30/04/2019: “Yee” by E-40 featuring Too Short & Bud’da

E-40 never went away; he has always maintained a level of popularity, especially amongst hip hop fans.

In recent years, however, he has experienced something of renaissance, hitting the charts with songs like “Choices” and “Function”…

This is one of his classics. His distinctive style is complemented by fellow rap veteran Too $hort, and Pittsburgh producer Bud’da, who raps on this one.

The tune is built around a simple, slightly intimidating set of piano chords. Then there’s drum loop built out of a slow, militaristic snare roll and a big, big kick drum. The kick drum is actually very bassy. It’s not the sort of bass you hear so much as feel!

The lyrics are engaging, and slightly funny in their own way, boasting of drinking, shooting and cars. A snapshot of an alternative Bay Area lifestyle…

The chorus is a nice singalong one in its own way, with the “Yee!” shout adding a bit of emphasis to a the deep drawl.

“Yee” was released on My Ghetto Report Card, in 2006.

Banger!

29/04/2019: “Center Your Love” by Machinedrum

Machinedrum is an extraordinarily apt name for this artist. On a song like this, the first thing which stands out is the unnaturally frantic scattershot drums, a shattered breakbeat rattling and lashing out.

He is another one of those producers who gets tagged with the IDM label for lack of a better term. But here, the music is clearly bass music in the same vein as Om Unit, with a footwork sound.

The bass is weighty and smooth, booming softly under the canopy of soulful synths and the sultry vocal sample.

The tone is set by the washed out piano stabs, cloaking the song in a warm fog without obscuring the sharp hits of the drum.

There’s also some chilled out guitar picking at points as well. It’s a fast song, but also supremely relaxed.

“Center Your Love” was released on the album Vapor City, in 2013.

Shout out to the guy who plays these drums live!

28/04/2019: “Raindrops” by The Silvertones

The Silvertones exemplify a style of harmony singing which dominated the rocksteady and reggae scenes of the 1960s.

“Raindrops” is more rocksteady than reggae. Rocksteady can be viewed as the intermediary of ska and reggae, smoothing the transition between the fast bounce of ska and the slow step of reggae.

It can be hard to pin down exactly where rocksteady ends and early reggae begins, because the styles are similar. In many ways, rocksteady does just sound like an early form of reggae. The bass is emphasised less, and the drums are more simple.

The lyrics of the song are about love, typical of much of the genre. It takes a lot of influence from the U.S. R’n’B scene in that respect, and also stylistically.

The vocal harmony is the defining feature of the song, but there’s also a nice horn riff!

“Raindrops” was released in 1966, in both Jamaica and the U.K.

Such a sweet song!

27/04/2019: “Down In A Hole” by Alice In Chains

If you say “Seattle” and “Grunge”, most people will naturally think of Nirvana. But there was a whole scene, and one of the other bands to break out in the early 90s were Alice In Chains.

In fairness, Alice In Chains as a band had more of a metal lineage. This makes this song more unusual. When guitarist Jerry Cantrell came up with this, he thought the band might not like it, because it was a bit soft, written as it was for his girlfriend…

However, the band decided to do it, and they did it well. It’s a strange song because it is both depressing and uplifting at the same time. The late Layne Staley is the lead vocalist, but they sing together really well.

The main guitar riff is a simple, yet slightly unnerving progression, adding to the slightly paranoid feeling of the song as a whole.

The song was released in 1992 on the album Dirt.

This song shows their class.

26/04/2019: “Empire State Of Mind (Part II)” by Alicia Keys

Part I of this song is much harder edged, with Jay-Z rapping over the top, and a hip hop beat.

This version places Alicia Keys (and her fantastic voice) in the spotlight, and the production is much more gentle to reflect that. The piano is emphasised too, so that for most of the song it’s just mainly just her vocals and the piano. A drum beat kicks in at the end, and at certain points some light backup vocals enter the scene.

But it’s a song which thrives off Alicia Keys, and although Jay Z’s version was more popular, she proves her worth here.

The lyrics are an upbeat homage to New York City, which presents a more optimistic view of the poverty and violence which blight many of its areas.

The first part of this song was released in 2009; this one was also released in 2009 on Keys’ album The Element Of Freedom, but was only released as a single in 2010 after the huge success it had on the U.K. Singles Chart based on downloads.

Lovely!

25/04/2019: “Guess Who’s Back” by Rakim

Like many hip hop hits, the instrumental is heavily based on another song. This one samples Bob James’ “Shamboozie”, released in 1982. The sample is immediately evident; it’s the infectious progression of horn stabs at the start of both songs.

The short and sharp nature of the hits composing that hook gives it a lot of impact, like jabs from Mike Tyson!

