Prince: Dirty Mind (1980)

The 204th best album ever made. Seriously.

Purchase this album: Amazon 

THE SCENE: No matter your opinion of Prince’s music, one has to admit that the composer of “Sexy MF”, “Sex Shooter”, “The Sex of It”, “Sexuality”, “Sexy Dancer”, “Lovesexy”, “Sex In the Summer”, and “Sex” is extremely focused. At least until his short-term memory kicks in. In the latest issue of New Yorker magazine he shockingly came out against gay marriage, in his own metaphorical way. He later claimed he was misquoted, but since he prevented the interview from being taped he’s culpable in his causing his own problem. (Does anyone else find it ironic that a man who’s spent most of his adult life in a recording studio refuses to let a journalist record his interviews? Maybe he just doesn’t like their choice of microphones.)

The larger oddity is that Prince, now a wealthy 50ish Jehovah’s Witness, has seemingly forgotten that he erected his career upon the bedrock of sexual freedom and gender equity, and how much more interesting he was back when he was a hungry 20-something ex-Seventh Day Adventist. And to that I present his perverted revolutionary classic Dirty Mind.

His previous album Prince went gold on the success of the R&B/disco single “I Wanna Be Your Lover”, but nothing about Dirty Mind said “smooth R&B lover man”. The bikini & trenchcoat cover alone telegraphs his colossal desire to share his severely naughty desires with anyone trapped by his gaze, and in a tight half-hour he lets his salacious psyche unravel.

Sonically as cold as a back-alley quickie, Dirty Mind reinvents funk for the punk age, from the low-fidelity sound that reveals its start as demo recordings to its James Brown-meets-The-Cars keyboard tones, all sour, piercing and aggressive. Here’s where he perfected his hedonist howl, his dry guitar tangs, and his obsession with messing with listeners’ heads.

“Dirty Mind” is one extended come-on, where he offers you, the listener, money to let him “lay you down”. “Sister” makes the most of its rugged and raw 90 seconds by relaying his sexual awakening through sibling-on-sibling action.

My sister never made love to anyone else but me
She’s the reason for my, uh, sexuality
She showed me where it’s supposed to go
A blow job doesn’t mean blow
Incest is everything it’s said to be

“Uptown” is his fantasyland where one can live in harmony through libidinous experimentation, which includes this randy quatrain:

“What’s up little girl?”
“I ain’t got time to play.”
Baby didn’t say too much
She said, “Are you gay?”

And then there’s the oral control anthem “Head”, where the funk is so stanky it could disintegrate soap on contact. As subtle as pair of crotchless panties, Prince initiates a plan to divert a bride from her intended destination:

I remember when I met u, baby
U were on you’re way to be wed…
…But I’ve gotta have u, baby
I got to have u in my bed, and you said
“But I just a virgin and I’m on my way to be wed
But you’re such a hunk, So full of spunk,
I’ll give you head”
‘Til you’re burning up
‘Til you get enough
‘Til you’re love is red
Love it you ’til you’re dead

OK, perhaps Prince wasn’t big on traditional marriage either.

THE FALLOUT: His label was so shocked they created a whole new Explicit Lyrics sticker for him. Rock critics immediately jumped on Prince’s jock, falling over themselves with praise. Rolling Stone eventually ranked it 204 on their 500 Greatest Albums list. Yet for all its brilliance Dirty Mind sold less than its predecessor, only achieving gold status after the release of Controversy, 1999 and Purple Rain. To date it’s the lowest selling album of his classic period*. Maybe he should give it as spin and see why the world thinks he’s lost the plot.

(*1979-1987: Classic period. 1988-present: Mostly crap.)

Dirty Mind is available from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:

So filthy you may need to bathe, Dirty Mind set the blueprint for Prince’s musical domination, and sadly shows why hypocrisy is the greatest luxury.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Kora and trombone sitting in a tree, J-A-M-M-I-N-G.

