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An Album You Must Own: Sublime

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By Christian Romo

3/29/2011

It isn’t a good idea to idolize heroin addicts. Most of the people that saw Kurt Cobain’s arrival as the coming of the next prophet in the early 90’s are six feet under with the Nirvana singer himself. Musicians should never be placed on pedestals reserved for peacemakers and saints, especially when knowing all the risks, the drugs they ingested are what killed them.

Bradley Nowell is no exception. It’s easy to see why so many fans are turned off by Sublime, the second most important band from southern California (behind the Red Hot Chili Peppers), according to the two-headed monster KROQ. By the time his band’s major label debut and critically successful self-titled album came out, he was dead. He appears to have written more love songs for his Dalmatian Lou Dog than for anyone else. He smoked marijuana unapologetically and romanticized the seaside ghettos of Southern California. He certainly wasn’t popular among parents, and he was even discredited by his own fan base after a disastrous live tour following their debut album 40 oz. to Freedom

When you separate the bad from the beautiful, however, perceptions change dramatically. Going through the track list for their commercial smash, I count no less than eight different songs I have heard on California radio stations in my short lifespan, enough singles to fulfill three or four hit albums, much less one. While many focus on debauchery, substances, and irresponsibility, there is enough brief wisdom to fill a Zen gospel on life.

Their debut hit “What I Got”, besides being one of the happiest tunes of the decade, is overflowing with emotional prosperity (“life is too short/so love the one you got/’cause you might get run over/or you might get shot”). The anthemic “Jailhouse” gives the best case for the young and dejected I’ve ever heard. Bradley is an emotional writer, and if you can’t hear his urgency on their most famous track “Santeria”, there is no way you can be alive.

There’s plenty of disrespectful fun as usual for the Long Beach icons. “April 29th, 1992 (Miami)” describes a fictional riot during the Rodney King incident. “Wrong Way” and “Caress Me Down” had to go through some clever repackaging and heavy censorship to ride the airwaves, but both are classics in the neo-punk movement of the 90’s.

Besides writing about some challenging topics, Sublime became the mastheads for white reggae because they were competent musicians who knew what sounded good. Every bassline is prominent and silky smooth, every guitar solo pitch-perfect, and every drumbeat reminiscent enough of Peter Tosh and Bob Marley. On “Seed”, they effortlessly alternate amongst punk, reggae, and ska without losing any intensity, a challenge for the most poised musicians, much less beach rats.

At 17 songs and nearly an hour long, there are a few songs that could have been left off. “The Ballad of Johnny Butt” and “Burritos” are worth a listen but nothing else, while “Pawn Shop” and “Under My Voodoo” should have been nixed entirely. If you’re patient enough to get to the end, however, you will be treated with some beautiful work. “Get Ready” is the best hammock track on the album and the “What I Got” reprise happens to better than the single itself. Ending the already fantastic album is “Doin’ Time”, a staple of bonfires and beach parties and quite possibly the best summer song ever composed.

While you shouldn’t idolize heroin addicts, if they preach about love and happiness in poverty, by all means listen. Bradley Nowell is not a saint, but at times he sure sounds like one.

Written by cromo1969

March 29, 2011 at 8:49 pm

Posted in Music

In Remembrance: Nate Dogg

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By Daniel Gong

3/21/2011

On March 15, 2011, the world lost one of hip hop’s icons. Nathaniel Dwayne Hale, known as “Nate Dogg,” who made his presence during the G Funk era, passed away from several health complications. Nate Dogg had suffered two strokes over the last few years and was in the process of rehabilitation until he succumbed to congestive heart failure.

Nate Dogg was born on August 19, 1969 in Long Beach, California, where he met and befriended hip hop legend Snoop Dogg. Only a few years after, the duo teamed up with Warren G in 1991 to form their group known as “213.” After debuting on Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, Nate Dogg signed with Death Row Records in 1993. In addition to his four solo studio albums, such as G-Funk Classics: Vol. 1 & 2 and Music & Me, Nate Dogg has worked with some of hip hop’s biggest names such as Tupac Shakur, Dr. Dre, Warren G, Xzhibit, Eminem, and many others.

His unique soulful voice made Nate Dogg an icon of 90’s rap. Although he was not as publicly acclaimed as his counterparts, Nate Dogg has influenced hip hop just as much, if not more, than his partners at Death Row Records. His death has touched many artists as tributes from Eminem, Snoop Dog, Daz Dillinger, Warren G, Ice-T, Ludacris, and many others, have poured in. The Game has already released a track in Nate Dogg’s honor entitled “All Doggs Go To Heaven (RIP Nate Dogg).” As Snoop Dogg said “We have lost a true legend in hip hop and R&B.”

Written by cromo1969

March 21, 2011 at 3:37 pm

Posted in Music

An Album You Must Own: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

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By Christian Romo

3/21/2011

The first minute or so of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill seems innocent enough. A teacher calls roll in a classroom and all of the children are present except for a young Lauryn Hill. The rest of the album is dedicated to her “miseducation” by omission. Attending a spontaneous grammar school lecture about love may have robbed her of the material that created this wonderful album, but it also may have given her the wisdom to avoid the tumultuous romantic events of her life. After all, there is only one Lauryn Hill album, and as great as it is, no artist should be reduced to one piece of work.

