Track Of The Week #30 – Mobb Deep – Survival Of The Fittest

RIP Don P, The King. This week marked a dark week for Hip-hop and music lovers a like. The music world was marred with the news that nobody wanted to hear. The news that Mobb Deep front man Prodigy had sadly passed away after performing a gig earlier this week in Las Vegas. This loss has come as a huge shock to the world of music and will send chills down a lot of spines. Prodigy struck us all as the embodiment of immortality; he was fearless. His aura derived from his ability to stare death in the face without fear. Alongside a life of guns, violence and run ins with the law, supporters of the group will know that Prodigy suffered from sickle cell anemia from an early age, meaning a lot of his life was spent in and out of hospitals. This illness was just one of many battles and complications in his life but, it was just another he fought unconditionally. This strength, charisma and grit is exactly the reason why Prodigy was adored and respected by everyone in the game. The Queens based MC was one who rattled fear into his opposition whilst at the same time, acting the poet, telling the story of the struggle of the street. His passing marks one of the most significant and substantial losses in the history of Hip-Hop, however like all great musicians, his legacy will remain eternal.

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Most will agree that pin-pointing a favourite Mobb Deep track is borderline impossible. The duo’s career can be tracked over eight unbelievable studio albums, as well as having an overwhelming influence on Hip-Hop as a whole. Personally, I consider them to be the greatest group of all time with the 1995 album ‘The Infamous’ ranking as the best Hip-Hop album of all time. Described by the New Yorker as being an accumulation of ‘Vivid storytelling and mystical slang beats that somehow balanced a sinister griminess with an effervescent nostalgia’ the album will go down in history as a staple requirement to any music fan wishing to understand upon what roots the genre was built on. Each track of the album tells a dark tale of the streets and the journey that the two nineteen year olds embarked on.

This week’s track of the week clearly revolves around Prodigy’s passing. So, it only seemed right to find the track which represents Prodigy and Mobb Deep’s sound for what it was; raw, rugged and rough. A lot of people will hopefully join me in saying that ‘Survival Of The Fittest’ is that track. The record became a hardcore Hip-Hop anthem and has been blasting from speakers since the day of it’s release. The sinister lyrics and beat express a sad but gripping reality for young Americans living out of the New York projects in the mid nineties. The evil, chiming instrumental mirrors the grimace of life and clearly resonated with thousands of people worldwide. The sample derives from a 1977 jazz number called ‘Skylark’ by Al Cohn and the Barry Harris Trio but is only a matter of seconds long. It gives credit to Mobb Deep’s Havoc, the master behind the majority of their instrumental influences.

Much like Prodigy himself, ‘Survival Of The Fittest’ will go down in history as one the greatest of all time, and deservedly so. For a true taste of the style and power of Prodigy, just check out him doing what he did best in ‘Survival Of The Fittest’. Rest in peace P.

 

Listen & enjoy here –

 

Track Of The Week #29 – Grand Puba – I Like It

This week’s track of the week comes from the realm of crisp nineties New-York Hip-hop. The record is a product of the old school, legendary MC, Grand Puba. If you ask any serious Hip-Hop head they will state how Puba was a pivotal player in the genre’s golden era. From his early work with Masters of Ceremony to his later lead role within the group, Brand Nubian. He was born in New Rochelle, New York back in 1966 and went on like many, to thrive off the heartbeat of Hip-hop which had the big apple in a choke-hold. Over his career he played with many types of rap, although his most notable style was his fusion of R&B with that gritty New-York sound. Some of his extensive effort to blend the two genres stretched out to even the likes of Mary J Blige and Fat Joe. Grand Puba was involved and a part of the richest vein of the Hip-Hop talent during the golden era. However, he was as underrated as it gets, but it just takes one listen of his music and production to understand the quality of the native New-Yorker.

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The album ‘2000’, which was ironically released in 1995, is recognised by many greats a staple requirement in any Hip-Hop fan’s diet. The timeless album encompass everything the rapper is about in the sense that it shines light on the never ending depth that East-Coast Hip-hop has always retained. The album is a sampling spectacle which takes inspiration from Gil Scott Heron, Brothers Johnson, The O’jays and even Barry White. All of the beats are so well put together that just listening to the album makes you feel as if you’ve just stepped onto a carousel of beat-making magic. In my opinion, the best track has to be ‘I like it’, one the most famous tracks off the album and in Grand Puba’s career all together. Upon listening, avid Hip-Hop fans will notice all sorts of cuts, chops and neat hooks which have all been used throughout the history of the genre. For me, that track has the all-encompassing east-coast sound. The sort of sound where it’s raining hard outside and you’re inside, dry, and with nothing else to do than flick through hours and hours of untouched crates of sampled goodness. It starts off by smothering the beat with an authentic crackle, most commonly associated with that of a record player’s needle. After this intro, we are looped right into a Hip-Hop masterpiece of chiming bells and super-tight hooks. As you can imagine, the track possesses more than one sample. Two of the most notable and major samples are Michael Jackson’s 1972 hit ‘I Wanna Be Where You Are’ and the 1968 classic ‘Never My Love’ by Latin legend, Cal Tjader.

