Sabzi – PARTHENIA (2011)


Blue Scholars and Common Market. On the Northwest scene, they are viewed as some very prominent acts, both capturing the essence of Seattle hip hop. What’s great about these groups especially, is that they’re very relatable. As Geo says on the title track of the album Bayani, “two students skipped a class, went and crafted an album.” The adroit Sabzi, also known as Saba, handles production for the two, and also has quite the solo career.

Being a jazz-trained pianist, he already possessed a background in music before he turned to turntables. Sabzi says perhaps the biggest influence on his music is the thoughts and perspectives of the youth that he works with in high school and college workshops. He’s also been known to sample Indie music, and even Bibio, whom I happened to review last. He stays devoted, continuing to produce sprawling creations that incorporate these extensive musical influences for his fans.

If you haven’t yet familiarized yourself with the Seattle scene, Sabzi’s latest digital release, PARTHENIA, will provide an adequate introduction, at least to the instrumental aspect.

The album stars off with “Hydroq B,” which hints at the mechanical quality that will be present throughout, while also proposing an ambient soundscape that would be best suited for sweltering, slow summer evenings. This leads on to “Purbasha,” a more energetic track with airy abstractions. “Chronique” abides to the chill-out essence, with an eery synth floating around at various times. What’s easily noticeable about this album, even this early, is that transitions between tracks are unwrinkled. The short but sweet “Me¢hani¢a£ Inse¢ts” paves the way for “Larkeeee,” which features a loopy synthesizer line that weaves through a xylophonic melody. The synths play an important role in this album, deepening and highlighting the resonance of other elements of the music. Next is “ur a hella flake, bro,” which, if you’ve heard Blue Scholars’ latest release Cinemetropolis, may remind you of “Fou Lee,” as it features the same abrasive breathing. “Quimbara Wang” and “Trailer Park Bazaar” continue the obscurity, while bringing in some timely bass instrumentation and percussion. “Colossal Mass” oddly separates itself from the other tracks, even if it follows the same approach. The album comes to a fitting close with “SPECTACULAR.”

In conclusion, this is an instrumental project that is unique from the norm and offers music that is sound all the way through, and never dull. My favorite tracks on the album were Purbasha, Larkeeee, and ur a hella flake, bro. You can purchase and listen to PARTHENIA on Sabzi’s bandcamp.

Overall: 84/100

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GOAT Not From the East Coast Final Results


It was weeks in the making, but the votes have been tallied and a champion has been crowned.  The closest of the placing matches was the 7th place match pitting Gift of Gab against Scarface.  Scarface ended up sneaking past Gab by a single vote.  Del tha Funkee Homosapien avenged his earlier loss to Big Boi in the 5th place match.  The third place match between Detroit peers, One Be Lo and Elzhi, was down to the wire as well, with Elzhi bringing home the Bronze.  Finally the title match, between #1 and #2 overall seeds, Andre 3000 and Common, was tied until the last day, ultimately the OutKast veteran proved to be too much for Common, though.

#8 – Gift of Gab

#7 – Scarface

#6 – Big Boi

#5 – Del tha Funkee Homosapien

#4 – One Be Lo

#3 – Elzhi

#2 – Common

#1 – Andre 3000

 

teenagersintokyo – Sacrifice (2010)


Following the release of their debut album, Sacrifice,  teenagersintokyo (and with all the irony of any indie band, they are not teenagers, nor are they from Tokyo…..) were named one of the fresh upcoming bands of 2010. Although there have been no new releases from the band since, they have managed to distinguish themselves from the modern Indie scene, with this art-pop, electro beat album.

Starting simply with the music; the bass is thick and explicit in pretty much every track, the guitars are sharp and the drums are edgy. Then on top, there is Samantha Lim’s fragile and nonchalant voice (often reminiscent of other bands on the scene like The xx), yet also sometimes exposing a darker tone of voice in the verses. Lyrically, the words suit the music, singing of how “I lose myself every time I stay out late night”,  but nothing other than that can be said about them. The second half of the album begins to feel as if teenagersintokyo are a cult of some sort , with the suicidal atmosphere of the darker keyboard chords kicking in, and the vocals becoming more desperate and fluctuating.  The music however, is nothing short of danceable and easy listening.

