January 18, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Three albums and three mixtapes for your listening pleasure. If you missed my top ten, check it out at the Mockingbird blog.
good kid, m.A.A.d city-Kendrick Lamar
Really, I can’t offer Kendrick Lamar many more accolades than the ones he has already gained last year (this was my favorite album of 2012). His major label debut, good kid, m.A.A.d city is unlike any other hip-hop album that came out in 2012, balancing emotion and technical mastery perfectly and asserting itself as something new in a crowded hip-hop culture. Lamar is an immensely skilled emcee, and he shows off his many different modes of rapping throughout the album, varying his voice and cadence to suit each song. Moreover, this is an album in every sense of the word, as Lamar tells a story of living in the streets that ends with unexpected redemption. Don’t miss this one, kids.
Best Songs: “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe,” “Money Trees,” “m.A.A.d City,” “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst”
R.A.P. Music-Killer Mike
R.A.P Music opens with easily my favorite hip-hop track of the year, “Big Beast,” a driving, forceful explosion of a song that stakes Killer Mike’s claim to the best straight-up hip-hop album of the year. With great production from El-P, Killer Mike effortlessly weaves his way through a variety of topics on the album, never afraid to speak his mind, especially on tracks like “Reagan” and “R.A.P. Music.” In many ways, this album is a throwback, devoid of any Drake-like crooning or the variety of production tricks on good kid, m.A.A.d city, and this stripped down approach lends credibility and brutal honesty to Killer Mike’s scathing lyrics. You probably won’t agree with everything he says, but you’ve got to respect the way he says it.
Best Songs: “Big Beast,” “Go!,” “Reagan,” “R.A.P. Music”
Cancer 4 Cure-El-P
Dark and atmospheric, Cancer 4 Cure blasts its way through its twelve song running time, replete with booming bass and fractured percussion. In both his production and rapping, El-P seems one step from the edge, the virtuosity of his technical skills belying the rage that simmers just below the carefully constructed madness of his music. Like label-mate Aesop Rock, El-P’s lyrics are a conundrum, a maze of wordplay that obfuscates more than elucidates, yet repeated listens eventually reveal his preoccupations; for instance, “The Full Retard” offers up a somewhat satirical look at hip-hop and politics, while being the most radio friendly track on the whole album. It’s contradictions like this that mark Cancer 4 Cure as one of the more compelling hip-hop releases of 2012, and one to be listened to on high volume with utmost attention.
Best Songs: “The Full Retard,” “Drones Over Bklyn,” “Tougher Colder Killer,” “True Story”
Probably my second favorite hip-hop album of the year, BBU’s mixtape is an exercise in not sacrificing style for content, with music that is a perfect complement to the group’s politically charged lyrics. Hailing from Chicago, the group tackles a number of issues plaguing inner-city Chicago, yet they manage to approach those topics with some lightness, keeping the mixtape from becoming too weighed down. BBU knows how to create a hook, and they rap the heck out of every track, ensuring that their message gets embedded in your consciousness. The group also has a wicked sense of humor, most obviously present in the album’s interludes, where they make fun of mainstream hip-hop and record labels, just to name a few of their targets. The constant interplay of the three members keeps each track fresh, and the serious issues they bring up in their lyrics are worth thinking about, if purposely controversial at times. A wonderful blend of craft and consciousness, bell hooks is everything a mixtape should be.
Best Songs: “The Hood,” “Jumpers,” “The Wrong Song,” “Please, No Pictures”
4eva N a Day-Big K.R.I.T.
After showing up on two of my favorite hip hop albums of last year (Undun and Oneirology) as well as releasing a mixtape, Big K.R.I.T. made his mark on 2012 with another mixtape and his major-label debut, Live from the Underground. While Live from the Underground has its moments (particularly “Cool 2 Be Southern,” “Porchlight,” and “If I Fall”), 4eva N a Day is far more consistent and thoughtful throughout, making it the best Krit album to arrive in 2012. 4eva N a Day delivers more of what we’ve come to expect from Krit: silky smooth flow, consummate production, and a keen awareness of the problems in hip hop culture and his own place in that world. Tracks like “Package Store” and “The Alarm” speak eloquently to the struggles Krit sees all around him, accenting the album art of a young child stuck in between a church and a liquor store. Another great mixtape from a perennial overachiever.
Best Songs: “Boobie Miles,” “4EvaNaDay Theme,” “Package Store”
Attack the Block-Talib Kweli & Z-Trip
Unfortunately, Kweli’s new official album was delayed until 2013, but Attack the Block, named after a fantastic film from 2011, is more than enough to tide me over until P.O.C. gets released. Complete with an incredible list of guest spots (Black Thought, Jay Rock, Killer Mike, etc.), Attack the Block is a surprisingly consistent effort from Kweli, especially considering the mixed bag that was his last album, Gutter Rainbows. The best moments on Attack the Block are the unexpected ones: “The Corner” sampling R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion”; the five killer guest spots on “That’s Enough”; and the slow-burning closer, “Fly Away.” To me at least, Attack the Block shows that Kweli still has something to prove, and it makes me even more excited for P.O.C. this spring.
Best Songs: “That’s Enough,” “The Corner,” “Getting to the Money,” “Fly Away”
June 13, 2012 § Leave a Comment
In which I conclude my letter to Thrice.
After Vheissu you decided to raise the bar and pursue your most ambitious project to date—The Alchemy Index. I remember being so excited that you were applying your musical acumen to a concept album revolving around the four elements, matching the sonic qualities of each disc (Fire, Water, Air, Earth) to the qualities of the elements. And while they didn’t end being my favorite thing you have ever done, the songs on each six-song disc sounded remarkably what I imagined each element might sound like as music. Fire was heavy, bludgeoning at times, yet carried a delicate beauty; Water was bathed in electronic blips and synths while buoyed by ethereal vocals and melodies; Air was light and peaceful, yet occasionally hit with the force of a tornado; and Earth was acoustic, steeped in folk, delivering an earthy, homey set of songs. Oh, and ending each disc with a sonnet from the perspective of the element was a brilliant touch.
My favorite songs from The Alchemy Index are scattered across the discs, with Air probably being my favorite of the four. From Fire, “The Arsonist” and its serpentine guitar riff is my favorite with “Burn the Fleet” being a close second. Water’s high points are opener “Digital Sea” and the gorgeous, melancholy “The Whaler.” For my money, Air is the most consistent, each song worthy of mention, but none more so than the soaring “Silver Wings,” one of the most beautiful songs I have ever had the pleasure of listening to. The highlight of Earth is “Come All You Weary,” especially as the full band kicks in near the end of the song. Yet, the true fun of The Alchemy Index is combining the songs in different ways, and listening to them in a different order, experimenting with placing the disparate elements next to each other to attempt a kind of synthesis.
Luckily for us, you created the very synthesis I am describing with your next two, and unfortunately last, albums—Beggars and Major/Minor. Beggars is rough and tumble rock and roll, incorporating qualities of The Alchemy Index into a more streamlined, gritty soundscape. It’s easy to hear the southern rock and blues influence on songs like “The Weight” and “Doublespeak,” yet it never overtakes your unique approach to music. Beggars had just dropped when I got the chance to see you live for the first time in Pittsburgh during my junior year of college: an incredible experience, even if the venue was jam-packed and uncomfortable at times. The subtle play between the harder elements of your past music and the newer, more melodic nature of some of the newer material on Beggars offers up some of its most intriguing moments. The title track is a slow-burner which eventually turns into a grungy mess of a song, highlighting the central message of the song and the album: “We are beggars all.” To hear such a resonant statement in the midst of the shiny, superficial music that often populates people’s iPods was, and still is, a breath of fresh air.
However, the songs on Beggars had a tendency to bleed together, lacking the sonic diversity that marked an album like Vheissu. Major/Minor solved this problem, and in many ways seems like a culmination of your music. There are heavy moments juxtaposed with soft, fast with slow, angry with peaceful: such is what I expect from a Thrice record. It’s smooth, almost effortless; clearly, you know how to make an album. I stayed up until 11 (CST, baby!) and downloaded the album as soon as it was available—the only other band I’ve done that for is U2. I don’t have much more to say about Major/Minor other than remarking about the palpable sense of finality that seems to pervade it. Especially now, looking back on it knowing this was your final album, there are moments that act as a closure to some of the themes, musically and lyrically that you have been exploring for your entire career. Indeed, you concluded the May 27th show with “Anthology,” a farewell song if there ever was one, including a multitude of references to previous songs from your discography. The chorus, directed at your fans at the show, says it all: “Oh, you know me and I know you. And I know we can see this through.”
So, at the end, it comes down to this. You are the first of my favorite bands to break up. Sure there were other bands I enjoyed who have parted ways over the course of the past ten years, but they did not have the same impact on my life as you did. For all you’ve meant to me, all I can offer is this—thank you.
Your devoted fan,
June 4, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Part One of an open letter to Thrice, my favorite band, on the occasion of their farewell tour.
I can’t believe it’s all over—you’re not making music any more. I first met you in 2005, at the tender age of 16, just after you had released your fourth album Vheissu, which remains one of my favorite albums of all time, even now with seven more years of music listening under my belt. Shortly after this, I discovered 2003’s The Artist in the Ambulance, its hard-hitting music perhaps only overshadowed by its lyrical bite, and it wasn’t long before you became one of my favorite bands. You have remained so until this day, growing in my respect as you refused to sell out, but continued to push your music in new directions with what came after Vheissu. And if the show I was at on May 27th is indeed the final time I will see you, I wanted to write you this letter to thank you for what your music has meant to me throughout high school, college and, even, grad school.
What you probably don’t know is that your music came to me at a time I was breaking away from the maudlin Christian music that constituted the majority of my music library up until sophomore year of high school or so. I was discovering artists like U2 and Sufjan Stevens, broadening my musical horizons, and then I stumbled upon your music: heavy, deep and beautiful. Once Vheissu began with “Image of the Invisible” bursting from the ether, I was hooked: this was something different than I had heard before. And the album keeps hitting—“The Earth Will Shake,” “Hold Fast Hope,” and “Dust of Nations” just to name a few songs. Yet, it exquisitely balances these heavy riffs and harsh vocals with lighter tracks like “Atlantic” and “Music Box” before ending with “Red Sky.” I remember thinking to myself, “This is art. This band knows how to make deep, inspiring music without sacrificing artistry.”
I soon began listening to the rest of your music: the fantastic, stirring The Artist in the Ambulance; the fast-paced, aggrieved The Illusion of Safety; and the raw, energetic Identity Crisis. While Identity Crisis and The Illusion of Safety certain do not rise to the heights of your later work, it’s evident that from the beginning of your career there was something special, a certain spark in your music. For instance, “Phoenix Ignition” and “T&C,” the two songs from your debut album that you played at the show, contain passion and energy without resorting to manufactured anger. Then there’s “Deadbolt” from your second album, ripping through its two and half minute running time with a relentless focus and intensity before fading to a remorseful 30 seconds of piano, expertly highlighting the song’s interplay between passion and regret. My personal favorite from The Illusion of Safety is “So Strange I Remember You,” another song that balances slower passages with torrid drumming and guitar work to excellent effect.
As entertaining and exciting your first two albums were, nothing, for me at least, can compare with The Artist in the Ambulance and Vheissu. I don’t think there is one bad song on The Artist in the Ambulance, and many songs on that album were instrumental in helping me make sense of my final two years of high school. “Under a Killing Moon,” the inspiration of my Xbox gamertag, takes Arthur Miller’s The Crucible/the Salem Witch Trials and transforms their stories into a blistering rumination on standing up for your convictions. In fact, you almost sound like a different band—more confident, bolstered by better production values and improved music and vocals. Without letting up, the album moves into lead single “All That’s Left,” a story of faith lost due to a lack of room for questions, “We are the dead, a ghost of everything we thought but never said.” What you couldn’t have known is I was searching and asking questions of my faith, and this song and “Stare at the Sun” gave me the courage to keep asking those questions at a crucial point in my life. I remember singing along to the chorus of “Stare at the Sun” with all my might, just as I did the other night: “Cause I am due for a miracle, I’m waiting for a sign. I’ll stare straight into the sun, and I won’t close my eyes, ‘til I understand or go blind.”
