Posts Tagged 'Delicious Vinyl'

11 Songs to Be Thankful For, Vol. 2

For last year’s 11 Songs to Be Thankful For, click here.

I know you’re in pain. The music industry, no less than last year, is inundated with made for radio pop songs meant to burn brightly in the minds of middle schoolers, sell millions of copies and then fade quickly into the one hit wonder used CD bins. Some will make club playlists and stay relevant for another year or two, but most will be either forgotten or turned into the butt of some future musical joke. But these simplifications overlook a large cross section of musicians from all genres that are producing quality music that not only can get stuck in your head, but won’t make you want to put a loaded revolver to your temple to get them out. In fact, months later, these songs are still gripping and enjoyable.

Thanksgiving is over, but while you’re eating some leftovers, there’s still much to be thankful for in the way of music. For each month, a main song that stood out above the others with the album you can find it on, and a second song that I give honorable mention to for being generally kick ass. But since life isn’t a one man affair, I invited my roommate, who receives the same monthly iPod updates (see the “What I’m Hearing” posts… the links in the month names will get you there), to give her input on what songs grabbed her focus this year. 11 months, 1 main song, 1 honorable mention and 2 recommendations from the roommate will give you about 44 fantastic songs you haven’t listened to yet. I say about because in some cases you may have heard a song, and in others, we picked the same one. Enjoy!

Jan: “Breathe Me (Mylo Remix)” (Breathe Me EP) by Sia. Most people had their first introduction to Sia’s heartbreaking song through the final 5 minutes of the HBO series Six Feet Under. The song, steeped in lament and longing, is nostalgic and only further inundated with emotion from Sia’s haunting voice that at times seems to whisper. On this EP version, Mylo remixes the song by fleshing out a lush electronic sound with bass and digital flourishes around the vocals and speeding up the main melody. The result is a moving and dance-able, yet still emotional track. Honorable Mention: “Way Down in the Hole” (The Wire Soundtrack) by The Blind Boys of Alabama

Jessie’s Picks: 1) “Nudez” (Rainydayz Remixes) by AmpLive. “Mushaboom (Postal Service Remix)” (Open Season) by Feist.

Feb: “Campus” (Vampire Weekend) by Vampire Weekend. When this album came out, I positively reviewed the whole thing, and now, many months later, it hasn’t lost its luster for me. With “Campus” the group uses simplicity in the vocals and instrumentation to evoke the feeling of days at college and crushes (if your college crush happened to be a professor.) The staccato lead up to the frenetic chorus is an instantly attainable indie pop that also brings to mind a Killers tune on Xanax. With the line, “In the afternoon you’re out on the stone and grass/and I’m sleeping on the balcony after class” the song takes me back to my own college balcony naps. Honorable Mention: “Weightless” (Lucky) by Nada Surf

Jessie’s Picks: 1) “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” (Vampire Weekend) by Vampire Weekend. 2) “The Chills” (Writer’s Block) by Peter Bjorn and John

March: “Front Steps, Pt. 2 (Tough Love)” (Absolute Value) by Akrobatik. This song is haunting both lyrically and musically. The solid production includes a piano sample and string overtone that sound like they’ve been submerged in water. The murkiness is then combined with scratches and a bass and drum line that provide it with a depth that comes off simultaneously polished and street rough. All of this is so that Akrobatik can provide an incredible song about the economic and social plight within the project communities, the current state of hip-hop and the need for change within the criminal justice system. He exhorts the youth to avoid the drugs and black on black violence that help oppress them, and strive for something better by offering them his honest take in the form of “tough love.” His lyrics come from a seriously educated perspective as he recognizes that the format of the ghettos allows the upper middle class to ignore riots and financial losses inflicted by them (“And when we riot they won’t care about the dollars lost/they’re sipping cocktails while we’re throwing Molotovs“) and sees the difference between a middle class white education and the education provided in inner city schools. The entire song is filled with lines that are both mentally stimulating and potent in rhyme scheme (full lyrics here). One of the best hip-hop lines of the year comes from this song, “This ain’t a war on drugs, it’s a war on thugs/they supply the guns, we supply the bodies with slugs.” Easily in the contention for my top 5 songs of the year. Honorable Mention: “Live 4 Today” (Break A Dawn) by Zion I

