VIDEO: Zeke Thomas featuring Chuck D & Jasiri X’s “Blackness

If you never thought you’d hear Chuck D. dropping a rhyme over some EDM, prepare to be surprised in this new song by Zeke Thomas. Thomas is the son if legendary basketball player Isiah Thomas and he’s hoping people will pay attention to the lyrics he, Chuck D., and Jasiri X say in “Blackness”.

BOOK’S JOOK: Public Enemy’s “Don’t Believe The Hype”/”Prophets Of Rage”

  • Book’s Jook is a column dedicated to placing a record within my dream jukebox, if I were to have one. The Seeburg jukebox shown below is similar to the one I have wanted since I was a kid. To read more on why I started this column, click here.

     photo PEDBTH_45_zps38888a8e.jpg
    By the time I bought the first single (a 12″) for what would be It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, I had already bought Public Enemy’s Yo! Bum Rush The Show, “You’re Gonna Get Yours”/”Rebel Without A Pause”, the “Bring The Noise split 12” with The Black Flames, and the Less Than Zero soundtrack, which featured the preferred mix of “Bring The Noise”. The 12″ for “Don’t Believe The Hype” was bought awhile before I found the 45 but it was nice to have since hip-hop 45’s are somewhat of an oddity.

    When “Don’t Believe The Hype” was released, that wasn’t even the important song in question, for I originally thought “Prophets Of Rage” was the hit. It goes back to Public Enemy’s motto on how the “B-Side Wins Again”, and it did, for I loved the droning sound that commanded Chuck D.’s verses. I also loved how commanding Chuck sounding in this, complimented with Flavor Flav’s callback and occasional humorous side to it. “Prophets Of Rage” just moved me and I felt if it was as good as “Bring The Noise”, it had to be great. Little did I know how great, powerful, and influential it would be.

    “Don’t Believe The Hype” seemed to move along at a slow pace at first, although i remember when the song title was already becoming a slogan in the spring of 1988. It would take the album for me to appreciate the song but when I did, I loved Chuck’s pace came off deliberate, and how the way he spoke sounded nothing like the other Public Enemy songs he had already done. He didn’t want to sound the same with each effort, part of the story was also how he explained the story itself. The line that hooked me first was “suckers, liars, get me a shovel”, that one allowed me to truly hear everything else he had to say, especially about the “false media”. The line spoke about the mainstream media but would soon affect how hip-hop’s means of communication would turn into a hype machine. It would still be a few years before anyone realized how much the false media persuaded the tastes and marketability of everything.

    Perhaps “Bring The Noise” should have been chosen, as the song holds up incredibly well but if there was a choice between having only one Public Enemy song in a dream jukebox vs. two, I’m definitely going to go for doubles.


  • SOME STUFFS: 9th Annual Afropunk Fest returns in August

     photo AfroPunk2013_poster_zpsae9db50c.jpg
    Look at this, I think the poster/flyer speaks for itself to where I almost don’t have to explain what’s going on. Just look at it and head out there if you can, right? However, I should let you know what’s going on.

    First off, the obligatory introduction as to what Afropunk is:
    AFROPUNK is an influential community of young, gifted people of all backgrounds who speak through music, art, film, comedy, fashion and more. Originating with the 2003 documentary that highlighted a Black presence in the American punk scene, it is a platform for the alternative and experimental. Remaining at the core of its mission are the punk principles of DIY aesthetics, radical thought and social non-conformity. AFROPUNK is a voice for the unwritten, unwelcome and unheard-of.

    The 9th annual Afropunk Fest is bringing together a lot of talent in one place. Headlining will be Chuck D. & DJ Lord of Public Enemy, who will be performing Fear Of A Black Planet in full. Also scheduled to appear include ?uestlove (of The Roots), Saul Williams, The Coup, K-OS, Danny Brown, Jean Grae, Theophilus London, Mykki Blanco, LE1F, and so many more. In fact, more artists are being pulled in for the Afropunk Fest as you read this. Everyone will be gathering at Commodore Barry Park in Brooklyn on August 24-25th, so if you want to consider this one of your end-of-summer events, this would be a great way to celebrate the season. For updates and more information on the festival, head to

    DUST IT OFF: Public Enemy’s “It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back”…25 Years Later

    My introduction to Public Enemy came through the Less Than Zero soundtrack, released on November 6, 1987. I was a fan of rap music, but I was also a headbanger, saluting the almighty power of heavy metal. The soundtrack was promoted as featuring tracks by Aerosmith, Danzig, Poison, and Slayer, and it was the latter’s cover of Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” that made me want to buy it so I could play it on the high school radio station I was a DJ for. The format of the radio station was hard rock/heavy metal, along with classic rock. I’d play the songs by Aerosmith, Poison, and Slayer, and enjoyed doing so, being the only station in the area that played these songs.

    Then I decided to flip the record over to side 2.

