Posts Tagged 'Eminem'

Don’t Start With Eminem

Well, if it wasn’t already established fact that Mariah Carey isn’t the brightest crayon in the box, we now have proof. While there has been a consistent and ongoing string of Mariah mentions in Eminem’s music stemming from their brief dating history years ago, it was never anything too over the top. I mean, mentioning her ass, or saying you’re obsessed with her, these things come off as just more jokes in the comedy arsenal of an already aggressive rapper. But in Rap, unlike in Mariah’s domain of Pop music, the diss track is an ongoing war of escalation and attrition. I think she might have forgotten that when she decided to take a shot at Eminem in the music video for her new song.

A few words of advice: if you want to pick someone to have a battle with, I highly recommend you stay away from Eminem. He’s shown himself to be a brilliant lyricist, a scathing social commentator, and absolutely unafraid of putting out every negative thing about himself as long as he still gets his shot in at the intended target. When someone has such a complete lack of disregard for his own reputation, you can only imagine the lengths he’s willing to go to to take someone else down. But, apparently, the lighthearted mentions of Mariah and Jessica Simpson, the feuds with other rappers and the absolute lambasting of Insane Clown Posse that Eminem has indulged in in the past wasn’t enough to convince Mariah to leave the situation alone and be happy he wasn’t doing worse. No, she had to go and mock him.

If you haven’t heard, Mariah’s new single is called, “Obsessed,” and while it could be viewed as a general assessment of any over the top fan, the video instead makes a fake Eminem the target of the label, showing him groping at her album covers, following her through town and in other ways being generally creepy. And on listening to the lyrics, there’s no mistake that she’s directing it at Eminem, mentioning how lame he is, how he’s lying about having sex with her and he’s chilling in L.A. while she’s in the A. with Jermaine. Wrong move. It didn’t take more than a week for Eminem to write, mix and release his answer to her video, and it absolutely slams. Eminem is at his best when he’s making fun of himself while also taking shots at others. Here, he gets to do that in one take based on a former relationship, and he does so with typical rhyming flare. He doesn’t just go after Mariah, he spends over 3 minutes going after everything from her house to their sex life (or what sex life there was), and throwing Carey’s boy-toy, Nick Cannon, into the mix for good measure. Now, this song is so scathing and so aggressive, that my only hope is that Mariah doesn’t try to escalate this further, because, really, she’s already lost, and if you think Eminem doesn’t have more to say, you just don’t know Eminem.

So here is Mariah’s video, and Eminem’s answer. Nothing like an ex-lover’s quarrel spilling out into the mainstream music waves to brighten a day.

What I’m Hearing, Vol. 14

{for May’s edition of What I’m Hearing, click here}

Summer months are traditionally good ones for mega pop hits to patrol the radio airwaves, washing out last year’s music and replacing it with something fresh to dance to in the warm weather. May saw some of that, with the new Eminem album, Passion Pit and the Kid Cudi mixtapes. But as June comes to an end and we look towards July, it appears that more of that trend will be upon us shortly. While June’s iPod update didn’t match May’s in quantity, it had everything it needed in terms of quality. 67 songs, over 10 artists, multiple genres. Enjoy!

Black Eyed Peas, The E.N.D.: After “Boom Boom Pow” came out, the Black Eyed Peas ran it into the ground on radio stations, talk shows, award shows and clubs. In fact, as new and futuristic as the song sounded originally, I wouldn’t hesitate to say that it has been thoroughly played out at this point, and that was before the album dropped. While the album title stands for “Energy Never Dies,” I’d actually argue that it stands for the end of the Black Eyed Peas as we know them. When they first hit the scene in 1998 with Behind the Front, the Peas were an unheard of group making fresh hip-hop. The songs walked that line with hints and traces of pop, but for the most part stayed true to form until they were joined by Fergie in 2003 for their Elephunk release. This addition drew them further away from hip-hop, and now, on The E.N.D., all traces of the group the Peas were are gone. Hip-Hop now forms one of the most minute sections of their music, with pop, dance and electronic taking center stage. But it’s almost too much. Will.i.Am’s production is amazing, but also fails to bring any sort of coherent thread to the album. He has no problem proving he can do these various genres and mimic them well, but there seems to be no ability to integrate them into an album that makes sense together. For the most part, I wasn’t a fan as the album just tries to do more than it can, but “Meet Me Halfway,” utilizing a fantastic dance beat and actually showcasing Fergie sounding like a vintage Madonna, is a bit of 80s meets 2009 fantastica. Don’t Sleep On: “Rockin’ The Beat,” “One Tribe,” and “Meet Me Halfway.”

