Rollo Jackson’s intimate look at mega producer Scott Storch and a Sway Calloway-hosted Q&A session.
If you’ve been frequenting this site throughout the course of this site you’ve been made familiar with Ishmael Butler, the founder of the critically applauded and groundbreaking hip-hop acts Digable Planets and Shabazz Palaces. A decade ago Butler was preparing to emerge from several years of near-complete silence. In the summer of 2009, Butler unveiled Shabazz Palaces through a pair of self-released EPs that quickly established the project’s unique sound — complex and hyper literate verses paired with psychedelic sonic textures and refracted rhythms. And from the start confidentiality was essential: Butler wanted Shabazz Palaces to stand on its own strength, and not on his established reputation, so he adopted a pseudonym for himself.
As the project’s profile and network expanded, Butler recognized that he needed new monikers for his creative pursuits and collaborations; in fact, Knife Knights, was the name that he devised for his work with the then-Seattle based engineer, producer, songwriter and film composer Erik Blood, who’s also a vital and important collaborator in Butler’s Shabazz Palaces. Interestingly, Blood and Butler’s collaboration and friendship can trace its origins to when the duo were introduced at a Spiritualized show in 2003 through a mutual friend, whom Butler was about to record with. As the story goes, Blood was a diehard and obsessive fan of Digital Planets, and naturally he passed along a bootleg copy Blowout Comb for the mutual friend to have signed — and Butler dutifully provided.
Over the course of the next few years, they’d run into one another by chance and sometimes they’d make small talk about possibly working together. When Butler finally sent Blood a few sons to mix, their creative chemistry was obvious and immediate. Interestingly, Butler, who grew up a student of hip-hop began absorbing shoegaze and ambient soundscapes while Blood, an ardent hip-hop fan had always been an inclusive and obsessive music listener; in fact, on every Shabazz Palaces album, Butler and Blood have specifically focused on and delighted at that artistic intersection, constantly indoctrinating hip-hop in new sonic territories. “He [Blood] takes my ideas and clarifies and pronounces them, helps me realize them,” explains Butler in press notes. “He helps me get to the essence.”
After a decade of collaboration together and the development of a very rich and dear friendships, Butler and Blood have written and recorded a proper full-length together as Knife Knights — 1 Time Mirage, an album that finds the duo and a cast of collaborators and friends creating and weaving a unique sound that meshes soul, shoegaze, hip-hop, bass, noise and chaos wth the album representing a free space for unfettered and radical exploration. Interestingly, the album’s material was recorded in the three sessions, interrupted by Shabazz Palaces and Digable Planets tour schedules and Blood’s recording projects.
Butler, Blood, and a cast of collaborators and friends were invited into Seattle’s KEXP for their live debut, where they performed material off their forthcoming album, slated for a September 14, 2018 release through Sub Pop Records. And while bearing a subtle similarity to their work together in Shabazz Palaces, Blood and Butler’s Knife Knights work manages to feel like a refinement of it while being altogether separate. Yes, they employ samplers and synths but there’s an organic and muscular heft through the use of bass and guitar. And as you’ll hear from the songs they performed during this live session are a bit of a subtle refinement of the duo’s acclaimed work with Shabazz Palaces but while leaning closer to shoegaze — it’s lysergic but with a swaggering hip-hop vibe that can only be possible through this unique and thrillingly weird collaboration.
Throughout the past few months, I’ve written quite a bit about the Los Angeles, CA-based emcee and producer Evidence. Now, as you may recall, the emcee and producer, who was born Michael Taylor Perretta is best known as member of renowned hip-hop act Dilated Peoples with whom he has released four full-length albums — and as a producer, Perretta has worked with Beastie Boys, Linkin Park, Swollen Members, Defari, Planet Asia, and has a co-production credit on on Kanye West’s Grammy-winning, full-length debut The College Dropout.
