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Clyde Smith on Hip Hop Culture & Politics
now at: www.hiphoplogic.com

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   Monday, August 25, 2003

General Update

I've been straying from my weekly post on Sundays schedule. I'm going back to posting once a week starting this weekend. I'm also going to give myself more flexibility on the order in which I post reviews. For example, I have a backlog of cds to review plus I just saw Cradle 2 the Grave on video (my movie reviews are mostly of video/dvd releases). So I have a lot to report on but I'm starting back to school and it's going to get hectic. I've been out for awhile. I'm trying really hard not to shut the blog down so we'll see how returning to a specific schedule works.

Till soon

   Tuesday, August 19, 2003

People Under the Stairs

PUTS have dropped their new album "Or Stay Tuned". I'm looking forward to checking it out cause these cats are really hot. I saw them a year or two ago in Austin and they gave a great live show. If you're looking for strong alternatives to mainstream commercial madness, check out People Under the Stairs.

   Sunday, August 17, 2003

Feenom Circle

"Souled Separately" from the Bay Area's Feenom Circle has got to be the most mellow hip hop album I've ever heard. It's late, I'm listening to it for the second time and I haven't banged my head once! But that's not to say it's boring. It's actually pretty rich with interesting beats and poetic lyrics. Their pr describes them as "hip hop's first 'middle ground' group" and I'm not sure what that means exactly but they seem to be part of a growing tendency for acts that would typically be considered underground to disconnect from that label. Clearly they're not commercial in a traditional sense and the underground label is somewhat bankrupt at this point, so middle ground sounds useful as a not very poetic way of distinguishing them.

Actually the album, really an EP, evoked numerous jazz and poetry influenced acts as I listened, without being imitative of any of them. Apparently Feenom Circle's been together for six years and it shows. The album has a solid consistency that can be difficult to achieve. Two tracks off "Souled Separately" are available at MP3.com and samples from that album and "Prescriptions" are available at their site. "Souled Separately" has been widely reviewed since it's February release with lots of positive responses. They're also playing out quite a bit with recent appearances on the Van's Warped Tour and elsewhere. I'm not a huge fan yet but I'll definitely be watching out for these cats.

Next up will be Defari's recent release, "Odds and Evens," followed by a couple of mixtapes from Nebulous Entertainment and from Culture VI. Plus whatever else comes up along the way.

   Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Definitive Jux Tour DVD

I recently found out that Definitive Jux has released a DVD: Definitive Jux Presents the Revenge of the Robots. This DVD apparently contains live footage of various kinds from the 2002 tour of the same name including El P, Mr. Lif, DJ Fakts One and Cage from Eastern Conference Records. I saw this show in Austin and it was a great concert (I reviewed it in the early days of Hip Hop Logic) and that was the lineup for that show. But they have one of those sites that you have to wait for visual shit to happen and then there's not much information so I gave up trying to find out exactly what's on the DVD. Wish I could get them to return my emails so maybe I could get a review copy and more information.

Def Jux, a name they can't use because of Def Jam's copyright lawyers, is definitely one of the more important underground labels today. Ironically I have some of the same problems with the Def Jam website as I do with the Def Jux website. But I have been contacted by Def Jam to provide them with free promotional space. No review copies offered. I'm currently deleting Def Jam emails until they contact me with something that's not bullshit.

Both labels are historically quite important. Plus between them they've released my favorite hip hop cds of all time. Def Jam released Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, still relevant in 2003 in a way that nothing else from the 20th Century is today. Def Jux released Aesop Rock's Labor Days and Cannibal Ox's The Cold Vein, albums that really set the stage for the non-pop future of hip hop. For that alone I am deeply grateful and extremely forgiving.

   Sunday, August 10, 2003

Gospel/Christian Music Reviewers Needed

Holy synchrony! Right after reviewing Mr. D-Note's album, I saw this announcement at MANHUNT.com. It's a nonpaying position (hey, like Hip Hop Logic!) but it could be a good place to start reviewing and a good platform for supporting such music by providing serious criticism.

Mr. D-Note's "Dramatized"

Dramatized by Mr. D-Note is a Christian hip hop album put out by Reach Teach Touch out of Fresno, CA. I've been wondering about what Christian hip hop would be and at one level it's pretty much like other Christian music in popular genres, there's no cursing and God and Jesus are mentioned on almost every track. Actually the only track that those two members of the Trinity aren't featured on is one about the passing of D-Note's mom, or at least the mother of the character represented in the track. However, based on his bio, these tracks seem pretty much autobiographical.

The other thing I think about is the fact that lots of rappers are Christians and some of them are pretty up front about it. Apparently KRS-One was doing something he called gospel rap not that long ago. But I didn't really check it out. A less positive example are rappers who rap about doing crimes and then thank God at the end of their cd or at the Grammies. I'm generally annoyed by that kind of thing and Massive Jugganott attacked such perspectives in my interview with NC rappers called Cypher on Planet Iznak.

On "Dramatized," Mr. D-Note covers a lot of themes of daily life, trying to survive, dealing with back stabbers, making a positive life after doing wrong in the early days, relationships and spirituality. And, though he does criticize where necessary, he doesn't really go overboard with pointing the finger or telling people what they should be doing. And least, not any more so than a preacher who's truthful without getting self righteous.

Mr. D-Note's voice gets a bit monotonous at times but there are moments where he does little phrases in a higher voice for emphasis that are kind of cool and funny. The beats overall sound professional but verge on cheesiness and out of the box synthesis. This is especially disappointing on "Woo Lord," the track that caught my attention and stayed with me after hearing the album. It's about real life, growing up and the troubles we face along the way, throwing up our arms and going "Woo Lord." The beats reminded me of a humorless version of R-TIK-Q-LIT's "wack nintendo beats" on Up-rooted without the wacky creativity. But the lyrics and overall feel suggested a track that could get a crowd moving and there was a realness to it that wasn't about preaching but more about witnessing and sharing struggles. It's the kind of thing I can imagine people referring to later on, especially at work, responding to a coworker's anecdote with a "Woo Lord" and an understanding laugh.

Overall this is not an album I can get really excited about and not just because I'm not up for hearing about God every tune. But it's a legitimate effort and I was glad to get the chance to check it out. Plus I always appreciate a website that doesn't feature somebody pointing a gun at me.


   Wednesday, August 06, 2003

I'm Back!

Yes, the rejoicing can begin! I'll start posting reviews again this coming weekend. While you're waiting, you might want to check out a new online hip hop magazine out of North Carolina, my home state. It's called Blazzin and it's off to a good start with the second issue now online.