Tag Archives: J Dilla

Album of the Day: CohenBeats, “Daily Affirmations”

Over the course of several years and multiple releases, producer CohenBeats has made a name for himself by sculpting multifaceted beats with a Middle Eastern focus. A native of Tel Aviv, Cohen rose to prominence as one-third of local trio Cohen@Mushon. When he moved to Los Angeles in 2011, he connected with scene stalwarts like Gaslamp Killer and SamiyamOn his first release since 2015’s collaborative electronic soul EP The Weight, with singer KerenDun, Cohen stays true to his formula, manipulating drum patterns and catchy foreign melodies with panache.

On Daily Affirmations, he gets an assist from a small number of savvily-selected guests. Rising star Quelle Chris turns up on the title track, and his introspective rhymes are the perfect fit for the song’s nocturnal soul ambience. Hopeful as always, the quirky wordsmith waxes poetic on the importance of sticking out the good fight: “You think the shit ain’t worth it/And then you catch a message from somebody like ‘You gave my life a purpose.’” Elsewhere, on the pimped-out “Money Fast,” Quelle collaborator Denmark Vessey spits a confident flow from his usual left-of-center perspective.

Cohen’s unique sampling style makes the album’s 22 tracks feel seamless and cohesive. “Mushon’s House” pays homage to the low-pitch vocals and dance rhythms made famous in Chicago’s club scene. On “Us vs. Them,” Jeremiah Jae and his Black Jungle Squad comrade Oliver The 2nd spit emphatically atop meditative spiritual chants. “Places/Spaces” is full of smooth R&B, the kind you’d hear on late night Quiet Storm radio.

Throughout, CohenBeats avoids the monotony that hinders so many bedroom beatmakers, fusing sounds from his homeland with skillful percussion. Taking cues from Madlib and J Dilla, he makes excellent use of obscure sound effects and random audio clips, giving Daily Affirmations the feel of an old-school beat tape. By putting his own spin on a host of samples and source material, the producer is able to draw on his influences without recreating what’s already been done.

Jesse Fairfax

A Brief Guide To House Shoes’ Street Corner Music

DJ House Shoes

DJ House Shoes

If you follow DJ House Shoes, you know two things about him. First: he’s outspoken about hip-hop. And second: he doesn’t have patience for musical mediocrity. Known for his bluntness, Shoes explains why his label—Street Corner Music—mostly releases beat tapes: “A lot of it is instrumental because a lot of this rap shit is fucking trash these days.”

Named after the Detroit record store where he started working after leaving college in the mid 1990s, Shoes launched Street Corner Music in 2013 to give his favorite producers a platform to shine. “It started as a vessel for exposing talent,” Shoes says. “I created SCM to give records to people that deserve records, both the artists and customers.”

In the 11 years since J Dilla’s pivotal Donuts, beat tapes have become something of a hip-hop subculture. Street Corner Music exists to further validate instrumentals as their own separate art form. Giving back to those who trust both his word and well-earned reputation for breaking under-the-radar acts, House Shoes says, “The same way I use my platform to let you know how I feel about things, I’m using this to let you hear what I love and respect.”

After steadily releasing vinyl over the past few years, SCM has adapted to the digital age, now making much of its back catalog available to fans online. With 25 releases on Bandcamp (and plenty more in the stash to come this year), our guide is designed to catch you up to speed on what the label has to offer.

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Album of the Day: Karriem Riggins, “Headnod Suite”

It’s a fair assumption that Karriem Riggins never stops working—for that matter, he may never sleep. The 41-year-old Detroit native has been on a tear since his 2012 debut, Alone/Together, but he’s been making music for much longer than that. Just a quick look at his credits might leave you feeling overwhelmed. His collaborators have included everyone from the late J Dilla to Daft Punk and Paul McCartney, and they’re not even part of his absolutely massive workload in 2016, when he earned credits on some of the year’s biggest records—Kaytranada’s 99.9% and Esperanza Spalding’s Emily’s D+Evolution—while also producing an entire album for rapper Common.