Although the album is considered the crowning achievement of the neo-soul movement of the 1990’s, it can also claim the title of one of the best records of the 90’s and one of the best female solo records ever. It’s hard to imagine any artist as talented or conflicted as Hill, one of the few that can flow and belt with the best of the best. Her opener “Lost Ones” shows a Missy Elliot confidence and the ability to shred any male challenger to pieces with her strength, wordplay, and insight.

“Ex-Factor” is a heart-wrenching and simultaneously beautiful song that presents a songwriting talent matched only by the most pitiful in the music industry. “To Zion” is her heart-over-matters blast of feminism that is equally praiseworthy and disappointing (she has stopped recording due to her duties as a parent).

As the album continues, pieces of the lecture on love are interspersed between songs making it seem as if the tracks themselves are the filler to the simple childlike wisdom on love. “When it Hurts So Bad” and “Nothing Even Matters” are Hill’s consequences of her unexplained truancy, and though it seems she has learned her lessons (through “Doo Wop (That Thing)” her #1 single), she had to go through an immeasurable amount of pain to attain them.

Songs like “Every Ghetto, Every City” and “Doo Wop (That Thing)” are endlessly fun and show that Hill has the ability to spread her gospel through the boomboxes of the city and the nationwide waves of Clear Channel. Her rapping talent is spread throughout, notably on the haunting “Final Hour” and the swaying “Superstar”, and her voice, though not at a diva level, can be simply beautiful at times.

Between “Doo Wop (That Thing)” and “Superstar” is the most important line of the album: “There’s a difference between loving someone and being in love with them”. Delivered by any ten-year old girl your imagination creates, it props up the energy and leaves the lecturer speechless. It’s the centerpiece of the album, and though Hill does an admirable job of trying to match that girl’s bliss, her impressive endeavor can’t help but land short.

Some other noteworthy tracks include “Everything is Everything” and “Forgive Them Father”, but her most impressive effort is her cover of “Can’t Take My Eyes off You”. It’s full of the passion that Frankie Valli lacked when he first recorded the American standard, and Hill’s version far surpasses his and the hundreds of covers made since.

As was the problem of many classic 90’s albums, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is way too long to listen to in one sitting. Fortunately, like the Gospel, there is no one way to take it in. Shuffling the tracks or even picking and choosing when and what you listen to will prove to be just as gratifying as weathering it from cover to cover. Lauryn Hill is not Jesus Christ, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she is the one who understands his pain and love the best.

Written by cromo1969

March 21, 2011 at 3:26 pm

Posted in Music

Album Review: The King of Limbs

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By Christian Romo

3/1/2011

Expectations are always high for the greatest band in the universe, but the energy surrounding the release of The King of Limbs, Radiohead’s eighth studio album, seemed suspiciously subdued. After the biggest social experiment/gimmick in digital music history brought their 2007 album In Rainbows to new heights, there seemed to be very little left for Thom Yorke and company to offer.

After another four year gap between albums, the band’s website last Monday announced the release of an eight-song LP for the end of the week. There is no “pay what you want” option; you have to shell out a reasonable nine dollars to obtain the music. For a small fortune, you could purchase what is being called the first “Newspaper Album”, complete with the album in every format imaginable packed with hundreds of pictures, news clippings, and goodies that no one will know until it ships in late Spring. Until then, we only have the digital form of the album.

And oh, what an album it is. As underwhelming as it was, In Rainbows seemed to be a return to form for the band, and The King of Limbs is a marked improvement.

The opener “Bloom” feels like the score for a modern rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and although it’s not a classic Radiohead opener, it catches the listener’s attention better than “15 Step” or “2 + 2 = 5” ever did. “Morning Mr. Magpie” is dull and a bit evocative of their previous efforts, but it is the only valley in an album with numerous peaks.

The band is composed of some of the best musicians around, but the real star is Phil Selway on the drums, who constructs and presents such complicated but enjoyable beats with precision. The album seems to be produced tightly in order to allow Selway’s ability on his kit to shine.

“Little by Little” demonstrates a godly reluctance to guitar riffs and Yorke’s trademark backhanded compliments (“I’m such a tease, you’re such a flirt”). The only reasonable single, “Lotus Flower”, is mesmerizing. The hooks are among their best in a decade and Yorke’s falsetto, though incomprehensible, is like honey.

 “Feral” and “Codex” are fresh and worth a listen, but the most striking originality can be found on “Give up the Ghost”. With their one requisite song featuring an acoustic guitar, Yorke shows a vulnerable side we haven’t seen in ages. It’s haunting, revealing, and the song that will wear out your repeat button (if those still exist).

The album’s closer “Separator” is as uplifting as anything released within the last year. Selway kicks it off with a line worthy of a pantomime and by the time guitarist Johnny Greenwood joins in with his melody, it feels like a song a monk would burn onto a mix CD. It feels like transcendence itself, and the album ends with two possible reactions. One: you wish Radiohead would spend four years making an album longer than your average cartoon episode. Two: you’re glad they didn’t, because it seems unreasonable to expect something better than this.

