Tag Archives: New York

Che Noir Wants to Keep You Guessing

Che Noir

Buffalo, New York native Che Noir is blessed with a sharp tongue; her raps are full of snappy brags and aggressive threats. The 25-year-old rapper’s latest release, The Thrill Of The Hunt 2, is a svelte mixtape produced by 38 Spesh from nearby Rochester that pairs her cutting verbals with modern soul-packed boom-bap beats. The project is designed to whet the appetite for Noir’s full debut next year, which will be appropriately titled The Essence. It also adds the MC to a rich wave of upstate New York hip-hop that’s being spearheaded by artists from Buffalo, the city where Noir was born and where she experienced the life lessons that have inspired her bars. “As you can tell, Buffalo is a pretty violent city, but I try to give more of a nostalgic feel when I rap about where I come from,” says Noir. “It definitely plays a huge role in my subject matter and what I talk about.” 

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Rochester, New York is Going Global

38 Spesh

38 Spesh

“The violence and the crime is unbearable sometimes,” says Eto, an MC who’s emerged as a leading light in the Rochester, New York hip-hop scene. Raised in the northeast area of the city, Eto’s world is one where over half the children live in poverty, and the chances of being a victim of violent crime is almost three times higher than elsewhere in the state. This tumultuous environment informs Eto’s music, as well as the music of peers like 38 Spesh, M.A.V., and Pounds. Their approach recalls the way Nas and Mobb Deep regaled the world with chronicles of surviving in Queensbridge during the mid ‘90s. “Rochester’s always maintained as the murder capital throughout New York state,” says 38 Spesh, a rapper and beatmaker whose music combines snapshots of block corner life with soul-sampling loops and hard knocking drums. “It’s always been a high level of poverty and a real dangerous and dark place—so the music reflects that.”

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Bandcamp Hidden Gems: Standing on the Corner, “Standing on the Corner”

standing on the corner

In our series Hidden Gems, writers share their favorite Bandcamp discoveries.

The first three tracks on Standing on the Corner sound stuck in mud—not in a bad way, though. The duo who record under that same moniker brought a stark intentionality to this quietly epic 16-track debut: the guitars are melted, the vocals collapsed, and even the drums conjure images of exploding dust clouds with each boom and bap.

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Alynda Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff on Navigating Identity and Exploring Her Puerto Rican Roots 

Hurray For The Riff Raf

On the first three Hurray for the Riff Raff records, singer-songwriter and frontwoman Alynda Lee Segarra paired a freewheeling take on country and Americana with lyrics that swung from heartsick love songs to rollicking celebrations of community. But on “The Body Electric, ” the stunning centerpiece of 2014’s Small Town Heroes, her approach shifted. Instead of the all-join-hands spirit-rousing of songs like “Look Out Mama” and “Little Black Star,” “The Body Electric” instead is deft subversion of the age-old murder ballad trope. In the song, Segarra sets her source material against itself, creating a cutting critique of the normalization of violence against women in the process. “Tell me what’s a man with a rifle in his hand/ gonna do for a world that’s just dying slow,” she sings, “and tell me what’s a man with a rifle in his hand/ gonna do for his daughter when it’s her turn to go?”

That song topped a number of year-end lists, and gave birth to the Body Electric Fund, which benefits organizations that fight gendered violence. It also made explicit something that had been central to the band since its beginning: their desire to be a voice for those who are often marginalized by society—people of color, LGBTQ folks, and resilient women, like Segarra herself.

Yet despite her mission to give voice to the voiceless, Segarra’s own story seldom surfaced in her lyrics. A teenage runaway from the Bronx who rode freight trains for years and eventually settled in New Orleans, Segarra struggled as a teenager to reconcile herself to her Puerto Rican heritage. Her search for meaning and identity eventually led her right back where she started: in New York, researching Puerto Rican and Nuyorican political and musical history, and grappling with the questions that had haunted her since she was young: Where do I come from? Where do I belong? How can I reclaim my identity and space in the world?

The product of Segarra’s search is The Navigator, a concept record in which Segarra not only reclaims her own history, but also redefines Hurray for the Riff Raff’s sound, breaking it free of its folk-music mooring and incorporating ’70s rock and Latinx musical styles in equal measure.

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Motion Graphics’ Debut Points to a Bright Future for American Electronic Music

Motion Graphics
Motion Graphics. Photo by Andrew Strasser

The American electronic music scene is in a fascinating place right now. As the fallout from EDM’s explosion into the mainstream settles, new mutant and hybrid forms are springing up everywhere, and finding audiences no longer defined by the old subcultural tribes of 90s electronica, drum’n’bass and so forth. A gleaming example of this phenomenon is New York-based Joe Williams, aka Motion Graphics. Williams has been around the musical block a couple of times already, having released an album of classy post-punk electro as White Williams back in 2007, played with Maxmillion Dunbar and produced Baltimore’s criminally underrated Co La, among other projects, but it’s in this new guise he’s really come into his own.

