By Jimmy Ness
Onra’s latest strand of funk makes you feel like a baby-faced Prince still elegantly rocking crotch-hugging leather pants and frilly silk shirts. “L.O.V.E” has an obvious post-disco 80s influence with cloudy funk vocals, nostalgic synth-work, and beep-bop you’d imagine little green men grooving to. It’s the perfect soundtrack to hot weather, pool parties and driving a ragged convertible around Florida. Yes, I just described Miami Vice.
The first leak from Onra’s forthcoming Fools Gold debut displays his evolution beyond the vintage boogie-funk of 2010 album Long Distance with half-spoken vocal samples and summer vibes. But the Vietnamese-Parisian producer doesn’t just make music for dance floor disciples. His Eastern inspired beat tapes Chinoiseries I & II contained unique Chinese vocal samples from the 50s and banged harder than a ninja assassin smoke grenade. The 30 year old has also drawn more than a few J Dilla comparisons by writers desperate to categorize his protean production.
If you’re a crappy Youtube artist thinking of adding vocals to “L.O.V.E” or any of Onra’s beats, please don’t. I’m wearing a tight pink suit and growing a puffy blonde mullet. I don’t want anyone to kill my excited preparation for Onra’s new opus.
By Jimmy Ness
Despite blessing himself with one of the most un-googleable names imaginable, the sample-warping Chicago producer/rapper Tree is intriguing. He sounds like an injured donkey but also boasts a deep singing voice. His bizarre drawl is singular but bears a resemblance to Danny Brown, Z-Ro, and Pastor Troy. He flips soul records like a traditionalist, but he sounds little like a traditionalist. He’s not the most eloquent rapper, but he’s relatable, charismatic and a great producer. His new mixtape is a lot better than the alternate Sunday school where you inevitably fell asleep or were invited to nerdy prayer parties.
The album initially takes a while to process because it’s hard to take Tree’s break-neck voice in large doses. But “Die” is an immediate stand out. The chorus “Lord, don‘t let me die, man’ hits anyone who has clung to religious notions when life is going downhill. This struggle with religion defines much of the album’, particularly on “All” and “Chuch” where Tree questions whether he is a good person despite being a piff-puffin’, lady lovin’ sinner. Later in the mixtape, his lyrics invoke personal moments including loneliness, fighting with his brother, and being poor. It’s compelling, but unfortunately, there’s not a lot of it. Luckily, his charm carries the rote gangsterisms that it often falls back on.
Tree isn’t a perfect rapper. His vocab is simple and some of his rhymes are little more than struggle rap without the narrative. He also follows in the hefty footsteps of Rick Ross circa “Hustlin,” by rhyming the same word with itself about five times. But like ODB before him, there’s something unique about Tree that makes the clumsiness enjoyable. ‘Talkin’ Naples, Naples, Italy and Caicos, my homies riding horses,’ is my favorite line from the album and a ridiculous attempt at bravado. Every time I hear it, I can’t help but imagine a 90′s Snoop Dogg riding a galloping white stallion while eating a croissant.
Tree doesn’t have to rap fast or super-technical to be interesting. He’s simply a fun listen and judging by his thoughtful demeanor during interviews his unique sound was definitely a planned decision. “Couple of niggaz don’t like my shit, but a couple of these niggaz don’t write my shit,” his raspy voice proclaims on “Doo Doo” before launching into more simple memorable rhymes. The line works as a mission statement: you might not like Tree’s style, but it’s original and difficult to emulate.
Sunday School is self-produced and Tree’s beat-making game is sharp. He chops vocals in a different way than most soul samplers: often just looping one or two hypnotic words which relate to the song’s theme. Instead of drowning us with overplayed Amy Winehouse or Aretha Franklin samples, he uses just a smidgen of their voice to much greater effect than every boring snap-backer jumping on an Adele chorus. Tree also knows how to compliment his voice with odd tempos and sudden beat changes which make you listen more closely. GLC’s feature on “Texas Tea” is a memorable example simply because of how the music changes with his performance.