Jessie’s Picks: 1) “Opening Act” (Garbage Pail Kids) by Sene and Chief 2) “Muddy Water Stomp” (Garbage Pail Kids) by Sene and Chief

April: “The Things That We Could Share” (Soundboy Rock) by Groove Armada. Here’s one the roommate and I agreed on. In an age of Craigslist Missed Connections and the disconnect between people, this joyous song about the potential connections is a love song for the person you haven’t met yet. Starting with a groove bass, handclaps and “SB” chant, the electronically strained vocals through the verse beg for a balance with another person (“I need a warm hand to cool me down/I need a soft voice to drown me out”) moves into the chorus about a boy on a bus watching a girl, who is simultaneously telling her friend that he doesn’t care. When the bass line undulates and crashes into the triumphant refrain of “the things that we could share,” if you’re not dancing, you’re not breathing. Honorable Mention: “Far Away” (In Ghost Colours) by Cut Copy.

Jessie’s Picks: 1) “The Things That We Could Share” Groove Armada, Soundboy Rock. 2) “Watch As They Go” (Other People) by American Princes

May: “Winds of Change” (The Show) by EMC. Leave it to a super-group of hip-hop mainstays to write a love song to hip-hop that can surely stand as a classic. With an old static laden and sped sample singing, “Winds of change, that blow forever” EMC rips off a masterpiece devoted to the past, present and future of hip-hop, while never forgetting the overall perspective of fleeting life and inevitable change. Subjects like evolving music (MJ to Usher), technology (Beta to DVD), and clothes (Osh-Kosh to Phat Farm) are all well and good, but the highlight of this track is the last verse that takes a sad hindsight view of a hip-hop career from an old age perspective (“Holding the picture frame wishing that we didn’t age”) and the unfortunate decay that it can bring (“At 55 started forgetting lines, mumbling rhymes.”) As the rap moves to talking about freestyling with his grandchild, the song becomes both melancholy in its reminiscence and happy in the remembrance of the experiences. Honorable Mention: “Mathematics” (The Fashion) by The Fashion

Jessie’s Picks: 1) “27” (Butter and Gun$ EP) by Blue Scholars 2) “O Samba Tai” (Carolina) by Seu Jorge

June: “Watch Out (Remix)” (The 3rd World) by Immortal Technique (click here for exclusive interview). Sounding incredibly sharp over a beat that samples from the Apocalypse sounding symphony from the central battle scene in Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith and polished Green Lantern production, Immortal Technique barks through this track that cements his status as one of the most lyrically intelligent and delivery potent rappers around. Starting with his album sales off just a Source magazine quotable and moving onto direct attacks on the music industry (“they push pop music like a religion/anorexic celebrity driven, financial fantasy fiction”) and American government, Tech doesn’t take pause for a chorus here, but why bother when you can deliver like that for two and a half minutes straight? When he ends the song with, “I need more than advancements and a rented mansion,” you know that he means it, and doesn’t care who he pisses off in the process. Honorable Mention: “Let the Beat Build” (The Carter III) by Lil Wayne

Jessie’s Picks: 1) “Reverse Pimpology” (The Third World) by Immortal Technique 2) “Dance Dance Dance” (Youth Novels) by Lykke Li

July: “Sittin’ On Chrome (Mr. Flash Sittin on Cr02 Remix)” (Delicious Vinyl: Rmxxology) by Masta Ace. This revamped version of the old school Masta Ace song is given all sorts of synths and electronic overtone. The verses get a video game-like sound backdrop with a fast dance beat. When the hook drops, the whole song slows down and the sample carries it. Honorable Mention: “Built to Last” (Coup de Theatre) by Haiku D’Etat

Jessie’s Picks: 1) “Desperada” (Jeanius) by Jean Grae. 2) “GFC” (Como Te Llama?) by Albert Hammond Jr.

