Tag Archives: hip-hop

on my boombox: my month of travel, in song

9 Oct

September and October 2012 will forever be known as “the months of DC absenteeism.” I’ve been zipping all over the place via plane, train, bus, and roadtrip this month, so DC show-going has been mostly on hold.
That said, traveling is often a great way for me to forever relate certain music to a particular trip or experience. Sometimes it’s the song that plays on repeat when you’re drinking with your college friends during a reunion weekend; maybe it’s a new album that keeps you sane through a long flight delay. Or, maybe you’re lucky enough to see a local band play in a new city you’re visiting.

So, here is the rundown of the music I’ve been digging this month, that I will forever associate with these particular trips. (Note that I’m not including my Lotus show trip to Philly in my list of travels, because I already featured a Lotus track in my last track. But you should still listen to more Lotus).

1. Road trip to Notre Dame: Noosa, “Walk on By (Sound Remedy Remix)”

During a road trip all the way to South Bend, Indiana, to watch Notre Dame crush Michigan, this song played double duty: not only did it get us pumped up enough to turn the end of our 10 hour road trip into a party, but we continued to play the song throughout the weekend. And why wouldn’t we? This song inspires infectious party enthusiasm for anyone who listens to it. I should probably never listen to this song when I am trying to convince myself to stay in one night, because I wouldn’t even last through the first verse before getting off the couch and putting on some make up. Welcome to your fall party anthem, friends. You’re welcome.


2. A weekend in New Orleans: Panorama Jazz Band at the Spotted Cat Jazz Club

Any self-respecting music fan knows that when you’re going to New Orleans, you’re going to Mecca. You’re going to the place that gave literal birth to the defining genres of contemporary music: jazz and rock n roll. The music seeps into every aspect of New Orleans life, and I loved visiting a culture that was so immersed in its love of music. After all, we’re talking about the city that fostered the rise of everyone from Weezy to Frank Ocean to Big Freedia (and bounce music as a whole).

Naturally, I was ecstatic when the weekend’s plans included a trip to Frenchman St., a strip in the French Quarter that is bursting at the seams with live music venues. We ended up at a place called the Spotted Cat, a place that forever changed my perception of jazz clubs- for the better. At least in New Orleans, the term “jazz club” need not imply stuffy, fancy, old crowds, or expensive drinks. Picture your favorite funky dive bar, but put a small stage at the front and feature extremely talented musicians there every night of the week- free of charge. Needless to say, i was in heaven. Check out Panorama, the band I had the lucky pleasure of seeing on Saturday night.


3. Homecoming weekend in Charlottesville: Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, The Heist

For this particular trip, I’m still in the lead up phase. So, this piece of music gets to play the role of “album I listen to while obsessively day dreaming about Homecoming weekend in Charlottesville.” Homecoming in Charlottesville, home of my alma mater UVA, is always one of my favorite weekends of the year. Thus, I usually need a great piece of music to listen to repetitively in the week prior, for several reasons: to get me excited for the unprecedented amounts of fun I’m about to have while reuniting with my old college friends, and to distract myself to make the week go by faster. And, of course, said music will be played repetitively during the road trip down 29 South, lest I burst with impatience during the drive.

THANKFULLY, Seattle-based white rapper-producer duo Macklemore and Ryan Lewis just dropped a new album that totally fits the bill. The Heist includes songs featuring everyone from Schoolboy Q to Ray Dalton to Eighty4 Fly to Band of Horses.  The whole album is top notch, but a particular stand out track is “Same Love,” a moving tribute to gay marriage, in support of Macklemore’s gay uncles. Macklemore conveys a sense of empathy that is entirely endearing and unexpected, and the input from Mary Lambert is perfect. Yes, I will be listening to this album the entire way to Charlottesville, and the party-ready track below will make more than one appearance during the weekend.

“Thrift Shop”


on deck: el-p, killer mike, and mr. muthafuckin exquire at rock n roll hotel

27 Jun

As much as I love both live music and rap, I’m more hesitant to buy tickets to rap shows than other genres. For one, they run notoriously late and are often unstructured and disorganized. But, more importantly, not all rappers make their name on live performances- the strength of their latest mixtape is more important.

Therefore, it’s especially telling that I would purchase $30 ticket to a rap show on a Sunday night. I’m willing to risk a truly miserable Monday morning for this one:  El-P, Killer Mike, and Mr. Muthafuckin Exquire at Rock n Roll Hotel on July 15.

For long time rap fans, you might think of El-P first and foremost as a producer, second as a label owner, and only third as a performer. However, with his most recent solo release Cancer 4 Cure being hailed as one of the year’s best hip-hop albums, that characterization may change.

It’s tough to describe El-P’s crazy, convoluted, futuristic-robot-meets-Brooklyn-rap-wiz-kid aesthetic without sounding crazy yourself. But rest assured, El-P perfects this aesthetic on Crazy 4 Cure. It’s half aggression, half chest-thumping beats. Beats so dirty that El-P once again proves why dubstep DJs should all credit him as early inspiration. El-P is all at once verbally assaulting his listeners, while cutting loose on tracks that could serve as “futuristic workout anthems for robot soldiers.” (Well-said, Pitchfork).

Equally as exciting, El-P will be performing with two of his most talented cohorts: Killer Mike and Mr. Muthafuckin Exquire. Killer Mike’s latest album, the El-P-produced R.A.P. Music, might even surpass Cancer 4 Cure in my list of “best rap albums of 2012.” Mike is lyrically dexterous with a strong, forceful voice- which is necessary to back up the heavy political themes he tackles on certain tracks, such as “Reagan.”

Check out the tracks below. Buy a ticket. And maybe take it easy that Saturday night.

El-P, “Drones Over Brooklyn”

Killer Mike featuring El-P, “Butane”

Mr. Muthafuckin Exquire, “Huzzah”

two bars three stars: fat trel, “nightmare on e street”

17 Apr

I would normally feel slightly guilty for not reviewing a highly anticipated new mixtape until a few weeks after it drops– however– when said mixtape was slated for release in fall 2011 and has been endlessly hyped for far longer, it’s hard to feel badly about dragging my feet a bit.

Nevertheless, this wouldn’t be a DC music blog worth its chops if I didn’t write about the rapper/social media phenomenon known as Fat Trel. Homegrown in Northeast with the hood mentality to prove it, Trel  is hailed by some as the first messiah of DC hip hop. As I’ve mentioned on the blog previously, it is an oft-debated travesty that, despite all logic, DC has failed to produce a legitimate hip hop super star since… ever, really. (Unless you count Wale and his phony Maryland bullshit, which I don’t).

Now, not everyone (myself included) is fully convinced that Trel will live up to this hype. However, one can’t deny that his flow, street cred, and overall commanding presence are 100% legit. He’s overly aggressive, beyond graphic, immature, and somewhat goonish, but he is undoubtedly an excellent performer with booming delivery that immediately draws your attention. His rhymes are smart and some of his wordplay recalls early Lil Wayne cleverness, even if his subject matter is limited (drugs, hos, guns, repeat).

All of these hints of greatness paired with untapped potential made Trel’s most recent mixtape, Nightmare on E Street, one of the most anticipated releases in recent DC music history. Controversy surrounding Trel’s management and legal troubles delayed the release countless times, which only seemed to amplify the hype. But on March 26, the public finally got to listen to the mixtape Trel’s been tweeting about ~100X a day for months and months. With this extensive piece of work finally in our hands, it seems the only conclusion anyone can come to on Trel is: the jury is still out.

Nightmare displays those same moments of genius that make Trel so intriguing, along with some exciting, well-executed collaborations with big names from the national scene (Big K.R.I.T., for one). However, it is also frustratingly unedited (22 tracks and 1.5 hours long- forreal?!) and at times unfocused. Trel tries his hand at too many different directions, with some clear missteps along the way- most notably toward boneheaded swag rap, such as in “Benning Rd.” (an ode to hood life) or “On Top of Your Girl” (no explanation needed).

Less-than-stellar tracks are inevitable, though (especially among 22 of them), and there are clear gems on this tape; my personal favorites include the menacing, Big K.R.I.T.-produced “Swishers and Liquor,” as well as the “Devil Inside Me.”

My ultimate recommendation, however, for those who are new to Trel: check out his previous tapes first, especially 2011’s April Foolz. They will give you a clearer view of what (we think) Trel is all about. Then listen to Nightmare, but don’t let it make up your mind one way or the other. Then, do as the rest of us are doing: wait and see what he does next. We might have a real superstar on our hands.



“Swishers and Liquor”

weekend roll out: frank ocean, whip appeal (SBTRKT remix)

13 Apr

Happy weekend, yall. I’m sad to report there’s a little less bounce in my step this morning. See, normally by Friday morning my weekend show schedule is pretty; not today. See, I normally never let the jam masters known as Lotus come into town without seeing one or all of their shows. However, I bojangled on buying tickets and now the Saturday show at the 930 club is sold out. What to do, what to do.

However, my Friday buzz was mostly recovered when I found this track. Love Frank Ocean (of Odd Future fame). Love SBTRKT (yet another 930 club regret- but hopefully catching him on the festy circuit this summer). Love SBTRKT remixing Frank Ocean even more. Gold on gold = gold.

Roll out-

Frank Ocean, “Whip Appeal” (SBTRKT remix)

on deck: big freedia at rock n roll hotel

21 Feb

This St. Patrick’s day will be a weird one for me. And weird in two very different, distinctly weird ways, because neither of them involve Guinness. First, I’m running my second half-marathon, the DC Rock N Roll Half-Marathon, for which I am woefully underprepared. Second, I’m seeing bounce DJ extraordinaire Big Freedia tear up Rock n Roll Hotel that night.

Just push play. Semi NSFW.

Now that your mind is appropriately blow, allow me to explain. Big Freedia is a big name in the world of bounce, a New Orleans-based subset of hip-hop with similar characteristics to DC’s beloved go-go. Bounce is extremely energetic and relentlessly fast, but with a gritty feel to lyrics that often center strongly on booty-shaking (especially in Big Freedia’s case). It often involves the call-and-response patterns that characterize go-go as well, but with an energy level unparalleled by any genre.

Big Freedia (aka the Queen Diva, if you ask her), in everything from her style to her music to her sexuality, is a gigantic force to be reckoned with, and she is one of the few bounce artists to gain attention on the national stage beyond New Orleans. She is also part of why bounce is one of the few hip hop communities to accept gender bending and alternative sexual identity as all part of the game.

Regardless of the smoke and mirrors surrounding Big Freedia herself, one only needs to watch video or see pictures of her shows to see that she is nothing short of a magician when it comes to performing. Small clubs are turned into all-out raves with each person in the crowd giving everything they have to keep up with the rapid-fire beat, with varying degrees of success. If DC throws down even 10% like  Brooklyn did when big Freedia came to NY in 2010, then Rock N Roll Hotel will simply never be the same again.

Do some exploring to get a closer look at what this scene and sound are all about- but again, much is NSFW so don’t say I didn’t warn you about the amount of gyrating you’re about to see. Pitchfork produced an excellent video about the singer here, definitely check it out–then buy a ticket to see how DC’s crowd responds to Hurricane Freedia in March.

two bars three stars: happy local music day!

8 Feb

Happy local music day, DC readers! Well, one could argue every day is local music day, but today we have the pleasure of enjoying local music through a monthly organized event. Since October 2011, Listen Local First has partnered with DC businesses to stream a pre-selected playlist of local artists. All day. And today is that day for February. Score.

The day not only involves some of my favorite local businesses (what up, Tryst), but has exposed me to some sweet DC bands I hadn’t listen to previously (what up, Ugly Purple Sweater). If this event couldn’t be any more tailored to my interests, this month’s playlist and accompanying artist showcase focuses heavily on Black artists in honor of Black History Month.

This all culminates in a can’t-miss artist showcase and panel discussion on Thursday, February 9 at The Dunes in Columbia Heights. The panel discussion, “Black Broadway: The Roots of DC Hip Hop,” will include a panel of some serious DC music smarty pants, such as singer/songwriter/actor/poet W. Ellington Felton, Capital Bop Editor Luke Stewart, Blues musician Stacy Brooks, and DJs Alizay and RBI–all under the careful moderation of James Benson and Kokayi, the masterminds behind the DC Hip Hop History Project.

But the piece de resistance of the evening, which I am antsily excited for given the small venue and excellent lineup, is the live showcase featuring Cornel West Theory and Nappy Riddem. These guys represent some of the best hip-hop and funk (respectively) to come out of the District in recent years, and their DC roots truly infiltrate their sound. I’m incredibly stoked to see these up-close-and-personal performances from a group of guys with serious flow and serious funk.

Check out the Listen Local First site for a full list of participating artists and businesses, and their blog for full event info–as well as a piece on Sockets Records written by yours truly.

A taste of what you’ll hear on Thursday:

Nappy Riddem, “Nappy Riddem”

Cornel West Theory, “DC Love Story”

weekend roll out: spank rock, “birfday”

3 Feb

After two years with a barely functioning phone, to the point that hipsters complimented its “vintage charm,” I finally joined the land of iPhone last weekend. What was the very first thing I did when I had that beautiful piece of Apple in my hands? Download the Spotify app, of course.

I’ve been basking in the glory of Spotify premium all week, and my first priority was to listen to a few albums that I had previously only listened to piecemeal out of cheapness. As an iTunes user on a budget, I would often follow this pattern: buy an artist’s key tracks, fall in love, promise myself to listen to the full album later, and sometimes forget.

Spank Rock is one such group. I lurrrrve their stuff with Amanda Blanks and everything on YoYoYoYoYo, but with their newest album, Everything is Boring and Everyone Is a Fucking Liar (great title), I had only delved into the singles (and obviously the Santigold collab, “Car Song,” which I featured on RWR back in January).

Well, I finally listened to the whole thing, and it’s phenomenal. These guys stepped it up. The electro-dance-hip-hop fusion album includes many tracks worthy of a weekend roll out, but I’ll hype the song “Birfday.” Namely because it will instantly make you put on your Friday swag (everyday you should wake up and feel like it’s your birthday, especially on a Friday), and also in honor of a friend’s recent 20-something birthday.