F*ck it, he wins.


dear jack white, you’ve been very, very good to us. you captured our ears, eyes and spirit with your stripped down take on garage, blues and punk. your mysterious side kick drummer (though not nearly as talented as you) was a cute touch. the red and white costumes were darling. your side projects were just epic enough to stay hipster cool. you left us a legacy of screeched riffs and blistering solos, and because of you and your gal pal the two car garage boom has never been busier. it seems like there are handfuls of duo’s popping up by the minute. hell, i might even start one. but you ran your course.

so here i am trolling mp3’s like a musical predator, daring my senses for a find. and who knows, i’m just a dude with high-speed wireless service. just a boring nerd with a lap top, but god damn my ear is sharp. it picks up and tunes in. i get bored with right now and i read up and listen for what’s next. sometimes you step right in it…and tonight, i did just that.

los angeles by way of san francisco you’ve handed me a gem and his name is hanni el khatib. this guy is equal parts buddy holly and jon spencer. toss in the jack white flare for dramatics and the vocal recklessness of dan auerbach and you’ve got one hell of a canvas splattered with attitude and the musical chops to match. his debut, will the guns come out is a rollercoaster of noise, ranging from the raucous “loved one” to the melancholy “wait wait wait”. if you try and pin down his sound, just wait three minutes. el khatib cuts it up and puts the pieces back together in no particular order from track to track.

this record is the soundtrack for a game of quarters with three fingers of jameson in high ball glasses. or a joyride with a carton of eggs and a baseball bat. so jack white, i’ll miss you. but with young, hungry hustlers like hanni el khatib lurking in the shadows, the hurt will be much, much less. sometimes you have to build, destroy and rebuild.

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hot hot heat


anticipate. listen to a mixtape. another leaked single. rumors. label drama. another mixtape. a few more b-sides released on sundays every few weeks. more waiting…and so it went for the past year and change. fans were patient. haters, well they did what they do best. all the while j cole stayed in the pocket. if the pressure was cracking him we couldn’t tell.

today sees the long-awaited debut release of north carolina’s savior of the hiphop scene. the rapper at the center of plenty of barbershop debates. some say all hype, others claim he’s “the next one”. his name is j cole. and those like me, who fought the urge of the album leak a week early, are pleasantly surprised. cole world- the sideline story is a tightly packaged, personal affair that surges from beginning to end and doesn’t let up for a second.

production was handled mostly by j cole, a blessing since his influences are clearly rooted in the early¬† 90’s golden days of hiphop. i catch glimpses of nas and blackmoon’s buckshot both in cole’s beat craft and his delivery. that’s not to say the album is a complete throwback. tracks like “mr. nice watch” and “in the morning” scream of things to come from both cole and the hiphop world in general; they sound fresh and clean. although “in the morning” has been floating around the internet for a minute it’s still a piece of laid back perfection made better by drakes drunk-dialish confessionals, over a sexy, jazzy beat that’s all pianos and sparse rhythms.

“lost ones” is a semi-contrived tale of life and/or death, told from the perspective of a young man and woman facing an unplanned pregnacy. “never told” and “breakdown” deal with cheating and absentee dads, both stories we’ve all heard a million times before. clunky tracks aside, the album is fantastic. cole has a way of selling what he spits. it’s hard not to by in. the brilliant “nobody’s perfect” was only made more impressive by the missy elliott feature. yes, i said missy elliott. it’s gold from the second the track starts.

worth the wait. only a taste of what’s to come. possibly a few tracks too long. say what you will. there hasn’t been a better conceived and delivered hiphop debut in quite some time. do your homework and check out cole’s mixtapes the warm up and friday night lights before digesting the sideline story. it’s fun to watch a young mc come into his own, with style and patience to match. he could have let the delays derail his focus. instead, he put out a killer record. it’s a cold world, but for jermaine cole things are just heating up.