August: “Zhaoderen Nana” (Introducing Hanggai) by Hanggai. Another point of agreement with the roommate, Hanggai’s mixture of traditional Mongolian folk music and Western influences gripped us at the end of the summer and made for great lake music. The use of a an upbeat throat singer here and a rollicking strumming are contrasted with moments of full percussion. You’ll have to listen to get it. Honorable Mention: “Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You (The Twelves Remix)” (Partie Traumatic) by The Black Kids

Jessie’s Picks: 1) “Zhaoderen Nana” (Introducing Hanggai) by Hanggai 2) “Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You (The Twelves Remix)” (Partie Traumatic) by The Black Kids

September: “Transitional Joint” (The Preface) by eLZhi. (full interview here) Beautiful production and a perfectly placed “just because of love” sample back Detroit’s eLZhi as he dissects relationships and the process of moving on from a failed one. Without ever losing a positive outlook, the lyrics don’t dwell on the past, but always look forward to that next glow. eLZhi acknowledges the sour experience of “rolling snake eyes” without losing sight of the feeling of “missing her like when the summer’s gone.” The delivery from verse to chorus are sensational and the beat is addictive. Honorable Mention: “Ship” (Purpleface EP) by Throw Me the Statue (interview)

Jessie’s Picks: 1) “Girls and Boys In Love” (Girls and Weather) by Rumble Strips 2) “Honeybee” (Purpleface EP) by Throw Me the Statue

October: “Please Believe” (unknown) by Longshot. I’d give you a breakdown of this very solid hip-hop track, but you can click on this link and go listen to it yourself! Huzzah! Honorable Mention: “Electric Feel” (Oracular Spectacular) by MGMT

Jessie’s Picks: 1) “Sadie Hawkins” (Doomtree) by Doomtree, (interview) 2) “Electric Feel” (Oracular Spectacular) by MGMT

November: “Trail of Lies” (A History of Violence) by Jedi Mind Tricks. With a South American melody and lo-fi beat, this offering from JMT’s sixth studio album examines lies perpetuated by the government and mass media, among others. The gruff voice of Vinnie Paz and the lyrics about a system in severe trouble make for a socially conscious song steeped in conspiracy theories. Honorable Mention: “Signs” (Intimacy) by Bloc Party

Jessie’s Picks: “Don Julio” (Vulture’s Wisdom, Vol. 1) by Opio 2) “Trail of Lies” (A History of Violence) by Jedi Mind Tricks

Illa J Interview

Illa J

Illa J, the younger brother of hip-hop legend J Dilla, has stepped out on his own into the world of music with last week’s release of his debut album on Delicious Vinyl, Yancey Boys. I had a chance to catch up with Illa J last week and discuss his musical influences, working with Delicious Vinyl, making a recording studio from J Dilla’s equipment, and the importance of originality in music. Here’s what he had to say.

AC: What were you initial musical influences and where do you find most of the inspiration for your work?

IJ: Growing up, the first music I ever listened to was jazz. My Dad would always be playing the Manhattan Transfers and the Four Freshmen, so I got into it early. My early influences were Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, Stevie Wonder and a lot of Soul early on.

AC: Is it true your parents were in a jazz a cappella group?

IJ: Yea, they had their own group. They used to practice in our living room at home for hours and hours, and that’s how I got my musical ear, because they sang so much I had no choice but to learn all the jazz chords.

AC: Talk about growing up the younger brother of one of hip-hop’s most well known producers. How did this hurt you and how did it help you?

IJ: I don’t think it hurt me in anyway. If anything, people because of that, the first thing they want to do is compare me to my brother. Honestly, I don’t even think about that. When I’m in the studio, I’m in the zone, it’s all about the music. At the end of the day, I was brought up around nothing but music and that’s in my blood lines. In my immediate family, pretty much everyone sings and everybody writes songs and are musicians, so it’s pretty normal in my household that someone can sing or play an instrument. So it’s really no pressure to me, I’m just doing my thing, having fun.

AC: So when did you first start formally performing in front of audiences and when did you actually make the decision that music was going to be your career?

IJ: I always knew from a young age that I was going to do music. I’d be in front of the TV, a video or something would be on and I’d act like I was singing, and I’d always be singing around the house. I always knew I was going to do music, I just didn’t know when. And after my brother passed, when you have a big loss like that, a lot of people when they have big losses, in a sense it gives them a whole new perspective on life. That’s what happened with me. To lose my bigger brother that soon, cause I didn’t expect to lose him at 32, that definitely changed my life from that day on. I knew before that, even midway through college, I kinda knew I was going to work in music, but after he passed, that’s when I dedicated my life to music, just do what’s in my blood, do my craft, and that’s pretty much how it started.

