Friday, March 28, 2014

The Oxymoron Tour: Denver vs. Schoolboy Q

The Oxymoron tour came to Denver last night and the sold out show was one for the books. Audio Push, the duo from Inland Empire, California opened the show and kick started the incredible energy that remained a theme for the rest of the night. You may know these cats from "Teach Me How To Jerk," but luckily their discography stretches beyond that and their performance was a great opener for the larger acts of the evening.

Vince Staples took the stage next and he humbly introduced himself as a rapper from Long beach, California. He was charismatic and confident as he encouraged crowd participation turned up to Long Beach classics such as "Drop It Like Its Hot" and the Snoop Dogg featured "Down 4 My N***as."

Isaiah Rashad was without a doubt, the champ of the evening. You could tell he was loving the high energy that Denver was feeding him and in return he demolished the stage with the flawless material from Cilvia Demo. Finishing strong with "Shot You Down" featuring Jay Rock and Schoolboy Q, it was the perfect segue to the headliner of the tour.

The crowd was on another level by the end of Rashad's set and eager for Q, but once Isaiah returned to the stage to sign as many autographs as he could manage, it was clear to everyone in the venue that they were stalling. Schoolboy Q walked onto the stage in perhaps the most un-enthused entrance I've ever seen and it set the tone for the rest of his performance.

Early on in Q's set, a person in the crowd threw an object onto the stage that hit Schoolboy in his chest. During concerts, people are constantly throwing blunts, cds, accessories and clothing, trying to get the attention of the artist and this seemed pretty routine. However, Q, with his number one album and new star persona jumped into the crowd to try to confront the offender. With a packed house, this was impossible and therefore Q resorted to asserting that he hopes "his momma dies tonight." He never came back from this incident and the rest of his set reflected it.

Schoolboy Q's performance last night was much like his album, there were gems such as the showcase of "Blessed" and "Hell Of A Night" that made you appreciate him as an artist, but as a whole there were sections you wished you could just skip over.

Fishscale Anniversary And Its Influence On Hip-Hop

When interviewing artists, I always ask them about their musical influences, as who inspired them to write and fall in love with hip-hop is extremely telling about themselves as artists. I began noticing a pattern; everyone named Ghostface Killah. It’s impossible to love hip-hop and not respect Ghost, but to be named by every single rapper I talked to regardless of their location and age got me thinking. Ghostface is often left out of the normal conversations surrounding the hip-hop greats and that would be a big mistake.

Eight years ago, Ghostface Killah released his fifth studio album: Fishscale. Named for the finest quality of cocaine, Ghost perfects the storytelling drug rap flow that he and Raekwon pioneered in the early 90s.  Twenty-four tracks deep with production by J Dilla, MF Doom, Pete Rock and Just Blaze and guest appearances by the entire Wu-Tang Clan, Ne-Yo and Biggie, Fishscale is undeniably classic caliber.

“Shakey Dog” begins the album and the beat captivates you immediately. By ’06, Killah had long before confirmed his ability to flow over samples and “Shakey Dog” showcases that mastery as Ghost finesses over Johnny Johnson’ and His Bandwagon’s “Love is Blue.” Telling the story of an attempted robbery of Cuban drug dealers with his friend Frank, the imagery is incredible. “These fuckin’ maricons on the couch watching Sanford And Son, Passin’ they rum, fried plantains and rice. Big round onions on a T-bone steak, my stomach growling.” Ghost’s screenplay like flow is at its best on Fishscale.

The Chef is featured all over this album and with “Kilo” the duo demonstrate their in depth knowledge of the drug game. Without a hint of glorification, Ghost differentiates between the small time hustlers versus those dealing with Kilo’s of cocaine and as he eloquently articulates, “whoever got the kilos got the candy man!”
The whole Wu-Tang Clan reunites for “9 Milli Bros” and the gritty New York sound that the clan popularized is so authentic over MF Doom’s “Fenugreek.” The intro takes thirty-five seconds easily as each member, with their distinct timbre, take a turn on the mic in a roll call like format.

Although the standout tracks are when Ghost rides solo. “The Champ” is Killah’s assertion of his reign in hip-hop. Ghost’s rhymes are confident and filled with fire, which is a perfect match for the Just Blaze boxing themed track. Complete with the bell that distinguishes boxing rounds, and a commentator voice proclaiming Ghostface’s title, the production only assists the visual that Ghost paints with his words, which is the true championship of his career.

The numerous skits interspersed are incredible inserts and break up the lengthy album. “Bad Mouth Kid (Skit)“ precedes “Whip You With a Strap” and the skit tells the story of Ghost trying to get a little kid to behave in his car. The latter track is a reflection of Ghostface’s memories of being beaten as a child. Rather than blaming his mom for the abuse, Ghost admits to how much of a difficult child he was and is critical of the lack of punishments kids receive nowadays. The hook “Take me across her lap, beat me with a strap” is as iconic as the J Dilla production and provides a more humble flow compared to the first half of the album.

“Three Bricks” closes Fishscale and it’s as dark as it is thrilling to hear Big’s voice again, especially alongside another stellar storyteller in hip hop. Over “Niggas Bleed” and “Somebody’s Gotta Die,” this track is directly from The Duets cutting board and features the story of Tony, Frank and Lex also known as Ghostface, The Notorious B.I.G. and Raekwon. Rapping their stick up in such detail as only these three can, the “we run the city” line in the intro is one hundred percent accurate.

Ghostface created a masterpiece with Fishscale and provides inspiration for some of the greatest rappers that followed. When mentioning the important albums of all time, Fishscale deserves to be included.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

A Tribute To The Notorious B.I.G.; Ready To Die 20 Years Later

17 years ago to this day, The Notorious B.I.G. was murdered. Although far too young and at the peak of his music career, what Biggie Smalls left behind remains a legacy that is legendary. 2014 also marks the 20th anniversary of Ready To Die. The albums importance in hip hop can’t be denied and 20 years later, it’s still celebrated.

Ready To Die is one of the greatest debut albums hip hop has ever received. In 1994, Death Row Records had taken over mainstream rap and the crown in NY was wide open for reign. The Notorious B.I.G. held nothing back with his entrance to the industry and he began the resurgence of East Coast hip hop as well as claiming his spot as the new emcee to watch. His storytelling ability was unparalleled and artists for decades following continue to be influenced by his vivid lyrical flow and move-like presentation.

The album begins with “The Intro.” A heartbeat provides the rhythm and Puff’s voice increases in volume with every second as he supports a woman giving childbirth. Curtis Mayfield’s “Super Fly” and Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” fades in painting a picture of Biggie’s childhood. Each track offers more insight into the life of Biggie from “Things Done Changed” where he reflects on the major increase in violence and murders in his community, to the single “Juicy.” The latter samples Mtume’s “Juicy Fruit” and brings light to a generally dark album. With simplicity and cadence, Biggie triumphantly describes his success: “celebratin’ every day, no more public housing/ Thinkin’ back to my one-room shack, Now my mom pimps a Ac’ with minks on her back.”

With little features, Ready To Die is Biggie in his rawest form. Although a guest appearance by Method Man on “The What” is an incredible duet expressing the gritty, combative and cocky style that was at the core of 90s hip hop. However, on “Gimme The Loot,” Biggie collaborates with himself, transitioning seamlessly between two characters that plot and then execute a stick up. His lyrical description is at an all time high during this track as he vividly spits scene by scene through the robbery, police interference and shoot out. Ending with a coughing spell from a celebratory blunt, the stick up was successful.

As much as Biggie was a gangster, he was equally a lady’s man. “Me & My Bitch” and “Big Poppa” cater to the women and provide a softer, human dimension to the artist. “Me & My Bitch” tells the story of the ultimate wifey of a hustler who knows no boundaries when it comes to holding it down. With production by The Bluez Brothers, Chucky Thompson and Puffy, Biggie raps with a slight gentleness, making it clear that despite his normal sound, The Notorious was a romantic. “Big Poppa” follows “Me & My Bitch” and his flow is nothing short of iconic. “Things to make you smile, what numbers to dial/ You gon’ be here for a while, I’m gon’ call my crew/You go call your crew/ We can rendezvous at the bar around two.” You can’t help but smile at his smooth pick up lines and charisma that was as infamous as it was effective.

The album ends with arguably, Biggie’s greatest lyrical portrayal. “Suicidal Thoughts” details a frightening phone call between himself and Puff, as Big with exceptional lyricism explains why he’s ready to end his life. Lying, stealing, cheating, Biggie puts all his past crimes on the table and by the end, he’s “sick of talking.” A gunshot overpowers Puff’s pleading and the song ends as the album began, with a heartbeat. Except the rapid heartbeat slows until it’s non-existent and the phone operator is the last voice we hear.

Ready To Die encompasses so many layers sonically and is essentially a movie, showcasing Biggie’s childhood to early fame. This debut solidified him as a lasting presence in the game. The caliber of Ready To Die was why they considered the 90s to be the Golden Era and why Biggie is still a legend today. Although many emcees have tried their hand at the theatrical stories Biggie so eloquently mastered, Big claimed the title in 1994 and still remains today as hip hop’s greatest storyteller.