Sunday, December 4, 2011

Watch The Throne Tour Review

Kanye and Jay-Z

by Chris Chhoeun

“You are now watching the throne!”

All night, these words bellowed through Mohegan Sun Arena. Jay-Z and Kanye West, arguably the two biggest rappers in the industry today, refer to themselves as rap royalty and on November 18 in Uncasville CT, the duo put on the type of show that only kings could produce.

The two truly are the top dogs at what they do. From the start, they showed how they are masterminds when it comes to sampling other artists in their own music.

Take Michael Jackson’s “P.Y.T (Pretty Young Thing)”, for instance. The DJs played a short of it, which led into Kanye’s “Good Life”. The song “D.A.N.C.E” originally written by Justice proceeded before Jay-Z broke into “On to the Next One.” Mind-melting.

While waiting for the show to begin, the audience was serenaded with soul and Motown tunes from the 1970s; tracks that Jay-Z and Kanye handpicked themselves.

Appropriately, the music of Al Green, Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye were featured here. Both rappers have said this music was very influential to them early on, and it was right that this music would set the stage for their performance.

A whole two hours after the doors had first opened, the lights went out, and West took the main stage and Jay-Z appeared the back of the arena.

The openers, “H.A.M” and “Who Gon Stop Me” featured both on top of cube-like platforms that slowly raised them several feet above the concert floor. Separated by the length of the entire arena and a sea of screaming fans, Hova and Ye furiously spat verses at each other for two tracks before finally backing down.

Leading into the next track, a recording of Otis Redding belting out “Try a Little Tenderness” entertained the crowd while larger-than-life sized American flag slowly dropped on the main stage.

Jay-Z along side with Kanye burst onto the main stage together for the first time of the night to perform the soulful “Otis”. A second grand entrance.  Blazes of fire shot out of the stage on the downbeat of each bar as the two went head-to-head in front of a sold out crowd.

Dull moments were hard to be found during this particular show, for each rapper took turns in performing the biggest hits from each of their catalogs.

After a few more songs from Watch the Throne, Kanye took the stage solo, reviving old singles from earlier in his storied career. He relentlessly blasted through “Flashing Lights”, “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” and “Jesus Walks”.

“Hard Knock Life”, “Izzo”, “Empire State of Mind” and “Dirt Off Your Shoulders” were all hits from the Jiggaman’s repertoire.

Despite being long-time friends and working together since Jay-Z’s 2001 release “The Blueprint”, stylistically the two are very different. Jay’s huge stage presence and over-zeal mixed with Kanye’s highly emotional and energetic character combined for the perfect one-two punch.

All senses were engaged during this show. It wasn’t all showgirls and flashing lights; a big highlight coming when Kanye, atop a Rihanna-red cube rising 30 feet above the ground, sang an auto-tuned “Heartless” and “Runaway”.

The charisma of them both, particularly Jay-Z, was domineering. Some might view them as overly self-confident, yet this Mohegan Sun crowd simply could get enough as the rappers repeatedly roared, “You are all witnesses of history. You are now watching the throne!”

No opening act. No guest appearances. Not even a full band. There was no need for all of the former. Just two of hip hop’s greatest, in their prime, microphones in hand, storming the stage.

It was the show of the decade. If you’re on the west coast, I highly recommend you catch the second half of the tour.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Jay-Z and the 1%

"I'm not a businessman I'm a business, man."

Jay-Z's words could not ring truer in the face of his recent controversial release, which has critics up in arms.
Its not a new album or music video.  Instead, his new line of t-shirts has drawn a lot of media attention and fan criticism.

The 'Occupy All Streets' T-shirt, which capitalizes on the 'Occupy Wall Street' gathering, was sold on Rocawear's website for $22.  The catch?  All proceeds go straight into Jay-Z's pockets, not to the Occupy movement.  Considering the recent music video 'Otis' portrayed the money-loving rapper ripping apart an almost $400,000 car, many fans and protestors alike have criticized Jay-Z.

The T-shirt was taken off the website, yet Jay-Z has not released a statement about the controversy.

Watch the Throne, Jay-Z and Kanye's recent release, has amazing hits and absolutely crowns these rappers as kings of their industry.  The album, however, comes at a time when the public has little taste for the absurdly wealthy.  Kanye's appearance at the Occupy movement was awkwardly funny.  These kings need to take their crowns off and connect with their fans, before it is too late.

