Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Some favorite music of 2013

2013 was a strange year for me. But I have to say there is a lot of good music out there!

I was keeping it a bit low, here in New York, with a break for delightful excursions like my European tour and my amazing birthday party. I did a lot of work in the academic realm (two articles forthcoming, I hope, and two more on the way), had a few waves of DJ gigs, released the hello exile mix, and a dancehall/Black Atlantic mix with Robzilla, and a lot of regrouping and working with the crew I joined in 2013: Dutty Artz. I developed an interest in Uzbek pop music, courtesy of my pretty-much-monthly gig at the Rubin Museum of Asian Art. I had the chance to play a slew of gigs in Boston, New York, DC, Pittsburgh, Chicago, and San Francisco, as well as the aforementioned tour in Europe, meeting great people and learning about new music all the while.

Here are some musical favorites of the year: a list here and a discussion with more links below:

Albums & EPs (in no particular order)

Angel Haze - the 30 Gold freestyle series, the Dirty Gold album
Cakes Da Killa - The Eulogy
Alsarah & Debruit -  Aljawal EP
King - Koncepts EP
Walter Ego Baby Benz EP
Om Unit & Sam Binga - Small Victories EP
Machine Drum - the whole darn Vapor City project and remixes is pretty rich
Geko Jones & Atropolis - Palenque remixed
Uproot Andy - Worldwide Ting vol. 1 (although vol. 2 is no worse)

Singles (that I kept returning to all year) include:
Les Ya Toupas du Zaire - "Je Ne Bois Pas Beaucoup" (Jamnights 'In Zaire' Remix)  - hypnotic and happy
Mr Hmhmm (obrekuo) - "Non-Fa" - I think this came out in 2012 technically but whatever.
Batida - "Tribalismo" (Roulet Remix)
Milka La Mas Dura "Made in Villa Con" is this about bootleg fashion? I heart it even more if so.
La Insuperable feat. Chimbala - "Damelo"
Indrani "Street Life" on the Addicted Riddim.
Symbiz Sound - "Soundbwoy Dead" (feat. ZHI MC) a proper bashment tune, I'd love a special on this..
Stylo G - "Badd" feat. Sista Nancy (woy!)
Charly Black and J. Capri "Wine and Kotch" (that bass!) and don't miss the Que Bajo remix featuring 2Irie
Sliink remixing the Selvaticos (feat. Missy Elliot) "Stop me now" (pretty much everything I like in one song!)
MC Fernadinha - "Maceta" (DJ Comrade Remix)
Dutty Artz' own Atropolis and 2melo - "Mumbai" (I dunno, Bollywood Trap?)
Laura Low, Lemurr - Bengal Tyger (a good epic intro song)
The Clerk "Top Cat" - so hard to pick one of these remixes I love them all!
Trina "Beam"

Live shows:

While I don't go to see a lot of live bands, one band that has consistently impressed this year is Pegasus Warning, helmed by Guillermo Brown. They are taking soul and bass music to a romantic, witty, and occasionally thunderous place.

Almost against my will (I haven't been such a fan in the past), Machine Drum's "Vapor City" performance (and really the whole concept album) featuring a great percussionist and really good visuals, was an unexpected pleasure.

AlSarah, mentioned above for the EP with Debruit, was also a delightful live show with the band the Nubatones.

2013 saw (at least for me) a wave of rap music, especially local stuff, that I am excited to hear more of.
A clear front-runner is Angel Haze, whose album Dirty Gold is officially released today, after her battle with her label that led to her leaking it a week or so ago. I've been following her for a while, having included her track "Werkin Girls" on my Hello Exile mix last February. When she embarked on a 30 freestyles in 30 days, she was clearly heading to some stratospheric level of skill, in my book, with a great combination of rawness, lyrical skill, and some clever choices/interactions with the pop and hip-hop world. I haven't yet had time to let the album settle but there are already some clear killers on there for me and I look forward to more.

Another local favorite clearly on the upswing is Cakes Da Killa, whose album  The Eulogy way back in January was a revelation. I love the dark, creepy production, drawing on ballroom and other bass culture (including tweaked-out old jazz/swing references that to me echo Dajae-style Chicago house) - I'll be checking alllll the producers on that album, and I'm really feeling the aggressive, hilarious lyrics. Last week I was lucky enough to catch him performing and it was a proper show, fully accompanied by some amazing dancers channeling all of those references and scenes and more onstage -  the whole thing went to the next level - as well, his unexpectedly generous and confident stage presence was a pleasure to see. Good things coming for sure!