Poundhound: Massive Grooves From The Electric Church of Psychofunkadelic Grungelism Rock Music (1998)


Night of the living bass-head.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: On Chris Rock’s MySpace page he posted a so-funny-it’s-painful essay called the Only Black Guy Concert Review :

“So far this year I was the only black guy at the Van Halen concert, the only black guy at the Cure concert, and the only black guy at the White Stripes concert. And later on this year I’m sure I’ll be the only black guy at the Radiohead concert.”

As the lead singer and bassist of the veteran power trio King’s X, Doug Pinnick lives this position. No matter how unique I may feel at a Pink Floyd concert (where I was constantly asked by white hippie kids if I was selling pot), Pinnick knows he’s the only black, out, left-handed detuned 12-string rock bassist around. But the man loves his job, and after King’s X was dropped by their label in 1996 he recorded his solo debut, the powerful Massive Grooves From The Electric Church of Psychofunkadelic Grungelism Rock Music under the name Poundhound.

This gospel-tinged riff rock album is focused on low end the way Sir Mix-A-Lot is focused on back end; it’s not merely the starting point but the entire point. Every track features tasty deep, pelvis shaking bass, sometimes thick like slab-bacon but commonly fresh & fizzy like a mouthful of ginger ale. I played it in my car and I had to turn the bass knob DOWN, and that never happens.

Pinnick’s church-trained bluesy voice is stunning not only for its purity and vulnerability, but also for its sheer strength to cut through the rumbling wall-o-bass to even be heard. The creeping paranoia of “Supersalad” approaches like a tipsy marching army. “Jangle” dangles some rootsy acoustic accoutrements where “BlindEye” sizzles in its primal, salty groove.

His 12-string bass, on which one has to press multiple groups of strings with every pluck, has such an massive orchestral range that it’s nearly another singer on the album. It enhances the Beatle-ish “Red” with a ticklish slip-off-the-face-of-the-earth vibe. On “Hey” it anchors the extended outro like a sexy American sitar.

For reasons like this Pinnick has been deemed one of the inventors of grunge by none other than Jeff Ament, the bass player for grunge superstars Pearl Jam. Unfortunately, pioneering this genere never led King’s X to large album sales, but one would figure that the face and voice of the band would lead to modest returns for Massive Grooves…

which might have happened had Pinnick released it under his own name. To the world at large Poundhound was a completely new band, and outside of the metal community it was treated as such: with utter indifference. Eventually his marketing bells went off, and he now issues his solo albums under the name dUg Pinnick. Yes, small “d” and big “U”. Believe or not, he’s not the first person on Uppity Music to apply unique capitalization to his name.

Massive Grooves From The Electric Church of Psychofunkadelic Grungelism Rock Music is available from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:

If you appreciate a thick & meaty low end, Massive Grooves From The Electric Church of Psychofunkadelic Grungelism Rock Music will rattle your cattle.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Prince cleans his mind, and I call him out.

Georgia Anne Muldrow: Olesi: Fragments of an Earth (2006)


Fresher than a gumbo popsicle.

Purchase this album: Amazon 

THE SCENE: In spite of the nearly infinite song possibilities of both jazz and hiphop, I find jazz-hop to be universally underwhelming. (Except for this one, but you knew that already.) Usually one genre is sprinkled on top of the other like salt on a bagel, resulting in either jazz songs with with b-level raps or hiphop songs with acoustic bass loops. Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit” is one of the few classics of both genres, and even that track is rap-free.

But vocalist and producer Georgia Anne Muldrow took a completely different angle, puréeing the surrealistic essences of both free jazz and hiphop beat chopping, whipping up the freaky soufflé into her debut album Olesi: Fragments of an Earth.

If The RZA remixed Jill Scott but left the tracks in the oven to melt, that’s but a morsel of this albums’ sound. Muldrow’s jazz-scented vocals are layered frosting-thick but it’s her plate of rhythms that’s the real standout. Every song has a woozy bottom of micro-beats that ripple up like Ovaltine chunks, rendering the standard 4/4 beat undanceable and unrecognizable, yet totally fascinating.

