Res: How I Do (2002)


Like peanut butter for chocolate.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: Gnarls Barkley’s success in America gives me hope that one can be an eccentric African-American yet still receive radio play and big album sales like eccentric White rock acts. At least if you’re male. Female Black rock acts with hit singles are rarer finds, like low-carb donuts and Democratic Supreme Court nominees. Newcomer Res (rhymes with peace) threw her ring into the modern rock hat with her debut album, 2002’s haunted How I Do.

Res’ eccentric voice exists out of time; she syncopates to the beat like modern R&B singers but her calm, harmonious tones harken back to 1930s jazz, with the intensity of new wave.

Her music is equally free of boundaries, easily shifting from the gentle hip-hop blues of “I’ve Known the Garden” to the porch banjo pluck of “Tsunami”, which sets up the hidden alt-rock scuzz of “Say It Again”. Unexpected elements peep through like The Cure sample in “Let Love” and the phone-number-as-melody of “The Hustler”.

Res the lyricist is wary of fools, liars and the psychically blind. In the icy march of “They Say Vision” she volunteers to step into The Matrix to avoid these people (I wanna try that pill that people take/Make you believe all the things that people say), although she bluntly calls out a rising star as a massive fake in “Golden Boys”:

But then there’re girls like me who sit appauled by what we’ve seen
We know the truth about you
Now you’re the prince of all the magazines
That is a dangerous thing

But would they love you if they knew all the things that we know
Those Golden Boys
All a fraud don’t believe their show
Would they love you if they knew all the things that we know

Golden Boy life ain’t a video

Unlike many albums on this site, How I Do was blessed with decent promotion from a major label, so what happened?

THE FALLOUT: The single “They Say Vision” scraped into the Top 40 but radio never really embraced Res, and How I Do stiffed as a result. Res is releasing her second album at the end of 2006 but she is current touring as a backup singer for, ironically, Gnarls Barkley.

How I Do is available from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:

The list of Black female singers heard on alternative rock radio is mighty short. Sade, Dionne Farris, Tracy Chapman, Joan Armatrading, 4 Non-Blondes – none of which are on current playlists. Res’ How I Do is a valiant effort to demolish many, many artistic walls and create a new genre from the rubble, an effort that radio would have you think does not exist.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: More stuff you haven’t heard that’ll knock yer socks off. If you are, in fact, wearing socks. Oh, and memo to Ryan: I am working on a Uppity Music T-shirt. Does anybody else think that’s a cool idea? Let me know. Gracias.

Betty Davis: self-titled (1973)


The original punk-funker.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: In 1969 jazz legend Miles Davis courted and married ex-model and songwriter Betty Davis, a fiercely outspoken woman who was half Miles’ age. During this time she served as his muse, turning him on to Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone which directly inspired Miles’ creation of jazz-fusion with the landmark album Bitches Brew.

Although a hard-partying free-thinking drug enthusiast Miles found his dynamically hedonistic wife to be too unbridled for him, and divorced her within a year. She continued to channel her boundary-free persona into her music, unleashing her boundary-free debut album Betty Davis in 1973.

Sounding like Tina Turner with the swagger of Ike Turner, Betty Davis decimates preconceived notions of genre, gender and etiquette within its first thirty seconds in the cement hard funk–rock of “If I’m In Luck I Might Get Picked Up”. Davis’ singular howl is equally demonic, anxious and horny, and hearing her wail about her sexual prowling is intriguingly scary.

Utilizing musicians from Sly & Family Stone and Santana plus vocalists The Pointer Sisters and Sylvester, Davis extracts the hardest, roughest elements from rock and R&B and fuses a new, raw, diamond-hard clamor. It’s a sound tough enough to support tunes about being the other woman and liking it (“Your Man My Man”), her general anything-goes lifestyle (“Game is My Middle Name) and the death spiral of her junkie friend (“Steppin In Her I. Miller Shoes).

THE FALLOUT: Even though the early seventies was reveling in its first flush of feminism, a Black woman singing aggressively about sexual gratification went over like a pimp at a day care center.

It was too Black for rock radio, too Black for Black radio, and some cities banned it altogether, leading to pitiful sales and a short print life. Davis released two additional albums before retreating from public view in 1979.

