Classic Williams & Nephew "re(FLEX)tions" EP

In terms of the Nashville music scene, Murfreesboro’s Classic Williams is an original. His aim has historically focused on a musical arm of rap that’s hardly “southern,” with his songs typically club and electronic inspired rather than street-flavored. If you’re keeping up with locals on Twitter, chances are you know Williams as an obnoxious and outspoken loudmouth, who never wavers in letting you know what’s on his mind (43,000 tweets should say it all). No matter if you can agree with him though — or even tolerate him at times — the man has yet to make disposable music for as long as I’ve been following him. For a quick history lesson, you’d do well to check out his Shake My Head mixtape or last year’s controversial release, The Soul of Nigger Charlie.

The new EP continues a polished electronic trend, but re(FLEX)tions still exhibits a freshness that distances it from Williams’ past work. The name itself represents both reflecting and flexing some lyrical muscle, but unlike Charlie, the MC says re(FLEX)tions “is more about my inner thoughts and feelings whereas the last project was more of a narrative story with characters.”

While the majority of the tracks maintain an upbeat pace, largely due to the superb production work from Nephew, Williams claims he was in “a very dark place” during the creation of the EP, with the most glaring contrast to the MC’s typical bravado coming with the contemplative tone of the set-closer “Answers.” “I just need some answers,” croons Williams, allowing the track to fade away, “Yeah, lord, I just need some answers.”

It’s going to be interesting to see if this new side to the MC sticks, be it in the forthcoming follow-up to The Soul of Nigger Charlie, or EPIC WIN, which Williams says is on its way next. In the meantime, stream the EP below, and if you like what you hear, head over to Bandcamp throw a few bucks his way.

[This article first appeared on Break on a Cloud.]

Kurtis Stanley "Ghost Protocol"

Keeping momentum alive with a second consecutive track produced by Las Vegas’ Clint Partie (aka Clinstrumentals), Gummy Soul’s Kurtis Stanley returns with another brass-blasting-banger in “Ghost Protocol.” Unlike the sax-happy “Airplane Mode” however, the new track goes in a completely different direction, with triumphant sounding horns projecting determination right out of the gate. “There’s just something about that,” says Stanley of the production. “It’s undeniable.”

Keep an ear out for more Gummy Soul coming down the pipe in the near future with Amerigo Gazaway’s Bizarre Tribe mashup album dropping in two weeks, and Wally Clark‘s Lovers Pain The Mourning After following shortly thereafter.

[This article first appeared on Break on a Cloud.]

Truth Clipsy feat. PM "Fly Away"

With an assist on production from Woozy Collins comes the latest track from Nashville’s Truth Clipsy. The initially strong thud of the beat is quickly calmed, complemented nicely by the refreshing vocals from PM (who most recently jumped on “Can’t Stop” with Bill Breeze), leaving Clipsy free to weave in and out of the chorus, offering up game-aimed criticisms, (“Every time I listen to your bars I’m like why is this all that you can come up with?”), and commentary on keeping his focus true (“Sick and tired of being admired for dope. shit. respect the grind everything else is dumb shit”).

[This article first appeared on Break on a Cloud.]

Demand Better Curation

"I’m really scared for my generation, you know. The thing that scares me most is Tumblr. I hate what Tumblr has become… Instead of kids going out and making their own moments, they’re just taking these images and living vicariously through other people’s moments. It just kills me. Then you’ll meet them and they’re just the biggest turkey in the world. They don’t actually embody any of those things. They just emulate."
Known more for his music than his cultural commentary, Drake is asking something here about the increasingly blurry lines defining the roles of web users. In his New York Times profile of David Karp, Rob Walker explains how the Tumblr founder and CEO has divided the site’s community into three categories: “creators” (those “who post their own photographs, original writing and so on”), “curators” (“who cull, heart and reblog the best of this material for the benefit of the biggest group”) and “consumers” (who… well, consume). But what Drake’s alluding to is a whole other set of user that removes the lines between the three, their role as curators defining how they consume media in the creation of their own online identities.

The difference between the type of curator that Drake is speaking of and those identified in Percolate’s “What is Curation?” video is an important one: While both can lead consumers on a unexpected journey, chasing the white rabbit into previously unexplored corners of the web, the latter actually helps sift through the media abyss, singling out worthwhile information, and often “adding value” by lending context through their own ideas and opinions. The former are rebloggers.

Which isn’t to say that reblogging is worthless. It isn’t. Those who reblog with ambitious regularity often assemble cavernous portfolios of unique and interesting content. But all the same, there is a certain emptiness in living vicariously through other people’s moments, isn’t there? In his article titled “The Naked Appeal of Instagram,” David Carr questions the need for more creators. “On services that allow uploading of big batches of photos, the average number of times a photo is looked at is between one and none,” Carr writes. “People are often too busy producing media content — whether updating Facebook with beautifully filtered Instagram pictures or Tweeting about Naked Cowboys — to consume much of it.” Using the same premise, I question the need for more rebloggers, basking in all the beautiful projections on their Tumblr sites and Pinterest pages, hoping that someone (anyone!) stumbles across them and sees the collection as a reflection of themselves.

Curation is different though.