    I had never heard of anything quite like “Bring The Noise”, the horns coming down like elephants running on a field, followed by a loud “YEAH BOYYEEE!” and a deep tone voice that said “BASS!” WHOA, what is this? I loved the force of the vocals, and I absolutely fell in love with the multi-layered sounds. Up until that point, a rap song had one primary sample and a scratch, maybe two primary samples but no more. This song felt like entering a vulgar room where everyone seemed to be speaking at once, or at least Chuck D.’s voice, Flavor Flav’s quick spits, and the samples going on all at once felt too much to take, but I wanted to take it. This lead to Flav feeling exactly what I was feeling when he said “I don’t understand what they’re saying
    but little do they know they can get a smack for that, man” and out came Chuck saying “never badder than dad cause the brother is madder than mad at the fact that’s corrupt as a senator”. HOLY SHIT! The wicked drums (courtesy James Brown’s “Funky Drummer”) pounded out doubles, and out came “soul on a roll, but you treat it like soap on a rope ’cause the beats in the lines are so dope”. Did I understand what he was saying at the time? Absolutely not, it would take months before I could figure it out, but what I also loved was that Chuck D. did each of the verses different from one another, the flows were not the same. The rhythmic patterns seemed complex, or at least hard to grasp upon first listen.

    Then it came to the third verse, and I about freaked out when someone in rap had mentioned Sonny Bono and Yoko Ono. As someone who always admired the underdog, it seemed Chuck D. was putting himself amongst these two underdogs. Not mentioning Cher, not mentioning John Lennon, but going for other. I loved it. I caught the references to Eric B. and LL, but then came the great line “wax is for Anthrax”. Hold up. HOLD THE FUCK UP. Did Flavor Flav just give a shout out to Anthrax, and did Chuck D. just say that they also could rock the bells. I loved Metallica, but I LOVED Anthrax and I know I put the needle back to make sure I heard things correctly. From that point on, I realized that this was a group that could do this, like Brutus, because they themselves always knew this. I must have played “Bring The Noise” over and over for a solid hour, and from that point on I avoided playing the rest of the album.

  • When Spin magazine wrote a year-end rap up, one of the reviews touched on some new released on Def Jam. One of them was Original Concept’s Straight From The Basement Of Kooley High. The other was Public Enemy’s Yo! Bum Rush The Show. I was a Def Jam devotee, so I was freaked out when I learned Public Enemy had an album out. I bought both, loved both. When I first heard the “get down” in “Miuzi Weighs A Ton”, I initially thought it was a Joe Walsh/James Gang sample. I found out it was Flavor Flav, but I learned that later. I later read an article about the 12″ for “You’re Gonna Get Yours”, which people were buying because of its B-side, “Rebel Without A Pause”. I eventually found a copy of that, and I loved the song immediately. I loved the loop and how it seemed to keep on going and going and going, almost felt endless. It was meditative, it was mind blowing, it was mind numbing. When the scratches kicked in, it was heaven.
  • In March 1988, I had heard about the group releasing a new single off of their forthcoming album, but the way I interpreted the review, “Prophets Of Rage” was the A-side. When I bought the 12″ at Eli’s, I played and listened to it as such, and always played “Don’t Believe The Hype” as a bit of a sloppy B-side. (It wasn’t until later in 1988 that I learned the song was the A-side, after reading how the song was used as introduction for athletes.) I was two months away from ending my senior year in high school when I decided to play one of these songs on the radio station I was on. Keep in mind that it was a hard rock/heavy metal station, so the only way I could play it was on April Fool’s Day, as a “joke”. However, I had a different motive. When I played a rap song on the radio, it was never as a laugh, it was a way to play the music I also loved, to perhaps turn on fans to this group that I had only known from “Bring The Noise”, “Rebel Without A Pause”, and their first album. I’m glad to say that I may have been the first person to play “Prophets Of Rage” on a radio station in eastern Washington state.

    Even if “Prophets Of Rage” and “Don’t Believe The Hype” were mere cues of what was to come, nothing could have ever prepared me for the reality of what would be.

    Public Enemy (1) photo PE2a_cover_zps0bc1160f.jpg

  • I bought my copy of It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back on the week of the release date. My version of the cover was the yellow B-boy target with red outline and a green line between the words PUBLIC and ENEMY. Two men in a jail cell, looking bad ass, not afraid, always confident. The back cover featured a photo of Chuck, Flav, DJ Terminator X, Professor Griff and the S1W’s standing in a jail cell while stepping on the American flag. I enjoyed the social politics that John Lennon touched on in his music and life, and while I was far from an activist, I liked knowing about what some musicians would do to speak out on things that mattered to them, and things they were against. That photo was surrounded by shots of screenshots taken from a surveillance camera. This seemed serious, and it was time that I put the record on my turntable.

    Still, I was not ready.

    “Hammersmith Odeon, are you ready for the Def Jam tour, let me hear you make some noise!
    In concert for BBC Television tonight and the fresh start of the week, let me hear you make some noise for PUBLIC ENEMY!

    The crowd goes nuts, and then it happens. The siren.