Betty Davis is available worldwide from Amazon, and you can sample tracks here:

Betty Davis makes a stunning statement about the unification of music and its empowerment of the individual with an uncaged, unheard shriek.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: More fun with time-bending.

Funkadelic: The Electric Spanking of War Babies (1981)


The funk stops here.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: While Parliament rode high in the charts singing about motherships and star children, Funkadelic dealt with more underground concepts like America eating its young, maggots and slop. At least they did before they moved to Warner Brothers Records, when they jettisoned their guitar-heavy Black-nationalistic raunch’n’roll for synth-happy radio-friendly tunes from George Clinton’s Assembly-Line-O’-Funk.

Their turning point came in 1981 when the band realized Warner Brothers no longer had any interest in them, so they recorded an album solely to please their die-hard fans, the ultra-wacky The Electric Spanking of War Babies.

A shiny but spiny dance treat with a surprising world music edge, War Babies brought back lovely layers of nasty fuzztones and angry coded politics. The title track refers to the media’s eager participation in promoting our governments’ pro-war propaganda machine. A weighty topic for a weighty song, it bounces from a sprightly march to a raging metal singalong.

Along the way Funkadelic performs their take on reggae (the goofy “Shockwaves”) and African polyrhythms (the all-drum tour de force “Brettino’s Bounce”), while adding a major dose of giggles to the major league curse-off “Icka Prick”:

…If you think that’s nasty
Follow me to the men’s room
Watch me write on the wall

(This excerpt is the only clean part of “Icka Prick”. I was going to add more lyrics but the printed page misses how gleefully filthy the song is in context).

“Hmm” said the label. “That’s CLEARLY not single material.”

THE FALLOUT: Warner Brothers rejected the album cover, eventually printing it with a censored flap. Warner Brothers also rejected the length, refusing to release it as a double album. They dumped it in the marketplace, pressing only 90,000 copies even though the previous album, Uncle Jam Wants You, moved half a million units.

The only P-Funk product they did like was the soon-to-be-released debut album from Roger Troutman, who had recorded it for George Clinton’s label Uncle Jam Records. Warner Brothers did the unthinkable and secretly purchased the master tapes from Roger, releasing The Many Facets of Roger in 1981. Clinton promptly sued Warner, rightly claiming that he was the original owner of the tapes since he’d paid for the entire recording.

The courts agreed and George Clinton was awarded a chunk of cash, all the master tapes from the four albums Funkadelic recorded for Warner Brothers and the immediate termination of Funkadelic’s contract. Although this made them free agents the P-Funk army imploded under label stress and financial woes, and neither Funkadelic nor Parliament released another album again.

Well, not under those names anyway. The very next year George Clinton released his first solo album which was chock full of P-Funk alumni and featured a song Warner Brothers deemed unfit to include on War Babies: “Atomic Dog”.

Wow, what visionaries.

The Electric Spanking of War Babies is available from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:

A kiss to their fans and a kiss-off to their label, The Electric Spanking of War Babies is the best P-Funk album you’ve never heard.

NEXT WEEK: The first birthday of Uppity Music. Who’s bringing the cake?

Los Lobos: Kiko (1992)


A Cinco De Mayo special: unsung Latino uppity music.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: As we last read in the Bobby McFerrin entry, a number one record can get a musician a temporary “autonomy pass “. After scoring a fluke number one single in 1987 with a rock-by-numbers cover of Richie Valens “La Bamba”, Los Angeles roots-rockers Los Lobos essentially refused to record anything that generic ever again. Each album became slightly more eccentric than the last, culminating in 1992’s dreamy experimental Kiko.

Every song calmly shares space with the ghosts of Los Angeles, back when it was known as Mexico. Draped with touches of traditional Mexican instruments the band solidly locks into gritty gray introspection (“Wake up Delores”) and weary pink dirges (“When The Circus Comes”).

Drums shock and rattle like hollow skulls of ancestors in the hypnotic “Angels With Dirty Faces” and transmit secret messages in “Wicked Rain”. The surreal lullaby “Kiko And The Lavender Moon” charmingly mirrors the quixotic aloofness of housecats:

Kiko and the lavender moon
Out dancing making faces at
A big black cat
And then he flies
Up to the wall
Stands on one foot
Doesn’t even fall
Dance and dance
Still dancing till
He goes off to sleep

He always sleeps
Till the sun goes down
He never wakes
Till no one’s around
He never stops
Can’t catch his breath
It’s always there
Scares him to death

This curious waltz became the centerpiece of their greatest work…

THE FALLOUT: …and their poorest seller. Expensively recorded and indifferently promoted Kiko flatlined at retail. Los Lobos recorded only one additional album for their label before being dropped. The album did become a fan favorite, and in 2005 the band responded by playing concerts featuring Kiko in its entirety.

