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Wake Me Up When September Begins…

September 5, 2013 Leave a comment

Good morn’ or evening, friends. It’s been a while since the last original WDHA posting, but a special occurrence has prompted this piece: Good Music! 2013 has more than lived up to the promise of amazing new albums, picking up where 2012 left off. Right from the get-go, we were blessed with the year’s best album (so far), Jose James’ No Beginning No End, in January. From there, there have been awesome new music from Alice Smith (She), Mayer Hawthorne (Where Does This Door Go), Mark de Clive-Lowe (Take the Space Trane) and host of others. The month of September, however, has a stockpile of highly anticipated record releases. Here’s a guide for you:

john-legend-love-in-the-futureJohn Legend – Love In The Future (9/3)
The nine-time Grammy winning singer/songwriter returns with his follow-up to 2010’s Wake Up!, his award winning collaborative cover project with The Roots, and his first album of original material since 2008’s Evolver. Legend is posed to continue to enhance his brand of retro-futurist soul alongside his longtime collaborator Kanye West, as evident in the Marvin Gaye/Jean Knight sample-assisted “Who Do You Think We Are,” and the tribal “Made For Love.” Guest artists include Rick Ross, Stacy Barthe and Seal.

janelle electricJanelle Monae – The Electric Lady (9/10)
Kansas City native songstress earned her following thanks to her quirky black-and-white wardrobe, Cover Girl looks, excitable stage presence and powerhouse vocals. Her 1st full length LP The ArchAndroid garnered her a Grammy-nomination and built anticipation for his follow-up. The Electric Lady is poised to exceed expectations with its double album format, collaborations with Prince, Erykah Badu, Miguel, Solange and Esperanza Spalding and declarative lyrics on individuality and empowerment. 

the-stepkids-troubadourThe Stepkids – Troubadour (9/10)
Described as “Vintage Yacht Funk-Jazz” by Spin Magazine, the trio from Connecticut is back, two years after earning respect and admiration with their self-titled Stones Throw Records debut. On Troubadour, The Stepkids expand on all their virtues, their humor, nerd-like intelligence and instrumental virtuosity to make songs that are instantly memorable. With the lead single, “The Lottery,” it would seem on the surface like their poised to fill that Steely Dan void, but Troubadour shall be more diverse and accessible that meets the eye.

ntf-coverEarth, Wind and Fire – Now, Then and Forever (9/10)
It’s no secret that WDHA regards EWF as the greatest band of the 20th century, so let’s not attempt to be objective. Everything they do is good, and their 21st studio album is no exception. Their last effort, Illumination, saw the Elements enlist outside producers for the first time (Jam & Lewis, Raphael Saadiq, Brian McKnight, Will.I.Am). After that contemporary experience, Now, Then and Forever marks a return to that vintage EWF sound that fans are accustomed to hearing – blasting horns, plucking bass lines and emotional singing from Philip Bailey. Be sure to catch them on the road, as the band is ready to introduce songs like “My Promise” and “Dance Floor” to their stage repertoire, making new classics for new fans to enjoy.

Gregory Porter CD Cover - Liquid Spirit.-w300-h0-p0-F-S1Gregory Porter – Liquid Spirit (9/17)
In a word, Gregory Porter’s voice is intimidating. Influenced by Nat “King” Cole, the Brooklyn-resident tap dances between smooth jazz inflections to booming vocal explosions that knock listeners to their knees. After garnering two Grammy nominations on each of his Motema Records albums, Water (2010) and Be Good (2012) respectively, Porter jumps to Blue Note for his major label debut, Liquid Spirit. Building on what’s becoming a signature sound, Porter and his quintet use more gospel influences on this outing, adding to his already varied palette. Liquid Spirit will surely make Porter three-for-three when it comes to the instant classic album recording business.

Elvis-Costello-and-The-Roots-Wise-Up-GhostElvis Costello & The Roots – Wise Up Ghost (9/17)
Basically, if The Roots align themselves to you for album project, you’re all but guaranteed to come out with a stellar result. Questlove and co. have already worked wonders for Al Green, John Legend, Booker T. Jones and Betty Wright, winning awards for each. Now, it’s Elvis Costello’s turn. After numerous appearances together on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Costello and the Legendary went in the lab and banged out a 17 song banger in record time. If 1st single, “Wake Us Uptown,” is any indication of what to expect, looks like Questlove will get yet another gold statue come February.

love_in_flying_colorsThe Foreign Exchange – Love in Flying Colors (9/24)
Dutch producer/musician Nicolay and North Carolina MC Phonte Coleman are The Foreign Exchange, and together they’ve made three albums that don’t sound anything like what you think a European producer and rapper artist should.  2013 was destined to be a big year from +FE, with a double CD remix release, ReWorks, in the Spring and keyboardist Zo! album ManMade (co-produced by Phonte) released this summer. Now, the group is dropping their fourth studio effort, with frequent contributors like Zo!, Sy Smith, Jeanne Jolley and Eric Roberson along for the ride, yet again. Judging from the single “Call It Home,” +FE are capitalizing on the driving, prog-electronic vibe from the remix project. Fans are sure to be all in. 
theinternet-400x395The Internet – Feel Good (9/24)
Odd Future’s resident musicians Matt Martian and Syd shocked OFWGKTA followers with their debut Purple Naked Ladies with its amazing musicianship, smooth arrangements and lovely singing from Syd.  Feel Good looks to expand on that laid back sound, only on a large scope; the album is slated to feature production from Thundercat, Pharrell Williams, among others. The first two leaks, “Partners in Crime Part Two” and the title track are amazing primers for the project, which is sure to be a wonderful record.

