kokayi: pacific coast highway

As I’ve mentioned many times, Kokayi is one of the most talented artists I know. His latest release, Pacific Coast Highway, is an instrumental album inspired by undoubtedly one of the most breath-taking scenic routes in the contiguous United States. (I mean breath-taking literally–the one time I drove it, the views each bend and contour revealed were truly gasp-inducing.)

“The concept was to provide a soundtrack for the drive from San Diego to Washington State via the Pacific Coast Highway,” explains Kok. “It didn’t hurt that I wanted to do another instrumental record.”

Sequence-wise, the album follows the northward journey with sounds distinctive to each region peppering the songs. Check out Kokayi’s homage to the Bay area below.

kokayi: the mfn yay

This just in: Be the 1,400th person to like Kokayi on Facebook and he will perform at your home.

gentleman jack: arts beats + lyrics

dj lord (photo by kelly connelly

Held at the beautiful and expansive Mellon Auditorium in NW DC, this Jack Daniels event was just that: an event. As I made my way through the crowd, and past the drink lines, I saw that it was truly a party in there. I’m sure the Jack helped a bit, but really the party was made live by Public Enemy’s DJ Lord. Spinning a hip-hop set that spanned recent and not-so-recent years, Lord truly commanded the crowd with the help of a host and sort-of hypeman. Snarky Puppy, a tight funk outfit, was up next, and the music was good, but the timing unfortunate–especially on their more laid-back songs, the energy in the room while they were on stage was much mellower than it had been earlier. (Again, just a matter of timing. They were quite good.)

As for the artwork, I was excited to see legendary hip hop photographer Ernie Pannicoli, but did not see him nor his work during my laps around the art displays. It was cool the way they had the art set up all around, but the packed crowd made it a bit difficult to spend much time with a lot of the work. That’s a good thing, though, as people seemed to be there to party and view artwork. There was a lot of posing for pictures in front of the work–I suppose that’s part and parcel of the Facebook generation.

 

lupe fiasco: generation laser tour. merriweather post pavilion, 9.17.11

(photo by kelly connelly)

As I walked past the babbling brook by the path from the parking lot to the ticket booth, I could hear the high pitched screams of females in the crowd. The object of the crowd’s loud affection was R&B singer Miguel, a pretty boy with a pretty voice who has enjoyed a lot of radio play for his first few singles. During his performance of the latest of those radio hits, “Quickie”, Miguel led a sing-along with the crowd, who eagerly belted out “I don’t wanna be loved, I don’t wanna be loved,” in unison. I like this song, and often even if it’s a song I don’t particularly care for, there’s usually something moving about that many people singing together. This time, not so much. Miguel’s band was excellent, exaggerating the start-and-stop movement of the “Quickie” beat. Live, Miguel’s voice is wonderful and he is an engaging performer. Near the end of the set, he sang/adlibbed, “Would you dance on the tip of my tongue baby?” Cue girls screaming. Next, he continued the raunchiness by singing, “Take your panties off. Take your f***ing panties off.” Who said romance was dead?

Wale took the stage shortly after Miguel and band vacated it. Wale’s stage set-up was decidedly the most “hip-hop” of the night—just a DJ and hypeman/singer on stage with him, with no backdrop or frills. (No good lighting, for that matter, which made capturing decent photos of him a bit challenging.) Also no-frills is Wale’s persona on stage. Just a man and his mic, he moved from one side of the stage to another, danced (maybe “bopped” would be a more accurate description) a little here and there, smiled I think two or three times, but poured most of his efforts into just delivering his lyrics. Being at this concert made me realize how popular Wale really is. Although he wasn’t the headliner, the crowd—average age of 20 if I had to guess—seemed to know every word to every song. Highlights for me included “Chillin’”, “That Way”, and “Pretty Girls”. Black Cobain joined Wale on stage for “4 A.M.”. His presence was applauded by the crowd, and his energy on stage was cool, but it sounded to me like he might have been rapping over a vocal track. (I could be wrong, but that’s what it sounded like.) For all its simplicity, Wale’s set was marked by a true connection to the fans, especially when he handed his chain to someone on stage then jumped into the crowd with his cordless mic to perform “Nike Boots”.

While on stage, Wale said that four years ago, he was a student at Bowie State going to see Lupe Fiasco perform at the 9:30 Club. On this night, he was opening for the headliner at a big outdoor venue. Pretty cool. At this point, I feel I have to admit two things: I also did not realize how popular Lupe was and I have never been much of a fan of his music. I can see why people like him, and he’s a talented artist, but I have never really connected to his music on any level. Having said that, he put on an excellent show.

In stark comparison to Wale’s bare bones stage and show, Lupe’s stage was filled with background singers, musicians (drummer, keyboardist, bassist, guitarist, and a violinist), and a humongous anarchy A at the back. (A quick google search on Lupe and anarchy reveals a lot of speculation about Lupe’s stance on anarchy, but nothing substantive.) Lupe bounded onto the stage like a whirling dervish. Well, maybe not whirling, but leaping at the very least. Throughout the course of his set, he gave it every last bit of his all. It was almost theatrical in setting and performance, but with more connection to the crowd. Everything Lupe gave to the crowd, he got back from them. His band was good, but a veered a little close to adult contemporary territory now and again. Their rendition of “Kick Push” was pretty straight ahead and I can totally respect that—sometimes it’s a little annoying when people change up their most well known songs too much. (Maybe that’s just me.) “Hip Hop Saved My Life” elicited probably the most impassioned audience response of the evening, with several young men near me rapping along like they wrote the song themselves.

Neither here nor there:

  • When I went to pick up my ticket and photo pass, I stood and stared at the young guy working at will call for at least one full minute before he acknowledged me. Looking at his computer screen, I saw that he was deeply engrossed in a game of solitaire.
  • Doggy Style was played over the sound system between Wale and Lupe’s sets. I would bet the majority of crowd was probably in pre-school when that album came out.
  • I saw more than a few young ladies with “lawn seats” wearing super high heels. I could barely navigate the slightly muddy hill with any semblance of grace and I was wearing tennis shoes. More power to you, ladies.
  • I was bummed I missed Phil Ade. I like him quite a bit.
  • Big Sean was part of the tour, but did not appear on this evening for reasons I do not know. I also was not the least bit disappointed, though.
  • More photos from the show are online here.

rickie jacobs ft. street scott: “victory lap”

Baltimore’s Rickie Jacobs has just released this video for “Victory Lap”, which features Street Scott on the hook, beat, and a verse. There’s a lot to like here–Rickie’s heartfelt lyrics and melodic flow, Scott’s soulful vocals, and production that is smooth without being too smooth. (You know what I mean.) The look and feel of the video matches up just right.

Through following Rickie on twitter, I know that a few people have criticized his slight lisp, but to me, that’s part of what sets his already great voice apart. (Like Guru said: “It’s mostly the voice.”) Also through twitter interaction, I know that he lost his mom a few years back, so the end of the video is a bit of a tear-jerker. The tribute is done in a subtle and touching way–kudos to director Syranno Debergiak/Illustrious Symphony. There’s a lot of personality in this video–something that I imagine must be hard to convey in videos since I don’t feel like I see it all that often.

gods’illa: 5 questions for 3 brothers

Gods’Illa is a three-real-life-blood-brother group from the DC area. I’ve written about them and posted their music here a couple times in the past, most recently when they released a single, “You Don’t Have To Be a Star”, featuring Baltimore’s sweet-voiced songstress Maimouna Youseff. The trio has just released CPR: The Blend Tape, a soulful and solid body of work, produced by Joe D, Unknown, and Kev Brown, among others. Serving as host on CPR is none other than DJ Lo Down Loretta Brown, known best as the legendary singer Erykah Badu.

In an effort to give a different glimpse into these three MCs upon the release of this new project, I asked each, separately, the same five questions. Read on to see where their answers matched up, where they really didn’t, and what they each have to say about their well-known host.

What is your favorite song on the upcoming mixtape?
Acem: “Fine Line”–gives me the old school, grimy feel when Joe D comes in on the hook with “Hate on the right, love on the left.” Praise did work on that track, too!!!
Powerful: “Sal’s Pizzeria” because I got the best results from that song so far.
Truth: My favorite song switches depending on the moment, but at this moment it’s “Silent Weeper” maybe because it’s the freshest to me. But “Fine Line”, “Rockin’ Wit YU”, “Star”, “Another Day”, and “Sal’s Pizzeria” are all tied for second place.

What has been your most memorable moment performing?
Acem: Had to be the DC Dilla Day Tribute this year. The crowd was energetic out there and we made a big improvement between rehearsal and actual performance. Our first rehearsal was slum (lol) but we pulled it together by showtime. Shout out to Jon Laine & The Playas!!!

Powerful: 2011 Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival
Truth: Last year’s performance in Atlanta at the A3C music festival comes to mind off top because we where a fairly unknown outta of town group in a hip-hop setting and we received mad love, opportunity and awareness for that show plus it was a lot of fun.

Where do you see Gods’Illa in five years?
Acem: Being able to support our families doing what we love most, creating authentic music.
Powerful: Touring world-wide.
Truth: God-willing we will be constantly elevating and at with peace with ourselves and situation

Who is your favorite group of all time that contains two siblings or more?
Acem: Tony! Toni! Tone!
Powerful: The Jackson 5
Truth: Not many to choose from between Kane & Able or The Clipse (Ha!). I’m def a huge fan of the Clipse. I believe in their work and love for each other. I can feel their music, although they are now choosing different paths, I think they still sound real well together. I’ll have to say the Clipse.

