Sunday, January 30, 2011

Classified: Canada's Finest

Although he has been compared to Atmosphere, Dialated Peoples, Rhymefest and MURS, the Nova Scotia native and Canadian rap icon best known as Classified has established himself as the leader of Canadian hip-hop. Born, Luke Boyd, the prolific and award-winning MC carries a mentality of hard work into everything he does.

Classified doing a stereotypical rap pose
Boyd has been working and producing hip-hop and rap music since 1995 and is showing few signs of letting up. Classified has worked along side artists like B.o.B. and Busta Rhymes. He's also been known to sample older groups like Jurassic 5 in some of his work.

Below is some of what I feel to be some of his best work.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Grieves: An Artist Profile

Born in Fort Collins, CO, Benjamin Laub broke into the music scene in 2003 and has been touring regularly ever since.  Better know by his stage name of Grieves, Laub defies both underground and mainstream hip-hop stereotypes. His first album, Irreversible, was released in 2007.  Avoiding any sort of sophomore slump, Grieves teamed up with Seattle producer and close friend, Budo, in 2010 releasing 88 Keys and Counting.

Grieves currently lives in New York City

In November 2009, he signed with Rhymesayers Entertainment of Minneapolis, MN. Laub has toured with some of rap's finest artists, and some person favorites of mine, including Atmosphere's Sean Daley (Slug). On twitter, you can follow Laub at @Grievesmusic.

Grieves has a fresh new style that few rappers could even come close to.  It's even difficult to come up with comparisons to other artists.

Check out some of his recent work below.

Friday, January 28, 2011

"North by Nortwest" by Blue Scholars

Just stumbled across another fantastic song by the Blue Scholars.  It will most certainly be stuck in my head all day.  With ingenious beats by DJ Sabzi (@sabzi) and whip-smart lyrics from MC Geo (@prometheusbrown), these two churn out substance filled music time and time again.

"North by Northwest"

Common Market: An Artist Profile

Along with Blue Scholars, Common Market has established itself as one of the premier intellectual rap groups of the underground hip-hop community. Based in Seattle, Common Market is comprised of MC RA Scion (Ryan Abeo at birth) and DJ Sabzi (Alexei Saba Mohajerjasbi). Both artists are world travelers: Scion has lived in Greece and Zambia, but is originally from Lexington, KY, while Sabzi is of Iranian decent.

MC Scion (left) and DJ Sabzi get their hipster style on.

Musically, they incorporate jazzy, eloquent beats and smart, stinging lyrics that hit hard in both substance and style.  Known in Seattle, and the Northwest, as a strong musical force, the two may have a small following.  But, what they lack in popularity, they make up for in setting the industry standard for intellectual rhymes and musical skill.  Their musical discography.

Common Market has been compared to Blue Scholars, Atmosphere, Brother Ali and Gangstarr.

Below are some of my favorite songs of theirs.

"Escaping Arkham"


"Trouble Is"

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Blue Scholars: An Artist Profile

After meeting at the University of Washington in 1999, MC Geologic (George Quibuyen) and DJ Sabzi (Alexei Mohajerjasbi) formed the Blue Scholars in 2002. The prolific rap duo first broke into the hip-hop scene in 2004 with the release of their eponymous album, "Blue Scholars." Representing the 98118 area code, the most ethnically diverse neighborhood in the nation as of 2010, the Blue Scholars incorporate a musical style that is both intellectual and infectious.

As a child, and the son of Filipino immigrants, Geo moved from place to place, living in Hawaii and other west coast locations before finally settling outside of Seattle, Wa.

MC Geo (left) and DJ Sabzi make up Blue Scholars

An Iranian American, Sabzi also DJs and produces for another Seattle native MC -RA Scion.  Together, the two are known as the group Common Market. Some of Common Market's best hits include "Connect For," "Tobacco Road" and "Escaping Arkham."

