January 28, 2013

Awthentik and The FIF: Who Said You Can’t Pull Off Hip-Hop Live?

My favorite musical partner-in-crime and I decided spontaneously on a recent Thursday night to visit The 8x10 in Baltimore, MD to drop in on the local music scene.  Not knowing at all what to expect – perhaps the best way to discover new music – we watched rapper/producer/engineer Awthentik front a band called The FIF...and tear the little playhouse down!

My long-standing complaint about 99 percent of hip-hop artists – no matter what level of fame and notoriety they’ve achieved – is that they can’t pull it off live.  To hide their inability to perform live, most resort to bringing out an entourage of 35 of their closest buddies onstage and yelling shout-outs or the incessant and oh-so-original, “Wave yo’ hands in the air…”  At best (or is that worst?), they rap to pre-recorded backing tracks.  I’m looking at you, Kanye!

Awthentik and The FIF belong to that rare one percent.

As a rapper, Awthentik has all the flair, flow, and swagger of the biggest of ‘em – Jay-Z, Naz, Common, Q-Tip, etc.  The five-piece FIF, backing up the rhymes, are super-tight and super-funky and…here’s what sets them apart from most others playing in a small club….they sound HUGE without over-playing or sledgehammering you with sheer volume.  The FIF achieve the perfect laid-back-but-intense funk backdrop for Awthentik’s raps with just the right amount of modern-day keyboards/sampling over vintage Soul Train-worthy guitar, bass, and drums.

Awthentik’s website claims that his music “brings a fresh approach with a recognizable flavor from the ‘Golden Era’ of hip-hop.”  I have to disagree just a little bit because….when Awthentik and The FIF are rockin’ the party, this is the Golden era of hip-hop.

January 7, 2013

A Love Letter to 1975

Can anyone seriously make the claim that a particular year in music was better or more important than another?  Given the subjective nature of the subject, probably not.  At best, it makes for a great semi-drunken debate among your music-nerd friends. 

All that said, 1975 was the greatest year in modern music!

Sure, as in any other year, there was a lot of chart-topping pop cotton candy like Love Will Keep Us Together (Captain & Tennille) and Kung Fu Fighting (Carl Douglas).  However, 1975 also produced:  One Of These Nights (Eagles), Captain Fantastic & Brown Dirt Cowboy (Elton John), Physical Graffiti (Led Zeppelin), Born To Run (Bruce Springsteen), Blood On The Tracks (Bob Dylan), Venus & Mars (Paul McCartney & Wings), Welcome To My Nightmare  (Alice Cooper), Dark Horse (George Harrison), Rock & Roll (John Lennon), Blow By Blow (Jeff Beck), A Night At The Opera (Queen), Toys In The Attic (Aerosmith), Alive (KISS), Fleetwood Mac (Fleetwood Mac)…

I could actually go on, but you get the idea.  Just the albums I’ve listed are either one of the artists’ career bests or, in some cases, the start of an ascent to some of their best works.  Some of these albums also have proven to be seminal to an entire generation of musicians in the ensuing years.  If all this sounds like the hyperbolic love letter to a year in music from a writer getting on in years, then I defy you to look no further than your local Classic Rock or Oldies station.  Unlike almost any other year, songs from 1975 dominate the regular playlists of these stations on any given day in 2013.

Even bubble-gum pop reached an odd sort of zenith in 1975 in that an inordinate number of those songs has outlived their successors in the hearts and memories of people and with radio station program directors – Rhinestone Cowboy (Glen Campbell), My Eyes Adored You (Frankie Valli), Sister Golden Hair (America), Mandy (Barry Manilow), Cat’s In The Cradle (Harry Chapin) – are you singing some of these songs to yourself already?...

…And then there was disco.  By 1975, disco had reached underground phenomenon status and was just bubbling under the national consciousness, but hadn’t quite skyrocketed into the decadent Tony Manero-loving coke-fuelled stratosphere, and was still a few years from its inevitable Disco Duck-ie comedown.  Yet at the moment that the genre was about to reach the national zeitgeist, it produced some of its most stellar and longest-lasting hits…Love To Love You Baby (Donna Summer), Lady Marmalade (LaBelle), Jive Talkin’ (Bee Gees), Pick Up The Pieces (Average White Band), The Hustle (Van McCoy)…and if you're too young to know some of these songs by name, trust me, you'll recognize them within the first few notes of hearing them.      

Almost 40 years on, the midpoint of the much-maligned 1970s has all the feel of a watershed moment in music when even disposable pop still retained a sense of art and craftsmanship, and rock was at that very final and purely artistic moment before it all became a wholly-owned subsidiary of corporations.    

Sure, there’s been great music produced in the past four decades.  Even in today’s short-attention span, fractured, download culture, when albums are novel dinosaurs, great music is still being produced.  However, we may never see another year like 1975 when pop, rock, and even novelty hits, all seemed to reach a simultaneous crossroad of artistic merit, AM-Radio Gold, and polyester tail-feather shaking grooviness.