Showing posts with label resonators. Show all posts
Showing posts with label resonators. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

resonators 2019 - episode #023 - 'internal affairs' by pharoahe monch (VIDEO)

Oh, this is going to piss people off... eh, I stand by it. Billboard BREAKDOWN is up next, so stay tuned!

resonators 2019 - episode #023 - 'internal affairs' by pharoahe monch

I think I'm in the quarter of Resonators entries where I'm just going to be reviewing acts that I otherwise know and and like a great deal already - a little different than the discovery and research that came from last year's genre, but when the albums are pretty consistently great, am I supposed to complain?

Anyway, the story of this artist begins in the late 80s with the duo with the very timely name Simply II Positive MCs - in a desire to remain more marketable in changing times they'd rename themselves to Organized Konfusion and begin releasing critically acclaimed cult albums throughout the the 90s. And while the critics adored them for forward-thinking content and a unique sound in the era of gangsta rap, their eclectic and varied delivery and lyricism meant they never really saw mainstream success - kind of a damn shame because they didn't skimp on hooks or catchiness either, but that happens more than it should in the underground even today. But three albums in and after a particularly ambitious but mostly failed 1997 project The Equinox, the duo decided to split amicably and go their separate ways to chase solo crossover - and when you consider both had been rapping and producing their own projects through the entire decade, it's not surprising they wanted to thin out their workload and narrow their focus. It would take a relatively long time for member Prince Po to land his solo debut with The Slickness in 2004 to generally positive coverage, but the other rapper would receive immediate acclaim with his release in 1999 on Rawkus, featuring a murder's row of collaborators and later highlighted as one of the best hip-hop debuts of all time. And given that I've talked about this artist before and it's near the twentieth anniversary of its release - and the long-awaited re-release on streaming platforms long thought impossible thanks to sample clearance issues - it's time we go back to the source: this is Internal Affairs by Pharoahe Monch, and this is Resonators!

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

resonators 2019 - episode #022 - 'labor days' by aesop rock (VIDEO)

And this kicks all amounts of ass too - yay!

Next up, I think I'm about ready for Swans, so stay tuned!

resonators 2019 - episode #022 - 'labor days' by aesop rock

So one observation I've made about Resonators this year is that I've wound up covering a lot of acts I would otherwise review on a regular basis, and this has led to a few notable observations for me. For one, it's a sign that underground hip-hop, despite its numerous flirtations with the mainstream, has maintained considerable longevity - and more to the point, most of the acts have been able to ride their careers into their second or even third decade of success while still maintaining a consistent or even fresh audience. Hell, in some cases the sound is consistent and timeless enough that to a predominantly older demo who gets into a more thorny, lyrical style, so long as the quality is consistent they'll stick around. And when you consider it's often not with major label support or "icon" status to build the huge cult following, that's extremely impressive.

And today we're going to be talking about one of the most respected names in this scene and one who has actually made a few of my year-end lists: New York MC Aesop Rock. Known for his phenomenal vocabulary and eclectic sense of storytelling, he got his start with university friend and producer in his own right Blockhead, and in the late 90s he self-financed a limited project Music For Earthworms, primarily promoted online through his own website and, avenues for underground hip-hop that were in their infancy of being tapped. And after a quick EP, he won over enough traction to get signed to predominantly electronic music label Mush Records for 2000's album Float, which featured production both from him and Blockhead and a few notable guest stars, like Vast Aire of Cannibal Ox and Slug of Atmosphere. And yet I'm not discussing that project specifically, mostly because you can tell Aesop Rock was still refining his style, with his manic-depressive nasal delivery and content that still reflected some rough edges - still really damn good album, especially given its melodic focus and how damn quotable he's always been, but the hooks weren't all the way there, the vocal layering could feel a bit slapdash, and there's an overwritten sense of anxious panic that really can't sustain its hour-plus runtime, even if it did match the sharp criticisms of the system that left an entire class of people struggling to stay alive at the bottom; smart enough to know it, but seeing no easy way out. And thus when I discovered in 2001 he had a nervous breakdown... well, sad to say it didn't surprise me.

But regardless, he had also signed to El-P's label Def Jux, and on his next album he was looking to expand upon many of the themes he had introduced on Float, which would become to many his breakthrough: so yeah, it's here, today we're going to be talking about Aesop Rock's 2002 album Labor Days, and this is Resonators!

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

resonators 2019 - episode #021 - 'black on both sides' by mos def (VIDEO)

Honestly a bit surprised I managed to get this out on time... but hey, it's a great album, happy to talk about it. Enjoy!

Monday, September 30, 2019

resonators 2019 - episode #021 - 'black on both sides' by mos def

You know, one thing I've struggled with on this series is the question of mystique, especially as it's the sort of thing that's tough to contextualize outside of the explicit moment in which it's felt, and it's a feeling that has persisted with certain acts for far longer than you'd expect. And you can argue there are acts who came and went so quickly with projects that seemed so transcendent that the legacy sticks for years or even decades - hell, Jay Electronica has kept hype alive on the potential of a project for over a decade now!

But if you're removed from the time, if you weren't there... well, it's complicated, because you're trying to contextualize a moment and capture its significance, but also be realistic on how the art's impact has persisted, how much of that luster remains. And I can't think of many living rappers who have captured that sort of mystique to hold it for so long as Yasiin Bey, who twenty years ago was known as Mos Def. Now we've already talked about Mos Def in this series thanks to his landmark breakthrough with Talib Kweli in Black Star, but in the process both artists were building towards solo debuts of their own on Rawkus, Talib's dropping in 2000 under his duo name Reflection Eternal with producer Hi-Tek to critical acclaim. But Mos Def had gotten ahead the year earlier winning the sort of critical acclaim that would allow weaker projects like The New Danger and True Magic to skate by before The Ecstatic would drop in 2009 to win back fans and critics... the last full, commercially released album we would get under his name Mos Def. But you can trace his mystique back to that debut album, how it left such a mark, widely hailed as one of the best hip-hop albums of the late 90s to be released... so let's not waste any more time, this is Black On Both Sides by Mos Def, and this is Resonators!

Monday, September 2, 2019

resonators 2019 - episode #020 - 'deltron 3030' by deltron 3030 (VIDEO)

So I know I remain pretty much the only guy who cares about Resonators, but I'm genuinely pleased with how much I wound up loving this - fantastic hip-hop classic, so happy I got a chance to revisit it.

Especially considering my next review is bound to disappoint a lot of folks... yeah, stay tuned!

Sunday, September 1, 2019

resonators 2019 - episode #020 - 'deltron 3030' by deltron 3030

Oh, we're going to get weird with this one.

But first, let me back up, because I've referenced this album in passing before in previous reviews but haven't really provided much context or history behind its strange, strange lineage, even though it might stand as damn near one of a kind even to this day, one of the few examples of a narrative-driven Afrofuturist hip-hop concept album, described by some as a rap opera. The producer is Dan the Automator, a California-based producer who by the late 90s had established his reputation through collaborations with DJ Shadow and especially Kool Keith, who had created his Dr. Octagon alter-ego and had released the celebrated if utterly demented concept album Dr. Octagonecologyst. This was the project that arguably won Dan the Automator the most initial attention for blending in organic instrumentation against Dr. Octagon's graphic iconography, which saw him garner the attention of De La Soul affiliate Prince Paul, who teamed up with him under the name Handsome Boy Modeling School for a 1999 project called So... How's Your Girl - unfortunately, it's as goofy and slapdash as it sounds. Then a year later he'd team up with Primal Scream for some production work - not the first nor last time he'd work with British acts, if you're familiar with one Damon Albarn's work in the 2000s - but he was still working with underground hip-hop acts as well...

Which takes us to Del The Funky Homosapien. The cousin of Ice Cube, he struck some commercial success in the very early 90s, but he wanted to go in a weirder direction with his second album... which despite some well-deserved critical acclaim promptly tanked, which saw him not release another solo album until 1997, which he mostly produced himself. But it was around this time he joined the hip-hop collective Hieroglyphics, who carved out their own critical acclaim in 1998 with 3rd Eye Vision, which I honestly hoped to cover before this as it's been on the voting block for some time now. But in the year 2000 in San Francisco, Del teamed up with Dan the Automator and DJ Kid Koala for a one-of-a-kind album that stands as a defiantly unique entry in underground hip-hop, even today. And while I expected I would cover this later rather than sooner, might as well tackle it now: so here we go, this is the self-titled album from Deltron 3030, and this is Resonators!

Monday, July 29, 2019

resonators 2019 - episode #019 - 'operation doomsday' by MF DOOM (VIDEO)

And for once we've got an episode of Resonators out early - and it's a classic album deserving of the title for once, so enjoy!

Sunday, July 28, 2019

resonators 2019 - episode #019 - 'operation doomsday' by MF DOOM

So normally in the course of this series I try to get a bit cute and set the scene without really mentioning the names or album I'm discussing until the title drop... but there's a time when you just can't do that and this is one of those cases...

Because his name is MF DOOM.

And while at this point his legacy is plenty secure - although you could argue his run through the late 90s and early 2000s even today does not get the credit or acclaim it deserves - it's worthwhile going back even further to set the scene, back to the early 90s where MF DOOM was making music under the alias Zev Love X in the trio KMD, who wound up getting picked up by Elektra and releasing their debut in 1991, which even had a smattering of singles success. But then a score of tragedies hit: his younger brother and fellow KMD member DJ Subroc was killed in a car accident and their second album Black Bastards was shelved given the far darker content and questionable album art - which in the face of gangsta rap on the horizon is the sort of stupid irony for which someone should have pushed out of Elektra. And that person wound up being Zev Love X, who was given $20,000 and the master tapes of Black Bastards to leave Elektra - again, seems like a real brain trust over there in hindsight, especially given how Black Bastards became one of the most heavily bootlegged underground rap projects of the mid-90s. But that was small consolation, as Zev Love X retreated from hip-hop in the gangsta rap era, damn near homeless in New York City even as his legacy grew...

Fast-forward to 1997 - mainstream and underground hip-hop were splitting in two, and in Manhattan MF DOOM was slowly returning to rap through freestyling. He would soon utilize the infamous Doctor Doom mask to enhance his air of mystery and then sign to Fondle 'Em Records, a now-defunct indie label founded by radio personality Bobbito Garcia, a longtime friend of MF DOOM from the KMD days and who was instrumental in finally giving Black Bastards a proper release in 1998. Despite being founded as basically a running joke, at least for a short time Fondle 'Em would go along with Rawkus as one of the premier New York indie labels, with early releases for the Juggaknots and Cage, but with the first few singles, MF DOOM was the breakthrough, and it would lead to one of the most celebrated underground debuts in hip-hop: that's right, it's Operation Doomsday by MF DOOM, and this is Resonators!

Monday, July 1, 2019

resonators 2019 - episode #018 - 'bourgiebohopostpomoafrohomo' by deep dickollective (VIDEO)

So yeah, you won't believe how much work I put in behind the scenes to get this done properly, but I'm happy it turned out well.

But next up... Billboard BREAKDOWN, a bunch of albums on my backlog that'll fit close to the Trailing Edge, and then Freddie Gibbs - stay tuned!

resonators 2019 - episode #018 - 'bourgiebohopostpomoafrohomo' by deep dickollective

So last year by sheer coincidence, during Pride Month I wound up talking about the Dicks on this series, one of the first notable queercore acts and widely cited for pushing gay themes in hardcore punk. And that got me thinking: why don't I do the same thing for this series this year, but for underground hip-hop, find one of those LGBT acts that might be long-forgotten?

Well, if anything this was as challenging of an effort to track down as it was discovering The Dicks, because if you thought queer themes in punk were transgressive in the 80s, they were damn near heretical in underground hip-hop near the turn of the millennium. Just like underground hip-hop we're talking about a male-dominated scene, but it was also a space where the homophobic flowed freely - they'd have a hard time accepting women into the party, let alone queer acts, and that tended to be a common prejudice be you black or white. In fact, it was often framed as a defensive projection of masculinity, not just by young guys scared of catching 'the gay' but also by black men who perceived society's fetishization of them as boiling them down to their sexual traits and nothing else, and if that sexuality was not emphasized, he might be coded as 'gay'. And that's not even touching the pseudo-spiritual and religious dimensions that had no tolerance for queerness.

So I honestly didn't expect to find any acts who came out of this era who openly identified as gay or bi or trans or queer... and yet I did. In the year 2000, a few PhD students at Stanford met and expressed frustration with the spoken word poetry community's ostracization of their blackness and queerness. And while the core trio - Juba Kalamka, Tim'm T West aka 25Percenter, and Philip Atiba Goff aka. LSP - had experienced some solo success in the community, they were annoyed at the lines a presumably "conscious" community was drawing, and they saw the opportunity to push buttons on masculinity, colour, and sexuality in their music, and take a harder, deconstructionist tone to the homophobic content that was cropping up in hip-hop, mainstream and underground. So they began creating compositions that would become the groundwork of their 2001 breakthrough, recruiting a few other guests and producers along the way, a project widely considered as one of the genesis points of queer hip-hop - it might have started as a parody but it morphed into something more. That's right, we're talking about BourgieBohoPostPomoAfroHomo by Deep Dickollective, and this is Resonators!

Sunday, June 2, 2019

resonators 2019 - episode #017 - 'doom' by mood (VIDEO)

Okay, this probably won't get a ton of traffic, but I'm pretty pleased I was able to show some light on this...

Anyway, now for something completely different...

Saturday, June 1, 2019

resonators 2019 - episode #017 - 'doom' by mood

So last month when I covered Slum Village, I made sure to highlight how much of that project was a springboard for legendary producer J. Dilla, who had started to pick up traction in a few years before but really launched into major cult prominence off of that project. And while that success would cascade down somewhat into the other members of Slum Village, both present and future, today we're going to be exploring a similar launch point in underground hip-hop, but one that time might have forgotten if you didn't know where to look.

So, it's 1997 in Cincinnati, a city which has never really been a hotbed for hip-hop in any era, but things are moving for an up-and-coming group called Three Below Zero, featuring rappers Main Flow and Donte and producer Jahson. More to the point, they've also got a connection to future big name producer Hi-Tek, who hit it up well with an up-and-coming Brooklyn MC named Talib Kweli, who we covered on an earlier episode of this show. They had released a few singles over the past couple of years - the one that tends to be recognized the most is 1996's 'Hustle On The Side', which is a pretty terrific forgotten gem in its own right - but they had changed their name and had ventured up to New York to record their debut which would be released in 1997... and depending who you talk to, is mostly known as the launch-pad for Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek, or is a forgotten underground classic in its own right... and it would take the group as a whole until 2011 to release a non-compilation follow-up. So okay, let's get into Doom, the debut album from Mood, and this is Resonators!

Sunday, May 5, 2019

resonators 2019 - episode #016 - 'fan-tas-tic vol. 1' by slum village (VIDEO)

Well I wasn't surprised this wasn't going to draw huge numbers... have to hope it'll pick up a bit more traction in a bit.

In the mean time, looks like folks want me to cover Vampire Weekend before P!nk (sigh), so stay tuned!

resonators 2019 - episode #016 - 'fan-tas-tic vol. 1' by slum village

So here's something that probably doesn't get highlighted enough when it comes to the indie hip-hop of the late 90s, and a problem to that age that just isn't as applicable today: distribution. Yeah, Soundcloud and Bandcamp and YouTube are overflowing with acts which means that oversaturation could prevent you from even being heard... but in 1997, pressing CDs or vinyl or making cassettes costed money, and if you were on an indie label, that was something you often didn't have.

Now I've talked about limited distribution before in the last season of Resonators with hardcore punk in the 80s, but if you want a golden example of a project that would only become widely available commercially years later, we need to talk about the Detroit act Slum Village, a Detroit hip-hop trio that in 1996 consisted of childhood friends and MCs T3, Baatin, and producer Jay Dee... who you might better know as J. Dilla. Now it's important to highlight that even early on, J. Dilla had already attained some considerable fame thanks to production work - already he had credits on the fourth Tribe Called Quest album, as well as for Busta Rhymes and The Pharcyde a year earlier - but keep in mind we're talking about the mid-90s and a highly localized scene outside of the major meccas of American hip-hop, where producers might be well-known if their style and sound was unique enough - as Dilla's was - but they wouldn't quite have the same notoriety as even Dilla would achieve a few years later. As such, the initial run of this project was extremely limited, primarily a run of cassettes that wouldn't receive a CD or vinyl pressing until the 2000s - but if you were in the underground hip-hop scene in the late 90s, this was a project that spread like wildfire, especially in the wake of several songs getting revamped for the 2000 album Fantastic, Vol. 2. But given that we have digital distribution, I wanted to go back to the source, back to what really set the scene on fire and had this trio hailed as the next coming of A Tribe Called Quest - so here we go, this is Fan-Tas-Tic Vol. 1 by Slum Village, and this is Resonators!

Thursday, March 28, 2019

resonators 2019 - episode #015 - 'mos def & talib kweli are black star' by black star (VIDEO)

Man, this album was a lot of fun, really happy I gave it a lot of breathing space. Good stuff.

