Friday, June 30, 2006

posted by O.W.

Eddie Bo: Hook and Sling
From 7" (Scram, 1969). Also on Hook and Sling.

Abraham: Hook and Boogie
From 7" (Hy Sign, 19??). Also on Sound of Funk, Vol. 7.

I've been cleaning out the digital closet, came upon Abraham's 45 and figure it was high time to finally get this posted and then shelved. As you will shortly hear, the latter is - as far as I understand - an uncredited cover of Eddie Bo's "Hook and Sling"...I've even read the accusation that Abraham was basically trying to pass off "Hook and Boogie" as a new dance tune without acknowledging the prior existence of "Hook and Sling."

Bo's song is arguably his biggest hit as a solo artist - so good I heard it in a...margarine commercial a few years back. That was bugged. Super snappy and a brilliantly assembled funk tune that shares a lot in common with the better qualities of other NOLA dance tracks of the same era like the Meters' "Cissy Strut." Not surprisingly, that's why "Hook and Sling" is also Bo's most covered song.

"Hook and Boogie" is fun enough but clearly, completely derivative...a cover in everything but name. If the story is true - that he was trying to pass it off as if "Hook and Sling" didn't exist - I have to say that must have been completely brazen or just plain stupid. Not a bad tune though.


Wednesday, June 28, 2006

ARIF MARDIN: 1932 - 2006
posted by O.W.

Up until his death this week, Arif Mardin had one of the best f***ing jobs ever: producer for Atlantic Records from 1965 to 2001, presiding over some of the greatest soul talents to ever walk the planet. Talk about having a front seat to history...actually, talk about helping make it. Mardin wasn't nearly as influential as say, Ahmet Ertegun or Jerry Wexler. He never had the mystical reputation that Brian Wilson or Phil Spector acquired. But Mardin wasn't more than just a gifted producer, he managed to traverse the years and (in Busta's words) stay relevant in the streets. Or at least, dance clubs and coffee bars alike. Mardin's first big hits came with the Rascals in the mid'60s, then he helped the Average White Band blow up in the mid 1970s, then teamed with Chaka Khan and Melle Mel in the mid-80s, only to find success again with Norah Jones by the mid 2000s. And between those mid-decade marks, he also was instrumental in the careers of Dusty Springfield, Aretha Franklin, Donny Hathway and a few other similarly obscure artists like that. Not a bad track record.

In short, Mardin's influence has touched some of my favorite soul and funk songs. I pulled out just four out of a career that literally produced hundreds of possible songs.

Aretha Franklin: Day Dreaming
From Young, Gifted and Black (Atlantic, 1972)

I don't think I'd ever want to commit to having just one favorite Aretha song but put me on the spot and "Day Dreaming" gets the quick nod on impulse. Sonically, it is just such a distinctive and sublime piece of sound craft, beginning with those drifting, dreamy keys. In this NPR interview, Mardin says it was Aretha's idea to begin the song that way and in executing her wishes to perfection, Mardin created one of the most distinctive song openers I know. This song never, ever gets old for me. Ever.

Donny Hathaway: Valdez In the Country
From Extension of a Man (ATCO, 1973)

What always stood out to me about this song is that for an artist known - revered - for the lilt in his voice, "Valdez In the County" is an instrumental...and a damn fine one at that. There's so much to like with this tune...for one thing, it's like the best EW&F tune they never recorded and Hathaway (I presume), is killing it on the electronic piano here. Most importantly (and a testament to Mardin's gifts) is that this song just plain sounds great.

Average White Band: School Boy Crush
From Cut the Cake (Atlantic, 1975)

Sure, James Brown thought they were a bunch of biters. And maybe it's just a little too cheeky to name yourself the "Average White Band" but damn, these Scottish dudes could knock out some good funky stuff. Especially with "School Boy Crush," you simply can't be mad at a song that opens so beautifully with those bells and drums. Hell, if it's good enough for Rakim, Special Ed and the X-Clan, that's as certified as it gets.

Chaka Khan: I Feel For You
From I Feel For You (Warner Bros, 1984)

The significance of this song runs through so many layers: it's one of the first huge rap-meets-R&B-meets-pop hits. It revitalized Chaka Khan's career after her dip into the disco era. And it was the last real hit enjoyed by Melle Mel who was about to see his rapping career made irrelevant thanks to three guys out of Hollis, Queens. And mostly, this song kicks major ass - Prince's songwriting, Chaka Khan's singing, Melle Mel rapping = unbeatable combo. Check out that NPR piece to learn where Mardin came up with that intro.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

posted by O.W.

(Editor's Note: Our latest summer songs post is from Josh Bea, aka DJ B.Cause, one of the Bay Area's finest behind the wheels o' steel. Josh is what I call a "shadow collector" - his crates run deep and his taste is exquisite but he's almost one of the most down to earth and humble dudes you'll meet. Apart from working part-time at the Groove Merchant, aka the best record store ever, he churns out some of the best mixtapes I know of, including the recently plugged-here-on-Soul-Sides, Soul Boulders (cop that!). His summer songs post includes many tracks I had never heard before...but of course, now desperately want. Seriously - the music here is fantastic. --O.W.)

It's pretty tough to define what a summer song means to me, and even more difficult is the task of choosing a small handful of songs that transcend accurately that feeling of adventure, youth, heat, nightlife, outdoors, love and the occasional deep pain of loss. Instead I've decided to pick the first few seemingly appropriate jams that pop up out of the nearest stack of worn lp piles, those of which seem to grow in the spring months of vinyl aquisition through flea markets and garage sales.

The Coasters: Love Potion # 9
From The Coasters On Broadway (King 196?)

I've loved this tune since I was a kid, so when I stumbled across this dynamic version about a decade ago I was more than thrilled. The song title reminds me (for some odd reason) of the sweet nocturnal smell of blooming jasmine, something I remember vividly from running around after dark as a teen in Los Angeles where the blossoms are abundant. About a year ago I DJed an evening wedding reception in a barn near Modesto, of those cool wedding parties that actually ends up being genuinely fun. The music was quite good rather than the usual reception jukebox flip-flop: getting riddled with endless requests for 80's pop music despite the fact that they initially hired you to play funk, jazz and soul. Here were some really good and open-minded folks having the time of their lives. At the peak moment of the celebration this tune played feverishly while everbody including myself smiled, shouted, laughed and danced...the moon was bright, the air warm, and you could just make out the faint smell of jasmine in the valley night.

Quicksilver Messenger Service: Fire Brothers
From S/T (Capitol 196?)

Recent re-discovery on the mystical mountain-man volcano worship tip. This track pretty much speaks for itself, smoldering but folky flange.

Sydney Barnes: Summer Sunshine
From Foot Stompin' Music (Parachute 1978)

This is a perfect steppers-style soul tune for the occasion, everything from the title and lyrics to the somewhat mystical & modern feel of the arrangements scream 'summer mix tape'! Love it.

Wrinkers Experience: Fuel For Love
Strangers: Love Rock
From EMI Super Hits (EMI Nigeria 197?)

Two great tunes from an excellent early 70's Nigerian EMI lp that I listened to one too many times and ended up having to purchase despite a dwindling pocketbook. It was hard to choose just two tracks from this record, if I had the time I would have posted them all.

Bonus round 45: Was about to wrap this post up when I noticed this forgotten lil' ditty poking out of one of my 45 bins, and with a a title like that it just had to be included.

The Reflections: She's My Summer Breeze
From 7" (Capitol, 1975)

Honorable mention but out of time & space:

Ray Charles: America The Beautiful
Ted Hawkins: What Do You Want From The Liquor Store?
E-40: Hope I Don't Go Back

--DJ B.Cause

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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

posted by O.W.

Nas: Where Ya'll At?
Forthcoming from Hip Hop Is Dead (Def Jam, 2006)

I don't purposely mean to be on a big hip-hop trip of late but new cuts like this keep poppin' off, plus it's always interesting to see where Nas is trying to move. Apparently, it's backwards and I don't mean that in a bad way (at least, I don't think).

