Recycled Rock N Roll

Recycled Rock N Roll

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Junior Toots - Music

Real reggae only comes from Jamaica. Don't get me wrong, the music that ends up making it's way to far-off places like the U.S. or the U.K. is swell, but unless the artist was born, raised, and/or cut his teeth in the homeland in or around Kingston, it's cool but it's not the genuine deal. I enjoy Hawaiian reggae and the American bands that I've heard throughout my career as a second-rate rock journalist, but when I listen to cuts from dudes like Peter Tosh, Junior Murvin or from groups like Burning's like comparing light sockets to lightning bolts.

That's not to bash other artists who aren't blessed enough to be performing anywhere near the city of Kingston. Hey, if you are rockin' roots reggae as hard as you can somewhere out of a smokey bar in Tokyo, Japan, go for it. But reggae, like punk music, demands that it either have an air of authenticity, or be heir to some real authenticity, otherwise anyone listening to the genre can tell instantly that it's garbage. If you hear bad reggae, it's probably the jingle to an obnoxious ad campaign, and that's not music...that's Babylon, man.

It does not get more OG reggae than Junior Toots, who had named his own style "original roots." The artist knows all about the term because he was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, and his father is no one else than the legendary Toots Hibbert of the band Toots and the Maytals. If you didn't know that the father of Junior Toots is responsible for the name of the genre (1968's Do the Reggay by Toots and the Maytals made the term so popular it became permanent), now you do.

Junior Toots has walked well in the footsteps of his elders. One of his early albums, Reggae Got Soul, is a far more sophisticated, far more sublime work of reflexive skill than you'd expect from some young dude who hasn't had enough life experience to be that good just yet. You can tell that the man didn't just hear the conversation, music and teachings of the older artists that undoubtedly affected his early interest in music...he listened, too.

The lineage of reggae goes back all the way to Africa. If you listen, too, you can hear the same rhythms, melodies and up-tempo beats you'd find in modern American rock and roll, including artists that took ska and ran with it like The Police or Operation Ivy (ok, Op Ivy is more ska-core than anything else, but you get my point). Junior Toots has got something sweet with his own original roots sound, which is a smooth yet sophisticated composition of roots-reggae, ska and dancehall.

Any great artist takes the music around him and makes it his (or her) own, whether it's a fundamental tweak, a stylistic interpretation, or some other unique characteristic. You know what I mean...AC/DC and the Rolling Stones are both rock and roll bands, but when you compare them to each other the differences are obvious. Led Zeppelin is technically rock and roll, too, but they went to places other bands that call themselves rock and roll have never gone.

While Toots has a personal charisma that shines through his sound and underlines its uniqueness, he still knows what makes reggae good. His father, Toots Hibbert, spent a lot of time with his son while recording music with his band in Kingston, and the influence was a positive one. “I went to rehearsals and studio recording sessions when I was really young," he says. "I also recorded some music with him at an early age so the music is in my blood.”

Junior Toots demonstrates this sanguine sonic connection all throughout his new album, A Little Bit of Love. The album is certainly worth touring over. His personal combination of philosophy and reggae are on perfect display here, with tracks like "Puss and Dog," a quietly clever song about both being as fast and wise as a cat, so you don't end up in jail. Part of that strategy also involves keeping the peace by knowing when to run, something any street player can understand.

Another track, "Physically Spiritually," is a pure message of togetherness the world needs to hear, more. A sweet song, it preaches the wonder of diversity and the miracle of unity. “We need to encourage each other to do well and to stay healthy, mentally, physically and spiritually,” Toots says. Love is a big feature of reggae, and it's always cool to have something positive to play for the party.

You can tell from his songs and interviews that Junior Toots is an artist influenced as much by his benevolence as he is by the desire to make a living playing reggae. He likes to create what he calls, "conscious music."  “When I say conscious music, I mean my lyrics are aware of the needs of everyone: The need to be connected to nature and to other cultures besides your own," Toots says. "I hope my music encourages people to put away their egos and make intentions to heal, to love, and to care. Conscious means to come together.”

You can buy A Little Bit of Love right here.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Esko - Music

Esko is a hip-hop artist with his own unique mood, message and sound. Before he came to Los Angeles, California from Raleigh, North Carolina in 2010, the emcee grew up in New Jersey with a mother that didn't want her son choosing LP's over textbooks, so he didn't start messing with the music until the age of 15, thanks to good friends and an easy-to-hide Walkman CD player.

“It was something fun to do between classes,” Esko remembers. “Me and my homie would write during class and then have little battles and compare verses. It grew from funny joke verses to little songs.”

Once he found rap, the self-professed class clown put his humor and imagination to work, composing rhymes about who he was, where he lived and what he knew. Years later Esko is laughing all the way to the studio, living and working in sunny Southern California where the young artist is still writing music about the life he lives.

The Seed is Esko's second album, and it's a perfect combination of experienced poise and youthful energy, which is what you'd expect from and artist who's a veteran to the industry but still comparatively new. His lyrics, beats and rhythms come from a very different place than many of his local contemporaries, and it shows. Drawing influences from such diverse talents as Andre 3000, Method Man and Eminem, Esko is a hip-hop musician operating in Los Angeles without sounding like every other artist in L.A.

In 2006 Esko released Behind the Shades, his first album. A fluid combination of sounds reminiscent of acts like Pink Floyd, Portishead and rap artists from across the spectrum, 'Shades was followed up by an EP entitled The Floor Model in 2009. Along the way he forged new connections, practiced his form and perfected his method, but it would be three years before the world would get another LP from Esko.

There's something magical about that second album. Nirvana had Nevermind. The Smashing Pumpkins had Siamese Dream. Esko's next creation, The Seed, has a similar energy, largely because the artist has had enough life experience since 'Shades to forge his next album from some serious psychological mettle and give it an incisive, philosophical edge.

"The seed has to grow towards the light," Esko says about The Seed. A ten song analysis of what the emcee has seen and experienced over the last few years, you get the impression that the artist has flown far and wide only to hit the ground and have to start over many times during his career, but the spirit of rejuvenation has served him well, and The Seed is an album with layers and levels that anyone who's grown up tough can relate to.

Set for release on August 23, 2012, The Seed is serious fun in addition to being a work of mature thought. There's a yin and a yang to everything, and any rap album that bangs the same emotional gong over and over again ain't going to last long. Thankfully, Esko has had enough life experience to know that pain + time = humor, a formula any stand up comic can relate to. Hate, anger, pain, fun, laughter...they are all ingredients for Esko's banquet, and he serves it up with aplomb.

Produced by Sean Lane, whom Esko met while attending a university in North Carolina, The Seed has a sleek sound that only gets gritty when it has to underscore a message. Along with Lane's technical expertise, the album also has artists like Q-Smith, CAV3 and J-Kits to help pack more power into the LP's punch. Whether you're new to rap or you've heard it all, Esko has served up an audio gourmet feast everyone can enjoy.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Kottonmouth Kings (2012 Interview) - Music

While they have often been imitated, no other band has been able to match the punk rock attitude, hip-hop style, and ferocious independence of the Kottonmouth Kings. Since the release of Royal Highness in 1998, Brad X, Johnny Richter, DJ Bobby B, Lou Dog, The Dirtball, Dustin Miller and the rest have delivered album after album of highly-stylized, deliciously unique music for audiences who crave something too controversial for the mainstream.

The group was first formed in Placentia, California in 1994. Orange County is a place of surf and sand, but like any other city there’s guns and drugs along with the good times. Those good times can involve marijuana, a subject that can be too taboo for radio, which is how the band ended up owning and operating their own independent studio to make their own music, something Brad X is glad they did.

“It gives us total creative freedom,” he says. “We do it all on our own terms. The band and I have a full set-up including cameras, a green screen, recording equipment and everything we need to produce and mix our own records. We do it all ourselves.”

Brad X

This do it yourself attitude is a hallmark of the punk music movement, ever since Richard Hell starting decorating his clothes with black markers, rips and safety pins. Decades later, not relying on the mainstream means relying on your own wit and resources, something the Kottonmouth Kings have always done.

“I first got my exposure to music because of punk rock. Do it yourself has always been how we do things. Technology has really leveled the platform for independent artists like us. It’s still the Wild West out there on the Internet,” Brad X says.

2011’s Sunrise Sessions was a smash. More dedicated to cruising than rocking, fans and critics alike gave the melodic, almost introspective album lavish revues. A year later, do they feel like they have a hard LP to follow?

“The recording of that album went on for almost two years. It started out as an acoustic, completely organic production. It definitely had a slower vibe because we were setting out to make a more mellow record.” Brad X says.

In contrast, their latest album, Mile High (to be released on August 14th) is calculated to be a barn burner. “This one is a complete polar opposite. We have slamming beats, big rhymes, huge jams…its Kottonmouth Kings on steroids,” Brad X reports. “We’ve been working with this new type of bass, it has a really powerful, original sound to it, and it’s going to blow stereo systems away.”

While the ‘Kings enjoyed creating Sunrise Sessions, Brad X admits it might have given some fans the wrong impression. “I think maybe people thought that as we were evolving and becoming more melodic we were also getting too mellow.” Mile High is a scorching reminder that the group is still aggressive. “We still have a lot of fire, a lot of passion. We have a long way to go. Sunrise Sessions was cool. It was a left jab, but Mile High is a right hook.”

Brad X reports that the album will show a big punk rock influence combined with dubstep, reggae and rock. The Kottonmouth Kings has spent hours perfecting the beats, jams and bass lines that will end up in the album, inviting artists like Saint Dog, Twiztid, and Mickey Avalon to get in on the action.

“There are eighteen tracks on this album,” Brad X says. “The beats are just insane with this one. We have a couple of punk tracks like the song, ‘This Addiction,’ and hard slammin’ party songs like ‘Roll It Up.’ There’s another heavy song called ‘Boom Box’ that we just shot a video for."

It’s great when your favorite band puts out another LP, but you always want more of the same to go along with some of the new. “As much as Mile High is turbo-charged, the overall sound and lyrics is still vintage ‘Kings,” Brad X says. “It’s progressive, though, and the guest artists introduced many new elements to the album.”

The Kottonmouth Kings have put a lot of new elements into their tour as well, Brad X is proud to report, from the scary stylings of Prozac to the underground hard-hitting power of Big B. There’s even a jolt of country hip-hop thanks to The Moonshine Bandits.

“We are always pushing ourselves to keep from being stagnant,” Brad X says. “I’m not really big on nostalgia. I’m really into embracing the future, living for today, but going through it all and then looking back at our past to get something out of it.”

The artist is serious about his statement. The band has been through a lot together, including failures and successes, but Brad X acknowledges that the pain has made them all stronger. “Some of us have lost friends and family, but we’ve also traveled the world and have had great experiences. All of that is reflected in our show. Music gives us resilience and perseverance.”

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Montage One and "Beat2Def" - Music

The news that Montage One had just released an original single from his next album onto the hip-hop scene is good, indeed. He’s representative of the new breed of rap artist where innovative sounds, literary-worthy lyrics and unique vision are parts to the whole machine. I feel bad saying it, but with lesser artists, it's common to end up with two out of three.

By that I mean Montage One stands out from the impressive population of hip-hop artists out here in California because with his music, it’s not just the words, as much as I like them. Sure, with Montage One lyrical excellence is pretty much a given. Hip-hop is defined by rap, which is delineated by poetic genius. If you cannot compose rhymes that reference modern concepts listeners can relate to in fresh and inventive ways, you will be lost against the thousands of other voices that sound just like you who are also operating in the industry.

“Beat2Def,” Montage One’s latest single, is a solid piece of work. The title alone is worth the price of admission. “Beat2Def.” I’m going to beat you to death. Better yet, these beats are def. No, wait, these beats are so def that you will literally have your music sensibilities beat to death by the power of this song’s coolness. Better yet, on one hand this song has beats, but on the other hand it's def. Word up to Montage One for bringing back one of my favorite 80's hip-hop slang terms. 

But “Beat2Def” is also a solid song, even without the lyrics. I’m a listener who has been enjoying this stuff since Yo! MTV Raps. I was jamming to Easy E in junior high. Kool Mo Dee still makes me become very quiet out of sheer respect for the magnitude of philosophy he put into every rhyme he wrote. Sure I love the Beastie Boys, but I really wish people talked about 3rd Bass more. I remember buying Ice-T’s singles on cassette tape at Music Plus, when they came in little cardboard boxes wrapped in plastic. You gotta work hard to impress my experienced tastes, sorry.

So I was very pleased with how Montage One’s single delivered because of the instant, classical vibe it expressed in the first few seconds. I mentioned old-skool rap in the last paragraph to underline how pleased I was with hearing ice cold, completely groovy, 70's funk-worthy organ tones with so much soul all you can do is listen.

At that point the song could probably jet across the stratosphere on it's own, but the MC's choice to throw in 80's-worthy scratching effects was impressive. I was suddenly back in junior high, listening to Herbie Hancock's "Rockit." Remember how fucking cool that song was the first time you ever heard it? That's ok because with "Beat2Def" the scratch is back, a parallel and contrast to the luscious tones coming out of the synthesizers. Producer Jlisted has done some great engineering, here, and the diligence shows. 

This was gratifying because when it comes to singles, there are rules. It has to be representative of what the artist has done and can do. When "Shadrach" came out as a single before Paul's Boutique, you knew the Beastie Boys were making a promise to you that their album was going to keep. I remember listening to "Higher Ground" before Mother's Milk came out, relieved that the Red Hot Chili Peppers next record was going to rock.

Let's face it, we like the artists we listen to and all of us attempt to preach accordingly. I had a few friends over, and to show off Montage One I blasted "Beat2Def" as loud as the rattling windows would allow. They were totally won over by what they were hearing. A proper single should do that.

Ras Kass and Guilty Simpson brings some serious heavy artillery to the song, too. This is in addition to the cuts being performed by DJ Revolution. Part of why "Beat2Def" has so much power is because of the talent that's been packed into it. You have to respect lyrics that combine references to Nebuchadnezzar, the regenerative power of amphibians and the prowess of MMA superstar Randy Couture, plus flying saucers. You probably have to replace the batteries on your thesaurus after composing something like that.

If the single is a promise of things to come, 10.6.3 OGX looks guaranteed to make it one hot autumn. The LP is set for release on September 11, 2012. If you like what you hear, you can find it all here.