Underground Rapper of the Week: Muja Messiah

Underground Rapper of the Week is a new feature designed to raise awareness of rappers from all over the world who, if that world were a perfect place, would be more famous than they are. It will be updated every Tuesday before the sun goes down. Feel free to email suggestions of slept-on rappers from your city or wherever to: ezra.stead@gmail.com

Minnesota’s Hip-Hop scene has a reputation for being “all backpackin’ and hippie,” in the words of Minneapolis’ own Muja Messiah, who embodies the opposite of this stereotyped emo / conscious vibe. However, Muja also can’t be pigeonholed into the gangsta stereotype, either, transcending expectations with the revolutionary but gangsta style of Dead Prez mixed with the raw, hardcore energy of M.O.P. Muja has been consistently one of the very best guest verse assassins in Twin Cities Hip-Hop for over a decade before releasing his back-to-back masterpieces, the MPLS Massacre mixtape and Thee Adventures of a B-Boy D-Boy, his full-length solo debut, in 2008.

Muja Messiah has been a local hero for a long time, but started gaining wider attention with his song “Patriot Act,” a politically minded collaboration with fellow Minneapolis legend I Self Devine. Muja balances his socially conscious wordplay with intensely gritty and personal tales of his life running the streets on tracks like “The Madness,” as well as stories of the good life like “Get Fresh,” on which he indulges his love of clean, new clothing and the triumph over poverty it represents. in other words, Muja’s music covers many of the tropes for which Hip-Hop is known; what sets him apart from so many other rappers covering the same ground is his ridiculous flow, sporting an enviable vocabulary without ever coming across as a know-it-all dictionary rapper. The way he mixes obvious intelligence with hardcore street smarts makes him one of the very most exciting rappers in Minnesota.

Though he remains decidedly underground and unafraid to stay that way rather than compromise his integrity, Muja has made some big moves since he began rapping over a decade ago. The most famous rapper in Minnesota, Slug of Atmosphere, appears on both MPLS Massacre and B-Boy D-Boy, and Black Thought of the world-famous group The Roots appears on “Give It Up,” from the latter album. Muja’s take on the M.I.A. song “Paper Planes,” featuring Minnesota by way of Ghana rapper M.anifest, also made big waves when his mixtape dropped, as did the internet favorite “Amy Winehouse,” which has nothing to do with the late singer other than a brief cocaine reference early in the song: “You know I got that white girl, that Amy Winehouse / Give it to the right girl and she gon’ dyke out.” With his new collaborative project, Villa Rosa, featuring fellow Twin Cities rapper and singer Maria Isa, Muja Messiah is definitely an emcee to watch out for.

Bullz-Eye’s Top Ten Music Moments of 2010: Staff Writer Rob Smith’s Picks

In my mind, 2010 will be remembered more for moments of strangeness, oddity, and lessened expectation, than it will be for transcendent music. The throwaway nature of pop has never been more transient or incidental; technology enables us to hear as much as we want and, by the sheer volume of those possibilities, to actively listen as little as we ever have. How else to explain Ke$ha and the Glee cast recordings, much less the continuing nonsense of Black Eyed Peas? Raise your hand if you think Bruno Mars or Rihanna are still going to be churning out hits ten years from now, or that Katy Perry (more about her below) will still be squeezing into latex after she and her pasty Brit hubby have two or three little Russells to contend with, and things start saggin’.

I will remember 2010 for several key moments:

Top 10 Music Moments of 2010

1. The Roots, Being the Roots. Are they the best band on the planet? It’s hard to argue when their versatility is put on display every weeknight, and when they reiterate their overall excellence by turning out two of the best records of the year (How I Got Over and Wake Up, with John Legend).

2. Dio, Chilton Die. We lost metal’s gentle sorcerer (Ronnie James Dio) and Big Star’s genius-in-residence (Alex Chilton) within a few months of one another. May they both rock in peace.

Read the rest after the jump...

Bullz-Eye’s Best of 2010: Staff Writer Scott Malchus’ picks

Each year, when I sort through my favorite songs, I have trouble ranking them because each one has a different meaning to me. I always wind up creating a mixtape (or a playlist, for you younger readers) of those songs and arrange them so that the music flows like a great album or concert set. Without further ado, here’s my mix of the twenty songs I returned to for repeated listens throughout 2010.

“Fade Like a Shadow,” KT Tunstall
Tunstall continues to produce pop gems that are spirited, bright and full of life. This single from her latest, Tiger Suit, has everything you want in a single: a passionate delivery, a great melodic hook, and a unique rhythm that helps it stand out from other songs. A great way to kick off a mix tape.

“I Should Have Known It,” Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
The lead single from Mojo has that vintage Petty snarl and bite. The rest of the album may be a mixed bag, but this great rocker builds to kick-ass guitar jam and stands up with some of their best.

Read the rest after the jump...

Bullz-Eye’s Favorite Albums of 2010: Staff Writer Mike Heyliger’s picks

I seriously can’t remember the last time I’ve had to struggle with a list of my favorite music in a particular year. Actually, I can, so I should clarify: I seriously can’t remember the last time I’ve had so much good music to choose from when paring down my list of favorites for the year. Upon looking at my CD collection (yes, I’m one of those guys), I still see another 10 or 20 albums that could make the list if I listen more carefully. But without the benefit of the free time it would take to check those CDs out, here’s a list of the 20 best albums I’ve heard in 2010.

1. Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
As much as Kanye’s childish tirades infuriate me, I’ll be damned if his music doesn’t always win me over. Fantasy is amazing from just about every facet: musically, lyrically, thematically. I’ll forgive ‘Ye for a million idiotic public statements if he keeps making music like this.

2. Gil Scott-Heron: I’m New Here
One of two albums in my Top 20 recorded by artists re-emerging after a 14-year absence, I’m New Here is a haunting listen. The ravages of time have wreaked havoc on Scott-Heron’s voice, but much like Bob Dylan’s most recent work, age has given the artist’s voice additional resonance.

3. The Black Keys: Brothers
Sometimes the album that breaks a band through to a mainstream audience is indeed their best work. That’s definitely the case with the Black Keys’ Brothers. Bluesy garage-rock with enough hooks to keep guys like me interested, I feel like this is the album Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney were aiming for with their Danger Mouse-helmed Attack & Release album. As it turned out, they didn’t (really) need Danger Mouse, anyway, just their bad selves and the ghosts of Muscle Schoals, Alabama.

4. The Roots: How I Got Over
Can someone give these guys a medal for the most consistently awesome act not only in hip-hop, but in music period? I feel like the Roots are incapable of making a bad album even if they tried to. Although I suppose if they replaced Black Thought with Jimmy Fallon…

5. Cee Lo Green: The Lady Killer
“Fuck You” (or “Forget You,” if you’re easily offended) was a gimmick single, sure. However, even gimmick singles can be genius, and what’s more is that the Goodie Mob/Gnarls Barkley frontman was able to back the promise of that song up with an incredible album. I wish he rapped more, but when you can outsing just about every artist in contemporary pop and R&B, I guess you can be excused.

Read the rest after the jump...

John Legend and the Roots: Wake Up!

RIYL: Bill Withers, The Roots, Raphael Saadiq

john-legend-roots-wake-up-cover-e1279246652953[1] Before he reached the presidency – and thus subjected himself to at least four years of being picked apart, second-guessed, and portrayed as a letdown by pollsters and pundits – Barack Obama was a signal of meaningful social change, and a source of profound inspiration, to millions of Americans. His roots as an urban community organizer served as a reminder of a time when community really meant something – particularly in the black community – and raised hopes for a return to outreach, investing in urban infrastructure, and a renewed focus on the common good.

People were hoping for a paradigm shift, in other words, and those never happen as quickly, simply, or clear-cut as we feel like they should (as a passing glance at any newspaper will tell you). But that’s the thing about major change: As slowly as things might seem to be moving on the surface, moments of inspiration have a way of paying unexpected dividends. Case in point: John Legend and the Roots’ Wake Up!

Conceived during the 2008 election, Wake Up! combines Legend’s political awakening with the Roots’ peerless soul scholarship to produce an album that functions on two levels: One, as a call to greater personal responsibility and communal awareness, and two, as a sort of gateway into the classic records Legend and the Roots chose to cover. As chief Roots ambassador ?uestlove points out in the liner notes, these songs will be appreciated by two generations – the folks who still remember Baby Huey, Bill Withers, Harold Melvin, and Donny Hathaway, and the younger listeners who have grown up hearing bits and pieces of the music repurposed for hip-hop beats. (In a nifty, knowing twist, Wake Up! includes a cover of Ernie Hines’ “Our Generation” that features a guest verse from CL Smooth, who sampled the song 18 years ago.)

There’s something a little off-putting about the fact that a call to attention this powerful has to rely so heavily on songs that have been around for decades, and listening to Wake Up! – as with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band’s similarly themed 2006 cover of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On album, conceived in the wake of Hurricane Katrina – you may find yourself alternating between feelings of joy and disappointment. It’s hard not to wonder why today’s young soul artists aren’t making new music this marvelously aware – or why, if Legend was going to end the album with an original cut, he couldn’t have come up with something more deserving than the mawkish “Shine.”

