Monday, October 24, 2011

Doubters Found Demolished

The Latest Greatest, 10/24/11

New album from one of the more prolific members of Project Blowed's Swim Team, Dumbfoundead, dropping on November 1rst of this year. Entitled "DFD," the album stands for pretty much whatever folks want it to according to Dumbfoundead, who encourages fans to drop their own interpretations of the three letters on his Facebook fan page in exchange for the chance to win a free CD package. Dumbfoundead's last one "Fun With Dumb" was a solid and entertaining listen, and the leaked singles off this new one are sounding more polished but a little more poppy as well. Curious to see if this guy will deliver on his potential with this album. Rappers strongly associated to the battle scene will often fall flat when it comes to making a full length, but if anyone can do it it's Dumbfoundead. Tracklisting and music video below (decent song, great video):

1. Town
2. Killers
3. Cool and Calm
4. Green
5. Run Home
6. Cell Phone (feat. Breezy Lovejoy & Wax)
7. Brb (feat. Andrew Garcia)
8. Bitch (feat. Breezy Lovejoy)
9. Son of a Gun (feat. Matik)
10. Studio Apartment
11. No More Sunny Days (feat. Breezy Lovejoy)
12. Tour Up (feat. Wax)
13. Are We There Yet

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Freestyle Fellowship, Sub Ren and Opski Chan at 330 Ritch

View From the Front Row, 10/20/11

Last night, I rolled out to 330 Ritch in SF with one of my homies to catch the legendary Freestyle Fellowship live in concert. This was a rescheduled show from when Freestyle Fellowship cancelled their SF show back in August, and while I remember that one being promoted well, this time somebody dropped the ball. You'd figure that with tickets only 10 bucks, a major act like Freestyle Fellowship would pack a smaller-sized venue like 330 Ritch, but the crowd was maybe 1/4th the capacity of the club if we're being generous. I've seen some really fun shows at 330 Ritch, most notably Hopie's "Raw Gems" release party in September, but I also have to give the place a respectable thumbs down for this one due to the sound quality (or lack thereof). The number of mic malfunctions and lack of proper levels for vocals or beats in the monitors definitely detracted from the show overall.

The first act to perform was Opski Chan of San José's Isolated Wax crew, who was accompanied by Megabusive on stage as a backup. From what I can tell, Opski Chan is a good MC with some fine recordings under his belt like many of the folks on Isolated Wax, but I thought his set was a bit of a disappointment. He has some clever lyrics and good flows in his songs, but it almost felt like he was performing his tracks on autopilot at this show. He had a plenty of friends and supporters from San José in the crowd cheering him on after each song, and I was cheering for him as well, but he still seemed kind of bored on stage and uninterested in winning anyone over. Maybe Opski-Chan was disappointed by the small turn-out or fed up with the sound system and just decided it wasn't worth giving it 110%, or maybe he's not a frequent live performer and felt uncomfortable, but either way I sensed a lack of connection with the crowd. Can't blame this one on the sound system unfortunately, because when Megabusive grabbed the mic and dropped a guest verse on one song, he really killed it and showed off his charisma on stage. If I hadn't heard some of Opski Chan's recordings beforehand, I wouldn't have left the venue converted.

Another San José group, Sub Ren, came on to play next. I hadn't heard of them and neither had most of the audience, but they put on a pretty good set that had me smiling and grooving along to their tunes. They didn't get as many cheers from the crowd as Opski did, but they had a certain energy and momentum to their live show and knew how to carry themselves on stage. Opski Chan had the upper-hand in terms lyrics and concepts, but Sub Ren had some pretty dope mellow hip hop beats to rock over and their heart was clearly in their performance. The homie who I went to the show with was very bored with Sub Ren's set, so maybe you needed to be up in the front row looking to party for the songs to click. Another San José rapper, Rey Ressurection, joined Sub Ren on stage for one of their final numbers, but the two MCs of the group held it down just fine without him. Nice opening act.

