Hip Hop

Flex Sinatra "Make A Song About Me"

Flex Sinatra has released the opening track, "Make A Song About Me", from his forthcoming EP, "Beyond Measure", which is set to drop tomorrow, September 24th.

Sinatra is half of the Hip Hop duo Hunit Boys and has released a series of singles this year. However, this EP feels like something vital and should not be slept on.

   

Jason Griff & Alaska "Human Zoo"

Local Beat Maker Jason Griff has teamed up with the Philly-based emcee known as Alaska on a new project they are calling "Human Zoo". The album, which also features Defcee, Zilla Rocca, Open Mike Eagle, and many more, was released on September 3rd.

This week the duo released the video below for the project's title track.

   

Homeboy Sandman shows off his work ethic on latest EP with Aesop Rock

Hover over the graphic below to listen to Homeboy Sandman's Anjelitu EP in its entirety. And if you like what you hear, you can head out to RE:GEN:CY in Red Hook, Brooklyn, tonight to see him perform live.

 
In modern-day America I think it's safe to say that most of us don’t know too much about our homeland’s labor history or workers’ rights movements. For example, it wasn't until I did some Labor Day googling yesterday that I first learned about the 100-year-old Battle of Blair Mountain, where 10,000 workers living in a West Virginia mining camp staged an armed insurrection against the bosses who apparently treated their interracial work force like slaves and carried out intimidation and assassination (!) campaigns against worker-residents who tried to unionize. The battle ended after five days (and about a hundred deaths) when the US Army intervened on the side of the coal mining company (interesting sidenote: the militant miners called themselves the “Red Neck Army” after the red bandanas they wore around their necks, meaning that some of the first “rednecks” were Black Americans, a term that was soon usurped by less enlightened elements).

It's pretty crazy I’d never heard of the uprising before—another piece of our history that’s been suppressed and kept out of school curricula (see the "Red Neck Army" link above) not unlike the Tulsa race massacre, a tragedy that likewise occurred in 1921 which was not exactly a banner year for this country (and ok, my own inherent laziness get some of the blame as well). Anyway, about now you may be thinking “what does this have to do with emerging music in New York City?” Because, let’s face it, labor history isn’t the most popular subject for songwriters with some notable exceptions of course. What’s arguably more surprising is how the broader topic of work is likewise not so popular as a musical subject, despite it occupying about half the waking hours of the full-time gainfully employed and even more time if we define work simply as “concerted effort put into a given task," but then again who wants to think about work when enjoying music or to think about making music as "work"?

Hip hop artists and audiences is who. Or at least it is judging by how often work is acknowledged in lyrics and in hip hop culture as a reality of life--with words like “hustle” and “grind” used frequently and approvingly. And pro-work tendencies are hardly limited to aspirational pop-rap, or serious-minded conscious rap, because even when attention is turned to such leisure activities as sex and drugs in hardcore-oriented rap, it’s notable how often (to the point of cliché by now) these subjects are framed less in terms of pleasure and more in terms of work, with the job security of "pimps, players, and pushers" guaranteed thanks to the insatiable desires of their clientele, an even more durable subject given the exploitational parallels drawn between "underground" and "legitimate" economies. As for mumble rappers, they stand proud and tall (ok, more slouched over really) for the slacker contingent. (notably country music used to excel at work songs too, but not so much anymore, since Nashville hitmakers stay busy these days writing songs about date nights at Applebee’s and sexy tractors).

Work is clearly front and center on the opening track (“Go Hard”) of Homeboy Sandman’s Anjelitu EP (Mello Music Group), the latest in a series of collaborations with fellow underground highly-productive worker bee Aesop Rock (who produced all of Anjelitu and contributes vocals on the last number “Lice Team, Baby”) that began back in 2015 with their first record together under the Lice moniker—a moniker most recently resuscitated for their MF Doom tribute single early this year. And Mr. Sandman is clearly pretty well-versed on the subject of work given his employment history (bartending, marketing, teaching in the NYC Public School System), the three years he spent at Hofstra Law School before dropping out to become a full-time emcee ("I want to make arguments and make points and back them up with details [and] specifics, and that's the type of stuff you work on at law school" he explained back in a 2012 interview), and finally, in his status as an underground "hip hop PhD".

And his partner Aesop Rock knows a thing or two about work too, considering that his breakthrough LP, Labor Days (Def Jux, 2001) was a concept album centered around the perils and the pleasures of labor as well as the larger plight of working-class America (“Now we the American working population / hate the fact that eight hours a day / is wasted on chasing the dream of someone that isn't us”), an album that’s still considered a landmark of independent hip hop, not to mention white rapperdom.

