You Can Get with This, or You Can Get with That

For this post, I had a change in direction from where I started; this was supposed to be a collection of odds ‘n ends that hadn’t made it into other posts (that’ll now happen in a future post), but now I have a theme – and it continues a trend from the previous three posts, which each spotlighted a specific style.

This time, I’m listening to new Hip-hop, with the new album from Busta Rhymes, the latest from Common, and a new project from Black Thought. Additionally, under the heading “Hey, I missed this“, I’m taking a listen to two albums from the mysterious outfit SAULT, one released back in June, and their new album released a few weeks ago. Between the five albums discussed here, there is a lot of protest music, so if that ain’t your thing, come back for the next article – I’ll switch it up with something completely different – right now, looking at new music from Chris Stapleton, Jeff Tweedy, and Ben Harper, among others, for the next post. For now, though, put your right fist in the air, and join the struggle…

One has to have a supreme confidence in their talent and abilities to be able to stay away from the limelight for more than a decade, and then show up to reclaim their place as if it’s been theirs to lose all along, despite their absence. This is what you have with the new album from Busta Rhymes, his first release in over a decade. Extinction Level Event 2: the Wrath of God is actually the sequel to the first E.L.E. album, released back in 1998. To hype it even further, you have none other than celebrity superfan Chris Rock to narrate the event, and pump up his fave MC, and a guest list long enough to fill a club by itself.

Busta gives us pieces of all the eras he’s witnessed in a career that’s entering its’ fourth decade. He brings it hard, fast, and furious from the start with the “The Purge“, “Strap Yourself Down” and “Czar“, all of which address the current political climate. Then he dices and slices Bell Biv Devoe’s “Poison” into “Outta My Mind” before delivering the scathing title track, which features a speech from Minister Louis Farrakhan. “Slow Flow” features a verse from Ol’ Dirty Bastard, while “Don’t Go” features Q-Tip, and that’s followed by “Boomp!“, which is Busta at his bombastic best. Rick Ross joins Busta for “Master Fard Muhammad“, and “YUUUU” features Anderson.Paak., while later, he chops it up with Vybz Kartel on “The Don & the Boss“. Then he kicks it with the ladies, starting with Rapsody on “Best I Can“, Mariah Carey joins him on “Where I Belong“, and Mary J. Blige goes retro-70’s with Busta on “You Will Never Find Another Me“. The showpiece of the album (to me) features the great Kendrick Lamar, and the voice of lil’ Michael Jackson sampled from “I’ll Be There” for “Look Over Your Shoulder“. By the time you get through the closer “Satanic“, you’re pretty much exhausted from the 22-track journey… but wait, there’s more!… the “Reloaded” edition adds four additional tunes, including the track “Calm Down” featuring Eminem.

With this album, Busta Rhymes has likely created the Hip-hop album of the year. The mix of his usual bombast, coupled with commentary on current events, and his trek through his various styles, is supremely crafted – he is still at the top of his game. Welcome back, Busta… Here are two videos from the album: “Master Fard Muhammad” with Rick Ross, and “Look Over Your Shoulder“…

Right before the recent Presidential elections, Common came to my town, helping to campaign for a candidate running for the Senate; he gave a concert later in the evening on the campus of an HBCU. Quite likely, he previewed tracks from his newly-released 13th album A Beautiful Revolution, Pt. 1, the follow-up to last year’s Let Love.

On this album, the ever-conscious Chicago native tackles the issues of the moment, but actually positions his message towards one of love, perseverance, and affirmation; the bookended intro and outro tracks basically explain the general purpose here. “Fallin” is best summed up by a lyric in the song…”the turn of the world and how they see you“… “Say Peace” stays in the same lyrical neighborhood… “Say peace, we don’t really want no trouble / Tell me, is you down with the struggle? / All they really wanna do is cuff ya / They don’t love ya…” – Black Thought contributes a verse to this track, urging peaceful protest. “Courageous” is one of four tracks featuring vocalist Paris Jones, known here simply as ‘PJ’, and along with “Don’t Forget Who You Are“, are two tracks whose messages are in the titles; the former track name checks Stevie Wonder, and he pops in for a harmonica solo. “A Riot In My Mind” pairs Common with Lenny Kravitz on a track about not being silent in the struggle… “It’s a war outside/ When it’s quiet, it’s a riot in my mind…”. The track “A Place In This World“, which also features PJ, is a song of hope, against a backdrop that dispels that notion… “Cannot understand it / I still believe that there’s a place in this world / For people just like me…”. The general music vibe here is jazzy, as he uses a live band, which includes Robert Glasper, among others; only the dance-oriented track What Do You Say (Move It Baby) interrupts the flow, and again features PJ, celebrating the union of a King and his Queen, and their single-minded dedication to each other and the struggle.

