REVIEW: Smell the DA.I.S.Y. – De La Soul

De La Soul - Smell the DAISYDe La Soul
Smell the DA.I.S.Y.
Self-released; 2014

Score (Potholes In My Blog scale): 4 / 5

De La Soul prepare for a big 2014 with the first of three planned releases: Smell the DA.I.S.Y., a free mixtape available via BitTorrent, is a reworking of classic De La raps over previously unreleased J Dilla instrumentals. It’s both charming for fans of the legendary rap crew and reverent to the late, great producer and his family. Read what else I had to say about it, here.

Album Reviews Potholes In My Blog Cross-Post

TGIF: Best of 2012 (So far…)

Friday is Free Day at 206UP.COM, the day where I post whatever the hell I want, free of the encumbrances of Seattle’s small (but totally awesome) hip-hop scene and clear to wander elsewhere through the nation’s rap wilderness. I’ve done a better job at keeping up on new music so far in 2012 than probably any year prior, so allow me to pat myself on the back…

Ahh, that felt nice. Here then is a list of the five best albums (in no particular order) consumed by my ears three months inside the uno-dos:

De La Soul’s Plug 1 and Plug 2 Present: First Serve


Habits and Contradictions – Schoolboy Q


Brooklyknight – Sene


Bell Hooks – BBU


Live Okayplayer Mixtape – D’Angelo

Click to download.

“Left & Right (Live)” – D’Angelo


(Out of) Town Movement Best of 2012

INTERVIEW: THEESatisfaction (10.23.09, New York City)

THEESatisfaction 2

Seattle hip-hop had a nice showing at this year’s edition of the CMJ Music Festival here in New York City. Performing alongside Champagne Champagne — but not officially on the bill — were THEESatisfaction who actually came out to NY over a week before the October 24th CMJ show to network, chill with friends, and just enjoy everything this amazing city has to offer. The ladies of THEESatisfaction, Cat and Stasia, were gracious enough to reach out to me for an interview. These two women (girlfriends, for those that don’t know) are funny, charming, creative, and beautiful. And it’s apparent, after spending a little over an hour with them, that they’re in this hip-hop sh*t strictly for the love. I met them for lunch at a diner in the Financial District a few blocks from my work the day before they were scheduled to share the stage with Champagne Champagne.

Talk a little about how you came to be involved with CMJ. Did someone associated with the Festival hear you and ask you to be involved?
Cat: No, nothing like that. We’re doing CMJ through Champagne Champagne, because they asked us to do a song with them that we perform all the time called “Magnetic Blackness.” Basically we’re just like a family, so whenever we have an opportunity to do [that song] together, we do it. It’s a really great opportunity, we appreciate Champagne Champagne for letting us be a part of it. I’ve known Pearl for years, before THEESatisfaction and Champagne Champagne [formed], and Thomas [Gray] is like family. He’s like my best friend’s cousin.
Stas: Yeah, those are our brothers!

The stuff Pearl Dragon was doing before Champagne Champagne is much different than what he’s doing now.
Cat: He’s really creative. He and Thomas and Mark [aka DJ Gajamagic] are all really, really creative.

What’s your take on the Seattle hip-hop movement right now? It’s really blowing up.
Stas: I think it’s amazing. I remember a time when I didn’t listen to anything [from Seattle], except for Blue Scholars and Cancer Rising. Now there are shows every weekend, everybody is collaborating with each other. It’s like a huge family. People are on the move. Everybody is coming to Seattle to do shows. Wu-Tang has been here [a lot]. It’s just bringing more attention to Seattle. [Before] we’d have to go to Portland or LA to see a good show.

It does seem like there are very few prominent female acts in the spotlight, though. I mean outside of you guys.
Stas: I’m blessed to be an example and inspiration for more of them.

Do you think more female emcees are out there and just not receiving the proper exposure?
Stas: There are a lot of artists out right now.
Cat: A lot of female artists have been sheltered or pushed to the side.
Stas: Not just being a [female] hip-hop artist, just being a female musician of any kind [is difficult].
Cat: It’s starting to change, though.
Stas: Another prominent group is Canary Sing. They just did a show at The Rendezvous.
Cat: JusMoni, too.

So you guys are now in the Bay Area, right?

Stas: No, actually we’re just traveling.
Cat: We were going to move to the Bay, but we never even wound up going there, [laughs] just to LA. We came back to Seattle for a show and now we’re in New York.

