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Band/Artist Profile Concert Review

Black Country, New Road at Hopscotch

I was sent by WKNC to cover the Hopscotch music festival. One of the main reasons I was excited to go was to see Black Country, New Road. But before we talk about the concert lets get into some background.

Black Country, New Road is a band from England and has gained a lot of popularity in the past couple of years. They dropped their debut album “For the First Time” in 2021 with critical acclaim and showed people they should be a band to look out for. Then in February of this year they dropped their second album “Ants From Up There” which created a large buzz due to the large amount of critical acclaim the album had.

But just as they had reached the highest point they had been at and it seemed they were at the top of the experimental rock world the band announced that their lead singer Isaac Wood was leaving the group due to mental health reasons. The band however decided to continue without their lead singer and instead have other members substitute for vocals.

Now this leads us to now, the band has decided to go on tour and for the tour they have decided to create all new music without their lead singer as the vocalist. So none of the songs are on the albums and no one has heard them yet. This is the main reason I wanted to go was to hear this new music. And let me tell you it was incredible.

It’s hard to describe the songs especially since I can’t hear them again and that you have probably never heard them but I’ll try my best. The songs feel the same as their first two albums and they still have that distinct sound. They’re still using the large array of instruments like saxophone, violin, piano, accordion, flute and more. They also had three different people on main vocals for different songs which was their saxophonist Lewis Evans, bassist Tyler Hyde, and keyboardist May Kershaw.

Some specific moments I enjoyed was the third song in the set had this super catchy saxophone riff that I could listen to all day. The song right after had the group using harmonies and all singing some parts at once which sounded incredible. One of the songs sounded like a whimsical stroll through a field which one of my friends described as Keebler elf music. This was very accurate due to the lead singer saying when the next chapters were coming in which gave it a fairy tale feel. They also had a song where the keyboardist was singing main vocals, playing keyboard and playing accordion all at the same time which makes absolutely no sense but it worked.

Hearing the music live made me so excited for their next project and I cant wait to see where the band heads next. I feel they are just getting started and I hope they continue their streak of great music.

Categories
Music Education

From Sun Ra to The Velvet Underground: The Producer Who Made a Lane For The Strange

When people think of some of the greatest producers of the 20th century many people think of guys like Brian Wilson, Phil Spector, George Martin, Quincy Jones, Teo Macero, or Brian Eno. One producer who doesn’t come up often and has seemed to have faded away into obscurity is Tom Wilson. Recently, I’ve been listening to some of Tom Wilson’s work nonstop so I would like to highlight him and hope he can be brought back into popularity.

Tom Wilson got his start during the 50s when he started his own record label for jazz records called Transition Records. This label would introduce a lot of people to the newest genre pushing talents in jazz like Donald Byrd and Cecil Taylor. Wilson also got to produce a Cecil Taylor album with John Coltrane as the saxophonist that would later be released as “Coltrane Time” under Coltrane’s name.

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But most notably, Tom Wilson introduced the world to Sun Ra, who would become one of the greatest jazz artists of all time and an influence on many artists. Tom Wilson was not only putting artists out on his label but was also producing their albums as well as giving them a place to experiment.

After his run at Transition ended, Tom Wilson would end up at Columbia records becoming the first African American to hold the staff producer title at Columbia.

This is where he would start to produce for his most famous collaborator– Bob Dylan. Wilson started to produce for Dylan during “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” sessions. He produced four tracks on the album which many claim this is Dylans best album during his folk period. Wilson initially wasn’t too excited about working with Dylan because he favored jazz over folk but after hearing his lyrics he was “flabbergasted.”

He would go onto produce “The Times They Are a-Changin'” and “Another Side of Bob Dylan.” Their collaboration really started to shine on Dylans next album “Bringing It All Back Home” where Dylan famously went electric which would cause one of the largest shifts in rock music. You can hear Wilson’s voice at the start of Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream and you can even see him in an alternate take of the famous “Subterranean Homesick Blues” music video.

