Category Archives: Hip-Hop

Das Racist

Courtesy of MySpace

Das Racist MySpace

During their first string of Brooklyn shows, Victor Vazquez and Himanshu Suri — better known as Das Racist — performed by plugging an iPod into a 1/8” cable and rapping over their only track, what was then a 20-minute ode to fast food chains. Amateur third-of-an-hour, indeed. “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell,” the song in question, became a Williamsburg, NY, hit and soon a viral joke sensation in the summer of 2009. Everyone from hipsters to bros found solace in the cheesy (zing!) goodness of “Pizza Hut.” But these weird guys had no shot at a real rap rep, right?

Perhaps surprisingly, Das Racist’s bizarre, slurred approach to spittin’ rhymes and culturally topical, self-referencial lyrics have resurfaced this year with renewed vigor. The duo’s two recent mixtapes, “Shut Up, Dude” and “Sit Down, Man,” have received attention from the blogosphere, featuring guests El-P and Chairlift and production from the omnipresent Diplo. Their aesthetic has been called by The New York Times “as much a commentary on hip-hop as a rigorous practice of it.”

The group’s style has a tendency to polarize listeners. The band members themselves describe their vibe as “deconstructionist: sawing out the legs of hip-hop as they celebrate it.” Indeed, on tracks such as “hahahaha jk?” the band explores a series of non-sequiturs: a mix of references to “Days of Our Lives,” Dwight from “The Office,” live-action role-playing, 2-D movies, generally making dope rhymes and a mockery at the same time. On “I’m Up On That,” Das Racist sounds more Madvillain than ever, examining race through Queens’ riots, Reggie Bush and Hinduism — “brown man for dummies.”

When I saw Das Racist at a show for the College Music Journal Music Marathon, the band didn’t even play “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.” Apparently, they’ve attempted to distance themselves from the days of the 20-minute grease-heaven anthem. Yet somehow, the band has found a way to evolve: the show was a wild house party with legit lyricism, matched by their effervescent sense of humor.

—By Editor-At-Large Geoff Schorkopf


The Bird and the Bee

Courtesy of The Bird and the Bee

In The Bird and the Bee’s “Polite Dance Song,” the opening track of its 2007 EP, Please Clap Your Hands, Inara George sings “I try to be as coy as I can / But I wanna see your naughty bit / Would you be nasty with me?” Though most of the synth-pop duo’s songs are not quite so risqué, they do share a playful mischievousness that is invigorating.

Indeed, the band started as a playful experiment when, as members Inara George and Greg Kurstin describe on their MySpace page, they “met a few years ago, discovered a common love of jazz standards … nerded out for a couple hours playing every song they knew … and then wrote a record together.”

Kurstin brings a tremendous amount of musical nerdiness and skill to the table. Having written or produced tracks for the likes of Sia, Lilly Allen, Beck and even Britney Spears’ recent come-back effort, Circus, he has a wealth of musical experience that he employs in the masterful musical arrangements of The Bird and the Bee.

On “Polite Dance Song” Kurstin drops a funky, laconically sliding hip-hop beat that introduces George who sings with a with a slow rhythmic flow. The soprano’s upper-register rapping feels both ironic and refreshing.

They do this again in the track “F–king Boyfriend,” where Kurstin mixes frenetic electronic beeps and chimes with jaunty dance beats and synths that glissando kaleidoscopically through the song. In this song about an impatient lover, it sounds as if George stifles a laugh as she sings, “Would you ever be my, would you be my f–king boyfriend”

The key to the success of Kurstin and George is that they don’t take themselves too seriously, experimenting with different musical styles while still keeping their music consistently light and lively. They pepper mischievous humor onto every track, creating music that is perfect for celebrating the closing hours of a week dedicated to Dooley, the Lord of Misrule.

—By Blog Editor Alex Blum


Courtesy of Anticon

Why? – The Hollows

Rapper Young Churf, best known for his brief spot in Ratatat’s “Seventeen Years,” is in the song saying: “ I don’t write my stuff anymore — I just kick it from my head.” For avant-garde hip-hop artist Why?, a band that sings about masturbating in museums, gypsies with knives and men fornicating at sporting events, listeners may wonder if the group had to kick all that from its head.

