premiere: makaya mccraven’s ‘suite haus’ swings hard

Count 2018 as one of those occasional years when jazz regenerates its context by stealing away from the rarefied and insular spaces of older crowds, straight towards the club and the young ears of people who’ll move to it — with London and Chicago among the movement’s hotbeds. On his new album, Universal Beings, Windy City-based drummer/producer Makaya McCraven creates collisions between the “new jazz” epicenters, recording a slew of tracks on which musicians from those locales (as well as Los Angeles and New York) initiate grooves, which McCraven then takes back to the lab Madlib-style, and chops up into dance-floor burners.

Universal Beings by Makaya McCraven

“Suite Haus” is one of the album’s London sides, and features an all-star line-up of the city’s exploding group of improvisers, with saxophonist Nubya Garcia, bassist Daniel Casimir and Rhodes player Ashley Henry rounding out the quartet. Led by Garcia’s deeply melodic tenor line and multiple loops of McCraven moving all over his kit, it smokes like a classic (but contemporary AF) re-edit of a Oneness of Juju or Osibisa track, the kind of thing crate-digging DJs and producers will flock to.

L-R: Nubya Garcia, Daniel Casimir, Ashley Henry and Makaya McCraven (photo: Fabrice Bourgelle)

It is also a perfect exemplar of McCraven’s process — take the raw parts of a great jam, and post-produce them into something greater — as well as an insight to how today’s improvisers engage with recordings versus live performances.

“The intro section [of “Suite Haus”]  was just Nubya playing a melody,” Makaya told AFROPUNK. “We were setting up a groove, an African kind of vibe with this triple kind of feel and rim-shots which gives it a woody, organic sound. And then when it flips to, like, a house track, that’s where there’s a lot of tight chopping and then a bit of overdubbing to develop the track. I called it ‘Suite Haus’ because after that first little triplet section, which sounded very sweet (major diatonic-y, and simple), the second section becomes a little more house, darker, grittier. That was really the meat of that piece, the house section, so to speak.

“When it gets to that second part, that’s when the track starts to bump, and you start to get that hard, looping feeling of contemporary sound of electronic music because of the tighter chopping, and after that we’ve kind of transcended into a different realm. Which is something I really like about that track.

“That’s the way I like to think of it: When you’re in the room with us, that’s an organic space. When I take that and re-contextualize it [with studio post-production], then what we’re listening to is not just being in the room with the musicians, but a world that doesn’t exist, a sonic space. That’s one of the challenges to performing this music. Unless you come and see me doing an electronic set, it will never sound exactly like the recording. From a jazz musicians’ perspective, now we’re gonna take the nuts and bolts of the thing that I produced, and we’re gonna reinterpret that through the lens of performing musicians.”

Welcome to jazz, circa 2018.

Makaya McCraven’s Universal Beings is out on International Anthem on October 26th.

musing on prince’s ‘piano & a microphone 1983’

It’s 1983 and Prince is sitting at home with a sound engineer, a piano, and his microphone. What followed was 35 minutes of Prince unleashed as a pianist and vocalist, teasing out emergent ideas that would one day become full-grown album features. The songs were originally recorded on a cassette tape and now the Prince estate has released them as Piano & a Microphone 1983, the first album to make it out of Prince’s expansive archive, the Vault.

Unfiltered creative energy seeps through the recording as the musician’s voice modulations and piano permutations of funk and gospel give the listener the distinct feeling of being in the room as Prince works away at the instrument. The informality of the recording is proof that it wasn’t meant for mass consumption owing to the experimental nature of each piece; the single-take vocals still manage to carry the right amount of feeling and texture even as he plays around with vocal styles, imbuing each song with a different persona.

The album is 9 songs that are an amalgamation of familiar Prince songs as well as unreleased recordings and musical sketches. “17 Days” opens up the album which also includes a brief excerpt from “Purple Rain”. Album tracks “Strange Relationship” and “International Lover” are accounted for alongside covers like Joni Mitchell’s “Case Of You” and Aretha’s gospel powerhouse “Mary Don’t You Weep” (which was featured on the BlacKkKlansman soundtrack). “Wednesday”, “Coffee & Cocaine” and “Why the Butterflies” make up the previously unreleased tracks.

The recording re-establishes Prince’s “boundless musicality” as described by the New York Times. “Nearly all of the lyrics are, in some way, about longing,” portrayed through lyrics like ” Iknow your head is under water, I doubt that you can hear me” in the song “17 Days”. The singer/songwriter weaved through genre effortlessly in his production yet his ability to communicate the ennui of the forlorn 20 different ways through his lyrics is a skill highlighted by his musical musings throughout the album.

Thanks to the Prince estate, we get to enjoy the raw talent of a legend in a way that transports us to the day this album was recorded, a year before the release of “Purple Rain” and the birth of the legend status that would follow Prince to the end and beyond. The icon’s genius is solidified so to be graced with an intimate look into that process and passion is the gift that Prince keeps giving.