Camp Lo, Stone and Rob Caught on Tape: Camp Lo has had a rough time of it. After their 1997 release, Uptown Saturday Night, the possibilities for Camp Lo appeared limitless. Their flow was good, the beats were steady, and the retro 70s feel of their songs put them in a niche market of hip-hop of their own. The popularity was growing on college campuses, and then, nothing. While they’ve had a few releases since, they were sporadic and failed to capture the attention of listeners. They’ve now returned on a new label with Stone and Rob Caught on Tape, and the sound they bring with them is far different from what listeners of Uptown would expect. The beats are more current and the duo takes on a bit of a harder edge in comparison to the milky flow they used to use. While the long hiatus could have killed the style, Camp Lo has come out on this one slightly changed, but not showing the kind of disconnect from previous music that Black Eyed Peas have. Don’t Sleep On: “Diamond Crookz,” “Gotcha,” and “Ticket 4 2.”

k-os, Yes!: When the album begins with “Zambony,” k-os’s intent is clear. A female voice asks, “Do you have any idea of the chaos you have caused around here? Nobody knows what you’re doing!” To which a man responds, “That’s exactly the way I like it!” And if his musical career is any example, the anonymity, chaos and ability to make whatever music he wants is exactly what he wants. There are a lot of great unknown acts out there, but I don’t think there’s a single one with the kind of track record combined with anonymity that k-os has. For those that haven’t heard, k-os is from Trinidad by way of Canada, turned to vegetarianism by age 8 and was raised by parents who are Jehovah’s Witnesses. More importantly though, he’s released 4 studio albums, all fantastic, spanning numerous genres and styles, and yet he’s still not well known. In fact, he’s not even talked about. Funk, reggae, hip-hop, rock, dance, and R&B all play roles in his music, and Yes! finds him utilizing all of these styles to full and complete advantage. Through Exit, Joyful Rebellion, Atlantis – Hymns for Disco and now Yes! k-os never sells his style short, but doesn’t hesitate to use the things he enjoys. There’s auto-tune here, but not in the over-saturated style of so many artists, merely as a nod and inclusion of a new sound. What’s more is that the album is bundled with remixes of every song by various artists, offering two very distinct musical takes on every track. If you haven’t heard k-os yet, now’s the time. Don’t Sleep On: “Zambony,” “Burning Bridges,” and “I Wish I Knew Natalie Portman.”

Mos Def, The Ecstatic: It’s easy to forget, between the television appearances, the movie roles and his hosting duties that Mos Def has more roots in the music industry than anywhere else. However, he has yet to equal the early success he had on this front since he turned more attention to his screen endeavors. The Ecstatic finds Mos back in hip-hop after a nearly 3 year hiatus following his final record under contract for Geffen Records. And the break has seemed to help. This album seems a bit more grounded in the hip-hop that brought Mos Def to the masses, and less hooked on some of the musical diversions he’s entertained himself with lately. However, the distraction of film and television is evident here. The album seeks to do so much musically that it feels as if Mos is trying to make a CD that will fit in every genre of film or theatre he’s participated in. The result is a mish-mash of sounds that detract from his greatest strength: rapper and crafter of words. On the tracks here where Mos stays focused on the genre, the results are excellent, but in too many cases, he’s trying to bite off more than he can chew, making the album sound almost like a disjointed soundtrack to a movie rather than a full length album from a hip-hop artist three years in the making. While it’s a solid outing, and certainly closer to the mark than True Magic and The New Danger, it still fails to hit on all cylinders like Black on Both Sides. While I think it’s great that Mos Def wants to explore acting and other outlets in addition to hip-hop, his music is at its strongest when he leaves the theatrics out and concentrates on the microphone. Don’t Sleep On: “Quiet Dog,” “History (feat. Talib Kweli)” and “Priority.”

Throw Me the Statue, Creaturesque: Well, I can’t talk about this one yet because it’s not out. But I will say that I’ve heard it and I’m excited to tell y’all about it as soon as I’m allowed to review it.

White Rabbits, It’s Frightening: On the second album from this New York based Indie Rock band by way of Missouri, the sounds are crisp in comparison to the rest of the Indie scene, eschewing fuzz and static for cleaner lines and thumping drums. The guitar sounds here are clear, whether being used for gentle picking in “The Salesman (Tramp Life)” or to carry melody on the Badly Drawn Boy reminiscent “They Done Wrong/We Done Wrong.” The band sounds tight here, with consistent vocals, solid bass backing and drums that drive the songs from start to finish, all nicely sprinkled with piano. For those that like Indie Rock but are a bit tired of the lo-fi, static saturated recordings that have become the norm in the genre, the White Rabbits should provide a nice change of pace. Don’t Sleep On: “Percussion Gun,” “Rudie Fails,” and “They Done Wrong/We Done Wrong.”

For a notable single this month, check out 9:15’s “Just Above My Head.” Fantastic.

What I’m Hearing, Vol. 13

{for last month’s new music update, click here.}

What an amazing month for music! May’s iPod update features over 200 songs of genres from shoegazing indie pop to hard core rap. While not all the artists and albums made the cut for this version of What I’m Hearing, the best things did and I’m proud to bring them to you. Furthermore, several of these albums are available for free download and I’ve included the links to them here. New music, download links?! What more could you ask for?

Au Revoir Simone, Still Night, Still Light: When I first reviewed Au Revoir Simone’s 2007 release The Bird of Music (WIH, Vol. 9), I talked about the potential that their sweet sounds could become too sticky without the proper balance. Happily, I can say that on Still Night, Still Light ARS loses none of their charm while actually increasing their skill in finding a nice balance in the electro-indie pop-shoegazer triangle. At times sounding like a slightly more fleshed out Elysian Fields and at others like a less depressed Postal Service, this trio puts out easy tracks that range from joyous to melancholy without missing a beat. The female vocals are breezy, seeming to hang over the music, which through synths, keys and drums all working together, become stronger than on the previous album. ARS seems to have found their musical niche, nicely contrasting the sweet with the bitter, and sounding more comfortable with the balance throughout. Don’t Sleep On: “Shadows,” “Knight of Wands,” and “Another Likely Story.”

Chubb Rock and Wordsmith, A Crack in the Bridge: While hip-hop and rap seems to be on a definitive futuristic trend with the likes of Black Eyed Peas, Kanye West and Kid Cudi surfing the radio waves, this duo out of the East Coast seeks to bring hip-hop back to more standard roots. Relying on tried and true production and lyrics that are more about having a good time than sporting bling, Chubb Rock and Wordsmith have crafted a mixtape prelude to their June release Bridging the Gap that strips away the pretension of hip-hop in favor of sounding good and having fun. Chubb and Wordsmith have a nice contrast to their voices and delivery, an important part of a hip-hop duo. With a deep voice and an almost trudge-like delivery, Chubb Rock sounds patient on the microphone, willing to move with a beat easily. On the other hand, Wordsmith’s voice is higher and his delivery quicker, allowing him to change the feel and tempo of a song simply by rapping. I’ve been listening to Bridging the Gap for about a month now, but you’ll have to come back in June for that review. For now, A Crack in the Bridge provides a sampler of the type of music you can look forward to. Download it by clicking on the album name above. Don’t Sleep On: “Back In,” “Top of the World,” and “The New Street Kings”

Cunninlynguists, Strange Journey, Vol. 1: Cunninlynguists have to be one of the hardest working and simultaneously one of the most under-appreciated hip-hop groups today. Hailing from various parts of the state, the trio of Natti, and producers Kno and Deacon the Villain have released 6 albums since 2001, only actually having them released through a distribution company in 2003. But that hasn’t changed their approach which relies on interesting and introspective lyrics, excellent production and a splash of a grim feeling that it’s not ever going to happen for them mixed with a sense of humor that seems like it doesn’t matter if it does. On the first of two Strange Journey albums, the group looks at life on the road and the state of the music scene among other topics. The retro hooks combined with the modern beats provide the three with a solid foundation for their words, which whether talking about music, women or rapping far outshine anything available on the radio today. Whether you like loops or lyrics, this CD is a hit. Don’t Sleep On: “Don’t Leave (When Winter Comes)” featuring Slug of Atmosphere, “Spark My Soul,” and “Lynguistics,” a live version of one of their most well known songs.

Del the Funky Homosapien, Stimulus Package: The good news? Del’s got a new full-length album out, and it’s free (click on the album name above for the download link.) The bad news? For fans accustomed to the cohesive whole of Future Development (production help from Opio and A-Plus), the visionary approach on Deltron 3030 (produced by Dan the Automator) or the stellar lyrics that grace his work with Hieroglyphics, Stimulus Package is going to fall short. And the problem is that this kind of collapse is completely avoidable for Del. When at his strongest, Del’s intensity on the mic and ability to craft ridiculously great lyrics make him one of the best rappers on wax. However, all too often (this album and The 11th Hour as examples) Del isn’t content to just be on the microphone and opts to pursue the full musical production on the album as well. This is a mistake. It’s not to say that Del’s production is bad, but it is stagnant. There’s nothing much new in the beats here. For the most part, the tracks feel like repackaged West Coast beats from the ‘90s. Now if that were the case and the rapping remained vintage Del, the beats wouldn’t make a difference. But instead, the focus on production seems to detract from his focus on his rapping, and Del comes off sounding almost generic as a result. One need only look to his best work to see that he’s at the top of his rapping game when the lyrics and flow are his focus. His rapping on last year’s N.A.S.A. album outpaces anything contained here, and my hope is to see him collaborate with other producers on future work, because when he’s at his best lyrically, he’s virtually untouchable. Don’t Sleep On: “Hardcore Punks Can’t Take It,” “And They Thought That Was Hell,” and “Get It Right Now!”

