“Somebody told me I’m ahead of my time, I said no, I’m just ahead of decline.” – Ty
I find myself digging through my digital crates lately because well, that’s what this year has allowed me to do. During normal circumstances I’m speeding through albums; listening, attempting to dissect each one, communicating with heads that seem to know a lot more than I do. That doesn’t bother me because what I learn from people allows me to continually grow. Without growth, we wither and die. I digress. During the new normal I’m allowed to catch up, relax, and listen to the artists that I’ve loved to toss in the deck when I had a chance. That brings me to TY, better known to friends as Benedict Chijioke, the English wordsmith that astounded me with his debut album Awkward (NinjaTune). The first time running into TY was during some music festival on the lower east side, in a local bodega. “Yo, you’re TY” I remember saying. I think he was pleased that I knew who he was. Emails back and forth ensued since then. It’s hard to imagine it’s been almost 5 months since he’s been gone but this album, as well as others like Upward, Closer, A Work Of Heart, etc., I urge anyone that’s reading this to go check them out. He was an emcee of a different sort.
Our quarantine culture has allowed multiple artists the ability to generate track after track of unbridled passion and I’ve seen more self-releases in the past couple of months than I have within a couple of years. Mutt Fuzz, not to be confused with Seattle’s Fuzz Mutt, hails from Cincinnati, OH and I’m not sure what to make of them. The band’s last EP offering dropped back in April and was reeked of lo-fi indie rock with hints of country shenanigans. The band’s new Crybaby (Lo-Fi City) is a bit different with more of a southern influenced than anything else. “Quarantino Burrito” is different though, and we can all imagine the scope of this new normal taking its toll on the band as they sing “It will never be the same.” An odd little release.
There are times when things sometimes don’t seem to work out. I could connect with someone early on in their burgeoning career only to lose that connection for whatever reason. This happens a lot, in my case anyway. That’s never a slight on an artist but it’s just what seems to come along with the territory.
Subtitle is an artist I first discovered with the Young Dangerous Hearts album on the now defunct and amazing GSL label. While it was his first long player with a much further reach in distribution, it wasn’t his first release. He has 5 other releases predating …Hearts fitting into his catalog. Now recording under his given name, Giovanni Marks, he drops his latest effort, Fall All Over/Dead October, his first release in 5 years. This seems to be something he addresses in the closing “to the fullest (feat. The Koreatown Oddity),” when he says “Giovanni Marks missing persons poster at the record store.” But I’m getting ahead of myself. Marks has a delivery that’s sometimes rapid-fire, always monotone, and distinct. Marks walks and talks to the beat of his own MPC which he also expounds on, doing things his own way to the fullest of his own capabilities, sharing views with The Koreatown Oddity.
Even when moving at a frantic pace, Giovanni Marks’ words are audible through the hazy cloud of sound surrounding him, creating a mélange that seems to be juxtaposed throughout. Take the opening “2:45am Ping Pong Club,” with a dark and brooding backdrop utilized, Marks rhymes like an auctioneer when he lets his words flow. But it’s on the harder hitting “Attic Static,” where he shifts mood trading barbs with Megabusive. Those deep bass notes resonate with an early west coast vibe, as I find myself patiently waiting for it in between lulls of vocal samples. But Marks and Mega wax poetic here taking cultural matters in their own hands. When statements like “Black incarcerations equals afro-vivisection” and “…no due process, racial rundown, unarmed good man, guns and drugs found, chased by bloodhounds, don’t be found out after sundown, put the book down, you’re a crook now” tell an evocative story here without being too specific but we should all understand the struggle.
What the album showcases here is how the years have allowed him to focus on the art-rap which is much more distinguishable from his contemporaries. “Data Drops” runs across odd beats and sounds but Marks is able at making it his own. The cacophonous “I walk around city” has the rapper volleying rhymes with Hemlock Ernst who has quickly gained notoriety for his verbal dexterity as an emcee but not distracting from his full-time gig (Future Islands), while on “LIME-LITE” Marks takes a much more sublime ride. Heady verbose lyricism traveling through urban darkness all around. It’s wickedly inviting. But it’s “prescription brain” that I find interesting. Marks tackles pharmaceuticals here over a repetitive beat that’s fitting, or rather apropos. Mental health treated by pharma for a temporary aid it seems, and the music he wraps it all around blends well together aesthetically.
Seems like Giovanni Marks is back and as we ride out 2020, Fall All Over/Dead October seems fitting. Marks is doing what he does best while taking chances at the same time from track to track. Easily said though, he’s keeping it crev.
