Book Report: Mo Metta Blues (The World According to Questlove)

questlove-mo-meta-blues-715I really love copping hip hop memoirs, particularly these days as they coincide with anniversaries of classic albums that I came up on. It just draws me in to hear the back stories and behind the scenes recaps during a great era in hip hop. The latest in my collection is Mo Metta Blues penned by The Roots band leader Questlove. Anyone who is familiar with The Roots can attest that even though Black Thought is the MC, Quest has always been the voice of the roots and quite the storyteller so this is right up his alley.

As with their albums Quest is always trying to find a way to put a twist on the familiar and while writing he continuously tries to steer away from the standard approach and adds in various dimensions. One of the main ways is to have Roots manager, Rich Nichols, comment throughout the book footnoting various events from a different perspective or at times outright refuting Quest’s recaps. In addition, he delves into the crates following each chapter covering records and beats that inspired him along the way, shares email exchanges between his co-writer and the book publisher, and has mid book Q&A’s all of which makes for an interesting and easy read. While it ends up still being linear it meanders enough to keep your attention.

The only real downside is the treading on familiar territory (i.e. avid readers of the roots liner notes or regular participants in the Okayplayer community have read more than a few of these stories before) such as skating with Prince or his thoughts on the Cosby Show’s impact on sampling. Another is avoiding the real interesting stories all together to protect the innocent. Quest is a nice guy so he is not going to put anyone on blast like Prodigy so if you are familiar with some of the main stories (which are hilarious) the others are a bit vanilla. Either way if you are a fan of The Roots in some way its worth picking up to add to your collection.

Digital Rewind: Kid Tsunami – The Chase

Kid-TsuFind a loop, recruit a classic east coast emcee, have said emcee drop your name on the track and throw some scratches on for good measure. Rinse. Repeat. This basically sums up “The Chase.” Simple yet very effective. Brought to you by the good folks over at Headbop Music this is just some good old fashioned boom-bap with no additives or preservatives. What it does bring is a very nice roster with half the Juice Crew, the Crooklyn Dodgers, Organized Konfusion (separately but still), KRS, AG, Kool Keith, Sean P, J-Live and a few others all representing. “The Chase” tracklisting reads like a late 80s / early 90’s hip hop reunion and has to refer to the efforts of actually getting all of these cats to lay tracks on the album. Anyways, even with half of the vets past their prime you get a solid LP with standouts including an ill posse cut (“The Chase feat. Buckshot, Chubb Rock, Jeru & Pharoahe Monch”), some dope storytelling by Masta Ace on “TwoThousand40”, some Trophies level O.C. on “Catch Wreck” and Bahamadia straight spitting on “Authentic”.

Tracklisting:
1.AR Toxic feat. Kool Keith and Chuck Chilla
2.Bang Exclusive feat. Sean Price and Chuck Chilla
3.Get It feat. Prince Po
4.Catch Wreck feat. OC
5.Twothousand40 feat. Masta Ace
6.On Course feat. Thirstin’ Howl the 3rd and Sadat X
7.What It Was feat. J-Live
8.No Guarantees feat. Yesh
9.Worldwide Connex feat. Craig G
10.Take It Back feat. El Da Sensei
11.Down Pat feat. Percee P
12.Authentic feat. Bahamadia
13.The First Letter feat. AG
14.Art Of War feat. Kool G Rap
15.These Are The Facts feat. Krs-One
16.The Chase feat. Buckshot, Chubb Rock, Pharoahe Monch and Jeru The Damaja

Purchase “The Chase via iTunes or Bandcamp

Book Report: The Making of Adventures in Counter Culture

Counter-culture

“I set out to make the best album I could make and ended up becoming a better person in the process.” – Blueprint

In just one sentence Blueprint summarizes why his second book, The Making of Adventures in Counter Culture, is much more than just some extended liner notes and behind the scenes moments. The book chronicles a difficult five year time span (2006-2011) during which Print dealt with death, alcoholism, depression, financial troubles and artistic motivation while working to complete the album.

The book is organized to mirror the track listing and is a great companion piece as each chapter gives you insight into the recording process and inspirations for each selection. If you haven’t heard the album I recommend giving it a few listens first to develop your own impressions. Then listen again as you thumb through. At just over 130 pages its an easy read. You can thrown on a joint and then quickly read the corresponding section for some nice tidbits like the radio session that spawned “Radio-Inactive” or the synthesizer used to create the backdrop for “Go Hard or Go Home.”

