Tag Archives: Hip-Hop

On the Come Up in Music City: Rising Rap and Soul in Nashville

Rising Rap and Soul in Nashville

Jota Ese, Saaneah, & Kyshona Armstrong. Illustrations by Brandon Celi.

Though it’s historically well-known for its country music scene, Nashville, Tennessee isn’t just the town of honky-tonks and the Grand Ole Opry. With indie labels like Infinity Cat and Nervous Nelly Records providing a showcase for punk and rock, and with Americana and folk lining the rosters of Jack White’s Third Man Records and Dualtone, Nashville these days is truly Music City, writ large. Pop aficionados can also find a place here, as well as anyone interested in hip-hop and R&B. It’s those last two genres that have seen the biggest growth lately, as former residents of LA and NYC flock to the city, and established locals can finally find both collaborators and an audience to help support their craft.

Growing up with gospel music in the church, DeRobert Adams, of the G.E.D. Soul Records band DeRobert & The Half-Truths, moved to Nashville’s sister city Murfreesboro in 2000, home of MTSU, where he joined his first band. He’s been making music ever since. G.E.D. Soul has been one of the hardest-working labels in Nashville for the last decade, producing, recording, and distributing funk, soul, and R&B tracks, mostly via the label’s Poor Man Studios in north Nashville. Boasting what the label calls an “analog aesthetic,” the records feel like lost gems dug out of a dusty stack of retired jukebox 45s. Label owner Nicholas DeVan says “Country is still the main attraction, but there’s always been an enormous amount of non-country music being recorded and performed here. I would say that we are seeing a different type of person being in the music scene here, lots of LA folks and musicians from other cities. I feel like Nashville has always been a destination for musicians that need a more low key city than LA or New York; people come here to lose the big city vibe.”

Continue reading

Sango Mixes Baile Funk and R&B For a Fresh New Sound

Sango

As Sango spun through his set at U Street Music Hall in Northwest D.C., his relatively calm stage demeanor was a sharp contrast to the energy of the crowd that was watching him. The venue was dim, but the stage lights caught silhouettes on the 1,200-square-foot dance floor dancing joyfully to the mix. From “Infinidade” through “Na Hora,” the room roared ecstatically at the appearance of every new song.

At first listen, Sango’s music sounds like it’s plucked directly from a favela in Rio de Janeiro; many of his compositions contain heavy traces of baile funk. But dig a little deeper, and a vast array of influences start working their way to the surface—heavy bass kicks, quick snares, and cleverly-assembled samples of classic R&B tracks. It’s territory that was mostly uncharted before Sango started exploring it on Da Rochina. That cross-genre splicing is now a key characteristic of his work.

After seven years of critically-acclaimed projects—including North and Da Rochina 2, as well as work with artists like Bryson Tiller, Tinashe, Kaytranada, and Goldlink—Sango has become one of the most prolific artists of the digital age. His song “SNS” was featured on the Golden Globe-winning show Atlanta. More importantly, he’s a staple of the Soulection sound, a musical movement that has captured a massive audience over the last six years by embracing a deep exploration of soul, jazz, and hip-hop, and fusing those genres with a new wave of future beats and electronic dance music. His fresh take on baile funk has inspired other producers to develop their own iterations of his sound. This includes Gravez’ flip of “Calabria 2007″ to make “Where We From,” Lehvi’s use of baile funk to make Pineapple Pool Party (Sango Taught Me), and K-Wash’s love for the Seattle producer’s catalogue to create an EP comprised of remixes. 

The UHall show was one of Sango’s last performances before ending his #ITCO Tour. Before his DJ set in D.C., Sango sat down with us to discuss the tour, his new vocal and instrumental albums, and how he balances work and family.

Continue reading

SXSWatch: The Powerful Spitfire Storytelling of Cuba’s La Dame Blanche

La Dame Blanche

La Dame Blanche, SXSW 2017. All photos by Daniel Cavazos.

As soon as you hear Yaité Ramos talk about her journey, from developing as a classical musician in the famed Escuela Nacional de Arte in Cuba, to finding her voice as a hip-hop artist in the streets of Paris, it’s evident that she’s a warrior—battle-tested and not afraid of the unknown. Artistically, she identifies herself as La Dame Blanche, a nod to the scary yet benevolent ghost at the center of a French opera of the same name, but also a picaresque wink at her status as a santera and a black woman. She’s a raconteur. With the flute as her chosen weapon, and Marc Babylotion Damblé of the Orisha’s providing the beats, she marches on-stage and raps about the characters, hardships, joys and lived experiences between the two places she calls home—France and Cuba.

On 2014’s Piratas and 2016’s 2, her spitfire rapping and strong delivery are underscored by bass-heavy staccato beats, turntable scratching, and a sophisticated mixture of cumbia rhythms intermingled with dancehall, Cuban rumba and son. In the midst of this fusion is Ramos’ flute, is sweet, bucolic melodies rounding out her signature sound and giving her music an emotional breadth that reveals the heart underneath the combativeness. After years of touring across Europe and the Americas, she’s finally performing at one of the music industry’s biggest events, South by Southwest in Austin, Texas.

Ballroom D at noon on a Wednesday in the Austin convention center is hardly a match for La Dame Blanche. In front of a small audience in a cavernous grey room she took the stage wearing reflective aviator sunglasses with a lit cigar in one hand, and made her SXSW debut by belting out the word “Maria.” To her left, a DJ dropped a chorus of support and to her right, a live drummer joined in. You may have to speak Spanish to fully understand the nuances of her lyrics, but the intent comes through just fine. Her swagger on stage and the way her impressive register suddenly drops at the end of a line is reminiscent of Missy Elliot. After the first ballad, she grabbed a flute, gripping it like a baseball bat and resting it on her shoulder before launching into a jarrings classical melody. Later in the set, she retreated to the back of the stage, only to emerge with her arms in a boxing stance, slowly lurching forward, as if sparring with the small, but captive audience.

Bandcamp caught up with Ramos on her way to SXSW to talk about her performance at its Sounds of Cuba showcase, the stories she likes to tell and why—after years of performing jazz and classical music—she chose hiphop as her medium. The interview was conducted in Spanish with English translations below.         

Continue reading

Album of the Day: bedwetter, “volume 1: flick your tongue against your teeth and describe the present.”

Just a year after his breakout release, 2012’s Mista Thug Isolation, Travis Miller, a.k.a. Lil Ugly Mane, announced his retirement. Unable to keep totally quiet, he satisfied his fans with eclectic compilations, like the Three Sided Tape trilogy. Now, on volume 1, Miller begins a dark new saga as bedwetter, revealing his struggle in vivid detail, and offering a “polemic yelp review of [the] American healthcare system.” Be warned: bedwetter will swiftly kill the mood at any party. Much of Miller’s aesthetic is borrowed from ‘90s Memphis horrorcore, celebrating the infernal and debauched on dollar store cassettes. His frenzied, intense delivery can sting or be wryly humorous—”stoop lights” addresses the cyclical nature of addiction while remarking “fucked up with a room with a view to a wasteland.”

The album opens with a minute of televangelist chanting, followed by “man with a helmet,” a traumatic account of a kidnapping and jarring shift away from the calm intro. Bedwetter is candid about his strained mental health, and the mood transitions abruptly: on “fondly eulogizing sleep,” bedwetter displays exceptional skill at composing brooding instrumental suites before the negative vibes take over again. Just when you think things can’t get more bleak (the pinnacle is the funereal “square movement”), Miller dives deeper, cannibalizing his psyche on “Haze of Interference,” screaming “Are you happy, Travis?”

The album rewards fans of Lil Ugly Mane’s Memphis-nostalgic production, and new listeners will be riveted by Miller’s nihilistic lyrics. The violence is not projected onto society, but rather the self, revealing an emotional core often absent from the macho rap music scene. Although bedwetter intentionally sets himself apart from conventional musicality, volume 1 contains enough endearing moments to craft a balanced, richly detailed caricature of the artist. It’s a battle against demons that bedwetter appears to be winning.

Ross Devlin

The Month in Mixtapes: February 2017

month-in-mixtapes-feb-600

Given the massive number of hip-hop mixtapes released on Bandcamp, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Each month, Marvin Lin will help ease you into this bounty of music by spotlighting releases by rappers and beatmakers using the Bandcamp “mixtape” tag.

MDuke,  400 (The Mixtape)

There are plenty of trap mixtapes to choose from, but as higher-profile tapes are often used as a dumping ground for studio leftovers and producer experimentation, it’s refreshing to hear such a refined release like 400 (The Mixtape). On this economical eight-track release, San Antonio’s MDuke has curated a cohesive batch of songs that showcase his versatility as a rapper (and sometimes singer). Against heavy production, Duke maintains a potent thrust throughout, with a voice relocating Future’s dexterity and Travis $cott’s melodicism to Texas. The self-proclaimed New Wave Activist reaches his apex on “WYD (outro),” a breezy cut that sees him truly coming into his own, adding bite to an already ferocious attack and flipping registers like he doesn’t have anything to prove.

