Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Notorious B.I.G.

In just a few short years, the Notorious B.I.G. went from a Brooklyn street hustler to the savior of East Coast hip-hop to a tragic victim of the culture of violence he depicted so realistically on his records. His all-too-brief odyssey almost immediately took on mythic proportions, especially since his murder followed the shooting of rival Tupac Shakur by only six months. In death, the man also known as Biggie Smalls became a symbol of the senseless violence that plagued inner-city America in the waning years of the 20th century. Whether or not his death was really the result of a much-publicized feud between the East and West Coast hip-hop scenes, it did mark the point where both sides stepped back from a rivalry that had gone too far.
Hip-hop's self-image would never be quite the same, and neither would public perception. The aura of martyrdom that surrounds the Notorious B.I.G. sometimes threatens to overshadow his musical legacy, which was actually quite significant. Helped by Sean "Puffy" Combs' radio-friendly sensibility, Biggie re-established East Coast rap's viability by leading it into the post-Dr. Dre gangsta age. Where fellow East Coasters the Wu-Tang Clan slowly built an underground following, Biggie crashed onto the charts and became a star right out of the box. In the process, he helped Combs' Bad Boy label supplant Death Row as the biggest hip-hop imprint in America, and also paved the way to popular success for other East Coast talents like Jay-Z and Nas. Biggie was a gifted storyteller with a sense of humor and an eye for detail, and his narratives about the often violent life of the streets were rarely romanticized; instead, they were told with a gritty, objective realism that won him enormous respect and credibility. The general consensus in the rap community was that when his life was cut short, sadly, Biggie was just getting started.Read More

The Notorious B.I.G. - Ready to Die (Sep 13, 1994: Bad Boy)
The album that reinvented East Coast rap for the gangsta age, Ready to Die made the Notorious B.I.G. a star, and vaulted Sean "Puffy" Combs' Bad Boy label into the spotlight as well. Today it's recognized as one of the greatest hardcore rap albums ever recorded, and that's mostly due to Biggie's skill as a storyteller. His raps are easy to understand, but his skills are hardly lacking — he has a loose, easy flow and a talent for piling multiple rhymes on top of one another in quick succession. He's blessed with a flair for the dramatic, and slips in and out of different contradictory characters with ease. Yet, no matter how much he heightens things for effect, it's always easy to see elements of Biggie in his narrators and of his own experience in the details; everything is firmly rooted in reality, but plays like scenes from a movie. A sense of doom pervades his most involved stories: fierce bandits ("Gimme the Loot"), a hustler's beloved girlfriend ("Me & My Bitch"), and robbers out for Biggie's newfound riches ("Warning") all die in hails of gunfire. The album is also sprinkled with reflections on the soul-draining bleakness of the streets — "Things Done Changed," "Ready to Die," and "Everyday Struggle" are powerfully affecting in their confusion and despair. Not everything is so dark, though; Combs' production collaborations result in some upbeat, commercial moments, and typically cop from recognizable hits: the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back" on the graphic sex rap "One More Chance," Mtume's "Juicy Fruit" on the rags-to-riches chronicle "Juicy," and the Isley Brothers' "Between the Sheets" on the overweight-lover anthem "Big Poppa." Producer Easy Mo Bee's deliberate beats do get a little samey, but it hardly matters: this is Biggie's show, and by the time "Suicidal Thoughts" closes the album on a heartbreaking note, it's clear why he was so revered even prior to his death.

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The Notorious B.I.G. - Life After Death (Mar 25, 1997: Bad Boy)
It may have taken the Notorious B.I.G. a few years to follow up his milestone debut, Ready to Die (1994), with another album, but when he did return with Life After Death in 1997, he did so in a huge way. The ambitious album, intended as somewhat of a sequel to Ready to Die, picking up where its predecessor left off, sprawled across the span of two discs, each filled with music, 24 songs in all. You'd expect any album this sprawling to include some lackluster filler. That's not really the case with Life After Death, however. Like 2Pac's All Eyez on Me from a year before, an obvious influence, Biggie's album made extensive use of various producers — DJ Premier, Easy Mo Bee, Clark Kent, RZA, and more of New York's finest — resulting in a diverse, eclectic array of songs. Plus, Biggie similarly brought in various guest rappers — Jay-Z, Lil' Kim, Bone Thugs, 132295Too $horf>, L.O.X., Mase — a few vocalists — R. Kelly, Angela Winbush, 112 — and, of course, Puff Daddy, who is much more omnipresent here than on Ready to Die, where he mostly remained on the sidelines. It's perhaps Puffy himself to thank for this album's biggest hits: "Mo Money Mo Problems," "Hypnotize," "Sky's the Limit," three songs that definitely owe much to his pop touch. There's still plenty of the gangsta tales on Life After Death that won Biggie so much admiration on the streets, but it's the pop-laced songs that stand out as highlights. In hindsight, Biggie couldn't have ended his career with a more fitting album than Life After Death. Over the course of only two albums, he achieved every success imaginable, perhaps none greater than this unabashedly over-reaching success. Ready to Die is a milestone album, for sure, but it's nowhere near as extravagant or epic as Life After Death.