“Go Hard” is a phrase that one online dictionary defines as “to work hard or to do something with intensity” and boy does our ‘Boy Sand (as he refers to himself on the track) go hard on “Go Hard” as he bobs and weaves between the metronomic-yet-lopsided beat like Muhammad Ali playing rope-a-dope with bars that float like a butterfly and sting like a bee (“I’m like Fred Hampton chewing on rattlesnake plantain / in other words, I go hard”) unspooling in short bursts at first then turning into long flowing lines like a bebop solo (Mr. Sandman is a jazz fan and former sax player, and his Dominican father was a champion boxer before becoming a lawyer focused on local progressive causes, so the math adds up). And hey anyone who manages to rhyme string theory, chimichurri, cemetery, and seminary and make it flow seamlessly both musically and logically has clearly put in the work and isn’t afraid to let it show.



Over the subsequent five tracks, Sandman and Aesop offer a virtual correspondence course on underground hip hop beat-making—ranging from minimalist funk grooves to beats built on what sound like Spaghetti Western samples and that’s just in the next couple of tracks—and equally on the technically complex bars favored by many underground emcees including heavy doses of consonance and assonance, alliteration, speed rapping, slant rhyming, internal rhyming, multisyllabic rhyming (a.k.a. “multis”) and other techniques—it’s telling that most of these techniques can be heard in four random lines off Anjelitu like “Another clash, another classic down the massive drain / Gene Kelly dancing in the acid rain / beneath the moon, I penned the music for the village getting raided / play while lickin' shots, I’m still in shock from Ewing getting traded”—not to mention all the clever metaphors and allusions and colorful imagery and the constant switch-ups of flow and the lyrical callbacks to the likes of LL Cool J, Slick Rick, and Cypress Hill. With so much going on it can get pretty intense, just ask the Youtube reviewer above.

So if you wanna help support two hard-working indie hip hop stalwarts you’ll probably want to check out Anjelitu and perhaps drop the artists a few bones for their trouble. The record's title is a mashup of Homeboy Sandman’s childhood nickname (Angelito meaning “Little Angel”) and the well-known Chinese yin-yang symbol (taijitu) which symbolizes the fluctuating dynamic caused by opposing forces coming together to form a whole—which all makes good sense given the highly personal nature of the record (“My team ain’t make it to the playoffs / luckily my demons always make it to the seance”) and its shape-shifting nature (consistent with Sandman and Aesop’s discographies on the whole) holding true to the vow made on the EP to “go to hell and back 'fore I repeat myself.” And if you wanna witness some hip hop labor performed live before your very eyes, as stated above, you can head over to RE:GEN:CY in Red Hook, Brooklyn tonight (9/7) where our 'Boy Sand will do his thing. Or catch him touring across this great nation’s southern and western regions over the next couple months. (Jason Lee)

   

Rich Jones "It's Over"

Rich Jones has released the opening track, "It's Over", from his forthcoming EP, "Blue Beach", which is due out on September 24th.

For this project Jones teamed up with New Jersey's Killer Kane who supplied all of the beats.

   

VIDEO: With “Confidence,” Bee-B Demonstrates She Has All Of It

photo courtesy of artist's instagram page

Compton born and raised artist Brittany Chikyra Barber goes by the stage name “Bee-B,” but despite the cutesy name, she has the productivity and work ethic of a veteran industry stalwart, having released multiple critically-acclaimed mixtapes and EPs, along with having written for and collaborated with some of music’s finest, including John Legend, YG, Theophilus London and Kanye West.

Her hot streak extends itself with the debut of her latest track/video, “Confidence,” an assertive and motivational pump-up track, alternating pep-talk with the types of classic self-congratulating boasts that are an defining feature of today’s female-centered rap music.

The track begins with a low, booming electronic drone, almost like the trumpet of a mechanized elephant, instantly seizing the listener’s attention. The rhythm track itself is quite simple, consisting of alternating kick drums and hand claps, carried along by electric organ-like keyboard sounds. Later in the song, buzzing synths that cascade down in tone insert a level of vague menace that compliments Bee-B’s effortless, unbothered flow.

The video itself lightens the mood. Interspersed with scenes of Bee-B and her crew strutting down a futuristic runway, complete with an attentive audience who are all wearing multi-screen video cubes that reflect the artist back onto herself. It’s a vivid metaphor for a rapper’s ambition to be ubiquitous, to “run the game,” so to speak, but it also carries a somewhat dystopian commentary on society’s obsession with celebrity and social media. Fortunately, Bee-B also has a sense of humor, posing as 1) Michael Jackson on the cover of the Thriller album, complete with 80s Jheri curl, 2)a gold medal-winning USA Olympic athlete, complete with Florence Griffith Joyner’s single-leg running pants, and 3)a winner of a $1 billion check for “confidence.”

Humor and bigger-than-life confidence both have a long lineage in the world of rap music, and Bee-B is proving that it will maintain its place as long as she’s around to put her distinctive spin on it. Gabe Hernandez