The real appeal of this track is it’s timelessness. For some reason the song seems to work at any time and any occasion. This masterpiece from Grand Puba has the sound to chime around just at the right time. Just one listen is all it takes.

Listen & enjoy –

Track Of The Week #28 – Idris Muhammad – Hard To Face The Music

Behold Idris Muhammad. One of the most iconic and instrumental Jazz drummers of all time. Described as a ‘Person in the purest form’ and being ‘the syncopation of New Orleans’, the illustrious percussionist has ensured that his sound rattles through every aspect of any genre lucky enough. His beauty in rhythm chimes across funk, jazz, bebop, samba and soul. Like most multi-talented musicians, Muhammad often merges genres to create countless musical spectacles that have the tendency to blow away his listeners, time after time. Born as Leo Morris in New Orleans, the drummer started his career at sixteen and the rest was history. Again, like most great Jazz musicians, Muhammad started his career as a sideman with many greats. His mind-blowing rhythm and ear for percussion ensure that his talent was soon in hot demand from legends all across the jazz scene. Some of those included George Benson, Paul Desmond, Bobby Humphrey and most famously, Pharaoh Sanders, who Muhammad worked with throughout the majority of his career. He found his feet in music, quicker than most. His feet in life however, were found later on when the musician converted to Islam. This conversion led to a change in name and his conversion also reflected in his music whilst it still possessed that funky, New Orleans flair. This amalgamation of peace found in Islam and Funk found in the streets makes Idris Muhammad’s sound something unbelievably unique.

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The maestro’s discography provides a sea of musical depth and one that invites everyone to come and test the water. Some of his famous works include ‘Power and Soul’, ‘Peace and Rhythm’ and ‘Turn This Mutha Out’. The track of the week however, derives from a completely different album all together. ‘Hard To Face The Music’ features on the 1976 album ‘The House Of The Rising Sun’. Majority of Muhammad’s albums were released on Kudu records, a unique and influential Soul-Jazz label which was ran by producer Creed Taylor. This album is staple evidence of why Idris Muhammed was the best Jazz-Soul and Jazz-Funk drummer of all time. The top notch record exemplifies the drummer’s eclectic abilities as he drums through the spheres of multiple genres. For me, the standout track is ‘Hard To Face The Music’, although it’s downright hard to pick a favourite.  Described best as being a “Stunningly funky groove”, the clean cut, fresh, smooth and sharp song has everything a Jazz-Funk classic would ever need. It has rasping horns, slick guitar and riveting bass. However, for me, nothing stands out quite like the drums. Behind all the other sounds, yet still boldly at the front, you can hear Idris Muhammad rolling, drumming and orchestrating the rhythm of the groove. Controlling, playing and teasing the audience like a musical master of puppetry.

If your ears are yet to be blessed the majesty of Idris Muhammed’s powerful funky and jazz-filled sound, one part of me is envious that you get to have your mind blown upon hearing, however, this isn’t anything out of the ordinary. The reason Idris Muhammad is as revered as he is bottles down to one simple fact, every one of his songs can and will blow your mind. Brace yourself.

Listen & enjoy here –

 

 

 

Track Of The Week #27 – Donald Byrd – ‘Fallin Like (Dominoes)’

Daaaaamn Donald. It’s rare that you find music that picks you up regardless of your mood. Uplifting music is something we associate with helping us when we’re down in the dumps. ‘Fallin like Dominoes’ however, takes the word ‘uplifting’ to a whole new level. This is a track so good, that it can pluck someone from a pile of shit and place them bang at the top of Mount Everest, feeling as fresh as fly as can be. This feeling is down to the master, the don himself, Donald Byrd. Byrd was a jazz and blues trumpeter who famously pioneered the American funk and soul movement whilst remaining a crucial part of the jazz scene. Although his time in jazz rarely held him as the lead, his time in funk defined Byrd as an unbelievably talented and iconic player who had an ear for all things groovy. His jazz career was one of high acclaim and recognition. Being one of Art Blakely’s Jazz messengers ensured a long and prosperous career as the trumpeter went on to work with the likes of John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins and Max Roach and was frequently in demand as one of the world’s best session musicians. His impact on the world of Jazz, funk and blues was so significant that you really need to look no further than his discography to understand the sheer magnitude of his influence. Throughout his career he was sampled, featured on, lead, produced and was accompanied on over two hundred albums.