Many people credit Wilson with causing Dylan to go electric but that is up for debate, he certainly helped bring it together at the very least. Wilson and Dylan’s collaboration would end after Wilson produced “Like a Rolling Stone” but would get replaced for Bob Johnston for the rest of the Highway 61 sessions.

While at Columbia, Tom Wilson also produced the first Simon and Garfunkel album ” Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.” This album at first did not do well which led to Simon and Garfunkel splitting up, but then eventually “The Sound of Silence” would gain a bit of airplay at college radio stations.

Wilson, seeing the minor success, would then create a version of the song with a rock backing band which caused it to be a number one hit and would bring Simon and Garfunkel to get back together and go on to become some of the highest selling artists of all time.

After leaving Columbia Wilson would end up at MGM where he would eventually get with The Velvet Underground. Even though Andy Warhol is listed as the producer Lou Reed and John Cale both state the Tom Wilson was the real producer of the groups debut ” The Velvet Underground & Nico.”

This album wasn’t initially commercially successful but would eventually become on of the most influential albums of all time and would be credited with many sub-genres of rock music like punk and drone. Wilson would produce the next Velvet Underground album “White Light/White Heat” which again was extremely influential and eventually loved by many.

Wilson would also produce Nico’s first album “Chelsea Girl” which again for a third time would go onto become a loved and influential album. John Cale would go onto say that “The band never again had as good a producer as Tom Wilson.”

While at MGM, within two months of producing the first Velvet Underground album, Wilson went on to produce the first Mothers of Invention album “Freak Out” which would start Frank Zappa’s career and would be a hugely influential album being cited as a major influence on The Beatles “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

He would go on to produce the second Mothers of Invention album “Absolutely Free.” Zappa states that “Tom Wilson was a great guy. He had vision, you know? And he really stood by us” and also “Wilson was sticking his neck out. He laid his job on the line by producing the album.”

Many of the albums Tom Wilson would work on would have the same thing associated with them: risk and influence. Wilson never wasn’t pushing the norms of music and the artists he was working whether it was Sun Ra’s space jazz, Dylans electric era, or The Velvet Underground creating early punk rock Wilson pushed for it. He would bring many of the best albums into fruition and for that I hope the next time the greatest producer conversation is being discussed Tom Wilson is in that conversation.

Categories
Classic Album Review

“Donuts” by J Dilla Album Review

J Dilla’s “Donuts” is in my opinion the greatest album of all time and I would like to tell you why. Before we get into the album itself we must first get into the man who made it.

J Dilla was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan and early on started making hip-hop beats. He would start a group called Slum Village and would eventually get their demo tape to Q-Tip which led to him getting discovered. Q-Tip found Dilla in 1995 which was a year Tip was busy producing for Mobb Deep so when people would ask Q-Tip for beats he would recommend them instead use Dilla. This led to Dilla working with a ton of artists such as The Pharcyde, Busta Rhymes, De La Soul, and even A Tribe Called Quest.

After this Dilla became a pioneer in hip-hop and a sought after producer. People were really drawn to his unique drumming style where he wasn’t drumming in straight or swing time but instead on his own time called “Dilla Time”. He had some success but really stayed a bit out of the main stream most of his career and would develop a cult following.

Everything was going well for Dilla until around 2003 he was diagnosed with a rare blood disease and also lupus. In 2004 he started his stay at Cedar-Sinai hospital in LA and instead of resting and retiring he would start to create his magnum opus.

Most of “Donuts” was created in the hospital with Dilla sampling from records people would bring him or stuff he would pick up when he would occasionally leave. The album was completed and then released on February 7, 2005 and Dilla would sadly pass away three days after the release.

Now without the information of Dilla’s passing the album is still great but much of the content on the album would be missed. Dilla was suffering greatly making this album and he knew he would eventually pass. So the way he chose to handle it and come to terms with his eventual death was to do what he did best and make amazing beats from old records.