Here again, is music for the times in which we live; this is also where Common has generally resided for much of his career. As usual, he delivers the goods, and I don’t say that because he’s a hometown hero of sorts to me, he just does quality music. There are no videos available for the album, but you can enjoy the audio for “Courageous“…

And here’s yet another Hip-hop veteran at the top of his game : brotha Tarriq Trotter, otherwise known as Black Thought, co-founder of The Roots. Streams of Thought, Vol. 3: Cane and Abel is his new project, following up the second installment in the series, released two years ago.

One of the best things about this album is that we get a lot of Black Thought, and not a ton of guest features. He enlists Indie rockers Portugal. The Man, best known for the track “Feel It Still” from three years ago, and The Last Artful, Dodgr to provide background flava on a trio of tracks; we get Killer Mike and Pusha T to join him on “Good Morning” … Thought and Killer Mike bring the heat, while Pusha T does his own thing… with Swizz Beatz on production, and Schoolboy Q on “Steak Um“, but other than that, it’s unfiltered and unapologetic teachings from a master wordsmith. He opens and closes the set with the short interludes “I’m Not Crazy“, which speaks of what Columbus must’ve thought when he first encountered the inhabitants of the land he thought he discovered; “State Prisoner” features the lyric “The makin’ of the mob, the changin’ of the guard / An angel from the Lord in ceremonial garb / The big homie in charge, main culprit at large / Emerged over the odds, the victory is ours…” On “Thought vs. Everybody“, he spits a long verse that basically takes aim at everything and everybody in his crosshairs, and he boasts of himself as “Magnificent” on another track, and lastly, on “We Could Be Good (United)“, he addresses his significant other’s seeming jealousy of his career… “Our love is in a place where there’s no time or space / No time to waste on the outside of our divine embrace because of my mistakes / Sometimes we overcomplicate or undercompensate / I try to keep it namaste but you’ve just got complaints…

Black Thought shows why he’s considered to be, in many circles, one the best ever MC’s; he throws in an unexpected wrinkle by including Portugal. The Man so prominently in this project. It works, adding to the genius, but he continues to have his finger on the pulse of the conscience of his people. This is raw, dogg; Philly’s finest does it again!.. There are no videos for any of the tracks, but enjoy the audio for “Good Morning“…

So this group came to my attention via Sirius xm Chill, as they were bumpin’ the track “Wildfires” heavily back over the summer. They aren’t considered Hip-hop, but more lo-fi Indie Soul than anything; I’m not even sure how they actually pronounce their name- is it like the French, and how they pronounce it (like “Soo”), like the city Sault Ste. Marie, or like the seasoning – based on their very short bio on Spotify, which simply says “add a little SAULT to your life”, I suspect it’s pronounced like the seasoning. In any case, the group is shrouded in anonymity – they’re produced by someone named Inflo, who has produced critically acclaimed albums by Michael Kiwanuka and Little Simz, and rumored to be fronted by up ‘n coming vocalist Cleo Sol. They’re quite prolific, as they’ve released four full-length albums in the past two years; the newest pair are Untitled (Black Is), released on Juneteenth (June 19th), with a cover featuring only a raised fist, and Untitled (Rise) which was released in September, with a cover featuring praying hands.

Their inclusion with the other artists in this post will tell you that, maybe more so than any of the other artists reviewed here, this group is unabashedly, unflinchingly, totally Afrocentric in their focus. Black Is was released back on Juneteenth, which was less than a month after the George Floyd killing, and is both a statement of identity and outrage – check out the strongest tracks here, in my opinion, “Miracles” and “Sorry Ain’t Enough“, both drenched in early 70’s Soul. The overall feel of Black Is will remind you very much of Solange’s recent music, especially A Seat at the Table. Check out the audio for “Sorry Ain’t Enough“…

The latest album Rise was released about eight weeks ago, and is more musically upbeat, although not necessarily any less incendiary and combustible- the fist is still in the air.

This reminds me somewhat of The Internet, as it’s more funky and danceable – it’s like an exhale of sorts, getting back to normal after the trauma of upheaval, and is more a statement of resilience and awakening than anything else. Check out “Free“…

The spirit of the likes of Gil-Scott Heron, The Last Poets, Linton Kwesi Johnson, and Public Enemy live on through this outfit. Whoever SAULT are, they have released albums that may show up on the year end ‘Best Of’ lists of many critics, including this one.

By maestrotjd

I'm a music head. A classically trained violinist/violist literate from chant to Chopin to Copland, Soul man, aging Punk, Classic rocker, Alt rocker, Church choir man, House head, Techno, Industrial guy, almost Rasta, Ska & Rock Steady baby, Junglist, Dubstep to Two-step to Chicago old school steppin', Lounge & Exotica, World Fusion, Latin & Bossa Nova dude, Jazz man from Swing to Bebop to Acid, Trip hop and Hip hop, ya don't stop, a lil bit Country, Gospel, and everything in between. These are my musings (or ramblings).

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