Whether in tweets, in blog posts, in podcasts, or in newsletters, be ruthless with your attention. Trim things down to a point where you’re only taking on the most nourishing of writing.” This, I believe, applies to curation as much as it does consumption. The Internet has given everyone a voice, leaving us equally able to curate as we are to consume. Some adopt a strategy of blanket-curation, throwing everything new or fresh or remotely interesting online and letting other consumers make their own value distinctions. Others assume the role of tastemaker, selectively making the decisions themselves. Both have their place, but the former contributes to what Jonathan Haidt calls “the paradox of abundance,” which he says “undermines the quality of our engagement.” How many content-overload websites can you monitor before you become overwhelmed by volume? How many share-explosions does it take before you remove a friend from your Facebook feed? How many Tumblr pages can you pay attention to before the reblogs become a blur?

Thoughtful, honest, and caring curation isn’t entirely different than creation. After all, the topics you choose to research, to blog about, and to discuss with friends all begin with the process of sifting through the media abyss yourself and singling out worthwhile information. So, here’s the challenge: Create less disposable “content” and concentrate on supporting work that will mean something to you slightly longer than the time it takes to press “like” or “reblog.” Demand more of your own Tumblr sites, Twitter feeds, personal blogs, and status updates, setting the tone for the web you want to see. Demanding better curation by others means demanding better curation from ourselves.

[Featured by: Content Curation MarketingGabriel Catalano, Open Intelligence, The PR Coach, and Robin Good.]

Kellen "Time of Your Lyfe"

As the story goes, one night a few friends were sitting around relaxing while the instrumental version of “Feel So Close” began to fill the air. Not realizing who produced the track, Nashville vocalist Kellen asked who was behind it — only to find out that the friend who was playing it had planned on using the Calvin Harries track for one of his own songs. “Pretty much I beat jacked’em,” joked the singer when asked about it.

“Since I also love pop music, I put my spin on it and threw it on the mixtape to show some diversity.” The final cut “Time of Your Lyfe” appears on the 13-track Road 2 Knightlyfe which dropped about a week back, offering some of that welcomed diversity to the smooth production that supports the bulk of the release. “I wanted make people feel good and that’s exactly what the beat feels like.”

R&B is a difficult genre to gain a distinct voice in. A few years back when Maxwell released BLACKsummers’night, a friend of mine spoke to the stale progression within the genre’s frontrunners, “R&B kind of sucks these days, what with halfway talented singers using autotune to warble clichés over throwaway hip hop beats.” It’s something that bothered me then, and something that I continue to have a hard time with: OK, you’ve got a great voice… and?

What Kellen’s doing here doesn’t necessarily buck that trend — piggybacking on already-successful tracks is what continues to make mixtapes work — but it shows that the young singer is at least trying to think about stepping outside of the traditional mold, and is able to sound good in the process. “To me the song brings that extra energy that was needed to kinda set me apart.” Hard to argue with that.

For more from Kellen check out “Believe,” his collaboration with P.A. Lit which Lit calls his personal favorite from the recently released Birth of a Wave album.

[This article first appeared on Break on a Cloud.]

Stock More of What's Selling

What are the shelves of your store stocked with? Are you recognizing what sells and what doesn’t? Are you paying attention to the items that no one’s buying? Are you increasing inventory of what is selling? Are you helping your business succeed?

Life is like an emotional retail store. We have to constantly run inventory, making sure that we’re not giving too much shelf-space to efforts that aren’t working. To get more out of our limited floor space, we have to pay attention to what’s selling in our own life and act accordingly. What brings you fulfillment? What helps you achieve your goals? You should probably stock more of that.

Take inventory today. Look at that shelf of failure and count how many times a decision has left you feeling empty or sad. Stop listening to the questionable voice in your head giving you bad advice, telling you to stock your shelves with ambrosia-infused microwave popcorn and squid-flavored Jell-o. That shit ain’t workin’.

Stop actively putting yourself out of business.

Being Lucky or Being Given

"Lucky and given. Those are two very very dangerous words for a comedian because those two words can put you to sleep. Especially once you get a taste of both: of being lucky, and being given. Because the days of luck and being given are about to end. They’re about to go away — not totally, alright, there’s always going to be comedians who through hard work, they’re going to get noticed by agents and networks and studios and directors and record labels. There will always be an element of that. They deserve their success, by the way. Everyone of them that still makes it with that model still deserves their success. And there’s always going to be people who benefit from that, alright? I hope it keeps happening. But what I meant when I said the days of luck and being given are about to end is this: Not being lucky and not being given are no longer going to define your career as a comedian and as an artist."
About a month ago Patton Oswalt appeared at Just For Laughs in Montreal to delivery the festival’s keynote speech. His presentation followed two distinct paths, offering similar messages to different audiences, weaving a consistent thread throughout: That the world of creation is changing. No longer does your success, as an artist, rely on gatekeepers allowing you to succeed.

From 2008 to 2009 I held a position at an alt-weekly, working as a regularly contributing freelancer. I was given the responsibility of creating daily web content, and was given a ton of opportunities to contribute to the print edition as well. Being a sucker for data, I kept track, and when all was said and done I had put together over 400 blog posts, concert previews, album reviews, and interviews by the time I quit. The point here is that I was given a chance, and I let it slip away.

By my account I was asleep, and the vast majority of what I was contributing during that time remains some of the least inspired writing I’ve ever done. But a crucial lack of maturity and clarity about how rare the opportunity actually was went right over my head. By the end of my time with the company, budgets were fluctuating and I was being asked to do more for less money. Despite this, I failed to recognize that I was still getting paid a fair(ish) wage in a cutthroat industry that very few people actually get the chance to make a living from in the first place. At the time I felt like I was entitled to the work, and that I deserved more, when in reality I was just lucky. Lucky and given.

It’s been nearly four years since I took my first assignment with that company and I still have yet to find a situation remotely as opportune as what I had. When a similar position opened up last year I decided it would be worth moving back to the city for, so I applied, but I never even received a response. When I actually needed it, there was no opportunity just sitting there, waiting to be given to me.

As Oswalt later reflected in his speech, in order to succeed in the future, “I need to stop waiting to luck out and being given. I need to unlearn those muscles” — words we’d all do well to remember the next time we find ourselves waiting for the next big opportunity to land in our laps. That, or more importantly, the next time we fail to appreciate what we’ve already been given.

Potent Platitudes

No matter how obnoxious they can be, well-timed maxims can still deliver insight with great effect. Over the past two weeks thoughts have come and gone surrounding a number of ideas, but one particular thread has woven itself through each: The necessity to make today count.

Yesterday’s hard work helps build momentum, but without clarity of direction it can be difficult to avoid resting on your laurels, quickly becoming satisfied with past achievements, and empowering complacency.

Think about Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite: “Back in ’82 I used to be able to throw a pigskin a quarter mile.” Don’t become another Uncle Rico — no one wants to be a sad old man saddled by the questionable glory of days gone by.

Now, how about that timely platitude: Last week’s shower doesn’t help that much today.

Titus Jones "Dance Alarm" Video

It’s rare that I can get excited for a dance album — there’s always an exception to the rule though, and today has provided a rather notable one in the form of new music from Nashville producer Titus Jones.

“Dance Alarm” is a pulsating mega-mash that combines Nicki Minaj, Avicii, Owl City & Carly Rae Jepsen, Eminem, Lady Gaga, Taio Cruz, Cascada, Etta James, and Dev with Jones’ go-to, Britney Spears. The list of artists is a shameful indulgence in pop music’s usual suspects, but the track itself is anything but normal (not to mention the fantastic video edited by Panos T).
“My main goal when I sat down to make this track was to make it big,” reflected Jones when discussing the new music. “I knew I wanted something with a punch to officially announce the album and get listeners engaged and excited! This was about three weeks ago, and around that time I’d had that damn ‘Pound the Alarm’ track stuck in my head for days. So I was like ‘That’s it. I’m just gonna have to mash it’.”
The new song is a lead-in for Jones’ forthcoming mashup album After Shock — the follow-up to last year’s full-length Culture Shock release. “The whole thing is jam packed with fun party tracks you can move to, with a bit of nostalgia and genre-clashes stuffed in for good measure.”

The 14 track After Shock will be released September 21, but in the meantime “Dance Alarm” can be downloaded for free from Titus Jones’ website.

[This article first appeared on Break on a Cloud.]

Amerigo Gazaway "Bizarre Tribe: A Quest to The Pharcyde"

Blending the sounds of De La Soul with Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, last year’s Fela Soul mashup EP broke through to the mainstream where it was co-signed by the likes of MTV’s Hive, The Source and Okayplayer… not to mention NPR’s Bruce Warren who called it one of the best Bandcamp releases of the entire year. The man behind the production, Gummy Soul’s Amerigo Gazaway, is now returning with another mashup release, this time flexing his skills by combining hip hop icons the Pharcyde and A Tribe Called Quest.

“At a time when gangster rap ruled the airwaves, both these groups were breaking new ground musically and challenging the stereotypes of what people thought rap music to be,” explained Gazaway via email, expressing the drive to bring these two groups together. “The Pharcyde is to the West Coast what A Tribe Called Quest is to the East.”

The first taste from the album comes in the form of “Runnin’,” which features vocals from the Pharcyde’s 1995 single of the same name, while swapping J Dilla’s original production for the sounds of Tribe’s “Electric Relaxation.” The remainder of the album promises to follow suit with Gazaway combining his reinterpreted instrumentals with Pharcyde vocals. Further explaining his motivation with the project, Gazaway reflected on his roots, “My father is a jazz musician, so naturally I was drawn to ATCQ’s music from the very beginning,” he said. “And Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde was and still is one of my favorite hip-hop albums of all time.

The full-length Bizarre Tribe: A Quest to The Pharcyde will be released September 13, featuring a dozen or so brand new mashups including the likes of “Bonita Keeps on Passin’ Me By,” “We Got the Soul Flower,” and “Ya Mama and Stuff.”

[This article first appeared on Break on a Cloud.]

The Invisible Carrot

Success can have a variety of meanings depending on the individual defining it. In general though, many feel like we’ll never be “successful” — not because of our personal definitions, or lack thereof, but because of how inflexible our definitions are.

