March 16, 2004

Cee-lo overflows with soul on classic new album
By Canyon Cody
Published in The Heights

In the event of an emergency, when drowning in the bland wasteland of music in the TRL-generation, Cee-lo's new solo album, Cee-lo Green is the Soul Machine, can be used as a quality flotation device.

Following years as the standout member of Goodie Mob, Cee-lo broke into his solo career with his 2002 debut, Cee-lo Green and his Perfect Imperfections. The album was just that: perfectly imperfect. Despite quite a few unnecessary musical digressions, the album anticipated both the brilliance and sloppiness of Andre 3000's The Love Below, but lacked the radio-friendly "Hey Ya!" to boost its sales.

The critical success but commercial failure of his solo debut can be largely attributed to the fact that Cee-lo did all the production himself. On his follow-up, Cee-lo brought some of the best in the game on board and challenged the most successful mainstream producers to broaden their musical horizons.

Timbaland took a break from his day job (carrying Missy Elliot on his back) to produce Cee-lo's new single "I'll Be Around." The club song bounces on top of loud trumpets and African drum percussion and is accompanied by a great music video (though not as creative as his video for "Gettin' Grown" in which the egg-shaped rapper dresses up like a Teletubbie).

Cee-lo even conjured a few interesting beats out of the Neptunes, who could probably compose a hit song with nothing more than a stick and a hard surface but really haven't produced anything with much artistic merit in quite a while. "The Art of Noise" and "Let's Stay Together" are both demonstrations of the most dangerous quid pro quo deal in hip-hop: Pharell will give you a nice beat, but you have to let him sing on the hook.

Even DJ Premier breaks out of his characteric style of jazz samples and scratched hooks (which, by the way, no one has ever complained about) on "Evening News." Surprisingly, the best production on the album comes from fellow southern boys Organized Noize, who offer a silly, mischievous beat layered with a xylophone and a stuttering piano on "Childz Play." Here we see one of Cee-lo's many sides, when his fun, playful alter-ego comes to play with an equally puerile Ludacris, making one of the few guest appearances on the album.

Of course, the highlight of the show is not the amazing production but none other than Mr. Cee-lo Green. By force of sheer energy, God-given talent, and irrepressible freakiness, Cee-lo is truly funky.

Born to two preachers and raised in the streets of Atlanta, Cee-lo's personality overflows with so much zeal and soul that even when he falters, he sounds good.

On his last album, Cee-lo seemed preoccupied with showing off his "closet freak" eccentricities. Yet, on his new effort, from the infectiously catchy chorus on "Living Again" to beatnik spoken-word poetry of "Sometimes," Cee-lo seems confident of his unique place in hip-hop, and now he is just strutting around.

"My Kind of People" contains an entertaining interpolation of "Pass the Dutchie," the 1982 pop-reggae hit from Musical Youth. The best songs on the album are "All Day Love Affiar" and "Die Trying." The former is an endearingly simple but sweet serenade to his wife while in bed. Unlike the exaggerated braggadocio used by most rappers to woo their women (such as Usher, who apparently has the beat that makes the booty go clap), Cee-lo offers nothing more than to "make it a Blockbuster night."

From his outfits to his lyrics to his singing ability, Cee-lo is everything that Andre 3000 wishes he could be but fails to match. On his first album, Cee-lo showed the world he had beautiful music inside of him but was unable to present it in a commercially palatable way.

Cee-lo has followed through with the promise of his debut with his remarkable new album that deserves to reverse his former reputation as the "second-best Southern rapper."

On the album, Cee-lo raps, "Sometimes I don't think people think I'm as good as I really am." After Cee-lo Green is the Soul Machine, there shouldn't be any more confusion about it.

De La Soul is not dead
By Canyon Cody
Published in The Heights

Hip-hop pioneer De La Soul brought its left-of-center flow to the Middle East on Feb. 28 to support Music for America, a partisan, political nonprofit organization working toward getting one million new young voters to participate in the 2004 elections by promoting concerts around the country.

For years, De La Soul has being trying to shake its "hippy-hop" image earned after its classic debut Three Feet High and Rising, but De La Soul members Pos, Trugoy, and Maceo have resisted the temptation to exaggerate their gangster image to compensate for their undeserved flower child reputation. Onstage, De La Soul came off as it does on its albums: friendly, smart, fun, and easy-going.

Opening for De La was 4th Pyramid, who is promoting his single on the new compilation from underground hip-hop super-label Def Jux, where he recently signed. 4th Pyramid, an emcee from Toronto, caught the attention of the underground with an instrumental album he produced when he was just 16 years old.

In an interview with The Heights, 4th Pyramid said, "This whole thing is huge, but look, I'm still out here all on my own. I mean, I ain't got no tour manager, no DJ with me on the road. Right now, I'm a one-man wrecking crew, a one-man army. But just wait for [Def Jux] to roll through when we're on tour."

Also opening was Zonk, a trip-hop band from the Bay Area in California. They won a download contest with Music for America, which awarded Zonk with the chance to open for De La Soul. The band was filled with vibrant energy and played an excited set of diverse music, with lead singer Nic McFiendish bouncing across the stage with the microphone stand straddled between her legs the entire time.

The highlight of Zonk's performance was when two emcees, Bolo of Pawray and Mic Kaos, came up to give the band some hip-hop flavor. Like De La Soul in the '80s, Zonk's most enjoyable quality was that it seemed like they were having a good time along with the crowd on stage.

Once De La Soul arrived, the crowd exploded, but not in the raucous way one expects from a hip-hop crowd. Of course, De La Soul doesn't attract the typical hip-hop crowd and, as expected, the Middle East seemed to be filled with people drinking who probably used legal id. to get a wristband.

Despite recently releasing two great albums in the Art Official Intelligence trilogy, most of De La Soul's fans were initially attracted to its groundbreaking earlier work. As a result, the crowd reacted the most to classics such as "Me, Myself and I" and "Roller Skating Jam Named 'Saturdays.'" During our interview, De La Soul frontman Posdnous said that a new album is finally set to come out later this year. "We had a lot of trouble with our last record company, who weren't going to release part three, but now we're pretty much ready to put it out there. We also have another album coming out after that, but it doesn't even have a name yet."

Unfortunately, De La Soul stuck to its popular old stuff and didn't bless the crowd with any tastes of the new album.

During an intermission, a video played with a brief segment put together by the concert organizers. They tried to convince the crowd to vote by reminding everyone how close the result of the presidential contest was in 2000. After the show, they handed out packets filled with 10 mail-in voter registration forms and information about such issues that are important to young voters, such as reproductive rights and education funding.

After the show, De La Soul stuck around to talk to fans, which mostly consisted of women who were invited on stage by Pos and Trugoy (who now just goes by Dave) for their closing ode to meaty girls, "Baby Phat." The show was entertaining and proved that De La Soul still has quite a bit of soul left in it and that it's not yet time to retire De La's number into the hip-hop Hall of Fame.
Hip Hop '85-'93
By Canyon Cody
Published in The Heights

Consider this a "Backpacker's Guide to the Galaxy."

In recent years, the term "backpack rapper" has evolved from a condescending term for nerd rappers to a proud label assumed by dedicated true-school hip-hop fans. Boston is a bustling metropolis of backpackers, filled with white college students and lacking a voice in the mainstream to claim Beantown as its hood. These are the songs from '85 to '93 that inspire the metamorphosis from a passive rap fan to a hip-hop fanatic. This era led up to next week's mix, which covers '94 to '96.

A Side

1985 - LL Cool J "Rock the Bells" Radio
The intro to "Rock the Bells" is one of hip-hop's most infamous battle cries: "LL Cool J is hard as hell!" LL Cool J's recent digression into R&B doesn't seem to be motivated by greed (a la Ja Rule and 50 Cent's cheesy love ballads) but by his libido; he has admitted to being uncontrollably addicted to sex. Until nymphomania got the best of him, LL Cool J used to be a mean dude (until he got that horrible TV show). The album boasts one of hip-hops most famous covers, with a classic '80s boombox. Someone should give LL Cool J some Blistex and tell him that licking your lips makes them even more chapped.

1987 - Boogie Down Productions "South Bronx" Criminal Minded
Before KRS-One turned into the hip-hop preacher/teacher, he revolutionized the battle rap. Anyone who thinks 2Pac and Biggie is a good example of beef in hip-hop needs to go listen to "South Bronx." Sadly, only after his DJ Scott La Rock was murdered did KRS move on to his more philosophical and pacifistic raps. KRS is also responsible for the backpacker mantra, repeated five times a day while facing the South Bronx: "Rap is something you do, hip-hop is something you live."

1988 - Public Enemy "Rebel Without a Pause" It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
Chuck D scared the tighty-whitey underwear off America with Public Enemy's classic album. Instead of coming off as violent, ignorant gangstas like NWA, Public Enemy declared themselves violent, intelligent revolutionaries in the tradition of Malcolm X. They were some of the first rappers to be respected outside of the hip-hop community as legitimate and talented artists. When white punk rockers started heading uptown to Public Enemy concerts, the media predicted race riots, but instead hip-hop embraced its new fans. To this day, people are still confused by Flavor Flav. What is he doing? Nobody knows.

B Side

1990 - A Tribe Called Quest "Can I Kick It?" People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm
Along with De La Soul, ATCQ pioneered the movement away from gangsta rap and diversified the hip-hop community. Though labeled "soft" by the media, ATCQ came with hard beats and impressive lyrics that DJs have been spinning before underground hip-hop shows for almost 15 years. Though "Bonita Applebum," "Scenario," and "Award Tour" all make regular appearances in a backpacker's WinAmp, the call and response of "Can I Kick It?" will forever remain the Tribe's classic. Six years later, on the last true backpacker's album of all time, Jay-Z references the "Can I Kick It?" on "22 Twos."

1992 - Pete Rock and CL Smooth "They Reminsce Over You (TROY)" Mecca and the Soul Brother
Ask a b-boy when he fell in love with hip-hop and there's a good chance he'll tell you it was Pete Rock. His mellow beats were years ahead of their time and are still imitated by producers like 9th Wonder today. Pete Rock is the ultimate producer for a backpacker: there is nothing flashy or distinctly remarkable about his music except its simple beauty. This is some of the best music of all time, but you'll never see it on 106th and Park.

1993 - Wu-Tang Clan "CREAM" Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
Wu-Tang is the closest thing to a cult in hip-hop. Many fans will not even entertain the idea that 36 Chambers might not be the best album ever. Obessed with bees and kung-fu films, no one knew quite what to do with Wu-tang. After starting a few dozen solo careers, the Clan is the Wayans family of rap. And please, don't embarrass yourself: remember, Redman was never in Wu-Tang.