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DJ Fresh vs Diplo Feat. Dominique Young Unique – Earthquake

August 6th, 2013
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Heading up the soundtrack to upcoming comic book adaptation Kick-Ass 2, ‘Earthquake’ is as brash and primary coloured as the characters in the film. Even the video gets in on the act, featuring a bunch of would be superheroes dressed in homemade costumes strutting their stuff through an exploding New York City. From the off it’s clear that this is a triumph if synergistic (ugh) marketing, but it also happens to be a pretty banging tune too.

At the very least, it comes highly recommended. By DJ Fresh’s cat, who served as a sounding board during the song’s development.

“Mama is a strange cat. She looks 30 degrees off to the side when she wants to look at you,’ he told The Daily Star. “I really enjoyed myself, testing out Earthquake’s beat drops. Mama started twitching and it was so funny watching her that I thought: ‘I must be doing something right.’”

Should feline endorsements not be enough for you, we’re pleased to report that Mama seems to have got this one right. It’s a suitably super-sized trap track, liberally sprinkled with bass detonations, electronic shrieks ad tortured synths. Florida rapper Dominique Young Unique ties it all together with some enjoyably sleazy verses. It’s all the more impressive as she wasn’t Fresh and Diplo’s first choice, only getting the nod when Angel Haze took the beat and turned it without permission into a diss track as part of her interminable beef with Azealia Banks. Haze’s loss is our gain as Dominique does more than enough here to pique curiosity for her own forthcoming album. Keep your eyes peeled.

New Music

Azealia Banks – ATM Jam

August 6th, 2013
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Getting into a Twitter beef with c-bomb dropping would-be rap queen Azealia Banks is a 21st century rite of passage. The roll call of people who have been on the receiving end of her 140 characters of diss is pretty comprehensive. Kreayshawn, Angel Haze, Iggy Azalea, T.I., Lil’ Kim, Lily Allen and Nicki Minaj are just a few of the names on Azealia’s shit list. She even called The Stone Roses ‘old saggy white niggas’ over some perceived slight, which we have to admit is pretty funny.

Basically, if you haven’t been insulted online by Azealia Banks, it’s probably because she hasn’t got to your name in the phonebook yet. Andy Warhol once said that in the future everyone would be famous for 15 minutes. Substitute the ‘famous’ for ‘called a c**t on a social network by Azealia Banks’, and he was pretty much right.

Everyone likes a larger than life personality, but you have to wonder when Banks is going to ease up on the feuding and actually let her music do the talking. Since bursting onto the scene with the gloriously profane ‘212’, she’s enjoyed a profile out of proportion with her recorded output. The much-hyped debut album ‘Broke With Expensive Taste’ slipped from its 2012 release date and still doesn’t have a confirmed arrival.

It’s therefore pleasing to witness the materialisation of some actual music. Debuted on stage at this year’s Glastonbury festival, ‘ATM Jam’ offers some solid evidence that Banks could yet make good on her early promise. Ably assisted by omnipresent collaborator-for-hire Pharrell Williams, it’s a jerky and insistent track featuring some ear-catching verses from Banks. It’s unlikely to rival ‘212’ in viral penetration, but it could mark the beginning of Azealia’s transformation from pugnacious internet personality into genuine artist.

New Music

Kanye West – Blood On The Leaves

June 29th, 2013
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Kanye West is a contradictory combination of genius and buffoon. On the one hand, he seems almost comically lacking in self-awareness, doing and saying things so patently ludicrous that they would cause most mere mortals to cringe themselves to death. Let’s not forget he’s just named his first child North, an act of thunderously misguided parental hubris that should ensure he won’t be receiving too many father’s day cards over the next few decades.

On the other hand, he’s been behind a series of records that have transcended the somewhat narrow confines of rap to become genuine cultural milestones. As a producer, he is restlessly inventive. Rather than coasting on the sounds and styles that made his fortune, he gleefully tears up the blueprint with each new release. Case in point: 2008’s ‘808s & Heartbreak’, a rap record without any rapping on it.

He’s at it again with new album – named ‘Yeezus’ with characteristic modesty. It’s a harsh, angular beast that strips hip-hop back to its industrial chassis. Stark, and unwieldy, it’s totally devoid of anything you’d really call a single. ‘Blood On The Leaves’ exemplifies this. It lurches into life slowly, Kanye’s auto-tuned vocals rubbing arrhythmically against a fractured sample of Billie Holiday’s ‘Strange Fruit’, before the bass detonates and clattering percussion starts to crowd the frame. It’s certainly not going to be to everybody’s taste, but it’s undeniably the work of someone who is actually trying.

