Spring is here, and that means a lot of new music. Here are a few of the hundreds of homegrown talents attempting to put their stamp on music and the arts. Read on.
Nothin’ II Lose
Stage II Volume II
Maybe I’m not the right man to review this CD. Maybe I’ve seen hip hop repeat itself too much, and often too soon. Any way you cut it, I’m glad Nothin’ II Lose has nothing to lose, ’cause I can’t see them gaining anything substantial if the two songs (“Don’t Dare Me” and “Money”) from their single are previews of how their album will sound.
They’re not bad emcees, though they rap like Trillville and Tupac.
Their beats aren’t bad, either. But the reason you don’t need to hear their record (at least this single) is because you’ve heard it all before.
Let’s see. They all act a muthafuckin’ fool. They kidnap yo’ bitch. They sell drugs (gotta sell drugs). They curse. They tryin’ to stack (read: earn and save money). They threaten to pull the strap.
Oh, and you, dear music lover, upon whose buying dollar their career depends, are occasionally referred to as a muthafucka.
Music Brokers, Inc.
Everyone say Auto-Tune. And then, be thankful C.E.L. doesn’t use it.
Today’s R&B blows so much hot air, often using this voice-altering technology, that when the occasional authentic talent wafts by, it seems like a novelty.
Yes, dear reader, it’s true. Having the ability to sing is not a prerequisite for today’s singers. If you can pose in front of a jillion dancers, whine prewritten, superficial songs, look good and be the sound track to a kid’s wet dream, it’s all gravy.
C.E.L. is a welcomed throwback. She’s got a cool, confident voice. She doesn’t oversing phrases. She controls the scale with warm, mature tones.
Homegirl is a rarity.
“What I Like” feels like a hot summer afternoon on the front porch. On “My Ticket,” she focuses on distinguishing herself from hip hop and R&B’s riff raff. “Too many emcees, not enough mics,” she sings. “Too many singers, not enough types.”
If you’re gonna like C.E.L., you’re gonna like her for the same reasons people liked Nina Simone or Roberta Flack. You’re gonna like her because she’s good, because she writes her own lyrics, and because she is not afraid to rely on her abilities.
Journey’s weakest moments come during the opening track, “Get Down,” which, musically, is too uninspiring to make lasting impressions or accurately forecast the album. The rhyme at the break also comes off formulaic. It’s a misleading first impression.
The second cut, “Little Johnny,” is aiight, but I recommend giving Journey three tunes to warm up; C.E.L.’s real ability starts to shine on track three, “Love.” (I.V. Duncan is one of the city’s dopest producers, but his true talent doesn’t emerge until this song.) The rest of the album is just what the title suggests.
If you’re into pre-packaged vocalists, pass C.E.L. by and wait on 3LW’s next joint. They just started recording yesterday, and they might be done tomorrow.
My bad, that was a body blow.
Truth & Theology
Soda Pop Publishing
To understand how excited hometown poets are about Mathias dropping a CD, you’d have to understand the close-knit community of writers that gathered at Café Mahogany on Tuesday nights during the late ’90s.
The man was a humble, talented crowd favorite who regularly gave props to other artists. He also kept an ear tuned to his environment, which helped him stay abreast of the surrounding community’s sensibilities. He continues these practices on his debut CD, Truth & Theology.
This is probably an early front-runner for one of the year’s best poetry albums. Mathias’ greatest asset is his voice, a strong baritone, and he carries each song on his shoulders.
Mathias’ work is very complex at times, so some of his messages already require intent listening. This might be too demanding for those who like to catch that quick, easy vibe when playing CDs.
Fortunately, Mathias consistently hovers above the music, so his soundbeds are complements, not distractions.
“Attention” is a good opener, a slightly anarchic beginning to an otherwise jazzy mission. “P.O.E-X Radio” reworks a Mahogany favorite, setting Mathias up as host of a revolutionary radio station. Guest vocalist Inohs Sivad’s alt-soul texture creates good atmosphere on the song.
Mathias doesn’t try too hard to impress the listener. His humility shines on the evocative “Time,” and on the Gil Scott-Heron and hip-hop influenced “Afflictions,” where the poet breaks down into a lament that calls out world conditions. All the while, his delivery remains measured, another tactic that keeps his poetic flows from competing with the music.
Having four interludes might disrupt the flow of the CD for some, but the total project clocks in at just under 40 minutes. The average performance poet could challenge Minister Louis Farrakhan’s attention span, so this is a perfect length for a poetry album.
Production by respected bands like Third Element and Black Atomz smooth out any rough edges. Ultimately, Mathias will leave listeners wanting more.
It’s About That Love
Kahn S. Davison and Symonia “That Poet Girl” Montgomery are respected as much for their hustle as their talent. Davison is making a name for himself as an actor, writer and information source for homebound poets and out-of-towners looking for new arenas to spit their latest pieces. Montgomery, meanwhile, is honing her writing jones into an actual career as a recording artist and poet.
Their first album as a duo, It’s About That Love, exposes more strengths than weaknesses in their performance styles. It’s an enjoyable project that puts their passions for community and family on display, while leaving room for technical growth.
Davison’s is the more aggressive voice of the two. The former Michigan Citizen reporter is a fluid thinker with a hilarious, sometimes R-rated sense of humor. He’s the angry brother with punchlines for fists. To wit: You one of them my-definition-is-a-label cats/I-wouldn’t-be-shit-without-my-jewelry cats/Couldn’t-give-a-sister-a-orgasm-if-your-life-depended-on-it cats/Don’t-know-shit-about-black-history-but-Martin-Luther-King cats.
Kahn’s heavy-hearted counterpart, Symonia, centers her themes around heartache and child-rearing. She tells her life stories in first-person and, though her poetry is less advanced, her sincerity makes her work sing.
Khaos’ styles are vastly different, but their chemistry succeeds because poetry does not lend itself to styles. That is their blessing and curse.
Their words can be wildly entertaining and provocative at times, but they are given to long pieces (“Release” and “United”) that may be better-suited for live readings. There is also a need to slow their delivery. Performance poetry may be the last entertainment frontier that actually sells itself on its messages. It’s important to measure delivery so there is no question as to whether the audience is getting it.
In the end, Khaos has an engaging debut. I’m looking forward to the next project. See more at www.lovekhaos.com.
3rd Eye Open
Slo Poke Presents the 3rd Eye Open Mixtape
New Rising Sun Entertainment
Considering the relationship between urban poets and hip hop, it’s surprising that a poetry mix tape was not produced sooner. The 3rd Eye Open Poetry Collective should feel proud. As far as I know, Slo Poke Presents… is a first.
This is a well-crafted fusion of hip-hop beats, some more recognizable than others, and performance poetry. It’s experimental, so it bears its share of highs and lows, with the mix tape concept remaining the most interesting element of the project.
Beats blend together to give the album a seamless feel. 3rd Eye waxes pessimistic about culture and politics in America.
High points include “Black Like Me,” a team piece that pits group members hardCore and Tiffani in a struggle between the black man who grows up in a comfortable suburb, and the black woman who matures in a single-family home in the hood. This theme also injects itself into joints like “Backstroke of Liberty” and “Neo-souless Urban Art.” Bundalero, during one of the many “Voices of Wisdom” interludes repeats the word “mankind,” and then calls it “the ultimate oxymoron” just as it starts to feel like it’s going nowhere. He saves it in the nick of time.
Toward the middle of the disc, Slo Poke bogs itself down by succumbing to long-windedness; it’s about ten poems too long, and with the longer pieces (seven minutes plus) coming in toward the end, it’s hard to stick with. Also, like Khaos, the poets’ quick delivery sometimes makes it hard to keep up.
When they speak too quickly, you feel like you’re missing out on something. I mean, we always expect to hear substantive messages from poets, right?
Overall, this is a triumphant project that increases the national image of Detroit’s poetic community. It’ll no doubt spawn copycats, so 3rd Eye Open gets props for kick-starting something new.Khary Kimani Turner is a Metro Times staff writer. E-mail [email protected]