What's interesting is that his last lead single, "Thief's Theme" was a reference back to his Illmatic days (literally) while the chorus of "Where Ya'll At?" actually nods back to his lead single from God's Son, "Made You Look." Nas better start making some more albums before he runs out of songs to quote himself from.

I don't think this strikes as hard as the last two lead singles but I'm not mad at its subtly tense vibe. It is ironic that he rhymes about how much money was spent for the right snare and it doesn't even sound like this song has one.

By the way, while Jay is boycotting KCristal, can we also have a moratorium on rappers shouting out Maybachs. I don't care how expensive they are, they're ugly and if they didn't cost more than 3-BD homes, no one would be caught dead in one, let alone repping for it.

posted by O.W.

I know this is a shot in the dark but a former, beloved teacher of mine, Paul Shickle, just passed away yesterday and his memorial service is being held this Saturday. There's no centralized way (outside of a rather inconsistent to track down old alumni, especially those not in the Myspace/Facebook/Friendster generation, so I figured I'd go back to basic word-of-mouth (albeit via the internet still). If you happen to be or know of an alumnus of San Marino High School in Southern California, please direct them to for more information on the memorial service or just to leave a testimonial.

Monday, June 19, 2006

posted by O.W.

Busta Rhymes: Welcome to New Crack City

Busta Rhymes: Get Familiar Bitch

Busta Rhymes w/ Rah Digga and Spliff Star: Untouchable

Busta Rhymes: Relevant

All from Clinton Sparks and Busta Rhymes: New Crack City (2006)

Things I learned listening to Clinton Sparks and Busta Rhymes' New Crack City

1. Busta wants to charge admission fee to watch what they do. Also, he really likes the word, "bitch."

2. While other rappers struggle to write just a verse, Busta is throwing complete albums away in the street.

3. The only thing tighter than Rah Digga's rhymes is "the puss." (TMI, Rah).

4. By keeping the street thoroughly abreast with thoroughbred, quality hip-hop, Busta manages to stay relevant. He also doesn't like it when people try to merge into his lane, even if they have the indicator light on.

(Note: like most of Clinton Sparks' mix-CDs, this is pretty solid...even surprisingly so given who's hosting. But seriously, the skits are the best thing on here and that's no diss).

Thursday, June 15, 2006

posted by O.W.

(Editor's Note: This summer songs post comes from a dear friend and colleague, Hua Hsu - all-star culture writer, scholar, DJ and member of the Red Sox Nation. Given that both of us spend ungodly number of hours, idling in front of laptops (Apple, holla), we're constantly IMing songs back and forth. That's why I knew, given Hua's eclectic, expansive taste in music, his summer songs post would be off the wall for ya'll. Not to mention some funny sh-- to read. As I understand it, Hua wrote this during a bout of insomnia, in the wee hours of the morning. --O.W.)

Superchunk: Package Thief
From On the Mouth (Merge, 1993)

A personal indulgence, because this song reminds me of some summer during my mid-teens, sitting in the back of this sunned-out driving school classroom, reading magazines and deciding that “my thing” was going to be music. The next summer, I went to debate camp in Vermont and scared this girl I was cutting cards with (nothing kinky; we were compiling evidence about health care policy) by telling her the shirt actually read “SUPERCHINK.” There’s nothing quintessentially summery about this song, other than the fact that it sounds like the song itself is sweating.

High Fashion: Feelin’ Lucky Lately
From Feelin' Lucky (Capitol, 1982)

A: You should get this.
B: This is corny.
A: You need this.
B: I guess it’s not so bad. Okay, I’m going to get it. And someday, perhaps I will like it. And someday, after that, I’ll be in this really, really good, life-affirming mood, and I’ll put this song on and it will be wonderful that I have something that can adequately capture how I feel inside that perfect moment.
A: Do that.

