Category Archives: Music Matters

Praise and Condemation songs for pieces of music that move me. Hopefully this will include original music one day soon

“The Band is his Orchestra/The Sounds of Delight”- A Riquespeaks feature series on Quincy Jones

Quincy Jones turned 84 earlier this month, in a year that has already seen the passing of such musical luminaries as Junie Morrison, Clyde Stubblefield, Al Jarreau and most recently, the cornerstone of Rock & Roll Chuck Berry. It is going on eleven years since we lost James Brown, who Quincy was three months older than, and we just lost Prince last year. It is now seven years since we lost the man who’s career is seen as Quincy’s foremost musical legacy, Michael Jackson. A few years ago, Quincy’s close friend and Montreaux Jazz Festival founder Claude Nobbs passed on in a skiing accident. But Quincy remains a unifying figure, one who speaks to the history of African American music in the 20th century and how that tradition can be carried on into the future and recognized as a key contribution to world heritage.

One very interesting project that Q had on the table during the administration of President Barack Obama was to get music and American culture in general cabinet level recognition in the United States. He was not able to get that project accomplished, though I’m sure he gave it his all. Although that particular project was not successful, Quincy has used his own music and albums as a platform toward that very same aim.

Respect and appreciation for Quincy Jones was something I grew up with, outside of his production for Michael Jackson. His work with M.J might have been the main reason I was checking for this “old jazz guy” as a kid, but the facts are, my father was a serious Quincy Jones fan. I grew up hearing albums like “Quincy Jones plays the Hip Hits”, and “The Quintessence.” My father highly respected Q as somebody who took the mantle from the great jazz composers and arrangers such as Duke Ellington, Thad Jones, Oliver Nelson, Jimmy Lunceford, Benny Carter, Gil Evans, and so many others. Q was highly proffesional, had trained at the future Berklee School of Music back when it was called “The Schillinger House”, and has also trained in Paris with Nadia Boulanger. He also was one of the first Black arrangers to be involved on an ongoing basis with film scoring.

Through all of this, Q was developing a particular brand of musical magic that prepared him perfectly to deliver three of the best selling, most incredible examples of American popular music ever assembled, namely, “Off the Wall”, “Thriller”, and “Bad.” Now I don’t mean to make these three albums the focus of Q’s entire career that encompasses so much of whats good in American music, from Count Basie, to Frank Sinatra, to The Brothers Johnson, Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughn. But what I will do with this series is talk about how the unique musical, experiential and spiritual gifts of Quincy Jones were present throughout his career on his solo albums, which really meant Michael Jackson was stepping into a rolling train when he and Q began work on “Off the Wall.” Which also made possible the later star studded success of “The Dude” and “Back on the Block.”

The different musical approaches of Q’s albums, from his skillful use of guest stars, his choice in cover songs, his incorporation of his portage’s compositions, his usage of tones such as flutes mixed with synthesizer leads, his dipping into the old blues and African styles, his jazz based pop language, and his strong rhythm sections manifest themselves on his pre “Off the Wall” and “The Dude” albums. So this particular series will focus on how Q innovated this genre of the producer led album, which is a genre that would later give us great musical works such as Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic.” Q really brought “The Producer” out as a star and musical artist in a way few have done. His skills as a producer were based in his skills as a composer and arranger, but when he reached the peak of his career he no longer needed to write or even arrange the tunes on his album. He mastered the very modern musical skills of setting the right tempos, choosing the right artists, both instrumentalists and vocalists, choosing the right songs, and a million other musical details that went beyond the magic of simply sitting at the piano or holding a guitar and writing a song. This magic of the producer is one that has been appreciated more and more by the music industry and the public at large in recent years. And it’s one I intend to explore in depth, from “Walking In Space” all the way to “Juke Joint”. Q’s success with MJ and his other R&B/pop hybrids in the 1980s was definitley not a fluke, but something masterminded by one of the greatest social musicians we’ve seen, the great Quincy Delight Jones!!!

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Filed under A little Hip in your HOP, All That Jazz, Appreciation, Black Issues, FUNK, Give me My Flowers While I'm Alive, Merry Go Round Music, Music Matters, Rearview 20/20 Hindsight (aka "History"), Social Timing

“Music 4 the Nxt 1, Black History Month Edition: “Self Destruction” by the Stop the Violence Movement

“Self Destruction” is one of the greatest collaborative songs in Hip Hop history. KRS-ONE, lead rapper of Boogie Down Productions, and one of the greatest philosophers of Hip Hop, formed an organization called “The Stop the Violence Movement” in 1987 in response to a concert homicide. What hit even closer to home was the death of BDP’s own DJ Scott LaRock, founding member of the group and a known peace maker in the community. “Self Destruction” was released in early Hip Hop’s golden era in the year of 1989 and featured a who’s who of M.C’s including M.C Lyte, Stetsasonic, Just Ice, Heavy D, Public Enemy, and Kool Moe Dee. It was so successful at capturing the anti violence, Black unity sentiments of the rap community at the time that a similar project entitled, “We’re all in the Same Gang” was put together shortly after this song was released. For those of us who were there at the time “Self Destruction” is one of the ultimate reminders of the fresh, youthful, common sense activism of the golden age of Hip Hop.

The song begins with a sample from one of the primary intellectual fathers of Hip Hop, Malcom X, saying “All of the speakers tonight agree that America has a very serious problem.” Then the beat comes in, riding a large sample from another one of Hip Hop’s fathers, James Brown, taken from Fred Wesley and The J.B’s Nixon era funk classic, “You Can Have Watergate, But Gimmie Some Bucks And I’ll be Straight.” The main bass line from “Watergate” is sampled along with the laid back funk guitar chords of the J.B’s song. This is laid over a hard, slightly shuffling Hip Hop beat. Underneath the beat are powerful 808 drum kicks that play a pattern every other bar, leaving space for the heavy thump to be absorbed. A crashing horn sample is inserted every two bars right on the “One”, highlighting James Brown’s favorite beat. At the end of the cycle snare drums play 8th notes that bring you right back to the top of the arrangement, while the whole group chants, “Self Destruction/ya headed for Self Destruction.” KRS ONE begins his verse with a stripped down drum beat featuring a siren like horn sample. He speaks in the video from a lecture at the Schomburg Museum of Black History in Harlem, New York. KRS’s verse says, “Well/todays’ topic/self destruction/it really ain’t the rap audience/that’s buggin/it’s one or two sucka’s/ignorant brothers/trying to rob and steal from one another.” KRS makes it clear that the Hip Hop community was banding together to address the violence in the Hip Hop community, which was itself a microcosm of the dog eat dog violence in the Black community as a whole, stating “We got ourselves together/so that you could unite/and fight/for whats right.” KRS brings it home with, “The way we live is positve/we don’t kill our relatives.” M.C Delight of Stetsasonic makes it clear that Black on Black violence should be limited going into the 21st Century, saying “M.C Delight here to state the bottom line/all the Black on Black violence/was WAY before our time.”

The O.G rhyme master Kool Moe Dee raps next, delivering one of the most compelling of all the rhymes he ever delivered in his illustrious career, not just for his usual pollysallbic internal rhyming, but for the succintness of his message. He paints a scenario where a man got stabbed while his wife cried “cause he died/a trifling death.” The Moe Dee delivers one of his greatest lines, “Back in the ’60s/our brothers and sisters/were hanged/how can you gang bang?/I never ever ran/from the Ku Klux Klan/and I shouldn’t have to run/from a Blackman!/cause that’s!….” After which the group chants the chorus again. It always amused me how Moe Dee maintained his black superhero persona, slowly bobbing his head with his Geordi LaForge shades on while everybody else rocked to the beat! A sample of Gil Scott Heron counting down to “The Bottle” en espanol leads in to M.C Lyte’s famous “Funky fresh/dressed to impress/ready to party/money in ya pocket/dying to move ya body”. She goes on to describe how parties get turnt out in the hood, as brothers enter the club with drugs, knives and guns. She says “There’s only one disco/dont close one more/you aint gaurding the door/so what you got a gun for?”

Wise and Daddy O of Stetsasonic come up next, delivering a tag team rap in a jail house set over a sample of Donald Byrd’s “Falling Like Dominoes.” They use their verse to lay out the prison repercussions of stealing and tearing down the community. Next up is BDP member D-Nice, who warns that if we don’t get it together, “The rap race will be lost without a trace.” He paraphrases the Black Panther Party saying, “To teach to each/is what rap intended”, then laying down a prescient warning about what would happen to rap if the community did keep it, “but society/wants to invade/so do not walk this path/that they laid, its”. Mrs. Melodie of BDP follows next with encouragement, after which Doug E Fresh raps backed by a drum beat and his own distinctive beat box mouth percussion. Doug E insists, “It dosent make you a big man/and/to wanna go and diss your brotherman.””

Hardcore rapper Just Ice comes next, talking about his own criminal past and saying firmly, “You don’t have to be soft to be for peace.” The late great Heavy D follows Just Ice’s biting flow with his smooth New Jack delivery, saying clearly, “Heavy’s at the door/so there’ll be no/bumrushing!” After which the beat is enhanced by a sample from “Pass the Peas”, which had been immortalized by Eric B & Rakim’s “I Aint No Joke.” Heavy makes a very poignant statement for Black people when he says, “I don’t understand the difficulty, people/love your brother/treat him as equal.” He also addresses racist stereotypes head on, saying, “They call us animals/uhm uhh/I don’t agree with them/I prove ’em wrong/but right is what/you’re proving ’em.” Fruitkwan of Stetsasonic comes on smooth in black gloves rapping about how the penetentiary is the most likely end for those who don’t heed the songs message. This makes way for the masters of political rap, Chuck D and Flavor Flav of Public Enemy, and Chuck delivers one of the most fiery activist orations of his career, “Yes we URGE to merge/we live for love of our people!”, as Flavor Flav provides his agitated interjections. You can hear a snippet of Jesse Jackson’s “Brothers and Sisters”, just as it was used on P.E’s breakout hit, “Rebel without a Pause”, as Clyde Stubblefield’s classic beat from James Brown’s “Funky Drummer” also gives you “Rebel” deja vu. Chuck says it’s our job to “Build and collect ourselves with intellect”, as he raps from a radio DJ control booth reminiscent of the one in the movie, “The Warriors”, while Flavor hits dance steps outside. Chuck ends the song with a firm summantion, “To revolve/to evolve/with self respect/cause/WE GOT TO KEEP OURSELVES IN CHECK/or else it’s….”

“Self Destruction” was so strong and so potent in it’s time it formed my perception of what Hip Hop was. 7 years after Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five’s classic “The Message”, the next wave of M.C’s had transformed rap into a Malcom X quoting, James Brown powered explosion of Black creativity. This era of Hip Hop would essentially die out in 1992 with Dr. Dre’s nihilistic classic, “The Chronic.” But the steps these M.C’s took in their time to use whatever influence they had to steer the community in the right direction will never be forgotten by me and many others who groove to this song. While its now an obvious truth that good music cant stop or overturn the larger economic forces that Black people or any other group face, it’s also admirable for anybody who has a public voice to use it to promote the perpetuation and saftey of human life. Ice Cube would make the ultra pragmatic observation, “Self Destruction don’t pay the f!@#$ng rent” within the next year, but he also would become almost a strict message rapper in the years after this song. Though this song did not end violence, just as “We are the World” did not end poverty, it stands tall as a group of young Black men and women taking the responsibility to use their platforms to talk about something of benefit to the community. Which is something that must never be forgotten or diminished.

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Music 4 the Nxt 1, Black History Month Edition: “Illegal Search” by L.L Cool J

L.L Cool J’s classic 1990 (don’t call it a )comeback album, “Mama Said Knock You Out”, is one of the greatest albums in Hip Hop history, and one of its most well balanced. Hip Hop can often be a genre where observing certain limits can often drive an artists appeal. Some of the greatest artists are known for creating and exploring rather limited personas. At the same time, there are also Hip Hop artists who have always started from the center of Hip Hop and made excursions to the boundary lines. LL, from the beginning of his career, to the present, has always been one of those artists. What amazes me to this day about “Mama Said Knock You Out” is it’s incredible balance and range. Hip Hop albums were generally diverse in Hip Hop’s “Golden Age”, but few did it as well as LL did on “Mama’s.” On this one album L.L included a posse cut (“Farmers Blvd”) an ode to car soundsystems that sampled En Vogue’s then current hit, “Hold On”, (“Boomin System”), songs that addressed his legions of enemies (“To Da Break of Dawn”, “Jingling Baby”), an allegorical story about a down on his luck rapper (“Cheesy Rat Blues”), one of the greatest ode to everyday working class women ever penned (“Around the Way Girl”) and an extremely funky Hip Hop/House?New Jack Swing fusion (“6 Minutes of Pleasure”) along with several other varieties of cuts. This was all crucial to LL’s career survival at the the time because his previous album, “Walking With a Panther”, was seen as overindulgent, bloated, satisfied, and not politically relevant to those revolutionary times. But on “Mama’s”, L.L expanded his scope and topic range, taking from all the approaches that were developed during that era of Hip Hop and delivered the solo artist masterpiece of the times. On todays Black History Month song, “Illegal Search”, L.L took the time to discuss racial issues from his perspective, that of a successful young Black man who despite his success, and really BECAUSE of it, still couldn’t get himself out of that target Chuck D designed for the Public Enemy logo.

The driving force behind the “Mama Said Knock You Out” album is the legendary Marley Marl’s production. Marley was already acclaimed by 1990 as one of the top producers in Hip Hop by virtue of his work with Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, Kool G Rap and the rest of the artists associated with his conglomeration, “The Juice Crew.” The music he provided for the album was a cutting edge collage of the most popular funk samples of the day such as James Brown’s “Funky Drummer”, cut and pasted in a method that was dense like Public Enemy’s Bomb Squad but also done in a way that was more consonant and tuneful. The song begins with L.L in his car, with some blaring guitar playing from his system, instructing a passenger in his car to “put your seat belt on.” After that a swinging New Jack influenced Hip Hop beat kicks in, with a looped bass part that will reappear later in the song during the break. The vocalists harmonize on the song title, “Illegal Search” as a sample of Rufus Thomas says “I’m gonna do it”, taken from one of his dance classics. Along with that funky swinging groove, a swirling digital organ tone of the type then popular in house and New Jack Swing plays a funky riff. L.L begins his rap strong, “What the hell are you looking for?/cant a young man make money any more?/wear my jewels/and like freakin’ on the floor?/or is it my job to make sure I’m poor?/cant my car look better than yours?. LL goes on to paint the police animosity towards him as jealousy towards his success combined with stereotypical beliefs about how the financial rewards of that success were earned. Behind him the groove features a sharp, metallic snare sound with a trash can tone and shakers that keep the rhythm hot. During the next chorus L.L tells us he’s “totally relaxed” because he knows he’s done nothing wrong.

In the next verse L.L again highlights the difference of perspective between he and the prejudiced cop, “I call it nice/you call it a drug car/I say disco/you call it a drug bar/I say nice guy/you call me Mr. Goodbar/I make progress/you say “not that far.” But L.L’s paperwork checks out because his car is in his “Uncle’s name.” L.L goes on to detail a traffic stop where the police harrasses him, because he wants to turn LL’s silk outfits into prison “stripes.” After that verse L.L tells Marley Marl to “get funky”, after which Marley reintroduces the repeating, looping bassline heard at the top of the track, with the the vocals all cut up to say “Illegal/Illegal/Illegal Search.” In the last verse L.L wins his court case against the prejudiced cop. The beat breaks down to a drumbeat with some the “Illegal Search” vocals phased and vocoder like while L.L chides the police and memorializes a brother who was evidently killed or beaten back in that time in New Jersey. Marley Marl let’s the swinging groove play out for almost a minute after L.L’s last words.

“Illegal Search” is an important song to me because of the perspective L.L was writing from. While it was after N.W.A’s classic anti police songs, and nowhere near as hard hitting, it presented the perspective of an average, hard working young Black man who was being stigmatized by racist cops. L.L was the premiere male solo Hip Hop artist in the world at the time, but in his narrative he also represented those young men who had nice little jobs and were able to stack their money to buy nice cars that were their pride and joy. This is all in a climate of the late ’80s crack cocaine trade and the drug raids that treated every young Black man in or out of the inner city area as a threat. So L.L’s side of the story, with no allusions to being involved in any type of criminal activity on his part, was the basic young Black male story of his times in many ways. Sadly, the swinging New Jack song is still relevant in today’s climate of increased police killings. In L.L’s time I must admit, we were worried more about police brutality than police murder. As brutally as Rodney King was treated, he also lived for many years after that whipping, which show you to a degree how bad things are in our current times. So the police brutality of that time has seemed to escalate into more and more police killings. But it’s a testament to L.L Cool J’s artistry and the unique position he has always had in rap, as your everyday, around the way fly guy that he was able to capture the situation as well as he did on “Illegal Search.”