Do I even consider myself a staunch fan of music? Yes, of course I am. Well, good music anyway. Enter the Death Valley Girls, an L.A. quartet that has rendered its follow-up release this year in Under The Spell Of Joy (Suicide Squeeze). The album, in of itself, is sonically challenging, more so than the band’s 2018 Darkness Rains, and while it was to be expected with two years between releases, the growth seems almost exponential.
Enlisting a choir to fully develop the group’s trek down the spiral of psychedelia, the title track alone expounds on those elements for a stab at greatness. Guitars crash alongside saxophones; voices are carried further along on the rhythm section’s revivalist tempo. The song is bestial! While the group seemed to rely more on guitars in the past, things have changed. Make no mistake, the group hasn’t forsaken or eschewed its 6-stringed instruments, here there’s much more to explore with. Organs allow “Bliss Out” out to take another direction while allowing the group to clearly identify as the Death Valley Girls. The upbeat swing here is unexpected but supports the band’s growth. It’s easy to fall in love with the swirling melody all around it. Bonnie Bloomgarden’s is commanding on the expansive “The Universe,” which edges into sheer oblivion in only the best way imaginable with horns and keyboards rising over the steady rhythm.
The band does reach around for guitars on the driving “10 Day Miracle Challenge” which may crack the garage rock code but is accented with so much more around it. Keyboards bang away while drums speed through dark tunnels with high beams on. And the guitar solo? Well, that in itself makes this one worth its weight in gold. The band is obviously ascending forward without relinquishing its bombast but with “I’d Rather Be Dreaming” the group is riveting with the melodies and notes it pulls from instruments. Guitars and keyboard work well against one another and Bloomgarden doesn’t overpower the track, giving it just enough of her voice to let the song carry her along with it.
Where does the band go from here? Only time will tell but if Under The Spell Of Joy is any indication, the band members aren’t going to spend too much time standing in one place. The band’s next move is going to be complete dominance I’m sure.
Throughout the years there have been a number of emcees that haven’t received the accolades and praise they may deserve. For every 10 Lil Yachty’s, there might be one Rapsody, but that’s never a guarantee. Fortunately, music listeners have become a bit more discerning with what they’re allowing into their proverbial decks.
Sa-Roc isn’t new to Hip-Hop and music in general. The Sharecropper’s Daughter (Rhymesayers) is her 10th album in just as many years and there’s no sign of slowing down. The new release ups the ante for Sa-Roc and is probably her game-changer allowing the uninitiated and unfamiliar to be exposed to Sa-Roc as she delivers direct and powerful verses. Her delivery, her cadence, her inflections; these are the things that draw one in. The fact that her words are well thought out is a welcomed addition. For her Rhymesayers full-length debut, she brings the burning fire in her soul and is accompanied by some heavy hitters to boot. Make no mistake, she can hold her own with our without them.
In just under 2 minutes, “EmergencE” Sa-Roc and Saul Williams kill the track with eloquence in their words, storied around the past to the present, from fields to urban streets, climbing over mountains of success. The beat, a laidback affair, is fitting, allowing words to revolve circularly around its concept. She trades verses on “Rockwell’s America” with Lox rapper Styles P and here, Sa-Roc isn’t taking any shortcuts, reflecting on her own life wrapped around mainstream culture. Styles P, also whips his words about black unity, empowerment, urban culture, and survival. His flow, over the catchy beat, is effortless. It’s easily understood why many still consider Styles P a savage on the mic. The track is followed by “Something Real,” a track Sa-Roc wraps her words – focused around the culture and industry – over an Alicia Keys sample. She doesn’t focus on the music’s consistent appeal (because it’s always there), instead she let’s her words flow to match its steady flow. This is possibly my favorite track here.
“Hand Of God” has an easy flow that’s airy and Sa-Roc delivers this one like a preacher at the pulpit, quickly spitting verses around that beat. “Deliverance” takes a different approach, sneakily moving around corners, stealthily spitting her words with venom as she ascends, never falling short or stumbling. But it’s the title track here, on a Neo soul tip, and doesn’t get any better than having Ledisi here. Her voice is magical over. The track is titled as such because Sa-Roc is the daughter of a sharecropper, who worked on a Tobacco farm in his youth. She shares stories that are grim with hopeful promises. It’s a beautiful upbeat track with an underlying streak of sadness within. Black Thought shares space with Sa-Roc on “The Black Renaissance” where black excellence is the focus taking the power back. It’s relatable in its strength.
There’s so much listeners are able to find The Sharecropper’s Daughter appealing. The double LP lingers all around positivity and blessings, while also focused on struggle and moving forward and upward. It’s both easy to enjoy and introspective with the ability to stand the test of time.