Thursday, December 31, 2009

There's nothing there to hold you back

This song is so great that it almost makes me wish decades were shorter:

Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson: "Corners" (Arista, 1980)


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Back to burn one

I spent part of the morning checking out Starlito a/k/a All Star's latest free album, the really enjoyable I Still Love You: Live from the Back of the Class. (Download here.)

I like Starlito's sleepy flow, he's a good lyricist and he chooses beats well. It's just good rap music.

The album was assembled by Atlanta's DJ Burn One, who runs the excellent BLVD ST blog, which rides about as hard as anybody for country rap tunes. Burn One has put together a number of great unmixed artist mixtapes this year, like KD's Soul Inn and G-Mane's Sunday on Da Porch and Smoke Some Kill.

He has also has made some of my favorite beats this year under his production alias, Mick Vegas, producing for rappers like G-Side, KD, Pill and P.Dukes. A lot of his productions are sample-based and sound pretty simple, but he chooses great loops and hooks them up well-- they frequently send me running over to my record room to track down a song I haven't listened to in way too long.

Case in point, this one from G-Mane's recent Sunday on Da Porch, which was entirely produced by Mick Vegas:

G-Mane: "Light Up" (2009)

I recognized the Hi Records snare sound but couldn't remember who the artist was, which gave me a great excuse to revisit some records from Ann Peebles, O.V. Wright, etc. until I heard what I was looking for:

Syl Johnson: "Steppin' Out" (Hi, 1975)

BTW, I'm super-juiced for the Numero Group's forthcoming 4-CD/6-LP anthology of Syl Johnson's 1959-1972 output. Apparently they've got 20 unreleased songs and I trust the booklet, packaging, etc. will be up to their usual, stellar standards.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Good combinations

While I was out Xmas shopping for my girl's nieces and nephews, I snatched up a present for myself, Cohen Morano's The Rest Is Up to You.

Cohen is a third-grader who likes to paint water colors. His father is Aye Jay Morano, the artist/wiseass who brought you the Gangsta Rap Coloring Book, the Punk Rock Fun Time Activity Book, the Heavy Metal Fun Time Activity Book, the recent Country Music Fun Time Activity Book and this awesome cover:

(Still available for free download here and here!)

Anyhow, Aye Jay is a pretty well-connected guy and he started offering Cohen's watercolors to various art world friends for further embellishment--art stars like Shepard Fairey, Barry McGee, Frank Kozik, Matt Loomis, David Choe and lots more took Cohen's pictures and dressed them up with further layers of words, images, character, colors, etc.

A lot of the resulting pictures are pretty great but my favorite part is usually Cohen's interpretations of what the new pictures represent in the blurbs that accompany some of them. While these comments could easily succumb to cuteness or preciousness, many are perceptive and I find them endearing because they remind me a little bit of what it was like to be a kid and to constantly try and make sense of the world from whatever fragments of information drifted down to me.

To choose one more or less at random (i.e., I was able to scan this one in full without messing up the binding):

I take it that Cohen's orginal drawing is the colorful part; the remainder of the picture was contributed by Brent Rollins, who designed Ego Trip and too many great album covers to mention. Cohen's blurb beneath reads: "'Big up Cohen.' What does that mean? Respect? Respect Cohen? Hmmm... this one makes me think it is raining crayons. An umbrella is needed. Yeah, an umbrella. Just a regular umbrella is all that is needed. I am the person holding the umbrella-- I did not get damaged. I am the only one who has not gotten damaged yet." I hope he never does.

So, uh, not really the same thing, but sort of the same thing, The Rest Is Up to You got me thinking about songs where one artist has taken another person's music unaltered and just layered something new on top. These were the three that came to me off the bat:

Ice-T: "Soul On Ice" (Sire, 1988)

"Hustler's Convention" + "Harlem Buck Street Dance" = the best.