However, lyricist Yoni Wolf’s stream-of-consciousness verses and obscure, personal and often polarizing references are as poignant and delicate as reading a diary. His lyrics are beautifully dressed over poppy instrumentals in Alopecia, Why?’s acclaimed 2008 album.

Why?, originally the stage name for Wolf’s solo work, has evolved into a full band, complete with keyboards, bass and electronics. The group combines elements of indie-rock, hip-hop and even folk with an overtly expressionistic and ceaselessly candid tone. The result sounds like the inner thought processes of an adult male in perpetual puberty — confused about the emotional and bodily changes he is facing.

One instance of this is on “Good Friday,” where Wolf explores notions of death, race and sexual fantasy in a way that is mysteriously dark and unquestionably unique. The song opens with a simple bass line and high hat drums, coupled with Wolf’s drawling vocals.

Throughout many of the songs, Wolf’s tone of voice borders somewhere between bored and pleading, as if unsure if he is passionate, narrative or emphatic with his lyrical storytelling. In tracks such as “Fatalist Palmistry,” Wolf accomplishes a more diverse vocal range through multiple vocal tracks, both melodic and monotonous, layered together.

Yet Why? is never too morbid. It might be overly descriptive and sexually experimental, yet it keeps listeners around with well-placed hooks and attention-grabbing lines.

While Wolf may kick things out of his head that are controversial, confusing and all together strange, Why? retains its edge by keeping their ideas linear, exciting and always in-your-face.

by Asst. Entertainment Editor Geoff Schorkopf

Chester French

chester french
Courtesy of Jung Kim/Chester French

Chester French’s Myspace

What do Harvard University, British socialite Peaches Geldof and the Lincoln Memorial have in common?

Retro rock duo Chester French, that’s what. Both of its members, D.A. Wallach and Maxwell Drummey, attended Harvard; Drummey recently married Geldof in a Las Vegas chapel after dating her for only a week; and the guys named themselves after the artist who sculpted Lincoln’s marble features in Washington, D.C.

Chester French, who turned down offers from Kanye West and Jermaine Dupri in order to sign with Pharrell Williams’ label Star Trak, is like a time machine for your ears. The guys draw on the sounds of artists like Motown, The Beatles, Johnny Cash and Outkast to create songs that are familiar yet fresh, old school yet futuristic.

In its synthesized single “She Loves Everybody,” the band blends the best sounds of the 1960s with contemporary lyrics. Likewise, “People” conjures up images of the Beach Boys and 1950s style drive-ins, but mixes in lyrics that would be more appropriate in an Urban Dictionary definition. Wallach sings, “Now every time I see a dime / I ask myself if she is the one, the one / Or is she just another shortie / with a fatty cake inside of that bun, that bun.” (Yeah, I don’t know what that means either.)

But the band’s genre bending doesn’t end with old timey rock ‘n’ roll. “Beneath the Veil” injects hip-hop sensibility into a classic country melody to create a song worthy of a modern Johnny Cash, while “Neal” blends hip-hop with swing music.

With a whole new decade right around the corner, it’s about time a band stepped up to define what the next generation of music is going to sound like. With one guitar riff in the past and the other in the future, Chester French might just be that band.

—By Asst Entertainment Editor Franchesca Winters

Little Jackie

little jackie
Courtesy of Little Jackie

Little Jackie is unabashedly sassy, spunky and feisty, and it’s apparent from a first listen. What isn’t as apparent is that Little Jackie isn’t just some self-assured woman who can spit witty rhymes over catchy-yet-smooth R&B sounds. Instead, Little Jackie is actually a pop duo made up of vocalist Imani Coppola and multi-instrumentalist Adam Pallin.

But it’s Coppola who really steals the show. With a solo career mostly comprised of self-released albums already under her belt, her husky voice sounds polished, but still fresh, and her songs always have an edge to them. Hell, Coppola uses the word “yessiree” on the album’s first single, “The World Should Revolve Around Me,” and still manages to sound badass.

