Aaron Detroit, Buyer at Amoeba Hollywood. I've worked in Hollywood for ten years, but started my time with Amoeba - way back in 1998 - at the San Francisco store. Here is my extensive list of new essential listening, released in 2014. There is a wide range of genres and artists represented here because musical passion should not be static.
1. Swans - To Be Kind (Young God)
To Be Kind, Swans’ 3rd LP since their 2010 reformation (and 13th overall,) is an unlikely triumph after 2012’s seemingly unmatchable masterpiece, The Seer. Any trepidation one might have about the sprawling triple-LP’s intimidating track lengths should evaporate under it’s hypnotizing ebb-and-flow of mental blues, super-honed grooves, manic clatter and hushed passages; all of which are eventually crushed by monolithic waves of majesty. Nothing short of classic.
2. Carla Bozulich - Boy (Constellation)
Boy is Carla Bozulich’s (of Ethyl Meatplow, Geraldine Fibbers and Evangelista-renown) 3rd solo affair, but in a lot of ways it feels like her first. Bozulich pours her famed, devastating whiskey-voice into a cocktail of funeral country, death blues and industrial noise that sticks to your guts. Carla herself refers to this LP as her “pop record,” and if that's a true description, we could sure use a whole lot more “pop” albums like Boy. Don’t overlook this one.
Here is our list of gift ideas culled from recent Hip Hop releases (with a few classics thrown in), plus 10 Hip Hop vinyl reissues from 2014 every fan should have.
Diabolic - Fightin' Words
Fightin' Words is a long delayed release from East Coast rapper Diabolic which has been in the works for four years. Originally intended to come out on Viper Records, the album instead got released via the recently founded WarHorse Records. Mic collaborators include such hard hitters as Vinnie Paz, Apathy, and R.A. the Rugged Man, while production is handled in most part by DJ Premier.
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Pinata
In the 24 years since the first publication of the Billboard Hot Rap Singles Top 30 Chart, rap/hip-hop has grown by leaps and bounds in both terms of widespread acceptance and (seemingly) unstoppable global popularity. Upon publication back in mid-June of 1990, while popular enough to deem its own weekly chart, hip-hop was still somewhat marginalized and was far from the mainstream cultural force it is today. However, while examining the contrast between radio/sales charting hip-hop in 1990 and 2014, there are many notable differences. For starters, hip-hop was still largely labeled or referred to as "rap" back then, which is somewhat ironic since popular "hip-hop" today is technically more "rap" than it was back at the beginning of the nineties.
From eyeballing this June 1990 chart that was compiled from a national sample of both retail and one-stop sales, it's evident that commercially popular hip-hop appeared to be a lot more adventurous and much more diverse in style both production-wise and lyrically. Also notable is how major labels did not dominate the bulk of rap sales. It was pretty much evenly split between indies and majors, although many of those same independent labels would in time make deals with the majors. Another notable business factor was that record labels (indie or major) could still be very profitable ventures since 1990 was a time when people still bought records and tapes to hear music. There was no illegal free downloading/file-sharing of music and the only threat to labels was illegally dubbed bootleg cassette copies of their releases. Hence labels had more money to spend on promotions of their artists.
Women hip-hop artists, whom to this day have never gained equality in their genre, were still in the minority back in June 1990 with only five out of this top 30 chart being female acts. These five included three groups - something much rarer today when female rappers tend to be solo acts - and included Hammer proteges Oaktown's 3-5-7, Def Dames (whose "Set It Off" heavily sampled Strafe's 1984 club/radio hit of the same name and who should not be confused with the Euro girl group who came a little later), and early career Jermaine Dupri-discovered rap/r&b trio Silk Tymes Leather. The other female chart entries were Icey Jaye ("It's A Girl Thing"), and Queen Latifah in a duet with David Bowie for "Fame 90."
Each person has their own personal way to judge and rate the music they love. For me the criteria for rating an LP an "Essential Record" includes two key qualities: first, it's an all killer, no filler album (no temptation to ever skip over any track); and secondly, it is such a quality release that it doesn't age one bit over time (the timeless factor). Sometimes an Essential Record gets even better over the years. Such is the case with The Pharcyde's remarkable 1992 debut album, Bizarre Ride II (Delicious Vinyl), which sounds even more amazing today than it did when I first heard it 22 years ago. I say this after playing the 57 minute record from start to finish twice in a row today, having not listened to it in a few years. Damn, that J-Swift-produced album is so incredibly good! It's packed with soul, passion, and richly varied but cohesive beats and flows - from jazzy to old school to next generation - with varying BPMs. But, most notably, the album was totally unlike anything else at the time.
In late 1992, the SoCal-based Delicious Vinyl record label released Bizarre Ride II within just a few weeks of fellow LA based hip-hop artist Dr. Dre's G-Funk classic, The Chronic. While the two landmark hip-hop releases may have been linked by timeline and geography, they could not have been further apart in sound and style. Even Bizarre Ride's wild, fun, cartoonish cover art set it apart as a record that did not take itself too seriously. The album effuses a feeling of nonstop fun all the way through, as proven by the numerous impromptu-sounding hilarious studio bits that were mixed in or left in the final recording, like at the end of "Ya Mama" where they are just riffing off of each other. Unique, too, is how many of the "skits" on Bizarre Ride sound like songs, such as the 2:10 long "Quinton's on the Way (Skit)" which is like a Louis Armstrong inspired jazz song that captures the guys having fun in the studio with their different sounding voices and tones perfectly in contrast with each other.