The scattered crowd gathered to the stage as DJ Kilu got behind the boards to play some entry music for Freestyle Fellowship and get people hype. Aceyalone, Myka 9, P.E.A.C.E and Self Jupiter are all tremendous rap talents that have had a major influence on the directions that hip hop has taken over the years, so it's great to see that none of them have lost the touch live. Seeing these guys rock mics is bearing witness to some truly incredible feats of MCing, though the sound difficulties reached their peak during their set and occasionally marred some really great verses. I'd seen Aceyalone and Myka 9 kill it live many times before, but this was my first experience seeing P.E.A.C.E and Self Jupiter rock it, and they both lived up to expectations. P.E.A.C.E busted out an unbelievable acapella at one point that had his gruff voice shifting to all types of different musical pitches while Self Jupiter held it down and got into the crowd for his verse from "Pure Thought." I was worried that Freestyle Fellowship was going to play too many old songs and fumble them in the process, but the older tracks were all performed well and ended up being the highlights of the evening, with "Bullies of the Block" and "7th Seal" standing out in particular. It's just a shame that the sound quality was so poor, with mics losing audio and beats blasting too loud to properly hear all the verses. It got worse as the set went on, to the point where it was practically noise for the last few cuts. Open letter any venue planning on booking Myka 9 (my favorite Fellowship MC): his musical style of MCing is extremely complex and requires a very audible microphone and sound system. Out of the three times I've seen Microphone Mike live, only once has the sound of the venue properly done him justice, though he's still been impressive every time. Anyway, Freestyle Fellowship had all the chemistry and know-how you'd expect, and did their damn thing.

Overall, I felt like this was a decent show that could have been a great show. The fellaz in Freestyle Fellowship are undeniably impressive live, but the sound quality and overall atmosphere of the poorly promoted venue dragged the experience down a couple notches in my book. I'm very glad that I got to see these legends perform together, but doubt that this show will stay cemented in my memory a year from now.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Cloudy October "The Metal Jerk"

Expanding the Backpack, 10/18/11

Essential free music download alert. In case you missed Cloudy October's "The Aviator is Dead" EP, the Portland-based rapper's new freEP is even more determined to seize your attention and make your eyebrows twist themselves into odd angular shapes. Entitled "The Metal Jerk," the album runs a little under a half an hour in length, and packs more of a punch than some of these cookie cutter MCs can deliver in their entire rap careers. As far as flow and style goes, Cloudy October kind of reminds me of Nocando, with his aggressive enunciation of words and confident cadences standing out in particular. His rapping can come off as cocky and rude, particularly when he chooses to pull the cards of rappers and their guilt-ridden cohorts, but he also has a great sense of humor and is not afraid to tear himself apart over a track ("Name Yourself"). You can tell that Cloudy October is going out of his way to avoid conventional lyricism and be creative, and I appreciate that element of his music a lot. He also picks/produces some damn fine beats, which is pretty much what you'd expect considering that he's a part of the Fieldwerk Records roster. Fieldwerk and Cloudy October are offering "The Metal Jerk" as a free download on the Fieldwerk Records website. DL it via that link or stream tracks from it below, just make sure it reaches your eardrums in some way, shape or form.

1. Intro
2. Left Front Burner
3.The Ins and Outs of the Female Reproductive System
4. Play
5. 32,000lbs
6. Hairline Fracture
7. Live @ Pioneer Square
8. Wingman(Midlaw)
9. Name Yourself
10. To Each Her Own

Latest tracks by fieldwerk

Monday, October 17, 2011

Party Till the Commies Come Home

The Latest Greatest, 10/17/11

Very pleasantly surprised to hear that the Minnesota hip hop duo Big Quarters will be dropping their new album, "Party Like a Young Commie," on CD and digital formats November 29th. Medium Zach and Brandon Allday's last album, "From the Home of Brown Babies & White Mothers," was one of the sleeper indie hip hop hits of 2009 in my book, showcasing Big Quarters' own original blend of lo-fi choppy production and sincere MCing. That album stood out to me as being a very distinctive and solid body of work, so I can only hope that their new one continues the trend of quality that these two are known for. Between this album and Doomtree's "No Kings," Minnesota is going to be dominating the end of 2011 in quality rap releases. You can preorder "Party Like a Young Commie" through the Big Quarters website, signed and with a free instrumental download card. These guys tend to keep things strictly independent and put their albums out on their own with no label or distributor backing them, so all the more reason to support! Tracklisting and lead single/music video below:

1. And We Grew Up To Be Somebody
2. New Plateau
3. Perfect Match ft. Mankwe Ndosi
4. Pure
5. Humble Servants ft. Benzilla
6. C'mon
7. Follow Me Through
8. Hey
9. Tumbler
10. Low Highs
11. Savings Bonds
12. When The Head Connects With The Body
13. Unreal ft. Mankwe Ndosi
14. Never Leave A Crumb