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The Notorious B.I.G. - Born Again (Dec 7, 1999: Bad Boy)
Considering it was released almost three years after his death, it'd be easy to dismiss the Notorious B.I.G.'s third album as a cash-in or merely a tribute album, similar to Puff Daddy's No Way Out. Fact is, Born Again includes a lot of previously unheard material from Biggie, and guest spots from Busta Rhymes, Redman and Method Man, Missy Elliott, Ice Cube, and Snoop Dogg work better than could be expected. It's difficult to say where all this material came from, but it's probable that the productions were simply arranged around old rhymes from Biggie himself. On most tracks, he takes a spotlight and then the guest rapper comes in. Thanks to executive producer Puff Daddy, it'd be easy to fool those not into hip-hop that Notorious B.I.G. was still alive. The outro, a spoken-word reminiscence by Voletta Wallace (his mother) is a bit touching but also a bit ghoulish. For B.I.G. fans, this is another must-have, but for anyone who thinks the rap industry routinely goes too far in pursuit of the almighty dollar, Born Again is yet further proof.

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The Notorious B.I.G. - Duets: The Final Chapter
The weight of Notorious B.I.G.'s legacy is so profound that most major rap MCs and R&B singers alive — and some who are dead — are willing to be attached to it in whatever form possible. It could also be argued that anyone with the means is more than willing to profit from it in a monetary way. Here's Duets: The Final Chapter, released just before Christmas Day 2005, following 1999's Born Again, which was released just before Christmas Day 1999. Like Born Again, Duets takes bits of unused material from the late legend, and that can entail full-blown verses, looped declarations, or punctuative interjections. On some tracks, Biggie's presence is no more prominent than a handclap or a snare hit. Check the lead track "It Has Been Said," where he's limited to "what," "ungh," "yeah," "ha-ha," "uh-huh." If you can get past the fact that a lot of tracks barely feature the headliner, or listen without imagining the original contexts of the patched-together scraps, Duets can be sporadically riveting. The list of guests is overwhelming, with Jay-Z, Nas, Mary J. Blige, Faith Evans, R. Kelly, T.I., Slim Thug, Eminem, Lil Wayne, Missy Elliott, the Clipse, Snoop Dogg, and Freeway representing roughly half of the involved. Only a few tracks contain significant Biggie contributions, and it's not as if they provide any further insight or add to his long-established legend. Many of his vocals are not pulled from professional studio-quality recordings, which only makes them sound more displaced. Perhaps Korn's Jonathan Davis put it best when he told Billboard about the project: "It's f*ckin' weird to be doing a song with someone who is deceased!" His description applies to what it's like to listen to the disc.

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The Notorious B.I.G. vs. Frank Sinatra - Blue Eyes Meets Bed Stuy

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

DJ Premier

Christopher E. Martin (born March 21, 1966), better known as DJ Premier (and Premo or Primo as his fans, fellow musicians and critics call him sometimes), is a prominent American hip hop producer and DJ, and the instrumental half of the duo Gang Starr, together with MC Guru on the lyrical side. Contrary to popular belief, DJ Premier is not a founding member of Gang Starr. Following an invitation by Guru, he joined the 1987 founded group in 1989.No more than three producers (Dr. Dre, RZA, and Prince Paul) can test DJ Premier's status as the most important trackmaster of the '90s, and no style is more distinctive. Aggressive and raw, a Premier track was an instantly recognizable soundclash of battling loops and heavy scratching — all of them perfectly timed — that evoked the sound of Brooklyn better than anyone. Besides helming tracks for his main concern, Gang Starr, since their 1989 debut, Premier's productions appeared on many of the East Coast's most important records: Nas' Illmatic, the Notorious B.I.G.'s Ready to Die, Jay-Z's Reasonable Doubt, Jeru the Damaja's The Sun Rises in the East, and Mos Def's Black on Both Sides.Premier, born Chris Martin, spent time in Brooklyn and Houston while growing up, and studied computer science at Prairie View A&M outside Houston. Known as Waxmaster C, he'd already learned to play a variety of instruments and also managed a record store. After moving back to Brooklyn, around 1987-1988 he came into contact with Guru, a Boston native. Guru had already formed a group named Gang Starr two years earlier (and recorded with the 45 King), but his former partner, Mike Dee, had returned to Boston. DJ Premier and Guru signed to Wild Pitch and released a debut single ("Manifest") and album (No More Mr. Nice Guy). Gang Starr's interest in melding hip-hop with jazz informed the record, and they were invited to add to the soundtrack for Spike Lee's 1990 film Mo' Better Blues. Their subsequent work was much more mature and unified, with a pair of instant East Coast classics (1991's Step in the Arena and 1992's Daily Operation) arriving in short order.DJ Premier had been working with other vocalists for years, and his productions for the 1990 landmark Funky Technician by Lord Finesse and DJ Mike Smooth cemented his status as one of the best producers around. He soon began recording exclusively at D&D Studios, a spot soon to become a shrine for hip-hop fans (thanks in large part to his own work). The year 1994 was a huge one for Premier, probably the best year for any rap producer ever; in addition to dropping another Gang Starr classic, Hard to Earn, his productions appeared on five-star, all-time classics by Nas (Illmatic), the Notorious B.I.G. (Ready to Die), and Jeru the Damaja (The Sun Rises in the East), as well as Big Daddy Kane and Branford Marsalis' Buckshot LeFonque project. Though his workload dropped off considerably during the late '90s, he still managed to place tracks on three of the first four Jay-Z albums, and returned in force with the new millennium, including shots with Common, D.I.T.C., D'Angelo, Jadakiss, and Snoop Dogg.

DJ Premier - New York Reality Check 101 (Jan 5, 1998: Payday)
New York Reality Check 101 mixed by DJ Premier is a solid example of '90s underground hip-hop of New York; if DJ Premier is behind something it must be good. The album is a compilation of 14 singles that DJ Premier adeptly cuts back and fourth accompanied with an ongoing narration by Primo himself. Songs to check for include but are not limited to ED O.G.'s "Off Balance," Company Flow's "8 Steps to Perfection," and the resonating piano-laced Shades of Brooklyn's "Change." The only two cuts to really avoid are Brainsick Mob's "Mixmaster" and Finsta Bundy's "Feel the High Pt. 2," not because they are terrible, but rather because they just lack the soul and creativity the other 12 songs are steeped with. In other words, the aforementioned cuts seem weak because the rest of the album is so solid. DJ Premier is associated with another project that proliferates quality hip-hop; just consider it a bonus that he helps expose good music otherwise not readily available in mainstream markets.

DJ Premier & Jay-Z - Collabo EP (2002)
01 So Ghetto
02 Friend or Foe

03 Bring It On (ft. Big Jaz)

DJ Premier Presents - Step Ya Game Up (2004)
01 DJ Premier - Steal Ya Game Up Intro
02 NYG'z - Get 2 Tha Point
03 Showbiz - On My Way ft. Fat Joe, Party Arty
04 Tef - Tefs Def Jam
05 Alchemist - Hold U Down ft. Prodigy, Nina Sky, Ill Gee
06 Arcee - Super EducatedRedman - Welcome To Gillahouse
07 Pitch Black - Rep Tha Hardest
08 M.O.P. - Get Down
09 Shyne - The Gang ft. Foxy Brown
10 Skillz - Take It Back
11 Young Gunz - Never Take Me Alive ft. Jay Z
12 Blaq Poet - Whats The Deal
13 Bumpy Knuckles - "Why" Freestyle
14 Diamond D - So Lovely
15 Ghostface Killah - Its Over
16 Erick Sermon - Chillin ft. Whip, Talib Kweli
17 Murs - And This Is For

DJ Premier Presents - Checc Ya Mail (2005)
01 DJ Premier - Intro
02 Papoose - Mother Nature
03 Evidence, Alchemist, Big Twin - To The Top
04 Blaq Poet - Bang Dis!
05 Rev. Run - Mind On The Road
06 Redman - Gillahouse Check
07 AZ - The Come Up
08 Smooth B - Game Over
09 354 & Styles P - Coast To Coast
10 Big Shug - The 3 Shugs
11 Teflon - Freestyle (Rugged Terrain)
12 Freddie Foxxx - The Life
13 G-Unit - 300 Shots
14 The Game - Ghost Unit
15 Likwit Junkies - Ghetto
16 NYG'z, Rave, Rotay Flush, T-Sluggs, Juice - Bullseye
17 Red Rock - Gee's Like Us
18 Nas - Death Anniversary
19 Doo Wop - R.I.P. Justo

