Track Of The Week #34 – Xavier Omar ‘Blind Man’

A scientific compound can best be described as a product composed of various elements. It’s musical equivalent? Look no further than American R&B sound-sponge, Xavier Omar. The Texas based singer-songwriter has had a life of influential excursion, picking up skills and soaking up inspiration every step of the way. Born to a military, yet religious, family, Omar spent his childhood hopping from city to city with his eclectic family with their rich musical vein. After embracing Funk in Washington, Trap in Georgia and Christian Hip-hop in what is now his hometown of San Antonio, it is fair to say that the singer has certainly tested the water and developed his palette into something rather exquisite. Drawing influence from this plethora of knowledge has ensured that Omar’s final product is something to take very seriously. His sound was first noticed by the Red Bull artist development program which saw him landing gigs alongside Alunageorge and Steve A Clarks. Since bursting onto the scene, the somewhat shy and reclusive singer has gone on to develop a reputation for himself as a compassionate and amiable vocalist with most of his lyrics preaching positivity and equality. Like most R&B singers, it is not just his lyricism which earns him his brownie points; his voice is quite simply something out of this world, never mind the sheer magnitude of the production.

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Being a relatively new artist, his discography is comparatively small. It also doesn’t help by the fact that he produced majority of his music to date under the alias SPZRKT (pronounced spazzy rocket) as his releases now lie in all different sorts of places. The past two years have seen a handful of releases and collaborations with Sango, the most notable being the ‘Hours Spent Loving You’ EP. I’d have to say his major solo release under Xavier Omar is the album ‘The Everlasting Wave’, a blissfully melancholic yet euphoric record containing a broad spectrum of deeply emotive soul and R&B music. This week’s track of the week ‘Blind Man’ is a perfect example of that type of harmony. The song burst onto the new-looking R&B scene last year and has really struck a chord with fans inside and out of the genre. From the off our ears are met by a dulcet and honey glazed instrumental and before we even have time to comprehend it’s glory, the voice of Omar hits you like a thick fug of soul-filled smoke. Chopping and changing, dipping and dropping, his voice plays games with the listeners ears and takes you on a twenty-first century R&B trip like no other. His vocal ability is clearly an end product of his time spent exploring and soaking up other sounds and influences.

Xavier Omar, or SPZRKT to some, is clearly a talented, talented singer which I feel that we can expect a lot more from. Considering R&B is having a mini-renaissance period at the moment with singers like Frank Ocean, Sampha and The Internet all killing it right now, I don’t see any reasoning as to why he shouldn’t blow up.

Listen & enjoy here –

Track Of The Week #33 – Lenzman Ft IAMDDB ‘In My Mind’

This week’s track of the week derives from the dutch drum and bass maestro, Lenzman. Throughout his illustrious career, the Dj and producer has been gliding through the genre with style and finesse, creating some of the most impressing and well sampled sounds that are around today. His vast depth and knowledge of sampling, hooks and his ability to fuse and warm other genres into the realm of drum and bass puts him among the best of the best, the elite realm of producers. This internationally renowned willingness to embrace has brought a plethora of eclectic musicians pouring in his direction. It is not just artists that he experiments with either, Lenzman has been signed to a variety labels over past years, with the most notable and refuted being the legendary Metalheadz. Now with his own label ‘The North Quarter’, Lenzman isn’t showing any signs of slowing down as the proficient producer is still striding through the genre with considerable momentum.

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One of my favourite of Lenzman collaborations and, an artist turning all the heads right now is Manchester’s very own Neo-Soul and Urban Jazz prodigy, IAMDDB. The twenty one year old singer only burst onto the scene last year, but her unprecedented vocals and eye-catching swag ensured a prompt and explosive entrance. With one of her tracks ‘Leaned Out’ already eclipsing a million views, the Mancunian starlet looks to be set on a big, big wave which is quickly moving from coast to coast.  Their impeccable collab goes by the name of ‘In My Mind’ was released on The North Quarter records earlier this year. The crisp and clean number comes as one of the singles to feature on Lenzman’s ‘Earth Tones EP’, a four track release featuring some of the neatest and freshest liquid drum and bass i have heard for a long time. As great as the other tracks may be, the standout track is simply ‘In My Mind’. It is not purely down to the addition of the vocals which stand this record which much greater recognition than its counterparts, but more-so the synergy between singer and producer. Each one seems to have a great understanding of the other and together, they are able to create a sound which quite simply leaves the listener with a breathtaking final product. Lenzman’s robust and bouncy rhythm is graced with the mellifluous melodies of IAMDBB to create a sound which really boasts and showcases both artists capabilities.

With Lenzman already a proven name on the scene, draw your focus to the unbelievable talent and capabilities of IAMDDB. Never mind one for the future, she’s tearing it up right now and the only direction I can see her going now, is up.

