, he's a hip-hop genius. And Kanye will likely win the "Album of the Year" trophy at the 2008 Grammy Awards in February. You read it here, first. My ears don't lie.

On Graduation, I love Kanye's staccato rhyme flow on the introductory "Good Morning" and his one metaphoric line on the song, "I'm like the fly Malcolm X, buy any jeans necessary." I can't get enough of the celebratory anthem "The Good Life" (featuring cameo king T- Pain) and the braggadocios "Barry Bonds" (featuring Lil Weezy). Kanyeezee's introspective songs like the synth-heavy "I Wonder," the piano-driven "Everything That I Am" and the standout Jay-Z dedication "Big Brother" are all great songs, as well.

Graduation isn't without its faults -- mostly on the production end. I never liked "Can't Tell Me Nothing" and I still don't on here; the song just doesn't connect with me. The set's second single, "Stronger," sounds richer and more vibrant thanks to Timbaland's drum programming assistance but it doesn't move me either. "Drunk and Hot Girls," with it's plodding beat and Kanye's cautionary tale about groupies, is boring to me. And I'm still on the fence with "Flashing Lights" (featuring Dwele) -- I like 'Ye's production (swirling violins, tapping synths and sorrowful chorus), but the track is not high on my replay list.

Out in the blogsphere, bloggers agree that Graduation is the best of West.

Def Sounds' critic Mr. White Folk gave it an Graduation 8 out of 10 and says, "With the exception of 2 or 3 tracks, the album holds strong with 10 solid songs. [Kanye] brought the best out of himself for this one. It has its moments where you’re going to want a skip a track now and then, but even if you’re not feeling the lyrics in a particular track, the production makes up for it."

Doc Zeus also praises Graduation, callling it "soulful, spaced out . . . [and] utterly weird." He also adds: It's a revolutionary record and possibly, the best record released in years."

A writer over at INDIEscreet, thinks that Graduation is nothing to get excited about. "I'd love to tell you to go and buy this album now as it's a must have for everyone's collection, but I can't. The [LP] is nothing more than average."

And blogger Swiftfus, simply says, "Fuck Kanye!"

On, Kanyeezee surprisingly gets a good review for Graduation. The blog is always extremely critical of the rapper-producer, but writer Akura says that Kanye "delivered a strong and original album . . . 50 Cent may be in trouble."

Speaking of which . . .

Continue reading "And The Winner Is . . . " »

King For The Day

Early in my journalism career, I was the music editor for a New York-based indie hip-hop fanzine called Beat·Down magazine. During my 3-year tenure at the publication, I've interviewed many superstars in the rap and entertainment community.

One memorable interview that I conducted was with DJ King Britt, a world-renowned producer and remixer. I had to tweak the interview below because it was conducted in June of 1996. The conversation maybe dated, but the questions and answers are timeless.

The Funky Technician
By Trent Fitzgerald

"A hip-hop artist should have a human, a DJ, behind him. The DJ is the sole durative of hip-hop . . . "
-- DJ Grandmaster Flash

King James Britt bought his first stereo in 1985 -- it wasa pair of Technique SL 1200s with the rubberband belt drive with no pitch. The teenage Britt was a big fan of alternative music, so he would play songs from the Cure, the Smiths, New Order and then mix it with '80s-era rap hits by Schooly D, Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five and Cash Money & Marvelous. "It was all about the beats and the bass," Britt recalls.

Today, the 30-something DJ and producer, who disguises himself under a numbered of aliases including Sylk 130 and Scuba, has become an innovative turntablist and music producer.

On his 1996 debut album, When the Funk Hits the Fan (Ovum/Sony), DJ King Britt takes the listener into a time warp to the year 1977 when disco was the sound and the DJ was the king of the dance floor. Britt calls the album an "emotion picture" soundtrack -- an imaginary movie fused with disco rhythms, funk, spoken word, soul and early hip-hop. Joining the Philadelphia native on his musical journey are a collective group of hometown talent like spoken-word artist Ursula Rucker, deep-voiced rapper Tony Green and vocalists Vicki Miles and Alison Crockett.

[Added Note: In 2001, King Britt dropped his follow-up Re-Members Only (Six Degrees), his re-interpretation of the 80's era featuring ABC's Martin Frye, Alison Moyet of Yaz and the late sax man Grover Washington Jr.]

