Choklate and Stas (of THEESatisfaction) emancipate the groove on this brief exhale of a track. Here we are, shuffling toward the weekend. Be well, readers.
I just called J. Pinder “the Edgar Martinez of SEA rap” on Twitter: steady, focused and consistent as hell. Sounds about right, don’t you think? Check for his new single, “King” featuring Choklate, today and stay tuned for the MC’s Careless Redux mixtape dropping November 27 for free.
Malice and Mario Sweet’s Happy 2 Year EP is a giant leap forward for Seattle R&B/soul music.
R&B is a genre that is criminally underrepresented when compared to The Town’s other musical excursions. Not to say that its few agents aren’t worthy of praise (Choklate, JusMoni and Isabella Du Graf, here’s looking at you), but for a city that’s shown an incredible wealth of untapped talent in hip-hop, it’s curious that the R&B set has stayed relatively dormant.
Allusions to Happy 2 Year were made in late December when Mario dropped the album’s first single, “Speed Of Light” in the 206UP.COM Inbox. A cursory listen left a minimal impression on me, though the perfect harmonizing between Mario and Malice (partners in music and life) immediately stood out. Admittedly, I’m guilty of not giving this track its proper shine, because repeated listenings have revealed it to be so much more than the brief Inbox interlude I first took it for. There are complex layers of rhythm and vocal pacing here, and a perceptible level of care and intention in the song’s creation that can only be evidence of an ethereal bond shared by the two artists responsible.
Further, when you consider “Speed Of Light” in context with the rest of the EP, an even greater understanding of the album’s import is revealed. H2Y is not only a reciprocation of love between Mario and Malice, it’s a love letter to a few decades’ worth of R&B/soul artists. From the late 80’s/early 90’s R&B vibe of “DateNight” to the new school “world music” (I hate that term but I’m using it here for lack of a better one) inflections of “Happiness” (which features a rapping [!!!] Choklate), to the highly danceable post-Prince funk of “Living Life” (where a few brief guest bars are delivered by Geo of Blue Scholars, who sounds curiously comfortable amidst the tracks’ radio-readiness).
Ironically, though, the best moments on H2Y are when Malice and Mario are left to their own solo departures: the adequately titled, “Malice” and “Mario.” “Speed Of Light” wasn’t a prime example of what either singer could accomplish vocally, but their self-titled individual tracks solve that mystery. “Malice” charms with the confidence of a songbird who’s been flying like this for years, just waiting for strange ears to attend. Producer 10.4 Rog builds the perfect track for her with his airy Dilla-esque vista. “Mario,” on the other hand, only gives the listener a brief glimpse into what informs the duo’s masculine half. Images of Donny Hathaway, Smokey Robinson and Maxwell are conjured (how’s that for fair company?) in a track that lasts less than ninety seconds. Here’s hoping Mario indulges his expert falsetto again later (and more fully) over the same Roy Ayers instrumental.
Like the best-thrown anniversary parties, the occasion for love’s celebration between two people can be enjoyed not only by the lovers themselves, but by those that the couple allow into their midst. With Happy 2 Year, Malice and Mario Sweet have thrown a musical anniversary party and we (the listeners) are the honored beneficiaries. And as it is with the refined brands of champagne and decadent cake at such affairs, we are left exclaiming, “More please!”
Download a FREE copy of Happy 2 Year here, for a limited time only. Below is the music video for “Speed Of Light.”
This is how I prefer my Drake: in small doses over mid-tempo, R&B-inflected grooves. The much-traveled “Love & Gunz” (produced by Tha Bizness) now sees the light of day with a new title (“Overdose”) and the lovely Choklate providing the majority of the emotional heft. Drake-onian style emo-rap is better with real singing talent to back it up. Click here for the download link.
The personal and musical metamorphosis of D. Black is a revelation around the 206 these days. In the span of time between the rapper’s debut album, The Cause and Effect, and his latest LP, Ali’Yah, a transformation seems to have taken place in the young man’s heart, mind, and soul which has much to do with assuming new grown-up responsibilities (marriage and the birth of a child) and, as Black has made very clear in recent interviews, a spiritual awakening that’s granted him new perspectives and motivations on why he does what he does.
Regardless of what you believe personally, the overarching force that gives Ali’Yah its potency is the same rare phenomenon that provides all great music their particular validations: honesty. On his new record, D. Black believes firmly in what he’s doing, which is making music for his children, family, and community without fear of contributing negatively to the advancement of those loved ones. He wants to make responsible music for the betterment of his people. In this sense then, Ali’Yah is a soaring achievement.
The seeds for this revolution were planted in The Cause and Effect which, for all its boastfulness, negativity, and hurt, still contained glimmers of both optimism and recognition of why the old D. Black was full of so much anger. That album’s best tracks were, by far, the introspective ones (“This is Why”, “Survive”) which seem to have paved the way for Ali’Yah, a record that can literally be played anywhere. I would feel equally comfortable bumping this album in my car, around small children, or even in church.
Positivity is the rule of the day here. There is no cursing. All the references to bullets flying are accompanied by a call to those responsible to put their burners down. Tales of graphic street violence are omitted and, in their absence, Black has put-forth challenges to the community to better itself (“Keep On Going”). Spiritual growth is also a major theme throughout Ali’Yah and, while not overtly preachy, Black isn’t ashamed to show reverence for the most high on “Close to Yah” (featuring Sportn’ Life labelmate, Fatal Lucciauno).
And, while Black doesn’t shy away from braggadocio, here it’s accomplished more humbly, less as a way to inflict gratuitous verbal beatdowns on wack-ass rappers (which, incidentally, isn’t necessary — it’s obvious D. Black is one of the best emcees in Seattle) and more as a way to progress his positive message. “The Return” is an edict that serves to announce his grand re-entrance to the game while simultaneously calling-out those fake studio gangsters that poison the art form and culture of hip-hop.
Musically, there isn’t one track that stands head and shoulders above the rest, which is actually okay. Albums that endure over time often stand on their conceptual completeness, a trait that Ali’Yah possesses. You probably won’t see a hit single come off this album but there is a satisfying cohesiveness that’s absent on most hip-hop records. Overall, the production is soulful, with a lot of sung hooks (local favorite Choklate blesses a track), but not at the expense of traditional boom-bap, which is to be expected from the likes of Jake One and Vitamin D who handle most of the arrangements.
It’s probably unfair to compare The Cause and Effect to Ali’Yah because they’re such starkly different albums, but the association is unavoidable. While The Cause contained all the traditional elements of aggressive, street-oriented rap, a secondary listen today — in light of what Black has accomplished on Ali’Yah — reveals a tired sound, an almost lethargic Black compared to the new version who is so obviously energized and excited about a new direction.
Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of Ali’Yah is that the rapper, even though he has so blatantly eliminated the guns, drugs, and women (aka, the “realness”), has not lost his credibility. In fact, he seems to have gained more of it. The word “ali’yah” means “ascent” in Hebrew. Here, D. Black has ascended beyond what other rappers have not, surpassed expectations built by his first album, and become a torch-bearer for what hip-hop music is truly capable of.
I just got hip to this free demo download from Dopkwe (the beat/rhyme combo of producer BeanOne and emcee Game Soulo). BeanOne is on his grind, as usual, concocting those left coast underground-flavored beats. And G-Soulo’s high-pitched flow goes nicely over said tracks.
I know Seattle doesn’t have a particular “sound” yet, but I hope that if and when it gets one, Bean’s name is mentioned in the conversation. His resume (Framework, Dyme Def, Choklate) is built solid like Qwest Field.
(Speaking of Frame, Hello World is also available via free download here. I had to scour the entirety of Capitol Hill one sunny day in ’05 to find a used copy of the CD. Too little, too late interwebs!)
I know this blog is supposed to be dedicated to Seattle-area hip-hop only, but excuse me while I digress for just a moment…
Mary J. may have the national title “Queen of Hip-Hop Soul” on lock, but Seattle’s got its very own local hip-hop soul queen and she goes by the name of Choklate. Her latest album To Whom it May Concern is simply astounding! (No need for hyperbole here either, folks. Just listen and you’ll agree.)
Anyway, she’s doing big things as evidenced by this free download. It’s a track called “Film,” produced by 2008 Red Bull Big Tune champ C-Sick. It features Nas on the vocals and none other than Miss Choklate on the chorus. Bump this!
At Jazz Alley.
“Sun’s Out/Grown Folks” video.
Chok’s talented nephew, KD Cutz, chops up “Sun’s Out” and slaps us across the face with it!