BOOK REVIEW: “How To Rap” by Paul Edwards

Image and video hosting by TinyPic In the early days of hip-hop, including the first few years after the release of “Rapper’s Delight”, no one ever talked about the music and its creative community with the word “science”. Dropping science and wanting to discuss said science didn’t come until later, it was all about fun, wanting to dance, hear good music, and being thrilled with an exchange of rhythmic wordplay. 30 years after “Rapper’s Delight”, Paul Edwards has come up with a book that discusses that rhythmic wordplay in a very comprehensive book called How To Rap: The Art and Science of the Hip-Hop MC (Chicago Review Press).

When I was growing up, I would often hear naysayers talking about how “it’s just talking” and “that crap isn’t going to last another year”, and even when it became a billion dollar industry, it seemed people were more in doubt that something as simple as talking over music became such a success. What How To Rap does is look at the vocal and lyrical aspects of hip-hop, specifically the role of the rapper, the MC in a way that has never been properly discussed or considered worthy of discussion. What Edwards does is look at some of the MC’s in hip-hop and ask them questions on everything from breathing techniques to songwriting structure, the art of understanding the mastering the recording studio, to taking your skills to the stage. These were things many rappers simply did from observing and listening, so to have a book like this with all of the trade secrets, which weren’t really secrets, but simply information no one thought was “scholarly”.

The section I enjoyed talked about the relationship between the MC and the producer, and how a rapper should have a role in how their song is sculptured from start to finish. As a producer and as someone who made failed attempts at rapping (and I did it because I wanted to share what I was writing, but in a musical fashion), that relationship between MC and producer is an important one because a lot of MC’s think that they can get thrown a beat or track and magic will happen. The producer, specifically a good or great producer, can turn an ordinary beat into that magic you’re looking for, understanding how a song is arranged and how to fully utilize your voice, along with understanding the recording studio and available technologies. It doesn’t get too deep into technical jargon, but you’ll go away understanding the role of the producer as more than just the guy who knows obscure funk or can play three chords on his Casio.

Depending on who you speak with, the current era of mainstream hip-hop is either devoid of music or devoid of hip-hop. How To Rap truly takes it back to the essence and finds meaning to what has never been accurately define, to read what was previously unwritten is something that is very much of value not only amongst hip-hop, but anyone who makes music and wants to know if the music is much more than rhyming “frog” with “log”. A lot of people think it’s that simple, and it may seem like a good portion of today’s music is based on that philosophy alone. A lot of people who call themselves MC’s should read this, so they’ll understand their craft a bit more and create better music. As a guidebook, it will not turn everyone into overnight Rakim‘s or Buckshot‘s, but it will be added ammunition for those who take to the music and honor it as an art form.

REVIEW: DJ Shadow’s “Def Surrounds Us” / “I’ve Been Trying” (limited edition 12″ single)

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Last week Friday, a Twitter friend tells me that nine minutes before he sent his message, DJ Shadow made an announcement that he pressed up a limited edition of a 12″ single that would be a mere preview of what’s to come from his forthcoming album. To make it even more interesting, the 12″ single would be made available for free, with only one record for each customer. With nine minutes passed, there was no way I could score a copy, and when I visited Shadow’s website with the record offer, it stated all records were sold out. However, there was a statement which stated that some carts might be emptied, so there might be a chance to obtain a record. I primarily use the Firefox browser but it didn’t work, no matter how many times I refreshed. I switched browsers (Opera), and in a minute, a cart popped up and I clicked. Boom, copy obtained. An hour later, I was sent a receipt indicating the record would be shipped that day, which meant since Shadow HQ and I are on the same coast, I would get that record on Monday.

It’s (only) Monday…

My copy of the 12″ single arrived today, and the cover is a trip. It’s an illustrated cover, and I believe each of the 100 covers sent out were individually drawn. No credit to the artist, but my edition looks like a cross between the small white box on the bottom of the back cover of Led Zeppelin II
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and a freaky, hairy testicle, along with a little mouse on the upper left that looks like it’s waving. The record itself is thick (180g perhaps) and on blue vinyl, spinning at 45rpm for optimum sound quality. Matrix reveals the record was mastered at Abbey Road. Nice.

  • The music is what you want to know about, right? This is incredible. For the two songs, the days of Endtroducing aree long gone, as if he’s found a comfort zone to play with between stages of Psyence Fiction, The Private Press, and The Outsider. If you’ve listened to anything he has done in between albums, the mixing, sampling/chopping style, and soundscape textures should come as no surprise, as he has always played around with moving to new places.
  • “Def Surround Us” is an uptempo track that has a slight Goldie/Roni Size feel, imagine Shadow if he was doing Timeless and “Share The Fall” in the mid-90’s instead of “Hardcore (Instrumental) Hip-Hop”. The song goes through a lot of moods, from loud to delicate, and just as I felt it was about to fade into the distance, it comes back. When the choir comes in at around the 4:58 mark , it’s chicken skin inducing. As the song fades out, it seems to show hints of “Building Steam With A Grain Of Salt” and “Giving Up The Ghost”, as if a bit of musical continuity is at play.
  • “I’ve Been Trying” features male vocals and is on the mellow melancholy side a la “Six Days”. To my ears, Shadow has always been subtle in how he uses his samples, not only to make great sounding songs, but to convey messages that are only meant to be known between him and his intended target. “I’ve Been Trying” is a love song, or at least a song with a romantic tone, and you can listen to it as if you’ve been driving on an endless highway and you’ve tuned into a frequency unknown. The music comforts you, and you share the warmth of that dedication, along with the fading warmth of the sunset. It’s that kind of song, like a Zabriskie Point-type of excursion but without a building exploding at half speed.
  • Shadow has always went out of his way to try something new, even when fans have wanted him to hang on to the sounds they were i(e)ntroduced with. This is music from a producer who has progressed from a mere lover of hip-hop, obscure beats and samples to someone who has developed into someone firmly in control of the way he manipulates sound, in whatever context he feels. Even when it may sound like he’s in total control, there’s that desire to scratch that itch and find new things to remedy the situation. It was journalist Paul Morley who called his group, Art Of Noise, “a spanner in the works”, and that has been Shadow’s unspoken motto for twenty years.

    Don’t call it a comeback, DJ Shadow has been here for years, but musically, someone will answer in sample form and say “it’s the awesome return of Uncle”. Josh, that is.

  • FREE MP3 DOWNLOAD: Jamiroquai’s “White Knuckle Ride” – White Knuckle Ride by Some Kind of Awesome

    I had known of Jamiroquai in the early 90’s but really didn’t get into them until 1995, when they released “Space Cowboy”. When they were set on the speed of cheeba, I fell in love with what Jay Kay and friends were all about. The band have returned with what will be their eighth album, Rock Dust Light Star (due out in November), and you can listen to a preview of what’s to come with this free MP3 download, or stream by clicking the player above.

    REVIEW: Brysen G’s “Grown”

    null When it comes to soul and R&B music, Hawai’i isn’t the first place most people think of. However, artists have been trying for years to crack the market without much luck. Nohelani Cypriano recorded “Lihue” in 1978 at a time when there wasn’t an issue to mix up disco with soul, jazz, and funk, while Loyal Garner took some hints from Teena Marie and Cheryl Lynn and created “Shave Ice”. Cecilio & Kapono recorded the funky “Someday”, Kalapana had “Black Sand”, and of course cratediggers known the hidden secrets of Lemuria‘s “Hunk Of Heaven”. Fans of jazz-flavored pop will of course call Seawind and Hiroshima personal favorites, but must of these artists and songs were at their peak 30 years ago. While reggae has been embraced by Hawaiians, it seems covering soul and R&B is almost touch and go, and sometimes leading down the road of novelty status.

    Brysen G. is a singer who wants to show off his brand of R&B with his new album, Brown (GO Aloha Entertainment), and while he has the look to be the next Chris Brown, Usher, or Trey Songs, that’s where he traps himself: by trying to be someone else. His songs are aimed towards pre-teens and teens, a young man who is all about impressing the young ladies at the mall by telling them “Label You My Girlfriend”, and “Girl You’re Looking Real Good”. Unfortunately, the lyrics and methods in which he sings have been done for the last ten years, he sounds like what came before but doesn’t bring anything new or original to his work. What I’m saying is that you could bring any other singer onto these instrumentals and it might be better suited for them. To come off as just “Hawai’i’s version of” a trusted formula is not going to work, and it’s going to get you lost in the crowd.

    G. credits himself as a songwriter, maybe wanting to be the next NE-YO, which is a good thing, but the lyrics are so amateurish that it’s embarrassing to hear, more embarrassing to know someone approved them without questioning it. What would work is if he found better songwriters to help shape and develop his voice, which I feel is something that still needs development. He has something, but what may be working isn’t working with the songs that are on this album.

    Let me put it another way. If these songs were submitted as a demo to American Idol for contestants to cover, would they even pass the mail room? Most likely not. I’d like to hear him cover songs that may not be expected of him, and see how he turns them out. Or he can move towards doing background work for other artists. Grown is hopefully a pre-cursor to the potential of a rising star.

    REVIEW: Bee vs. Moth’s “Acronyms”

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Bee vs. Moth are a quintet out of Austin, Texas that combine a crunchy means of rocking out with intricate instrumental passages and arrangements. In fact they are an instrumental-only band, although they seem to be the kind of band who may surprise people with a vocal/verse or two at any given time. Acronyms (Aggraveire Music) is an album for fans who enjoy a bit of mathematical rock loud and raw but organized, full volume but with a knack for sparsity at unpredictable moments. Go back to the first few Weezer albums and add to that a hint of 65daysofstatic or Pelican, and use instruments normally associated with jazz (saxophones, trumpets, cornet). But take the Sun Ra theory of thinking by using those instruments as percussion. If that sounds unusual or different than what you’re used to, then you’ll eat up songs like “I Listen To Coffee All Day”, “Mexican Noise Soda”, and “Salisbury Steakhouse” (and no, I didn’t use the words “eat up” on purpose to specifically mention songs with food or drink in the titles, I’ll call that a happy accident).

    You could tap your feet or fingers to this, but this is about a band who want you to bang your head hard, but without feeling too much like an idiot. Instrumental bands in the last few years have been incorporating a lot of different textures and soundscapes, and Bee vs. Moth are no exception. In their case, just imagine a band who understand volume and power in their music, but hold back from being completely obnoxious. Don’t get me wrong, I love an obnoxious sound, but these guys will take the more delicate moments of songs and play in and around it, sometimes not returning with a blitzkrieg of energy. In the next song, they may take that concept, flip it backwards, and then look at its reflection in water. It’s not boring, and just when you expect for them to take a song to a direction you feel is right, they do you one better.

    Go along for the Bee vs. Moth ride and see where you’ll end up.

    (Acronyms will be released on September 6th. CD’s and digital downloads can be pre-ordered from

    SOME STUFFS: Peelander-Z becoming comic-al with new album

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    Look at them. They’re called Peelander-Z, which is funny in itself. Now listen to them. They call themselves a “Japanese Action Comic Punk Band” and reside in New York. They’re now on Chicken Ranch Records, who will be releasing their new album, P-TV-Z, on September 28th.

    From now until what seems like the end of time (well, November), Peelander-Z will be on tour so a lot of people will have an opportunity to see them. Make plans.

    08/26 Baltimore, MD @ Ottobar
    08/28 Cambridge, MA @ The Middle East
    08/29 Providence, RI @ AS220
    08/31 Hamilton, ON @ The Casbah
    09/01 Toronto, ON @ Velvet Underground
    09/02 Toronto, ON @ The Silver Dollar Room
    09/03 London, ON @ Call The Office
    09/04 Montreal, PQ @ Il Motore
    09/05 Kingston, ON @ The Mansion
    09/23 New York, NY @ Santo’s Party House w/ Guitar Wolf
    09/28 Baltimore, MD @ Ottobar
    09/29 Richmond, VA @ The Camel
    10/01 Nashville, TN @ Grimey’s In-Store
    10/02 Nashville, TN @ Next Big Nashville
    10/05 New Orleans, LA @ One Eyed Jacks
    10/07 Austin, TX @ End of an Ear In-Store
    10/07 San Marcos, TX @ Triple Crown
    10/09 El Paso, TX @ Chalk The Block Festival
    10/11 Denton, TX @ Rubber Gloves
    10/12 Oklahoma City, OK @ Conservatory
    10/13 Lawrence, KS @ Replay Lounge
    10/14 Indianapolis, IN @ Melody Inn
    10/15 Detroit, MI @ Lager House w/ Birthday Suits
    10/17 Minneapolis, MN @ Turf Club w/ Birthday Suits
    10/18 Fargo, ND @ The Aquarium
    10/19 Sioux Falls, SD @ Nutty’s North w/ Birthday Suits
    10/20 Lincoln, NE @ Knickerbockers
    10/21 Denver, CO @ Hi – Dive
    10/22 Salt Lake City, UT @ Burt’s Tiki Lounge
    10/23 Boise, ID @ Neurolux
    10/24 Seattle, WA @ Fun House
    10/25 Portland, OR @ Berbati’s Pan
    10/31 Las Vegas, NV @ Double Down Saloon *
    11/02 Albuquerque, NM @ Atomic Cantina *
    11/03 El Paso, TX @ Low Brow *
    11/05 Dallas, TX @ Double Wide *
    11/06 Austin, TX @ Fun Fun Fun Fest
    11/07 Austin, TX @ Fun Fun Fun Fest
    11/09 Pensacola, FL @ Sluggos *
    11/10 Tampa, FL @ The Orpheum *
    11/11 Sarasota, FL @ Paddy Wagon *
    11/12 Gainesville, FL @ Common Grounds *
    11/13 Atlanta, GA @ The Earl *
    11/14 Chapel Hill, NC @ Local 506 *
    11/16 Charlotte, NC @ Milestone *
    11/17 Washington, DC @ Black Cat
    11/18 Philadelphia, PA @ North Star Bar *
    11/19 Bordentown, NJ @ Record Collector In-Store
    11/20 Cambridge, MA @ Middle East

    * = w/ Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re

    REVIEW: Cynthia Felton’s “Come Sunday: The Music of Duke Ellington”

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic It has been a few years since I last heard from jazz vocalist Cynthia Felton and… wait, let me put a pause on this review for a moment. Anyone who has kept track of my reviews over the years know how vocal jazz tends to be like pulling teeth for me. But when a vocalist comes along to blow me away, I want to hear more and tell everyone about it. On top of that, I think when a good jazz vocalist shows the potential of being great, calling them simply a “jazz vocalist” tends to be limiting. But with that said, I’ll pick up with my review.

    Felton is a vocalist who shows off her talent and skill in choosing quality songs in a tribute album to Duke Ellington called Come Sunday (Felton Entertainment). The songs on this album are true standards, like most of The Duke’s songbook, but it’s great to be able to hear arrangements that are both true to the original spirit and different enough to still keep a grip onto these songs. The new arrangements are a way to help keep Ellington’s music alive and vibrant to a younger generation, so when you hear Felton perform “I’m Beginning To See The Light”, “Perdido”, and “In A Sentimental Mood”, you’re hearing a singer who becomes one with the song, if not become the song, with a voice that is truly incredible.

    Ellington had a way of writing songs where as it came to an end, it didn’t sound like a proper conclusion, but almost as if to say “to be continued”. His music never stopped. Felton, as the album’s producer and arranger, understands this and I believe both Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, and the other composers involved would have smiled and thanked her and everyone involved with the album “very kindly”. Felton is a singer who I’d want to hear all day and night, and even in those mornings when a good song could soothe the nerves. I would love to hear what kind of compositions Felton herself may have in her own songbook, but her vibrant approach in covering jazz legends will keep old and new fans curious as to whom she’ll honor next, and perhaps more importantly keep them wanting to hear more from this fantastic talent.