Author Archives: Mark McNulty

[Hip-Hop] Charles Jane LaFlare – 50 Shades of Jane

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Charles Jane LaFlare
Fifty Shades Of Jane (prod. Johnytiger)

There’s a new wave moving through Miami, a one-of-a-kind cut “50 Shades of Jane” courtesy of a first-class future music odd couple – the braggadocious R&B singer/songwriter Charles Jane LaFlare and the grungy, admittedly anti-social beat architect Johnytiger.

Though their collision on this track is potent, these Magic City natives appear to come from disparate backgrounds. Johnytiger gets out there on production, filtering wrecking guitar chords, 808 drums, and wide, low synthesizers through a grunge aesthetic. In fact, Johnytiger plays guitar with the durable hardcore band I Set My Friends On Fire. We were delightfully surprised to hear him cook up a saucy wave beat for LaFlare, an up-and-coming glamorous R&B cat who can really turn a phrase.

“You know I’m a savage / Why you flexing on me like you think you have it?” asks LaFlare. We’re not, you have it, guy. The back end of the tune gets dirty, with the white noise dropping off and LaFlare rhyming assertively over pure bass and drums, with a sardonic sampled vocal leading the track to its conclusion. I can’t remember hearing high-pitched, higher energy, innuendo-laced R&B rhymes over an electronically constructed quasi-rock song before, but I’m damn glad I heard it today.

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[Album Review] Kiante Robinson – Love For Rap, Rap For Love

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Kiante Robinson is up next from New York with his first mixtape Love For Rap, Rap For Love. With authenticity and lyrical precision, the young Bronxite presents vivid tales and relatable tribulations from his life, along with a few ill boasts and party jams. In the new horizontal musical culture, it’s becoming slightly easier for a kid with skill and drive to get recognized in the rap game without the patronage of a major music label. Mr. Robinson, whose tape is out thanks to Gold Expectations, shows ample amounts of both.

Right off the rip, Robinson demonstrates his poetic prowess while offering advice only a fellow NYC youth could understand.

This that mood music / when you gettin’ pushed, homie, this that pull through it / I made this for that kid sittin in the school clueless / you ain’t gotta know what they know, that’s from a true truant

This tune, “Intro”, sets the tone for the tape – complex rhymes that ultimately relate simple truths. Kiante encourages his listeners to follows their dreams, use their minds, and rap for love, not for attention. He’s rapping about what he knows, not what’s popular or cool, and that’s what makes this tape so cool. The kid radiates realness. In a rap game where hot new artists spend so much time talking about and cultivating their image but can barely freestyle, “Love For Rap” is as refreshing as a bottle of beer from a bodega on a summer day.

The beats, more lo-fi boom-bap than 808 trap and covered in stylish samples, give the tape a vintage vibe. He pays respect to the greats, memorializing Phife Dawg at the beginning of “Move Along”, and naming a tune after Lauryn Hill. The final track, “#Win”, makes use of a classic soul sample “You Can’t Blame Me” by Johnson, Hawkins, Tatum & Burr, again paying homage to the past. “I wanna see my community win … if you fall, pursue it again.”

The tape’s first single, “Greatest of My Time” is rare braggadocio from someone who “don’t like to brag a lot”. That single has racked up over 2.5 million plays on Soundcloud. With Kiante’s words flowing like water over a true head-bopping beat, it’s easy to hear why this cut is finding favor. With little marketing or promo, no major record deal or co-sign, Kiante is simply showing and proving. A quick lyric from “Move Along” helps to illustrate the community Kiante comes from.

Always close to the cliff, but no big step off / it’s hard growing up watching all the rich get more / takin’ his and yours to make the kids less poor / bad parents but we ain’t jealous of the kids next door

The triplet rhymes run throughout the album. His syntax spills out so quickly sometimes that one needs two or three plays to get the full spectrum of what he’s saying.

The sheer density of his lyrics stands out in a hip-hop scene which has been putting greater and greater emphasis on intricate production and catchy hooks. Passing on these trends, he reminds us of Dave East, another true MC with lighting quick lyricism out of New York City.

“There’s something deeper in the music / but you gotta listen to find it,” Kiante says on “Level Headed”. That’s just how we like it, Mr. Robinson, and we’ll be listening for a long time to come. Grab your free download of this fantastic hip-hop music here.