DJ Premier - No Talent Required (2006)
01 DJ Premier - Intro
02 Teflon - Pay Homage
03 MOP - Stop Pushin'
04 Royce 5'9" - Ding!
05 Blaq Poet - Voices
06 Planet Asia - On Your Way
07 Jay Z - Lost One
08 NYG'z - Gz & Hustlaz
09 Termanology - Watch How It Go Down (Remix ft. Lil Fame & Papoose)
10 Uncle Murda - Hood Rules Apply
11 Jay Dee - Love Jones
12 Defari - Peace & Gangsta
13 50 Cent - I Got Hoes ft. Hot Rod
14 KRS One - My Life
15 Hi-Tek - 1-800-Homocide ft. The Game & Dion
16 Ice Cube - Growin Up
17 Brotha Lynch Hung & MC Eiht - Agent Double O Deuce 4 Blocc & CPT
18 Talib Kweli - Cuntry Cuzins ft. UGK
19 Jay Z - Hov Is Back (Mick Boogie Remix)
20 The Game - Why You Hate The Game ft. Nas

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Saturday, December 02, 2006

Mos Def

Mos Def (born Dante Terrell Smith on December 11, 1973) is a critically acclaimed rapper and actor. He was born in Brooklyn, New York and is an American Muslim convert. He goes by the stage names Mighty Mos Def, The Freaky Night Watchman, Boogie Man, Black Dante, Dante Beze, Pretty Flaco, and Flaco Bey.
Mos Def began his music career with the short-lived group Urban Thermo Dynamics with his younger brother DCQ, and his younger sister Ces. Despite their contract with Payday Records, the group only released two singles and the group's debut album, Manifest Destiny, did not see the light of day until 2004 (see 2004 in music) when it was released through Illson Media. In 1996, he emerged as a solo artist and worked with De La Soul and da Bush Babees, before he released his own first single, "Universal Magnetic", which was a huge underground hit.
After signing with Rawkus Records, Mos Def and Talib Kweli formed the group, Black Star, and released a full length album under the name, Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Black Star. The album was released in 1998 and featured Hi-Tek producing most of the tracks.
Mos Def released his solo debut, Black on Both Sides, in 1999 (see 1999 in music). Def was also featured on Rawkus influential Lyricist Lounge and Soundbombing series compilations. After the collapse of Rawkus, he and Kweli signed on to Interscope/Geffen Records, which released his second solo album, The New Danger, in 2004. Mos Def has drawn some criticism from his fan base about "keeping it real" since he appeared in a commercial that endorsed the GMC Denali sport utility vehicle. [1] Mos Def was set to release his last solo album on Geffen Records, True Magic, on September 19, 2006,[2] but that release date has been delayed to December 12.

Mos Def & Talib Kweli - Black Star (28 August 1998: Rawkus/UMVD)
While Puff Daddy and his followers continued to dictate the direction hip-hop would take into the millennium, Mos Def and Talib Kweli surfaced from the underground to pull the sounds in the opposite direction. Their 13 rhyme fests on this superior, self-titled debut as Black Star show that old-school rap still sounds surprisingly fresh in the sea of overblown vanity productions. There's no slack evident in the tight wordplays of Def and Kweli as they twist and turn through sparse, jazz-rooted rhythms calling out for awareness and freedom of the mind. Their viewpoints stem directly from the teachings of Marcus Garvey, the legendary activist who fought for the rights of blacks all around the world in the first half of the 20th century. Def and Kweli's ideals are sure lofty; not only are they out to preach Garvey's words, but they also hope to purge rap music of its negativity and violence. For the most part, it works. Their wisdom-first philosophy hits hard when played off their lyrical intensity, a bass-first production, and stellar scratching. While these MCs don't have all of the vocal pizzazz of A Tribe Called Quest's Phife and Q-Tip at their best, flawless tracks like the cool bop of "K.O.S. (Determination)" and "Definition" hint that Black Star is only the first of many brilliantly executed positive statements for these two street poets.

