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On Little Brother’s final LP Leftback, Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh sound defeated, beaten — content with being Interweb royalty at the sacrifice of fame.Stretching what was conceptualized as an EP into a 13 track adieu, the Durham natives lack the gritty, take-on-the-world mentality that won them both acclaim. The shift that began on the group’s third album, its first without former member and producer 9th Wonder, has now been fully realized.Earnest tracks that chronicled the trying rise of the group have been replaced by white flags under the guise of songs, such as album opener “Curtain Call.” While the Khrysis-produced cut is, on the surface, one of the group’s better selections on Leftback, the lyrics may as well be replaced with, “Well, we tried.”
Little Brother is done. After eight years at the fore of N.C. hip-hop, the Durham duo, Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh, has decided that its new album Leftback will be its last. Before Tuesday’s release, the two talked with Diversions Staff Writer Benn Wineka, weighing in on goodbyes and the state of N.C. hip-hop.Diversions: Why did you decide that this was going to be Little Brother’s last album?Rapper Big Pooh: We just thought that it was time. As far as Little Brother goes, we said all we’ve had to say. We took it as far as we thought that we could take it creatively. So, instead of continuing on and forcing something and doing something we didn’t really want to do, we decided to call it an end.Dive: You went through several versions of Leftback. What was the process like knowing it was going to be the last record?Phonte: We treated it just like it was any other record. It’s not like we ever sat down and had a big thing about this being our last album. It was just like, “We gotta make this record.” There wasn’t a whole lot of ceremony behind it. We just knew what we had to do.Dive: How aware of the media are you?P: I think that most artists in this era have to be fairly media savvy and know how to navigate all of that stuff. Me personally, I’ve seen what the media has to say but I’m more concerned with what the fans are saying — what their concert experience was like, what songs they like, what songs they don’t like. That’s the kind of feedback I’m most interested in. Dive: Do you think social networking has bridged the gap between producers and listeners?RBP: It’s sort of like a gift and a curse. But not being untouchable to them makes them feel like they can reach out. We definitely take time to talk to people. But the curse side is some people think that because you’re accessible that they can talk reckless or say whatever. But it just comes with the territory.Dive: How about the comment sections of blogs — do you ever read what people say under your posts?P: I’m going to go ahead and say I do sometimes. Again, I just want to see what the fans are saying and get their feedback.Dive: I read a comment under a post about Leftback’s tracklist that said, “Pooh and Phonte should have gone harder with this being their last album.” What do you think when you read something like that?RBP: You laugh at things like that. That’s comedy. I was reading some comments when Dr. Dre said he was putting out a single in two weeks, and people were trying to rate the album. How are you going to rate an album you never heard? You heard the Dr. Pepper beat. That’s funny. You take those things with a grain of salt and can’t do anything but laugh at them.Dive: Why include two remixes on a final album?P: Originally the album was supposed to be an EP. It was supposed to be something with a few new songs, a few remixes, kind of like what we did with Chittlin’ Circuit 1.5.RBP: People are in an uproar because we put them inside the album, not as bonus tracks. I mean, there’s still 11 new tracks.Dive: Some beef went down between former member 9th Wonder and Little Brother regarding an old song. Have things been resolved?P: Um, nah. I mean it’s all good. I hadn’t heard anything and I don’t expect too. I left it at my part.Dive: With no relationship with 9th, do you still check what’s coming out of his camp?RBP: I mean, I do, seeing what’s N.C.’s doing. Some of the stuff I hear is cool, some of it is just whatever. But if I hear something I think is dope, I let it be known. I think what my man Big Remo is doing is dope. I like the stuff they are doing together. Even though me and him are not friends, if I hear something that’s dope I let it be known.Dive: Little Brother has always been considered by many as the preeminent example of N.C. hip-hop. With the group stepping out of the way, where does the state go from here? RBP: I don’t know about anybody stepping up, but there’s definitely a lot of talent in North Carolina. North Carolina is just one of those places where the scene has almost dissolved, and it don’t support its own. Like I said, there’s a lot of talent, but I don’t know if anybody is going to take the flag. Dive: J. Cole was supposed to headline a show at Cat’s Cradle recently but cancelled to go on a college tour. Don’t you think that puts a bad taste in the home state’s support’s mouth?P: Hey, everybody got a mortgage.RBP: Thing is, what some people don’t understand about touring is that you can have something set up in advance. Like, I got something for a show in August. If something crazy comes up between now and then that hadn’t presented itself when I booked the August show way back, then I’m kind of at a crossroad. You can always reschedule a one-off, but if an opportunity presents itself that you can’t get back you have to take it. I can get back another show at the Cradle but I can’t get back a whole tour.Dive: What’s the immediate future for you guys?RBP: I got a collaboration record with my man Rock C out of California; my solo record; building my sport venture brand, Pooh on Sports, taking it as far as I can.P: I’ll just be continuing to work with Nicolay and building the Foreign Exchange Music brand. We got Yahzarah’s and Zo!’s albums coming out soon and the new Foreign Exchange record in October. I’ll do a solo record sometime, but developing the FE brand is the goal right now.Contact the Diversions Editor at email@example.com.
The three most talented MCs from the Wu-Tang Clan alone on an album is like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without the crust or starting with dessert. You get directly to the best part of the meal.Masquerading as an LP when it’s really a glorified EP, Wu-Massacre is an updated, albeit stripped-down version of classic Wu-Tang LPs like Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). Only 12 tracks and half an hour long, Ghostface Killah, Raekwon and Method Man don’t waste time with half-ass verses and filler skits, save a cameo by Tracy Morgan and an old-school interlude.There are no surprises. RZA provides the best track, “Our Dreams,” a rich, soul-sampled burner featuring love-stricken verses from each MC. Raekwon continues to be the grimy poet. Ghost’s smooth delivery makes love to the mic. Method Man drops inexplicable rhymes that somehow make sense.
On Asher Roth’s 2009 debut, Asleep in the Bread Aisle, the pale and lanky MC set out to do a lot. Between emphatically condoning his approval of university life and preference for Lisa Turtle, Roth eloquently broke into diatribes concerning his similarity to Eminem, the War on Terror and race.Roth’s latest French culinary-themed project doesn’t deal in serious issues. It’s more about “titties”, blunts and name-dropping Dutch basketball players from NBA Jam.This is essentially rapping-under-the-influence: what Roth and running mates Boyder and Brian Bangley probably do in their downtime.
When cartoon group Gorillaz emerged in 2001, it didn’t promise to be more than a temporary distraction, a foray into hip-hop from former Blur frontman Damon Albarn. With a mix of Brit pop, rap and electronic influences, Albarn and his ‘toon troupe delivered an eclectic product, yet the potential had obviously not been realized.Now into the group’s third full-length, Albarn has found a formula that works. The hip-hop aspect is on point with collaborators Mos Def and De La Soul contributing to some of the album’s most potent tracks. Rock elements resonate even louder as Lou Reed and members of The Clash bolster Albarn’s prowess. But it is the symphonic addition of orchestras and brass sections that propel the album from mere genre-mixing to an opus about an island of trash.
The word robot derives from the Czech robota, meaning drudgery and compulsory slave labor. It is now defined as an oft-fictional machine that can perform complex actions but lacks the capacity for human emotions.
If there’s one thing that comes to mind right away when listening to Dessa, it’s a comparison to Lauryn Hill.The Minnesotan Doomtree artist is a renaissance woman. Coming from a collective known for its alternative hip-hop predilection by way of founder P.O.S., Dessa adds another stratum to what could otherwise quickly be labeled as self-absorbent heartland heartache.The emcee was spawned out of the spoken word and slam poetry world.
Have you ever seen that commercial where the kids don’t recognize their father as he gets a little loose on a cruise ship? I imagine that’s how a lot of college students would feel if they accompanied a parent to a Neil Diamond concert.
Dive Verdict: 2.5 of 5 Stars
Dive Verdict: 4 of 5 Stars
ClipseTil The Casket DropsHip-hopOnly Pyrex pairs better with cocaine than Clipse.The Virginia duo doesn’t stray far from its synthed-up, drug-referencing formula on Til the Casket Drops, except to welcome in a few new producers onto the tracklist.DJ Khalil supplies three tracks to Sean C & LV’s two and the Neptunes’ eight. The invasive drum and guitar arrangements by Khalil on “Kinda Like a Big Deal” only instigate the already volatile nature of the Thornton brothers’ delivery and his “There Was a Murder” borrows from Jamaican dancehalls to create another cynical street tale worthy of a Clipse label.Intro “Freedom,” a Sean C & LV joint, is also an archetypal ominous Clipse cut that reaches an acme around intermittent snares and strings until the pressing verses and beat drop out and cue the album’s standout, “Popular Demand (Popeyes)” featuring equally streetwise emcee Cam’ron.Production-wise, the Neptunes still own Clipse. Hearing Cam exchange bars of braggadocio with Clipse atop a staccato piano and whiny trumpet instrumental is like hearing “Grindin’” for the first time. Your iTunes will have 50 plays on it before any other has 10.And while the Neptunes might go overboard on manufacturing singles, hearing Clipse alter their flows to appease “All Eyes on Me” and “Counseling” remind us that they can do more than bark witty adlibs from street corners. The duo is stuck between newer collaborators bringing them back to where they started, and old cronies trying to move them away from it, leaving Clipse in a somewhat uncomfortable middle ground. But like the Predator, the duo has the talent to adapt to its surroundings, salvaging any otherwise questionable track. -
If you are usually suspicious of white blues artists, you’re not alone. I’m right there with you.But Durham’s Jon Shain has crafted an album resembling a modern melting pot of rock and jazz that’s also chock full of traditional guitar picking that stays true to the blues genre.Each track is like being transported to a different region, each one as rife with woman problems as the last.“Louise, Louise” is a guitar and harmonica version of the traditional duet that seems as impromptu as a front porch performance.Shift focus onto another song such as “Ooncha Ooncha Music,” and you are slapped in the face with Dixieland horns and ragtime that serve as a perfect score for Shain’s abridged lyrical history of the blues.Shain is at is his best when he channels his inner Randy Newman and Donald Fagan, bringing wry lines such as, “Remember when you said love, when will you love me too? It wasn’t long ’til I be trying something new” to quirkily emotional life.There’s a lot to consume on Times Right Now. Sometimes it bogs down due to the constant change in tempos and styles.But while the lack of continuity may not make for the most cohesive collection, it definitely keeps it from being boring.
With his proper debut, Wale presents the epitome of an Internet-rap dilemma.His debut features everything we’ve come to know and expect from the DC artist: the “indie” appeal, a go-go influence and the attempted reinjection of consciousness into mainstream hip-hop.But where Wale once held the cards to become one of the first artists to break into a radio-friendly environment while preserving the artistic integrity he came to be known for on his mixtapes, the opportunity was simply missed.Record executives were obviously at work when recruiting Lady Gaga for the hook on “Chillin’” and Gucci Mane for a verse on “Pretty Girls,” but those aren’t even the tracks that are an issue.When listening to the entire album, however, there isn’t a moment in which you stop and wonder why Wale never broke out sooner.There are songs fit to establish the D.C. rap scene. The Mark Ronson produced “Mirrors” features Bun B over an artfully arranged composition of whining horns and hi-hats. Both tracks produced by TV On The Radio’s David Sitek and the triumphant “Beautiful Bliss” with J. Cole also add to the standouts.But it’s hard to overlook the absence of “Letter,” a guaranteed crossover hit featuring John Mayer that was left off. It doesn’t compute.Wale has assembled an album that will appease the most ardent comment section ballbusters, yet it’s not quite accessible enough for casual hip-hop fans to fully comprehend and appreciate. At least not with the cultural A.D.D. of our society.
Ever make a mixtape you were real proud of? Did you try to play it for all your friends and they didn’t seem to “get it” like you got it?
Carrboro’s Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz take fiddling around very seriously. As Mandolin Orange, the group’s self-titled EP boasts a set of seven classic bluegrass songs, demonstrating that despite ever-changing music trends, these musicians can make bluegrass basics appealing.
3 out of 5 stars
Hip-hop cyphers are a lost art. It needs to be said. These freeflowing groups of MCs improvising and playing off each other, once a mainstay of the genre’s culture, have become rare. It’s a sad decline when the BET Awards have the best examples of cyphers gone right.Tonight Hip-Hop Nation, UNC’s hip-hop culture appreciation club, will be hosting its second Pit Spit, an essential renaissance of true hip-hop and cyphering in the middle of campus, the first of which was held this April. Any fledgling rappers are invited to partake in the event alongside some of North Carolina’s premier hip-hop artists.“When I was a freshman, Hip-Hop Nation did something called Cypher Fest,” said senior and HHN President Berk Ozturk. “They never brought enough rappers. There would be two guys that would be really good, and a bunch of other guys that could spit five bars but couldn’t hold their own. So what it turned into was a battle between these two guys, not a Cypher Fest.” When Ozturk, who took control of the club his junior year, was planning on the first Pit Spit in the spring, he enlisted some of the leaders of the local hip-hop scene to grace the mic and maintain the flows.“M1 Platoon came out and brought a couple guys, and some of Kooley High came out,” Ozturk said. “There were also a couple guys from campus, so there was like 10 people, and it worked really well,” he said. An audience of about 40 also turned up, despite impending exams.Durham’s M1 Platoon and part of Raleigh’s Kooley High will again be present, while breakdancing crew Mighty Arms of Atlas will “vibe out” during the two hour event.Also on hand will be HHN founder and Chapel Hill rapper Kaze.“Carolina is where I was able to spread my wings and even work toward being where I am today,” Kaze said. “This is one of those events that helps you find your way and helps hone your skills.”With Ozturk still hoping to add members from producer 9th Wonder’s camp, such as Big Remo or GQ (Quentin Thomas) to the lineup, UNC’s up-and-coming talent will get the chance to spit alongside some legitimate names.“If that happened we’d have pretty much all of N.C. hip-hop in the Pit,” he said.Ozturk also hopes to use the strength of tonight’s event to draw more people to future HHN events, such as a showing of the recent Big Pun documentary, “The Legacy,” Tuesday evening in Greenlaw.And HHN’s weekly meetings draw a diverse crowd.“The people that come to our meetings either have their niche in hip-hop they really like, or they don’t know that much,” said Ozturk, who produces under the name B Logik and has had songs featured on Web sites such as AllHipHop.com. “We even have people who come out and play us new tracks they recorded or produced.”But besides promotion, Ozturk just wants to liven up the Pit.“We got a great time to catch the class, dinner and study crowds and we got a bunch of dope artists,” Ozturk said. “It’ll be cool for people to see their friends performing on the spot with all these MCs.”Contact the Diversions Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I Was Totally Destroying ItHorror Vacui
