Category Archives: hip-hop

A Tribe Called Quest’s “Low End Theory” turns 21

lowendtheory

One of the finest albums in my collection – and if you own it, I guarantee it’s one of the finest in your collection, too – is old enough to have a drink. So break out the shot glasses and raise a toast: We’re getting The Low End Theory shit-faced tonight.

I probably thought this last year, when Low End Theory turned 20, or in May, when Adam Yauch died, or even last week, when the formerly flannel-wearing masses celebrated the 20th anniversary of the movie Singles, but holy crap, I’m getting old.

If you’re asking me to pick a favorite album by my favorite group, I’m going to tell you Midnight Marauders. But that’s not fair: I’d never ask my parents if they like my brother or me more (it’s probably me, though).

I won’t go on and on here because 21 is sort of an arbitrary number, and the occasion never would have crossed my mind if not for this Q-Tip tweet. I’m glad I saw it, though. You really don’t need a reason to listen to Low End Theory, but I’ve got a good one today.

Happy birthday. First round’s on me.

Serengeti with Tobacco: Be a Man

serengeti_beaman

If you’ve listened to Serengeti, you know he’s a fan of baseball. It’s just not a Serengeti album without a “Hawk Dawson” reference – and tell me another rapper that has name-dropped Jeff Pico.

It’s been a busy year for the Chicago-bred emcee, who talked sports with me back in January. In March, he teamed with Sufjan Stevens and Son Lux on the Beak & Claw EP. In April, he dropped the Kenny Dennis EP, on which he raps as his Windy City superfan alter ego. More recently, Serengeti released C.A.R., another highly personal/vulnerable glimpse into his life (buy this album).

Now we have a new 7-inch for Georgia label Graveface’s charity series. The A-side, “Be a Man,” is a collaboration with Tobacco and the B-side features two tracks with Advance Base (aka Owen Ashworth, formerly known as Casiotone for the Painfully Alone). So how does baseball fit into this? Proceeds of sales of the 7-inch will benefit the R.B.I. (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) program.

Get a listen to a “Be a Man,” which will be available at digital retailers on Aug. 28. Also: Serengeti supports WHY? at Crescent Ballroom on Monday night. Be there.

Random: Buggin’ (The Metamorphosis)

megaran_buggin

Leave it to a former teacher to base a song/video on a literary classic. Phoenix rapper Random (aka MegaRan) left the classroom behind to make the full-time jump into music, but he can’t quite seem to shake the teaching, uh, bug.

Of course, this is the man who earlier this year released an album called Language Arts: Volume One, part of a conceptual multimedia project that was funded by a ridiculously successful Kickstarter campaign.

And that’s the album that brought us “Buggin’ (The Metamorphosis),” inspired by the Franz Kafka novella. The new video (directed by Max Isaacson) finds Ran playing the role of Gregor, waking up to find himself transformed into a vermin. High school English class was never this fun.

And while you’re catching up with Language Arts: Volume One, Random went ahead and dropped Volume Two today. A harder-working rapper would be impossible to find. That said, our TeacherRapperHero is returning home from tour and throwing a show on Saturday at Hidden House.

Below is “Super Move,” an iTunes bonus track off LA: Volume Two featuring some of my favorite emcees (Has-Lo, Open Mike Eagle and Zilla Rocca).

Incoming: Busdriver, Nocando and Open Mike Eagle, Oct. 24

bus_nocan_eagle

Three of Los Angeles’ finest emcees at the forefront of the avant-rap scene – or whatever you wanna call it – are joining up for a fall tour that will stop at Rhythm Room on Oct. 24 (though at this point I’m not sure who is promoting it, so I have little in the way of ticket/age information).

Busdriver, Nocando and Open Mike Eagle are as prolific as they are talented, often showing up as guests on each other’s work, so a collaborative tour makes sense.

In the case of Busdriver and Nocando, they released the album 10 Haters under the Flash Bang Grenada moniker last year. But all three have either released or will release solo material in 2012. Busdriver dropped Beaus$Eros in February; Open Mike Eagle released 4NML HSPTL this summer; and it looks like Nocando is close to unveiling a new album.

In conjunction with the tour announcement, Busdriver premiered a new video for the song “Utilitarian Uses of Love” over at Potholes In My Blog.

I’ve included some more treats below:

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis: Same Love

macklemore_ryanlewis

Eric took off for Lollapalooza this weekend, but he left us with this post about an important song. Play it loud outside Chick-fil-A.

Macklemore’s subject matter as a rapper is all over the map, whether it’s prescription drug addiction (his own and others’), yoga practice, Irish heritage, the trappings of materialism in the shoe-obsessed Jordan era. Although I’ll admit my personal experience lines up with the yoga and Air Jordans on the brain, no matter the topic, I always find him engaging, thought provoking and inspiring. His straightforward, autobiographical style is something that’s refreshing to me, that “rapper as storyteller” role that I feel like I see much less in today’s hip-hop than when I was growing up.

If you’ve checked out Seattle indie station KEXP at all the last couple of years, you’re sure to have heard Kevin Cole sing his praises at least once or twice, and with good reason. A growing figure in the Seattle music scene, Macklemore, along with collaborator/DJ/producer Ryan Lewis, look to continue their upward trend with the release of The Heist on Oct. 9, the first single from which happens to be one of the bolder, braver choices I’ve seen made in music in awhile.

“Same Love” is a beautiful, impassioned dart thrown directly at critics of marriage equality, a topic we hear politicians addressing from one corner of the ring or the other on a daily basis at this point. Rappers … not so much.

Hip-hop has never had a great track record in the tolerance department. This is not to say that every faction of hip-hop exudes the degree of machismo or misogyny as the gangsta rap of the ’90s, but suffice it to say that its lyrical content, or at the very least the public perception of that content, hasn’t exactly approached a warm and fuzzy approach toward homosexuality. Just as we still, in 2012, have don’t have openly gay athletes in the similarly heterosexual male macho world of professional sports, sexual preference has been a taboo in the world of hip-hop.

Recently, though, there have been signs of a dialogue opening up. Last year, Fat Joe, conspiracy theories aside, was surprisingly candid in encouraging gay rappers to come out, proclaiming that hip-hop is “the greatest gay market in the world.” On July 4, up-and-coming R&B artist Frank Ocean, a member of Odd Future, raised many an eyebrow in the hip-hop community by proclaiming that his first love was with a man.

“Same Love” is an emotional, beautiful track. Bolstered by piano and string arrangements, horns and the soulful voice of Mary Lambert, Macklemore matter-of-factly takes homophobia head-on, examining not only the religious and political agendas that he feels propel hate, but also taking on the perception within the hip-hop community toward gays: “If I was gay, I would think that hip-hop hates me/ Have you read the YouTube comments lately? / ‘Man, that’s gay’ gets dropped on the daily.” Lambert’s soulful voice punctuates his plea for tolerance: “I can’t change/ Even if I tried / Even if I wanted to… / My love, she keeps me warm.” Again, the autobiographical is discussed. While straight himself, Macklemore discusses an early childhood assumption that he was gay for the silliest of preconceived notions, mentions the fact that his uncle is gay and has a longtime partner, calling them collectively “my uncles.”

As a straight person who’s grown up with gay friends and decided long ago that gay marriage makes a lot of sense, I’ll admit I’m easily sold here. He’s preaching to the choir. But my hope is that we’ll see this spirit of inclusion and tolerance in hip-hop become a real trend. MURS recently added another voice in support of gay rights with “Animal Style,” a tragic/powerful song complemented by a video that features the L.A.-based rapper kissing another man.

As part of a partnership with Music for Marriage Equality campaign – seeking to pass a referendum to protect same-sex marriage – Sub Pop has released “Same Love” digitally on iTunes and Amazon and released a 7-inch (limited to 2,000 copies) on Tuesday. All proceeds will benefit marriage equality in Washington state.

I Used to Love H.E.R.: Harris Pittman (Henry Clay People)

henryclaypeople

The 55th installment of I Used to Love H.E.R., a series in which artists/bloggers/writers discuss their most essential or favorite hip-hop albums and songs, comes from Harris Pittman, bassist for the Los Angeles-based Henry Clay People, who are playing Crescent Ballroom on Thursday night in support of their new album Twenty-Five for the Rest of Our Lives, out now on TBD Records.

Pittman dissects a not-so-obvious classic, an album whose much-anticipated follow-up is rumored to be finished with a possible release later this year.

deltron 3030Deltron 3030, self-titled
(75 Ark, 2000)

Picking a favorite hip-hop record is – for me at least – a difficult task. I will spare you the obvious favorites from Run DMC, Public Enemy and A Tribe Called Quest. Picking those groups are like picking The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Nirvana for me, respectively. The importance of their records are well-known, but my go-to record is more like The Soft Bulletin of hip-hop, Deltron 3030. It’s the work of mastermind Del the Funky Homosapien, Dan the Automator (Dan Nakamura) and Kid Koala, along with contributions from Damon Albarn and others.

Deltron 3030 is Del and Dan the Automator’s concept album of a dystopian society with only one hope: Deltron Zero. Throughout this tale of hip-hop sci-fi set in the year 3030, Del delivers abstract ideas set against Nakamura’s signature production. Deltron 3030 takes the idea of Nakamura’s previous effort, Dr. Octagon (with Kool Keith), and solidifies his vision with more intelligent and digestible rhymes from Del. Nakamura fuses odd samples, like the hook from the 1970 tune “Of Cities and Escapes” by Canadian pop group The Poppy Family on the track “Madness” to my favorite bass line on the album. The list of abstract samples continues further. Ever heard of the 1968′s “No Silver Bird” by Hooterville Trolley? Me neither.

Deltron 3030, released in 2000, really needs to be heard to understand how out of the box this record is to be fully appreciated. While many of the ideas are futuristic and more 1984 than “Fight the Power,” these tracks stand the test of time and will still be relevant for the next 1,018 years. Put any of them against your choice of mainstream hip-hop “hits” of the last twenty years and Deltron Zero will still remain victorious.

Open Mike Eagle: Universe Man (feat. Serengeti)

openmikeeagle_4nmlhsptl

In an interview I posted with Open Mike Eagle last month, the L.A.-based art-rap auteur opened up about his new album, 4NML HSPTL, due out June 26 on Fake Four: “It’s the place where rappers, or any artists, go when they try to know too much. It’s a place you end up at. I decided to call it the animal hospital – you go there when your head explodes.”

Let the mental purging begin. “Universe Man” is the first leak off his third album (with beats handled entirely by UK producer Awkward), and like most of Mike Eagle’s songs, this one is brimming with the type of pop-culture references and bookish rhymes that challenge our Twitter-conditioned short-attention spans. It really does sound like his head might explode if he doesn’t get all of this out.

Pigeons and Planes premiered the song a couple weeks ago and has the album’s tracklist.

Open Mike Eagle feat. Serengeti, “Universe Man”:

Mega Ran’s guide on How to Win at Kickstarter

As someone who recently raised a staggering sum of more than $15,000 for his most recent project through Kickstarter, Phoenix rapper Mega Ran is certainly qualified to offer his tips and tricks for success with the crowd-funding site, which has become an increasingly popular way for musicians to raise capital to record.

True to his roots as a former teacher, Mega Ran has written up a lesson plan to educate the masses on How to Win at Kickstarter, and he’s kindly allowed me to share it here to help spread the word. Enjoy and absorb the insight from a musician who seemingly never slows down.

Mega Ran

At 11:24 AM on May 4, 2012, while preparing for a show in Wisconsin, I got a text message.

“WOW!! WAY TO GO!! YOU DID IT!!”

As of Saturday, May 4, I had just finished up my third Kickstarter campaign, and the third time was truly the charm for me, after raising $5,300 out of $2,500 the first time, and then $5,400 out of $2,500 the second time. This time I was asking for $3,000 to create a 3-part album, a comic and video game. I thought it could work out, but never imagined what would happen. So how did it go?

$15,480?

When the smoke cleared, the final total was at a whopping 516% of the desired goal. I beat my last two Kickstarters by an average of $10,000. It’s the third biggest comic book total raised on Kickstarter. I get at least three emails a day asking this question, so I figured I’d help you out by answering it publicly:

How did you raise all that money??

I’m going to tell you something. Although I think I’m a good rapper, OK producer and pretty cool performer, I’m not the best at any of these things. There’s a lot I can do better. Heck, I even hate my voice. But I’ll tell you something else. NO ONE will outwork me, at any level. A year ago this week (May 2012), I stepped away from my teaching job, not knowing if I’d ever have to come back or not. I was determined to make the most of my God-given talents, the biggest of which might be my heart. It was the scariest thing I’d ever done … and I think it was the fear that makes me work harder than ever, because I know that if I don’t hustle, I’ll starve, or have to return to a 9-to-5 job.

If there’s one thing I learned from all my years of teaching, it’s something that my first mentor teacher told me. The best teachers are the best thieves. That didn’t mean to steal pencils and paper from my fellow cohorts, but she meant that in order to stay on top in the classroom, you have to know what works and what doesn’t, and adjust quickly sometimes.

If another teacher does something that works, by all means, use it in your classroom … but do it your way, of course. I’ve watched a lot of teachers in my day, whether in the classroom or on stage, so I definitely picked up plenty of cool ideas to share.

So without further ado, here is Mega Ran’s version of How to Win at Kickstarter.

1. Be Realistic.

Let’s be honest – it doesn’t take $5000 to make an album these days. I have made countless albums for FAR less than that. Anyone asking for that much for a single album is being a little greedy. On the other hand, a Kickstarter project for a high-quality music video for less than that is selling itself (and its backers) short. Be honest and up front with people in the description. Be realistic about promises of delivery dates. Take shipping into account … remember that while it’s tempting to offer them the world for their help, you’ll have to pay for that stuff later.

Being realistic means asking yourself some hard questions.

a) Would I donate to this?: Time to step outside of yourself … is it interesting enough that if you weren’t involved, you would want to be?

b) Is my goal too much? Too little?: ALWAYS consider the fees and the fact that even IF you hit your goal, you don’t get the amount you see on screen.

c) Do I have supporters who would spend money on my vision?

d) The only way to know if people will spend money on you is past success. Musicians: do you travel? Is your music shared socially? Photogs/artists/game developers – what have you done that people know about?

e) Ask yourself, is 30 days going to be enough to get the project funded? It should be. Skip the 60-day option. That brings me to #2…

2. Timing is Everything

As with anything on the Internet, timing is super important. If I hadn’t made a song about Jeremy Lin right after Lin’s second great game and put it online, I would’ve never made an impact. By his fourth good game, there were at least 20 different Lin raps on the Internet. But since I was first, many press outlets, including ESPN, showed love to mine and refused to even acknowledge those.

Think about when your project will start and when it’ll end … is there a big holiday in there? Forget it. Go for the end of tax season if possible, haha.

When do you want to release your project? Consider that it takes two weeks after the campaign ends to receive funding. Give yourself time to fund the project and then to make the project even better.

If you have a friend who’s also an artist doing a Kickstarter at the same time, try to WAIT. Show a little common courtesy … Plus no need to spread your resources thin. You should even use your resources to promote his or her project for some karma points.

3. Seek help…The Right Way!

This past spring on The VS Tour with Willie Evans Jr, RoQy TyRaiD and DJ DN3, we ran into one of my favorite emcees, MURS, in a most unlikely location, Tucson, Ariz. – and at our show. When I asked what he was up to, he handed me a flyer. The flyer was for his Kickstarter campaign. In all the Kickstarter campaigns I had been a part of, we never utilized print media … I don’t know why, just never did. Learned something.

a) Social media promo is best, but also can be the worst – don’t overdo it. One plug a day was my max. Also remember to utilize all social sites – your Facebook friends don’t necessarily use Twitter, or vice versa. Don’t forget about YouTube! Post your Kickstarter video on YouTube as well.

b) NEVER post it on friends’ walls or @ message people direct asking for support. You’ll isolate people you like and eventually turn them against you.

c) Email blasts to your list are golden (if you don’t have a strong list, ABORT MISSION).

d) If you know others who can assist on your project, and are talented, get them involved. More heads working means more people promoting … hopefully.

e) Print flyers and circulate during performances or exposure opportunities (Thanks MURS!): This one helped me big time because I happened to launch the campaign shortly before a big performance and panel at PAX East in Boston. I had 1000 flyers ready to go, and littered the BCEC with them before the weekend was over. HUGE help.

4. Call Up The Homies

I’ll be honest – family and close friends will probably NOT support financially. If you do hit up close friends and fam, just ask them to post/blog it, or like it on Facebook … then be happy if they do put some change down.

Email or CALL people who have supported in the past (no text or Twitter/FB) – but make sure these people like you – or even better, have something to do with your project! See #3.

I hate to use the term “fans,” but if you have people that are very supportive of your art, then they’ll keep supporting if the project is authentic and can benefit them.