The King of Limbs is not going to make any publication’s “Greatest Albums” list, but it is further evidence that after 20 years the greatest band in the universe has yet to show any signs of deterioration. B+

Written by cromo1969

March 1, 2011 at 4:44 pm

Posted in Music

Where Do Beats Come From?

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by Daniel Gong

2/14/2011

In an era of music where synthesized instrumentation floods our radios, music production has never been more important. In today’s music industry, the quality of the beats, or song instrumentals, is perhaps the most important aspect of a song that catches the listener’s ear. The beat has to be catchy, yet with enough variation to keep the listener interested. Where do these beats come from, then?

From a simplistic aspect, artists choose from a massive pool of beats from many music producers. Although most famous artists have production contracts with well known producers, such as Kanye West and The Neptunes, some of these artists pick beats from small, unknown producers. For example, the beat for “We Made You” by Eminem was found on a producer network website. Since Eminem liked what he heard, he purchased the license for the beat and put out the hit single.

How much exactly do these beats cost? For smaller producers who license their beats from small websites, the full rights to a beat are generally a few hundred dollars. However, for some of the industry’s biggest producers, such as Dr. Dre, beats can cost several hundred thousands of dollars. For example, Mary J. Blige purchased the beat for her hit “Family Affair” for $500,000 from Dr. Dre. In addition, Dr. Dre collected over $2,000,000 in royalties, a percentage of the song’s revenue, just for that single. Yes, Mary J. Blige did make millions off of her hit, but it was at a high cost. With beats at such a high price, it can be a very risky investment for an artist. Sometimes an artist is unable to break even from the costs of the beat among many other expenses.

Unfortunately, much of music politics plays a role, so many artists forgo handpicking their own beats for their songs. There are artists who produce much of their own music, such as Kanye West and Soulja Boy. However, most artists rely on the various music producers for their instrumentals. Unfortunately, while artists receive such high acclamation and attention, the importance of the producer is overlooked. While most people can name a long list of artists, they can only name a handful of music producers. All in all, it is important to understand the long process and the many people involved in a song’s success. The artist is often the face of their success, but it is important not to forget the music producers, promoters, managers, and the many others that make it all work.

Written by cromo1969

February 14, 2011 at 3:41 pm

Posted in Music

The Halftime Show

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In a move that should have been executed years ago, the Super Bowl officials finally invited the Black Eyed Peas to entertain for the halftime show. After years of snooze-worthy classic rock (minus Bruce Springsteen, who was phenomenal) they finally wised up and brought in a group with energy.

Although it’s hard to think of an act more fitting to the Super Bowl than the Peas, they were better than previous years, but completely underwhelming. All of the costumes, except for Fergie’s, were cheesy and the vocals robotic. The addition of Slash was not necessary, though I was pleasantly surprised by Usher descending from the scoreboard.

The dancing box-heads at the end were fun, but overall, they could have done better. Let’s just hope they don’t revert back to fifty year olds with guitars.

Written by cromo1969

February 9, 2011 at 10:19 pm

Posted in Music

Hip-Hop Sound of the Underground

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By Daniel Gong

2/1/11

When people hear the term “underground” music, they generally think of artists who remain in the “underground” because they are not skilled enough to sign to a major label and “make it big.” Although song concepts vary in all directions, generally underground artists create music that expresses who they are and what they believe in, whether it is on social issues, political issues, etc. Though the underground scene is present in all genres of music, I will be focusing on underground hip-hop.

Despite not being mainstream, underground hip hop presents rap music of all moods and styles, from the speedy flow of Tech N9ne to the gritty sound of Vinnie Paz. The underground contains an infinite number of extremely talented rappers, most who will go unknown to the general public. How can such talent be limited to the ears of underground fans?

Artists, such as Lil Wayne and Soulja Boy, are mainstream because they are signed to major labels, which focus on providing music that is popular to the public, hence the term “pop.” However, with immense amounts of money at stake, labels direct artists to create music that is easiest to market. These mainstream artists are played on the radio, and although they reflect but a fraction of hip hop music, many never hear anything else. Many people define hip hop music based on only one of the many aspects of the music.

So why do people stay in the underground? They choose to remain independent to continue making music they love and do not allow money to interfere. This is not to say that artists in the mainstream do not make music they love, but just that some artists choose to continue their music, which does not always follow the trends of the music industry. These trends however affect underground hip hop as well, as some rap may be coined “underground” in different eras.

However, staying in the underground does present many hardships for artists and producers alike. As a member of the underground scene, I have encountered numerous artists who are suffering from financial woes while continuing to create the music they love. I have the utmost respect for these artists who stay true to their styles, despite the many obstacles. As hard as it may be to be financially successful in the underground, many artists have done so. Some of the underground’s biggest artists, to name a few, like Tech N9ne, Jurassic 5, Brother Ali, all live very successful lives; both financially and musically. So the next time, try the underground music scene and perhaps you will like something you’ve never heard before.

Written by cromo1969

February 1, 2011 at 3:42 pm

Posted in Music