There isn’t too much in my life right now that I can do where I’d honestly consider myself a success. I’m exercising every day and am eating right in an attempt to lose weight and become healthier, for example, but at what point in time do I become successful? This process is something I’ve done numerous times before, but typically I’ve worked hard until beginning to plateau, only to become complacent with failing to achieve what I’d really hoped for. It’s not that I have a fear of success — I simply count myself as a failure before I’ve actually failed.

More and more however, I’m trying to shift “success” from being a goal-oriented objective to being the act of maintaining focus on what I define as important. Establishing priorities is one thing but maintaining a clear perspective regardless of how life plays out is what’s key. In my situation, what happens when I stick to a routine and I still feel miserable, unhealthy, and the pounds refuse to come off? Am I then a failure? Maybe. If my perspective is clear however, I’m more likely to see things for how they really are… That I’m only really a failure if I stop trying. In making the goal of resiliency paramount to metric-based landmarks, it becomes easier to refrain from negatively reacting to the appearance of stagnant progress and remain determined to move forward. Failed expectations are less likely to equate failure if our mindset is right.
Great expectations are premeditated resentments.
Too often it becomes habit to set expectations around rigid goals: A + B = C, and nothing else will do. But what happens if life gets in the way of these plans and we start feeling like we have to play catch-up just to get back to square-one? What if “B” never arrives, or instead, we’re given a “J” to work with?! Pretty quickly the plan of action to achieve “success” can become our worst enemy, mocking us as we try to latch onto the carrot on the stick — a carrot that we likely never had hope of grabbing hold of in the first place, if it was ever really there to begin with.

To draw out the metaphor out a little further, it’s easy to overlook all the carrots around us when we’re so intently focused on the carrot on the stick. Many successes arrive only to be overlooked because they’re not the successes we planned for. However, if we’re able to move beyond this, it becomes easier to build on small accomplishments and prevent expectations of what should happen get in the way from appreciating what is happening. Tomorrow’s success might very well be something you could never envision today.

Regardless of yesterday’s results, success isn’t dependent on whether or not things went as planned: If they did, great, if not, get over it. Instead, success can come in the act of simply recognizing that we can start over today. Success is what we make it.

Derek Minor "PSA Volume 3"

“I am entering a new chapter in my career,” revealed Derek Minor in a recent blog post, explaining his decision to shed his PRo moniker. “This new chapter includes a new direction, and new goals.” The first major act under his new name has arrived in the form of the third installment in his PSA series, this one bearing the appropriate title “Who is Derek Minor.” It’s a fitting statement not only because of the recent rebranding, but also because of how the mixtape documents a broad sea change for the Murfreesboro-based MC.

“As my career continues, my aim is to be transparent and real with the people,” he added on his blog. And when reaching out for comment via email he backed up this statement of transition, expressing how PSA 3 is a massive step forward for him as an artist. “This record is much more mature than the last PSA installments,” he said. “I’m much older, have seen more, and I think I’ve developed my craft much better.”

“Also, I produced more records than any other mixtape I’ve ever done,” he noted, further revealing how the new release stands as a personal landmark. His work in that regard is solid, and the album is remarkably sound musically with very tight production by not only Minor but a small army of talented beat-wizards. Additionally, the album has a long list of lyrical contributors including Dre Murray, JSon, Viktory, and Tedashii, who all appear on the track “Sad Condishun.” “The fact that I got this megamix of artist on that one song was dope,” said Minor. “It was a really cool record — one of my favorites for sure.”

Not unlike thousands of tapes that have done the same, PSA 3 has its fair share of disposable phone message skits, but any filler is easily forgivable when considering the quality of such high-energy tracks as “Higher” and “I’m Focused,” or even the relaxed sounds of “Feeling Good.” However musically sound PSA 3 is, the mix revolves around a variety of inspirational themes which remain at the heart of Minor’s music — themes not unlike those expressed in the lead single “Get Up” regarding being mindful of the world around you. “Though it is broken, there is hope,” added Minor.

And while not entirely overstated on “Get Up,” the religious aspect of Minor’s work is far more prevalent throughout PSA 3. It’s something that can be either inspiring or overbearing based on your individual stance on religion — and more specifically Christianity — but on a personal level it’s something that’s becoming less a distinctly black and white issue. There is some black metal that I enjoy, for example, but in no way am I about to redefine my life as a satanic nihilist any time soon just because of the ideas projected through a piece of music. Similarly, not all of Minor’s beliefs resonate with me, but I can still celebrate the thematic tones of positivity and personal empowerment that are prevalent throughout his music. “Regardless of our condition, up bringing, or background there is a always something greater on the horizons.” That — I can get behind.

[This article first appeared on Break on a Cloud.]

Kill the Vampires in Your Life

Identifying the vampires in our lives is vital to personal evolution and bucking complacency.

As Duncan Trussell asks in this video clip, What’s sucking you of your happiness? What are the things in your life that are keeping you from succeeding, progressing, or simply being happy? These things are vampires and if we don’t recognize them as such they will continue to suck us dry.