Tree might be struggling to explain away his sins, but I’m pleased he found stolen equipment to practice his divinity skills on. If you need further convincing on MC perennial woody plant, listen for the nice production and appreciate the rest later. Don’t be fooled by first impressions, King Louie and Chief Keef aren’t the only Chicago rappers worth checking for.
By Jimmy Ness
Do I sense a funk revival? “Trippy Mane” is the best recent ad-lib, TDE are the coolest black hippies around and Dam Funk has been making undeniable cosmic jams for years. Maybe we won’t be wearing flowery headscarves anytime soon, but these two Seattle ladies are definitely onto something a young John Travolta would enjoy.
Catherine Harris-White and Stasia Irons urge listeners to “Leave your face at the door” and “Turn off your swag” at the beginning of this carefree joint. “QueenS” is about nothing but groovin,’ boasting an extremely danceable beat that Daft Punk should’ve made post-Homework.
Multiple hazy vocal layers and background ‘ooh aahs’ remind us of the importance of enjoying music with drugs — with the afro’d pair telling everyone to shake their groove thangs in a way which comes off as genuine rather than nostalgic.
You might know THEEsatisfaction from their guest features with label mates Shabbaz Palaces on Black Up. But this particular track has no dark conscious raps or deeper meanings — this is simply some cool futuristic funk. You should probably get your platforms with goldfish in them ready for the release of their mixtape Awe Natural3 later this month.
This is my first feature at Fake Shore Drive. Makin moves!
Producers Nez and Rio recently worked with Schoolboy Q on his acclaimed Habits and Contradictions project. They showed their talent when the collaboration resulted in fan favorites Druggy’s With Hoes Again and NiggaH’s Already Know. The young duo has also made beats for Chicago’s new school of hip-hop alumni including King Louie, YP, and Chance The Rapper. We chatted about their recent Treated Crew affiliation, their musical inspirations, the lack of Chicago artists on the XXL freshman cover and Rio buying an early Kanye West tape for $5 bucks.
By Jimmy Ness
How did you two start working together?
Nez: One day we were at Rio’s crib and we were like let’s make a beat. It just happened randomly and from there it was kind of organic. It was never like oh “we about to be a group” off top. We were chillin’ on some cool shit, then we would be making beats and it just kinda grew from there.
Rio: We were both producers separately first and we were fans of each other’s work, and then one day when he came over it just happened organically. We started to work.
Nez: It had to be like 2005 so that’s a long time. It’s been a minute.
What music did both you grow up listening to?
Rio: Man everything. I came up in a house where there was never really a moment when my family wasn’t playing music. I really got into old soul, funk and jazz from my dad and I was really pulled into r&b and hip-hop by my older brother. I was lucky enough to have an older brother who was able to get the more graphic versions of the music that kids my age weren’t quite able to listen to. There was never really a dull moment when it came to music being played because we all were into it a lot.
Nez: For me, it was my father who was into hip-hop. He was playing hip-hop, jazz, funk, same type of shit and African music too. I’m from Kenya so he brought a lot of that influence and then my mother would always play heavy r&b and gospel. So between those two they really put me up on a lot of music early and got me hip.
How did you guys get into beat making?
Rio: When I got a little bit older and went to high school, I took a music class which was concert choir and they had this computer lab. In that computer lab some friends of ours used to have this program called Fruity Loops. It was music production, but it was Fruity Loops 1. It was like the first test demo version of the program, so it was free and in order to make music we would actually install Fruity Loops at the beginning of our class period. It was a computer class so they would allow us to work with headphones and we’d make beats during class and then delete the program and save all of our beats to floppy discs and shit. This was at Kenwood High. I guess it kind of just grew from there. Then we started to become more musical and put more into it. That and being heavy hip-hop kids too, I don’t really know too many hip-hop kids that were like breakdancing and doing graffiti and shit like that at our age. We were doing all that shit in like Elementary School so it was like a big progression for me.
Nez: For me it was like a similar act, I had been shown fruity loops when I was around 15. My homie Aaron had it at his crib and I was blown away I was like “Oh shit, you can make beats!?” I had always wanted to make beats when I was young, but when you’re in 8th Grade your mother wasn’t getting you no MPC or nothing like that.
Rio: It was too expensive.