20-20-experience-2Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience – 2 of 2 (9/30)
Seven years, JT was gone. After the 4 time platinum blockbuster of Future Sex/Love Sounds, folks were starting to wonder if the former boy-bander would ever drop his thespian card and return to music. This March, fans got their wish when Timbaland produced The 20/20 Experience dropped, featuring Top 5 smashes, “Suit and Tie,” and “Mirrors.” Well, Timberlake decided not to keep people in waiting too much longer for the next album, announcing that 20/20 Experience part 2 was dropping only months later. So far, all anyone’s heard of it is the dance floor cut “Take Back the Night,” but the songs homage to the late, great MJ’s Off the Wall days, people are sure to love this just as much as part one.

So there you have it! Autumn is going to be starting with a bang, thanks to these hot new releases. And to think, there’s still three months left of 2013 to look forward to!

Categories: Music Revolution

Stevie Wonder: “The Greatest Drummer of Our Time?” (Originally Published in The Revivalist)

April 11, 2013 3 comments

© Copyright 2013 CorbisCorporationTutored by Motown’s Funk Brothers, most prominently the late, great Benny Benjamin, Wonder picked up the skins rather quickly (it’s rumored that Wonder was the excitable drummer on his 1966 hit “Uptight”). By the time he released Music of My Mind in 1972, it became clear that not only was Stevie a great drummer, but a distinctive drummer. Just listen to “Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You)” and pay attention to how he uses plaintive hi-hat taps to set up his lifting, longing vocal plea and cranberry colored synths; not so much sounding sloppy but almost like he was simulating his own reverb.  And so, those slushy hi-hats became his rhythmic calling card; it’s as much a part of his genius as is his miraculous, melismatic singing.

Since Stevie had an unparalleled gift to capture various styles and textures, it was imperative that he provided each composition with a complimentary beat. Just listen to how the thumping bass drum drives the blues of “Living for the City.” How about “Boogie on Reggae Woman,” which finds Wonder giving his own take on the shuffling riddim on Jamaica. Then there’s his tom-tom rich adventurous gospel fervor in songs like “He’s Mistra Know-It-All,” “Please Don’t Go” and “I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever).”

Wonder’s virtuosity as a pianist and songwriter has clouded the average listener’s attention to his drumming, but his contemporaries certainly know better. In 1974, guitar god Eric Clapton called Wonder the “greatest drummer of our time;” hefty praise coming from a man who played side by side with Ginger Baker. Former co-producer Bob Margouleff once stated in an interview that Stevie’s proficiency on drums was equal to that of his piano and harmonica playing. Since he has at least 15 albums of evidence to observe, here are a few standout examples of Stevie Wonder’s dynamic beat sorcery:

Read the full article, with clips and audio, at The Revivalist:  http://revivalist.okayplayer.com/2013/04/04/stevie-wonder-the-greatest-drummer-of-our-time/

Categories: Music Revolution

Music Revolution 2012: Revelation at Eastern Parkway

November 1, 2012 Leave a comment

I moved to Brooklyn, NY in October, 2004.  Almost exactly eight years later, I took my first trip to the Brooklyn Museum.  In a way, I don’t know what took me so long. For more than three of those years, I lived so close to the building, the only thing that separated me from it was a 10 minute uphill walk. However, due to my overtly hectic schedule in the past, I’ve been unable to go to the building at 200 Eastern Parkway until now, despite, as I mentioned before, my close proximity.When I ventured inside, it was to attend a musical performance, but what transpired was a wave of inspiration that I did not expect.

I was attending the Target First Saturday, an event that invites many to come to the museum to partake in a miriad of activities, performances and to experience the exhibits at the museum for free on the first Saturday of each month. I was there strictly to see a tribute concert to singer/songwriter Betty Davis, a pioneering musician from the 1970s. I arrived very early to claim my RSVP, but, like most events in my life, I was too early. And so, what better way to pass the time than to take in the artwork – after all, isn’t that that point of First Saturdays? I can count on one hand how many museums I’d been to in my 30 years on this planet: The Everson, in my hometown of Syracuse, and the Guggenheim on 86th Street in Manhattan. Both times were for school related reasons, but I never harbored any resentment or ill will toward museums; I’d just never gotten around to going to one on my own accord. So, I was looking around, hoping something would catch my eye the way it does for people in the movies and on TV. I know that sounds hokie, but why else would museums exists other than to educate and inspire? My non-naive side knows the answer to that question, but I was blessed when I stumbled into the Art Between Worlds exhibit and I stumbled upon this:

