Underground Rapper of the Week: Phillip Morris

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

Chicago-based international emcee Phillip Morris is in a league of his own in so many ways. He celebrates his nerdiness on tracks like “Must Be a Nerd” and “Get Your Nerd On,” but he is not to be pegged as “nerdcore” by any means, and he goes harder than most gangsta rappers on tracks like “Words Are Gunshots” and “True Calligraphy.” He’s an undeniably charming ladies man who actively cautions women to stay away from himself and any other performers on tracks like “Trouble is My Middle Name,” while acknowledging that “I got no swag, so I understand that it must be the words.” He is an unapologetically party-oriented rapper who is also a well-informed activist – see “Pass Me a Light” for the former and “Revolution Knows No Compromise” for the latter.

By the way, that “international emcee” moniker is no joke. Morris has played all over the United States, as well as various parts of Spain and the Dominican Republic. In addition, his excellent 2010 album, The Truth Campaign, was entirely produced by French beatsmith Tha Truth Tella. Morris has shared stages with the likes of Dead Prez, Souls of Mischief, Kool Keith, Devin the Dude and Guante, among many others. He has also performed and led workshops at a number of schools in the U.S., from Columbia College on down to Ella Flagg Young Elementary School, where he presumably focused on his less raunchy verses. This activity points to his efforts to bring his unique style to everyone from inveterate Hip-Hop-heads to folks who normally don’t even like rap. As Morris himself says of rap, “I’m further than that, creatin’ snuff music with the way I’m murderin’ tracks.”

As innovative and complex as Morris’ rhymes are, perhaps the best way to experience his work is a live performance, where he blends his consummate rapping skill with a wildly expressive and idiosyncratic stage show. He is often known to engage the crowd directly, which may or may not include crowd-surfing while wearing a kilt, which he did at a recent show with Minneapolis-based “Hippie-Hop” collective Wookiefoot. His next live show is in Holyoke, Massachusetts, which he informs me is where volleyball was invented, and he has a new album in the works with Minneapolis-based Hip-Hop crew Wide Eyes (Morris has almost as big a fan base in Minneapolis s he does in his hometown of Chicago). In the meantime, I highly recommend picking up any or all of his four albums, especially The Truth Campaign and his latest full-length, Lady Liberty is Wasted, which is available on a sliding scale from free to whatever you want to contribute.


Josh Rouse: El Turista

RIYL: Paul Simon, your Brazilian grandfather’s record collection

When Josh Rouse moved to Spain a few years ago, nobody really expected things to change with regard to his music career. After all, there are many jobs that can be done from anywhere these days, with touring recording artist being one of them. But along the way, Rouse met and married a Spanish woman, singer Paz Suay, and along with learning to speak Spanish fluently, he also began writing songs in his new home’s language. That’s all well and good, but on his latest, El Turista, Rouse took things a step further by incorporating Brazilian and even Afro-Cuban flavors to the music, including a couple of covers. The entire set also reflects Rouse’s desire to lean toward jazz, without becoming a full-on jazz artist. The result? A mediocre experiment.

There is nothing wrong with trying new things, but the problem with Rouse’s recent musical offerings are that he’s been writing too much – causing his songs to become diluted, at least compared to the stuff he was making in his hometown of Nebraska and in Nashville. It’s not just that, but Rouse is better at the alt-pop thing than he is at the Bossa Nova sound he’s aspiring to, and El Turista is, well, it’s sleep-inducing. That said, dude still has a super smooth voice. The best track on here is the English-speaking “Lemon Tree,” and if you’re in the mood to drink a pina colada and start a conga line, put on the festive “Valencia.” However, if you were/are a fan of Rouse’s earlier material, you may want to run the other way before giving El Turista a listen. (Bedroom Classics/Nettwerk 2010)

Josh Rouse MySpace Page


Happy birthday, Leonard Cohen


Nicole Richie. Luke Wilson. Cecil Fielder. Ethan Cohen. Bill Murray. Don Felder. Stephen King. Jerry Bruckheimer. All these individuals are celebrating a birthday today, but there are two others that deserve special praise. The first is Christopher Joseph Glotfelty. The writer-musician-philanthropist is probably best known to the American public as a blogger for Eat Sleep Drink Music, Premium Hollywood, and Scores Report. Often mistaken for Benny from “The Sandlot,” he is 24 today.

Then we have Mr. Lenoard Cohen. Perhaps the most beloved musician to ever emerge from Canada, Cohen continuously receives critical adoration on par with Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Paul Simon as an older, yet active musician. Funny enough, Cohen first gained attention for his books of poetry, only venturing into the music business once he reached his 30s. After falling in with Andy Warhol and the “Factory” crowd, Cohen’s debut album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, failed to make a huge impact. However, Cohen was persistent and recorded vigorously during the 70s, as songs like “Bird on the Wire” and “Famous Blue Raincoat” slowly increased his appeal. Numerous albums, books of poetry, and awards later, Cohen still has that creative spark. In 2008, he began touring for this first time in 15 years and recieved favorable reviews. During his time off, Cohen spent five years in seclusion becoming a Zen Buddhist monk at the Mt. Baldy Zen Center. Unfortunately, in 2005, he was involved in a lawsuit with longtime manager Kelley Jensen, which he later won.

Cohen turns 75 today and will celebrate while performing in Barcelona. It’s unbelievable, considering he fainted onstage in Valencia, Spain two days ago in the middle of “Bird on the Wire.” And he’s back already? Even at 75, he’s more dedicated than most of these youngsters.