’Intro’
’Soon As We Enter’
’Kiante Robinson – Poetry (Featuring Taina Rain)’
’You, You & You’
’Dreams’
’Intermission’
’Kiante Robinson – Greatest Of My Time’
’Move Along’
’Level Headed’
’Kiante Robinson – Lauryn Hill’
’Kiante Robinson – #Win’
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[Trap] Infuze – Alive (Ft. Brave)

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Infuze
Alive ft. Brave

The thunderous trap producer Infuze is back with the single “Alive” on Fools Gold featuring the golden pipes of singer/songwriter Brave. We have always loved the Bushwick-based trap and dance producer Infuze for his on-point arrangement ability and willingness to execute some serious left-field sound design, as we first heard on his remix for Bassnectar’s “Mystery Song”.

The same low-down, razor sharp synths that caught my ear on his remix for Nectar creep into “Alive” during the booming, spacious, traditionally-trap drop. During the buildup, Brave’s thematically simple but emotionally captivating lyrics layer well over the warm synth tones and arpeggiated melody laid down by the producer.

Often, and perhaps this goes without saying for some, a trap drop can sound played out. Yet Infuze keeps it fresh in his mix by infusing complex or unorthodox sounds which contrast well with more traditional trappings of this genre like the booming kicks and high-pitched lead melodies. Brave’s contribution also powers this track. We’re confident we’ll hear from her again at least a few times throughout 2017.

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[House] arfus – Dark Forge

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arfus
DARK FORGE

Arfus from St. Petersburg, FL is on one. His music is immensely creative and fun while achieving emotional depth. “Dark Forge”, his newest single, is masterful.

A house beat composed entirely of glitches opens the track. The main melody whispers into the mix, simple but profound, almost esoteric. The kick drum then thunders in with shocking volume and depth, coupled with the producer’s characteristically coarse synthesizers. All of the sudden there are three melodies weaving through one another, screeching sounds and a deeply-pitched new lead melody that sounds like it came from Lord of The Rings. From there the music moves even deeper into more complex territory.

It’s typical of Arfus’s mind-boggling production style to pack so much seemingly disparate material into one cohesive, bumping track. He achieves this same queer collage effect on “Dark Forge” but strings it together with a new, quicker tempo because, as he says on his Soundcloud, it’s a “club year”. Name your price and download this cut here.

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[Album Review] Azad – A Very Emotional EP

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We can’t help but appreciate the honesty shown by Azad on his newest EP. From the project’s title down to its most negligible lyric, the Los Angeles-based performer offers up straightforward thoughts and sensual energy in this classy hybrid of R&B and hip-hop, A Very Emotional EP. The record features a ton of material for an EP – verses laid out with consistent, adept flow, hooks highlighting his soft, lilting voice, all couched in excellent instrumentals from an all-star cast of producers. We’re grateful the singer/songwriter took enough time away from his label Mind Of A Genius to bless us with this compilation.

From track to track the EP tells a familiar but timeless story. First, serious longing and heartbreak. Then, introverted analysis leads to a return to confidence. Finally, it’s baby-making time.

“Enough of You” lays out the pattern that each song takes. Azad’s rhymes, sometimes styled more like freeform poetry than rap bars, tumble out towards in the verse towards a chorus that sounds like many a softer cut from Drake or J. Cole. The deep beat comes courtesy of Sango, Atu and Dpat, a trio which literally made great waves together in 2016. “Special” reminds one of The Weekend’s best tracks from 2016, but with more hard-edged lyricism in between the shiny hook. Catch the creative homage Azad pays to one particularly influential rhyme sayer in the second verse.

The talented Millz Douglas from East Baltimore holds it down with a great beat on “Godesses”, the type of pocket beat that offers a prime platform to a rapper, and Azad slides right in. The next two tracks, “Trust” and ‘Grind on Me” are produced by Jonathan Marquez, whose guitar samples refresh the soundscape. Trust is difficult to achieve, and the absence of it seems to be driving much of Azad’s emotional turmoil. Azad has a special ability to tell detailed, true stories in verse, especially on “Grind On Me”. Love songs are common, but it’s rare to hear an honest, productive, real discussion of relationship troubles packaged in smooth verse over the kick and snare. Only a few in the game do it well, and Azad puts forward his best effort on this cut.

Stwo from Paris offers my personal favorite beat on the compilation with “Ready”, a boom-bap dripping in bass with a kick that sounds like a heartbeat and a snare that is deliciously minimal. The lack of glamor in the instrumental makes room Azad’s smooth, soft flow. “Teach me how to love I never learned how / it’s like every house I ever built gets burned down.”

After such an emotional EP, “Sweet” is a perfect capitulation. The raunchy lyrics and braggadocio fit perfectly into HUCCI‘s big-ass booming beat (Strictly!).

A Very Emotional EP is a very strong effort from Azad. It’s exactly what an EP should be – a thoughtfully-curated series of stellar instrumentals, each one employed carefully by the songwriter to tell a different part of his emotional tale. Few artists rhyme with the complexity and sing with the catharsis of Azad while keeping it so real with the subject matter. With all the new-age R&B out there, it can be hard to find the durable cuts. A Very Emotional EP is full of them.

’Enough Of You (Prod. By Sango, Atu & Dpat)’
’Special (Prod. by Patrick Collier)’
’Goddesses (Prod. by Millz Douglas)’
’Trust (Prod. by Jonathan Marquez)’
’Grind On Me 2016 (Prod. by Jonathan Marquez)’
’Ready (Prod. by Stwo)’
’Bonus Sweet (Prod. by HUCCI)’
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[16 To End 2016] Ninja McNulty’s Best Of The Year

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Music is subjective and it is not. “What?” Well, we all have our own conception of what taste, treasure, and trifle are in music. The following list comprises my favorite musical treasures from 2016. They may appear as trifles to other ears tuned for different frequencies than my own are. Yet I’m confident that each cut presented here in one way or another makes a contribution to an overall upward trajectory, a positive progression for music which aims at an objective high-quality. Many songs harp on or exemplify trends in popular or underground music which I consider valuable. Some introduce new, well-turned phrases into the eternally in-flux dialogue. Others repackage old wisdom in a shiny new bow. Many simply evince the extremely high production value which I worship, idolator that I may be. If my rhetoric already seems innane, skip it, but do yourself a favor and enjoy a few of these sixteen songs.

Sunflower Bean
Easier Said

Sunflower Bean is a rock trio from Brooklyn. “Easier Said”, the first single from their debut album, is a near perfect pop song with it’s simple but emotive guitar licks and frontwoman Julia Cummings’ serene voice and poetic lyrics – “Should have just stayed home, but I’d rather be alone instead.”

Tom Misch
I Wish

Tom Misch can do no wrong. This one-man-band – vocalist, guitarist, pianist, producer – released his Reverie EP in July, featuring this softly aching song about looking back on one’s past.

Open Ocean
Hurry

According to the producer’s Soundcloud, Open Ocean is about “depth”. 2016 saw the rise in “Wave” music, a strange concept when one considers all music is one intricate arrangement of waves. Open Ocean offers my favorite conceptualization of “Wave”.

Miguel
Waves (Remix) Feat. Travi$ Scott

This tune came early in 2016 and captivated me for employing production techniques atypical in R&B, even its contemporary strains. “Waves” has an uncompromising energy that hit the sweet spot. Travis Scott’s verse precurses his massive success and innovation through the rest of the year.

Jade Cicada
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Jade Cicada from western Massachusetts makes me almost incredulous with his profound production capabilities. What was first a 30-second clip on Soundcloud was then debuted in full when Jade Cicada opened for Dave Tipper at the latter’s Full Moon Gathering in April in Florida. It’s been a standard in the underground glitch hop scene since.

COPYCATT
Survive (ft. Maksim)

COPYCATT is a 19-year-old producer from Brisbane who released this track with the MC Maksim on Inspected 2, a compilation from the boundary-pushing music/fashion collective Inspected which dropped in November. The British bars over the nutty sound design evokes Grime, but the sound design is far more sophisticated. I desperately hope to be caught by surprise and flattened by this song on a dance floor in 2017.

Wax Future
A Love That Lasts Forever (Tsimba Remix)

Wax Future, a producer/guitarist duo from Philadelphia, have been upping the ante on the sample-collage, electro soul sound popularized by Pretty Lights. Budding Connecticut-based bass music producer Tsimba brought his “future roots” sound to bear on this WF original. The subterranean bass and esoteric thematic material made it an easy pick for me.