Ghostface Killah: "Holla" (Def Jam, 2004)

Ghostface Killah: "Big Girl" (Def Jam, 2006)

When I first heard that Ghost was releasing an R&B album, Wizard of Poetry, I was halfway hoping it would be along the lines of these.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Beauty's a ring of smoke

I've been meaning to put in a plug for a pair of free mixes my homeboy Phill Most a/k/a Phill Most Chill a/k/a the Soulman recently put out and, this, the shortest day of the year, feels like a good time for this wintry pair.

Phill's nice with the mic, the pen, the marker, beat machines and other stuff, but he's deservedly best known for his World of Beats tape series, which was among the first to mix rare beats and breaks. Throughout the 90s, Phill regularly dropped tapes featuring obscure original tracks sampled for recent rap hits alongside unknown gems. For many people, Phill's tapes were not just an introduction to the music their favorite songs were based on, they were a gateway to record digging.

Now, having said all that, I actually was never a huge fan of his World of Beats tapes. As much as I love a lot of the music he put on them and as much respect as I have for Phill as a digger and listener, I often found them a little choppy for my taste. Like the rap songs that popularized many of the records he mixed, Phill's tapes tended to focus on little four- or 8- or 16-bar sections-- drum breaks, basslines, loops-- and however hot these pieces were, I usually felt like they didn't stick with me the way songs do.

His two new tapes are a real departure in that respect. Each is a roughly hour-long collection of songs that are minimally mixed and flow naturally.

The first mix is devoted to psych, and it's largely made up of quiet, folk-ish tunes. Many are acoustic, many are female-fronted and quite a few are gorgeous. It's a great nighttime listen and it had me revisiting a few recent reissues that are in a similar style: Dirty French Psychedelics, Fuzzy Felt Folk and Folk Is Not a Four Letter Word and Folk Is Not a Four Letter Word 2. If you enjoy Phill's mix, all are really worth buying.

You can download Beautiful here.

The second mix is closer to traditional Soulman territory-- it's mainly made up of soul songs, although there's some jazz and a few other things in the mix, too. It's a little bit groovier than Beautiful but overall the tone is similar-- much of it is slow, pretty and reflective.

Come to Me Softly is here.

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Lights in my window

In this season of long, cold nights, various versions of "I'll Keep My Light in My Window" have been spending a lot of time on my turntable.

"I'll Keep My Light in My Window" was co-written and first performed by Leonard Caston, who had been a member of the 60s-era Chicago soul group the Radiants before joining Motown. There, he had his greatest success working with Eddie Kendricks; Caston co-produced Kendricks's biggest hit, "Keep On Truckin'" and co-wrote and co-produced the untoppable "Girl You Need a Change of Mind", among other things. Caston and his wife, Carolyn Majors, cut one LP, a self-titled flop that included their recording of "I'll Keep My Light in My Window".

The song was co-written by Terri McFaddin, who had collaborated with Caston on some songs for Kendricks and later went on to co-write Patrice Rushen's "Forget Me Nots".

I don't know how the song became a staple; as far as I can tell, no version of the song ever charted. Nonetheless, it's been recorded many, many times, both by gospel artists (e.g., the Mighty Clouds of Joy, Shirley Caesar, etc.) and secular ones (Diana Ross, Eruption, etc.). Here are five of my favorite versions.

Caston & Majors: "I'll Keep My Light in My Window" (Motown, 1974)

This is the original version. I found the arrangement a little cluttered at first, but it's a grower.

Ben Vereen: "I'll Keep My Light in the Window" (Buddah, 1975)

This was the first version I heard, thanks to Chi Ali. I love the guitar part. This version was arranged by Tony Silvester from the Main Ingredient and the ubiquitous Bert "Super Charts" DeCoteaux.

The New York Community Choir: "I'll Keep My Light in My Window" (RCA, 1978)

The New York Community Choir was a group that included Phyllis Joubert and Benny Diggs; both made a bunch of great music that bridges the gap between the church and the disco. There are three versions of this recording: a truncated album version, a punched-up disco 12" version and this one, which is my favorite.

