Tuesday, February 24, 2009

"Whoever thought that hip-hop could take it this far"?

The new movie about the late rapper Biggie Smalls, "Notorious", is garnering a lot of attention at the moment. I haven't seen the film but Biggies short life was ripe for the Hollywood makeover, and i'm sure it will prove popular. It will certainly lead to a few more people buying and listening to his music and this is a good thing in my book. He was only 24 when he died, but according to many observers, including me, Biggie was one of the top 5 rappers of all time. The media got caught up and indeed helped create the so-called East-West feud between him and 2 Pac in the 90's and while I have a lot of time for the former Digital Underground rapper, who on his day was also a great lyricist and a charismatic performer, he would never have reached Biggies status in the rap game.
Even those coming to Biggies music late will be able to appreciate the rawness and hardcore delivery of music. His second album, prophetically titled "Life after death" and indeed released only days after he was shot dead, contained many patchy moments and was a product of it's time, which saw rap at a major crossroads. The mid 90's was the first real era where hip-hop took hold of the mainstream music charts and started to really dominate, and suddenly, the likes of Puff Daddy, Biggie's label boss and a highly regarded producer and record executive, wanted it to become even bigger.
The music got watered down and the imagination was no longer necessary. Tracks like "Notorious", from which the movie is also named after, found Biggie rapping over a rather un-imaginative Duran Duran funk groove, rather than the left-field soul and jazz and 80's boogie leanings of his earlier material. The delivery was still great, but rap was now a popular commodity and it was no suprise that Puff Daddy's tribute to the late rapper was also a watered down simple loop off another 80's hit, this time by the Police. These songs were not bad as such, but Biggie himself was capable of so much more, and even on "Life After Death" his unique flow and style was sometyimes let loose, and tracks like "Kick in the Door" and "Ten Crack Commandments" remain hip-hop classics that stand up next to anything he did on his seminal "Ready to Die" album.
Like "Illmatic" from Nas and "Paid In Full" from Eric B and Rakim, "Ready to Die" was an album which basically announced the arrival of a music legend, and years later the album sounds as amazing as ever. It is likely had he lived that Biggie would have had a few more dodgy moments in his career, like Nas and Rakim, but it is also likely that he would have produced a few more classics too. We will never know, and unlike those who lived, we are forever left with the romantic image of a young hungry rapper on the streets of Brooklyn firing off rhymes with a tenacity and dexterity that few have ever matched. The movie might water this down, but at the very least the soundtrack has provided us with a snapshot of some killer early Biggie demos, where his dynamic delivery over some raw chopped up breaks would win over even the most cynical of rap fans. These mix show demos are also very much of their time, and those nostalgic for raps golden era of the late 80'sand early 90's will get misty eyed, but at least we had Biggie for awhile, and for awhile those of us in thrall of his rhymes knew that we were experiencing something special.
Hip-hop was a much more unified force back then, and in his own words, "we never thought that hip-hop would take us this far", but having achieved it's goal hip-hop became divided and now many rap fans will have more affinity with underground jazz and soul than many of the water-down MTV puppets who masquerade as torch carriers of the Biggie legacy. Some of these guys are true to the game though and although they have also had to walk the critical tightrope between commercial success and hip-hop credibility, it is not an exaggeration to suggest that Biggie would have been making strides with Kanye and friends in 2009. The movies and re-packaged greatest hits will come and go, but one of the greatest rappers of all time will be with us forever in spirit and for that we should be thankful.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The best soul and jazz Divas?

Diva's are a dime a dozen in music these days. I've just read an article describing the likes of Madonna, Cher, Britney Spears, Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston as some of the best divas of all time and it got me thinking about my favourite soul and jazz divas. No disrespect to the above mentioned pop stars, who have all had their moments and are certainly divas, but the women i've chosen today have got soul in abundance and have made music that will always mean a lot to me personally. One of them, Candi Staton, is on town for a gig at Jam tomorrow night and it's a rare chance to catch one of our finest living soul and gospel stars up close and personal.