Nez: Yeah, it was too expensive for her and you know it’s like a toy. She’s not spending a thousand dollars, it was like two grand back then. But once I got shown that program I was hooked, from there it kept going and I kept building on it.
Rio: It’s kind of funny. Looking back on it, I was always the kid that when my rap friends had a cipher, I would be the kid that was beat boxing. And I look back years later and I’m still that kid, it just kind of progressed.
Who were you inspired by in the Chicago scene?
Rio: I guess in terms of Chicago musicians, I would say the big Chicago producers like R-Kelly, Traxster, No I.D and then in terms of musicians Quincy Jones. In terms of hip-hop musicians it was like Common, Do or Die and Crucial Conflict. Listening to Kanye, I was I guess fortunate enough to have an older cousin who was kind of close to that camp, actually a part of that camp. I kind of watched that as it was happening, Kanye was like blowing up in front of my face.
I had to be one of his first hardcore fans. I remember my cousin Jua’s friend Don [Don C] tried to sell me his mixtape and at first I didn’t buy it. He was like “yo, it’s like five bucks,” and I was like “na I don’t want it.” You know cause I passed it off as just some random guy, and he said “trust me man it’s good, take it and if you like it then you know give me the five later.” And of course the next time I saw him I gave him five bucks to hold onto my part of the bargain. Jua, just his network of friends is just ridiculous. He’s friends with everybody it seems. Shout out to Jua.
You are part of the Treated Crew, tell us about the group and how you got involved with them?
Nez: The Treated Crew is basically a group of cats that were already cool. We were already friends, we already worked together and did music together. But basically everybody decided to unify, to come together, to come in this game stronger. Million $ Mano came to us both and was like “yo listen this is the movement.” He had just come back from the first leg of the Watch The Throne tour and was like “this is the movement G, let’s do it,” and everybody was just like down with it, you know what I mean. It was just a dope idea for all of us young dudes from Chicago to come together and show people that we all rock together and do some positive shit.
Rio: It was also at a perfect time because we were already talking about doing something else that was unified, kind of like a collective. Those are really just our homies growing up. For instance when we were young we were all breakdancing and rapping together, and those were all the same dudes in the cipher. This is really just kind of like a label. You know at the end of the day, we were really already on that same shit. We were already rocking together, it’s just a label that visibly works. It makes our individual work a lot stronger as eclectic music.
Obviously there’s a lot of young talent coming out of Chicago. What did you think of the lack of Chicago artists on the 2012 XXL Freshman cover?
Nez: You know with those things it just seems to be the outside looking in. A lot of times it seems like those things seem to be label pushed or whatever. I don’t think that’s the end or be all. Because the XXL cover came out and no one from Chicago is on it, that really doesn’t mean anything at the end of the day, it’s just publicity.
Rio: The XXL cover to me is like a weather forecast. How often is your weather forecast right? You know what I mean? So really at the end of the day like sometimes it’s right, sometimes it’s not. And if you feel like it’s not, that should serve as your personal motivation to turn up your situation. If you’re not making enough noise personally then you need to turn it up, make people realize what’s going on.
You’ve worked with YP, King Louie, Chance the Rapper, Freddie Gibbs etc. Do you have any favorite collaborations?
Rio: I would say actually (Treated Crew’s) Mr Take Your Bitch is one of my favorites because it gives us the chance to work with all of our homies on one record. That has a lot people from our crew on there.
Nez: The Louie shit is hard too I like that. Louie has this joint we did with him called Band Nation. It’s going to be one of the next singles coming out real soon. That was dope too. But yeah everybody man. It’s cool working with everybody, I really like what’s going on in Chicago right now. It’s good energy. Everyone seems to be working and just on it, trying to get better.So that’s really dope.
You recently produced two tracks on Schoolboy Q’s album, how did that come about?
Rio: We gave the beats to him in person. Him and Kendrick Lamar came to Chicago. We tried to find out a way to actually get to their camp. We knew that they were coming in town and sought out their contacts and tried to find out who’s bringing them in and all that kind of stuff.