pay attention to the jayz vocal sample at the start of this one…

the mecca


rock the bells 2011 was a world-class hiphop affair. from the moment i arrived until i boarded the ferry from governor’s island back to lower manhattan, i enjoyed nothing but the best from a handful of raps heaviest hitters. all peace. no problems. a few celebrity handshakes. follow me as i walk you through the greatest musical day of my life.

my brothers and i got staff access wrist-bands. shortly after that, we got VIP access. i took it upon myself to walk up to the guards and act like i belonged there. no one said a word and next thing you know we were side-stage for random axe, the project from black milk, sean price and guilty simpson. they ripped a short set from their self-titled debut and had the crowd moving. after wrapping up, sean price hung with the crowd on the side stage, and i have to admit, he’s a massive dude. they warmed the crowd up nicely.

next came blackstar. they did their 1998 record from front to back. mos, dressed in a white short-sleeved button down, skinny black tie and black and white loafers, was on point and kweli stood tall as his lyrical counterpart. though early in the day, the main stage crowd was surging. blackstar sounded fresh even though their record is nearly 15 years old. age didn’t matter as even the youngest fans sang along with the chorus, “one, two, three…mos def and talib kweli.” kweli even managed to sneak in a verse and chorus to his hit “get by”. all in all, blackstar lived up to the legendary hype the duo has always carried. as they left the stage there was a mention of a new blackstar record coming this year. at this point, the mood was set. rock the bells 2011 was going to be about business. top-notch talent, delivering their best.

cypress hill stormed the stage and performed black sunday in its entirety. b-real sounded fantastic as he urged the crowd to sing along to songs like “dr. greenthumb”, “insane in the brain” and “a to the k”. the crowd seemed to enjoy cypress hill, but at times they seemed a bit disinterested. this was, of course, until b-real lit up what looked like a six-inch joint. he asked if anyone in the crowd wanted to smoke with him, and almost immediately, clouds of smoke rose from random spots all over the main stage lawn, like a thousand tiny forest fires. they did their thing, giving the crowd a dose of west coast flavor like only the boys from the hill could deliver.

erykah badu was up next. i caught a few songs and jetted across the park to catch some of black moon. they were set to play enta da stage from top to bottom, and i didn’t want to miss it. when i got close i saw buckshot and his crew doing their best to rock a crowd that looked a little lost. something about black moon backed by a live band that was lost in translation. i was hoping for two turntables and a few mics, but they opted for the truly live experience. “buck em down” and “who got da props” sounded great, live band or not.

for a better part of the afternoon we bummed around between stages, picking up partial sets from slaughterhouse, big k.r.i.t and childish gambino. plenty of build up for ms. lauryn hill to set up and bring the house down. it seemed that lots of people were in attendance to watch her rock the main stage. i was torn, earlier in the day i found out nas and lauryn had swapped spots. nas would headline the main stage at the same time that raekwon and ghost were set to do only built 4 cuban linx across the way. ultimately, the decision wasn’t tough at all. nas was who i was there to see.

lauyrn hill did her thing. she rapped and sang her way through the miseducation of lauryn hill as the crowd belted and danced along to every word. her voice was strong, and even more surprising, her rhymes were spot on. i imagined she’d come out and sing a bit, maybe fumble through her raps, but she killed it. the crowd ate it up and went nuts when she invited pras, from the fugees, out on a few duets from the score, the fugees bona fide classic.

the scene was set for nas. he came out to a stage decorated like the courtyard of his childhood stomping grounds, the queensbridge projects. over dj premiers carefully placed and expertly chopped up beats, nas proceeded for the first time in history, to perform all of his stellar debut illmatic for a hungry crowd that knew every single word. there are too many highlights to list but i’ll say this, watching pete rock (who i briefly met earlier in the afternoon) battle dj premier before a crowd of thousands, was unlike anything i’d ever seen. before leaving the stage, nas ripped through “hate me now”, and brought out lauryn hill to duet on arguably his biggest track, “if i ruled the world”.