But once you start to put the context of Dilla’s situation with the album the hints start to show themselves like the scratching of Jadakiss to ask “Is Death Real?” on “Stop”. The song “Don’t Cry” is as blatant of a message you can get. The song “Workinonit” seems to be a message about an artist life of creating. But the most chilling on the album is on “Welcome to The Show” the outro track the message isn’t obvious until you look at the sample which is “When I Die” by Motherlode. The sample says “When I die, I hope I’ll be the kind of man you thought I’d be” which is crazy to think of him listening to that during his time in the hospital.

“Donuts” is also unique because many of the moments are up for interpretation and have no answer since Dilla never had a chance to explain his choices. One example is the album starts with the outro and ends with ” Welcome to The Show”. The song that repeats “Only One Can Win” is titled “Two Can Win”. The tracklist is 31 tracks which is the age Dilla was when he made it. The messages in the album aren’t obvious or even totally proven so finding them you never knew what he truly meant or if he truly meant it.

This album the more you listen to it becomes obvious what its goal was. The goal was to leave a message to his fans and his family that can never go away. Dilla was in the hospital and felt that his best way to communicate was to chop up old samples in a way that would create a message about his impending death that his friends and family could listen to after his passing and think about him. If that is not the craziest thing you’ve ever heard I don’t know what is.

I hear people say all the time that no one would like the album as much if Dilla hadn’t of passed and that it is the only reason people like it. But they are entirely missing the point because without the situation Dilla was in the album would not exist and is almost entirely built around the concept of his passing so not taking in that context leaves out the subject matter that is in the album.

I recommend everyone listen to this album and hopefully hear what I hear in it. It is an album that could put on for so many situations like just hanging out or studying but everytime you listen you hear something new. I hope this album is spread for generations to come and Dilla’s legacy be continued forever.

10/10

Categories
Music Education

Hip-Hop’s Forgotten Punk Roots

When looking at the start of hip-hop, some genres you may think of that played a role in its sound are genres like soul, funk, jazz and even disco. However, one genre that played a large role in the start of hip-hop that has been somewhat forgotten is punk rock.

When looking at the start of these two genres merging we must first look to New York at that time. New York during the 70s saw a massive punk rock movement. This took place in places like CBGB’s with bands starting there like The Ramones, Blondie and Talking Heads. But also around that same time in 1974 DJ Kool Herc had created hip-hop in the Bronx. With the creation of hip-hop one of the things that came along with it (as well as being a massive part of the movement) was graffiti art.

Many of these graffiti artists started to gain some traction and a new young scene of artists was starting to take over. Some members of this movement were artists like Keith Haring, Futura 2000, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Fab Five Freddy. The most important man for the merging of hip-hop and punk is Fab Five Freddy and he almost deserves an article all for himself.

Fab Five Freddy was a massive hip-hop fan who grew up in Brooklyn and would become a regular of a downtown art scene for graffiti artists. When mingling with this crowd he would introduce artists like Keith Haring to new Hip-Hop DJ’s like Afrika Bambaataa where he would start to DJ parties for Haring. In Bambaataa’s words he stated that the downtown punk scene would be on of the first areas that really embraced hip-hop. More DJ’s would start to DJ downtown like Grandmaster Flash and NYU punk kids started to love it.

Around this time Fab Five Freddy would meet Debbie Harry and Chris Stein of Blondie and introduce them to this new genre starting up. After seeing Grandmaster Flash DJ and groups like Funky Four Plus One perform Blondie loved it. They loved it so much they decided to make the song “Rapture” in 1981 where Fab Five Freddy and Grandmaster Flash were forever immortalized with the line ” Fab Five Freddy told me everybody’s fly, DJ spinnin’ I said my my, Flash is fast Flash is cool”. Rapture was a massive hit and was actually the first ever song with a rap verse to go number one (The video also had a young Jean-Michel Basquiat act as Grandmaster Flash on turntables). This song was also apart of one of the songs that got me into Hip-Hop “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” when Grandmaster Flash used his shoutout for the intro. Debbie Harry would also host SNL in 1981 and the musical guest she picked to play was Funky Four Plus One (the group they first saw rap) which became the first hip-op act to perform on national television.