As Trussell explains, vampires only go where they’re invited. The people and situations that are most damaging in our lives have the ability of draining us of our livelihood because we allow them to do so. Similar to those who are stuck in abusive relationships, paralyzed by the fear of walking away, we’ll often try to convince ourselves that these blood-suckers aren’t really vampires — that we don’t have to leave, or that we don’t have to cut them out of our lives. Vampires can be seductive and manipulating, but recognizing them for what they are is crucial. “You don’t kill a vampire by having a sit-down talk with a vampire,” continues Trussell. “You shine the light of truth onto the situation [and] fearlessly analyze it, and then you’ll destroy it.” It’s important to determine what the vampires are in our lives and acknowledge them as such, but doing so is only part of the equation — taking action is vital to making real change.

Even after accepting vampires for what they are, it’s easy to avoid removing them from our lives because of the expectation that doing so will hurt us more in the long run. And it’s true: killing our vampires might leave us temporarily crushed. Crushed, perhaps, but alive, and able to move forward. Actively purging these destructive blood-suckers from our lives will ultimately lend us liberation from unnecessary misery and grant us the freedom to again be our true selves.


Some days I feel like a complete waste. Some days I feel like I can’t get out of bed, and further: there’s no point. Some days I feel like I don’t have anything to offer the world, or myself for that matter. Some days I feel like the world would be a better place without me in it. Some days I’m fine.

When I become lost in my own mind I’m finding that it’s becoming increasingly important to pay close attention to the day’s small victories. If you get out of bed that puts you a step closer to doing the dishes. If you clean the dishes that puts you a step closer to showering and shaving. If you clean up you that puts you a step closer to going to work.

Each new morning can bring with it an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, but accomplishment doesn’t have to come by running gold medal winning races or releasing New York Times best sellers. Some days accomplishment comes in taking small steps when that first inch appears impossible. Shaving and showering isn’t a huge victory, but the action is important because of the change it might help usher in. One step leads to the next, and the first step toward conquering the day is sometimes one that might otherwise seem insignificant.

As the old saying goes: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Truth Clipsy "Live Forever"

Recently releasing The Very Ink… EP with producer JOTA ESE, Nashville’s Truth Clipsy is back with another determined offering in the form of his new track “Live Forever.” Lyrically, the song takes aim at modern rap standards, following an aging character’s development of self awareness as he makes the transition from “thinking that he will live forever to understanding that the only things that will live forever are the ideas that you pass on to the world.”

The story is set to a throwback beat provided by Bill Breeze under his Johnny MO and the Crazy 88 alias (Breeze himself just dropped a funky new collaboration with PM titled “Can’t Stop“) and when combined with Clipsy’s focused lyrical aim the song takes on a form all its own. “The partying and bottle popping, the violence and drugs, and the subjection of women are the most cliché,” explains Clipsy. “But yet the most popular subjects to rap about.” It’s sort of funny, thinking back to a time when “socially conscious” was a term that garnered respect in the rap community. It has since been diluted by a decade’s worth of watered down philosophies and now carries with it something of an undesirable association — Clipsy addresses this with the track.

“We don’t talk about the responsibilities of friends to look take care of the children that our friends leave behind. We don’t talk about making our communities better and offering hope to the younger generation. We don’t talk about why we really want to have a ton of hate and animosity whenever we are successful. We don’t talk about AIDS or the dangers of having sex with many partners. Why are these not viable subjects in the hip-hop community?” Why indeed.

[This article first appeared on Break on a Cloud.]

P.A. Lit "Birth of a Wave"

What does “Birth of a Wave” mean? To Nashville’s P.A. Lit the four words represent a youthful uprising amid the city’s broad musical landscape. “It’s the coming of the new youth,” he said via email. And through his new album the theme remains strong: ten tracks bonded together by a collective focus on the future.

“I did my collabs with a few of my brothers,” he continued, complimenting the contributions of the crew who helped create the album. “[They] just happen to be great musicians as well.” In the mix you’ll hear Chuck Taylor, BiLy Bla$t, Petty, A. Loca Da Man and Kellen. The tireless Ducko McFli assumed production duties for the entire release, including the standout “Battlefield” which is lifted by a sample of Pat Benetar’s 1983 single “Love is a Battlefield.” “I love that record,” Lit continued, “[I] got to collab with one of the best artist we have to offer,” he added, speaking of Petty.

While McFli lent a broad musical direction to the release, it’s the album closer “Believe” that remains Lit’s favorite. The track — which blends a warped, swirling mix with the MC’s subtle flow and Kellen’s smooth vocals — is an interesting contrast to tracks like “Battlefield,” but one that still solidifies the album’s theme. “I believe in me, I believe in me,” hums Kellen as the song subsides like a receding tide on a warm summer’s night, its end only a temporary calm before the wave of youth rises high again.

[This article first appeared on Break on a Cloud.]

Quiet Entertainer "Dream Sequencer"

“[Quiet Entertainer's] Internet presence tends to be more cordial than controversial” writes Nashville Cream‘s Sean Maloney, and I tend to agree with him. A little over a year ago I was first introduced to the Nashville producer’s music, though it wasn’t his work that initially drew me in but his approach to online dialog. Before I remember hearing his songs I remember hearing what he had to say via a couple of online forums, and it was his ability to lend honest communication in a medium littered with transparent self-promotion that left an impression on me. Quiet Entertainer has a similar approach in bucking trends musically in that he seems satisfied in neglecting various electronic music novelties in favor of a sound he can call his own. Such is the case with Dream Sequencer.

