Showing posts with label K'naan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label K'naan. Show all posts

Sep 1, 2020

Hidden Gems: Joshua James, K'Naan, John Popper, Hanna-McEuen

I have a Spotify playlist called Hidden Gems and it’s one of my favorites to return to a couple times a year. There’s no genre distinction, no particular theme; these are just great songs that are generally unknown. There are killer songs from well known artists who weren’t as popular at the time of release, amazing tunes from artists who flamed out before they ever got over, forgotten gold, little heard gems from stalwarts, and just damn good songs not many people have heard. I’m going to pick a few of these from time to time to spotlight. 

Joshua James “Coal War”

“Coal War,” from Joshua James’ 2009 album Build Me This, starts out as almost a call and response blues song like you’d hear on Alan Lomax field prison recordings. Later on, it takes flight as a gospel rocker with a huge crescendo, before returning to the “I’ve been working on the railroad” bit. It’s very effective and pretty unique. The rest of James’ discography has not grabbed me as hard, but this is a hell of a song. “Coal War” was used on the show Sons of Anarchy and appeared on its second soundtrack. Take note, pop country. (Not that this is in any way related to pop country) This is how you do clap beats. 

Hanna-McEuen “Ocean”
Simple and gorgeous, “Ocean” is a plaintive folk-pop song about settling down, mentally and literally. Hanna-McEuen’s gentle harmonies carry the song, but it’s all about the vibe. This is a “close your eyes and meditate on kicking back in a beach chair and letting the waves lap at your feet” kind of song without any of the Buffett and Zac Brown Band cheesiness. A true hidden gem, “Ocean” was released as a single to country radio in 2005 but did not chart. The duo peaked at 38 and 56 respectively with their other singles “Something Like a Broken Heart” and “Tell Me.” They disbanded in 2007. McEuen now records as a solo act, while Hanna plays with both Gary Allan and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band as guitarist. (Both Hanna and McEuen are sons of Nitty Gritty Dirt Band co-founders)

K’NAAN “Fatima”
K’NAAN is a Somalian-born singer, songwriter, and rapper who has had moderate success in the US and UK. His song “Wavin’ Flag” was the official song of the 2010 World Cup. “Fatima” from the same 2009 album was never released as a single, but it has had the most lasting effect on me. It’s a sorrowful but musically uplifting true story. K’NAAN was born in Mogadishu and became close friends with a girl next door. Not long before he was granted a VISA to the United States, she gave him a letter written in English to wish him well and encourage him to learn the language. Mere days after arriving in the US, he heard that she’d been shot and killed. This is a beautiful tribute to her. It’s jaunty, catchy, thought-provoking, and most of all, full of heart. 

John Popper & The Duskray Troubadours “Champipple”
Just good ol’ dumb fun. Popper, lead singer of Blues Traveler, lets himself get loose with this side project band and “Champipple” is the best of the bunch. If you’re not in the know like the rest of us Fred G. Sanford fans, champipple is a sweet concoction made of champagne and ripple. This is John Popper’s ode to this delightful beverage that’s “almost free.” The song is silly, easy going, and danceable. It reminds me of something Shinyribs might put out. Kick back and enjoy! 

Feb 20, 2011

Sackpunch #14

Any Person Who Says Hip-Hop Isn't Music Deserves a Sackpunch

I'm probably going to step on the toes of a lot of friends and readers with this one, but it's got to be said. Rap, hip-hop, whatever you want to call it, is an entirely valid and artful genre of music. Yes, music. Read this definition carefully.
music |ˈmyoōzik|
1 the art or science of combining vocal or instrumental sounds (or both) to produce beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion : he devoted his life to music.
Obviously, hip-hop combines vocals and instrumentals. "Beauty" is subjective, but rap definitely has form. In fact, most rap songs conform to a more stringent form than other genres – 16 bar verses, anyone? Harmony? Rap songs often have background singers or rappers weaving their own vocals around and with the main vocalist. Expression of emotion goes without saying. I could end this piece here. The dictionary entry alone proves my point. Some of you need a little more convincing though (not that the most persuasive argument ever written could change some minds).

I'm not somebody who ever plays the race card, but there's an undeniable racial component to some people's aversion to hip-hop. Black people came up with the first rap songs. So what? Black people came up with the first blues songs and the first rock n' roll songs. They also had a hand in inspiring the earliest country music. Another culture may have created the vehicle, but it's an art form that can translate across bodies of water and colors of skin. The most popular (and arguable most talented) rapper is white.

Beyond race, people have other reasons…

They're just talking, you say. Wrong. They are talking in rhythm, with carefully considered syllables and rhyme. They're talking in a way that fits the tone of the lyric. They're talking in a way that mirrors the background instrumentals. They're talking with well considered word choice, using metaphors and similes. They're using cadence to draw you in and emphasis to denote the important points and emotions. If they're just talking – most people can do so – you try it. Let me know how that turns out.

But they just use canned beats and samples, you say. Wrong. Okay, partially wrong. Many rappers these days are working with bands and musicians live and on record. Have you ever seen a hip-hop artist on Saturday Night Live just standing on the stage with a mic and some speakers? Even the most studio-produced music these days includes guitars or other instruments alongside the beats, scratches and whatnot. And who's to say canned beats aren't music? It takes a lot of musical skill to blend the right tracks together to come up with an ear-pleasing arrangement of drums and accompaniment.

Rap songs all sound alike. Nope. That's a cop-out. Country songs all sound the same to non-fans. To be fair, the most commercial music does tend to run together in a sea of familiarity and milquetoast, but that's true in any genre. Hip-hop runs the gambit, sound and content-wise.

K'naan blends pop and rock into his brand of hip-hop, and raps about love, politics and the problems of his home country, Somalia. He even has some singsongy tracks that most wouldn't even call rap. I dare you to listen to Wavin' Flag or Fatima and not nod your head.

Alabama's Yelawolf, newly signed to Eminem's record label, has a country and classic rock bent. Not hick-hop, mind you, straight up hip-hop that sounds authentically countrified. He talks about the problems of the rural south, broken relationships and economic hardships. Gone will grab your ear from the start.

Cypress Hill, still around, mixes Latino and rock music into their signature sound. Crime and drugs are the focus of their lyrics, but usually in a personal and often humorous manner.

Notice I didn't say any of these artists rapped about bling and booty. Sure, they all get into sex and materialism, but they don't linger on these cliched subjects, like the most visible and commercially viable rappers tend to do.

Like any style of music, you've got to dig around a little to find the best and most creative of the bunch, but it's always worth the effort. Surface is surface. The deeper artists are below the water level.

Yeah, I get that hip-hop just isn't for everybody. That's understandable; everybody's got their own preferences in life and music. But if you're an open-minded fan of art and music, there is some hip-hop that will appeal to you.

For those with a realized or subconscious racial reasoning behind their dislike of rap, or those who won't even give it a chance or those who still say it's not music… you should pull up your Dickies and get ready. My fingers are clinched, my knuckles are white (my soul is colorblind), and a house of pain is coming your way… boom, sackpunch!


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