Besides celebrating family and friends that have passed on, I like to include musicians and artists who have inspired me in some way. This year, many great musicians have passed. Consider this a digital ofrenda to them. I hope these musicians have inspired you as much as they have I.
The Bass Players
Two amazing bass players passed this year. Bob Babbitt was a member of the infamous Funk Brothers, the backing group of musicians that played on many of the best Motown recordings of the 60’s and 70’s. Donald “Duck” Dunn did the same damage for Stax Records as a member of Booker T And The MG's, playing behind many of the greats on the Stax Records roster. You may not know their names but I bet you can hum their bass lines by heart.
Babbitt played bass on such Motown classics as "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours" by Stevie Wonder, "War" by Edwin Starr, "The Tears of a Clown" by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" and "Inner City Blues" by Marvin Gaye, "Band Of Gold" by Freda Payne, "Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today)", and "Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)" by The Temptations.
The subtleties of what goes into creating a Flying Lotus song could be seen when he took the stage at Amoeba Hollywood Oct. 1, the day before his new album, Until the Quiet Comes, was officially released. Fly Lo worked busily over a minimal setup of a couple of laptops and samplers/sequencers. He played bits from the new album, like the bass-heavy “Sultan’s Request,” but kept things moving quickly — much like his albums do — never lingering long on a particular sound or song before flowing it into the next. A large and very appreciative crowd head-bobbed furiously to the music (the beatheads’ equivalent to head banging) as Fly Lo worked the heavier side of his sound spectrum, unlike the mostly chilled-out quality of his latest album. He paused a minute from the beat assault and spinning bits of songs like Schoolboy Q/A$ap Rocky’s “Hands on the Wheel,” Jay-Z/Kanye West’s “Ni**as in Paris,” Frank Ocean’s “Thinkin Bout You,” Portishead’s “Machine Gun” and Beastie Boys’ “Intergalactic” to welcome the audience and later ask for Transformers 3 on Blu-ray — which he got, and held up with glee, before passing it off quickly to continue hyperactively turning knobs and setting off sequences. Watching Flying Lotus at somewhere like the Hollywood Bowl, it can be easy to dismiss the work he puts into everything. In closer quarters Flying Lotus appears as a virtuoso, animatedly hunching and bouncing over his machines and stroking them like a piano with ease. They don’t call him a beat maestro for nothing. Flying Lotus was joined by fellow artists from his Brainfeeder label Teebs and Jeremiah Jae, the latter of who released one of my favorite hip-hop albums this year, Raw Money Raps. See more photos from the performance and Flying Lotus’ signing session here!
Beastie Boys "Jimmy James" (1992) from Check Your Head
In the two days since the shocking news of the sudden death on May 4th of Adam Yauch - aka MCA of the Beastie Boys - everyone has been sharing how much the artist and his group influenced their lives. On my WFMU radio show on Friday guest/longtime emcee Azeem recalled how when he first heard the Beasties he didn't even realize they they were not black and then recalled how in the early 90's during Lollapalooza he "went on tour a long time ago with the Beastie Boys, A Tribe Called Quest, George Clinton" and how he had a debate with members of fellow touring act The Pharcyde on the merits of the Beastie Boys as "hip-hop artists."
"At the time hip-hop still had its racial sensitivities and I had to argue on the Beastie Boys' side been from the East Coast, or been from New Jersey, hearing Licensed to Ill. When we [first] heard that record we didn't know if they were white kids. We just heard good hip-hop." recalled Azeem noting that the fact that the group never stopped creating and evolving & consistently making good music for well over a quarter of a decade is a testament to the greatness of the Beastie Boys.
When Yauch was diagnosed three years ago he made the following video (below) to announce the throat cancer and its implications in the Beastie Boys' then impending tour and record release - Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 2. - which both got postponed until last year. At the time of the 2009 video announcement however, as seen in the clip below, the Beastie Boy was good humored and making jokes about it all and clearly confident that the throat cancer was "treatable" as he was told by doctors at the time. Read more from Rolling Stone here. Adam Yauch was 47. Rest in peace!
- which at the time he said was "treatable"