Below is a nice sample of some of Blue Scholars' best work:

                                                          "Joe Metro"

                            "No Rest For The Weary"


Make sure you also check out "Sagaba," "The Ave," "Blink," and pretty much all of their songs.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Singles from Gutter Rainbows by Talib Kweli

Tomorrow, January 25th, 2011, the latest solo album by Talib Kweli will drop.  Entitled Gutter Rainbows, Kweli himself has described this album as his first attempt to compose and produce indie rap.  Over the years, the under-appreciated lyrical poet has worked along side some of the music industry's greatest artists.  including Kanye West, Common, Mary J. Blige and

Kweli and DJ Hi-Tek are known collectively as Relfection Eternal. As duo their best hits have included The Blast, Move Something and In This World.  Kweli is perhaps best known for his collaboration with Mos Def in their formation of Black Star.

While Kweli's resume is as a extensive as any musician and produced within the hip-hop community, Gutter Rainbows is undoubtably going to receive extreme scrutiny.  On this album, Kweli goes in a different direction than his past works.  We'll see what it's like.  I couldn't be more excited to get my hands on a copy!

If you're interested, check out this review done by XXL Magazine.

Here are some of the pre-release singles on the upcoming album:

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Ratatat's Best Rap Remixes

Only recently did the electronic-alternative rock group Ratatat start attracting worldwide attention.  After touring with Vampire Weekend and appearing on Kid Cudi's album The Man on the Moon: The End of Day (download link) on the tracks "Alive" as well as the wildly-popular "Pursuit of Happiness (Nightmare)," it is clear that the Brooklyn-based duo is here to stay.  Yet, where did these guys come from?

The band Ratatat: Evan Mast (left) and Mike Stroud

After meeting at Skidmore College, Mike Stroud and Evan Mast did not begin working together immediately.  Their debut eponymous album was released in 2004.  Ratatat has also released three studio albums, entitled Classics, LP3 and LP4, which were released in 2006, 2008 and 2010 respectively.  All three of them came with the help of XL Recordings.  However, the pair has also dabbled within the rap world.  

Ratatat has also released, without the help of a major label, two additional rap-oriented albums: Ratatat Remixes Vol.1 and Ratatat Remixes Vol. 2.  Vol. 1 came out in 2004 with the second volume coming out three years later.  These albums are most pertinent to this blog.  On the albums, the duo does a fantastic job of blending hip-hop artists with their own electro-rock sound.  The albums feature samples from well-known songs by the likes of Jay-Z, The Notorious B.I.G. Kanye West and Bun-B.  However, many of the tracks that receive the least attention, are some of Ratatat's best work.

If you're interested in downloading some the Remix Vol. 2, check out their page.

Here is a list of my favorite Ratatat remixes of hip-hop songs:

1. "Alright" by Memphis Bleek

2.  "Party and Bulls**t" by The Notorious B.I.G. 

3. "Sunshine" by Jay-Z

4. "Diamonds" by Kanye West

5. "Allure" featuring Jay-Z and The Notorious B.I.G. 

Friday, January 21, 2011

Underground Emcees of the Midwest

In the mid 1990s, many pundits within the music business felt hip-hop had reached its best successes yet.  With success stories like 2Pac Shakur and Christopher "Biggie Smalls" Wallace, as well as Biggie's producer Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs, it was hard to disagree.  No longer widely considered by the public to be a musical genre for teenagers and troublemakers, rap began to reach a continually growing audience.  From college dorms to car radios, and from basketball courts to dinner tables, rap was now chic.  However,  this success could never survive.  Everything came crashing down in September 1996.

Fueled by the feud between rap megastars Tupac Shakur, with his record label Death Row Records, and The Notorious B.I.G., as well as his label Bad Boy Records, the world of hip-hop suffered a tragedy on September 13th 1996.  After attending a Mike Tyson boxing match at the MGM Grand casino in Las Vegas, NV, Shakur suffered multiple gunshot wounds to the chest and lower body from a drive-by shooter.  While he was rushed to a local hospital following the incident, Shakur surrendered to his wounds and died from complications of cardiac arrest and respiratory failure.  

Still recovering from the passing of 2Pac, music fans discovered on March 9, 1997 that Biggie Smalls had died.  In an eerily similar drive-by shooting, The Notorious B.I.G. was killed in Los Angeles no more than six months after Shakur.  2Pac and Biggie will always be connected.  Whether it was their feuding, platinum successes, rivalry or raw lyrical talents on the microphone, the legacy both men left behind is significant.  

