Posts Tagged 'Akon'

What I’m Hearing, Vol. 15

{for last month’s What I’m Hearing, click here}

July’s iPod update was an extremely diverse one, not just for the artists, but for the songs themselves. Taking a new tact, I made July an all mash-up month, checking out some of the ways in which DJs have started taking on the mix and match genre full-throttle. While Danger Mouse helped pioneer it with the Grey Album and AmpLive took it another step with his remixes of Radiohead’s In Rainbows, the mash-up culture is far past those now. But while there is much to be said for the style of Girl Talk where there are more layers than you can reasonably dissect in a listening, I find the club mash-ups utilizing 2 to 3 songs to be a most effective use of the genre. The best news? As all of these are off the grid, they’re all available for download, so follow the links to check the music out for yourself. July’s iPod update included 118 songs.

50 Cent vs. The 50s, DJ Doc Rok: Currently residing in Washington, D.C., DJ Doc Rok’s (djdocrok@gmail.com) work is among the strongest of all artists I heard this month. What’s more is that while he does have a collection of odd mash-ups and various artists, he also sets out to create complete albums of one to two artists. On this album, Rok focuses on all lyrics from 50 Cent songs and combines them with Golden Oldie hits from the R&B and Pop genres. The result? 50 Cent party songs with a touch of flair, moved out of the straight club motif that dominates so many of his songs and saturated with style and soul. Using songs like Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man,” The Four Seasons’ “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” and Booker T. and the MG’s “Green Onions,” Rok flips the 50 acapellas on their head with fantastic result. Definitely my favorite download of the month. Don’t Sleep On: “Rowdy Rowdy/It’s My Party (And I’ll Cry If I Want To),” “Like My Style/One Fine Day,” and “The Good Die Young/Little Susie.”

Best of 2007 (Mash-Up Your Bootz), Various Artists: If you’re looking for a comprehensive blog that provides a vast cross-section of the variety of mash-ups available online, check out Mash-up Your Bootz. They provide comprehensive year-end wrap-up mixes, links to other mash-up sites, and breaking news in the genre. I downloaded both their 2007 and 2008 Best of Mixes and wasn’t disappointed with either. Beck takes on Green Day, AC/DC meets 50 Cent and the Scissor Sisters, Peggy Lee and Iggy Pop collide and Peter Bjorn and John find their whistle backing both Bloc Party and Amy Winehouse. Some of the mashers on this mix include DJ Peaking, DJ Le Clown, CheekyBoy, DJ Lobsterdust, and Party Ben. Perhaps the most pleasant track is by Norwegian Recycling who put together a very simple acoustic mash-up called “How Six Songs Collide” featuring Jason Mraz, Howie Day, Five For Fighting, Angela Ammons, Boyzone, and 3 Doors Down. This one is mirrored nicely with the eerie and melancholy mash of Placebo, Kate Bush and the Pet Shop Boys called, “Love Comes Running Up That Hill Quickly.” Don’t Sleep On: “Young Folks Rehab” by DJ Topcat (Amy Winehouse’s v. Peter Bjorn and John), “Love Comes Running Up That Hill Quickly” by DJ Magnet (Pet Shop Boys v. Placebo v. Kate Bush) and “Break Through Love” by DJ Zebra (The Doors v. Led Zeppelin)

Best of 2008 (Mash-Up Your Bootz), Various Artists: The 2008 mix picks up where 2007 left off and offers an impressive array of very different artists finding their songs blended with people of opposite genres. The album kicks off with Bryan Adams going head to head with Metallica, James Brown duels The Offspring, and Rage Against the Machine gets thrown together with AC/DC, Joan Jett, Queen and Red Hot Chili Peppers. To say that these songs stretch the concept of mashable genres is an understatement. Contributors include Wax Audio, MadMixMustang, DJ Morgoth and Divide and Kreate. Best track has to come when DJ Schmolli brings the haunting guitar lilt of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” and fills it with a slowed down Billy Idol singing “White Wedding.” The result is astounding. Don’t Sleep On: “Wicked Wedding” by DJ Schmolli (Chris Isaak v. Billy Idol v. HIM) “The Low Anthem” by Bass 211 (Flo Rida v. Pitbull) and “Dance Dreams” by Divide and Kreate (Eurythmics v. Lady Gaga)

Michael Jackson: With the unfortunate and untimely death of Michael Jackson last month, I decided to go back and flesh out my Jackson music collection. Sure, I had Thriller and parts of Bad, but I was still missing a large chunk of music from the Jackson 5 days as well as the tracks he did as part of The Jacksons. In all of these outings, Michael’s voice is distinct and easy to pick out, and his energy serves to carry most of the songs. So if you’re looking for some tracks you may not have heard, Don’t Sleep On: “Too Late to Change the Time,” (Jackson 5) “State of Shock,” (The Jacksons) “Another Part of Me” (Michael Jackson)

Jay-Z vs. Led Zeppelin, DJ Doc Rok: By taking the lyrics from Jay-Z’s soundtrack to American Gangster and mashing them with various Led Zeppelin songs, Doc Rok succeeds again in creating an album that can stand on its own. Darker and more subdued than the 50 Cent album, this outing utilizes Zeppelin songs like “Immigrant,” “No Quarter,” “Tangerine,” and “Kashmir.” The result is a new way to think of Jay-Z, liberated from much of the standard hip-hop and rap tracks he’s been tied to, the guitars and gritty classic Rock from Led Zeppelin provide a new canvas which comes off fresh. Don’t Sleep On: “Success/Moby Dick,” “Party Life/I’m Gonna Leave You,” “No Hook/Tangerine”

Party Vol. 25 (Mash-Up Your Bootz), Various Artists: Where the 2007 and 2008 span every genre, what you find most on this party album are mashes primarily utilizing hip-hop, dance and rock. DJ Lobsterdust brings The Police and Coldplay together while DJ BC brings together George Harrison, L’il Kim and Notorious B.I.G. The nice part of this album is that all of it is danceable and will appeal to most anyone on the dance floor. When Gloria Gaynor and Fall Out Boy meet each other at the hands of Mighty Mike, just about anything is possible. Don’t Sleep On: “Get the Day ‘n’Night Started” by Pheugoo (Pink v. Kid Cudi), “Beautiful Journey” by DJ MashUP (Journey v. Akon) and “Lady and the Usher” by Divide and Kreate (Usher v. Ladyhawke)

What I’m Hearing, Vol. 8

For a taste of October’s music, click here.

November’s update comes with over 100 tracks spanning both new and old albums, and quite a bit in terms of the Yancey family. We’ve got hip-hop and indie rock, R&B and rap. Enjoy!

Black Milk, Tronic: An album that pushes the traditional boundaries of hip-hop with futuristic synths and musical approaches, Black Milk still puts out several songs that utilize nostalgic samples. I won’t say much more because I’ve already written a full album review, but in my recent interview with Hieroglyphics members Opio and Tajai, they named Black Milk as one of the hip-hop producers they were liking the sound of recently. Read the full album review here. Don’t Sleep On: “Long Story Short,” “Bounce,” and “Losing Out” featuring Royce da 5’9″

Bloc Party, Intimacy: When Bloc Party released their initial effort, Silent Alarm in 2005, it brought a distinct sound to the indie rock arena with Kele Okereke’s emotional British accent and their hard charging guitars on songs like “Banquet.” That album spawned a remix album before the release of what I viewed to be a lackluster sophomore effort on 2007’s A Weekend in the City, an album that had three, maybe four really solid songs, tops. Thankfully though, Intimacy not only serves to take some of the band’s music in another direction, but returns the indie sound on their rock songs to the top-notch form that looked possible from their debut. Intimacy still has driving drums and screaming guitars, but the band has started to utilize more in the way of drum machines and electronic flourishes that create a new dimension for them to explore and in some cases creates some of the most musically advanced songs the band has produced to date. Okereke’s use of his voice is showing maturity, commanding more range of both pitch and emotion here. In some songs, it feels like the input they had on their work from Silent Alarm Remixes has prompted them to explore in new directions. A very solid album. Don’t Sleep On: “Signs,” “One Month Off,” and “Talons.”

Illa J, Yancey Boys: I’ve read a few reviews of this album that basically mock Illa J’s approach and state that he only made this album because he got posthumously released tracks from his big brother J Dilla. I think these reviews miss the point of the album in that Illa J doesn’t fancy himself a rapper or hip-hopper, he’s a self-described singer/songwriter, so it only makes sense that what he does over Dilla beats is going to be different from Dilla’s output when he was alive. On this album, the younger Yancey proves himself musically diverse and extremely relaxed, while also recognizing the importance of respecting Dilla’s production. The tracks here are laid back and jazzy, and Illa takes no effort to listen to, he’s that easy. Click here for the full album review, and click here for my interview with Illa J. Don’t Sleep On: “R U Listenin’?” feat. Guity Simpson, “We Here,” and “DTFT” feat. Affion Crockett

J Dilla, Welcome 2 Detroit: With the way underground hip-hop is structured and feeds into the mainstream, it’s often possible for fans to miss an initial classic album from an artist, and then never check it out once they’ve gotten big because it gets lost in the new music. With Illa J’s debut album dropping this month featuring almost exclusive production from Dilla, it only made sense to make sure people were aware of J Dilla’s initial solo offering and the way it intersects with the rest of the hip-hop genre. On Welcome 2 Detroit, Dilla’s signature melodic and stoned out beats are in fine form with lyrical help from other Detroit rappers such as eLZhi (WIH6) and Phat Kat. The album, released in 2001, still sounds fresh and innovative today and features several tracks that showcase Dilla’s ability to fuse other sounds into his hip-hop such as the co-produced (Karriem Riggins) “Rico Suave Bossa Nova” and “B.B.E. (Big Booty Express)” which Dilla seems to have created in order to slip onto future releases of the 1977 Kraftwerk album Trans-Europe Express. Don’t Sleep On: “Shake It Down,” “It’s Like That,” feat. Hodge Podge and Lacks, and “Pause” feat. Frank-N-Dank.

Jedi Mind Tricks, A History of Violence: Underground hip-hop mainstays Jedi Mind Tricks return for their 6th studio album with more hard hitting tracks, masterful production and intricate lyrics. The conspiracy themes from previous albums remain here, and the production draws from interesting samples such as the strings and haunting foreign lyrics on “Monolith” and the sparse flute in “Trail of Lies.” The lyrical deliveries on these tracks are tight, concise and deep in content, and on the whole, the album is a display of exceptional craft from artists working together with a common musical vision and knowledge of their strengths. Don’t Sleep On: “Trail of Lies,” “Death Messiah,” and “Heavy Artillery.”

Kanye West, 808s and Heartbreaks: Following the death of his mother, I was wondering what the latest output from an artist so in touch with his emotions and personal experiences would sound like. On the one hand, I could see West shaking off the events of the last year or so and putting out his most bouncy and sample-laden disc to date. On the opposite end of that, I could imagine West delving deep into what was going on and producing an intensely personal album. On 808s, West moves in a direction completely opposite of the roads he’s traveled before, and comes out all the better for it. Let’s be clear. 808s is not an album for anyone expecting the continuation of sound and work from West’s previous three albums, and it’s not an album that everyone is going to enjoy musically. Using an 808 drum machine and extensively using Auto-Tune to sing rather than rap, West has produced a stripped down and emotionally raw album. Heavy on synths and in points retro-80s sounds (tracks here could have made an Aphex Twin or Tricky album), West lays bare what’s going on with him and refuses to apologize for the new direction of his music. What’s amazing is that while I think the roster of musicians today who could completely change course from one album to the next and do so successfully is small, Kanye does make that list with this album. Dark, personal and musically adventurous, 808s and Heartbreaks exposes West as the musician he is rather than the hip-pop clone machine he’s often typecast as. Don’t Sleep On: “Paranoid,” feat. Mr. Hudson, ” “Bad News” (which features a sample from Nina Simone‘s “See Line Woman”) and “Street Lights.”

Ludacris, Theater of the Mind: While some artists are out to create philosophically moving pieces, or to in some way further the hip-hop culture, Ludacris doesn’t concern himself with such lofty ideals. He’s about making money. A lot of it. On his 6th studio album, Ludacris returns with the formula that has made him the hottest rapper in the South’s history… pulsing and grimy beats full of horns and deep bass kicks meet with quick delivery lyrics touching on sex, violence, money and his ability to outsell other rappers. Keep in mind, I’m not saying that this formula doesn’t work for him and doesn’t have its place within rap and hip-hop, but it is without any sort of creative growth that Luda moves forward. If there’s any doubt about the kind of sales Ludacris would like to see, this album is the most saturated rap album I’ve seen in years in terms of cameo appearances. Ludacris is the lone rapper on only 2 of the 15 tracks, getting guest appearances from Floyd Mayweather (yes, the boxer), Chris Rock (yes, that comedian), Jamie Foxx (still an actor?), Common and Spike Lee (one of them is a rapper, right?), Nas, Jay-Z and current Top 40 mainstays T.I., The Game, T-Pain and Lil Wayne. This approach either means that he intends to make a lot of money based on name recognition of his guests or he realizes that to put out an album that only has him on it, he’d need to come up with full lyrics to all of his songs, a task that might seem daunting (I mean, how many times can you really come up with new raps about rims and Cadillacs?) While musically and lyrically this album isn’t challenging, it has certainly produced some tracks that we’re sure to be hearing in clubs and parties very soon. Don’t Sleep On: “Intro” (only a minute of rapping, but well worth it, and one of only 2 songs with just Luda on it), “Undisputed” feat. Floyd Mayweather, and “Wish You Would” feat. T.I.

Opio, Vuture’s Wisdom, Vol. 1: The first in a trilogy of albums to be released by Opio from Hieroglyphics with production by Architect. The idea behind the albums is that people are saying hip-hop is dead, or at least that’s the popular expression lately. Vulture’s Wisdom refers to the ability to pick what’s left of life from the bones of the deceased, and this album shows that Opio hasn’t lost any of the edge that has carried him through more than a decade in the industry as a part of the Hiero Imperium. Be on the lookout for my interview with Opio and Tajai, where they discuss their plans to release a new single every week in 2009. Don’t Sleep On: “Don Julio,” “Mind, Body and Soul,” and “Some Superfly Shit.”

Singles… these are the songs where the full album just didn’t cut it, but the songs deserve their time in your ears. Check out “4 Wind,” a multi-lingual remix of the cut from Breez Evahflowin and Dirt E. Dutch’s Troublemakers album, and the radio ready hip-pop of T-Pain songs “Can’t Believe It” featuring L’il Wayne and “Karaoke” featuring DJ Khaled where T-Pain goes off on the rest of the industry (funny coming from the guy who did “Bartender”) and claims the only cool rappers are Kanye West and L’il Wayne. Well, at least he’s consistent. There you have it, the November update… up next is the second installment of last year’s 11 Songs to Be Thankful For.

AmpLive Interview

Amplive

AmpLive has been one of the most talented and diverse producer/DJs of the last ten years. His work as part of the Zion I duo has exemplified an ability to bring in a variety of musical styles and genres to the hip-hop world. In addition to this work, Amp has worked with or done remixes for Goapele, Akon and Nicole Scherzinger of the Pussy Cat Dolls. He has also produced music for ESPN‘s Sportscenter, So You Think You Can Dance?, America’s Next Top Model, and MTV’s shows Cribs and The Real World. On top of the musical creation, he has earned a Platinum Plaque for his Linkin Park remix as well as The Guardian‘s “Best Producer in the Bay,” and San Francisco Weekly‘s “Best Hip Hop Group in the Bay” awards. AmpLive’s recent release, Rainydayz Remixes, a remix album of the Radiohead album In Rainbows, has received considerable press, word of mouth, and excellent reviews. The mash-ups, utilizing and remixing pieces of the original album, received Radiohead’s blessing to be distributed for free. Because of the MixMatch nature of this album and the various production, distribution and copyright issues associated with such an undertaking, we thought it was about time to catch up with Amp and talk to him about his musical history and future, his run at the Radiohead album, and the future of the music industry and distribution models in general. Below is the interview Amp granted to Evolving Music to talk about these issues. Insert gratitude and round of applause here…

AC: Your music and production, from Mind Over Matter to Heroes in the City of Dope, always exhibits a huge variety of sounds and influences from different genres that speaks to a diverse musical enjoyment. What genres catch your ear, what is the foundation of your personal musical enjoyment, and when starting out on songs, is it a conscious effort to bring these genres in, or are they embedded and just come out in your music?

Amp: Well, I grew up exposed to different types of music. I am from Texas, so I was surrounded by country music. I played the drums at my church, listened to hip hop, skate punk and techno in middle school, took piano lessons, and was forced to watch the local symphony at least twice a month. So I look at music as a big bubble. All genres catch my ear. I feel that you can find something good in everything. When I am creating songs, I generally go off the feeling that I have or the point I want to get across versus thinking of the genre that it would be in.

AC: Zion I, at various times, has brought in collaborating MCs and producers. For Heroes in the City of Dope, Grouch was brought on for the entire album. What process do you use when determining who you’d like to work with on upcoming tracks? When you do collaborate, is there a set formula you like to use for combining with another musician, or is it a more organic process? How have your collaborations contributed to your personal growth as an artist, and do you find yourself revisiting methods you picked up from people you’ve made music with in your own?

Amp: Collaborations and observation has definitely helped me grow as a producer. When I first started in the early 90s, Spearhead X, who was a producer for Dallas Austin, taught me how to tighten my drums. While L Rock, who now is a main producer in Lil Jon‘s camp, helped with musical arrangements and learning how to play. So as I evolved and started becoming a professional years later, I took these experiences and applied them to my music. So in doing the collaboration album, Heroes in the City of Dope, I wanted to make sure there was equal input from everyone. For that album Grouch and I gave approval on the beats and the songs as they were finished. So we both had our touches on the music, even if I produced the track.

AC: Is there one genre that you most enjoy incorporating in your music, and is there any sound you’ve been wanting to work in a song that you haven’t done yet?

Amp: Hip Hop music is my basis and in my soul, so that will always be incorporated into my music. I have always wanted to do a song using a harp. Hopefully in the future that will happen!

AC: Obviously your remix of In Rainbows demonstrates an appreciation for the album. How long have you been a Radiohead fan, what initially introduced you to their music and which is your favorite song and album? Now that they’ve proven amenable to your remix effort, are you considering working on any of their other work?

Amp: Ive been a Radiohead fan since the late 90s. “Karma Police” from the album Ok Computer was what set it off for me. Even though that was their hit song and everyone liked it at that time, the hip hop feel and knock of it captured me. Then their sound got more electro and I really started getting into them. I would have to say that before In Rainbows, Kid A was my favorite album. I just think they are off the hook because they successfully push the envelope at all times. I would definitely do more remix work, just approach it differently next time.

AC: The growth of collaborations when it comes to mash-ups is something that has really been quite fast over a relatively short period of time. Was this the first time you had thought about doing something like this, and what prompted you, over any other music you might currently be listening to, to work with this album?

Amp: Well, I have always done remixes and twisted up music. I did my first mashup cd about a year ago, Beats, Remixes, and a side of Mashups, where I took all kinds of vocals, including old Zion I a cappellas, and combined them with different music. It got a really good response and people were telling me that they liked it better than the normal mashups. Thats why I thought that I could do this well.

AC: There are a few songs, “Bodysnatchers,” “House of Cards” and “Jigsaw Falling Into Place,” from In Rainbows that you didn’t work with on the Remixes. What made you decide to work with the tracks you did?

Amp: Well, for one timing. I had started working on a remix for “House of Cards” and “Bodysnatchers,” but there wasnt enough time to finish and do what I wanted to do. Especially “Body Snatchers.” Man, that song is good!! I just messed with the songs that I felt were the easiest to remix first.

AC: Initially you received a Cease and Desist for these tracks. What was the progression from that letter to Radiohead allowing them to be distributed? Was it a process that went on through the labels, or through you and the band?

Amp: Basically, after the cease and desist came, we reached out to Radiohead. After sending them the songs and listening to them, they gave an ok for the release.

AC: What are your thoughts on the method of going without a label to start, allowing consumers to pick the price of the album and providing it for free as Radiohead did with In Rainbows? You’ve also now released and received considerable press from your remixes being available for free. What is your view of this change in distribution, and where do you see the traditional label industry heading in the next five years?

Amp: I think that it was ground breaking how they decided to do that. It was giving back to the fans who have been supporting them. By giving the album away for free at first and then offering it for sale later was saying that “for all of the people who have been supporting us, we will give you first dibs on the new record”. I think that shows respect. I think the industry is changing, but I dont know the end result. I do feel that groups will have to do more than just rely on their music for income. The song is going to be more of a business card than a product. A group’s show and merchandise are going to be the new product. I think that the traditional label is going to combine with management and marketing formats. It will be all in one.

AC: I think your description of the song as a business card for musicians is a very solid one. I think a lot of people believe that with iTunes now being the second largest music distributor in the world and songs being sold for a dollar, artists are seeing more revenue from the sale of their music. Is this a true assumption on the part of the consumer? And could you address how the change in format and distribution has altered your income from the release of Mind Over Matter, which was primarily CD and word of mouth, and has since been released on iTunes, to later albums that were released on iTunes immediately? What DOESN’T the consumer know about artist profits from their music distribution?

Amp: Well, the biggest misconception is that the artists are making more money because of iTunes. What consumers (and artists actually) need to realize, is that it takes money to make money. Having your music on iTunes is only going to sell it if you are able to spend the proper amount of money and have a working staff of people to promote where to find your music. This is where a record label or promotions company comes into play. I have always been independent so the way i see my revenue hasn’t changed as much. Because I have been putting out albums since 1997, I have been able to build a fan base that has followed my music from the CD to the digital era. So things have been consistent, in terms of the career of Zion I.

AC: In your music, what is currently holding the most interest for you and what has brought you the most enjoyment recently? You’ve been doing DJ sets now, how do these differ for you in preparation and presentation from your shows as Zion I? Is there any work being done on a new album?

Amp: Definitely doing the Rainydayz Remixes brought me enjoyment. I also have been working with the soul artist Codany Holiday and his album is sounding tight. But most of all the new Zion I album, The Take Over, has been really tight to complete. I have been DJing for years, it’s nothing new. For Zion I I just wanted to step up the game and do more than just play tracks in the back, so I make live music on stage too. But I plan to incorporate that into my djing also.

AC: The work you do with Codany Holiday on the Rainydayz album is tight. In your work on his album, are you moving more into classical soul sounds, have you been slipping hip-hop into his soul? Talk a bit about the collaboration with him and what it’s meant for both of you in terms of releasing a soul album.

Amp: Codany Holiday (pronounced Courtney) is a naturally gifted singer. So producing for him hasn’t been hard at all. The biggest challenge was the sound we wanted to go with. I thought it was best to go with what was natural to him. When you talk to him about his mentors and what singers he admires, they range from Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway to Phillip Bailey (Earth, Wind, & Fire). So I definitely wanted to use more classic soul production, but hip hop with a 2009 twist to it. The response has been great. With Codany has been down with Zion I for awhile, he has been involved in alot of our songs. Working with him and producing his album was only natural. He brings alot of ideas to the table with production and arrangements. He is “the truth” in terms of gifted soul singers.

AC: Over the years you’ve been creating music, has there been one change or innovation that has significantly altered how you think about or make music?

Amp: Definitely the use of the computer and software to make music has been the big change for me. For years I just used analog equipment, ASR10, MPC, and all the other traditional machines. Now everything is on the computer and the songs are right in front of you…makes you look at music in a different way.

AC: In terms of looking at the music visually in a different way, could you talk about how that changes your approach to making the music? Do you find yourself dealing with creation in a different way now that you see the music visually and what are those differences? Would you be willing to give a description of step by step process you take, from mental idea to finished song?

Amp: Using Pro Tools and Logic has definitely made me look at music differently. Instead of seeing beats as loops, I now have the whole song mapped out in front of me. Its like looking at a song linear instead of circular. So to make a very basic song I always start with a melody or drum pattern, then build on top of that. Once I have something going in a quick loop I spread it out in the computer by repeating that part to the length of about 5 minutes. Within that I add beat changes and other sounds.

AmpLive’s creative and dynamic approach to music is amazing. His use of various genres from a musically diverse upbringing has helped the movement infusing the hip-hop genre with new sounds and broader spectrums. He is currently on tour and working on music for Codany Holiday and the upcoming Zion I release The Take Over. You can find his music through Myspace, iTunes and any other place music is sold. Evolving Music and MixMatchMusic would like to once again thank AmpLive for his time and energy in providing this interview.


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