ASK SOUL SIDES

In an effort to improve our site’s interactivity…

Ask…anything you’ve ever wanted to know about [music, records, writing, finding ramen, etc.] but were afraid to.

ANSWERS AFTER THE JUMP…

Q: “I’d like to know where you guys learned what all of the different musical genres and terms mean.”

A: Genres are tricky things. Some of them evolve “organically” out of cultural communities in which they were invented – hip-hop or soul for example. But certainly marketing plays a big role in this too: genres are useful to radio stations and record stores and record labels and so they have an investment in perpetuating genres that are neither organic nor make any sense: see “world music.”

But as to where one learns it – certainly, if you read music magazines or books, that’s one place to pick up a basic vocabulary for different genres. My point above is just to take them with a grain of salt – genres are always subjective categories, open to interpretation and contestation.

Q: “How do you go about reviewing music? What sort of process do you go through up until you review it?”

A: I’m not sure I completely understand the question but I’ll take a stab: I don’t know if I have a standard way of reviewing a record – a lot of it depends on who I’m writing it for, how much space I have to work with, etc. I’ll say this much though: even though I try to listen to a record several times before I write a review, first impressions matter a great deal because it’s usually on that first listen that I begin to form different angles – or even single sentences – that I want to write and that gives me the seeds to build a review from. It’s not that I’m wed to sticking to those initial ideas but I think there’s a natural inclination to letting your most powerful reactions guide you. I’m not like Pauline Kael – who would review movies after seeing them once and only ever once – but definitely, that first impression matters, for better or for worse.

Q: “do you (o-dub) have a desert island top 5 albums?? or does it change from month to month?”

A: As you can see on the right, I’ve started a basic “Top 5” for songs and albums. That’d be my rotating “desert island 5” though the fact that it’s rotating defeats the whole concept of a desert island disc to begin with.

The thing is, there’s a difference between “5 albums I think everyone should have” vs “5 albums I’d want to listen to for the rest of my life.” I don’t know if I could ever definitively commit to a playlist like the latter because, on any given day, I might favor one artist – or even genre – or another. A desert island list would be meaningless in the face of that subjectivity.

Q: “what would be the 5 albums you’d recommend?”

A: Aretha Franklin: I Never Loved a Man
Al Green: I’m Still In Love With You
Public Enemy: It Takes a Nation of Millions
Duke Ellington and John Coltrane: S/T
The Beatles: White Album

Set in stone? No.
Liable to go wrong? No.

Q: “How does the wider grooves of a 12″ translate into higher quality sound?”

A: I’m not a sound engineer so I might have this wrong but I’ll take an amateur’s stab. A stylus picks up audio information encoded in a record groove. The wider the groove, the more information that can be encoded and (I think), the more dynamic the sound range. At the very least, a wider groove = a louder record which is partially why 7″ and 12″ singles play considerably louder than a 12″ LP.

That said, a wider groove does not constitute “higher quality sound” – that’s dependent on the recording process rather than the cutting process. It’s perfectly possible to have a wide groove and crappy sound.

Q: “which is your favourite year in music? how do you rate current state of things?”

A: I’ll work backwards – I don’t know how quiet to rate the current state of things. If I think, for example, that music has gone to hell in a hand basket but music’s still as popular as it ever has been in society; maybe it’s not music that’s changed, maybe it’s me. It’s only natural that as times change, you’re less and less likely to stay attached/connected to it because most likely, your tastes won’t have changed as dramatically.

As for my favorite year, I don’t have an answer for that; I don’t think of music in such a specific way. I like the late ’60s. I was heavily influenced by popular music in the early ’90s but also in the mid-1980s. But it’s not like I go around thinking, “damn, I wish I could relive 1993 again!” If I had a favorite era, no doubt, it’d be the second half of the 1960s. I can’t say I’m nostalgic for it (since I wasn’t born yet) but if I had a time machine…

Q: “What really happened to Warren G? Why did his star fade?”

A: The pop music business, especially hip-hop, is highly competitive and unforgiving. As the cliche goes, you’re only as good as your last hit and with someone like Warren G, who tended to be in the shadow of Dre since jump, it doesn’t matter how massively popular he might have been back when “Regulate” dropped 14 years ago. I have no doubt that G likely suffered from bad luck, bad timing, shady industry b.s. and whatever else but that’s grist for the mill in hip-hop in general. No rapper or producer is promised tomorrow, especially when whatever circumstances align to limit their ability to produce hits. Seriously, when’s the last time you can remember a major Warren G song? You’d have to go back to probably 2004 with the 213 album and that’s four years old at this point.