Kaze can be credited for almost the complete history of hip-hop in Chapel Hill. The most well-known emcee to come out of UNC and the town, Kaze is also a hip-hop historian of sorts, versed in the history of the game and founder of Hip-Hop Nation, UNC’s resident hip-hop appreciation club. Kaze is back with a new mixtape and a new record deal to go along with a gaggle of shows. Before Kaze makes his way back to Chapel Hill for a show at the Library on Friday celebrating his new First in Flight mixtape, he caught up with Dive for five questions, catching us up on him and his take on the current status of hip-hop in North Carolina.
Empty spindles littered the ground of the Pit in front of DJ Ill Digitz as he scribbled the names of albums and mixtapes on burned discs. A few yards away, MC Charlie Smarts and producer Foolery asked passers-by if they like hip-hop, hoping to spread the gospel of good music to willing ears.It is a Wednesday afternoon in the Pit. This is half of Raleigh’s up-and-coming hip-hop group Kooley High, and this is their life. “At first you take it a little personal, but then after a while it’s just funny. People act like you have the plague or something,” Ill Digitz said, referring to people’s reactions when the group hits the streets to do some self-promotion. “But at least two or three of these people are going to listen to that CD you gave them and think, ‘Wow, I just got a dope hip-hop album that I wouldn’t have got.’ That’s what makes it worth it.”Since Kooley High dropped Kooley is High in April, the group has stayed busy. Emcees Charlie Smarts and Tab-One have both released solo projects for free download, with one from fellow member Rapsody on the way. The group also spent some time on the west coast creating a buzz, have done some shows locally and have been trying to make sure everybody in the Triangle knows about Kooley High.“Right now it’s just the Kooley is High, Charlie Smarts f’alex, Tab-One Tabloids campaign. We just want to make sure everybody in the world has heard all three,” Charlie Smarts said of the group’s current releases. It’s a push that has taken on more importance as Smarts and Foolery lost their day jobs.And like many independent artists, Kooley High bears the full weight of its promotion, wearing the MC, producer, DJ, A&R and street team hats simultaneously. “We’re our own label in ourselves,” Smarts said.“We just need to stop making music for a hot second,” Ill Digitz added. “We need to make sure these three are put out there like they deserve because f’alex and Tabloids are albums, so they deserve to be pushed properly at least for the next couple months.” While the group pushes its creative bounty, it is also shopping for a distribution deal for their forthcoming debut album, The High Life, which they hope to release next year. And even though there isn’t a timetable laid out for the album, the group plans to drop a new mixtape in January to appease the fans.In the meantime, Tab-One, Charlie Smarts and Ill Digitz will be doing a weekly show at Ruckus Pizza in Raleigh in addition to the upcoming group shows. Along with Friday’s Durham Literary Center benefit at the Duke Coffeehouse with brothers-in-rhyme Inflowential, Kooley High will also be performing in Los Angeles in November. The group is also trying to expand their presence in Chapel Hill. Kooley High plans to collaborate with UNC’s Hip-Hop Nation club for a Thursday night show in October. “We want to get access to our target audience. If there’s a hip-hop head in the building we know they’ll f--k with us,” Foolery said. “There ain’t really any reason to make music if you don’t let what you have work for you.”Kooley High is hustling hard and the group relies on the crossover appeal of diligent work and using other outlets, such as this year’s “One Day” documentary, to gain the interest of the masses.“People outside of hip-hop like us, too. The documentary that we shot, that gets at people that aren’t exactly our target market, but they can appreciate the grind and the hustle,” Smarts said. “They like us as people, then they get on our music.”