Tyler, The Creator – Treehome95 featuring Coco O & Erykah Badu (2013) (Audio)

While the media eviscerated Rick Ross and his proclivity for addressing that life which he is not actually about (in this case, rape), the world casually overlooked one of the true purveyors of all things problematic.

Tyler, The Creator is the Lenny Bruce of hip-hop. Everything he says is controversial, and yet, I imagine twenty years down the road, we’ll be saying “What was the big deal?” Lost in these discussions defined by progressive rhetoric and contrived outrage is the fact that the kid can really rap. You don’t have to like the content to respect the talent. And on his latest album, Wolf, Tyler, The Creator once again reminded us that he does this quite well. In mentioning his contentious past, it’s important to note that there has been a marked evolution in his lyrical content, as well. While still outspoken in his own right, the Los Angeles-rapper engaged an intriguing level of self-reflection throughout the entirety of Wolf. I’m not talking about that superficial rage he’s often posited in his work. This is wholly developed emotion. It was more than refreshing and deserves praise within itself.

But I don’t want to talk about Tyler, the rapper, anymore. Most of you have already formed a conclusion about him and I doubt I can do much to persuade you. It is what it is.

What is less subjective, however, is his talent behind the boards. Any casual listener can hear the influence of Pharrell, but Tyler has morphed that organic compositional style and taken it somewhere more ominous. If the Neptunes scored my beautiful, dark, twisted nightmares, they’d probably sound like beats from this guy.

But again, if there is one word to best describe Wolf, it would be “growth.”

Because on Wolf, this happened:
Tyler The Creator – Treehome95
Before last week, I would have said that this was probably a selection from a new project starring The Internet. It’s got that sort of mellow vibe that’s become a part of their electronic soul identity. This isn’t “French!” and it’s not quite “She.”

“It’s just different.” (c) Shawn Corey Combs

The insertion of Coco O (of Quadron) and Erykah Badu is attractive within itself, but at the core of it, “Treehome95” is a buoyant melody-driven composition with tinges of jazz sensibilities. In other words, it’s not something I would have ever expected from Tyler, The Creator.

To that end, I think we’re talking about someone that is far more talented than, even I as a fan, could have ever imagined.

The maturation process of Tyler, The Creator puts him amongst the strongest performers in hip-hop today. On a song in which lays down not a single 16, he makes his loudest statement today. He’s an undervalued commodity in the game and sooner than later, we’ll either catch up or get left behind.

Written By: Paul Pennington

Diplomatic Immunity: A 10th Anniversary Reflection

In 2003, Dipset was everything. The pink polo assigned to me by my newfound prep school proclivities were the closest that I would ever get to being Cameron Giles. But in my dreams, a diamond-encrusted medallions hangs low, overwhelming the paisley crown adorning my head–necessities of a ghetto prince. But that was then and this is now. It’s 2013 and out of the corner of my eye, I catch the waning moments of YouTube’s most successful parody.

Fake “Harlem Shake” in the cut; that’s a scary sight.

It’s a fitting backdrop to the 10th Anniversary of Diplomatic Immunity. The idea itself is nothing new. The reappropriation of urban culture existed well before Dipset and will continue to live on as long as poor black folks continue to put out that dopeness. So don’t get the game twisted. When I talk about this album, this supergroup, I am so serious. This isn’t a fashion statement; some ironic homage provided courtesy of modern hipster sensibilities. For us, Dipset was a blueprint. Diplomatic Immunity was the soundtrack to everything we wanted to be—for better or for worse.

In rap, content matters. Presented with vivid detail is a narrative constructed by modest beginnings and a climax drenched in decadence. Diplomatic Immunity, in all of its lyrical shortcomings and successes, is a tale of the kids that made it out of Harlem, but never really left. When Cam spits…

“Chill while I’m chasing millions
I’m a baller that would merk you like Jason Williams”


“I’m a surpass crack, move on to Nasdaq
But still my connects move anthrax on Amtrak” The Diplomats – Real Niggas The Diplomats – Ground Zero …he presents the contradiction that belies this entire project. “Making it” is not a place located on the Upper East Side. “Making it” is a value quantified by dollars. The products of Reagan’s America manage to embrace the capitalistic pursuits embodying the generation, whilst hating the establishment that perpetuated its existent in the first place. They do all of this through a vision sponsored by Pyrex®.