Eminem, Relapse: I’ve read a lot of press both positive and negative on this album. Fortunately for my review, I had been listening to Relapse for about a week before it came out, so I was able to form my own judgments without extra media input. There’s no question that this album isn’t Eminem’s best work, which could be construed as a letdown following a four year hiatus that saw him become entangled in drugs and struggling through a lengthy rehab process during which he OD’d and almost died. But there are tracks here that showcase Eminem at his lyrical best. What’s important to consider on this album is that Eminem has found his own perspective stuck between the Slim Shady and Ken Kaniff characters. At times, he’s clearly being silly because he thinks there’s nothing else he can do. But the ridiculousness on this album in such tracks as “3 AM” and “My Mom,” actually serve to attempt to draw attention away from the other tracks. On “Medicine Ball” and “Undergound,” Eminem is back to his full bark, maniacally working his way through outrageous tongue twisters at breakneck pace. And on “Déjà Vu,” Eminem produces one of the most poignant and introspective songs of his career in dealing with his overdose. With a second album slated for release sometime in the next few months, it will be interesting to see which side of Eminem gets more exposure. One can only hope it’s the real Eminem, the one from the freestyle battles, ferocious intensity and introspective lyrics. It is this Eminem, stripped away from the silly accents, high-pitched lyrics and juvenile ideas that produces the best work, and there are certainly glimpses of that on Relapse for anyone ready to look past the radio singles. Don’t Sleep On: “Déjà Vu,” “Underground,” and “Old Time’s Sake” featuring Dr. Dre.

Hanne Hukkelberg, Blood From A Stone: Hailing from Kongsberg, Norway, Hukkelberg continues the trend of obscure Scandinavian singer-songwriters finding a home in the musical lexicon of the States. In contrast to her Swedish counterpart Lykke Li, Hukkelberg’s sounds are less playful and much more subdued, serious and sparse. With light percussion and haunting melodies, Hukkelberg lets her voice drape over the tracks like a singer in a smoke filled jazz club. Her lyrics are emotionally gripping and in combination with the music make the listener feel as if they’re being personally addressed. Don’t Sleep On: “Seventeen,” “Bandy Riddles,” and “Blood From a Stone.”

Kid Cudi, Dat Kid From Cleveland: Normally, I’m not a fan of mixtapes. Seemingly half-thrown together beats, freestyle lyrics that typically fall short of par, and the main question: what does this have to do with anything? For the most part, you can count on one or two excellent tracks and some filler on these outings. This is why I was pleasantly taken aback with Dat Kid From Cleveland. I had heard of Kid Cudi through the usual street/radio buzz, and so when a friend sent me this mixtape, to say I was skeptical would be an understatement. But here, on well-crafted and nicely sampled beats ranging from Dr. Dre to De La Soul to trance music, Cudi brings a sense of energy to his flow. The result is a collection of tracks that could easily be a full album release with a little polish. And the best part? It’s free. Also good to know is that Cudi is talking about a collaboration with Evolving Music favorite Ratatat. Stay tuned. Don’t Sleep On: “Rollin'” featuring Jackie Chain, “’09 Freestyle,” and “She Came Along” featuring Sharam.

Meanderthals, Desire Lines: In the case of the Meanderthals, the album name of Desire Lines could easily have been the band name as well. While the tone of this disc is certainly relaxed, the group has a little more focus in their musical direction than one might think from their name. This is a collection of tracks featuring a wide array of instrumentation from acoustic guitars to steel drums to drum machines and hand claps. The result is a mash-up that I can only think to term “Lounge-Tropic,” a meeting place of sounds that could easily be found in a smoky backroom of a cocktail lounge or drifting calmly across the beach on an island resort. While only 7 tracks, Desire Lines provides a set perfect for the lazy days of summer. The music is light and airy, and despite the variety of sounds, never feels overly dense or impenetrable. Grab your favorite boat drink, find your most peaceful place in the sun and enjoy. Don’t Sleep On: “Andromeda (Prelude to the Future),” “1-800-288-Slam” and “Bugges Room.”

Passion Pit, Manners: Taking generously from dance, pop and electronica, Passion Pit has emerged from Massachusetts and released a very solid product that can play in the great outdoors of summer or the confines of a dance club. New Rave, 80s power pop and electro-synth all find a home here to give lead singer Michael Angelakos delicious mosaics to howl over. Up-beat drums, crunchy bass lines and frolicking sheets of synthesizers all join forces to create simple and energetic songs that carry vocal and chorus parts that feel like they’re going to break free at any moment from their Earthly anchor and find the stars. While I wouldn’t listen to this album on repeat simply because the pop motif might wear thin, as a tempo change or a dance song in the right context, any song on this album can bring a sense of joy to the listener. More importantly, with sporadic listening, the songs reveal a few new tricks each time through. Don’t Sleep On: “Little Secrets,” “Make Light,” and “The Reeling.”

Rhymefest, Man in the Mirror: More surprising than one hip-hop mixtape in a monthly music update? Two. But here, Rhymefest has succeeded in creating a collection of songs that overflow with positive vibes and solid rapping. The premise here, as indicated by the album title, is a salute to Michael Jackson, as various songs from his history are sped up, slowed down or otherwise mashed to provide the backdrop for the rap. This is a must listen for any Michael Jackson fan, if only to see how the old classics sound freshened up with hip-hop, and a necessary mixtape for any hip-hop aficionado for the creative use of something else to form a breathing set of tracks. Mark Ronson provides the production. Don’t Sleep On: “Man in the Mirror,” “Foolin’ Around,” and “Coolie High” featuring Camp Lo.

