Ghostface Killah and BadBadNotGood’s Sour Soul – an album review

SourSoul

Its always interesting when one of the legends in the rap game switches gears and collaborates with the genre’s up and comers. There is frequently an air of uncertainty over what the project will sound like, and whether one artist will outdo the other. MF DOOM and Bishop Nehru’s NehruvianDOOM last year was very much Nehru taking the stage with DOOM in the background, leading to an imbalance and, for me anyway, a disappointing aspect of an otherwise good album. But Wu-Tang Clan stalwart Ghostface Killah’s collaboration with Canadian jazz and hip-hop band BadBadNotGood, Sour Soul, is something different. Both of their roles are perfectly clear; BadBadNotGood providing the jazzy, improvisational production while Ghostface Killah delivers the lyrical examination. And it goes down exceptionally.

Across 33 minutes, Sour Soul bangs from start to finish. This is music you would hear as a soundtrack to the dopest blaxploitation film you will ever watch. The album’s title track sets the mood for the entire project – a dark but cinematic and adventurous delve into a world created by Ghostface’s bars and BBNG’s musical accompaniment. The time span is probably not enough for the band’s musical concepts to fully develop on each track, which is perhaps the only downside of the project. But BBNG’s production remains consistent throughout and is complemented extremely well by Ghostface’s commanding voice and, while not exploring anything new lyrically, the Staten Island MC does not disappoint. He maintains his witty punchline raps throughout, saying on the title track “They can’t feed me food for thought” – clearly, no one can tell Tony Starks nothing.

Even the songs in which Ghostface is not rapping, such as album opener ‘Mono’, ‘Stark’s Reality’ and album closer ‘Experience’, shine more light on BBNG’s groovy production, showcasing the trio’s capability to complement even the most hard-hitting MC. The album’s features are also a particular highlight. Danny Brown drops a killer verse on the menacing ‘Six Degrees’, Elzhi is in top form on ‘Gunshowers’ and MF DOOM glides through ‘Ray Gun’ in a way only he can.

A great project overall, and one which will hopefully be built on further by Ghostface and BBNG in the near future. 4 STARS

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Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly – an album review

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In the world of trap beats, smoking blunts and getting money, there is very much a recurring (and quite frankly, boring) theme in mainstream hip-hop these days. Rarely in the modern age of Migos, Rich Homie Quan and Young Thug, does an artist go against the grain and drop a truly thought-provoking, fearless gem in the genre, in a realm as gimmicky as the mainstream. One which not only redefines it, but can also stand the test of time and rest alongside classics across all lexicons of music. And challenge an entire generation to change its values for the better.

Enter Kendrick Lamar. After a truly amazing major label debut Good Kid Maad City, the Compton MC, after a long drawn out creative process in which he shook the rap game with THAT verse on Big Sean’s ‘Control’ and mind-blowing live performances that further inflated expectancy among fans, has returned with To Pimp a Butterfly. This is nothing like his previous effort, and constitutes a dark, angry, and unapologetic critique of the oppressed, violent and harsh conditions of the black man in America. All of this over the funkiest, jazziest, uncompromising and, dare I say, black, production the mainstream has heard in a while. Godfather of funk George Clinton sets the mood in album opener “Wesley’s Theory”, a mourning for the innocence lost by many aiming to become hip-hop’s latest star. The p-funk, jazz and improvisation influenced production is splashed throughout the entire album, to further amplify Kendrick’s message.

Lamar is taking the listener on a journey of temptation and the struggle to free one’s mind in the midst of madness, typified by such vices as Lucy, the Devil in the form of a groupie, perhaps most eloquently told in ‘u’, despite Kendrick’s drunken candour. Throughout this journey, the black struggle, both internally created by the black community’s own hypocrisies, as told most bluntly on the hard-hitting ‘The Blacker the Berry’, but also externally by the racism of white America, explored in the menacing ‘Hood Politics’, is made poignantly clear by Kendrick’s emotionally-charged lyrics and witty spoken word, particularly on such interludes as “For Free”.

