Category: music

Music Geek Review: Childish Gambino : Awaken My Love

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I’ve been a fan of multi-talented artist Donald Glover since his run on the fantastic sitcom Community.  And this fandom has taken me to some truly bizarre places, such as his internet comedy group where he first made his name Derrick Comedy, to his stand up comedy special which I bought on dvd, to his music, which has been just as inventive and unique as the man himself.    His song “Bonfire” off his first album Camp inspired my own return to hip hop which is on my YouTube channel if anyone’s curious.   And his television show Atlanta, which debuted on FX earlier this fall was one of the best shows on tv this season.    Each project completely different from the last, which is rare, as an artist in any genre, let alone multiple ones like Donald Glover works in.

Which brings us to his latest album Awaken My Love.   The cover art alone tells the audience that this isn’t going to be your standard album, and the album itself lets you know that as well from the dream like xylophone tones that start out the first track “Me and Your Mama”, that  this album is taking you on a musical journey, a dream like infusion of soul, and funk that could double as baby making music and as get stoned and just chill type music.    And each track is different from the last as well, a continuous reinvention of itself like the artists own career up to this point changing and evolving with every track.

There are lots of different kinds of albums, for different kinds of moods, feelings, situations.  And in this current day and age of digital everything, it’s easy to just pick and choose your music a track at a time, which is how I admittedly listen to music most of the time, but this album, like Solange’s A Seat At The Table album from a few months ago merits to be listened to in completion, in order, just allow yourself to go on this aural funkadelic journey, and you won’t regret it.

Key tracks- Me and Your Mama,  Zombies, California, Redbone, Stand Tall

Album rating ***** out of 5 Stars

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Music Geek Review: The Hamilton Mixtape

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I was first introduced to Lin Manuel-Miranda’s Hamilton musical earlier this year by my girlfriend, and it became the soundtrack to my summer, listening to album on repeat for weeks on end, just fully becoming immersed in this show, putting together an epic movie in my head that won’t compare to the actual musical I’m sure if I ever get lucky enough to see it performed.     Even though the play started last year, this year was truly the year of Hamilton. It’s my favorite musical, and it’s also re-awakened my passion for history, as well.    Despite the controversy now surrounding the play, it continues to be sold out for the immediate and near future.  Everyone loves this play, well 95% of the population does at least, including a lot of talented musical artists, who have come together to collaborate on this, The Hamilton Mixtape, which was also going to be the original title of the project when Lin Manuel was putting the project together, as a mix tape before the show idea came into being.

But, on to the album itself, how does it hold up as it’s own work?  Well it starts out with an intro from Philadelphia hip hop legends, The Roots, “No John Trumbull”, painting a picture in the audience’s head that this story, isn’t as clear and as stoic as the classic John Trumbull paintings of the Continental Congress signing the Declaration of Independence, no, much like the real history, this story is far messier, more personal, more real, than any painting.

So many talented artists contribute to this album,  artists like Alicia Keys, Jill Scott, Wiz Khalifa, John Legend and Jimmy Fallon, all putting their spin on songs from the play.   Though my favorite tracks on the album are  the version of Satisfied from Sia featuring Miguel and Queen Latifah, who handles the rapping portions of the song.    Immigrants (We Get The Job Done) From K’Naan, Snow Tha Product, Riz MC, and Residente takes the iconic line from the Battle of Yorktown and turns it into a very timely track for the world we live in today.   Speaking of timely, Watsky’s cover of “An Open Letter” could also be very timely given our current political situation in America, which makes me love it even more.

Alicia Keys’ cover of That Would Be Enough and Chance The Rapper’s Dear Theodosia reprise bring the feels in ways I didn’t think possible outside of the original versions of the song.

One of my favorite tracks over all though is Nas’ “Wrote My Way Out”, which brings the story full circle, from Lin Manuel reading the Alexander Hamilton biography and seeing hip hop in his life’s story and turning that into music to Nas’ own life story and how he turned his story into music.  Also the track has an unexpected Lin Manuel Miranda cameo verse on there which was killer.

I will say that it’s not a perfect album, but it comes close to it.  When Lin Manuel Miranda wrote “Helpless” he was channeling Ashanti and Ja Rule’s early 00’s hits, so it only makes sense that they cover the song on this album.  And I was a huge fan of those initial hits, but compared to Phillipa Soo and Lin Manuel Miranda in the original version there’s something about the track that falls semi flat to my ears.   But the album’s biggest sin, in my book is there’s no cover of “The Schuyler Sisters”, the Destiny’s Child-like super catchy song from the musical, which would have made perfect fodder to be covered or remixed by some talented artist.      Still though, maybe there’s more mixtapes in the future to be made.  Hamilton is timeless, so maybe in a later volume we could get that.  As it stands if you’re a fan of the musical, you’re going to love this album.  If you’re just a fan of  good music, you’ll like it and there’s enjoyment to be had here regardless.

There’s also a few demos of songs that were cut from the play as well, including a third cabinet battle about slavery in the country, and Valley Forge, some of the lines of which ended up in a different format in the play, and it’s nice to see how the show evolved from idea to stage.