The War on Drugs lost.

Sonicaly, the analysis is a bit hazier. Helmed largely by the Jamaican-born Heatmakerz duo, Diplomatic Immunity left me asking the same question over and over again:

Do I like this beat or do I just like the sample?

What I never questioned was the result. The straight-forward styling of the Heatmakerz made for several strong (and easily identifiable) incidents of crate-digging victories. I think some may take issue with the Heatmakerz receiving credit for “Let’s Go,” but that doesn’t make the Marvin Gaye-sampled record any less endearing. And while many may point to the well-orchestrated Just Blaze record (made even more famous by internet legend, Eli Porter) as the album’s gem, I would argue that “My Love” is the defining moment for this album musically. A record connecting a well-chopped excerpt from The Moments and frenzied verse from Philly Freezer is simply too big to fail. The Diplomats – Lets Go The Diplomats – My Love

More than anything else, however, Diplomatic Immunity was a very specific moment in time. It’s an allure wrapped up in bright memories. Perhaps, the album isn’t as good as previously mentioned. Perhaps, this is another incident of historical revisionism. Nostalgia often gets the best of us, but I do believe there is some merit in acknowledging this particular project. In all of its violence, drug-trafficking, misogynistic splendor, Diplomatic Immunity was a charming adventure through the realities of urban sensibilities in the early 2000s. This is just what it was. I’m not apologizing for it; I’m just putting it into context. If you’re looking for a quick fix of gloriously superficial Hip-Hop, get a quick hit of Diplomatic Immunity. Ten years later, it still knocks.

Written By: Paul Pennington

People, Hell & Angels: The Progression of Jimi Hendrix

Posthumous albums maintain a paradoxical relationship to critical acclaim. In this noble pursuit (the act of exposing others to new sounds) it would seem as if these purveyors of art would be in the proper position to deliver something wholly dynamic. Herein lies the problem:

In presenting this work, you do so without the actual artist—an obvious, but significant point. An album without the artist is a body without the head; there is no direction and very little purpose. Abstractly, we’re left with these well-intentioned pieces of blasphemy. More specifically, we’re left with people “finishing” Michael Jackson vocals or Cornell Haynes, Jr. dropping a verse next to Christopher Wallace. Imagine someone painting a sweater onto a crucifix because they think Jesus looks “chilly.” It’s all very admirable, but wildly inappropriate. When handled properly, however, these albums can have an invaluable appeal.

This is what crosses my mind as I listen to the recently released Jimi Hendrix project, People, Hell & Angels. On a very basic level, this album can be understood as a collection of unreleased material recorded between March 1968 and August 1970. What it is not–and this is important—is a focused and fully actualized endeavor. The songs are most likely unfinished compositions. And considering Hendrix legal freedom, there is a fairly high possibility that they came from sessions booked with no actual end goal. Like I said, these sorts of undertakings are done so without the guidance of the pilot. And that’s significant when attempting to situate this album around any sort of sound critique.

People, Hell & Angels lives in a space far outside the realm of typical discussion. It just doesn’t work that way. This is a hodgepodge of recordings, built around a period of time in the life of Jimi Hendrix. Nothing more. The worth of this album—and I hesitate to even call it that—goes far beyond the standard appreciation we all have for quality music. This is a history book in D major. People, Hell & Angels is a crystal ball telling the story of what could have been, but never was.