Shivaji
Take It

I was introduced to this too-fire track by Bassnectar who dropped it one Halloween weekend. We expect great things from one of Kannibalen Record’s most promising young talents, who has the touch. To end the song the producer samples Doors frontman Jim Morrison who presciently describes the future of music. I see you, Shivaji.

Bombino
Akhar Zaman (This Moment)’

The singer, songwriter and axe-wielding phenom from Agadez, Niger named Bombino stole my ears mid-2016 with his album Azel. With it’s simple popish formula and striking riff, “Akhar Zaman (This Moment)” is my favorite song from this vital North African rock-and-roll masterpiece.

Bassnectar & G. Jones
Mind Tricks Ft. Lafa Taylor

Bassnectar’s 2016 album was more subdued than most of his work from the past five years, but “Mind Tricks” featuring Lafa Taylor on vocals and G Jones on production is an unequivocal banger. The syncopation between the bassline and the drums is a hallmark of both Greg Jones and Lorin Ashton, native Santa Cruzans from different generations who apparently have an EP in the works for 2017. Lord help us.

Kursa
KURO 黒

Clearly, my ears are mostly keenly tuned to dirty, heavy neuro bass music. Few sauce it better than the mercurial producer Kursa who released this absolute flamethrower in October. I was fortunate enough to hear a top notch selecta spin it live before year’s end.

Tipper
Sleeper

I’m not being punny or cute when I say this was a sleeper on my list. Dave Tipper released this song for his stepfather PJ the day he passed away. For someone like me who also lost a close loved one in 2016, the existential beauty of this song stimulates self-reflection and an appreciation for life’s fleeting treasures.

Chance The Rapper
Same Drugs

It would be convenient and almost accurate to substitute my list here for Chance’s entire Coloring Book. Same Drugs soars above the rest because of how sensitive and relatable it is. “Same Drugs” highlights the artist’s versatility as a singer and songwriter, while humanizing someone whose star was soaring so high all year.

Pretty Lights
Only Yesterday’

“Only Yesterday” was an early song-of-the-year pick when it dropped in April as the first new music in almost two years from Derek Vincent Smith aka Pretty Lights. Words can’t describe the catharsis this man creates through sound. He takes the most endearing elements of America’s musical past, and synthesizes them to pioneer its future. Anyone who’s felt lonely or lovelorn could probably bump this tune ad infinitum.

Uyama Hiroto
Minano Pride

I’ve saved the best for last. Perhaps this is unwise in an age of ever-decreasing attention spans. Regardless, if you’ve made it this far then enjoy this acoustic masterpiece furnished by Uyama Hiroto. This favored collaborator of Japanese beat legend Nujabes is a master. His 2016 drop Freeform Jazz takes the Japanese hip-hop/soul sound to new, emotive heights. Minano is a town in central Japan, but whether or not Hiroto is referencing this place is unknown to me. Nonetheless “Minano Pride” is my favorite cut from my favorite record in 2016. Thanks for reading and listening.

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Talal Qureshi – After Party [TMN PREMIERE]

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Talal Qureshi
After Party with Rehma

Talal Qureshi has woven through so many styles of music throughout his near decade long career as a producer, from hip-hop beats to hard-edged dance and dubstep, ambient textures, and arrangements which rebuke genre. His new single “After Party” blends colorful synthesizers, strong drums and a sultry melody to create a fun and accessible sound that lifts high a radiant vocal feature from the 16-year-old singer Rehma out of Los Angeles.

If this track came on in a cab on my way from a party to an after party, I would be zoning. The elements are all there – a beautiful voice, synths that shmooze then soar, just the right amount of pop frills, and critical, kicking percussion. With the windows down heading to that after party, maybe just to find a certain someone, and this track would cinch it all together.

Qureshi, born in Saudi Arabia but based in Pakistan, continues to diversify his offerings. After remixing great pop selections and producing grade A instrumentals, it’s exciting to hear him bring in a vocal feature and create a catchy top-40 style tune. “After Party” is a preview of what we can expect from Qureshi’s upcoming Acha EP due out in early 2017.

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