Musical Musings

With 2008 and all the music that came with it steadily speeding away in our rear view, I got to thinking a lot about what we did and didn’t see last year in the musical world, and what’s coming. When it comes down to it, 2008 was largely defined by some of the musical trends we saw, the continuing struggle over DRM and the ever growing attempts to market, brand and distribute music in ways that utilize multiple media and social platforms.

Musically, there was a greater push towards mash-ups (AmpLive Interview) and punk fueled Indie rock. Bands like Fall Out Boy and Bloc Party among many others kept driving guitars, sometimes melancholy lyrics and music that’s in your face in terms of pace at the forefront of the radio mainstream. Hip-Hop continued its usual pond-like trend: scum on the surface, beautiful water underneath with “artists” like T.I., T-Pain and Flo-rida topping the charts while rappers like Akrobatik, eLZhi and Black Milk continued struggling to boost their word of mouth. The line between Hip-Hop and Pop was continually blurred as radio Rap brought in more Rock and World music sounds into their songs.

We saw Kanye West rebound from a personally disastrous year to re-vamp his sound with 808s and Heartbreak, and we saw Guns ‘N Roses dig themselves out of a nearly 20 year grave to release the much anticipated Chinese Democracy album, something that many fans thought they’d never hear. Of course, most fans expected to hear either a new Eminem album (Relapse) or the long awaited and highly anticipated Detox album from Dr. Dre, and they got neither.

The DRM battle raged on in 2008, and in even just the beginning weeks of ’09 we’ve seen a nice movement in the area. For most of 2008, the IFPI (2) and the RIAA battled downloaders, both large and small, in court. Looking for lost compensation, they took to trial serial filesharers and spent massive amounts of time and money scaring college kids into settling out of court for fear of an expensive and punitive sentence against them. In the end, these efforts were largely useless, and in my mind, a joke, as they claimed to be fighting for the artists, while we all pretty much know how little the labels show the artists from individual song downloads.

The record industry spent months wringing their hands over lost profits and ways to control music that they long ago lost almost all control over. You have to wonder if, looking back now, they aren’t thinking of all their recent efforts as merely shutting the barn door after all the animals already escaped. And the change in tune has been brisk… Now, just two weeks into ’09, Apple has announced one of the broadest and most accessible withdrawals of DRM and price restructuring of MP3s in years. The four major labels have helped produce this movement, and it shows the increasing power of the consumers in the music marketplace. Once tied to hard copy formats like CDs with an average price table, consumers this year found diverse and creative ways to obtain their music, forcing the hand of the labels to recognize that DRM is not what the people want. How this lack of DRM will effect iPod sales or iTunes downloads remains to be seen. The launch of the App Store on iTunes also took music mobile with an incredible number of music related apps (and a few apps that are just plain incredible) designed for the iPhone.

The idea of Take Away shows and having artists perform live in unconventional venues took off. Nine Inch Nails picked up on Radiohead’s experiment with a free download format of an album, but they’ve taken it a step further now by offering over 400 GB of HD video footage from their concert tours up on torrent streams for fans to remix and create DVDs. This fan interaction has become tantamount to bands in the last year with MySpace including music, and a large number of acts going from conventional websites to social networking platforms.

And while these social networking sites and the bands that use them were beginning to become increasingly entwined, musicians were getting in the mix as well, literally. Late in 2008, MixMatchMusic officially opened its doors to musicians from all over the world to create, upload, collaborate and work with stems to broaden the ways people approach making music. With the DemoGod award at Demo ’08, a write-up in the San Francisco Chronicle and the ever-popular RemixSarahPalin.com, this vision of worldwide musical collaboration and the power of mixing and matching steps closer to being a full-fledged reality. (MixMatchMusic)

So what’s next? With the DRM barriers falling, the new foundations of band and fan interaction being laid and Web 2.0 casting a wider net over the ‘net, music in 2009 could be anyone’s game. Personally, I’m just waiting for The Detox… And now a moment for the outstanding musicians we lost this year, Bo Diddley and LeRoi Moore, among others.

eLZhi Interview

eLZhi

In September’s version of “What I’m Hearing,” I reviewed the solo debut album from eLZhi, The Preface. Late last month, I had a chance to sit down and chat with the up and coming Detroit rapper who has been in the game since the ’90s about the state of hip-hop, his progression as an artist, remix culture and politics. Enjoy!

AC: How are you doing? Where you at today?
EL: I’m over at my friend Phat Kat‘s house. Chillin over here, writing rhymes.
AC: Up in Detroit?
EL: Yea, we’re in Detroit right now.
AC: Start off easy…what’s the meaning of your name, and you have stressed capitalization in it. What’s the importance of that?
EL: The L and the Z are capitalized in my name because that’s what I used to go by before eLZhi, LZ. How I even got eLZhi was trying to spend out LZ, spelling it out wrong and it was elzhi and I was like, “Yea, I like that, I’m going to keep that.” At first there wasn’t a meaning to it, I didn’t know what it meant. Then I got into Slum Village and my boy Baatin was really big on Hebrew and was learning the Hebrew language and actually broke my name down to me and said my name means “God’s Spirit.” So the “el” is God and the “zhi” is 7 and 7 is a spiritual number.