However, even as you gobble up those nuggets you quickly find yourself returning to the quote that started this piece. Through the trials and tribulations, breakthroughs or creative endeavors you find a man better for going through the process. Whether it was improving focus, relationships, self esteem or dealing with said losses and depression, the process of creating the project was the therapy. At the end of the day this is a nice read and the album is a good addition to Print’s catalog and it seems he is a better person for it.

For more on Blueprint visit Printmatic.net

Hip Hop & Mental Health: The Mars Project

Mars-ProjectThe Mars Project is an interesting documentary based on the life of Khari “Conspiracy” Stewart who along with his twin brother Addi “Mindbender” Stewart form the Canadian crew Supreme Being Unit. The twins are good kids and straight A students throughout their early years. All is well until 1996 when Khari begins to be tormented by Anacron and Anacrona, the names of two voices in his head, that tell him the only way to silence them is to end his life. In his mind Khari is fighting a spiritual war against two
demons while his doctors believe he is a crazy person that hears things. It’s here where the film tries to show that not all things are so black and white. Through Khari’s struggles the documentary takes a look at mental health treatment, diagnosis, schizophrenia and the supportive but emotionally worn down family wishing for normalcy.

At times throughout the film Khari occasionally appears socially well adjusted making some valid arguments, creating and releasing independent music, performing at shows and clearly understanding that he needs help. At one point he even agrees to submit to testing at a mental institution only to find himself as the newest resident for the next year. After being pumped with medication and numerous discussions with doctors, Khari stated that the voices were gone….so he could get the hell out of the hospital. And who could really blame him.

There are several talking heads throughout the flick expounding on the limitations and the flaws within the field but with no true solution which brings us back to Khari. Ultimately, the film is a snippet of his life. There’s no happy or sad ending, no cure or real improvement just a man trying to deal with his everyday struggle.

For more on the Mars Project please visit: http://marsprojectmovie.blogspot.com/

Show Review: Pharoahe Monch, June 7th, 2013 – Seattle @ The Crocodile

IMG_0438Friday night I headed to downtown to Seattle to catch some hip hop at The Crocodile in Belltown put on by the good folks at Reign City. “The Croc,” split between a back bar pizza joint and the main concert area, is an intimate venue with nice acoustics and a quality sound system that has hosted everyone from Nirvana to the Beastie Boys as well as numerous underground bands. After sound-check I was hanging out in the back bar and there was probably one of the best mix of hip hop videos playing throughout that I’ve seen since Yo! MTV Raps was in its heyday. I was almost content to chill there all night but I stayed focused. Dope videos not withstanding I was here for one reason, to see one of the illest cats to ever lays hands on the microphone: Pharoahe Monch!

Fresh off stops in Australia, Singapore and South Africa, Monch decided to set up a west coast tour to test some of of the new material he’s been cooking up for his upcoming “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (P.T.S.D)” album with Seattle being the first stop. I was looking forward to hearing some new tracks as well as the numerous bangers from his catalog.

Warming up the eclectic emerald city crowd were several local acts: Bruce Leroy (sans the glow), Justis, and Xperience (because I think it’s actually illegal to have a hip hop show in Seattle without someone from the Old Dominion crew on the set list). All of the openers were solid but not spectacular mainly because the content wasn’t very engaging save for XP. He presented some quality solo work on a different bent than when he is with The Th3rdz going for a more soulful tone with interspersed singing including a random rendition of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun.”

While the openers were decent it was clear everyone was here to see Pharoahe. Monch was backed up by Boogie Blind, one of the new school representatives of the X-ecutioners, on the 1s and 2s and came out to Assassins which sent the crowd into a frenzy. Pharoahe went on to run the full gamut of his solo material starting with the tracks from W.A.R but then seamlessly bouncing between Rawkus singles, Internal Affairs, Desire and back to more recent content such as “Damage,” the final in the stray bullet trilogy and the newly unveiled “Scream.” “Scream” is currently planned to be the first single off of P.T.S.D. The track starts off with some crooning before devolving into chopped up melodic madness underscoring the song’s intent with part of the chorus going:

I see dead people in my dream
This war with self is so extreme
Sometimes I feel I need to… (piercing horror howl) Scream!
This war with self is so extreme
Sometimes I think I want to… (piercing horror howl) Scream!