    Then “Yo! Bum Rush The Show” from the first album starts, followed by Griff yelling out “alright, let’s make some fuckin’ noise! C’mon, let’s break this shit out and get busy!” before it fades. I still wasn’t ready.

    Malcolm X is then heard talking about how when it’s “too black”, it means it’s “too strong”. It is played a second time, slightly louder. Then “Bring The Noise” comes in. It’s the first full song on the album, and it hits things off beautifully. I know this song, and yet it fits perfectly as the starting point on this journey. I was slightly comfortable, but barely. This would lead to “Don’t Believe The Hype” and as an album cut, it fit quite nicely too. Chuck D. and Flavor Flav’s flows were quite nice bouncing back and forth when needed. This felt like a track of information, where one was able to listen to one page of their agenda, their manifesto. It was their way of saying that whatever you ear, don’t believe the bullshit, or cut through it and discover the facts for yourself. The one line from the song that remains very strong in my mind is “suckers, liars, get me a shovel”, and I’ll spring that out at any given them when necessary.

    The next track was a fun track, the first solo song by Flavor Flav, and after getting bombarded with serious information, it was time to get down and funky for a few minutes as he drops
    “live lyrics from the bank of reality
    I kick the flyest dope maneuver technicality
    To a dope track, you wanna hike get out your backpack
    Get out the wack sack
    I’m in my Flavmobile cole lampin
    I took this G upstate go campin’
    To the Poconos, we call the hideaways
    A pack of franks and a big bag of Frito-Lays”

    Did it matter what he was saying, and that he just seemed to be rattling off shit like crazy? No, but did it sound good? As the samples in the song said clearly, “YEAH!” This song was the first to truly establish Flavor Flav’s steez, and everyone fell in love with what William Drayton was all about.

    “Terminator X To The Edge” of panic was not the first song to present their DJ in music, but it was the first song where he was mentioned in the song title, and with a sample that was merely the sample source of “Rebel Without A Pause” flipped backwards, it just seemed that Public Enemy were wanting to pull in people into their world, in whatever way worked. “Who gives a fuck about a goddamn Grammy?” was a line that stood out like a pitchfork into the skull, pretty much stating that one does not need an award to achieve a level of success, or to complete a mission that involves making a statement.

    “Mind Terrorist” might seem like a minor interlude, but it seemed to present It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back as a concert performance, and this was a brief intermission before the next movement.

    “Louder Than A Bomb” opened up with a Kool & The Gang sample before Flav spoke on how Public Enemy are from hell, and if someone ever said he and the group would celebrate the 4th of July, it is very much a “worldwide lie”. Some of Chuck D.’s lyrics in this, including about his phone being tapped, pave the way for the next song, but until that is heard, Chuck is about telling the untold stories once and for all, and his messages are going to be offensively loud.

    The first Side ends with the incredible “Caught, Can We Get A Witness”, where Chuck talks about stealing a beat in the name of sampling, and how people are after people like him for taking music to create another song. 25 years later, hearing Flav talk about how no one can copyright beats seems a few world’s away, and yet this was the start of the industry and lawyers looking at the value of rap music not for its lyrics or messages, but as a means of violating copyright. By the end of Side 1, Public Enemy have accumulated enough ammunition for a battle, but again, I was not ready.

  • Side 2 begins with another interlude, “Show ‘Em Whatcha Got”, which may be a way to re-introduce the listener to the program that is the album, but for listeners to come back from intermission, to let everyone know that with every side, there is a flip side, the B-side.

    I loved when I first heard “She Watch Channel Zero?!”, as it starts with Flav’s message to his lady about watching garbage on television. Then the music begins and it’s a sample of Slayer’s “Angel Of Death”, flipping the original meaning of the song and showing that TV’s perceived angelic ways could slowly lead to a mental death. Kerry King’s and Jeff Hanneman’s guitar riffs, mixed in with the repetitious “she watch” looped vocal sample, was one way of entering the lure of the boob tube and trying to get out before one is fully trapped by the ways of the cathode ray. Everything about this song is excellent, a solid piece of genius where the music is a drone duplicating the ugliness of TV. Flav has a simple solution: “read a book or something, read about yourself, learn your culture.”

    “Night Of The Living Baseheads” touches on the evils of drugs, specifically the crack epidemic that was pulling in a lot of people in the mid to late 1980’s, specifically the black community in the inner cities of the United States and England. While it did reach the higher levels of corporate America, crack was hurting millions of people because this new cheap means of a high was pulling people down below the doldrums. The entire song is structured as a dialogue from the introduction of crack to its destruction, complete with Chuck D’s “how low can you go?” sample being scratched all over the place before Chuck himself answers his own question by looking at the faces of crack’s downfall.