Sandwiched between these slices are a buffet of musical styles, all of which get blended and stewed. The hemp-filled “Radio WNK” rolls in some reggae, its drums sounding like groceries dropped to the floor. The funk reduction “Birds” percolates on chocolatey bass pops and tin can hits. “Melanin” seasons an electronica soup with some fierce jazz scatting.

Muldrow reaches an apex of sonic collage with her unique social report “New Orleans”. With it’s first lines (“Murderer…Humans left alone to die”) it’s a devastating menu of marching snares, pianos smears, and anger. You can smell the fear and confusion of watching a town sink under the flood waters, and the taste the rage of indifferent government support.

Her only nod to mainstream music is with song length, as nearly every track is a bite-sized two minutes. Just long enough to get some radio spins. Er, not.

THE FALLOUT: Reviews were decidedly mixed: critics who appreciated dope-fiend beats (like hiphop writers) tended to be kinder than one who didn’t (like indie rock writers). Sales were minimal. Although she’s released some collaborative material since, she has yet to release a follow-up album.

Olesi: Fragments of an Earth is available from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:

A skillet full of spices, sauces and steam, Olesi: Fragments of an Earth is a full-course meal for the challenging palate.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Mr. Busdriver’s Wild Ride.

Q-Tip: Open (2004 but unreleased)


Record company people are still shady.

THE SCENE: When we last left Q-Tip in 2001, Arista Records refused to release his album Kamaal The Abstract, deeming his ambitious fusion of hip-hop, jazz & rock “uncommercial”. I imagine the conversation went something like this:

Record Exec: “I don’t think this album is going to sell.”
Q-Tip: “But every album I’ve made has sold over half a million units, including all the Tribe Called Quest albums.”
Record Exec: “You were in A Tribe Called Quest?”
Q-Tip: (says nothing in return, makes note to call J Records.)

After negotiating a release from his label, Q-Tip moved to J Records where in 2004 he refined Kamaal‘s breakthroughs with the abstract grooves of Open.

Melting the melodic expressiveness of jam-rock into the cadence and form of hip-hop, Open is a confetti explosion of re-interpreted sounds. Q-Tip’s treble flow retains its tap dancer grace, but his usual sunny self is shaded with caution and abandonment. He’s also singing again, but he’s given near duet status to guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, who drops prominent chunks of jazz-metal riffs over the live band.

“Johnny Died” crystallizes Q-Tip’s manifesto, as he raps over a headbopping beat in 6/8 time, playing slip-n-slide around the guitars’ ragged pogoing. The sneaky, circus-like riffs of “Black Boy” crunch greasily like fried chicken as Q-Tip’s sweetly paranoid vocals peel back the carnival curtain:

Be careful of the thing you say
Or they’ll tow your black butt away
Be careful ’bout how you roll
They’re gonna say that you’re outta control

Anyone expecting traditional rap songs on this album will also think he’s outta control with his blues jam “Feelings” and the spidery, climaxing 9/4 rhythm of “Where Do You Go?”. The tracks get groggier and drowsier in the rapidly detuning “Late Mornin'” and the constantly rewarping “I’m Not Gone Have It”. He finally collapses, sinking into the magenta mud of “Lisa”, his melancholia telegraphing the beginning of a romance’s end:

When I woke up in the morning
I still felt it in my bones
Because I think about that morning
When I called you at your home
I told you about my rough times
And you rushed me off the phone
Was it because you didn’t really care
Or because you weren’t alone?

A tour de force of grand experimentalism, with sharp lyricism and tight beats. What could go wrong?

THE FALLOUT: J Records refused to release Open, deeming his ambitious fusion of hip-hop, jazz & rock “uncommercial”. I imagine the conversation went something like this:

Record Exec: “I don’t think this album is going to sell.”
Q-Tip: “But every album I’ve made has sold over half a million units, including all the Tribe Called Quest albums.”
Record Exec: “You were in A Tribe Called Quest?”
Q-Tip: (says nothing in return, makes note to call Universal/Motown Records.)

