Lots of rappers spit about the spoils of their stardom—Bentleys, diamonds, Louis Vuitton luggage. Not many, and maybe none, have taken all that money they’ve made through record sales and donated it to charity. Except, that is, New York rapper and activist Awkword. His album, World View, featured contributions from artists in 20 countries and benefited Guns 4 Cameras, a nonprofit dedicated to ending street violence. And though his mission is serious, Awkword’s got a quicksilver wit that permeates most of his tracks. On the buoyant, reggae-influenced “Stay Spittin’, Stay Flowin’” he takes listeners through the chambers of the heart, from the vena cava to the aorta. Then, on “Colors,” he turns his attention to the color wheel, rapping “My blood is red, but I stay blue like Barack” over a Motown loop. Only on “Requiem” do you get a sense of Awkword’s intensity. “I’m here to lift you up / I can also take you down.” Stay on his good side; it’s a pretty inspiring place to be.
Sometimes, your average, run-of-the-mill hip-hop just won’t cut it. You need some beats and rhymes that are a little…different. This week, OurStage’s own technical liaison Jordan has put together a playlist for all those alternative hip-hop fans out there. Here’s a mix of rappers who are all thinking outside the box, creating odd combinations of sounds and lyrics to form a synthesis of head-bobbing tunes. These unusual rap songs from artists like Outkast, Philadelphia Slick, Gorillaz, and many more are sure to give you a whole new way to look at rap music. Post up, and contemplate the unique stylings of alternative hip-hop.
Like Lupe Fiasco, Billa Camp hails from Chi-Town, loves skateboard culture and is an exemplar of alternative hip hop. And here’s another similarity—both appeared in the video for Fiasco’s song “Kick, Push.” Still, Camp’s got his own thing going on, like an encyclopedic knowledge of rock, for starters. On “Grateful Dread,” the rapper name checks dozens of artists, starting with Sublime, Radiohead and Nirvana before moving onto Talking Heads, MC5 and Flaming Lips. Even Phish gets a shout-out on the hypnotic track, which combines lashes of cymbals and droning textures that sound like a deviant version of Aphex Twin’s “Windowlicker.” Stylistically, Camp’s music runs the gamut—from surf guitars on “California” to a crackling samples of the 1950s hit “Why Don’t You Believe Me” on “Show Time” to the banging “Beat Street” with its hefty dose of “Planet Rock” by Afrika Bambaataa. You don’t know where you’re going when you put on a Billa Camp track, but you can be sure you’re gonna have a good time.
A life as an investment banker has its perks, like big paychecks and bigger bonuses. But sometimes a man just wants a mic, a stage and the roar of the crowd. Hip hop artist Kenton Dunson traded his career in finance to take a chance on music, and so far his gamble has paid off. “Beautiful Fight” takes a pitch-shifted vocal stutter, loops it with piano, guitar and beaten percussion for a killer hook, and then adds a story about redemption. “I never was dirt poor / But I came a long way from the church chorus to the workhorse,” Dunson spits. Dude is dope. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been burned. On “Firestarter,” he confesses “I never should have messed with a devil in a dress,” as swaths of digital textures and piano provide the beat. Maybe he’s been unlucky in love, maybe he’s not making a Wall Street salary, but Dunson’s decision to get into music looks like it could pay off in dividends.
Hey guys! In this new, weekly feature on OurStage we’ll be shining a spotlight on one of our own OurStage artists and comparing them to a nationally recognized artist that you might be more familiar with. Each week, we’ll select an artist based on musical characteristics similar to a well known mainstream artist. While highlighting the similarities between said artists, we will also show you what makes each OurStage artist unique and not simply a rip-off of the artist they are being compared to. Our goal with this column is to help you guys find great new music that you might not have heard of or found on the site yet.
For our inaugural post let’s look at North Carolina-based alternative hip hop group BPL, and compare them to the hip hop group The Roots. BPL’s most obvious similarity to The Roots is that they are a “hip hop band”. The band packs a punch with seven members, including two saxophone players and a trumpet player . Much like The Roots, BPL mixes influence from soul, funk and jazz, and meshes that all together with a 90s hip hop flavor. Performing using all live instruments, their sound is much more organic and natural sounding than most synth driven hip hop you will hear on the radio today—you won’t find any Autotune on these tracks. And like The Roots, these guys are talented instrumentalists. It’s one thing to sound good in the studio, but BPL brings it live with the energy and tightness of any of the best touring acts today. Check out their live video for “The Answer” below.
Now, you’re probably thinking, “Well, what makes BPL different from a group like The Roots.” BPL sets themselves apart from the pack with their lyrics and arrangements. While The Roots’ lyrics typically deal with socially conscious and political themes, BPL’s lyrical themes are far more varied. This is clearly evidenced on their track “Do You Remember?”, a song about a night of partying and trying to remember what happened the day after. While this sounds somewhat juvenile at first, BPL’s fantastic MCs have the ability to tell a detailed story with their lyrics that keeps you enthralled. MCs Peter Schaffer and Michael Martin have the ability to paint a picture with their words much like rappers Eminem or Nas do; their use of specific details and clearly enunciated rhymes make it very easy to mentally visualize the story they are telling in their lyrics.
BPL continues to defy mainstream conventions with their lengthy and complex arrangements, clearly demonstrated on their epic, eight and half minute track “Winter”. This is a track that is as much of a jazz tune as it is a hip hop song. The track begins with a slow and somber piano melody, and with an opening line like “I feel like Coltrane in a land of Kenny G’s,” you can tell these guys know their jazz. About halfway through the song, the rapping stops and the song breaks down into almost a free form jazz jam with the instrumentalists improvising, until ultimately building up to the most energetic verse of the song, where Peter Schaffer raps in double time. It is a truly striking song and unlike anything you’ll hear on the average hip-hop radio station.
BPL’s debut album Higher is out now on NuSouth Entertainment
Recently, MTV launched NextMovie.com—a “movie site for the next generation” featuring celebrity interviews, movie news and video reviews from rappers and rockers. And naturally, since we have no shortage of talented rhymesayers or rock-and-rollers on OurStage, we got in on the action with the “NextMovie Review” Competition to offer one lucky rap, hip hop or rock artist a chance to have their own video review posted on the NextMovie site!
Well, a winner has been chosen: Nikki Lynette’s fierce track “Love U Crazy,” earned her the prize. This Chi-town native is no stranger to success on OurStage. In fact, Nikki regularly kicks ass and takes names in the urban charts. “Love U Crazy” is a genre-bending hip-shaker that combines equal parts rock and rap in one tasty alternative hip hop package guaranteed to get you on your feet. If you’re ready to jam out to spiky guitars and sultry vocals check out “Love U Crazy” below, and keep an eye out for Nikki’s NextMovie review when it airs on OurStage! You can also head on over to nextmovie.com to see Lego versions of summer blockbusters and hear what MC Hammer thought about Thor.
Still have residual stress left over from tax day? Maybe a little upbeat alternative hip hop is just what the doctor ordered. And who better to rep the genre than last month’s OurStage Alternative Hip Hop Channel winner. We’re talking about E-Dubble, of course, who’s also made his way to the Top 100 in the Best of Urban charts twice so far this year. That’s pretty impressive considering it’s only April. Equipped with a degree in Political Science and Economics, E-Dubble founded Black Paisley Records in Baltimore circa 2009. This is where the Philly-based rapper wrote, recorded and produced his debut album titled Hip Hop Is Good. He uses the album to explore the evolution of hip hop and the labels it’s put up with over the past few decades. Of course he inevitably reaches a simple and obvious conclusion: hip hop is good.
Going back a bit further, E-Dubble and friends founded Irish Toothache in 2003 as a way of sharing music and other projects with each other. The Web site gained popularity and actually helped them get their first gigs. And they weren’t just about hip hop back then; they dabbled in rock and country as well. To this day, E-Dubble works with his Irish Toothache friends as a hip hop group called Young English.
Below is the song that won the Alternative Hip Hop Channel in March; we’re positive it will put you in a good mood. We also posted a couple other E-Dubble tracks for you—just because we like them.
We realized recently that we haven’t been giving a lot of love to OurStage’s hip hop fans on Get Lyrical (and there are a lot of you out there)! So this week, we’re changing things up with rapper Greenspan and his infectious, Lupe Fiasco-esque street anthem “Cold,” which is currently competing in the “Coors Light Search for the Coldest” Competition.
Greenspan is a Baltimore native who takes his stage name from famous economist Alan Greenspan. (Fittingly, he calls his crew “The Federal Reserve”.) With his simultaneously relentless and laid-back delivery, he turns “Cold” into a fresh track about success. “On my way to the spot for the interview/I run into rappers I’ve seen before say they feel a few/of my records.” He’s rapping about being interviewed and getting his due from other musicians, but Greenspan makes it clear that none of his success has been handed to him and that he’s put in his time with the line, “I been around the state for my schooling/No university/And been through things that made my skin tough enough/Ain’t no hurtin’ me.”
Listen to the track, and you’ll hear how steadfastly Greenspan adheres to the words, “All I know is time being wasted/And yo, we through with that.” He lays down his verses over a simple, repetitive beat, and doesn’t even slow down long enough for a chorus. He just spits until he’s exhausted himself. It makes for good listening—the track is impossible to listen to without nodding your head or tapping your feet. And we think Greenspan’s timing is perfect; now that it’s finally getting warm out, there’s no better time to open your windows, turn up the bass and enjoy a “Cold” one. Check out Greenspan’s track below!
Have an interesting story behind your lyrics? Let us know at email@example.com!
Throughout the month of August, OurStage artists have battled for their opportunity to win great opportunities from VIBE.com, AllHipHop.com and Ernie Ball. They’ve made it this far, but they need YOUR help to secure a spot at the top of the heap. VIBE.com and AllHipHop.com teamed up with OurStage to give artists in the Rap, Hip Hop and Alternative Hip Hop Channels a shot at scoring themselves the ultimate up-and-coming feature on BOTH Web sites. One grand prize winner in this competition will have their winning song and a Q&A featured on both Web sites as well as be included in mash-ups by resident DJ’s at VIBE.com. With your help, one aspiring urban artist could catch their big break.
Over at Ernie Ball, all eyes are on the ladies in the female Singer-Songwriter Channel this month to offer one lucky artist a year’s supply of strings. One winner can cross guitar and bass strings off their weekly shopping list for an entire year! Head over to the OurStage music channels to begin judging now.
One of hip hop’s unsung heroes is OurStage‘s own Alternative Hip Hop Channel stand out, Jahi. The Cleveland MC shrugs off the flash and cash that dominate the mainstream scene, using his music as a way to give back to the community. Not surprisingly, Jahi’s incredible, down-to-earth mentality comes as a breath of fresh air. With 10 albums under his belt since 2000, Jahi’s hard work and soulful, old school hip hop style has not gone unnoticed — he’s shared the stage with hip hop all stars such as Jay-Z, Outkast and Missy Elliott. “The Realness” is a track that best illustrates Jahi’s dedication to his roots. On this week’s Liner Notes, he explains the story behind the song.