Tag Archives: Hip-Hop

Floco Torres Breaks Up With His Old Habits

Floco Torres

Photo by Maryann Bates.

Perhaps more than any other style of popular music, hip-hop puts a high level of importance on regional pride and a sense of place. These days, it seems like there isn’t an inhabited place on Earth that doesn’t have a rap scene. Still, perhaps there’s a lingering sense that artists who emerge outside of hip-hop epicenters like Atlanta, New York, and L.A. are a little behind the curve. Whether that’s actually the case or not, rappers like Floco (pronounced “flock-oh”) Torres prove that out-of-the-way places also boast their share of inventive hip-hop. For some, being isolated can lead to innovation. When there’s less of an established local sound to rely on, you have less to lose by thinking outside the box.

It’s hard to pinpoint how much of Torres’s creative individuality stems from geography, but his abundant discography bears evidence to his insistence on choosing his own path. Originally from southern New Jersey just outside of Philadelphia, Torres spent seven years based in Macon, GA—about an hour from both Atlanta and Athens—before moving to Akron, OH in 2016. Equally inspired by the likes of St. Vincent and Tame Impala as the Philly-area hip-hop he heard growing up, Torres’s range of influences expanded dramatically in Macon’s familial music community, where it’s common for artists from multiple genres to play on the same bills.

Floco Torres

Photo by Brandon Everett Thompson.

At various points, Torres has recorded and toured with what he calls his Big Band—essentially a rock outfit playing hip-hop. On his new EP, Again (his 22nd release in a voluminous body of work that also includes over 600 unreleased songs), he manages to keep his sound fresh and vital. With its rolling piano loop and soulful falsetto hook (which was sampled from Meiko’s “I Can’t Tell”), leadoff single “You!,” recalls the playfulness of De La Soul’s genre-defining early work with producer Prince Paul. But the personality behind the music belongs to Torres.

Easily one of the most cheerful-sounding breakup songs ever made, “You!” reflects Torres’s knack for observing life in a dry, naturally complex way that can be simultaneously cutting and refreshing. When he chides his former lover for “playing the victim,” he’s direct without sounding malicious. He also includes several compliments, and leaves the door open for a reunion, perfectly summing up the mixed feelings that can follow separation.

As it turns out, that song is not simply about a romantic breakup. We spoke with Torres about the song’s true subject, and the importance of following your own musical path, as he was preparing for his ninth year as a youth music education counselor at the Otis Redding Foundation’s OTIS Music Camp.

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The Cosmic Consciousness of Shabazz Palaces’ Ishmael Butler

Shabazz Palaces

Photo by Victoria Kovios.

For more than two decades, MC and producer Ishmael Butler has built a diverse and challenging body of work, exploring the nuances and potentialities of Black American music. In the early ‘90s, he helped infuse hip-hop with deep jazz sensibilities and Marxist philosophy as a member of the Grammy-winning rap trio Digable Planets. He spent part of the 2000s diving deeply into minimalistic psychedelic funk with the band Cherrywine. And as frontman of the avant-garde hip-hop duo Shabazz Palaces, Butler’s practice of open experimentation and exploration continues. Working in Los Angeles and back at home in Seattle, the group has created two separate but complementary albums to be released together: Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star and Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines. Both are the products of this adventurous approach to music making. From the rolling, bass-heavy soul groove of “Shine a Light” to the minimal electronic percussion and glittering synths of “Julian’s Dream (Ode to a Bad),” both albums traverse a broad sonic territory, inviting in guests like producer Erik Blood, singer/bassist Thundercat, and The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas.

We spoke with Butler from his homebase in Seattle, where he discussed this ambitious body of work, how he blends the concrete sensibilities of hip-hop with the outermost regions of space, and why both lend to his music’s complete and cosmic whole.

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Album of the Day: Lando Chill, “The Boy Who Spoke to the Wind”

Forty-plus years into its history, hip-hop has seen no shortage of producers and MCs who march to their own beat, so to speak. Today, we can point to new or recent albums by envelope-pushing artists like Run The Jewels, JJ Doom, Shabazz Palaces, Quelle Chris, and others as hallmarks of a creative climate that’s rife with out-of-the-box thinking. And with hip-hop’s international reach more prevalent than ever, the genre’s capacity to absorb outside influences appears limitless.

It says a lot, then, that Lando Chill’s third full-length, The Boy Who Spoke to the Wind, sounds as inventive as it does. Where Chill’s previous two full-lengths and EP hewed closer to your typical soul-rap fusion, the new album immediately announces itself as the most richly varied work of the Tucson-based rapper/poet’s career to date. This time, Chill and returning producer/multi-instrumentalist Lasso take a quantum leap forward, arguably bringing the alternative hip-hop paradigm along for the ride.