Q-Tip eventually decamped to Universal/Motown, where he recorded Live at The Renaissance in 2005, which also remains unreleased. On November 7 he’s scheduled to release a reworked version called The Renaissance, making it his first solo joint in 9 years. As this is the same date as the most important presidential election in American history, will anyone even notice?

Open remains unreleased, but you can sample tracks here:

Throbbing with human fraility, Open ushers in a stillborn musical genre, one too un-regimented for an official airing.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Step aside, Larry Graham! Dorothy Ashby plays her funky…koto?

James Brown and His Famous Flames: Sings Christmas Songs (1966)


Funk is…a ham hock in your egg nog.

Purchase this album: Amazon

(The following is a repost, in honor of James Brown’s passing on Christmas Day 2006.)

THE SCENE: In 1966 Christmas albums were strictly the domain of pop acts (think Nat “King” Cole) or smoothed-out rock acts (think The Beach Boys). James Brown was the first Black rock’n’roll or R&B artist to release an entire Christmas album, the aptly named Sings Christmas Songs.

One of five albums he released that year, Brown recorded a surprisingly lush assortment of standards with subtle dustings of breakbeats. Even though this coincided with his ascent into his heavy funk many of these tracks are waltzes. Go figure.

Brown tackles Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song” with skittering drums, warm horns and a vocal raspyness that humanizes some of the more trite lyrics. He also serves up a cover of Charles Brown’s “Merry Christmas Baby”, in which he oddly tries to emulate Charles Brown’ buttery flow.

He reclaims his own voice in “Let’s Make Christmas Mean Something This Year” where he stops singing and talks to you, the listener, about what he’s thankful for this holiday season. It should be corny as hell but he pulls it off brilliantly.

Rich romantic violins feature prominently in “Please Come Home For Christmas” and “Christmas In Heaven” where Brown gets his croon on and gently pleads (OK, begs) for his baby.

His ode to Jesus, “Sweet Little Baby Boy”, is a surprisingly orchestrated country & western affair, perfect for drinking hot toddies or slow line dancing.

All in all, the perfect holiday package for, well, no one in 1966.

THE FALLOUT: Stylistically out of character and indifferently packaged, Sings Christmas Songs went over as well as coal in a Christmas stocking. He fared exceeding better with his next Christmas album, 1968’s unabashedly funky Soulful Christmas.

All of Sings Christmas Songs can be found on The Complete James Brown Christmas, available from Amazon, and you can sample tracks here:

A groundbreaker in holiday albums, Sings Christmas Songs opened the door for all musical acts to record Christmas-themed concept records. (So in some strange way, William Hung’s Hung for the Holidays is James Brown’s fault. Thanks, James.)

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Ornette Coleman goes to London to discover America.

Andre 3000: Class of 3000 Music Volume One (2007)


The antidote to Barney the Dinosaur.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: After the triumphant success of OutKast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below Hollywood rolled out the red carpet to André 3000, giving him the chance to appear in a string of extremely mediocre sequels and remakes (Four Brothers, Be Cool, Charlotte’s Web, yawn). But on the Cartoon Network he scored a bullseye as the lead actor, executive producer, and music director of the Emmy-winning Class of 3000. André created an original song for each episode, all of which are collected on the groovy soundtrack Music Volume One.

On the show André portrays Sunny Bridges, a world-famous but emotionally unfulfilled hip-hop star who returns to his Atlanta high school as a music teacher, sharing his love of music and positivity with a gaggle of gifted young musicians. These students share the mic with André throughout the album, like a Greek chorus of Flavor Flavs injecting mirth into the messages.

In his quest to create the hippest children’s album of time, André invokes the same blueprint he used on The Love Below. There’s the still-surprising effect of his multi-tracked singing voice (in the torchy ballad “Life Without Music), homages to Prince (in the razor sharp funk of “Throwdown”) and a straight-ahead jazz instrumental snuck in at the back (in the swingin’ “My Mentor).”

Class of 3000 weaves in many subtle yet straightforward messages championing music appreciation. It exposed my kids to New Orleans second line (“Fight the Blob”) and Asian melodies (“UFO Ninja”), while they picked up notes on music theory (“Hold the groove tight/Hypnotize ‘em so you can take ‘em where you wanna take ‘em” says the theme song ) and the music industry (witness the devilishly clever James-Brown-meets-Procol-Harum vibe of “We Want Your Soul”).

