“First you get your flow right, then you get your dough right, just nod your head like you know right. Then you drop a couple songs and your friends say you’re tight, then you drop a mixtape, let the blogs build the hype.” It’s official. Aaron Cohen is on to me. And it’s true, I’m guilty as charged. I’ll admit, the Odd Future thing fooled me. And I may have sipped the Mac Miller koolaid back when he wasn’t naming his tapes after prescription cough syrup, but can you blame a lifelong hip hop fan? I’ll cop to being a few things, but the bandwagon jumper isn’t one of them.
Mishka’s newest release, Murk, from Queens by way of Seattle newcomer Aaron Cohen has my undivided attention. I’m enamored with his blatant disregard for all things trending. Cohen gets it. It’s not that he doesn’t see and hear what’s going on all around him, it’s just that he couldn’t give a shit less. His direct delivery is all about timing. He wants you to hear each succinct, battle-worthy haymaker. His bars are clever, smearing the new school cool with a flavor that proves his crates are deeper than you think.
Murk triples up the bangers with “Helen Keller”, “Thirsty” and “From Seattle to the Trap”, painting the picture of a hungry, yet grounded young spitter. There are no illusions of grandeur here, just a kid who feels his art. But it’s the razor sharp “Mess With Us” that showcases a little true grit. Cohen raps about what he knows. Which appears to be going for broke, whether you’re on board or not. He’s got nothing to lose, firing shots at anyone who casts doubt. Snobs might argue that flipping Radiohead and dumping it on its ass is too ambitious, but that’s what today’s scene is all about. Stay tuned…this is what you get.
Support the tape at www.mishkanyc.bandcamp.com
Talk to me about hip hop and I’ll probably mention some sort of list. Maybe my favorite albums or what I’m listening to theses days. Ask me about my favorite rapper and I’ll scratch my head. I’ve heard so much tremendous music the past few years that I’d be hard-pressed to narrow it down to one MC. Read these pages, look for trends. I’m sure they exist. One thing that’s a definite anchor for me is lyricism. You’ve got to say something to keep my head nodding. I know there’s a time and place for style and a little bit of hype, but if it’s not making me think, I’m wasting my time.
Minnesota’s Brother Ali has been mastering the art of the quiet storm for years. His records manage to affect without offending our hip hop sensibilities. Somehow this albino Muslim is able to speak directly to the blue-collar core, whether white or black, like few artists working today. After 2009’s oddly paced Us, Tuesday saw the release of Mourning In America and Dreaming In Color, Ali’s true return to form. Conscious MC’s have been tossed a crown of thorns, condemned for thinking rather than gun busting. Brother Ali carries that weight, and does so in style that blurs the line between thinker and superhero. His line by line delivery is Rakim powerful, with a Chuck D arrogance not meant to scorn, but to enlighten.
Mourning is produced entirely by Seattle beatsmith Jake One, who’s nod to Pete Rock and DJ Premier has never been more evident. His backdrops give Ali room to dazzle. That’s not to say there’s no message. The record is a testament to love and loss while figuring out how to pay the bills. “Only Life I Know” and “Need A Knot” are signature examples of Ali’s worth on the mic. He seems settled, resulting in some of the heaviest hitting tracks of his career. If you’ve missed Brother Ali, start with Shadows On The Sun. You’ll catch right up because he doesn’t make music for the clubs or the “streets”. He makes records about life, and that’s something we can all relate to.
Don’t you love how the internet has ushered in a new era of genre mash ups? We want it now. We want it fast and flashy. We don’t care what you call it, as long as it moves us. Twitter. Soundcloud. Bandcamp. As digital media continues its stranglehold, the music industry has seen radical and apathetic revisions. A major isn’t needed to spread an artists sentiment and finished product. This year, we’ve seen that double edged sword sharpen to a point. It remains to be seen if this new wave of creative output is headed towards a collapse of Myspace proportions. Quality, as it tends to do, will rise to the top. And the others? Expired domain names and fleeting memories.
Chicago seems to be leading the charge of re-imagined music and art. Known for its MC’s, soul singers and house music, Chi Town seems to balance on that ledge between saturation and absurdly dope. There’s the overkill and the perfectly pan-seared. The GTW is the latter, mixing his South Side cool with the finesse of a world traveled playboy. We got our hands on the 4814 EP, The GTW’s collaborative project with EDM producer BengFang, and we can’t push pause. It’s a world class effort blending the influences of Chicago’s electronic scene with their long-standing pedigree for high class hip hop.
The GTW carries cool like Theophilus London while remaining a bit more in touch with the world as the rest of us see it. Less talk of nine hundred dollar jeans, more introspection. BengFang’s production ushers in a wave of chill intent to gently buzz rather than bang bang us over the head. Fang’s instrumentals are densely layered affairs, busy but never chaotic, providing GTW with a sonic canvas to carve up any way he sees fit. “4814” bears witness to Chicago’s realism while “Blak Lux” is an embodiment of this collaboration, EDM flavor with pure Chi Town lyricism. A perfect though seemingly unnatural fit. Be sure to check out and follow @THEGTW and @BengFang on Twitter for more info.
Opening bands have a fight on their hands every night. There’s always that nervous anticipation from the crowd. People pissing themselves in the parking lot. Long lines for beers. Couples zigzagging the venue looking for their seats. Amidst the obstacles of an early set time, the opening slot is all about energy. It’s more than a warm up. It’s the chance for a band to step on stage and win hearts. And as any Mets fan would do, I root for the opener…the quintessential underdog.
Washington’s Band of Horses have crisscrossed the country the last few years on the strength of three fantastic records. I’ve watched them wow crowds rowdy to see Modest Mouse and most recently as the opener for My Morning Jacket in Philly. As the trustafarians swayed and screamed for Jim James, something improbable happened. Band of Horses did what they do, lacing Crosby, Stills and Nash-like harmonies over careful rockers, and one by one, the MMJ fans dialed in. They cocked half-cocked heads to the sky and soaked up the power of one of the greatest bands in America.
This Tuesday Band of Horses will release Mirage Rock, their forth studio record following 2010’s Infinite Arms. Beach Boys doo-wop opens “Knock Knock”, the albums first track, and from there it rattles and hums through eleven gorgeous tracks. The band sounds like they’ve spent some time in the kitchen. The Band, U2, Fleet Foxes…it’s a virtual melting pot of angles. Band of Horses have also studied their surroundings, proving their ear for size as well as sound. Mirage Rock is written for clubs and stadiums providing as much punch as there is whisper. It’s the sound of a band taking a collective breath. They don’t have to wear out their amps to make you listen. They simply take the stage first, and the rest takes care of itself.
Imagine if half the people that picked up a mic could put together premium product? Couplets of meaningful darts, meant to raise eyebrows? While spoken word and hip hop seem like a perfect match, today they seem like distant cousins. Violence is the new pink. Talentless street boasting masked as art is seeping into the souls of our young people on the strength of Youtube views and chem-strains of marijuana. Sometimes, I fear the wordsmith might become a thing of the past. We’re too self-serving. We need instant gratification. We need symphonies of gun claps in the chorus and crews pointing hand shaped weapons at the camera. What we need is more talent and less exposure. What we need are more poets and less posers. What we need are more artists like the Macrophonic MC.
Hailing from here and there, yet calling the South his home, Macrophonic was born and raised with a B-boy mentality. The 90’s boom of creative hip hop fanned his fire and MC’ing followed a few years as a DJ. Macro got his break nearly a decade ago when learning Toshiba/EMI Records in Japan was interested in his work. Like any hungry artist with a chance to change his world, he packed his bags. Returning a few months later with a new fan base and a suitcase stuffed with letdown, Macro found himself with no deal and a desperately fading passion for hip hop. His brainy, high intensity flow didn’t gel with the mean lean of Arkansas, USA.
Fast forward a few calendar pages and there was Twitter. Suddenly the talented, intelligent southern MC with a Big L knack for cadence and flows for days had a way to reach the world without plane tickets and empty promises. Collaborations and brainstorms followed and July saw the release of Commusication, Macrophonics first solo record. Commisication blends Macro’s unique take on the world as he sees it with hints of the south, flashes of his spoken word prowess and plenty of boom bap to please heads old and young. Hip hop is a movement that fought tooth and nail for worldwide respect. Sadly, I’m frozen in time watching a Flocka Chiefs march it backwards fifty strides per view. Thankfully, artists like Macrophonic MC value the power of their craft, and deliver it with pride, instilling me with a tiny shred of hope that the art of wordplay is not yet dead.
Buy the record at www.macrophonicmc.bandcamp.com
Just as I’m quick to share something I love, I’m quick to recognize when I’m falling in line with the trends that steer music in it’s calculated directions. Trending currently? The indie rapper who doesn’t lean on a label for support or a push. The Twitter star with 5,000 followers and a mixtape hosted on soundcloud. It’s exciting yet exhausting in the same breath. It could drive a fan to sit hip hop on the shelf, or maybe get real cynical? I guess it’s all in how you hear the music…
Plainfield, New Jersey based Hoddy, The Young Jedi caught my ear a month ago with his Organized Bullshit tape meant for long nights staring down the lit end of a raw paper and a box of donuts. Hoddy’s mind is the maze that takes you deep into the workings of present day youth and wonder. He muses throughout Organized Bullshit on food, smoke sessions and how to keep things light aboard the Base Train with his Jersey Klan. To his credit Hoddy doesn’t concern himself with fancy chains and jumpman logo’s, focusing instead on the construction of intricate verses and a cadence all his own. It’s dope listening to a rapper who’d just as soon debate the value of pizza over hotpockets before bothering to bring up bizarre name brands and fancy bottles.
Organized Bullshit drapes its complexities within tracks about every day life in the blue collar lane. The production is soulful without the nostalgia, boasting a welcomed 9th Wonder feel. Hoddy splits time between lashing out and looking in, proving age will only solidify the quality of his art. “Heaven Or Hell” is a picture perfect example of why Hoddy’s music is so relevant in this landscape of dime a dozen DIY rappers. The song showcases his ability to paint a picture while keeping it just north of overkill. Best part? This kid is just getting started.
Pick up the tape at www.datpiff.com/Hoddy-Organized-Bullshit-mixtape.353493.html
Feedback is an art. Distortion is a tool used to turn fuzz into sonic waves of noise. A great band knows the difference between obnoxious amp ringing and that unmistakable growl of frequencies. The right amount of background noise fleshes out the sound of rock and roll. Without it you’re left with that polished twang we’ve all heard before. With your eyes closed you’d think Toronto’s METZ is a literal gang of players. This power trio begs to differ. Somehow they crush your heart-shaped box like a revved up Jesus Lizard, pleasing Shellac fans as well as punk purists.
METZ are signed to Subpop and readying their self-titled debut for a October 9th release. Known for their epically chaotic live show, they’ve mastered the art of crafting short, bitter-sweet gems that crank up and burn out before you have a chance to bore. The 90’s grunge-rock comparisons aside, the band is powerful and melodic, providing the perfect texture for new music fans who love a taste of nostalgia. If “Headache” is a fair gauge, the band boasts a drummer as brutal as Dave Grohl while not going full-bro by clinging to their Black Rebel Motorcycle cool. Listen to “Headache” below, and grab the record on October 9th.