There is no denying that the album has a lot of 80s influence.  “Long Walk Home” recalls the synth lines of Joy Division, and the album as a whole is awash with the electro punk style of Siouxie And The Banshees. The opening track, “Sacrifice“, is not a great introduction to the band – it appears to have less substance to it than the rest of the album, mostly made up of a bass line, and the crying of “Sacrifice!” from Lim. However, once you get past that first track, the album starts to take on more of an identity. “End It Tonight” pretty much depicts that the band as having an attitude that is fearless and cool, and its relentless catchiness has inevitably allowed it to receive the remix treatment. Despite the “we-are-cooler-than you” edge of the album, it all ends on the track “3046”, which is a stark contrast to the others, presenting a softer and more relaxed side to their music – but is still one of the better songs.

Overall, the album is certainly memorable for about a few of its tracks; the others are mediocre or forgettable fillers. Teenagersintokyo prove themselves to be different from the bands that are often thrown under the sub genre of ‘Indie’, and although it draws heavily on the popular 80s styles, there is a fresh polish on Sacrifice which stops it from merely being a copycat album.

Best Tracks: End It Tonight, Isabella, 3046

65/100

Prince Paul – A Prince Among Thieves (1999)


A Prince Among Thieves is the second studio album by acclaimed producer Prince Paul. He had already gained recognition for his work with Gravediggaz and De La Soul, and for his next effort he aimed to create an album that could also be made into a movie. Despite the ambitious nature of the task, he succeeded in doing so but apparently the budget would only stretch to a 5 minute video. Movie or no movie, he managed to create what is, in my opinion, the most perfectly executed concept album and perhaps the greatest story ever told in hip-hop.

The album follows the story of a young man named Tariq (played by Breezly Brewin’) who struggles to get by with a 9 to 5 but has aspirations of becoming a famous rapper and needs to make $1,000 to finish his demo tape in time for his meeting with the Wu.

The story begins at the end with Tariq’s Dilemma and Pain, as the protagonist tries to comprehend the recent events that have left him betrayed and close to death.

Then it goes goes full circle as Tariq narrates the story from the beginning. Starting when he awakes after a night in the studio, only to be harassed by his mom who wants him to get a promotion and move out. He turns to his best friend True (Big Sha), who is described as being “like a brother” for help. True is also a well-connected drug dealer who takes him under his wing as they embark on a journey through the criminal underworld and meet a number of intriguing characters along the way. These include an eccentric arms dealer played by Kool Keith, a pimp portrayed by Big Daddy Kane (who arguably offers the strongest lyrical performance on the album), De La Soul as a bunch of crackheads, Everlast as a corrupt cop and Xzibit, Sadat X & Kid Creole as prison inmates. Through all its twists and turns, the story is truly engaging and you will find yourself actually caring about the fate of the characters. All this builds up to a dramatic and tragic ending (which I won’t go into to avoid spoiling it for new listeners).

Despite being surrounded by a cast of hip-hop legends, the relatively unknown Breeze and Sha play their roles spectacularly well, and it’s hard to imagine anybody who could replace them.
The skits (which account for almost half the album) are used to great effect in order to progress the story and tie everything together. It doesn’t just rely on the concept either, as with any album it is only as good as the music itself. Each individual song is brilliant and could stand equally strong on its own.

With everything going on, it’s easy to forget that the creative genius behind it all is primarily a producer, but the production is just as cinematic as the storyline itself.
The sound varies greatly to mirror the events of the story. With Uplifting beats on Steady Slobbin’ and What U Got, eery strings on Pain and Handle Your Time, to the ominous vibes of The Men in Blue and You Got Shot, this is a key component in creating the atmospheric feel of the album.

The captivating plot blurs the lines between a movie, an opera and a concept album. Whatever you want to call it, this is truly a storytelling masterpiece which even 13 years later, hasn’t been matched since and is unlikely to be exceeded anytime soon.

Best tracks: Steady Slobbin’, Weapon World, Macula’s Theory, Handle Your Time
Overall: 98/100