    “Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos” is one of the highlights of the album, where Chuck finds himself in prison because the government wanted him to join the U.S. Army, and he refused to enroll. Upon finding himself homeless in prison, he comes up with a plan to escape beyond the wall. It features metaphors that include the Underground Railroad, but one could also say that the United States itself is a prison and one must escape its ways in order to find a home and some sense of sanity. With each verse, Chuck covers his plan by step-by-step, bringing the listener in as if they are at one with he and the the “53 brothers on the run”. The moment when Chuck D. says “and we are gone” and Flav is cheering with passion, it’s easily one of the boldest statements ever made in hip-hop, because like the Native American in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen in “Deacon Blues”, “this brother is free” and we’re all in support of someone obtaining the freedom many die trying to grasp.

    “Security of the First World” is another interlude, a temporary intermission that allows the group and listener to regroup after the blast of “Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos”, only to pave the way for the album’s three song finale.

    “Rebel Without A Pause” comes out of hiding from its presence as a non-LP B-side to becoming a solid album track, also adding to the pieces of the It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back puzzle. The bass is deafening, the saxophone is numbing, and the power of James Brown (and JB-related) samples is causing a mean ripple effect that is like you looking at yourself in a mirror looking at yourself, looking at yourself looking at yourself until its infinity is too much to bare. When Chuck D. says “we’re on a mission, y’all”, we then realize that we the listener are being exposed to the blueprint, and we’re close to finding where all of this will lead.

    “Prophets Of Rage” turns the corner, and every emotion that was built with “Rebel Without A Pause” continues with a revelation of who and what these songs are for:
    With vice, I hold the mic device
    With force I keep it away, of course
    And I’m keeping you from sleeping
    And on the stagem, I rage and I’m rolling
    To the poor, I pour in on in metaphors
    Not bluffing, it’s nothing that we ain’t did before
    We played, you stayed, the points made
    You consider it done by the prophets of rage

    Flav then tells Griff and the S1W’s to proceed with the completion of the mission by adjusting their coordinates, leading to the eventual proclamation of the master plan.

    “Party For Your Right To Fight” ends the album by revealing the master plan, the manifesto, the moral of the story. While hip-hop music may have originated as a party vibe, they turn the Beastie Boys’ “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)” and turns it into something much more serious than just drinking and getting wasted for the hell of it. In the mind of Public Enemy, one should use their minds to turn the world into a better place for themselves and all. Both Chuck and Flav rap the entire song together, both rapping in their own styles and Flav dropping in a few ad-libs along the way. By combining Sly & The Family Stone, Bobby Byrd, and Bob Marley in the mix, they mention the origins of their commitment to the rights of themselves, and in turn, all. It is the third and final verse where Chuck and Flav mention what they are fighting for:

    To those that disagree, it causes static
    For the original Black Asiatic man
    Cream of the earth and was here first
    And some devils prevent this from being known
    But you check out the books they own
    Even masons they know it but refuse to show it, yo
    But it’s proven and fact
    It takes a nation of millions to hold us back

    It’s about fighting for recognition, for honor, for respect, for everything that someone else doesn’t want to provide, or will take away, from the other. If no one fights, the presence of a people and consciousness will disappear, or be re-interpreted by someone else, or perhaps completely disappear from existence.

  • While I am not of African descent, I also listened to this album as a way to describe what it means to be Hawaiian. I looked myself as someone who now represents less than 0.2 percent of the world’s population, and while I am not a full-blooded Hawaiian, I like to think i remain an element of the land I came from and the people who made me who I am today. While my views may be different from those who are back home, I remain someone who wishes to be recognized for who I am and for what I do before I and my people no longer have a chance.

    I wore a Public Enemy T-shirt during high school, and when catching the bus home, I was asked by the driver “so, you’re a public enemy?” I said, “yes, I am”. She gave me a small smile and I sat down. I was the only kid in my high school with that P.E. shirt, and I was looked at by everyone. No one understood me or where I was coming from, so in a very small way, I did feel like a public enemy, or at least an outcast. As a 17-year old high school student angry at the world, angry at my situation and fighting for a way to want and demand more, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back was an album that showed that one can’t sit around and allow the world to pass you by. Sometimes we get stuck on a dead end street, but it’s never late to fight, even if that fight feels like a one-man battle. Throughout life, one learns that those fights are sometimes not good when done alone. Whether it’s a million, or ten-thousand, one hundred, or five, nothing can hold us back but ourselves. Whether it’s for Africa, for Jamaica, for Japan, for Germany, for Thailand, for Brazil, for Argentina, or for field workers throughout California, that “nation” once talked about by Chuck D. and Flavor Flav is very much a worldwide thing, a Marley style “one love” if we allow it to be. The fight discussed throughout the album may not have been my own, but I felt I could appreciate it as one that was very similar to mine. It was with this album that I learned about people that were not discussed during high school, including Louis Farrakhan and Assata Shakur, so to have these references flying out in lyric form was like hearing audio sidebars, so that I could remember them for future use.

    25 years later, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back remains my favorite hip-hop album of all time because of its message, its musicality, its strength and power, and its inclusion into music creativity. For some of us, getting that late pass mentioned by Professor Griff was a passage way towards a door which lead to another message: “you want to know more, or keep your head in the ground?” There have been a number of hip-hop albums that have followed in the spirit of, but none will match the aftershocks that came after the siren made itself known on this record. It will forever be a benchmark, an album that should always be discussed as an important document in hip-hop.