The Fab 5 (Heltah Skeltah): Leflaur Leflah Eshoshka
From Nocturnal (Priority, 1996)

Mark Ronson feat. Ghostface: Ooh Wee
From Here Comes the Fuzz (Elektra, 2003)

It took me many months in the DJ booth at the Enormous Room to realize that nobody wanted to hear Boot Camp semi-hits, but I didn’t really care. When you’re constantly being harangued by a seemingly endless queue of sun-damaged idiots, you need some “alone time,” and this, oddly, was my sanctuary. The mirror-ball, disco fanfare and cha-ching of “Ooh Wee” are best enjoyed striking the most classical of summer poses: riding shotgun, one arm (preferably the right) out the window, stars in eyes, life ahead of you.

David Bowie: The Bewlay Brothers
From Hunky Dory (RCA, 1971)

Jesus and Mary Chain: About You
From Darklands (Warner Bros, 1987)

The Kinks: Waterloo Sunset
From Something Else By The Kinks (Pye, 1967)

Three-fourths of the year the dissolve from day to night lasts two blinks. Summertime is the exception. It drags. It is the possibility of agony. Those hours before sunset are like readymade bummers, and sometimes you need something languid, something that feels slower than the sky, to make that passage without injury.

The Zombies: Care of Cell 44
From Odessey and Oracle (CBS, 1968)

I think “She’s Not There” is such a great title for a song. Where is she not? Is she simply not where you last saw her? Is she not there—mentally? Is it on some existential shit? A similar instability cloaks “Care of Cell 44,” a much better but also much less famous song from the Zombie catalogue. Within ten seconds of harpsichord you know exactly how the rest of Odessey is going to sound: perfect. Like, so perfect that you wish life itself could be this symmetrical, this harmonious, etc. Colin Blunstone has a great affect, even when he’s not singing—sometimes you can hear him wetting his mouth between lines; oftentimes it sounds like he’s a weeper. The “summerness” of this song, for me, is in the threat of sadness (see: above)—even when CB enters the prattle with a “Morning to you, I hope you’re feeling better, baby,” you don’t really get the sense that this is going to be a very happy song. Where is she this time? Boarding school? Or perhaps a sanitarium? Again, Blunstone is purposefully vague with the details, referencing a “prison stay” before eventually fessing, “We’ll get to know each other for a second time.” Yeah, it’s definitely a sanitarium. Summertime: pretty and calm on the surface, but you never know when you might go mad.

Sister Sledge: Thinking of You
From We Are Family (Cotillion, 1979)

It is not uncommon for record collectors weaned on hip-hop (“Yo, son, Lord Finesse used this bass-line. He chopped it up, son! You need this!”) to view disco as that Maginot line you don’t cross. This is plain stupid. “Thinking of You” is a pantheon song, one I do not trifle with unless I want to “go there.” (“There” being the sanitarium.) It is a self-evidently incredible song and the British love it. And by “the British,” I'm of course talking about Paul Weller.


Wednesday, June 14, 2006

posted by O.W.

Beyonce feat. Jay-Z: Deja Vu
Upcoming from B'Day (2006)

Uh, suddenly, that Xtina + Primo joint isn't sounding so bad after all. And what's up with Jay-Z? How did he go from "Dear Summer" and "Go Crazy" last year to this sh--?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

posted by O.W.

Billy Preston: Little Girl
From Encouraging Words (Apple, 1970)

(Editor's Note: Mark had reached out to me about having him write something on Preston for the site but at the time, I didn't have the sound file for "Little Girl" as per his request so he went ahead and wrote up a short obit on his site. I managed to finally get a copy of the song so I'm just going to reprint what he has from his site over here, now with music. --O.W.)

Growing up in New York City in the 1970s and listening to the classic top-pop 40 station WABC-AM, I was exposed to the great hits of Billy Preston. Tracks like "Outta Space", "Will It Go Round in Circles", "Space Race" and especially "Nothing from Nothing" were part of the soundtrack of my childhood. At the time I was oblivious to Preston's status at the 5th Beatle or any of his early Apple recordings. I was finally introduced to the genius of Preston's early work via Donny Hathaway's cover of Preston "Little Girl" which appears on Preston 1970 recording Encouraging Words. Most fans likely remember Preston most for his duet "With You I'm Born Again" with the late Syreeta Wright.