After running through his set, Monch wished the crowd goodnight and headed backstage only to hear a seemingly never ending chant of “Pharoahe, Pharoahe” before obliging with the obligatory encore before closing out the show. Pure lyricism lives to see another day.

Peep a snippet of the first verse of the new track “Scream” below:

Book Report: J-Zone “Root for the Villain: Rap, Bullshit, And A Celebration Of Failure”

root for the villainMe and Zone go back a little bit. Right around 1999, when I started getting serious as a writer, J-Zone had just dropped his debut “Music for Tu Madre.” I caught him at a show in NYC (pre fur coat) where I picked up a vinyl copy off of him on his way out the club. I’ve been a fan ever since and have interviewed the Jaimaica, Queens resident a number of times. So when he hit me off with a copy I delved in knowing that some ignant shit was going to be in between those pages.

I was mostly right. “Root for the Villain” has gotten lots of press and resonated with diverse audiences for its rags to $ick of being rich back to rags story of the guy who had success but never ultimately “made it.” The book is half auto biography and half rants and complaints but serves as the quintessential answer to the question, “What the hell is wrong with this guy?”

However, what stood out for me was the refreshing look at how music can shape your life. My favorite line of the book was when Zone admitted “[songs by] rappers like Audio Two, Grand Daddy I.U, The Afros and No Face defined a good chunk of my personal development, for better or worse.” Any true hip hop head can relate and look at our own musical journey to adulthood and how it influences us along the way. While enjoying reading about Zone’s path it kept bringing me back to my own.

Pick up Root for the Villain at your favorite reading establishment

Book Report: Blueprint “Word is Blog” Volume 1

WordIsBlog_Cover_FINALWEBBlueprint’s first literary work, “Word is Blog,” is a ‘best of’ collection of his online musings between 2010 and 2011 from his site Printmatic.net. In it Print covers a variety of topics from the random (his love of napkins and favorite words) to the more serious (dealing with alcoholism and the death of friend and fellow emcee Eyedea).

While Print covers a number of topics the book is a surprisingly cohesive and quick read that gives you a snippet into a year of his life. I particularly enjoyed the more serious topics. When Print reflects on how he and Eyedea became friends and developed a routine of searching out battles in any city they were both present its a celebration of their friendship as much as it is a mourning of the loss. Blueprint also documents the first year of sobriety after coming to grips with his descent into alchoholism.

While the general purpose of the book was to reach those not checking his site on a regular basis it’s probably not the same if you read them randomly online. Each piece is a well written glimpse into the mind of Printmatic given you insight into the person behind the music.

You can get a copy of Word is Blog at one of Print’s shows or online at Printmatic.net

Show Review: Blueprint, March 1st 2013 – Seattle @ The Nectar Lounge

Print tour (768x1024)On Friday night I made my way down to the Fremont side of things in Seattle. I don’t generally pass thru here but this was a special occasion as our homie Blueprint was in town to headline a show with a number of local acts on the bill including The Th3rdz (JFK, Candidt and Xperience), Grynch, Jewels Hunter, Nathan Wolfe, and The Sharp 5. To be honest since relocating from Baltimore aka Harm City aka B-More Careful a few years back I haven’t done my due diligence in delving into the Seattle scene so I had more than a passing interest on an the opening acts as well.

First off the Nectar Lounge is a nice underground spot with an upstairs seating area and an open air portion for the smokers. It’s big enough to have a solid crowd but small enough to keep the intimate connection that you get at most indie type places. So that was a plus and I can see coming back again. As far as the openers the quality ranged from mostly fair to solid, with Old Dominion alums, The Th3rdz, being the most polished. I was impressed with fellow Rhymesayer JFK who clearly can spit so I’m looking forward to checking out his latest solo that he gave out after the set.

But once Printmatic took the stage everything went to another level. The sound and vocals were no longer muffled as his unmistakable voice cut through to deliver the crystal clear lyrics of “Go Hard or Go Home” to open the set. He ran through a myriad of treats navigating from his solo catalog to a few Soul Position joints and even his guest verse on Aesop Rock’s “Alchemy” accompanied by his trusty keytar and DJ Rare Grooves. All in all it was a good night of hip hop right up until I saw that parking ticket on my car. Damn!