Despite its penchant for nostalgia, the hip-hop industry isn’t very sentimental. Warren G’s faded star is just one of many in that regard.

Q: “More on ramen! What’s your current favorite place to get a bowl of ramen?”

A: That’s easy to answer: Santouka. If you’re in the Bay Area, then it’d be Santa Ramen. I have no real recommendations for NY. I’ve yet to find a ramen spot there I’m really that blown away by. Definitely not this place though.

Q: “Is there any relationship between the early-80s M.C. TJ Swann and the late-80s, down-with-Biz, singer TJ Swan?”

A: I didn’t think so but I checked in someone who is far more knowledgeable on the topic and he said, no, not the same guy. More on the Biz’s TJ Swan.

Q: “Not much Hip Hop covered on SS lately. Is that intentional? Or is nothing really moving you enough to post.”

A: Definitely not intentional. Definitely influenced by “nothing really moving” me. Part of it too is that there are some really incredible hip-hop blogs out there and Soul Sides isn’t trying to top, say Nah Right or Unkut.com. And so I’m happy they’re out there, doing the work that, say, 10 years ago, I probably would have been trying to do. Whereas, I think Soul Sides is able, in its own modest way, to help fill a void that I actually think I can contribute something to rather than just being another voice in the crowd.

Also, I tend to post as guided by what I’m adding to my collection and these days, I just am not chasing after that many rap records because either 1) I already own what I need or 2) I can’t afford what I want.

But hey, I’ll try to knock out a few rap posts. It’s not like I mind writing about hip-hop; it’s just not where my musical obsessions are running these days.

Q:”I’d love to read more books about Funk & Soul, the history of the music I love so much. Can you give us a list of books worth checking out?”

A: Sure, I’d recommend you start with any of these three:

  • Peter Guralnick’s Sweet Soul Music. Essential reading for anyone interested in classic Southern soul music from the 1960s (not so much on Motown however).
  • Rob Bowman’s Soulsville, U.S.A.. It’s an incredible, exhaustive history of Stax/Volt records.
  • Rickey Vincent’s Funk. It’s bent towards the idea that P-Funk was the apotheosis of funk music – an idea some may or may not agree with – but it’s still one of the few tomes out there that tries to tackle the history of funk in any real way.

 

Q: “I’ve enjoyed exploring sites on your excellent blog roll, but am wondering if there are two or three music blogs that you check out religiously? Or ones that you think have slipped under the radar and deserve wider attention?”

Q: “What’s a good hip hop blog these days? I mean something along the lines of Cocaine Blunts, that posts mp3’s of obscure hip hop artists, say, circa 1983-1993.”

A: Some of the more observant folks will note I haven’t updated the blogroll in months upon months. And that’s largely because I don’t have enough time to look at other sites very often. I’d say if there were one site I’d love for Soul Sides to be more like, it’d be Office Naps. It’s so sharp, well-written and informative that I consider it a gold-standard but since I like to play things a bit looser, I’ve never tried to emulate it very closely with the exception of the Pick Six posts which works off a basic, similar concept of grouping multiple songs together with a central theme.

As for great new hip-hop blogs, I’m sure there’s about four dozen ones that focus on obscure hip-hop from that era…but I don’t know any off the dome. If folks want to contribute in the comments, please do!

Q: “what would you recommend as a few of the strongest r&b/soul albums of the last 10 years or so?”

A: I can’t say I’ve listened to the full breadth of contemporary R&B to give a comprehensive answer but off the top of my head, I’d want these in my jukebox:

  • D’Angelo: Voodoo
  • Sade: Lover’s Rock
  • Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings: 100 Days, 100 Nights
  • Justin Timberlake: Justified
  • Erykah Badu: New Amerykah Pt. 1
  • Janet Jackson: The Velvet Rope
  • Aaliyah: I Care 4 U
  • Lauryn Hill: The Miseducation of Lauryn HillAs noted: that’s just what I can think of immediately. There probably should be an album by Mariah Carey in there somewhere but I know her singles, not her LPs so much. Same goes for Destiny’s Child/Beyonce. Never found a lot of the neo-soul artists like Jill Scott or Angie Stone that compelling beyond a few songs; same goes for Musiq, Anthony Hamilton, John Legend, etc. Seriously though, my tastes in contemporary R&B vs. “vintage” R&B can run quite different so take everything with a grain of salt.

    Q: how did you first start gigging? what speakers/amp do you recommend?

    I started DJing in the summer of 1993 and did a few parties (most of them disastrous) but I was primarily DJing on the radio for KALX FM in Berkeley, CA. I had a radio show, more or less, continuously from 1994 through 2004.

