I was asked to pick an artist whose work in 2019 was among the most compelling. Of course, Tree had an incredible 2019 with three sterling releases, most of which showcased his glorious take on Soul Trap, stuttering high hats over colorful soul samples, street wisdom and deep memories, half-sung, half-rapped in a gravely tone. Tree’s bare and visual rhymes place him amongst the most memorable rappers of recent memory and we can’t wait to see what he does next. Read my end-of-year feature with Tree for OkayPlayer HERE.
“Verbal Intercourse” contains one of the best guest verses of all time courtesy of a young Nasir. His verse is so buttery, so swift, you’d miss the nuance if you turned your head. His voice has never sounded as good either, and the company on the track, a ferocious Ghost and uncanny Rae, remains unmatched. Taken from an interview I did with Rae a few years ago, here’s how “Verbal Intercourse” came to be.
I spoke with EL-P a few years ago and asked him about all kinds of early Co Flow history, including how their legacy started with “Juvenile Technique.”
“The head burner cookin’, emanate thought and grab my phallus
Please, I pump kinetics with unintentional malice
Wanna battle one of us is endin’ up in God’s palace…”
Read how it all went down HERE for POW.
This was such an endearing community event that I was so honored to take part in. PB Wolf is THAT DUDE, the venerable one, the local hero, and being able to go through and geek over his photos and ephemera is what made this experience so fun for me. It was made more fun because Demone Carter (Dem One) joined us for fernet and scotch beforehand and the lecture hall was at capacity on a Thursday night. Many thanks to SJSU’s Hip-Hop History Month series, Dan Diggs, Elizabeth, Nancy, and of course, C. Manak .
We got some local love a few months back (which feels like another dimension and lifetime ago…) but since then, our humble podcast has made some strides through the last couple years.
My dudes continue to anchor the show; Nate’s increasing technical skillset and attentive edits along with Demone’s acumen to connect with listeners and lead a program in natural, professional ways continues to be so much fun (and I learn a lot from them both). We’re available anywhere one finds podcasts these days BUT also recently got onboard with the PANTHEON PODCASTS familia. Check out the aforementioned local press HERE and, if I may be so bold, peep our list of guests and (please) click away:
Kool Keith, The Last Poets, Little Brother, Oliver Wang, Roxanne Shante, Fatlip (Pharcyde), Easy Mo Bee, Elzhi, Percee P, Blockhead, Jeff Weiss, Apani B. Fly, Gift of Gab, Slug (of Atmosphere), Small Pro, Prince Paul, Billy Woods, Beans, MAVI, R.A.P. Ferreira, Curly Castro, Mr. Len, J-Zone, Del The Funkee Homosapien, Ras Kass, DJ Platurn, DJ Premier, Prince Markie Dee, Akinyele, Edgewize, Rhys Langston, Fat Tony, Crate 808, Yeshua (Dapoed), MC Tree, Adam Mansbach, Evidence, Elucid, Hanif Abdurraqib, Psycho Les, Uncommon NASA, Ben Merlis, Open Mike Eagle, Shawn Setaro, Homeboy Sandman, Nathaniel Friedman, Jazz (UN Gang), DJ Cutso, Big Hongry, Don Will, DJ Eclipse, Chris Crack, Brian Coleman, Paul Thompson, Frukwan, Thirstin Howl the 3rd, Jon Sklte, Dean Van Nguyen, Daringer, RAPZINES, Gifted Gab, Vic Spencer, Ohbliv, JJ Fad, One Be Lo, Faith Newman, Kenny Segal, Jose Rojo, Son Raw, DJ Numark, DJ Q-Bert, Domino (Hieroglyphics), Soren Baker, Zilla Rocca, Adisa Banjoko, Traxamillion, Ant (of Atmosphere), Adrian Quesdada (of Black Panthers/Brownout), Myka 9, Camp Lo, Amp Live and moooooooooore…
This is from about 6 months back but is important for a couple personal reasons: 1) The caliber and company of journalists who made the BBC’s radar on this extensive project is, at worst, for me, flattering to be mentioned amongst such betters and 2) I got to mention some “I Am, I Be” without worry of justification or seeing familiar tracks that appear on every list ever. Read the whole (very thoughtful) huge article/project HERE.
