Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Top Trinidad Underground Albums of the Year

It's been a decent year for underground albums in Trinidad and when I say decent it's totally without context since this is the first year that I have been able to reliably acquire Trinidad underground releases. Before Highway Records (located in Curepe) came out, there wasn't any place to acquire musical bodies of work from underground artistes... for an affordable price. Before HR, a man woulda had to pump to Rhyner's or Crosby's and take the chance of paying $120TT or so for an artiste they never heard of before. Yeah right!

Recently and now, with $30TT to $50TT in hand, I have been able to get my hands on roughly 24 different albums for the year and it's been an interesting and sometimes good listen. My only two points of contention is that some men really need to up the quality of their recordings (check a studio nuh) before placing a price tag on the front and I would have liked to listen to more stuff (I advise any upcoming artiste who has a mixtape to either link with Highway Records or check out Tru2culture which is a local music distribution company that has connects in several stores all over the country.

And on another point, I done know what some of allyuh men thinking already - if you feel like your sh*t was better than the best I've highlighted then send it to me. If your stuff is that good I don't mind tacking it pon the list. So without further ado in no particular order...

1) Ghetto Child by Make it Hapn

What can I say about this album? This is a landmark body of work not just for underground music and Trinidad hip hop, but Trinidad music on the whole. This concept album about crime and poverty in Trinidad and Tobago brings the listener into a world decorated with exquisite sampled hip hop beats by Beebo (one of the hardest rap producers in Trini) and never lets go until the last song. The best $30TT spent ever. You can probably still get this in Highway Records.

2) The Issues Live by Skeeto

This is actually a mixtape and not an album but for a mixtape and for $20TT the stuff is scarily good. On this cd Skeeto rides the instrumentals for songs like "All about the Benjamins", "Go", "Canon remix" and with a trini accent kills most, leaving the undead badly wounded. I don't know where you can get this now but its worth the listen.

3) Levi Myaz Street Album by Levi Myaz

It's hard to pigeon hole Levi Myaz. Equals parts singer and chanter with the genes of Mr Bring back de old time days aka Nappy Myaz, Levi Myaz holds attention and thrills for the entire duration of an album of more than twenty tracks. This was my first time really listening to him but I will say that I'm impressed. Highway Records may have this.

4) Four Quarters by I.A.L.S.

When a big respected rap group drops an album is not like you have a choice whether to listen. Four Quarters is a concept album whereby four of the group members each commandeer a quarter portion of the album with their individual concept, allowing you to get into the mind of each of the four complimentary but diverse personalities within the group. The vibe is old school hip hop but the beats are insane and I won't advise you to miss out on this especially if you're a fan of old school hip hop and/or I.A.L.S. You can check for this in Highway Records.

5) The Psychotic Modification of Fear by Kayotic Verbal Automatics

Krazy K, J.O. Skillz and Crisis are three more than capable mcs but as a group, they make their mark. The beats set the mood perfectly, taking you on a journey where these three mcs speak largely on the importance of skills and technique to mastering your fear in a world filled with haters and wack mcs. I'm not sure where you can get this now since I got it from the fellas themselves but cop it cause it bad.

Yeah, so that was your list folks. It's been a good year and I wish everyone merry Christmas and a happy new year in 09. Last time for '08, Face out.

Monday, December 22, 2008

You like soca??? Part 2

So I got a chance to wheel and come again and now I'm on to the second part of this topic. Some stuff happened between then, yuh know: Patrick Manning recovered thanks to Cuba, a man made a very informative and intelligent comment on the first part of this series basically knocking the foundations of soca and Iwer George released some more music that makes defending soca harder than defending innocent people from crime in Trinidad. Sigh. Still, it has been a good two weeks.

Now is two things I want to say: firstly, I believe soca is our culture and secondly I don't think everybody has to like soca music. Most people try to leverage the fact that the radio stations blast hip hop, dub, reggae and rock year round and only dedicate three or four months to soca in an effort to disprove its importance to the culture and heritage of Trinidad and Tobago but nah...dats irrelevant. Soca has an indelible effect on all products of these shores which is proven by the great love or contempt Trinbagonians have for it and strangely the effect is never nonchalance. Whether dominant or recessive it's there; like genes.

