Category Archives: Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday Review: CrazySexyCool | TLC

tlc
BY: EVAN VOGEL

I don’t really know if it’s possible to dislike certain groups. These are the groups that have set certain standards for what music sounds like or maybe simply created music that no one person can resist. Few songs have that effect the way putting “Waterfalls” on in a room full of people does. The drums and synthesized instruments sweep in, in full jazz mode and then are overtaking by some soothingly earnest R&B vocals. When the chorus hits, the trio takes all bets off the table and everyone joins in; it’s fantastic. Now, you know how people say it’s hard to shine on a team full of diamonds? Well, TLC came close to proving that theory right with their sophomore LP ‘CrazySexyCool’.

Just like their name symbolizes an acronym, covering each member of the trio, their album title covers the basis of what is going down on the project. The instrumentals stay precisely timed rhythms with the help of drums and electric pianos. The three members each adds their own vocal flavor to the batter. The real ability lies in how well they harmonize and play off their own strengths. From a more than capable rhyming potential and pitch perfect R&B that has never sounded more 90’s.

It’s important to note, the group was far from genre bending or breaking the rules of what had been set before them but, they did multiply expectation by three and combined skill sets that up until this point were mostly confined to features or collaborations. One of the project’s unique elements is its ability to reflect its title and the energy of its personalities so well. You hear “Creep” and realize that these women are not to be tested, then “Diggin’ On You” sets the light mood of taking in the beauty of a relationship. It’s made all the more interesting as it segways into the ode to backstabbers, “Case Of The Fake People”.

TLC made sure they were themselves. A lot like that group of girls we all knew in high school. Their personalities didn’t quite match but for some reason it worked so well that everyone took notice anytime they were around and together. Grounded yet occasionally funky, this project allows you to jam out to one of the best songs of the decade as soon as it imparts its little wisdoms about love and friendship on you. This album was the seductive stare into your eyes that everyone hopes to have from another person. The title of the LP signifies anything but boredom and therefore points in the direction of intrigue. There’s enough quality R&B material here from the trio that had every right to be the entire 1990’s population’s first crush(es).

8.4

Throwback Thursday Review: Country Grammar | Nelly

Country Grammar
BY EVAN VOGEL

After only recently realizing that ‘The Fix’ was made by Nelly and feeling personally weird about not knowing that after having heard the song multiple times, I felt I had to review some classic Nelly. So here I am, in front of my computer jamming out to Country Grammar. About five songs in and I forgot how great this album is, was and forever will be. Opening with a hilarious skit where Cedric The Entertainer asks Nelly to contact him via multiple pagers, what follows is equally as playful and unique while still being typical.

The second track ‘St. Louie’ is a bouncy tune filled with plucked bass strings and liquid flow from our rapper. He often adds some southern flavor on the ends of his words to synchronize with the twang of the guitar. He essentially describes the broad spectrum of people you would run into in Missouri at the turn of the century. It’s playful, it’s fun and it isn’t as corny as it should be. He really moves into his naturalistic lane on ‘Greed Hate Envy’. Filled with “wooos” and simplistic rhyme schemes that sound more layered than they are thanks to his buttery-smooth delivery. The pitch is noticeably higher and he sounds more involved — to his advantage. It is damn near impossible to rap-a-long to the chorus that couple almost flawlessly with the beat.

Then Nelly continues his string of bouncy instrumentals coupled with equally buoyant rhymes. The silky rhyme scheme on ‘Country Grammar’ is only overtaken by its elementary chorus that we’ve all repeated at least a dozen times. Everytime this song comes on, it’s a party. He relishes in the riches and stereotypes of having money and being a rapper, but it has rarely sounded this great. The instrumentals continue down their pop-rooted trail while Nelly consistently intrigues with his unique vocals and delivery. Even when he’s doing something as trivial as spelling out his city and states it manages to earn its place in the song.

I don’t know many artists better than Nelly boasting an appeal that pulls in listeners from all backgrounds and lifestyles and bring them to the dance-floor. It is completely evident on ‘Ride Wit Me’. This track stands on its own forever. As Nelly peruses riding down an interstate and enjoying nothing but your friends, the car and the pavement it takes you as a listener to a time with your friends living this song out on whatever scale (like without all the money). His appeal is his ability to make doing, really anything, sound fun. Now, given that endearment, it comes with also having upbeat, usually poppy instrumentals. This is where too much Nelly can start to be a bad thing. His flow is often restricted to the same style you heard one, two and three tracks before. Listening through his albums, songs start to meld together.