Listen & enjoy here –

Track Of The Week #32 – BADBADNOTGOOD ‘In Your Eyes’

BADBADNOTGOOD are a special, special band. Coming fresh out of Toronto, Canada, the group are a fine modern day quartet who have been making a solid name for themselves in the world of experimental hip-hop and jazz. Their completely unique approach to soul, jazz and hip-hop combined with their unparalleled production value ensures that BADBADNOTGOOD are redefining the way we perceive the modern day ensemble and twenty-first century jazz music. Since they appeared on the scene back in 2010, the group have gone on to work with some of the biggest names in game. Such names include that of Ghostface Killah, Tyler The Creator and Frank Ocean. The group have also gone on to cover the likes of A Tribe Called Quest, Kanye West and James Blake. Over the past seven years BADBADNOTGOOD have managed to build up a substantial discography with a nice collection of albums, the most notable being ‘IV’ and ‘Sour Soul’ which was composed together with prominent Wu-Tang Clan member, Ghostface Killah.

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As undeniably majestic as ‘Sour Soul’ is, this week’s track of the week was plucked from the group’s latest album ‘IV’. Like the band itself, ‘In Your Eyes’ is a special, special track. The song is a cool, soulful and meticulously composed number. Assembled like an ancient Roman mosaic, ‘In Your Eyes’ chimes the aural taste buds with seamless composure and grace. If the music alone isn’t enough, jaw-dropping vocals are provided by R&B singer and fellow Torontonian, Charlotte Day-Wilson. She graces the song with elegance and composure as she skims over the piece like a stone on water. I’m not the first to think this either, Colin Robinson of Stereogum states how “Wilson’s beautiful voice glides over soulful, retro bass, craftily syncopated drums, and soft orchestral flights”. Although my imagery isn’t quite that explicit, there’s no denying that it’s certified hit and it deserves all the credit it gets. Wilson’s vocals transform the song from a calm, sweet-sounding and mellifluous piece of work into a groovy, kitted out love song that descends into a thick fog of soul and nostalgia. The best thing about this track however, is how it invites you in to take a deep plunge into the pool of BADBADNOTGOOD. For this is not a one-off; if you give the album a good listen you will realise that the song is only one part of the puzzle. The album ‘IV’ offers a plethora of profoundly immersive musical talent that you’ll struggle to find by looking elsewhere.

So invest, gorge and bask in the glory of BADBADNOTGOOD with this taster. ‘In Your Eyes’ is just the song you need to whet your appetite for that good, summer soul food music.

Listen & enjoy here –

 

Track Of The Week #31 – James Brown ‘Take Some…Leave Some’

Godfather…the phrase used to describe an individual who is influential and pioneering in a movement or organisation. An individual whose presence alone is enough to send waves rattling through whatever outfit they so chose to desire. When it comes to Soul music, there is none more electric and omnipotent than the man himself, James Brown. The reason Brown is seen in such light is thanks to the way that the revolutionary icon took soul music and made it explode into something completely different and historical. Brown’s unquestionable and ever-energetic approach to soul saw him redefine a genre renowned for love and pain into a genre renowned for sex, drugs and living life on the edge; James Brown is the creator of Funk music. The fact that the genre was his lovechild meant that he could go on to mold and channel it in whatever manner he so chose. The Godfather of Soul very quickly became the father of funk and he went on to spearhead the genre into the bold and artistic nature that it so frequently became associated with. Brown was born in California back in 1933 in a time of hardship, racism and hate and went on to prosper into one of the greatest of all time.

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Sex, love, hate, pain and triumph all played a part in the godfather’s funk. His sound was raw, loud, exciting and iconic. The 1973 album ‘The Payback’ is arguably the most iconic of all. As well as being considered a landmark funk album, ‘The Payback’ was intended to be the soundtrack for the Blaxploitation classic film ‘Hell Up In Harlem’ until the producers stated how it sounded too much like the typical ‘James Brown Stuff’ and decided to scrap it. Little did know that this album would go on to become one of the best selling Funk albums of all time, go to number one in the soul charts and sell to a certified gold status. Brown was making the haters eat their words, and rightly so. Although the album contains such classics as ‘Stone to the Bone’ and ‘The Payback’ itself, this week’s track of the week has to be ‘Take Some…Leave Some’. This socially conscious, funk riddled number talks about rising to the top, taking things for granted and living life to the fullest. Brown, famously coming from nothing, like most funk and soul artists, came from poverty and went on to enjoy the lavish riches they had earned. ‘Take Some Leave Some’ highlights exactly the indulgence that comes with the rise. The song itself can even be seen as the representation of that journey. From the way that the band introduce the track, walking the listening through rivets of bass and licks of the guitar. In typical fashion, the godfather explodes on the track out of no-where, as if to act as a metaphor for the quick-fire nature of the music industry.

Sadly the Godfather left us on Christmas day back in 2006 due to heart failure. His legend however, is something that still lives on, and something that has inspired thousands around the world today. For yet another fresh and powerful insight into the Godfather of Soul, the minister of new super heavy funk, just listen to ‘Take Some…Leave Some’…

Listen & enjoy here –

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 –