On the other hand, great music is timeless, and there’s no denying that every one of these classic songs is every bit as resonant today as the day it was originally released – or that Legend and the Roots prove capable, empathic interpreters of the material. Wake Up! isn’t a new soul classic, but it reaffirms the undimmed relevance of the artists who helped shape the genre’s golden era. Here’s hoping the album expands the spirit of inspiration that brought it to life – and that other artists heed its title’s call. (Columbia/G.O.O.D.)

John Legend MySpace page

The Roots: How I Got Over

RIYL: Common, Mos Def, De La Soul

The most surprising aspect of the Roots’ excellent ninth studio album How I Got Over is not that it’s something of a downer. Looking at the band’s discography going all the way back to 2004’s The Tipping Point shows a group of guys in a bit of a bad mood, which continued through their next two albums, Game Theory and Rising Down. Their gig on Jimmy Fallon’s late-night show, while presumably providing a steady paycheck, has not lightened them up, at least in terms of lyrics and message.

No, what hits you first on the new album is how laid-back and confident they sound while delivering the bad news. The Roots have always drawn on soul and other strands of black music to inform their brand of live instrument-based hip-hop, but this could almost be thought of as their folk album. Guest stars include not just fellow rappers such as Dice Raw, Truck North and P.O.R.N. (none of whom outshine the perpetually slept-on Black Thought), but artists decidedly outside hip-hop circles including Monsters of Folk, Joanna Newsom and the Dirty Projectors. How I Got Over may strike some listeners as a little too mellow at first, but on repeated listens this album is almost guaranteed to grow on you. Black Thought again lives up to his name, relying less on spitting “live rounds that will penetrate a vest” and more on insights that penetrate the mind. And while many of the songs seem like an attempt to catalog as many social ills as possible in rhymes, as the album goes on it picks up in terms of energy and mood. Things culminate with the almost feel-good anthem “The Fire,” an “Eye of the Tiger” for hip-hop heads. (In one of the album’s clever twists, “The Fire” is a collaboration with John Legend, and it follows “Doin’ It Again,” built on a John Legend sample.)

That’s followed up by the straight up ass-kicker “Web 20/20,” a welcome throwback to old-school Roots, and then the album ends with the slow-rolling “Hustla,” which breaks the world down into hustlers and customers. Not the most cheery thought in the world, but what do you want? These are the Roots. They only play happy on TV. (Def Jam 2010)

The Roots MySpace page

21st Century Breakdown: Jim Washington’s Best Albums of the 2000s

As I compiled my list of the best music of the decade (a much, much longer list than you see here) one inescapable conclusion reared its shaggy head: the last 10 years pretty much belonged to Jack White.

How many other artists produced five stellar albums in the aughts, not to mention a couple of killer side projects and (that old rock critic standby) incendiary live shows?

No one, that’s who.

So, the best album of the decade really came down to which White Stripes album did you like more, White Blood Cells or Elephant.

Thankfully there’s no wrong answer. I first became enamored of “Fell in Love With a Girl,” totally fell for “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” became quite close to “We Are Going to Be Friends” and spent a lot of time in “Hotel Yorba” and “Little Room.”

On the other hand, Elephant had “Seven Nation Army.”

“Seven Nation Army,” motherfuckers. How could a song released in 2003 sound like it invented the bass line? Not just that bass line, but the whole concept of bass lines.

So as we recap our favorites of the decade, rock lives on into the new century in various forms, from low down and dirty to high and arty to pulsating and poppy, while what was once the cutting-edge hip-hop has devolved into auto-tuned disco synth. No doubt something new will emerge in the next decade to take our minds off it.

1. The White Stripes: White Blood Cells (or Elephant)
2. Wilco: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
3. Outkast: Stankonia (or Speakerboxx/The Love Below)
4. Green Day: American Idiot
5. The New Pornographers: Electric Version (or maybe Mass Romantic)
6. The Flaming Lips: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
7. LCD SoundsystemL Sounds of Silver
8. TV on the Radio: Return to Cookie Mountain
9. Jay-Z: The Blueprint
10. The Strokes: Is This It?

Just a few of the runner-ups:

Queens of the Stone Age: Songs for the Deaf, Rated R
Belle & Sebastian: Dear Catastrophe Waitress
Drive By Truckers: Southern Rock Opera, Dirty South
Sufjan Stevens: Come On Feel the Illinoise
Arcade Fire: Funeral
Franz Ferdinand: Franz Ferdinand
Decemberists: Picaresque, Crane Wife
Radiohead: In Rainbows
Ben Folds: Rockin’ the Suburbs
Missy Elliott: Miss E…So Addictive
The Roots: Phrenology

Yo Gabba Gabba: Music Is…Awesome!

