December 14, 2010

Straight From Crooklyn, Better Known As Brooklyn


I know It's From The Wrong Movie, But Still Awesome
The Crooklyn Dodgers began in 1994 when Buckshot, Masta Ace, Special Ed and Q-Tip got together to record a song for the Soundtrack from Spike Lee’s film Crooklyn. This is the only song this powerhouse group ever recorded and it started a mini musical movement. 

"Crooklyn" from Crooklyn, Vol. 1 by Crooklyn Dodgers (Buckshot, Masta Ace and Special Ed prod. by Q-Tip
 

The next year, Spike Lee released another film, the one titled Clockers, and included the second incarnation of the Crooklyn Dodgers. This version, with out a doubt is the best of the three. Chubb Rock, Jeru and O.C. come and spit some of the most visual renditions of Brooklyn and all this over a beat by Preemo? These guys put Brooklyn on the map. Of course what they come together for would be pure gold. 

"Return of the Crooklyn Dodgers" from Clockers - OST by Crooklyn Dodgers '95 (Chubb Rock, O.C. and Jeru the Damaja prod. by DJ Premier)
 

Many, many years later, 9th Wonder, former beat-maker for the North Carolina rap group, Little Brother put out a new solo album and grabbed a few Brooklynites—Mos Def, Jean Grae and Memphis Bleek—to create the third and possibly un-official Crooklyn Dodgers track. Just because it is the odd man out of the three doesn’t mean that 9th didn’t come through. He just brought his own take on broooklyyyyyyynn!!! 

"Brooklyn In My Mind" from The Dream Merchant, Vol. 2 by Crooklyn Dodgers III (Mos Def, Jean Grae and Memphis Bleek prod. by 9th Wonder) 

December 11, 2010

Underground Kingz


Just listen to the song today. I've got nothing else to write but RIP to Tha Pimp.

"One Day" from Ridin' Dirty by UGK

December 10, 2010

The Grapevine

My apologies for the absence of the Song of the Day yesterday. Finals are arriving so I’ve been busy with that. But not too busy to make up for yesterday with a massively huge and amazing SOTD. Well, kind of, it’s still one song, in a way. Today I’ll be showcasing three versions of the song “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” The song, originally written by Motown songwriters Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong was first recorded by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles. As was common on the Motown label, the song was passed around between artists who would create their own take on the song. Gladys Knight and most famously Marvin Gaye also released versions. However, there have been many, many covers since and below are three of my favorites:


In 1970, Creedence Clearwater Revival released the album Cosmo’s Factory which included an eleven minute version of “Grapevine” among other huge hits like “Travelin’ Band” and “Lookin’ Out My Back Door.” This version of “Grapevine” is without a doubt my favorite. Anytime John Fogerty gets up to sing, a unique song is bound to be born. With their mix of San Francisco psychedelic rock, mowtown soul and southern rock, every CCR song was stricken with stardom because of how accessible it would be. No other musician has been able to blend so many influences into not only something completely new, but also something really fantastic.

"I Heard It Through The Grapevine" from Cosmo's Factory by Creedence Clearwater Revival



The Slits, an all-girl English punk band originally released their version of “Grapevine” in 1979 but it didn’t officially reach the States until their album Cut came out on CD in 2005. Lead Singer Ari Up, who died in October from cancer, holds the track together with her sporadic and energetic singing yelping and some weird but magnetic type of yodeling. All of this over a great groove that closes out the song with a dub influenced third verse breakdown makes for another new take on an old song.

"I Heard It Through The Grapevine" from Cut by The Slits



Lastly we come to the late and fucking-great Roger Troutman. Troutman I would say, is the single most influential man in current hip hop music. He popularized the talk-box vocoder, or what computers these days call “auto-tune.” Just ask T-Pain or Kanye or Chromeo. They’ll all tell you that Roger and his band Zapp carve a direct line from ‘80s pop music to current R&B and rap. Not only is his style heavily influential today, but with the emergence of G-Funk on the West Coast in the ‘90s, a whole smattering of Roger’s songs were heavily sampled and this led to Roger singing the hook on “California Love” by 2Pac and Dr. Dre. The 1981 album, The Many Facets of Roger was a huge hit and went platinum behind the number one single “Grapevine.”