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Today I am solely focusing on one album however, and one song in particular. That song is ‘Fallin Like Dominoes’ and came out in the thick of Byrd’s jazz-inspired funk phase. The song was released on the album ‘Places and Spaces’ in 1975, an album which can best be described as ‘Jazz-Fusion’. The record was released on Blue Note Recordings, the major label in which Byrd spent majority of his career. The BBC described the album as an “Out-and-out jazz funk classic which perfectly showcases Byrd’s incredible musicianship”. They also went on to say how the album, like many other of his, provided the Hip-Hop generation with a rich easel of samples for future use. The album also includes such hits as ‘Changes(Makes you wanna hustle)’ and ‘Places and Spaces’, sampled in Pete Rock and Cl Smooth’s ‘All the places’. Enough of the album anyway, that’s something for you to explore. I want to focus on ‘Fallin Like (Dominoes)’ , this week’s track of the week and a tune that I personally feel should be a part of everyone’s day to day. The musicians lure you in with the catchiest of bass lines which is then met by the man himself, Donald Byrd. Byrd’s trumpet cuts through the music with ease and instantly excites the listener. After setting the tone, the uplifting vocals come in and reassures any anxieties whatsoever.

Byrd knows how to treat his listeners and with lyrics like ‘A-pretty baby dry your eyes don’t you know it can’t be that bad’ and ‘We’ll stand our problems all in a row and watch them fall, like dominoes’ then the super-fly trumpeter has his listeners on cloud nine, every single time.

Listen & enjoy here –

Track Of The Week #26 – The Brooklyn Funk Essentials ‘The Creator Has A Master Plan’

If you set out on a mission to find the ultimate melting pot, the perfect blend, the finest amalgamation of diverse and eclectic talent in world music, then I guarantee you’ll struggle to find a group that delivers and produces from more influential corners of world music than the Brooklyn Funk Essentials. According to world famous American producer Arthur Baker, known for his work with Al green and New Order, the group were formed on somewhat of a whim. Back in the winter of 1993 when Baker was recording for Al Green, a session drummer never turned up, meaning that the recording couldn’t get under way. Instead, Baker, armed with one of the most impressive archives of samples in New York, invited some of the biggest names in the city’s club scene to come and freestyle, jam and experiment over some of his expertly hand-picked compositions. As you can imagine, they hit the ground running and Baker couldn’t believe what he was hearing. They were far too good for this to be a one-off jam, and it was thanks to this spontaneity that the Brooklyn Funk Essentials were formed.

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This week’s track is arguably one of the groups most popular and successful records. ‘The Creator Has a Master Plan’ was released in 1995 on one of, in my opinion, the freshest sounding albums to come out of nineties New York. ‘Cool and Steady and Easy’ can best be described as ‘Acid Jazz’ and really takes the melting-pot mentality to a new level. Funky twangs, exotic interludes and rhythmic beat patterns all play a part in the exciting and explosive album. As great as the album may be however, there must only be one track of the week and ‘The Creator Has a Master Plan’ stands head and shoulders above the rest. The song believe it or not, is actually a revamped, reworked rendition of the 1969 Jazz classic by Pharaoh Sanders under the same name. This version however contains that kick, that beat and those undeniably addictive lyrics. It has been a long, long time since I have heard a hook more addictive than this. The sweet juxtaposition between the angelic voice of the singer and the ruff and rugged voice of the MC creates a completely unique harmony and one that leaves you craving for more.

I’ve always upheld a mixed opinion when it comes to musical collectives. On one hand, their sheer size can mean that some of the talent is overlooked and the benefits of their success doesn’t reach every corner of the group, henceforth leading to an unfortunate demise. However, on the other hand, having such a large group that possesses so much raw musical talent provides you with more resources than you can imagine. The depth, the ability and best of all, the creativity are all bottomless and never ending. The Brooklyn Funk Essentials are a fine, fine example of a serious collective with a serious amount of talent and ‘The Creator Has a Master Plan’ is proof of that.

Listen & enjoy here –

Track Of The Week #25 – Madlib & Kazi ‘A.V.E.R.A.G.E’

Many know, and no one will dispute, that Madlib happens to be one of the greatest hip-hop producers of all time. Hailed as a living legend with the rare gift of god-like production; the Californian beat-maker has been running rings around all the others in  the hip-hop scene for years. Having worked closely with the likes of J Dilla, Kanye West and Freddie Gibbs, the illustrious DJ certainly isn’t afraid of playing with the big hitters. Madlib has released a proud nine solo albums and thirteen collaborative albums throughout his career, and he’s still going strong. Not many people in the music have managed to be so prominent yet elusive at the same time. Madlib has spent his career under more aliases then anyone could imagine. While most know him as Madlib, the ambiguous architect has frequently chopped and changed his title. Some on the list include Quasimoto, Madvillain, Loopdigga, Jaylib, Ahmed Millar and Jackson Conti. Each one of these pseudonyms relates to the collaborative artist, however, one of the collaborations I haven’t mentioned is that with native New-Yorker, Kazi. Together the two created ‘Blackmarket Seminar’ in 1996 and it featured what I think, is one of the rawest and best hip-hop beats in history.