Who doesn’t need upliftment right now? My great friend, DJ Basura, the Philippine Guillotine, hit us with this classic mix from years back and we’re glad he did. If you missed Filipino Folkways the first time here’s your chance to play catchup on these exuberant and obscure records. Balahibo, Cora Adajar and the Mammals, Vilma Valera, Boy Mondragon, Tirso Cruz III and more… all fire! Bravo Basura!
Peep the fire mix HERE.
I called Preemo to see what went into the latest Gang Starr (the first in 16 years!) One Of The Best Yet, an intimate next step in their ongoing legacy, with posthumous verses from Guru culled through bitter lawsuits with Solar, whose strange involvement with Guru towards the end of his life, and whose vocal Preemo slander leaves a bitter taste beneath the whole thing. Nevertheless, the new one is a great album– a familiar conversation between old friends– and Preemo was open and gracious as always in this recent feature. Written for THE FADER, read it HERE.
Trópico… is spacey, sensitive, beatific, Los Freddy’s-esque, a little bossanova too. To shed light on the inner approach of Jess Sylvester, the songwriter behind Marinero, we asked Jess to share with us FIVE enormously impactful records that were foundational inspirations behind Trópico De Cáncer.
It’s eye-opening to have thoughtful artists narrow down prominent works that framed their own– and we’re always grateful when they take time to do so. Thanks Jess!
Antena – Camino del Sol (Numero, 2004)
This record is basically ’80s French-Belgian electro-bossa. It’s like ’80s outsider music made by Astrud Gilberto fans. There’s even a song called “The Boy From Ipanema”, which is basically a darker, synthier, and more monotonous version of the original. The title track “Camino del Sol” is one of my faves though. I’ve even sampled it and used it for my other band Francisco y Madero on a song. I can’t tell you the song title because Napster might sue me, but it’s a track I find myself playing during long car rides from The Bay to LA when I’m in the company of friends who might not yet know it. I chose this album because I admire how Antena reinterpreted bossanova and did their own thing with it by using drums machines, synths, guitars with chorus, and solid hooks and harmonies. Even though the singer is French, her vocal style is smooth enough for any Sausalito style jazz or bossa combo.Continue reading “HIGH FIVE MARINERO”
I recently spoke with E-40 who, besides being an absolute legend, also wears shirts that say ‘Eat Lumpia’ and gives back to local schools in Vallejo. I have a bottle of E. Cuarenta tequila sitting on the shelf as I write this. Despite this article not being as extensive as I would’ve liked, 40 was a great interview; present and pleasant, spastic, shared stories about Too Short, the Bay, Tupac and more. It’s also my first byline for Vibe Magazine (shouts to the editorial squad!). You can read it HERE.
I wrote the liner notes for Hiero’s recent 20th anniversary deluxe reissue of 3rd Eye Vision. The best part was just talking to Souls, Del, and Domino about them learning as young artists the realities of starting their own business– this record emerged from that era, a time in their lives starting an indie label and transitioning from majors. The reissue sold out but has been recently been restocked. It also has a pretty dope “lost cut” that I cannot link to because it’s exclusive to the wax, and so far I don’t see uploaded anywhere (but Del and Pep GO OFF). (COP THE RECORD HERE)
Spoke with DJ Premier about the making of one of the best songs ever, “Mass Appeal.” Another one for POW fam, read it HERE. More dissections of important classics to come.
Huge honor to appear on Heat Rocks, the wonderful and expertly executed podcast hosted by Oliver Wang and Morgan Rhodes. I’ve listened to so many great episodes with so many incredible guests and to be a guest myself on the program was terrifyingly thrilling. Each guest chooses an album to deep dive into and mine was an easy choice, GZA’s Liquid Swords. I had a great time talking to Morgan and Oliver who are always such pros I still cannot believe I was at the table with them. Available HERE and pretty much any podcast outlet.