Piano & a Microphone 1983 is out everywhere.

the internet released the sensual soundtrack to your summer with new album ‘hive mind’

In this time of uncertainty, long Summer days can feel never-ending. Luckily for us, The Internet came through and gifted us with the sensual, funky soul album of the Summer with their latest release, ‘Hive Mind’.

Was gonna wait til the morning to post but fuck it. We put our hearts, our souls, our tears and so much time into this album. We hope this inspires you to follow your passions, listen to your heart, come together and support one another. We love you guys so much. Hive Mind is out now 🤧 thank you!

A post shared by The Internet (@theinternet) on Jul 19, 2018 at 9:53pm PDT

When the band went on to pursue solo projects after releasing ‘Ego Death’ back in 2015, vocalist Syd, guitarist Steve Lacy, producer Matt Martians, drummer Christopher Smith and bassist Patrick Paige II came back and combined all their individual growth to create a cohesive “slow burn” masterpiece that can easily provide the perfect soundtrack to our memorable Summer moments.

The band will be bringing their sensual funk and smooth vocals to AFROPUNK BROOKLYN and ATLANTA so I hope yall copped your tickets!

this former prince background singer is bringing the funk in the video for her new single ‘the pepper club’

Judith Hill already boasts the kind of career musicians would KILL for and the songstress is just getting started. The singer/songwriter/musician has snagged a Grammy for featuring in Academy Award winning documentary ’20 Feet from Stardom’. Hill also released an album in 2015 called ‘Back In Time’ that was produced by the late legend Prince, who also performed on the album. Hill’s career highlights don’t stop at Prince either, having previously done backing vocals for the likes of Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson.

On May 18th of this year, Hill released the video for her new single “The Pepper Club”, the first single released on her new 13-track studio album “Golden Child”. “Golden Child” is also the name of the musical she penned as she was making her album. “As I kept creating, I realized there was a story to be told, a message that carried a common thread. That’s what inspired the musical.” Hill told Billboard. The musical will be an immersive experience where the audience will sit in the middle much like an installation “celebrating the collaboration between art, fashion and music.”

Rolling Stone has praised Hill for her “stellar powerhouse vocals” that she lends to her to feel-good, funkadelic track ‘The Pepper Club’. Characters in the play are introduced in the video which is littered with a groovy choreography and sweeping camera movements that match the constant energy shown by the inhabitants of ‘The Pepper Club’.

funk and hip-hop trio free dystopia got the groove to lift you out of dystopia on ‘trial & error’

I’m not sure if there’s a better band name for this moment in time than Free Dystopia. Despite the name though, the band is anything but dystopian. Their latest EP Trial & Error, is a collection of funk, hip-hop, indie rock, and a little jazz for good measure that has the power to lift you out of the darkest despair. Led by singer / bassist ARTLOVETRAP, the trio has an easy chemistry that comes off in the interplay on opener “Panties.” The interplay between the members is highlighted in the instrumental jam “The Flood,” which builds from DEMIGODQ’s simple guitar riff into a heavy crashing beat courtesy of drummer RONDON before washing away to nothing. The closing songs “Last Year” and “Liability” features ARTLOVETRAP’s best lyrics, balancing introspective musings and pleas for strength. Check out the whole EP below along with the video for “The Flood.”

soul king fantastic negrito crafts an anthem to resilience on ‘please don’t be dead’

“Take that bullshit / Turn it into good shit.”

The triumphant reinvention of Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz as Fantastic Negrito is one of the very few, if not only, 3rd acts in rock.  After a twice-sidelined solo career, once by the coma that gives Please Don’t Be Dead its album cover, Dphrepaulezz came roaring back in 2014 as one of rock’s most sought after live acts. With 2016’s The Last Days of Oakland, Fantastic Negrito won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album, capping off 20 years of hustle.

Please Don’t Be Dead might be Dphrepaulezz’s second album in the spotlight, but it’s hardly a sophomore effort. It’s merely his first album where he’s not the underdog. And that confidence looks good on him. The album is full of surprising left turns and experimental quirks that color in the margins of his blues, soul, and funk. Highlights like “Plastic Hamburgers,” “The Duffler,” and “Bullshit Anthem” deliver the kind of uptempo anthems fans have come to expect, mixing the personal with the political and an almost religious passion. But most surprisingly, it’s Please Don’t Be Dead‘s ballads that shine brightest.

Dphrepaulezz explained the title is in reference to his son, and living in fear that he could be end up yet another casualty in America’s war on black youth. And the struggle against that fear is present in “A Letter to Fear” which insists “whatever you do to me / I will carry on.” “A Cold November Street” and “Dark Windows,” meanwhile boast the album’s best songwriting. “Dark Windows,” in particular strips away the bluster and defiant party vibe of the rest of the album to wrestle with the dangerous world we find ourselves in.

