An Introduction to NJOMZA 

NJOMZA is sad for you. That’s a double entrendre: sad for you because she feels sorry for you, sad for you because she misses you.
Pronounced nee-yohm-zah. You might recognize her as the sultry female vocals on ‘My Favorite Part’ off Mac Miller’s last project, ‘The Divine Feminine’

Her debut EP, Sad for you is airy and light but heavy at the same time.

She starts it off by declaring war against her feelings in ‘Intro’.

Fuck these emotions, I don’t need them

People switch up like the seasons

The title track, ‘Sad for you’ is unlike anything I’ve ever heard. It’s dismissive yet sensitive. It’s recognizing the need to evolve and grow, with or without this other person.

‘Poison’ is simple and minimalist. She equates a toxic relationship to a car crash, to a bombing, to suicide by poison. She pulls herself out because she knows she still has too much to live for.

‘Perfect Fit’ is looking at you with bedroom eyes, slurring its words slightly as it invites you in. It’s 4 am and promises whispered between sweet and salty nothings.

‘Baggage’ feels like the child of Amy Winehouse and Jorja Smith. A sole horn blowing soul, it uses the same jazz elements as those in The Divine Feminine.  It’s when reality hits you and you see a person for what they are instead of what you want them to be.

NJOMZA breathes rhythm and soul, light and darkness, and a sprinkle of personal glitter into this project, and she’s only just getting started.

Rated : 3.8 / 5

An Introduction to Hiatus Kaiyote

The best music is made by those that love it. For you to make something, and for it to be good, you have to appreciate what has come before. Appreciating it isn’t just having good taste. It’s using this taste to make something better. It isn’t copying someone’s homework and rephrasing everything they’ve said. It’s learning from them. Hiatus Kaiyote brings this out marvellously.

In 2011, Paul Bender (bassist of Hiatus Kaiyote) saw future lead singer, Nai Palm, perform at a concert in Melbourne. The two collaborated a year later after realising the brand of music they both wanted to make. After finding two more members (Perrin Moss and Simon Mavin), Hiatus Kaiyote emerged in all their Australian wonder.

Their music is termed as future soul. They themselves prefer “Multi-dimensional, Polyrhythmic gangster shit.” I pick the latter.

Their first album, Tawk Tomahawk, made waves. Everyone from Erykah Badu to Prince to Questlove was tweeting about it. In fact, in a later reissue, Q-tip did an entire verse. The band was then noticed by Salaam Remi, the former manager of Amy Winehouse. I mean, if each of these occurrences aren’t good omens then I don’t know what are.

Only with their second album, Choose your weapon, did the band hit their stride. Tawk Tomahawk was good, but it felt like the band was just getting to know each other. What they were comfortable with. Who they were drawing inspiration from. Who there target audience was. On Choose your weapon, they decided not to care. The album is an 18 song, 70 minute epic, compared to their debut which ran for 30 minutes. Here, they flex their creative muscles. We get everything from soaring bass lines to owl screeches. The album is ethereal. It’s beautiful. Untainted. Miraculous. Unabashedly celestial. They have no limits. Their music is a melting point of everything beautiful in music. Soul. Funk. Rhythm.

They’re the most underground mainstream band there is. Too few have actually heard of them, but they’re probably on your playlist right now. Anderson .Paak samples them on “Without you.” Nai Palm’s voice soars on Drake’s “Free smoke” and if this isn’t enough already they’re on Kendrick’s DAMN. This is the CV every artist clamours for.

When asked to explain what their name means, Nai Palm says:

“Kaiyote” is not a word. It’s a made up word, but it kind of sounds like peyote and coyote – it’s a word that involved the listeners creativity as to how they perceive it. So it reminds you of things but it’s nothing specific. When I looked it up on online it was like a bird appreciation society around the world, so for me that was a great omen, because I’m a bird lady. A hiatus is essentially a pause, it’s a moment in time. So, to me, a hiatus is taking a pause in your life to take in your surroundings, have a full panoramic view of your experiences and absorbing, and “kaiyote” is expressing them in a way involves the listeners creativity.