And similar to hip hop... in the golden age, soca has a culture around it. If you didn't get break dancing, graffiti, reebok classics, Adidas sneaks without the laces, kangol hats or at one point, big gold chains, chances are you would not have gotten hip hop in the eighties as this was before it became mainstream. How then do you expect to get soca if you don't/can't wine, don't know how to wave a rag, never been to a fete, never 'chipped' behind a truck, never walk down de road carnival Tuesday following a Carnival band or never play mas? At the end of the day, this is a music that has its roots in an annual event otherwise known as Carnival. Basically, if you don't get Carnival, you don't get soca.

That aside, I do acknowledge that this insularity of soca is more of a curse than a blessing. The side-blinded focus on the Carnival event in song topics is expected but is a short-coming and a mold that needs to be broken. In recognition of this, I want to highlight some of the soca songs that I think have broken this mold and are songs that I believe can successfully exist outside the context of Carnival. Who knows, this list may be more convincing than anything I have said before despite the fact that changing people's minds is not the purpose of this article.

1) Carnival Darling by 3 Suns - Non-preachy social commentary in soca. A classic.

2) Bonnie and Clyde by Destra - Uses the metaphor of a rag being a sidekick. Vocals and concept hit the target.

3) Amnesty by Machel and Benjai - Mr Conscious Soca and Mr Machel team up against violence.

4) Wishful Encounter by Bunji Garlin - Mr Alvarez gets introspective...we need to hear him in that mood again.

5) Wrong Timing by Blazer Dan - Blazer elevates the sub-genre of situational soca songs.

6) Love Generation by Maximus - Maximus explodes on a big chorus.

7) Luv u tonite by Machel and Maximus (back when he was know as 'Magga Dan') - Machel and Maximus team up to further blur the lines between soca and dub.

8) Spanish Fly by Ataklan - Men might argue that this is rapso but the beat is soca and the song is classic back and forth seduction.

9) This Feeling by Kees the band - This is recent but will be revolutionary.

10) Like 2 Wine by Multi-Symptom - Extraordinary vocals elevate this song to one of the most unfairly overlooked soca releases of all time.

Nice, so I want all you soca haters to ponder on this list. Listen to this list of songs and let me know if you still feel the way you do. And to all the soca lovers - don't forget to comment and let me know what should and should not have been there. Face out.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The official website for Trini hip hop

Yeah people, is Face here. After much hard work and tribulation I have just completed the sixth track of my upcoming album Hitchhiker's guide to uwi (applause). So that means I have three tracks more to go not including an intro and outro. That's good though; it also means I won't miss my deadline to finish recording by early March (if you want to hear some tracks you know where to go).

Safe. Did you know that sometimes you can find some useful sh*t just vibesing on facebook rather than the usual spam in your mail every two days? No? Well I came upon this site called TriniHipHop while liming in one of my favourite facebook groups called Freestyle Fellowship. Initially, I was skeptical about the site because I'm already on a few such sites and most aren't worth the effort but once I checked out the site my fears were put to rest. From an artiste's point of view, this site is exactly what is needed; it is easy to use, contains a wide array of useful options and is focused on the Trini which means you won't get lost in the shuffle like on myspace.

And if you aren't an artiste don't worry, you can still have a worthwhile time on this site. The site makes it easy to browse the content of other artistes so you can pass through and watch the videos and/or listen to the music offered by Trinidadian hip hop artistes. Setting up a profile took me like two minutes and in five more minutes I already linked to my youtube videos and uploaded one of my songs. I don't endorse much sites but trust me when I say that this one is worthwhile so make sure and check it out. Face out.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

You like soca??? Part 1

Do I like soca? Yes I do. By my estimates, roughly ninety percent of the T+T population express more than a passing interest in soca music...during the carnival season. Local enthusiasts of rock, dub, hip hop, pop, electronica, house, trance and what have you are liable to "throw some waist" on the famed last week coming into Carnival Monday and Tuesday. Yet a lot of these same people scoff at the notion of Soca music being a serious artform and watch me like I'm mad while I happily bounce to my Soca in the middle of the year. What kinda scene is that?

Apparently, Soca is seen to many as music to 'give yuh a vibes' and inspire jamming and wining during a certain period of abandon but is not expected to auger any serious thought or effect any social change. With the exception of the last part of the statement, I would support this view since I believe that Soca belongs to the wider genre of dance music inside which the goal of making you move takes precedence over all others (lyrical dexterity included). But then techno, house and other dance music are seen as serious music to its local enthusiasts as opposed to Soca so maybe it isn't the dance emphasis that lowers its rank.

Maybe then, the problem lies in the insularity of its topics; admittedly, popular lyrical staples of every soca artiste's rhyme book like "Carnival is bacchanal" seem irrelevant during the rainy months of August. However, how can you knock an entire genre for the foils of some or even many of its practitioners. Would you say medicine makes no sense because of experiences with a few bad doctors? No you probably wouldn't so don't blame the game because the players are lazy.

As a music enthusiast I usually find myself defending soca. It's not that people don't like it but uniformly, once a serious musical discussion takes place, smirks begin to crack once soca is referenced. We might be talking about how important a hook is to a song and I may say something like: "Repetition is an important ingredient to many great hooks, like soca music for instance..." and then the eye rolling and half grins begin. These situations really make the patriot in me want to body slam someone.

I believe that soca has two main strengths: its ability to mix well with different genres of music (a fact that Machel has made lots of money on) and its intrinsic malleable nature (more complex but related to the first point). At its best we have "No war" by Machel Montano, a song that winers probably didn't realise was a 'conscious' song until the video came out. At these levels, soca can send a message without being preachy. At its worst we have Iwer George repeating the word "hand" almost ten billion times in one song. This song revels in banality with part of its appeal being its notoriety for lack of creativity rendering it a landmark in lack of imagination. Bad songs make it hard to defend soca but I believe a genre, like any system should be judged by its best products even when that best is rarely reproduced.

I know it may seem weird that I've decided to write about soca but this stuff has to be said. As an underground artiste in Trinidad, soca music is seen as the enemy mainly because a lot of terrible soca songs slip through the cracks yearly to make it big on radio whereas many more talented artistes in other genres can't 'eat a food'. Frankly, as cruelly ironic as that maybe, I find such contempt misplaced and counter-productive so in the second part of this discussion I'm going to quantify and qualify the reasons why soca is a serious musical artform. Until then, Face out.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Trini Videos on Youtube :The most influential ones ever

Aye folks, waz de scene. Somehow I managed to get my body ravaged by the flu last week Friday and I'm only now catching myself so I suggest to all to take those vitamins.
Anyway, since this will most likely be the last of the "Trini Videos on YouTube" for the year I've decided to cap it off by highlighting the most influential trini videos with some brief commentary next to it. These are the videos transcended sometimes low budgets and foreign bias to become darlings in the eyes of viewers and inspiration to countless 'me-toos' in years following. Enjoy.

Xtatic - Music Farm

Shows exactly what you can do with a low budget and plenty charisma. This is still my favourite video from Machel Montano.

Xtatic - Big Truck

The song by itself was revolutionary but the video was a cut above all other soca videos at the time. Too many good man wining on de fence, de big truck shutting down, Denise Belfon wining...wait Denise Belfon?

Underwater riddim - various artistes

This is not really a trini video as it only features one trini artiste but it has been imitated many times in Trinidad and regionally.

Reach - Rizon

Yeah I know, I'm calling this one a bit early but I think it will be imitated in years to come. This is probably at the top of E-zone's resume.

Voom voom - Ghetto flex

Back when the word 'ragga soca' was a commonly used term, this one of the first big hits in that genre and the production values of this video were amazing for its time.

Hard Wuk - Denise Belfon

Couldn't find the actual video but this broke ground as the raunchiest soca video ever. Probably tame by current standards.

Keep it pumping - Rikki Jai

The video came out in the 80s and featured rough looking animation. Apparently, that was all it needed.