Listening Notes, Ultra-Brief (pt. 8)


DJ Sigma, '79 [link below]

Stafford, UK hip-hop enthusiast Sigma dug deep into his vinyl to assemble this monster jam, which collects nearly 40 hip-hop singles circa 1979, aka Year Zero. With minimal interference, he wisely lets these voices from the past do the talking. Spoonie Gee, Funky Four Plus One, Grandmaster Flash you know. Others you won’t. At 86 minutes, it’s not for neophytes, but it’s also the great multi-label old school rap compilation we’ll probably never get.

Shabazz Palaces, Black Up

Seventeen years after Digable Planets’ second and final album dropped, Ishmael Butler returns on a deeply abstract full-length building off two EPs with good press. And what’s most remarkable here is how hard the former Butterfly has gotten. Not hard gangsta – hard complex, dense, layered, avant-garde. After fifteen plus years of underground hip-hop, it took an elder to produce something truly challenging. I swear you can dance to it. 


Jay-Z / Kanye West, Watch The Throne

Just when the whole affair begins resembling a Kanye joint with Jay-Z on backup, Yeezy steps aside and allows Mr. Carter room for air. And before the production values and micromarketing become oppressive, our two kings demonstrate they’re capable of embracing a sloppier, half-assed aesthetic. That is, this is frequently pompous, self-indulgent, and redolent of the focus group. But how about that Phil Manzanera sample, the shout-outs to civil rights veterans, treating Otis Redding like the royalty he is?

Motor City Drum Ensemble, DJ-Kicks

Opens with Sun Ra, closes with James Mason (the Roy Ayers guitarist), and in between come Tony Allen, Aphex Twin, Walter Gibbons, Geraldo Pino, and Loose Joints. Which should suggest how far afield of traditional house music this Stuttgart house producer likes to roam. Yet here’s the thing – it all flows perfectly together. Turning Tony Allen into house music is a bit dicey. But not in this case.


Theophilus London, Timez Are Weird These days

Trinidad-born, Brooklyn-raised, yet what he knows about r&b comes straight outta business school, with networking skillz outstripping musical gifts, no matter his overtures towards indie rock and electro. Try as he might, he can’t quite deliver the party anthem the marketing exec in him desires, although chiding a female exhibitionist would seem to be one attempt. Remember MC Hammer? He spent whole songs reminding you what his name was, too.

Gucci Mane, Ferrari Boyz

Don’t wanna elbow Gucci Mane’s muse aside, but rhyming “faggot” with “braggin’” (twice!) just doesn’t scan right. Might I suggest “braggart”? Better yet, why not drop the entire verse? Elsewhere on this plodding “street release,” somebody attempts the forced rhyme “private” / “privates,” which suggests a bit of confusion regarding rules of verse, although it’s quite clear which of the two we can suck.