To understand People, Hell & Angels, you must first understand Electric Ladyland. Even a superficial listen to the 1968 classic will make you fall in love. This was Hendrix showcasing his unbridled style of genius. There wasn’t necessarily a specific genre at play as much as an eclectic approach to American music. Take for example a comparison of “Voodoo Chile” and “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).” The former begat the latter and yet the two have drastically different sonic trajectories. “Voodoo Chile” clocks in at slightly over fifteen minutes. It’s basically an old school jam session. And if we’re being even more specific, “Voodoo Chile” is the blues. Drawling organs, effervescent storytelling, overdriven guitar sounds—it’s all there.

On the other hand, “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” while structurally built atop a blues framework, carries hard rock aggression with the solo virtuosity of acid rock. We are taken two completely different places from the exact same starting point. That’s Electric Ladyland.

What we get from People, Hell & Angels is a continuation of the story. It tells us where Jimi was going. And what we’ve learned can be best described as “everything and absolutely nothing.” If these songs were to be further developed into the follow-up to Electric Ladyland, it’s pretty obvious that Hendrix had no intentions of confining his sound.

Early on in the album, we get the sonic equivalent of tripping the lights fantastic courtesy of “Somewhere.” It’s a heroin track in 1970s New York. The psychedelic groove should be betrayed by the boisterous timbre of Hendrix dominant guitar play, but somehow it works. Each moment of wistful bliss is coupled with an instrumental intensity, reflecting a proper journey through an engagement of illegalities. We’ve gotten this sort of recording from Hendrix in the past and yet it still seems incredibly fresh.
Jimi Hendrix – Somewhere “Bleeding Heart” captures a slow death. The opening guitar solo seems to drag along as if it’s got nowhere to be. Nearly a minute and a half into the recording, Hendrix begins to spill his soul.

“No letter today…mot even a call on my telephone…”

What the lyrics lack in depth, they make up for in sincerity. But there is simply no greater cry than that of a wailing guitar and Jimi knows how to emote. Like “Voodoo Chile,” this is the blues.
Jimi Hendrix – Bleeding Heart And then there was “Mojo Man.” People rarely situate his music within the Black American paradigm. Despite this, it was a cultural tradition that, perhaps he more than most, appreciated. Recorded with the “Ghetto Fighters” this is one of the funkiest songs, Hendrix has ever done. But it’s still Jimi. Strong horn play is one of the great signifiers of funk music. However, the entire notion is complicated by the presence of Hendrix and his guitar. “Mojo Man” conjures in me the same feelings I had when I was first introduced to Funkadelic’s “Super Stupid.” I couldn’t quite classify it, but I knew it was a member of the Black American music lineage. Word to Nicholas Payton. This was just another side of Jimi Hendrix.
Jimi Hendrix – Mojo Man To be honest, many, if not most of these posthumous albums are a means to tap the egregiously high commercial value found in whoring out expired artists. Today, I’m feeling less cynical, because sometimes you get something like this. People, Hell & Angels is an incoherent album. It’s as simple as that. However, that’s not where we find the project’s worth. Had Jimi Hendrix lived past the age of 27, I believe he would have continued to infuse his popular rock sound with the other authentically American music tropes. Could we have seen a Miles Davis x Jimi Hendrix collaboration live at Montreux? Perhaps. We’ll never truly know, but we can certainly speculate. And that’s what People, Hell & Angels really is. This is exhibit A in our self-indulgent journey to know the unknown. The world lost Jimi far too early; this album eases the pain, while providing a semblance of closure. We needed it.

Written By: Paul Pennington
jimi hendrix vinyl frontier

Bilal feat. Robert Glasper – Butterfly (Audio) (2013)

Bilal’s latest offering, A Love Surreal, is vivid. Even in its most brooding moments, the music seems to pop with an unexpected vibrancy. It hits and you should be ready for it.

Initially, I wanted to explore the first proper track from the album, a song that has already received considerable coverage, but definitely deserving of another look.
Bilal – West Side Girl “West Side Girl” is a lyrical birthday party. It’s just fun. I must have played that song for a half-hour straight, just so I could master the vocal cadences to lines like…

“Well, if the Devil wears Prada, this is Hell
It gets hot when you close to me
Love, drug, potion me
Burn like 151
I think it’s so much fun, girl”

All of a sudden, I’m dancing around my room; falling in love with a girl I haven’t even met yet. Lyrical 151. It’s that kind of real.

So, the plan was to do an in-depth exploration of that song and call it a day. But I told myself that I needed to finish the album first. Because every relationship needs closure.

And that’s when I happened upon “Butterfly.”

This is the track that completely contradicts that sonic buoyancy I referenced earlier. This one’s for the midnight sessions.
Bilal – Butterfly feat. Robert Glasper Bilal and Robert Glasper. That’s all the moment requires. And it’s an appropriate simplicity. A composition this tender needn’t be layered in grandiosity. Real emotion is raw and naked, just like this.

Again, there isn’t much to even expound upon. This is doing a lot with very little. To set a mood is to elicit feelings buried underneath. You do so not with hyper-aggressive overtures, but with a subtlety deserving of a response. This was a flawlessly executed endeavor. Modern balladeers, relax and takes notes.

I will say this. If the Black Jesus I pray to every night does, in fact, exist, we will get some sort of joint project from the two. Their chemistry is frightening in the most beautiful ways I’ve ever heard. Masters at work, I thank you.


Written By: Paul Pennington
Bilal - A Love Surreal

Donald Byrd – A Personal Retrospective

My earliest memories begin in the backseat of a ’92 Camry. It was in my mother’s car that I was introduced to music.

Before Jay-Z, before the radio, before MTV, before anything else modern, I listened to what she did and that began with Donald Byrd.

It annoyed me, because even at a young age, I wanted to be defiant. I wanted to rage against the parental machine. Listening to the same music as your mother is textbook lame and I hated myself for succumbing to her infectious tastes. So, I decided to hide.

Conjuring Fitzgeraldian nightmares of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg or perhaps even Big Brother, itself, a pair of bright, attentive eyes met mine. Rear-view mirrors are a child’s worst enemy. Their watchtower-like construction required of me a new level of stealth. And just like that, I was discreetly nestled behind the driver’s seat, quietly mastering my greatest gift—the air trumpet. Despite my fears, I knew this much: You can’t just plaaaaay the air trumpet; you’ve got to really PLAY the air trumpet. So, at the tender age of nine, I choreographed a flawless set of movements to accompany my imaginary virtuosic displays. Even in the reduced confines of my leather-bound stage, I articulated every note with an orchestrated dip and an exaggerated sway. I was effortlessly cool. I was Donald Byrd. I was a legend in my own mind. Ask about me.

Donald Byrd – Change – Makes You Want To Hustle

Now it may sound strange – a nine year old kid, inconspicuously spazzing out to an old jazz-funk fusion record on the backseat of his mother’s car. Ironically, it made even more sense to me. I appreciated the music of my generation, I really did, but it didn’t make me feel the same. This was different.

As a teenager, I came to terms with it all and accepted myself for who I was. I did, however, find myself occasionally justifying this ardent stannery vis–à–vis a burgeoning appreciation for hip-hop’s primary sources.

“Nah, see…I was riding out to that Wiz, you know? Just doin’ me. But then I had…um…I had put this on by accident. It’s straight doe, cuz…like…it’s the same song. Nahmean?”

Blackbyrds – Mysterious Vibes
Wiz Khalifa – Ink My Whole Body

It’s funny thinking about all of this now, because as we speak I’m going through my mother’s old crates, exploring dusty vinyls from the Donald Byrd back catalogue. Life always comes full circle.

City Life

Donald Byrd has passed away and we will hear endless conversations about his achievements—countless degrees, years upon years educating the children, and a discography that shaped the entire platform of hip-hop. But honestly, I’m not interested in any of that right now. This one feels a bit more personal.

And let’s be clear. I never met Donald. I was never in the Blackbyrds (Wikipedia won’t acknowledge my contributions to the Complete Car Sessions, recorded from ’97-’99). And I never even got to catch him live. But when my mom put me in that backseat, she drove me to school and Donald Byrd was my first teacher.

I don’t mean to suffocate you with melodramatic wordplay. I, too, recognize the possibly overbearing sentimentality of my prose, but that doesn’t make these words any less true. Donald Byrd meant more to me than just about any artist of my own time. Through his art, I found the critical framework for my overarching theses on organized sound. He is the reason I value, above all, the Roots, Robert Glasper, and any other musician that defies traditional archetypes.

But I’ll save that discussion for another day. Right now, I just say thanks to Donaldson Toussaint L’Ouverture Byrd II. You will be missed.

Written By: Paul Pennington

The Robert Glasper Experiment – Smells Like Teen Spirit (Live) (2012)

The Robert Glasper Experiment pays homage to one of music’s most influential voices.

J Dilla – Vol. 2: Vintage (2003)

A sampling of J Dilla’s work from the mid to late 90s, this compilation features some of the most underrated compositions of an already illustrious songbook.

Remembering Etta James

Remembering one of our most important artists, the late Etta James.

The Redeeming Qualities of a Cold Holiday Season

While this time of the year is often connected with a certain melancholy, the sounds of the season serve as the holiday season’s redeeming factor.

Amerigo Gazaway – Fela Soul (2011)

Using the works of Fela Kuti and De La Soul, Amerigo Gazaway connects the rich musical tradition of the African diaspora.

Undun – The Importance of The Roots

The importance of the Roots newest album,Undun is outlined, as we take a look at the “concept album.”

Lupe Fiasco – Life, Death & Love From San Francisco (Audio) (2011)

We have many things for which to be thankful this holiday season.

In 1957, audiences were at their most adulatory, worshipping the sounds of Billie Holiday, Dizzie Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and John Coltrane. It was on November 29 of that year that “Thanksgiving Jazz” was performed, a benefit concert including a selection of jazz most recognizable names.

In 2005, listeners were compelled to display a level of praise befitting the monumental gift bestowed upon them, just like their 1957 predecessors. It was in September of that year that Blue Note Records released a newly discovered recording from that same evening, nearly 48 years prior—a performance of the Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane.

It was a once-in-a-lifetime find. To hear the punctuated strokes of Monk, in such clarity, is special, indeed. And we were all given yet another opportunity to do so. Never to be outdone, Coltrane, too, finds a place, not only comfortably, but outspoken at times. They seem to play off of each other quite well. The absence of awkward interjections and forced moments of showmanship are appreciated, but an understood aspect of both artists’ genius. Hearing Monk and Coltrane, along with drummer Shadow Wilson and bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik, in such a form is just another reason I give thanks.
[audio:|titles=Monk’s Mood]
[audio:|titles=Sweet and Lovely]
But, during this Thanksgiving season, I am appreciative of something new—birthed from the same lineage. Lupe Fiasco released another mixtape, aptly titled Friend of the People. Fiasco seemed back to his old form, intricately weaving powerful prose across a tapestry of eclectic sounds. I was, however, taken by one particular track, more so than any of the others. It was “Life, Death & Love from San Francisco.”
[audio:|titles=Life, Death & Love From San Francisco]
Channeling the soul of Coltrane, Fiasco chose to work his linguistic aptitude across “Acknowledgment,” the first suite of the 1964 classic, A Love Supreme. His flow manages to fit perfectly with the bold performance of Coltrane. It’s a record that seems to be conceptually simplistic, but in delivery is completely overwhelming. This was a meeting of the minds set over fifty years ago.

I am thankful for many things—friends, family, good health. Today, I am thankful for great music.

“She said “Absurd last words from a dude off a Zoosk site”
And then left him
Like the Roots left Geffen
And the state Howlin’ Wolf left Chess in…”

Written By: Paul Pennington

George Duke / Common – Break My Heart (1974/2007)

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Donny Hathaway – To Be Young, Gifted, and Black (Audio) (1970)

A look into Donny Hathaway’s authentic interpretation of Nina Simone anthemic classic, “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black.”