AC: I read in another interview you did that you liked Los Angeles because people were always getting stuff done. Do you still feel that way about the city and what in your mind stands out as the brightest part about LA?

IJ: Not necessarily getting things done… people get stuff done in Detroit too, but right now, Detroit is kinda crazy, especially with how the economy is. Out here, I feel that it’s a whole new city for me, and I feel a lot more relaxed. When I’m in Detroit, I feel that there’s a lot going on and so many distractions, but when I’m out here, I’m free to just stick to my craft.

AC: In terms of music that you created in Detroit vs. music that you created in Los Angeles, do you feel that there’s a big difference there in terms of what you’ve done with the different atmospheres?

IJ: Out here, I really got the chance to practice in the studio. Back in Detroit, at that time I didn’t have a studio, so I didn’t get the chance to be in the vocal booth to practice. I recorded a track in the studio with my brother when I was 13, but other than that I hadn’t recorded anything. When I’m in Detroit, I have a whole different mind state. In Detroit, it’s almost like walking down the street you’re watching your back every so many minutes. People can tell that I moved out here because I’m a lot more relaxed than I was in my music. When I first started recording, I was a lot more aggressive because in a sense it was like I wanted to get out. Now I’m a lot more relaxed in my music, and you can feel that I’m just letting go, not really forcing it and letting it flow in a sense.

AC: I heard that you built your own studio out in LA using your brother’s equipment. Talk about that studio, what of his equipment you’ve used, and how that process has worked for you.

IJ: I have my brother’s Digidesign Pro Control board, I have some of the racks, his C12 mic, and his MPC 3000 and of my own, I have a Motif and bass guitar. I’m working on getting another guitar and a drum set. (7:10)

AC: You’re signed to Delicious Vinyl which is known for producing some of the most well known hip-hop of the early ‘90s. Talk about your introduction to Mike Ross and what joining Delicious Vinyl was like for you.

IJ: The first time I met Mike Ross was in ’06 and the next time I met him after that was in March ’07. Around that time is when he gave me a CD with 38 tracks on it that my brother produced from ’95 to ’98. These were tracks that he was making while he was working with Pharcyde and also just doing remix stuff, Delicious Vinyl puts out a lot of remixes. Pretty much, at that time, he told me to just pick a track from there just to see what it sounded like because he was going to try to do a compilation of various artists that worked with my brother.

The next time I talked to him after that was in January of ’08. I was hitting him up cause I wrote this song and I was like, “You gotta hear this song.” At that time, I wasn’t even thinking of making an album with Delicious Vinyl, I was just gonna see if he could help me out in a sense and get out there and try to jump start my career, I just wanted him to hear the song. At that time I didn’t think I was going to do an album with him. He came over in February of ’08 and I played him the song on the Motif and he was like, “I like your voice,” and he wanted to hear some more joints, so I played him some more and he had me perform at this club a couple days after that, and it just happened to be on my brother’s birthday, February 7th, ‘08. After my performance he came up to me and was like, “You killed it, why don’t you just do the whole album?” That’s pretty much how the album started. As far as working with Delicious, it’s definitely dope. Pharcyde is one of my favorite groups, so I’m in the office looking at Pharcyde and Tone Loc and it’s funny to see my album up on the wall with them. Especially Delicious being where my brother kick started his career, it’s almost like everything came full circle.

AC: You mentioned the CD that Ross gave you with all the tracks your brother did from ’95-98. What was hearing this CD for the first time like and when you heard it, did it give you a specific idea of the direction you wanted your album to go in?

IJ: The first time I heard it, I had never heard the tracks before, and I really got a chance to listen to them, they really connected me back to ’95 as soon as I listened to it. It reminded me of the days that I’d sit on the stairs listening to my brother make tracks in the basement, and the sound he was making at that time. I was nine years old, so in a sense I had an instinct for what I wanted to do over them. They also have a lot of jazz chords, and that connected to me well because I was brought up on Jazz first so the minors, D7, changes, things like that I’m used to, so automatically I had a connection with the tracks and they fit my song writing style too. At the end of the day, my brother, even though he could write too, he was known more as a producer and I see myself as a singer/songwriter first before anything.