"I Heard It Through The Grapevine" from The Many Facets of Roger by Roger Troutman

December 7, 2010

Unknown, Talk to Unknown

A very unflattering photo of the band
There is something about Karen O. the front-woman of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs that is so mesmerizing and sultry and crazy all at once. I can’t say I’ve been to one of their live shows but the word on the wire is that they’re insane. Like almost The Flaming Lips good. And the Flaming Lips have Wayne Coyne walking on top of the audience in a plastic bubble. But that is for another day.

This is about the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and their awesome third album It’s Blitz! Released in 2009. If you had ears last year there is no doubt in my mind that you heard at least one of their hits, “Zero” “Heads Will Roll” or “Skeletons.” Indeed rather dark and morbid sounding titles but the music is quite the opposite. A perfect mix of punk attitude and electro melodies, make this a great listen from beginning to end. “Soft Shock” is slightly more subdued and has Karen O. in quieter singing mode. Although it feels like she could explode at any moment. I would also like to add that the drummer, Brian Chase has the most awesome drumming style. Check out any of their videos. He’s so on point and looks classy as fuck the entire time.

“Soft Shock” from It’s Blitz! by Yeah Yeah Yeahs

A Little Bit of Good News

Yesterday I was obviously a little heated. Sometimes bad news piles up on the same day. But this morning I came across a portion of an interview of Vermont Senator, Bernard Sanders. He basically says exactly what I was saying in the previous post and he plans to filibuster the vote. Hopefully he can talk for days.




Looks like we can add him to the small group of real politicians working these days.

Also, I came across this comic posted on reddit today. I'd say it perfectly sums up my feelings about Obama and the current state of American politics.

Dear Politicians,

 Fuck you.

We elect you to represent us not to represent yourself exclusively. So when offered to continue the tax cuts of the top economic 2% of Americans, it just so happens that many of you (if not all) lie in that category. Now to benefit yourselves, logically you would vote to continue those tax cuts and add an addition $900 billion over the next two years to the national debt so you can save a few bucks that you don’t actually need. OR, you could do your jobs and represent the 98% of Americans who are losing jobs because you can’t keep your hands out of the government’s money.

Now, let’s talk a little bit about lobbyists. It’s no secret that lobbyists run Washington. And that’s because you let them. You don’t have to take their blood and oil-soaked checks that happen to bump you up into that 2% we were talking about earlier. Lets say that you didn’t take money from lobbyists, where would we be? Odds are, if you guys did what you said you would while campaigning, we would probably be a world power like we once were. However, now we’re just another poor, corrupt country to laugh at.

According to the latest news, the democrats haven’t yet signed the bill to keep this bullshit. But that’s just their way of saying, we’re holding out until the lobbyists give us more money to switch to the other side like we were going to anyway.

Yes, I voted for Obama (who apparently has a different definition of "change" than I do). Yes I’m a registered democrat, but I do not like being grouped in with the democratic party of today. When it comes down to it, is there really more than one party? To the public it feels like it’s the people vs. the government. The government, the ones with the power only look out for their own interests while the people, the powerless majority (an oxymoron?) have to bow down and worship your $1000 suits with the little American flag pin on your lapel to show your patriotism. Well guess what, in the previous few paragraphs I have exercised more of my rights and shown more true patriotism to this great country than you probably have in your time in office. 

Like my post earlier about Terriers, it’s looking a lot like it is all about the money. The rich want more and more and more, while the poor are tossed to the side. It feels like don’t care if the middle class is shrinking, you don’t care that the unemployment rate continues to rise and worst of all, you don’t care about what we, the people, have to say. This is no longer a democracy; no, we are so much closer to an authoritarian kleptocracy. So for all those tea-partiers out there claiming that Obama is a socialist and turning our country around in the wrong direction, well, it looks like he’s actually on your side and our country is turning into what you guys wanted—a country wilder than the west. A country where money buys power and those with power are hungry for more. There must be a limit to power but it looks like there’s no end in sight. Now that is a terrible way to run a nation.

Also, John Boehner I hope you get locked in your tanning bed and burn to death.

Sincerely,
An ignored, fed-up and furious patriot

p.s. This letter is not directed at certain politicians, mainly you Rep. Dennis Kucinich and Former Congressman Alan Grayson. You guys have stood up for the people. I can only dream of a country run by people like you who put the American people in front of their own agenda.

December 6, 2010

U$A


This was not the song I was originally going to post today. But things change. As my last post mentioned, (and the next post, just wait on that) money makes the world go 'round. Because no matter how old they get, Wu-Tang is always relevant. Just listen to the lyrics. They say more than I ever could. So without further ado, I present today’s Song of the Day:

“C.R.E.A.M” from Enter the Wu by Wu-Tang Clan

Terriers: One and Done



God dammit.


That was my first reaction when I read that Terriers had been cancelled. In case you’ve never heard of this show, (and judging by its poor ratings, I’m assuming you haven’t) Terriers was an extremely poorly promoted yet brilliant neo-noir set in the Southern California town of Ocean Beach on FX. It starred Donal Logue as Hank, a former alcoholic police officer and now and unlicensed PI with his partner Britt (played by Michael Raymond-James), a former small-time, yet very talented thief.

I was hoping this cancellation wouldn’t happen. FX even allowed viewers to email them pleading for the show to be renewed. I sent in emails several email myself from different accounts but apparently they fell on blind eyes. Sure the ratings were low, but it was one of the most critically acclaimed new dramas of the fall. However, as we all know, it’s all about the money in the good ole  USA and if people aren’t watching, ads wont be rolling in and when the ads go, so does the money.

It pains me to think that a show like Two and a Half Men is the highest rated show on TV right now and Charlie Sheen, a horrible drug/sex addict and possible rapist/sexual assailant gets paid a million bucks an episode. I dare you to watch two episodes of that show at random and let me know if you can tell them apart. Every episode is nearly identical. The only thing that has changed throughout the course of the show is the “half-man” has grown up making him more of a three-quarter man. I will admit the first season or two were entertaining and I did tune in most weeks, but then I realized there was no story, it was just Charlie Sheen fucking some hot young girl, Jon Cryer getting upset about how pathetic his life is and the kid making some smart-ass remarks. Disgusting that millions of people voluntarily watch this every week.

L-R: Raymond-James and Logue as Britt and Hank, Respectively

This brings me back to Terriers. Everything I wrote about Two and a Half Men, well think the opposite and you have Terriers. The show had a few season long story lines that blended in beautifully with the crime-of-the-week plots that drove each episode individually. Terriers had characters with faults that we rooted for every week. Their lives are hard like ours. They’re out there trying to make a buck fighting “the man” and any other powers that happen to be standing in the way of justice. Hank and Britt are small time heroes that exemplify what it is like to be in the shrinking middle class of America. Not some rich guy with a house on the beach and an array of women waiting to sleep with you each day (coincidentally, this characterizes several of the main villains of the show).

So please, when the show comes out on DVD, rent it, buy it, steal it. Whatever. Just watch it. It does the body good to watch a program that is thoughtfully constructed, well written, beautifully shot, expertly directed and amazingly acted. All around this was one of the best television shows I have ever watched. An to think, due to FX’s poor promotion, up until I watched the first episode, I thought the show was about a dog on a beach. I’m glad I was wrong.

One more thing, for the fans of the show, here’s the perfectly fitting theme song for the opening credits:

“Gunfight Epiphany” by the show’s composer, Rob Duncan

December 5, 2010

A Party In His Head

 
In 1983, Tom Waits released an album that started the largest progressive movement of his career. Formally known for jazzy and orchestral albums, Swordfishtrombones was the first album where Waits had total control. He was able to make as many weird percussion noises and growls he wanted. Now, the eponymous track on the album is in a league of it’s own. There is something so cinematic about the xylophone melody and under Waits’ raspy storytelling. In this case, it’s a story about a man returning from war and having a fairly difficult time re-adjusting. Waits, in the last few lines says that there really isn’t a bigger story than this one. So see if it lives up to that.

"Swordfishtrombones" from Swordfishtrombones by Tom Waits 

Clementines


Clementines. Probably the best fruit ever created. They’re in season now and I’ve been eating about 350-400 clementines a day. I highly recommend buying a box. Or seven.

December 4, 2010

Do-do-do do do do-do-do do-do-do do do do-do dooooo

 
“What does it Take” a cover of Jr. Walker & The Allstars’ hit of the same name was released in 1967 on Alton Ellis’ debut album, Mr. Soul of Jamaica—a mix of covers and originals. Ellis ushered in a new genre of music with this album called Rcoksteady, which gave him the nickname, “The Godfather of Rocksteady.” In the Allstars’ original, Walker’s sax solos in between choruses dominate the song but Ellis mixes it up, keeping it more authentically rocksteady-ish and playing an interpretation of the sax melody on a guitar. This coupled with super-soulful background singers with their “do do do do’s” and that traditional reggae guitar rhythm provides for a relaxing yet powerfully emotional song that closes out one of the best debut albums.

"What Does It Take" from Mr. Soul of Jamaica by Alton Ellis 

The Baxter/The State

 
Editor's Note: This is the first in a new series called Watch It Instantly where I will review and recommend movies from Netflix’s Watch Instantly collection.

In Michael Showalter’s directorial debut he brings along plenty of old friends and a few new faces to round out a terrific cast for the hilarious 2005 film The Baxter. An extremely tight and well written script carries this smart comedy disguised as a generic romantic-comedy. The film's cast consists of Michelle Williams, Elizabeth Banks, Justin Theroux, Peter Dinklage, Paul Rudd and many members of Showalter’s own comedy troupe, The State. An extremely well acted film all around, the actors appear so comfortable with each other and each line flows right into the next one that it feels real even though it takes place in Showalter's goofy world. Sure, the story is predictable but stay for the jokes because these guys know comedy and this is how it should be done--with a little bit of heart and emotion behind it. 


Speaking of The State, the entire series of their self-titled MTV show that ran from '93-'95 is also streaming on Netlflix. You're probably more aware of their work than you may think. Alumni of the state have gone on to create the films Wet Hot American Summer and Role Models and such television shows as Reno 911, Stella and Michael and Michael Have Issues—the latter two featuring Showalter heavily. The show The State was a sketch show in the same vain as Mr. Show where he sketches move quickly so if one doesn’t hit, stick with it and two minutes later you’ll be laughing once again.

December 3, 2010

I Wanna Lamp, I Wanna Be In The Shade

 
I have no idea where I found the El Michels Affair album Enter the 37th Chamber but wherever it came from it changed how I listen to the Wu-Tang Clan. The album is a set of instrumental reinterpretations of classic Wu songs. Every song is on point and gives a new perspective on these modern day classics, but “Can It All Be So Simple” is so soulful with such a hot groove, blaring horns and keys that… I don’t even know; they’re just too good to describe, but they'll keep your head nodding through to the next track. I highly recommend the whole album and everything El Michels Affair has done in the past. These guys know funk.

I could have written the whole post about the OG version off Enter the Wu but honestly, who hasn’t heard that song and read countless analyses of it. So instead I went with the El Michels version but I’m also going to link to the original Wu video. Pay close attention to Rae and Ghost during the daytime scenes. Not only is it exactly how I picture them hanging out, but Raekwon shows so much grimey charisma that every word he raps you can feel. I could watch the video on mute and know exactly what they were thinking while recording the song: "lets tell it like it is."

"Can It All Be So Simple" From Enter the 37th Chamber by El Michels Affair 

December 2, 2010

Laughin' and Clownin'


I felt for my first post, it was appropriate to reveal the source of the title for this blog—Laughin’ and Clownin.’ I lifted the title from a Sam Cooke song of the same name off his incredible 1963 album Night Beat. I decided to borrow a title for the blog because this site is not about exhibiting my work; I wanted to create a place where someone can come discover something new. Be it music, movies, news or anything else that could possibly pop up on here. I plan on having a few regular categories starting with the inaugural post being in the Song of the Day category.

As far as the choice of this title, I have always felt that the old saying, “laughter is the best medicine” rings eerily true sometimes. When I find myself laughing at a movie or a joke or a photo I recognize that although it may be brief, I had just felt infinitely better. So when feeling down, follow what Cooke said, "I’m laughin’ and clownin’ just to keep from cryin.’"

“Laughin’ and Clownin’” from Night Beat by Sam Cooke