Category Archives: Music Review

Music Review: Amp Fiddler-Amp Dog Knights

 

Amp Fiddler’s Amp Dog Knights resumes his work as a funk-oriented master of cool. Amp Dog Knights is Fiddler’s second album after returning from an 11-year hiatus with Motor City Booty in 2016. Fiddler’s contemporary funk connects with Black pop from the ‘70s’ up to the present. “Return Of The Ghetto Fly” appeared on Motor City Booty and is reworked with a beat from J.Dilla and a rap from Slum Village’s T3 to accompany singer Neco Redd. The newer version is a harder head nodder with the fierce strut of a Detroit hustler in its rhythmic stride. The hip-hop elements coalesce into Fiddler’s soulful terrain fluently enough to make the different styles sound like one genre. Amp Dog Knights is a winter release but the music has the warmth and nonchalance associated with summer. “Good Vibe” is organic deep house enlivened by Fiddler’s gritty half-rasp in the middle of an upbeat arrangement ideal for the dancefloor or a ride in a convertible. Fiddler’s affection for house is no less than his penchant for other sounds like ‘70s’ soul. “Put Me In Your Pocket” belongs in a Blaxploitation film because Fiddler’s falsetto, the James Brown-influenced horns and the succession of lazy Wah-wah modified guitar riffs recall some of the best soundtracks of the era. Dames Brown, Will Sessions and Chris Bruce are featured on “Put Me In Your Pocket” among the plenty of company Fiddler has on Amp Dog Knights. His brother Bubz Fiddler is featured on the melancholic “Through Your Soul” that also has J.Dilla’s touch.

“No Politics” is a soothing needed escape from the world’s madness lead by Redd’s unrestrained request to forget about stressful concerns amidst light keys and understated percussion. The three renditions of “Alright” have two uptempo remixes from Waajeed that are ideal for club nights and the other one’s slower pace and lack of a more defined electronic sound will please the R&B traditionalists. Fiddler’s emphasis on dance music is visited again with the new Moodymann collaboration “I Get Moody” a soulful piece of ambient house given texture by Moodymann’s unscripted vocals. Amp Dog Knights is a continuance of the tone initiated on Fiddler’s 2003 Waltz Of A Ghetto Fly with equal parts funk, R&B and house. Fiddler’s admiration for the stylish city slicker produced an album that is a bit more carefree than WOAGF but no less appealing.

 

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Music Review: Jidenna-The Chief

by Uther Blakwhel

A hip-hop album on a different plane is just one way to describe The Chief by emcee Jidenna. The record starts off with “A Bull’s Tale.” The song opens with a psychedelic water-like swoosh that rolls into a subtle and steady bass line that is accompanied by keys that are light yet precise. Jidenna’s Nigerian Uncle Palmwine tells him that he is as stubborn as a bull just like his father. Uncle Palmwine also issues a few Nigerian proverbs to his nephew while looking for more palm wine to drink. “The cow that is in a hurry to go to America will come back here as corned beef.” The song itself is about Jidenna going back to Nigeria to bury his father. His uncle warns Jidenna that all family is not family. When you are in the Village, you are with your family. But your family may not be with you.” Once uncle Palmwine is done giving Jidenna advice the song changes mid-tempo shifts gears and becomes more tribal with a steady driving drumbeat and pulse. Jidenna rhymes about what he had to go through just to bury his father. “A Bull’s Tale” turns into an undercover mission with Jidenna as a darker version of Hamlet narrating his bittersweet youth while ending with a defiant battle cry that resonates with you.

“Chief Don’t Run” opens up with soft and serious melodic organs and strings that deliver a farewell to Jidenna’s father during the service. Once the intro fades an African chant bellows through a voice box with a blazing brass and woodwind section to follow. Jidenna starts to rhyme and take you back to his colorful childhood which includes living in the woods with his mother and being homeless with her while being befriended by prostitutes. The trumpet, trombone, flugelhorn, and organ pick up the pace of the song and drive it home. “Chief Don’t Run” quickly turns into a mantra, anthem, and autobiography at the same time. The song sounds and feels like an epic battle or fight scene that you’ve been waiting all day to watch on the silver screen.

Jidenna cleverly delivers a nightclub hit waiting to be heard with “Trampoline.” A song that celebrates a woman’s sexuality and female empowerment at the same time.

“Trampoline” opens up with more psychedelic whirls and production that combines a Broadway-style horn arrangement with trap drums. Jidenna also unexpectedly questions the meaning of life and the nature of success towards the end of the song when he states,

”Need to be free more. What the fuck we got degrees for? If we ain’t flying overseas more. If we ain’t fucking on the seashore. If we ain’t putting on the breeze more. Getting cheese more. Stripper tease more. Man I got a little but I need more. What we get green for? If we ain’t tryna go and see more. Champagnin’ with the team more.”

 

In other words, why work so hard to accomplish things and then never celebrate your life with your friends and family? “Trampoline” is a great club track that actually goes deeper than expected.

The emcee lets us know that he’s not stylistically-limited when he evokes the spirit of Nat King Cole on Bambi” a song about a lost love. Is there anything more painful than watching the one you love marry someone else? Sonically, it’s slight and subtle wedding bells mixed with cellos and violins with more trap drums and bass. The production is spectacular as it blends into a perfect twilight. When listening to “Bambi” you forget that  Jidenna is an emcee only because his sincere, charming but yet desperate crooning is so convincing.

The autobiography continues with Long Live The Chief.” Jidenna easily asserts himself and puts other emcees on blast with Ohio Player (“Funky Worm”) style production and drums that drive in and out. He lets you know that you can fight over rings wanting to be a king but “Long Live The Chief.” The song also talks about how his mother taught him to make the most out of any small thing that you have.

“Mama put a little money in the mattress. Taught me how to make a silver spoon out of plastic.”

Jidenna lets you know that how you define your measure of success does not add up to his and he’s okay with it.

“At best you can run a lil’ company. Nigga at worst, I can run the whole country.”

The conversation with Uncle Palmwine flows throughout the record. His tales are serious and comical. The narrative is vivid and catchy. By the time the song is over you catch yourself chanting “Long Live The Chief.” Other tracks that stand out are: “2 Points,” “The Let Out,” “Little Bit More” and the creative and surprising “White N****s.”

“The Let Out” starts off with ponderous and steady like keys that sound like melodic bells that give a prelude to the musical chase. Another layer of keyboards adds darker textures that drive the song into trap drums that lay in the background. The music has a stylish and cinematic driving at night vibe to it. The song is about Jidenna and his crew going to their favorite nightclub to get down and have fun. Everybody is dressed to impress and the night is always unpredictable because anything can happen from hooking up, getting robbed, or just hanging out with your crew. By the time the song is over you find yourself wanting to go to “The Let Out.”

”Little Bit More” is about Jidenna meeting a woman who likes him but she is not sure if she should get with him. Jidenna thinks that if he can get her home she will become his lady. He lets her know that if she comes home with him that he will need the whole night and a “Little Bit More.” The song starts off with a slow and somber intro on keys that rolls into tribal drums with an AfroBeat Feel to the production. “Little Bit More” is lyrically a new spin “Come On Over To My Place” by Teddy Pendergrass and “I Wonder If I Take You Home” by Lisa Lisa And Cult Jam. The song makes you move.

Uncle Palmwine pops in throughout the whole record with funny and poignant words of wisdom for Jidenna.

On “White N****s” Jidenna’s opening rhymes sound like he is giving a news broadcast as your favorite anchorman. Slow and subtle bass line that drives the song with moody and atmospheric keys. The song literally sounds like a hip- hop CNN news report with a laid back dark twist. The song is about what would happen if the tables turned and White America and Black America traded places within the social class structure that is North America. Black America becomes the majority and White America becomes the minority. The song is dark, humorous, empathetic and deeply revealing when reading between the lines.

“Bully of The Earth” is the last track on The Chief.  The steady bass line with faint keys and trap drums drive the song. Jidenna writes an open letter to his departed father. He thought that his father was the “Bully Of The Earth” but now that his father is deceased he sees that he was just a man. Jidenna sings successfully through a vocal effect, “You’re not a man til’ the day your father dies. You’re not a woman til’ you make your momma cry.” He goes on to rhyme, “Too many rebels just follow convention. I thought it was all about breakin’ tradition.” Jidenna fittingly opens The Chief burying his father and closes the record saying goodbye to him. The Chief lyrically comes full circle in that way.

Jidenna’s The Chief plays, sounds and feels like a hip-hop safari that blends, hip-hop with tribal African Rhythms mixed with Afrobeat, jazz, and a little Broadway-style showmanship. Jidenna’s versatility successfully shows from emcee to crooner and he does both quite well. The Chief is an ambitious record that delivers as a hip-hop journal/storybook in the day in the life of Jidenna. It also feels like a new hip-hop soundtrack to a movie you can’t wait to see.

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Music Review: Inner City Soundclash-Biorhythm

Biorhythm is the debut album from Eleonora Cutaia’s Inner City Sound Clash alter ego. Cutaia is a London-based producer, songwriter and A&R who has spent the last decade working as a DJ and was responsible for curating the Eleonora Presents Underground Soul Volume 1 compilation. The London-based artist recorded her deep house full-length over three years and multiple continents. Biorhythm’s 10 songs are a seamless passage of house, hip-hop and pop ideas sealed by a lush digital fog. “Biorhythm” is an instrumental cosmic takeoff that introduces the album as a club gateway, driving music and a float-worthy escape within Cutaia’s cozy production. The measured techno of “Biorhythm” courts a world of androids and robots but never loses its ability to connect with the world. The human element comes through with the voices of the guest vocalists who represent different genres in the metropolis. Jaidene Veda’s low-pitched vocals are stylishly carnal and build momentum on “Press Play” and “The One For Me.” The former is influenced by The Pet Shop Boys’ “West End Girls” and symbolizes the sound of night in the city by digital rhythms pulsating around Veda’s words and whispers from DJ Rise Ashen. Veda’s approach and Cutaia’s arrangements are in the same ambient world as some of Naked Music’s deep house releases that dominated in the ‘90s’.

“Forgiven” links back to Chicago’s glory days and Mr. Fingers’ wavy productions with Atlanta vocalist Dezaray. The primordial house beat, Dezaray’s reassuring tone and the lively energy poses “Forgiven” as the most favored for the dancefloor. The deep house blueprint lapses a bit for the sake of French rap duo Naiad, who appear on “Reve” and keeps the story in their native tongue. The smoky ambiance of the album shapes their words into a mood of needless translation. “Sunrise 2 Sunset” featuring Olu slows things down with introspective pop inspired by the Eurhythmics. Veda appears again on the sparse interlude-sounding “Blue Moon” which celebrates the need to take respite from the internet obsession with clicks and likes. Cutaia increases her cachet with the presence of house veteran and Rurals founder Andy Compton playing guitar on “What Goes Around.” Cutaia says an article on the collision of urban rhythms inspired her and Biorhythm reflects that idea with multiple styles submerged into a world of murky house that is smart, pleasurable and serene.

 

 

 

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Music Review: Stephen Marley-Revelations Part II: The Fruit Of Life

Stephen MarleyRevelationPt.II-FruitOfLife

Stephen Marley’s Revelation Part II: The Fruit Of Life departs from Part 1 in its heavier embrace of hip-hop, the addition of dance music and many collaborators. Rap legend Rakim’s appearance on the rootsy “So Unjust” with Canadian rapper Kardinal Offishall is a lyrical fit to the Marley philosophy of questioning the establishment. But Rick Ross’s verses about his struggles with criminality in “The Lion Roars” with Ky-Mani Marley sounds like something better suited for the Shottas soundtrack. The attempt to connect the struggles of those belonging to the African diaspora fares better with Wyclef Jean’s addition to “Father Of The Man.” Jean reflects on Malcolm X’s death, the Iraq War and the media coverage of his run for President of Haiti. His gentle braggadocio floats with the serene production that makes the worries of Babylon disappear into waves of soft guitar and a strolling beat. Waka Flocka is another guest rapper and his verses for “Scars On My Feet” tell of the toil he experienced to leave poverty over a beat that has the essence of trap and reggae rhythms. Marley is not confined to contemporary sounds and looks back to R&B from the ‘’60’s on “Music Is Alive” with his brother Damian Jr. Gong and “So Strong” with Shaggy. Busta Rhymes and Konshens have perfectly-timed bedroom raps for the slow-dancing romance of “Pleasure Or Pain.” Pitbull guests on “When She Dances”which has remixes from DJ Chino and DJ Noodles. Both versions provide a  much-needed balance and escape from a troubled world. Marley’s obvious overtures to his American fans with so many guest artists has a few moments of sonic bumpiness but his voice and the production ultimately melds everything together into the humanity of reggae. Revelations is similar to the Nas and Damian Marley Distant Relatives album in its spirit of cross-genre collaboration but different because of its stock of multiple styles.

 

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Music Review: Nattali Rize & Notis-New Era Frequency-Notis

NattaliRize_Notis_NewEraFrequency

Natali Rize’s foray into reggae began in 2005 as the lead vocalist, co-founder and chief songwriter of the Australian based Blue King Brown. “Water” was their nuanced single about imperialism in the new world and the video racked-up enough views to take them beyond their down under audience. Rize’s lyrics were unapologetic about cultural displacement but her delivery made the serious topic sound like uplifting world pop music. New Era Frequency has the same consciousness wrapped in velvet made with consoling rhythms from Jamaican production duo Notis and Rize’s good-natured vocals. “Generations Will Rise” is fiercely hopeful in a younger generation who will reject mental slavery inside an amicable arrangement of bright riddims and stark vocals from Kabaka Pyramid. Rize’s politics are always present in each song but she also recognizes love as a force for living. Revolutionaries still need companionship and “Rebel Love” featuring Zuggu Dan doubly serves as opposition to the establishment and romantic yearning. Wayne “Unga Barunga” Thompson and Jason “Big Bass” Welsh of Notis provide a heavier sonic bottom to Rize’s breezy singing which places them in the reggae and pop worlds at the same time. Her light touch to the microphone is a strategic sell of radicalism without sounding radical. “Heart Of Lion” is rebellion disguised as non-threatening reggae but Rize’s words about “Trouble in the jungle take it to the streets” is another edict to demand changes to the status quo. Rize and Notis ultimately handle their duties well by balancing New Era Frequency’s politics with feel-good playing which will appeal to the most casual fans of reggae.

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