Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Reviews:: Mantis - Still Life

Still Life is the title of Southern-Ontario MC Mantis' debut solo album, and I think it's an appropriate choice for a hip hop album. After all, one of hip hop's great strengths is the ability to capture a vivid picture of a specific moment in time. That said, if an MC isn't able to paint a picture that the listener cares about, or can relate to, then that strength can become a weakness. For the most part, the stills that Mantis captures come out on the strength side of that ledger, but like many a young MC these days, he sometimes struggles to find a unique point of view.

What he absolutely doesn't struggle with is production skills, as this album is entirely self-produced, and it sounds fantastic. Mantis' bio makes reference to schooling he's had for production or engineering - and you can tell. The beats are all very polished, warm and crisp, and although I have no idea, it sounds like a fair bit of live instrumentation worked in.

The production might tend to steal the show on Still Life, but the vocals (from Mantis and his guests) are really well done, and some great songs result. Real To Reel pays tribute to the real portion of its name by praising the realness over a thumping beat with a really great drum track. The soul-drenched You Don't Know uses a fine, piano-laced track as the background for a track that discusses something almost any Canadian rapper is familiar with - the search for recognition. There's kind of a Simon Says vibe to the jangly guitar of Warning Shot, but unfortunately I don't think that it is lyrically up to par with that P. Monch classic. Then again, what do I know really, I'm just one of those know-nothing loudmouth critics Mantis calls out in that song.

Not sure what's in the water in the KW area, but there's something that makes MC's feel they need to try the double-time raps on at least one track. I wasn't really feeling it when Justis broke it out on his album, and I'm not a fan of Mantis' Bounce Back either. However, I am a fan of the Justis-Mantis (perhaps there's something else in the water that makes KW MC's choose "-is" ending names?) collabo What, which feels like a throwback, with a sparkly beat and some solid DJ cuts. Lay Low matches its name in tone, as it's one of the more laid back song on the album.

Although I like Still Life a great deal, there was something about it that was bothering me during my first couple listens. I eventually realized what it was: Mantis' "rappin' accent" (for lack of a better term). Now I'm not saying Mantis is a bad MC, I think, technically speaking, he's very solid, but his inflection and slang sound just a little too staged to me. Keep in mind, I could be way off on this, and so if this is indeed Mantis' at his most natural, then I do apologize. But another one of hip hop's strengths is its ability to be a form of nearly un-adulterated self expression, and after hearing Still Life, I can't help but feeling that I have no actual idea who Mantis is.

That last bit said, I don't want to end this review on the express to negative town. Mantis is clearly a talented guy, and this is a good album, so if you're interested in hearing quality Canadian hip hop, I'd search Still Life out. As for myself, I'll be watching for Mantis goes from here and hoping he builds on the promise this album shows.

MP3:: Mantis - You Don't Know
MYSPACE:: www.myspace.com/mantishiphop

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Posted at 3:03 PM by naedoo :: 1 comments

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Five Funky Stories:: D-Sisive

Five Funky Stories is the magical random question generator to harass profile acts that are coming to Halifax, and with HPX on the horizon, we're going to try and feature as many of the acts as we can here. We're starting with one someone I'm rather excited to see perform, D-Sisive.

I doubt anyone in the bloggity-blog world has talked more about this T.O. MC and his return to the music world over the last year or so than us, so if you need to know his history, just poke around the site for posts like this here and this one.

You can check out D live in Halifax when he plays the Coconut Grove on October 21st, but now let's get the questions:

Name: D-Sisive
Band: Chaka Demus and Pliers
Web: www.myspace.com/dsisive

1. Have you ever played a keytar?

Nope. But have you heard the news? Dewey Cox died.

2. From your perspective, is the music business in better or worse shape when compared to 10 years ago?

It's different. It's benefitting in different ways than it did, though also suffering. It's easy to blame downloading, but I believe it's responsible for it's own demise. The value of music has gone down because of the bullshit that's released. Art is a minority more than ever. I can write about this for hours, but it's nothing that hasn't been said already. We need to do something about this Napster all the kids are using. Once you ban that, people will buy music again.

3. Who would you pay to see play live?

I've recently discovered the genius that is Tiny Tim beyond "Tiptoe Through The Tulips". His music is incredible. I paid over $100 for the 'Complete Reprise' collection and it's brilliant. His production is insane. I can't believe he hasn't been sampled to death. If he was still around, I'd definitely pay to see him live.

4. What's the longest time period you've gone without showering on the road?

Not more than three days. I've heard many filthy road stories, but I've been fortunate to have been able to consistantly clean myself during my long trips. Though, there have been nights where a hotel room wasn't provided, but the venue had a shower. Let's just say it's not easy to exfoliate when you're stepping in shit. I went through a lot of socks in the UK.

5. If forced to cover one hip hop song, what would it be?

Forced, like at gunpoint? I've covered a lot of songs in my day, so I'm going to treat this like an 'at gunpoint' question and assume you want me to name a three minute and thirty second hunk of shit. "Popped", though I will forever love that beat.

MP3:: D-Sisive - Like This f. Guilty Simpson

MP3:: D-Sisive - Four

MP3:: DJ Serious & D-Sisive - Popped

MP3:: Chaka Demus & Pliers - Murder She Wrote
MYSPACE:: www.myspace.com/dsisive

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Posted at 9:00 AM by naedoo :: 0 comments

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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Quick Hitters:: K'Naan & J. Period (The Messengers Remixes)

Last week the Ack posted a rather thoughtful opine on K'NAAN's Polaris-nominated album Troubadour. I think one of his main points was that too many guests can even dull the impact of you album if you have a compelling story to tell, as K'NAAN does. I doubt this is what j.Period & K'NAAN were thinking when they devised The Messengers mixtape series, but it seems they've taken the Ack's advice without knowing it.

The Messengers is a remix project done by DJ/Producer J.Period and T.O./Somali MC K'NAAN, and it matches K with three of music's most celebrated "Messengers": Fela Kuti, Bob Marley, and Bob Dylan. And it's free, which is always a welcome message - the Fela and Marley mixes are available now on J.Period's website. They mix both original verses and some of the tracks from K'NAAN's latest album with classic tracks from the iconic musicians, and they're pretty enjoyable. I think K's flow is more of natural fit with Marley's melodies vs. Fela's raw funk, but that said, it's pretty easy to be drawn to a Marley song, and after listening to the Fela mix a couple times yesterday, I think it's equally strong.

Both Fela and Bob, whilst really quite different, are kind of obvious matches for K'NAAN, but I have no idea how the Bob Dylan version will turn out - I'm kind of interested to find out though. For now though, go ahead and grab these mixes, and check some samples below.

MP3:: J.Period & K'NAAN - Let's Start (Messengers Remix)

MP3:: J.Period & K'NAAN - Ololufe Mi (Messengers Remix)

MP3:: J.Period & K'NAAN - Belly Full (Messengers Remix) f. Kardinal, Steele & Bajah

MP3:: J.Period & K'NAAN - Fatima / Stir It Up (Messengers Remix)
MYSPACE:: www.myspace.com/jperiod
MYSPACE:: www.myspace.com/knaanmusic

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Posted at 8:30 AM by naedoo :: 0 comments

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Reviews:: Something Good - Just Add Water

Something Good
Tell me something good. For most, that sentence brings to mind a sultry entreaty from Chaka and her friends Rufus, but if you're a hip hop fan of a certain vintage (like myself), it can also serve as a plea to many of today's hip hop artists, who all too often deliver something quite the opposite of good. But all is far from lost where hip hop is concerned, and we can be thankful that hip hop's next generation still contains folks like the four dedicated lads in the Halifax/Montreal collective, Something Good.

