Etc . . .
(Gritty Goat)

J Dilla has only gotten more popular since his 2006 death, at age 32, from a rare blood disease. Dilla records are still coming out (including this year’s Jay Stay Paid), raps set to Dilla instrumental tracks are de rigueur on hip-hop mix tapes, and young producers (among them underground phenoms Flying Lotus and Jay Electronica) are basing their styles on his brand of stratchy, fractured beats in such numbers that j dilla changed my life is starting to seem like more than just a T-shirt slogan—it could double as the name of a new subgenre. Local producer Radius is certainly part of that camp, and unlike the many talent-free dudes who’ve anointed themselves Dilla disciples, he shares not just the master’s taste for roughly chopped samples and messy loops but also his skill at making them sound good. Radius’s stuff has got the requisite elements—hissy samples, beats that seem to do everything but straight boom-bap, an overall hazy, blunted vibe—but he borrows from club music in a way that sets him apart from the pack. The stuttering kick-and-hand-clap beat of “Cosmic Rush Hour” manages to evoke juke without actually being too much like a juke beat. “Organics” pulls off a similar trick with a house influence. And with its propulsive percussion and frequency-swept piano, “Zone In/Out” sounds like funky 70s jazz reimagined by stoned aliens.

(mix tape)

Raised in Gary, Indiana, but currently working out of LA, Freddie Gibbs got a huge boost when the New Yorker‘s Sasha Frere-Jones called him “the one rapper I would put money on right now” in an October 26 essay on the state of hip-hop. Yesterday he was just another MC dropped from a major label without a release—he’d recorded plenty of material but lost his deal after the guy who signed him left the company—and now he’s being touted as the future of rap music. The people at Interscope should be kicking themselves—Gibbs obviously has the potential to become much more than just a critics’ darling, and the mix tapes that have catapulted him into the spotlight include lots of tracks he made while he was still with the label. His taste in backing beats runs toward the dark paranoid style that came out of Houston and now dominates a good chunk of mainstream rap, and his vocals add a bit of heavy-but-nimble Houston-style flow to the double-time delivery that Twista and Crucial Conflict have made synonymous with Chicago. Anyone laboring under the mistaken impression that Gibbs is all hype should check out the video shot by the Fader where he murders “Iodine Poison” (a cut from his latest mix tape, Midwestgangstaboxframecadillacmuzik) with an iPod playing the backing track through a hotel clock radio.

Rain of Ashes
(Basses Frequences)

Locrian are two guys on a mission to bum people the fuck out. Or at least that’s what I get from their music. The new Rain of Ashes, like most of their voluminous output (this Friday’s show is a release party for it as well as for a split seven-inch with Harpoon on HeWhoCorrupts Inc. and the cassette Endless Plains/Flat Horizon on Peasant Magik), is the sonic equivalent of one of those deep-winter days where the landscape is mostly pollution-gray slush and anything you might gain by bothering to get out of bed seems unworthy of the effort it would take to do so. I guess you’d call what they do metal, but it’s a far cry from most other things you’d call metal. Recorded live at the University of Maryland’s radio station, WMUC, the two half-hour excursions on Rain of Ashes weave together ambient droning keyboards, guitars, and washes of static that occasionally coalesce into something that approximates drumless black metal—a throbbing blur of distortion accompanying hideous, unintelligible shrieks—or maybe the sound design that haunted the kids in The Blair Witch Project. The fact that so many people do consider Locrian metal is testimony both to the fantastic breadth of the genre these days and to the absolute grimness of the music.

“Something Is Wrong” remix

Given how many cable-news talking heads tried to blame Derrion Albert’s death on hip-hop, it’s surprising that so few rappers went out of their way to dispel that notion—Lupe Fiasco even went along with it in an interview for WGCI. Unsurprisingly one of the few who spoke out was Mississippian David Banner, who’s made a name for himself by working politics into his tracks, even the club bangers, and following through outside the studio—he’s a tireless philanthropist and famously offered up his tour bus to shuttle water, supplies, and displaced people after Hurricane Katrina. The beat on “Something Is Wrong” comes from 9th Wonder, former producer for North Carolina conscious-rap outfit Little Brother, and its sustained organ chord and looped snippet of a wailing vocal provide a funereal tone appropriate to the subject. But the focus is of course on the lyrics. Banner comes through with what the blog Nah Right refers to as his “slap-some-sense-into-you style of social commentary,” taking gangbangers, drug dealers, and trap rappers to task, and the crew of Chicago MCs he recruited for this remix matches his heavy message and urgent tone. Rhymefest steals the track with an anguished diatribe against a city government that’s willing to let black neighborhoods rot and big-name hometown rappers who were conspicuously quiet on the Albert tragedy. Addressing the need for grassroots change, he notes sardonically, “We can’t expect Kanye and Com to do it.”

No Dreams Please E.P.
(Big Legal Mess)

Rich Crook played with a bunch of great Memphis garage-rock bands—the Reatards, the Lost Sounds, Viva L’American Death Ray Music—before stepping away from music in 2006 to take a job on an oil rig. He came back later that year with the idea for a power-pop group called Lover!, which played its first show in May 2007 and has so far released two albums and a mess of singles on labels like HoZac and Douchemaster. Earlier this year Crook and his girlfriend moved to Chicago, and in the summer he took drummer-about-town Matt Williams down to Mississippi to record at the Fat Possum studio. (Since then the band has finally settled on a live lineup: Crook, Williams, Aaron Orlowski from the Baseball Furies on bass, and Johnny “Valiant” Grissom from the Black and Whites on guitar.) Though the accounts of the session I’ve heard make much of the oppressive deep-south heat, it doesn’t seem to have affected the bright, airy power pop on No Dreams Please. Crook’s an ambitious songwriter, avoiding simple verse-chorus-verse structures and stretching songs well past the four-minute mark. He’s best when he slows things down: “Three Fools” is mellow and countrified, with tastefully applied pedal steel and piano, and the six-minute closing epic, “Downstairs to Hell,” adds organ and a flute that can’t help but remind you of “Stairway to Heaven.”