AC: Talk a bit about growing up in terms of your relationship with music. What were some of your early influences?
EL: Before I started writing rhymes, my influences were things my Mom used to play. She used to play a lot of Motown records from Marvin Gaye to Stevie Wonder, Luther Vandross, things of that nature. My auntie used to play Planet Rock, stuff like Jack the Ripper, LL. I got my first cassette tape from my Grandfather. He bought me a walkman and a cassette tape and it was like Fat Boys. So from there I was in love with the art form and started hearing a little Rakim, hearing a little Special Ed, a little Ice Cube and I was just gone after that, I knew it was something I wanted to pursue and be a part of.

AC: When did you first start officially rapping and writing rhymes and what were your initial experiences like both live and in the studio?
EL: I started writing rhymes at the age of 8. Things like “I figga like a nigga/pop the gun and hold the trigger/the gun is loaded 12 gauge I hold it/the bomb exploded one sucker corroded/and I just won’t stop til my lyrics pop/making sure that you weak and my opponent gets dropped.” That’s something I wrote when I was 8. My first rhyme that I wrote was actually off the top of my head. Another thing that kept me going on and on was one of my family members, she used to always want me to freestyle in front of people she brought around the house. By her pumping me up like that, it really made me want to keep going with it.

The first time I got in the studio it was kinda weird. Usually you’re just rapping on the streets, rapping in the hallways, lunchrooms, whatever, but when you put your voice to that mic, sometimes you don’t sound exactly how you sound to yourself when you’re just talking. I had to really learn how to control my voice, my breath control when I was in the booth, I was out of breath a lot of times, it’s just a whole different world. That’s really the test to see if you want to be an MC is mastering that booth, and mastering how you sound on the mic and then from there mastering how you sound on the stage. When I finally got it down pat, I was definitely satisfied with the outcome.

AC: You’ve done a lot of collaboration in your career with other artists. Talk about how you identify artists you’d like to work with, how that process comes about and what this constant collaboration has done for your career and your style.
EL: Basically, if I want to collaborate with someone, it’s cause I feel what they’re doing. Collaborations that came about in the past with us getting involved with people already in the industry, we just let the label know, cause at the time we were working with Capitol. I’m speaking on Slum Village, by the way, for those who don’t know. But at the time we were working with Capitol and we let them know that we were trying to get at Kanye. Now Slum worked with, before I got in the group, a bunch of cats from Busta Rhymes to Pete Rock to Kurupt to Common, Q-Tip, the whole nine. And those were strictly off the strength that they liked Slum’s music. You listen to the Detroit Deli album, I was a part of the group at that time, and we got Kanye, mainly because we really identified with his music and thought he was live with it, so the label hooked up the situation and he was actually in the booth. And just to see this guy in the studio, doing his thing, happy about making music and enjoying increasing the quality of his craft, it was inspiring, it made me want to take it to the next level. In these days and times, I’m just trying to get mine and I think about that from time to time and use that as inspiration to push forward.

AC: You’ve been a longtime artist now on the Detroit scene, and you were on the scene long before Eminem was, who in a way has become one of the biggest pop rap names out of Detroit. Have you noticed a difference in the feel and quality of the scene from before and after his discovery, and would you say by extension that artists from Detroit are tired of being associated with him?
EL: The scene was two totally different eras. Back then, hip-hop was a little bit more live, even to people in the mainstream because you could turn on BET and see Rap City and actually look at a Hieroglyphics video or a Black Moon video. Hip-hop was alive because you didn’t really have to go digging. Now you have to go digging. You’re not even really seeing videos from some of the illest artists that are out today, so it’s a totally different thing. It was strictly just on some hip-hop stuff, people werer just trying to make classic records, they weren’t even thinking about the radio.

After Eminem blew up, hip-hop was changing, so it was people back then doing it to make classic records, and now they’re trying to make classic records while at the same time making that radio hit so they can get on like that. But one thing I do like about it, is that in Detroit, I can’t speak for nowhere else, just us going off into that music for the masses or whatever, it’s a good thing and a bad thing. But I focus on the good thing. It made a unity happen in Detroit that wasn’t there before. You got cats like Trick Trick rapping with Royce, Trick Trick rapping with eLZhi, elZHi rapping with Stretch Money, it formed a unity. As far as Eminem, we never get tired of that. Eminem making it was like everyone else making it from that era and he set a real good example of how to come out of the hood and do good, so we’re definitely not mad at that. He represents all of us like we represent him.

AC: You just released The Preface, and I’ve been listening to this a lot…the album is hot. It was a long time coming for you to release an official solo album debut. Why did you wait so long and what was the process for you working on this album?
EL: It’s been a long time coming. The reason it took so long was I had to make sure my business was right. Slum Village as well as eLZhi was going through some label troubles, but everything is all good now. I did the album in like 3.5 weeks and what happened was I took a CD overseas to sell when I went on tour and that CD has become known as the Euro Pass. Really I was just taking it over there to sell, I didn’t know it would do as good as it did, as far as being on the internet like it was, and I just wanted to take control of the buzz and strike while the iron was hot. They basically told me I had this amount of time to work on a record, and if I didn’t, I would have to wait to put out a record after Black Milk, so I was like let me just get in the studio and buckle down and make some music from the heart but at the same time be snappy about it because I only had a limited amount of time to do it so The Preface was born.
AC: Was everything on The Preface original material for the album or did you take anything from your previous work?
EL: I took maybe three or four songs from the Euro Pass that circulated around the internet. Reason being for that is that these were songs people were expressing to me through Myspace that they enjoyed and I’m like, “I’m not going to take those away, especially if I can put it on another album and make it sound better than it did, basically breathe more life into it. So I didn’t want to do that to the fans who had that record, but at the same time I didn’t want to take everything off the Euro Pass and put it on The Preface cause I did want to make it a different record. So besides those 4 cuts, everything else is original.

AC: Is it true that most of the production on this album comes from Black Milk?
EL: Yea, most of the production is done by Black Milk, there’s a couple tracks done by my DJ who goes by the name Andreas or DJ Dez, and I got another one from T3 and another one was done by this dude named Demark Vessey. So I just wanted to give some new up and coming talent a chance to shine.

AC: What was working with Black Milk like and how did his musical ideas influence the album?
EL: To be perfectly honest with you, at the time, Black was working on his album (Tronic), so all I really did was take the Black Milk beats that were open, I took the best Black Milk beats I could find and put it all together and made the record. He would come in from time to time and put his ear on it, tell me what he thought I should keep, let me know how he should approach the record, change the drums or something. But working with Black is always an honor because we appreciate each other’s craft and we recognize the real and are coming together for one common cause, to breathe life into the game, so it’s always cool working with Black.

AC: What I like a lot about this album is that there’s a lot of variety on it in terms of the sound. You have harder hitting songs like “D.E.M.O.N.S.” and “Hands Up” and then you have more playful songs like “Guessing Game” and “Colors,” to the two really laid back ones that I’m enjoying the most, “Transitional Joint” and “Save Ya.” What are your favorite cuts and can you talk about your lyric writing process and how you incorporated all those different styles?
EL: Some of my favorite songs on The Preface. One being D.E.M.O.N.S. I was actually in Cali when I thought about this, I thought, “it’d be crazy if I broke the world down to acronyms and just made the D the E the M the O and the N mean something different throughout the whole verse not missing a beat,” so I was proud of myself when I did that one. Another record is the “Guessing Game.” For one, I’ve never heard anybody even attempt to do a concept like that. That came to mind when I was rapping in the backseat of this van. Me, Fat Kat and T3 were on tour and it just popped in my head like one of the lines I have on this song called “Fire,” where I was saying “technology,” and just the way that I played with the word “tech” and “nology” made me come up with the idea like what if I did this with words and tricked everybody into thinking I was going to say one thing and then I didn’t? So that’s how that concept came about and I’m glad I put that on the album.

Songs like “Talking in My Sleep,” I’m proud to say that’s a visual song even though it’s something made up, that’s something I imagined and put to paper so people could visualize it. “Save Ya,” “Transitional,” “Hands Up,” my writing process just varies. There’s times where I may write stuff down, but that’s rare. If it’s a deep concept and I’m trying to get real visual with you, so it plays in your mind like a movie, sometimes I write those down but other than that, all my rhymes are stored inside my memory bank, and I may write it in my mind before I go to the studio, or I might write it in the studio to a beat or scat a bit in the booth, so there’s so many different ways I approach writing.

AC: Going to broader industry questions, you worked extensively in mix tapes before you released this album. What do you think of the current state of the music industry and where do you see it going?
EL: I see the music industry being on the downlow tip. I see people buying records from the internet. I see the internet as the new streets. I remember back in the day being in New York and seeing promotional vans and people just stopping on the side of the street and opening up the back doors with music banging from the person they were promoting, while a street team was out in front of the van slinging fliers and giving singles away. I can recall when Eminem, before he put out his first record, he had that song “I Just Don’t Give a Fuck,” and his promotional tour was passing VHS tapes with the video on there out in the club. But now it ain’t like that anymore. The internet is so big that people are promoting what they need to promote on the internet. I just see music as being on the downlow where it’s sad to say that you see Tower Records folding here, a Virgin Records closing there and music stores closing in general. But I see music sales going straight to the internet.

AC: You were talking earlier about two different generations in terms of hip-hop in Detroit, but overall in hip-hop, how do you view the genre as changing, and do you view these as positive or negative changes?
EL: I see the genre changing in that rock groups trying to incorporate rap and rap groups are trying to incorporate rock. And to me that’s not a bad thing, because it’s all about evolving and changing. I’m eclectic. I like Bon Jovi, I like Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, so I’m all for hip-hop changing and flipping, as long as the music sounds good, I don’t have a problem with it.