As large as the kids’ music industry is (I’m talking to you, Hannah Montana), a soundtrack from a hit show should be a hit album, right?

THE FALLOUT: Oh, if it were that simple. Since the album, the show, and the network were all owned by different companies, Class of 3000: Music Volume One had no one entity tasked with its promotion, so there wasn’t any promotion. I never even saw a commercial for it on Cartoon Network itself, and I watch that channel a lot. It also wasn’t serviced to radio, so millions of OutKast fans never knew it existed, charting a measly 23 on Billboard’s Kid Audio Chart before vanishing.

Class of 3000: Music Volume One is available from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:

Light enough for kids yet dense enough for adults, Class of 3000: Music Volume One is one of the few albums you can enjoy with the entire family. Especially if your family is a little young for Stankonia.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Black death comes to Living Colour.

Rufus Harley: Re-Creation of the Gods (1972)


Take a breath.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: Imagine you’ve been invited to a fine dinner party, where you are expected to share your latest art project. The woman seated to your left displays her bronze abstract sculpture. The man on your right shows off his new painting, a classic oil-on-canvas of a fruit basket. And you proudly produce, to everyone’s immediate revulsion, an unfeasibly large beehive, actively teeming with thousands of buzzing, swarming bees. While you’re explaining your dangerous interest in massively oversize stinging insect colonies, the other guests slowly begin to back away from you, except for the few who bolt out the backdoor like a redneck perp on “COPS”. The host makes a mental note to erase you from her address book, her phone book and her Facebook.

This was the typical response to the revolutionary music of Philadelphia-bred Rufus Harley, the world’s first jazz bagpiper. He recorded a quartet of innovative but meagerly received albums for Atlantic Records in the mid-1960s but didn’t break out of his novelty status until 1972’s joyous Re-Creation of the Gods.

In Scotland the bagpipes are a nation treasure; its unmistakable bird-like drone can be heard during national celebrations and similar pagentry. In days of yore the Scottish army would also use bagpipes as an instrument of war, marching through the Highland mists scaring the bejeezus out of their enemy with its unearthly squawk. But its unearthly squawk called out to Harley, who put down his saxophone and began a singular obsession: fashioning jazz music for bagpipes.

A loose concept album about freedom, church, and community, Re-Creation is one swinging party album. “The Crack” greases up a hippo-sized bass fog that only the golden milky light of bagpipes could cut. His notes circle constantly like hawks in flight.

He sprinkles an old Negro spiritual with future esssence in “Nobpdy Knows the Trouble Us People Done Seen”, with a fat beat that could get Lutherans up to the dance floor. Harley makes his bapipes yodel along, like a tuned siren on a hipster ambulance blaring “MAKE ROOOOOM! NEW SOUNDS COMING THROOOOOOUGH!”

Like a long-lost Beastie Boys funkstrumental, “Gods And Goddesses” brays along like a donkey-led wagon with square wheels, happy and lopsidedly snappy. With all these songs the fun is infectious, as if Harley took all the negative, dismissive energy about his craft and turned into a tartan-clad trampoline, then jumped on it.

THE FALLOUT: Re-Creation was highly admired by the few who knew if existed, mainly other musicians.. He toured the world extensively and guested on a few left-of-center pop albums (The Roots’ Do You Want More!!!??! and Laurie Anderson’s Big Science), but only released one album after Re-Creation before his death in 2006.

Re-Creation of the Gods is available from Amazon, and you can sample tracks here:

The saxophone was created for orchestras yet was rejected by the classical music world, only to become a foundation instrument of jazz, America’s original punk music. Harley’s devotion to the bagpipes follows a parallel path: how one person can effect the sonic recontexualization of music by sheer force of will.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: A challenge! Andre 3000 released his second solo album this year. Can you find it?

