RAVEN MACK is a mystic poet-philosopher-artist of the Greater Appalachian unorthodox tradition who publishes zines & physical books & electronic books & music & photography & digital art & just generally whatever feels necessary to survive this deluded earth thru Rojonekku Word Fighting Arts survival systems (Version 69, establish 14 Feb 1973). Comments encouraged.

Monday, March 20

[HH3os] The Blaqkout Built 4 Cuban Ecstatic trio

(1st round match-up 9 of 27)

This particular trio of this particular convoluted and entirely unnecessary project was a pleasure, as I’ve loved upon all the main artists involved in this threesome, yet had never fully explored any of these albums. Musically speaking, this turned out to be the best threesome of albums I’ve forced myself to partake of as part of this idiotic mess thus far, which was a welcome psychic palette cleanser after that 808s and Heartbreak bullshit from the last threesome. Sadly, I doubt such aural joys will continue…

DJ Quik & Kurupt – Blaqkout
(released June 9, 2009; #25 on 2009 Pitchfork Albums of the Year list)
I have always felt DJ Quik has been underrated as important and ground-breaking beathead within hip hop. Shit man, imo he’s got as much a fingerprint on G-funk sound as Dre did, and while Dre has morphed into Very Important Businessman status, Quik has remained true to music always. I had never once listened to this album before, not even a song, mostly because I guess I didn’t really care about Kurupt ever. But holy fuck man, instrumentally speaking, this album is amazing. Not sure I’ve had too many occasions in recent years where I’ve thought to myself, “Got to peep this up close on the headphones to really dig into the beautiful chaos” but Quik caused that. His arrangement of sounds and mix of live instrumentation with samples both familiar and unfamiliar is just unparalleled. Like I’m willing to lobby for MacArthur genius grant for Quik to be honest. I think his brilliance gets lost because the lyrical content of a lot of his work is not as academically intelligent, even in our 21st Century “every stupid fucking thing on earth is culture” cultural studies level of academia. This album is no different, as there’s plenty of odes to pussy and getting fucked up and not giving a fuck at all.
But even with less than most highest lyrical content, Quik has always had a sort of contrarian delivery that followed its own rhythm, almost off-beat at times but more likely just skipping around over stereotypical flows beat path, which is something I don’t think a non-producer MC could do, and maybe not even a producer MC with a lesser musical knowledge than Quik. And even though Kurupt doesn’t stand out in anyway as an MC to make me mark the fuck out for him on this album, he does play the role of necessary complement which gives the vocal part of it all more depth than it would have were it Quik-alone. It’s the EPMD principle, which follows that of your normal two-man sports commentary crew of live events – you have the play-by-play guy who is very methodical and keeps from being too outlandish, which would be Parrish of EPMD or Kurupt on this. And then you have the color guy who gets out there a little bit, takes the conversation away from the predictable, or just says shit in weird ways, which was Erick Sermon, and Quik on this. It makes a seemingly boring and predictable event – like talking about a basketball game, or a hip hop album – less boring and predictable, if done right.
Blaqkout is done right. And musically, this is some Stanley Clarke’s Journey to Love era fusion of multiple musical philosophies into some near-spiritual (musically-speaking) Sunday afternoon chilling the fuck out music.
FOUR STARS!

