Tag Archives: feature

Blitz the Ambassador Uses Hip-Hop to Make Crucial Global Connections

Blitz

Photos by Robert Winter

Six albums into his globe-trotting career, Ghanaian-born rapper Blitz the Ambassador has finally discovered a depth and breadth in his voice and style that allows him funnel his experiences into the music he makes. His latest release, Diasporadical, adopts a modern and globalized style, blending the struggles of African-evolved people worldwide and an awareness of musical history with boom-bap beats and breaks. By doing so, he’s helping to advance rap music, giving it a worldwide viewpoint that’s perfectly suited to our modern, everyone-is-connected moment.

“I’m everywhere but nowhere at the same time,“ Blitz says. “My personal evolution has evolved from making Ghanaian music, to making hip-hop based Ghanaian music in New York City. Then I toured the world after my first albums, and I gained a sense that hip-hop culture was a global phenomenon. Now, I’m gaining an urgency in my message. Because the world is shifting, and socio-political commentary is becoming more important than ever before. People need to find the connection to the global hip-hop diaspora. I’m not on a label, I wasn’t on a schedule, and I took my time to make the best record possible.”

Continue reading

Bobby Brown’s “Prayers of a One-Man Band” is a Cracked Pop Masterpiece

Bobby Brown

“So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.” So says Hunter S. Thompson, memorably summing up the demise of the spirit of the ‘60s in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. What Thompson couldn’t have known in the early ‘70s, though, was the way that broken wave of hippie aesthetics would distribute its flotsam and jetsam to unexpected places and times. Enter Bobby Brown (not formerly of New Edition, not Mr. Whitney Houston), an erstwhile utopian California mystic whose complete discography, three records recorded in Hawaii in the ‘70s and ‘80s, is both a perfect snapshot of the dimming sunlight of the hippie era’s psychedelic folk influence on pop and a deeply personal expression; his albums were mostly self-released. Austin Leonard Jones, fellow folk oddity and spiritual seeker, launched his new imprint Del Rio Records and Tapes, partly with the goal of seeing Brown’s cracked pop masterpiece, Prayers of a One Man Band, back in print.

Brown himself is a reclusive figure, living in a house he inherited from his father in Reno, Nevada (that breaking hippie wave washed that far), and we weren’t able to reach him directly for this writing. But, fortunately, Jones was forthcoming as to how he found Prayers in the first place and his quest to see it re-released, tracking down a figure that even the most informed obscurantist musical obsessives had assumed was unreachable. Continue reading

Ray Volpe’s Emotional Dubstep

Ray Volpe

At a Guitar Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, Ray Volpe is scoping out equipment that he wants (a mini keyboard) and the items he’d rather skip (speakers with insufficient bass). Traditionally, Guitar Center is a prime location to witness wannabe guitar heroes flex their control over 16th notes. But the dubstep producer skips past the stringed instruments; he’s listening for the electronic crunches made by kids using the store’s equipment to stretch their production muscles. Volpe is only 19, but is already seven years deep as a producer—years beyond messing with a Guitar Center demo kiosk. Eventually, he makes his way over to a trio of younger teens he finds working on a demo, their beats far more rap-influenced than the emotional dubstep that is Volpe’s specialty. He plays them some of his own music and strikes up a conversation, trying to assess how serious these kids are about production. As it turns out, they’re serious enough to agree to exchange some beats with him.

Earlier in the day, Volpe explained what brought him to producing. “I used to edit Call of Duty montages,” he says. “Which is really lame, thinking back—but that was my shit.” It was through those YouTube gameplay compilations that Volpe discovered the music of dubstep producers like Big Chocolate, Dirtyphonics, and Skrillex. Eventually, the soundtracks began to speak to him more than the game.

Continue reading

The Half-Century Road to Michael Chapman’s “50”

Michael Chapman

Photos by Constance Mensh.

“I’ve never been a folk singer, ever,” Michael Chapman insists. “People call me that because I play acoustic guitar, but it’s nowhere near the truth.” Chapman’s avoidance of the “f” word didn’t stop him from taking his rightful place among the late-‘60s/early-‘70s vanguard of acoustic-guitar-wielding British singer-songwriters, though—and the peerage of Bert Jansch, John Martyn, and Nick Drake isn’t exactly shabby company.

While Chapman’s work hasn’t given him as high a profile as his peers, his perseverance as an artist has paid its own dividends. His music has been having something of a renaissance over the last several years, via a series of reissues and new releases. His latest, 50, commemorates his half-century as a touring musician, featuring vital new versions of older tunes as well as some striking new songs, with the accompaniment of a new generation of Chapman acolytes. Five decades down the road, Jansch, Martyn, and Drake have all left us, but at 75, Chapman remains a force to be reckoned with.

The Yorkshireman’s entrée into the music world was an inauspicious one. “I couldn’t stand my history teacher in high school,” he recalls, “so I conned my mother into buying me a guitar, and I used to sit in the back of the classroom playing the guitar to annoy him. Not the best reason, I know.” Whatever his impetus, Chapman eventually came to realize he’d found his calling, and he started soaking up the influences of blues and jazz guitar greats. “Big Bill Broonzy was a huge influence,” he states, “and after that, I got into a lot of the blues guys. Then, when I got into jazz I was a Django Reinhardt fanatic. I used to learn all the Reinhardt solos, and pretend they were mine. I gradually progressed into Kenny Burrell and Wes Montgomery and Grant Green and people like that. I’m still looking for guitar players to listen to. I find them endlessly fascinating.”

Continue reading

RPM Records: The Voices of Indigenous Visibility and Resurgence

rpm-records-600-1

Illustration for RPM by Jordan Bennett.

“It began as a way to celebrate the creativity coming from the community,” says Jarrett Martineau, a Nêhiyaw (Plains Cree), Dene Suline artist-scholar, media-maker and storyteller from Frog Lake First Nation in Alberta, Canada. He’s speaking about the development of the digital platform Revolutions Per Minute in 2011, and how this digital platform facilitated the 2016 development of RPM Records and the concert series RPM Live. “But it was also important,” he adds, “that it have some kind of ‘coolness’ factor.”

Martineau, who also holds a Ph.D. in Indigenous Governance, initially conceived of the project as a digital complement to the work of Derek Miller, a Six Nations blues musician who was having difficulty breaking through to non-indigenous audiences. But the site quickly evolved into a natural space for indigenous artists to gather and start a dialogue. Since so many of the artists featured on the site worked in remote locations, they could come together on the site in a way that they couldn’t physically, other than a few times a year at festivals.

rpm-jarrettmartineau-600-3

Jarrett Martineau.

Both RPM.fm and RPM Records have had to respond to a variety of challenges over the years, including “inhabiting that dual base of wanting to serve our own community but not wanting to build a border or a wall around it.” As an example, he cites the award-winning DJ/Producer/VJ trio A Tribe Called Red, who in 2014 chose not to be considered in the “aboriginal category” of the Juno Awards [Canada’s equivalent of Grammys] and went on that year to win “Breakthrough Group” instead. “That’s part of the challenge of what we’ve been doing,” Martineau explains, “trying to break down some of those ways in which ‘Indigenous music’ is still being relegated to a genre or a category.”

Continue reading