Fela and Afrika 70: Zombie (1977)


The original “F— The Police”.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: In 1977 the government of Nigeria was thick with corrupt brutish thugs, the type who denied civil rights to its populace as a matter of principle. Of the many activists who spoke out against the regime none was more popular than bandleader Fela Kuti, who released numerous top-selling albums criticizing the governments’ wide-ranging incompetence, peaking with the incendiary Zombie.

Over a twelve-minute percolation of tart guitar skanks, brisk funk beats and hard horns bleats, his band Afrika 70 tightly rages through the title track, in a sound Fela dubbed “Afrobeat”. Muscular as a bicep yet deft as a finger, the song pulses large and small, hot and cold, sometimes reducing down to a mere guitar pluck and a shaker that sounds like sizzling rice soup.

The frenetic, danceable humanity of the music sets up the dispassionate precision of Fela’s voice, coolly spitting out his opinion of the puppet-like Nigerian military:

Zombie no go go, unless you tell am to go
Zombie no go stop, unless you tell am to stop
Zombie no go turn, unless you tell am to turn
Zombie no go think, unless you tell am to think

Eventually he begins barking orders like a power-drunk drill sergeant:

Quick march/Slow march/Left turn /Right turn
About turn /Double time/Sa-lute /Open your hat
Stand at ease/Fall in/Fall out/Fall down

At twelve minutes long and the entirety of Side One, ”Zombie” is a energetic full-body release of frustration, from the legs to the brain, simultaneously an exhortation and an exorcism.

THE FALLOUT: Due to its relentless negative critique of the current government, a new Fela album would usually result in a police interrogation of his crew, followed by a totally illegal beatdown. With Zombie, however, he had really pissed off the military, who somehow took offense when civilians would continually point at them in the street and shout “Zombie!” As payback for his mockery, over one thousand soldiers stormed his private compound, beat every man, woman and child they could find and burnt his house to the ground, but not before tossing Fela’s mother out the window to her death. (No, that’s not acting like a zombie at all…)

In retaliation he delivered his mother’s coffin to the main army barracks in Lagos, then wrote about the experience in the title song of his subsequent album Coffin for Head of State. Even in mourning, Fela was uncompromising about the nature of right and wrong.

Zombie is available from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:

American musicians, even with their freedom of speech under attack, have it pretty easy, “Cop Killer” got Ice-T dropped from his label, but 15 years later he’s made millions playing a cop on a television. The 15 years following Zombie found Fela surviving additional police beatings, plus a two-year jail sentence on trumped-up currency fraud charges. He consistently put his livelihood and his life on the line with each album, and Zombie was his fearless masterpiece.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Rufus Harley and his electric…bagpipes?

Shock G: Fear Of A Mixed Planet (2004)


The G stands for “green”.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: On the face of it, the mere existence of a Shock G solo album sounds preposterous. He’s the face and voice of Digital Underground as well its the main songwriter, pianist, producer, illustrator and conceptualist — possibly even its personal chef and Pilates trainer — so one would assume a group created in his image would fulfill all his musical needs. Yet the hedonistic, über-player atmosphere of D.U. are a poor fit for creating songs that aren’t about macking, so seventeen years after the comical Sex Packets came the decidedly more thoughtful Fear Of A Mixed Planet.

Shock’s remade himself as a progressive environmentalist, concerned with respecting mother earth and its inhabitants, which brings a new clarity to his humor. He pokes fun at racism in the glossy, nougaty “Who’s Clean” by simply questioning the insanity of color names:

How come Black Russians ain’t black?
Black rhinos are grey.
White liquors’ clear.
Blue corn chips are brown.

Like a latter-day Aztec, Shock also gives multiple shout-outs to the sun. The sandpaper and fog beats of “Sunshine Rime” surround warm verses about “the balance of life”. “Your Sun Iza Pimp” goes a step further in homage to the Great Gaseous Player in the Sky, dropping science about photosynthesis while questioning “Who taught him how to shine that?”

Unafraid to expose his less-then-sensible sides, he affixes dirty playground rhymes to the rhythms of a computer error in “The Rime In The Mochanut”, while sweating through the embarrassment and fetal regression of a traumatically bad drug trip in the paranoid “Baby You Okay”.