What do you think Erykah Badu brings as host of the mixtape?
Acem: She adds to the projects authenticity. Our music reflects real life situations, things that regular people go through whether it be good, bad or ugly. Whether they be the trials of trying to be recognized as respectable artists, the triumphs of being a father, or just the dealings in everyday life, we give it to you like we live it. Erykah is a true example of what real is. Her energy is reminiscent of the same Erykah we saw hanging clothes on the line in the “On & On” video, easy going and genuine. Adding her to CPR was definitely in-line with what we value as individuals, being true to ourselves.
Powerful: Great energy and real jewels.
Truth: First off, she is damn near bigger than an artist–she is more of a musical icon to me. Like her aww factor, her resume, her versatility, and most importantly her humbleness. It’s like the promo and hype of it all but yet she fits. She is just as regular as us. Meeting someone of her caliber and seeing that she is like–a real, genuine human being, meaning she keeps her word and she loves “for real” is priceless. So she brings herself to this project, which quite frankly encompasses everything she’s made of, which is greatness. This is more than a co-sign, a stamp, or some affiliation nonsense. Erykah is our sister and we can’t thank her enough. This is a family project. Word to all our guest features and producers.

CPR: The Blend Tape is available for preview and free download over at The Smoking Section. (A clean version is available, as well.)

Photo by Skye Media Photography

n.e.r.d. + pac div: the coors light search for the coldest

photo by kelly connelly

They say that nothing in life is free, and if this show was an illustration of that phrase, the only cost of admission was being constantly barraged with Coors Light messaging. As this was “The Coors Light Search for the Coldest National Tour featuring N.E.R.D. and Pac Div,” you couldn’t turn your head without seeing signs, banners, some sort of fake ice piece, rows of Coors Light Bottles, and more–including a case of the beer next to the DJ table on stage. Even before entering the venue, Sonar, it was clear who was presenting this show, with Coors Light models checking people in and greeting attendees.

Before two contestants in the “search” took the stage, and between sets, DJ Reddz primed the crowd’s ears with a nice mix of current hip hop hits (from artists like Rick Ross, Young Jeezy, and YC, the last of which is responsible for the undeniably catchy “Racks”) and a healthy helping of ’90s classics. Reddz has always been one of my favorite DJs, both live and on the radio.

In terms of the aforementioned talent search, hosts Erroll Omari and Konan did little to explain the premise of the search, though they were good hosts for the event otherwise. Two of the four finalists performed at this show. The first was Billa Camp, a Chicago MC who rapped pretty much nonstop from the moment he grabbed the mic to the time he walked off stage. He performed what I guess could be called a medley of songs, some of which employed unexpected samples, including The English Beat’s “Mirror in the Bathroom”. Next up was a member of Seattle’s Eclectic Approach, whose first song was a heartfelt but not-very-good song about his older brother’s battle with substance abuse. (The irony of this subject being explored onstage amidst scads of beer imagery was not lost on me.) His next song was much, much better, but my memory is very, very lacking as far as remembering the title, much less the subject matter, of that song. (More info on the talent contest component of this show is available online.)

California hip hop trio Pac Div followed the contestants with a very energetic and fun set. There’s something about the interplay among these MCs (BeYoung and brothers Like and Mibbs) that reminds me a little of Pharcyde. (Maybe the Cali accent helps?) Like took the stage puffing on a pipe–as in the type of pipe you’d imagine Sherlock Holmes or Colonel Mustard enjoying. (That was sort of slick to me.) They performed a bunch of songs from their latest mixtape, Mania!–including “Anti-Freeze”, “Take Me High”, and “Chief Rocka Freestyle”–the strongest reaction from the crowd came when they performed “Mayor”. From what I could see, there were a lot of Pac Div fans in the audience, and lots more who might not have entered the show as such, but left with an appreciation for this group.

The main event of the evening was a performance by another trio, N.E.R.D., and all three were present this evening. That might be stating the obvious, but with Pharrell usually being the one who pops to mind first, and with Chad being a little less in the spotlight than Pharrell, and with Shay being a little mysterious altogether, I wasn’t sure all members would be accounted for, but they were.

Although I’ve considered myself a fan of N.E.R.D. since the release of their great debut In Search Of…, this was my first time seeing them live. And really, as the word fan is short for fanatic, then I probably wouldn’t qualify if compared to the real and true fanatics at the show this evening. Chief among these super fans was the guy I stood next to right up front (I staked out and fiercely guarded a decent spot from which to take photos), whose left hand was in Star Trak formation for most of the show. (His other hand held his iPhone, which he was using to record the show.) It’s always something special to be in the midst of super fans at shows. (I wish more people made and brought signs to shows, but that’s really neither here nor there.)

Backed by a full band, including Chad on a Moog keyboard, the group performed a lot of songs I didn’t really know the words to, further leading me to question how dedicated a fan I’ve been through the years. Still, they sounded great, with Pharrell’s falsetto sounding especially lovely on “Hypnotize You”. There were a few songs from In Search Of… that I was disappointed in not hearing this evening, but that’s a minor complaint.

Introducing “Everyone Nose (All the Girls Standing in Line for the Bathroom)”, Pharrell sang a couple lines (no pun intended) of the Baltimore Club classic “Mr. Postman” and said that they thought club music was “some incredible shit.” “Everyone Nose” was the group’s attempt at employing the Club song, and while they did an admirable job music-wise and it’s nice to hear at least one of the big acts admit the influence, the subject matter of this song has always been so corny to me. (I’ve always hoped Pharrell would reach out to DJ Booman to work together. Perhaps one day?) Must admit, though, that the song sounded great live, as did most of the songs. The band was excellent.

Another moment of irony for the evening occurred when Pharrell implored everyone to crouch down (or was it squat?) in the middle of “Bobby James”, while he talked about being different. He called out those who didn’t crouch down as thinking they were too cool to be different (or something to that effect), but wouldn’t standing straight up while almost everyone else edged closer to the floor be the truly different thing to do? (I displayed my individuality by being Kelly, tall and proud. That’s a bit of writer’s embellishment because I semi-crouched so I wouldn’t get called out. I do not like attention. Plus, I’m average height at best.)

Also of note was the enthusiasm with which Chad displayed Coors Light bottles on stage. At one point he even came to the front of the stage, closed beer bottle in hand, and pantomimed asking Pharrell for a bottle opener. Other times, he swayed a beer bottle back and forth near the back and side of the stage. Maybe it was just me, but the overblown displays seemed to be at least a little tongue in cheek, and ironic in a different way. (Like ironic mustaches. The worst kind of mustache there is.) Or maybe he was just really happy to be representing a product that paid for this show. Although I didn’t have a sip of the beer myself (but did buy a Peroni, which I assumed and later confirmed is distributed by Coors in the states), enjoying this thoroughly entertaining show seemed like a fair payoff for being a heavily marketed target.

Near the end of N.E.R.D.’s set, Pharrell hand picked eight or nine male members of the crowd to come up on stage. First one up was the guy to my right, and considering I didn’t know him from Adam and his zealous nanoo-nanoo arm-waving interrupted a large majority of my shots, I was happy he got the chance to go up and rock out a bit with what was obviously one of his favorite groups.

Cheers.

Check out more photos from the show.

Thanks to Gypsy Soul & Soulcial Grind PR for handling media access.

l fli (ft. richard burton), “complicated”

Opening an email with new music from one of my all-time favorite MCs out of Baltimore, L Fli, was like Christmas in July (or almost June). This Beat Jay-produced track and vocals from Richard Burton (aka Shamrock from The Wire, as well as former Mayor O’Malley staffer) provide the perfect soulful foundation for L’s lyrics. I’ve been waiting on an L full length album for more than a decade. This song both holds me over and leaves me eager to hear more new music.

Listen to “Complicated”:

Download.

yuna

“Asian crowds [are] tough cookies compared to audiences here in the states,” laughs Yuna, a Malaysian singer/songwriter recently signed to The Fader Label. Speaking briefly over miso soup before she took the stage at Rams Head opening for Raphael Saadiq, she continues, “The audiences over here in the states, they’re very responsive and very friendly–it’s easy to get a good vibe from them.”

The proof was in the pudding about 30 minutes later as Yuna, commanded the full blown attention from the crowd through her gorgeous singing and easy and charming between-song banter. “I’m pretty much the same wherever I go,” she says. “The way I speak to people–the way I’m speaking now–is the same way I speak to my audience.” At the end of an approximately 20 minute set, which included a cover of Nirvana’s “Come As You Are”, the crowd seemed to be left wanting more of her performance.

A mostly self-taught musician (she took piano lessons when she was seven years old, but quit “halfway through”), Yuna picked up the guitar when she was 19. “As soon as I could play three or four chords, I started writing a lot of songs, ” she recalls with a little laugh. Signed to the Fader label, she released an EP, Decorate, earlier this year. Her music is marked by an endearing earnestness, which has made her quite popular in her native Malaysia. Stateside, if this show–along recent tweets revealing a weekend in the studio with Pharrell–is any indication, she’ll have no problem building a strong fan base.

Live photos of Yuna and Quadron at Rams Head Live! are here.