In the words of journalist Mark Whittington, "In effect, the rapper has found a way to commit capitalism by capitalizing on an anti-capitalist movement.  One can do naught but salute Jay-Z.  He is making equal parts money and irony." 

Gambino: No Longer Childish

By Ryan Walsh

It was a hot, sweaty night at the House of Blues, and the air was thicker than the rims of the Ray-Bans that littered the crowd. Funnyman Donald Glover had no jokes for the hipster masses this evening. 

The seriousness with which Childish Gambino took his performance was a sharp contrast to his shenanigans on NBC's Community. His set list was a gradual progression of songs from all phases of his career, highlighting the evolution of his own style. The majority of songs on his Camp tour were from his upcoming album of the same name.

Despite the fact that the majority of Gambino's earlier work did not originally include a full band, Gambino performed his earlier work accompanied by a full band as comfortably as the originals. The presence of live instruments created intriguing reinterpretations of crowd favorites like "Freaks and Geeks". In his homage to Adele's "Rolling in the Deep", Gambino enlisted John Legend to rerecord Adele's original vocals.

Although his time in the rap arena has been relatively short, Gambino's dramatic background transposed well into showmanship. In his song "You See Me", Gambino recited a chain of unrelenting references with a synthesis of stimuli both audio and visual. Against a backdrop of his own lyrics, Gambino assaulted the mic, spewing at a speed comparable to Twista and Busta Rhymes. Gambino is quick to flex his verbal skill to confirm that he is indeed "a black star/ in a black car/ with a black card". 

What separates Gambino, however, from other punchline rappers is his ability to use finesse over the English language to convey lewd messages. Language like "She's an overachiever, cause all she do is suck seed," is infinitly more resonant than a crude oral sex reference.

While Gambino has by no means abandoned his infatuation for whiskey and Asian women, his new album CAMP begins to explore deeper emotional issues. Gambino's style has evolved from reciting a string of cultural witticisms  to using these references to bring an unparalleled sense of realism to his stories. Gambino is definitely not the first rapper to explore teenage struggles and holes in the familial infrastructure, but Camp's untraditional, non-hood approach to these issues are easily accessible to the suburban youth comprising his fanbase.

 In his song "L.E.S.", Gambino illustrates a story about his drug-addicted uncle jeopardizing the safety of his family by stealing drugs. Rather than reveling in drug dealing and being hardened by the street, Gambino recognizes that these are scary issues. Gambino also conveys the emotional stresses of his mother working two jobs to put him through school at NYU. Throughout the myriad of experiences in the song, the listener can't help put identify with these real-word, accessible issues, both hood and not.

Gambino riddles these anecdotes with analogies that tailor to the twentysomethings who bask in Gambino's cultural references. By telling stories we can identify with in a manner we can identify with, Gambino earns his spot as the top rapper for the suburban youth. Let's be honest, I can identify a lot more with E.E. Cummings than doing PCP. Gambino recognizes that. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Red Hot Chili Peppers - Brendan's Death Song

by Chris Chhoeun

Following a two year hiatus after a world tour in 2006,  the L.A rockers Red Hot Chili Peppers dropped their tenth studio album I’m With You.

Since long-time friend and guitarist John Frusciante left the band for personal reasons in 2009, the band joined with then 29 year old Josh Klinghoffer.

They immediately hit it off on the right foot, Klinghoffer saying “From day one, there was love, and that’s what you hear on the record.”

Brendan’s Death Song is one that caught my attention right away-- A lone melodic finger-picked guitar intro is a rare find as far as Chili Peppers songs go.

The song is a ballad and written for Brendan Mullen, a long-time friend of the band who had died just as the Chili Peppers began to write new material in 2009. Mullen died suddenly of a stroke.

Mullen’s first encounter with the Chilis came in 1983 when he booked to the band to play at Club Lingerie. Flea credits Mullen to be one of first real supporters of the Chili Peppers music.

“It’s a celebration,” said Kiedis.

The band is tight and on it’s game here, clearly focused on this homage. They build up slowly throughout the entirety of the track.

Kiedis’s vocals are particularly excellent in this song, easily hitting the notes on the higher end of his register throughout each verse.

The progression of guitar chords in the verses, combined with Kiedis’s melody line that seems to float effortlessly over Klinghoffer’s acoustic, come together with such, as cheesy as it sounds, beauty.