DJ King Britt grew up in Southwest Philly to both musical and spiritual-guided parents, and started his immense record collection of jazz, soul, disco and funk at six years old. "My dad was strictly into funk records, while my mom was heavily into jazz records," he says. "My parents would take me to shows where I saw Sun-Ra perform and when I was eight, I saw James Brown at Latin Casino. I was always surrounded by music and it made my household serene and calm." He also embraced hip-hop during his high-school days in the late '80s. "Hip-hop is my culture," he says. "It's me and it represents the streets. It's this generation's jazz music. Hopefully, hip-hop will go back to the underground again and become Black-owned."

While in college, he befriended a young rap upstart named Ishmael Butler (aka Butterfly) whose DJ unsuspectingly quit. Ishmael hired Britt to DJ for his hip-hop group called the Digable Planets. Britt (as Silkworm) backed the trio of Ishmael, Craig "Doodlebug" Irving and Mary Ann "Ladybug Mecca" Vieira. In 1993, they dropped their debut album, Reachin' (A New Refutation of Time and Space). The set's first single "Rebirth Of Slick (Cool Like Dat)" became the album's biggest hit and earned them a 1994 Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group.

Among Britt's other achievements includes hosting the country's first acid jazz radio show, "Full Circle," on Temple University's campus radio station WRTI. In an addition to being a sought-after DJ and remixer, he also runs his own music imprtint FiveSix Media, a multimedia, studio and marketing company.

Outside of music, he is a proud father of a three-year-old daughter name Summer and has a record collection of over 20,000 rare 12 inches and 45s (not including CDs).

On this sunny day in June, King Britt and I are holed up in a local Philadelphia diner about 3 miles away from Temple University where Britt majored in Marketing. Although he has travel around the world, he has no qualms telling me the problems he sees with amateur DJs. "These [younger DJs] have to stick to their own sounds," he tells me. "Don't try to copy DJ Shadow or the Invisibl Scratch Pickls, just try to come up with your own way of spinning and make your turntable manipulations stand out. Originality is the key." During our conversation, Britt and I talk about his career, his latest disc and the art of DJing.

"1977 was the year of the DJs. Disco was massive and the DJ was king. Everyone looked at the DJ for music from 1977 to 1983. For me, 1977 was a strong year to be a DJ . . . " -- DJ King Britt

BEAT·DOWN: Explain your alter ego Sylk 130?
DJ KING BRITT: I always appreciated graffiti and the artists who tagged names like Tame One, or Tame 123, you know. So since I was Silkworm in Digable Planets, I took the name of my [hometown] street address, which was 130 Pembelton, and incorporated it into the name Sylk 130.

BD: Explain your 1996 debut album When the Funk Hits the Fan.
KB: The album is the first in a trilogy of albums that I will record that have influenced me as a DJ. This album is based on the music I listened to when I was growing up around 1977-1980. My father would say to me, "Son, now this is real funk," and that is what the album is about. Now the concept with the title is this: when the funk hits the fan, the "fan" meaning "the person," not an electrical appliance. The second album is going to continue from 1984 to 1994 with old-school hip-hop to new wave and then the last album is going to be techno oriented and be very futuristic.

BD: Why did you choose the year 1977 as the musical basis for the album?
KB: Everything that has to do with art goes in cycle of 10 years. So I picked 1977 because that was the year of the DJs. The popularity of the DJ was huge back then. Disco was massive and the DJ was the king. Everyone looked to the DJ for music from 1977 to like 1983-4. Plus you had clubs like Studio 54 and The Garage and just that the whole DJ culture. For me, 1977 was a strong year to be a DJ.

BD: It's interesting that you did a remake of Indeep's 80's club hit "Last Night A DJ Saved My Life." To me, the DJ was the lifesaver of every party. How important is the DJ culture?
KB: Oh, it is very important. You see, that song in particular saved my life. Because it made me want to become a DJ. You see, I want to spin and take the art of DJing to an instrumental level and become a turntablist. That's why I'm so happy to be a part of the Digable Planets. Back in the days, when I went on tour with them, I had to be an improvisationalist and be spontaneous. That helped me build my strength as a DJ being ready for anything.

BD: Do you think DJs are the superheroes of the dancefloor?
KB: No, we are humans and we are musicians trying to create a serene atmosphere for people to dance and have a good time. People have to recognize that DJing isn't about playing records -- it's an art form. And DJs like me are bringing out the DJ culture. DJing is an intense art form and there's no superheroes allow, man.

Continue reading "King For The Day" »