Consisting of MC's Boy-ill and Markit, DJ Y-Rush, and producer Focus Aside, Something Good sees four (or perhaps six, as I think SG has added two new permanent members in guitarist Alex Meade and bassist Oliver Cluett) talented members of Halifax's hip hop scene (I think Markit is currently based in Montreal for school reasons) join forces in the name of making quality music that sounds thoroughly modern, but still pays major respect to the classic hip hop they were so clearly influenced by. And they do that classic hip hop proud, as their debut, Just Add Water, is really a great album.

Despite their relative youth, Markit and Boy-ill are both veteran mic rippers, having been at it for years both as part of Fax-4 and as solo artists (I reviewed Markit's last solo album a couple years ago). They have slightly different styles, with Boy-ill having a classic, charismatic east-coast influenced flow, whereas Markit is a little more off-beat and scientifical, but they compliment each other very well, their years of performing together paying off. Y-Rush has a rep as a hrad working club DJ here in Halifax, and he lives up to that rep here, packing the album with one classic scratched-in sample after another. Focus Aside is the one name I hadn't heard before, but he deserves plenty of kudos - his beats are really well done, and they keep the momentum of the album going strong across it's fifteen tracks.

The album starts very strong, with Did That serving as a great intro to the Something Good sound: the MC's happily tackle the addictive piano & horn based beat, with each one doing a verse before they trade lines back & forth on the third, while Y-Rush scratches everything from Lauren Hill to the awesome "da-ticka-da-ticka-da" part from Common's The Light. Rules Of A Star has a rather different premise for hip hop - offering advice on how to keep one's ego in check, but it's also a great sounding track, with a piano riff that sounds like it came from a Guess Who song. Focus Aside shines again on True Fist as his late 90's sounding banger reminds me of something you'd hear from Jedi Mind Tricks. The dreamy beat on Amazement is a bit of a change of pace, but it suits Markit and his philosophical flows to a T.

The jazzy boom-bap of Define Rap Quotable features a guest verse from the always welcome Ghettosocks and also contains a brief Dream Warriors sample, which is always welcome, and a dead giveaway that you are listening to a Canadian hip hop album. Grow also has another great beat, with some slower-paced piano paired with peppy percussion and xylophone sounds providing the backdrop for a coming of age style song that features a perfectly used Ahmad sample near the end. In case you think the straight-ahead bangers are all Something Good have to offer, Funky Time, a 60's soul inspired ode to cutting a rug shows a different side of the group.

If you were to ask me to conclude this review with a nonsensical, golden age comparison, I would have to say that Something Good is like a modern day, melanin-deficient Ultramagnetic, with Markit as Kool Keith, Boy-ill as Ced Gee, Y-Rush as DJ Moe Love and Focus Aside as TR Love (that would, I guess, make Quake their Tim Dog, which kind of suits him). Is this comparison even close to being non-ridiculous? Well I guess you'll need to get yourself a copy of Just Add Water and find out. Or if you're in Halifax, check Something Good live at their release party at Coconut Grove Saturday Night, it should be a great show.

MP3:: Something Good - Did That
MYSPACE:: www.myspace.com/sgjustaddwater

VIDEO:: Something Good - Did That

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Posted at 9:07 AM by naedoo :: 2 comments

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Reviews:: Grand Analog - Metropolis Is Burning

Not too long ago, mentioning "hip hop" and "live instruments" in the same sentence was kind of like using "baseball" and "steroids" together in the late 90's - it was a bit of a taboo. But these days hip hop has changed a bit, and just like steroids in baseball, (yes, I know you saw this coming) everyone is doing it. This move towards mainstream hip hop embracing live sounds, and even gravitating somewhat towards the indie rock scene, has been going on for a while, but things have already changed a great deal since Grand Analog came on the scene in 2006.