    Public Enemy (2) photo PE2b_cover_zps4546475f.jpg

  • VIDEO: Public Enemy’s “I Shall Not Be Moved”

    About 40 years ago, music like this would’ve been called a “revolutionary sureshot”. 25 years ago was when I first heard of Public Enemy in a “Best Of” review in Spin magazine. They had given Yo! Bum Rush The Show a favorable review along with the first and only album from Original Concept, but I believe the first P.E. sogn I ever heard was “Bring The Noise” from the Less Than Zero soundtrack. The song was incredibly hectic, and as a headbanger, they gave a shout out to Anthrax. Not only that, but Chuck D. gave shout outs to Sonny Bono AND Yoko Ono. In other words, he was showing respect to perceived “freaks of the industry”, those that people neglected because what Public Enemy were doing (and were about to do) was freakish in its own way. They were at one with those who also made noise.

    25 years after I first heard them, and after many world tours later, Public Enemy are still very much with us, and this is brand new for 2012. 34 years ago, George Clinton said in song “we shall all be moved” but times have changed. Not everyone wants to be under a groove, or even under the power of one nation, even if that means a sense of community. Perhaps there needs to be some sense of unification. It exists, but maybe the reason it doesn’t exist in a greater manner can be heard in “I Shall Not Be Moved”. As the video will show you, the spirit of music “from the rebel, it’s final on black vinyl” still lives on.

    The song is taken from P.E.’s brand new album, Most of My Heroes Still Don’t Appear On No Stamp, which was released today (July 13th). No Amazon link for it yey, but you may order it from iTunes.

    SOME STUFFS: Artists take part to present their art to the public

    You probably recognize some of the faces above, and by doing so you know their artistic endeavors when it comes to music, but you may not be aware that they also do other forms of art as well. Come Together is a forthcoming “collaborative art” exhibit where people known for their illustrations, photography, and paintings are working with musicians, MC’s, DJ’s, and producers to create revisions of the familiar.

    Some of the people involved include Chuck D. of Public Enemy, guitarist George Lynch of Dokken/Lynch Mob/Souls Of We, Angelo Moore of Fishbone, The RZA of Wu-Tang Clan/Gravediggaz, bassist Bootsy Collins (P-Funk empire), drummer Matt Sorum (Guns N’ Roses/Velvet Revolver), turntablist DJ-Q-Bert, bassist Shavo Odadjian (System Of A Down), and many more. Some of them are explorations of each musician or songs that they’ve done, while others are relevant to what they may have talked about in their music before, but may be more valid today. Art of art from art, for art.

    These pieces are being presented at the Andrew Weiss Gallery in Beverly Hills (179 S. Beverly Dr., 310-246-9333) from Tuesday to Saturday from 11am to 5pm, and will continue until November 1st. To find out more about the Come Together exhibit, head to

    The art pieces will be compiled into a book to be published in the fall by Addition Iconics.

    RECORD CRACK: New vinyl-related documentary film called “To Have & To Hold”

    For some, it is truly nothing more than a deep love of music. If you’ve seen the Vinyl documentary, it’s behind the fetishism that Frank Zappa once mocked. A forthcoming documentary film by Jony Lyle attempts to seek a balance between the two without making anyone look like they need some vitamin B-12. To Have & To Hold may sound like matrimony, but for many record collectors and cratediggers, the passion to seek and find those audio gems is almost like a marriage, but without the body oils (and what you do with the body oils you do find is none of my business.)

    Some of the people featured in this include ?uestlove of The Roots, Chuck D. of Public Enemy, record experimentalist Christian Marclay, avid shoe archivist Bobbito Garcia and many others.

    The film is being promoted as being “a musicmentary to celebrate the age of vinyl records”, not only as entertainment, but to archive history that becomes more distant as time goes on. It becomes less about the physical item and more about the preservation of a memory, and some of the best audio memories are contained on those black circles packaged in cardboard.

    To Have & To Hold is still in production, so no word on when it will premiere. As soon as I know, I’ll pass it along.

    The Run-Off Groove #232

    Welcome to The Run-Off Groove #232. I am John Book, welcome.

    This column is about music reviews, along with music-related books, DVD’s, etc. Each review will usually be followed by a graphic, when upon clicking you can make a purchase:
    (for compact disc)
    (for MP3’s)

    The point of this is to make readers aware of some of the good music out there, music I hope to be able to pass along to you. With that said, all MP3’s here are “legal”, which means they are being passed on to you with permission from the artist and/or publicity firm. All of you that are tech savvy should know where to get all the free music anyway, but please make a purchase whenever possible, whether it’s from your favorite store or in many instances from the artist themselves. If your tax return is coming in, get to those bills first and foremost, but with a bit of extra change buy a few albums.

    Also please consider clicking some of the links under the “Music and more” category to the right, which will help keep this website afloat.

