Wednesday, February 14, 2007


It's been over a year since the hip hop industry and the global music community as a whole lost one of the greatest hip-hop producers of all time (and the best in my opinion); J Dilla aka Jay Dee aka James Yancey. On February 10th, 2006, J Dilla (who hailed from Detroit, Michigan) lost his longterm battle with lupus. Dilla had been fighting the debilitating disease for years and unfortunately he eventually lost that battle.

I myself was familiar with some of Dilla's tunes over the years but unfortunately I truly realized the musical genius he was after he had already passed. In just the last year since his passing, I have been hooked on his instrumental masterpiece "Donuts", the followup "The Shining" and his contribution to Stones Throw's "Chrome Children" compilation. I (among millions) can only ponder just what else Jay Dee could have accomplished musically if he had still been here with us today.

After hearing snippets of some more of Dilla's yet to be released gems at the Stones Throw show back in October in Toronto; I am literally salivating with anticipation to hear more. Stones Throw (a brilliant indie hip-hop label based out of Cali) has a double CD release entitled "Ruff Draft" coming out soon as well. I can only hope that their vaults hold much more of Dilla's unreleased music, because those who didn't know Dilla when he was around need to hear what hip-hop music really sounds like.

The sound that Dilla produced is both indescribable and simple at the same time. Whether you wanted to hear some menacing futuristic boom-bap like on "E=MC2" featuring Common (from "The Shining") or the most mesmerizing, soulful and organic beat I have ever heard on the instrumental "Time: The Donut of the Heart" from "Donuts; Dilla made music that touched you no matter how complex or how simple it sounded. By the way, Black Thought also spits on the "Time" beat on a cut off The Roots' "Game Theory". A must hear for sure!

I could go on for days about the impact that Dilla's music has had on me in the short period that I have truly discovered his music, but this piece was meant to be a short reminder to myself and to whoever else reads this that Dilla was, is and always will be hip-hop music to me.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Brand New - The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me - Interscope Records/Tiny Evil (2006)

Upstate New-York emo/punk four-piece Brand New have not released an album since 2003’s “Deja Entendu”. Their latest effort “The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me” is a return to the form that they crafted on the last record. However the jury is still out as to whether or not this release has broken any new ground or not.

The title of the record certainly reflects the pain and emotion of lead singer Jesse Lacey as he spits out his bitter lyrics over the standard “loud-quiet” emo template. The album opener “Sowing Season (Yeah)” starts off with some gentle guitar strumming as Lacey states “I am not a man, but at least now I can say I tried…” letting the listener who is familiar with Brand New know that he is the same angry, hurt and broken man he was at the end of “Deja Entendu”. The strumming quickly blasts into a frenzy as Lacey screams the chorus of “Yeah, Yeah….Yeah, Yeah!”. The tracks proves to be a good introduction to the new record, while also reminding us that Lacey and company have not forgot how to wear their emotions of their sleeves.

After reminiscing and telling us about the numerous changes he needs to make in order to become a better person on tracks such as “Millstone” and telling us that “We all have wooden nails…” on “Jesus”; Lacey pushes forth with bombast on “Degausser” in which he pulls a Kanye West and enlists the services of a children’s choir for a grand chorus. Children’s choirs seem to work under few circumstances. First, they can work as their own entity, where they can be appreciated for exactly what they are: a choir consisting of children. Secondly, they can possibly work backed by a hip hop beat like on Kanye West’s “We Don’t Care” from College Dropout or on an all-time classic like Pink Floyd’s“Another Brick In The Wall”. Unfortunately on Degausser” the mix of innocent children’s voices and Lacey’s grown-up howling is enough to confuse and scar both the listener and these young musicians themselves.

By the time the halfway point of the album is reached, one has to wonder whether or not poor Jesse has ever done anything right in his life. The somber mood and “quiet-loud” routine plays out on “You Don’t Know” and “Welcome To Bangkok”, however on this 3 minute instrumental thrash out the listener is given a short reprieve from the emotional onslaught. On “Untitled”, Brand New hint at a slightly more mature if not obscure sound, which consists of what sounds like a muffled voicemail message and some strings mixed with some hypnotizing guitar-picking.

Album closer “Handcuffs” leaves the listener feeling emotionally drained as Lacey croons to a lost lover that he would “…drown all of these crying babies, if I knew that their mothers wouldn’t cry”. The commitment and passion in Lacey’s voice convince the listener that he would do practically anything to get the object of his desire back. Drowning babies seems a little extreme as previously he seemed to have a good relationship with the younger generation when he called upon a group of children to help him exorcise his demons on “Degausser”.

Nonetheless by the time the album closes one can only applaud Lacey for sharing his new pains, problems and insecurities with us. However, unfortunately it leaves the listener wanting more in terms of variety and musical maturity and growth which they showed glimpses of on a handful of the tracks. The liner notes state that the album “…was recorded in the middle of winter…at Longview farm…”. Surely, that environment helped cast the dark emotional cloud that hangs over “The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me”; too bad that cold barn didn’t house an angry mare that could have kicked Brand New in the pants and forced just a little more out of them.

Rating: 3/5

My Music Reviews and CD Reviews

I have dreams of getting my opinions on music published someday (hopefully sooner, rather than later!) so i will be posting any and all of my reviews on this blog in hopes that is leads to my words showing up somewhere important!