The lyrics are a celebration of the Hip Hop Golden age, and a reflection on Rakim’s own success. It’s a song which is enjoyable more than deep, but sometimes songs like that are needed.

Rakim shot to fame as the MC of MC/DJ duo Rakim and Eric B (usually the other way round!) in the late 80s. The fact that he still found success even as hip hop changed dramatically in the 90s is a testament to his ability.

“Guess Who’s Back” was released in 1997 on the album The 18th Letter, a reference to the letter R, and therefore Rakim.

Feel good vibes!

24/04/2019: “Clap Your Hands” by Slam

Much of the harder, darker techno produced today and in the past tends towards a specific set of sounds, rhythms, and aesthetics. Which is a longer way of saying that the songs all sound the same.

However, I would consider this song a model for the model of techno that I gravitate towards. The 10 minute long tracks consisting of a pulsing bass drum with layered hi hats and the occasional echoing metallic noise have their place, but I like this sort of stomping tune the most.

Slam have a pretty impressive heritage in the techno scene. The duo are fixed within the annals of techno because of the legendary “Positive Education”, released in 1993.

They aren’t from Detroit or Berlin; Slam originate from Glasgow, which has always had a large underground music scene.

“Clap Your Hands” makes use of a Stevie Wonder vocal sample, from 1963’s “Fingertips”. The vocal part acts as an anchor for the bouncing bass and thumping drums. The hi-hats in the song are used sparingly, but with great effect.

This absolute belter was released in 2016, as Vol. 4 of the SOMA Track Series, and saw a physical release the year after.

23/04/2019: “Calling All Stations” by Genesis

Genesis have produced their fair share of stadium filling epics, of which any would be worthy of inclusion on this blog. But this particular song came from a Genesis that was on the way out, devoid of direction and lacking the talismanic presence of Phil Collins.

This is the title track of an album that regularly gets 1 or 2 stars, and is panned by fans and critics alike. In fairness, 1997’s Calling All Stations is a bit of a messy and indulgent affair, trying hard to escape from pop but not really capturing the innovation and brilliance of the early days.

Nevertheless, I really like this song. It threatens to lose its way in the middle, with a frankly embarrassing keyboard section, but then roars into life again courtesy of a soaring guitar solo. It’s undeniably a lush track, and showcases the dark, gritty vocals of Ray Wilson.

The start of the song is an ominous, hard hitting dose of paranoia, crashing into life with a powerful drum beat and a distorted, deep guitar riff.

The lack of success the album had led to the breakup of the band, but I feel that Ray Wilson was never given a chance…

22/04/2019: “All The Things You Are” by Charlie Parker & Dizzy Gillespie

This one is another Jazz standard, with a bewildering array of covers and takes. So bewildering, in fact, that there are multiple versions with Charlie Parker, making it hard to figure out what the version I wanted to write about was!

However, I have ascertained that this is the 1945 version with Dizzy Gillespie, rather than the longer 1953 version with Dizzy or the 1947 “Bird Of Paradise” version with Miles Davis (Bird was Parker’s nickname).

The original was written in 1939 by Jerome Kern, paired with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. It was a ’30s pop number for a musical, Very Warm For May.

This version retains much of the heartwarming charm of the original, but introduces the spectacular trumpet and saxophone of Gillespie and Parker. It kicks off with a lurching piano, before dissolving into a medley of melodious horns and some excellent guitar playing.

The middle even sees one of the band members humming along to the bassline, a lovely touch!

This was one of the songs released in 1945 on Savoy records, and set the tone for the piece as a Jazz standard.

21/04/2019: “Babylon (Dub Mix)” by Kode9

Kode9 is a figure who was a core part of the genesis of dubstep, but whose increasingly eclectic experimentation has led him into his own niche of bass music.

Although these days, the music Kode9 produces draws heavily influence from footwork and ambient styles, the music he used to make was typical early dubstep: bass heavy, dubbed out, and rhythmically diverse.

Many of his songs were vocalled by frequent collaborator, the late and great dread poet Spaceape, who tragically died of cancer in 2014. This is no exception, except that only the dub mix is released, so the vocals are sporadic.

However, as far as I know, the vocals from this song are on “Sine Of The Dub”, from the seminal 2006 album Memories Of The Future. That version has no drums, but is essentially the same spaced out groove.

This means that the songs share the same genealogy, as a cover of a Prince song, “Sign O’ The Times”, although you wouldn’t know it from the first glance!

The track is led by a syncopated sub bass, and similarly disjointed drums. Over that, the crumbling foundations of a reggae tune echo and fade away.

“Babylon” was released in 2004, on the now legendary Tempa Allstars Vol. 2.