This sentiment explains their music just as well. You don’t look to their lyrics for meaning. You sit back and let them take you wherever you want to be taken. For me, this is my hangover music. My Sunny Sunday music. My background music. It can be the drug you need or the music you trip to.

They’ve given you the canvas. Now paint.

 

An Introduction to Noname

Every time I write about an artist I try my hardest to listen to everything they’ve ever released. While I do genuinely love these artists, it’s never an easy thing to do. They’ve grown and matured over time and comparing their debuts to their latest albums is like. .  the cliché apples and oranges. With Noname, I didn’t feel that at all. Admittedly, her discography isn’t as wide as A Tribe Called Quest’s, but it was much easier to digest. Something I’d highly advice you to consider.

Noname is a rapper by profession and a poet by nature. Admittedly, the two are not entirely separate entities, but listening to Noname brings out the distinction clearly. Her lyrics invoke meaning in an age where rap is more about what you have than who you are and, in a way, that makes her more conventional of a rapper than she seems. Look at the first verse from her song ‘Yesterday’ on her experiences with alcohol:

My devil is only closer when I call him back
Liquor in a limelight
Look her in the limelight

With fine wine and ecstasy
You can have the rest of me
Basket case silhouette, cigarette, internet
Check my twitter page for something Holier than black death

Another fine example from Kendrick:

All I have in life is my new appetite for failure
And I got hunger pain that grow insane
Tell me do that sound familiar?
If it do then you’re like me, 
making excuse that your relief
Is in the bottom of the bottle and the greenest indo leaf

As the window open I release everything that corrode inside of me

Now, as a sharp contrast, 2 Chains verse from ‘Mercy’:

Okay, now catch up to my campaign
Coupe the color of mayonnaise

I’m drunk and high at the same time
Drinkin’ champagne on the airplane (Tell ’em!)

Spit rounds like the gun range, beat it up like Rampage
Hundred bands, cut your girl, now your girl need a Band-Aid

While it is hardly fair to compare these artists to each other, doing so brings out their different views on the same topics. In a way, this shows the people that they are. Noname accepting and trying to escape the drug-induced lifestyle she’s living, Kendrick bringing out the peer pressure behind every night out and 2 Chainz trying to get lit. This is by no means a criticism of their lifestyles or world views but rather how they present them to their respective audiences. And to that I say, to each their own.

Noname is part of the new wave of rappers to come out of Chicago and a common factor that Chicagoan rappers have is their sense of unity. No-one brings this out like Chance the Rapper, a musician I have utter reverence for. This Christmas (well, last) he did an (amazing) mixtape with Jeremih, his collaborations with Kanye are legendary (Ultralight Beam!) and he bounces off Noname lyrics like its a Watch the Throne rendition. He brings out the best of her like she brings out the best in him. Listen to their collaborations ‘Lost‘, ‘Finish line/Drown‘, ‘The Tragedy‘ and my favorite ‘Israel‘.

Her debut mixtape Telefone is undoubtedly my favourite record from 2016. All ten songs are on my most played songs playlist in their exact order. Listening to it is routine. It’s calming. It’s absolutely meaningful. If she never released another record (God-forbid) I would not mind (that much) because I feel in one fell swoop she did all she could ever do for music (there could never be enough Noname music). Noname is wonderfully wordy and awkward and raw and this is extremely clear in her music. Telefone’s features aren’t gratuitous or pandering. They are true to her music and the person that Noname is. So do yourself a solid this 2017 and listen to it. The only thing you shall regret is not discovering it earlier.

Tell me what you think about it when you’re done.

Image: The Vulture

An Introduction to A Tribe Called Quest

As all my blog posts have started so far, Phife Dawg died recently. If you do not know who this is then you will know him and miss him just as much as we all did by the time you’re done. A Tribe called Quest isn’t A Tribe Called Quest without Phife. Because of them we have Chance, Logic and the ever tumultuous Kanye West. In paying reverence to one of the greatest and most revolutionary hip hop groups of all time, this post shall look at their amazing (and relatively not so amazing) albums with the hopes that you realize what the world lost this year.