The penultimate song for me is “We’re All Killaz”, where Shock free-associates with whatever enters his twisted mind. A reversed keyboard squiggle squirms through an onslaught of in-jokes, non-sequiturs and random questions, as if corkscrewing through to the cortex of his ever-questioning brain:

Astronomers discovered another galaxy the other day
and this is what they had to say
“We’re happy cause it’s only a million light years away.”
(pause) WHAT?

What indeed.

THE FALLOUT: “What?” was also the commercial response to Fear Of A Mixed Planet. Released on indie 33rd St. Records (which I believe went out of business soon after), Planet was not well marketed and subsequently flatlined. Shortly afterwards Shock G announced his complete retirement from the recording studio.

Fear Of A Mixed Planet is still available from Amazon, and you can sample tracks here:

Melodic, holistic and iconoclastic, Fear Of A Mixed Planet is the blueprint of how to mature in hip-hop. Whether hip-hop has a place for a mature artist is anyone’s guess.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Fela releases an album so uppity that it actually results in death.

Martin Luther: Rebel Soul Music (2004)


Preaches and verve. (Yes, I’m back. Thanks for hangin’.)

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: When I was playing clubs with my band in San Francisco during the early ’90s, I found the soundchecks fascinating due to the number of soundmen who did not think we played rock music simply because I was the guitarist. After we played a rock song or two the point became moot, but for those first twenty minutes of microphone placement the sound engineers would bark out “blues?” or “folk?” because that’s the music where you see Black guys with guitars at the front of the stage. Blues or Folk.

And performing in the oh-so-diverse city of San Francisco meant that Black rock guitarists were accepted, but much in the way that one would accept a blind housepet: tolerated but not encouraged. Nevertheless this is the musical environment that produced rock guitarist and songwriter Martin Luther, who dropped his first album The Calling in 2000. After several tours as a sideman with The Roots he returned in 2004 with the polished Rebel Soul Music.

A smooth and furious collection of gospel-ish vocals, chill-out beats and metallic riffage, Rebel Soul Music is the lyrical and audio equivalent of a Luther Vandross/Living Colour mash-up. The glimmering and simmering “Daily Bread” twinkles with the comfort of a vintage leather coat, the kind one wears in the mosh pit of “Rebel Soul Music”, the trip-wired call-to-arms exploding with militaristic guitars and gurgling synths.

Luther is transfixed upon maturation, be it his own in the humorously public “Growing Pains” or the cultural lack of it as displayed in the gutter arena rock of “Sleep Walking”:

We know the game is to be sold but who will explain…
If you don’t know, if you don’t know
I’m tired of your drama your game done got old
Thinking that you up on ya game but you don’t know
If you’re ready to unshackle your brain let’s go…
In television prison too scared to let go
Need to put down your remote and gain some control.

At his contradictory best he gives birth to several new musical genres within the same song. The wholesome handclaps and beautiful stacked harmonies of “Liquid Sunshine” happily relay a most ominous weather report. In the classical-meets-metal “The I.R.S.” he separates a bittersweet breakup into “pastry cream sweet” and “unfiltered Camel cigarette bitter”: (“I don’t mean to be so cruel/But I’m so fucking over you”).

Released on his own label, Rebel Soul Music garnered enough momentum to keep him touring the world for years, and the video for “Daily Bread” got some love from BET, but Martin Luther didn’t break through to the level he deserved. He’ll get another shot this spring in the Hollywood Beatles musical Across The Universe. His role? A rock guitarist.

Rebel Soul Music is available worldwide from Amazon, and you can sample tracks here:

An exploration of inner transitions and outsider awareness, Rebel Soul Music offers this simple request in its title song: “In a sea of black music the water is so deep / Won’t you dive in?”

See you next Wednesday. Yes, next Wednesday. (I had a baby during the holidays, and when I woke up five months had passed. But I’m back!)

NEXT WEEK: Jay Hawkins learns how to screeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeam.