Ashford & Simpson - It Seems To Hang On (1978)
wyrmlicum asked: sick write up of the dj q LP!!!! srs man, top notch. safe
Thanks a lot! Very much appreciate it.
Tinashe feat. Schoolboy Q - 2 On (2014)
Mustard is really all about the drop - but not in that way you get in drum n bass, say, where the snare fill announces something huge is about to happen and then BRMMMMMBRRMMMMM pandemonium. What I mean is, this song ambles along nicely enough with that little muted riff circling until the Sub-808 is dropped in and suddenly its popping off. Not much has changed, but everything has changed.
DJ Q feat. Kai Ryder - Be Mine (2014)
I’m going to follow every other reviewer of DJ Q’s debut album ”Ineffable” by opening my review with a definition of the word ”Ineffable”:
too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words.
This name actually, and ironically, came from the critic-crammed music forum ILX, which features a thread dedicated to Q’s ”ineffable genius” as a DJ and producer. Its a title which will inspire critics, even as it repudiates them. This is not for you, that title says. This is for appreciation, not description. And what critic could resist going on and on about THAT for paragraph after paragraph, like Jack Torrance typing ”All music and no words makes critic reach for the thesaurus” shortly before he bashes his own brains out with a baseball bat?
The natural impulse for any music critic reviewing ”Ineffable” is to list its influences - the Todd Edwards style cut-up vocals and soul samples chopped into pieces and attached to the rhythmic pistons of House, the bump-n-flex drums straight outta UKG, the Joker/Gemmy esque funky dubstep excursions etcetera. Actually these influences are usually replicated rather than mutated - individual tracks feel like Q ‘doing’ Todd the God (PAUSE), or ‘doing’ Wookie. Whereas in Burial’s music, say, the ‘Ghosts’ of UK Garage could be heard floating about in a reverb-drenched netherworld, echoing echoes of a euphoric past, in DJ Q’s music (as befits the music of a DJ) these Ghosts are resurrected wholesale. Nothing about Q’s music feels haunted or deadened - listening to a track like ”Be Mine”, it’s as if UKG never went away.
That the effect isn’t Weekend at Bernie’s-esque is testament to Q’s considerable skill as a producer. We don’t feel like these ghosts of jiggymass past are going to keel over any second, their Dolce and Gabbana shirts rippling with cockroaches and their fingernails dropping off into their Courvoisier glasses. Q’s drums bump as hard as yer Dem 2s and yer Steve Gurleys. His sound is exactly as garage should be - pristine, slick, full bodied and colourful. We can’t hear the stitches.
Now, arguably this is because Q isn’t really doing much stitching. Whereas many new producers attempt to transpose garage influences into a contemporary sound by fusing garage drums with a dubstep bassline, e.g., or even a Trap breakdown, and therefore risk the Bolty necked Frankenstein’s monster effect, Q is essentially leaving formulas un-tampered with.
As an album (a short one, at 11 tracks) “Ineffable” does display a markedly 2014-ish flexibility, style wise - there’s a bassline house track (inevitable, seeing as Q is a bassline house legend), a couple of Rudimental-esque D’N’B’ tracks, some purple dubstep tunes and a grime track featuring MC Discarda, who presumably holds the title - hotly contested - for the SECOND stupidest voice in grime history after Bruza. This is to be expected, given Qs ability as a DJ to blend styles to crowd-mangling effect. Personally speaking I appreciate the attempt at bringing variety and none of these tunes could be said to be anything less than very well executed - but its the garage tunes that stand out.
I don’t know if I just have a problem with DNB ever since I was tempted away from it by dubstep in 2007, but I find the 2-step DNB beat (esp. in liquid mode) a bit dull nowadays. The DNB tunes here rhythmically chug along in a way that seems particularly bland when compared to the garage tracks, which POP and BUMP and demonstrate Q’s talent for drum programming as opposed to breakbeat looping.
The very nature of 2-step as a style, its disconnections between beats and sounds on full display, all gulps and hestitations, is tailor made for Q’s talents (or visa versa). He excels at the light touch, the sprinkling of melody, the truncated sample, the snippet of inspiration, picked up and dropped in a way that would seem wholly casual were it not for their absolute and exact RIGHTNESS within the architecture of the songs (e.g. the muted Reese which comes in for a second or two in album opener “Get Over You”). Things move along briskly, and sparkling sounds disappear before you can catch them.
Saying all this, ”Ineffable” is hardly a collection of nerdy sound collages - its full of vocals, full of SONGS. Another irony here, created by that title? Well, of course, the words in songs are at best only half the story. The Todd-Edwards style practice of chopping up a vocal so that it hardly resembles the original recording, hardly resembles anything merely HUMAN, creates perhaps the perfect metaphor for the importance of music over words.