I could tell you about their origins but we have wikipedia for that. If that’s too long for you then all you need to know is that Q-Tip and Phife Dawg both grew up in New York. Q-Tip originally teamed up with Ali Shaheed Muhammed, another pioneer of the group and all four made an ep with Jarobi White, the least present member of ATCQ.

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Their first ep featured songs that eventually made it onto their debut album, Peoples Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. As far as hip hop debut albums go, this was a masterpiece. If you can remember, the early 90’s was was saturated with gritty rap.  Gritty like Ice Cube’s AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted,  N.W.A’s 100 Miles and Runnin’ and Public Enemies Fear of a Black Planet. Along with groups like the Jungle Brothers and De La Soul, ATCQ brought alternative hip hop into the running. Hip hop was moving from gang shootings and vivid descriptions of sex to unfortunate road trips and girls that remind you of the peach emoji. Songs I’d suggest are ‘After hours’, ‘I left my wallet in El Segundo’ and my personal favorite, ‘Can I kick it?’

This is far from the groups best work, especially in regards to Phife’s rapping skills, but it certainly gave a glimpse of their vision.

 

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Onto my favorite ATCQ album, The Low End Theory. I could write an entire thesis on this album, but I shall have to limit myself if i’ve kept your attention so far. If you check that side section on their wikipedia page, you will see that one of the genres ATCQ is known for is jazz rap. What comes to mind when you hear that? Kendrick maybe? Well, never did this genre come out more clearly than in The Low End Theory. The album is littered with jazz samples. Not the pretentious Kenny G cd that your dad has on repeat but jazz pioneers like Art Blakey and Jack DeJohntee. Names whose greatness means nothing until you listen to the album. ATCQ itself upped their game with this gem. A month prior to the release of the album, Phife was diagnosed with diabetes and thus, while Peoples Instinctive Travels and Paths of Rhythm was largely  Q-Tip’s showcase, Phife played a bigger role in the album. His verse on Buggin’ Out is one of my favorite verses in hip hop. Compare it to Can I kick it? It’s like Chrysler to Bentley. Beats to Bose. Bing to Google. Worlds apart.

The songs I’d suggest from The Low End Theory include ‘Excursions’, “Buggin’ Out”, ‘Verses from the Abstract’, ‘Butter’, ‘Vibes and Stuff’, ‘Check the Rhime’, ‘Jazz (we’ve got)’ and ‘Scenario’, featuring one of the most referenced verses from Busta Rhymes.

 

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There’s a lot of conflict as to what ATCQ album is the best. To any sane person, it’s obviously the The Low End Theory. But a fair number of fans think its Midnight Marauders. This album came two years after The Low End Theory to critical acclaim. ‘Award Tour’ and the ever laid-back ‘Electric Relaxation’ are two of their biggest hits. Personally, and shamefully, I didn’t listen to this album until a few weeks ago. It was one of those things where you want to listen to an entire artists discography but you get to one exceptionally good album and stop there. I didn’t know that Logic took the idea for his Under Pressure guide (another exceptionally good album) from the Midnight Marauders. I didn’t even know that Chance the Rapper sampled the beat from Sucka Nigga for Acid Rap. I guess this brings out the lasting effect of good music. The songs I’d suggest are ‘Award Tour’, ‘Sucka Nigga’, ‘Midnight’, ‘Electric Relaxation’, ‘Oh my God’, ‘Lyrics to Go’.

