Not since M.I.A., with her well-publicized turbulent political past, has an artist with such an extraordinary life-story arrived on the scene as Sudanese child soldier turned-rapper Emmanuel Jal.
The musician/songwriter/rapper whose autobiographical album Warchild will be released on May 13th was a featured guest at the premiere of the Tribeca Film Festival in New York earlier this week where the documentary about him, the Karim Chrobog directed War Child, made its American premiere. (It had its world premiere earlier this year at the Berlin Film Festival.) The film outlines the tough life of this 28 year old musician who was a soldier in the Sudanese People's Liberatin Army when he was only eight years of age. Jal's autobiography will be published by St. Martin's Press later this year.
His story is truly an amazing one. But what about the music, you ask? Well, unlike M.I.A., whose music was even more exciting than the publicity package that preceded her, Emmanuel Jal's new album "Warchild," which was recorded in London in 2006 and 2007, is kinda disappointing -- to these ears anyway, after one full listen. Maybe the hype had me expecting too much. Sung/rapped mostly in English and veering between reggae and rap, Emmanuel Jal sounds too often like he is trying too hard to emulate popular American rappers and it just ain't working. Hence, he is at his best on the tracks where he isn't trying to streamline his sound for US or British audiences.
Meanwhile, my vote for best hip-hop history lesson song of the year award goes to "Time Traveller" -- the title track off the new album from Plantlife (aka producer Jack Splash who has worked with Missy Elliot, John Legend, Alicia Keys etc.) on Decon. Not since LCD Soundsystem's "Losing My Edge" has a song so perfectly and entertainingly condensed the past several decades of popular music's history into its catchy verses. Delivered in a speeded up vocal rap, Plantlife takes us through the history of rap and pop music, relating how he was there for each important step in the music's development:
I was there when Run DMC wrote Tricky...
I told John Lennon he should leave the Beatles.
And I was with Theodore when he scratched the needle.
I was with Too $hort when he met them freaks.
The artist promises a Part 2 to "Time Traveller" in the future. Meantime, note that the rest of this new album by Plantlife is totally different music -- more throwback funk and soulful tunes that should appeal to fans of James Pants and Jamie Lidell. Speaking of Jamie Lidell, whose new album is just out, be sure to look for a remix of Lidell's "Little Bit of Feel Good" by Daly City Records' mainman Mochipet. The ever-busy and prolific Bay Area producer/performer and label head Mochipet, whose real name is David Wang, will be interviewed here in the Amoeblog on Monday (May 5) when he will talk about, among other things, his amazing new hip-hop collection Microphonepet that features Dopestyle, Opio, Casual, Raashan Ahmad among countless others.
Other new or recent hip-hop releases include LA producer/turntablist DJ Frane's laidback groove full-length Journey To The Planet of Birds or Beats To Blaze Volume 3, Common Market's seven song EP Black Patch War (named after a farmer's rebellion in Kentucky in the early 20th century) on Mass Line Media featuring the talents of RA Scion and Sabzi of Blue Scholars fame, and the highly recommended new Foreign Legion six-song EP The Secret Knock (Hunger Strike Records).
Featuring the superb talents of microphone masters Mark Stretch and Prozack Turner, this latest release from the Bay Area crew, who were both featured on the very first Amoeba Music Compilation eight years ago, and whose lyrics inspired its title All That Glitters Isn't Platinum, proves that Foreign Legion (whose usual producer DJ Design didn't lend his talents to this outing) are one of the most super-talented and slept-on hip-hop acts out there.
Live hip-hop shows in the Bay Area this weekend include tomorrow, Saturday night May 3rd,
DCSS Presents:DeeCee's Soul Shakedown Party at Club Six in San Francisco with guaranteed good quality hip-hop and reggae in the Sixth Street club's two rooms. Upstairs is DJ Apollo (Triple Threat) and Shortkut (Triple Threat/Beat Junkies), while downstairs spinning dancehall, reggae, and remixes are the West Coast sound champions and DCSS residents Jah Warrior Shelter Hi-Fi featuring Jah Yzer, I-Vier, & Irie Dole with special guest Daneekah (Miss Trees Hi-Fi). 9PM - 3AM. $5/$10 Free before 10PM.
Next time you are in one of the three Amoeba Music locations, pick up the latest edition of the Music We Like series. These free booklets showcase the Amoeba staff’s favorite CD and DVD picks from the past few months, with literally hundreds of entries (including Job's creative crossword puzzle presentation). For a taste of what to expect, click here for the short list. And from that same page you can also download the whole thing into your computer. Good times!