I first heard of Billy Woods through Dean Van Nguyen, music journalist and now author who’s a longtime friend of the site. He graciously sent us this Q&A with Billy in 2009. Earlier this year, Billy released Hiding Places, produced by Kenny Segal, containing songs that probably got the most plays, and certainly resonated most with me. “Red Dust” is Frantz Fanon with a megaphone over Fan Dam era EL-P.
Woods is really settling into his voice and delivery, comfortable with annunciation; he’s more sparse now but takes bigger chomps of the beat. Yet he’s still no less a mystery now as he was in Dean’s 2009 interview, but I did my best to learn more about him as a writer, label chief, and mind behind 2019’s best rap project.
I spoke with Billy pretty in-depth for Okayplayer; Read it HERE.
Cold Diamond & Mink are absolutely killin’ it over at Timmion headquarters in Helsinki, Finland. I’ve been onboard since they blessed us with one of the most touching and barest songs ever, Little Ann’s “Deep Shadows.” Earlier this year, they’ve been on a roll with very solid releases, including 1634 Lexington Avenue by Carlton J. Smith (above, right, with MJ). It had some real rhapsodic moments and overall I felt the album was slept-on. Admittedly, the snappy drums and pronounced bass is what struck me most. But nevertheless I went onto have a great conversation with the project’s glowing vocalist, Carlton Smith, a lifelong student and enthusiast of soul who has in many respects, through a lifetime of work and travel, has become a global soulman himself. I spoke with Carlton about his career and new album HERE.
My column for POW continues with Freestyle Fellowship’s stunning classing, “Inner City Boundaries,” an earworm that’s stuck with me since first hearing it almost twenty tears ago. While I typically don’t always value virtuosity over punch-in-the-gut dynamics, FF has always been able to be both, teetering sometimes between unlistenable and confounding ingenuity. HERE’s how it was made.
David Bowie once recalled in an interview about his time with Brian Eno while the two were famously making the Berlin Trilogy: “Eno came running in and said, ‘I have heard the sound of the future.’… he puts on “I Feel Love,” by Donna Summer. ‘This is it, look no further. This single is going to change the sound of club music for the next fifteen years.’ Which was more or less right,” said Bowie.
“I Feel Love,” produced by the great Giorgio Moroder swept Europe, eventually hitting the US and charted on the Billboard Hot 100 that summer. The throbbing disco smash was an enormous breakthrough for its arranger, a little known songwriter out of Iceland named Þórir Baldursson.
Born in 1944, Þórir (known also as Thor) grew up playing keys before notching some huge songwriting, arranging, and production credits later in life. He transitioned gradually from jazz to disco, with studio work that included ABBA, Elton John, and Grace Jones. “I Feel Love” is now a signature song in Donna Summer’s oeuvre and became commonplace sample fodder for ‘90s dance cuts, even Blondie and Madonna tapped its monster break for late-in-the-game dance-pop revivalism.
Þórir was also apart of another leading-edge arrangement, the oft-sampled “Sing Sing” by Gaz, which of course contained the foundational skeletal shakers that later became Baltimore club music’s backbone. Along with “Amen Brother” and “Apache,” “Sing Sing’s” break was a staple in early Grandmaster Flash routines and subsequently lifted by everybody from RZA to Kylie Minogue.
Through the years Þórir’s name has been so butchered, so miswritten that there are at least twenty different spellings to his credit. Some of them muddied through translation, others perhaps out of sheer laziness (“S.P. Bala” for one– not even close). Strange for a musician whose output spans back to the ‘60s and who’s still very much conscious of the fact. Says Þórir: “Music has been my sole source of income since the 1950s so this is my 61st year in this profession.”
Some of Þórir’s work was used on DJ Platurn’s Breaking The Ice, an esteemed mix of rare Icelandic grooves from his and his father’s collection. Through ties with his motherland, Platurn connected us with Þórir himself, who at a cantankerous 75 years of age, took time to humor us– if only briefly. It’s always incredibly satisfying and gives you hope to see artists succeed solely on the merit of their art for so long. Hats off.Read more
I spoke with Ruby maybe six or seven years ago, needless to say I’m very pleased to see it finally published. The story was meant to capitalize on her music’s reemergence due to a Q-Tip sample that was making its way onto everyone’s playlists at the time. But Ruby’s own history and colorful career runs deep– and her stories were so magical. The piece was delayed because we couldn’t get the high quality images we wanted to. But the other reason is simply because the interview went so well and her memories were so epic, that I kept it close to my chest, hoping and waiting to find the ‘right time’ to drop it.
Well, years later, I’ve learned that there’s never a bad time to publish evergreen stories that will one day outlive us all– the earlier these are shared, the greater the chance more will learn about these incredible artists while they’re around to see its impact. Read my interview with Ruby HERE. Thanks so much Ms. Andrews. What an honor.
I recently spoke with Doc Oct himself, Dicky Long Docking aka Dr. Dooom aka Poppa Large– aka the one and only, Kool Keith. Black Elvis/Lost In Space turns 20 this year and I had Keith break down the making off the album’s hit single, “Livin’ Astro.” Every time I have an opportunity to speak with Keith, I take it. And every time we talk I’m reminded of how hilarious and eccentric he indeed is. Far-out and probably not from our galaxy, Keith pulls back the curtain on what went into the making of “Livin’ Astro” HERE.
The cats from Ambrosia For Heads are the nicest bunch ever and I was stoked to contribute to their hustle, a really clever and macabre video (from Fat Beats) by none other than Masta Ace featuring the king of blistering bars, the fire starter himself, Pharoahe Monch. Read about it and check out the dope video HERE.
Of Daptone’s team of bands, Budos has emerged as the darkest, the ones with ominous sounds and aggressively driving deliveries, the ones where warm melodies are replaced by intense horn stabs, where arrangements are peeks and valleys rather than sunny strolls. The group’s DNA is made up of members of the Dap Kings, Menahan Street Band, Charles Bradley’s backing troupe, and others from the venerated Brooklyn imprint. This year the Ethio-psych-funk group deliver another batch of theatric songs, Budos Band V, that are equally appropriate for car chase sequences or funeral sunsets. Their latest is foreboding, macabre and filled with echo—at times equal parts Black Sabbath and Pax Nicholas, other times a whirlwind of ideas sputtering about, folded into movements and wild scenic arrangements.
Brian Profilio, workhorse drummer and backbone of Budos, details their working process thusly: “It may seem like writing a song with nine guys in a band might make for a difficult situation, but it’s actually a pretty smooth process,” he says, before explaining the group’s formation…
I occasionally contribute to this great print publication, Globetrotter Magazine, an international brand focusing on music, culture, fashion, and travel through an Asian and African diasporic lens. I’m all about it. I’ve written and edited some pieces for them but recently discovered this little Q&A I did with DJ Shred One, Shelia Hernando, co-owner of Cherries Records from a few years back. Other co-owner is of course Meaty Ogre, the prolific Galapagos4 producer during Chicago’s backpack boom (I always dug his stuff with Qwel). Learn more about them and their great music operation HERE.
I spoke with Blu a few years ago and cannot think of a better platform for it to reemerge on than POW. Glad to have a supportive repository for evergreen material with lots more to come. The original piece ran in Wax Poetics Issue #59 but there were so much interview leftovers I wanted to house it somewhere given his sizable and loyal fanbase. Plus, who doesn’t love his work with producer Exile, Give Me Flowers While I Can Smell Them and Below The Heavens? Blu has solidified a name for himself but is still kind of slept on by the masses, I think.
If I sat down for dinner with Benny the Butcher, I’d probably ask him the same questions I did in this new interview for Okayplayer. Super conversational, we talked Another Bad Creation’s “Iesha,” his friendship with Raekwon, and his early years in Buffalo, New York. I was late to Griselda but seriously, the only thing better than their recent streak is how quick their rise was (Check out Hitler on Steroids, it’s crammed with back-to-back good tracks). This will undoubtedly prove to be one of the year’s best releases.
Brothers Westside Gunn and Conway the Machine, recently signed to Shady Records, hopefully will not deviate far from what made them great to begin with. More than just a pleasant surprise, Benny’s Tana Talk 3 is strikingly supremely written, underscored by Daringer’s consistent mastery of the mournful soul loop.
Earlier this year, I had a pretty extensive talk with Masta Ace about his history and was just real honored to hear stories about the Juice Crew, that Biz Markie puppet, and just a ton of stories and insight. More importantly, he’s in good spirits and good health, so thumbs up to that. READ IT HERE.
I was recently in LA and saw this “Born To Roll” poster on the wall of Delicious Pizza. A few weeks back, we spoke with J-Zone and he said something to the effect of, “Masta Ace should be Top 5 alone for how he’s been able to adapt through the years.” There’s certainly some truth to that; just level of difficulty alone, how hard is to do what Ace has done?
Been very impressed by Small Pro’s beats and I’m sorta late to his music. Love the name and the nod, dude is out of Philly, and a super nice cat. My type of boom-bap, like this cut for Zilla Rocca. His latest is a big one, as he carries both the production and responsibility of helming a posthumous Sean Price album (called 86 Witness , off Coalmine Records). Here’s a Record Rundown with Jamil for Wax Po, read it HERE.
A new side column for POW, this “Making of…” series consists of little oral histories behind some of the greatest cuts ever. First up is the the single “You Never Knew,” from Hiero off their first group joint, 3rd Eye Vision. Other standouts on here are of course “At The Helm,” or “Oakland Blackouts.” (I’ve always really liked this A-Plus remix of “The Who.” ) “You Never Knew” proved to be a big single off this release, complete with an awesome DIY Hawaiian music video that’s great to look back on. With Del, A-Plus and Tajai– peep HERE. And more to come.
My dude Brandon Roos and I put together a little Q&A for NTTG’s site with members from Durand Jones and the Indications. Some friends turned me on to their first record and the new one, American Love Call (Colemine Records) is a really lovely followup in so many ways, particularly drummer Aaron Frazer’s widening presence. They put on a great live show and are currently touring the new record, catch them if you can.
I can barely speak without fumbling words. Good thing my playa patna Nate LeBlanc is a complete natural at podcasting– and we were both lucky enough to sit down and speak in-depth with a favorite of ours, Del The Funkee Homosapien. We nerded out and broke down his illustrious sophomore release, No Need For Alarm. Not only does this stand as the deepest dive into the album, but it’s a first in a series of podcasts we’re developing for Wax Poetics and beyond. Take a look and have a listen HERE. And please, no boo-boo heads.
…me! Super honored to be in such great company on Flea Market Funk’s “Big Ups” series. If you know Prestige’s work, you know that soul and funk sites are a rarity these days– and the deep ones are even rarer than a bell-less copy of “Take Me To Mardi Gras.” Check out the homie’s site, FMF (and ignore the imposters). Also, check out DJ Prestige’s guest spot for us a few years back. Thanks fam!
Love these girls and cannot wait for their careers to blow. First heard of them on this incredible track which went viral so members of DadBodRapPod and I got them on the phone to chat about spitting bars, dick pics, weed, and Method Man. Have a read HERE and shouts to Passion of the Weiss for giving it a nice home. If you’re not bumping them you better get a better playlist.
Arguably one of the best logos in the history of logos, Delicious Vinyl’s reign as the longest running, truly truly indie record label commands respect. While I don’t ever bump Young MC, I surely still throw on Bizarre Ride and loved hearing Mike Ross (DV’s co-founder) talk about hearing Pharcyde’s demo for the first time. I spoke with founder Mike Ross and Leslie Cooney, the young A&R who we should all thank for help bringing “Passin’ Me By” to the masses (and more). And let us not forget THIS in 1993.
DV was recently in the public consciousness when co-founder Matt Dike passed away earlier this year. Dike by all accounts was a fascinating person who you cannot deny understood music and how modernity impacts its making– he arranged the making of the Beastie’s Paul’s Boutique by orchestrating sessions with the Dust Brothers, who were early DV adopters and whom Dike named, according to Ross. Their legacy is not only ongoing (this year they’re aggressively exploring Caribbean tunes) but Ross now has two pizza joints in LA, of course called Delicious Pizza– brilliant, and what a dream to marry music and food. Their understanding of music and business savvy is really inspiring. Okayplayer published the piece which you can read HERE.
Editor’s Note: South Bay activist, longtime struggle rap auteur, and 1/3 of DadBodRapPod, Demone Carter, took a second to explore a fleeting yet impactful moment in hip-hop– the ’95 Source Awards where a babyfaced 3 Stacks unapologetically announced the South’s arrival and subsequent industry takeover. Really glad to add Mr. Carter to our long list of thoughtful contributors and looking forward to seeing what he comes with next. Thanks Demone! – DM
August 3rd 1995, a dashiki-clad Andre Benjamin glared into the audience gathered at Madison Square Garden for the Source Awards and made a boldly prophetic proclamation.
“The South got something to say” his words drifted into a sea of open hostility. In our world of 24/7 social media antagonism, that statement may not seem like much, but it was a big deal. A culturally redefining big deal.
To understand the weight of Dre’s prophecy, we have to look at what the rap landscape looked like in 1995. Notorious B.I.G was making his ascent as King of New York, a coastal rap war was brewing with Bad Boy and Death Row Records at the center, and a soon to be legendary rap group from Atlanta was taking the hip-hop world by storm on the strength of an absolutely perfect debut album called SouthernPlayalisticCadillacMusic.
As Moment of Truth turns twenty I realize just how well much it’s aged; “Robbinhood Theory,” “What I’m Here 4,” “Above The Clouds,” so many high points. It’s my favorite Gang Starr album (Hard to Earn, close second) and I had the huge honor of speaking with Preemo and listening to him break down every song from the album with incredible candor and color. You can see how the stories behind the tracks really shaped the album and its overall sunken mood in particular. Check it out on Wax Poetics. Thank you Preemo. Guru RIP.
Editor’s Note: Nerdtorious squad and producer of DadBodRapPod, Nate LeBlanc, recently revisited LA rapper/poet Hymnal. In an expansive piece that reaches behind Hymnal’s words for meaning, it simultaneously showcases the remarkably fertile patchwork of personalities and crews during the rap boom of 1990s LA. Concurrently published on our homie’s terrific site, Passion of the Weiss— DM
Hymnal is an LA-based writer, MC, and vocalist whose work is defined by poetic diction, melodic delivery, and a writing style characterized by inscrutable tangles of phrases that are nevertheless loaded with meaning. With a long but sporadic discography behind him, Hymnal has been involved in some of the most creative projects to emerge from the LA underground and continues to create thoughtful and highly original material. At the same time, he is a bit of a mystery.
If you’re of a certain age and don’t mind brainy, unsolicited opinions, check out this little side podcast we just started. Featuring longtime Nerdotrious contributor Nate LeBlanc and hometown hero Demone Carter, aka San Jose’s MC Dem One. We discuss old man topics with cool weekly guests renagin from industry insiders and artists (as of this writing, the legendary Prince Paul and venerated MC Myka 9 have been on… with much more to come!) Take a listen to those episodes if you have dishes to do or errands to run– and peep upcoming episodes HERE. #DBRP
This project with DJ Platurn has literally been 10 years in the making (more if you count his lifetime’s worth of sourcing these records). The project is out at the end of the month on San Jose’s Needle To The Groove Records.
The mix is an astounding collection of obscure Icelandic funk, proto-rap, rock, soul, and disco, all expertly put-in-place by Platurn. The release comes with liner notes (by yours truly) and is limited to 1000 CDs with a booklet of awesome ephemera. To gain a bit more perspective on the BTI, here are some past blog posts which aided in the realization of the project. Peep the nice mini-doc (by Kicker Dixon) above and kindly purchase HERE).
I helped edit this very thorough, very detailed piece on the mythical– and perhaps rap’s most underrated, known-yet-unknown producer ever– Paul C. If you’re curious as to why Ultramag’s Critical Beatdown (and a few others of that era) sounded so hard and so advanced, it’s all because of Paul, his deep record collection and forward thinking studio techniques. This piece examines his history and tragic death, exploring more of what eventually became huge hip-hop lore. Written music journalist Gino Sorcinelli. Read it HERE.