Perretta’s fourth album Weather or Not was released earlier this year, and the album is the first batch of new material from the Los Angeles-based emcee and producer since the 2014’s The Alchemist-produced Lord Steppingstone. Interestingly a number of singles from the album have been released, including the DJ Premier-produced third single “10,000 Hours,” which featured a swaggering and strutting West Coast gangsta hip-hop meets East Coast boom bap production paired with a criminally unheralded emcee rhyming about the dedication and time he has spent practicing, developing and honing his skills to become one of the very best. The album’s fourth single “Powder Cocaine” continued Evidence’s ongoing collaboration with The Alchemist, who contributed an atmospheric yet soulful production consisting of boom bap beats, warm blasts of bluesy guitar, a chopped up choral vocal sample and a soaring hook, and yet the production managed to be roomy enough to allow Evidence and Slug to trade bars full of diverse metaphors and descriptive symbolism. “Bad Publicity,” Weather or Not’s Nottz-produced fifth single continued in a similar vein as its predecessors as it was centered around a golden era hip-hop production that was roomy enough for Evidence and Strong Arm Steady‘s gravelly-voiced Krondon to spit fiery, braggadocio-filled bars.
The album’s latest single is the Twiz the Beat Pro-produced “The Factory,” a track centered around a kaleidoscopic and somewhat ambient production consisting of explosive blasts of scratching, twinkling strings, tweeter and woofer rocking boom bap beats — and much like its predecessor, the production manages to be roomy enough for one of contemporary hip-hop’s most dexterous emcees displaying an uncanny ability to craft complex rhymes with witty and hilarious punchlines.
Now, throughout the course of this site’s eight year history, I’ve written quite a bit about the Brooklyn-based collective Red Baarat, and as you may recall, the act, which derives its name from baraat, a wild South Asian wedding procession that often features the groom riding a horse, an enormous group of extended friends and family, singing and dancing to music led by a brass band with drummers, and what the color red symbolizes in both Indian/South Asian and Western cultures — fiery, red-blooded passion. And with the band, they view it as the passion they have towards creating and playing music, as well as the passion they inspire and elicit from fans and others, who catch them live. Led by Rochester, NY-born, Brooklyn-based bandleader, dholi, drummer and composer Sunny Jain, and featuring John Altieri (sousaphone), Ernest Stuart (trombone), Jonathon Haffner (saxophone), Sonny Singh (trumpet), Chris Eddleton (drums), Rohin Khemani (drums), and their newest member Jonathan Goldberger (guitar), the collective originally formed in 2008 — although it wasn’t until the release of their critically applauded and commercially successful sophomore effort Shruggy Ji that the band received widespread attention for a seamless and genre defying sound that draws from Indian classical music, bhangra, hip-hop, rock, pop and New Orleans brass. And as a result of Shruggy Ji‘s critical and commercial success, the collective has made appearances at Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Peter Gabriel’s WOMAD Festivals in Australia, New Zealand and the UK, have played sold out headlining shows at the Luxembourg Philharmonic, the Bowery Ballroom and have performed at the request of The White House, TED and the Olympic Games.
Slated for release at the end of the month through Rhyme & Reason Records, Red Baraat’s Little Shalimar and Sunny Jain co-produced Sound The People reportedly continues the band’s exploration of South Asian culture and music but while placing in within a larger context of an increasingly globalized generation, reflected by the diverse background of its individual members. Adding to the global focus, the album features guest spots from Pakistani singer and writer Ali Sethi, Das Racist’s Heems, American poet and activist Suheir Hammad and American humorist John Hodgman. “With the migration that’s happened, there is all this varied and expressive music that has erupted from the South Asian Diaspora,” says Jain. “Sound The People is a shoutout to, and celebration of this community around the world.”