“And when you hear this you’ll know it’s your jam, it’s your goodbye.”

After about a minute of Kiedis and Klinghoffer serenading us, Flea and Smith slowly come in the background and lead to the chorus.

“Like I said, you know I’m almost dead, you know I’m almost gone.”

When I first heard this chorus, it literally gave me goosebumps. Kiedis gives it all he has, singing the tribute to Brendan. He’s not afraid of what’s going to come next after life; it’s a song less about fear and more about acceptance and resolution.

It’s kind of reminiscent of the way Kieidis and Flea used to live when they were younger, without a care of what anyone thought about them.

After the first chorus, the song continues into the second verse with the entire band playing, unlike most of the first when it was just axe and vocals.

Klinghoffer’s high-pitched background vocals eerily accompany Kiedis for this verse, and an eerie vibe that Mullen is singing the back vox.

After another round of the chorus, they go into an instrumental interlude of heavy, distorted eighth notes before powering into the final chorus and outro.

Kiedis is singing his heart out; I’ve literally never heard him hit notes so high on the staff. It’s like a final goodbye huzzah, very appropriate since Brendan passed only a few days after his 60th birthday.

“Let me live so when it’s time to die, even the reaper cries.”

The song slows and fades, with the the guitar ending on a glooming E minor chord; Brendan’s last moments of life before he stops breathing.

The melody sticks in your head like American cheese. If you haven’t already, I suggest giving the whole I’m With You a good listen.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Minus the Bear - Into the Mirror

by Chris Chhoeun

About to embark on a 10 year anniversary tour, five-piece American rock group Minus the Bear is a band that, without mainstream success, are already veterans on the indie rock scene.

With the 2010 record Omni, they aimed to capture their live energy onto the album. Since losing keyboardist/producer Matt Bayles and signing to a new label, the band focused Omni to be a mix of the dancey vibes from Highly Refined Pirates (2002) with the darker, heart-heavy lyrics of Planet of Ice (2007).

A good friend turned me on to these guys with the song “Into the Mirror”, and I’ve been hooked on their catchy melodies all summer long.

The song begins with a series of full-band hits, followed by a a light guitar triples that give the listener a falling effect. After a few bars of only drums and keys, the entire band comes in softly with long, sustained chords as the keys continue with the dissonant evenly spaced eighths. The combination of the two is hauntingly beautiful.

What I love about this track is how those two clashing sounds, erie 1970s Keith Jarrett- like sounds on the keys dominating over carefully layered guitar backing, fit so well with each other.

For an entire forty clicks, they slowly set the scene for vocalist Jake Snider to come with the first verse.

“They got a mirror for the ‘caine in the bathroom because nobody here knows when to stop/ But for now we’re just making out with door unlocked..”

The verse introduces us to a relationship between a man, who deals cocaine, and a woman, who does sexual favors for this man in return for cocaine. This man has strong feelings for her, and does not know he is being used.

The discrepancy is that the woman is in relationship with a different man. Snider refers to them as the “late crowd”, those who continue partying and substance abuse beyond good limits.

Unison hits from the intro bring the band back together for the chorus.

“You get what you pay for/ we could cost a lot/ you get what you pay for/ but we do it for the taste of a good high/ we do it for the sake of a hot night.”

The story continues with the second verse and chorus.
The song takes a turn as two lone guitar harmonies bring us into a dream-like bridge section. Rachel Flotard, guest singing on the track, serenades us with her elegant melody.

“She senses the fear in him, with an irresistible kiss and a lie she hangs on his neck like a silver chain to her whim. Pull him into the mirror again.”

As the axe rhythms begin to quicken and take over, and the drums follow suit. The following part features a wah-driven guitar solo and an off beat double hat rhythmic drum pattern. It’s comes together in this very chaotic yet graceful balance, representative of the situation at hand.

After Flotard hits us again during the hullaballoo, and the track concludes by leading back to the main keys riff, and we feel like we’ve awoken from a dream, like we’ve come down from a good high.

The track “Animal Backwards,” is synth-heavy second part of the story. It chugs along with the same keys line, and the very powerful “Caught in the pull of your green eyed glow/ I want to feel my skin in the snow,” the snow being the cocaine that all three depend upon.

For best listening, I recommend bumping “Into the Mirror” loudly while driving alone at night. Like me, you’ll find yourself inadvertently belting out the chorus.