Category: Jeff Weiss

Pop music review: Tinie Tempah

The London rapper’s global fusion thrillingly recaps the last year even as it points to the future at the Hollywood Roosevelt’s New Year’s Eve show.
Tinie Tempah

There were few better barometers to gauge the sounds of the previous 365 days than New Year's Eve, on which countless parties across the city featured a range of talent including chart-topping European DJs and obscure, local indie acts. Ironically, though, it was at the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel's Great Gatsby party on Saturday night where partygoers — dressed as if it were the Roaring '20s — had a chance to survey some of the most sweeping sonic trends of 2011.

Perhaps headliner Tinie Tempah best reflects the ever-growing pan-globalization of hip-hop and pop music. He's a 23-year-old London rapper of Nigerian descent who in one year managed to crack the American top 40 and serve as the soundtrack for such red-blooded U.S. institutions as Major League Baseball and Wrestlemania.

The old cliché says you only need one song, and for Tempah, born Patrick Chukwuemeka Okogwu, his “Written in the Stars” catapulted him from a domestic obscurity into the pop elite, and he now collaborates with Wiz Khalifa and Snoop Dogg. It's an impressive trajectory considering that many of his performances on his first tour of the States in May were reportedly in front of only a few dozen people.

“Written in the Stars” wasn't released as an official stateside single until May. In Britain, where he's been a sensation for the last half-decade, the song went straight to No. 1. In America, it peaked at No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and made him the first British rapper to truly penetrate U.S. audiences.

British rap has been threatening to establish a foothold on U.S. soil since grime breakout stars Dizzee Rascal, the Streets and Lady Sovereign brought their fast-rapped strains of foreign hip-hop here in the middle part of the last decade. But for all their continental stardom and critical acclaim, they failed to earn radio airplay and achieve mass appeal.

But Tempah is a different story. His fusion of rap, pop, dubstep, grime and house resonates with the iPod's era's mishmash of styles. Most important, he has hooks so big he probably could earn airplay on the Fishing Network, appropriating the American penchant for garish pop production and paring it with an accent usually only heard on the London Tube.

On Saturday, Tempah offered a clarion view of the present and perhaps the future during his abbreviated but strong set. An audience of revelers in top hats, tails and foot-long cigarette holders roared as he ushered in the new year with a hit-studded performance containing “Written in the Stars” and “Pass Out.” Thankfully, few took the advice of the latter cut, instead feeding off Tempah's visceral energy and doing a bevy of dance moves that included practically everything but the Charleston.

Though his performance and banter was brief, the leather jacket- and sunglasses-clad Tempah exhibited an affable, kinetic stage presence that illustrated why he is the chosen crossover star. He's clearly been raised on American rap mannerisms and its underground work ethic but has streamlined his style into something that retains a sense of the exotic while filtering in the ideas circulating in the top 40 landscape. And with his latest single, “Miami 2 Ibiza,” which partners him with dance music powerhouse Swedish House Mafia, Tempah seems to have a perfect reading of the current temperature.

Indeed, Tempah wasn't the only one who offered a window into the year that was. The DJ who preceded him played some of 2011's biggest club anthems, including DJ Khaled, Drake and Rick Ross' “I'm One” and Waka Flocka Flame's irrepressible “Grove St. Party,” while the LA Riots performed a set of high-octane house and wobbling dubstep.

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Hip-hop haul: Gifts from Clams Casino, Fabolous, Smoke DZA, more

Clams Casino CoverWhile the rest of of the world was gifting iPads, "Call of Duty" and enough socks to fill up Staples Center, the hip-hop world continued its nascent tradition of doling out free music to fans. Despite Christmas tradition, there were few turkeys handed out, with some of the most promising young rappers and producers offering downloadable feasts. Here are highlights of the haul.

Clams Casino -- "Instrumental Mixtape" (mastered version)  (Left Click)

Earlier this year, the producer for Lil B and Soulja Boy opted to remove the raps from his beats and offer the instrumentals in their raw orchestral glory. It kick-started Casino's rise to become one of the most sought after beatmakers in the underground, earning a deal with vaunted British imprint Tri Angle, and calls to produce A$AP Rocky and most recently the Weeknd.

Thankfully, the "Instrumental Mixtape" is more creative than its name would imply. Though Clams' hyperbole-prone advocates define it as a stark break from previous instrumental hip-hop tradition, it bears a close resemblance to the three-minute symphonies done by New York-based producer Blockhead and other artists on the Ninja Tune imprint. Nonetheless, you won't find many albums this year as skilled at creating a mood of eerie, disembodied float.

Mr. ... eXquire --  "Merry eX-Mas..." (Left Click, via The Smoking Section)

In his breakout single, "Huzzah," the Brooklynite said his gimmick was "going in." He continues that aesthetic on his "Merry eX-Mas" tape, slurred and strong rapping about sex, vodka, money and hunger. Just the basics. The tape compiles both odds and sods leaked over the last few months and previously unheard tracks, including the insanely rewindable "Killah Tofu," featuring fellow rising star Danny Brown.