“I think what Kanye West is going to mean is something similar to what Steve Jobs means,” he said recently in an interview wit the New York Times. “I am undoubtedly, you know, Steve of Internet, downtown, fashion, culture. Period. By a long jump. I honestly feel that because Steve has passed, you know, it’s like when Biggie passed and Jay-Z was allowed to become Jay-Z. I’ve been connected to the most culturally important albums of the past four years, the most influential artists of the past ten years. You have like, Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Henry Ford, Howard Hughes, Nicolas Ghesquière, Anna Wintour, David Stern.

“I think that’s a responsibility that I have, to push possibilities, to show people: ‘This is the level that things could be at.’ So when you get something that has the name Kanye West on it, it’s supposed to be pushing the furthest possibilities. I will be the leader of a company that ends up being worth billions of dollars, because I got the answers. I understand culture. I am the nucleus.”

The above statement is so conceited and eminently ridiculous it is hard to believe a real human being actually said it. And that’s why we need Kanye West. He’s a larger than life hybrid of king and court jester and the world would be a far less interesting place without him.

New Music

Nas – Made Nas Proud

June 28th, 2013
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The story behind ‘Made Nas Proud’ is a heart-warming antidote to the endless series of beefs that blight the rap game. Diss tracks are ten a penny. Virtually every day we have to listen as supposedly grown men throw insults at each like bitchy high-schoolers. For guys who often like to talk about how tough they are, rappers can be incredibly sensitive at times. Three cheers then for Nas and J.Cole, who turn this unedifying spectacle on its head in what could be modern rap’s most enjoyable love in.

The story goes like this. J.Cole, a longtime fan of Nas, he was understandably put out when he heard that his idol was unimpressed by his breakout it ‘Work Out’. Some would this perceived slight off while some would use it as the excuse to initiate the now standard thermonuclear war of words. J.Cole did neither, instead channelling his upset into the track ‘Let Nas Down’ on his latest album ‘Born Sinner’. It’s both a reaffirmation of his respect for Nas and an honest exploration of the hurt feelings his criticism caused. Aww, bless.

A chance encounter with his hero kick started the next phase of the tale, as J. Cole ran into Nas at Houston airport just days after recording the track. He played it to him there and then, and the rest is history.

“He went nuts. It was crazy, he was very impressed,” Cole told 97.9 The Box. “I knew right there it was a fate moment.

“I knew that he had did his verse. I was waiting days for that moment,” he said of the song’s release. “It’s just a major moment in my life. It was a huge moment just for hip-hop period but more importantly for me. That’s a moment everyone can look at and be like ‘dang’ because they know my story, they know my journey. Everyone knows what it feels like to look up to Nas and how he deserves to be looked at, and for that to happen is a huge moment.”

‘Made Nas Proud’ justifies Cole’s long-standing adoration. Always one of the most dextrous rappers around, Nas delivers some meticulously crafted words of advice and encouragement for his younger collaborator. Positivity combines with some characteristically smart and sharp MCing. If only more stories had such happy endings.

New Music

Austin Mahone – What About Love

June 22nd, 2013
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Being a teen pop idol is a brutal business. Bieber’s been at the top of the tree since precociously bursting on to the scene, but in an environment where youth is prized above all else, he’s rapidly becoming long in the tooth. He’s a positively ancient 19 years old now, and his recent bad boy antics only highlight the fact that he’s no longer the non-threatening teen crush object he once was.

So as the increasingly geriatric Justin shuffles into obscurity, who is there to take his place? Step forward one Austin Mahone. Weighing in at an infinitely more palatable 17 years old, Austin seems nailed on to be Bieber’s popping and locking replacement in the hearts of excitable teenage girls everywhere.

Don’t tell Austin this though. Despite being a young singer/dancer who successfully used social media to harness an insanely devoted legion of fans, he doesn’t want to be compared to the Biebs.

“It is very flattering,” he told 4Music. “He is so inspirational and very successful so it’s very cool but I just want people to not just look at me, you know – ‘young kid, likes to have fun and just enjoying life,’ just assuming ‘oh this guy’s just the next Justin Bieber’. Like, ‘look he has a hat on, he just wants to be just like Justin Bieber’. It drives me crazy sometimes because I can’t even wear a T-shirt without being compared to Justin Bieber – it’s crazy. I just want people to just give me a chance and listen to my music and give me a chance to be my own artist, that’s all I’m asking.”

That’s all he’s asking. Can’t you people give him a break? Anyway, the bouncy ‘What About Love’ has all the requisite ingredients for pop success, so hopefully his music – rather than his flagrant hat and T-shirt wearing – should be what people end up talking about. He’s got a few good years left until the next YouTube sensation starts snapping at his heels, so the best of luck to him.

New Music

Breach – Jack

June 22nd, 2013
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First, a word of warning. If you are in any way chaetophobic – that’s scared of hair, fact fans – do yourself a favour and steer clear of the video to ‘Jack’. It’s a deeply unsettling and aggressively hirsute experience that defies conventional description. Chewbacca from Star Wars would probably find it quite arousing, but it’s pretty nightmarish for the rest of us.

Thankfully, the track itself is infinitely more palatable. Three minutes of deliciously minimal sleaze, ‘Jack’ has unsurprisingly become something of a dancefloor slayer since it first emerged at this year’s Winter Music Conference in Miami.

Surprisingly for a track that seems destined to be a massive hit, ‘Jack’ actually began life as a b-side to the earlier ‘Let’s Get Hot’. It was only the intervention of Breach’s Dirtybird label boss Claude Vonstroke (not his real name) that got the ball rolling.

“Yes, this is true,” he told Beatport. “‘Let’s Get Hot’ actually started out as a remix that got turned down, so I took the samples out and put my own vocal on the top. I thought it sounded very ‘Dirtybird’ so, yeah, I had dinner with Claude in London and said I had a beat which I thought would be good for the label. I don’t think he believed me at first. When I sent it, he got back straight away looking for a b-side. We talked about making something a bit sleazier. The next morning, I woke up after a mad dream and had the lyrics to ‘Jack’ in my head, recorded them onto my phone, then went straight to the studio to put them down. A few days later, I went back to the vocal and wrote the tune in about four hours. That’s how it was made.”

Sometimes it really is that easy. Now go and get a haircut, you hippie.
‘Jack’ is out on July 14th via Dirtybird / Atlantic Records.

Pre-order link: http://smarturl.it/BreachJack

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Joey Bada$$ – Word is Bond

June 17th, 2013
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In the best possible way, Joey Bada$$ sounds like he’s beaming in from a different era. This Brooklyn MC is all about hip-hop stripped down to its bare essentials, the focus placed firmly on the beats and the lyrics. In a rap game where so many tracks are laden with identikit dance-pop production in order to increase their chart potential, Joey’s embrace of the old-school is ludicrously refreshing.

‘Word is Bond’ is a lean and direct beast. The beats boom and snap with irresistible purpose, while a languid piano loop and expertly placed turntable squiggles round out a production that feels genuinely timeless.

Lyrically, Bada$$ is also operating at a different level. Without wishing to sound like the creaky old giffer that he undoubtedly is, your reviewer can’t help but feel that today’s scene seems overly populated by rappers who, well, can’t really rap. In so many cases, genuine lyrical dexterity has been replaced with mush-mouthed mumbling. It’s hard to believe someone like French Montana could hold his own in an animated conversation, much less a rap battle. By contrast, Joey Bada$$ takes an obvious pleasure in crafting and delivering memorable lines.

This care and attention is reflected in the protracted genesis of his new mixtape ‘Summer Knights’. For fans, it’s been a long time coming, but that’s just because Bada$$ wanted to get it right.

“It’s been about a year,” he told Prefix. “I’m a perfectionist. I’m really nervous with what I put out, and really self-conscious. I can’t hold on to my tracks too long because I’ll just start to hate it. Ask any one of my homies, they’ll tell you—I hate every song I’ve ever made. Because the thing is, I record it and then listen to it like fifty times after, and I play it out before anybody ever even hears it. To hear people bumping shit I did like a year ago, it’s the strangest.”

If this slow process results in more tracks like ‘Word is Bond’, let’s hope Joey Bada$$ keeps on taking his time.

New Music

Wiley Feat. Angel & Tinchy Stryder – Lights On

June 17th, 2013
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Being an innovator isn’t always easy. As the ‘Godfather of Grime’, Wiley was one of the figureheads of one of the most exciting recent developments in British music. But once you become a symbol for an entire genre, you also become a target should you seek to blur your musical boundaries. Dare to step outside the narrow parameters defined by self-appointed purists and suddenly you’re a sellout.

