Friendzone, DX James Laurence and Dylan Reznick, aka Friendzone, aren't the first guys to make a lateral jump from the noise-punk scene to making rap beats, but they're way more successful at it than most. The chill-as-fuck "Fashion Killa" from A$AP Rocky's Long.Live.A$AP is their doing, and they produced the entirety of 808s & Dark Grapes III, the latest from Oakland duo Main Attrakionz. They like airy synth pads, lots of reverb, and post-trap beats, which makes their instrumental stuff sound kind of like the rap equivalent of new age music.
The Outsidaz demo This rap crew from Newark, New Jersey, overlapped with the orbits of a lot of major 90s rappers—the Fugees, Redman, Eminem before he got big—but they never caught their own break. Recently rap blogger par excellence Andrew "Noz" Nosnitsky reposted the group's revelatory, beyond-grimy demo tape on his Tumblr; it's got a murky, lo-fi energy, like if Wu-Tang never left the basement, but it's also surprisingly, addictively listenable. You could easily convince an unsuspecting listener that this is the hottest new rap group coming out of Bushwick.
Ras G, Back on the Planet The Sun Ra of LA's eccentric beats scene returns with his deepest, freakiest album yet. Though nominally a collection of rap instrumentals, Planet is equally indebted to free jazz, dub, rockers reggae, and the most out-there fringes of 70s prog rock, all fused into a psychedelic ritual intended to open our third eyes and call down the Mothership.
Miles is curious what's in the rotation of …
Jean Ritchie She is the Mother of Folk! Jean occasionally plays lap dulcimer (she made and sold them in the 50s), but most of her recordings are Jean's lone voice, cheeping through songs about death, flowers, and sobbing. The starkness is overwhelming, because you've got nowhere to hide from Jean's feelings—and that is exactly what I'm so taken with.
The Grateful Dead: Anthem to Beauty This Classic Albums documentary focuses on the albums American Beauty and Anthem to the Sun, and how the Grateful Dead dealt with the music business and one another. It includes more rare footage and better interviews with the band and their peers than other GD films I've seen. I melted watching David Grisman play the "original" mandolin part for "Ripple." To commemorate Jerry Garcia's 18th deathiversary this month, I propose we all get together and project this onto a cloud.
Girls Rock! Chicago If there had been an organization like this when I was a kid growing up in Chicago—a group whose mission was to empower young women and teach them about music, offering scholarships to those who couldn't afford instruments or lessons—I might have become a confident and fulfilled person a lot sooner. It's beyond inspiring to watch these kids plant the seeds for their own future music community that's filled with ladies.
Jeanine is curious what's in the rotation of …
Pat Thomas's book Listen, Whitey! The Sights and Sounds of Black Power 1965-1975 The focus of Listen, Whitey! is an exploration of how the Black Power movement influenced and reflected the music and pop culture of its time. The book brings to light albums I didn't know existed and makes connections that I wasnt aware of between events and recordings. It's a musical history lesson that's never been given before. The cover isn't amazing, but inside there's tons of great LP art.
Shirley Bassey, Bassey: The EMI/UA Years, 1959-1979 Even as a kid, I was intrigued by the powerhouse diva and woman of color who sang the James Bond theme "Goldfinger." Her artistic gestures shine though even when the material gets corny. This five-CD set includes "I (Who Have Nothing)," "To Give," "Without a Word," "The Liquidator" and "This Is My Life (La Vita)," delivered with wailing propulsion—without fail, Bassey brings the drama perfectly. Heartbreak a strong suit . . . the thematic mother of Mary J. Blige never half-steps.
The Chico Hamilton Quintet, Sweet Smell of Success soundtrack Side A of this LP contains the jazz numbers found in the 1957 film, and side B is one long track where the band improvises on the musical themes set up on the first side. This is a beautiful record. Whenever I play it, I just keep flipping it over and over. It doesn't have the Elmer Bernstein orchestrated material, but I don't need it. This is a pretty perfect dose of sonic ambrosia.