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Hip Hop Habit: ANatural

Hip Hop Habit LogoEmbattled is a funny word. With a connotation leading virgin ears to believe that it’s used to describe a subject fighting in at least a two-sided battle, it’s thrown around a lot to describe musicians (often rappers) and their struggles. Using that word to describe someone engaged in conflict is fine, but it gets irritating when the embattled subject has no one to blame but themselves. OurStage rapper ANatural (display name TheRealANatural) was embattled for real for most of his childhood and adolescence, but for no fault of his own. Bouncing around various NYC housing projects with no parents to speak of and seeing his beloved grandmother (also serving as his sole guardian) pass when he was only 10, it would be easy for Joseph Boykin to throw in the towel and let life devour him and his potential. But he didn’t. A strong sense of resilience triumphed the easy way out, and now Boykin finds himself fielding publishing offers and networking with TV personalities and, even more surprisingly, rapping like he’s king of the world.

ANaturalOne such song with this lofty air is Flyest. It may be difficult for purists to make sense of lines like more pictures/ more press/ lookin’ like VIPs/ no guests/ anything I feel I need I’m gonna get if they’re fully aware of his history, but he wouldn’t be the first to separate rhymes and his past. Not everybody has to brood like Eminem. The beats underneath Boykin’s happiness, consisting of a repetitive lubricated synth arpeggio and a smothering helping of ascending chords as accompaniment, all combine to make the young MC sound like he’s walking on cloud nine. Go Getta follows in the same vein with adequate ego trips, but this time the sound is an amalgamation of electronic snippets, 80s hair metal guitar power riffs, and a barrage of kick drum. While his happiness was tinted with conceit in Flyest, that conceit is now pushed to the forefront as he furiously rhymes about being a boss capable of doing it all, but not without giving a little advice along the way: Livin’ large is right/ I suggest it endorse it perfect it/ madness for the method/ roll with the punches/ I’m ready for the next one/ go until the wheels fall off/ this ain’t a test run.

Though enormously subdued in comparison to Go Getta, Boykin keeps the didactic effort up in Is It Me? Opening with morose piano and a slick minor synth riff, the track never really grows past its humble beginnings, unlike the life and times of ANatural. That said, we should probably pay attention to the guidance he gives us. Despite the egoist rhymes in the aforementioned tracks, something tells me that lines like Everywhere he go no desk work/ sleepin’ on the floor while his spine and his neck hurt/ all you can do is be the best you/ best kept secret step into those shoes and keep spittin’ til you see green like Flynn, don’t expect nothing not a thing out of them/ not a chain not a gem/ not a hi not a bye not a grin/ wish them the best whether enemy or friend are really ANatural’s true colors. Homegrown philosophies from the school of hard knocks are the best he’s got, and it’s safe to say they’ve worked for him thus far.

Boykin’s been climbing the rap game ladder since his first LP at the age of 14, and he shows no signs of slowing down. His first major music project, Musical Therapy, has caught the attention of B.E.T.’s DJ Teddy The Deal King who’s agreed to host it, and it was released last Tuesday. Get it while it’s hot!

Metal Monday: Summer Slaughter Tour in Worcester, MA Review

Worcester, Massachusetts, July 31st, 4:00 p.m. The weather outside The Palladium was perfect as I stood in line amongst dozens of other metalheads in anticipation of seven straight hours of metal assaulting my ears. Originally, the bands playing were thought to be only the Summer Slaughter lineup (or, as Cephalic Carnage put it, the Summer’s Laughter tour), but there was a bonus! For the same ticket, show-goers got to wander upstairs to see the bands on the Over the Limit tour, which is headlined by As Blood Runs Black and Oceano.

As I entered the establishment, the first band on the downstairs (main) stage, Vital Remains, was starting. A thoroughly unimpressive set ” the band was pretty lifeless on stage, and the sound was absolutely atrocious. Thankfully, this would not be a recurring theme for the night. Very shortly after Vital Remains closed their set, the shredmasters Animals As Leaders took the stage and put on a performance that absolutely had the best sound of the night, bar none. It was so well mixed that there was no need for plugs (granted, the band has only three members).

Afer checking out the first two bands on the main stage, I wandered upstairs and caught the last of Blind Witness‘s performance ” one that the crowd seemed really into. The next band on the upstairs stage was Thick as Blood. Promptly after Blind Witness’s set finished, the crowd shuffled out and left a mostly empty space for Thick as Blood. There were about four kids in the room that seemed to really enjoy them; everyone else around had a passing interest at best.

