“When I introduce you, I’m gonna say, “This is a friend of mine.” That means you’re a connected guy. Now if I said instead, “this is a friend of ours” that would mean you a made guy. A Capiche?”
As Donnie Brasco might attest, it takes some serious confidence to vouch for artists in the age of the mp3.
It’s easy to tweet away your love for an ephemeral three-minute song. It’s slightly harder to endorse an album, but anyone can do a background check on forty-five minutes of music. But it’s another thing entirely to endorse an artist. You’re saying that the song that they might release in two year’s time when they’re going through their White Album phase is going to rock. You’re saying that their tweets are always going to be funny, or at least make sense, or at least be funny when sung by Josh Groban. You’re sticking your neck out.
But I’m quite confident in saying in suggesting that The Roots and Common are friends of ours.
Thirteen albums in, The Roots are still giving lessons on what craftsmanship, intellect, and ambition can mean in hip-hop. Here’s one over several great tracks off of their most recent album undun, a concept album that is sort of like an episode of The Wire, told musically and in reverse.
This year also marked a new release from Bill O’Reilly’s favorite rapper/poet, Common. You’d think if O’Reilly had bothered to have an intern listen to a song like this, he would have chosen a target he could have actually have tackled.
Apparently, Kanye and HALO have become standard fare amongst the grammar school set. For many parents, this forces a musical Sophie’s choice: either let your young kids loose into a lyrical free-for-all, or censor them into corner of musical lameness.
Fortunately, this choice is unnecessary. Just in time for my sister-in-law’s long car trip with her family, here’s a mini-mix tape that proves that cultural currency needn’t come with an R rating.
Given Jon Stewart already went in on this, I didn’t think I was going to follow. But since the issue in all of its idiocy continues to smolder, I thought I’d share the film of the poetry performance that Fox news has been attempting to use as the slanderous sequel to their birthers bash.
Though I laugh at Jon Stewart’s evisceration of Fox News’ hypocrisy and am tempted to launch into a tirade of my own, I’m mostly just bummed out by the many manufactured debates that drown out the very real issues that our society faces.
Like our collective obsession with Two and a Half Men drowning out discourse about the two and half very real wars in which we are currently engaged. Or an ongoing debate over whether Fox News can understand poetry that prevents us from discussing what we are going to do about the dreams and despair that these poems portray.
All of this makes this song feel all the more apt.
As I’m nearly halfway in to this 30 Words of Music stream (meme?), I figured it was fine time to share a word that many of you may not know: cypher.
In the world of (rap) music, a cypher is a group frestyling– one after another– over a simple beat. Kind of a friendly, collaborative battle. As the following videos evidence, the results can be breathtaking.
Now that a high-quality mp3 of the performance has hit the internets, it’s time to share the cypher from this year’s BET Music Awards. This one is taken over by Kanye and his G.O.O.D. music crew, and the most interesting thing about it is how Ye breaks away from the rest. Whereas Pusha T and the rest follow a typical swagger, Kanye takes a startlingly confessional tact. Amidst five minutes of braggadocio, Kanye talks about his struggles, his Dad, his loneliness. Before you decide, hit play at the 4:20 point on the mp3 and give it a few listens.
When a 35 year-old social protest song leaps out of your speakers with immediacy and inspiration, is that the sign of timeless writing or stagnated social progress?
Wake up everybody no more sleepin in bed
No more backward thinking, time for thinking ahead
The world has changed so very much
From what it used to be so
there is so much hatred, war and poverty
Wake up all the teachers time to teach a new way
Maybe then they’ll listen to whatcha have to say
Cause they’re the ones who’s coming up and the world is in their hands
when you teach the children teach em the very best you can.
The world won’t get no better if we just let it be
The world won’t get no better we gotta change it yeah, just you and me.
Originally performed by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, with Teddy Pendergrass on lead vocals, this soul classic has been covered many times over the years. But none greater than the most recent, done by the OkayPlayer supergroup of The Roots, John Legend, Common, and Melanie Fiona.
Here at the casa, I’m constantly floating new songs into our collective air space. And, when I find my better half immediately over at the stereo to replay a new track, it’s a pretty good sign of a hit. It’s been on repeat around these parts over the last few days, and has gotten me thinking about a lot. Hope you enjoy it just as much.
Given that the song that I want to play at my wedding is already a matter of historical fact, I thought I’d use this post to trace a (somewhat fictionalized) relationship arc through songs that I hope will be new to you.
Stolen glances, awkward silences, and endless conversations.
As any fan of rap (or jazz) will attest, the freestyle is the best and most unforgiving barometer of sheer talent. I won’t name names, but every month offers us many new examples of how a studio and a svengali can make an album out of most anyone. But when an artist is stripped of a script– let alone a re-mix– what happens? When they’re living in the moment, what comes out? Genius or gibberish?
Because the freestyle can provide surprise in a musical landscape that is so often numbingly slick, they can become the most treasured tracks. Having found a few new ones that have made their way into heavy rotation, I started to think about the value of the “freestyle” in a marketing world that is still scared to venture too far from their studio. Continue reading →