Smoke DZA -- "SweetBabyKushedGod" (Left Click)

It's unlikely that anyone was lit up on Christmas morning more than Smoke DZA, the affiliate of Curren$y's Jets Crew, who dropped his new EP without any advance promo. The result is even more of a welcome surprise, with nine ultra-mellow, sun and spliff-lit grooves featuring the likes of Odd Future's Domo Genesis, A$AP Rocky, Danny Brown and Action Bronson. There's even a beat heisted from the likes of L.A.'s own Flying Lotus. Recommended for anyone who likes their Christmas the way they like their ham: heavily smoked.

 

Fabolous -- "There Is No Competition: Death Comes in 3s" (Left Click)

Over the last decade, Fabolous has maintained an enviable consistency. You know what you're getting when you download a F-A-B-O mixtape: slick-talking punchline rap, guest spots from the Lox and talk of crime and luxury goods. His latest is little different.

 

ALSO:

Review: The Brooklyn Bodega rap of eXquire

Blu & Exile reunite for 'Give Me My Flowers' LP

Speak premieres 'Leisure Life' as part of Hannukah giveaway

--Jeff Weiss

Photo: Clams Casino Instrumentals cover

Speak premieres 'Leisure Life' as part of Hannukah song giveaway

Moreno Valley raised SpeakSince "Christmas Rappin," rap has had more than its fair share of Christmas songs; the seasonal trend  may have reached its apex of absurdity with Jim Jones' "Ballin' on Xmas." For obvious reasons, the canon of rap Hannukah songs is decidedly less estimable. In fact, none immediately come to mind — though that didn't stop Too Short and Jim Jones from giving their most valiant efforts.

Enter Speak, the Moreno Valley-raised rapper born Anthony Negrete. Perhaps best known for co-writing Kreayshawn's hit single "Gucci Gucci," the shaggy-haired and bearded rapper has emerged over the last year as one of Los Angeles' most eccentric and interesting rappers.

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Blu and Exile reunite for 'Give Me My Flowers' LP

Blu and Exile
Four years ago, a scarcely known local rapper-producer combination named Blu and Exile dropped "Below the Heavens" on the independent label Sound Is Color. It's impact far exceeded what everyone could have guessed at the time.

The last decade found underground hip-hop fans periodically seeking saviors. As with Talib Kweli, Common and Little Brother before him, Blu briefly shouldered the burden of being a would-be messiah. Along with that distinction, his debut was hailed as a classic in quarters sympathetic to soul samples and nostalgic lyrics.

The problem was that Blu clearly never relished the role. Rather than make a "Below the Heavens Part 2," he signed to Warner Bros and practically fell off the face of the Earth. While many of his peers concoted slick marketing campaigns or cultivated massive Twitter followings, Blu released under-promoted psychedelic, jazz-tinted mixtape/albums, unmastered and with dubious sound qualities. Some of the music was excellent, some was clearly slap-dash, but the San Pedro-raised rapper's talent always allowed him to keep things interesting.

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Slim Dunkin may have been killed over stolen candy, police say

Slim
On Friday, Atlanta rapper and Brick Squad member Slim Dunkin was fatally shot in a recording studio. At the time, police were mum on suspects and a motive in the killing.

But on Tuesday, Atlanta's WSB-TV reported that police believe Dunkin was killed after an altercation over a stolen piece of candy.

"The information we're getting, it's unconfirmed, but witnesses are saying this whole thing started over a piece of candy," homicide detective David Quinn told the news station.

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Album review: Young Jeezy's 'TM:103 Hustlerz Ambition'

Album review: Young Jeezy's 'TM:103 Hustlerz Ambition'

Fury flies from the first bells of the 34-year-old’s fourth Def Jam full length. “You know the world is waiting … on 103,”Jeezy croaks in his trademark double-barrel rasp. A lot’s changed in the three years since his last effort, “The Recession.” Jeezy’s rivals Gucci Mane and Rick Ross captured the popular imagination, while commercial rap’s aesthetic gravitated ever increasingly to 4/4 techno.

Still, “TM 103” is almost refreshingly reverent. Even his for-the-ladies concessions (“Superfreak,” “All We Do,” “Leave You Alone”) boast the punishing maximalism that made Jeezy a heavyweight. What he sacrifices in innovation he compensates for with focus and precision. His ad-libs and punch-ins still slap with ominous Old Testament brutality. 

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Brick Squad rapper Slim Dunkin killed in Atlanta

Brick Squad rapper Slim Dunkin killed in Atlanta


Rapper Slim Dunkin, a member of Waka Flocka Flame's Brick Squad crew,  was shot to death Friday night in a recording studio in Atlanta, police say.

According to police, the recording artist, whose legal name was Mario Hamilton, was involved in an altercation with another man on the set of a video shoot.