“I wrote this album because I fear for the life of my black son. I fear for the lives of my daughters. I am uncertain about what kind of future they will face. Will someone shoot up their school? Will they become addicted to prescription pills? Will they wind up on the street, sleeping under freeways and overpasses? Will the police murder my son? I came up with the name Please Don’t Be Dead because I felt like we’d lost of our way as a society – and I know what happens when you chase the wrong things. It’s the story of my life.” – Fantastic Negrito

The album closes with the plea to “Never Give Up” before launching into the funk hook of “Bullshit Anthem.” As the daily news of 2018 turns in one new horror after the next, we all need a reminder to take that bullshit and turn it into that good shit. But there may be no-one earth who can deliver a line like “I get knocked down / But I keep on fighting” with the sincerity and wisdom of experience as Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz. Please Don’t Be Dead is a monument to resilience built on the ashes of missed opportunities and fear.

premiere: fishbone leader angelo moore turns marvin gaye classic into modern funk manifesto with “inner city blues”

Dust off your pin stripe suit, cock your bowler to the side, and bust out your theremins kids; the immortal Angelo Moore’s back! The Fishbone singer’s been making noise on the side with The Brand New Step for the past few years, and we’re beyond psyched to share their latest track. “Inner City Blues” is an update of the Marvin Gaye classic. Moore and company open up the groove and rough up Marvin Gaye’s smooth edges for a track that cuts to the bone.

“The lyrics are hauntingly relevant today,” Angelo Moore tells AFROPUNK. “Inner City Blues ironically reminds us all that the phenomenon of the inner cities – and rural areas of the US – with poverty, homelessness, increasing gentrification are real and haven’t changed much since the original version.”

Zona Foto |

Butterscotch helps Moore with vocal duties, Claude Coleman Jr (of Ween) is on drums, and Moore fills in the corners with squealing sax, unearthly theremin, and urgent shouts. The band twists the originals mournful solemnity into a surreal dance party on the ashes of history. The funk vibe just foregrounds the fact that so little has changed since Gaye wrote the song in 71. “Perhaps most haunting is the lyric ‘trigger happy policing’” Moore points out. “Makes me wanna holla!”

premiere: soul faves n’dambi & all cows eat grass team up for new ep, and it’s pure star shine

N’Dambi and All Cows Eat Grass describe their Air Castle EP as “a time capsule aboard a deep spacecraft headed to eternity,” and it’s clear what they mean. N’Dambi’s 70’s soul vibe meets T. Brown and ACEG’s 80’s electro-funk, but somehow despite it’s retro trappings, it sounds new. Futuristic even. It’s like a collaboration between Syreeta and Quincy Jones aboard the Mothership. Or maybe the original Battlestar Galactica; a vision of the future seen through the lens of the past.

The EP’s best moments come when they embrace that space is the place. “On Borrowed Time” and “Air Castle” find the band refreshingly ungrounded–untethered, and the results are stunning. While always sounding distinctly like themselves, they open up their sound and go to some seriously unexpected places. “Nowhere,” meanwhile boasts N’Dambi’s best hook and a synth line made of pure star shine.

Get your own space capsule here:

premiere: future-funk quintet on high resurrect the 1970s with their vibrant single “jailbird’s theme”

The first thing you need to know about On High is that the pair is virtuosic, back-breaking creatives who came together to give birth to a vibrant debut project, “Never Die” and it’s first single ‘Jailbird’s Theme’. A straight-forward cry of resistance, determination, and electricity, Kareem Bunton and Konstance Patton unfurl a heady mix of jazz, funk, and EDM with razor-sharp lyricism, courtesy of writer Bunton who paints shimmery visuals over lush soundscapes that defy the boundaries of genre. A treat for both old-school R&B heads longing for the days of Curtis Mayfield to the eclectic funk junkies of the SoundCloud era, On High’s latest single “Jailbirds Theme” has got something for everybody.

“‘Jailbird’s Theme’ is such a familiar story that I probably shouldn’t take credit for writing it. Every black family has a son, brother, or father who was taken from them by the streets and prison industry,” says Kareem Bunton. “Burdened with harsh charges for relatively minor crimes there are generations of black men who are stuck in a hellish limbo. Stunted, ostracized, and rejected with no avenue for redemption. Jailbird’s Theme is a song about the path from preschool to prison that so many are destined to walk unless things change in America.”

brooklyn funk and rock quintet cries out for justice in the epic “tragic city”

From the spoken word intro to the spacious electric piano, On High’s debut single “Tragic City” traces a line back to the 70’s with a decidedly modern spin. The collaboration between Kareem Bunton and Konstance Patton adds some punk energy into a classic funk sound. It’s a song that cries out for the people of Brooklyn caught between a constantly expanding playground for trust fund kids and start-up billionaires on one side and rising sea levels on the other. The quintet’s debut EP Never Die is slated for an April release. Stay tuned.