Vacationer’s Atlas, Peregrinations

On Peregrinations, producer Vacationer’s Atlas goes back in time. Greek literature, Ancient Central Asia nomads, and Harry Potter are referenced in his song titles, with a cover that nods to Frank Hurley (a life-risking, 20th-century Australian photographer dubbed “the mad photographer”) and a sendoff that gestures toward Japanese novelist Murasaki Shikibu and vaporwave appropriation techniques. In the end, the actual sound of the music—suffocated Dean Blunt-like beats awash in hiss and extraterrestrial sounds—isn’t quite as complex as the references might suggest, but it’s still quite compelling.

SARN, POSTMODERN TRASH

Deathbomb Arc’s Mixtape Series continues with its fifth entry, POSTMODERN TRASH, by Bay Area artist SARN. It’s a quick listen, but not an easy one: SARN’s wildly idiosyncratic voice—a high-pitched, oftentimes falsetto warble—hovers ghost-like over its brilliant pop experiments, challenging listeners through fearless lyrics and bold genre mashups. For an album driven by traditionally rock and pop-oriented instrumentation (drums, synths, piano)—with help from John Vanderslice, no less—it’d be easy to overlook SARN’s integration of hip-hop elements. Check out songs like “No Shade” and “Too Much Art” for the clearest examples, but reducing the album’s aesthetics to a mishmash of categories would only undermine the project. These track were “created out of necessity” but shared with as much heart as I presume was put into it. And, to top it all off, 50 percent of the proceeds, from now until March 5, will be donated to Planned Parenthood and the ACLU.

Bridini, Late Winter

The prolific Per Diem Productions label has dropped yet another Bridini beat tape, arriving as disjointed and as deteriorated as you might expect. On this release, titled Late Winter, NY-based producer Bridini mangles his beats and samples with generous amounts of distortion, compression, echo, and other beat-making effects, with interlude-like passages favoring even noise over rhythm. The tape, dubbed “Generational Lo-Fi,” is reminiscent of the early work of Not Not Fun artist KWJAZ or the Heat Wave project of Alex Gray (D/P/I), in which the squiggly, abstracted in-between-ness becomes the focus itself, transitory moments overriding any sort of momentum or purposeful through line.

Taboo, BIG THINGS HAVE small BEGINNINGS pt 2: Family Tree

Family Tree is the second and final installment in Taboo’s BIG THINGS HAVE small BEGINNINGS project, and it’s certainly named appropriately. Here, the rapper assembles a large cast of characters—Nico the Beast, Tones, Coal Cash, Think 2wice, Neenah, and many, many more—to help him craft a 19-track project that starts with a hat tip to The Fugees and continues with vibrant, energetic beats that would make El-P downright giddy. It’s a family affair through and through, but the whole shebang is led by Taboo’s remarkable ambition and marked by a distinct New York feel, with equal parts ’90s boom bap, Cold Vein grittiness, and Pro Era solidarity.

Joint Ventures, What’s Gotten into Willis?

Following The Elusive George Carlo from November 2016, the Joint Ventures crew returns with 25 more lo-fi beat workouts. Though, “workouts” might be too generous a term for the woozy and intoxicated cuts on What’s Gotten into Willis?. Stumbling from moment to moment with hazy, smoked-out charm, the crew of Devil’s Elbow, Sonofone, Indiana Stones, and Mrs. Baker bring a couple new producers—FreakQ and Treeo—into the fold, both of whom expand upon the group’s already delicious sound and widen the Adelaide, Australian group’s reach to include Sicily, Italy. Standout tracks abound, but Devil’s Elbow’s “Isolation” hits hard, with deconstructed beats and harmonic trickery that seem set on destroying themselves.

The Blue Print Series, Vol. 7: #Hashtag

Already seven full-lengths in since August 2016, host Jersey Moulin has admirably kept her promise to highlight the lesser-knowns in her Blueprint mixtape series. The latest in the collection is titled #HASHTAG, and rather than corralling several voices together under a themed tape, she brought in just one: Voiice. Across 12 sultry tracks, Voiice flexes her mannerist vocal stylings with elongated exhalations and a slightly-behind flow that feels like she’s trying to pull the tracks into a slower, more sensual rhythmic orbit. But while Voiice does indeed seem most comfortable when producer BrvndonP offers space to sprawl out (#YouKnow,” “#Pony”), she kills it nonetheless on faster cuts like “#HolUp” and “#ThirstTrap.”

Marvin Lin