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That beat is ‘A.V.E.R.A.G.E’, a far from average track with still one of the finest uses of sampling and beat making you will ever hear. This gem is honestly one of the finer specimens in hip-hop history and any serious fan of the genre will instantly grin and nod in appreciation upon hearing. ‘A.V.E.R.A.G.E’ is the last track on the album but certainly isn’t the least. To compose the beat, the majestic Madlib samples the 1970 hit ‘I Wish I Knew’ by Jimmy Scott and turns it into one of the most chilling instrumentals of the past decade. The ice-cold beat is enough to send shivers up anyone’s spine. The frosty nature of the track has developed somewhat of a minor cult following over the years and not-so-familiar Kazi’s lyrics are now something a lot of hip-hop heads know all too well. Both Kazi and Madlib benefited greatly from this track as it featured on separate releases. Aside from the ’96 album ‘Blackmarket Seminar’, which was later reissued in 2014, the track and instrumental feature on Kazi’s 2000 release ‘Down For The Kaz’ which was issued on Stones Throw Records, one of the major players in Madlib’s career.

For me, this is one of the standout instrumentals in my time as a life-long hip-hop fan. It is equally as haunting as it is addictive. The way the original sample has been chopped and chewed leaves the listener in awe and craving for more. This really is one of the finer gems of Madlib’s discography. Give this track the respect it deserves and divulge into some serious beat-making mastery.

Listen & enjoy here –

Track Of The Week #24 – Masters At Work – Expensive (A Tribute To Fela)

Arguably one of the most talented, diverse and definitive duos to have ever graced not only house music, but music as a whole. Much like it says on the tin, Masters At Work are a pair of masterful and eclectic producers with an ear for everything and aren’t afraid to experiment. Although they are mostly known for their dominance in the house scene, majority of people will state that it is impossible to pin-point the duo’s sound. This comes as a result of their unbelievable depth. The group’s sound covers anything from disco to funk, jazz to hip-hop and latin to afro-beat. It is rare that any artist is able create floor-fillers on such a consistent level. The duo did it to such extent that their sound was pivotal in shaping the way that we experience clubbing all together. As you can imagine, the list of artists to feature with Masters At Work is endless but a few names include George Benson, Roy Ayers and Jocelyn Brown. However, there was one artist who’s collaboration would fulfil the dreams of not only the Master’s At Work, but anyone in the world of music. That name was the emperor of Afrobeat, the founding father, the one and only, Fela Kuti. Unfortunately, Kuti’s death in 1997 meant that it would never be so. But yet, this was no deterrent for the ambitious duo as they went on to release ‘A Tribute To Fela’, a three track EP consisting of supreme house reworks of some of Kuti’s greatest tracks.

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The best tribute of all lies in the track ‘Expensive’, a funky and rhythmic version which is both jubilant and full of energy. It is that same energy, that same sound, that is exactly why Masters At Work are as highly regarded as they are. Their unprecedented talent and knowledge when it comes to production makes them worthy of collaboration with any musician in history. ‘Expensive’ was released back in 1999 just two years after Fela Kuti’s death. The song samples Kuti’s 1975 song ‘Expensive Shit’ which belongs to the same EP which features one of his greatest singles of all time, ‘Water Get No Enemy’. Masters At Work once again do as they promise and deliver an amazing tribute with ‘Expensive’. The first six minutes of the tune blast you with the all familiar strums of the afrobeat sound accompanied by the all famous horns, however this time it carries that addictive and floor-filling original Masters At Work sound. After the duo warm you up with a lengthy introduction, they spin in the ever-potent and catchy lyrics from the song’s original. The track is an all-round fine concoction of house, afrobeat and world music, perfectly assembled into one.

As mentioned before, Masters At Work’s style doesn’t end here. Their style has been ringing through clubs, parties and homes ever since they burst onto the scene. Often embracing their Puerto Rican heritage, the group have delivered time and time again. Whether they are stringing together a timeless house classic or maticulously composing a latin score, they are the crowd pleasers, full stop. Everyone needs the music of Masters At Work in their life and anyone who doesn’t already is missing out.

Listen & enjoy here –