Mos Def – The Ecstatic
(released June 9, 2009; #40 on 2009 Pitchfork Albums of the Year list)
Cover of this album is a still from Killer of Sheep, a 1970s indy film by Charles Burnett, which is one of the most amazing movies ever, and most people don’t even know exists. I actually finally got to see Moonlight this past weekend (which I had wanted to see in theaters but never got a chance, despite only wanting to see movies in actual theaters about once every five years, maybe more), and I thought Moonlight was as great as I had expected it to be, but also strangely enough it reminded me of Killer of Sheep a lot in how it so deeply humanized moments that often get lost in the grandiose purpose and editing of traditional film-making.
All of that is brief opening aside to Mos Def’s album, which is stepping toward world music pretty heavily from his Rawkus beginnings, and ultimately it was while in support of this album he made his first trip to South Africa, which is where he ended up staying (longer than legal) and realizing himself as Yasiin Bey. I love the old Black Star stuff immensely, as well as Bey’s earlier works, and I have as well become somewhat inspired and informed by Islamic teachings in the past decade of my life. Not sure why I never peeped this album more deeply, as it’s been collecting digital dust in my itunes all along, but it’s a great album, shockingly cohesive considering you can hear the disparate producer influences on it. (Man, I’m about sick of Neptunes beats during this period of time by now. Like sure, they did some great shit – I will rock “Superthug” instro 8-hours straight if necessary; but damn so many Neptunes beats sound manufactured and over-produced and so obviously Neptunes it gets annoying.) Luckily, the heaviest hand on production was Madlib’s, and if you’re gonna go on a world exploration album about life beyond the arbitrary border of the U.S. empire, there’s not a better audio guide than Madlib.
Adding to the cohesion is the lack of feature syndrome most albums suffer from. The ones that are here all make perfect sense too. It’s a solid, cohesive in theme album, and to be honest – knowing Bey’s real life situations since this was released 8 years ago, my biggest gripe is that we haven’t heard about any further philosophical exploration by Bey in full-length form since. I mean maybe the world doesn’t care, or maybe the spirit of it got sucked out of him while signed up with Kanye’s group. (I have a hard time reconciling Islamic-converted world-viewing Yasiin Bey with Kanye West, but hey, the world makes for strange bedfellows, always, as nothing is ever as black-and-white as we make it in our minds.)
When it comes to world music, there are two types (from American Empire consumption point, or downloading online with ease) – the Putamayo route, or the Rough Guide route. Putamayo is like starter-world music for the neoliberal set. This is what you hear in coffee shops. Rough Guide is a more obscure brand (though not as obscure as actually digging into the source music itself – I guess the old showing and proving do the knowledge technique of going to the source will always apply) and tends to offer more depth of inputs. This Mos Def world view expanding album’s got that Rough Guide feel to it, more than a Putamayo trending infatuation to be replaced by holiday music just as quickly. Thus I’d really like to know where he’s at now, since he’s had another half a decade to explore these spaces.
FOUR STARS!

Raekwon – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II
(released September 8, 2009; #5 on 2009 Pitchfork Albums of the Year list)
Honestly had never listened to this album, as the joke of “Cuban Linx II coming soon” had become so prominent I think I forgot to pay attention when the joke was ruined by an actual album. And honestly, I had never expected it to be as good as it is, especially after just listening to that 8 Diagrams Wu abomination. In fact, I’d say Cuban Linx II is actually everything about a Wu reunion album that I was disappointed about in that 8 Diagrams piece. Anyone who sounded uninspired on the Wu proper does not sound that way here. Everybody sounds at least invested in doing a fucking song. And Rae and Ghost remain the two who seem dedicated to spiritual origins of Wu more than commercial appeal. In terms of Wu orthodoxy, this is definitely a fundamentalist record, but without being dogmatic about it. And after being exposed to so much Wu shit from 2007 beyond (Pitchfork seems to love all things Wu, which is not exactly out of the ordinary for a white-ish internet-as-fuck endeavor; I mean look at me), it’s starting to seem like the best way to get off a solid Wu-fundamentalist project is to limit how much control RZA has over it, which also goes entirely against what early Wu-fundamentalism would have suggested. The obvious schism between Rae/Ghost arm and RZA has been well-documented in media, but is even more obvious on cultural value of the actual albums, imo.
And with “gentrification of the internet” being partial foundation to this stupid fucking Pitchfork project, I feel at unease even mentioning something like “Wu-fundamentalism” because now it will exist, and when things like that exist inside the digital realm and are exposed to the sterilized fermentation process of internet, ugly things are born. So I apologize.
FOUR STARS!

THE WINNER: After first time through all three of these albums, there was no delineation between them in my mind (or heart, as I am judging from heart not mind, at least in theory, which again is from heart, but now we’re just looping endlessly between two sources of knowledge inside man), so second time through I had to really hone in on what might separate one from the other two. This was difficult, as all three were great enough to justify advancing, considering some of the other crap that’s already won a trio contest in this HH3os crap. But ultimately it came down to this heart thinking:

A) The Ecstatic musically did not make me want to get high and put on headphones five nights straight like Blaqkout did. B) Lyrically, Blaqkout got kinda stupid at times, at least stupid enough I couldn’t justify it over Cuban Linx II. Thus Cuban Linx II won out in a spirited contest which hopefully suggests that contrary to primitive boom Baptist beliefs, hip hop is not dead. (Hip hop is never dead, though it may become more and more zombiefied or animated by artificial intelligence. Art never dies; it just gets homogenized into profitable waste of artistic space.)

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