Preston was never out of the public eye, often making cameos on recordings of his friends like Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr and Joe Cocker, who made Preston's composition "You Are So Beautiful" a modern standard. For me, my favorite musical memories of Preston are the Hammond B-3 solo that opens Luther Vandross's "'Til My Baby Comes Home" and his stellar backing behind Aretha Franklin during her legendary Fillmore West dates ("play Billy!", as the Queen would say).

I am sure as I write this, Uncle Ray, Sam Cooke, John Lennon, Donny Hathaway, Mahailia Jackson and Lulu Hardaway are welcoming Billy Preston home. --Mark Anthony Neal.

For more tributes to Billy Preston, please check out Soul Shower, Home of the Groove, Melomaniac and many other sites.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

posted by O.W.

Baby Lloyd: I Need Love
From 7" (Atco, 1960)

Johnnie & Bill: On My Way to School
From 7" (Federal, 1962)

Bobby Byrd: It's I Who Love You (Not Him Anymore)
From 7" (King, 1970)

The Famous Flames: Who Am I
From 7" (King, 1970)

(Editor's Note: This special post comes to us from music journalist and fellow bloggateer, Doug Wolk. Doug is a big BIG fan of James Brown productions and rumor has it that he's collected every single song every produced by Soul Brother #1, no easy feat, lemme tell you. These four here, for example, have never been on CD - as far as we could tell. Doug's been sharing his thoughts on the JB master collection not just for us, but also Moistworks where he's just wrapping up part 1 of 3 posts related to his JB collection. Here's what he put together for Soul Sides. --O.W.)

Most of James Brown's early singles were actually credited to James Brown and the Famous Flames. Occasionally, people think that the Flames were the band; they were actually the backup singers--although they weren't always the same group of backup singers. The first recorded Flames were Bobby Byrd (who's sung with Brown on and off through his entire career), Johnny Terry (who'd done time with JB at Georgia Juvenile Training Institute, and was lucky enough to get co-credited for "Please, Please, Please"), Sylvester Keels and Nashpendle Knox. Various other Flames rotated through the lineup: J.W. Archer, Bill Hollings, Lewis Madison, Eugene "Baby Lloyd" Stallworth, Bobby Bennett.

Occasionally, one of the Famous Flames would get to record something on his own. Bobby Byrd was by far the most prolific; most of his best songs are collected on Bobby Byrd Got Soul, but a few good singles are missing from it. One of them is "It's I Who Love You (Not Him Anymore)," a "Dark End of the Street" rewrite with tortured syntax, some dubious rhymes, and a mix that fades out in the middle of its final verse. No matter--Byrd sells it, especially the barbed spin in the way he phrases the chorus: "I know he's had you... hung up..."

Baby Lloyd only got to record a couple of singles--the other one is a version of "There Is Something On Your Mind" that owes essentially everything to Bobby Marchan's version. "I Need Love" is notable for the fact that, a couple of years later, JB lit a fire under its ass and re-recorded it as "I've Got Money."

I'm not entirely clear on who Johnnie & Bill were--a slightly later single, "This Is My Story," was credited to Johnny and Bill--and I'm guessing they might have been Johnny Terry and Bill Hollings (if you know otherwise, please correct me). But the voice singing the harmony part on this version of "On My Way to School" is unmistakably James Brown. The other side of the single, incidentally, is "On My Way to School (Teen Age Version)," which updates the beat to what those crazy sock-hoppers were into. And the lyrics are blues common-stock--unusually for JB, the song is credited as "traditional."

The Famous Flames' 1970 single "Who Am I" had a writing credit for Johnny Terry; I suspect that's him singing it, too. A few months later, JB produced an uptempo single version of it sung by Roberta DuBois, and in early 1972, he released his own version on the "There It Is" album. But it's fitting that what appears to have been the last time the Famous Flames' name appeared on a record was on a song about pleading for identity. A year later, one of the first singles on People Records was the occasionally anthologized "Stand Up and Be Counted" by the (not-famous) Flames, but it doesn't seem to have been the same people standing up for the count. --Douglas Wolk

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

posted by O.W.

