Friday, July 27, 2012

Basement Sessions

Late Night Marauder

Northwest cat Dawhud put out this debut album in 2008, but it could have easily been from 20 years previous.  Written, performed, and produced by the man himself, this 27-track record, for those reasons alone, is quite an accomplishment.  But this Basement Sessions is more than just a collection of songs, this is a cohesive document from start to finish, that plays out like a well-scripted screenplay.  It's in effect a concept album, that seamlessly combines Dawhud's personal experiences in the world of hip hop with the more universal sounds and concepts immediately identifiable to those of us tuned in to what hip hop was at it's arguable apex. 
To say it's a unique project doesn't quite describe how I feel about this record..  It is an album unlike any other, but when  a term like "unique" is  thrown around one might think of Divine Styler's "Spiral Walls" or Boom Bip, or something else self-indulgent and perhaps difficult to listen to.  Not so here.  Although in its hour-length duration Basement Sessions rarely visits anything remotely similar to today's mainstream hip hop, it is far from difficult or alien listening; and although it's Dawhud's personal story, it manages to be masterfully very un-self-indulgent.  The reason being is that with Basement, Dawhud has peeled back the layers of hip hop down to it's core elements, to something universal, and keeps the language basic, pure, and easily understandable (and quite likable) to anyone familiar with the art form.  Combining the story of his musical upbringing with an appropriate musical backdrop, and using the novel/film Fight Club as a fitting metaphor to weave the albums' many songs, skits, and spoken word fragments into a cohesive, flowing monologue, this is his story of a man lucky enough to come of age at the same time hip hop did, and therefore speaks to a huge cohort of listeners who can immediately feel where he's coming from.  Basement is a colorful patchwork of breaks, funk and jazz loops, classic hip hop samples, and storytelling; with the inclusions of the afore-mentioned skits and historical audio documents to illuminate the story further.
He says it plain early on: he's not out for money, he's out for respect.  It's a reoccurring theme, and it's an attitude that can be applied to his feelings about the commercialization of hip hop in general. But with Basement Sessions he razes all the extraneous garbage that has infested hip hop culture in recent years to the ground - no dilution here, no watering down of the pure essence of hip hop.  The 4 Elements are present, and that's really all that matters.  Dawhud paints a picture of himself that throughout the record comes into focus: That of a young man frustrated with the bullshit in life and in the garbage found in hip hop, and throughout the narrative this man strives to better himself and through him, the art.  
Other reviewers have heard echoes of the second golden age of hip hop when describing this record, but to me I hear more evocation of the first:  I hear Premier's beats in the forefront, Ced Gee and Kool Keith's cadences, KRS's message, Eric B's loop-digging.  Like I hesitate to use the term "unique", I also don't want to say this is "old school", as that implies something tired-out and nostalgic.  But as much as the music and lyricism evoke and pay homage to the golden age of hip hop, there is nothing tired about this record.  This is fresh and vital music, as youthful as the man depicted in the story.  It's vibrant with energy, and that energy flows through the space between the drum breaks, the lyrics, and the loops.  This is true school, that's what it is, and so it never gets old.  There are no tricks here, no gloss, no lasers.  No choruses of "Make money money," no glorification of drug use, no violence, no misogyny, no hating.  At the same time, this isn't some vapid party soundtrack, either.  This is a testament to personal achievement, through hard work, constant refinement, and long, sleepless nights.  This is taking it back to one mic and two turntables - and the holy Akai.  This is strictly beats and rhymes.  Dawhud does it almost completely alone, and as a personal testament it should be that way.  He is more than capable at handling all the chores here. 
Dawhud has other releases out there which I will present shortly, but this is the place to start.  Download it, then put it on a tape, if you can find one, then put it in your walkman or boom box, if you can dig it out of storage.  Turn it on, then listen; remember the past, and use that memory to build a better tomorrow.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Jerm and Asun

Kids With Guns

This free EP from 2009 appears to be down everywhere, so why not post it up here?  Jerm and Asun/Suntonio Bandanaz from Alpha P present three tracks, with (I think) production from Tay Sean of Cloud Nice.  These emcees are two of the most stylistically versatile that Seattle has to offer; Jerm croons on SOTA and Helladope's iconic "Extrahelladope" just as proficiently as his quadruple-speed spitting on "Primetime", the first track on the EP here.  Asun sounds like a classic-era Blowedian, and in fact that's exactly what he is.  Tay's clean, sparkly beats give these two rugged lyricists a little added swagger, as if they needed it.  Short but sweet from some Seattle all-stars.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Think Tank Compilation

Local Vocals

Seattle collective the Mind Movers released this ambitious release in 2008.  City-wide in scope, the talents of over 30 Town emcees, vocalists, DJ's and producers were utilized in the creation of this solidly underground compilation; probably exposing many of them to an audience that may have not heard them before, thus making it somewhat of a Do The Math for the Northwest's third wave of hip hop.  It's 21 varied and energetic tracks in length, and each song has multiple contributers.  Crew cuts!  I for one had only known of a few of the collaborators when I picked this up; it certainly opened my ears to a ton of great talent.
The Mind Movers are made up of emcees Khanfidenz, Inkubiz, Mic Flont, Open Hands, Phreewil (who also handles production, and now resides in Hawaii) and producer/DJ Dead Noise).  
Besides those cats, the massive Seattle crew Alpha P/First Platoon represents as well, with features from emcees Jerm (also of Cloud Nice), Inkubiz and Phree Wil(again!), Kasi Jack Gaffle, Diez, Asad, Rajnii Eddins, Rufio, Jerz, Julie C, Yirim Seck, and Asun, who especially kicks it all over these tracks.
Other names appear as well, see below for track listing and a list of who's who.  Musically the beats are heavy, dusty underground gems.  With six beatmakers in attendance, the tracks are surprisingly cohesive, although the ranges of styles are vast.  Drum-heavy, broody, atmospheric tracks are heard in abundance (thanks mainly to Phree Wil), alonside upbeat soul samples and mellow jazz piano loops.  Whatever, it's all nice; no beats out of a can here, this is artistic craftsmanship from the bottom up.  
Despite the huge undertaking, only the surface of the last decade's hip hop scene has been scratched with this release.  The Town is bursting at the seams with talent.  This is just a decent slice of it.

Track listing:
1. America - Rajnii, Rick Rude (Fresh Espresso), Kasi, WD4D (Cyphalliance) on cuts
2. Progress Report - Rufio, Asun (Kids With Guns), Khanfidenz (Waves of the Mind), Phil in the Blank
3. Espionage - Language Arts, Phree Wil, WD4D on cuts
4. Texas Instrument - Khingz (Members Only 206), Phree Wil, Inkubiz, Asun
5. Comrads - Sista Hailstorm, Ayoka, Mic Flont (OTOW Gang)
6. Ask About - Asun, Jerz, Asad, Khazm (MADK)
7. Blood of the Robot - Rick Rude (Metal Chocolates), Phree Wil (ETS), Jewels Hunter (Black Lab), WD4D and Able on cuts
8. Carry On - Rajnii, Kwame Morrow, Ayoka, Chelsey Richardson, Mic Flont
9. Mr. Nice Guy - Khingz (OTOW Gang), Phree Wil, Mic Flont, WD4D on cuts
10. Best of the Blessed - Rajnii, Asun
11. Water Grave - Phree Wil, Rick Rude, Inkubiz (Waves of the Mind)
12. 47N 122W - Julie C, Jerm (Kingdom Crumbs), Inkubiz, Phree Wil, Open Hands
13. Favorite Things - Phree Wil, Filkoe (Endemik)
14. The Layout - Asun (MADK), Bizzart
15. Beautiful Thing - Asun, Kasi, Phree Wil, Audio Poet (206 Zulu), Diez, WD4D on cuts
16. Destiny - Rajnii, Mic Flont, Inkubiz, WD4D on cuts
17. Hater Aid - Asun, Phree Wil, Mic Flont, WD4D on cuts
18. Emeralds - Open Hands, Gabriel Teodros (Air 2 a Bird), Khanfidenz
19. Local Vocals - Asun (206 Zulu), Phree Wil, Kasi, Mic Flont, Link Letter, WD4D on cuts
20. Grand Design - Rajnii, Gabriel Teodros (CopperWire), Inkubiz
21. We Are Renaissance - Yirim Seck, Alpha P, Mind Movers

 Think Tank

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Request... Ricky P and Tru-ID

80's Babies

Request... This is the laid-back collaborative effort from Ricky Pharoe and Tru-ID, from 2007.  Both emcees are adept at fire; Ricky P's debut album was an angry young paranoiac's manifesto , while Tru-ID's played out like the diary of a poet in front of a dramatic, cinematic score.  Here they tune it down a few notches, creating an album together that rarely achieved the energy of either emcee's solo outings, but instead played out easy like a late summer afternoon.  Neither emcee tries any stylistic acrobatics in favor of relatively basic flows and sing-song choruses.   The beats are likewise relaxed and mid-tempo. Mr. Xquisit, Jewels Hunter, and Camila lend their vocal chords, and Budo, Apoulo, Laidback Luke, Stuart Rowe, Graves and Artistic Propaganda produce.  The album was recorded and mixed by Macklemore (who also contributes lyrically to "The Real Kings".  Up until recently I wrongly thought Ricky was getting beef for making this record; as it turns out for whatever reason it was Ricky who didn't feel it was up to par with the rest of his work.  He may not be naked on the news screaming "come and get me" on this album as much as his previous efforts, but I for one appreciate it as a fine stand-alone record, and as my introduction to these two distinguished emcees.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Ricky Pharoe

Red Lobster Is Expensive, Not Classy

From 2005, this is the debut full - length from vitriolic Seattle emcee Ricky Pharoe, also know as Art Vandelay, Greasy Earl, etc.  Co-billed with beat maker Budo, Pharoe raps articulately over the layers of samples and beats, wastes no time getting his point across.  Ricky evidently has a lot to get off his chest here, and he addresses each gripe head-on without fear of critique or retribution.  The commercialization of hip hop is addressed, as is the vapidity of American capitalism, in abundance.  Mixed in thoroughly is a bold-faced pro-sobriety stance, a deep-seated hatred of club culture and the misogyny it feeds off of, and a general disgust with the hoops one must jump through to traditionally be successful in the arts in this country.  It's rare that an emcee has the guts to preach his ideals when those ideals are so outside the norm - not only is he anti-club and anti-drug, but he openly mocks those who partake in those lifestyles, both of which play a big part in hip hop culture.  Overshadowing the entire 53-minute rant that is Civilized is Pharoe's frequent references to the Illuminati conspiracy, which plays a role in everything else he expounds upon, a force in control of the world's governments just as much as it controls our thoughts and actions.  I've never read Robert Anton Wilson, or Behold A Pale Horse, or any conspiracy theorists, so I can't support or discount what he's saying with any authority, and I'm guessing much of what Ricky's preaching is lost on me.  But obviously he slung quite an undertaking over his shoulder with this record; a record that never quite has enough time or space to plumb the proper depths, but still manages to compel the listener.   I imagine he's probably made himself a few enemies in the process of his career as an emcee; but as a cohesive, clever, and articulate statement, this album's successes far outweigh its shortcomings.
Pharoe is a white underground rapper with a dense, articulate flow and a penchant for self-exploratory poetry, so comparisons to Slug and Aesop Rock are unfortunately unavoidable.  And yes, the comparison is somewhat warranted, as all three lyricists examine hip hop from a personal perspective and capture images through the lens of an outsider.  However, Pharoe separates himself from the others with his subject matter and his unapologetic stance on the issues he tackles.  He's gutsy with his various interconnected foci;  on the commercialization and dumbing down of hip hop, which has been a subject of controversy in the past when coming from white mouthpieces in hip hop (Remember Dj Shadow's "Why Hip Hop Sucks In '96"?), Ricky takes his critique several steps further, siting specific and often-reverent examples in popular hip hop culture, mocking them to pieces, and beating them with a squeaky dog toy into submission.  He manages not to sound like a prude with his anti-drug stance, due to his relating his own chilling drug-addled past.  As much as he rails against the backwards capitalist system this country employs he readily admits taking advantage of it whenever he can.  This gives him some credence; he can genuinely critique these things because he's been there.  
Although the mainstream is in the hot seat, Ricky's underground compatriots also fall victim to his particular knife, as well as bona fide hip hop legends.    The most poignant example falls on the apocalyptic track "The Not So Great", where Ricky both tells his own story as well as that of a man much like himself, aware of the sickness that infests his world.  But this character chooses to ignore the honorable person within and gives in to temptation.  Most effectively, and also most brazenly, he lifts the famous line from The Wu's "Method Man" as his chorus (I got myself a blunt, I got wide owl dub and I'm about to go get lifted.  I'm about to go get lifted.  I got myself a forty, I got myself a shorty and I'm about to go and stick it, yes I'm about to go and stick it).  The intent is blurred, with only the vehemence in Ricky's voice to show that he's passionate about what he speaks even when the borrows from another and the philosophy is on another planet, but tantalizingly within reach all the same.  
Although masked in self-depreciation and humor, Civilized is an articulate work of anger and frustration, generally at the world Pharoe has been placed in, and often specifically at his very audience - the drunk club-goers and stoners that are too busy listening to themselves bullshit to hear his music and his message of the peril surrounding us.  I get the feeling this is music from an artist who's driven to orate, and receives little, if any, satisfaction in the process.  Despite the laugh-out-loud moments on the record, I don't here Pharoe smiling during his delivery.  Besides Budo on beats, Pharoe does it pretty much by himself here, with the exception of in-line contributions from PacNW heroes Billy the Fridge and Jewels Hunter.  After this record he put out a collaborative effort with the stylistic master Tru-ID, then released a couple funny-as-fuck online EP's before resurfacing as Art Vandelay.  His new album under that moniker, Face Tattoo, is dope.  But this is where you should start.  Special thank you's go out to Northwest hip hop collector and archivist Renee "MC Ren", for hooking me up with this album.  It's been a favorite of mine for quite the while now.   Check out her dope collection here.http://flavafoyoear.wordpress.com!