Thursday, May 02, 2013

"Young Gifted and Yellow" Anthology Review

By Erin MacLeod “Hi, my name is Yellowman, in the ghetto they call me Mr. Sexy,” begins “Mad Over Me”, the first track on Young, Gifted and Yellow. If you’ve not met Yellowman before, with this new collection VP Records provides a 40-song introduction. It also presents a case– “nuff arguments”, as Yellow would say– for the relevance of 1980s dancehall and the importance of one of Jamaica’s most well-known and well-loved deejays. Yellow’s accomplishments are significant because he was anything but sexy and successful early on in his life. In fact, his mother tried to throw him away in a dumpster for being a dundus—albino in Jamaican patwa. Winston Foster, the bwoy, was born in 1957 and came of age at Alpha Boys School, a Catholic-run institution for what used to be… …called “wayward children.” Alpha produced piles of musicians, providing a foundation for the development of ska and reggae– and, through Yellowman, dancehall. As Bob Marley famously reminds us, “the stone that the builder refused shall become the head corner stone.” Foster provides snapshots of what it is like to be refused as an albino in Jamaican society in a number of songs featured on YG&Y; in “Bunn the Kutchie” he mentions that “when me did born me mother disown me.” Abandoned by his mother and ostracized as a dundus, Yellowman grew up to become the corner stone of dancehall in Jamaica and the world. He got what Jamaicans would call his bus in the late 1970s with St Thomas-based sound system Aces Disco with whom the deejay perfected songs like “Soldier Take Over”, “Them a Fight I”, and others included on the VP compilation. In the heyday of the soundsystem, artists not only had the to produce hits in the studio, but also had to work a crowd in the dance, hopping on the mic and riding riddims. The early dancehall era required performers to perform and Yellowman was a master– danceable tracks like “Body Move” and “Strong Mi Strong” are but two examples. His style is characterized by sharp humor, clever wordplay, and experiments with different voices– always with a smooth delivery that rocks back and forth, seamlessly shifting from chant into song. It’s the kind of talent and confidence that led to the first major-label signing of a dancehall artist by Columbia, which was looking for the next big thing out of post-Marley Jamaica in 1981. But YG&Y shows that Yellow wasn’t all about the hype. Sure, there’s self-aggrandizement on display in “Who Can Make the Dance Ram”, but tunes like “Eventide Fire”and “Jah Mek Us Fi a Purpose” provide evidence of Yellowman’s social conscience. However, if there’s one thing that he is known for, it’s for what Jamaicans term “slack”, meaning sexually explicit, lyrics. The hugging and squeezing Yellow chats and sings about in tunes like “Morning Ride” and “Rub and Go Down” may be downright tame in comparison to some contemporary tunes running the dance, but it certainly pushed the limits of 1980s Jamaica. Yellow’s slackness helped him to turn the tables on those who might wish to ostracize him due to the color of his skin. Researcher and Yellowman-biographer Brent Hagerman suggests that “slackness essentially allowed him to alter the representation of the dundus in society from that of an outcast to a sex symbol.” In doing so, King Yellow challenged and continues to challenge social mores in Jamaica– confroting stereotypes and forcing his audiences to consider their own assumptions and preconceived notions. It’s no surprise he’s come out strongly against homophobia in the dance: “I don’t do songs against gay people…If you don’t like a person or you don’t like a thing, you don’t talk about it. You don’t come on stage and say kill them or burn them because everybody have a right to live.” Jamaican dancehall is often discussed in terms of disconnect from the rocksteady, reggae, and dub era. It’s seen as a dangerous, and degenerative deviation from the golden 1970s. The range of songs represented on YG&Y, however, dispel any notions of Yellowman as a one-dimensional artist or of 1980s dancehall as a morass of slackness. He also demonstrates that dancehall is an integral part of the whole story of Jamaican music’s worldwide success. Take the song “Zungguzungguguzungguzeng”. After spitting this mouthful, Yellowman asks the listener to “catch it”, but following the thread of the song is actually tough to do. Scholar Wayne Marshall has tracked the memorable melody from 1982 to 2013, from Jamaica to NYC to Puerto Rico to Japan to the UK and back to Jamaica– the nonsensical lyric plays an important role in rough and tough ragga, conscious hip-hop and party reggaeton. His ability to produce hooks that stick is matched by his ability to play with bits and pieces of tunes throughout his work: “Leaving on a Jet Plane” in “Night Flight”, “Three Blind Mice” in “Who Can Make the Dance Ram”, and “Bring it On Home” in “Yellowman Getting Married”, among many others. Winning multiple bouts with cancer left Yellow with a disfigured jaw in 1986, but he was and still remains able to control a crowd. He still actively tours, gracing stageshows in Jamaica and around the world, often one of the most well-received acts at reggae festivals. Alongside the two CDs, YG&Y offers a DVD of Yellowman at Reggae Sunsplash in 1988. This footage provides yet further evidence of his significance as a performer: with reams of hits up his sleeves, he’s got stage presence to spare. YG&Y is not an exhaustive collection spanning this artist’s nearly four-decade long career, but enough to provide a portrait of one of Jamaica’s most important artists. Given his major-label signing and related licensing issues, it’d be impossible to provide a comprehensive picture. Listening to the collection from beginning to end, however, proves that Yellowman is, and will always be, King of the Dancehall.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

“Django Unchained” Movie Review

By Papa Robbie Quentin Tarantino is like a DJ when it comes to his style. He mashes up all kinds of genres and it has worked for him. QT is known for GRATUITOUS violence in his films and there is plenty in “Django Unchained”. I was apprehensive about going to see the movie but curious at the same time. I didn’t trust Tarantino to deal with the time period in a way that would sit well with me. I decided to do my best to suspend my disbelief and watch the movie as it’s intended to be. It’s not historically accurate in many ways and there are some things that just were outright unbelievable if you’re a lover of history (like I am). QT gets a lot of his ideas from movies like “Mandingo” and there are a couple of scenes that Mel Brooks seems to have influenced (“Blazing Saddles”). QT borrows more from his Hollywood predecessors than he does from historical documents. Somehow I get the impression that in QT’s mind he sees the films that he watched while growing up as historical documents all the same. The lead character "Django" (portrayed by Jamie Foxx) is a slave who is purchased by and is taken under the wing of a German bounty hunter with an ironic name “Dr. King” Shultz. I won’t give anything away but “Dr. King” is a very likeable/quirky character. Django’s main intention is to be reunited with his bride “Broomhilda” played by Kerry Washington. Leonardo Di Caprio plays the plantation owner “Calvin Candie” and Samuel L. Jackson plays an amusing but despicable house slave named “Stephen”. QT has always been bad at editing himself and this movie is almost 3 hours long. The same story could’ve been told in 2 hours. Lots of BLOOD…high body count. It’s a good action flick but nothing too “heavy”. Phrenology is covered, “mandingo fighting” which isn’t really accurate is touched upon as well. Somebody ought to tell Tarantino that the Civil War started in 1861 and not in 1860. Some brutal imagery of the poor treatment of slaves was also prominent. I was struck by which characters Django killed throughout the movie versus the ones his mentor gunned down. I won’t break it down as it would be a spoiler . If you’ve seen the movie I’d be more than happy to have an in depth discussion about it. This movie was more like pro wrestling than mixed martial arts for me. It’s entertaining, but not very realistic.I didn't LOVE it but it was an enjoyable ride. I also understand Spike Lee's stance. QT seems to be obsessed with the "n" word and I stopped counting after 60. I believe it was used a total of 110 times. The soundtrack was eclectic and enjoyable. I’d give this movie 3 power fists out of a possible 5.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

The Dubplates forge an alliance with their buddies in Jamaica

by T. Ballard Lesemann Genuine Kingston cred............ Kingston, Jamaica, is holy land for stateside reggae musicians. For the core members of Charleston dancehall reggae group the Dubplates, a chance meeting with one of their heroes — underground dancehall superstar Zumjay (pronounced "zoom-jay") — led to an unexpected pilgrimage to the musical Mecca over the spring. The band's relationship with Zumjay started when the Dubplates performed at Kulture Klash at the Navy Yard in April 2011. "When I got off the stage and started walking through the crowd, a guy tapped me on the back and said, 'Hey Brady, I'm Zumjay,'" singer/guitarist "Daddy" Brady Waggoner remembers. "He's not a household name in the U.S., but he's a big deal in Jamaica, a really intense DJ. I'd been spinning his stuff here, but I wasn't sure it was really him. I couldn't believe I was standing there chatting with him — and I couldn't believe he knew my name." As it turned out, Zumjay had been traveling back and forth between Jamaica, the Middle East, and the States. He randomly caught the Dubplates at a few local gigs months before and liked what he heard. The Dubplates struck up a friendship with Zumjay and hosted him at their local studio during several sessions over the last year. "Big Hair and I put down about 40 tracks to start with, just instrumentals," Waggoner says. "He sat in on the ones he liked. One of them popped up as a hot one, so we worked on it back and forth until he really got behind it." The track, titled "Playing with Fire," is a big-beat party anthem with a borrowed synthesizer riff from Europe's "Final Countdown" and vocal tracks from Waggoner, bandmate David "Big Hair" Brisacher, and Zumjay. "Zum started the lyrics, talking about a girl who's playing with fire in a sense by flirting with him," Brisacher says. "After we mixed it, we made plans to travel to Jamaica to promote it. We showed up armed with the song and Zumjay's support, so we were able to get it played in a couple of nightclubs and in Irie FM." Their journey from local bar band guys to international collaborators began years ago when Waggoner and Brisacher put the Dubplates together from the loose remains of the Dub Island Sound System. The band regularly performs as either an 11-piece ensemble or as a scaled-down DJ combo. The current Dubplates lineup includes Papa Robbie (a.k.a. Robert Ellington) on vocals, Andy Masker on sax, DJ Trailmix on turntables, and "Daddy" Waggoner and King Sing on guitar and vocals. The rhythm section features David "Keesy" Ham on keys, Philaments on drums, Charlie Coconuts on bass and trombone, and Shawn Legree and Dub Denizen on percussion. "Papa Robbie is instrumental to the crew," says Waggoner. "He was named by [Jamaican dancehall musician] Shabba Ranks, he has toured with Yellowman, and he is our patriarch. It's a great crew all together. We were apart for a few years, but it was fun getting the crew back together. Now, everyone fits in well, and the full-band sound is pretty huge. The response is deeper than what we used to experience." Waggoner, Brisacher, and bandmate David "Keesy" Ham (keys) recently made a two-day trip to Kingston to promote "Playing with Fire." It was great timing, as their first outing became a full night at Jamaican dancehall and reggae artist Sean Paul's popular Club Riddim during a birthday party for Aidonia, another of the town's top musicians and singers. On day two, they played music at acclaimed dub mixer and record producer King Jammy's studio in the Waterhouse district of Kingston. "Everything on that side of Kingston was super-sketch and really rugged, so having Zumjay help us out was great," Brisacher says. "Once we crossed the mountains and into his neighborhood, we went out to Club Riddim and had a blast. By the end of the night, all of the artists in the room were jumping on the stage and passing the mic back and forth." Waggoner was awestruck by the scene, but he kept his composure. "Sean Paul's club is one of the hottest clubs in Kingston, and it's at the heartbeat of all the new stuff going on down there," he says. "I practically yelled at Sean Paul when I said hello to him. He and everyone else were very welcoming. Hearing our track on their sound systems blew our minds."

Sunday, May 06, 2012

TANYA!!!

TANYA STEPHENS LIVE AT REGGAE SUMFEST 2007

Saturday, April 07, 2012

NEW JACK SWING

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Conscious MC- Stays "Woke"

i was raised in an afrikan centered household. literary works by steve biko and frantz fanon resided on the bookshelves and the last poets and gil scott heron were in perpetual rotation on the record player. at five years old i made my first ghanaian flag out of felt fabric, paste, and yarn, which proudly hung on my bedroom closet that my sister and i shared for years even after i upgraded to my own room. i learned how to meditate as a child and read the autobiography of malcolm x at 9 years old. and yes, i celebrated kwanzaa every december.

i was born into a microcosmic world that fostered intellectual growth and analytical critique of the status quo. already marginalized on the world stage by our skin tone, we were further pushed past the fringe by our family. they never quite understood our natural hair, why my father always wore a colorful dashiki amidst a sea of somber black at funerals, or how to properly pronounce the word kwanzaa, even after years of seeing us celebrate the holiday. my parents railed at the societal norms that kept us complacent and unquestioning. in lieu of acceptance they took on pride and never looked back. and inside of that cocoon i was nurtured to become- a conscious being.

when i began writing, i never questioned what my subject matter would be, i just wrote. i never thought about what my music would be labeled as because i simply wrote from my perspective. what i had learned, my thoughts, my feelings, my story. when the music began gaining popularity, i was frequently asked whether or not i considered myself to be a conscious rapper. initially, i was hesitant to accept the label. i didn't want to be trapped inside of anyone's box, suffocating under expectations of who and what i should be and preconceived notions of who and what i was. i saw how the politically conscious rapper was dismissed as irrelevant and maligned by blog subscribers as automatically wack and i believed the hype, like everyone else, that a conscious rapper could never make it.

i had watched for years as nas struggled with himself, oscillating between the explicit lyrics of songs like "oochie wally" and empowering anthems like, "i can". it was almost like the smart kid in school who joins in on bullying the underdog. not because he wants to, but because he fears that by NOT doing it, he will become uncool by association. now, don't misunderstand me, i know that a person has many aspects to their being and it's their choice to express every part of themselves creatively. i GET it. so what was my dilemma? i grew up in the hood, but i never used the word nigga(it was like a curse word in my family), never sold drugs, and didn't have a penchant for louis or gucci, so why should i be vilified for not rapping about it?

Being conscious is not necessarily synonymous with rocking an African centered aesthetic(even though i like to do that too), it's just being completely and unabashedly unafraid of using your brain. you know, that 3 lb biocomputer resting above your neck? it's being able to analyze and decode everything around you, instead of feebly accepting what's dictated as normal, or cool, or even true. it's about intentionally stepping outside of the margins if that's what it takes maintain your freedom. freedom of speech, freedom of will, and freedom of thought. whether consciousness is political, cultural, or spiritual is irrelevant. it's about being open and aware to what's happening in this world and beyond. since when did that start being uncool? oh yeah, when the record labels recognized how powerful an influence hip hop had over the youth and decided they wanted to take it in another direction. they couldn't have young people getting knowledge of self from rakim, political awareness from krs one, and a seething anger at the oppressive system from ice cube, now could they? and its not that these artists weren't marketable. they ALL went gold or platinum(but i thought conscious rappers couldn't make it).

slowly but surely, the ones who had next were watered down, drug dealing automatons who all espoused the same unthinking message: do ANYTHING to get EVERYTHING. i am among the few who remains utterly opposed to this motto. it's by design that we are programmed through radio programming(see the connection?) to like, promote, and fan these artists who say NOTHING. i will not do or say just anything just so i can get put on. i WILL write about how we can get free, through any means necessary. i could give a damn about acceptance. if i can look in the mirror and accept and be proud of myself at the end of the day, that's what matters. that's what my parents taught me from birth and it's ME. so, at the end of the day i am a conscious rapper and proud of the label. cuz like my sis E. Badu say, "i stay woke."

Monday, February 06, 2012