Friday, November 9, 2007

What's rocking my stereo at the moment...

Common - "The People"
This is everything that is good about urban music. Common's usual socially insightful rapping and a smooth chorus from Dwele (my fave R&B crooner at the moment) would make any track a winner. But it is the production by Kanye West that elevates "The People" to classic status. I haven't been too enamoured with Kanye's solo work recently, with its too-obvious samples and lacklustre lyrics, but his collaborations with Common bring out the best in both of them. Here Kanye lifts a few inconsequential portions of an old Gil Scott-Heron track and flips it all into a tune that is both maddeningly catchy yet timeless and soulful. And damn if Com doesn't cut a fine figure in this video, he looks and sounds every inch the magnetic black leader. It's great stuff.

Donnie - "If I Were You"
Coming out as gay is career suicide for a black R&B artist. This is particularly tragic for an singer like Donnie, whose debut album "The Colored Section" is one of the few truly great soul albums of this new century, and who is the kind of singer whose pure artistry, in a more just world, could lift his genre out of the generally poor state it's currently in. I'm still not so sure about his new album "The Daily News", but this track from it is a killer. As ever, he evokes the spirit of Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway in a bouncy feelgood track of glorious harmonies and sunny horns, with an inspiring message. Just makes me wanna hug someone.

The Verve - "One Day"
I have yet to find someone who agrees with me, but I have always felt that The Verve's "Urban Hymns" from 1997 is one of the 10 greatest albums ever. And putting aside its well-known big hits, it is full of amazing songs like "One Day". Richard Ashcroft's world-weary yet hopeful vocal combined with Nick McCabe's fantastic guitar work and some deeply resonant psychedelic production result in a track that everyone should be singing.

Big L - "No Endz, No Skinz"
This is the kind of song I feel bad about liking, since it covers the well-worn misogynist idea in hiphop that women are just out for yo' money. But if you are gonna do such a song, you may as well do it right, and this is how it's done: classic NY ruff beats and jazzy samples, infectious chant-along chorus and Big L's unparalleled knack for one-liners. Big L's shooting death in 1999 at the age of 24 meant that he never achieved the stardom he deserved, but the album this song came from, "Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous", is regarded as a true classic by anyone who knows hiphop.

Fat Freddy's Drop - "Based on a True Story" album
It took a while to grow on me, but that's the kind of music this is. New Zealand's premier exponents of dub reggae and soul create a sound that is entirely their own, which eases its way into your consciousness until it is stuck there. Perhaps not coincidentally, it was only once the warm weather kicked in and I could cruise around with this in the car stereo that I started to appreciate how good these guys are. Pacific Islanders have an uncanny affinity with black vocal musics (gospel, soul, hiphop and reggae), and one of the pleasures of this album is Dallas Tamaira's effortless croon. Like the rest of the band he eschews aping Caribbean sounds for something more truly NZ in nature, and the result is a sly, groovy, addictive brew.

Naturally 7 - "In the Air Tonight" (live on the Paris subway)

If you haven't caught this on youtube yet, you should stay home more. There's little I can say about this accapella group, other than that they are simply amazing. Oh, and check for the one dude in the crowd who just doesn't appreciate being in the middle of an incredible experience. He's hilarious to look at.

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