The Grammy Award-winning ‘i’ is given a new angle of black self-affirmation when, in arguably the album’s most powerful moment, he professes: “So I’ma dedicate this one verse to Oprah / On how the infamous, sensitive N-word control us / So many artist gave her an explanation to hold us / Well this is my explanation straight from Ethiopia / N-E-G-U-S  / Definition: royalty King royalty / N-E-G-U-S / Description: Black emperor, King, ruler… The history books overlooked the word and hide it / America tried to make it a house divided / The homies don’t recognize we be using it wrong… Take it from Oprah Winfrey / Tell her she right on time / Kendrick Lamar by far the realest Negus alive.”

In the space of a few lines, the entire history of the n-word is flipped on its side to empower the black man in these unsettling post-Ferguson, post-Mike Brown, racially volatile times. And just when you thought Kendrick could not top this album’s greatness, he delves into a perfectly put together conversation with Tupac Shakur at the end of album closer ‘Mortal Man’, chopping it up on still very relevant topics of oppression and the black man’s position in America. While Shakur predicts a situation similar to Nat Turner’s slave rebellion in 1831, Lamar’s explanation of the concept of pimping a butterfly (reminiscent of his own world) and the beauty it represents being ravaged within its mad city, serves as a call for all people to blossom from a caterpillar, with values that can have a positive change.

To Pimp a Butterfly represents a truly dizzying, ambitious, timely and truly bold statement of anguish and self-examination, one with the potential to alter an entire culture. All hail King Kendrick. 5 STARS

Something Different

KayBrix

I know I have advertised myself on this blog exclusively as a football writer, perhaps to my detriment, but I have interests that go beyond the beautiful game. So I’m going to try something different….and talk about music, another great love of mine.

So I went to a concert in Brixton on Friday to see Kaytranada, Vic Mensa, Sango and Benji B, a stellar line up for fans of the young talent emerging out of the electronic and hip-hop scenes. Being a fan of the first three (not gonna lie, I didn’t know Benji B was a real DJ) I was expectant of an amazing night. As I lined up in the queue I could sense the excitement surrounding the doors of the famous o2 academy as more and more young, beautiful and trendy people filled the arena.

I’m someone who goes to concerts fairly regularly, tending to stay in the back to avoid the ruckus of getting pulled around like a reckless game of tug of war in the front. But Friday night was different and the very front of the arena, in direct view of the acts, was too enticing to turn down. Probably because it wasn’t as packed as it would later become. Plus it was quite easy to manoeuvre into the front among the increasingly drunk and hyped teens and 20-something-year-olds.

Sango....getting the party started.
Sango….getting the party started.

Right from the get go I got exactly what I wanted – a very dope night. Sango, part of the amazing Soulection collective of futuristic beatmakers, kicked things off, thrilling the crowd with remixes of artists as diverse as Drake and Omarion, as well as his own assortment of anthems. Sporting a Manchester City shirt (I managed to get a football reference in) Sango’s enthusiasm – he literally did not stop jumping for the whole hour of his set – rubbed off on the fans as dance circles were being made and alcohol splashed everywhere. Then out of the blue, came the new golden boy of grime, Stormzy, to perform his bona fide banger “Where Do You Know Me From” and shut it down for all of us bewildered but gassed watchers. In the space of three minutes he brought the madness and then disappeared and you knew the night would be something special.

Benji B was up next and while I didn’t know what to expect, he didn’t disappoint, peppering his set with bangers like Skepta’s “That’s Not Me”, Drake’s “Know Yourself” and Kanye West’s “All Day”, building on the excitement Sango generated. As the crowd headbanged the night away, then came along Chicago rapper Vic Mensa for a highly energetic performance. Despite the increasingly obnoxious pushing and shoving in the front (I lost count of the number of times I had to elbow guys), Mensa’s amped-up renditions of “Orange Soda” “Drive Me Crazy” (produced by the headline act of the night, Kaytranada) and “Down on My Luck”, in between near jumps into the crowd and relentless fan mobbing, were particular highlights.

