Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Beat's Year End Review: Top 25 Songs

The second part of my year-end review. Next up, Best Albums. (These are in no particular order)

Keak Da Sneak - "That Go"
Shop Boys - "Party Like a Rockstar"
Talib Kweli ft. Nora Jones - "Soon The New Day"
Jay-Z - "Roc Boys"
50 Cent feat. Diddy, Jay-Z - "I Get Money Remix"
Kanye West - "Barry Bonds"/"Good Life"
Turf Talk - "Sick Wid It is the Crew"
T.I. - "You Know What It Is"
UGK and Outkast - "International Players Anthem"
Pacha Massive - "Don't Let Go"
Rich Boy feat. Andre 3000, Jim Jones, Murphy Lee, Polo Da Don, The Game -
"Throw Some D's Remix"
Fabolous feat. Ne-Yo - "Make Me Better"
The White Stripes - "Icky Thump"
Peter Bjorn and John - "Young Folks"
Arcade Fire - "Keep The Car Running"
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - "Weapon of Choice"
Rihanna - "Shut Up and Drive"
Common ft. Lily Allen - "Driving Me Wild"
Amy Winehouse - "Tears Dry On Their Own"/"Valerie"
Mark Ronson ft. Daniel Merriweather - "Stop Me (If You Think You've Heard This
One Before)"
Talib Kweli/Madlib - "Engine Runnin'"
Aesop Rock ft. John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats - "Coffee"
4Hero - "Morning Child"

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Beat's Year End List: Best Shows of 2007

As '07 winds down, it's a time for reflection. For me, it's a time for making lists of my favorite music-related things. An abbreviated version of this appears in this week's Go! magazine, but you can read my full top 10 below. On deck: Top Songs and Albums of the Year. Enjoy:

1. Mary J. Blige at Salinas Sports Complex: Hip-hop soul's reigning queen was supremely excellent opening up Big Week.
2. The Roots at Monterey Music Summit: Gotta love a hip-hop band that ends its set with a James Brown tribute.
3. Rakim/Ghostface Killa at The Catalyst: Two of the best MC's ever on the same bill. Brilliant!
4. Rock The Bells Tour: Wu-Tang Clan and Rage Against the Machine were cool, but the triumphant return of the mighty Public Enemy was the real reason to celebrate.
5. Mista FAB at The Catalyst: Even if Hyphy is so 2005, it was cool to watch Fabby Davis Jr. dumb out and spit some hot fiyah.
6. Rushad Eggleston and the Magic Wizard Band at Ol' Factory Cafe: Dude with the electric cello is nuts!
7. Greyskull at The Catalyst: Opening up for Atmosphere, this multi-culti crew ripped through a set with workman-like precision.
8. Novela at Moe's Alley: A couple of Alisal High grads making soulful rockabilly grooves. Say word.
9. Too Short at Club Octane: Because it's Too Short, and because I got in free without a press pass (thanks!).
10. Poison at Salinas Sports Complex: Aww, fuck it. Those guys still rock.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Live in Monterey: Spoken word poet Ed Mabrey

Ed Mabrey called out Kanye West for letting his momma die from plastic surgery. Dude is sick with it.
Not that I necesarily agree with his stance on Kanye's momma, but you gotta give it up, dude's got some steel reserve. Performing Wednesday night at the Rubber Chicken Poetry Slam at East Village Coffee Lounge in Monterey, Mabrey gave a powerful yet understated performance. Whereas the stock image of a screaming, pantomiming world-saver/doom forcaster is the avatar of the modern day spoken word poet, Mabrey manages to tone down that sort of posturing and still be as in your face effacing.
(For samples of his work, visit his myspace page at
Setting it off with a take on the Pharcyde's "Passing Me By" that lead into Mos Def's "Umi Says,” Mabrey gently tugged the audience into his cypher. His words spilled over and created a river of social commentary aimed at the state of Black America in particular and negative stereotypes in general. Lowering the boom on Kanye, he questioned the drive of young men who pull weekly six-figure salaries yet don't have foresight to protect their mothers from the risky cosmetic surgery. I couldn't hold back the erge to utter "ewww" as he delivered his stone faced critique.
Later, he shared a poem inspired by the experience of having watched a movie with Kurt Cobain (true story). Revealing equal parts remorse, regret and revalation, the piece was punctuated by the description of Mabrey's 8-year-old son walking in on his dad rocking out in tighty-whiteys and singing the lyrics to "I don't Care.
"What am I supposed to do with this Image,” is the son's question, a puzzled expression on Mabrey's face driving the image home.
Since I didn't take notes, it's hard to do a proper review of Mabrey's entire show. But he covered a lot of ground, including a cover of a Taylor Mali poem with spot-on timing and moving ode to a friend lost to breast cancer. In a stoic yet playful baritone, Mabrey comforted the crowd into his wheelbox, coaxing them with clever wordplay and genuine appreciation for the audience.
Like a slick-talking yet serious arms dealer, Mabrey dealt his lethal tomes with wicked glee. Kanye's momma, bless her soul, would have approved.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Rabbit Season/Duck Season

Every morning, Monday through Friday, I get into my cozy corner open-cubicle and begin my hunt for blog material like a rifle-toting Elmer Fudd.
Actually, the blog-subject process begins before that, when I first wake up and start scanning the music channels (like this morning, when I finally saw the new Snoop Dog video where he's miming Prince and Al Green). If I have time, I'll go online and check a few Web sites to see if there's any fresh downloads I can drop on my iPod (, and are pretty reliable for those sort of things).
I get into the newsroom and my hunt continues, first through the news wires, then the national Web ( and finally regional (the sound of young america at and When nothing else happens, I fudge it and come up with my own topics (such as superfluous entries about my blog-writing process).
And I get paid to do this. Our paper has put a premium on web content. I have to deliver. It's a tedious chore, but I get a kick out of doing what I do.
Happy hunting, y'all.

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Friday, December 07, 2007

Listen To My Voice! - The Beat Podcast with Jorge Santana and Malo

Jorge Santana is Carlos Santana's brother, but he's a good musician in his own rite. As a member of Malo, the Latin Rock band who wrote such hits as "Suavecito" and "Nena," Santana got his own shine while working to define Latin Rock on a parallel plain opposite his big bro. I got a chance to talk with Jorge Santana, who was really nice and opened up about his music and his brother's influence. You can download an mp3 of the podcast here.

Arcelio Garcia was the lead singer of Malo. His butter-smooth vocals laced the Chicano classic "Suavecito" as well as the majority the band's music. He is pretty up front about the band's influence in Latin Rock. I talked with him, and you can download the MP3 here.

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Freak-A-Leak Week: Hi Tek's "Hi-Teknology Vol. 3"

Going a little different on the Freak-A-Leak reviews, I'm giving a track by track breakdown for the final installment of "Freak-A-Leak" Week. For this one, we'll break down producer Hi-Tek's "Hi-Teknology 3: The Underground."
Life to Me ft. Estelle: Estelle is a young London-based R&B/Hip-hop artist. On here, she opens the set with a blast. Hi-Tek wanted to use this album as a platform for new artists, and he nails it with this opener.
Play My Piano ft. Dion, Raekwon and Ghostface Killa: Hi-Tek spits some nice lines, while Rae and Ghost come through and blast lyrical shots. Dion sounds like a damn sample, very tight, with muted guitars and lite drums filtering the beat.
God's Plan ft. Outlaws and Young Buck: Outlaw's give a eulogy to Pac, they keep asking me is Pac alive/ i say hell yeah, n----, u can see it in my eyes. Young Buck comes on with a more reserved flow, but no less passionate. he gives props to soldiers, while saying bush is just drinking grey goose, and pays homage to his 22 yo cousin who is serving life. Buck sounds better on here than he did on Buck the World. the track uses brevity
Ohio All-Stars: Introduces a fleet of talented street rappers, with a chest-thumping, Hi-Tek synth beat, complete with a deep "Ohio" bark punctuating each verse. This is the most distinct Hi-Tek sounding track, similar to his work with 50 Cent on The Massacre.
Back on the Grind ft. Riz, Kurupt and Dion: A g-funk, lowrider groove. Kurupt lays down his gangbanger drawl on a song that laments the lifestyle of crime and bad living that plagues the average hustler. Newcomer Riz sounds like a younger, more energetic Fabolous. Dion's hook is hypnotic only in its pronunciation: sometimes his singing sounds lazy.
I'm Back ft. Rem Dog: Rem Dog is an A-town affiliate, Jeezy - lite. He has a relaxed drawl, his style yells A-Town. Lots of violent gangster posturing, which is kind of played. Hi-Tek gives him a syrupy pimp track to get his gangster on, but Rem Dog is only interested in redoing tired gangsta dujour. His hook includes "These n----- don't want no problems," channeling another A-town rapper, Lil Scrappy.
Kill You ft. Push Montana: Push Montana knows how to have fun on a killer track. Even when he's threatening to kill you, and detailing how he's going to do it, he does it like he's in on the joke. lines like "I'mma introduce this loud n---- to the silencer" I put it in, everybody know/he was in the pen, he shoulda gotta know/" Hi-Tek gives him some eerie blues to mess with.
Handling My Bizness: Hi-Tek gets dangerously close to two-step/lean wit it rock wit it snap tracks on this one. M-1 shows up and gets his g-roll on.
Come Get It ft. T-Pain: T-Pain shows up on a smoky, wind chimey instrumental track that is absolutely gorgeous. Hi-Tek has the musical inhibitions of DJ Quick, able to fill in beats with charismatic piano sprinkles and data-processed digital melodies. This has him sounding like Roger Troutman as well.
Step Ya Game Up ft. Little Brother and Dion: Tek hooks up with underground stalwarts Little Brother, harkening to the producer's underground hip-hop pedigree. Dion gets his Al B. Sure on and steals the show, sounding more relaxed and sexy by finding the pocket on his solo. It's clear to see that him and Tek have a good chemistry when they get beyond hook singing. Dion needs an EP of Hi-Tek music (not sure if he could carry a whole album).
Know Me ft. Jonell: Jonell, the star of the original Hi-Teknology hit "Round and Round," gets her solo. As good as Tek is producing rappers, he absolutely kills it when he's coupled with a talented female. Know me doesn't have the sonic contagiousness of "Round and Round," but Jonell knows how to sink into the tracks. Tek really needs to produce for more female R&B acts. Amerie, Nina Sky or Mya would sound right on a Hi-Tek joint.
Time ft. Talib Kweli and Dion: Tek and Kwe reunite for some of that Reflection Eternal steez. This is a nice funk track, but someone needs to kidnap these two and lock them in a room underneath the Hoover Dam or something. It's been way too long.

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Freak-A-Leak Week: Wu Tang Clan's "8 Diagrams"

Some might be inclined to call Wu-Tang Clan's new album "8 Diagrams" incomplete because one of its most popular members, ODB, died four years ago. In a group of 10 rappers (counting Capadonna), the guy they called Dirt McGirt didn't carve a niche so much as he ice picked a gaping wound within the group dynamic.

"8 Diagrams" includes not one, but two ODB tribute tracks, the somber, heartfelt "Life Changes" and the gritty throwback "16th Chamber ODB Special."

The former is anchored by an eerie, charging soul sample and piano chords that give the MC's room to reflect on the moment they found out about ODB's death. Most poignant is GZA's verse “now Im in the booth 10 feet from where he lay dead/ I think about him on this song and what he might have said.” With each passing eulogy, the mood shifts, until RZA's verse. As the piano fades out, the bass thump increases and RZA, who was ODB's cousin, lowers his baritone to six feet below, detailing ODB's struggles and triumphs in a mournful verse.

The latter sounds like an outtake from the Clan's salad days, with a Method Man verse later used on "Release Yo' Delf" and ODB sounding young and hungry, before he had full command of his style.

It's the melding of past and present that is evident throughout "8 Diagrams, whether it's the lurching, chain-gang rumble of the opening track "Campfire" or the lyrical urgency on tracks like "Rushing Elephants" and "Gun Will Go."

On each track, there is some register of the classic Wu-Tang Style, be it near undecipherable rhyme schemes, bare-bones production courtesy of RZA, or the classic Kung-Fu movie samples.

At the same time, "8 Diagrams" is a full update of the Wu-Tang profile. The tracks carry a more polished, melodic weight, with subtle note changes and progressions that weren't as prominent on previous Wu-Tang efforts, RZA-produced or otherwise. Even the kung-fu samples are more pronounced, if not a little more obscure, than on previous releases.

While there are no definite singles, one standout track is "The Heart Gently Weeps" featuring Erykah Badu, John Fursciante and Dhani Harrison, son of George Harrison. An update of Beatles song "As My Guitar Gently Weeps." RZA has been boasting it is the first time the Beatles authorized a sample of their music, thanks in part to Dhani Harrison.

The song, a patented Wu-Tang street narrative with tribal story tellers Raekwon and Ghostface leading the way, is all spooky guitar squeals and minor keys, centered around a fluctuating Badu vocal. If there were such a thing as hip-hop folk music, this might be a point of reference.

Throughout "8 Diagrams," the clan carries this mournful vibe to artistic heights. Perhaps the death of ODB has taken the past four years to digest, and even now that vacuum remains. As the Wu-Tang trudges on, minus one of its key foot soldiers, the other Clan members have crafted a solid, complete effort in honor of theor fallen brethren.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

RIP Pimp C

So, how do you eulogize a gangsta rapper?

I'm not prepared to do such a thing, but in light of the news that rapper Pimp C was found dead in Los Angeles Monday morning (read the LA Times story here), I've got to wonder wonder, how do you go about remembering a young man who died mysteriously and was a fixture in a scene, in this instance, gangsta rap, that is constantly being criticized as an instrument for social ill.

Pimp C, real name Chad Butler, was born 33 years ago in Port Arthur, Texas. He founded the legendary group UGK along with Bernard Freeman, aka "Bun B." The group released eight CD's, most recently "Underground Kingz" which debuted in the No. 1 spot on Billboard Top 200 charts in August.

Despite his success, Butler's life was beset with missteps: he served time in a state penitentiary, battled alcohol abuse. His partner Bun B was left to weather the storm as a solo artist (a feat he managed with on the surface ease), and the UGK brand became a symbol of Southern rap pride. At one piont, "Free Pimp C" became a mantra, and the rapper was viewed in his native land as a street martyr of sorts.

But anytime a musician is found dead in a hotel room, it is not a good look. His record label asked that the news of his death not be left to rumor or speculation, but like the recent passing of Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor and recent news of rapper Spice 1's shooting on Monday(read the SF Bay Guardian blog here), it's fair to say that this will serve as another tragic circumstance involving a black man, this time a rap artist, who died too young.

It wasn't like Pimp C was a murderous thug who rapped about killing on every track. His style was akin to his namesake, and he rapped about pimping women and selling drugs with equal aplomb. In the realm of gangsta rap, his style was actually pretty tame compared to others (including Spice 1). And by rap standards, Pimp C was considered "Old School" by his southern counterparts. While he certainly maintained his relavence, Pimp C was a hardened veteran who had found his way back into rap's heirarchy and appeared to be doing well.

So the eulogy might go that Pimp C, Southern Son, gangsta rap role model, father, brother, mentor, lived life according to his own rules. He was not the victim of his haunts so much as a man who struggled with freedom, struggled with himself. He fostered an image that he may or may not have been able to live up to, but in the process inspired a legion of fans, friends and colleagues to seize the day, live strong and don't give up on your dreams.

Hopefully, somewhere, Pimp C is finally free. RIP.

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Freak-A-Leak Week: Ghostface Killa's "The Big Doe Rehab"

Ghostface Killa has built a solid fan base behind a mix of critically acclaimed releases, constant touring and straight up ghetto appeal. His newest release "The Big Doe Rehab" adds on to his legacy and serves as a terrific closure to his tenure at Def Jam records (this was the final album on his contract).

Like a big hitting free agent going for broke on a contract year, Ghostface delivers his stock grandiose swagger on this album. From the jump, we get the rawness of “Tony Sigel” a rap geek dream collabo featuring Ghostface and Beanie Siegel. Like A-Rod and Vlad Guerrero batting 3-4 in the all-star game lineup, Tony Starks and Beans combine for a ferocious duet that concludes with Beanie declaring "you're gonna have to cut me out the track like cancer" before he continues rhyming breathlessly as the track fades out.

From there, we get the street narrative "Yolanda's House" where Ghost, Method Man and Raekwon run through three side of a story of a drug runner eluding cops, his friend begrudgingly letting him hide out at his house while he's in the middle of some afternoon delight, and the drug kingpin who wants his money.

The production is a barrage of the usual Ghostface sound, a mix of echoed guitar riffs, extra-large soul samples and low-fi drum breaks. I haven't been able to find production credits (anyone care to share?), but the beats fit Ghost's style like a jock strap, extra tight. Songs like “We Celebrate” and “Walk Around” make use of smart funk and soul samples that allow Ghost to bend his words and, more importantly, his emotions all around the song.

It's that emotive factor that carries the album over the edge. Whether he's spilling his guts out on “I'll Die For you” or being hilariously silly on “White Linen Affair (Tony Awards)” this guy has a penchant for self-expression that is unmatched in hip-hop music. Ghostface knows how open up every corner of his psyche and present it to the public over a banging soul-loop. The Ghostface legacy lives on.

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Monday, December 03, 2007

Freak-A-Leak Week 2007

It's the holiday season and the gift-giving has come early for music bloggers.

No less than six releases have been leaked to the downloading public, beginning with the early arrival of Wu-Tang Clan's "8 Diagrams." Other releases — Ghostface's "The Big Doe Rehab, Beanie Siegel's “The Solution,” Freeway's “Free at Last,” Scarface's “Made” and Hi-Tek's “Hi-Teknology 3” have also found their way onto the information superhighway. It's the most wonderful time of the year.

So I'm dubbing this “Freak-A-Leak Week” and giving a review of these new releases, some of which hit store shelves this week. It's the most wonderful time of the year.

We'll begin Tuesday with Ghostface's "The Big Doe Rehab" and work our way down. Happy holidayz!

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