So it seems appropriate that GA, the hip hop band/collective helmed by Odario Williams, has evolved their sounds since their last release. I was a big fan of their '07 release, Calligraffitti, but right from the first paragraph of that review, I was classifying it as experimental. And with good reason, I mean the name suggests as much, and upon reflection, the songs, despite many being really rather catchy, maintained a rather eclectic, yet serious, tone (something like Touch Your Toes being an exception). This time out, it seems that Odario & Co. are content to just make music they enjoy, and not feel like they have to justify the inclusion of guitars and such in their sound.

At least that's my take on their new album, Metropolis Is Burning, and that shift seems apparent from the get-go, with chunky guitar riffs and sweet horn sounds taking the lead on "be yourself" anthem I Play My Kazoo. Not sure if it says more about me, or hip hop in general, that the kazoo solo outro doesn't seem as novel as it once would have. Whereas the reggae sounds on Calligraffitti seemed to have been mixed down into a number of other influences, they are out in front on the feel good city-escape endorsing Take It Slow (Spaces & Places), and the radio-ready song (well, if your radio station starts & ends with "C" and has a "B" in the middle) is better for it I would say.

The radio-friendly vibes continue on the bouncy I'm On Fire, which features guest vocals from Maiko Watson (ex-...ahem...Sugar Jones) and a scene-stealing guest verse from Winnipeg MC Len Bowen. I'm a big fan of this jam, really catchy stuff, good use of the female vocals on the hook. I'm afraid the same cannot be said of Stir Crazy, which also features vocals from Maiko, but feels like something is missing - not even the Nice & Smooth homage in Odario's opening verse can get it over the hump for me. However, the K-Solo homage found on the raucous Her Daddy (Don't Like Me) is certainly welcome, and had me hooked before the harmonica outro reeled me in for good.

Electric City features the always-solid Shad, and that alone pretty much guarantees my approval, but it also happens to be a pretty great song. The latter half of the album feels a little subdued, as it's dominated by more bottom-heavy, hip hop oriented tracks like Not Enough Mondays/Crunch and Videogames (which incidentally, isn't the best title if one were worried about being perceived as a nerdy/intellectual, not that Odario cares about that, purely an observation on my part). Everyday Always and Brothers Gotta Eat bring the reggae vibes back again, and the shifty Light So Bright unfortunately doesn't sample Corey Hart, but it does feature a cameo from Edmonton's new Poet Laureate.

So the verdict on Metropolis Is Burning? It's certainly a solid album, with a number of songs that stand out as singles (well, they would if Canada's hip hop industry wasn't so barren), and it strikes me as an album that would appeal to a wide-range of musical tastes. For me, I think the first GA album hit with a bit more impact, but really, what act can't you say that about? If you're new to Grand Analog, get this album and play it loud the rest of the summer. Or better still, check the dates below and catch Odario & Co on tour with Toronto electro outfit Lioness in Various Canadian cities over the next month.

MP3:: Grand Analog - Electric City f. Shad
MYSPACE:: www.myspace.com/grandanalog

Jul 23: The Montreal House - Peterborough, ON
Jul 24: The Ford Plant - Brantford, ON
Jul 25: Toronto Day Show @ Dundas Square - Toronto, ON
Jul 25: Club Absinthe - Hamilton, ON
Aug  2: Cutting Edge Music Festival - Kitchener, ON
Aug  6: Media Club - Vancouver, BC
Aug  7: Habitat - Kelowna, BC
Aug  9: Shambhala Music Fest - Salmo, BC
Aug 11: Henotic Resto Lounge - Lethbridge, AB
Aug 12: The Hi Fi - Calgary, AB
Aug 13: Pawn Shop - Edmonton, AB
Aug 14: Amigo’s - Saskatoon, SK
Aug 15: The Pyramid - Winnipeg, MB

VIDEO:: Grand Analog - Her Daddy (Don't Like Me)

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Posted at 12:00 PM by naedoo :: 0 comments

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