The EP retains a minimalist tone throughout with various tracks slowly building without ever succumbing to modern trends like the wah-wah-wah-wah-ing of cartoonish dubstep breaks. Cynical ears might overlook the simple aim of the music — the use of woodwinds (as those in EP-closer “Morning”), for example, seem a perfect soundtrack to any number of hokey computer animation videos from the ’90s — but each ingredient here serves its purpose, with none leaving the music toxic in complexities.

Much as he respectfully approaches the vitriolic world of online discussion, in the face of a booming electronic music landscape that’s increasingly built on harsh drops and throbbing dance sequences the producer offers a refreshing alternative… Though one I’d hardly call quiet.

You can purchase the six track Dream Sequencer EP over at Quiet Entertainer’s Bandcamp page for $4293.86 (or $0; whatever you feel is appropriate, really).

[This article first appeared on Break on a Cloud.]

Dear Struggling Rapper, Here Are 5 Easy Steps To Success

“I don’t think there’s any magic key to promotion — you send emails, you manage your web presence, you cultivate your email list or Facebook page or whatever, you hand out flyers, you do the same stuff people have been doing for years now; the real key happens before all of that,” explained Minneapolis-based MC and two-time National Poetry Slam champion Guante. And unless Zoltar starts granting magic wishes, success is likely to elude even the hardest working musicians. There’s no clear cut way to succeed online as an artist, but by following these guidelines your odds of succeeding will get a whole lot better.

1. Know Your Market

In brief: All your hard work is going to be for nothing if you drop your new music via non-tagged .mp4s through spammy YouSendIt links. You have to make it easy to access your music, and right now that means utilizing mediums that people acutally use. As TSS’ John Gotty™ clarified, “have your own central place for fans — an active Facebook, a well designed Tumblr, or real site.” Secondly, “Have a Soundcloud, Bandcamp, etc., where material can be streamed and is mobile-friendly.” It’s vital to have a hub where fans can listen to you on THEIR terms, not yours.

2. Switch Your Aim Up

The problem of how to cultivate a fanbase is something that every artist struggles with and the chances of you blowing up and going viral are about as slim as gaining national exposure because of a little local hype. That said, approaching both avenues simultaneously has been proven successful. “The most important thing is to get fans in your hometown,” notes Pitchfork staffer and L.A. Weekly columnist Jeff Weiss. “The main thing I always tell musicians who contact me is they need to focus on finding fans,” adds SPIN and Pitchfork contributor Marc Hogan. “You’d be surprised how often it gets overlooked.”

Weiss interjects, “Look at Odd Future. Whether you like or hate Tyler, the guy is a savant when it comes to the Internet.” They didn’t rest at creating an online buzz though. They also made the most of their performances to build a live presence. Maybe more importantly, they diversified their act, too.

3. Stand Out

You have to figure out how to set yourself apart. For the masses it’s seemingly impossible to stand out from the crowd though because, quite simply, the creativity needed to do so just isn’t there. What you can do though is switch up how you pitch your music and who you pitch it to. Relating his victories, Guante noted, “When you have work that is about something specific, you open up countless new promotional avenues; basically, a rap blog will post a rap song, but a rap song about a particular issue can get posted on rap blogs and in other places, on blogs or magazines or Tumblrs that deal with whatever that particular issue is.”

By thinking about fresh approaches in expanding your fanbase you avoid scratching and clawing for the same token audience that everyone else is fighting for.

4. Don’t Spam Your Audience

“Once you’ve made a fan it’s not your job to sell them on every last item on the agenda, but to make sure that they remain a fan. What’s one of the most misguided things you can do once someone’s shown support? Spamming them. For example, if you’re trying to win a fan-voted contest, it’s perfectly okay to ask followers to vote, but posting on hundreds of friends’ Facebook walls begging them to vote for you is the exact opposite of what they want.

Likewise, it’s important to know who you’re pitching your music to and how you’re doing it. One name who Weiss said has done well in adapting his approach is Minneapolis’ MaLLy. “He used to hit me up all the time,” Weiss admitted. “He realized he doesn’t need it – it’s not his job to spam me all day long.” Be concise and direct in your press emails, and, as MaLLy mentions, permit the listeners listen to your music and not you.

5. F*ck a Mixtape

Another reason that MaLLY found success for himself was by releasing his music in an atypical fashion. Rather than dropping another full-length release, he released a series of well-crafted new tracks on a monthly basis. “With that strategy we were able to build up anticipation for a song so high that once it was over people had to hit rewind, or expect another,” he says. “The response soon went from ‘when is the next song dropping’ to ‘when are the videos for this series coming’ to ‘I want an entire album from you.’”

When new listeners are only likely to give you a single song (or more likely: the first 30 seconds of a single song) to prove yourself, dropping a complete album’s worth of material is far less important now that having one great track.

[This article first appeared on The Smoking Section.]

Zion I Interview

MC, writer, and father, veteran MC Zumbi (of west coast hip-hop stalwarts Zion I) is also a self-professed free-thinking tai chi fanatic. Somewhere within this web of persona is a balance between the family, spiritual and physical self that developing MCs would do well to emulate. Without disregarding each important layer that speaks to who the man is though, it might well be his diligence toward his craft that aspiring artists would most benefit from paying attention to.

