Hip Hop

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
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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”

Or

“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
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10 Years Later: Reassessing Electric Circus

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Lonnie Liston Smith / Curren$y – A Song of Love / 2Much (1976 / 2012)

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good kid, m.A.A.d world – The Deification of Kendrick Lamar

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Robert Glasper – Black Radio (Album) (2012)

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Undun – The Importance of The Roots

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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.
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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.”
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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

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