1-Aretha Franklin

She could sing anything and make it sound soulful. Her early gospel material is incredible, while her celebrated Atlantic recordings saw her finally achieve the music to match the voice, which was rightly claimed to belong to the "Queen of Soul"
2-Dinah Washington
Very much a personal favourite, she remains under-rated historically but her voice could cut you like a knife. Amazing diction and a heavy emotional quality to her voice, she was a big influence on Aretha Franklin, and despite not reaching 40 before she died, she managed to fit seven husbands into an eventful life.
3-Amy Winehouse
Sharing the troubled lifestyle of some of her jazz heroes has not harmed her songwriting and music, but it's unfortunate that it may lead her to an early demise unless she looks after herself. She would be delighted to be included in list of soul and jazz legends, and I for one think she is the real deal; probably my favourite modern soul star alongside Erykah Badu.
4-Nina Simone
Where to start? She did it all. Soul, jazz, blues, folk, classical, gospel, and whatever else took her fancy, she was perhaps the most influential singer of the 20th century. I will never tire of her music, which I could listen to all night any night.
5-Candi Staton
Another singer who ignores musical boundaries, she is still relevant today and her latest two albums are as good as anything being released these days. Known to many for "Young Hearts run free" and "You got the love", she has had a terrific career, and will appear at the Pavilion tomorrow night with a full live band.
6-Chaka Khan
Another soul legend who did well in the disco era, Chaka Khan remains an important singer in black music, and she still tours and releases good music too.
7-Gladys Knight
Unbelievably under-rated, a singer who's mainstream success often obscures her impact on soul music, which was immense. From her huge hits with the Pips in the 60's right up to a later career that included a more razzmatazz media profile, she is without doubt an important voice in music, and indeed is widely regarded as the best female voice to record for Motown.
8-Billie Holiday
Lady Day is another blues and jazz singer who could rip you to shreds with her vocal style, which helped change popular music forever. I should also include Bessie Smith, Ella Fitzgerald, Odetta and Sarah Vaughan, but I'm running out of time!
9-Jocelyn Brown
I'm a disco freak and was considering Loleatta Holloway, Gwen Guthrie, Rochelle Fleming and Evelyn King and the like, but settled on this one time visitor to Cork for an amazing gig in the late 90's, Jocelyn Brown.
The salsa singer who is best known round these parts for her house classics, deserves a mention here. I've left out many more r&b, soul and jazz singers and apologise, but house music is important in Cork and a song like "I can't get no sleep" could easily be described as one the biggest ever anthems to grace the clubs of this city.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Cork hurling crisis skit!

It's not a good time for hurling in Cork but a guy called Corkoniense from the Peoples Republic of Cork site as attempted to "lighten the mood"

In his words

"Me and a mate have put together a Downfall + Empire Strikes Back combination scene for your viewing. The script is Corkoniense's....The tech wizardry is all my mate's doing, as I don't have a clue of these things, so kudos to him.

Remember: All characters in this movie are actors, with the exception of Dr. Joseph Goebbels, who stars as himself."

Jam stuff!

Lots of different hip-hop and soul events happening in Jam at the Pavilion in the next few weeks. Friday sees Jam play host to the legendary US Gospel and soul legend Candi Staton of "Young Hearts Run Free" and "You got the Love" fame. Brian Deady and his band will be in support for this early gig with free entry to Jam after, i'll have more details next week but tickets are out now! On February 20th DJ Flip comes back to Cork for a late night Jam show accompanied by Marc Stretch. DJ Flip caused quite a stir by becoming the World Champion ITF winner in 2003/2004 and he has since further established himself as a highly regarded hip-hop DJ and producer. He has worked extensively with Prozac Turner of Foreign Legion and is now the DJ for the crew that also comprises of Mark Stretch, who will be joining Flip in Cork!
Mark Stretch is a highly respected DJ and rapper who has collaborated with numerous artists around the world including Jake One, Jay Dilla, Supa Dave West, Azeem, DJ Zeph, Jerney, Zion I, The Poets of Rhythm and G Koop. Aside from Foreign Legion he is part of 75 Degrees (Dining Room Records), one third of the Marval Team Up (Gory Island Music) and currently the tour DJ for Azeem (Oaklyn Records/Ohm Records). This is gonna be a big show!
The fun does not end there however and at the end of the month Jam welcomes yet another guest, Brother Culture, a highly regarded reggae artist from the UK.

Brother Culture has been MCing since 1982, originally with the Jah Revelation Muzik sound system. In 1991 started to mc at Londons Dub Club. Over the years has visited over 50 counties on the MC tip, At the moment he is touring with Zion Train, Adrian Sherwood and J*Star. He is also actively involved with the relaunch of "Jah Revelation Muzik" mk2 with Cecil Rueben. Brother Culture was the principal artist on the Trojan sound system album and has three tracks on the new "Aswad" album released in the USA.

Yo this is my blog that's updated pretty much every day before 1pm Irish time

Hope you enjoy!

Twitter Updates

    follow me on Twitter

    New disco mix


    About Me

    My photo
    I'm a DJ from Cork in Ireland. I work with RedFM, presenting Red Drive, The Hitlist and my specialist show, Black on Red. I'm probably best known for being one of the main hip-hop/soul DJ's in Cork and Ireland. I've been DJing in Cork since the early 90's in legendary clubnights such as Sweat in Sir Henrys, Mor Disco, Free La Funk, Yo Latino and also Jam and Jam Junior at the Savoy and the Pavilion. I've also held down long term residencies at clubs around Ireland such as Brown Sugar at the Kitchen in Dublin, U-Turn at Ri Ra in Dublin, Jazz Juice at the GPO in Galway, Thompson Garage in Belfast, the Soul Clinic, Dee-Bop, Meltdown and Mo Bounce in Limerick and i've played abroad in the United States and the U.K. on numerous occasions. I also write a music column for the Evening Echo and i'm a regular contributor to the U.K.'s Blues and Soul, the longest running black music magazine in the world. These days i run the Pavilion, a music venue in Cork, which hosts my Jam night every few Fridays http://www.pavilioncork.com also you can catch me at http://djstevieg.podomatic.com