The Phuncky Feel One (May 11th, 2018, Columbia, MO)

Anytime I get out Cypress Hill’s debut album, I can’t get beyond the first four tracks. Why? Because I just repeat-play those for about a week. I’m sure you will think of others, but no rap album I know opens so strong and so deep. Absolutely classic early Muggs production, unfortunately still spot-on bloody-slice-of-hood-life lyrics (“Being the hunted one is no fun!”), defiant MCing courtesy of B-Real–plus the “Pigs” / “How I Could Just Kill a Man” / “Hand on the Pump” / “Hole in Your Head” sequence is ridiculously catchy and pithy. The rest of the album is fine, but in contrast it might as well be filler. I’m still re-running them this morning–third time, after five times yesterday!

But, what I’m writing to report are two personal memories the record conjures. As a 30-year-old teacher in Missouri, I had few friends who were hip hop fiends. Really, two: my wife Nicole and my buddy and groomsman Mark, who out of the blue could bust multiple bars from Cypress Hill with pinpoint accuracy and attitude. At the time, immediately after he’d explode into MC mode and expostulate, I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do. I think he probably wanted me to kick in a few bars myself, but a) my memory and articulation weren’t as precise, and b) where Mark had command and rhythm (by the way, did I mention how addictive the accents are on this album?), I “rapped” the way you would imagine a Kansas-farm-rooted white boy might–um, uncertainly. What I did feel like doing was clapping and nodding my approval at Mark’s performance, which seemed a paltry thing in the face of his enthusiasm, commitment, and interpretive skills. Bottom line: 26 years later, I remember his eruptions very fondly.

The other memory is of a moment in the classroom. The school I taught at housed students even a fan like me would have a hard time scooping when it came to the freshest hip hop. Actually, most of the time, I was the student: Spice-1, Brother Lynch Hung, X-Clan, and MC Eiht are just a few acts about whom I specifically remember receiving wisdom. However, shortly after Cypress Hill was released and had become heavily-rotated in our home, I found myself teaching a young man who is still in my pantheon of most enjoyable, intelligent and enriching students I ever shared space with for 180 50-minute classes (that’s 1/6th of a teacher year). “Dice” was damn-near a man at 15: over six feet tall, with an athlete’s build, both an easy, good-humored manner that made him friends and a subtle edge that probably gave most strangers pause, and a mature sense of humor and world view. These gifts were not enough to keep him out of trouble–in fact, they (and the fact he was black, more than occasionally) could land him there. In my class, however, he was a star. He was always on top of our class reading, and he had a talent for being able to voice controversial opinions passionately without creating an apoplectic state among his less-enlightened peers. He was also incredibly receptive; when we read Shane (yeah, it was a novel first!), I figured he might tune out, since he had no obvious ways in. Quite to the contrary: he was engaged in the book beginning to end and simply adapted it to the truths of his world. A damn pleasure to teach–and he knew his hip hop!

One day, just wanting to give something back to him, I cautiously asked him if he’d heard Cypress Hill, expecting to be gently ridiculed.

“Naw! Who’s that?”

The next day, I slipped him a dub of it on cassette, and he returned the following day with this report:

“Mr. O, that shit is wild! They’re on the real, and they’re bilingual! Thanks!”

As much an obsessive as I am, you’d think I’d have had many moments like this in my educator guise, but no, not really–especially where rap is concerned. I will always treasure that moment when I enlightened the student who was consistently enlightening the teacher.

When my Cypress Hill jones kicks in, it always brings memories of Mark and Dice, two of the most impressive men I’ve known. I just hope one day I play it and the problems at the center of “Pigs” and “How I Could Just Kill a Man” are things of the past.

Short-shrift Division:

William Faulkner Reads from His Works (The Sound and The Fury and Light in August)–I always thought he’d sound taller and deeper-chested! Still, I always wondered how you’d read this stuff aloud, and he delivers it with, what else, “an inexhaustible voice.”

Charles Mingus: The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady–Swirling, turbulent jazz on the cusp of madness. Plus, ain’t this the second time I’ve written about it in ’18?

Peter Brotzmann and Fred Lonberg-Holm: Ouroboros–Another second-time subject, and…it’s confirmed…a 21st century free jazz masterpiece.

Jamila Woods: HEAVN–If you missed this poignant poet and gentle singer’s 2016 classic, hey, plenty of American recorded music isn’t disposable. There’s still time for you to be enlightened, inspired, and bewitched by one of Chicago’s finest.

Expository Listening, Expository Thinking: A Lesson that Really Worked!

Today at Stephens College, where I teach freshman comp with a pop music focus, I executed one of those rare lessons that works on every level you hope it will. Feel free to steal and/or adapt it!

My students’ next essay assignment is to focus in on a music-related topic they’re interested in, then choose the appropriate expository mode for exploring it. On Tuesday, we reviewed some of the expository modes I’m encouraging them to try (comparison/contrast, problem-solution, description, definition, cause-effect, classification), but I sensed some anxiety and disconnect. As of last night, partially due to being hella busy this week, I still didn’t have a solution for that condition, so I just slept on it, then woke up with this (funny how that happens to teachers):

In class, we are going to listen to (and watch) four excellent singers–Billie Holiday, Anita O’ Day, Jamilia Woods, and Dolly Parton–in action.

As you listen and watch, you are going to think about the following expository modes of analysis and writing, and jot down corresponding observations you make in your notebook or on your device:

Description (external) – What does the singer sound like and how does she present herself?

Definition (internal) – Who or what does the singer seem to be?

Classification – How would you classify the singer, according to official and unofficial terms of classification?

Cause –> Effect – In listening closely to the singer, what effects do you feel as a result of her performance? What specific aspects of the performance cause those effects?

Comparison/Contrast – How are these singers similar? How do they differ?

By Sunday night, transfer your findings in coherent, expanded, and more specific form to the associated discussion board, and be prepared to respond meaningfully to one fellow students’ post.

We began with the above clip from “The Sound of Jazz”–the famous last hot flame from the doomed Billie Holiday. I prompted them by reviewing the above modes, then played the track for them. Afterwards, just for modelling’s sake, I asked students to share some of their observations:

Description: “soulful,” “relaxed,” “rhythmic.”

Definition: “A woman who knows pain.” “She has experienced a lot.” “She is a singer who connects with her band and the audience.”

Classification: “Blues singer.” “No! Jazz singer!”

Cause–>Effect: “She was glowing!” –> It mesmerized me.” “She was getting in tune, effortlessly…”–> “It left me in awe.”

I could not have responded more accurately myself. From the evidence, my idea seemed to be working. I’ll know for sure when I see the discussion board posts and the essay rough drafts.

The other tracks I played them (I need little reason to show the first to every class I teach, regardless of subject).

Jamila Woods’ scintillating and brand-new Tiny Desk concert, which I can’t figure out how to embed.

 

Here’s 117 records from late-2015 to December 31st of this complicated year, the high quality of which I can vouch for from multiple lessons, I mean listens. If I’d have to put a grade on ’em, current and former students and fellow teachers, I didn’t give an A+, and there’s nothing below a B+. 15 days remain in December, so we may have some work turned in just under the wire, and some of these may shift up and down in the spotlight as I keep revisiting them (for example, I may be checking myself too much on the new Stones album; the worst of Jinx Lennon’s two excellent records from 2016 may be getting a boost because I love the best one so much; “grading” the estimable Wadada Leo Smith’s sprawling parks tribute is a chore just the first time through; I just got a new Tom Zé, and he’s dangerous and a grower given repeated exposure); Chicago workaholic Serengeti just dropped a new one today. Nonetheless, I’m posting results. Come back and visit in a few days. However, I suspect that Queen Bey, the charms of whom I’ve mostly resisted her whole career, is unlikely to be knocked off her throne–note that she gets the top spot by virtue of the CD + DVD version. Happy holidays, and support these artists with your cash instead of just streaming or stealing! (More links coming soon!)

2016 TOP 10 FULL-LENGTH RELEASES

  1. Beyoncé: Lemonade (CD +DVD)
  2. Saul Williams: Martyr Loser King
  3. Tyler Keith and The Apostles: Do It for Johnny
  4. Tribe Called Quest: We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service
  5. Rihanna: Anti
  6. Various Artists: Desconstrucão–A Portrait of São Paulo’s Music Scene
  7. Jinx Lennon: Past Pupil Stay Sane
  8. Car Seat Headrest: Teens of Denial
  9. Tanya Tagaq: Retribution
  10. Jamila Woods: HEAVN

THE REST OF THE TOP 40

  1. J. D. Allen: Americana
  2. Chance the Rapper: Coloring Book
  3. Elza Soares: A Mulher do Fim do Mindo
  4. The Paranoid Style: Rolling Disclosure
  5. Anderson Paak: Malibu
  6. Elizabeth Cook: Exodus of Venus
  7. Anna Hogberg: Anna Hogberg Attack
  8. Joe McPhee and Paal Nilssen-Love: Candy
  9. Blood Orange: Freetown Sound
  10. Bombino: Azel
  11. Vijay Iyer and Wadada Leo Smith: A Cosmic Rhythm in Each Stroke
  12. Alicia Keys: Here
  13. Aesop Rock: The Impossible Kid
  14. Leonard Cohen: You Want It Darker
  15. Meet Your Death: Meet Your Death
  16. Wussy:Forever Sounds
  17. Thao & The Get Down Stay Down: A Man Alive
  18. Jemeel Moondoc and Hilliard Greene: Cosmic Nickolodeon
  19. Parquet Courts: Human Performance
  20. Solange: A Seat at The Table
  21. Drive-By Truckers: American Band
  22. Aram Bajakian: Music Inspired by the Film The Color of Pomegranates
  23. Nots: Cosmetic
  24. Yoni & Geti: Testarossa
  25. Kel Assouf: Tikonen
  26. Tyshawn Sorey: The Inner Spectrum of Variables
  27. Jinx Lennon: Magic Bullets of Madness to Uplift Grief Magnets
  28. Aram Bajakian: Dolphy Variations
  29. John Prine: For Better, Or Worse
  30. Aesop Rock and Homeboy Sandman: Lice 1 & 2: Still Buggin’ (EPs I am considering as a single album–they are free, so hit the hyperlinks)

Best of the Rest (Alphabetical Order)

  1. 75 Dollar Bill: Wood / Metal / Plastic / Pattern / Rhythm / Rock
  2. Beasley, John: MONKestra, Volume 1
  3. Bowie, David: Blackstar
  4. Bradley, Charles: Changes
  5. Braxton, Anthony: 3 Compositions [EEMHM] 2011
  6. Brown, Danny: Atrocity Exhibition
  7. Cavanaugh: Time and Materials (EP)
  8. Cave, Nick: Skeleton Tree
  9. Childbirth: Women’s Rights
  10. Coathangers: Nosebleed Weekend
  11. Dalek: Asphalt for Eden
  12. De La Soul: …and the anonymous nobody
  13. DeJohnette, Jack: In Movement
  14. Del McCoury Band: Del and Woody
  15. Dylan, Bob: Fallen Angels
  16. Fulks, Robbie: Upland Stories
  17. Garbage: Strange Little Birds
  18. Gates, Kevin: Islah
  19. Gray, Macy: Stripped
  20. Kondi, Sorie: The Freetown Tapes (2006-2016)
  21. Konono N1 Meets Batida
  22. Kool and Kass: Barter 7
  23. Lamar, Kendrick: Untitled Unmastered
  24. Lambert, Miranda: The Weight of These Wings
  25. Lewis, Jeffrey, and The Jrams: A Loot-beg Bootleg
  26. Lewis, Linda Gail: Heartache Highway
  27. Lopez-Nussa, Harold: El Viaje
  28. Lost Bayou Ramblers: Rue Vermilion Revival
  29. Lowe, Allen: In the Diaspora of the Diaspora–Down and Out Down East
  30. Lynn, Loretta: Full Circle
  31. Martinez, Pedrito: Habana Dreams
  32. McPhee, Joe, and Ray Boni: Live from the Magic City
  33. The Men: Devil Music
  34. Mexrissey: No Manchester
  35. M. I. A: Aim
  36. Murray, David: Murray, Allen, and Carrington Power Trio–Perfection
  37. Natural Child: Okey-Dokey
  38. N’Dour, Youssou: #SENEGAL REKK (EP)
  39. Neville, Aaron: Apache
  40. Oblivian, Jack, and The Sheiks: The Lone Ranger of Love
  41. Oddisee: Alwasta (EP)
  42. Open Mike Eagle: Hella Personal Film Festival
  43. Perfecto: You Can’t Run from the Rhythm
  44. Person, Houston, and Ron Carter: Chemistry
  45. Pusha T: Darkness Before Dawn
  46. Pussy Riot: xxx
  47. Rolling Stones: Blue & Lonesome
  48. Rollins, Sonny: Holding Down the Stage–Road Shows, Volume Four
  49. Rush, Bobby: Porcupine Meat
  50. Slavic Soul Party!: Plays Duke Ellington’s Far East Suite
  51. Smith, Dr. Lonnie: Evolution
  52. Smith, Wadada Leo: America’s National Parks
  53. Stampfel, Peter, and The Brooklyn & Lower Manhattan Fiddle/Mandolin Swarm: Holiday for Strings
  54. Stetson, Colin: Sorrow–A Reimagining of Gorecki’s Third Symphony
  55. Tempest, Kate: Let Them Eat Chaos
  56. Threadgill, Henry (conductor): Old Locks and Irregular Verbs
  57. Toussaint, Allen: American Tunes
  58. Various Artists: Khmer Rouge Survivors–They Will Kill You, If You Cry
  59. Veloso, Caetano, and Gilberto Gil: Dois Amigos, Um Seculo de Musica–Multishow Live
  60. White Lung: Paradise
  61. Young Philadelphians (with Marc Ribot): Live in Tokyo
  62. Young Thug: Jeffrey
  63. Zé, Tom: Canções Eróticas de Ninar
  64. Zé, Tom: Vira Lata na Via Lactea

New Old Stuff

  1. Various Artists: Music of Morocco–Recorded by Paul Bowles, 1959
  2. Van Morrison: It’s Too Late to Stop Now, Vols. II, II, IV + DVD
  3. Pylon: Live
  4. James Booker: Bayou Maharajah (DVD)
  5. Swanee Quintet: The Complete Nashboro Recordings 1951-1962
  6. Beatles: Live at the Hollywood Bowl
  7. Angry Angles
  8. Julius Eastman: Femenine
  9. Various Artists: Soul Sok Sega–Sega Sounds from Mauritius
  10. Betty Harris: The Lost Queen of New Orleans Soul
  11. Blind Alfred Reed: Appalachian Visionary
  12. Professor Longhair: Live in Chicago
  13. Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys: Let’s Play, Boys–Rediscovered Songs from Bob Wills’ Personal Transcriptions