"It appears the victim was scheduled to do a photo shoot," Atlanta Police Maj. Keith Meadows told the Associated Press. "Before the video shoot took place, it appears the victim and suspect got involved in a verbal altercation. We don't know what that altercation was about.

"The suspect produced a weapon, discharged that handgun one time, striking the victim in the chest," Meadows said.

Hamilton was rushed to Atlanta's Memorial Grady Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Police said he was in his early 20s. 

Flocka, the popular Asylum-signed rapper, took to Twitter to mourn his slain protege.

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Premiere: Eligh, Amp Live and Busdriver on 'L.A. Dreamers'

Eligh of Living Legends

A substantial portion of the rappers who came to fame in the independent rap world's late-'90s boom still maintain healthy, even thriving careers. Whereas many of their major-label peers fell into a precipice when big deals stopped circulating, the smartest underground rappers built a viable infrastructure and fan base that allowed them to stay afloat and continue pursuing their passion.

Things might never go back to the halcyon period when acclaimed indie artists could expect to sell 10,000 copies of vinyl, but those who hustle hard and stay consistent can still book shows all over the world. Eligh and Amp Live are indicative of this type of indie rap artist. The former was a mainstay in the Living Legends crew, while the latter was the DJ/producer half of Bay Area-based Zion I.

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The impressive return of the Pharcyde's SlimKid3

SlimKidTre's Another Day, Another Dollar
It's hard to believe that next year will mark the 20th anniversary of the Pharcyde's "Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde." Unlike many records from 1992, this one has held up beautifully, from J-Swift and SlimKid3's jazz and funk-refracted bangers to the still-funny jokes and skits.

As for the songs themselves, they remain iconic. You can play "Passing Me By" and "Otha Fish" at a party tonight and the DJ will always get love. To say nothing of "Ya Mama," which will sustain junior high school dozens games for perpetuity (that is, if the junior high kids hear it).

The group didn't fare as well in the aftermath of the record. Following "Labcabincalifornia," the under-the-radar classic that introduced producer J Dilla, Pharcyde was beset by everything from intra-group acrimony to label woes to drug addiction. Thing is, Pharcyde was always advanced --too smart, too self-honest and too unwilling to conform to easy-to-digest images or mass appeal. Off the strength of two albums, its legacy is forever secure in the top tier of Los Angeles rap groups.

But other than the left-field gem that was "What's Up Fatlip?," none of the members of Pharcyde has really gotten much media attention in the last decade and a half. There have been tours, a few albums, and a brief sideline working with David Silver from "Beverly Hills, 90210." But it's doubtful that most of us have heard anything as strong as "Another Day Another Dollar," Tre Hardson's new two-song EP with DJ Nu-Mark (formerly of Jurassic 5)

He's been able to channel the vicissitudes of the last two decades into his music. The title track introduces a "world where the ends don’t meet the means/Quite as sweet/Some lie, some cheat." It's acknowledgment of the cheap caprices of the world. Today's star is tomorrow's crafty veteran touring as much as possible to make rent and car payments. There are "Elevator"-type attacks on people who approach him like he's loaded. The hook admits that "life has a price that makes you want to holler."

"Friday Night" finds Tre alternately celebrating the weekend and mulling the perils of the work-a-day lifestyle. Like his best work in Pharycde, it's warm, relatable and warrants repeat listening. Nu-Mark eschews the sample collage classicism of Pharcyde for stripped-down jazz loops that pick up where J-Swift left off. This is very good and a welcome return of a local hip-hop legend.

ALSO:

DJ Nobody releases psych rock and prog-filled winter mix

A reunited Pharcyde discusses makeups, breakups and J Dilla

Download: Zebra's 'Christmas Morning' from 'In the Christmas Groove'

-- Jeff Weiss

Cypress Hill Smokeout returns with Sublime with Rome, more

Cypress Hill pictured

Start heating up the vaporizers and medicating your glaucoma: Cypress Hill Smokeout is returning on March 3 to the NOS Events Center in San Bernardino. 

Pre-sale tickets for Guerilla Union/Live Nation customers go on sale Wednesday and to the general public on Saturday. The bill features a slate headlined by Sublime with Rome, Wiz Khalifa, Cypress Hill, and Korn. Other artists scheduled to perform include Latin music legends Cafe Tecuba and the Dirty Heads. More artists will be announced closer to the date of the show. As in past years, the event will double as a concert and medical marijuana expo. Provided medical marijuana patients have a valid prescription from a doctor, there will be a designated area where they can smoke.

Ticket prices range from $86 to VIP packages of $461. 

ALSO:

Cypress Hill Percussionist Eric Bobo Unveils 'Maestro'

Medical Marijuana Patients will be able to smoke openly at this year's Smokeout

Andre Ethier, Latin rap aficionado swings to Delinquent Habits

--Jeff Weiss

Photo: Cypress Hill. Credit: Cypress Hill. 

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