    Now, the column.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Braille is back with a brand new album and for this one he’s teaming up with producer Symbolyc One. The end result is easily one of the best albums I’ve heard this year, and while I understand the year is only three months in, I will safely say this has become an album that will be in my Best Of 2009 list, and it’s all due to one song.

    First off, the album. Cloud Nineteen (Hiphopismusic) is a progression of what Braille has done over the years, and the guy gets better and stronger with each release. Why this man is not getting as much press as someone like Jay-Z or 50 Cent, I don’t know. People want to believe in the street chemists, I understand that, but here is someone who is putting some good into music and yet he doesn’t bombard you with it. Braille is a Christian rapper and it seems to think that by saying that, there’s still a risk of fitting him into any kind of cliche you may have in your mind. Get rid of it. Also forget the fact that he’s a white MC, look at the photos and cover shots and that’s obvious, but what may not be obvious to newbies is how good he raps and writes. In “That’s My World” he talks about the negative elements in the world and in the music industry, claiming that despite all the downfalls, he hasn’t lost his passion. As he shows in “Skepticold” and “Fill It In” he’s not afraid to attack the mic with a vengeance. “Hardrock” has him talking about the hip-hop he grew up listening to while struggling to get his music into the hands and ears of everyone, over a funky groove with a bit of piano and distant hold samples. Symbolyc One has all of the grooves and beats in his pockets, he knows exactly how to cater to Braille’s every vocal move and to enhance him, just as Braille does to S1. Even if the beat is familiar and well-worn, he uses it in a way that makes you just want to nod your head in approval.

    But if there is one song that I feel defines this album and Braille as an MC, it’s the track “It’s Nineteen”. The idea is that we as humans look towards feeling a good and reaching a metaphorical cloud 9, but if one wishes to go higher, maybe it’s cloud nineteen that will be more joyful. What hooked me immediately was the Southside Movement break, S1 sold me immediately with that right there. Then Braille drops his brand of knowledge:

    Ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters
    Jews and gentiles, welcome to the picture
    Mr. Braille is on the microphone and this is not a movie
    But the poetry in motion will relax you like jacuzzi’s
    Leave you uzis and hand grenades at home
    The war is over, but we still haven’t recovered from the storm
    Return to the normality but it’s hard when the
    Formality was formally malice and greed
    What makes the world go ’round, it’s rhetorical
    But look at the historical data of human nature
    It’s easy to wager on what’s minor and what’s major
    Instead of feeding the poor, we buy another acre of land
    Fighting over money, women, and pride
    It’s a war going on, and it’s happening inside of our hearts
    We get tired of the daily grind
    We want to escape and find that place called cloud nine

    Cloud nine… leave all your worries behind

    Incredible way to open a song, but then it gets into one of the more deepest things I’ve heard in a hip-hop song in quite some time, and it happens in the the first line in the chorus:

    In my meditation, I saw a manifestation of elevation

    It’s a lyric that is life reaffirming, something that people will seek and make their own mantra, regardless of how you interpret it. For me, it’s getting out of that daily grind to find some sense of inner peace, in order to find something better than what exists, to look towards a much more optimistic experience, to 1-Up yourself. For Braille, it may signify that, as he says with vocalist Ragen Fykes, there is a place much higher, and everything that matters is provided there. It could suggest that you put value in what you have now, and if there is something better, we may never be able to experience it unless we look at the world and ourselves in a more positive light. A lot of times hip-hop is either about “me” or an exclusive “we” but it seems like it’s a more universal “all” and regardless of your belief system, you will find a way to look at the line above and make it mean something to you. In other words, it’s deep and it hit me, combine that with the great background vocals from Fykes and the beat from Symbolyc One and if there is a better song than “It’s Nineteen” in 2009, show it to me. It’s a song that could have easily ended the album too, but the fact that he starts it at a high level was perhaps his intention. The fact that it doesn’t dip into the nether regions right after is a true testament to their talents and skills as an MC and producer (I believe I read somewhere that while Braille is more than capable of producing his own tracks, he was able to have a bit more freedom when he had S1 handle the entire album).

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Panacea have come out with a new album, but the music is not exactly new.

    The Re Route (Glow Like This) is a remixed version of their Scenic Route album and if you liked that, you will definitely enjoy this new interpretation. The vibe in the remixes seems to be “let’s flip flop between party cuts and traditional hip-hop”, but that’s due to the people doing the interpretation. It’s a nice way to mix it up, and for some it may make these songs better than the originals (if that’s possible).

    I like Panacea a lot, along with the people doing the remixes, but I would almost prefer an EP of new material over something like this. It’s not bad at all, but that would be my preference.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Regenerated Headpiece are back with a new one, and if they were comfortable with playing the fool before, there seems to be a concentrated effort to come off as less foolish. I think some may have overshadowed their serious tracks with the humor they shared, and now they’re twisting their formula a bit with The New Animal (Headsnack).