 

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Following their stellar album hat trick, cracks began to show. Their next cut, Beats, Rhymes and Life came three years after Midnight Marauders. In that time, Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed honed their production skills by forming The Ummah, a production group featuring them and Jay Dee (later known as J Dilla , an extremely big deal in hip hop) while Phife worked closely with TLC. Oh, and Q-Tip and Ali converted to Islam. It understandable that at this point Phife began to feel left out. There’s an entire documentary on this troubled period. As for the music, it was noticeably darker. Note that I haven’t said worse. The problem is that ATCQ were playing a role their fans weren’t cool with. They had moved from the playfulness ‘I left my Wallet in El Segundo’ to the needless bravado of ‘Phony Rappers’, which to me sounds like a less masterful version of Outkasts ‘Two Dope Boys (In a Cadillac).’ Also, the album featured Q-Tip’s cousin, Consequence, quite prominently. Listening to the album you can tell how Phife struggles to flow with Consequence as easily as he had done with Q-Tip for so many years. There’s so much that could be said about this album. If you’re still interested, Questlove did a pretty comprehensive article on it way back when. Songs I’d suggest are ‘Get a Hold’,’1nce Again’,’The Hop’,’Keep it moving’,’Stressed Out.’

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Some time prior to the release of their next record, ATCQ announced that it would be their last. The Love Movement closed the chapter on the greatest hip hop group of that decade. As is common in hip hop, this was brought about by label conflicts. The record, however, doesn’t place very highly among their better albums. It’s been criticized for being minimalist. Not in the way that The Low End Theory was but less … masterful. At this time, it was getting more and more expensive to sample songs. This could be a likely factor in the quality of The Love Movement. But then again, ATCQ were making bank for quite a while. This isn’t to say that its a bad record, it’s just not as good as their earlier work. In a sort of ‘I miss the old Kanye’ way. The songs I’d suggest would be ‘Find a Way’,’Steppin it up’ and ‘Give me’.

This was the last ATCQ cut for a while. The members went solo and met occasionally for reunion performances. Mostly to provide for the rising costs of Phife’s diabetes treatment. Q and Phife had many conflicts during this time. However, reconciliation came on the 25th anniversary of Peoples Instinctive Travels and Paths of Rhythm. The group came together like never before. Q, Phife and even Jarobi bounced off each other like it was 1990. This camaraderie gave ATCQ the motivation to give their fans the send off that they always deserved. They decided to reunite for another album.

 

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The band was back together. Ali Shaheed was working on the Luke Cage soundtrack while Phife was working on his own solo stuff. They dropped all of this and put everything into the music. As put by a (must-read) New York Times article on the album, Q-Tip believed that what Phife was working on wasn’t just the new cut, but repairing their fractured relationship. Everything was coming up ATCQ for the legendary group.

In the middle of their sessions, Q-Tip sent Phife a sample of a beat he wanted him to hear. Phife, eager to get his verse on this track, said he’d work on it. A few hours later, Phife’s manager called. He had passed on. The 2016 death rampage continued.

The entire group was distraught. Phife, the five-foot assassin, was gone. The member that got the band back together. The heart of the band. The right limb to Q-Tip’s left.

The adhesive holding the band together was gone. Instead though, we got one of the best albums of 2016. If anything, this united ATCQ even more. We got it from here … Thank you 4 your service is a masterful cut. It doesn’t try too hard to be modern or experimental. It sounds just like an ATCQ album should. We have the political aggressiveness of ‘We the People’, the playfulness of ‘Dis Generation and the lyricism of ‘Kids’. We even have contributions from Andre 3000, the ever present Busta Rhymes, Kanye West, Elton John, Jack White, Anderson .Paak and Talib Kweli. A grouping as strange and as varied as The Breakfast Club. And it all works. Kendrick complements ‘Conrad Tokyo’ without drawing too much attention, Anderson .Paak’s soul fits into Phife’s grit in ‘Movin Backwards’ and Jack White’s riff’s mellow Q-Tips rhythm on ‘Ego’.

This is ATCQ’s last album. In a way, that isn’t a bad thing. As someone put it on reddit, it’s like the Breaking Bad Finale. It left you satisfied. You understood that this was the end and this had to be the end. It wasn’t too abrupt or suspenseful. We lost Phife and this means ATCQ had to go. We got one more record though, and as Q put it ‘the understudy for the star, the show must go on.’

Here’s YouTube playlist on the songs I’ve mentioned so far.

Image: The Source