Since the release of Zion I’s Heroes in the Healing of the Nation collaboration with The Grouch last year, Zumbi unleashed his own spin on the likes of Flying Lotus, Bassnectar, and Wiz Khalifa with the Versus mixtape, only to be followed by Zion I’s Livity mix and a solo 420 EP which both dropped this past spring. Most recently the MC jumped on a track with the Bay Area’s 40Love (“Tiki Tiki”) while also stepping into an on-screen role as a baseball bat-wielding villain in Aesop Rock’s kung-fu happy “ZZZ Top” video. Somewhere amid all of this -- (not to mention releasing his weekly “Science of Breath” podcast) — Zumbi’s also been developing “Book of Rhymes,” a project aimed at celebrating Zion I’s lyrical history.

“I came up with the idea as a way for our fans to get all of the lyrics straight from my book. It’s also a way of solidifying our legacy in Hip-Hop. We’ve been making music for 16 years, I think it’s about time we had a book documenting our journey.” Yet while his continual artistic outpouring is something to be celebrated, it’s his ability to maintain his personal equilibrium that might be his most advantageous strength.

“Spirituality is the backbone of my existence,” Zumbi explains. “I strive to be completely in tune with myself through my spirit, and the music is one of the ways in which I explore this.” He cites his family and friends as helping him maintain a hold on reality, but it’s his reliance on the Taoist practices of Chen-style Tai Chi, Qigong, and Bagua that have ensured that he steers clear of burning out. “These are exercises that assist my writing and singing, and help me to concentrate more. It’s a trip; after practicing I feel more coordinated and overall more confident.”

The continued theme of balance is no better expressed than through Zumbi’s passion for martial arts, as Tai Chi in particular demands an equal focus on a number of sacred elements and techniques. A broad dexterity results from the training: a sense of resourcefulness and flexibility that is also a necessity in the creation of poetry and lyrics. Not unlike martial arts, the need to observe and study the masters in art is key for personal evolution, and in hip hop this sort of thoughtful nimbleness is no more apparent than in the belly of a cypher. Growing up examining such expert craftsmen as Rakim and Coltrane, Zumbi developed a taste for freestyling early, a passion that drives him to this day. “I started MC’ing through freestyling, so it’s the basis of rhyming to me,” he reflects. “Back in the day we would just sit up and freestyle for hours and hours and then listen back and pull song concepts out of the stream of consciousness flows.”

Part of Zumbi’s ability to react within the moment is what has driven the success of Zion I and helped the duo adopt their music to the live setting. Be it their recent set at Louisville’s Forecastle, or upcoming gigs at Chicago’s North Coast Festival, Salt Lake City’s Audio Circus, or a pair of Rock the Bells festival dates, Zion I have become something of a festival-circuit staple, showcasing their abilities to a wide-ranging audience. “In the live set, the freestyle is integral to what we do. It puts us on the edge, where the line between the performers and the audience is blurred, because during the freestyle we feed off of one another’s energy, so it’s as if we are both creating the show. Many times, the freestyle is the most exciting part of the show because everything is on the line, and the added excitement energizes the vibe.”

The energy, ability to play off one another, and musical diversity are all pillars in the foundation of what makes Zion I unique. “This is just who we are,” Zumbi adds. Yet while there’s little thought put into strategically deviating from a particular musical style, the MC does express indecision over how deep to invite listeners into his life through his lyrics. “I am hesitant about opening up every aspect of my life. However, the true power of art is the unveiling of the internal world, so inevitably, I am forced to confront my dark side thru the music.” This is an aim that the MC explains will be at the forefront of Zion I’s forthcoming full length release, Shadowboxing, which is set to drop this fall. “This is the blessing of being an artist, I can share my pain in a way that is liberating for others as well as myself.” It’s almost comical how even in moments of deep contemplation over the darkness in his life, Zumbi is able to remain in the light, his balance undeterred.

[This article first appeared on Brite Revolution.]

Joey Bada$$ "1999" Review

If web-hype were any indication of talent or potential, Brooklyn youngster Joey Bada$$ might well be one of rap’s hottest names right now. The typical talking points seem standard across the board: Despite being only17 he has a “sophisticated” and “confident” flow, reps hard for his Progressive Era crew (“a collective of 18 rappers, producers, graphic designers and studio engineers“), exhibits a distinct and refreshing ’90s hip-hop vibe (reviews have been tireless with Nas references), and for having just released his first mixtape with 1999, he already has everyone from Mac Miller to MTV backing his cause. In the month that’s passed since 1999 dropped for free online, the mixtape has already racked up nearly 400k combined views between DatPiff and Live Mixtapes alone. Astounding results for a kid who has yet to enter his senior year of high school. But does web-hype really equate talent?

Of course not.

But it does accurately reflect Bada$$’s potential.