An EraminhÕ; A small, stout figure of a human head on a base under a case of glass. The body was tan, noticeably withered but it was his eyes that called to me; those white, piercing, illuminating eyes looking right at me as if it was only me it was supposed to look at. A late 19th century artifact from Bijago, Guinea, an EraminhÕ translates to “Soul Container.” The figure was used as a repository for souls of the dead. Whenever someone would pass away, a family member would keep the  EraminhÕ with them. To most, this may remind them of keeping an urn of loved one’s ashes after cremation, but to me, it was something else. Since this is a music blog, and I’m a music fanatic anyway, that’s where my mind went. All my life, I’ve been listening to albums, cassettes and CDs of artists who have all transitioned to the great unknown. Every time I listened to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly, John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme and so many others, I think to myself, “These people were here once; here on this earth with the rest of us ordinary people, creating this transcendent magic that’s enriched us all.” There’s a great quote by Michaelangelo: “I know the creator will go, but his work survives. That is why, to escape death, I attempt to bind my soul to my work.” These beautiful people were gifted in ways beyond any sense of comprehension, but they were frail and flawed like us, and their bodies are no more. However, they left a piece of themselves behind for us all to share, to learn from and to absorb. I thought to myself, I have hundreds of soul containers back home – each and every vinyl LP and compact disc, all of them hold the souls of their creators inside of them, and as long as they continue to be heard, those people will continue to remain on this earth. This voices talk to me everyday; Teddy Pendergrass’ growls, the human hails of Miles Davis’ trumpet, it all teaches me a new lesson each time I listen. Could I ever leave behind something so profound, something that, in essence, makes me immortal? It got me thinking: are they REALLY still here with us? When Luther Vandross is cooing in my iPod, is he REALLY standing right behind me?

Further down the building, I moved on to the African Innovations exhibit. For the past two years, I’ve been frantically trying to acquire more knowledge about my heritage in order to forge ahead with my journey. The term “African Innovations” is a curious one. As the nerve center for all human civilization, everything that Africa produced was an innovation of everything we use everyday of our lives. As I pondered at that interesting juxtaposition of words, my sight found this:

An Elvis Mask for the Nyau Society. An African Elvis Presley mask??? It was an utterly befuddling site. As I stared at it, all I kept thinking over and over was “Elvis was a hero to most/But he never meant shit to me,” Chuck D’s emphatic statement of defiance in Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power.” For many Black Americans, the so-called King of Rock and Roll was a symbol of the on going white exploitation of Black music. Elvis, Pat Boone and a host of others had reaped the the fiscal benefits of pioneering Black artists like Little Richard and Big Mama Thorton. When I looked at the description of the piece, my feelings were confirmed. It is a Malawi masquerade mask that represents spirits of the deceased.  Often the masks are made to represent caricature personalities, an intentional mockery of anti-social traits and undesirable values that undermined the community. Such caricatures include Swahili slave traders, British officials, the Virgin Mary and, Elvis Presley. Our brothers and sisters across the ocean shared in our sentiments despite the thousands of miles between us, thus bringing me back to my aforementioned thirst for African knowledge. Our dominance of innovation on the planet is staggering, yet we are marginalized and persecuted every single step of the way. In my line of work, I see this exploitation and disregard of contribution and it’s made me more determined everyday to fight for what I’ve earned. Seeing this mask rose my need to break the chain(s).

So, wow! Just when I’m marveling in the wonderment of inspiration from these two pieces, I reminded myself that these were artifacts, items that people made for specific purposes on display for learning…and that’s when, not even five steps away from the Elvis mask, I beheld a piece of original artwork:

It’s called Blossom, made by artist Sandford Biggers in 2007. This huge tree was sitting right in the middle of the museum floor, growing right through a grand piano, appropriately enough a part of the Connecting Cultures: A World in Brooklyn exhibit. I was mesmorized! I just circled it and circled it and circled it, my eyes widening with every cycle. It made me feel, well, I don’t know, like myself. What I mean by that is, I’ve learned a lot of things through my passion for music, and it plays a major role in my life as an evolving man. This tree reminded me of Michael Jackson, and how he once said that music originated from Africa, when the tribes were trying to imitate the sounds of nature. The tree, fused with the piano, spoke to that ideal, that genesis; no matter how advanced we may get in terms of technology and how much more humanity gets removed from the music-making process (represented by the piano bench knocked on the floor) there’s nothing that can diminish nature’s role in music, and nature and music are the great common denomonators among human beings. All my life, I’ve felt detached from other people; too white for Black people, too Black for white people, too weird for both. Music has been the factor that’s helped me to not only connect with others on a common ground but to increase my sense of intuition – raising my awareness of self.