For the critic, or the forum debater, words come to mean something as much as if not MORE than music - even if we have not read about the music before we hear it, we instantly ascribe descriptions to it AS WE HEAR IT. At least, this is my sad experience as a sometime-critic and blogger. However, when I’m in the right mood (happy, or drunk, or drugged, or all three), music can still perform that magical trick on me where all words are disabled and pure delight slips through the weakened defences. The cut up vocal on ”Be Mine”, e.g., sounds like a person so swept up in music as to be lost for words. Possessed, in fact, by music - as by a holy spirit.
There are certainly moments of rapture on ”Ineffable”, alongside the more pedestrian spots. When Q hits a sweet spot - as he does often - the question of whether or not he ‘should’ be more innovative to deserve appreciation becomes irrelevant to this listener, as it will be without a moment’s hesitation (you’d hope) for the average music fan. The search for innovation is, in a sense, the search for a narrative. The future, we feel in these science-fiction-esque times, is here, and is uncomfortably similar to the past. “Where do we go from here?” we wonder. We scan the horizon uneasily, awaiting the shock of the new - surrounded by the wonders of the past, and present. At least, those of us who over-analyse everything do.
Sometimes, however, music can and should be a place apart from narrative. Q’s music is sharp and bright and in your face. It isn’t worried about where it’s leading, or even really where it’s come from. Again, this is almost an inadvertent slap in the face (a friendly, rousing one, like you might give to the face of a stranger who’s passed out on your couch at a party) to the hum-hawing and contextualising of critics. You’ve heard something like it before? Who cares? This is HAPPENING.
This is an album which says, in ways both verbal and non-verbal: “Let the words remain on the page and laptop screen” and - to quote another critic-twatting title from “Ineffable“‘s tracklist (and for me the album’s highlight, a joyous mainline-channelling of Todd Edwards and Todd Edwards-via-Daft Punk) - “Let The Music Play”.
Frankie Knuckles - Tears (1989)
R.I.P Frankie, one of the key figures in House music history and one of the most legendary DJs of all time.
K Camp - Oh No (2014)
Shout out to the Mighty Martorialist for putting me onto this. As Marty says, this song is a close cousin to ”Danny Glover”. Only I’d argue that, while Thugga’s vocal on ”Danny Glover” is the WTF element to that song (as crazy as the beat is), the 808 Mafia beat here is the real curveball - all rubbery and trippy, like a Zaytoven beat coated in the metallic brawn of 808Mafia’s aesthetic. Saying that, K Camp’s vocal is hardly unmemorable, and testifies to the ear-worm Gold Rush that’s been kicked off in rap music in recent years by the discovery and dissemination of autotune in street rap.
Big Pun feat. Fat Joe - Twinz (Deep Cover 98) (1998)
The Notorious B.I.G. - Long Kiss Goodnight (1997)
Now, you know me - there’s plenty of rappers around these days who float my Yacht, but when this tune came on shuffle the other day I had to take a moment to mourn the death of really shit fucking hot rapping. That rewind-worthy rapping. Who does it like this these days? Gunplay. Sometimes Meek. A few others. Shit done changed, I suppose.
Young Jeezy - Trap Or Die (2005)
LAST TIME I CHECKED I WAS THE MAN ON THESE STROYTS
YG feat. Schoolboy Q and Jay Rock - I Just Wanna Party (2014 - N.B. this is a shit quality/slowed down rip, I will replace with the proper video when it gets released, as I presume it will…)
Y.G.’s debut album My Krazy Life came out last week and had the internet going about as nuts as it goes every week for whatever notable new album comes out. I suppose at least some of its attraction for bloggers/thinkpiece writers like me is its “conceptual” structure. Young Gangsta is a Gangsta who at least gestures towards answering that question which us non-Gangstas ask of all Gangstas: “Why G?” (the G here stands for ”groannn”). It’s a question I ask of gangsta rappers, and for reasons that seem even to a smug suburbanite limey like me half understandable (even laudable) and half delusional.
We want our thug rappers to explain WHY they (by their own account) shoot people, treat women like what they call them (“bitches”) and generally act like sociopathic toddlers with guns and AM EX cards. Partly this is because the explanation is INTERESTING. More interesting and easier to relate to for the average human being than the criminal behaviour itself. But I also think that we demand this explanation because we OURSELVES feel guilty for finding bad behaviour, and the relating of it through harsh words we’d never use ourselves, EXCITING.
A primal part of us wants to be that muthafucka-capping, bitch-slapping, 40 drinking hoodlum. We want to partake of that nihilism – a nihilism that we are still capable of conceding ourselves to, exhilaratingly. The other part, the civilised, liberal, tax-paying part, which grows as we grow up, increasingly disapproves of this and wrings its hands, muttering. What can we do except distance ourselves from these drives and urges through irony and intellectual justifications? Our love for Chef Keef must be somewhat tongue-in-cheek. We love ”Love Sosa” despite its violent nihilism – its catchy, the beat is incredible.