Part of 1999‘s immediate appeal comes with its obvious resemblance to what real “hip-hop heads” are either already familiar with, or are desperately seeking. Take for example one of the set’s most acclaimed cuts, “Survival Tactics,” which utilizes Styles of Beyond’s eponymous track from the group’s 1998 debut. Although it isn’t exactly a showstopper as far as musical references go, it shows that he’s actively looking back — digging, if you will — while moving forward. The same goes for when he leans on Dilla and Statik Selektah. “World Domination” goes a little deeper with sample of DOOM’s “Poo-Putt Platter,” which in turn sampled a tune from the Fat Albert Halloween episode: this is the kind of incestuous keeping-it-realness that back in tha day trumpeters kill for! “Funky Hos” and “Snakes” would each sound at home on Midnight Marauders tribute LP, but it’s “World Domination” that especially speaks to where the kid’s at musically: He’s most comfortable within the previous generation’s ideal of what an old-school flow was supposed to sound like. 1999 is the scrapbook of a kid whose parents listened to Biggie, attends the same high school as Adam Yauch once did, and who discovered Gangstarr through video games.

Most of the release finds him spitting about girls — what would you rap about if you were 17 again? — but even there he maintains a strange lyrical mixture, balancing macho posturing with emotions: “Word to my mother/Two things I never do is leave the crib without some rubbers or tell a funky ho I love her/These broads be trying to get a brother caught up in a sticky situation, missing menstruation” (from the Steve Miller Band-sampling “Funky Hos”) follows “So tell me what the fuck I’m supposed to do/You know it ain’t too easy getting over you/I sent the postcards so you know it’s true/I promise that I wouldn’t get emotional” (Bada$$ doing his best DOOM in “Pennyroyal”). But 1999 isn’t empty in terms of showing his dexterity as an MC either: peep 3:43 to about 4:30 of “Hardknocks” where his rapid fire delivery really takes off, “This is for my niggas, killas, hundred dolla billas/On the block in the rock spot glock cocked watchin’ out for cops/All about they cheddar young girls know nothin’ that’s better…”

Speaking with Pitchfork, Pro Era producer Chuck Strangers explained his process in developing the handful of tracks he contributed to the release, “Joey had a very specific vision for 1999. I was playing him all these other kinds of beats and he’d be like, ‘These are ill, but not what I’m going for.’ So I sat and I listened to Joey Bada$$ music. People ask me, ‘Did you listen to a lot of Wu-Tang and Illmatic when you made these beats?’ I know those shits because I’m from Brooklyn and I love ’em, but to make Joey Bada$$’ tape, I listened to Joey Bada$$.” Growing up on hip-hop is a great starting point, but the ability to be so selectively focused of what it is he’s trying to do at such a young age is what might actually separate Bada$$ from the crowd. 1999 is no Illmatic, but it is a skillfully constructed tape by a minor-leaguer who’s playing at a pro-ball level. Whether you’re boom-bap’d out halfway through the mixtape or not, what you should take away from 1999 is its what-ifs: the what-ifs that have inspired the web-hype and the what-ifs that suggest his future to be bulging at the seems with “potential.” The reason it’s important to keep his age in mind isn’t simply because it’s remarkable that Joey Bada$$ appears so “sophisticated” and “confident” at only 17, but because he seems to already be better at constructing a consistent album than many who’ve been doing it since back before he was even born. Oh, the potential…

[This article first appeared on Mind Inversion.]

Truth Clipsy & JOTA ESE "The Very Ink…" EP

Growing from his 2011 debut album The VIP Room, Nashville MC Truth Clipsy has returned with the wordily-titled EP, The Very Ink with Which History is Written is Merely Fluid Prejudice. Where VIP served as a personal a coping mechanism, molded around a dark period where the MC lost four close friends, Clipsy calls the new collaboration with producer JOTA ESE, “an extension of the hope that I have for what hip-hop is evolving into.”

After connecting online and exchanging a series of messages, the duo agreed that a collaboration was in order. Before long they released both “Get Free” and “Thermometer,” and the immediate response from fans kept them going. “He kept sending me tracks,” said Clipsy, “and I kept recording.”

As last month drew to a close the duo dropped their second wave of songs with The Very Ink. “I just wanted to bring that golden age feel into to the music we were creating,” Clipsy continued. “I wanted it to have that aggressiveness that I truly feel is missing from contemporary hip-hop.”

That aggression is immediately felt with the EP’s combative opener “Clubber Lang.” Using audio clips of Rocky Balboa’s infamous foil, the track finds Clipsy verbally swinging over a soulful and funky old-school beat. And much like the MC’s approach to his lyrics, the sound reflects a purposeful attempt at maintaining a rough texture. “I wanted it to sound raw, gritty, dirty, and grungy. JOTA even ran every song through a tape machine to give it that old analog sound.”

As both artists continue to carve their own unique paths, Clipsy looks ahead to an artistic renaissance in the city and beyond, reflecting on where he feels the duo fits in. “I feel like underground music is going to be what saves hip-hop,” the MC adds. “And I’m just glad that Truth Clipsy x JOTA ESE can be a part of that evolution.”

[This article was first published on Break on a Cloud.]

Kurtis Stanley "Airplane Mode"

Produced by Clinstrumentals and mixed by Truth Clipsy comes a fresh track from Kurtis Stanley out of the Gummy Soul crew. Laced with sultry saxophone straight out of a mid-’80s cop drama, Nashville’s Stanley keeps his flow steady throughout, wrapping an attractive chorus around casually humorous lines, “That’s brand-spankin’ new, baby/No Carfax.” Be sure to keep an ear to his Twitter to stay up on the latest.

[This article first appeared on Break on a Cloud.]