Jain began writing Sound The People‘s material a few short weeks after Trump’s election victory, and as she says in press notes, “the record is a call to action against the various inequalities and injustices that we’re seeing. We desperately need citizen engagement in response to those injustices.” Earlier this month, I wrote about album single “Kala Mukhra,” which featured Ali Sethi contributing his sonorous baritone — but as Jain explains, the song is ” . . . our take on a Punjabi folk song called ‘Ghora Mukhra.’ I first heard this song a couple of years ago when Ali Sethi shared a 1950s recording with me, featuring the acclaimed ghazal singer Iqbal Bano, with a brass band. I’ve heard very few Punjabi brass band recordings featuring a vocalist and so when Red Baraat was gearing up to work on a new album, it seemed fitting to try and see what we could do with this song. The meaning of Ghora Mukhra literally means “white face.” There’s a fetishization in South Asian culture about being fair-skinned or light-skinned, something that is pressed upon women. It’s ridiculous, but this kind of nonsense is witnessed throughout the world to varying degrees. So while we loved the melody and brass band flavor of this song, we needed a different narrative. I asked Ali if he could come up with some lyrics that are more aligned with our beliefs and also reflective of the times we are living in.” And while being a propulsive and densely arranged song, the song manages to be a boldly and proudly defiant and danceable track that will remind listeners that music holds a profound and true power.
Album title track “Sound the People” which finds the acclaimed collective collaborating with Heems is a swaggering, hip-hop inflected take on their sound; but it’s also the most overt politically charged song they’ve released to date, as the song touches upon race, the connectedness of the South Asian Diaspora despite the age-old differences in religion, culture, regional or nationalistic identities and so on. The song brings up a key fact that despite the fact that the listener may be Pakistani, Indian, Sri Lankan, Nepalese, Bangladeshi, Afghani, Bhutanese, Muslim, Christian, Hindu and so on and so on, that in the age of Trump and other right wing nationalist/nativist movements, that they’re brown — and that unity and empathy among other people of color and other marginalized communities is the only way that to ensure survival in our dire and frightening times. But along with that it’s an urgent call to arms that says “time to unite and fight through music, dance, art, love, humor, empathy and everything else you can throw. All hands on deck!”
“Heems and I met several years ago when he was still doing Das Racist,” Red Baraat’s Sunny Jain recalls. “When Red Baraat started working on the new album, there were various ideas I had about [the] South Asian Diaspora, migration and Trump’s disconcerting victory, but it hadn’t all been tied together just yet. I shared all of this with Heems and also sent him a couple of songs I had composed specifically thinking about his flow. The band was tracking for a few days at Studio G in Brooklyn and I asked Heems to come in and lay down a rap. He turned up in the studio and did his thing and that’s when we all realized, ‘Holy crap! This is the title track!’ He pulled the whole album concept together with those words.”
The members of Red Baraat have a long-held reputation for being relentless road warriors and they’re about to embark on a lengthy world tour that will include a June 8, 2018 stop at Flushing Town Hall. Check out the tour dates below.
6/8 – Flushing, NY – Flushing Town Hall
6/11 – Camden, NJ – Sunset Jazz Series at Wiggins Waterfront Park
6/22 – Los Angeles, CA – The Satellite
6/25 – Mill Valley, CA – Sweetwater Music Hall
6/26 – Oakland, CA – The New Parish
6/28 – Saskatoon, SK – SaskTel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival
6/29 – Saskatoon, SK – SaskTel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival
6/30 – Victoria, BC – TD Victoria International JazzFest | Centennial Square
7/1 – Vancouver, BC – TD Victoria International JazzFest | David Lam – Park Main Stage
7/25 – Reno, NV – Artown
7/27 – Denver, CO – Clyfford Still Museum Summer Series
7/28 – Basalt, CO – The Temporary
8/11 – Greensboro, NC – Lebauer Park
8/13 – Asheville, NC – The Grey Eagle
8/16 – Madison, WI – The Central Park Sessions
8/17 – Detroit, MI – The Cube at the Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center
Comprised of Jace ECAj (emcee) and Felicia Loud (vocals), the Seattle, WA-based duo Black Stax are set to release the first album of a live recording series ILL-US-TRAIT, and the album’s first single is a forward looking and crowd-pleasing live version of “Unexpected Shots” that features producer and DJ Shingi creating a a psychedelic, swirling palette centered around a shimmering sitar sample, while ECAj spits some impressive bars with complex rhyme schemes and Loud contributes a soulful hook; the second half of song features a mischievous call and response section with the duo interacting with the crowd as they move from the song’s hook to the chorus. Interestingly, much like Shabazz Palaces, Clipping, TheeSatisfaction, Chimurenga Renaissance and others, the up-and-coming Seattle-based duo are part of a growing collection of artists, who have actively been pushing hip-hop in new directions sonically and creatively.
I’ve written quite a bit about the Los Angeles, CA-based emcee and producer Evidence, and as you may recall, he’s best known as a member of the renowned hip-hop act Dilated Peoples with whom he has released four full-length albums — and as a producer, the emcee and producer born Michael Taylor Perretta has worked with Beastie Boys, Linkin Park, Swollen Members, Defari, Planet Asia and has a co-production credit on Kanye West’s Grammy-winning, full-length debut The College Dropout.
Perretta’s 2007 full-length full-length debut The Weatherman was released by ABB Records, the long-time label home of Dilated Peoples and featured tracks produced by Perretta, The Alchemist, Sid Roams (the production team of Joey Chavez and Tavish “Bravo” Graham), Jake One, DJ Babu, and DJ Khalil, as well as collaborations with the Dilated Peoples crew. By 2009 Evidence signed with Minneapolis, MN-based hip-hip label Rhymesayers Entertainment, who released his 2011 sophomore effort Cats & Dogs, an album that wound up being among his most commercially successful as it landed at #64 on the Billboard 200. Perretta’s fourth album Weather or Not was released earlier this year, and the album is the first catch of new material from the Los Angeles-based emcee and producer since the 2014’s The Alchemist-produced Lord Steppington.
Weather or Not’s third single, the DJ Premier-produced “10,000 Hours” was centered around a swaggering and strutting West Coast hip-hop meets menacing, old school, boom bap, old school East Coast hip-hop production paired with one of contemporary hip-hop’s criminally unheralded emcees, rhyming about the time he has spent practicing, developing and honing his skills to become one of the very best — or in other words talent ain’t shit, if you don’t work very hard at it. The album’s fourth single “Powder Cocaine” continued Evidence’s ongoing collaboration with The Alchemist, who contributed an atmospheric yet soulful production consisting of boom bap beats, warm blasts of bluesy guitar, a chopped up choral vocal sample and a soaring hook and the production managed to be roomy enough to allow Evidence and Slug to trade bars full of diverse metaphors and descriptive symbolism.
The album’s fifth and latest single, the Nottz-produced “Bad Publicity” much in the vein of its predecessors as it’s golden era hip-hop inspired, tweeter and woofer rocking boom bap hip-hop, complete with some dexterous scratching — and the production manages to be roomy enough for Evidence and Strong Arm Steady’s gravelly-voiced Krondon to spit fiery, braggadocio-filled bars. Directed by Todd Angkauswan, the recently released video for “Bad Publicity” is shot in an deserted, almost post apocalyptic Los Angeles, featuring the city’s most prominent locations.
Currently comprised of Gilbert Elorreaga, Mark Gonzales, Greg Gonzalez, Josh Levy, Sweet Lou, Beto Martinez, Adrian Quesada, John Speice and Alex Marrero, the Austin, TX-based act Brownout was formed ten years as a side project featuring members of the Grammy Award-winning Latin funk act Grupo Fantasma, but interestingly enough, the project has evolved into its own as a unique effort, separate from the members’ primary gigs. Over the past few years, the act has garnered critical praise — they won their third Austin Music Award last year, while composing and arranging work that’s unflinchingly progressive while evoking the influences of WAR, Cymande and Funkadelic. Unsurprisingly, the members of Brownout have been a highly-sought after backing band, who have collaborated with GZA, Prince, Daniel Johnston and Bernie Worrell, and adding to a growing profile, they’ve made appearances across the major festival circuit, including Bonnaroo, High Sierra Music Festival, Pickathon, Bear Creek Musical Festival, Utopia Festival, Pachanga Fest, and others.
Throughout the course of this site’s history, I’ve written quite a bit about the Austin-based act, and as you may know, the band has released five full-length albums: 2008’s Homenaje, 2009’s Aguilas and Cobras, 2012’s Oozy, 2015’s Brownout Presents: Brown Sabbath and 2016’s Brownout Presents: Brown Sabbath, Vol. II — with their last two albums Latin funk interpretations and re-imaginings of the legendary work of Black Sabbath. Of course, during their run together, Brownout has released a handful of EPs, including 2017’s critically applauded Over the Covers, their first batch of original material in some time.
As a child of the 80s, hip-hop was a nothing short of a revelation to me and countless others. Every day after school, I practically ran home to catch Yo! MTV Raps with Ed Lover and Dr. Dre and BET’s Rap City and during the weekends I’d catch Yo! MTV Raps with the legendary Fab 5 Freddy — all to catch Run DMC, LL Cool J, Big Daddy Kane, MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, Biz Markie, Das EFX, A Tribe Called Quest, X Clan and Public Enemy among an incredibly lengthy list. (Admittedly, I didn’t watch Rap City as much. Even as a kid, I hated their host and I found their overall production values to be incredible cheap. Plus, I really loathed how they almost always managed to either cut to a commercial or the end credits during the middle of a fucking song — and it was always during your favorite jam. Always.) 28 years ago, Public Enemy released their seminal album Fear of a Black Planet, and unsurprisingly, the album wound up profoundly influencing the future founding members of Grupo Fantasma/Brownout. The band’s Greg Gonzalez (bass) remembers how a kid back in junior high school hipped him to the fact that Public Enemy’s “Bring the Noise” was built on James Brown samples. As a teenager, Beto Martinez (guitar) speaks fondly of alternating between hip-hop and metal tapes on his walkman (much like me). And Adrian Quesada remembers falling in love with Public Enemy and their sound at an early age. “When I got into hip-hop, I was looking for this aggressive outlet . . .,” Quesada says in press notes, “and I didn’t even understand what they were pissed off about, because I was twelve and lived in Laredo . . . but I loved it, and I felt angry along with them.”
So as true children of the 80s and 90s, the members of Brownout, with the influence and encouragement of Fat Beats‘ Records Joseph Abajian have tackled Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet — with their own unique take on the legendary material and sound. And although they were eager to get back to work on new, original material, they couldn’t pass up the opportunity to pay homage to one of their favorite acts. As Abajian says in press notes “I thought their sound would work covering Public Enemy songs.” He adds “it was good to know they were P.E. fans . . We came up with a track listing and they went to work.”
Understandably, translating sample-based music to a live band turned out to be more challenging than everyone anticipated. Quesada tried to get into the heads of the legendary production team the Bomb Squad in order to reinterpret Public Enemy’s work. “Imagine the Bomb Squad going back in time and getting the J.B.’s in the studio and setting up a couple analog synths and then playing those songs.” And while some songs closely hew to the original, other songs use the breakbeats as a jumping-off point for Mark “Speedy” Gonzales’ horn arrangements, synth work by Peter Stopchinski and DJ Trackstar‘s turntablism. “Our approach is never in the tribute sense,” Adrian Quesada explains. “We’ve always taken it and made it our own, whether it’s the Brown Sabbath thing or this Public Enemy thing.”
Fear of a Brown Planet comes on the heels of several Brown Sabbath tours, and while being an incredibly tight and funky band, the members of the band are incredibly psyched to bring revolutionary music to the people, especially in light of both the current social climate and that they’re not particularly known for having an overt political agenda. “If there’s any way that we can use the already political and protest nature [of P.E.’s music], we would like to try,” Beto says. “The album’s title, Fear of Brown Planet is definitely a relevant idea today and we’re not afraid to put it out there, because we want to speak out.”
Fear of a Brown Planet‘s first single is Brownout’s take on “Fight the Power,” and while retaining the breakbeats that you’ll remember fondly, their instrumental take is a funky JB’s meets Booker T-like jam, centered around an incredible horn line, bursts of analog synth and sinuous guitar line. As a result, Brownout’s take is warmly familiar but without being a carbon copy; in fact, they manage to breathe a much different life into the song without erasing its revolutionary sound or its righteous fury. Check out how it compares to the original below.