As it turned out, Blossom is partly inspired by Buddha finding enlightenment under a tree, and partly inspired by the Jena 6 incident. Sure, my intepretation was nowhere near Biggers’, but that’s the beauty of art. If 10 people see that tree, you’d get 10 explanations of what it means. Just like if 10 people listen to “Human Nature,” you’ll get 10 versions of what the lyrics really mean. Individualism is what makes living in this world so wonderful. I’ve learned over time to embrace my individualism, what hasn’t always been easy when you feel lonely all the time. This experience at the Brooklyn Museum reaffirmed my faith in my journey, my intuition, my ambition to learn, grow and make my mark on my own terms. If you haven’t noticed, the two elements that connected these three different pieces together were music and Africa. These are two parts of my identity that bring out the best in me, which made me realize why I’ve been working so hard the past year or so to reconcile these two elements together in the context of my career as a writer and broadcaster. What it will lead to remains to be seen, but my eyes are wide open now. If I never go back to that museum again, I can revel in the fact that I got more out of that one afternoon than I would have if I’d gone thee everyday for eight years leading up to that day.

Categories: Music Revolution

WDHA Most Anticipated Albums of 2012, Pt. 1

January 8, 2012 1 comment

Good morn’ or evening, friends!  2011 was a beautiful year for new music.  WDHA was priveliged to witness stellar releases from many artists of varying styles and genres.  We saw great work from veterans like Jill Scott, Booker T. Jones and The Roots, as well as incomparable releases from up-and-comers like Adele, Ben Williams and Saigon.  Well, 2012 is already challenging 2011 for music supremacy.  Before the clock even struck midnight on December 31st, WDHA got wind of no less than 14 projects that cannot be ignored.  So many that they can’t all fit into one post.  So, we will give you four projects with confirmed release dates to whet your whistle for now, and keep updating as the year progresses.  Enjoy!

ARTIST: The Robert Glasper Experiment
ALBUM TITLE: Black Radio
GENRE: Jazz
LABEL: Blue Note
COLLABORATORS/GUESTS: Lalah Hathaway, Erykah Badu, Mos Def, Chrisette Michele, etc.
PRODUCER: Robert Glasper
RELEASE DATE: February 28th

Houston native and pianist/producer Robert Glasper has been a force in 21st century music, as a musician, composer, arranger and producer, not only for himself but for artists like Maxwell, Gretchen Parlato, and Q-Tip.  Over the past two years, he’s been touring with a ground breaking band that bares his names, featuring drummer Chris Dave, bassist Derrick Hodge and saxophonist Casey Benjamin.  They were featured on Glasper’s live 2009 double LP Double Booked, but this is their first full length studio recording.  It will test the boundaries of what people think jazz is.


ARTIST
: Lee Fields
ALBUM TITLE: Faithful Man
GENRE: Soul and R&B
LABEL: Truth & Soul
COLLABORATORS/GUESTS: The Expressions
PRODUCER: Leon Michels and Jeff Silverman
RELEASE DATE: March 13th

The once funk, then blues, and now cinematic soul maestro is continuing his 2nd wind as a singer.  Revitilized by the honchos atTruth and Soul Records/Productions, Faithful Man is the third LP of the 50 something is releasing with the Brooklyn-based label, following up the stellar 2009 album My World.  THe conglomorate players on the album stem from members of the Dap  Kings, El Michels Affair and the Budos Band, making for another full of soulful torch songs with infectious break beats and down home horn lines, perfectly complimenting his trademark growl.


ARTIST
: Esperanza Spalding
ALBUM TITLERadio Music Society
GENRE: Jazz
LABEL: Heads Up!
COLLABORATORS/GUESTS: Terri Lyne Carrington, Gretchen Parlato, Joe Levano, Jack DeJohnette
PRODUCER(S): Spalding, Q-Tip
RELEASE DATE: March 20th

Call her a bass prodigy, a Grammy winner, or the new face of jazz; Esperanza Spalding is if nothing else a head turner.  After three critically celebrated albums, the Grammy for Best New Artist of 2011 and some high profile on-stage appearances with music giants like Prince, Stevie Wonder and The Roots, the world is now holding its breath in anticipation for her next project.  Radio Music Society had originally  been planned as a couplet to 2010’s  classical tinged Chamber Music Society, but Spalding decided to let each project stand on their own, with Radio as a funk/jazz hybrid that hasn’t been heard before.  With Hip-Hop heavyweight Q-Tip behind the boards, this may just be the album that pushes jazz back to the forefront of mainstream music.

ARTIST: Gregory Porter
ALBUM TITLE: Be Good
GENRE: Jazz
LABEL: Motema Music
COLLABORATORS/GUESTS: Kamau Kenyatta, Keyon Harrold
PRODUCER: Brian Bacchus
RELEASE DATE: February 14

Brooklyn, by way of California, jazz newcomer Gregory Porter staked his claim to as an elite vocalist, thanks to his Grammy-nominated debut album Water, which included WDHA favorite “1960 What.”  Well, Porter is wasting no time capitalizing on his new acclaim, releasing his sophomore CD less than a 18 months after Water.  Be Good looks to pick up where Water left off; with Porter lending his powerful vocals to standards as well as penning thoughtful and memorable originals.

Boom Bap From Tobacco Road: J. Cole Leads Group of North Carolina Hip Hop Ambassadors

October 4, 2011 1 comment

J. Cole's debut, Cole World: The Sideline Story, is one of the hotly anticipated CDs of 2011.

*This article is brought to you by the number 3*

In the state of North Carolina, there’s a region of land that lies between the cities of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill.  That area is commonly known as the Triangle; a fateful moniker when you consider the following:  Today, there are three artists from Carolina – two who hail from said Triangle – who’s current long player creations harkens the pride and innovation that it took their descendants to create the ancient pyramids.  When you think about it, their works and tasks are not so different from the Egyptians:  They are attempting to build a rock solid structure on a sometimes unstable, yet inescapable, foundation, in order to protect all that they treasure most, while attempting to reach heights that would scrape the crust of the Heavens.  At the base, you have Phonte Coleman.  His arresting lyricism, filtered through engaging vocal ability both as an emcee and a singer, gives his craft the heavy density it needs to bare heavy weight.  J. Cole is at the summit; a beacon that’s seen from hundreds of miles, using his versatility as a rapper and behind the boards to entice onlookers to search beyond a familiar façade.  Lastly, we have the pyramid’s mortar, 9th Wonder, who’s beats bind the bricks known as the rhymes, thus completing a structure with the strength that’ll endure unforgiving elements of superficial artistry and remain impenetrable over time.

When you think of North Carolina, you think of Tar Heels versus Blue Devils; Number 23; chopped barbeque.  Hip Hop music might be somewhere low on the list, if it shows up at all.  But on Tuesday, September 27, 2011, all that may have changed.  On a day that witnessed the release of several prodigious recordings from Madlib, Nneka, The Stepkids and others, the most anticipated albums of that day came from J. Cole, 9th Wonder and Phonte, all natives of the Tar Heel state.

Hip Hop culture in different states and cities have idiosyncratic characteristics, in particularly when it comes to music.  New York City Hip Hop sounds much different that Miami Hip Hop.  However, some so-called experts on the subject will bunch numerous cities and states into one generalized region to simply rhetoric for readers.  For instance, East Coast Hip Hop consists of all five boroughs (65 percent of all famous rappers), Westchester County (Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth), Long Island (Public Enemy, De La Soul), and New Jersey (The Fugees).  West Coast Hip Hop consists of urban L.A. neighborhoods of South Central (Ice-T), Compton (NWA, Dr. Dre) and Long Beach (Snoop Dogg), along with Oakland (Too Short).  The Dirty South is Atlanta (Outkast), Miami (Rick Ross, Luke) and Texas at large (Geto Boys, UGK).  Lastly we have the Midwest, which comprises of Chicago (Common, Kanye West), St. Louis (Nelly) and Detroit (Eminen, J. Dilla).  As a result, it’s difficult for a novice to pinpoint NC’s Hip Hop identity.   Smacked dab between the East Coast and Dirty South, NC is in a geographical Hip Hop demilitarized zone.  North Carolina got in the game (on the charts, that is) in the late 1990s, when Lords of the Underground, former Shaw University students, dropped five top 20 singles on Billboard’s Rap charts, including “Chief Rocka.”  Petey Pablo was the one, however, to literally shot out his state in his 2001 anthem “Raise Up.”  People in clubs had no choice but to say “North Carolina! C’mon and raise up!”  Pablo has enjoyed some mainstream success; his first two CDs went gold, the single “Freek-A-Leek” reached number seven on the Billboard Hot 100 and was a featured artist on Ciara’s number 1 smash, “Goodies.”  To relegate a city with a unique sound onto a marginalized list is as misleading as it is lazy.  The albums of Coleman, 9th and Cole – Charity Starts at Home, The Wonder Years, and Cole World: The Sideline Story, respectively – arrive right on time to school the world about what Tar Heel Hip Hop is all about.

Lords of the Underground, former Shaw University classmates, helped put North Carolina Hip Hop on the map in the mid-1990's with "Chief Rocka."

North Carolina Hip Hop is part of a musical tradition far deeper than one could imagine.  NC is the home of radical music legends Thelonius Monk, Nina Simone and John Coltrane. While North Carolina Hip Hop draws from the best of each region of hip hop culture, it injects its own homegrown nuances of those late jazz greats; intelligence, maturity and soul.  Phonte Coleman personified those three virtues from the beginning.  As a member of the trio Little Brother, and later the Foreign Exchange (a pre-Gnarls Barkley rapper-producer duo that mixed singing and rhyming), Phonte is an artist who rhymes about ideas outside the box, only to spread the word to those stuck inside of it.  Never was this more evident than in Little Brothers’ 2005 album The Minstrel Show.  A concept piece about a fictional, “Bamboozled-type” television network UBN (U

Former Little Brother MC Phonte releases his solo debut, "Charity Starts at Home."