    There’s still a geek factor in what they do, with loads of obscure reference that will make any Dennis Miller fan smile from ear to ear, but Sir Menelik this isn’t, it’s more about being purposely complex while making things easy to take in. Tracks like “Sandwiches”, “Mechanical Bull”, and “The Keynote Address” show this perfectly, while “Everybody Come On” is them teaching respect by telling people they need to offer it to get it.

    I like the tone of this, although I miss the big amount of humor they shared the last time. If this is meant to represent grow, I’m all for it.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Upon looking at the cover for La Tanya Hall‘s It’s About Time (Bridge), I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I expected it to be soul, and while one should never judge from the cover alone, I guess my expectations where that of someone with a silky tone. Instead, Hall is a jazz vocalist whose voice is rich in tone and tradition. The album is her debut, even though she and her voice are known throughout New York City.

    It’s hard to believe this is her debut album, as it’s filled with the kind of singing one would expect from someone twice her age. One can only imagine what she will sound like in twenty years, as she covers a wide range of standards here, including “It’s All Right With Me”, “Summertime”, “The Nearness Of You”, “You Don’t Know What Love Is”, and “Skylark”.

    It may be vocal jazz but she’s not just another random jazz singer, no dentist jazz here. She has the kind of talent that will give you chicken skin, and her vocal stylings are superb. Job well done.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Mendi + Keith Obadike feel that we have moved far from spoken word. Simply put, American speech documented on record, CD and now in digital form, has documented people and time, and was was mere talk on a record has become a multi-billion dollar industry through rap music. Whether it’s with sound, improvisational experimentation, or over a rhythm, it shows the link between them all and on Crosstalk (Bridge) you get a chance to hear the chain link of dialogue, a steady stream of spoken consciousness.

    The album features everything from experimental/avant-garde to jazz, funk, and even a small bit of hip-hop flavor (but not in the most obvious way). Vijay Iyer teams up with Mike Ladd for “Redemption Chant 2.0” for the kind of underwater track Ladd is known for (would have been perfect as a collaboration with Sole of Anticon), while “Being Black” by DJ Spooky and Ursula Rucker is way too brief. This is a lady who gave her all in the incredicle “Circe” and here she’s limited to a song that’s a few seconds over a minute. What’s also incredible is Pamela Z‘s “Declaratives In First Person”, where her voice is altered digitally in as many ways as possible, stating that if an artist is silent, it is usually the art in question that becomes the only necessary statement to make.

    There are many statements throughout Crosstalk, be it political, social, or otherwise. The “crosstalk” can be an exchange of ideas or simply expressing them to the listener so perhaps (s)he will continue it with others. The dialogue is one that will pull you in, whether it’s for you to expand on it, or within it. A very compelling album that I wish would get more attention than it will.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic There are many stories like the one found on a new compilation released by The Numero Group, called Local Customs: Downriver Revival. In this case it’s the story of Felton Williams, a man outside of Detroit who didn’t want to copy the Motown sound at all. Instead he wanted to create his own legacy, and did so by combining his love of music with recording and electronics. Williams created Double U Sound (the “double U” referring to the first letter of his last name) and it was indepedent from top to bottom. He recorded anyone who wanted a record, he didn’t have any musical guidelines. If it was gospel, he would find the best singers and bands. If it was someone who wanted to make sweet soul music, they would end up using his services. If someone wanted to break down with the funk, Williams was going to make sure every groove was captured on tape.

    Local Customs: Downriver Revival is one story out of hundreds, if not thousands of young entrepreneurs who wanted to make and break it into the music business by being self contained. No one on this CD became a success, but what you do hear is a unique blend of musicians and singers united in the hopes of either becoming famous, or sharing their spirituality with anyone who was willing to listen. The album begins on a heavy gospel note to where you almost feel as if you’ve entered a Sunday service. Sometimes the vocals may be a bit off or the band not as tight as they could have been, maybe it was recording studio jitters, but they all eventually get it down. Things get interesting with track 7 and an “Untitled Jam” courtesy of Bobby Cook & The Explosions. This would have been one of those 45’s that Egon or Dante Carfagna dug up while on a hunting excursion, only for one of them to track down the source. Then you have an alternate take of “Foot Stomping” by The Organics that is so tight, it should have been a hot sample 18 years ago. The album goes in and out of different styles, and one doesn’t know whether to be impressed by the gospel recordings or just letting loose with the soul and funk. Williams, who often played on the recordings if asked, was more than capable of doing what the big city studio producers and engineered did, and this album looks at what could have been had there been someone to put him up to Detroit. Instead, it’s a solid document of a music scene outside of Detroit that doesn’t quite fit the Northern Soul tag, but should be praised just as much.

