Month: March 2017

Songs of the Week – March 19

Songs of the Week – March 19

Image: junodownload.com

Rap is not typically an avenue for intimate emotional expression, but using the power of words to drive a song gives artists a chance to create uniquely personal reflections of their own minds. This week I picked apart a couple of songs that stood out to me as well-written windows into the artists’ souls.

Lady Paradox – When The Weather Fades
Released: 2009
Genre: Rap
Spotify

“Kind of Peace” is a soothing, almost meditative, album. Lady Paradox sets a melancholic tone through her lyrics in the early songs by describing the lonely disconnection the walls of depression create. “Dreams” is the first song to introduce positive imagery in the form of Lady Paradox’s fantasies about a brighter world. The song ends with jazz legend Johnny Griffin describing his relevant quotation – “Jazz is made by and for people who have chosen to feel good in spite of conditions.”

Jazz is an emotional genre and its roots in blues give artists the ability to express feelings beyond the range of words through the primal language of music. Lady Paradox takes this emotional nature of music a step farther in “When The Weather Fades” by personifying it as an exciting new lover. She draws on my favorite imagery between music and weather I described in my first post as she describes how music can shine through the haze of her depression.

“I try and listen to fill in empty spaces
Sounds are my brightness when the weather fades”

Lady Paradox continues to describe her beloved relationship with music as a constant source of support and the tone of the entire album changes. The remaining songs are upbeat and confident, culminating in “Summertime”, a joyful song filled with imagery to delight all of the senses with the sights, smells, and flavors of summer.

The journey of self discovery on the album reminds me a lot of one of my all-time favorite albums, Kid Cudi’s “Man on the Moon: The End of Day”. I highly recommend listening to the whole album cover to cover for the full experience, but I think this transitional song does a great job of capturing the purpose of the album.

 

 

Richie Cunning – Pure Imagination
Released: 2015
Genre: Rap
Spotify

This is a perfect example of a track where well-done production turns a good rap into a great song.

The audio clip in the beginning is from the 1993 crime drama “A Bronx Tale”, a story of a young man at the intersection of a law-abiding life and a life of crime with the mafia. This theme of polarity is echoed in the rest of the song.

The beat in the verse features a sample of the introduction to the song “Pure Imagination” in the 1971 film “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory”. This is the song we hear as Wonka introduces the Chocolate Room. The haunting chimes build a sense of anticipation as we see the fabled room for the first time. In Richie’s version, the chimes are slowed down to match the march-like cadence of the beat as he raps about the monotonous grind of his life. We still feel that sense of anticipation; surely there must be something more to all of this.

Our patience is rewarded in the chorus where a symphony of strings invokes a sense of elation as Richie’s tone shifts from defeated to dreaming and hopeful. The first time I heard this song I didn’t even realize how much the mood had changed until I was completely grounded again at the end of the chorus as the music cuts out and Richie says “But there I go letting my mind get ahead of me/Swimming in a rainy day reverie.”

One subtle touch I love in this song is after the second chorus, the last line changes to “Drowning in a rainy day reverie”. His dreams have gone from a casual fantasy to an all-consuming escape from reality.

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Songs of the Week – March 12

Songs of the Week – March 12

For you Spotify users, I’ve made a playlist where I’ll be adding the songs I feature each week.

This week I’m celebrating the longer evenings of daylight savings time by sharing some easy listening tracks that’ll make you want to roll the windows down.

Drapht – Jimmy Recard
Released: 2008
Genre: Rap
Spotify

Here’s your spring break pregame song. In this Australian hit, Drapht excitedly introduces us to an extraordinary man with an extraordinary name: Jimmy Recard.

The guitar and flute in the opening immediately give this song a playful atmosphere. When the song takes off, Drapht’s lyrics glide over the hot beat with a swagger that I can’t resist nodding along to. This track hits the sweet spot on the hype meter – it’s energetic, but lighthearted enough that you can enjoy it in almost any setting.

Brenton Duvall & Tayyib Ali – Pretty Little Penthouse
Released: 2011
Genre: Chill Rap
SoundCloud

I got into “Pretty Little Penthouse” because of its simplicity. I found it in high school when I was first experimenting with rap and I loved how the song was bright, easy, and perfect for playing with the windows down. It was actually one of the first rap songs I burned to a CD so I could do just that.

Brenton Duvall’s work has a signature warm, friendly sound that’s easy to binge. His SoundCloud has plenty of songs with the same sunny vibe. Tayyib Ali’s smooth, positive bars vibe perfectly with the beat to create a perfect bite-sized song that’s kept me hitting the replay button for years.

Louis The Child ft. Elohim – Love Is Alive
Released: 2017
Genere: Modern Dance
Spotify

Louis The Child has a delightful sound that is lively enough to dance to but also mellow enough to unwind to. The way they blend vocals with their tropical beats creates addicting friendly and melodic tracks.

Elohim’s ethereal singing style vibes perfectly with Louis The Child’s sound to create an intimate, modern dance track that almost feels too delicate to play at full volume. The atmosphere in the chorus feels like a warm embrace that melts away my worries.

Souls Of Mischief – 93 ‘Til Infinity
Released: 1993
Genre: Rap
Spotify

The Souls Of Mischief were a young group of rappers fresh out of high school when they dropped their most popular album, “93 “Til Infinity”. The entire album has a youthful energy and is tied together by the fantastic chemistry of the four rappers. Two of the members started writing rhymes together when they were just eight years old. While many rappers are influenced by the styles of those who came before them, it’s a rare treat to hear a group who actually developed their styles together. They each have a unique flavor but their flows share a lot of rhythm and inflections, making natural and seamless transitions between each other’s verses.

In the title track, the group takes a break from spitting battle rap disses and gritty pictures of Oakland to rap about some of the positive things in their lives with a casual, lively flow. The beat is satisfyingly simple and the way the group jumps between verses so easily makes me feel like I’m in the booth chilling with them.

These refreshing tracks will hit you like a crisp spring breeze, so crack a window and let them in.

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Songs of the Week – March 5

Songs of the Week – March 5

Image: vanillabeats.bandcamp.com

Summer beers are filling the seasonal shelves, charcoal is on sale, and soon daylight savings time will give us a chance to finally enjoy our evenings outside. Just as nature sheds brown grass and grey skies for vibrant green growth and deep blue skies, we replace our muted earth tones with an energetic pallette. Our taste in fashion is echoed in our taste for music as the cozy sounds of winter become the banger anthems of summer.

In these last weeks of winter, I’ve been both savoring the cold weather vibe as well as building hype for grilling season by enjoying a mix of downtempo jams and upbeat anthems I just can’t resist dancing to. Here are some of my favorites:

Charizma & Peanut Butter Wolf – Methods
Released: 2003
Genre: Chill Rap

Spotify

A record player’s soft crackle and a warm keyboard notes embrace you and invite you to listen carefully. Charizma’s soft voice compliments the atmosphere, but he raps with a cadence, emphasizing syllables on the backbeat.

Once you pick up the pattern in Charizma’s flow, you can feel the beat there. The first time I heard this song, I found myself nodding along to just the words over the imaginary beat. The beat kicks in right after Charizma says “Dreaming of the usual/A rap beat” and it is IMMENSELY satisfying to feel it fill that gap where you just know a beat belongs. I found his choice in wording there to be very interesting too, because I was definitely dreaming of a rap beat at that point in the song.

Vanilla – Golden
Released: 2015
Genre: Electronic Jazz

I can’t get enough of Vanilla’s Origins mixtape. It’s warm, jazzy, and strong enough to dance to, but not too invasive, making it the perfect background music for anything. I chose to share “Golden” specifically because I think it has one of the most engaging vibes on the album.

A soft blanket of strings with a hint of accordion makes me feel like I’m floating through the canals of Venice on a warm evening. A saxophone sample then dominates the song with so much attitude it transforms the atmospheric sounds into a groovy jam. If you like what you hear I highly recommend giving the entire mixtape a listen.

Shad – Rose Garden
Released: 2010
Genre: Rap
Spotify

On the more upbeat end of the spectrum, “Rose Garden” has an unexpected story. The bright sample we hear in the beginning is from a song of same title performed by the girl group, The Three Degrees. Here’s where it gets interesting–The Three Degrees’s song is actually a cover of a pop country hit, “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden” by Billy Joe Royal.
Give this a listen and try to imagine it fitting into a rap song.

The worlds of country and rap rarely collide, and when they do, the results are hit or miss. Sometimes you get Yelawolf, but sometimes you get Kid Rock. Thankfully, “Rose Garden” is one of the winners. The bright, bouncy beat and uplifting lyrics raised my spirits on many long walks across campus during my undergrad.

GRiZ – It’s All Good
Released: 2015
Genre: Electronic Funk
Spotify

I’m a huge fan of GRiZ’s sound. It’s loud and energetic, but what makes you dance is that funky swing he’s able to capture from his samples. After hearing his “Say It Loud” album, I watched his behind the scenes video and was impressed to see that he actually tracked down funk musicians to jam with him and record all of the samples he used. His hands-on approach to making sure his samples all captured the right sound gives the album a polished, cohesive sound that forces me to dance along.

“It’s All Good” checks all the boxes for an electronic funk track. Soulful vocals over a piano cadence build with wind instruments and occasional wubs into a groovy dance anthem. The second drop, however, is where the true beauty of this song lies. Just when you think you’re safe in the funk, GRiZ reminds you that you’re supposed to be dancing and hits you around the 2:35 mark with a drop that barely gives you a chance to react before your body is moving. 

Umphrey’s McGee – Booth Love
Released: 2013
Genre: Jam band
Spotify

Umphrey’s Mcgee is difficult to categorize. According to Wikipedia, UM experiments with many musical styles, including rock, metal, funk, jazz, blues, electronic, bluegrass, and folk.” I would file Booth Love under funk.

The word of the day is smooth, and in that regard “Booth Love” is just buttery. My headphones actually slipped off my head the first time I heard this. Beautifully harmonized lyrics, a low, funky beat, and tastefully intrusive horn responses result in a versatile track that you’d wanna dance to in a bar but would also add to your mattress music playlist.

As excited as I am to get outside for concert season, I like to balance my musical diet with plenty of relaxing tracks to savor the precious few cozy weeks I have left before I put my sweatpants away for the summer. I’m eager to share the sounds of spring with you as they come and I encourage you to check out the other work of the artists I post if you like what you hear.