This isn’t a terrible curse in the way that some artists always sound the same, but rather he just stuck with something that worked for possibly too long of a time. Listening through each song, you’ll be bobbing your head and shouting along with choruses at obnoxious levels but when it’s all over you don’t particularly remember listening to the album. Instead, you remember what you were doing while listening to it. Nelly will always hold a special place in my heart, but I’ll go right ahead and say that he is best when enjoyed with friends.

8.6

Throwback Thursday Review: The Massacre | 50 Cent

50_Cent-The_Massacre-Frontal
BY: EVAN VOGEL

With 50 Cent having been in court lately after flaunting a seemingly endless flow of “fake” money on Instagram after filing for bankruptcy, I felt it was time to look back on a time when Mr. Curtis Jackson was in a better place. This place was occupied on his 2005 offering, The Massacre. To follow-up Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ must have weighed heavy even on a man as iron-plated as 50. The project is a combo platter of his gangster knowledge and lifestyle, sexual desires and his transition into stardom that implored him to reassure all of his critics that he is still the same man.

 

The song ‘Piggy Bank’ is a great example of 50 directly calling out his peers hoping they will have the, what he would consider tenacity, to fire back. A problem exists because 50 is taking shots at rappers like Jadakiss and Nas who are targets at the wrong shooting range. The artists he aims at are so far from his intended audience that they may have never heard of them. Nonetheless, he manages to engage listeners with his lack of a care in the world and his undeniable brovado.

The project truly excels where other projects put out by used-to-be or still-maybe gangsters don’t; it always sounds good and specifically to demographics that other artists have difficulty touching. Even though Dr. Dre only produced two tracks on the album himself, his energy spills notably onto the rest of the project. The instrumentals carry a ridiculous amount of energy and mix heavy bass hits with much lighter elements like pianos, chimes, strings and airy sample loops. The simplicity and fun undercut the raw grit. Instances where 50 sounds introspective and reflective come back to back with ‘A Baltimore Love Thing’ and ‘Ryder Music’. His ability to craft catchy choruses is still on display here but they are surrounded by some of 50’s more poetic moments.

Still, the most fun there is to be had on this project is comes in the form of songs that sounds best in three places. The club. The home. The whip. This album may not have the same hardcore gangster appeal this time around but that’s okay. I don’t think artists get into a craft to keep painting, singing or creating the same thing over and over again. This is 50 showing his ability slide onto radio waves just as easily as he could create one of the most censored albums at the time.

8.5

Throwback Thursday Review: Pabst & Jazz | Asher Roth

Asher-Roth-Pabst-And-Jazz
BY EVAN VOGEL

You remember doing scavenger hunts as a kid? Everyone runs around with the same list of items that they have to find and and bring back quickest for the glory. I would never win that growing up. Instead, I would start on the same path as everyone else but while they were all on the quest for pinecones, earthworms or whatever other meaningless objects made their way onto the list, I would manage to find something not on the list. It was always something unique, like a stone cracked open revealing its crystal-like quartz on the inside. This is how I feel about being a fan of Asher Roth. He isn’t one in media headlines and he stays even further from people’s list of relevant artists. To me though, he is like that cracked rock that gets cooler the deeper you look.

 

To parallel, everyone has their ‘scavenger lists’ of great rappers, full of new music from the Kanyes, Drakes and Kendricks. Not often, if ever will you see Asher Roth’s name in a list alongside those artists. But modern music has removed the ability to recollect, rather, drowning us in a constant flow of new music and styles. But if we take that time now to look back on Mr. Roth’s musical career, we will likely notice his commercial peak as the artist who spit, ‘I Love College’. Immediately, there goes some major credibility in the eyes of hip-hop heads. Due to that aforementioned cyclical flow of new music and tossing out of the old, that song marked the first and only time many people heard Roth rap. Since we are taking the time to look back, now, I feel very bad for those people. Why? Because now Asher Roth has given us project like the Rawth and Rawther EPs and my personal favorite, Pabst & Jazz.

After his very mediocre 2009 album debut, Asleep In The Bread Isle, which was completely tailored to the mainstream appeal he had, Pabst & Jazz caught me completely off guard with its unorthodox approach to general sound and Roth’s witty lyricism. Starting there, Roth has perhaps some of the freshest delivery and lyrical acrobatics on display of any project in 2011. The title track, opens with a jazzy piano and boom bap mix that couples with Roth’s light yet concise delivery wonderfully. It sets a mellow pace for the start of the project that is interrupted no later than three seconds into the second track where Roth verifies, “This shit is jammin’ though”, and proceeds to have some verbal fun over extremely funky guitars and subterranean bass hits. He is accompanied by Action Bronson here who has a decent verse and is backed by about a dozen other artists throughout the project. The project is fun enough to warrant all the tag team partners Asher commissioned and it undeniably broadened his potential fan base; which was a fantastic tactic to employ on this unique work.

The production is typically suited to fit the descriptive title of the tape. Mixing funk and jazz overtones with some more experimental undertones. There is a little bit of something for everyone here. Roth is just as quick to play around with phonetics and vocabulary as he is to simplify the great tragedy of life that is the idea that we are all simply living to die. This tape’s complexities are found in his ability to sound so relaxed and put such verbal wizardry on display while fully explaining every level of his thoughts. From looking back on life and at the world as a whole, to taking in a beautiful day or a beautiful lady next to him it’s never hard to listen. That must be the best part of the project, the parallel between the title and the final product. It goes down as smooth as a Pabst in hand and your favorite Louis Armstrong record spinning next to your chair on the patio as you watch the sunset over the city; just take it in first, you can think about it later.

8.0

Throwback Thursday Review: Jay Z & Kanye West | Watch The Throne

Watch The Throne.jpg
BY EVAN VOGEL

Luxury Rap. This is what happens when two of pop-culture’s most identifiable and revered artists come together to make an EP that vibes so well it soon becomes a full length album debuting at hotels, museums and planetariums alike. Jay Z and Kanye West have long been in the public’s eye, whether for their music or more personal affairs. The success stands them on an elevated podium from which they are able to peer down and establish or destroy trends so the rest of us can go on living our lives thinking we are cool. Not a bad place to be. For us mortals, we remain grounded and are coerced by images of grandeur into doing the one thing they want us to, Watch The Throne.

This album is a success no matter how you look at it. Commercially, it has sold nearly two million copies and it contains enough of each artist’s handiwork to sonically ascertain their legacies. The production is where this project shines through most aptly. Each track is lush and expansive with an army of top producers attached to the credit list. This may very likely be the album with the most expensive and creatively used samples ever. From the entrancing Indiggo Twins sample on ‘Murder To Excellence’ to the ridiculously awesome and soulful chops of Otis Redding’s voice used on ‘Otis’, nothing is in its proper place, and thank the lord because it sounds fantastic.

The scope of the project is gigantic. Take the opening track for example, ‘No Church In The Wild’ verifies Jay and Kanye’s refusal to relinquish the control of their lives to any God. It’s harshly funky synths isolate their raps and twist Frank Ocean’s vocals into a dark chant. They take time to do a little of everything on this project. Reflecting on their rocket-like ascension to success on ‘Lift Off’ couple the undeniably fun braggadocio that Kanye and Jay make sound so good with a very catchy Beyonce hook. It starts with enough brass wind instruments to take you back to ‘Touch The Sky’ era Kanye.

Lyrically, the album and duo sounds best when they are boasting about their success or poking fun at white corporate America on ‘Gotta Have It’. They aren’t afraid to layer in some socially conscious talk about being a good father, the struggles of black women and women’s image in society in general. But right when you start thinking about how much fun ‘Otis’ and ‘Niggas In Paris’ were a few tracks ago, one of the album’s best instrumentals and some of the most memorable bars are dropped on ‘Who Gon Stop Me’. The synths sweep across the electronic/house backdrop and the verbal pacing is veteran if anything.

To put it simply, this album has everything that we have come to expect from these two master class musicians; expansive lyrical artillery, uncontainable energy, production that manages to root itself in history yet be ‘in the moment’ and forward thinking all at once. It gives us all this and so much more in the form of playful camaraderie between the two. While they have worked together countless time before this album was even a thought to them, something about the process they underwent while creating this project churned out very gratifying results. It is the Kanye and Jay Z album we all needed and definitely the one everyone deserved.

8.8

Throwback Thursday Review: Finding Forever | Common

Finding Forever
BY EVAN VOGEL

There’s no denying Common’s royalty status in hip-hop culture. His street mentality combined with his complex lyrical divulging has made him one of the most respected emcees of all time. The appeal is similar to that of fellow rapper, Nas. They bend stories of love, drugs and watching (or partaking in) gangbanging from street corner to street corner and they take ownership of their words, making their experiences visible to those of us who never lived that lifestyle. Common has always been a strong proponent of social justice and education, often using his albums as outlets to depict the hypocrisies and tragedies inherent in society. This is no exception to his seventh and first number one album, Finding Forever.

No doubt following in the footsteps of his previous album, Be, Common again partnered with Kanye West to try and take their success in stride and keep a solid equation unchanged. And, for the most part, they succeeded. The best thing about Be when it came out, was its fusion of Kanye’s lively, soulful and aggressively sampled beats and Common’s staple vocal presence and wit. Apart, it was no secret that Kanye was an incredible producer and Common was next to none when it came to rapping. The experimentation with that album came only at the cost of however much time they put into it. There was no misstep to be found, it was as though they had found and pulled out King Arthur’s sword together. So naturally, why wouldn’t they think they could do it again?

This time around, it was as though they made the same album in a much grittier part of Chicago, where soundboards were missing knobs and studio walls were covered in mattress foam for insulation. The album sounds great and is produced fantastically, but the beats are harsh and Common is much more aggressive here. As he classifies it on, ‘The Game’, this time, Common is rocking “the demeanor of the ghetto”. The sample game is still strong with Kanye here. On ‘Drivin’ Me Wild’ with Lily Allen, he features a sample of her own voice behind her beautifully elevated chorus and Common’s depictions of a woman obsessed with the gold digger lifestyle and a guy who had no idea where his life was headed. Right after we get a Will.I.Am produced track that samples a classic Bob James song on the smooth, ‘I Want You’. It is darkened by the eerie sense of longing provided by the echoing sample. Words like “linger” and “gone” are released by Common with regret.

The dark grittiness is in full effect when Kanye and Common spit about their hometown in full-defense mode as though their is an army standing at the gates trying to take it, over a distorted guitar riff and separated drum hits. This defense switches to Common stepping back and having more of a realist’s perspective on, ‘U, Black Maybe’. He understands the adversity the black community faces and the obstacle thrown at them in this city they feel tied to. The Stevie Wonder sample is fantastic by the way and Common’s monologue at the end is inspiring, no matter what color you bare. An homage to J Dilla on, ‘So Far To Go’ provides that bit of light this album hasn’t seen much and while it is a great song, it just doesn’t entirely fit well here. Then we get back to West’s productions on ‘Break My Heart’ and its light horns match with Common’s lightly comical words about the journey a relationship takes.

Then we are taken back to the dark, ‘Misunderstood’, city streets of Chicago and end on and incredibly soulful note, where Common again acknowledges the darkness in the world but settles contently on the fact that it will all be alright. This is the beauty behind a person like Common. Time and time again he has put out albums that tread over gang-torn concrete and crumbling communities but knows it’s our city and our world and we are the only one’s who can change it. Through love, awareness and education Common tells us stories that teach, uplift and sound fantastic (Thank you too Kanye).

8.6

Throwback Thursday Review: Kush and OJ | Wiz Khalifa

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BY: EVAN VOGEL

Amidst being bashed by everyone on social media these last couple days…wait that was just Kanye, but I guess he pretty much constitutes everyone; Wiz Khalifa has achieved an incredible amount of stardom throughout his relatively short career thus far. No one can deny him any of that. He may be corny, he may have particularly limited and noticeably recurring subject matter throughout his releases, but as it turns out, relatability lies in the same hole that people try to bury him in. Back in 2010, Khalifa put out a project that showed just how much of a force he was in hip-hop. Kush and OJ, was the concrete laid down over the path he had left behind that many thought would fade into a vestige of what was. It became a symbol of his confidence and marketability.