    I started gigging on a regular basis around 2001, with DJ Vinnie Esparza, up in San Francisco. We had a monthly party called Joyride that lasted for a year or so. But until boogaloo[la], that was the only other regular gig I’ve ever held down. It’s not for lack of interest, mostly lack of effort.

    As for speakers/amps – can’t help you there. I don’t have a mobile set-up so I’m always dependent on the equipment at the clubs/bars where I spin. I do use a Rane TTM 56 mixer which is an excellent piece of equipment, well worth the price.

    Q: “i have the impression you focus more on the musical aspect than the lyrical side of hiphop is that true? who do you think is at the top of his form the best hiphop lyricist?
    can you recite some of your favourite couplets?”

    A: I think, in general, I’ve always been foremost a fan of hip-hop’s sonic impact; a song with great lyrics and wack beats will lose my attention faster than the inverse. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate good lyricism – not at all – but where my ears tune in first is the production.

    As for best lyricists, it’s a pretty standard list: Rakim and Nas for writing, Chuck D and Ice Cube for passion in delivery, Jay-Z and Lil Wayne for swagger, etc. Ghostface for being Ghost.

    In terms of favorite couplets, there’s a few that have always stayed with me, including Nas’ “NY State of Mind,” Inspectah Deck on Gangstarr’s “Above the Clouds” and of course, the entirety of “Freaks of the Industry” by Digital Underground. Oakland, holla.

    Q: “What ten records would you say are a great foundation for Boogaloo/Latin groove?”

    A: First of all, boogaloo was more of a singles phenom than an album one insofar as it was relatively unusual to find an album that was all boogaloo. There were many, to be sure, but a lot of the best boogaloo songs tended to come off albums that had a mix of boogaloo, guaracha, bolero, guaguanco, etc.

    As a result, in some ways, compilations are the best place to start since they isolate the individual songs that are worth considering. I’d recommend you look at this.

    But in terms of individual albums, I’ll give you three to start with.

    Joe Cuba: Bang! Bang! Bang!
    Pete Rodriguez: I Like It Like That
    Joe Bataan: Gypsy Woman.

    But since you ask for “foundation” albums, I’d also suggest checking out any of the early to mid 1960s albums by Ray Barretto and Joe Cuba. Pre-boogaloo, you can hear the evolution of the Latin soul sound beginning to happen to their prodigious output from that era. Start with Barretto’s “Charanga Moderna” and see if you can find an early ’60s compilation of Joe Cuba’s Secco output put out by Musidisc called “The Exciting Joe Cuba.”


    Q: “I’m a Chinese-American and frequent visitor to your site. I’m curious as to how your love for soul music started. What were your first experiences with it? What drew you to it? Why this genre, and not other genres?

    The question is rooted in my own experience, being a first-generation Chinese (I came to the US with my parents when I was 4 years old), and growing up enjoying primarily hip-hop music. Why didn’t I grow up enjoying rock, or pop? It’s an interesting question, and one I don’t really have an answer or even a sounding board for.”

    I had two primary exposures to soul. The first was growing up with my father who was into oldies stations and so that gave me with my initial exposure to the Motown “greatest hits” catalog as well as other major ’60s/’70s crossover R&B stars like Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding. The other main point of entry was hip-hop and more specifically, hip-hop sampling. Because hip-hop was my first big musical love, the more I learned about it, the more it lead be backwards into the musical past and that invariably meant soul and funk. At some point though, my interest in soul between its own thing, detached from any direct connection with hip-hop and I’ve since continued along that line.

    As to the second part of your question – I don’t think there’s a way to really explain why somethings appeal to you while others do not. I don’t think, in this case, race or ethnicity necessarily brings much to bear. I know plenty of Asian Americans who are into rock and pop, I know many who love hip-hop and soul. There’s not, per se, a direct correlation except perhaps one of geography – where you grow up, the kind of cultural influences you’re likely to experience on the basis of that geography and the demographics of ethnic settlement will make a big difference. Back in the 1980s, when I was growing up in the suburbs, mostly around other Asians and Whites, I was exposed to mostly rock and pop; hip-hop was something I discovered on my own more or less rather than through my friends. But you talk to other people who grew up around Black neighborhoods, usually though not exclusively in urban centers, and they’re more likely to have grow up with soul, gospel and hip-hop as the music “in the air” around them.

    But all that aside, ultimately, what appeals to you sonically are often qualities that are impossible to rationally explain – what we find pleasure in can’t be reduced to science and for me, it’s one of those mysteries in life that I’m more than happy to let remain enigmatic.

     

     

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