Kiko is available from Amazon, and you can sample tracks here:

A landmark of American music, Kiko seeps into your pores like smoke from fine incense and lingers with distinct pleasure.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Funkadelic goes out with an electric bang.

Blackalicious: Blazing Arrow (2002)


Fire at will.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: Ever had really awesome French toast? Crunchy yet supple slabs of thick golden brown with steam rising between its buttery layers? So yummy you even bragged to your friends about your unexpected good fortune? French toast is so simple to make yet difficult to make great.

Bay Area natives Blackalicious are the musical equivalent of great French toast. After turning heads in 2000 with their independently released Nia they vaulted to a major label for their next album, the tasty Blazing Arrow.

Filled to the brim with hard hipster soul, producer Chief Xcel tastefully laced the tracks with the shocking sounds of real instruments. Emcee Gift of Gab’s flow is thick like maple syrup yet speedy like a NASCAR driver, easily twice as fast as the usual rapper with four times the internal rhymes.

He bobs and weaves like a sub-atomic helicopter in “Paragraph President” and rides the waves of the lazy seafaring “Blazing Arrow”. Consistently focused on spirituality and community he gets all Armageddoned-out on the mock-classical “Sky is Falling” and promotes the power of positive thinking in the soothing, organ-sprinkled “Green Light: Now Begin” (Hell of intelligent diligent heaven-sent benevolent relevant medicine/Poetry pedestrian peddelin’ mad adrenaline to lyrical gentlemen).

Blackalicious also share quality time with ghostly remains of Gil-Scott Heron in the luminous “First in Flight”, and rock with some of Jurassic 5 over the beef-jerky dry piano of “4000 Miles” as well as the “I can’t believe he rapped the periodic table of elements” stunt rap of “Chemical Calisthenics”:

C-A-O-H-2 wine water solution of calcium hydroxide
Slobbin it, C-A-O lime will make bleach powder
Galvanic metal beats stomp out louder
Dried ice, C-0 squared refrigerant
N-O-2 makes you laugh, it’s laughing gas used by the dentists
I nearly added acid glue, I’m like oil of a toil, the king of chemicals
And the G heat gas waved all your mats
Chemical change, ice point, melt all your raps
Atomic weight, hold shocks, when you call
Refillable gas keep going way beyond
Biotch I’m only ill with buzzin, feel the ambiance
A diabetic process outta calm your ass
After I warm your ass, I’ll give sodium, silicate N-O-2-S-1-O-3, a water glass
Borax flexure full of brimstone sulfur
Boraxic acid, hip-hop preserver
C-O-2 could never put away the fire
Style aroma is scientific; the lyrical fuse would be connected
To teach you chemical calisthenics

Kids, don’t try this rap without adult supervision. You could hurt yourself. Ever had a tongue cramp? Ouch.

THE FALLOUT: With a fistful of glowing reviews but a handful of sales, Blazing Arrow also suffered from the shuttering of its record label, a move which also doomed Common’s Electric Circus. Four years later Blackalicious released their follow-up The Craft. And once again, on an independent label. And so it goes.

Blazing Arrow is available from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:

Tasty and comforting, Blazing Arrow makes for essential nourishment.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: In honor of Cinco De Mayo, listen to an unsung Latino departure album from Los Lobos.

Kenna: New Sacred Cow (2003)


Eighties. We’re living in the eighties.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: In 2001 Limp Bizkit mastermind Fred Durst stopped making crap music just long enough to sign singer-songwriter Kenna to his label. The Ethiopian-born Virginia transplant then handcrafted his fizzy and fun debut album New Sacred Cow.

A red neon homage to new wave music it uniquely incorporates the soaring and slightly British vocals, big melodies and plastic squiggly tones of 80s modern rock while injecting a hip-hop flavor into the concrete-tough rhythm tracks. Imagine Duran Duran and Depeche Mode produced by Dr. Dre and you’re in the ballpark.