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Long Live the Lack of Kings

The Latest Greatest, 10/15/11

The new Doomtree crew album "No Kings" is gonna be dropping November 22nd on Doomtree Records. The cover artwork (pictured above) is probably my least favorite DTR design to date, but I know that they're aiming to emblazon the symbol into people's minds so it's all good. The lead single off the album, "The Great Experiment," is not entirely what you'd expect from this gang of talented rap types but it's a pretty awesome song never the less. I hear that the production on this album was handled differently than the production on past Doomtree albums, with Lazerbeak, P.O.S and Cecil Otter handling all of the beats as a trio (not sure if Paper Tiger has any contributions here?). Not quite as excited for this one as I was for their self-titled joint when that was first announced, but I'm sure that come late November I'll be gushing all over this and flashing wings and teeth hand-signs all over the damn place. 'Till then, tracklisting and streamable single below:

1. No Way
2. Bolt Cutter
3. Bangarang
4. Beacon
5. Punch-Out
6. Little Mercy
7. The Grand Experiment
8. String Theory
9. Team the Best Team
10. Gimme the Go
11. Own Yours
12. Fresh New Trash

Doomtree "The Grand Experiment" by doomtree. Uploaded with Scup

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Astronautalis with Rustangs and Crescent Banks at Thee Parkside, SF

View From the Front Row, 10/12/11

A few nights ago, I had the pleasure of seeing Astronautalis live at Thee Parkside with local SF rock bands Rustangs and Crescent Banks as the opening acts. The San Francisco date of Astronautalis' tour was nearly passed up due to no venue being down to book him, but a friend of mine hooked things up with Thee Parkside despite the short notice and I promptly promoted the crap out of it. I was worried that the turnout would be minimal due to the lack of time to properly get the word out about the event, but good news travels fast and there were a lot of excited Astronautalis fans up in Thee Parkside come showtime. A lot of different Bay area homies of mine rolled out to this one too, which made things extra fun.

Things started on a bit of an awkward note with the opening acts. Both Crescent Banks and Rustangs did their things, but it was hard to get anyone in the crowd to care about them as most folks in attendance were busy buzzing about Astronautalis to one another. I'd seen Crescent Banks play before opening for David Ramos and Tommy V. in Half Moon Bay, and they have a cool laid back style of indie rock that incorporates lots of horns and keyboards. They did a bunch of nice numbers, but the crowd reception wasn't nearly as good as the one at Old Princeton Landing, though I still showed'em some support from the front. Rustangs were considerably noisier and grimier than Crescent Banks, and seemed like a band that'd feel more comfortable opening for one of my friends' extra loud punk bands than any crazed indie rap type. They had a couple numbers that made me smile from the front as well, though without my ear plugs I doubt I'd have been able to hear by the end of their set!

Once the openers were done, the room started filling up with tons of eager people who had been hanging around the outskirts of the venue or near the back of the bar. I had heard many tales of Astronautalis' live show, but this was my first time witnessing it with my own eyes, and I must say that it lived up to all expectations. For starters, Astronautalis (or Andy, as he introduced himself) was quite the charismatic figure on stage. Even when he wasn't singing or rapping with his trademark intensity, there was a certain flair to his demeanor and the way that he addressed the crowd that was both friendly and sincere. Astronautalis had a band backing him up that consisted of a guitarist, a drummer, and a dude playing the sample/drum pads that happened to be Nobs of Brooklyn's praised hip hop duo Dez & Nobs. The band offered some awesome live spins on Astronautalis' songs that added new elements to the tracks while staying fairly close to the originals, and Astronautalis tackled each song with the ferocity or gentleness they deserved. He covered many songs from his new album "This is Our Science," including "The River, The Woods," "This is Our Science", "Measure the Globe" and "Midday Moon." Astronautalis also occasionally tossed improvised verses into the ends of his songs while the band played on, including a verse about Thee Parkside and attacking people's cellphones in the front row, which he referenced after an extra rowdy rendition of "Thomas Jefferson" caused a gal to drop her iPhone (it wasn't damaged). That freestyling was already pretty impressive, but heads were reeling in awe and disbelief when Astronautalis went into the freestyle segment of his set, where he took five extremely strange and obscure topics from the crowd and formed a song about them. This evening's topics included "Al Davis reincarnated as an iPhone 5," "Supernovas," "Ulysses by James Joyce" (my topic), "Talking Heads" and "Being a black woman living in San Francisco listening to house music" amongst others. What was amazing about this part of Astronautalis' performance is that he not only rapped about all of the topics with great flows on beat, but also that he formed entire verses with details about each topic in his head rather than just incorporating the words as most rappers do in these sorts of freestyle showcases. It must take a seriously wild imagination for a white guy from Florida to come up with that many lines about being a black woman living in San Francisco listening to house music on the spot. Near the end of his set, Astronautalis played two of my favorite songs from his new album, "Holy Water" and "Secrets on Our Lips," and while they were great the pinnacles of his set were elsewhere. "Dmitri Mendeleev" was one of the major highlights in the way that it skyrocketed with energy, with the beat building massively and the hook and verses getting the crowd extremely lively and enthusiastic. Another such highlight was one of Astronautalis' older numbers, "Trouble Hunters," which in my opinion was the greatest moment of the set. The anthemic quality of the song and hook was so strong that Astronautalis hopped off stage and cut the track for a moment, moving to the center of the crowd and laying down rules for the last minute of the song so that none of the short timid girls in his fanbase would get hurt. When the track came back on, he had the entire Parkside jumping up and down in mass and screaming along to the words. So memorable that the moment still echoes through my spirit, even after having seen a couple shows since then. Once Astronautalis' set was done, he was drenched in sweat with a satisfied look in his eyes, mirrored only by the jubilant look of the crowd.