Free Life: "I'll Keep My Light in My Window" (Epic, 1978)

Free Life were protégés of Earth, Wind & Fire's Philip Bailey. Bailey co-produced their album and wrote or co-wrote several of their songs.

The Temptations: "I'll Keep My Light in My Window" (Gordy, 1984)

This was from of those eras where the Temptations were lacking not just in fashion sense but also in star power-- they had no Eddie Kendricks, no David Ruffin, no Dennis Edwards, not even a Damon Harris. Even so, their vocal and the arrangement are great.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Is this Christmas? 'Cause everybody's rapping.

This week's 2 Busy Saying Yeah is a mix of 38 Christmas songs, mostly rap, but with some soul, too.

As a genre, Christmas releases tend toward the superficial, the exploitative, the quick cash-in, but they can be pretty entertaining. This week I play a lot of seasonal-themed crap and also some of my favorite Christmas songs.

The rap portion of the show (roughly the first 70 minutes) features a lot of stuff I enjoy because it is so clearly throwaway product-- strip-club songs dressed up with tinsel (the Ying Yang Twins x2!), Xmas trees flocked with filth (Jiggie Gee), perfunctory remakes (Jim Jones, H-Town) and stuff that's only connected to the holiday in the most arbitrary way (the Jacka & Husalah). In many of the songs, the disconnect is gleeful.

The latter half of the show features some more traditional holiday music. There are plenty more throwaways, many of which nonetheless hit a nerve, like the Miracles' gorgeous take on "Merry Gentlemen", Sun Ra's goofy doowop or James Brown's "Let's Unite the World at Christmas", a song that never fails to put me in a more benevolent mood.

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1. Run DMC: Christmas In Hollis
2. Jim Jones: Ballin' On Xmas
3. Ying Yang Twins: Deck Da Club
4. Hard Call Xmas: My Christmas Bells
5. B-Boy All Stars: B-Boy Christmas Shout Outs
6. Dana Dane: Dana Dane Is Coming to Town
7. C-Murder & Master P: Christmas In Da Ghetto
8. Kam: Holiday Madness
9. Poison Clan: Christmas Spliff
10. The Treacherous Three: Xmas Rap feat. Doug E. Fresh
11. Kurtis Blow: Christmas Rappin'
12. Super Jay: Santa's Rap Party
13. Jiggie Gee: Christmas Fuckin' Day
14. Juice Crew All Stars: Cold Chillin' Christmas feat. Big Daddy Kane, Roxanne Shante, MC Shan & Fly Ty
15. Sweet Tee: Let the Jingle Bells Rock
16. K-Nock: Where Dey At Yo! feat. 24-K
17. Snoop Dogg: How We Kick It On Christmas feat. Kokane
18. The Cold Crew: Rappin' Christmas
19. Audio Two: Christmas Rhymin’
20. Outkast: Player's Ball
21. Trick Daddy: Ain't No Santa
22. Ghostface Killah: Ghostface X-mas
23. Ying Yang Twins: Carol of Da Bellz
24. Snoop Doggy Dogg: Santa Claus Goes Straight to the Ghetto feat. Bad A$$, Daz, Nate Dogg & Tray Dee
25. The Jacka & Husalah: Halloween Christmas Gremlins
26. The Jackson 5: Christmas Won't Be the Same
27. Marvin Gaye: Purple Snowflakes
28. James Brown: I'm Your Christmas Friend, Don't Be Hungry
29. James Brown: Hey America
30. James Brown: Christmas Is Love
31. Chocolate Snow: Let Me Be Your Christmas Toy
32. The Emotions: What Do the Lonely Do at Christmas?
33. Lou Rawls: Christmas Will Really Be Christmas
34. Stevie Wonder: What Christmas Means to Me
35. Sun Ra: It's Christmas Time
36. James Brown: Let's Unite the World at Christmas
37. Smokey Robinson & the Miracles: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
38. H-Town: Knockin’ Boots For Christmas

I'm kicking myself for forgetting to put this on:

Ice Cube: "Put It in Your Egg Nog" (St. Ides, 199?)

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Thursday, December 10, 2009


The Relatives were a Dallas, TX group that recorded some of the roughest and rawest soul music you'll ever hear.

They were led by a preacher, Reverend Gean West, and while many of their songs deal with religious themes, I can see them appealing to even those who don't appreciate religious music. Partly it's the fact that the lyrics are more concerned with suffering and personal desperation than praise or the after-life, but also the music, from heavy ballads to psychedelic funk, is just so forceful. A new reissue collecting all three of their 45s and a handful of unreleased 1971-1975 songs is available on vinyl and mp3 from the Heavy Light Records website, which has soundclips. I was sold after hearing "Don't Let Me Fall" but just about all of the others are great, too.

Here's a video clip of the Relatives performing a song that might be my least favorite track from the release but which is still pretty good:

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

N.E. finally

Natural Elements is one of my favorite rap groups simply on the strength of a half-dozen mid- to late-90s 12"s and an EP. I was geeked to walk into the record store yesterday and see that after 15 years, they finally have a full-length album out:

1999 isn't their shelved Tommy Boy album, although it features many of the better tracks from it. It also features both sides of their Dolo single, their song from the Nervous comp, a great posse cut from a Mr. Voodoo 12" and a bunch of unreleased tracks. The credits say that everything was recorded in 1999, but a few of the tracks were released before then and a few sound like they might be more recent.

I hope it sells well enough that they release more material. There's a ton of great tracks Natural Elements did that still have never seen a legitimate CD or digital release, like the 2Face 12", Mr. Voodoo's 12"s, L-Swift's 12", the Fortress EP or this, which I would love to have a decent-sounding version of:

Here are a couple of rap covers that also would have made nice additions to 1999. I think the first was done as a promo for Stretch & Bobbito; although it has appeared on bootleg vinyl, every version I've heard sounds like a radio rip. The latter actually made it to a legit promo 12".

Natural Elements: "Knick Knack Patty Wack" (199?)

Natural Elements: "The Promo" (Tommy Boy, 1999)

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

How sweet

Finally getting a chance to hear the new Kells album and kind of shocked to hear him sampling this:

Rhyze: "Just How Sweet Is Your Love" (Sam, 1980)

I'm pretty happy with what he did with it. Credit for choosing the sample probably goes to co-producer Jack Splash, who was in Plantlife and more recently has produced enjoyable retro-ish singles for Alicia Keys, Estelle and others. I tend to think of him along the same lines as Ryan Leslie or Will.I.Am-- undeniably talented producers who I admire when they're not trying to write lyrics, rap or sing.


Monday, December 7, 2009

Thankful 'n' thoughtful

I'm really late in doing this but I've been meaning to offer big thanks to all who made my recent trip to NYC such a blast, including those who hosted me (Chairman Mao, mOma, Stimulus, Jared Boxx, Old Chris, Pablo & the rest of the Lost & Found crew, Radio Rios, Oskar Mann & the Never Not Working crew), those who passed through gigs (Amir, Jessica from Spectre, David Griffiths, Dave Tompkins, Mr. Finewine, Jonny Paychecks, Brian Coleman and everyone else) and, last and first, DJ Eleven, who is the most generous host and friend anyone could ask for.

I meant to key this post to Thanksgiving but got caught up actually celebrating Thanksgiving and then got sidetracked trying to find a copy of a record I was pretty sure I had stashed somewhere but evidently don't, Big Boe Melvin's version of "Thank You (Falletin' Me Be Mice Elf Agin)".

Anyhow, here's another version that's not really well-known. Aside from Sly's own remake, which on some days is my favorite song ever, this is about as close to good as covers of "Thank You" get:

Hermanos Carrion: "Rosita Mi Rosita" (Orfeon, 197?)

And while I'm messing with Sly, there's also this:

The Jury: "Thank You" (Culture Shock, 198?)