Kenna layers his lilting, desperate voice over the songs like a warm headscarf, giving you a deep immersion into his laments. His beautiful phrasing neatly knits the dirty bouncing regret of “Freetime”. The electro-gospel “Vexed And Glorious” features a syncopated busy signal anchored by a rippling snare and zooms like a quick drive away from the club.

The danceable joyfulness of his music is tempered by its extreme introspection. He’s concerned with losing his independence (“Siren”), his happiness (“I’m Gone”) and perhaps his sanity (“New Sacred Cow”). Even when he accepts love he nervously questions it in the manic depressive “Love/Hate Sensation”:

Give me a ride on a zephyr
And rocket away from here
Give me all your affection
And teach me how to feel

I got a love hate sensation
Coursing through my veins
I got a love hate sensation
Driving me insane

This is also an eerily accurate prediction of how his album would get to the public.

THE FALLOUT: A single was released in 2001 but his label refused to release the album, citing their inability to market a black new wave musician. After two years in limbo New Sacred Cow was finally issued on a different label, but positive press and a high-profile tour did not result in significant sales or a mark change in the original marketing conundrum.

Kenna’s promotional dilemma did inspire an interesting chapter in Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Not that marketing him would be easy, but as he didn’t appear in his first two music videos, and as the only picture of him in his own CD booklet is a one inch tall, black and white portrait of him hiding his face, it seems that someone has a problem with the race issue.

New Sacred Cow is available from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:

New Sacred Cow is a refreshing sponge of synth-pop styles and self-examination, sunny and seductive, and singularly sensational. And kinda silly.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Seu Jorge swims out into open water.

Garland Jeffreys: Don’t Call Me Buckwheat (1991)


The Un-tragic Mulatto.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: Every black man I know has been hassled by a racist cop. And you know what? We have it easy. Imagine living in America before civil rights legislation, when “colored-only” water fountains were plentiful and legal. Now imagine growing up in the 1950s as the child of black, white and Puerto Rican ancestry.

That is the reality of Brooklyn singer-songwriter Garland Jeffreys, and two decades into his recording career he delivered a concept album about surviving racial intolerance, 1992’s vulnerable Don’t Call Me Buckwheat.

Remixing rock, reggae and R&B as rhythms from related recipes, he recants tales of his life and the role racism has rendered. As a boy the light-skinned blue-eyed Jeffreys occasionally passed for white (the flamenco-styled “Spanish Blood) when he wasn’t being stared at like a carnival attraction (in the cocktail jazz of “Racial Repertoire”).

He fully understands the loneliness of being a black man in a white man’s arena (the skanked-up “Color Line”) and the tools one can use to forget the injustice (the skanked-down “Bottle of Love”).

Yet he never matches hate with hate. He bravely reveals his issues with bigotry on the both the black side (in the ripping “I Was Afraid Of Malcolm”) and the white side (in the Southern gospel “Don’t Call Me Buckwheat”):

Don’t call me buckwheat
Don’t call me eightball
Don’t call me jig jig jig…Watch that word
Don’t call me Sambo
‘Cause it hurts
And that ain’t nice
And it sticks like white on rice

Sadly, this song was inspired by a trip he took to Shea Stadium. In the 1990s.

THE FALLOUT: Buckwheat sold nearly half a million copies in Europe, where he’s continually had strong success. Meanwhile back in the U.S.A. his domestic label gave him the moist handshake of indifference and abandoned the album, despite unanimous critical acclaim.

Don’t Call Me Buckwheat is available from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:

Don’t Call Me Buckwheat dramatically draws the humane conclusion that despite the machinations of racism all people are, and will continue to be, equal. And so it shall be.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Society, decoded.

Burnt Sugar: Blood On The Leaf (2000) — now with podcast!


Listen to an exclusive interview with Greg Tate, leader of Burnt Sugar.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: Although best known for his wondrous music column in the Village Voice and for co-founding the Black Rock Coalition, Greg Tate is also the conductor for his genre-demolishing improvisational ensemble Burnt Sugar, whose first album is the heady and mesmerizing Blood on the Leaf. Inspired in part by Miles Davis’ freeform extravaganza Bitches Brew, Burnt Sugar births songs as living organisms, formed on the spot yet sounding uncannily like heavily practiced compositions.

This magic trick is the result of combining dozens of musicians from around the world, each bringing their unique slant to performance, and Tate’s use of Butch Morris’ Conduction System, by which one can “play” the orchestra members as one can play keys on a piano.

Which sounds downright bizarre if not next to impossible but, like hot sauce on a watermelon slice, Blood on the Leaf produces new flavors that would never otherwise exist.

Sonically Burnt Sugar reveals an endlessly inventive palette of textures, shifting from warmongering alien landings to chilled-out meditations, usually within the same song. Motifs vanish and return with new friends, sometimes dignified and dapper, sometimes troubled and frantic, and almost always funky.

Check out the interview and you can listen to Greg Tate discuss the challenges of promoting a Black orchestral improv group, their reception in Europe and their upcoming “R&B crossover album”.

Blood on the Leaf is available through Amazon and you can listen to tracks below:

Effortlessly emotional and three-dimensional, Blood on the Leaf sears into your veins like blood transfusion and charges you up with exotic quasi-legal nutrients.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Cee-Lo gets his freak flag dropped to half-mast.

Spookie: self-titled (1988)


Dream Big: A poem in five parts.

Purchase this album: Amazon

There once was a small man who had a big dream.
His stage name was Spookie, and Lord could he scream
with a gospel falsetto both shrill and elastic;
he sang his wee heart out, and it was fantastic.
He stood on street corners with tip cup in hand,
performing his songs in a one-person band.
His lone instrument was a CasioTone,
a magical keyboard that played on its own.
It had tiny buttons named “March” and “Beguine”
that spit out drum patterns synthetically keen.

Over these sounds he would sing about life.
He’d sing about love and about his new wife.
He’d sing homemade show tunes, he’d sing rockabilly.
He’d sing torchy ballads so grand they were silly.
He sang to man from a large record label,
who gave him a contract that seemed somewhat stable.
He recorded songs with his CasioTone,
and the big-name producer of rock band Fishbone.

The tracks all still sounded like tunes from his toy,
but glossy and huge like a old Bob’s Big Boy.
Candy-like melodies sparkled with joy,
earnestness bouncing alongside the coy.
Who cares about where all the studio days went
if all the songs tango with childlike amazement?

But there was a fallout, as there always is
In the “look for a sure fire hit-driven” biz.
Spookie was set-up to be the next Prince,
and when that fell through we’ve not heard from him since.

Spookie’s long deleted so you’re out of luck.
Sometimes it’s on eBay for twenty-odd bucks.
I’ve added some tracks for your listening pleasure,
decide for yourself what’s better to measure:
the cost of a dream to a label’s stockholders
or the whether the lack of a dream leaves you colder.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Uppity Music’s first podcast, featuring an interview with Greg Tate of Burnt Sugar.

The Veldt: Afrodisiac (1994)


Led Zeppelin in reverse.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: The English music sub-genre “shoegazer pop” never took off large in America. Its layers of watery, echoey guitars nearly smothered most vocalists’ delivery and we here just couldn’t hang with that, man. But the Chapel Hill, N.C. natives The Veldt evolved this sound with the addition of hip-hop beats, resulting in their major-label debut, 1994’s breathtaking Afrodisiac.

Heavy blankets of oceanic guitars still ring through cuts like “Soul in a Jar” and “It’s Over” but the drums are surprisingly groovy and propulsive. Lead singer Daniel Chavis’ tenor cuts through the brittle fog like a mountain climber, his introspection soulfully directs the hard-driving bell tones of “You Take the World”.

“Until You’re Forever” dreamily glides like metallic butter melting over a very large piece of toast, rooted by unfeasibly funky, cannon-like drums, The sculptural feedback of “Heather” carves space with its leonine roar, and the band almost flirts with new jack swing in the shiny’n’ fuzzy “Wanna Be Where You Are”.


THE FALLOUT: “Black guys with guitars who aren’t bluesmen” were a difficult issue for their label, and in spite of positive reviews Afrodisiac never caught a wave of acceptance. Their next album was released independently, and after its followup The Veldt packed it in.

Afrodisiac is out of print worldwide but you can pick up used copies from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:

If you stood on the planet equidistant from the musical centers of New York and London then lunged into the Atlantic Ocean, that feeling would be the sound of this album. Unique, unmatched and overlooked, Afrodisiac is still waiting to catch a wave.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: The octagonal doctor is in.