Category Archives: A little Hip in your HOP

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“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: “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 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 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

riquespeaks Inaguration Day Music Special

Friday January 20th, 2017 marks the Inaguration of the 45th President of the United States. It is clear from the divisive, childish, rude campaign he ran, and the den of thieves he has appointed to his cabinet that he is coming in with very clear plans to undo many positive things that have taken place in this country over the last 50 years. For me personally, this is one of the most dramatic political events of my life, following the election of Barack Obama, and the drama over George W Bush’s election in 2000. But this new Administration poses a greater threat to what I hold dear in both style and content than that of GWB. Times like this demand that I go back into what brought me here to understand whats going on and how to go forward, and that is the social and political information distilled in some of my favorite music! So I’d like to take this opportunity to share some music with you today that will be uplifting, informative, insightful, and useful on the first day of the Trump “Error.”

“Party for Your Right to Fight” by Public Enemy

Public Enemy is one of my favorite musical groups and their music and the lyrics of Chuck D have been a guiding force for most of my life. “Party for Your Right to Fight” is a lesser played track from their classic second album, “It takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.” The title inverts The Beastie Boys classic rebel without a cause anthem, “Fight For Your Right to Party” into a rousing call to arms, with the “Party” in the title being synonymous to political action, especially that of the Black Panther Party. In a unique production move for P.E, Chuck and Flavor rap the whole song together, with one voice slightly delayed behind the other, in a break from their usual style of Chuck raps and Flavor interjections. The song itself minces no words, attacking the U.S Government’s COINTELPRO operations during the 1960s. It also features a great sample from prime period George Clinton, saying, “Aint nothing but a party ya’ll, lets get it on!”

James Brown Economic Plans




The Godfather of Soul James Brown always used his musical voice and powerful standing in the Black International community as a platform to speak on various issues of wide concern. Although he was reputed to be a conservative, the economic philosophy he espouses on these songs is far from the “Trickle down greed and pain” that has been Republican economic philosophy since Ronald Reagens time. “Take Some, Leave Some” for example espouses a communal, humanistic economic philosophy over a brutally crawling funk groove. JB says, “Ive never been the type of cat that has to have it all.” “You Cant Take It With You” from 1976’s “Get Up Offa That Thang” LP is a companion piece, a furiously funky B-Boy/Locking groove where JB disavows money as the full measure of a persons life because at the end of the day, theres no such thing as a rich dead person! The classic breakbeat “Funky President” is a commentary on the Presidency of Gerald Ford and the tough economic times the country was facing in the mid ’70s. Here JB unveils an economic plan of self sufficiency for Black America, inspired by Marcus Garvey, Booker T Washington, and the Honorable Elijah Muhammed, “Lets get together/get some land/raise our food like the man/save our money/like the mob/put up a factory OWN the job.” “The Whole World Needs Liberation” from the “Get on the Good Foot” LP is a track built off the earlier Bootsy Collins fired “Brother Rapp” that focuses on a topic of Third World liberation, which on the economic side is still one unfolding today. JB states strongly, “It’s neither Black or White/it’s what’s right/its neither White or Black/It’s a fact/the whole world needs Liberation.”

“We the People” by The Staple Singers

The Staple Singers used the guitar playing of “Pops”, and the wonderful voices of Mavis, Cleotha and Yvonne to provide a soulful companion in sound to the Civil Rights movement. When the tide turned to Black power, pride and identity, The Staples actually hit their peak from a popular standpoint, as their rootsy, gutsy sound was very much in league with the heart of the Black community at that time. “We The People” is a funky national anthem for the community at that time, and it’s message is very pertinent in the age of Trump. Although we have a very despicable man taking office today, it is “We the People” who “have to make the world go round.” Meaning this can not only be Donald Trumps America, the people must remain engaged and vigorous in checking his hand!

“B Movie” by Gil Scott Heron

This song is still hands down the best summation of the types of forces in American life that got us to the point a Donald J Trump could get elected, for my money. It’s that because of the cutting, insightful brilliance and experiences of Gil Scott Heron, and its also that because it was inspired by the election of a somewhat similar figure, Ronald Reagen, 36 years ago. In this epically funky poem and song Heron traces America’s enthusiasm for Ronald Reagen to the celluloid images of white masculinity and manifest destiny sold to the American public by actors such as John Wayne. Ronald Reagen himself became the stand in for John Wayne because Wayne was “no longer avaliable for the part.” Replace the Saturday matinee with television reality shows and you get an analysis of how the American forms of media speak to the dark side of American ideals and produce figures like both President Reagen and Trump. And it also makes you wonder if Americans could ever resist a half credible celebrity being sold as a political savior?