When I was in NYC I picked this 12" up at Big City Records because the b-side is hilarious, but this is kind of a grower. The beat and Kangol-inspired flow are kind of whatever but it got me thinking about rarely rap songs offer any kind of realistic perspective on romance and wondering if the genre is somehow just fundamentally not engineered to do that.

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Friday, December 4, 2009

2 Busy Saying Yeah - Pimp C tribute mix

December 4, 2007 was going to be about the best day ever: my lady and I had fancy reservations to celebrate our first 6 months together, I had gamed my Netflix queue to get the first 3 discs of Season 4 of The Wire in the mail and two of my favorite rappers had albums coming out (Ghostface's Fishscale and Scarface's Made).

That morning I turned on the computer and saw that Pimp C had died and it knocked me sideways. The news hit me harder than most rap deaths because it was so unexpected and it seemed so unfair.

I've been meaning to do some kind of tribute mix ever since. A few days after Pimp C passed, I devoted a full KALX show to his music, but due to technical constraints, time constraints and the goddamn FCC, it wasn't what I wanted it to be. This is.

This week's show is not a best of or a greatest hits, it's just a mix of some of my favorite songs featuring Pimp C. I spent a fair amount of time on sequencing but mixed it live, so pardon me if it's occasionally choppy. Also, to keep the mix short and maintain the focus I had to omit a ton of great verses by Bun B-- don't forget him.

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Here's what's on the mix:

1. One Day (UGK)
2. Playaz from the South (UGK)
3. Suicide Doors (David Banner)
4. Like That (Remix) (UGK)
5. Pourin' Up (Pimp C)
6. Chunk Up the Deuce (Lil Keke)
7. Sippin' On Some Syrup (Three 6 Mafia)
8. The Game Belongs to Me (UGK)
9. Big Pimpin' (Jay-Z)
10. Gravy (UGK)
11. Something Good (UGK)
12. Pregnant Pussy (UGK)
13. I Left It Wet for You (UGK)
14. Use Me Up (UGK)
15. I'sa Playa feat. Bun B (Pimp C)
16. Int'l Players Anthem (I Choose You) feat. Outkast (UGK)
17. What Means the World to You RMX feat. Trina (Cam’ron)
18. I'm In Love With a Stripper RMX feat. Paul Wall (T-Pain)
19. Cause I'm a Playa (Project Pat)
20. 3 in the Mornin feat. DJ Screw (UGK)
21. I'm So Bad (UGK)
22. Freaky Deaky (Willie D)
23. Swang (Trae)
24. It's Supposed to Bubble (UGK)
25. Ridin' Dirty (UGK)
26. Swishas & Erb (UGK)
27. Comin' Up (Pimp C)
28. Ain't That a Bitch feat. Devin the Dude (UGK)
29. Havin Thangs (Big Mike)
30. Havin' Thangs feat. Big Mike (Pimp C)
31. Let Me See It (UGK)
32. Dirty Money (UGK)
33. Da Game Been Good to Me (UGK)
34. Get Crunk (Crooked Lettaz)
35. Murder Man Dance (Spice 1)
36. A Thin Line (Pimp C)
37. Cocaine in the Back of the Ride (UGK)
38. Talkin Smart (Project Pat)
39. Front, Back & Side to Side (UGK)
40. Used to Be feat. E-40 & B Legit (UGK)
41. Fuck You (Lil Boosie)
42. Choppin' Blades (UGK)
43. Murder (UGK)
44. Pocket Full of Stones (Port Arthur Remix) (UGK)
45. Overstand Me (Pimp C)
46. Look at Me (UGK)
47. I Don't Owe U feat. Ronnie Spencer (918)
48. Akickdoe! (C-Murder)
49. Family Affair (UGK)
50. Holdin’ Na (UGK)
51. Knockin Doors Down (Pimp C)
52. Bumpin’ My Music feat. Project Pat (Ray Cash)
53. They Down With Us (Scarface)
54. Pinky Ring (UGK)
55. Heaven (UGK)
56. I Miss My Homies feat. Silkk the Shocker (Master P)

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