AC
: Following The Preface here, do you see yourself working on some more solo stuff or going back to collaborations for the next part of your career?
EL: Well I’ve got a mixtape coming out in December, I like to give a shout out to one of the illest rappers who’s still breathing right now, Nasir. I’ve got a record where I’m giving tribute. I actually got the idea from my boy DJ House Shoes and the name of the mixtape is Elmatic and it’s a tribute to the classic album Illmatic that Nas put out so in a way it’s me giving my own personal hip-hop honor to him, so I’m getting that mixtape ready, hopefully it should be ready in December. I’m working with Fat Kat on his new record, I’ll be on like 80% of that record. I’m also working with T3, we’re doing a mixtape for DJ Who Kid right now but at the same time me and Royce are getting our thoughts together for our collaboration, but at the same time I’m still planning on putting out an album after the mixtape called The Feed and that’s going to be bigger and better than The Preface.
AC: You’re a busy man.
EL: It’s about that time. We’re living in a whole different era right now where we need to be in peoples’ faces and we gotta work overtime. But to me it doesn’t even feel like work cause I love to do what I do, but yea you have to stay busy if you want to stay relevant.

AC: What has your career in hip-hop taught you about life and what has life helped you learn to enhance your hip-hop?
EL: What hip-hop taught me was just to go hard at everything I do. Taake it to the next level with everything I do in my life. And my life influenced my hip-hop because everytime I pick up the pen I write about something that’s happening in the street or happening in my life, personal things, my wants, my fears, so it’s always influencing me in terms of what I write in my verses and the concepts that I think about. So you can’t help but let it influence you like that because you live in it everyday and if you rap about it from the heart it’s gonna automatically come off that way.

AC: A lot of bands outside of hip-hop, most notably Radiohead, have started letting fans remix their songs on the internet. Do you view that as a positive form of interaction with fans, and would you let your fans remix your cuts?
EL: There’s been a couple of times when I got my stuff remixed. This is what happened. My record came out and somebody took one of my songs and put their verse at the end of the song, then put that version in with the album and had it where people could download it. So when certain people downloaded the record, the version with that person rapping on my record is the version they got, so they’re thinking that’s what the record sounded like. I don’t agree with that, but as far as people wanting to put their spin on it or be heard or whatever, it’s all fun, it’s all good, I’m not mad at it, go for theirs is what I say.

AC: To get a little political with you, we’re in a massively important election. Have you been following it and do you have any thoughts about what direction our country needs to head in?
EL: I’ve been following it a little bit. It’s time for a change, my people here in the D that aren’t into this rap game and work regular jobs, there’s cats getting laid off, can’t find jobs here. So that needs to change. The economy as a whole, I mean gas is starting to look a little better, but man, it was even better than this at one point and we’re just happy it’s at this level now, but it was worse only a few weeks ago, maybe a month ago. The economy as a whole needs to have a makeover and I just feel it’s time for that change, and like you say man, this is a real important election and everyone needs to voice their opinion and vote, and I’m voting for Obama, and that’s just how it is.

Singles and Fame: Stephan Jenkins and Eminem

At the San Francisco Music Tech Summit, which MixMatchers have written about and are currently attending, Stephan Jenkins of Third Eye Blind spoke yesterday regarding the music industry and its future. While I have inside word that the introduction given to Mr. Jenkins’ was a bit gaudy and overblown, he had some interesting thoughts on the future of music and music downloads. What I found most intriguing about his comments was the support he seems to exhibit for the thought process I’ve followed the past couple months, especially in the “What I’m Hearing Now” posts, that the more control the consumer has over what they buy, as opposed to what they’re forcefed by labels (think full albums for $17), the more interested they’re going to be, and the less potential for album filler will exist.

While I think the album can remain an integral part of the music industry, the time when it ruled the Earth is done and gone. There’s a lot of bands out there that don’t deserve full albums, or simply don’t have enough quality material to fill one. Furthermore, with more and more options in terms of buying music, consumers have no reason to buy larger albums when they can save money and have only the music they want. Let’s not forget that not only does the full album raise the price considerations, but simultaneously eats into storage space which can cost additional money in CD and external hard drive back up options. Personally, I’ll listen to every song sample of an album on iTunes. I then make an album purchase decision based on the number of tracks I like enough on their own to buy, and if the difference between that cost and the full album cost makes sense. When I speak of albums remaining an integral part of the industry, I’m speaking of concept albums and others where the coherency and enjoyable aspect of the music is tied directly to its place in the entire album. I think Radiohead’s Kid A, Dave Matthews Band’s Before These Crowded Streets, and edIT’s Crying Over Pros for No Reason are all examples of albums where the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

In other music news I found interesting, Eminem has been out interviewing with folks in advance of his new release. Apparently, in hiding, Em has been working on the album Relapse with Dr. Dre for quite some time. Given that chatter is starting to heat up regarding Dr. Dre’s long-awaited Detox album, one has to wonder how much cross-over work is being done by these two, and if and to what extent they influenced each other on albums coming many years after their most recent predecessors. But it’s nice to know that Eminem has had his share of fame and now would just like to make music…he’s been at his best when he concentrates on what brought him to the dance.

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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