This is all the more remarkable considering that Chill, whose real name is Lance Washington, didn’t grow up as an especially avid fan of rap music. Instead, he had a much deeper affinity for jazz and classical, which shows in his emphasis on timbre, as well as in the way he frequently foregoes beats for free-form atmospheres. A haunting piano loop, for example, anchors “o sicario e o padre” (Portuguese for “the hit man and the priest”). The song does contain a rather stock, minimal hip-hop beat, but the piano, which is fragmented and heavily smeared in reverb, lands the music closer to the moody stillness of, say, the electronic duo Lamb than to Chill’s alt-rap contemporaries.

A less imaginative artist more focused on keeping up with trends might have thrown in some trap elements, but Chill and Benbi, the track’s producer, clearly weren’t interested in taking the easy way out. Instead, they let the beat drop out in the song’s ambient-leaning middle section, where Lando trades in his rapid-fire flow for a more melodic delivery that’s treated with effects for a touch of surrealism. As spare as it gets, “o sicario” is a gripping, utterly sumptuous piece of music—just one of several in a sprawling track sequence that unfolds more like a suite than a grouping of 15 disparate tracks.

Much like on Joni Mitchell’s 1975 landmark The Hissing of Summer Lawns, jazz functions as a departure point on The Boy Who Spoke to the Wind, so that the music is no longer quite recognizable as jazz. The album also strains against the limits of hip-hop. Dense and challenging, The Boy Who Spoke to the Wind doesn’t digest easily in one sitting, at least not at first. But Lando Chill and company reward their listeners and fellow artists alike—not to mention rap music as a whole—for the patience their new music demands.

—Saby Reyes-Kulkarni

DJ Harrison Draws on ’70s Funk & Soul to Build Vibrant Beat Masterpieces

DJ Harrison

For nearly a decade the producer, engineer, drummer, pianist, bassist, and guitarist born Devonne Harris has been making songs the old-fashioned way—largely sample-free and recorded straight to tape. A graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University’s jazz studies program, DJ Harrison’s prolific catalogue spans fuzzy Sly Stone tributes, 1960s revivalist jazz, slick Voodoo-era soul, dusty loops steeped in the tradition of Pete Rock and Dilla, and the “garage-punk-jazz-funk” of his band Butcher Brown. He approaches this synthesis of the last century of Black American music as a dedicated student––always seeking out new inspiration, always dissecting, and never mistaking what’s shiny and new for what’s best.

He owes this approach to his music-obsessed mother and radio DJ father, as well as his hometown, Richmond, Virginia––a deeply historically black city that’s home to the Jackson Ward neighborhood, once called the “Harlem of the South.” Harris still resides in Richmond, where he’s part of a thriving hip-hop community, and lives with his bandmates in a house-turned-communal-recording-studio called Jellowstone, and doesn’t plan on moving anytime soon.

On June 16, Harris released the beat tape HazyMoods, his debut on Stones Throw Records. We spoke about his process, getting signed, and how his hometown made him the musician he is today.

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Ka5sh Makes Their Own Hip-Hop Mythos

Ka5sh

Barring extraordinary connections (and money), the rise to celebrity plays out more slowly in real life than in the rapid-cut montages of aspirational biopics. Whenever Ka5sh walks around downtown Los Angeles, pink-tinted sunglasses glinting in the coastal sun, they’re half hoping a Hollywood power broker leaps out at them and says, “Hey, you wanna be in this movie we’re filming right now? Here’s a million dollars!”

It hasn’t happened yet. Until it does, they’re making due with a smaller level of renown. One night, a friend uploaded a video of Ka5sh dabbing to Papa Roach at Emo Nite, a nostalgic L.A. club night celebrating music the creators listened to in high school. Over the next month, 10,000 people found Ka5sh’s Instagram through the video, and followed them for their bizarre visual jokes about pop culture they’d begun posting at friends’ urging. (Our phone conversation had to be rescheduled from our original appointment when Ka5sh ended up hanging out with a llama at Eric Andre’s birthday party). “You can just be extremely Internet-famous overnight because someone famous likes you,” they say.

Whether you’re familiar with them or not, Ka5sh is Internet-famous. They’ve used their ability to make hilarious and relatable images (often on serious topics like internalized racism, stress, and abandonment) as well as their first high-profile cosign to score gigs creating content for organizations like No Jumper, Pizza Slime, and Interscope. You’ve likely seen their “I fuck with the vision fam let’s build” meme, which flamed, “white guys with cornrows and dreads wearing Supreme being lame as hell,” and added a new catchphrase to the lexicon.

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