Sage The Gemini brings the winter to Sacramento


indexThe NorCal hip hop scene is amongst the most passionate in America, and no one knows that better that Dominic Wynn Woods, otherwise known to the public as Sage the Gemini.

A native of Fairfield, Sage the Gemini is prepping to bring his “West for the Winter Tour” to Northern California this month, with stops in Petaluma, Arcata and Sacramento. And for Sage, he sees this as a chance to makes this a big house party with him and all the hometown faithful.

“It’s amazing to be close to home,” Sage the Gemini said. “You always get the best reactions from people who know you. You kinda feel like Michael Jackson.”

While Sage is used to performing in front of his friends and family, he’s going to be bringing some new tunes to the stage. In December, he dropped the single, “Now and Later” from his upcoming sophomore album, “Bachelor Party”. In less than a full month, the single garnered over six million views; part of it was due to a unique marketing strategy that included a Snapchat filter for the song when it was released.

The tune, which he describes as one of his favorites, is an example of how Sage the Gemini has grown since his first album, “Remember Me”.

“Sometimes you gotta be catchy, and you gotta tend to people’s imaginations,” Sage said. “I’ve noticed that when you do that, it seems to get the job done. The Snapchat filter played a big part of it. When we released it to radio, it was just the right timing.”

While Sage the Gemini has been known for being one of the most unique artists out there due to his work ethic, he gives a lot of credit to his label, Atlantic Records, for giving him the creative freedom to pull off what he sees in his head.

“I’ve been working with this label since I was 18 years old,” Sage said. “We’re fully connected with the way they work, and they give me the space to do what I need to do. It’s like going into a classroom with the same friends from last year.”

Since his career took off in 2013 with the release of his first single, “Gas Pedal”, Sage the Gemini has become a nationwide success. And while he knows how to separate his stage persona from real life, he admits that it’s still something he is getting used to.

“I still don’t realize who I am sometimes,” Sage said. “I’ll be in Chuck E. Cheese attending a friend’s birthday party, and people will be like, ‘Oh my God’. I tell them, ‘I know, I’m too big to be in the ball pit’, and they’re like, ‘you’re Sage the Gemini’. It’s crazy.”

Coming back home for the “West for the Winter Tour” is special to him, especially the Sacramento stop, where he will be performing at Ace of Spades.

“Ace of Spades is my number one venue,” Sage said. “When I hear I’m performing there, I get excited. It always sells out, and they know every song. It’s like a hip hop ray of black waves.”

The “West for the Winter Tour” comes to town on September 23 at Ace of Spades.

 

 

 

 

Top 10 Hip Hop Albums of 2016


2016…what a year for music, what a year for Hip Hop. Last year writing this blog, I had trouble finiding 10 albums that I really enjoyed. This year I found myself having trouble narrowing it down to just 13 albums (13 albums because they are three ties). If you are a Hip Hop junkie like myself, you were smiling from ear to ear with your headphones in most of the year. This year brought listeners so much variety in Hip Hop. We saw veteran artists eveolve and change up their styles to create music we have never previously heard from them. We saw up and coming artists drop albums that put them on the industry’s map. We saw music touch on the social issues, feministic views and even the presidential election. From Kendrick Lamar to YG to Mac Miller to Isaiah Rashard and more, here are my rankings for the 10 best hip hop albums of 2016, and some honorable mentions that didn’t quite make the list.

Honorable Mentions:

 

“Awaken, My Love!” by Childish Gambino

Image result for awaken my love childish gambino In a year that seemed like everyone was trying a new style, Gambino continued the trend and brought a Disco type style to his latest album. It’s worth checking out.

 

 

 

Kairi Chanel by Dave East

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Dave East really burst onto the underground scene this year. Coming out of Harlem, East has an east coast style similar to A$AP Rocky and Jim Jones but with his own twist. Keep an eye out for his name to blow up in the up and coming years.

 

 

 

Atrocity Exhibition by Danny Brown

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Danny Brown is sort of an acquired taste. It’s like a hybrid of trap music and early old school hip hop. I enjoyed the album nonetheless. Check out the song “Really Doe” that features Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, & Earl Sweatshirt.

 

 

 

Prima Donna by Vince Staples

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Vince Staples followed last year’s freshmen album with an EP this summer. I liked a handful of songs including “Smile” and “Loco” just to name a few. Solid project.

 

 

 

 

The Letter O by Dame D.O.L.L.A.

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Dame D.O.L.L.A., also known as Damian Lillard when he is working his other job, dropped an album this October before the NBA season began. For a professional athlete, it’s a good first album. Looks like Lillard is a man of many talents.

 

 

 

Cozy Tapes, Vol 1: Friends by A$AP Mob

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A solid album that features all the members of the A$AP Mob. A$AP Yams, who passed away during the creation of the album, was the one who had the idea for the album. There’s a couple songs on the album that really slap, so be sure to turn the bass down so you don’t blow out your stock speakers.

 

 

 

1992 by The Game

Image result for 1992 the gameThe Game has been a busy man dropping 4 projects and a documentary on A&E in the past year. The Game samples plenty of old school rap beats while telling his life story during the year 1992, hence the title.

 

 

 

 

Now onto the Albums that made the cut…

10. Life of Pablo by Kanye West

Image result for the life of pabloKanye West dropped one of the bigger albums of the beginning of the year on Valentine’s Day in February. For me, I will always be a bigger fan of early Kanye albums such as College Dropout and Late Registration but I was pretty pleased with this album. I liked it a lot better than his previous album, Yeezus. Kanye had plenty of great features on the album as well such as Chicago native Chance the Rapper, Kid Cudi, Chris Brown, Rihanna, Frank Ocean and more. The ‘Pablo’ Kanye is referring to in his album’s title is a combination of Pablo Picasso and Pablo Escobar, a mix of artistic masterpiece and the movement of product (his album) Kanye says. Recommended Tracks: “Real Friends”, “Famous”, “No More Parties in LA”, and “Ultralight Beam.”

9. Untitled Unmastered by Kendrick Lamar/ Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight by Travis Scott

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Our first tie. It was hard to choose between the two but I wanted both of these on the final list. Kendrick Lamar surprised fans by dropping Untitled Unmastered roughly a year after the release of To Pimp a Butterfly. Just like TPAB, Kendrick continues his jazzy, funk influenced hip hop style as he stated most of the songs on this album were unfinished demos that did not make the cut for TPAB. Recommended Tracks: “Untitled 08”, “Untitled 03”, and “Untitled 06.” I have never been a huge fan of Travis Scott and his previous projects but his most recent album changed my opinon on him. I could not even finish listening to his previous album, Rodeo, all the way through. But Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight was a really good album. This album was on constant repeat in my headphones during the month of September. Travis had a lot of good features on the album too like Kendrick Lamar, Andre 3000, The Weekend, Kid Cudi and more. I highly recommend you take a listen. Recommended Tracks: “goosebumps”, “wonderful”, “sweet sweet”, and “through the late night.”

8. Thirst 48, Pt. II by Boogie/ The Divine Feminine by Mac Miller

Image result for thirst 48 pt 2Image result for the divine feminine mac miller                                      Another tie as you must tell by now im not the most decisive blogger. But if you have not heard of Boogie yet, your are missing out. Another Compton rapper, whose young and has the potential to blow up in his own way, similar to YG, The Game, Problem and others from the city. In his mixtape, Boogie touches on plenty of current social issues that are prevelant in conversations around the country today. Keep an eye out for the up an coming rapper to blow up in the next couple of years. Recommended Tracks: “N**a Needs”, “Won’t be the Same”, “Two Days”, and “Slide on U.” Just like Travis Scott, I have never been the biggest fan of Mac Miller and his previous albums, but Mac incorporated a whole new style with this album. Slow jazzy beats with a gospel-rap type style similar to Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book but with more romantic lyrics, hence the title. I have to give credit to KSSU for bringing this album to me as I was the DJ at the station in charge of writing a review for the album. I probably would not have thought to listen to this album on my own because of my previous disinterest with Mac Miller’s earlier music. Good production, clever style, and strong features such as Kendrick Lamar, Arianna Grande , Anderson Paak and CeeLo Green. Definitely an album worth buying. Recommended Tracks: “God is Fair, Sexy Nasty”, “My Favorite Part”, “Dang” and “Stay.”

7. Bobby Tarantino by Logic

Image result for bobby tarantino album cover After dropping The Incredible True Story last fall, Logic dropped a mixtape during the summer of 2016, a surprise meant for his true fans he said on social media. With his freshmen and sophmore albums, Logic has climbed up the ranks as one of the best lyricists in the hip hop industry. Logic has announced he is already working on his next album and this mixtape was just a “filler” for his fans to pass the time while the wait. Despite this being only a mixtape, it was still one of the better projects of 2016. I enjoyed the “A Word from our Sponsor” skit, a continuation of the ongoing skits with Marty Randolph. This mixtape was a solid listen for Logic fans like myself as we await Logic’s junior album. Recommended Tracks: “Deeper Than Money”, “Super Mario World”, and “Flexicution.”

6. Still Brazy by YG

Image result for still brazyThe third Compton rapper to make this year’s list is YG with his album Still Brazy. This was one of the bigger albums of the year as far as the media coverage it got in part to the subject of YG’s songs on the album and the relevance it had in society, the presidential election and more. “FDT”, a song bashing candidate Donald Trump, seemed to be the anthem of the summer for most Hip Hop fans. The rest of YG’s album is beautifully constructed with a combination of beats that range from  modern to old school gangsta rap. For an artist who is typically considered underground and does not receive much radio play, this album was a breakthrough for YG to the mainstream airwaves. If you are fan of gangsta rap, I highly recommend this album. Recommended Tracks: “FDT”, “She Wish She Was”, “Don’t Come to LA”, and “Still Brazy.”

5. The Sun’s Tirade by Isaiah Rashad

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As I mentioned earlier in the blog, there was a couple artists this year that really burst on to the scene. Isaiah Rashad was one of them. As a member of TDE, Isaiah sort of gets overshadowed by the other artists who are signed the the label. But with this album, Isaiah makes a strong case that his name belongs amongst the other TDE heavyweights. Coming from Tennessee, Isaiah Rashad bring his own southern, jazzy rap style in this album. He has a few members of TDE featured on the album such as SZA, Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock and non TDE artists like SiR and Zacari. A strong freshmen album by Isaiah and I expect nothing less from him in the upcoming future. I luckliy have the chance to see him perform live when he comes to Sacramento on his tour in March, so I will be counting down the days to that. Recommended Track: “T**y and Dolla”, “Wat’s Wrong”, “Free Lunch”, and “Stuck in the Mud.”

4. 4 Your Eyez Only by J Cole

Image result for 4 your eyez only album coverVery late into the year, J Cole decides to bless us with another album, the first since 2014 Forest Hills Drive. Cole was clever too and dropped it on the same date, December 9th, as the day he dropped 2014 FHD. This album and another actually delayed my process in finishing this blog as I had to listen to this a couple times through before I could properly critique it. A lot of fans on social media are quick to say they did not like the album and some even go as far to say that they hated it. I completely disagree. Sure, it might not be as strong of an album as 2014 FHD, but this is still a top 5 album of the year nonetheless. The storytelling J Cole displays in this album is truly amazing. Listen to the lyrics, especially the final track on the song “4 Your Eyez Only” and you will be blown away. I’m a little dissapointed that his single “False Prophets” did not make the final tracklist but it still is a great album that did not quite crack the top 3 on my list. Recommended Tracks: “4 Your Eyez Only”, “Deja Vu”, “Ville Mentality”,  and “Neighbors.”

3. Blank Face LP by ScHoolboy Q/ We Got it from here…Thank You for your Service by A Tribe Called Quest

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Image result for we got it from here thank you for your service album cover

 

Another tie but its the last one I promise. Lets first start with ScHoolboy’s album, Blank Face LP. Want to know what its like growing up in South Central LA 21st century? Look no further than this album. His first studio album since Oxymoron, which dropped in the spring of 2014, ScHoolboy had fans waiting a long time for this one. Q wanted to show he’s capable of doing it on his own amongst the TDE heavyweights and did so successfully as he did not have a single Black Hippy member featured on the album. He still had a handful of big features including E-40, Vince Staples, Kanye West, Tha Dogg Pound, and Jadakiss to name a few. ScHoolboy Q also had a three part short film he released weeks before his album that were beautifully produced and acted as teasers to some of his album’s songs. Overall, one of my favorite albums of all time. Recommended Tracks: “Dope Dealer”, “Big Body”, “By Any Means”, and “John Muir.” Next album, I have to start off by saying RIP Phife Dawg who passed away earlier this year in March during the production of ATCQ’s album. You can’t find a better farewell album this year, and arguably one of the best of all time from a music group. Listening to this album will take you back to the 90’s and to one of the prime eras for Hip Hop music. They even had features like Busta Rhymes, Andre 3000, and Talib Kweli, guys who started their careers during that era. But they also included young rappers of the new school era with guys like Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West and Anderson Paak to give the album a solid mix of both. The albm was too good to not put in my top 3, thus the explanation for the tie. Recommended Tracks: “Conrad Tokyo”, “The Space Program”, “The Donald”, and “Black Spasmodic.”

2. Do What Thou Wilt by Ab-Soul

Image result for do what thou wilt

In my opinion and the opinion’s of a couple others in my circle of friends, Ab-Soul won December 9th over J Cole. Still have not heard word if Ab-Soul released his album on the same day to make a statement, but in the heavyweight battle Soul being the underdog, I have to give Soul the belt. Ab-Soul is one of the most clever when it comes to play on words in his rhymes but this album took a little different twist that Ab-Soul’s past albums. Feminism was the main topic of a lot of his songs, which isn’t necesarily the case when it comes to the current Hip Hop industry. Ab-Soul said in an interview the weekend after his album dropped that “we have to respect the ladies more” which is something I can definitely stand behind. Dark but enlightening, is the best way to describe Soul’s style and he continues that with this album. Recommended Tracks: “Threatening Nature, “Beat the Case”, “The Law”, & “Huey Knew THEN”.

1. Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper

Image result for coloring book chance the rapperDrum roll please….and the best Hip Hop album of 2016 goes to Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper. I could go on and on about how great this album was but I’ll try to keep it short and sweet. As I mentioned earlier, in  year where artists came with different styles, no style changed up more than Chance the Rapper’s. Chance has grown and evolved into one of the top tier rappers in the industry and this album solidified his spot even higher on the list. The album can be similar to gospel rap as Chance talks about how he found god in his life and evolved as a person from it. Listen to Acid Rap, one of his early mixtapes, and then listen to this album. You will be surprised to know that is the same Chance the Rapper on both albums. The proudction, that artwork, the lyrics, the meanings of his song, everything about this album was great. I was fortunate enough to see Chance in concert on his tour this fall when he performed at UC Davis. My favorite album of the year and will be one of my favorite of all time. Recommended Tracks: “No Problem”, “Angels”, “All We Got” and “Smoke Break.”

Thanking A Tribe Called Quest…


tribe

A Tribe Called Quest is known for being both legendary and innovative for their epic contributions in hip-hop. Since releasing their last album 18 years ago, many fans feared that the group would refrain from ever releasing new music. This seemed especially true with the unfortunate passing of Tribe’s master rapper and co-founder, Phife Dawg, in March. New music from ATCQ seemed highly unlikely then, until the recent release of their sixth and final album, We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service. The album not only reminds listeners of their classic 90s style, but also reinvigorates the group’s collection of work without using nostalgia as a crutch. There are tons of songs on this album worth listening but I have picked the moments that have most impacted my experience the most with this new ATCQ body of work.

The album starts eerily with, “The Space Program”. This recalls back to the essential beginnings of Tribe. The song is organized and arranged specifically to flow and blend the past of jazz with the intergalactic noises of the future. Jarobi rhymes “We takin’ off to Mars, got the space vessels overflowin’/What, you think they want us there? All us ****** not goin’”. Though the lyrics concern traveling to space and landing on Mars, the song is about the future of hip-hop and staying relevant while from an older generation of this genre. Tribe is stating that although they are not based in the new generation of hip-hop, they encourage the future of the genre and are reminding all listeners of their style and skills as artists.

Along the journey listeners are given powerful messages. On “We the People…,” Q-Tip’s hook specifically calls out the political ridiculousness of Donald Trump while also predicting a false vision of a Clinton victory this recent election. The most impressive collaboration from Tribe is their partnership with Jack White and Elton John for “Solid Wall of Sound,” while “Ego” serves as a both vulnerable and passionate confession.

“Dis Generation” uses a sample of Musical Youth’s “Pass the Dutchie”. The most exceptional moment in the song is when Q-Tip refers to Joey Bada$$, Earl Sweatshirt, Kendrick Lamar, and J. Cole as “gatekeepers of flow/They are extensions of instinctual soul.” Tribe continues throughout the album projecting wise messages in a form similar to Yoda projecting wisdom to young Jedi.

“The Donald,” is a homage to Phife Dawg and how he will not be forgotten, while also stamping the late MC’s strong influences and contributions to the album.

We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service serves as another A Tribe Called Quest album that has gone right. This is not an album that demands closure or legacy. The work actually seems as though, in a perfect world, the group will band back together and Phife Dawg will magically come back to life and continue working on another album and eventually go on tour. However most times music lovers cannot get what they want, and this may be one of those times where we have to be okay and accept that this is a magnificent and epic ending to the group’s extensive line of work. I mean we could not expect Jarobi and Q-Tip to continue without Phife Dawg. So for now, and for always we will have to accept this beautiful last gift and thank them for their service…

Album Review: Kings of Leon – WALLS


kingsofleon-walls-album-2016

The year of 2016 has marked the beginning and the end of a plethora of items and people.  Over the course of the year we have lost music icons such as David Bowie and Prince to name a few; however, we have also seen new releases by formidable artists and performers such as Green Day, The Weeknd, Metallica, Radiohead, etc.  One of such releases comes from American alternative-rock band Kings of Leon with their seventh studio album titled “WALLS” (We Are Like Love Songs).  Although arguably not a masterpiece, WALLS delivers familiar Kings of Leon staples reminiscent of their material eight years prior that are both energetic and relaxing.
Alternative-rock as a genre itself can be dismissed as one that is characterized by an overuse of delay, distortion, fuzz, power chords, and underdeveloped melodies that are forgettable; however, WALLS takes these familiar elements and blends them smoothly with subtle embellishments and instrumentation to offer a bit of variety.  In the opening track, “Waste A Moment”, listeners are presented with an upbeat, almost pop-oriented single that is full of energy and announces the band’s presence with their signature overtones and gain-filled rifts.  The result is a simple, yet fun way of demonstrating that this in part is the band listeners have come to enjoy over the years, yet they have changed slightly since the last time we have heard them.  The latter effect becomes apparent at the album’s midpoint with tracks such as “Find Me” and “Muchacho”, which introduce synthesizers, rhythmic sampling, whistling, and other subtle instrumental embellishments that diversify each individual tune.
Despite these small innovations, the tracks themselves are still characteristically Kings of Leon tracks that do not stand out among the discography that they have established over the years.  “Find Me”, for example, is primarily driven by a semi-complex guitar riff that appears at the track’s beginning and makes subsequent appearances with each chorus.  This is not particularly a bad thing; however, this focus on familiarity and on what we have come to expect is exactly what makes a majority of the tracks rather predictable.  Though the synthesizer usage is present briefly in the beginning and sporadically though each verse, it is a lack of utilization of these devices that makes tunes such as “Find Me” fun but relatively forgettable.  Aside from this, active listeners will also recognize a familiarity in structure.  Yes, I refer to the typical Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus.  Though there is not necessarily anything wrong with this standard format, this additional limitation does not serve the band justice in these instances.  In this listener’s opinion: “I get that it works, cool, but I am getting bored”.
The Kings of Leon have always been a band that strikes me as not too innovative in regards to new styles of music, but rather, one that seeks to improve upon a genre that is adored and enjoyed by thousands throughout the world.  They have demonstrated time and time again that they are good at what they do, and I commend them for that; however, it is time to change.  What else does the Followill gang have to offer?  Until that time, enjoy more of the Kings of Leon you have come to love.

I give WALLS, a 3 out of 5.

Album Review: Danny Brown – “Atrocity Exhibition”


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Back in October, fans of hip hop collectively laughed at a young mother who uploaded a video in which she discussed at length how aghast she was over hearing rapper Vince Staples’ song “Norf Norf” on her local radio station. As ridiculous as this video is – she at one point sobbingly recites the song’s explicit lyrics with her young children present – Vince later came out with a set of statements defending the mother and her right to state her opinion even if the opinion was off base from the original message of the song. This video, after quickly becoming a meme, finally dissipated into the ether of internet lore, but not without creating some discussion on the artistic merits of rap and hip hop and their possible glorification of drug use, misogyny, and violent imagery. While there are many advocates who believe rap and hip hop are glorifying these types of lifestyles, there is something to be said about a growing number of rap artists currently showcasing these lifestyles as snapshots of where they’ve been as if to warn others not to go down the same route they did.

Such is the fact with Detroit rapper Danny Brown who recently came out with his fourth album, Atrocity Exhibition. Every track on this album showcases various personal stories of sex, drugs, and situations far from rock n’ roll, but never once does it glorify these types of lifestyles. Rather, Danny showcases these songs as “cautionary tales.” If someone happens to misconstrue it as anything but, Danny lays out his mission statement with complete sincerity in the closing lines of the last song on the album: “So my task is/inspire your future with my past/I lived through that/So that you don’t have to go through it.”

Brown’s writing is on point here as he tells little pieces of his backstory from song to song, and it’s definitely a hard listen when one digs into the lyrics. On “Tell Me What I Don’t Know,” Brown details his past escapades with friends getting in trouble with the law and dealing with drug deals gone wrong. On “Rolling Stone,” Danny Brown details his drug dependency and how hard it is to break out of the cycles of the highs and lows it brings about even if he is completely aware that this is happening: “I’m on a road that never ends/Don’t know opposite of sin/Some people say I think too much/I don’t think they think enough.” Every song on this record showcases his growing ennui of the lifestyles that he had chosen to immerse himself in, and it’s an engrossing listen through every turn.

Before going further, I would be remiss if I didn’t note that this album is not for everyone. For fans of Danny Brown’s earlier albums, this is not Old. Neither is it XXX. It is Danny Brown by way of Death Grips and clipping. Certain beats contain punk rock-like elements, such as on the guitar-driven “Golddust.” Things turn toward the deliciously abrasive on album highlight “Ain’t It Funny” where a horn section blares to no end as if to signal an incoming tornado. However unconventional and experimental the instrumentals and samples are, it plays into the albums themes perfectly. It’s the musical equivalent of a bad acid trip with the listener riding the highs and lows.

In terms of features, other than Petite Noir, Kelela, and B-Real all singing hooks on their respective songs, “Really Doe” is the only track with guest features rapping over the instrumental, and it’s stacked with Ab-Soul showing some passion for the rap game, Kendrick being Kendrick, and Earl Sweatshirt showcasing some brash, brazen verses that cements his top billing on the song. With a line-up such as this with the performances given on the track, it’s crazy to think that this might not be the best song off the album. There are many highlights on Atrocity Exhibition, and it’s thanks to Danny Brown’s lyricism and fiery delivery. There are instrumentals on this album that Danny has absolutely no business sounding as good as he is when he raps over them – especially on a track like the album’s second single, “Pneumonia,” where Brown spits bars over an idiosyncratic industrial beat with a time signature that should make spitting bars over it humanly impossible. Songs like this one shouldn’t work, but they just do thanks to Brown’s technical ability.

To say Danny Brown reinvented his sound with this album is an understatement. Many of the tracks here – other than “Really Doe” – are a far cry from anything you’d hear on mainstream radio. However, the album is well made, well produced, and very much so a rewarding listen – no matter how weird or how long it is. Although this album is soon going to be measured up to other strong rap albums that came out this year – like Schoolboy Q and Anderson Paak’s new records – Atrocity Exhibition is a different beast entirely. It’s most akin to Kendrick

Lamar’s turn last year with the politically driven, jazz-influenced To Pimp a Butterfly. Both records showcases two highly skilled rappers at the top of their game – artists who switched up their styles and showed why they’re the best at what they do. They accomplished this because they both made strong, entertaining, and experimental album experiences with a message rather than their records being just vehicles for hit singles. They were both risks, and those risks paid off. And while Atrocity Exhibition isn’t on the same level as Kendrick’s masterpiece, it’s still an important piece of music and an enjoyable one at that.

I highly recommend this album to lovers of industrial, experimental, and alternative hip hop, especially for those that dig artists like Death Grips, clipping., Shabazz Palaces, and Run the Jewels. And to rap and hip hop listeners who usually stick with more traditional artists and sounds, this may be a challenging listen, but I implore you to give it a chance. It may just surprise you in ways you could never expect.

DJ Alexx’s Pick for 2016


It is November; getting close to the end of the year.

2016 has been a year full of Hip-Hop, Electronica, and Dance. Many collaborations and features happened such as rapper Verbal Jint with ballad singer, Baek Ji Young and rapper Dean with Girls’ Generation Tiffany. This was a way to promote each other that worked well because there was always good response from the audiences. On the other hand, Rock/Indie, Ballad, and R&B are behind the scenes that slowly crept on music charts like ballad singer, Park Hyo Shin and rock band, Nell.

After this paragraph, there would be a list and description about the artist and album. This list is base off from my recommendations for 2016 releases. Right below after the recommendations, there would be upcoming releases listed to be prepared for the artists who are going to make a comeback soon. To give a hint, the albums mostly consist of Ballad, Rock/Indie, R&B, and Pop music from January to November. (This list is going to be based off from date of the album, min-album, and/or single released.)

1

UNDERWATER

Jung Joon Il | January 14

-Mini Album-

There are four tracks in his first mini album, Underwater, that was released the beginning of the year Jung Joon Il became a solo artist after the disbandment of Korean rock band, MATE. With the years of his success of his solo career, Jung Joon Il has showed a different side of him. Rather than going ballad with this mini album, he has shown the different music style. The second track, Plastic, is the title of this album that Jung Joon Il changed his vocal voice to an R&B and featured rapper, BewhY has lead us to a melancholy melody with the metaphor of, “I’m not a plastic.”

Recommended tracks: 02, 03, 04

2

White Night
Woo Yeon Soo | January 15

-Mini Album-

Woo Yeon Soo is a new artist that I’ve only discovered this year. She has a remarkable ballad voice that is really graceful. It is perfect to listen to when you are at need for relaxation. I immediately fell for her voice of how she sang for her tracks.

3

This Place

Subin (Dal Shabet) | June 20

-Mini Album-

Subin is from girl group, Dal Shabet. In honest, I’ve never listened to this group or if I did, I don’t remember any of their songs. However, member Subin caught my attention with her first mini album. She showed off a strong R&B and ballad voice the five tracks.

Recommended tracks: 01, 02, 03 (the rest are highly recommended to listen to)

¹«Á¦-1

Bye Bye My Blue

Baek Ye Rin | June 20

-Single Album-

Baek Ye Rin, similar to Subin, is from a duo group, 15&. However, this is her single album (which contains only three tracks). The music genre that Baek Ye Rin takes on is the soft rock. Her deep voice is soothing that is really enjoyable to listen to when it comes to the soft melodies. For this single album, I recommend all three tracks to listen to.

5

Pink Revolution

Apink | September 26

-Full Length Album-

After a year and two months, Apink (pronounced as the letter A and the color Pink > A Pink) has finally returned to the Korean music scene with their third full-length album with nine new tracks! Unlike before with their fairy-like concepts, the ladies have taken on the path to a mature concept.

The maturity is very much different from others mostly because of their fashion and style. The way they are dressed for this concept are two different colors of skirts and long sleeves turtle-neck tops that are tucked in. A fashion that has been popular among the 1990s where turtle-necks were the trend. Also, Apink has always been the group that resembles the first generation Korean groups such as S.E.S. and FINKL that their title track, Only One, brings out the melody that will reminiscence that feel.

Recommended tracks: 03, 06, 07, 09

6

I Am a Dreamer

Park Hyo Shin | October 3

-Full Length Album-

Park Hyo Shin has finally returned with his 7th album with twelve tracks since his single release in 2014. I like this album because of Park Hyo Shin naturally has a deep voice. But his voice can vibrate into a beautiful vocal that smoothens the melody. Besides, his album title, “I am a Dreamer” brings out the mood of the befriended and inspired emotions to you.
Recommended tracks: 01, 04, 06, 07, 09, 10

7

Wings

Bangtan Boys | October 7

­-Full Length Album-

Bangtan Boys has released their second full length album, Wings. A new concept that the boys has took a stab onto the music scene. Their title track “Blood, Sweat, and Tears” has a non-Hip-Hop style and more of a dance feel to it. A “gentleman” style because their outfits were suits rather than jeans, t-shirts, and jackets. There are five tracks that all of members sing, two intro/interlude tracks, and the rest of the seven tracks are member’s solo tracks. Like what Korean girl group, KARA did in 2012 for their Japanese collection album, Bangtan has done the same. This is how I started to know which music style is the key to the group from each member. For all members, they have similarities in R&B and Hip-Hop/Rap and that is how their group music genre are.

Recommended tracks: 01, 05, 06, 07, 09, 14

November releases: (Check them out!)

B.A.P “Noir” [November 7] – After two years of their first album released, B.A.P is ready to come into the music scene for a new style of music.

Standing Egg “Voice” [November 11] – Indie artist, Standing Egg is releasing the new mini-album soon, look forward to it.

Big Bang [November] – Not officially announced a specific date but Big Bang is going to release an album to celebrate their tenth year since debut.

S.E.S [November] – First generation K-pop girl group, S.E.S. is making a comeback somewhere this month to celebrate their twentieth year anniversary! This is said to be an 20th union, special album!

Allegaeon – “Proponent for Sentience” CD Review


a1216811115_10To all the geeks and science fanatics: your new favorite band is here.

With Allegaeon’s new album, “Proponent for Sentience”, the five-piece brings forth an aural assault of seven/eight-string guitar mastery, six-string bass and drum symmetry that almost resembles a marching band, and vocals that range from the depths of the abyss to the highest gates of heaven.

While always known for their scientific lyrical content, what a lot of non-metalheads do’t know is that the group is also known for their classical guitar work, which is featured prominently on their single from the record, “Gray Matter Mechanics – Apassionata Ex Machinea“, which features exquisite flamenco guitar playing from guitarist Greg Burgess (for the exclusive flamenco-only performance, click here).

The band confirmed in interview that a lot of the lyrical content on this album comes from the idea that robotics are not just a novel idea, but an eventual future that may be too much to contain. In a press release from the band’s label, Metal Blade, vocalist Riley McShane gave a bit of insight as to what the album is about.

“With this record we’re bringing ideas to the table that corroborate the fact that at this juncture, robotics as a field is moving forward at an alarming rate,” explains McShane. “This story is dotted with examples of real-life scientific advancements, and it is also perforated with details of humanity’s flaws. Overall, the record tells a story that is still a bit too far fetched to be based in reality, but isn’t too far beyond the scope of imagination to see occurring within the not-so-distant future.”

That concept is explained in great detail in the three-part trilogy sprinkled in different parts of the album, with the magnum opus of the album being the end of the trilogy, “Proponent for Sentience III – The Extermination“, which features guest spots from Bjorn “Speed” Strid of Soilwork and Benjamin Ellis of Scar Symmetry.

The instrumental work speaks for itself on the record, but one of the main highlights actually comes from the vocal work of Riley McShane, the ‘new’ vocalist. Although he has been touring with the band since 2015, the new record is his first with the band. While longtime fans of Allegaeon are used to the low, guttural vocals of former vocalist Ezra Haynes, they need not worry: McShane has that covered. For fans of higher-pitched screams, I recommend you listen to “Of Mind and Matrix”. And, if you’re one of those “I can’t get into metal because it’s too rah-rah and not enough clean vocals”, the band has you covered.

For the first time n the band’s history, they incorporated clean vocals into their material, which is a positive considering McShane’s expansive vocal range. The cleans on “Cognitive Computations” will give you goosebumps. And if you’re looking for a song with nothing but cleans, their cover of “Subdivisions” by the legendary prog-rock band Rush will more than satisfy your hunger.

Overall, I recommend this album if you’re a fan of movies like “The Terminator” or “The Matrix”. And while this record has its chock of singles, it will make more sense if you listen to it from front to back. Prepare to put at least an hour and a half of your day aside; this record is going to put your mind to work.

ALL HAIL SCIENCE!

 

Blog Review: Jackie Gage”Live at The Commons” 3-song EP


If you love Neo-Soul and Jazz, I recommend giving Jackie Gage a listen. Gage grew up listening and singing to icons such as Billie Holiday and Dionne Warwick. She has always been a fan of big bands and odd-structured melodies. To be unique she mixes their modern sound into her own style of what “Jazz” is today.

She recently moved to New York City where she is growing and shaping her craft. Gage has opened for The Brand New Heavies and El Debarge. She has also performed  with Marc Cary. Her music is heard internationally on the airwaves on KCRW, KCSM, Jazz FM in England, and Hawaii’s CUH. She has performed at well-known venues such as Yoshi’s Oakland/The Sound Room in Oakland, The Freight and Salvage in Berkeley. She has been seen at annual festivals such as San Jose Jazz Summer Fest (2016, 2013, 2012), Fillmore Jazz Festival (2015), and Berkeley Juneteenth (2015, 2014).

She recorded her 3-song EP at The Commons in San Jose, California in May 2016. She delivers a soulful and smooth sound and vocal. Her first song, “Let me know” consists of herself and William Bohrer. It is an upbeat song with intricate drumming and feel good guitar solos that leave you feeling mellow and chill. She engages the audience with “repeat after me” lyrics.

Her song, “Afro Blue” is the definition of Jazz music. It is my favorite on the EP. The instrumentals encompass all the right instruments, that leave you feeling relaxed and enjoying life. Her vocals are soft and delicate, but delivers a strong Blues vibe.

Her song, “Sweet”, consists of herself, William Bohrer and Timothy Wat. It sounds like a relationship song. Pull at the heart even more, with this song, it will make you reminisce about past loves and hurts, but love is always worth it.

Also, on the new EP is Tim Wat, a Bay Area pianist and keyboard player. Wat has been performing with The Floorshakers for two years now. He is an active member of the Northern California jazz community. Wat plays frequently in San Jose, San Francisco, and the East Bay. His first love is jazz, but also has experience playing rock, pop, R&B, funk, worship, progressive rock, country, classical and even goth music throughout California and the United States.

As well as Wat, William Bohrer is a bass/guitarist, who is known for being a part of 7th Street Big Band from San Jose, California. 7th Street Big Band is an 18-piece jazz band that plays high energy songs that range from Funk, Latin, and Jazz.

Jackie is a well-rounded singer and songwriter that is making waves in the music industry. She is making a name for herself in Jazz music and making Jazz more mainstream and relevant. I thoroughly enjoyed the “Live at The Commons” EP. I think she has grown as a vocalist as I listen to each song. Her range is versatile and unique. You don’t hear her sound everything. I love finding unique artists that bring a new style or ingredient to the table.

You can follow Jackie Gage’s music at her website JackieGage.org.

 

My Portal Into Yesteryear


music

If you have listened to my show on KSSU or have taken the time to get to know me, there is one thing that you’ll probably discover, and that is that I love  jazz music from the 1930s and 40s. I get several questions about my strange taste in music. Why do you like such old music? How did you get into this music?  Well, that’s what I plan to tell you guys about, my portal into yesteryear.

It must have been 2007 or so and I was in visiting Disneyland down in Anaheim with my family. Our next destination was the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. As we approached the giant, art deco themed building, ghostly sounding music started fading into my ears. For me, it was as if I was entering a different time. It started with this wonderful trumpet solo that wasn’t like anything I have heard before. As we moved deeper into the line, the louder the music got and the more I was mesmerized by the music. As the trumpet solo ended and the orchestra joined the trumpeter and created an even more mesmerizing melody. It was a new, pure sound that I never thought I would enjoy and it became more sentimental as a ghostly vocalists filled the halls of the Tower of Terror. I knew at that second that I enjoyed this music and had to find out the name of that song.

After weeks of searching (smartphones weren’t  around yet so I couldn’t just open Shazam to identify the song), I found the song on iTunes and got to enjoy the performance once again. It was titled, “I Can’t Get Started,”by Bunny Berigan & His Orchestra. Bunny Berigan, the talented vocalist and trumpeter, masterfully used his talents to bring me to in a new world. From there, I found other songs like “Moonlight Serenade” and “Lets Dance”and artists like Frank Sinatra and Doris Day. As I listened to more music, I then realized that jazz was my kind of music.

When people ask me why I like jazz, I give them a variety of answers, but the answer I use the most is that it is different. Jazz is relatively simple, yet elegant. I liked the elements of jazz from the trumpets, to the saxophones, and the occasional crooner. Sure, a lot of the music is old and can be considered “elevator music” by many, but the material is fantastic. I enjoy the sentimental lyrics and the sound of each instrument. Sure many of my favorite songs are 70+ years old, but recorded music is made to last forever.

For anyone who wants to get into jazz or anyone interested in the 1930s, 40s, or 50s, I would suggest to just find a few songs and give them a careful listen. Listen to the sounds of each instrument, the lyrics, and ( if you’re listening to a 78rpm record or an old recording) the scratches and old radio sound. In fact, here are songs I recommend. Some of these songs have lyrics and some are instrumental:

 

  1. “Moonlight Serenade” by Glenn Miller & His Orchestra
  2. “I Can’t Get Started” by Bunny Berigan & His Orchestra
  3. “Long Ago (And Far Away)” by Glenn Miller & The Army Air Force Band
  4. “Ciribiribin” By Harry James & His Orchestra
  5. “Saturday Night is the Loneliest Night of The Week” by Frank Sinatra
  6. “Let’s Dance” By Benny Goodman

Enjoy and let me know what you think.