A good friend of ours is Hustle Simmons, he actually linked us with J Script and he told he was going to have a listening session for Kendrick to come here and listen for beats, I think for Section 80. I guess this was his last chance to listen to beats for Section 80 from Chicago artists or whatever. The whole TDE clique came through and Q was actually there. I was familiar with Schoolboy Q through Setbacks and Michael Jordan. I was already a fan of his too, so when we were in the session exchanging contacts and music after we were chosen as a beat to listen to, I reached out to Q as well.
I was like “Yo Q, you know what’s good with you?” Cause you know, he was right there. And he was so dope to me even then that I wanted to work with him. We exchanged contacts with him, so he was like yeah “I’m going to choose some beats out of that group” and Druggies With Hoes Again was actually one of the beats that got played that night, that they chose. He ended up taking that and then we kept in contact and that’s how NiggaHs Already Know came to be too.
Do you ever feel disappointed with the way an artist has used your beat?
Nez: There has been sometimes when you’ve felt like maybe it could have been executed better, but I think recently the artists we have been working with have been knocking the beats out of the park.
Rio: I guess the more you do, the more artists tend to trust you and trust your opinion and your artistic direction for what the song should sound like. The more communication and trust that’s thrown around, usually the better the record. Sometimes you have the opportunity to work with a phenomenal artist like Schoolboy Q, where you can send a beat in an email and you know that it’s going to come back dope. But every artist isn’t quite like that, some people need you to give them the flow or give them a hook.
Who are you working with in the future?
Rio: Ourselves. We’re actually working on our second mixtape. As of right now, it doesn’t hold a title. We’re not positive that it’s going to be a Let’s Get Ill 2. I’m not quite sure if we want to do a sequel or something different, but the music that comes out is going to determine what kind of project it’s going to be. Look for more collaborations with Treated Crew and Schoolboy Q.
You both rapped on your mixtape Let’s Get Ill instead of using guest features, which is quite a surprising choice for producers. Why did you decide to rap personally on the album?
Nez: We always had the idea of being artists, because we’re the kind of producers that when we make the beat we are thinking about the entire song as it’s going along with the hook, the flow, what it should sound like. We already have that idea in our head and then a lot of times where it just got to a point where we felt like we had something we wanted to express in another outlet. It was just a time where we felt like we wanted to get an idea off and that was what came out.
Rio: Yeah, we’ve been rapping, writing and singing for a while. It just wasn’t public. That’s kind of like the thing with us, we like to work on something behind the scenes until we feel like it’s ready to be exposed. I think that’s one of the good things about us, until we feel like something is good enough to put out there we’ll just let it cook.
You guys are also making a documentary. Can you tell us what that’s about?
Nez: That’s basically going to give you a little insight into how we live, our personalities, get a chance to see who we are as people, as artists as producers. Just like more of a day to day insight to what we are about, you get to learn more about Nez and Rio.
Rio: Yeah, more about our creative process. Some stuff has to stay classified like as a result of us being evil wizards that just come up different techniques or whatever. Some stuff you just want to keep to yourself. But other things you know, there are definitely going to be windows into our world when it comes to our lifestyle.
Sounds like you are very busy at the moment. Are you both producing full time or working on the side as well?
Nez: Right now we are still working regular jobs to make ends meet. The artists that we have been producing, you know most of the stuff is digital. Digitally released. So we are still up and coming, very much so. But that’s temporary, we are working pretty hard to make this happen. I always say we are producing full time, that’s what we’re doing. Everything else is just part time
J.Cole's much hyped debut on Jay-Z's RocNation label shows an awkward transition from lyrical mixtape MC to commercial pop-rapper.
Cole World lacks the raw energy of his digital releases, instead focusing on bland R&B tracks with tween star Trey Songz, and tepid dubstep with a tired Hova.
But it's not all bad.
Jermaine sprinkles a few great lines on each track, which are worth listening to despite sub-par choruses.
The North Carolina native touches on some interesting subjects, speaking from the viewpoint of a pregnant woman during Lost Ones and about daddy issues on Breakdown.
Dollar And A Dream III, Lights Please and Sideline Story are also rapped with enough conviction to satisfy hungry fans.
Cole World isn't another example of major labels crushing young talent to conform, but you can still pick up their poison touch.
By Jimmy Ness