CHICAGO

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10min2610

There’s that scene in Love Jones where Darius Lovehall recites a poem, which was an ode for Nina Mosely at the Sanctuary, the poetry and jazz club that the two met and frequented often with friends.

As soon as Pieces of A Man was in my earshot, it was as though I could see and smell the clouds of smoke in the club, waitresses taking countless orders from those fortunate to get a seat at one of the few tables in the big room filled with those with the proclivity for bohemian vibes.

Depending on the performer, the entertainment value in poetry sessions can be equal to that of a simple book club. But this album is a gesture to Mick’s days as a poet in the poetry collective, Young Chicago Authors.  He opens with a sonnet on Heron Flow setting the scene for the whole album, then the joint takes a soulful funk twist with some singing by Julien Bell.

Pieces of A Man displays Mick’s evolution as a young black man as well as an artist which excites me, that he’s only 27 years old creating such rich music.  His bars pack the same truth as a Dave Chappelle joke.

From the jump, I built a connection with the song Ghost, one because of the beat that break so nicely on Mick’s flow and two, the content and his brash delivery. He hints at being a recluse who isn’t too concerned by superficial stuff that come with the fame because ultimately, he knows his worth.

N define worth to me,

’cause I won’t win the trophy

I been watchin’ it closely,

All that glitter’s just garnish

And I’m more partial to Parsley,

And all the medals will tarnish,

You played your hardest

And they ate your heart out

I found these lines particularly interesting because at age 27, most artists still harbour dreams of winning an award and receiving recognition from dubious industry gatekeepers. But Mick shows that in his isolation and in finding himself as a man, he’s made peace with the fact that he won’t be a celebrated kat like a Kendrick Lamar, not for lack of skill, but because of industry red tape.

One thing that most of us struggle with as we get older, is growing apart from friends that we’ve known for a years. This could be because they aren’t on the same level with you socially, financially and otherwise. He talks to that discomfort in Pull Up.  He could’ve done without Grace & Mercy on the project-listening to the song was the equivalent of going to the lavatory during a great show for about a minute and 51 seconds, and then coming back for the enjoyment.

I find Corinne Balley Rae’s music insipid, it’s not about her talent. Her music simply doesn’t stick on me. But I found the Brit quite sexy in this song Consensual Seduction. It was like hearing a singer from my church doing sensual music, and actually finding her attractive. She’s a great feature and a surprising one too. If I had heard the song before she recorded her part, I would bet my life that Mick was gonna rope in a Ravyn Lenae. Soft Porn is another joint I enjoyed, the beat reminded me of Mick’s Get Up Get Down joint from his Waves project. Soft Porn is slower and raunchier.

Mick’s writing is enjoyable to listen to and even read through- listen to Barcelona to get what I mean. I disagree with a friend of mine though, who called me in excitement after the album dropped, to say Mick Jenkins is the lyricist of our generation. He’s an astonishing writer who perfectly puts his vocabulary into good use, but I don’t know who or what that doesn’t allow me to agree with that outrageous statement that he’s the best of our generation. To which includes, Kendrick Lamar, Joyner Lucas, Tobe Nwigwe, J.I.D, Lupe Fiasco and Acidrap Chance The Rapper among the long list. My definition of “this generation” is from around 2006 when the mixtapes went from spittin’ on popular beats, to actually creating bodies of work that can stand next to albums.

Fittingly titled Reginald, Mick displays his pen game and perspective. He places himself as a ruler and one to gives sound counsel on a few things, staying in pocket on the lazy beat, delivering poignant rhymes.

Don’t spend too much time in mirrors,

Reflections will get you cought up,

Connections will get you brought up in conversation,

You basing everything you know about me from moments,

I’m more a compilation of composition, it’s complicated,

I’ve contemplated so many perspectives,

Accommodated my vices, exonerated emotions,

And then I’m copin’ Macaulay Culkin,

I’m trappin’my demons over Bohemian Rhapsody

The theme around poetry is palpable, but Pieces Of A Man is quite complex. Poetry plays the role a conduit in the piecing together the man’s narrative . Gwendolynn’s Apprehension is based on African American poet, Gwendolyn Brooks’ 1959 poem We Real Cool. That Brooks’ words still carry weight as they did when her piece came out almost 60 years ago is telling of how youth, despite era, think they’re beyond reproach and just too cool for school.