“International Thief Thief” by Fela Kuti

Fela Kuti is the artist I think of the most during the Trump error. When George W Bush won the election in 2000, a local Nigerian commentator in the Bay Area, Tunde Okorodudu, laughingly commented on a local Black news show, “So you people want to make America a BUSH huh?” Meaning in the African sense, backward, less developed and potentially chaotic. Some of the things a vote for Trump represents, ethnic strife, less world engagement, less immigration, less civil and political freedom, are exactly the type of strongman politics many people in the world have been running away from. And here we have a winning plurality in America running TOWARDS them. The voice of Fela Kuti wailing out against his own government in Nigeria and the way it had been ill set up and miseducated by the colonial powers in Britain loom large in this environment. And we must remember that the Nigeria Fela was railing against was a nation swimming in oil cash, doled out very selectively among an elite and split along ethnic lines of tribe. Fela was a tireless critic of every segment of the Nigerian society that needed change, and he always tied it back to their history of colonialism and getting away from African values. This song attacks the “International Telephone and Trust Company” which with African humor, Fela calls “International Thief Thief”. “Thief Thief” is what African people yell in neighborhood settings as a call for the community to apprehend a fleeing criminal and bring them to community justice. In this way, Fela brings the high and mighty governmental and business leaders down to an understandable level of common thieves operating on a mass scale. This is the way Trump’s cabinet seems to be shaping up, a consortium of rich buisness leaders being put into positions they can profit from.

“This is My Country” by The Impressions

Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions song end this playlist on a positive note. Curtis actually caught some flack from this song from some in the Black militant community at the time it was released. They thought it was jingoism, but in reality Curtis song is a strong, soulful declaration that he and other Black people would not cede this nation to the Bull Conners, Governor Faubeses, George Wallaces and Storm Thurmonds of the country. The reason? “We struggled 300 years or more!” This song then is a soulful rallying cry for Black people, women, immigrants, disabled people, LGBT, poor people, middle class workers, Native Americans, Muslims, and any other group that faces hatred in the Trump years. This country does not belong solely to people like Donald Trump and his “mad as hell” voters but to everybody who lives here and contributes!

This list could go on and on but I will stop here for now. I hope I’ve give you some thoughtful grooves on this Inaguration Day. Sociopolitcal music will be a strong presence on this blog in the next four years, both through classics such as these as well as highlighting newer grooves to come that will take on the ironies of the Trump error. It will be wild ride for sure, but one thing I do know is that Donald Trump is NOT God (or Godly), meaning even he will have to bow before a committed majority of freedom loving Americans.

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Music for The Next 1, 11/19/16: “Day to Day” by The Robert Glasper Experiment

Robert Glasper has pulled off something very thrilling within the past decade that has great meaning for a lover of variations of R&B, Funk, and Hip Hop that have space for the type of swinging improvisational music known as “jazz.” Just as Miles Davis, Weather Report, Herbie Hancock, George Benson, Charles Lloyd and many other luminaries did in the ’60s and ’70s, he has sought out, with his band, an instrumental jazz form that maintained the root rhythmic appeal of popular Black music. He’s advanced the type of instrumental fusions championed by Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul, and Quincy Jones, by opening up Jazz improvisation to the more modern R&B variants of Neo Soul and J-Dilla influenced Hip Hop. Now mixtures of Jazz and Hip Hop are by no means new, with Herbie Hancock striking gold with “Rockit” in 1984, and Miles Davis final “Doo Bop” album with Easy Mo Bee, in addition to the way artists like George Duke and Norman Brown in the smooth jazz idiom embraced New Jack Swing beats as a foundation for improv. What makes what The Robert Glasper Experiment unique is by virtue of age, its members are just as much Hip Hop people as they are Jazz/instrumental people. So they have no qualms giving a song exactly what they feel it needs, as opposed to viewing a songs primary purpose being as a vehicle for improvisation. While I have not always liked everything they’ve done, feeling they’ve tended to rely more on setting a head nod mood in the vein of ’90s Neo Soul, “Day to Day” is truly a standout cut from their latest album, “ArtScience.” The band does something unique on this song, which is far more frequently done across the pond than here in the lower 48, which is craft a disco-jazz influenced dance floor vocal song in the vein of Herbie Hancock’s work in the late ’70s. “Day to Day” was a groovy surprise to me and is our featured song of this week.

