A life as an investment banker has its perks, like big paychecks and bigger bonuses. But sometimes a man just wants a mic, a stage and the roar of the crowd. Hip hop artist Kenton Dunson traded his career in finance to take a chance on music, and so far his gamble has paid off. Beautiful Fight takes a pitch-shifted vocal stutter, loops it with piano, guitar and beaten percussion for a killer hook, and then adds a story about redemption. I never was dirt poor / But I came a long way from the church chorus to the workhorse, Dunson spits. Dude is dope. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been burned. On Firestarter, he confesses I never should have messed with a devil in a dress, as swaths of digital textures and piano provide the beat. Maybe he’s been unlucky in love, maybe he’s not making a Wall Street salary, but Dunson’s decision to get into music looks like it could pay off in dividends.
It’s been a long, strange road for Kanye West. After he dropped out of college to pursue his music career full time, he became a successful producer, making beats for high profile rappers like Jay-Z, Mos Def and Talib Kweli. However, despite being an in-demand producer, he struggled to be taken seriously as a rapper. Luckily, Jay-Z was willing to give him a chance and signed West to his label, Roc-A-Fella Records. West went on to release his debut album, The College Dropout, in 2004, and it instantly became a commercial and critical success. West was praised for his lyrical themes, which eschewed the gangster rap persona that was popular at the time in favor of more socially-conscious topics. Since then his career has been marked with plenty of ups and downs, but the recent success of Watch The Throne, his collaborative album with Jay-Z, has cemented his position as one of the strongest artists in hip hop. His rise to the top was due to dedication and perseverance, something OurStage rapper/producer Kenton Dunson has in spades.
Like Kanye West, Kenton Dunson is a talented producer as well as a rapper, producing all the beats that he raps over. You can hear some similarities in their production and rapping styles if you compare Dunson’s song “Beautiful Fight” with West’s song “Champion.” Both songs use a pairing of synthesizers and choppy vocal samples to create a unique sounding beat with a distinct rhythm. Like West, Dunson’s lyrics don’t deal with the typical fare of gangster rap, because he chooses to focus on more personal experiences. In this song, Dunson recounts the struggles he has gone through and continues to deal with in order to achieve success as an artist. He also shares Kanye West’s penchant for clever wordplay, with the line “they say that I’m sleepwalking, I’m living the dream” being one of the most notable here. “Take Off” is another of Dunson’s songs that bears some resemblence to Kanye’s music. Production wise, this song uses many of the techniques that helped make West famous, including looped vocal samples and backing string arrangements.
You may know the veterans in the Best Of The Best: the old fan favorites, those who have topped the charts for weeks on end. But there’s always new faces looking to challenge them for the spotlight on the OurStage charts. And with 2011 coming to a close, we thought we’d give you a taste of what’s gaining momentum and coming up for the next year. We’ve gathered here a playlist of these hot new acts rising up the charts that are worth your attention. If you don’t know who they are, then we recommend you get acquainted with them quick”you’ll be hearing much more from them in the days to come. Ge ready to see the new faces of the Best Of The Best.
“Save Me” – Underground All Stars (Current position: 17): A collection of accomplished musicians, the Underground All Stars craft catchy melodies that will linger in your mind for hours.
This week our targets are the Urban Channels. We focus particularly on the rhythmic characteristics of these genres: anything from vocal metrical structure to thick, groovy bass lines to old-school drum samples. There’s so much more to rapping than what people usually find in mainstream radio or other means of mass media. Staying true to the spirit of Press Shuffle, we’re exploring the boundaries of music, of digging deep into the scenes and discovering the best the independent music world has to offer. Take this journey with us to explore what goes on behind the scenes in Hip Hop and Rap, and weigh in on the comments below!
“Rule The World Freestyle” – Jae Apollo: This song is a great example of traditional rhyme schemes; working with the last word of a phrase, the vocalist adapts phonetics to fit his purpose. Proficiently executed, Jae Apollo’s track represents the path modern hip hop has been taking in the last couple years.
“Inkredible Freestyle” – FreeVerse: With a more popular flow, FreeVerse sticks to the straight four accents on the beat at a slower tempo. This, with the descending vocal cadence at the end of a line, are both very representative of what usually seen in the Rhythmic Top 40 charts.
“No Pen No Pad” – Lil Boy Fresh: He lays back on the beat so much it seems as if he’s eternally vying to catch up with it. The drag widens the pocket, giving the flow a lazed feel that has you hooked into listening what he’s going to say next, line to line.
“Don’t Sweat” – K.i.T (eMCee): This track has all it needs to stand out. Flawless production, creative lyrics and hooks galore. The phrasing is interestingly spread between many lines, with the enunciation emphasizing sarcasm and breathing points strategically placed throughout verses.
“Mathmatics” – Hollow: Here’s a prime example of less being more. A simple, groovy synth beat and bass line just keep the time while the MC does his thing. Nothing is there to detract from the performance of the vocalist; it’s all open to him. And in a style of music that’s all about the lyrics, what else could you want?
“Can’t Tell You Why” – Freeloadas: There’s something about the feel of R&B tracks of the ’70s and ’80s that sets the tone for hip hop just right. It’s so common to find samples or re-recordings of old grooves and beats because they consistently deliver.
“Turn It Loose” – Kenton Dunson: This song popped at us as soon as it hit the 0:07 mark; the chopped up guitar lick is something else. The beat is comprised by nothing more than a kick drum and reverse snare hits, yet remains very effective. It’s remarkable how original something can sound with such simple features and a bit of creativity.
Have any tunes in particular that you care to share? Disagree with any of the picks? Want a theme in particular to be Shuffled? Let us know by dropping a comment!
Listen to previous Press Shuffle playlists over at 8tracks.com.