Soundcheck: New Music Previews: Diggy, Wiz, Cudi, Tech & More

Spring has almost sprung and with it comes a fresh crop of new music from the likes of Kid Cudi, Wiz Khalifa, Diggy Simmons and Tech N9ne among others.

Cudi‘s latest project first caused a stir when the rapper complained his label under shipped the rock-heavy EP, WZRD. In it’s first week, the album took the No. 1 spot on iTunes and sold over 70,000 copies.  Cudi’s current single is heating up radio charts as well, setting him up for a stellar rock tour this summer.


Kenton Dunson Vs. Kanye West

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.

OurStage's Kenton Dunson

Kanye West








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.


Soundcheck: Who Will Occupy Hip-Hop?

Look around, and it’s starting to look more and more like the sixties than the new millennium. People are protesting about everything from the war, poverty, joblessness, race relations, civil rights, health care, abortion and education. The political and social blast from the past touches all aspects of daily life, but one component has yet to rise to the occasion.  Where’s the music? In the sixties, countless artists like Bob Dylan, Marvin Gaye and The Beatles provided the soundtrack to a revolution. Who will be our hip hop heroes? At the moment, a handful of heavyweights have stepped in; carving out a road map for others to follow.  While some use the microphone to deliver a message, others are pushing their values in other ways. Lupe Fiasco:  Lupe was one of the first artists to get in on the Occupy Wall Street action, joining the protest in its first week.  He sparked national controversy with his comments about President Obama earlier this year (link to ˜Words I Never Said/lupe piece) and has continued to voice his concerns while empowering others to do the same. “We’re a society based on consumerism¦We blur our own lines between what we need and what we want, he said at the protest. “For me it’s about critical thinking and being critical about everything that’s going on around you.” Lupe has demanded the truth behind the 9/11 attacks for years, and adds it to his list of demands to the government. Millions of people have died behind that,” Lupe told We Are Change. “For the sake of what? For the price of what? What really happened to cause millions and millions of people to die? If it was just a terrorist attack, then so be it. Let that be known. Let that be out and vetted so the public can see it. And I think [the US] would get more support. I think you would get more support from Muslim countries if it was just a more open and honest kind of thing instead of this kind of cloudy, mysterious, behind-the-scenes kind of operation.”Lupe is one of the few emcees who have taken is gripes to the mic, releasing the politically-charged single, Words I Never Said on his latest album, Lasers. His powerful performance of the song at the 2011 BET Hip-Hop Awards (link to: BET AWARDS) made an even bigger impact with help of Erykah Badu.

Talib Kweli: Talib Kweli turned up at Occupy Wall Street after being invited by CitizenRadio, a politically-charged podcast by comic Jamie Kilstein and journalist Allison Kilkenny.  Kilstein prepped the crowd for Kweli’s appearance, noting “first cameras came to mock you, now they can’t fucking ignore you.”


Artists-In-Occupation: Musicians And #OccupyWallStreet

The tradition of protest music has a long, rich tradition in America. From nascent beginnings in the early twentieth century and the labor movement to the great civil rights protest songs of the ’60s to the ’70s anti-Vietnam singer-songwriters to today, it’s an integral part of the story of rock ‘n’ roll. Whenever some perceived injustice becomes large enough, you know there’s going to be performers involved to lead the rallying cry.

Don’t you know they’re talkin’ bout a revolution/ It sounds like a whisper.” Well, not quite a whisper, Tracy Chapman. Sure, Chapman wasn’t writing this about the #OccupyWallStreet movement or the subsequent protests when “Talkin Bout A Revolution” was released back in ’88. But that song and her words ring more true now then they have in a long time.

Now this isn’t going to be some partisan treatise on the pros and cons of the movement”we’ll save that for the wonky policy blogs. However, as the Occupy protests continue on into their fifth week, they have begun to draw in disparate segments from all across the pop culture spectrum. We’ve had conservative bloggers investigating/instigating in the fray, Gossip Girl alums hoisting cardboard signs and familiar Hollywood faces of varying loveliness. Oh, and Giraldo Rivera. More importantly, we’ve had a couple of good, old fashioned protest-music moments. And no, we don’t mean that guy with the acoustic doing Pete Seeger covers, though that guy is pretty cool.

It’s unknown what inspired Jeff Mangum of dormant folk group Neutral Milk Hotel to perform for the protesters on Wall Street. The notoriously retiring frontman has been making public appearances with increasing frequency in the past couple of months, playing sold out shows in east coast locales with tickets selling at near unaffordable prices. So, while you might not have been able to catch the reclusive Mangum in a solo set at some tiny club, if you were in downtown Manhattan on October 4th and happened to be a fan of collegiate indie rock, then you were in for a real treat. The best part? The tech savvy protests streamed the entire impromptu event as it happened on livestream, turning a cool moment into a viral thing.

“Of course I support [Occupy Wall Street],” Mangum said after his performance. “This is just something small that I can do.” Aw, what a guy!


Hip Hop Artists Get A Bad Rap

Misogynistic, homophobic, hateful, racist and an all-around bad influence on our children”the list of grievances against hip hop is a long one. Perhaps that’s why so many celebrities have an issue with the genre. In 2009, Gladys Knight said she isn’t a fan of the genre or the vulgarity that comes with it. Oprah Winfrey had a beef with several prominent rappers in 2006, after they claimed she mistreated them on her show. And last week, it was actress Ashley Judd who came down hard on rappers, citing its rape culture and insanely abusive lyrics and depictions of girls and women as ‘ho’s’ as the contemporary soundtrack of misogyny in her memoirs. (Of course, her remarks against hip hop might be a publicity stunt aimed to sell books, but who are we to judge? Girl’s gotta eat.)

Seemingly in an effort to prove Ms. Judd right, rapper Gucci Mane was arrested on assault charges last week after he pushed a woman from a moving car. Actually, that’s not the whole story. He allegedly offered her breakfast, then tried to give her $150 for sex and THEN pushed her out of the car. (See? Totally different.) But in all seriousness, Gucci Mane’s antics and the antics of other boneheaded rappers like him are why self-righteous actresses everywhere feel justified writing off the entire group as sexist, dangerous a-holes.

Although guys like Gucci give hip hop a bad name, keep in mind that every genre has its bad eggs. Remember that time Casey Royer (ex-Social D) was arrested for overdosing in front of his 12-year-old son? How about Christina Aguilera, who was arrested recently after becoming so intoxicated she couldn’t remember her own address? Or what about last month, when Screeching Weasel frontman Ben Weasel punched a girl in the face during a show? Yes, Gucci Mane’s actions were deplorable. But rap is far from the only genre that’s home to some troubled musicians.

And let’s not forget all of the great things that hip hop artists do. Dead Prez, Talib Kweli and KRS-One have always been known for their socially-conscious lyrics. Trey Songz and Big Boi are teaming up with NYC Mayor Bloomberg for an anti-truancy campaign. M.I.A. is using some of that Paper Planes money to help build schools in war-torn Liberia. And Snoop Dogg and P-Diddy supported YouthAIDS”an AIDS-awareness group affiliated with MTV that created hip PSAs about the disease. In fact, that’s what started all this trouble in the first place”Judd didn’t think Snoop was a good enough person to warn people about AIDS. Seriously, get off your high horse, girl!

Bottom line: Be it rock, pop, rap, 8-bit or shoegaze, every genre is going to have good guys and bad guys. There’s just one important thing to take away from all the turmoil, and it’s this: don’t get into a car with Gucci Mane.

Rapper's Delight: Young Duece

Hip hop duo Young Duece has been busy writing music and producing beats for the last five years. What do they have to show for it, you ask? Just four full length albums, five mixtapes and a production company with over a hundred beats for sale. Featuring Kidd Flow and PJ, Young Duece’s talent level is extensive. PJ not only writes and makes beats, but he also focuses on the final production side of the music as well. Kidd Flow contributes his creative spin that helps to define Young Duece’s style, and also takes care of the web design and album artwork. They’ve shared the stage with Nappy Roots and Afroman, they’ve been featured on Talib Kweli’s Blacksmith Community Mixtape, and now Young Duece has found success at OurStage as well. After lingering in the Top 20 of our Best of Urban chart for eight weeks, peaking at the fourth, we think they’re worth a listen.

Their most recent release, The REmixtape 2, is a twenty-track journey with innovative beats and well-crafted lyricism. It will take you from a jazzy brass sample to a dirty dubstep wobble and all the while deliver hard hitting heartfelt truths (with style). It’s available for free on their Web site so you really have no excuse not to download it.

If you’re an artist yourself, you might want to check out Nu Theory Productions. Owned by Young Duece, this production company offers a variety of beats for purchase, some of which have been used by national artists and films. In case you’re still not sold on Young Duece, here’s a track that will change your mind: