Rakim with Kid Capri and Brother Ali
Wednesday · Annie's
Seldom are brag raps interesting, but Rakim's toasting is consistently fresh. In the fashion of farsighted novels like James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time, which challenged conventional writing, the Long Island native expanded the regular meter, "to the girl in green, don't be so mean" execution. He did this by modeling himself after how a saxophonist plays: free-form.
Neither he nor his solemn-faced right-hand man Eric B smiled, but their passion for Hip Hop penetrated through breaks like levees about to burst. See his sweaty palm fetish for holding a microphone's cool steel ("I Ain't No Joke"), him hung up on mysterious ladies ("What's on Your Mind," "Mahogany") and him narrating a nation's sentiments toward the Gulf War ("Casualties of War") like Charles Kuralt.
After converting to Islam at 16, William Griffin didn't pursue college or football, but took a loftier position as microphone controller and released Paid in Full, an epic that still speaks every hungry MC's lament.
Though Rakim states that he produced most of their songs, Eric B was the visionary who leaked Rakim's rare groove instrumental ideas to Island's 4th and Broadway Records. Under MCA, Rakim's tendency to share Supreme Mathematics and sample forgotten Jazz ushered in a new school that included Wu Tang Clan. By the time he and Eric split in 1992, Hip Hop changed, and so had Rakim, as later shown on 1997's, The 18th Letter. Here was a grown man lamenting a culture that went from enjoying a golden age to utter golden calf worship.
In the aftermath, Rakim signed with Dr. Dre, but maybe it's good that it didn't pan out. Twenty years ago, Rakim's pinky finger shined but today he could be the elder who makes a generation reared on "Get Money" principles listen. With a 22-city-tour and the forthcoming CD, The Seventh Seal, maybe he'll remind Hip Hop of its righteous path. (Mildred Fallen)
The Whigs with The Gambling District, The Lukewarm and Hoping For Haley
Thursday · The Mad Hatter
When one speaks of the Whigs north of the Ohio River, fond memories of late '80s gigs, New Year's Eve at Bogart's and any number of Greg Dulli's mythic exploits flood the frontal lobes. But down in Athens, Ga., these days, a mention of the Whigs comes without the implied "Afghan" preceding it, and is usually uttered in conjunction with the phrase "Athens renaissance." Down there, the Whigs are a blisteringly hot trio that has been favorably reviewed as a blend of jangly '60s Pop and jarring '90s Rock, as wafts of The Replacements, Archers of Loaf, Nirvana and Pavement intermingle with classics like The Kinks and The Beatles. Oddly enough, these Whigs — vocalist/guitarist Parker Gispert, bassist Hank Sullivant and drummer Julian Dorio — are all young enough to have never heard many of the bands they've been compared to, which doesn't seem to bother them terribly.
Although The Whigs have only been around for the past couple of years, they've already made an enormous impact. The Athens buzz was loud and long, their self-released debut album, Give 'Em All a Big Fat Lip, was picked up for wider distribution through Dave Matthews' ATO Records and Rolling Stone cited them as one of the bands to watch in 2006.
Because of all this scrutiny, and clearly because of the Whigs' inherent abilities (they were invited to open for The Killers and Franz Ferdinand before Fat Lip was even out), folks in the Athens scene are shamelessly calling the trio the best thing to emerge from the drowsy college town since R.E.M. attracted the media's bright glare two decades ago. And while it might be easy to dismiss the hometown comments as natural hyperbolic pride, there's no denying that ATO signed The Whigs to expose them to the broader audience they deserve.
While there might be an understandable tendency to think of Dulli and company, the new Whigs are here to dispel that image and replace it with a brand new Next Big Thing. (Brian Baker)
Low Skies with The Chocolate Horse
Friday · Southgate House
Words like "atmospheric" and "melancholy" are often tarted-up Rock crit terms for music that is empty and sad. That is most certainly not the case with Chicago's Low Skies. On all of their recordings, particularly on their most recent outing, All the Love I Could Find, the quintet lives up to the atmospheric tag using plaintive guitar strums, sweeping organ lines and Chris Salveter's mournful vocals to set a sonic backdrop for tales of loneliness, heartbreak and dissolution. With the atmosphere successfully established, Salveter and the band (guitarist Jacob Ross, bassist Brandon Ross, keyboardist Luther Rochester and drummer Jason Creps) are free to explore the nuances and dichotomies of melancholia, which is so much more involved than merely being morose and inspired just enough to sing about it.
The masters of melancholy understand that a sad song is not necessarily a melancholy song; a sad song might touch your heart, but a melancholy song rains on you, drenches you in its mood and engages you completely. And oddly enough, while a sad song might correspondingly make you feel sad, a melancholy song can often lift your spirits, especially if the purveyor is gifted with the kind of charm that Salveter displays with Low Skies. Even as the band establishes a dissonant groove that suggests Nick Cave immersed in Lou Reed's Berlin, they'll offer a melodic Clem Snide-meets-Wilco glimmer of hope and any sadness gives way to a cautious — perhaps even cynical — sense of calm and serenity. That's a splendid quality in a band that takes the atmospheric, melancholy path and Low Skies is clearly among the best of the contemporary practitioners, blending Indie Rock energy with an AltCountry sheen to create a sound as beautiful and ominous as a distant thunderhead on a vast plain. (Brian Baker)