The song begins with a rock solid, march step post-disco dance beat, accompanied by an off beat cowbell riff. Corey Benjamin’s vocals come in at a somewhat surprising spot, before the introduction has finished it’s 8 bar cycle. His first lyrics are “Its Now…”, which combined with his earlier than expected entry, helps magnify the funky sense of urgency. When Benjamin comes in, he’s accompanied by some middle aged piano chords. Benjamin’s vocals also are coated with a slight layer of auto tune which forcefully send one note into the next. After he gets through one verse, the bass guitar is introduced, and it plays an interesting variation on Michael Jackson’s classic “Billie Jean” bassline, but instead of repeating the pumping 8th note riff on the same notes, the bass player moves the baseline through the chord change sequence. At the chorus uplifting chords are introduced along with the hook, “I’m living day to day/show me the way to your heart.” The bass also gets in some Paul Jackson style fills, while the arrangement adds Fender Rhodes to its acoustic piano tones. During the next verse a funky rhythm guitar riff is introduced along with strings as the arrangement begins to build in intensity. By the next chorus the strings are more lively, as is the background singing, as the chorus adds some extra repetitions. This is followed by a bridge section where Benjamin sings accompanied by Glaspers Fender Rhodes runs. Which then falls off into an interlude where Glasper plays a simple but funky single note Fender Rhodes rhythm part supported by string stabs. After which, the chorus comes back in with its vamps, which puts the record solidly in the mode of late ’70s dance records. As the record vamps on and on Glasper has more space for the Herbie Hancock like Rhodes playing. Glasper plays his steady Rhodes parts in the interlude as the guitar plays a chopping octave part. The guitar continues to vamp on in that vein until it fades away to the sound of the guitar player playing a bluesy riff.

“Day to Day” is a unique disco/funk/jazz song. Most musicians who reference the fusion era of jazz tend to go for the more experimental, solo heavy side of it. But there was a whole other school of funky jazz that also toyed around with disco rhythms and structures at the end of the ’70s on into the early ’80s. Herbie Hancock played with this style on his albums like “Sunlight”, “Feets Don’t Fail Me Now”, and “Monster.” And this song screams Hancock, from Corey Benjamin’s vocoder like auto tune, to Glaspers Fender Rhodes noodling, to Paul Jackson like bass playing. What makes it unique is that these jazz men who play brilliant straight ahead on the rest of the album, here find the song craft and production sheen to play a straight dance oriented song with vocals. Bringing back the sound of quality dance music played and produced by well trained musicians, something lacking in today’s music that was so common it was taken for granted in the ’70s and ’80s. Lets hope that highly eclectic and diverse band continues to mine this as one of their musical sounds on into its future!

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James Brown’s Greatest Opening Lines : A James Brown Day Celebration

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May 3 of this year marks what would be the Godfather of Soul, James Brown’s 83rd birthday. Of course Mr. Brown is a big hero of this blog and my musical activities and outlook in general. This year I want to take a different approach to remembering him and his music. I want to talk about a small idiosyncrasy of his legendary performing style, his love of spoken introductions. James Brown records were all about getting you into the groove as quickly as possible, and his recording style reflected his unique position as singer/bandleader. It really was Brown’s interest in, feel for, and direction of his backing music which took him places very few singer/performers ever go, into the realm of total musical influence, without spending much time on an instrument. He also pioneered a loose, laid back production style that would find life in things like Hip Hop skits. James Brown productions often feature a little “rap”, hip, stylized expressions. Browns penchant for band directions however, was a big part of his performing, band leading, and recording/production style, and it’s also a feature that’s been mocked by great comedians such as Eddie Murphy. It’s in that spirit that I serve up this list of James Brown’s greatest song introductions

17. “Hit It”/”Doin it to Death”: getting straight down to business, JB’s “Hit It” on the Fred Wesley and the JB’s 1973 classic “Doin it to Death” is one of his most straight up, immediate intro’s. The groove the JB’s had cookin was hot, and JB didn’t need to waste a lot of time setting the groove up, the band was already “Doin it to death”, just like the workers in the factory where Fred Wesley once worked that inspired the song title.

16. “Owwwwww”/Ain’t That a Groove”: the scream of ecstasy, passion and pain, “ow!” Is of course one of JB’s favorite exclamations and he opened a bunch if songs with it. This particular “Ow” is super stylized though, as befitting the groovy, swinging soul jazz tune to follow.

15. “Pick up on This!”/”I’m a Greedy Man”: JB means serious business here as he barks out his commands. This is a “pay attention to papa” type opener. Salt n Pepa would pick up on it for their Hip Hop classic, “Push It” about fifteen years later.

14. “One, Two, Three, Make it Funky!”/”Make it Funky”: This one follows one of James Brown and Bobby Byrds most celebrated intro bits, with Mr. Byrd telling Brown, “What you go’ play now? And Brown replying, “Bobby, I don’t know, but WHATSENEVER I play….it’s got…to be…FUNKY!” JB’s count off perfectly sets up the slow, heavy, grinding funk with a light swing of this early Funk classic.

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13. “Owwwwww!”/I Got Ants in my Pants”: Another song, another “Ow”, but this time delivered with more in your face gusto.

12. “One, Two, Three, Take your Time!”/”I Refuse to Lose”: As most JB fans are probably aware, most of his song openers are verbal variations of him counting off the groove. What’s interesting is thinking about the relationship between his count offs, the excessive, strict, blue collar rehearsals he put his bands through, and the relationship between his count offs and the grooves the band are able to fall into and stick to with absolute conviction. “I Refuse to Lose” is a lesser known Funk classic from 1976’s comeback record “Get Up Offa That Thing.” The song is anchored by a tense, super funky Jimmy Nolen guitar part. James count off is brisk, and perfectly sets up the uptempo groove to follow. I’d guess his instructions to “Take your time” were based in any tendency he noticed during rehearsals to rush the groove and make an uptempo groove even faster, again, James Brown music locks it in the pocket!

11. “One, Two, One, Two, Three”/”Let Yourself Go”: “Let Yourself Go” was one of the important songs as James Brown made his transition over from a personal brand of Soul and R&B into Funk. It’s laid back, phat groove, accented with Afro-Latin percussion, would pave the way for his show stopping, “There was a Time.” JB’s count off really fits right with what was,a new kind of groove, slow and funky.

10. “One, Two, And she Go!!!!”/”Funky Drummer”: “Funky Drummer” is one of those tunes that’s all about the band, basically an instrumental with some funky talk from JB that would allow it to sneak on the radio under JB’s name. Of course it’s also a showcase for one of the most influential drumbeats of all time, the contributions of Clyde Stubblefield the tune is named after. Brown’s count off is directed at setting up an easy, swinging groove, much more laid back than the other funk hits of this era, such as “I Got the Feeling”, or “Mother Popcorn.” I must admit though, I’m not 100% sure he actually said “and she go” as that opening phrase, but Ima roll with that until something better comes along.

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9.”One, Two, Three, Hit It!”/”Super Bad”: this is one JB’s most violent, aggressive count offs, for one his most tension filled, funkiest hits. “Super Bad” is one of the high points of Bootsy And Catfish Collins brief time in the James Brown band. The rhythm section is basically just a taut trio of Bootsy, his brother Catfish, and long time James Brown drummer John “Jab’O” Starks playing a drumbeat he says he got from beats for tap dancers. The beat is also accented by the percussion of long time JB percussionist Johnny Griggs, and the horns play sharp, stabbing literal jabs. The track is like Muhammed Ali, floating like a butterfly, stinging like a bee.

8.”Ready!?”/”Get on Up, Get Into it! Get Involved” & “The Funky Side of Town”: every now and then JB would ask the band if they were “ready” probably after 8 hours of rehearsals, checking to see if they still had a pulse. In this case, the “Ready” in “Get Up” has political resonance, and the “Ready” in “Funky Side of Town” is a call to have a funky good time.

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7.”Whoooooah!”/”I Feel Good”: Of all JB’s wordless vocalizing intros, the holler that inaugurated “I Feel Good” is tops in my book. Of course “I Feel Good” is one of his best known, best songs, a catchy, peppy number with a groove formulated during the James Brown bands transition into Funk, grooving but still related enough to the pop music scene as to be twist fodder for the public at large. And the hook is one of JB’s uncomplicated best. But it’s all kicked off by a legendary scream that became good material for samplers of the future.

6. “One, Two, Get Down!”/”The Boss”: “The Boss” is one of the iciest funk grooves in the James Brown songbook, concocted for the 1973 gangster movie “Black Caesar.” The proper aggressive tone is set right at the top by J.B’s count off, with the “Get Down” taking on all kind of meanings; band instruction, cheerleading, and warning!

5. “Fellas I wanna get into it man, you know…”/”Sex Machine”: “Sex Machine” is one of J.B’s most important records a taut, sexy new funk groove for the dawn of the 1970s, anchored by the active bass imagination of Bootsy Collins, his brother Catfish’s space saving rhythm licks, and Jab’O’s cool, ice water veined funk pulse. Call and response between J.B and his right hand man, the great Bobby Byrd, is at an all time high on this song, and the interplay between their voices would be a key aspect of their records during this period. But J.B starts the song with a cool, hanging out type intro, leading to his famous, “can I count it off!?!?!”

James Brown on drums with  an early version of The Famous Flames

James Brown on drums with an early version of The Famous Flames

4. “One, Two, One, Two, Three, UH!”/”Hot Pants”: Brown counts off a nasty tempo, punctuated by one of his famous band punches. The intro is a setting for “Hot Pants” slow, funky, ice cream melting in the summer time groove, anchored by the simple, ghetto bass throb of Fred Thomas and the insistent, chattering, lisping splank a lang of guitarist Hearlon “Cheese” Martin. This era of J.B might represent his and Fred Wesley’s greatest achievements as bandleader/arrangers, taking a band that was essentially raw, and making some of the best known hits of J.B’s career, going in a less dense direction than the Collins brothers/Cincinnati and they replaced. And it all starts with JB’s mellow but funky count off.

3. “One, Two, One, Two, Three, Four”/”Cold Sweat”: and off into history. “Cold Sweat”, after hundreds of years of African in America funkiness, is widely regard as the beginning of modern funk history, with it’s pistoning funk machine drumbeat from Clyde Stubblefield, Bernard Odums super deep bass tone playing an Afro-Latin line, a super funky two guitar arrangement, one guitar playing a funky single note line and the other scratching away in percussive strokes, a unique tonality from the key of Dorian, popularized on Miles Davis “Kind of Blue”, and another thing borrowed from “Kind of Blue”, the actual famous horn riff/chord to “So What”, played by the horn section as interjection/response to J.B’s lyrics. And it all starts with the sultry tempo set at the top by Brown.

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2. “Que Pasa People, Que Pasa, Hit Me!”/”Get on the Good Foot”: J.B opened up 1972’s peppy dance hit with a bit of Trans American slang, Proto-rapped in a chant cadence that perfectly took up one bar. This is one of James Brown Ebonics most controversial lines, with some people hearing it as “Can’t pass the peas.” But I go with “Que Pasa”, if you listen to the song all the way, Brown goes into some Spanish later on the fade out. James Brown toured the world many times over, and in the early ’70s he was particular interested in third world liberation. He has a song on the same album called, “The Whole World Needs Liberation.” He also opened up a club called “The Third World” in Georgia during this time period. James was fascinated at this time by the international impact he and other black figures like Muhammed Ali were having, it was almost as if through the struggle for rights here in the U.S, black figures were joining the global pantheon of Liberators, as maybe the best examples of them, in the belly of the biggest superpower the world had yet seen. If u check J.B’s stage performances you’ll find him speaking a few words of the language of whatever nation he happened to be Doin his thang in!

1. “UH! With your BAD self!”/”Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud”: The top JB introduction is this funky soul brother street slang that led off the 1968 anthem. James opening “Uh” sets the stage for a funky drum beat, the count off is rock hard, with him using the black slang “Bad” as a term of encouragement and praise. The beat to follow is be rock hard, and James Brown’s legacy was cemented as musical and social icon of his time!

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*we all know the late great Prince Rogers Nelson was one of the biggest students, inheritors, and expanders of the James Brown legacy, and his musical associate Sheila E was responsible for one of the freshest James Brown count offs in history on her Prince penned and played classic “Love Bizarre”, “A, B, A, B, C, D!”

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