BadBadNotGood’s working relationship with the Chicago rapper is a great match. The album’s last track, Smoking Song was sitting alone with Mick, sharing a joint by the corner of the club after he just gave the packed room himself.

Love Jones was a classic film that transcended the time, but unfortunately did not do well in the box office. Pieces Of A Man shares that sentiment of timelessness, I just hope it doesn’t get slept on.

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8min1470

In your music collection there’s at least one album created between 1998-2003 at the Electric Lady studios. That was the period which the studio homed the music collective The Soulquarians, the gods of the Neo-soul sound.

In 1998 D’Angelo moved into Electric Lady Studios in New York to record his Voodo album. He roped in drummer Questlove to work on the follow-up to Brown Sugar and because of the long studio hours, the drummer simultaneously moved the recording of the Roots LP Things Fall Apart to Electric Lady.

Questlove and D’Angelo’s chemistry was sparked by their love for classic songs from years gone by. The core of the Soulquarians was completed by composer James Poyser, Detroit genius producer J Dilla, Common and Erykah Badu. Although they never want to be tied to the genre, the Soulquarians are heavy influencers of the Neo-Soul sound we know today. Their influence can be heard in some of today’s artists such as Robert Glasper, Rayvn Lenae, NxWorries and MoRuf.

Not suggesting that these musicians no longer work together, because they do, but here are some of the classic albums that were produced in that period of them working together in one space sharing their gifts.

D’ANGELO-Voodoo

YEAR: 2000

The 13 track album which was overshadowed by D’Angelo’s strip down and steamy down video in Untitled (How Does It Feel), which left a lasting effect on a lot of women. But it was a masterpiece from the music genius which had a funky soulful Hip Hop feel thanks to J Dilla’s sick sampling. D’Angelo featured Red Man and Method Man in Left and Right. Such was the level of artistry here that Q. Tip had initially laced a verse for the song but it was deemed lukewarm hence D’Angelo roped in the New York duo. The album bagged a Grammy.

 

THE ROOTS-Things Falls Apart

YEAR: 1999

This was a follow-up to their Illadelph Halflife project which came out in ‘96. It’s this the project here that earned them critical acclaim from industry fundis and probably that ‘legendary’ tag too. It was the group’s novel experience at selling over 500 000 copies. The Roots won the Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group at the Grammys for You Got Me featuring Erykah Badu. Stand out songs here include Act Too (Love of my life) and Step Into The Realm.

 

COMMON-Like Water For Chocolate

YEAR: 2000

Common just sounds extra nice on J Dilla beats. Dooinit is one of the finest tracks where Common rips the beat and some rappers with the energy of Julius Malema at a rally behind the mic.  While songs like The Light and 6th Sense remain classics till this day, Payback Is A Grandmother, Film Called Pimp and Song For Assata were gems that many never paid close attention to. There’s a great balance of social commentary, love, lyricism and musicality throughout the album.

ERYKAH BADU-Mama’s Gun

YEAR: 2001

Mama’s Gun is probably the album that made a lot of the young fans of Badu fall in love with her music. It’s unbelievable how an album can be so cohesive with a cocktail different sounds. Cleva is a beautiful Jazz joint that doesn’t sound out of place alongside the sticky Jay Dee drums on Didn’t Cha Know. So many musicians consciously and subconsciously use this album as blueprint to creating a Neo Soul project. This is a classic-I can visualize myself listening to this at 60. Orange Moon and Bag Lady are just some of the classic joints in this album.

 

COMMON-Electric Circus

YEAR: 2002

Some people said this album was Common’s regress after Like Water For Chocolate which came out two years prior. But this project was simply ahead of its time. It was great body of music by the Chicago rapper. It had influences of Rock, electronic and funk soaked in the Soulquarians sounds. Common once said that he wasn’t feeling Hip Hop at the time of creation and his choice of sound was influenced by Jimi Henrix and Pink Floyd. Stand out tracks here include Between Me, You and Liberation, Heaven Somewhere, Ferris Wheel and Soul Power.

 

What’s your favourite Soulquarians influenced album?

 


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