The Tony Danza Tapdance ExtravaganzaImmediately following Thick as Blood on the upstairs stage was The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza. The crowd flooded back into the room, and you could sense a strong sense of anticipation in the air for Danza’s set. The set unfortunately started off with Josh Travis experiencing some minor technical difficulties; not to worry, though, Jessie Freeland’s ferocious, roaring vocals more than carried the first song. Once the tech was all sorted out, Danza picked it up again and the entire crowd went ballistic. There was more crowd surfing and moshing during this one short set than during all of the previous bands combined. Throughout all of Danza’s performance, the upstairs was a pure madhouse, even when the band wasn’t playing.

Next up was Cephalic Carnage on the downstairs stage “ a hilarious band with pretty terrible sound but a really tight performance. Between songs, they discussed smoking weed, chronic masturbation, drinking booze, watching Star Trek, and other such occupationss. They even opened with the beginning of Boston’s “Foreplay/Long Time” and a chunk of the Super Mario Brothers theme. A bit of a hokey performance; Veil of Maya would flip that around mighty quickly, storming the stage with an extra tight and crisp set, one that had extremely good sound.

Hard to imagine that the performances could get any better, but The Red Chord were next up and delivered another incredibly tight set to their hometown crowd. Following The Red Chord was All Shall Perish, featuring two new members (on drums and lead guitar). Although an extremely lively set, it was also somewhat hit-or-miss. The new guitarist failed in comparison to Chris Storey, and Eddie Hermida was a bit rough on the vocals during the first song or two, but by the end, they had the machine firing on all cylinders and they finished with a bang.

The next-to-last band of the night was The Faceless, who were unquestionably the best-sounding act of the night. While it’s awfully tough to put a lot of movement and emotion into playing such technical guitar parts, The Faceless always find a way to have great stage presence. It could all stem from Derek “Demon Carcass” Rydquist’s vocals and confidence.

To cap off the night was the legendary Decapitated, who are playing their first US tour since the tragic loss of their former drummer, Vitek, truly one of the world’s greatest metal drummers. Thankfully, Decapitated’s new drummer has enough chops to handle the job. In addition to a new drummer, Decapitated also have a new bassist and vocalist ” they are really a different band but still unbelievable live. Every song the band played was fast, tight, loud, and awesome. Two short songs into the set, Decapitated saw a guest vocalist share the stage with RafaÅ‚ Piotrowski ” Jason Keyser of Skinless fame. There’s not much more that needs to be said about Decapitated’s set other than it was the most brutal, heavy, and energetic performance of the entire night ” a truly perfect headlining act.

Poetic Justice

Poema

Here’s something that happens, well, never. You’re a new band, playing a show, and an A&R guy from a favorite label happens to be there. You give him your demo, he invites you out to Seattle to showcase, and a week later you have a deal. Thus goes the serendipitous back story of Poema, a folk-pop sister duo from Albuquerque signed to Tooth & Nail Records. Growing up in a musical family, sisters Elle and Shealeen Puckett had ample time to perfect their vocal harmonies and learn their instruments (piano and guitar). The results of their woodshedding can be heard on 2 AM, a catchy acoustic pop number that puts the Puckett sisters’ talents on full display. A sugared ditty about first-date recriminations, the song is cheerfully woeful and rings oh-so-true. But even more than the subject matter, we love the lilting vocal harmonies and hooky melody, which call to mind a youthful, more mainstream version of the Dixie Chicks. Poema’s story is just beginning”can’t wait to hear more from this sister act.

Download of the Week: Philadelphia Slick

Premiere Philly underground hip-hop act, Philadelphia Slick, are hitting the prime time with their new EP, Everything’s Game. Their latest offering blends fresh blasts of jazz, funk, hip hop and other genres to create a unique sound mixture that will surely cause even the most resistant head to move to the beat.

Having ranked first 5 times in 3 different channels on OurStage, the group has had quite the successful run. As this week’s Needle in the Haystack, Philadelphia Slick will be giving away “Everything Must Go” off their new album. Keep an eye out for more from them throughout the week!

Scene & Heard: New Orleans, LA

Perhaps one of the most widely covered natural disasters in recent history was Hurricane Katrina. The storm’s name resonates with where much of it happened: New Orleans, LA. New Orleans’ roots go much deeper than that, however. Having cultivated the jazz and blues scenes for years, it’s no surprise that New Orleans is the birthplace of Dixieland jazz. This polyphonic, horn-driven music conjures up images of street performances, blaring parades and Mardi Gras.

Even though the area is known for and supported through jazz, blues and funk music, it’s important to note a couple other genres that are prevalent. Having already been through Atlanta, GA on Scene & Heard, you know a little bit about the dirty south hip-hop vibes. New Orleans has been home to mainstream rappers like Master P and Birdman. Heavy metal (and more particularly, the thick, bassy sound of sludge metal) has also shown a strong presence in the music scene here; it has forged a unique mixture of upbeat thrash metal, hardcore punk and southern rock.

As mentioned earlier, though, the city experienced a massive upheaval surrounding the flooding and storms of 2005. While the economic, political and social discussion is a bit off-topic, the music scene seems to have been affected in an unusual way. While working as a live musician in any city can be tough, it only became tougher in the post-flood conditions in New Orleans. People seemed to band together around their culture to help their city remain a symbol of hope. Whether via a jazz horn player trying to find work, a blues guitarist playing on the street corner, or a group of Black Indians preparing for Masquerade and Mardi Gras, the city still oozes with culture. To top it off, the influx of tourists and volunteers that came down to either observe or help with the rebuild created more avenues for people to display their music. HBO recently came out with a series based on this struggle, specifically as related to post-flood musicians, called Treme.

Bonerama with OK Go

Like many major music cities, New Orleans divides itself into notable neighborhoods. From places like Congo Square in the French Quarter (often regarded as the location where jazz was born) to more locals-oriented districts like Uptown New Orleans, the city has an array of destinations. At the heart of the French Quarter, right off Bourbon Street, lies the legendary Preservation Hall. This venue has jazz performances almost every night and is home to the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. To hear some rock, funk or blues acts, head over to Rock ‘n’ Bowl on Carrollton Avenue.

According to OurStage jazz/funk band Bonerama, “New Orleans is the Mecca for music.” Trombonist Craig Klein was hard-pressed to pick a single venue that the band liked playing best. “We’ve played at the Maple Leaf, Tipitina’s, Rock ‘n’ Bowl . . . I’d have to flip a coin.” He even suggested one specific section of town for a visitor to go if they want to hear that “NOLA” sound: Frenchmen Street. “There are music clubs and some great places to eat all in a few blocks. Lots of good music goes on there.”

Klein even had a solid recommendation for a band that wants local performance slots and promotion. “I would say to a band that before you get here, send your record and call WWOZ. OZ is a great public radio station that promotes live music in a big way.” In short, the band views the scene as “fabulous.”

Bonerama is a trombone-saturated, rock-influenced, funk band that has brought exceptional stage presence across the country. But they always come back to New Orleans and truly call the place home. And they don’t stop at just a great live set. The band recently embarked on an educational tour where they visited middle school and high school music programs across the country to do performances, lessons and clinics. “Musical education is an important part of a kid’s development. It’s something that all of us are interested in: to share with the kids our take on our music.” This attempt at stimulating interest in music for students moving on to secondary education is not only important to the band, it is an important program to support in today’s music industry (with arts program budget cuts in so many schools across the country).

The band’s activism even moves into the realm of Katrina relief. Since the hurricane, the band has participated in New Orleans fundraising efforts and concerts (as the house band) in support of major artists like Air Traffic Control, Tom Morello, Mike Millis of REM and Damian Kulash of OK Go. In fact, the band formed such a positive relationship with Kulash and OK Go that, shortly after, they wrote a song and performed it on a record with Kulash.

Bonerama is new to OurStage but is already earning some competition credibility. Check out their profile and stay tuned for all of the band’s touring, educational efforts and onstage surprises this coming fall. If you can’t get to New Orleans, at least hear a little “New Orleans flair” from Bonerama.

GuacaMusic: Songs about Immigration

It is not possible to write a blog about Latin music without discussing one of its main themes: Immigration and the struggles of undocumented workers in the United States.

What is most fascinating about immigration songs is that they transcend genres, rhythms and even nationalities. Therefore, it is not uncommon to find similar concepts in many of their lyrics”such as frustration, fear, anonymity, being homesick, escaping the law and performing difficult jobs for little money.

From Juan Luis Guerra’s Visa para un Sueño (translation is “Visa for a Dream”) to Manu Chao’s “Clandestino”, artists have always been passionate about expressing their feelings towards immigration, and OurStage artists are no exception. Let’s take Ben Conga, for example, with Inmigrante,” a reggae flavored track that talks about some of the struggles faced by immigrants from different countries. Ben is a Latin fusion producer/artist from Los Angeles that is currently working with Yordamis Megret, a former member of the Cuban group Bamboleo, who herself struggled to come to the USA from Cuba.

And what about El Inmigrante by Dj Prietoblack/Grupo Kalcomania? This song really makes you want to get up and dance, but that isn’t the point. El Inmigrante conveys a strong message of optimism to all immigrants from Spanish speaking countries living and working in the United States.  Check out the last line of the song: ¡Si se puede! which in English means Yes you can!”cheering for all of those who are struggling to make a living in a foreign land.

Why is it that both of these songs sound so different and yet feel so similar? Could it be that immigration is so deeply rooted in Latin culture that it naturally finds its way into la música?

Keep listening to our Latin Channel and let us know what you else you can hear.

¡Provecho!

Viewer Discretion Advised: Happy Birthday MTV!

After 29 years, it’s safe to say that millions of people across the globe still want their MTV. Since its inception on August 1, 1981, MTV has turned itself into a pop-cultural juggernaut, from helping to mainstream rap music to pioneering the trend toward reality television with shows like The Real World. But the MTV of the 1980s was in a much simpler format, modeled after Top 40 radio; the channel brought in punky and energetic 20-somethings, coined the term “VJ” and the rest is history.

Now MTV is at again, searching for the next “TJ” or Twitter Jockey. My, how the times have changed. But as it is MTV’s birthday, we thought we’d get nostalgic here on Viewer Discretion Advised and celebrate where the music video actually got its origins by remembering the videos that launched a billion views in households across the country.

The most perfect song that could have ever been used in the launch of MTV, we still get chills when it comes on the radio. Never mind the fact that it single-handedly revolutionized the way we would think of music and television together, but The Buggle’s “Video Killed the Radio Star” is a perfectly ridiculous representation of what the ’80s had in store for the future of music videos, featuring everything from tinsel wigs to keyboard melodies matched with out-of-this-world motifs. Up next, Pat Benatar’s “You Better Run,” the epitome of 1980s sex appeal. Dark cat eyes, skin-tight leather pants and punk-rock feathered hair, Benatar cemented her place in video vixen history. The clip below closes out with a word from each of the first 5 original VJs, who all went on to become celebrities in their own right. So happy birthday, MTV, here’s to 29 more magical, musical years.

Vibe Wants To Hook You Up This August!

VIBE is back on OurStage to keep up the heat for the month of August! They are giving one artist the ultimate chance to be featured on not only VIBE.com, but also Allhiphop.com.  Just think, the top destinations for today’s news in hip-hop could feature your freshest track and an exclusive Q&A. All you need to do is enter your best song into the Get Your Music Featured on VIBE.com music channel by August 22, 2010.

Take a look at some of the artists currently tearing up the charts:

Folkin' Around: Pocket Satellite

One of my favorite types of folk music is the male/female duet”like the Matthew Perryman Jones and Katie Herzig song “Where the Road Meets the Sun” which was featured on Grey’s Anatomy. Now, before I get to this week’s Folkin’ Around artist feature, I’d like to get you acclimated to the power of girl-boy harmonies in a folk song. Check out Jones and Herzig performing below:

I wouldn’t have picked this video if I didn’t think that this week’s OurStage folk pick carried on the same great sound that is every bit as organic and well-executed as “Where The Road Meets The Sun”.  Folkin’ Around artist Pocket Satellite was one of the first OS artists that caught my ear, particularly their song “We Chased Soldiers“. The UK band blends acoustic guitar, simplistic drums, graceful strings and, yes, two-part harmonies into some of the most soothing folk pop I’ve ever heard.
The band calls themselves “folk-glock”,  referring to both their instrumentation and the simplistic, relaxed sound that a “glock” often represents.  The band has played numerous shows around the greater London and Sheffield areas. They’ve been featured on BBC radio as apart of the Sheffield’s Raw Talent show with Iain Hodgson and have also opened for Kyte and Jenny Owen Youngs. Last year they released the playfully-named Toy Train EP. Keep an eye out for their next EP which they plan to release in September. I know I will.

Ernie Ball Sponsors The Singer-Songwriter (Female) Music Channel For August!

As August nears, Ernie Ball and Co. are changing their focus to the Singer-Songwriter (Female) Music Channel. This is an amazing opportunity for one high-ranking female singer-songwriter to have everything she needs to ensure she keeps cranking out the hits.  Artists must upload their best original track to the Singer-Songwriter (Female) Music Channel by August 22, 2010, to get a shot at winning a year’s supply of strings and accessories!

Take a listen below to some of the top artists currently in the Singer-Songwriter (Female) Music Channel: