700 Bliss - Spa 700:
Holy moly this EP!! A noise-rap collaboration between DJ Haram and Moor Mother delivers heavy themes. Take this verse from the first track, Basic:
we made it
only lost a hundred thousand
on those slave ships
and that’s just one ship
motherf*cker I’m jaded
I crumbled to pieces at this and many more phrases and sounds in Spa 700. The diaspora speaks to and through us. This unbridled rampage through time, anti-blackness, and space blew my speakers out. And I liked it. AUSTIN
RIYL: DJ Haram, Moor Mother, BbyMutha, Chino Amobi
Recommended Tracks: 1, 3, 4
FCC: 1, 2, 5
Joyce Wrice - Good Morning:
A single by Joyce Wrice that delivers 90s Acura vibes in the present. I am such a sucker for almost anything coming out of Akashik Records. Featuring remixes and reduxes by Bender, Mndsgn, & Swarvy, this song is just straight up sexy. It conjures an early morning repose that builds with anticipation at the thought of waking up to your lover’s touch. Need I say more? AUSTIN
RIYL: Aaliyah, Kari Faux, intimacy
Recommended Tracks: 1
Yishak Banjaw - Love Songs:
Dreamy electronic ethio-jazz that manages to sound both familiar and space-age. I don’t get to say this a lot as an ethical music journalist (haha) but this album seems truly ahead of its time. Credit this ambience to Yishak Banjaw’s decision to record this album with a Casio keyboard after becoming enchanted with its sound. I’m hypnotized! AUSTIN
RIYL: Ethiopiques, Hailu Mergia, Woubeset Feseha, Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou
Recommended Tracks: 1, 3, 4, 7
TTNG - Animals:
So TTNG is a band from Oxford, England (fka This Town Needs Guns, a joke about how Oxford does not many guns, but was changed to TTNG due to the recent gun controversies), with a more maximalist take on the math-y emo-y style of post rock pioneered by the likes of American Football. Animals is the group’s debut work, released in 2008, in which each song is named after a different animal, despite containing zero lyrical references to animals.
While each of us can point to music and art that we enjoy, I find it interesting how difficult it can be to determine why we enjoy the art that we do. I thought I enjoyed post-rock for it’s more ethereal and minimalist tendencies, but then why do I enjoy Animals, which rejects those same tendencies? I don’t think it’s the lyrics; the production is relatively unremarkable; the guitars and drums have a noodle-y quality that I typically despise in math and prog rock. So why can’t I stop listening to this album? I’ve listened to it like 5 times in the last 3 days.
It’s times like these when I start to wonder what music’s purpose is. Drummer Dave King claims that, “Music’s purpose is high everywhere that it is,” from the complex rhythmic intricacies of traditional ragas, to the aggressive simplicity of ACDC. I get that for many people music is nothing more than entertainment, but I think the human connection with music goes deeper. For example, why does music have the power to truly anger people? Why do my friends refuse to talk to me after I make them listen to Neil Cicierega? Why did fans riot after Happy Apple played “Where the Lion Sleeps Tonight” for multiple hours? Clearly music affects us on some level beyond simple entertainment. I myself have no rational explanation for how deeply I was fucked up when I heard Eels’ Electro-Shock Blues album this summer, or why I was moved to tears by Pharaoh Sanders’ Love In Us All a few months ago. And if rationality cannot explain a phenomenon that we know to exist, then we have two options: we can either reject the phenomenon as irrational, or we can expand our model of rationality to better describe our everyday experience. And similarly, we must change our conception of music to fit in with this new model. Let us explore.
One of the most obvious failings of modern rationality is its refusal to understand that just because something cannot be detected does not mean that it does not exist. For example, no instrument or measuring device can ever detect Quality in music, writing, or any other art form. And yet we know without a doubt that Quality exists: Some comedians are funny, others are not. Some music is danceable, some paintings are beautiful, others are not. The way that we need to expand rationality is by accepting that Quality exists, and that a human’s enjoyment of a work of art is simply that human’s perception of Quality in that work. As a result, we can say that the primary purpose of music, art, writing, etc. is to have Quality.
When we begin to think of music as an exercise in Quality, everything becomes very simple. Any music that has Quality is good, and any music that lacks Quality is bad, regardless of the instrumentation, style, how much money it makes, the people making it, etc. I like Animals because I perceive that the album has Quality, and that explanation is entirely valid and rational. As Robert Pirsig, founder of the “metaphysics of Quality” once said, “That’s the mark of a high-quality theory. It doesn’t just answer the question in some complex roundabout way. It dissolves the question, so you wonder why you ever asked it.” JATIN
RIYL: American Football, Clever Girl
Recommended Tracks: 2, 3, 9
Common - Ethereality:
From the Windy City and the South Side of Chicago, Common (known as Common Sense then), released this debut album in ’92 through Relativity Records. At this time, most of hip hop’s attention was focused on East Coast and West Coast artists, the Midwest and South were yet to establish an identity or signature sound. This album was the start of establishing a Midwest identity for hip-hop, as well as starting Common’s music career.
The album was entirely produced by The Twilite Tone and legendary hip-hop producer, No ID (then known as Immenslope). No ID would continue to produce albums throughout Common’s discography up into today (he also produced the entirety of Jay-Z’s recent 4:44 album).
Some of the songs are hit and miss on this record. The album starts strong with “A Penny For My Thoughts”, “Charms Alarm”, and Common’s breakout single, “Take It EZ”. Off the bat, one can grasp Common’s early style of rap filled with punchlines and clever wordplay. He was still developing his rap style in addition to having his voice squeak throughout tracks. No IDs crafts beats inspired by the East Coast and samples the Isley Brother’s “Between the Sheets” for “Breaker 1/9”, although Common doesn’t carry the weight for the track’s potential. Common also trade bars with No ID on “Two Scoops of Raisin”, while showing off his lyrical skill and flow on “Blows to the Temple”.
Even though the album is filled with playful lyrics and tons of wordplay, it’s also filled with raunchy, misogynistic lyrics, which tend to be the forgettable songs. To my surprise, the subject matter on a chunk of the tracks focused on disrespecting and playing women, which is a shock coming from Common, who tends to be labeled as a conscious hip-hop artist. To be fair, Common was still experimenting and finding his style on this album, but the tracks with misogynistic lyrics come off as juvenile. While the album does carry some passable records, it still has a few that demonstrates Common’s potential as an emcee.
I would recommend this album to any fan of Chicago or Midwest hip-hop. Any fan of Common should own this album – it captures a glimpse of Common’s early style and shows how he grew from this album into a more sophisticated, self-aware emcee. It would only be a matter of two more years before he’d release another full-length project that would become a classic in hip-hop standards. His sophomore effort, Resurrection, would permanently solidify his and Chicago’s place in hip-hop, along with boasting a refined lyrical style that would only be matched by Queens emcee, Nas.
“Can I Borrow A Dollar?” will be reissued on vinyl for 2018 Record Store Day (April 21) in participating locations. ANDRES
RIYL: Nas, Kanye West, A Tribe Called Quest
Recommended Tracks: 1, 2, 3, 8