To be continued…
January 10, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Just wanted to let all of you know that my top ten albums list is posted over at Mockingbird Blog (link here). Also, I’m pleased to announce I’ll be contributing to their fine blog from time to time so make sure to check over there frequently to read my contributions as well as the other excellent posts from their contributors at http://www.mbird.com. You can also follow them on twitter @mockingbirdnyc.
Also, be on the look out for a post later this week about some honorable mentions in terms of my favorite music of the year and hopefully in a couple weeks I’ll post my top ten films of the year.
November 26, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Regardless of what you think about Kanye West, there is no denying his celebrity or his meteoric rise to fame in the past decade. It’s quite possible that, at this point in his career, Kanye is more infamous than anything else, due in large part to certain incidents involving George Bush and Taylor Swift. Some might think he is simply another celebrity with an enormous ego, making vacuous music to garner profit from the masses. However, if we actually consider his music, especially of the past four years, Kanye is quite a complex figure; he is a person with real feelings and real struggles, who, even with all his fame and fortune, seems to be searching for something more in this life.
Beginning with his first album, The College Dropout, Kanye’s music has always been deeply personal, highlighted by songs like “Through the Wire” and “Family Business.” His next two albums, Late Registration and Graduation, would follow in a similar manner, balancing the personal with typical rap braggadocio, always backed by fascinating beats. This pattern is so irrevocably severed, lyrically and musically, by 808s & Heartbreak that it comes as a shock. It is with this album, an intensely personal reaction to a painful break-up, that Kanye begins to reflect on his fame and celebrity, and his vulnerability and honesty are surprising.
The auto-tuned electronica that comprises the majority of 808s & Heartbreak allows us to see a different side of Kanye. The cocky exterior is gone, replaced by a broken human being, questioning his life. “Welcome to Heartbreak” illustrates this with a certain profundity, as Kanye takes a different perspective on his material possessions than normal: “My friend showed me a picture of his kids/ And all I could show him were pictures of my cribs/ He said his daughter got a brand new report card/ And all I got was a brand new sportscar.” This lament is tinged with regret, a common theme throughout an album concerned with lost love.
The song I find the most interesting on this album is “Pinocchio Story,” a live freestyle from Toyko, Japan. Kanye repeatedly mentions his desire to be a real boy, wondering if he has missed out on “real life.” Once again, he sings about the inability of his possessions to bring him contentment, “There is no clothes that I could buy/ That could turn back the time/ There is no vacation spot I could fly/ That could bring back a piece of real life/ Real life, what does it feel like?” For a hip-hop artist who constantly references his style and material wealth, this is an incredibly candid statement. However, with his next album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye, perhaps in an attempt to drown his sorrows and inner demons, dove headfirst into the deep end of celebrity.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is opulent, reveling in its luxury and gigantic production budget. Filled with A-list guest spots, it nonetheless remains Kanye’s show, magnifying his ego and celebrity even as it delves into some of his deepest struggles. Contradictory and profane as it is, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy reveals the insecurity that still remains in its creator. Pop culture and designer style references abound, the possessions that Kanye hides behind. However, on songs like “Gorgeous” and “Power” he takes aim at those who have made fun of him in the media, offering a harsh defense of himself and his actions. In fact, it seems as if Kanye can’t take a joke, as he directs profanity laced rants at those who “tried to black ball” him, South Park writers and the cast of SNL.