I wanted to get this post up since it’s been days since an update: The current issue of Wax Poetics (In print! On newsstands!) features my story on the venerable DJ Shadow. I don’t think I’m over speaking by saying this is the deepest piece ever on Shadow, his history and catalogue. It’s not only his origin story but is connected to so many deep, fascinating tangents of other histories; particularly Bay Area DJ culture and Mo Wax’s early days of dominance.
Check out some rad pictures and order it HERE. There’s a killer David Axelrod feature in here as well.
(Editor’s Note: I interviewed Chris Manak (PB Wolf) for a couple local websites before his big show in San Jose a few weeks back. We talk a lot about his early history, specifically his start in San Jose. Take a look Stones Throw fans! – DM)
HOMECOMING: PB WOLF PLAYS FIRST SAN JOSE SHOW IN DECADES W/ EGYPTIAN LOVER
Stones Throw is a defiant panoply of inventive music, a cadre of artists whom flout convention while making some of the most varied, artful projects in recent memory. It’s all due to Chris Manak, who helms the powerhouse label which he founded in San Jose, his hometown and early base of operations. Continue reading “Homecoming King: PB Wolf Q&A”
Iconoclastic rap group Third Sight has stealthily built a resume over the last two decades as one of the more prolific and consistent backpack-style acts left. They have effectively outlived the two genres with which they were initially associated— Underground Hip-Hop and Turntablism. By staying true to their core aesthetic, they have developed a dedicated fan base that is entirely too small, a committed group of record collectors scattered throughout the group’s home turf of California’s Bay Area, Japan, and Western Europe.
Is this is all that can be expected for a group that refuses to be anything but itself? Their records are defined by dark, minimal beats, virtuosic rapping and scratching, and a macabre sensibility tinged with scatological subject matter. Before embarking on this project, we knew Third Sight was a niche group, but I don’t think any of us realized how underrated and underrepresented they actually were among even hardcore hip-hop heads. They’ve never been signed to a label. None of their lyrics are transcribed on Genius. Their most-played track on Spotify has barely more than 10k plays. (For comparisons’ sake, note that Ka, an artist mining a similar minimal aesthetic, has more than 10 times as many.)
As we approached several seasoned rap bloggers, the type of dudes whose vocation is to champion lesser-known MCs, we soon learned many had never heard of them. Perhaps this is by design yet their records draw consistently high prices on sites like Discogs due to the confluence of extremely high quality music with extremely low number of units pressed.
Perhaps they are best suited to their role as perpetual underdogs, as their output is by definition not for everyone. Let’s begin with the simple fact that the lead MC, a thoughtful and charismatic rhyme animal with a unique flow, has chosen for himself the moniker Jihad, a word fraught with horrible political and ideological connotations. As a switch-up, he will sometimes refer to himself as the equally problematic (though for completely different reasons) Captain Cum Stain. Every Third Sight album features long spoken sections from the pimp-ish character Sir Limpdic. Every release is filled with the kind of dense, dizzying polyrhythms, both vocal and scratched, that are somewhat difficult to comprehend upon first listen.
So, this 10-Piece Oral History is for Third Sight fans worldwide. Enjoy the thoughtful and detailed descriptions of Jihad the Roughneck, DJ D-Styles, and the rest of the folks who’ve had a hand in this unique and engaging career so far.
JIHAD – MC
D-STYLES (Invisibl Skratch Piklz) – TURNTABLIST / PRODUCER
DU-FUNK – DJ / PRODUCER
JERRY D “DA HERMIT” (Tone Freq) – SOUND ENGINEER / PRODUCER
ROB SATO – ARTIST / ILLUSTRATOR
I. PRE-VISION: FROM OUTTA NOWHERE
Let’s start with foundational benchmarks in your history: How did everyone meet? Had you previously already knew of one another? You two met at junior college, correct?