Her lyrics read like a hip, sarcastic autobiography, showing pride for herself, her race and the duo’s hometown of Brooklyn, N.Y. In fact, Little Jackie’s debut album, The Stoop, and its title track both pay homage to life in one of NYC’s most colorful boroughs.

What is most refreshing about Little Jackie’s songs is that they dismiss standard hip-hop topics of cars and bling and are instead always rooted in reality. Coppola is more than willing to sing about human vices with lines like, “Another bottle of whiskey has been emptied/I know you wouldn’t put it past me” on “28 Butts.” Even on “Black Barbie,” where Coppola compares herself to the iconic doll, she sings, “Cheers to my publicist for making me look like an angel.”

Pallin provides a unique musical backing, ranging from jazzy brass sounds to psuedo-reggae beats to more traditional hip-hop percussion. With these diverse soundscapes serving as the backdrop for Coppola’s velvety voice and cheeky lyrics, Little Jackie creates perfect music for a mid-week pick-me-up, a Friday night dance party or just an afternoon chilling on your front stoop.

–By Entertainment Editor Ani Vrabel

One Be Lo

Rapper One Be LoCourtesy of Audible Beats

One Be Lo – “Gray” Download (Right Click and select “Save Link As”)

One Be Lo’s acronymic ’07 release, The R.E.B.I.R.T.H., which stands for “Real Emcees Bring Intelligent Rhymes to Hip-Hop,” says it all: forget hooks, forget fat club beats, forget phony rappers — this is how authentic hip-hop is supposed to sound. (An interesting aside, each of the lyricist’s proper albums boasts complex wordplay: Look up S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M. and S.T.I.L.L.B.O.R.N. when you get a chance.)

One Be Lo’s style — clean and clear and under control — screams “conscious independent,” with lyrics to match. In “Keep it Rollin’,” the emcee, cruising through city streets, raps, “Turn the key, let the engine rumble / Make a left, make a right, everywhere I see my people struggle / You can make a decent hustle but you need the muscle / Because in the food chain the strong eat the weak amongst you.” Couple this ability to rhyme with One Be Lo’s acute sense for making beats — or picking producers (there are nine different mix-masters on R.E.B.I.R.T.H.) — and you’ve got an indie artist covering every niche of the hip-hop spectrum. Take the album’s closing track, “Hip-Hop Heaven,” on which the emcee meshes old-school lines about his days as a b-boy with an in-vogue drum-and-bass pattern.

In claiming that all rappers bring smart rhymes, One Be Lo sets a self-imposed high bar — one that he gracefully clears with his classic approach to underground hip-hop.

— By Entertainment Editor Chris French


Canadian Rapper Socalled
Socalled, “These Are The Good Old Days”

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Rap today is all about the hook. Just look at artists like Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em and — neither has anything worthwhile to offer between choruses. (And sometimes even during the choruses.) Socalled, however, has an entire mess of things up his sleeve — all the time. Throughout his second release, Ghettoblaster, the rapper/producer continuously challenges his listener with controversial — and often hysterical — lyrics, as well as musical combinations that no mix-master would, in his or her right mind, ever attempt.

“These Are the Good Old Days,” the first single off his newest album, begins with the controversial line, “My god’s going to kick your god’s ass,” followed by short, spoken prose from emcee Subtitle about text messaging and contraceptives. These, according to the L.A. rapper, are among the great innovations of world history, much like what the “Egyptians reached when they had, like, magical building and secret things.” These quick, witty lyrics set the stage for an album that ignores — and even defies — mainstream hip-hop norms.

But Socalled’s scandalous writing takes a backseat to his brilliant blend of oft-obscure genres. From hardcore rap to accordion riffs and Middle Eastern, uh, noise, the Canadian rapper is truly out of his mind — and thank god for it. As radio-rap now seems to follow some club-conscious formula, Socalled represents an underground movement that bends — no, breaks — those rules.

— By Entertainment Editor Chris French