Key Tracks- “Immigrants (We Get The Job Done) ” “Wrote My Way Out” “Satisfied” “Dear Theodosia (reprise)”

Album Rating **** out of 5 Stars.

 

 

Doctor Strange End Credits Song Reaction

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In what’s been a great day for Marvel fans, Marvel is just dropping off little nuggets of awesome to get us through our Wednesday.  First the trailer and poster  for Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, and then we also get a taste of the soundtrack to Doctor Strange which is coming out in a few weeks, and the soundtrack drops on Friday, and after listening to this track, I’m as excited for the soundtrack as I am the movie.  Give it a listen yourself.

 

 

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the music to this movie by Michael Giacchino (Lost, The Incredibles) but getting a 60’s inspired Moody Blues-esque, trippy score was certainly not what I would have guessed.  But it totally works, especially for the tone of the movie, which really (from what I’ve seen) gets into the really out there Steve Ditko esque stuff that the comics were known for, maybe even a bit of the really bizarre Steve Engleheart run from the 70’s as well, but music you could get stoned to and kind of zone out, (if that’s your thing, man)

In any case, we’re in for a good musical time when the soundtrack is released this Friday, and then for a great cinematic experience in three weeks when Doctor Strange hits theaters.

On the Importance of “Bring The Pain” by Method Man to the Canon of 20th Century Music and Culture

* What follows is a paper I wrote for my 20th Century Culture class,  on one of the songs from the Spotify playlist the Prof had cultivated of both great and lesser known works of the 20th century.  There was a lot to choose from, but as a hip hop fan, and part time rhymer myself, getting a chance to write a paper about a Method Man song was a chance that I could not let pass me by.  The paper that came out, came out really well I think, and I think some of you might enjoy reading it as well.  So, here it is, hope you like, enjoy. -Reel Geek

 

 

I first heard this song back when it was new back in 94, saw the video on MTV, back when they showed music videos.  I was right in the midst of my punk/grunge listening to days, but I could still appreciate the song for its fresh beat by the RZA to the lyrical styles and wordplay of the one Mr. Meth (movin on your left) it stuck out to me as just a great piece of music.  A few years later, when I started writing rhymes myself in Philly, I studied this song, and a lot of Method Man’s music, both his solo stuff and of course with the Wu Tang Clan, for inspiration to find my own voice in the genre.  Which, as it turns out is basically what’s now called the subgenre of nerdcore, rappers who rap about geeky subjects such as Boba Fett and other things.  But I was told by my mentor to write what you know, these other rappers they’ve lived their lives out in the streets, so that’s what they write about, so I was told to write what I know about, so I did.

But back to this song itself, this song is a prime example of just why 90’s hip hop is one of the best decades of the genre.  If going from an evolutionary perspective, you had the pre-stages of hip hop in the 1970’s, bleeding in to the 1980’s where the art became its own voice for the voiceless, where it evolved from the music that’s fun to dance and get down to into the voice of a culture that hadn’t had proper representation in a long time.     This song in particular is almost a hybrid of both the fun rap and the more serious parts of the genre.  It’s got a great beat, one of the RZA’s best works in my opinion, and it also makes for a good workout soundtrack as well, but what really gets me is the wordplay in the song, which is an art that is often lost to modern hip hop, wherein it’s all about making the club go crazy, so all you need in modern day hip hop is just a good DJ who can make a great beat to dance to with a lot of bass for both the club and for bumping it in your car, and the lyrics…well lyrics don’t matter,  you can literally say gibberish like a rap version of Prisencolensinainciusol, maybe say a common word, an animal name, like Panda maybe, repeatedly throughout your song, and you’ve got yourself a BET/MTV award winning song right there.

 

 

But back in the day, especially in the 90’s, when Wu Tang ruled the hip hop landscape on the east coast along with a few other kings of the genre, like Biggie, and Nas, you needed to be able to hit those bars (lines in a rhyme) with some skill, the DJ wasn’t going to save your song.   Example here, when Method Man says

I came to bring the pain hardcore from the brain

Let’s go inside my astral plane

Find out my mental’s based on instrumental

Records hey so I can write monumental

Methods, I’m not the King

But n***** is decaf I stick ’em for the cream

Right from the start of the song, the listener is already hit in the face with greatness, as they rhyme scheme just flows so smoothly from pain, to brain, to plane, then you hit the reasoning why Method Man is so great, he’s not the King, but he’s a lot better than a lot of the other rappers out there, even to this day, they’re decaf compared to his skills, which I’d put at like an Espresso level, if we’re going with the coffee metaphor he put in place here.  And I love the bit at the end there of the verse where he says he sticks em for the cream, calling back to the WU Tang Clan single “C.R.E.A.M.”  which was another seminal piece of music from the time period.

And by the end of that 3 minutes and 10 seconds, you’re pumped up, ready to get done what you need to do.  It really works on both levels if you’re just listening to the music, the RZA’s sampling of Jerry Butler’s “I’m Your Mechanical Man” or Meth’s lyrics, you’re on a musical ride that if you’ve never been on, you really should, especially if you’re a fan of the genre today.  If you think the rappers today are so great, then you should check out where they were influenced by, and I feel really old typing those words, but there it is.   And that is why “Bring the Pain” is such an important song to the canon of 20th Century music and culture in general.