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Mos Def - Black on Both Sides (Oct 12, 1999: Rawkus/UMVD)
Mos Def's partnership with Talib Kweli produced one of the most important hip-hop albums of the late '90s, 1997's brilliant Black Star. Consciously designed as a return to rap's musical foundations and a manifesto for reclaiming the art form from gangsta/playa domination, it succeeded mightily on both counts, raising expectations sky-high for Mos Def's solo debut. He met them all with Black on Both Sides, a record every bit as dazzling and visionary as Black Star. Black on Both Sides strives to not only refine but expand the scope of Mos Def's talents, turning the solo spotlight on his intricate wordplay and nimble rhythmic skills — but also his increasing eclecticism. The main reference points are pretty much the same — old-school rap, which allows for a sense of playfulness as well as history, and the Native Tongues posse's fascination with jazz, both for its sophistication and cultural heritage. But they're supported by a rich depth that comes from forays into reggae (as well as its aura of spiritual conscience), pop, soul, funk, and even hardcore punk (that on the album's centerpiece, "Rock n Roll," a dissection of white America's history of appropriating black musical innovations). In keeping with his goal of restoring hip-hop's sociopolitical consciousness, Def's lyrics are as intelligent and thoughtfully crafted as one would expect, but he doesn't stop there — he sings quite passably on several tracks, plays live instruments on others (including bass, drums, congas, vibraphone, and keyboards), and even collaborates on a string arrangement. In short, Black on Both Sides is a tour de force by an artist out to prove he can do it all. Its ambition and execution rank it as one of the best albums of 1999, and it consolidates Mos Def's position as one of hip-hop's brightest hopes entering the 21st century.

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Mos Def - The New Danger (Oct 19, 2004: Rawkus/Geffen)
When it takes you five years to follow up a debut of near-landmark stature, you're setting yourself up for failure. Mos Def's second solo album is not disastrous, but it's a sprawling, overambitious mess. A handful of songs from this 75-minute affair feature Black Jack Johnson, the rock band Mos set up with some very respected musicians: bassist Doug Wimbish (Sugar Hill house band, Living Colour), drummer Will Calhoun (Living Colour), guitarist Dr. Know (Bad Brains), and keyboardist Bernie Worrell (Parliament/Funkadelic). While that's a deadly cast of support, those guests seem to have gone into this inspired more by the negligible rap-meets-rock Judgment Night soundtrack than their own past work. The grooves and riffs are basic (of the dull variety), and the vocals rarely surpass echo-heavy shouts of "Let's go!" "Come with it!" and "F*ck you, pay me!" As poor as those songs are, the lowest point of the album is "The Rape Over," a rewrite of Jay-Z's "The Takeover" that jacks Kanye West's beat from same that, for all its sharp rage, is ruined by the line "Quasi-homosexuals is running this rap sh*t" (it's not a boast). Unsurprisingly, the hottest moments tend to come when Mos sticks to what he does best. One slight exception to this is "Modern Marvel," a nine-minute suite smeared with a series of Marvin Gaye samples. Mos sings in whispers (he makes Pharrell sound like Luther, but he has the required spirit), momentum floats in as easy as a light breeze, and then the MC shifts into goosepimple-raising mode. Throughout the whole thing, Mos Def's conviction is apparent. Even with that in his favor, in addition to considering the extra-genre dabblings on Black on Both Sides, The New Danger sounds confused. It should've taken Mos at least three more records for him to reach this state of restless aimlessness. What grates most is that Q-Tip's Kamaal the Abstract, the best out of the rash of horizon-broadening records from rap artists the past few years, remains unreleased.

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Mos Def - Tru3 Magic (December 19, 2006: Geffen Records)

Tru3 Magic is the third solo album from New York rapper Mos Def. It will be his last album on Geffen Records and was set to be released on September 19, 2006. It has since been pushed back to January 7, 2007. Tru3 Magic features production from The Neptunes, Kanye West, Rich Harrison, 9th Wonder, Minnesota and RJD2, among others. 88 Keys, Q-Tip and Tricky have also been rumored to be contributing.

01. Tru3 Magic 2:51
02. Undeniable 4:16
03. U R the One 3:58
04. Thug Is A Drug 2:52
05. Crime & Medicine 3:08
06. A Ha 2:35
07. Dollar Day (Surprise, Surprise) 5:14
08. Napoleon Dynamite 2:01
09. There Is A Way 3:27
10. Sun, Moon, Stars 4:39
11. Murder of A Teenage Life 3:25
12. Fake Bonanza 4:11
13. Perfect Timing 4:13
14. Lifetime 5:47

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