Before people even had the time to listen through the entire tape, its title became the most searched thing on Google and the number one hashtag on Twitter. From coast to coast, everyone had adopted a new breakfast tracklist and it proved too easy to digest to resist. The instrumentals which are regularly backed by the spark of a lighter regress to a state of smokiness that hazes into Khalifa’s, “everything is better when you’re high” attitude. The sounds are compiled by stacking decades-aged light synth elements and muttering drums that seem to hit at the same rate at which Khalifa raps.

His style is a rendition of fellow stoner-rapper Curren$y in the sense that it never moves faster than one simplistic and completely grounded thought at a time while the artist spitting them stays elevated on an undetermined, yet large amount of that bud. Speaking of Curren$y, he and a few other guest artists like Big K.R.I.T. show up on this project and try their hand over Khalifa’s usual instrumental fare. The interesting part, Khalifa usually sound the best over the productions even though many would argue the other artists are much more skilled. Wiz has taken the stoner lifestyle and been acquitted of any accusations of repetition because, to put it very simply, no one makes a weed-song better. Every song has the easy listening quality of the one before and after it, making this project the perfect album to break up the over-produced or highly lyrical music that likely occupies the rest of your music library. Even at that, it still has its moments of good-life indulgence on ‘Pedal To The Medal’ with Johnny Juliano, which contains one of the catchiest choruses of that or any year due to its singer’s sheep-like vocal rumble.

It’s no wonder that Khalifa paid little worry to being at the top of the game when this project dropped. He knew he was on to something and he knew his music was getting passed around more than a joint at one of his shows. Looking back, it is almost funny to see how commercially accepted he is, or at least well-known now, compared to how dangerous for the radio he was back in 2010. Just like it’s hard to hate this project, it is similarly hard to push any hatred on the guy who created it and who seemingly always keeps to himself with a mind filled with next to no concerns, other than maybe where the weed is at. This project showed Khalifa’s ability to craft simple, simple verses that retained their impact through relatability and his potential to sing, smokey choruses that you can picture are accompanied by squinty eyes and a big goofy smile on his face.

8.0

Throwback Thursday Review: Tim’s Bio: Life From Da Basement | Timbaland

Tim's Bio
BY EVAN VOGEL

Before he gave Jay Z the ‘Dirt Off Your Shoulder’ instrumental or practically handing Justin Timberlake Grammys, he was wiping the grime away from hip-hop productions, leaving behind clean, crisp instrumentals that rappers and R&B singers were jumping at like hot cakes. His success and that of his instrumentals can be quantified by the 19 tracks that, at least when compiled in physical form, represent his debut album, Tim’s Bio: Life From Da Basement. This project, among others at around the same time (namely, Missy Elliott’s, Supa Dupa Fly), symbolized an alteration in the course that music was traveling.

Continue reading Throwback Thursday Review: Tim’s Bio: Life From Da Basement | Timbaland

Throwback Thursday Review: Low | David Bowie

david-bowie-low
BY: EVAN VOGEL

Relentless experimentation and the subzero breath of spacious lyrics proved to be more than most people were ready for in the late 70’s. The late David Bowie is definitely one of music’s greatest evolutionists, having created over 26 albums worth of content during his time as a practicing musician. He was no stranger to experimentation and was the last person to be afraid of it or how its final yield would be received by mass audiences. His 1977 album Low is the perfect testament to this fact. It was created at a time in Bowie’s life where he was trying to kick his addictive habit of that powdery-white nose candy so prevalent at the time; cocaine. His movement from L.A. to Berlin was perhaps his biggest ally in accomplishing this feat.

The move triggered the dawn of a new creative process within Bowie, who was clearly battling a ton of emotional stressors. The result was a two-sided project that encompassed 11-tracks of music that would go on to change the process of musical production forever. The stark and distorted guitar on album opener, ‘Speed Of Life’ doesn’t even begin to prepare listeners for what is to come. The fantastic effect put on the drums throughout much of the album, noticed on ‘Breaking Glass’ has itself become a staple in modern popular music.