Another group that would fall in love with the new genre and embrace it was punk rock group The Clash. The Clash came to New York around this time and started to love hip-hop so when they did a 8-night run of shows in New York they chose Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five to open for them. Apparently the fans did not enjoy it and Joe Strummer would have come out and get angry at the crowd. The Clash would also release a Hip-Hop/disco inspired song called “The Magnificent Seven” which gained significant play from Hip-Hop DJ’s at the time and actually predated Blondie’s “Rapture”.

This merge of the two genres would cause many significant artists to start their careers. For example Beastie Boys first started out as a punk group and would then move to hip-hop. Chuck D of Public Enemy stated that The Clash song “Magnificent Seven” heavily inspired him to take a more punk rap approach to Hip-Hop. Groups like Rage Against the Machine would also dawn a punk rap image.

Punk and hip-hop together made perfect sense due to both genres having an underground feel and both having an anti-establishment outlook. Many artists for generations after would take on the punk rap aesthetic and the merge would even remain to this day with many new artists having a very punk rap feel like JPEGMafia, Denzel Curry, Playboi Carti, Death Grips and many more.

Categories
Miscellaneous

The Unlikely Sample That Defined a Scene

One of the things that has interested me most in hip-hop is the different regional scenes that spring up in different areas of the country. One of the most unique and influential is definitely the Houston scene. Many artists make up this scene such as UGK or Geto Boys but no one defined it as much as the legendary DJ Screw.

DJ Screw’s signature style was to slow down and chop up different hip-hop records which which was called Chopped & Screwed. This sound gave the songs more of a funky and distorted sound to them and would be a huge hit in Houston. Screw would remix many songs from different rap artists and would even have his own group of rappers he remixed most often called the Screwed Up Click.

Now whats most interesting about this local scene is some of the songs that helped pioneer it. The one song that is the main star for Houston rap is “June 27th“. This song was a 35 minute long freestyle that ever since it dropped has had almost mythical status. The song was actually created in Screw’s living room for the special occasion of rapper D-Mo’s birthday who is on the song along with Big Moe, Yungstar, Big Pokey, and a few more.

Now some of the verses are good and iconic but what really made the song was the signature Chopped & Screwed beat. Now the origins of the beat are very interesting and it first starts with Kriss Kross.

Kriss Kross in 1996 was trying to ditch their “kid rapper” image they had gained with their massive hit “Jump” and with that they released the album “Young, Rich, and Dangerous” which would spawn the single ” Tonite’s Tha Night” which was a small hit. The B-side of this single was a song called “Da Streets Ain’t Right” which would make almost no impact at all. This song would have been forgotten except the instrumental is what Screw would slow down to use for the beat of “June 27th”.

Now this sample is pretty interesting in itself but what is more interesting is what Jermaine Dupri who produced the Kriss Kross songs chose to sample for “Da Streets ain’t Right”. Dupri decided that for the bassline he would sample New Wave/Pop group The Romantics on one of their hits “Talking In Your Sleep“.

Now Screw definitely didn’t know he was sampling The Romantics but when I found this out I thought it was the wildest thing because that means in a way the sound that defines Houston hip-hop and the Chopped & Screwed sound was a New Wave sample that seems like it is the furthest possible thing from the world of Houston rap.

Screw tragically passed in July of 2000 at only 29. But since his passing June 27th would go on to be a staple freestyle beat and has been remixed hundreds of times most notably Drake used the beat on his mixtape “So Far Gone” on the song “November 18th“. The date June 27th has become somewhat of an unofficial Houston holiday and a day to celebrate Screws life.