Jihad: I was in another rap group before Third Sight called Un-Cut Poets and we broke up over creative differences around 1990, maybe ‘91. Continue reading “THIRD SIGHT: AN ORAL HISTORY OF RAP’S RELUCTANT LONGSHOTS”
Over 2 years in the making, and after tons of orchestration, we’re proud to announce that Black Moon’s Enta Da Stage, a record that arguably changed the landscape of ’90s rap releases that followed, has been given the full reissue treatment. I was asked by Fat Beats to write extensive liner notes for which I am honored and thankful for the killer efforts the entire team did to bring this to fruition. Check it out and pre-order HERE. PROPS!
Our good pal, music journalist Layne Weiss (LA Weekly, Wax Poetics, Mass Appeal) quickly spoke with Oh No and Tristate about their new project. For fans of their fuzzy, disjointed brand of stoner rap, take a look. – DM
3 Dimensional Prescriptions, the new album from beatsmith Oh No and MC TriState explores the concept that music is medicine. But as with most medicine, as with most drugs, not everyone is going to have the same reaction or experience listening to their brand of medication. For some, the duo’s latest may bring about inspiration, creativity, or joy; others may get angry, sad, a little crazy, or all at once. This isn’t a one-size fits all brand of treatment. It is up to the listener to choose your own adventure.
Produced entirely by Oh No, whos comes from the pedigree of Madlib-esque inventions, the album features collaborations from stalwarts Evidence, Westside Gunn, Planet Asia, Lyric Jones, and others. This project comes courtesy of Bay Area stronghold imprint, Hieroglyphics Emporium, and is out now.
What does the title Three Dimensional Prescriptions mean and represent?
TriState: The title is like Oh and I are both kinda on some techy shit. And you know, he does his thing in the world. Everybody knows that. And I get down with the tech shit too. I work with a corporation called Hunt AR. And we do AR (Augmented Reality) And anyway, you know. I just thought it would be a good way to tie in our relation into tech shit. He does VR (Virtual Reality). I do AR. That’s the Three Dimensional side of it.
So the “prescriptions” are each song. I look at each song like a prescription. Like you need to get your fix for your addiction. Listening to one of these songs might help you. Oh No is known as Dr No so that goes into the prescription thing as well. So the doctor prescribes you medication or prescription drugs for your issues. That’s another way you can look at these prescriptions.
Passion of the Weiss (POW) is currently one of my favorite music blogs and is ran by my dude, prolific journalist Jeff Weiss. I was asked to write about one of the year’s best cuts, “Nas Album Done” by DJ Khaled ft. Nas. Read my review below and check the rest of the thoughtfully compiled year end list HERE .
[#31] Forget the song’s 8-minute video featuring Khaled in different brightly colored satin shirts—here’s the real major key: Nas’ agelessly nimble tongue and the track’s underpinning “Fu-Gee-La” sample. Here, Nasir sounds like he just finished a Gandhi marathon, successfully tricking his wisdom with the system that imprisoned his son. He’s on fire, backed by bombastic drums and a voice that’s gracefully aged like an Argentinian malbec; textured, smooth yet robust.
In an era where dexterous bars are seldom celebrated, this has enough energy to keep both the millennial and aging classicist happy. Both self-referential and forward moving, says Nas: “To every baby on the album cover existing/This trend I was setting came to fruition.” Seemingly full circle for the MC who at 16 boasted about kidnapping the president’s wife without a plan.
The minimalist production knocks while Nas himself even proves a bit clairvoyant, touching on our now president-elect’s cheap pursuits while shouting out the marginalized: “Celebrity Apprentice a devil show/Big up to Africa, Mexico.” So when exactly will Nas’ album actually be done? He’s recently had fire moments and for whatever reason seems reinvigorated. Dismissing any new hip-hop that came after you is decidedly very non-hip-hop, but there’s nothing wrong in relishing older cats whom are shockingly spry. The song title itself is at worst inaccurate, and at best premature, but it shows why we still owe the prodigious one our due patience. — DAVID MA
We’ll soon be unveiling a large story on DJ Shadow. It not only commemorates Endtroducing‘s two decade anniversary but is also a pretty sizable feature for the upcoming issue of Wax Poetics. I conducted the interview in his studio which was huge honor and HERE’S a sneak peak at some ill old photos from his personal documenting his origin story and subsequent rise.