And yet, in the midst of all that, Riggins somehow found the time to craft Headnod Suite, the follow-up to Alone/Together. It’s just as sprawling in scope as its predecessor—29 tracks to A/T’s 34—and equally ambitious, with a majority of its songs hovering around or below the two-minute mark. As a result, Headnod Suite treads that line of being not quite a beat tape, and not quite a jazz album. It instead lives somewhere in between. It’s a realm reserved for producers like Riggins and his contemporaries. They’re constantly searching for the next sample to chop, the right drum beat, the perfect bassline. And in doing so, Riggins has crafted vignettes (the Common-sampling “Keep It On,” and Dilla-referencing “Never Come Close”) and fully-realized moments (the moving “Suite Poetry” featuring poet Jessica Care Moore, and video game-blazed “Crystal Stairs”).

Projects like these—meaning, those in the key of Donuts—are carefree and hectic listens, delivering a barrage of sounds that dissipate as quickly as they appear. But that’s part of the fun, challenging your brain to fight against using an album like Headnod Suite as mere background music. Simply put: you’re going to pay attention, whether it’s because of Moore’s beautiful turn on “Suite Poetry,” or Riggins linking with bassist Derrick Hodge and keyboardist James Poyser (of the Roots) for “Suite Outro.” The album may fade out with those three jamming away, perhaps teasing some kind of proper collaborative record, but it also pulls you back in, begging you to keep nodding along.

Andrew Martin

Lahore State of Mind: Pakistan’s Jaubi Pays Tribute to J Dilla

Jaubi

This month, as with every February for over a decade, rap fans far and wide celebrate the life and work of the late hip-hop producer James “J Dilla” Yancey. In 2016, in addition to the usual mixtapes and freestyles, another tribute to the man’s legacy emerged online from a perhaps-unexpected place.

Jaubi, a collective of Indian classical musicians from Lahore, Pakistan, quietly uploaded a video on Youtube to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Dilla’s passing: a cover version of “Time: The Donut of the Heart” from Dilla’s final album Donuts. A sarangi plays the signature loop, tabla and vocals provide a surprising bounce and plaintive acoustic guitar chords add melodic cohesion. In 60 short seconds, the members of Jaubi take Dilla’s original and turn it into something wholly different, yet instantly recognizable.

According to Ali Riaz Baqar, Jaubi’s founder and guitarist, the cover was made quickly with little expectation: “It’s ironic because that track was done in probably half an hour?  I said to my friends, ‘If 50 people like this, I’ll be happy.’”

Within days, the video racked up tens of thousands of views on Youtube. Stones Throw Records, Madlib, and the estate of J Dilla himself all featured it on their social media, exposing the group to a wider audience than they could have imagined. The influx of attention lead to a deal with London’s Astigmatic Records to release their debut EP, The Deconstructed Ego, on vinyl.

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A New York Blizzard Inspired Jansport J’s Aggressive New Album

 

Jansport J

As a child growing up in Covina, California (a diverse suburb of Los Angeles), Justin Williams fell in love with the sound of Timbaland’s productions. His use of thumping drums and unusual instrumentation sparked Williams’ imagination. But when he started making his own beats—under the name Jansport J—Williams moved in the opposite direction, leaning toward gritty, eccentric compositions—the kind that have more in common with Madlib, J Dilla, and the Alchemist than Missy Elliott. His sound earned him a solid niche; Williams has become a staple in L.A.’s famed underground beat scene, producing for the likes of Snoop Dogg, Planet Asia, and Dom Kennedy.

Williams’ new album p h a r o a h, named after his distinct facial hair and personal leadership philosophy, first started taking shape in early 2016. The producer was stuck in New York during Winter Storm Jonas, which dumped up to three feet of snow on the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern parts of the country. “That was my first time in New York, while a blizzard was happening,” Williams says. “It’s crazy, because we were out there in 10-degree weather, and I’m a California kid. Everyone tried to prepare me, like, ‘You’re not gonna be able to deal with that weather.’ But I loved it.” At 27 tracks, p h a r o a h is a sprawling work, foregoing the cohesion of a regular studio album in favor of giddy stylistic detours and experiments. Nevertheless, the project feels incredibly cohesive, each snippet quickly leading to the next, making for a seamless listen.

We spoke with Williams about the importance of studying his heroes, keeping a consistent work ethic, and what Donuts meant to his class of producers.

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