Monday, November 30, 2009

Queen Latifah - "U.N.I.T.Y." (forgotten song)

OK, having recently reviewed BDP, let's take a quick look at another hip-hop song that no longer gets the attention it should. Queen Latifah's 1993 single "U.N.I.T.Y." (from the "Black Reign" LP) did well when it first came out, but I can't remember when I last heard it on the radio, TV, or even at the Y.

I first heard this feminist paean featured prominently in the soundtrack for the excellent 1996 indie film "Girls Town". Queen Latifiah raps with authority: you don't doubt it when she says "I punched him dead in his eye" or "who you calling a bitch?" While I don't begrudge her for her crossover success (film, TV, book, modeling), it is unfortunate that it leaves her less time for powerful anthems like this.

Like "My Philosophy", this song features an excellent saxophone sample; this time it is "Message From the Inner City" from the 1973 LP "2nd Crusade" by The Crusaders. However, you really have to listen carefully to the nearly 9 minute long song to pick out the riff used for "U.N.I.T.Y." A good pull for Queen Latifah and co-producer Kay Gee of Naughty By Nature.

Link: YouTube.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Caretaker - "Persistent Repetition of Phrases" (LP Review)

"The Caretaker" is one of the many pseudonyms of James Leyland Kirby, who is perhaps slightly more well known as "V/Vm". The Caretaker project began in 1999 as an attempt to musically reproduce music from the haunted ballroom scene in The Shining. Although I get the reference now, the first thing it reminded me of was the opening scene in The Wall, with Vera Lynn singing "The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot". Both movies repurpose big band recordings from our collective nostalgia for a disturbing effect. I could speculate as to why this is true, but there is no denying the results. Band music, complete with the technological defects of pops and hisses and hazily reduced to sound like it is coming from the other room (or some other world), makes for spooky music. I could go on, but instead I'll quote from The Caretaker's site directly, in his own words:

Dusty and forgotten memories, echoes and vibrations from the past. Using as source, recordings from the 1920's and 1930's era of Ballroom music. Often painful and desolate memories, recalled and replayed from beyond the grave of our senses. In amongst this darkness lies the solace of a semi-recognisable melody or phrase, a beacon of light in this often dark and distant ocean of haunted recalled audio.

The Caretaker's 2008 LP "Persistent Repetition of Phrases" has been steadily climbing my iTunes playcount since Herbert turned me on to it a few months ago. And since you can't stay at the Overlook Hotel forever (!), this LP deals with the more real (and more disturbing) concepts of memory, speech, aging, (loss of) identity and Alzhiemer's. Like Elvis Costello's Veronica, slowly and gauzily retold without words.

Standout tracks: Given the nature of the LP, individual songs are hard to single out, but I'll go with: Lacunar Amnesia, Long Term (remote), Poor Enunciation, False Memory Syndrome.

(The rest of the LP -- and other Kirby songs -- are available on the V/vm YouTube Channel. It is worth checking out.)

Skip 'em tracks: none.

Final score: 10/10. Part of me thinks I'm being too generous and maybe it warrants only a 9/10. But on the other hand, I don't know how this LP could be better.

Bonus Links: Ballroom Music from The Shining (YouTube), The Ballroom Scene from The Shining (YouTube).

Monday, November 9, 2009

BDP - "My Philosophy" (forgotten song)

"So, you're a philosopher?"

"Yes, I think very deeply."

Danette and I don't really consider ourselves big hip hop fans, but growing up when & where we did, you just absorb a certain level of knowledge and appreciation. When we lift weights at the Y (3-4 times a week), the music selection is invariably on some kind of soft rock, vapid pop, ballad / slow jam snoozefest. In short, the worst possible music for working out.

If none of the staff are around, she sneaks in and changes the channel. I believe they have "Music Choice", and although we've sampled a variety of appropriate loud, alive & upbeat channels, we almost always select "Hip Hop Classics". It's perfect workout music, and somewhat surprisingly we know maybe half of the selections (despite some deep cuts on the channel). The beats are good and the early stuff mostly avoids the misogyny and other hobgoblins of contemporary hip hop.

Having said all that, on that channel I've yet to hear one of my favorite old school hip hop songs: "My Philosophy", from the 1988 LP "By All Means Necessary" by Boogie Down Productions (BDP). BDP and MC KRS-One (aka Lawrence Parker) have always been a study in contrast. Their first LP, 1987's "Criminal Minded", set the musical template for gangster rap that would eventually overrun the scene (e.g., "9mm Goes Bang"). Then in 1987 BDP's DJ, Scott La Rock, was shot and killed while trying to break up a fight. Not surprisingly, BDP's second LP abandoned gangster rap for the socially conscious brand of hip hop typically associated with acts like Public Enemy. Also, while BDP and KRS-One gave us the first (?) hip hop rivalry with the "Bridge Wars", he also founded the Stop the Violence Movement (cf. the single "Self-Destruction") to address the violence plaguing hip hop.

But none of those details really matter... "My Philosophy" is a great song and features KRS-One at his lyrical and vocal best. But the secret ingredient is the sample of Stanley Turrentine's "Sister Sanctified". Knowing what to sample is half the battle in hip hop, and with a sax riff that good, you can't go wrong.

"In about four seconds the teacher will begin to speak..."

Radio Edit: YouTube. (Gotta love the 30 second a capella break starting at about 0:40; it's not present on the LP version).

LP Version: YouTube.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Scott Hardkiss Presents God Within - "Crucial Introspection Parts One And Two" (LP Review)

This one is going to be harder to explain than "Bunky's Pick"...

But first a story: It was my 30th birthday, and some folks were hanging out at the house where Terry and I lived. Seth Littman, an accomplished DJ and one of Terry's friends, was playing some excellent music at our house. Seth always had great music, but this one song was just captivating me. I inquired, he told me it was Scott Hardkiss, and then gave me the newly released CD and said "happy birthday". Thanks Seth.

You'll frequently see mistakes made in listing the metadata for this EP, so I'll break it down for you. Scott Hardkiss is a DJ and one third of Hardkiss, along with brothers Gavin and Robbie. "God Within" is a pseudonym that Scott also uses (introduced for the first time with these songs, I believe). "Crucial Introspection Parts One And Two" is a four song EP that collects the two prior releases: 1998's "Crucial Introspection" and 1999's "Crucial Introspection Part Two" (note how the cover art for the former two releases is merged for "Parts One and Two"). The EP is released on Sunburn Records, which is loosely affiliated with Hardkiss (see also the Hardkiss label).

"Part One" has the two songs "Why, Why, Why? (Technosoul Remix)" and "Indian Summer". Both songs are unremarkable: neither bad nor good. But "Part Two" is what makes the EP great: "Why, Why, Why? (Olympic Terrorist Original Mix)" is a very good song (much better than the "Technosoul Remix"), but "Infinitely Gentle Blows (Infinite Aural Hallucination Remix)" is an amazing song. This is the song that prompted Seth's gift. 9:28 minutes of pure bliss. If you like electronic music, you must listen to this song. And if you don't like electronic music, well... maybe this will change your mind.

But the story doesn't end there... Scott Hardkiss only remixed "Infinitely Gentle Blows"; the original is a 3 minute version by Alte)ring, of whom I know almost nothing. The original version of the song (said to sample "Little Red Corvette", but I'm not sure I hear it in the Scott Hardkiss remix) appeared on the obscure compilation LP "The Event Horizon Tau". I've never even heard the Alte)ring version -- Googling turns up only the 9+ minute Scott Hardkiss remix, even when the metadata credits say it "Alte)ring". The Scott Hardkiss version was also featured on the sound track to 2000's "Groove".

Standout Tracks: "Infinitely Gentle Blows (Infinite Aural Hallucination Remix)", "Why, Why, Why? (Olympic Terrorist Original Mix)"

Skip 'em Tracks: None.

Final Rating: 8/10. Part One would rate a 10/10, but Part Two would probably rate a 5/10. Round up the average based on the strength of "Infinitely Gentle Blows".