Wednesday, May 14, 2008

RJD2 Live

Back in Nov/Dec of 2007 I wrote some commentary panning RJD2's "The Third Hand" - his latest installment. I kind of rescind my comments - I saw him live at Paradise in Boston on May 3 and "The Third Hand" came to life for me that night - and I actually had a chance to tell him quickly after the show. It all makes sense to me now too - I did some more digging and realized his first albums (progressive and fairly experimental trip-hop) were released on the Definitive Jux label which hosts more independent hip-hop artists such as Aesop Rock, Mr. Lif and C-Rayz Walz (heard of em? let me know if you haven't and I'll hook you up with some music - they're great).

So anyway, RJ is now with XL Recordings which releases the likes of Beck, Vampire Weekend, Tapes 'n' Tapes and the Raconteurs. This is a HUGE departure from Def Jux, and "The Third Hand" is a HUGE departure from RJD2's previous albums. I still like "Deadringer" and "Since We Last Spoke" more than Third Hand, but RJ did rock out on stage in between classics such as The Horror and Chicken Bone, and some improv Mario Bros soundtracks. He really showed some versatility, and he brought his creativity on the turntables to his guitar playing and general stage presence.

It was very cool too - at the end of the show he sat at the front of the stage and shook hands with his fans, I've seen few and far between do something like that, very classy, and made me like his beats even more.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mystic Man & Eshamanjaro "In Heavy Weather" - out May 12 on Fat! Records

Gotta’ love the trip-hop. Especially when established breaks artists, such as Merka, adopts his alter-ego Mystic Man and collaborates with UK hip-hop vocalist Eshamanjaro, a.ka. MC Esha, to release their first full length album - “In Heavy Weather.”

Combining Eshamanjaro’s heady rhymes with Mystic Man’s classically inspired, jazzy and modern electronic beats, the result is a collection of energetic and trippy tracks that are a lot of fun to keep up with.

And keep up we must. “Cheshire Cat” kicks off the album and sets the pace. The track has a breaks foundation that loops a quick top hat beat accentuated with piano flurries. Eshamanjaro introduces his voice through a frenetic flow that honestly doesn’t make much sense – his voice is the instrument and becomes an important element of the sound that I’m strangely okay with.

Tumbling drums, big band horns and pinball electronic sounds intro Esha as we begin to hear his persona on “The Rambler.” With a true hip-hop flare of self-promotion, he asserts himself as an MC “who has that rare ability to rock across senses with no sensibility.” Within the first two tracks, Mystic Man has shown that this album wouldn’t hold up without his mixing and mashing. Now Esha has to back up his “rare ability” and he does so through the rest of the album.

The remaining tracks range from somber downtempo to hip hop breaks and seriously funky acid jazz. “Keeper of the Flame” begins with a somber flute setting a whimsical and foreboding tone as strings and a siren’s voice hums along. Mystic Man conjures images of a conflicted man attempting to gather the last shards of self-respect after the love, pain and suffering that this mystery woman has caused him – “I raise up above the pain, remember my past self through the fading flame.” The woman explains that she is the “keeper of the flame,” though we begin to understand the complex relationship that the two have together, and the emotion that both are struggling with.

Eshamanjaro’s complex rhymes continue on “D’ah Quinta,” a masterful extension of “Flame” that demonstrates how Esha has been hardened by his experiences. The lyric “Dreams flicker, I miss nothing” is a powerful double-entendre in the context of this album. Though dreams change, Esha does not miss them, and yet, he also does not miss a thing – observing and reflecting on everything he experiences.

Dust intros delicate pianos while Eshamanjaro enters with a sensitive, yet aggressive opinion of the masses’ overall lack of self-awareness as they lope through life “pondering costs” and thinking “theology is thicker than blood.” Esha considers himself a model amongst them – “I’m the sun beam scuba diver, diving into life’s channels” and enjoying “the process of returning to dust.”

Other tracks, such as “Off It,” “New Jack Swing” and “Minds I” continue to show the versatility of this duo’s approach to trip-hop. “Off It” is a nu-jazz inspired track churning progressive beats in a disjointed, but fascinating way. You can listen to the electric keyboard crank out accentuating notes, or the quick drums providing a foundation, or Mystic Man’s scratching, bringing a ton of personality. “New Jack Swing” and “Minds I” are the closest approach to traditional hip-hop this duo gets, combining their eccentric style with traditional bass beats that often provide the base for the best hip-hop around.

Overall, this album is worthy of many listens, as it will take at least a few to truly appreciate all of the wonderful nuances and hidden secrets within this complex delivery of sound and rhyme.

“In Heavy Weather” is released by Fat! Records in the UK, and will be available in wide release on May 12, 2008. Listen to tracks in my TRACKLIST to the right, or visit

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