AC: Let’s talk about Yancey Boys. What was your vision for this album when you started and what was the process like in working on it?

IJ: For one thing, when you listen to the album, you hear the theme of time throughout the album. That’s because the original title for the album was going to be Timeless. I kinda wanted to make a timeless album, for example, so many of the old albums, Off the Wall, or Prince albums, when you listen to their stuff, it was made way back in the ‘80s and it’s still relevant today when you listen to it, you know what I mean? I didn’t want to necessarily try to make anything for the radio, cause there’s not really a single on the album, it’s an album, one complete piece of artwork. The tracks were from ’95, but I’m recording in 2008, so that connection and the fact that the music was still relevant today, that’s the tip I was going on. Mike Ross, he liked the Timeless idea, but he was like, “Yea, it’s timeless, but it’s so much more than that too,” cause he was really feeling it. When I would do shows, and my production company, to pay tribute to my brother and my family, I called it Yancey Boys. He was like, “Why don’t you call it Yancey Boys?” and it didn’t take too long to think about I was like, “Yea, that’s pretty dope.” And we went from there.

AC: What I like about this album is how laid back it is. You sit back and nod to it, you never feel overwhelmed by the album. Would you say that that’s a product of your personality, or were you specifically aiming for that and you see future albums going in a different direction?

IJ: Well the album is definitely laidback. One thing about this album is that when I wrote to it, as a songwriter, the music came first. So the beats and the tracks already had a laidback feel to it, and as a writer, it’s my job to let the music speak to me instead of me just writing my ideas over the beats, let the music speak to me because the tracks were already done.

AC: What’s your favorite track on the album and why?

IJ: My favorite track on the album is “Timeless.” On my Myspace page, I have joints on my page, but that was only stuff because I had nothing else to put up at that time, and I wasn’t going to put up my really good stuff on my page, so I just put up joints to keep stuff moving. At that time, I didn’t know if people were ready to hear where I was really going with the music because this album is really a true representation and my intro. This is truly my introduction and music that I feel represents me. “Timeless” was really an expression of me as an artist. It’s so full and the chords bring out the emotions, and that’s what I liked about it for me when I was writing it.

AC: There’s 14 tracks on Yancey Boys and you said you had 38 on the CD from Ross so are we looking at more albums in your future with other songs produced by your brother?

IJ: Maybe, it all depends on the track. A lot of people think that I just went off this with a lot of Dilla beats and was like, “I’ll do an album.” But I was actually working with other producers and was producing myself. I’ll only use my brother’s tracks if I feel it’s right. It’s gotta be the right track. I know that when he was in studio making tracks, even if you were in the studio with him, if he played a beat, you could like it or whatever, but it didn’t necessarily mean he was making that for you, he might just be making that for himself. I know my brother. By me doing this album, it means that I know my brother would be cool with it.

AC: We talked earlier about your initial musical influences. Who in the industry today, music wise, do you look at as a true talent?

IJ: Definitely Amy Winehouse. Her album, Back to Black, inspired me a lot. That album, in a sense, is timeless. You can’t really fit a particular era to it. You could play it way back in the day and it would still sound right.

AC: How do you see the current scene in hip-hop, what do you think is good about it, and what in your mind needs to be changed?

IJ: My main thing is pretty much when I was growing up, the artists I was looking up to, my favorite thing about artists was how unique his voice was or how unique her voice was. It’s about originality, being original. When Busta came out, it’s like nobody sounds like him, he’s got his own style. As long as it’s about being original, it should alright. At the end of the day, you can only be the best you you can be, I can only be the best Illa J, just like my brother is Dilla and he can only be Dilla, that’s him. As an artist, you can’t be afraid to be original, take a chance, and when I think I’m going super left field, at the same time, who’s to say how far you can go?

AC: One last question for you. I read in another interview that you would have liked to work on Michael Jackson‘s Off the Wall album. What album in the hip-hop genre would you have liked to have worked on and what album in your opinion stands out to you in terms of “greatest of all time?”

IJ: I kinda wish I had been working on it when my brother was making Welcome to Detroit. Also, his work with Slum Village.