His approach to this album was to keep vocals brief and distant on most tracks, letting the sonics of the instruments have their room to stretch and be absorbed. What lyrics there are, create a sense of longing and forge a path for new discoveries to be made. Each sentence seems to be a fracture of a larger idea and therefore showcase Bowie’s new sense of intrigue and adventurousness. He seems to feel isolated within his newly sober self and is able to take in the little things in life with much more vigor on ‘Sound and Vision’.

“And I will sing, waiting for the gift of sound and vision,

Drifting into my solitude

Over my head.”

He ventures from funky croons on tracks like that to the interestingly soulful and catchy delivery of ‘Be My Wife’. Here his message is more organized and yet the piano and energetic guitar chords make his marital grab for another chance seem frantic and uncertain. Sounds continue to overlap and create entire shifts in mood throughout the album, especially noticeable in the second side of the project (tracks 8-11). Being that they are almost entirely void of lyrics, the instrumentals bear a ton of weight, and they manage to hold this weight with unwavering finesse. Even without words they speak to the listeners the same way a movie’s soundtrack can say more than the dialogue ever does.

It is experimentation at its most adventurous and refined. Low is the perfect example of a project that was released years before people could even begin to predict or understand the massive ripple effect it would have on forthcoming generations. I doubt even Bowie or Brian Eno, the producer behind the beautifully ambient soundscapes, had any idea the inspirational shift in music they would be causing years down the road. Simply put, the music on Low didn’t just break the ground, it shattered it into thousands of pieces that became the grains of sand nearly every subsequent musician has walked over.

9.8

Throwback Thursday Review: Just Tryin’ Ta Live | Devin The Dude

Devin The Dude
BY: EVAN VOGEL

Life to most of us isn’t this glamorous enigma that is glorified and talked about by a large portion of today’s mainstream rappers. Rather, most of us are just trying to live day by day and get through it with our head on our shoulders. It isn’t as easy as the ten-percenters make it look, nor is it as hard as the politicians would like you to believe. This middle ground is classified by a search for relaxation and a thirst for comfort that is quenched by the simple things in life. The Dirty South rap artists of the early 2000’s had this lifestyle locked down. More specifically, artists like Devin The Dude were “Feelin’ fine in my Lacville ‘79”, paying no mind to their outdated whip and rather revelling in the fact that its age was correlated to a lower percentage of car theft.

You could say that Devin The Dude was ‘Just Tryin Ta Live’ — he did. His 2002 album, further cements the MC’s relatability to average individual. His verses span from conversational narratives to smoked-out sing-a-longs. The vibe is constrained to only as far as the mind will let it go. This can’t be better explained than listening to the twangy southern guitars and keys of ‘Doubie Ashtray’ with your eyes closed. The first-world problem of having someone help themselves to your weed becomes an extravagant composition that draws out your inner laziness. Oh and he’s pretty damn funny too, ending the song with an exclamation after finding a different bag of weed he must have misplaced.

This lightheartedness is a constant and a gift for Devin. He tackles issues both big and small with an everready sense of comedy and wit. On, ‘Who’s That Man, Moma’ he steps into the audience’s perspective for a few verses about the image of himself he gives his fans and his power over youthful onlookers who want to be him. It’s equal parts touching and hard to take seriously with the incessant marijuana interjections. The instrumental in comprised of a lax bassy-guitar riffing behind separated snare hits. The beats never reach out of their element, which on the musical periodic table is smack-dab in the middle of laid back, down beat, slow tempoed rhythms. Your head can nod while your eyelids slouch, it easy-listening in every sense.

His voice is manipulated within a small range to sound like an airy, southern wordsmith similar to a young Andre 3000. His stories stress the difficulties living in beneath the stressors of money, drugs and women. Never taking this trio of problems too seriously though, he always seems to cover his situation in a haze of weed smoke and that is enough for him. His understanding of the repetitive lifestyles we lead open our eyes to “the grind”. Doing the same thing over and over isn’t leading to anywhere except tomorrow. Tomorrow is fine but to look any further, he closes the album with the idea that, ‘We have to change our ways’. Conscious all while being not. His lyrics travel from the mundane to the briefly intellectual while consistently showing the prowess behind those smoky emissions.

9.0