Rare Earth: I Couldn’t Believe What Happened Last Night
From Willie Remembers (Rare Earth, 1972). Also on Earth Tones: Essential.

Burning Spear: I&I Survive
From Garvey’s Ghost (Island, 1976)

Rolling Stones: Gimme Shelter
From Let It Bleed (London, 1969)

(Editor's Note: Today's summer songs post comes to us from Joe Twist aka Joe Schloss aka one of the finest scholars on popular culture I know today (his students at Tufts and NYU know the deal). I've known Joe for almost ten years now and have found him to be one of the most thoughtful and insightful people I know when it comes to music, culture and academia. Here's his take on the sounds of summer).

From Joe Twist:
    I’m one of those people who thinks that there is a perfect song – one and only one - for every possible moment in life. So, to me, there are as many “Summer Songs” as there are summer moments. Which is a lot. But some kinds of moments represent the idea of summer better than others: hanging out with friends, feeling physically healthy, experiencing movement and personal freedom, falling in love. [Not love itself – falling in love. Celebrations of enduring love, relationships, etc. are not summer songs, unless you’re celebrating the fact that you fell in love *last* summer].

    So, my picks:

    1) Most people who know Rare Earth know them through their breakbeat classic “I Just Want To Celebrate” (from One World, Rare Earth/Motown, 1971), which played over the opening credits of Three Kings. They are also known for being “the first white group signed to Motown”, which I think is true, although I have no idea how you’d actually confirm something like that. Though this song is ostensibly about unexpected hookups, the mixture of intense Latin percussion and one of the rawest guitar riffs ever combine to make you want to dance and kick somebody’s ass at the same time. Which is what makes it a perfect uprock jam.

    As you probably know, uprocking was a street dance that developed in Bushwick, Brooklyn in the late sixties and early seventies. In uprock, two dancers compete by miming violent and/or humiliating attacks against each other, a practice that made the dance popular among gang members, who were its most prominent practitioners at the time. Today uprock is mainly seen as a precursor to b-boying (which it was), but it is also its own dance, with its own distinct styles and rules and power and flavor.

    To me, this song sounds like Brooklyn block parties and park jams, hanging out with friends on the stoop as the streetlights come on, seventies gang culture giving birth to hip-hop, being young and intense.

    2) Garvey’s Ghost is the dub version of Marcus Garvey, one of the all-time great roots reggae albums. Which means it has great musicians, great rhythms, a great vibe, great vocals and great lyrics. It makes you relax, feel healthy, and think about revolution at the same time. And that’s just where it starts.

    This song (which is the dub version of “Slavery Days” from the original album), uses what Pierre Macherey would call “structuring absences” – things that are emphasized by being left out – to create its texture. So for example, in the original version, the phrase, “Do you remember the days of slavery?” is sung over and over and over again. Of the ten notes in that phrase (one per syllable), eight of them are “C”. In other words, eighty percent of the phrase is sung on the same note. It is more a rhythm than a melody, and as it repeats, it becomes more a groove than a rhythm, part of the deep structure of the song. So when you listen to “I&I Survive”, you can’t help but anticipate hearing it. And when it never comes, your brain can’t help but fill it in. The song literally puts questions in your mind.

    3) The first time I heard this song, I was about eleven, walking around Soundview - a seedy boardwalk/biker/headshop/pinball/boarded-up-movie-theater/beach neighborhood on the Connecticut shore – at the end of the summer sometime in the late seventies. Ever since then, for me, “Gimme Shelter” has been the sound of the summer winding down in honky-tonk beach communities…Later, I learned that this actually is pretty much what the song is about, except substitute “the sixties” for “the summer” and “America” for “honky-tonk beach communities”. This song reminds me that it’s often the act of preparing to leave the summer behind that really makes you appreciate it. Keith Richards’ guitar intro actually sounds like what shadows getting longer in the late afternoon would sound like if they made a sound.


Tuesday, June 06, 2006

posted by O.W.

William Devaughn: Be Thankful For What You Got
From Be Thankful For What You Got (Roxbury, 1974)

I introduced the summer song series last year, inviting a series of guest posters to discuss what they thought were the ideal summer songs. With Memorial Day behind us and the summer solstice up ahead, I decided to bring it back with a whole new set of guests (beginning with Dr. Joseph Schloss aka Joe Twist) who will be bringing us their favorite summer songs all throughout the season.

I recently wrote about summer songs for my monthly Oakland Tribune column and in going back to my Soul Sides archives, realized that I had never written about Devaughn's song specifically for the site (though I had posted two covers of it over the time). It is a quintessential summer song for reasons I explain in the column:
    [This is] one song that's a complete package — the feel and flow of summer, the wistful allure of nostalgia, and the fragility of those moments. Find the album version — all seven minutes of it. The languid groove builds from the opening congas into a subtly funky mix of dulcet guitars and soft vibes and it's the perfect score for a long drives, lazy afternoons and sweaty house parties alike. DeVaughn's vocals bring it all home, urging us to appreciate what life offers even if we're not able to enjoy "diggin' the scene with a gangsta lean." DeVaughn's song is all about living for the moment, advice worth remembering as our summer fast approaches and, inevitably, will end sooner than we realize.
But hey, summer's not done yet. We're just getting started.

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Thursday, June 01, 2006

posted by O.W.

Christina Aguilera: Ain't No Other Man
From Back to Basics (RCA, August 2006)

Busta Rhymes feat. Q-Tip and Chauncey Black: Can't Hold a Torch
From A Big Bang (Aftermath, June 2006)

When people heard Xtina was working with Primo, I know many a hip-hop head was like, "huh, what?" It doesn't really matter to me - the whole concept of the hip-hop sellout is so '90s at this point, who really gives a f---? The more important question is: will they sound good together? Here's the deal: I think Xtina has a technically good voice. She's still not about to take down Mariah, nor is she as good as Whitney in her prime and while she might wish she was Etta James reborn...she's not and never will be. This said, she does have a great voice but she - like practically 99% of today's aspiring pop/R&B singers - manages to ruin it by using far, far too much melisma. It's a goddamn shame every American Idol aspirant feels like they have to copy that same style...seriously, it's ruining modern pop singing as we know it. Just hit the damn note - you don't need to be the vocal Charlie Parker to impress people, you know?

With Preem...look, he's one of my favorite producers of all time but seriously, dude's been in a rut the last few years, ever since The Ownerz dropped (and I'm sure many Gang Starr fans will say that album was already in rut-mode). So it's good to see him getting some high-profile work and the beat he does here's fine. It's not FIIYYYAAAAHHHHH to me but it's serviceable. Personally, I think this song sounds less like an original track and more like something the Quantic Soul Orchestra would have remixed for a Rebtuz EP. (Note: this is not a bad thing. But it doesn't sound very Primo-ish...which may or may not be a bad thing). Or something Rich Harrison might have played around with...four years ago. Again, not bad things. Just not mind-blowing.

As for the Busta track...he and Q-Tip have teamed up many a time so for this new album, it's not a surprise to see them together again (twice no less). This is an interesting song - clearly a throwback of sorts, especially since the track is a reworking of "Lyrics to Go" off of Midnight Marauders. Old dude as I am (aka 33), I'm digging this, especially as it finds two rappers in their 30s speaking from a grown man's vantage point about "the game." I don't know how younger folks are going to react but whatever - the generation gap(s) in hip-hop are nothing new. I like the chorus: "Ayo, what happened?/They ain't got it in 'em to make a classic/Ayo, what happened?/These n-----s can't hold a torch so why pass it?" By the way, this is a far better album than I would have predicted (even if Dr. Dre does cosign on it). It's not an end-to-end burner but Busta is much more mature in his outlook than I might have otherwise given him credit for and he does a good job of reaching older listeners who want to hear something else besides "Touch It" and "I Love My Bitch" (though the latter is rather hot to def).