Fantastic show, don't pass on the chance to see this guy live. A little footage of "Secrets on Our Lips" below though I was busy dancing for the most part. I saw an awful lot of people in the crowd filming this entire show on their cameras and phones... if you'd like to share some of it, I'd love to see it! Just put links in the comments section below.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Six 0s Make for a Positive Equation

The Lowdown, 10/9/11

Back in February of this year at a Busdriver and Dark Time Sunshine concert in Berkeley, I was offered this CD by a guy who I can only assume was Sixo (is that pronounced "Six-O" or "Six-Zero"?) himself. He initially offered to sell me the album for cheap, but I hesitated for several reasons and ended up turning him down on the offer. Aside from keeping myself on a very strict merch buying budget at shows, the cover and presentation of Sixo's "Fruits of Labor" sort of turned me off from it. Not that the art is bad persay, but something about the layout of the text and font on the cover made it look like some sorta half-assed mixtape to me. Plus, the name seemed a little too close to "Sixtoo" for my liking. In the end, Sixo just ended up giving me his album for free, and I've been procrastinating on writing about how dope it is on this blog ever since.

I should note that a lot of random CDs that artists hand to me at shows end up gathering dust in a neat little pile next to my stereo speakers (sorry guys!), but Sixo's album has been one that's stuck with me and that I've continued to bump ever so often since I've received it. For starters, it's worth noting that Sixo roped in quite a cast of talented MCs to participate on this project. Squint hard enough and you might see their names listed at the top of the album cover: Awol One, Existereo, Ceschi and 2Mex. All of these artists contribute verses worthy of their reputations on multiple songs over the course of "Fruits of Labor" while Sixo handles the music side of things. These collabo tracks are all dope, but a special hats off goes to the Ceschi songs, particularly "Snow Balls" which is a pitch perfect song that shows off both Ceschi's talents as a songwriter and Sixo's talents as a producer . And speaking of Sixo the producer, it'd be unfair to cover "Fruits of Labor" without mentioning that his beats are pretty damn great throughout. While the first half of the album showcases Sixo's music with MCing over it, the second half is largely instrumental and gives you a sense that Sixo could be getting along just fine without the rapper help. His beats are very grimy in a good way, and sound like they could have come straight from a carefully wound cassette tape. It reminded a bit of the production that Chicago's Green Llama's use on projects like Uncut Raw or City Slick, but it has it's own flavor to it. The only track that felt like a slight misstep to me was the one where Sixo's Texan rap crew Dialex Kemposed came on to rap, as I didn't like all of their verses (though Sixo's jangly beat was a saving grace).

Anyway, this album is surprisingly good, and you can purchase copies of it for under 10 dollars over at my favorite hip hop store in the whole wide world Access Hip Hop. I also hear that Sixo has a new album in the works, appropriately entitled "000000," which features the likes of Ceschi, Onry Ozzborn, Barfly, Myka 9, Existereo, Sole, Moka Only, etc. I will be purchasing this new one for sure and will announce more details about it when they become available. Until then, peep the track "Snow Balls" from "Fruits of Labor" below:

Saturday, October 1, 2011

September 2K11 in Hip Hop Terms

The Lowdown, 10/1/11

September brought us some pretty incredible new hip hop releases... trying to narrow it down to only a couple of them on here was tricky. About a week later, and what've we got? Here are a few that floored me:

1) Astronautalis "This Is Our Science" (Fake Four Inc.)