So there might be a slight delay on me getting to La Dispute - just some coordination with how I'm putting that review together - but I did finish filming everything for the Trailing Edge and I did get a few albums early, so stay tuned!

resonators 2019 - episode #015 - 'mos def & talib kweli are black star' by black star

So I'll admit this project was always on the radar when it came to this season, and I'll admit it's probably better we get it out the way now before we delve deeper. Because there's always one: the indie project that doesn't just bring in a ton of critical acclaim, but becomes a surprise hit and even nets a few fleeting singles on the Hot 100 on the strength and popularity of the artists alone.

And what caught me by surprise is that this wasn't two established legends teaming up either, at least not at the time. Yes, full disclosure here, I was familiar with the work of both Mos Def - now known as Yasiin Bey - and Talib Kweli before this, and they both had had some breakout verses before 1998, but I could have sworn they had more established bodies of work before this. But no, while Mos Def had verses with Da Bush Babies and De La Soul and others within the Native Tongues camp, and Talib Kweli had multiple appearances on Doom, the debut project of Cincinnati hip-hop group Mood in 1997 - which hopefully at some point we'll cover here - neither artist had a full-length solo debut ready while they were both signed to Rawkus. In fact, what might be more notable is Soundbombing, an early compilation release from Rawkus that brought the entire roster together and may have given Mos Def and Talib Kweli the connection they needed - that's another project we should probably cover here, come to think of it... Anyway, given that they both postponed individual projects to work together, with Talib bringing his producer friend Hi-Tek and Mos Def looping in Native Tongue affiliates like 88-Keys and Da Beatminerz, that chemistry was too good to squander, so much so that to this day while the duo has teased a return, this is the only project they would complete together: so let's get into the unlikely smash that might not have been the first introduction but absolutely put them on the map. That's right, we're talking about Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star, and this is Resonators!

Friday, March 1, 2019

resonators 2019 - episode #014 - 'the psycho-social, chemical, biological & electro-magnetic manipulation of human consciousness' by jedi mind tricks (VIDEO)

So yeah, the backlash hasn't quite hit this video yet, but I know it's just a matter of time... eh, I stand by it. Tough to review, but worth it.

Next up... do I want to get Dream Theater out of the way before I cover the onslaught of quality coming? Let's see... stay tuned!

resonators 2019 - episode #014 - 'the psycho-social, chemical, biological & electro-magnetic manipulation of human consciousness' by jedi mind tricks

You know, you'd think with my background I'd be an easier sell on nerdier music.

Because I do describe myself as a nerd - I own and have read hundreds of fantasy and science fiction novels, I've been playing video games and tabletop games for decades, I regularly go to conventions, I still play Magic: The Gathering... for god's sake, I've got a small collection of swords! Even my educational background outside of my career both on-and-offline is in physics, which thanks to the ubiquity of The Big Bang Theory has been branded the 'nerdiest' of scientific disciplines, at least in popular culture. And thus you'd think that "nerdier" art would be an easy sell for me on relatability alone... but most of the time it just doesn't click, and I've struggled to pin down why.

Well, okay, on some level it has to do with the fact that just common reference points doesn't win me over automatically - it'd be nice if people actually said something with said points rather than just for a cheap pop. The larger and more troublesome issues might come with the fact that the "outcast-but-ahead-of-the-curve" veneer of nerdy spaces is just that: a veneer, and more often than not it would reflect many of the same cultural values as non-nerds do, just with an increased lack of social skills. And that's not even getting into how certain nerds have made the concentrated effort to rewrite history and erase the forward-thinking progressive values that did bubble forth in some intellectual spaces, especially if those nerds didn't fit a very specific caricature or demographic... which takes us to underground hip-hop. We already saw with Company Flow and El-P that even though all those guys were plainly nerds it wasn't like they were immune to trends in hip-hop and larger culture at the time, and so when I started digging into the debut of Jedi Mind Tricks, a Philadelphia-based group who released their debut the same year in 1997 and their content was framed as 'forward-thinking' and 'progressive' and also emphasized their points of reference in astronomy, physics, and history, cranking up that nerd cred... look, I'll admit I was cautious. But okay, this won the popular vote very comfortably, so what did we get from The Psycho-Social, Chemical, Biological & Electro-magnetic Manipulation of Human Consciousness, which I'm just going to call The Psycho-Social CD for short?