My second campaign was one that I somewhat regret – it was to get a ticket to play a show in the UK. I had a blast going, but that was a reward that would not benefit all of my supporters, only the ones there. I should have worked something in that would benefit everyone involved.

Any journalists, semi-famous artists or bloggers that you know should be notified of the campaign immediately … don’t ask them to post it, but if they’re down, they will.

5. Rewards and Research

When I started this campaign, I didn’t think about how far it would go, or how anyone would categorize it. I’d like to consider myself a pretty hard-to-categorize dude, considering that I make two very different styles of Hip-Hop at different times. While creating your campaign on the Kickstarter website, they ask you for your project’s category.

Considering that my “Language Arts” album idea was a music album, a comic book and a video game, I would have to choose one area and stick with it. I went with video games, because that was the aspect that hadn’t been started yet, and that I thought would be the part that would take the most effort to complete. I lucked out, because it turns out that Video Game projects earn the highest dollar amount on average on Kickstarter.

Talk to people who have been successful in each category. Ask them what worked and what didn’t. Look at the top funded projects in your category; today and of all time.

Give great rewards! Personalized stuff works. My best-selling reward in any category in the past two campaigns has been giving the backer a chance to choose the source material or video game we sample, and me writing an original song, about whatever I like, and then mentioning their name in there somewhere.

My friend MC Lars offers the opportunity for him to come to your home to hang out … and he’s a super nice guy, so that’s probably a blast. Offer things that don’t cost much but mean a lot to people. Sign your rhyme book and give it away. It’s no hassle to give someone a Twitter shoutout but it can make someone’s day!

Borrow reward ideas from as many sources as possible (again with the stealing). But you gotta remember to personalize it! People give shoutouts, I go to the next level and do a freestyle rap shoutout.

Research! Be a good student and browse the KS site for cool projects, either like yours or just very interesting. If there are projects like yours that haven’t worked, it might be time to rethink your strategy.

And there you have it. Not gonna promise that this will get you $15,000 or more in a month, but I can say that if you follow these, and have a great strategy, fanbase and campaign, you’ll do great. See you on the interwebs. Peace!

Raheem “Random” Jarbo

Megaran.com

Mouse Powell: Holding Home (video)

mousepowell

These days, it’s easy to criticize Arizona, but it takes balls to stand up for it.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not gonna sit here and say I’m not embarrassed by the ever-growing list of controversial headlines my home state seems to be making. But when every Tom, Dick and Harry with a Twitter account or website – who have probably never set foot in Arizona – start taking potshots, I start to feel a little defensive.

This is my home, and has been for 25 years. There’s too many people doing amazing work to push Arizona in a new direction – from politics to art to music and everything in between – to let anyone make us feel inferior.

That’s why this new video from local emcee Mouse Powell, for the song “Holding Home,” has struck a chord with me. Arizona needed an anthem for our sweaty summer nights, and this is it. Like the way People Under the Stairs rep L.A. in their own laid-back way, Mouse Powell gives Arizonans something to celebrate.

Anchored to a sample of Simply Red’s “Holding Back the Years,” the song takes the listener on a tour of our Arizona – Four Peaks, Roosevelt, Revolver Records, Blunt Club. (Did we mention the sunshine and pretty girls?) When I’m riding around town this summer with my windows down and A/C blasting (because that’s how we do it), I know what I’ll be listening to. Stand up, Arizona.

Beastie Boys: She’s On It (video)

beasties_shesonit
In keeping with the theme of the last post, here’s some more Licensed to Ill-era goodness from the Beastie Boys.

A non-album track, “She’s On It” was originally released on the soundtrack for the 1985 flick Krush Groove. (And here’s a party icebreaker for ya: Krush Groove was written by Ralph Farquhar, father of quick-lipped L.A. rapper Busdriver, born Regan Farquhar.)

I own this track on a 7-inch, the flip side to a “Fight for Your Right” single, which makes sense because the songs are close siblings, infused with the crunchy Rick Rubin-inspired guitar riffs that probably helped ease the Beasties’ transition from punk band to hip-hop heads. (And I think that’s a VERY young Rubin making a cameo in this video.)

It’s seriously difficult to not sing the “Fight for Your Right” lyrics to this song. I think they’re interchangeable, which might be part of Rubin’s genius. But hey, at least there’s some hot ’80s beach bods to distract you.