AC: Anything you want to plug? Upcoming concert dates, releases?

IJ: I’ve got my release party out in Cali at the Little Temple in Santa Monica. That’s November 20th. I’ll be touring soon and check out my myspace page… Myspace.com/illajmusic. The album’s out in stores, go cop it.

Illa J – Yancey Boys Review

Yancey Boys

For Evolving Music’s interview with Illa J, click here.

When some of the most influential hip-hop over the past 15 years has been created by your older brother, it can sometimes be hard to get out from under that shadow and create on your own. But that’s exactly what Illa J has accomplished on his recently released debut album, Yancey Boys. Active in the hip-hop scene from 1992 to his untimely death arising from medical complications in 2006, Jay Dee, also known as J Dilla, was a mastermind at production, creating music for the likes of Slum Village, Pharcyde, Busta Rhymes, Common, Madlib and Janet Jackson among others. Starting as a DIYer making beats with a tape deck, J Dilla quickly rose among the hip-hop ranks and infused the genre with the soul based inflections that have become so big today, especially in the most recent Common releases.

But most overlooked about J Dilla and his career is the fact that he comes from an extremely talented and musically well educated family. It is this depth of familial music that comes out in vibrant colors on younger brother Illa J’s new release from Delicious Vinyl. Having moved to LA from Detroit and constructing a studio out of his older brother’s equipment, Illa J met Mike Ross who provided him with a CD of unused Dilla beats, which this album draws heavily from. Produced by J Dilla and the legendary Mike Ross, Yancey Boys, while brief (14 tracks, 47 minutes) is one of the most consistent hip-hop albums of the year from start to finish, and succeeds because it never tries to do too much or be more than what it is.

The album starts with “Timeless,” taking lazy piano flourishes into a laid back beat with Illa meandering vocally like D’Angelo. Indeed, the neo-soul and hip-hop hybrid comes through continually on the album, producing the smooth and effortless sound that makes listening to it as easy as bobbing your head. The first single, “We Here” comes next, and immediately steps up the tempo and introduces you to Illa as a rapper. His rhymes are simple in content but complex in rhyme scheme, never sounding forced, but at the same time coming off skillfully crafted. At times however, this is a weakness in the album as it seems that the mellow melodies sometimes leave Illa feeling content and therefore failing to challenge himself to stretch for something a little harder to reach.

“R U Listening” comes next with a low bass rift and a cameo appearance by Guilty Simpson. The lo-fi feel of the beat combined with the under-water sound of the melody leaves this song feeling decidedly retro without sounding cheesy. With a deeper tone to his voice, Simpson on this track provides a nice and slightly more forceful contrast to Illa’s dazed out and light sounding style. On “Alien Family,” Frank Nitty tells the story of the Yancey boys, talking about their family and history. “Strugglin,'” “Showtime,” and “Swagger” follow, all in various forms expanding on the silky and backroom feel of the soul and jazz overtones of the album. “All Good” utilizes the jazz background to the best extent, with simple drums and a melancholy, repetitive horn sample. “Sounds Like Love,” featuring Debi Nova is the ballad on the album, a poppy R&B cut with hip-hop lyrics and steeped in record static that could surely find its way to an after hours radio show.

The album finishes up with “Everytime,” “IllaSoul” and “Air Signs.” “IllaSoul” provides the most moving track on the album, the bass line and spacey synth trills throughout allow Illa to sit back and rap effortlessly. “Air Signs” talks about his family and ends the album on a positive note examining just how much talent exists there. If there is one drawback of this album, it’s that we never get to hear Illa J break out from beyond the chill, soul, jazz, and R&B tinged tracks that make up the entirety of it. With his lyrics and musical knowledge, a track or two that delved more deeply into the harder edges of hip-hop would be welcome, perhaps even a party track. But this shortcoming aside, the lack of these types of songs seems deliberate on the part of Illa. He’s not looking on Yancey Boys to create tracks that find massive radio airplay. He’s set out to create a coherent album, one that you can listen to from start to finish without feeling overwhelmed, allowing you to be absorbed by the mentality of relaxation that exists here. And in this goal, he has succeeded in creating one of the most solid hip-hop albums of the year.