Griffin does music on KSSU

Interview: Ulises Bella of Grammy-winning Ozomatli


ozomatiUlises Bella is one of the founding members of Ozomatli. The Latin/hip-hop/rock band celebrated their 21 anniversary this April when we spoke with saxophonist Bella about the band’s origin, addressing social issues in music and authenticity.

Emiliano: When Ozomatli first began, after the release of your first album,  you toured with Carlos Santana on his Supernatual Tour. Could you tell us about that experience?

Ulises Bella: To start with the whole idea of Santana, his music and his repertoire are obviously pretty influential in Spanish-speaking communities. Especially if you’re a musician, someone would always scream out one of his songs at a party and you would learn it. His sounds and his musicianship have always been pretty influential in the band.

The story is that Sal Santana, Carlos’ son, got ahold of our first album and showed it to Carlos. Carlos heard it, was really impressed by it and that’s when he offered us our first try-out gig opening up for him at the Anaheim Pond. We played and it went really, really well. After that I remember they offered us an opening slot for the national tour.

E: And that exposed you to more people?

U: Yeah. It’s crazy because – like I mentioned before how influential his song book is – he would have us jam with him every night. For me playing saxophone, we were basically three or four songs in his set also. We were his horn section for that tour. That was really, really a trip! It totally blew our minds to be able to play these songs we’d been playing all our lives with the guy who popularized them.

E: That then gave you guys a bigger platform, because you went on to win multiple Grammies after that. Even for your following albums.

U: We had actually already established a pretty heavy following in L.A. and California. There were two tours, one with Mana and Santana that was ginormous. Really being the first band out of these three, and trying to – we were all in our early 20s – we were out for blood, we were trying to rock it so hard. We were really trying to parlay a lot of fans.

E: In your music, Ozomatli doesn’t shy away from addressing politics. What do you feel that you guys are trying to accomplish through your songs?

U: I don’t know if we’re necessarily thinking in this way where it’s like, ‘through our music we are trying to accomplish this or that.’ I think more what it is, is that since the beginning of this band, as a collective we have always backed certain things and supported certain things, and there are things that resonate in our heart. Most of the time it’s been social issues, women’s rights, immigrants’ rights, music education, education in general, anti-war stance. With us, it’s always been part of our DNA, ever since we started as a band. What I’m trying to say is that whether or not it’s popular or trendy or accepted we’ve always been this way.

E: Are there any particular artists that Ozomattli came up listening to that influenced you to be that way?

U: I think there are two definite “protest musics” that personally influenced me and in a way influenced Ozomatli too. In one tradition, it’s me in high school being super into punk rock and being into bands that were heavy into politics, whether it was the Dead Kennedies or Crass or Fugazi or Minor Threat. Bands that had something to say, and it was pretty uplifting.

The other flip of that protest music was music that was really danceable. That influenced the trajectory of what Ozomatli has been. Bands like Fela Kuti, Bob Marley, James Brown, Public Enemy, where there were really heavy things that were being said, yet it was behind a really, really danceable beat.

E: Coming more to present day, are there any contemporary artist that you guys look at and you have an appreciation for?

U: As far as “message music”?

E: Yes.

U: The one name that comes to mind, just because of his performance too – and he’s from L.A. – is Kendrick Lamar. I think he’s one of the few guys that, at least for me personally in the hip-hop world, not only in the hip-hop world, but one of the guys who’s popular in the hip-hop world, that’s really presenting something deep.

E: Do you think there’s a need for more of that in contemporary music? That depth?

U: That’s a good question. I’m not completely sure, just because we’re living in a moment now where music is consumed and distributed in radical, different ways then it was 20 years ago. Personally, yes I do wish there were more bands speaking up about a lot of different things, but at the same time, I really feel that if it’s not coming from a sincere place then it’ll come off that way.

E: One thing I’m really interested in talking to members of bands about is: What’s the line between you as an individual and the music that you put out? How much of that is that you as an individual, or is it more of a shared idea of the group?

U: Definitely a shared idea. Since we started, that’s what made the band so unique. We had a horn section that was individually and collectively influenced by salsa, merengue, jazz, skaw, reggae. Then we had a guitar player that was really into nueva canción and folk music, and a bass player who was super into reggae and funk. We had Cut Chemist, one of the best DJs ever, we had Chali 2na, Giro on the tablas. All these individuals are what made Ozomatli so tasteful.

E: Do you think there is a song or two from that you feel are really representative of your group?

U: I’ll say Cumbia De Los Muertos, some of our best music is collaborative when we’re all just jamming in a room. I remember that one for sure was a jam. Also because of the message of the story and the lyrics and how deep it is. And, how it actually is something that personally and individually, for [trumpet player] Asdru, resonates real deep for him. The lyrics of the song are having to do with his brother who has passed away tragically from gang violence. It’s the story of his brother’s spirit coming back and dancing with his mom on Day of the Dead. Then the breakdown with Chali 2na, it really put a lot of different elements together that hadn’t been put together before.

 

This year, Ozomatli plans on releasing Ozo-fied Volume 1: A Century of Mexican Classics, a collection of contemporary and classic Mexican music being given “the reggae treatment” with legendary reggae producers Sly and Robbie. Ozomatli can be found on their website, Twitter and Facebook.