Thankfully, Wiley doesn’t appear to have let his status become a millstone round his neck. Quite the contrary, he sees his willingness to embrace new ideas as key to his longevity.

“I think the main way that I have stayed relevant – or tried to – is by finding a balance in the music I make,” he told MTV. “Obviously I started out with grime, but things have moved on since then, for me. The hardest part about changing, or ‘success’, is that as music lovers we have this thing where when everybody else starts to like it, we decide not to love it as much anymore.”

Latest album ‘The Ascent’, successfully straddles the line between underground club bangers and chart-friendly pop songs. ‘Lights On’ falls squarely into the latter camp. Big dancefloor synths and a syrupy vocal hook from guest Angel practically guarantee that this is going to one of those inescapable summer hits. But despite all the success, there’s a good chance that Wiley may not be around that much longer.

“Even though getting to the top of the charts is a big deal, people forget that I’ve been doing music for 15 years now and yeah, I could keep releasing music and chasing another hit, but I want my next project after ‘The Ascent’ album to be my last – I’m planning on retiring around the end of 2014 or 2015.”

Enjoy him while he lasts.

New Music

A$AP Ferg – Work (Remix)

June 9th, 2013
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A$AP Ferg’s remix of ‘Work’ represents excellent value for money. Alongside the hotly tipped Ferg himself, you also get verses from A$AP Mob compatriots French Montana, Trinidad James, Schoolboy Q and A$AP Rocky. That’s a spicy meatball! Little wonder the track has blown up big style, pulling down Gangnam-esque levels of YouTube views and slowly becoming a mainstay of hip-hop radio.

With such a packed roster, it’s little wonder that ‘Work’ has something of a party atmosphere. Booming beats and cycling synth stabs provide a welcoming backdrop for all the performers to pop up and do their thing. As fun as it all sounds, having so many big names in the same place must have raised the pressure.

‘You definitely gotta be competitive, because rapping is a competitive sport,” Ferg told HipHopDX. “Everybody’s on the track to beat out the best; that’s the one thing about being a rapper. All rappers have egos, so when you get on a track with four other hot artists that are hot right now. You’re talking about Trinidad that got one of the biggest singles, if not the biggest single this year, with “All Gold Everything.” And then you got Flacko, in which “Fuckin’ Problems” went platinum, then you have French Montana, who has full rotation on radio; he’s being played in clubs, strip clubs, everywhere. Then you have ScHoolboy Q, who is a lyrical genius from TDE. You gotta go hard. I play with the big boys. They’re really good artists.”

Ferg’s background in the rap battle scene on the streets of Harlem means he can definitely hold his own among such illustrious company. Debut album ‘Trap Lord’ is set to drop in August, featuring guest appearances from heavyweights like Onyx and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, so we’ll see then if he can also keep up with rappers from outside the A$AP Mob family.

New Music

Wale Feat. Rick Ross and Lupe Fiasco – Poor Decisions

June 9th, 2013
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What really constitutes a guest spot on a hip-hop track? We ask because – despite this being billed as a Wale joint – the man himself doesn’t put in an appearance until almost four minutes in. Instead, the heavy lifting is done by Maybach Music Group head honcho Ross and Lupe Fiasco of ‘conscious hip-hop’ fame. However these things are decided, the trio combine to good effect on a record that’s unusually contemplative for something from the Maybach stable, where bitches, money and expensive cars are often the key concerns.

Over a summery groove layered with G-funk squiggles and skittering beats, they explore life choices that lead to so many young black men winding up dead or in prison. We’ll leave it to you to decide how this sits with Ross and co’s day job of gleefully celebrating the gangsta life and its many monetary rewards, but it’s a welcome gear change nonetheless.

‘Poor Decisions’ is taken from the forthcoming ‘Self Made, Vol 3’ compilation, where Wale is joined by a host of his Maybach chums, but he also has his own album in the works. ‘The Gifted’ is set for release on June 25, and its creator is promising a record that will speak for itself.

“I’m giving you music, I’m giving you what the people need,” he told MTV. “I’m tired of y’all rappers like, ‘I got four joints for the ladies, I got two for the club, I got three inspirational,’ … Nah, paint a picture, show me wassup. I’m not even gonna do all that other stuff. I’ma talk with the music. Until my album drop, until June 25, I’ma talk loud with the music. I’ve done everything I could do, I’ve said everything I could say. I’ve kissed the babies, I’ve shook the hands — now let’s let the music talk because I ain’t about to come here and tell y’all exactly how I feel no more. I’ma let it all sing in the music.”

New Music