Time once again for some new music. Keep reading for a fresh serving of beats, rhymes and otherwise tasty music (none of which is Blondie).
Wu-Tang Clan – Windmill (8 Diagrams, 2007)
Since its release, Wu-Tang’s fifth studio album has been garnering mixed reviews. While some applaud the Staten Island crew for exploring new sounds (“The Heart Gently Weeps,” for example), others are critical of 8 Diagrams’numerous R&B-flavoured hooks (“Gun Will Go,” “Starter” and “Stick Me For My Riches”) and RZA’s experimental production (“Get Them Out Ya Way Pa” and “Sunlight”). While I agree 8 Diagrams is diverse, it nevertheless retains the claustrophobia and grittiness that makes their earlier work so distinctive.
On “Windmill”, Raekwon, GZA, Masta Killa, Inspectah Deck, Method Man and Cappadonna trade verses, using breakdancing as an extended metaphor for violence. Raekwon’s opening rhymes capture this theme perfectly:
“Aiyo, jump out the Acura, crazy heavy, what’s popping?/Us locking the game, word to every hand on the lockmen.”
Later, Masta Killa comes correct with an even deeper interpretation:
“We have agreed, you’ll feel the impact of the truth when I’ll squeeze/The brain feels something pop, hip hop, locked in texts.”
The beat is classic RZA minimalism, with eerie guitar and bass samples lingering over up-tempo, heavily filtered drums. The effect is a sparse soundscape that complements the rhymes without overwhelming them. Definitely one of my favourite tracks from 8 Diagrams.
Moby – I Love To Move In Here (Last Night, 2008)
Released last week, Moby’s newest effort is difficult to classify. Its 14 official and one hidden track alternate between various genres and styles, ranging from electro funk (“257 Zero”) to disco (“Everyday Its 1989” and “Disco Lies”) to hip-hop/grime (“Alice”) to trip-hop (“Hyenas”) to experimental/just plain weird (“Degenerates”). Although every song is decent, it’s on the second track – an old school homage called “I Love To Move In Here” – where Moby really shines. Featuring none other than Grandmaster Caz of “Rapper’s Delight” fame, the track opens with a funky, Latin-inspired drum break. Before long an Acid Jazz piano loop, a vocal sample repeating the eponymous lyrics and some synths have set the stage for Caz’ arrival at around the 1:30 mark. His verse, which sounds like it was written in the early ’80s (a good thing in this case), is followed by a sick break, complete with the dirtiest bass you’ve heard this side of the ’90s. Although some might consider this a gimmick track, I think Moby does a good job of capturing the mash-up feel of old school hip-hop. It’s worth listening to at least.
Pete Rock – We Roll ft. Jim Jones & Max B (NY’s Finest, 2008)
Pete Rock – The PJs ft. Raekwon & Masta Killa (NY’s Finest, 2008)
NY’s Finest, like most Pete Rock solo albums, is frustratingly inconsistent. Although flashes of his beat making brilliance shine through at times, disappointing guest appearances (think Pharoahe Monch on Soul Survivor II) have largely prevented his solo albums from achieving greatness thus far. Still, NY’s Finest does include some damn good music, including tracks like “Till I Retire” and “Comprehend,” which feature the Chocolate Boy Wonder blessing the mic with suprising skill. The album’s best beat is probably “We Roll,” a jazzy slice of classic Pete Rock dopeness (updated for the 21st century with a complicated, post-boom bap drum pattern). Coming in a close second is “The PJs,” which features Raekwon and Masta Killa spitting ill rhymes over a laid back, bass heavy beat RZA wishes he had made.
AZ – The Hardest (Undeniable, 2008)
Following his now legendary debut on Illmatic, AZ seemed destined for great things. Unfortunately, for whatever reason his first solo album, although considered a classic by underground heads, failed to achieve any significant mainstream success. As a result AZ remains among the most underrated mcs of all time. Indeed, his flow is impeccable and his rhymes reveal a profound poeticism that rewards audiences who listen closely to his intricate lyrics. That’s why its so frustrating when he wastes his talent making garbage music, like half of the joints on his newest album, Undeniable. Although it starts off fairly well with the tracks “The Game Don’t Stop” and “Superstar” (both odes to the game backed by ill ’80s samples), it quickly descends into R&B schlock (“Undeniable” and the absolutely terrible “Go Getta” featuring Ray J) and sped-up ’70s soul samples (“Fire” and “Dead End,” which butchers a Jackson 5 sample). Fortunately, the album picks up again as it draws to a close, with “The Hardest” featuring Styles P, which returns to the winning formula of hard rhymes backed by dope ’80s synths and soaring strings. Following this is a hidden track that sounds like it was produced by DJ Premier (not included in the track above) and is a fantastic way to end the album. Unfortunately, the damage done by the previous 8 tracks may be irreparable.
Morcheeba – Blue Chair ft. Judy Tzuke (Dive Deep, 2008)
Although I don’t know a lot about Morcheeba, Angry recommended I check out their new album Dive Deep a couple days ago. Atmospheric, and almost eerie at times, the album is, like most trip-hop, good chill out music – put it on after a night at the club or at a laid back dinner party to set the mood. The whole album is solid, but “Blue Chair” is one of the standouts: Judy Tzuke’s dusky voice glides across a down-tempo breakbeat, creating a melancholic vibe that reminds me of Sade.
Download all six tracks here.