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Music 4 the Nxt 1 Black History Month Edition III: “Bra” by Cymande

One outstanding aspect of the musical climate of the late ’60s and early ’70s was the flowering in popularity of Black musical groups from parts of the Diaspora outside of the U.S.A. This trend was exemplified by acts and groups such as Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley and the Wailers, Manu Dibango, The Beginning of the End, Mandrill, T-Connection, Fela Kuti, Osibisa, Hugh Masekela, and today’s subject, the Caribbean funk group Cymande. These groups, through their expansive African based rhythms and the incorporation of other grooves cultivated by Africans estranged from Africa, both paid tribute to deep African roots as well as exemplified the new flavors that had picked up in the numerous ports of call along the Transatlantic slave trade. Today’s song from Cymande, their classic “Bra”, is a song that has stood the test of time as a unique example of Caribbean Funk.

“Bra” is a song that derives it’s unique rhythmic effect from contrasting rhythmic feels. While the tempo is brisk, Steve Scipio played a bass line that pulled back on the time, while the horns long sustained notes create another feeling on top of that. You’re grabbed from the first notes of the intro, as Scipio plays a firm note on the first beat and another beat on the upbeat of beat 2. He’s only playing TWO notes in the fist bar of the pattern, but the feel and placement of them is enough to create a baseline the listener won’t soon forget. Immediately after the bass hits hard on the first beat, guitarist Patrick Patterson plays a sweet toned guitar slide followed by some fluttering trills, in a style very similar to the Curtis Mayfield guitar ballad style. The horn section then comes in on the upbeats, playing a very sharp, staccato arpeggio, walking up the notes of a major chord, then holding the top note of the chord for a whole two bars, before working their way down and sustaining another note. All of this is laid on top of Sam Kelly’s drums, which are playing a variation of Clyde Stubblefield’s stop and start drum groove made famous on James Brown’s “Cold Sweat”, with the rhythmic gaps/rests lining up with Scipio’s bass line. Working in concert with that are the conga drums of Pablo Gonsales. The result is a dipping, bouncing Caribbean funk groove with all the jerkiness of Island music, yet the pronounced “One” of mainland funk, with a sweet coating of melodic horns on top.

When the vocal comes in, the horns stop playing to give the vocals center stage. Joey Dee sings a tale of African redemption with a slight West Indian accent, with heavy reverb on his mic. “Time Has been lost for trying/we have been left outside/looking at passions dying/Emotions grow strong on time.” After which, the famous sing a long chorus is introduced, “But its all right/we can still go on.” Underneath the chorus the rhythm begins to get more active, as Scipio expands his bass line with class Jamerson/Rainey/Jemmont rhythmic business as Patterson also becomes more aggressive in his rhythm guitar strumming. The horn riff returns and on top of it all the percussionists start to spice up the groove with small rhythmic instruments, with the tambourine rattling like a snake for an instant. After the chorus the vital rhythmic bed continues on for a saxophone solo, under which the rhythm players introduce more variations. Midway through the song, the song breaks down to just bass playing along with percussion. The bassline on the break is an incredibly funky variation on the main rhythm, with the drums playing kick drums on all four beats and the percussionist teasing out melodic rhythms. The groove slowly builds up layer by layer until we get back to the top of the song for one last repetition of the main verse until the song comes to a close on a hard stomped out, “But its ALL RIGHT!”

“Bra” is a song that for a time I thought only my Dad and family knew, and I thought the group was African for the longest. Then in the ’90s Spike Lee used their songs on several movies of his that I enjoyed very much, including “Crooklyn” and “The 25th Hour.” I remember the first time I heard it on one of his films, excitedly showing it to my Dad and asking him what the name of that song was, because I’d heard it all my life but never knew anything about the group. It was later I found out Spike Lee’s connection to them made sense, because being a pan-Carribean group, with New York City’s strong Carribean influence, their music was very popular during the early day’s of Hip Hop, and “Bra” and their other fantastic hit, “The Message”, were considered early Hip Hop breakbeats that had even occasionally been sampled. Both songs are excellent examples of Post Civil Rights and Black Power era ’70s solidarity music, done by a group of Rastafarian funksters in England who’s origins spanned the Carribean. Their music as a whole very uniquely pulled together the Caribbean rhythms and Rastafarian ideology of Reggae with the hard edged vibe of American funk. Also there is much confusion over the title of this song, but “Bra” is simply the old school way of spelling a word that has been popular among Black people again in recent years, the shorthand “Bruh” for the word, “Brother.” This word is not only popular among American blacks (and now everybody else as well) but is also almost an official term of address in other Black countries, such as the great South African Hugh Masekela’s nickname, “Bra Hugh.” Also in Liberia where my mother is from it was a term of endearment, followed by the given name, for males you were close to. So the title of the song is in itself an example of the unique unifying ability of Cymande as a musical group that mustn’t be forgotten!

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Music 4 the Nxt 1 Black History Month Edition II: “Ladies First” by Queen Latifah ft. Monie Love

One thing I’m always thankful for is that I grew into my appreciation for Hip Hop in the middle of it’s late ’80s, early ’90s “Golden Age.” Besides the dope funk samples, high tech rhymes and pure fun of the music and images of that era, one of the most valuable things the artists of that time did were strengthen my familiarity, understanding, and appreciation of Black issues. The majority of artists mentioned something in this vein at that time, but of course the most prominent were Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions, X Clan, and The Native Tongue family. One of the most powerful records from the Native Tongue family was a record I discovered watching the local video music station, “California Music Channel”, with my father, Queen Latifah and Monie Love’s classic, “Ladies First.” This song hit me on several levels, from the smooth way the ladies sang the chorus, to the fresh sample based beat, the Afrocentric attractivness of the ladies rhyming, and the seriousness of it’s divestment era South African aparteid footage, which was possibly the first time in my life I’d seen those images.

After the video opens with powerful images of great Black women like Harriet Tubman, Sojurner Truth, Winnie Mandela and Angela Davis, the beat comes in. The groove is based on a funky drumbeat sample of Bahamian percussionist King Erricsons cover of The Doobie Brothers classic, “Listen to the Music.” The heavy fatback funk drumming is supplanted in this case by the prominent mix of King Erricsons hand drums. It creates a very similar effect to another prominent Hip Hop sample, Chuck Brown & the Soul Searcher’s “Ashley’s Roadclip.” Very soon after the drumbeat comes in, we’re hit by the sweet chorus, a female voice crooning “Ooooh/Ladies First/Ladies First”. The next time around another vocal comes in that harmonizes the first. After that sweet refrain, the music intensifies it’s aggressive funk, as a funky bass line comes in, which will repeat its one bar pattern for the song, and the top end is taken care of by a horn sample of five notes playing a syncopated melody. Latifah kicks in the door hard like Big Daddy Kane, “The ladies will kick it/The Rhyming is wicked/Those that don’t know/how to be pros/get evicted/A woman can bear you/break you/take you/Now its time to rhyme/can you relate to?/A sister dope enough to make you/Holler and Scream”, before she turns the mic over to the super fresh London born M.C Monie Love, one of my great crushes of that era! Monie gets on the mic and spits some super fresh, tongue twisting syncopated rhymes ending with “Let me state the position/Ladies first yes?/Yes.” After another short chorus interlude, Monie comes back rapping another verse, which she ends with “we are the ones to give birth/to a new generation of prophets/cause its Ladies First!” Queen Latifah follows her with a “lyrical freestyle” much looser than the tense rhymes of her first verse, and one of my favorite rhymes in the song is her call and response couplet, “Some think that we cant flow. Monie Love: “Cant Flow? Stereotypes they’ve got to go, Monie Love: “Got to go”. The South African Apartheid footage of the video is intersperesed with Latifah in a darkened conference room pushing giant African fist chest pieces off the map, as well as shots of Latifah’s two B-Girl dancers. Latifah and Monie go on to drop fleet lounged rhymes as the video features other female rappers of the day such as BDP’s Miss Melodie, who was KRS ONE’s wife at that time! Latifah ends the song with a freestyle lyric in a very laid back cadence where she speaks of the songs producer, DJ Mark the 45 King wanting her to “sing”, which she would go on to do later in her career in classics like “Just Another Day” and in her career as Dana Owens.

“Ladies First” made an incredible impression on me as a young dude, to see beautiful Black sisters rhyming so competently and invoking both the history of great Black women in America as well as how that connected to the struggles in South Africa. It did something to me to see all those Black people running from the Afrikaner cops in the days of Apartheid. In one of the great ironies of Hip Hop, Latifah’s rhymes were co written by a member of the Flavor Unit named Apache, who went on to have a hit with a song a few years later called “I want to Gangster Boogie with my Gangster Bitch.” That transition in itself pretty much summed up where Hip Hop went after the golden age, with the same MC who penned lyrics for this song penning “Gangster Bitch.” Apache pretty much renounced that part of his career in the later years of his life though. But no matter, I am thankful that Queen Latifah and Monie Love’s “Ladies First” formed a positive, strong attitude about Black women for me in my formative years. I remember my Dad, who was only impressed with Hip Hop when it was weighty or just so funny it could be enjoyed in a disposable way, enjoying this song on that video show back in 1989, and being shocked by its sophisticated potrayal of Black history and the then current struggles in South Africa. And no matter how far I or Hip Hop have strayed, I’m thankful that songs like “Ladies First” provided my foundation in the music and culture, as opposed to the negativity that often came later.

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Music 4 the Nxt 1 Black History Month I: “March of the Panther” by Mongo Santamaria

Mongo Santamaria is the one of the best artists to talk about during Black History Month because the cultural forces behind his music cover such a large part of the African diaspora. A native of pre Revolutionary Cuba, he learned music in his community based on rhythms that had come directly from Africa. It was said one of his grandfathers had in fact been a Yoruba priest. His composition, “Afro Blue”, was considered to be the first jazz standard based on an African “3 over 2” rhythm, and was popularized by John Coltrane. In the ’60s he moved from a straight Afro Latin jazz to a Boogaloo based melange of Afro Latin rhythms interlaid with the popular sounds of Soul and Funk. One album I grew up with during that period was an album he did called “Soul Bag”, that featured an incredible version of “Cold Sweat.” Today’s Black History Month special is a song from his 1970 LP, “Mongo 70”, entitled “March of the Panther.” This song was composed by guitarist Sonny Henry, who was the composer of Carlos Santana’s breakthrough hit, “Evil Ways”, which he originally recorded with Willie Bobo. “March of the Panther” is a funky, strident, striving number with the electric energy of the Black Panther Party in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

The song begins with an old school military march theme, featuring snare drum, tuba, flutes and horns playing in a style straight out of the Revolutionary War period. The allusion is very clear as the song transitions from music for that old school revolutionary army to a groove for the new school revolutionary army, The Black Panther Party, as the drummer plays a snare fill that leads to the groove. Bass Player John Hart plays a funky two note baseline supported by two pickup notes in the classic late ’60s, early ’70s style. There is a call and response relationship between the bass line and the electric piano, as the piano plays a syncopated rhythm chord figure after the bass plays its eighth notes. The drums play two strong kick drum notes in harmony with the bass but besides the cracking snare drum hits the drums are partially obscured by Mongo’s powerful African percussive figures, which are both pattern setting but also communicate in an improvisational way. These provide the setting for the rousing horn fanfare, which is a national anthem type melody that plays long, sustained notes, in the style of marching/military music, but also reminiscent of horn sections in African and Afro Latin bands, playing horn lines in unison. The bass and horn melody goes between two chords, as the bass line walks down to second chord sequence and the horns follow. After playing through that sequence the arrangement goes to a change part where the whole arrangement seems to come together in unity for the chorus, which is then followed by another vamp/statement of the main melody, with more attention paid to the trumpets, followed by another chorus that is again, heavier on the top end of the horns. After that a tenor sax solo is introduced, under which the bass player is given more freedom to improvise funky lines that support the solo. After the solo ends, Mongo’s conga playing becomes more pronounced, as he varies his rhythm and begins to take more of a leadership role, introducing the sections of the song with his drum flurries. The song grooves on and fades out, shifting back to a straight military march at the end.