Kendrick Lamar’s ”g.o.o.d. Kid Madd City” (or whatever it was called) was the Compton rap album us liberal critics always WANTED to hear, and felt comfortable loving. Kendrick delved behind the red/blue bandana, behind the furrowed brow of the Compton street kid and put the complex, humane psychology lying behind all of those macho postures, those gang signs and tattoos and Cadillac windows, winding down to let a gun barrel through. “My Krazy Life” is obviously a post-GKMC album, right down to its reference to the insanity of L.A life. Like Kendrick’s album, it opens with a concerned, exasperated parent pleading for their wild child to stay at home and out of trouble. The album also has a through-narrative of sorts, hence the ”concept-album” status. It is in its own way an explanation. It works best, though, as a celebration.
Of course, L.A. Gangsta rap albums have always had a concept of sorts to them – that concept being the musical representation of the glamorous gang-land lifestyle of low-riders, 40 ounce bottles of Old English, blunts, drive-by shootings etc. And, as in Boys In Da Hood and the Wayans brothers film ”Don’t Drink Juice In The Hood…”, there has usually been a “Message!” to go with the malevolence. Alongside the insouciantly unrepentant gangster, there’s always the “Little Ghetto Boy”. The West Coast G might scream ”Money over Bitches!” like William Wallace yells “Freedom!” but they also make sure to say their “Dear Mama”s.
A contradiction that has characterised rap music in general and has been particularly notable in West Coast rap music since the days of Ice-T and NWA is that music which is often extremely aggressive, violent and nihilistic is also really good PARTY MUSIC. The hook to “Just Wanna Party” on My Krazy Life sums up this paradox concisely: “I just wanna party, I don’t wanna hurt nobody – but I’ll beat the fuck outta a n*gga!” California is uber alles when it comes to parties, or at least it seems that way to us non-natives. The palm trees, the legalised weed, the blue skies – even its hellholes look like paradise on a postcard. Perhaps this is why Dr Dre’s music seemed such a quintessentially West Coast spin on rap music – full of rage and aggression, but simultaneously sweet sounding, buoyant with funk and laid-back licks.
DJ Mustard has described himself as Dre to YG’s Snoop, and suffers less from the comparison. His production draws on the same funk influences as Dre (not to mention Dre himself – there are G-Funk synths all over My Krazy Life), and is similarly tailor made to be played loud out of car and club stereos. Every sound is clear and crisp and seems independent of every other sound. Mustard is a master at arranging his basic building blocks for maximum neck-snapping impact – bringing in or taking away a hi-hat pattern or keyboard refrain here and there, so that you’ll find yourself bumping to a beat-less three note snare riff in anticipation of a three drum beat snapping in. Anticipation, in fact, seems key to the effectiveness of Mustard’s beats. The Bay-Area bounce of his beats has that slight sense of delay between the kick and clap that differentiates it from ”Boom-Bap” – the clap resembles the twanging release of a rubber band that’s been pulled back. It’s a style of beat that’s both stiff and funky.
YG himself is a decent enough rapper but certainly no Snoop Doggy Dogg, lacking his illustrious predecessor’s apparently effortless charisma and… well, his EFFORTLESSNESS. Even though Snoop was sometimes not the most lyrically sophisticated rapper, his flow was always as smooth as a waxed Cadillac. He could get away with, and STILL gets away with, spelling out his name in a rap because he basically sounds like the coolest guy in the world. YG’s flow, by contrast, is sometimes a bit rough, and strained, as if he’s trying to fit to many words into a bar. He doesn’t have that distinctive voice that Snoop had, nor the cartoonish “Dogg chasing Bitchez” persona, nor glorious slang. (YG’s equivalent to “Fo shizzle my nizzle” talk is substituting “B”s at the start of words that begin with “C”. Presumably this is because YG is a Piru blood? In any case, maybe I’m an out of touch fogey honky but I can’t see that catching on, can you? Perhaps I’m wrong and the next election will be fought for by David Bameron and Nick Blegg live on BBB1.)
Like I said, YG’s not a BAD rapper by any means, but often the looseness of his flow doesn’t work as well with Mustard’s strict-but-slick rhythms as you’d like. You want more PUNCH - a Meek Mill, perhaps. Speaking for myself, YG’s rapping isn’t really what makes My Krazy Life worth listening to (the hooks are great though). However, I’ve got to give him credit for having a strong hand in crafting a solid, highly entertaining album, full of songs that will be played at any decent rap-friendly parties this summer (and for writing the most infectious vocal of the whole album in the bruh-mance anthem “My N*gga”). That’s what I meant earlier about celebration. This is a gangsta rap album with a conscience, and of course that’s commendable. But what really makes it essential is the pride YG and Mustard obviously have in West Coast rap music, and in their own music. It’s that swagger that LA lost for a fair few years (and which NY has lost in recent years, too, with the rise of the South).
I’d like to close by pointing out that the start of “Left-Right” sounds like a Backstreet Boys/N’Sync song from the late 90s, cos I’ll go mad if nobody else shares this opinion from this point on and can never quite enjoy that song, one of the highlights of the album, fully again.