How’s the life of a traveling musician?
Stas: I love it. It’s exciting. I knew I’d be a wanderer, nomad child, that got into all sorts of crazy shenanigans.
Cat: It’s cool. At some point you just realize there’s so much more to see.
Stas: It’s nice to have friends to stay with. We have friends in LA and friends out here that we’re staying with.

Musically, what’s your background? Are you formally trained or self-taught?
Cat: I’ve been in choirs forever and I studied Jazz in college.
Stas: I didn’t [study music]. But I’ve been around music all my life. My mom is a choir director and plays the piano, my dad plays the piano and has been in multiple choirs. I’ve been a poet for about eight years.

I was wondering about that. Your music seems inspired strongly by Spoken Word poetry.
Stas: Yeah, absolutely. We both do Spoken Word.
Cat: That’s how we met actually, through the Spoken Word circuit.

What venue?
Cat: It was Retro Open Mic night at U-Dub.

Did you both go to the University of Washington?
Stas: I did.
Cat: I went to Cornish. But I was always at U-Dub events. [laughs]

I read that your most recent album, Snow Motion, was recorded in a basement when you were snowed-in during the famous Seattle Winter of 2008.
Cat: Yeah.
Stas: We recorded [the songs] in a closet.
Cat: Some of the songs were recorded on Beacon [Hill], some of them were recorded in the house. It was crazy. That was all bad. We moved into this house, it was on 23rd and Madison [in the Central District] and it was sunny and nice and everything when we checked out the house. It looked nice in May or June, and then it got to wintertime, and the house had no insulation. And then the rats came. It was infested with rats. You wouldn’t want to leave your bedroom at night because there were rats running all through the house. There were holes under the bathroom sink and they would come in through the cabinets and they would get in our food. Our refrigerator stopped working three times.
Stas: Then our laundry machine stopped working.
Cat: Yeah, it just filled up with water. And then, it didn’t just freeze over, it was a solid block of ice.
Stas: We were working at Costco.
Cat: Pushing carts outside. Our buses weren’t running, so we had to walk halfway [to work], from 23rd and Madison to Downtown to catch the bus. If you didn’t come in, you’d get fired or written-up. They were really determined to be open.
Stas: We recorded [Snow Motion] because we were fed-up and depressed. We had family members passing away. One of our friends was murdered in February [concert promoter Tyrone Love], literally down the street.
Cat: It was a really tough time. We were working all the time, too. It was really hard to finish the album.
Stas: There was no sane place for us to be.
Cat: No there wasn’t, because we had to find somewhere else to live, too. We were working all the time. We’d always come home tired. We just had to decide what we were going to do.

For as much of a horrible time that was, Snow Motion come across, to me at least, as a really optimistic record. I read an article on a blog that said something like, “THEESatisfaction creates Snow Motion while they descend into madness.” But I thought it was a pretty coherent record, for the most part.
Cat: Thanks! [laughs]

So nowadays, the life of aspiring musicians sounds busy.
Stas: It’s pretty hectic. We book our own shows.
Cat: We don’t have a manager or anything. Everything is just us two, researching things and at the same time making music, trying to keep it fresh.
Stas: It’s challenging, but I couldn’t ask for more. I’m having the best time of my life. I’m having so much fun. I can’t imagine ever working at Costco again.
Cat: I’d rather work my ass off at this than work a corporate job again.

When do you find time to write?
Cat: We write all the time.

It’s not a process for you? Like, I must write at nine in the morning every day?
Cat: No. The whole thing is a process. From updating the website, to writing the press releases, to burning the CDs, to mixing it down. We try to let things just come naturally.

What’s the first hip-hop music you remember listening to?

Cat: First stuff was like A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul. I have an older brother who’s 36 so he was putting me on to a lot of stuff.
Stas: I wasn’t even listening to hip-hop. My parents were only listening to gospel and r&b. I didn’t really get into hip-hop until Snoop Dogg and Death Row Records. That was my first exposure, that gangsta rap. Then, once I started seeking out on my own, I got into Tribe and De La.
Cat: I listened to only De La Soul and Tribe when my brother lived with us and then [after he moved out] it went back to jazz and, I don’t know what to call it: alternative folk music [laughs]. It was like hippie music, James Taylor and Joni Mitchell.
Stas: I remember my mom got a hold of my Doggystyle album cover. Remember the cartoon? She was like, “What is this?!”
Cat: I was like the prude kid. Like, “I can’t hear that stuff, it’s bad for my ears!” I didn’t know about 2Pac or Biggie, or most other rap other than De La and Tribe until I moved to Seattle. [Cat grew up in the Bay Area and Hawaii]. I listened to Chaka Khan, TLC, Technotronic. I know about hella random groups like Pet Shop Boys [laughs]. Lately, we’ve been switching it up, listening to all different kinds of stuff but we’ve always listened to a lot of different [music].
Stas: A lot of soul music.
Cat: Yeah, a lot of soul. Temptations, The Spinners, old Chaka Khan, Al Green. A lot of Michael Jackson and a lot of Jackson 5. I mean, we typically listen to Michael Jackson all the time, anyway. On our first mixtape [That’s Weird] we sampled Thriller.

Where were you guys when you heard he passed?
Cat: We were in our house on Beacon Hill and Stas got a text message or something. We got a text message and I was like, “This is a joke.” So we got on Twitter, we started googling everything, turned on the television and saw that he’d been hospitalized.
Stas: Then we started playing his music videos.
Cat: It was too much, it was very overwhelming. It’s still overwhelming.
Stas: I still haven’t watched the funeral in its entirety. I’ve been watching it on Youtube. I think I got maybe halfway through.
Cat: I don’t think so. I think you only got a third of the way through.
Stas: It’s still emotional.
Cat: It is. I watched [the funeral] on CNN while Stas was at Costco and it was really crazy. I didn’t think it was going to happen in my lifetime.
Stas: Nice shirt too! [laughs]

Yeah, that’s why I asked. [Cat is wearing a Michael Jackson t-shirt she purchased at a thrift store.]

So what’s next for THEESatisfaction?
Stas: We have a new mixtape coming out.

When?
Stas: We’re thinking December, January, February.
Cat: One of those three months! [laughs]
Stas: The beats are pretty much finished. We’re teaming up with OC Notes. We hooked up with him for this next mixtape. We’re trying something new.
Cat: It’s the first time [we’ve worked with just one producer]. It’s cool, especially when that person knows your groove and knows your sound and it fits. A lot of artists will just work with whoever, you know?

So, one more question. You’ve already experienced a small amount of fame in Seattle. What’s that been like?

Stas: I wish I could enjoy my life a little bit more. It’s weird. You have to watch what you say all the time. But I don’t, really. [laughs]
Cat: You just have to be yourself. Some artists are controlled by other people, their managers, their band mates, by their producers. For us, we have freedom. We can say, “I’m not feeling well today so I’m not going to that event.” I think that gives a different spin to it. It makes it a different experience. It doesn’t make it easier though, that’s for damn sure! People used to come up to us all the time in Costco. It was weird, the contrast between working at Costco and being on stage. There’s a different amount of respect people have for you when at work. There you’re just Joe Schmo. It’s like, “Go over there and fold those clothes!”
Stas: When we’re at shows it’s, “Can I get you a drink? Can I get your autograph?” At work it’s totally the opposite. You’re just a robot again.

Costco seems like a major formative experience in your recent lives. What else happened at Costco?
Cat: When I was at work one day, Justo [of The Physics] came in and was like, “Hey, what’s up?” We didn’t even really know The Physics.

Did you know who he was?
Cat: I’d heard of The Physics and seen their picture, but I was really tired at work that day, so it took me a second to put it together. [laughs]

Was that how the collaboration on “Radio Head” came about?
Cat: [Justo] came into the store just in general and recognized me and said he’d been meaning to get in contact with us. But yeah, that’s generally how it started. After that we went and got in the studio together.
Stas: That’s where we met Rik Rude from Fresh Espresso, too.
Cat: Yeah. We saw Sabzi in Costco. All of Seattle goes to Costco!

—–

Catch THEESatisfaction at their next show on 11.10.09 at Nectar:

THEESatisfaction at Nectar 11.10.09

And buy their album, Snow Motion, online here:

"Snow Motion" (THEESatisfaction)

Interviews Live Coverage

BCC + DTA + BS = ?

What do Boot Camp Clik, a Double Tall Americano, and Blue Scholars have in common?

A lot, apparently. They’re the latest creative collaboration to hit the hot Seattle pavement this summer. Click here for the gory details.

Our boys Geo and Sabzi have never gone the traditional record deal route (and that’s partially why we love ’em), but this partnership between Duck Down Records and Caffe Vita looks to be the most interesting to come around thus far.

Distribution by Rawkus last go ’round was cool. Partly because it was nice to see Blue Scholars get so much shine nationally. (I came across a few copies of Bayani in the hip-hop section at the Virgin Megastore — may she rest in peace — last year in Times Square, not to mention that beacon of hip-hop independence, Fat Beats, in Greenwich Village.)