“March of the Panther” took up the call that was made during the 1960s for new forms of Black art that would be the new symbols of the New Black Nation. In this case, it envisions itself as the theme for The Black Panther Party as the military arm of that nation. Mongo always foregrounded African/Black identity in his music, naming songs after Yoruba Gods and Black figures such as Malcom X. It was amazing for me to discover this funky song that took the idea of a military march and remade it for the age of The Panthers. The song itself is a good example of uptempo, super rhythmic, boogaloo inspired early 70s funk, in fact it would work very well over a montage movie scene about The Panthers or activists set in that time period. It was said that Herbie Hancock played his classic “Watermelon Man” for Mongo after Mongo had said he couldn’t see the connection between Afro Cuban and Afro American music. Upon hearing the funky tune, Mongo immediately got excited and began playing along with it. Of course, in Mongo’s hands, “Watermelon Man” went on to become one of the biggest hits in jazz history. It was this ability to connect the African roots, modern Afro Cuban music, jazz, and the then current funk and soul vibes that gave Mongo the unique place in Black music history and Black culture that he occupies. And that is one reason, along with his excellent musicianship, that a figure like Mongo deserves more consideration when contemplating the bonds of Africans in the Americas. And “March of the Panther” stands tall as an anthem for the Party that is no longer that brings together the energy of the whole African diaspora for the long waged fight for total prosperity and liberation!

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Filed under All That Jazz, Black Issues, FUNK, Music for the Next ONE, Rearview 20/20 Hindsight (aka "History"), Social Timing

Music 4 the Nxt 1 Black History Month Special

Black History Month is admittedly one of those things my opinion of has vacillated on through the course of my life. When I was a young child in school I enjoyed it more than anything else in my school curriculum. I have always been the type of individual who views the acquisition of knowledge with the attitude of exploration and discovery. And Black history, both in Africa and America having the “Hidden” quality that it does, due to suppression, ignorance, arrogance the profitability of subjugation and domination. My parents always had a strong sense of Black history simply from their backgrounds, my father being born in the Depression era south and being active in the Civil Rights movement, and my mother being a Liberian with a rich understanding of both Africa and her country’s roots in being established as a haven from American slavery and white supremacy. Still, I don’t think the majority of Black parents want to overburden their children with sad and negative messages. So even with my parents having the knowledge of things that they did, some of the most substantial information would come out when they were watching and responding to news items.

I was fortunate enough to have Asian and white teachers in Oakland, California who were very responsive and understanding of the predominantly Black demographics of their school, under the guidance of Mrs. Kelly, a strong Black Principal, to inject Black and multi cultural information into the curriculum. I still remember my kindergarten Teacher Ms. Huen giving us red envelopes for Chinese New Year, which is also this month, and marks the return of my birth sign, the Rooster!

So I always enjoyed learning about Carter G Woodson, Lewis Latimer, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, Phyllis Wheatley, W.E.B DuBois, Madame C.J Walker, and the numerous other luminary figures who against all odds contributed to America and kept Black people alive to get to the point we are today. Many of their inventions and discoveries proved to me a truth my father related to me from his experience down south, that a great many things were invented by very hands on Black people who were tasked with getting the work done and took it upon themselves to find an easier way to get those tasks accomplished.

Then when I grew up, in the Def Comedy Jam ’90s, I got innundated with the same jokes as everybody else, about how they “gave Black people the shortest month.” Which totally overlooks the contributions of Carter G Woodson and the fact that Black History Month is a BLACK invention. More recently the line has been “Black history is all year round”, which is one that I wholeheartedly agree with and try to practice on this blog and my other writing activities. However, just as with holidays, wedding anniversaries, birthdays and other events, there is a reason Human beings choose dates to commemorate things. There is a great power to Human ritual that we sometimes forget in our modern fragmented world, a certain purification of purpose and inspiration. And it’s in that spirit that I’m adding a supplement to “Music 4 the Nxt 1” in honor of Black history month. I will still review funky songs but the scope will expand in terms of era, genre, and locale. I will cover songs of inspiration, songs in honor of Black historical figures, and songs that were just breakthroughs or inspiring to Black people at any given point of time. These grooves will come from Reggae, Soul, Funk, Rock, Gospel, Spirituals, Jazz and many other genres. I hope that my readers enjoy it and that it reminds you of the struggles, accomplishments, joys, pains and exultations of peoples of African descent and why it is critical our position continue to be strengthened for the good of all.

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Filed under A little Hip in your HOP, All That Jazz, Appreciation, Black Issues, FUNK, Merry Go Round Music, Music for the Next ONE, Music Matters, Rearview 20/20 Hindsight (aka "History"), Social Timing