    The CD comes with a DVD that I hopefully more labels will embrace, something that should have been done ten years ago. The DVD features a great 30 minute documentary film on Double U Sound and features a recent interview with Felton Williams, who still has much of the equipment he used in the 60’s and 70’s, along with various singers and musicians who are still living in or near Ecorse, Michigan. If that wasn’t enough, the DVD also features an interactive tape library:
    Image and video hosting by TinyPic

    The liner notes in the CD booklet features loads of scans of tape boxes that The Numero Group know we vinyl junkies eat up, but this time you’re now able to hear the material that lurk on those tapes, music that wasn’t used for the regular CD. We’re talking alternate takes, outtakes, run throughs, and forgotten moments on tape that bring you closer to the music and what Williams was trying to do with his studio and labels. The time and research done to put this together is what I’ve wanted to do my entire life, and to see this happen this way is mindblowing. People praise Stones Throw like crazy, and rightfully so, but The Numero Group have gone beyond what they and anyone has ever done. This is how compilations should be done.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic What does Me Not Me (The Royal Potato Family) mean? For jazz musician Marco Benevento, it could mean that this album is a challenge for himself to do the kind of music that he’s always wanted to do but never tried. Granted, Benevento has never stayed in any particular place for too long, and on Me Not Me he takes his music on an electronic field trip, and it comes off a bit like what happened when Medeski, Martin & Wood did The Dropper. People liked what MMW did, but then they went deeper into the ugliness. That’s not saying this album is ugly, but if you are a Benevento fan who enjoys his work and the exploration of it, this is a holiday feast.

    “Golden” sounds like it was hip-hop, funk, and electronic influenced, but it could easily come from the streets of Brazil with its slightly distorted bossa nova feel, and if it wasn’t for the loops, one might hear this as new age. “Now They’re Writing Music” sounds like Benevento decided to get into a bit of bent circuitry as it sounds like he’s taking a bunch of children’s toys, finding the right bleeps and bloops, and make it into a low-tech symphony, or the kind of sounds you’d expect to hear in a video game room circa 1982 with the bootleg Piranha and Moon Cresta games. “Mephisto” briefly wipes the cathodes away to play something with an earthy, bluesy feel, and for some reason it reminds me of Robert Lamm‘s playing, I’m not sure why. The intro to “Heartbeats” is something that would also sound perfect on a Bjork, right before the guitars and crunchy drums kick in and switches direction. Even with the many different colors and shades here, it still sounds like Benevento, and perhaps that’s the one constant thing that runs through the album, you still hear the identity within the shuffle.

    It’s an album that doesn’t want to stay in one place, it’s too eager to look for something new, and that’s what Benevento does, takes his musical suitcase and goes around hoping to find a new place to sit for awhile. It may be him not him, but it’s still very much him.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic John Valentine has been recording, performing, and teaching music for years, and plays a wide range of instrumentsl. For his new album Uke ‘N’ Surf 1 (Self released), he decided to be inspired by the beach and play the kind of music one would expect to hear there.

    The music is very playful yet serene, and while some of the terms may be unknown outside of the surfing community (i.e. “Made The Drop”, “Goin’ To Eat It”, “Pull Inside Deep”, “Barreling”, and “Clean Tube Ride”), what you will hear is a musician who plays the ‘ukulele as you’ve never heard it before. Even if you grew up with Don Baduria, Herb Ohta, or more recently Jake Shimabukuro, you’re going to hear the kind of virtuosity that is his own. It’s music that’s laid back enough to be heard on planes, The Weather Channel, or the radio, as well as on some of the latest surf DVD’s. He has the same kind of flash in his style as Peter Moon does, and for Valentine he simply loves to play and it shows.

    Israel Kamakawiwo’oloe woke the world up again to Hawaiian music and the ‘ukulele. Unfortunately, every other television commercials tries to lure people in with someone playing an ‘ukulele, and there’s one running right now where the strumming is completely hemajang. Pick up Uke ‘N’ Surf 1 and hear one of many ways to play the ‘ukulele properly.

  • That’s it for this week’s Run-Off Groove. If you have any new music, DVD’s, books, or hot sauce, please contact me through my MySpace page and I’ll pass along my contact address. In the past I have generally frowned over receiving digital files, but I will accept them on a case by case basis. I still prefer hard copy as I want to hear the quality of the recording (which is important to me), but digital files are fine.
  • I apologize for the delay between the last column and this one, it has been somewhat busy but I made it through. Coming soon I’ll have reviews for new music by Quite Nyce & Raydar Ellis, Bill Wimmer, Eyran Katsenelenbogen, DJ Myxzlplix, The Wright Family, Steve Haines Quintet with Jimmy Cobb, Wand, Pomegranates, Joe Budden, Bob Albanese Trio with Ira Sullivan, Phil Woods, Jeniferever, Bob Rodriguez, Steve Elson, Illogic, Beth McDonaldBlue Sky 5 + 2, FrameworkBipolar, Youth Group, Leela James, Radam Schwartz, Seamus lake Quartet, Toubab Krewe, Danny Calvalho, Roger Davidson & Raul Jaurena, Dan Adler, Bethany Smith Staelens, Bill Horvitz & Robin Eschner, Sleeper, Dave Siebels, Kinetic Stereokids, Mary Jenson, Nebz Supreme, and perhaps even more.
  • Thank you, and come back next week for #233.