Honestly, though, I was a little scurred that it was the start of something bigger; something nefarious. Something that might even result in their hasty departure from the Emerald City and *gasp* normal rotation on MTV2. Then I remembered that it was Blue Scholars. “Sell-out” is simply not a term in their vernacular (knock on wood). Also, MTV2 doesn’t even f*cking play videos anymore, so whatever. It was all paranoia on my part, anyway. (Plus, even De La eventually had to go a little commercial to get paid.)

Anyway, this new partnership is cool. Duck Down has been a standard-bearer in hip-hop (as was Rawkus, of course). And I used to hit Caffe Vita every morning on my way to work. Which reminds me: what the hell does coffee have to do with any of this??!! Judging by Geo’s somewhat esoteric blog post, I presume their role is of financier. Speculation abounds.

In any event, I’ll be checking for the OOF! EP on August 25th and so should you.

Stay UP!

Breaking News Video Views From the Peanut Gallery

Hip-Hop hits the ‘Shoot (Again)

Bumbershoot-2009-wideIt is with great regret that I inform you (friends, strangers, fam-damily) that I will be unable to attend this year’s edition of the Bumbershoot music festival. My presence is required out of town. (I’ll be in the Big Apple, hopefully catching Mos Def on 9/12 at Governor’s Island — gotta get those tickets now while they’re still available!)

It’s a damn shame, too, because it’s another great year for hip-hop at the ‘Shoot. I was just checking out the lineup and lamenting the fact that I’m gonna miss it. Anyway, here’s a brief summary of the hip-hop performances that I won’t be catching this year, along with a few of my thoughts on the matter…

Dyno Jamz (Sat, 12:30 pm, EMP Sky Church) – Uhh, I have no idea who they are. An “eight-man hip-hop ensemble?” Winner of the “EMP Sound Off! battle of the bands competition”? Guess I need to do some homework. I do know one thing, however…they have a really wack sounding name.

Wale (Sat, 5:45 pm, Fisher Green Stage) – It’s everyone’s new favorite emcee! You can’t miss Wale, yo! I have his mixtapes in constant rotation on my iPod. Lyrically, he’s incomparable, but the honest truth is that his flow is only so-so. Doesn’t really matter, though, he shows more personality in half a verse than most rappers do on their entire albums. Plus his production is always top-notch.

De La Soul (Sat, 9:30 pm, Fisher Green Stage) – One of my top three favorite groups of all-time. What else can I say? You claim to love hip-hop? Then loving De La with all your mind, body, and soul is a requirement. Miss this show and you’re fakin’ it.

Dyme Def (Sun, 2:15 pm, Fisher Green Stage) – Got mad love for these local rap heroes. I could see these dudes blowing up nationally at some point. Brainstorm competed in the nationals at the Red Bull Big Tune beat battle last year. Their full-length debut, Space Music, was a break-through for Seattle hip-hop in that it was maybe the first legitimate mainstream-flavored (read: “commercial”) album to ever come out of our fair city.

Swollen Members (Sun, 5:00 pm, Rockstar Stage) – I heard they got hip-hop in Canada, too. This duo hails from our northerly neighbour, British Columbia. Other than that, I don’t know much about ’em. I do remember the joint, “Breathe,” they did with Nelly Furtado (also Canadian), which got my ass moving once or twice. When they perform live, do they do it in a theatre? (Canada jokes are funny, eh?)

Common Market (Sun, 5:45 pm, Fisher Green Stage) – You’ll see a lot of love for CM on this blog. RA Scion and DJ Sabzi are helping set the standard for Seattle hip-hop. Complex rhymes meet beautiful boom-bap. RA’s great on-stage, as well.

D. Black and Spaceman (Sun, 8:00 pm, EMP Sky Church) – D. Black is Seattle’s version of Biggie Smalls, natural and engaging on the mic; a true diamond from the South End. Spaceman is the eccentric court jester of Sportn’ Life. Together on stage they’re sure to get your hands up like the SPD. (Can’t wait for Black’s sophomore full-length, Ali’Yah, dropping 9.15.09. Honestly, I’m not a big fan of Spaceman.)

Macklemore (Mon, 12:30 pm, Fisher Green Stage) – Like Grynch, this cat’s an unlikely beast on the mic. I was definitely sleeping on Macklemore until I spent some honest time listening to The Language of My World. Conscious, introspective, and funny, the album’s a sly charmer. I’ve never seen him live. Next time, I guess.

The Knux (Mon, 1:30 pm, Samsung Mobile Mainstage) – I bought The Knux’s album, Remind Me in 3 Days, based solely on a glowing Rolling Stone review. I was a little disappointed because they spend too much time in rock/dance/techno territory for my taste. The track “FIRE (Put it in the Air),” was one of my favorite songs from ’08, though. I bet this crew is dope live.

The Black Eyed Peas (Mon, 3:00 pm, Samsung Mobile Mainstage) – Ugh. Yuck. Blecchh. Avoid at all costs! I wish the three original members of the crew would hop in the DeLorean and go back to 1998. Their debut, Behind the Front, was legitimate hip-hop. After they added Fergie and annoying pop sensibilities in 2003, it was “goodbye” backpackers and “hello” sell-out city. How disappointing.

Champagne Champagne (Mon, 4:45 pm, EMP Sky Church) – I’ve been meaning to check out their full-length debut, but can’t bring myself to spend the $10 on what might amount to mostly just a bunch of glamour-hop flash geared toward the hipster set. Emcee Pearl Dragon is an underground favorite of mine. I think Pearl’s powers as a solo emcee would reflect more of a pure hip-hop spirit, but who am I to criticize his endeavors as part of this collective? In any case, I’ve heard their live set kicks major skinny-jeaned ass!

I guess that about covers it. Bumbershoot is still over a month away, so you’ve got plenty of time to learn all the lyrics before you go. If you see will.i.am, please tell him that I’m very disappointed in the direction he’s taken the group. (I’m sure he’ll appreciate the constructive criticism.)

Peace!

Live Coverage Views From the Peanut Gallery

Queens Has its “Tribe,” Seattle has its Tribal.

I grew up in a very rural, somewhat isolated community in Washington State. It’s amazing to me that hip-hop music of the early to mid-nineties from Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx managed to reach my adolescent ears, especially given the facts that my house did not have MTV, high-speed internet was not yet available to Joe Consumer, and the number of radio stations in my town playing so-called “urban music” was limited to just one, that’s right: KUBE 93 — where you would be lucky to hear more than five different songs in one hour.

Yet even without the internet or cable TV, somehow I managed to get my hands on the earliest albums by groups like A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, and Black Sheep. Not surprisingly these are the groups whose music has endured for me, from age 13 to __ (age omitted). Why a relatively quiet, shy kid from the country felt some sort of connection to The Native Tongue Family’s brand of hip-hop is beyond me, but it has nonetheless become the gold standard that will define my taste in music forever.

All this to say, it wasn’t until much later that I learned of a group (actually more of a collective, composed of many different emcess and dj/producers) who was doing the same type of music, and located basically right in my own backyard.

Tribal Music was doing the jazz-inflected, alternative-style hip-hop similar to that of Quest and De La and all it would’ve taken for me to find them was a short trip down the I-5 corridor to the 206. I guess it’s not surprising that Tribal, a movement founded in a major metropolitan area, was influenced by those classic hip-hop acts in New York City, a place that defines the very word “metropolitan.” If Q-Tip could somehow manage to find his way into my bedroom speakers in rural Washington State, he damn sure was going to have an influence on a few cats in Seattle!

Still, the sound of A Tribe Called Quest was very specific to New York. When Tribal was doing its thing, there was no definitive “Seattle sound.” In fact, there was no nationally recognized Seattle hip-hop movement to speak of at all, unless you count the novelty that was “Baby Got Back.” (Which I don’t, by the way. Sir Mix-A-Lot, while certainly a pioneer in the Northwest rap music scene, did not constitute a legitimate “movement.” That is, unless you count the shaking of 10,000 assess at various wedding receptions across the country as a “movement.”)

I suppose the “movement” in Seattle was taking place where the best movements always begin: underground. Tribal Music was (and still is) definitively underground hip-hop.

Anyway, if you’re not hip to Tribal, then you’re in luck! Their 1996 compilation album, Do the Math, is available by FREE download here. I would contend that these guys did Native Tongue-style hip-hop almost as well as the founders themselves. It’s a shame they didn’t get more national shine for their work.

206dothemath

(Just one more thought: Hip-hop music is so often a very specific way of describing a very specific lifestyle in a very specific place. So why do so many people not affiliated with those specifics find such an affinity for it? Q-Tip and I were located at opposite ends of the country and at totally opposite ends of the lifestyle spectrum. I think maybe in the earliest years I was listening to Quest — and perhaps even to a greater extent groups like NWA — it was a purely voyeuristic experience that I was enjoying. Today, I can say that the rewards in listening to their music are different. There’s an actual desire to better understand the point of reference, the lives of the rappers that inspired the art. Hip-hop music, to me, is much more valuable today than it was yesterday.)

Downloads Views From the Peanut Gallery