Black Nigger), Phonte , Rapper Big Pooh and DJ 9th Wonder displayed an exaggerated state of affairs that was all too real in Black society.  The freedom to record such an album was made possible by the clairvoyance of De La Soul’s Stakes is High and displayed the learned, intellectual nature of North Carolina rap music;  So much so that BET refused to air the video for “Lovin’ It” because its ironic attacks on Black stereotypes was deemed “too intelligent” for their viewers.  Life imitating art was never so immediate.  Six years later, Phonte has emerged as one of hip hop’s go-to thinking men, and his solo debut, Charity Starts at Home, is the culmination of a man who is determined to show the world that there’s a place for maturity in the culture, or as Roots MC Black Thought once eloquently stated, “grown man’s hip hop.”  After one listen of “Not Here Anymore,” with the back drop of a phonetic sample of Rose Royce’s “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” courtesy of 9th Wonder,  it’s easy to see that Phonte has no desire to top the charts: “I don’t need the limelight/that’s young nigga shit/I’m an OG, and the ‘G’ stands for ‘Gentleman.'”  Charity Starts at Home explores relationships in a mature fashion not common in a mainstream Hip Hop forum.  Tracks like “Sendin’ My Love” and “Ball and Chain” explores the push and pull between the old Chris Rock adage: Commitment or New Pussy.  Rather than conforming to the subject matter that often is associated with successful rap music – big screen TVs, 40s and bitches – Phonte followed that age old advice teachers give to their students: write about what you know.  And what Phonte knows, at age 41, is more than most, rhyming and singing about the fear of equaling the faults of his father (“Everything is Falling Down”) or making painful ultimatums – it’s me or the streets (“Who Loves You More”).  With the dynamic artistry that Phonte possesses, it would seem strange that he hasn’t made the crossover like a Cee-Lo Green has, someone with similar ability and career choices.  In album opener, “Dance in the Reign,” Phonte addresses that very issue:  “Some might even say ‘underachiever’/cause they are not believers that I don’t world/but I done seen the world/and if you ever saw it, hell, you wouldn’t want it either/cause I don’t need a kingdom/just want a home.”  Phonte is happy just where he is and making strides one step at a time.

DJ/Producer/College Lecturer 9th Wonder unleashed his album "The Wonder Years" this month, another example of the versatility of Tar Heel Hip Hop.

Originality in Hip Hop is dependent on the Three “I’s:” Inspiration, Influence and Ingenuity; finding someone or something that makes you want to do something important, following the path laid by those who came before you, and then doing it the best you can with the tools at your disposal.  These three tenants are what epitomize North Carolina music ambassadors.   Just listen to the productions of DJ 9th Wonder.  The influences on his artistry are transparent, but without being blatant facsimiles, walking the fine line between inspiration and influence.  9th takes the best of his influences and contemporaries to make his own sound: the production of Dr. Dre, the beat making of Pete Rock, the sampling genius of J. Dilla and DJ Premier’s ability to set mood.  This can all be heard in the Little Brother catalog, as well as recent releases from big names like Erykah Badu, Mary J. Blige and Drake.  Despite his increasingly glowing reputation, 9th Wonder – born Patrick Douthitisn’t satisfied with being merely a producer and DJ.  He’s a resident instructor at Duke University and travelling lecturer on the college circuit in an effort to explain the importance of intellectual administration into one’s music.  Once again, there’s that reoccurring theme of a North Carolina artist celebrating his higher education in his work.  His new album, The Wonder Years, is a celebration on many levels, but mostly of the spirit of North Carolina Hip Hop on an ambitious and definitive scale.  With 16 soulful, boom-bap tracks, 9th invited more than 25 artists to rhyme and/or sing.  Some artists, like Phonte, Rapsody and Jamla are North Carolina bred, either from the Native Tongues-esqe Justus League collective or signees to 9th’s own label; It’s A Wonderful World Music Group.  The remaining artists all hail from various regions and cities, each with their own homegrown techniques, such as Raekwon, Warren G, and Talib Kweli.  Despite all the differing approaches from each contributor, 9th created tracks to maximize their individual gifts, ultimately serving the song best in the end.  Marsha Ambrosius’ erotic British vocals make “Peanut Butter & Jelly” as sexy as it is gritty.  The fanfare horns used on “A Star U R” matched perfectly with the uplifting lyrics of rapping brothers Terrence Martin and Jason Martin (aka Problem): “…feelin’ like Leroy when Shogun put his face up out the water/glowing like the sun/thank my mother and my father/I can’t worry about manana/I could go out like “Labamba” today.”  Earlier this summer, during the hysteria that surrounded the Jay-Z/Kanye West album, Watch the Throne, 9th caught heat on twitter for not praising the record.  Although it must be stated that he did not condemn either artist or even express dislike for the music, 9th went on to say that for him, music had to scare him, in a way that would keep him on his toes (He offered Outkast’s 1998 album Aquemini as an example).  The Wonder Years will certainly show producers, and emcees alike, that’s it’s not enough just to know how to make beats, but understand why they work.

J. Cole's Cole World: Sideline Story comes after a run of critically acclaimed mixtapes.

The presence of Phonte and 9th Wonder is important to Hip Hop’s underground culture, but we must remember that Hip Hop’s most visual aspect, rap music, dominates the music charts all over Earth.  A random person, even if they don’t listen to rap personally, could name Eminem, 50 Cent, Lil’ Wayne, Kanye West or Jay-Z, rappers who have sold millions of albums and have transcended the music, becoming charter members of pop culture.  It’s likely that random person would name 50 rappers before, if ever, getting to a guy like Phonte.  While all the aforementioned MCs are talented, they’ve all had to curtail their subject matter somewhat to get radio play.  Even Jay-Z once spit, ”Truthfully, I wanna rhyme like Common Sense, but I did five mil, I ain’t been rhymin’ like Common since (“Moment of Clarity,” 2003).”  But Hova can recognize when an MC like J. Cole can break through with thoughtful rap and still go platinum.  Born Jermaine Cole, from Fayetteville, NC, by way of Hamburg, Germany, Cole has emerged as Rap music’s latest savior.  Both a rapper and a producer, the 26 year old appeals to the masses, but his blood is North Carolina blue.  Throughout his major label debut, Cole World: The Sideline Story, he uses numerous basketball references and imagery in his presentation, typical of a man from the state that produced the greatest NBA player who ever lived, Michael Jordan.  A magna cum laude graduate from St. John’s University, the rapper known as Young Simba has the characteristics of college educated rappers who use their academic prowess to their lyrical advantage.  He spits on “Dollar and a Dream III, “I got the nerds rappin’ hard shit, dummies rappin’ smart shit.”  Cole’s wordplay is some of the most unique heard in years, combining sensitive topics with eclectic metaphors:  “No pain, no gain/I blow brains, Cobain/Throw flames, Liu Kang/The coach ain’t help me out, so I call my own shots/I’m David Blane, I’m breaking out of my own box/You stay the same” (“Sideline Story”).  The themes on the album carry over from his three acclaimed mixapes, addressing some incendiary, sometimes taboo subjects:  “Lost Ones” explores the difficult topic of abortion from both the male and female sides, as well as a third party narrator.  He even explores the discrimination that he received from northerners who doubted his intelligence based solely on his slang and his hometown: “Some New York niggas thought it was funny calling us ‘Bama’/Laughing at the grammar ’cause they didn’t understand us/Must’ve thought we slow, but little do they know I came up here to take advantage of that shit y’all take for granted” (“Sideline Story”).  Being on a major label like Roc Nation does, however, carry with it the burden of compromise.  Tracks like “Work Out,” “In the Morning,” and “Can’t Get Enough” are all party records that celebrate the outer attributes of females and receive the bulk of the airplay.  Although there’s certainly nothing wrong with having a good time (these tracks are certainly great hooks into the more serious songs), they somewhat eschew what’s otherwise an album chocked full of profound emotional statements.  Cole World isn’t a classic, but that’s probably better for him and for his fans.  Traditionally, MCs of Cole’s talent have dropped their best works their first time out and spend their whole careers trying to live up to it.  So this takes some pressure off.
There you have it. Three men.  Three artists.  Three individuals who refuse to allow the status quo define their sound, their message, and their manhood.  Three people who refuse to mask their intellect for the sake of image.  Three men from North Carolina who do this thing we call Hip Hop.
Thank you for listening, and remember:  Black American’s may only make up 10 percent of the population in this country, but that 10th is talented.



Categories: Music Revolution

Music Revolution 2011: May Releases – Week 2

May 14, 2011 1 comment

Singer/Producer Raphael Saadiq's "Stone Rollin'" CD continues the month of May's great new albums

Good morn’ or evening, friends.  Today marks the second of two installments highlighting the month of May and its excellent album releases.  Indeed, we are in the midst of a revolutionary harvest in music in 2011.  Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of this occurrence is that the great music is coming from well-known artists with success in popular music.  During a time when people get a hit record and want to play it safe to maintain their fame, fortune and lifestyle, we have those who’ve been to the mountain top and continue to develop as artists, willfully taking the risk of rejection from a fickle audience, and they shine as a result.  Last week, Well-Dressed Headphone Addict previewed personal for amazing releases for May 3rd, and now it’s time to preview this weeks hot picks.

Goblin, Tyler, The Creator
So much has been said about this 20-year-old and his maniacal hip hop ensemble, Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, (Odd Future).  From their hilarious youtube posts, their TV debut on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and preceding self-released mixtapes, Tyler and gang has forced themselves and their engagingly disgusting ways and rhymes into the mainstream.  Goblin, Tyler second LP and major label debut, is just as people expected: nasty, offensive and undeniably charismatic.

The Road From Memphis, Booker T. Jones
In 2009, Rock and Roll hall of famer Booker T. Jones released Potato Hole, and its southern rock sound helped it earn a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Recording.  His new album, The Road from Memphis, makes Potato Hole sound like Ice Ice Baby.  Featuring a new backing band, The Legendary Roots Crew, co-produced by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson,  and engineered by Daptone guru Gabriel Roth, The Road From Memphis is funky, gritty and perfect.  Ten of the 12 tracks are amazing originals, but the highlight is a cover of Lauryn Hill’s “Everything is Everything.”

Stone Rollin‘, Raphael Saadiq
Raphael Saadiq dabbled in old school R&B, blues and even country-western back in his Tony Toni Tone days with hits like “If I Had No Loot” and “Thinking of You.”  Underneath the rock/blues surface of Stone Rollin’, his fourth studio release, is actually an amalgamation of all his solo albums.  It included Blaxploitation, neo-soul, Motown flavored rhythms and rockabilly.  Stone Rollin’s opus is “Good Man.”  The tale of a righteous man exploited by his lover, “Good Man’s” brooding violins, catchy bass hook and instantly memorable lyrics are typical Saadiq. 

Next week, a special highlight of a long-awaited album.

Thank you for listening, and remember, African-Americans may only take up one tenth of the population, but that tenth is talented.

Categories: Music Revolution

Music Revolution 2011: May Releases – Week 1

Sade's Ultimate Collection is just one of many great new releases dropping on May 3rd, 2011

Good morn’ or evening, friends!  Yes, it’s finally May, a month when we can anticipate flowers rising, cherry blossoms blooming and the temperature raising.  Paralleling the rite of spring is a month full of outstanding releases from great artists.  Yes, Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter IV is dropping; Yes Lady Gaga is coming out (with a new record, that is), but the Well-Dressed Headphone Addict would like to highlight some of most interesting releases this month, whether from notorious artists or not.  Just like November 2010 saw the releases of landmark albums like Cee Lo Green’s The Lady Killer, N.E.R.D.’s Nothing, Ne-Yo’s Libra Scale and Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted  Fantasy, May 2010 promises to pack a potent punch as well.  It was hoped that since last November, music would continue to flourish… and it has!  Over the last seven months, we’ve seen some high quality albums and mixtapes released from R. Kelly, Adele, Pete Rock, Charles Bradley, Marcus Miller and others.  Since there are so many this month, each week there will be a post previewing  that week’s hot releases.   All through May, WDHA will preview the albums of artists ranging from legendary (Aretha Franklin, Booker T. Jones) revolutionary (Blitz the Ambassador, Tyler, The Creator) and multi-talented (Raphael Saadiq).  Big record sales or no, quality music will have the final word and you’ll be hearing some quality over the next four weeks.  And so, today we start with May 3rd (tomorrow).


A Woman Falling Out of Love, Aretha Franklin
Aretha gave us all quite the scare last year.  Going to the hospital and having surgery for a still unconfirmed treatment and emerging as a thinner Queen of Soul, Ms. Franklin got us all talking about her again, just in time for her new release, available exclusively at Walmart, entitled A Woman Falling Out of Love.  Featuring songs written and produced herself, including the first single “How Long I’ve Waited,” Aretha is just going about her business: exposing her unparalleled voice and songwriting prowess to the masses.

Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, Beastie Boys
The Beastie Boys were delayed two years due to MCA’s bout with cancer, but now their back, healthy and ready show the world that there’s nobody quite like them.  As always, this album follows no trends, no gimmicks, no fads.  They explore their horizons, exude their humor and spread the word on great Hip Hop, all of which is included on the first single, “Make Some Noise.”

MusiqInTheMagiq, Musiq Soulchild
The Philadelphia crooner is now six albums deep into a decade long career, with four of those albums going gold or platinum and all previous five reaching the top five in the Billboard R&B Album charts.  Musiq is giving his fans just what they expect from him: instantly catchy hooks, infectious melodies and earnest lyrics of love and respect.  Just like usual, he’s working with long time collaborator Calvin Haggins, along with notorious hitmakers like Swizz Beats and Jerry Wonda.  He’s second single, “Yes,” should join past hits like “Love,” “halfcrazy,” “dontchange” and “ifuleave” as classic Musiq cuts.

The Ultimate Collection, Sade
Yes, the platinum selling band and their gorgeous leader already released a greatest hits compilation back in 1994, but this is truly a definitive collection of hits for new fans and old alike; a double disc of classics like “Smooth Operator,” “Paradise” and “No Ordinary Love,” as well as new hits like “By Your Side,” “King of Sorrow,” “Soldier of Love” and “Babyfather.”  But the ready treat here are the three unreleased songs and two remixes, which undoubtedly continue the legacy of Sade.  The best of the bunch is “Love is Found,” which expands on the dense percussions, along with sintilating Spanish symphonic sound, that made Soldier of Love their six consecutive platinum album.

Kelly, Kelly Price
Be prepared, for the big voice is back!   Fresh off her latest Grammy nod for 2010’s “Tired, ” four time Grammy nominee Kelly Price is dropping her fifth studio, Kelly.   The Queens native is well known for her gospel leanings mixed with her tales of heartbreak and the realities of relationships.  Kelly is no different, starting off with a bang thanks to the first single, “Not My Daddy,” a hot duet with Mint Condition frontman/drummer Stokley.

Native Son, Blitz the Ambassador
The Ghanian MC and Brooklyn resident is representing African Hip Hop better than anyone else right now.  Last year’s Stereotype attacked the monotonous, money-hungry trends of mainstream artists and record companies, along with many other social issues.  His new album, Native Son is set to enhance that reputation, and after one listen of the first single, “Best I Can,” it’s quite clear it will.

Stay tuned for for May 10th previews.

Thanks for listening, and remember, African-Americans may only take up one tenth of the population, but that tenth is talented.



Categories: Music Revolution