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Song Review: “Simulation” by Róisín Murphy

After the success of her second solo album Overpowered in 2007, Róisín Murphy continued her forray into dance and electronica. Aside from two self-released solo singles (the moody “Orally Fixated”, and the menacing Detroit techno of “Momma’s Place”), she appeared on tracks laced by the Italian duo Crookers and house music pioneer David Morales, among others.

This month via , Murphy releases “Simulation” – her first solo single in almost two years. , the slow-burning 11-minute original mix swells with sliding and hissing hi-hats, classic disco bass and shimmers of silky fender rhodes, providing an ecstatic atmosphere underneath layers of Murphy’s cooing vocals, which exude a sexuality that is equal parts refined and orgasmic. Aside from the original mix, the EP also features a dub remix by New York tribal-house guru Eric Kupper. An additional mix is served up by Mano Le Tough, a stunning rework that cascades synths over layers of percussion.

Review: “The Original Jill Scott from the Vault, Vol. 1” by Jill Scott

December 30, 2011 Leave a comment

Typically, a compilation release of unreleased material features unremarkable outtakes and half-finished demos with varied quality compared to that of an official studio record. The opposite proves to be true with The Original Jill Scott from the Vault, Vol. 1 by Jill Scott, the first (of hopefully, several) contractual fulfillment albums following her quiet departure from Hidden Beach Recordings and subsequent signing to Warner Bros. Records. Impressively, the tracks are unfailing and on par with every release in her revered catalog, likely due to her involvement in the song selection process. Unlike her uneven 2011 release The Light of the Sun which featured some formless and even half-baked compositions, The Original Jill Scott… is consistent, with some of the material being recorded as far back as the conception of her first album.

After a brief introduction, Jill flirts coyly on the bombastic and shuffling “I Don’t Know (Gotta Have You)” produced by Carvin & Ivan. In contrast, “Wondering Why (You Don’t Talk to Me)” finds Jill cooing with distress from miscommunication amid a mid-tempo track, complete with a gooey live bass line and background vocals by Wanya Morris of Boyz II Men for some additional color. The funky bounce of “The Light” (produced by Dre & Vidal, who also supply a “piano mix” of the track) and the Southern soul of “Wake Up Baby” both play off of Jill’s impeccable strengths as a versatile lyricist,while the breezy “I’m Prettier” and “Comes to the Light (Everything)” highlight her multi-textured vocals.

Two of the most exciting inclusions are found with “Running Away (Suite)”, a twelve-minute, seemingly free-styled studio jam is complete with adlibs, giggles and hollers from Jill and members of her band, all of whom perform to pleasurable perfection. The other, “Holding On”, is a slow burning torch masterpiece in which Jill mournfully envelops her voice around each instrument as she reminisces about her lover during the wee hours of an early morning.

The Original Jill Scott from the Vault, Vol. 1 may not get the attention it properly deserves from audiences but those who have followed Jill will have their perception of her musicianship and perfectionism enhanced by each of this compilation’s songs and their varying moods.

Review: “Black Friday” by Lil’ Kim

October 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Beef and hip-hop have always been synonymous with each other, often going hand in hand. But when beef is handled by femcees (female emcees), it is paid with great attention, causes controversy and sparks heated debate, resulting in sales in today’s musical climate.

Before Nicki Minaj, hip-hop’s newest (and seemingly, only) “it” girl, Lil’ Kim was seen as the Queen of female rap, without question. She was able to hold her own with colorful wigs and outfits, salacious lyrics and an ego as big as her male counterparts. The last bit of good music from Lil’ Kim stemmed back to 2005′s critically acclaimed The Naked Truth album. During that time, Lil’ Kim served time in jail for perjury and it seemed like her music would take a backseat as she would become fodder for reality television, tabloids and gossip columns. Since then, Lil’ Kim has struggled to stay relevant. Nicki Minaj’s meteoric rise to the forefront had fans, critics and the music industry watching closely in a time where few (if, any) femcees were able to do the same. On the surface, Lil’ Kim’s newest release Black Friday seems to packs a fierce wallop and keeps her aim directly on Minaj. But those who have rocked with the “Queen Bee” since her ferocious debut in the mid-90s might find themselves scratching their heads a little with this unfocused set of tunes.

The absurdity begins with the unnecessary intro before it segues into “Pissin On ‘Em”, a bland and languid version of Minaj’s “Did It On ‘Em”. Her quips are clever, but the lack of originality and edge is painfully evident. On the flip-side, her guns are locked and loaded on the mixtape’s title track. Set to the instrumental of Pharoahe Monch’s “Simon Says”, Kim spits seamlessly for almost five minutes with a focus she hasn’t had on wax in years. ”Black and yellow will pull up in your ghetto/Giuseppe’s when I step out, posted up in stilettos/Pussy so pink like my kitty saying ‘hello’/If I whistle, they’ll pistol-whip you in all five boroughs”. It is the strongest performance on the mix, and is probably the sole track that saves it from being a total dud.

The most interesting aspect of Black Friday is that there are NO original songs. Yes, it may be somewhat of a standard fare for mixtapes to have recycled instrumentals and samples, but not for a rapper of Kim’s caliber. For an artist who seems almost paranoid to keep her title and saving her career from a near flat-line, you would think that there would be more spark in her releases. In essence, Black Friday is a collection of dreadful parodies of better tracks. That aside , very few performances match her glory days. The raunchy lyrics are still intact (“Gimme Brain”) as well as the roughshod gangstress persona (“IRS Freestyle” set to the instrumental of Kanye’s downtempo “So Appalled”). But the spark and charisma that once hooked fans is simply not here. Her voice, presumably that of her alter ego ‘Kimmy Blanco’ which appears on many of the twenty tracks, sounds thin and nasal-y, adding more of a comical effect from someone who wants badly to be taken seriously. Another angle is the fact that instead of giving the mixtape away for free (through the internet or otherwise), charged her fans $9.99 for the lackluster collection, shipping it a month later after a slew of “delays”. If her claims are correct, it sold more than 113,000 copies in 28 hours on PayPal. This is a step up from The Naked Truth, which sold 109,000 in a week.

It is yet to be seen where the Nicki Minaj/Lil’ Kim feud will go. Will it die down? Will it lead to more subliminals and shots over more tracks and releases? Who knows? Beef is likely never to go away in hip-hop. With consistency, Kim can rise back to the forefront. Before the controversy and the gossip, it was a nice beat and her Brooklyn flow that helped Kim gain notoriety. Black Friday is proof that she needs to do better to protect the crown that she seems almost desperate to keep.

(written in April 2011 for The Arrowhead at San Bernardino Valley College in San Bernardino, California)