Dope Myoozik

Dope D.O.D. hail from the Netherlands and bring a fresh take on hip hop that matches pulsing electronica beats to euro-inflected street rap.

Their videos are a big part of their appeal for me, showcasing the grimy and gritty with a polished cinematic visual aesthetic. I like the way the videos are tweaked by effects that twitch and stutter like a visual representation of the electronic backbone of the music.

Their bio makes for an interesting read – they have a visual arts team comprised of four artists who handle the photography, videos and paintings. After seeing the video below and being taken by the marriage of dubstep and street rap I went poking around the interwebs and was impressed by the cohesive brand they present to the world via their strong visual style. It’s a great idea to have a dedicated art team – hopefully they will all evolve together in new and interesting ways.

Their debut album “Branded” is due September this year (2011) and I’ll be keeping an eye and ear out to see whether there’s enough depth to the group and their music to herald a new wave in euro hip hop.

Thanks Ashley for the heads up!

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Retro Reminiscence: Digable Planets Old Skool Kool

Digable Planets are a class act old school hip hop group whose Rebirth of Slick burnt up the airwaves on the charts and music TV back in the early 90s.

Here’s a performance of the funky syncopated groove track 9th Wonder (Blackitolism) live on some show starring Jon Stewart in 1994. Something about Ladybug’s live delivery of her memorable phrase-turns “ninety three million miles above these devils… A alike, B alike…” makes them snap for me and really brings home the street poetics in a way the recorded version doesn’t… but that’s just me… And doesn’t Jon Stewart look like a spry young lad?

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Howdy y’all! I’ve been busy on version 2.0 of DJCXL’s dot com – and it’s finally gone live!

We’ve still got a bit to do but we’ll be rolling with regular video content and free mixes over the next short while. I guess this is as good a time as any to link to the new video by CXL’s boy – J Williams – who is signed to CXL’s label, Illegal Musik. Enjoy it yo!

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Hip hop with Atmosphere

Still no adequate PC access so this is a quick drop of an “underground” hip hop act that’s been in my “Considering…” list (to the right there) for a few days now. Like The Roots, Atmosphere now tour with live instrumentation and this track has great flavour for a hip hop track; backed solely by a clean guitar riff, rapper Slug’s emotional social commentary is compelling and weighty.

“…my better half is mad at making magic out of canned goods / my tax bracket status got her questioning my manhood / my shorty got caught smoking weed at a concert / and if I smack him everybody treats me like a monster…”

If you like your hip hop to have something to say other than “I’m the greatest” and videos without the classic hip hop standards (fish eye lens, shots of rims and woodgrain) then check ‘em out.

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Producer Spotlight: Rick Rubin

Rick Rubin has created some of my favourite albums in his time (MTV has called him “the most important producer of the last 20 years”; Rolling Stone says he’s the most successful producer in any genre). I won’t go into a detailed career retrospective or insight into his personal life – other articles have that covered better than I ever could.

Rick Rubin, Super Producer

I thought a post on Rick would be a good start to the Producer Spotlight series and a timely one given his production of the new Metallica album, so this spotlight takes a look at his work with bands across the spectrum of hip hop and rock – from Jay-Z to Johnny Cash via the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

It’s a lengthy post so apologies to those who want to skim – if you want to jump straight to the music I’ll sum up the waffle for you in one sentence: Rick Rubin helps artists to get their best music into recorded form and in doing so, creates new genres and redefines old ones.

“I don’t even know what a traditional producer is or does. I feel like the job is like being a coach, building good work habits and building trust.” – Rick Rubin

Production Style

Rick likes to pare things back to the essentials. Although his approach is, of course, too broad to pigeon-hole, he’s been known since the early days for stripping things back; he cuts down on extraneous instrumentation – no unnecessary strings or random overdubs – and allows the core instrument, vocal and rhythm to shine through. Rick’s goal is to present the natural ability and artistry of a musician or band; he encourages them to remove artifice and eschew the tendency to fall back on familiar touchstones (especially true of established artists who’ve had time to grow “habits”).

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When will the rock and folk hip hop covers end?

When will it end? I guess once people stop posting incessantly on their blogs about them xD.

So here’re a pair of pairs to celebrate this “quickly getting old” genre of ironic (and not so ironic) covers of hip hop by jealous white musicians ;-).

Pharrell’s “Frontin’”

by Jamie Cullum

Jamie smokes it up in this cover of Pharrell’s bawdy hip hop star boast-fest ;-). Apparently Pharrell loved it and wouldn’t leave the show he heard it on until they gave him the name of the artist and CD. Nice work by the Jamester!

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Outkast’s “Ms. Jackson”

by The Vines

Awww… it’s Andre’s song about his breakup with Erykah Badu (apparently)… and the Vines turn it into a whiny rock cover – nice!

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Ones that didn’t work…

What constitutes ‘failure’ to me? A cover that essentially amounts to a totally new song in your own style simply with another song’s lyrics inserted to garner a laugh or two. To qualify that, I do like songs that are a complete reimagining/reinvention – but if you’re going to cover a song you should have more of a reason to do it than to simply score a few ironic chuckles. Unless you’re Richard Cheese, of course – but in that case, it’s okay cos your whole act is based on that sort of schtick.

Nelly’s “Hot In Herre”

by Jenny Owen Youngs

In a stunning about turn I’m going to quote a Youtube commenter here (stunning because 95% of Youtube commenters are either socially inept or 10 years old and I barely even read half of them, let alone quote them):

I’m a big non-fan of Nelly, so I’d love any opportunity to see him ragged on. This video, though, is sad, and reinforces stereotypes of caucasian folksingers as rhythmically challenged, completely out of touch with modern music, and seriously lacking musically.

Horrible idea, even more horrible execution. To cover a song well, whether you’re paying tribute or poking fun, you need to have some idea of what makes the original song work. (maxhomie)

Needless to say, I have to agree to some extent… If you’re going to cover a song – even if it’s a mock – at least have some comprehension of the song or genre you’re mocking so you can present that in some way (or your take on it). Slapping the lyrics over an unoriginal and uninspiring chord progression doesn’t constitute a cover to me *shrug*. I prefer covers that bring something unexpected and fresh and/or showcase the virtuosity of the cover artist. Sadly, Jenny does neither (and I like her other song).

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N.W.A.’s “Straight Outta Compton”

by Nina Gordon / Jay Brannan

I couldn’t find Nina Gordon’s cover but I guess she should get kudos for being one of the pioneers of folk/hip hop cover mockery. Imo that’s the only reason she got any coverage – because of the uniqueness of the idea at that time. Her song didn’t stick around on its own merits like Matt Weddle’s “Hey Ya”.

Niggaz With Attitude launched Dre and the whole gangsta rap movement. And gangsta rap reminds me of the World Wrestling Federation – lots of prat – I mean frat boy posturing and testosterone laden unintentional comedy (and I love gangsta rap btw – I’m going to wax lyrical about my love for g-rap in a future post and scare away my two readers one day). That’s two things that Nina got right with her cover – she reinvented the tune at least, and her version highlights the ludicrosity of the posturing in the lyrics (don’t hate on me – I love you Dre!).

So she did do something original… which is a bit more than we can say for Jay Brannan here, who does a cover of her cover… O_o (just kidding, Jay – I like the Left-Eye rap from TLC’s “Waterfalls” you added in the middle – now it’s a TOTALLY different song. Ed – apparently he didn’t add that – it’s in the original… my bad xD Well! I said I didn’t like Nina’s cover… how’m I expected to remember every detail of it… ; )

Note: Parental Advisory – Extreme Lyrics

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5 hip hop tracks that could appear on a downbeat compilation

These tracks are all from the subgenre of jazz rap and my reason for presenting them is to show that stylistically they’re not far removed from downbeat/chillout territory. In theory, you could segue to a Cafe Del Mar or Kruder & Dorfmeister compilation track from one of these songs without the casual listener batting an eyelid.

If you’re not into hip hop but you can appreciate an Ibiza-esque chillout groove, try alternating between a few downbeat/chillout/trip-hop cuts and the following songs. For starters, they’re not gangsta rap or hip pop. Secondly, they have the same chilled down groove that you find in downbeat (albeit not so much on the ambient/house side of the genre), and third, they contain musical elements of jazz that elevate them above the atonal loops prevalent in other hip hop genres. Worth giving them a go?

A Tribe Called Quest – Jazz (We Got)

ATCQ were noted for their contribution to hip hop – specifically by openly adopting jazz grooves into their sound and popularizing jazz rap along with Gang Starr and Native Tongue Posse mates De La Soul in the late 80s/early 90s.

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Download the Guitar Pro 5 file (.gp5) of a Musicalis cover of “Jazz (We’ve Got)” (including drums and bass) from here.

Black Star – Respiration

From the unstoppable combination of Mos Def and Talib Kweli this track also features Mos Def’s fellow rapper/actor, Common. With a chill New York groove and three legends on the cut you can’t go wrong xD. Def’s lyrical poeticism shines through as always:

“…this ain’t no time where the usual is suitable
Tonight alive, let’s describe the inscrutable
The indisputable, we New York, the narcotic
Strength in metal and fiber optics
where mercenaries is paid to trade hot stock tips
for profits, thirsty criminals take pockets…”

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Digable Planets – Blackitolism (9th Wonder)

This song sports a smooth, jazzy groove with a BIG beat that delays the second snare to add some rhythmic colour – a 90s classic.

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Download the Guitar Pro 5 file (.gp5) of a Musicalis cover of “Blackitolism (9th Wonder)” (including drums and bass) from here.

Guru – Lost Souls

As the lyrical half of the mighty Gang Starr, Guru helped to pioneer the New York City Hip Hop sound and is one of the forerunners of the hip hop / jazz crossover.

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Nieve and Cook – Chronic Intoxication

From his album “Away With Words” released this year, newcomer Nieve busts a silky jazz jam. He sounds young and… well… naieve, but the groove is tasty and he flows well on it.

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OSP (Old School Phat): Young MC – I Come Off (Southern Comfort Mix)

Young MC’s songs were always boppy pop fun. This remix, however, has a phat, chilled out, downbeat groove that would be at home on a modern day K&D track or Cafe Del Mar compilation.

Young MC’s rap in this song is great too; the groove tempers the bounce from his usual delivery so his voice sits in a laid-back syncopated space on top of the beat.

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