Vic Mensa....doing his thing.
        Vic Mensa….doing his thing.

After three amazing sets, Kaytranada gave the show a worthy end, spinning his way through his eclectic collection of remixes of Azealia Banks’ “ATM Jam”,  Missy Elliot’s “I’m Really Hot” and as well as the aforementioned “Drive Me Crazy”. While not as energetic as Vic Mensa or Sango, the DJ from Canada had a presence that was just as commanding. His hour set felt shorter and at the end he jumped off the stage and proceeded to take selfies with those lucky enough to get his attention. Including me.

Me and Kaytranada....best buds.
        Me and Kaytranada….best buds.

A truly incredible night then, that will live long in the memory. And despite my earlier reservations, maybe I’ll start going to the front more often.

So…Steven Gerrard’s performance against Manchester United on Sunday

LiverpoolManU

….It didn’t exactly go to plan. It can’t even be called a performance as in the space of 38 seconds Liverpool’s captain got on the pitch, stamped on United’s Ander Herrera and was dismissed before the crowd could even get readjusted to their seats at Anfield. It was a case of blink-and-you-miss-it, it was that fast. In a game where United were 1-0 up and flying high, and the home side needed to seriously up its game to have any chance of salvaging the contest, Gerrard badly let the team down.

He was rightly brought on by manager Brendan Rodgers at the start of the second half with the aim of vitalising the side after a woeful first half performance that lacked any kind of drive, urgency or desire from a team that is fighting yesterday’s opponents for a spot in the Champions League next season. But rather than doing that, Gerrard ended up adding more woes to the day for the Anfield faithful. He will now miss two crucial upcoming matches for the Reds – Saturday’s visit to Arsenal and next Wednesday’s FA Cup quarter final replay against Blackburn.

Gerrard has apologised, and rightly so, but the damage has already been done. Not that it can be said for certain that he would have changed the game for Liverpool. In fact, with ten men, the home side actually improved in the second half, with Daniel Sturridge halving United’s lead ten minutes after Juan Mata’s wonder strike to give the Red Devils a two-goal advantage.

It was a much more spirited display in the second 45 but Gerrard’s dismissal left a hole in the Liverpool midfield that was already being physically overrun by United’s Maraoune Fellani and the incisive passing sequences between Fellani, Herrera and Mata. He would have provided some much needed muscle to combat against the United midfield. Tactically, Rodgers had gotten it wrong on the day, choosing to play Raheem Sterling, the side’s most potent attacking outlet this season, in a sort of right wing-back position which effectively nullified the threat he would have made in the opposition box. As a result, United controlled the tempo throughout the match in arguably one of their best performances under Louis van Gaal, with Mata on song from start to finish.

Ultimately it was a bad day at the office all round for Liverpool and one that has taken United further out of reach in the race for Champions League football. While its silly to blame Gerrard solely for the defeat, his dismissal certainly put a nail in the coffin. He will look back on his final Liverpool-United fixture with plenty of regret towards what was a silly challenge and being unable to exert more influence in a crucial game, as he has done countless times in the past.

Manchester United v Arsenal is no longer the thrilling spectacle it once was

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Growing up being a Liverpool fan, no match was better or more important than that between the Reds and the arch nemesis, Manchester United, the ultimate contest of the season for both sets of fans (mainly for who would have bragging rights in the school playground the following Monday). But, equally as significant and exciting, one which more often than not decided where trophies would end up by the season’s end, was Manchester United versus Arsenal, a match whose significance grew as the Premier League era rolled on.