What I’m Hearing, Vol. 4

For last month’s installment of What I’m Hearing, click here.

It’s that time again people…the monthly update coming from the iPod. July’s update carries 102 songs with it, with some great tunes for the middle of Summer. We’ve got some new favorites, some old classics, and a few that fall somewhere in between.

Albert Hammond, Jr, Como Te Llama?: The Strokes’ frontman comes out with his sophomore solo album that explores various rock, ska and reggae themes that might not fit into the groups’ repertoire. The songs on here are heartfelt with glimpses of his proficiency on the guitar. Lighter in fare than the work of the group, Como Te Llama? offers some idyllic music for the Summer cruise. Don’t Sleep On: “Borrowed Time,” “G Up” and “GfC” with the lilting blend of upbeat tempo and slightly melancholy guitar.

Various Artists, Delicious Vinyl, RMXXOLOGY: This album is the epitome of some MixMatchMusic in action. Following Peaches’ remix of Tone Loc’s “Wild Thing,” Delicious Vinyl decided to open its vaults to other artists who might want to delve into the iconic catalog for remixes of their own. The result is an album that blends the electronic and the hip-hop, the frenetic and the calm. Fatlip, The Pharcyde, Young MC, Masta Ace and Tone Loc are all featured here with remix work provided by Eminem, Peaches, Hot Chip and the Philippians. The result is an album that successfully takes some of the most recognizable rap songs of the late 80s and early 90s and updates them for today. Don’t Sleep On: “Runnin'” (The Pharcyde remixed by Philippians), “Sittin on Chrome” (Masta Ace remixed by Mr. Flash) and “Wild Thing” (Tone Loc remixed by Peaches).

Earlimart, Hymn and Her: The 6th album from this indie rock band out of LA produces some beautiful pieces that straddle the subdued folk sounds from Fleet Foxes while also incorporating sounds of the California sunshine and hints of Pedro. The result isn’t quite rock, it isn’t quite folk, but it is quite good. Hard to put a label on, Earlimart produces an album that is easy to listen to, yet sometimes becomes painfully sad out of nowhere. All in all, a strong effort from a band that knows what it wants to do and how it wants to do it. Don’t Sleep On: “Song For,” “Time for Yourself,” and “Cigarettes and Kerosene.”

G-Unit, Terminate on Sight: Following a disappointing debut of 50’s Curtis album last year, G-Unit returns minus Young Buck and plus Tony Yayo. While this album has been long in the making after Beg For Mercy, there’s little here that recommends it as a strong follow up to a very solid debut rap album. Production-wise, I don’t find the beats on here nearly as compelling as those on the initial album, and quite frankly, some of the lyricism seems sloppy and thrown together. In terms of a pop rap album, it delivers the necessary raps about sex and the prerequisite club bangers, but it has failed to grab me musically as other releases from the G-Unit camp have. What’s most frightening about this album is that it appears that the G-Unit members have become a bit complacent in their success, tossing out formulaic beats with standard and predictable lyrics, and never really challenging themselves to come up with something outside the cookie cutter. Don’t Sleep On: “I Don’t Want to Talk About It,” “Party Ain’t Over,” and “Chase Da Cat.”

Haiku D’Etat, Coup de Theatre: This is an older album, the second album, released in 2004 by Aceyalone, Mikah 9 and Abstract Rude. The group setting finds a more balanced tone for Aceyalone, used to far reaching concept albums, and brings Mikah 9 and Abstract into a place of more solid footing in the work with a more experienced and well-known MC. The result is a collection of strong hip-hop tracks that very possibly fell under the radar of listeners when it was released. Even though this is an album that is nearing its 5th birthday, the sounds remain fantastic to listen to, and for people looking for something great they haven’t heard, Haiku D’Etat fits the bill. Laid back beats, plaintive horns and interesting woodwind interpolations mix with the trios vocals and harmonized choruses to provide the backing for head nodding beats. Don’t Sleep On: “Built to Last,” “All Good Things,” and “Stoic Response.”

Jean Grae, Jeanius: Jean Grae, in my opinion, is perhaps the most overlooked and talented MC in the annals of hip-hop history. Originally DJ What What, Grae contributed lyrics to the Herbalizer’s album before eventually changing her name and releasing Attack of the Attacking Things in 2002. Her lyrics are not only finely crafted and full of interesting rhyme juxtapositions, but they are usually deeply personal which gives the listener a more connected feel with her work. Work for Jeanius was started and halted abruptly several years ago when the 9th Wonder backed album was leaked on the internet. Now, they are giving it the proper release, and the album finds Grae in fine form. While her lyrics can be at times touching and at other times eviscerating, her delivery is always mellow, allowing her words to speak for themselves without feeling the need to go overboard and as a result override the beats. While This Week (2004) was a bit uncharacteristic in that the production attempted to drag Grae into a more pop influenced realm of hip-hop, Jeanius finds her back among familiar settings with the decidedly underground sound that 9th brings to his albums. The result is a nicely tuned album that allows Grae to stay at home while also giving both artists the opportunity to come out of their respective boxes and meet somewhere in the middle. Don’t Sleep On: “Desparada,” “2-32’s,” and “Billy Killer.”

Lunch Time Speax, B:Compose: After hearing some of the hip-hop tracks in the update that capitalize on the more moody aspects of the musical background, I realized I had never ripped this album to mp3. This is a group I first heard in Japan in 2003. The trio brings out some excellent flow (despite the fact that I don’t speak a word of Japanese), and they do so using hip-hop music that ranges from Eastern influenced club tracks to underground hip-hop tracks complete with vinyl scratch and pop. At times jazzy and at others straight street, this album is a great foray into international hip-hop for anyone looking for a departure from the standard radio gimmes. Don’t Sleep On: “Man Track,” “Golden Harvest,” and “情景1”

Modill, Midnight Green: Originally released in 2006, Modill’s Midnight Green out of Chicago produces hip-hop that is firmly rooted in the underground sound while relying heavily on jazz influences hinted at in the alteration of Kenny Burrell’s album from 1963, Midnight Blue. The lyrics carry well crafted puns and similes that are buoyed nicely by the beats that utilize spaced out sound effects, lounge piano loops, melodic bass lines and snippets of guitar and synth to augment the straightforward beat constructs. From start to finish, this album does not disappoint, and on an overall level could be the standout of the July update. Don’t Sleep On: “Space,” “It’s Time,” and “Bigger Cents.”

Nas, Untitled: In case you missed the extreme buzz surrounding this album, Nas had originally intended it to be titled, “N*GGER.” But following an uproar from Black community leaders, a backlash from entertainment writers and a general recoil by the population, Nas backed down and left the album untitled. Although, this hasn’t tempered his reasons for the title, nor his knowledge that most people will recognize it and call it by its intended name. The first release since 2006’s Hip Hop is Dead, this album finds Nas waxing more politically than on previous outings, and in some cases sounding like a toned down pop version of Immortal Technique. Unfortunately, having built his reputation and riches on the back of modern hip-hop, some of his attacks on the industry sound hollow and insincere. It’s hard to believe attacks on the music industry and the political infrastructure when other songs have lines about him jumping on yachts and traveling the globe. Still, his penchant for carefully crafted lyricism in poetry form and some very strong beats make this a solid, though not stellar, album. Don’t Sleep On: “N.I.*.*.E.R. (The Slave and the Master),” “Y’all My Ni**as,” and “Hero” feat. Keri Hilson.

Ratatat, LP3: Ratatat’s ascension in the ranks of the music industry has been both profitable and fast. In the four years since their eponymous debut, they’ve released two remix albums, a second full studio album and now the latest, LP3. Where their debut was rock heavy, Classics delved a bit more into the reflective side of the group with a few songs featuring slower rifts and more soft spoken melodies. On their remix albums, the use of their style to back hip-hop lyrics has resulted in mash-ups somewhere between The Grey Album and Jay-Z’s work with Linkin Park. On LP3, Stroud and Mast find themselves experimenting by taking their signature sound into the realm of world music and specifically Latin influenced tunes. While the more subdued angle might make it hard for fans of the original work to be enthusiastic, the craftsmanship on these tracks is more in depth and the effort to grow and diversify their style through experimentation is clearly a sign of artists engaged in their development and understanding. Don’t Sleep On: “Mi Viejo,” “Shempi,” and “Falcon Jab.”


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