As martyrs within their respective communities, 2Pac in Los Angeles and throughout the West Coast, and Biggie within New York and the rest of the East Coast, residents of each region began to draw allegiances to one artist and animosity toward the other.  This left a palpable rift across the nation.  Still today, many listeners feel that the only talented emcees come from our nation's coasts.  This notion is erroneous.  While the list of talented emcees, artists, lyrical poets and DJs from Los Angeles and New York is seemingly endless, equally impressive (and perhaps more inventive) rappers abound elsewhere.

This brings me to the crux of today's column.  New York and L.A. have long dominated the rap world. Even cities such as Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit, Washington D.C. and Houston have made tangible contributions to rap history. 

However, small music markets tend to suffer and rappers oozing with talent tend to go unappreciated. While there certainly are faithful following within the underground music community, plenty of thrillingly skilled emcees still have yet to be discovered.

So, as I intend to do throughout this blog, here is a list of rap artists who have small groups of faithful listeners.  You've also probably never heard of them before.  Specifically, these artists are all from, or work and produce their music within, the Midwest. 

1. Slug of Atmosphere

Born Sean Daley, this Minneapolis Minnesota native is best know for his work along side his friend and partner Anthony Davis.  Davis (aka Ant) produces and makes beats while Slug serves as the front man of the group.  Together they make up Atmosphere. He is also the co-founder of Rhymesayers Entertainment, a rap label started in Minneapolis in 1995.  Other artists on the Rhymesayer label include Brother Ali, Grieves, Freeway, Eyedea, Blueprint, Budo, Toki Wright, Jake One and others.

Here are some of Atmosphere's most famous songs:

"Shoulda Known" from "When Life Gives You Lemons, Paint That Sh*t Gold"

"You" from "When Life Gives You Lemons, Paint That Sh*t Gold"

"The Best Day" from "To All My Friends"

2. Brother Ali

Named Jason Newman at birth, "Brother Ali" grew up in Madison, Wisconsin.  However, throughout his childhood and into his teenage years, Newman moved throughout the Midwest.  Finally landing in the Twin Cities for high school, Brother Ali has emerged as one of the premiere emcees of the Midwest region.  He is also a practicing muslim and recently completed a lengthy pilgrimage to Mecca.  Newman was born with a rare form of albinism -something he still deals with today.

Here is some of his best, and most controversial (in the case of "Uncle Sam Goddamn"), work:

"Us" from his most recent album "Us"

"Forrest Whitaker" from "Shadows on the Sun"

"Uncle Sam Goddamn" from "The Undisputed Truth"

3. Hi-Tek

Longtime partner, friend and collaborator with Brooklyn-based emcee Talib Kweli, Hi-Tek was born in Cincinnatti, OH.  His given name is Tony Cottrell. Perhaps best know for his work with Kweli as the production half of the duo's group "Reflection Eternal," he also worked along side The Game, Snoop Dogg, G-Unit, Common and Black Star.  Though he generally can be found on the production side of the music business, he has been know to drop a verse or two.

"Just Begun" off of the "Revolutions per Minute" album

"The Blast" from "Train of Thought"

"Strangers (Paranoid)" from "Revolutions per Minute" 

Other relatively unknown notable rappers from the Midwest include: Grieves, The Crest, Heiruspecs and The CunninLynguists.  

Note: This will not be the last I mention, blog about or promote these artists.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Fantastic Remix of Cee-Lo Green's "F**K You"

With the multi-talented Chidera "Chiddy" Anamege on the mic and the equally talented, yet generally under appreciated, Noah "Xaphoon Jones" Beresin mixing beats and making hooks, Chiddy Bang's ascension in the music community should come as no surprise.  The duo met in 2008 as incoming freshmen at Drexel University.  Introduced by a mutual friend, their recent successor is more than serendipity.

Chiddy (left) drops rhymes while Xaphoon heads beats and production 

Scope their website and make sure you look up their music video for "Dream Chasin'."

Here's another remix of theirs in which Xaphoon samples "F**K You" by Cee-Lo and Chidera flows flawlessly throughout.  These two have already begun to carve out niche for themselves while gathering a serious following within the rap community.

Check out this recently released video:

After rolling out hit after hit, just like this, it will not be long until these two innovators are topping Billboard Charts!