This is a contest steeped in history that was every bit as exhilarating as any major game in the world firstly, for the football and secondly for the personalities that dominated such occasions. Everyone remembers Roy Keane’s legendary bouts with Patrick Vieira, mind games between managers Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, THAT Thierry Henry goal in 2001 and probably one of the most shameful incidents on any pitch in 2003, when Ruud van Nistelrooy looked helpless as he was surrounded by a pack of hungry Arsenal players. The fixture became an institution, but its glamour has somewhat worn off in recent years.

Many reasons can be pinpointed for this. United’s post-Ferguson decline has seen them lose a certain status as a team to be feared and the never-say-die character instilled by Ferguson, whilst also lacking the personalities in the dressing room that made the fixture what it was in the late 1990s and early to late noughties. Meanwhile Arsenal’s yearly chase for the bare minimum of the Champions League and constant selling of their stars, particularly Robin van Persie to United, has taken much away from the fixture in that both teams are no longer (this season anyway) the biggest teams in the country, in terms of recent league finishes anyway.

The quality that poured from this game time and time again has abruptly diminished, along with the stature of both clubs. It is also fairly obvious that no one from these teams hate each other, in the same way they had before. You couldn’t imagine Keane or Vieira having a drink together after a game, like you can imagine opposing players doing nowadays. You would have thought that losing 8-2 at Old Trafford (the last truly entertaining contest between the two…for a neutral anyway) would have built some real resentment from Arsenal’s stars towards their long time rivals. But in the last four matches between the Gunners and the Red Devils, including Monday’s FA Cup quarter-final clash, only nine goals have been scored, one less than the absolute massacre back in 2011.

Monday’s FA Cup quarter-final at Old Trafford represented the best this fixture has had to offer over the past few seasons. The first half was very open, made even more so by Nacho Monreal’s 25th minute strike and Wayne Rooney’s equaliser four minutes later. Both teams were focused on the win, despite clear defensive errors from both teams which enabled the game’s goals, particularly from United’s standpoint.

The first 45 minutes anyway, represented a partial return to the competitive nature of the fixture’s history but, the second 45 brought a dose of reality. After United old boy Danny Welbeck’s winner, via a criminal back-pass from non-right back Antonio Valencia, United lost their way, playing the same kind of disjointed football that has underpinned many of their performances this season – hopeless long balls to Marouane Fellani, with no real creativity to make things happen, especially after Angel Di Maria’s sending off. Arsenal were not challenged in any way and were prevented from adding to their tally by United’s player of the season, goalkeeper David de Gea.

All in all, a good game but nowhere near what it has been in the past. Much may need to be done to both teams before this fixture can become legendary again, whatever that may be. Until then, they will only be painfully average.

An Interview with Ryan Huddart

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Of all the promising talent emerging from Arsenal’s academy, goalkeeper Ryan Huddart represents one of the brightest lights.

The 17-year-old grabbed the headlines back in November when he was included in Arsene Wenger’s matchday squad for the Champions League encounter against Anderlecht. That topped off a great year in which the former Gillingham and Charlton academy player, who stands at 6 ft 5, was a regular feature in the Gunners’ under-21 side and signed his first professional contract with the club back in March 2014. Now the Margate-born stopper, capped at youth level for England, is targeting a more regular spot in Wenger’s first team plans.

I recently spoke to him, on behalf of Shoot Magazine, about his progression, his time around Arsenal’s senior squad and his ambitions for next year.

You were at Charlton’s academy before joining arsenal. What were the first differences you noticed between the two clubs?

“The egos of the players, staff and parents is completely different. At Arsenal, you know you are at a top club and you are constantly reminded of that by the players, staff and parents of other youth players”.

You’ve been in the Arsenal set up for a while now. Is the club’s passing style of play something that is drilled into the academy players?

“From a young age it definitely is, especially when Liam Brady was at the club. He drilled it in the under 9s straight through to the reserves. Now I think it’s a more general way of how football should be played, but different to the way a club like Chelsea would teach their kids – still playing football but at the right times to play football. If you watch the first team they sometimes overplay and get caught out but they generally don’t and have gotten a lot better over the last few years”.