While I haven't seen enough from them to make any big predictions (rap not being my speciality anyway), I'll just say I'm excited about a crop of other folk out there in the NY area percolating like Dai Burger, Princess Nokia (Versace Hottie is such a great bouncy club tune), Jungle PussyNyemiah Supreme and Missy protégé Sharaya J. Wit, wordplay, style, taking no shit, raw female-centric sex raps and boasting, I like these themes! Also can't set aside Mykki Blanco, and Le1f doesn't need my help boosting, he's already hit a level and I can only raise a glass.

On the more pop side, a slept-on album was Eve's Lip Lock, which dropped to almost no press, despite having some standout tracks using a lot of bass music references (many that weren't dubstep!).
 I'm still glad M.I.A. is out there dropping albums and making videos, and I liked Matangi as an intervention into the pop scene although for the dancefloor my own tastes lean as much to the remixes (and Bring the Noize), and to her influence and choice of influences in pop music, especially booking Venus X to tour with her (a much better way for pop to suck inspiration from the underground -i.e. paying people from it- rather than Rihanna's weird uncredited "ghetto gothic" hashtag).  And I'm also happy for Janelle Monae's album in a similar way (especially QUEEN) although it's a bit too showtunes-y for me musically. While I'm not an R&B fan first, I'd be hard-pressed to deny Beyonce's recent brilliance, and actually kinda love a good number of her tracks and videos as much for their diversity and commitment - Yonce of course being my banger of choice, Blow for the Donna Summer tribute video and lyrical ode to oral sex, Grown Woman blending Ismael “Bonfils” Kouyaté with the future-present groundedness of the music, and Flawless because it is.

This year I was happy to see the continuing rise of Mike Q as a remixer, producer and one of the hardest working DJs, as well as a great crew of folks out of the Jersey Club scene (including new favorite DJ Uniique, can't wait to see more of her!).

Also on the dark bass tip, I've been so happy to see the resurgence of classic dark jungle references in new bass music - bringing back that chicago footwork jungle dynamic.. out of the new producers, Om Unit consistently impressed, and his live set was great fun. Walter Ego, bringing in the dark 2step vibes I can't get enough of. Alongside the EP,  "Set off" feat. Trim is a standout

On the Aljawal EP by Alsarah and Debruit. This Sudanese singer's voice.. I dunno... just check this Debruit +Alsarah track it's amazing go listen now: Alkoan Baladi

And of course I have to big up the Dutty Artz crew, who had a spectacular year. First of all so thrilled to see Dj Ushka explode on the DJ scene, she's kicking ass all over the place. Broadly thanks to the hard work of Chief Boima (also touring and Djing like mad, now on his way to Rio pending nuptials and the best pre-wedding/New Years Eve party ever), the Dutty Artz crew put out a slew of great work - including TWO Mixtape series! -  February's Mixtape Mondays, and then the 6 Years Deep mix series this month to celebrate Dutty Artz' 6th birthday and accompany the four-EP set. All the EPs and the mixes are great, and I love the theme of the 6 years deep mix series inspired by authors lighting up systems of global power. Big up Talacha for all the ill design this year too! While there are actually too many cool releases to list, I loved the Palenque remix album (it made the top 10 aboe!) and was especially happy that Old Money did their killer album Fire in the Dark and MPeach just released the Ritmo Loco EP! 2014 is going to blow up for us even more (there might even be a DJ Ripley production coming ssssshhhhhh)

 Mixpak label (especially big shouts to DJ Jubilee!) - whose radio/podcast series has been a must-have in my ears all through my commutes. Other labels consistently doing good things included Fade2mind and Seclusiasis (whose street bass anthems series always have hits for me) - through them I discovered King -  combination of grime and club music, totally bangin. I'm not alone, Mixmag loved his album, and "Animal Calypso" is just the kind of track I like to drop to change gears on the dancefloor

I haven't had a chance to do my favorite dancehall and soca tracks of the year, but as usual for soca Bunji Garlin won me over for the men, and Fay-Ann and Denise held it down for the ladies; I was feeling UK dancehall from Stylo G, and you still can't top Vybez for rawness and wit even from Jail, Konshens had some great tunes, while Macka Diamond won me over with a song for my birthday. Riddims like Full Throttle, Addicted, Stag, and for dancehall Dutty Fowl and Mad World brought in some throwback and some dark & spooky vibes

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