Indeed, the end of “Power” hints at suicide, with its coda, “Now this’ll be a beautiful death/ I’m jumping out the window/ Letting everything go.” Clearly, all of the “power” that Kanye possesses cannot banish his problems. It’s very easy to lose these moments of honesty amidst the sheer force of ego that Kanye normally exudes, but they are there to be seen. “Monster” is a hard hitting track with multiple guest stars, where Kanye assumes the title of “motherf—ing monster” as a badge of honor, turning the insult back around on those who have talked about him behind his back.
Kanye’s sensitivity seems to be a recurring theme, as “Runaway” and its chorus evidence: “Let’s have a toast for the douchebags/ Let’s have a toast for the assholes/ Let’s have a toast for the scumbags/ Every one of them that I know.” Given the multiple times this is repeated and the many different names Kanye gives these people, there seems to be quite a few of them. In many ways, this album is a send-off to the haters, but the vitriolic language disguises something that hearkens back to 808s and that will come into focus on this year’s collaborative album with Jay-Z, Watch the Throne.
The last song of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, excluding the bizarre outro, offers a note of transition to Watch the Throne. In “Lost in the World,” Kanye raps, “Lost in this plastic life/ Let’s break out of this fake-ass party/ Turn this into a classic night/ If we die in each other’s arms, still get laid in that afterlife,” which is followed by a woman’s voice singing very clearly, “Run from the lights/ Run from the night/ Run for your life.” So, we come full circle, and Kanye is still looking for love, even though he knows that his life and all the parties can’t offer him the validation he seeks. He knows he has to run, break free, but he is trapped by other’s opinions of him.
Watch the Throne is much less of a personal opus for Kanye, and he seems to be having fun making music with Jay-Z, but issues of insecurity still surface. Now to be sure, Jay-Z has his share of songs where he is dissing others, but they don’t carry the same emotion as Kanye’s. Even on a peaceful, uplifting track like “Made in America” Kanye can’t resist mentioning his haters, “South Park had ‘em all laughing/ Now my n—— designing and we all swaggin’/ Ignore the critics just to say we did it/ This ain’t no fashion show, motherf——, we live it.” In an insightful review of the album, Calum Marsh point out that this is “the second time that Ye’s indignantly referred to that good-natured South Park ribbing from, what, two years ago?” Marsh goes on to mention how this shows how even a little joke can have unexpected outcomes in celebrities.
Marsh is right, of course, but Kanye’s reaction reveals more than just injured pride; we see ourselves mirrored in his reactions, as we all search for acceptance and love. None of us want to be judged, why should Kanye be an exception? The words he spits on “New Day” are poignant and resonate with me, even though I am a poor, white guy, who can’t even imagine the life that Kanye leads. Speaking to a future son, he raps, “See, I want him to have an easy life, not like Yeezy life/ Just want him to be someone people like/ Don’t want him to be hated, all the time judged.” These few lines speak volumes.
May 7, 2011 § Leave a Comment
From the opening notes of Damn These Vampires to the closing lines of Liza Forever Minnelli, All Eternals Deck is a upward journey through the dark places of the human psyche and condition into a place of a certain contentment, touching on matters of utmost importance often veiled in cryptic phraseology. Like many of The Mountain Goats previous releases, All Eternals Deck continues to touch on the deepest failures and fears of human life, but manages to push through these tribulations toward a genuine awareness that although this world is still marred by pain and sorrow, beauty and healing can be found. In this way, All Eternals Deck reminds me of The Sunset Tree in its ability to address deeply personal matters in such a way that the listener can experience their own emotions in the obliquely worded lyrics of John Darnielle. This time around the music matches the songs and is quite worthy in its own right unlike the majority of The Mountain Goat’s last album, The Life of the World to Come, which suffered from similar sounding music and poor pacing.
Our journey begins with the mournful piano of Damn These Vampires, a slow burning meditation about vampires. As Darnielle sings in the chorus, “Crawl ’til dawn/On my hands and knees/God damn these vampires/For what they’ve done to me,” one can’t help but wonder what these vampires represent. Is Darnielle musing on on the general state of mankind, drawn in by dark and mysterious things until it is too late to escape? Or do the vampires represent the past, unshakable memories that haunt and wound? Whatever the case may be, Damn These Vampires sets up the brooding and questioning nature of the rest of the album, where allusions, references and metaphors abound and it is up to the listener to untangle them and make sense of Darnielle’s lyrics.
These metaphysical concerns and references keep coming up throughout the album, and with them it seems as if Darnielle is attempting to answer or at least consider some larger questions of life. The album’s third track, Estate Sale Sign, is full of religious imagery and lyrics mentioning memory, while the music draws the song along at a quick clip, not giving us the luxury of really being able to catch the meaning. Lines like, “Worked hard to build this altar…the sacrificial stains all spreading out and and soaking through,” and, “Stock shots, stupid stock shots…set up like unloved icons gathering dust up on the wall/from films no one remembers,” draw our attention to the recurring theme of memory, the past and forgetfulness that Darnielle seems particularly occupied with on this album. Age of Kings, whose musical backdrop is pristine, featuring some beautiful string arrangements, picks up this theme of memory again, as Darnielle sings of a past relationship. The last verse is gut-wrenching, “Small chambers sinking ’til they vanish/Wolves in the hallway gaining ground/Reach down to the moment when I should have said something true/Shadows and their sources now stealing away with you.”
After the moody The Autopsy Garland urges its recipient to remember certain places and times, Beautiful Gas Mask takes over the listener’s ear drums. The refrain commands us to “Never sleep, remember to breathe deep,” trying to make us calm and alert at the same time as we try to stay together in the face of nameless shadows and an eventual reckoning with someone or something. High Hawk Season asks us how we will be remembered, “Who will rise and who will sing?/Who’s going to stand his ground and who’s going to blink?” There is almost a sense of paranoia in Darnielle’s voice as he sings, “Rise if you’re sleeping, stay awake,” as if the world is coming to an end or that this may be the only chance we have to truly live, taking advantage of every day.
Prowl Great Cain deals with the curse that bad memories can bring, and I can’t help but wonder if this song is mining the same autobiographical territory as The Sunset Tree in Darnielle handling the memory of his abusive father. As the song draws near its close and Darnielle wails, “Sometimes a great wave of forgetfulness rises up and blesses me/And other times the sickness howls and I despair of any remedy,” I am reminded of the scars of the past that haunt all of us. The very next song, Sourdoire Valley Song, highlights another facet of memory, the bittersweet nature of leaving things behind that once held such joy. In a few words, the song’s chorus beautifully sums up having to leave behind memories and the past as we move forward, “And then the grass grows to cover up the fire pit and the forge/Half a world away from the Olduvai Gorge.”
It is with Outer Scorpion Squadron that the album begins to take a turn to the positive. In this soft, touching ballad, Darnielle sings of conjuring up ghosts of the past, learning to live with them and eventually putting them behind you. He seems to suggest that once you own your past and the many terrible, painful things that make up a part of it you can begin to make steps toward healing, and with the final three songs of the album, this healing begins to manifest itself. For Charles Bronson encourages a certain Stoicism toward the past, advising to concentrate on good things and try to live as if the past has no hold on you or your current state. I think many pass through this stage on their way to realizing that true healing never comes in this manner.
Healing comes in the awareness of our own failure to ever escape the past and its damage, and this is what Never Quite Free masterfully shows. On this Earth, the closest we may come to true freedom is this deep and difficult realization that our past makes us who we are and we have to learn to live with it and the way it has shaped us. The most cathartic song on the album by far, I can identify with Darnielle as he almost whispers the verses, and the second one especially hits home, “It’s okay to find the faith to saunter forward/There’s no fear of shadows spreading where you stand/And you’ll breathe easier just knowing the worst is all behind you/And the waves that tossed the raft all night have set you on dry land.” Now, maybe the worst isn’t behind me, but I know that the struggles and wounds of the past and present have shaped me and will continue to do so as long as I live. In order to move toward healing, we have to acknowledge our flawed and damaged state or we may forever remain entrapped by our pain and our suffering, not understanding that everyone has their own skeletons in their closets: we are no different.
All Eternals Deck is a challenging, but rewarding album. For those who want a straightforward message in their music, this is not the album for them, but for those who invest careful attention it will reveal a deeper message, spoken through metaphor and imagery. By wrestling with his past in an open and vulnerable way, Darnielle encourages us to take a second look at our own past and how we can find healing in our circumstances, a topic he frequently sings about. I can’t recommend this album enough.
February 15, 2011 § 2 Comments
Seattle is a city most well known for coffee, rain and grunge rock. Recently, however, they have experienced a boom in independent hip hop as artists like The Blue Scholars have been steadily producing high quality hip hop, musically and lyrically. My personal favorite group from Seattle is Common Market. I was turned on to Common Market by Relevant magazine, and I picked up their second full album Tobacco Road. I was met by a plethora of chill beats produced by Dj Sabzi and perfectly strung together words spit by the immense talent of RA Scion.
The first thing you’ll notice about Common Market is the intelligence that they bring to hip hop. Scion’s lyrics are a melting pot of story and biography, and his raps are an adventurous romp through an array of expertly delivered vocabulary words that make up a truly unique hip hop experience. Both members of Common Market are Baha’i, a faith that values nonviolence and peaceful treatment of others, and this spiritual and political bent shows through in their lyrics. We’re going to take a look at some of their music to highlight their positive contributions to hip hop.
Their first album Common Market is packed full of songs that are full of a driving energy with real hope behind it that seems to suggest that we can band together to make things better. On Every Last One Scion spits:
It’s our intent to re-implement modesty/Demandin’ self-respect be the market’s hottest commodity/Regulate the wealth and decimate extreme poverty/and educate kids with every dollar from the lottery/We ’bout to change the mentality/of old world savagery into a new reality/One where teachers and lawyers will change salaries/and liquor stores are razed to make way for art galleries…
This is not your average radio hip hop. This is two dudes, passionate about changing the way we think about the world and encouraging us to think about how we can actually make a change. Later on in the album on Love One, over a soulful beat from Sabzi, Scion raps about the women in his life: his mom, sister, wife and daughter. It’s a beautiful song that celebrates everything good about femininity and shows that Common Market’s approach to women is not formed by the prevailing view of the hip hop genre.
After their first album, filled with many more songs like those I highlighted above, Common Market released an EP before dropping Tobacco Road. Tobacco Road is a stunning album, dripping with soul, Scion’s lyrics perfectly complemented by Sabzi’s production. The album bursts out of the doors with Trouble Is, but it is the second song Gol’Dust that captures my attention immediately. The song is a exemplary look at greed and the many ways it influences our daily lives. My favorite lines come at the end of the song: “And what’s a legacy worth next to mined metal, yo/Measure me first–depression, it’s better we work/For change, not for pennies, if anything the commodity traded is us for flakes of gold dust.“
Tobacco Road is an album concerned with the way in which we work, the affects of industrialization and, ultimately, the way we live our lives. Nina Sing touches on poverty and societal inequality in work and economic conditions. The final verse is a perfect example: “Seein’ fam fallin’ through the cracks in the variance/Famished on a barren land of AIDS and malaria/One percent could fix it with a tenth of their inheritance/Freedom buried in the treasure chest of the nefarious.” Regardless of whether or not you agree with their conclusions, there is no doubt that Common Market is exploring important territory with a level of maturity and verbosity that should be respected. The album concludes with the title track, an homage to Tobacco Road in Kentucky, which also offers up a introspective look on growing up and leaving home. “Mindful of the nights in that state, who they say life is what you make it/When really life is what makes you…The schools failed me, thank God the farm taught me/The value of a calloused hand, how to work and plow this land/How even a modest crop will make your pop the proudest man.”
Common Market is a independent hip hop group that is not afraid to tackle big issues and they do it in an intellectual, effective way. Their songs are loaded with words and ideas that are available for anyone who is willing to listen. Positive and socially conscious, Common Market is making great music with a worthwhile message.