How often does Arsene Wenger watch youth games?

“He comes to every reserve team game, every FA Youth Cup game and every under-19 Champions League home game. He’s very hands-on in that way and it’s nice that he is showing an interest – it gives all of us a boost.”

Due to your size, have you always been a goalkeeper and were you into any other sports growing up?

“I’ve always been a goalkeeper and I did enjoy basketball a lot when I was at school but I never had time to take it seriously because I was always playing football. I’ve played at centre-back and up front before and I’d rather play a centre-back!”

How much did it mean to you to be named in a match day squad?

“It was a dream come true. It was all a bit surreal; it had come really quickly. You don’t get told months before that you’re going to be on the bench, you get told days before, but it was a very nice feeling.”

Although you didn’t get on what was the experience like to be involved, especially on a Champions League night?

“When we were away at Anderlecht it was a great experience because the Anderlecht fans were noisy all night and really passionate. To be around the first team was good too because, at the time, we were having some good results so morale was high. I wasn’t really fazed by being around the first team, I just wanted to get on the pitch”.

What have you learnt from the likes of Ospina, Martinez and Szczęsny?

“From watching Ospina and Martinez I’ve learnt to be steady as a goalkeeper – they’re both extremely steady goalkeepers and rarely make mistakes. You won’t see Ospina running off his line or putting himself in a position to make mistakes. They are very professional as well, something you don’t necessarily get with a youth goalkeeper.”

What is it like to train with those guys and players like Sanchez and Cazorla? 

“I loved training with Alexis and Lukas Podolski, they’re the best players I’ve ever trained with. Alexis is the best finisher ever and Lukas has the best left foot I’ve ever seen. At the end of training the players usually stand outside the 18 yard box, get a load of balls and just start shooting and Podolski has a very accurate left foot. There are some great characters within the first team; I get on well with Jack (Wilshere), Per (Mertesacker), Olivier (Giroud). I’ve been lucky to work with Per a lot, he’s a great leader and you learn a lot from him as a player and as a professional.”

You were a regular in the under 21s last season. How pleasing was that for you?

“It was very pleasing, because I was only 16 and to be in the squad every week was a great feeling. This year I hope to play more and more but its difficult because we have a lot of goalkeepers.”

You’ve also been capped at youth level for England. Continuing that is obviously a big dream of yours…?

“Hopefully I can stay involved with England because I enjoyed playing. I’ve been lucky because the last two or three times I haven’t been with the England under-18s, those have usually been weeks when the senior internationals occur. So I’ve usually gone with the Arsenal first team for the whole time and I’ve gotten more out of training with the first team at Arsenal than I would have got playing for England’s under-18s.”

You’ve said that your footballing hero is Jens Lehmann. Do you model your game on his?

“I’ve got two favourite goalkeepers: Jens and Brad Friedel. I was very lucky to work with Jens for about a year when he was doing his coaching badges and took sessions for the under-18s. He helped me a lot; he was very hands on. But I don’t model my game on his, I model mine more on Brad’s because I grew watching Brad Friedel games than Jens Lehmann games. His longevity has really impressed me – he has played so well for so long and never makes any mistakes. The best goalkeepers are very steady and Brad is one of those.”

Arsenal has produced a number of home grown players over the years, including Jack Wilshere and Kieran Gibbs. Does that give youth players more belief in their own chances?

“Definitely. With Arsenal, more so than any other club in the Premier League, the boss is prepared to give you a chance and he is not scared to either, especially when other managers would go for more experience than youth. You have to take your hat off to him because there aren’t many who would.

What are your goals for 2015? 

“Just to keep doing what I’m doing. If I can keep progressing gradually rather than having a topsy-turvy year it would be great year for me. I’d be open to go on loan maybe at the start of next season if the opportunity comes, but the aim is to keep improving at a steady pace.”