walking back to the ferry, chatting with my brothers, we all decided unanimously, rock the bells 2011 was the best festival experience any of us has had to date. loving hiphop, seeing that many great acts in the same day and catching most of the afternoon from up on the stage made for some memories we will never forget. hiphop certainly has come a long way. at one time, the entire genre was condemned and boxed in, called violent by the media and protested against from all angles. on that long saturday on governor’s island off the southern most tip of manhattan, musicians and fans came together to celebrate with style in the september sun. no fighting. no shootings. no problems. just beats, rhymes and life.

constant motion


good bands use time as a vehicle to shape-shift. radiohead. crime in stereo. n*e*r*d. bands with staying power test the waters, they feel their way from sound to sound, album to album in an attempt to stay fresh. add irvine, california’s thrice to that list. their new offering major/minor is a triumphant stumble back into territory long forgotten.

i discovered thrice many years ago. i was drawn to their complex signatures and hectic guitar nastiness. to this day illusion of safety and the artist in the ambulance are two records i never get tired of hearing. the energy and honesty in thrice’s music is something hard to ignore. the alchemy index, vheissu and beggars all expanded on thrice’s trademark sound. but as the band grew, each record seemed to be less and less about imitation or replication. instead, they became concerned with the freedom of the creative process incorporating more electronic, ambient noise to their already crowded plate. experimentation alienated thrice’s fans and many jumped ship.

major/minor is circuital record that brings thrice home. it’s busy as hell, complex and aggressive; ambitious enough to attract the radio and maybe the billboard charts. “treading paper” is contagiously rhythmic, with a nearly bluesy bassline that’s miles away from anything the band has attempted to date. while “promises” channels the bands best bush imitation, and somehow it works. “yellow belly”, the albums opening track, with its fuzzy distortion reminds me of the doom and gloom of the deftones in all their glory.

i love the fact that the next thrice album is a coin toss. often that unpredictability equates to longevity in the fickle snow globe of rock and roll. love them or hate them, thrice has never been afraid to walk off the beaten path. their commitment to creativity has guaranteed fans one thing. they’re never going to make the same record twice.

along for the ride


every once in a while you’re caught off guard by a film in the most peculiar way. i went into drive, the fantastic film from danish director nicolas winding refn, expecting an action packed ride complete with car crashes, love scenes and expert seriousness from star ryan gosling. what i got instead was a throwback to cult movie sickness, chock full of gratuitous violence. i found a story with tremendous backbone leaving me with the feeling that i’d seen something odd, superbly well done and worth being talked about.

this film is all about purpose. drive is shown through the lens of an unnamed character known simply as driver. a hollywood stunt driver by day and contract wheelman by night, driver is driven by purpose. he’s good at one thing, and it takes only seconds before the audience recognizes what driver has always known…he can get you where you need to go, no guns, no idle conversation, just one hand on the stick and the other on wheel.

the plot twists and turns in all the right places, and rather than reveal too much, i’ll say only that driver is involved in a heist gone wrong and the rest, well…it’s movie magic. the violence is heavy and graphic, the music is scored beautifully by cliff martinez and the screenplay adapted from a 2005 novel by james sallis is spot on. there’s heart here, if you’re willing to respect the film enough to find it. gosling is rock solid as driver, a role that’s lacking dialogue yet created to be as challenging as any character he’s tackled. the most amazing thing about gosling’s driver is his split personality. he’s torn between the driver taking his stranded neighbor home and the driver that’s forced to handle his foes armed with nothing but a toothpick clenched between his teeth a hammer in his hand. there’s a daring sensitivity inside driver, but his enemies won’t relent enough to let him truly show it.

albert brooks and ron pearlman shine as villians aimed at destroying the driver. they sizzle on-screen, but it’s gosling that steals the show. the throwback crime-noir vibe here is comforting in a flatout unsettling way. the movie thrives on the glimmer and sheer cool crafted gorgeously by refn. it’s been a while since i’ve had this much fun at the movies. spend the eleven bucks and buckle up. but approach this film like you would a tarantino mind-screw. don’t flinch at the blood, instead, embrace the film for what it is…art in the most honest sense of the word.

What’s Poppin’ Vol 1.


peter rosenberg paid his dues. his hard work and dedication to the genre he loves landed him on air at the legendary hot 97 in nyc. every morning he teams with cipha sounds for the cipha sounds and rosenberg show, known for its healthy mix of humor, info and celebrity guests. rosenberg is a man of many tastes, which he brings with him on air each day. he’s an obvious hiphop head, a lover of professional wrestling and a fan of all things funny. he’s also known to throw his political spin down every now and then. being an on-air radio personality requires a person to wear many hats, and rosenberg wears them well.

as of labor day you can add mixtape/producer/host to rosenberg’s credits as he dropped “what’s poppin vol. 1” via free download for the masses. his mixtape isn’t your standard collabo affair. sure there’s a handful of big names like raekwon, asher roth and smif n wessun, but it’s the young and hungry mcs that shine throughout the tape. LA monster kendrick lamar, and my favorite heat-seeker out of queens action bronson come through to do their thing. maffew ragazino, kosha dillz and sean born, all mc’s i was unfamiliar with, pop up and hold their own. it’s a tape meant to showcase rather than boast and it works because rosenberg isn’t afraid to shine a light on new voices, knowing they more than measure up in talent.

it’s nice to hear a tape that moves track to track without the pressure of a heavyweight “drop” or a remix from a big name. instead, rosenberg pays homage to hiphop in its purest form, the underground. the tape is being hosted at http://www.mixtapetorrent.com. check it out. it’s worth a spin.

larger than life


rhino records is a tiny shop in new paltz, ny that has a bunch of vinyl, some magazines, dvds and a massive collection of new and used cds. i’d often tag along with my mom on afternoons when she had groceries to buy or errands to run, for something to do. during those outings i was usually afforded the rare luxury of time alone, which for me meant time to browse the record store. i would flip through the discs and prioritize what i wanted vs. the amount of cash i was carrying. i would leave with as many cd’s as i could afford. my only rule was to avoid new discs, used only, more bang for the buck.

i’ll never forget the day in 96′ that i flipped past dj shadow’s endtroducing. something made me flip back to it, and stare. the artwork was amazing. it’s just a bunch of dudes browsing the music, with stacks of records under their arms. i could relate. the hunt…the search…it’s part of being a music lover.

that afternoon i left with just a copy of endtroducing. rhino is a small independent record store, and since the disc was new, it probably cost me about 17 or 18 bucks, but i didn’t care. i had to have it. i climbed into my permanent shotgun seat and hit eject on the disc player. i fed the disc into the dashboard of the red dodge caravan i would eventually earn my license in, and my musical landscape was forever altered.

dj shadow paints images. he creates a moody sonic atmosphere unlike any dj i’ve heard before or since that day i was endtroduced. in my opinion, dj shadow is a pioneer of instrumental hiphop music. he creates dense percussive backdrops, carefully placing cuts and samples throughout each track, creating a true experience for his listeners. he must dig through the crates for hours because it sounds like every single sound is meant for only that space in time. my friends and i have spent many dark, confusing nights trying to make sense of the minutes with nothing but dj shadow as our tour guide.

since entroducing shadow has released a few albums but it’s his upcoming the less you know, the better that has me anxious, eager for consumption. this record takes me back to the mysterious, heavy, mind blowing dj shadow i discovered fifteen years ago. for shadow fans, the wait is over…he’s back to basics, and i couldn’t be happier.

ps. back in 96′ my mother loved the album. we drove home listening, thinking, heads nodding the entire way.