Astronautalis' fourth full length album is as epic in sound as it is in scope, encompassing a diverse range of musical genres while tackling the human condition on the grandest scale imaginable. It's rare to hear music that truly aspires to be timeless these days, especially in a genre like hip hop, but one gets the impression that Astronautalis is reaching as far as his lengthy list of talents will allow him to achieve this transcendent goal. "This Is Our Science" is a short album that dares to take risks ten times its size, blurring the boundaries of indie rock, folk and hip hop to convey Astronautalis' thoughts and feelings in a genuine way. If I had to draw comparisons, I might say that this album is what Ceschi's "One Man Band Broke Up" would sound like on stadium rock steroids, but it's hardly a fair way to describe it given how original Astronautalis' delivery and production is. One moment he's screaming like a crazed preacher about being alive ("Holy Water") and the next he's cooing softly about the prospect of eternally making out behind vending machines ("Secrets on Our Lips"). There's a certain wisdom in Astronautalis' words and music that can only emerge from extensive touring and traveling the world, and the maturity of the final product is a wonder to behold. The beats provided by Picnic Tyme, Lazerbeak, Radical Face, Alias, and Rickulos amongst others all feel unified under Astronautalis' vision. Hardcore hip hop traditionalists may end up scowling over the unconventional approaches of this album, but fans of original music will likely rejoice. One of the finest Fake Four releases to date in my book, up there with Dark Time Sunshine's "Vessel" and Factor's "Lawson Graham." Watch the video for 'Contrails" (featuring Tegan Quinn of Tegan & Sara fame) below:

2) Qwazaar & Batsauce "Bat Meets Blaine" (Galapagos4)

OK, so let's say you aren't down with all this "transcendent art rap" mumbo jumbo and just want a straight hip hop album with sick rapping and banging beats? Look no further. It took me approximately one listen of "Bat Meets Blaine" to throw it in my top 5 best rap albums of 2011. It's just that damn good. Qwazaar is easily one of the most slept-on MCs in the universe, with a killer voice and a flow that runs circles around a lot of these overhyped rapper punks. I feel like part of the reason he's been so overlooked as a vocalist is because most of his projects are very experimental and see him challenging himself outside of his comfort zone. But "Bat Meets Blaine" finds Qwa right at home over some very solid traditional hip hop production, and he sacrifices none of his edgy rapping prowess in the process. Tracks like "Chop'Em Down" and "Never Weaker" see Qwazaar peeling wigs back with his ultra aggressive flow while songs like "I'm Gone" and "If It Seems Wrong" show off the versatility of Qwa's styles. Batsauce holds his own as a producer over the course of the album, delivering a sick collection of jazzy hip hop beats with bass lines that bump and drums that hit. The music carries a variety of distinct moods that allow Qwazaar to flex his styles from song to song, but the sound of the album still feels unified as a whole. Essential listening for hip hop heads, check out the video for 'I Know" below:

3) Knives & Gasoline "Love Songs for Crime Scenes" (Grimm Image)

The collaborative album between LA hip hop producer Deeskee and California punk rock vocalist Stacey Dee is a little different from what either musician has done in the past, but the resulting music is an amalgam of pop styles that's distinctly their own. Granted, the elements that define each artists' personality are there, with Deeskee's dark and brooding beats and Stacey's raspy punk vocals still in full effect. But the direction that this project takes is more poppy than one might expect from either of these two, with songs like "Off the Air" and "Trainwreck" sounding like future radio hits. The album also feels more personal than anything that Stacey or Deeskee have done in the past, and the collaboration seems like something that could only evolve through a natural bond between artists. The collection of tunes on "Love Songs for Crime Scenes" is pretty diverse in sound, and there's bound to be songs you love and songs you hate on it. Personally, "The Night is Young" tends to have me hitting rewind while "Mirror Girl" has me tempted to fast forward. But as a whole, Knives & Gasoline presents a very genuine and honest body of work with "Love Songs for Crime Scenes," and in that regard it truly succeeds. There's not a moment when it's not apparent that Stacey Dee and Deeskee are making music from the heart, and their mutual love for diverse musical genres results in some very bright moments. Watch the music video for "Off the Air" below, but listen to the whole album to find the song you really love on it.

Other dope releases from last month: The Stepkids "The Stepkids," Flash Bang Grenada "10 Haters," Boom Bip "Zig Zaj." Out of the larger releases, 9th Wonder's "Wonder Years" was surprisingly good as well. Haven't had a chance to fully listen to J-Live's "S.P.T.A" or City Slick's "The Money and His Fool" yet, but looking forward to it. E. Lit out.