Motion Graphics’ debut album gleams with futuristic possibility. In it you can hear the most abstract electronica, as you might expect from someone who writes their own sound generation software and whose intro to electronic sound at 16 was Kid 606’s “Down with the Scene.” Williams says, “A bandmate of mine let me borrow it when he heard I had started using software to make music; I also really loved the early Warp and Rephlex kind of thing.” But the debut also has the trunk-rattling boom and slithering hi-hats of 2010s 808-led hip hop, a bit of early 2000s Timbaland scamper, hints of grime’s smash-and-grab attitude to sound-sources, vocals with a plaintive indie-rock tone, a good bit of film score high drama, and more besides—all somehow bound together into a coherent sound. The fact that it’s been picked up by Domino Recording Co. – the home of genre-agnostic acts like Hot Chip, Blood Orange and Julia Holter—is testament to his individuality.

Motion Graphics
Motion Graphics. Photo by Andrew Strasser

For all the record’s ambition, Williams is as down to earth as they come. Ask how he’d describe himself—he says “I guess I’d say producer, but that’s a loaded title. Maybe person with a computer?” Raise the matter of the extraordinary high production values of the records, and he replies, “It’s not something I set out to do. A lot of music is made to sound old so I guess I’m operating in a fidelity that avoids those trappings.” It’s a seemingly offhand comment, but it actually raises a very relevant point about how sound is defined in an era of seemingly infinite sonic variety: so much electronic/dance music now is wilfully retro that it’s easy to seem futurist in comparison. It’s a context he expands on when I name a few artists I think have a similar gloss, like Oneohtrix Point Never, Arca, and Rabit: “I think there are probably more differences than there are similarities with the names you mentioned. They’re all super talented though! I think today’s music has less of an obvious breadcrumb trail so it becomes harder to categorize, and associations emerge.”

If anything, Williams’s biggest influence is ambient music, and despite its dramatic dynamics, he likes to think of his album as an ambient record. “It definitely feels like a headphone record, so I guess I aimed it at headphones, walking, or on the train, or any daily household activity would pair well with it.” As to the way the songs weave in and out of the electronics, he doesn’t seem to see any grand attempt to fuse indie and electronica – rather, he talks in terms of “the outcome being subtle” in the way he’s processed his vocals, and when pressed on how he sees vocals in electronic music offers this vision: “I remember Tomtom having celebrity voice add-ons for their GPS devices. I think it ended up as a failed concept, but it would be amazing if Yamaha did something similar and made Vocaloid instruments out of pop stars.”

It’s easy to get overwhelmed or weary given the myriad of possibilities in music today. When anyone with a laptop can create three new hybrids this week, it can feel like everything is reduced to a sludge of indistinguishable nano-genres. But then you find someone like Motion Graphics, who can namecheck Autechre and Mark Fell, yet write genuinely pretty songs. When Williams reels off a hyper-diverse list of dream collaborators – “John Lurie, Magic Leap, Apple, Yasuaki Shimizu, Nuno Canavarro, T-Pain, Ryuichi Sakamoto” – for all its diversity, it’s anything but an arbitrary selection of hip names. In the specific context of his sound, it’s a list that makes absolute sense, and that sense demonstrates just how much an individualist mind with individualist tastes and talents can thrive in this brave new electronic world.

—Joe Muggs

Jean Grae and Quelle Chris on “Goodnight Courtney” and Making Art in Dark Times

Jean Grae and Quelle Chris
Photo by Frankie Turiano
“I always expect the mistreatment of black people. It’s what this country was based on.” —Quelle Chris

“Have you ever ordered a turkey sandwich?” Jean Grae asks me. We’re speaking on the phone about her new project with Quelle Chris, Goodnight Courtney, a multimedia release that follows the isolated life of a downtrodden cartoon character. I follow Grae and Chris on Twitter, so I assumed the interview would be fun and a little random. I wasn’t, however, quite prepared for this.

“Turkey, bacon, lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise. You’d expect that would be a cold sandwich, right? New York delis have a thing—and I kinda blame black people for it, ‘cause for some reason, they ask for a lot of hot sandwiches. But I just ordered a turkey club and they deliver it, and I’m like, ‘Why is this hot?!’ So yeah, I guess we’re starting the interview with that.”

It sounds like a joke, but Grae was pretty pissed about it.

Those sorts of observations are common for Grae and Chris, both of whom make intriguing alternative rap both together and separately. Goodnight Courtney is a short video that features production and narration from Grae. Chris provided the animation (which, according to the artists, was no easy task to complete) and wrote a full-length book to accompany the project. Goodnight Courtney was released the same week two more black men were killed by police, and five police officers were shot and killed during protests in Dallas, Texas.

In an interview with Bandcamp, Grae and Chris discuss the creation of Goodnight Courtney, how social injustice affects black artists, and how their new project can help the world smile a little bit more.

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