RIYL: Old school hip hop, hipster bands, your children

Anyone who was lucky enough to snap up a copy of 2008′s here-today-gone-yesterday Yo Gabba Gabba! CD will likely be disappointed with Music Is…Awesome!, the newest release of songs from the TV show that’s a hit with both kids and stoners. Eight of the 13 tracks from the previous release are here, along with songs from the Shins, Chromeo, Of Montreal, I’m from Barcelona, and Money Mark. That’s a whole lotta hipster, right there, and the decision to include the hipster bands over acts that actually had our kids singing along – there is no excuse, for example, for the exclusion of the Aggrolites’ “Banana” or GOGO13′s fantastic ska tribute “Pick It Up” – is a curious one, to say the least. Then again, the soundtrack supervisors had positively tons of bands to choose from (The Bird and the Bee, the Ting Tings, Mates of State, Jason Falkner, MGMT, Jimmy Eat World, Datarock, the Clientele, etc.), not to mention original songs (“Hold Still,” “Please, Thank You”), so it stands to reason that they were going to leave some essential YGG moments out. Be that as it may, Music Is…Awesome! is good, but not quite as awesome as it could have been. (Filter/Fontana 2009)

Yo Gabba Gabba MySpace page
Click to buy Music Is…Awesome! from Amazon

The Dirty Projectors: should I believe the hype?

A couple months back, I watched the Dirty Projectors perform on the “Late Show with David Letterman.” They played “Cannibal Resource,” a song off their newest album, Bitte Orca. I’m very critical of new music. Often, I’ll immediately disregard a band if they look too young, have multiple keyboard players, have stupid haircuts, or use unnecessary, flashy instruments. Yeah, yeah, it’s unfair and mean-spirited but in this day and age where billions of bands are thrust at the public, I think I’m in the right. There’s too much of everything.

On “Letterman,” I really wanted to like the Dirty Projectors. They didn’t seem obnoxious and I appreciated their simple set-up. However, I just felt the odd rhythms didn’t mesh with the fluid singing. Well, I think they hit the ball out of the park on “Fallon.” They opted to play a non-album track called “When the World Comes to End.” Listen as the female gibberish bounces throughout the studio in wonderful harmony. When the lead singer and guitarist ventures into that meaty solo, it just works. This song reminds me of something Stereolab might write. Now there’s a great band.

As you know, the Roots are the house band over at “Fallon.” Band leader and drummer, ?uestlove, invited the Dirty Projectors into his dressing room to see if they were they real deal. That meeting is below.

I don’t know. What do you guys think about this band?

Bullz-Eye’s Favorite Albums of 2008: Staff Writer Jim Washington’s picks

It’s the dawn of a sunny new day in America, but we’re still working through the past in this year’s batch of music. But great art can come from great pain, right? Some people deal with it by making sad music, others try to lift you up. There was plenty of super music from both camps this year.

Best albums of 2008, in no particular order.

Beck: Modern Guilt
Take some Beck, add a little Danger Mouse and a lot of existential angst, what do you get? A killer album from an older, wiser and more bummed-out Beck.

Vampire Weekend: Vampire Weekend
You can’t possibly be in a bad mood while listening to the upbeat, world music-infused indie rock of VW. This is the album I probably played more than any other all year. Really, who does give a fuck about an Oxford comma?

The Black Keys: Attack & Release
After leaving a Black Keys show this summer a buddy of mine said, with echoes of Jack Black, “That rocked so hard my stomach hurts.” That about sums them up.

Elvis Costello & The Imposters: Momofuku
EC is riding high these days with a cool new TV talk show, but it’s this raw, energetic album, banged out in a few weeks, that tells us he still matters.

Ryan Adams & the Cardinals: Cardinology
Ryan Adams, newly clean and sober, made two really good albums this year and last combining his pop and alt-country pasts. Here’s hoping he stays on the straight and narrow in ‘09 and beyond.

My Morning Jacket: Evil Urges
“Highly Suspicious” turned off as many people as it turned on, but tracks like “I’m Amazed” put this solidly on the list of feel-good albums of the year.

TV on the Radio: Dear Science
Art rock? Dance rock? Yes. TVOR produced an album of tortured songs about love in a bleak time.

Death Cab for Cutie: Narrow Stairs
Death Cab created a darker, and yet more uplifting sound on this album, which produced a new classic anthem for stalkers with “I Will Possess Your Heart.”

N.E.R.D.: Seeing Sounds
Not to be too much of a homer, but Pharrell and company (who hail from my neck of the woods) put out a freakily brilliant album this year. Alongside home girl Missy Elliott, it makes you wonder what’s in the water down here.

The Roots: Rising Down
The perfect rap album for the end of Bush’s America, chock full of anger, fighting and hate. Here’s hoping the next one will be just as good, but a little sunnier.

Welcome to 2009 everybody!

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