Category Archives: Music Suggestions & Thoughts

This is where I’ll be sharing new and/or old songs and my thoughts on these songs. Hopefully you benefit from these thoughts and maybe find some new artists to add to your iTunes Library

Black Music Month: 11 Most Sampled Artists in Hip-Hop

“A vital part of our Nation’s proud heritage, African-American music exemplifies the creative spirit at the heart of American identity and is among the most innovative and powerful art the world has ever known.” 

—– Former President Barack Obama

Music, a cultural artifact that expresses a people’s story, challenges societal norms, and bridges the gap between groups from all colors, cultures, and creeds. Music can be celebratory in tone or a tool for lament. Ultimately, music touches the soul in ways that can have a wide-range affect on the world. Black music in particular has “compelled us to stand up, to dance, to express our faith through song, to march against injustice” and so much more as Former President Barack Obama expressed in his Presidential Proclamation during last year’s celebration of Black Music Month.

There will always be a time and place—at any moment in the year—to celebrate the contributions of black musicians. However, the official commemoration was developed in 1979 by Kenny Gamble, Ed Wright, and Dyana Williams. On June 7th, 1979, then President Jimmy Carter declared the month of June as African-American Music Appreciation Month. Since then, every president has followed suit in making official Presidential Proclamations. In our current President Donald Trump’s address, he mentions that “[Black] creativity has shaped every genre of music, including rock and roll, rhythm and blues, jazz, gospel, hip hop, and rap.” Our DNA is embedded in almost every American music genre. We created rock & roll, blues, R&B, jazz, gospel, hip-hop, and rap to house our narrative of oppression, pain, triumph, excellence, creativity, spirituality, intelligence, vices, and humanity.

black-music-month-9983FullSizeRenderFullSizeRender-1Marvin Gaye Performs In Rotterdam


For this particular post, I want to focus on the creative contributions of Hip-Hop and Rap, a subculture and genre of music created by black youth over 40 years ago in South Bronx. I won’t go into too much of the history—there are documentaries like Netflix’s Hip-Hop Evolution and Complex Magazine’s list of 25 Hip-Hop documentaries that you could watch. Instead, I want to focus on something so fundamental and deeply rooted in the musical veins of Hip-Hop. I want to focus on Hip-Hop’s art of sampling. Without sampling, Hip-Hop as music genre would not exist. During it’s inception, DJ’s in the late 70’s would use Disco and Funk records on turntables to create “breakbeats,” the isolated drum section of the record. These breakbeats were manipulated for B-Boys to dance and for the MC, or rapper, to spit rhymes. There was a science to effectively and continuously looping these breakbeats. As technology advanced, DJ’s and producers sampled melodies—piano, horn, vocal, and other sections from a plethora of genres. One thing is for certain, the art of sampling will never die. It will continue to be a staple of present and future expressions of Hip-Hop.

Some view sampling as lazy, prehistoric, irrelevant, or uncreative. I would venture to say that school of thought misunderstands why Hip-Hop continues to use this method. There are many Hip-Hop artists and groups that don’t necessarily need sampling. They’ve employed live instrumentation or electronic production to build colorful soundscapes. Sampling adds more texture or detail to those soundscapes but, for Hip-Hop, it’s deeper  than that. It has less to do with compensating for musical deficiencies and more to do with paying homage to artists that came before. Sampling attempts to connect generations of black artists to one another. It’s an expression of the communal aspect of black culture. The sharing of sounds and ideas from one artist to the next creates a sense of interdependency. There is nothing new under the sun and we need each other to fuel our community’s creativity. Funk, Disco, Jazz, Soul, and Gospel artists will always be connected to Hip-Hop artists because we share a common narrative, a common heritage, a common soul, a common humanity. Chicago-based Soul singer Jamila Woods had this to say about sampling: “I think of music as creating a space. I like to put things in that are comforting to me and are nostalgic. To me, that’s what sampling does in songs; it’s making deeper layers for people who know where it comes from, but also referencing another part of my history and my memory or a memory that I have.” 

IMG_4382


With that being said, I want to share with y’all the 11 most sampled artists in Hip-Hop history. These artists range from Funk to Soul to Pop to one of Hip-Hop’s own. Below I’ve provided the list of those 11 artists and two playlists for your listening pleasure. The first playlist is packed with my favorite songs from those artists. The second playlist is filled with those same songs and their Hip-Hop counterparts underneath. I had a lot of fun researching and putting together these playlists. I found samples I never heard before. Not every rap song samples in the same way. Some producers flip a vocal, piano, horn, or drum sample in a way that isn’t obvious to the average ear. Feel free to peruse through the playlists and enjoy connecting to the shared history of African-American culture through this powerful art form!

Side-Note: I have Nas’ classic “N.Y. State of Mind” listed as one of the rap songs paired with a drum sample from Kool and The Gang’s song “N.T.” I tried finding the song of second sample—the piano sample DJ Premier looped to build the melodic backdrop of the beat. I couldn’t find it anywhere on Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music, or TIDAL. However, I did find it on Youtube, so for those who are interested check out Joe Chambers’ “Mind Rain.”

11 Most Sampled Artists in Hip-Hop:

  1. James Brown
  2. George Clinton/Parliament/Funkadelic 
  3. Isaac Hayes 
  4. Aretha Franklin
  5. Lyn Collins
  6. The Winston’s
  7. Kool and The Gang
  8. Marvin Gaye 
  9. Michael Jackson
  10. Prince
  11. Kurtis Blow

Original Songs:

Original Songs & Hip-Hop Counterparts:

***Disclaimer some songs have explicit content***

 

 

 

 

Top 30 Albums That Creatively Inspired Me In 2015

As we draw close to the end of the year and I’m sure you’ve seen many music sites, blogs, and magazines post their “Best of 2015” lists. Whether it’s “Best Albums of The Year” or “Best Artists of the Year,” or “Freshman 2015,”  there are a plethora of lists that include familiar and/or new albums and artists. Sometimes we emphatically agree with those lists and other times we vehemently disagree. Either way, most of those lists are  opinionated and dependent upon the blogger(s) that make them. Since I’ve seen everyone else put out their “Best of…” list, I thought now would be a great time to share mine.

My list is neither better nor worse than the other lists out there–well at least I don’t think it is. I’m figuratively sharing my earbuds with y’all and letting y’all hear what I’ve been listening to all year. I’ve thought long and hard about which albums will go on this list, how many albums will go on this list, and what genres should I include because a lot of great albums came out this year! I can’t say 2015 was the absolute best year in music, however some very talented individuals across genre lines dropped some dope records. Thanks to Spotify and Apple Music, I had a chance to listen to them all–of course, I did BUY the ones I enjoyed the most.

***Side-note: It’s extremely vital that we support our favorite artists by BUYING their records. While they do get money and gain records sales from streaming, it takes about 1,000 streams for it to count as an “Album Sale.” And on behalf of all artists, stop pirating music! I know we all loved Limewire, BitTorrent, and Megaupload but even if you don’t want to buy the record you can stream the album and still help a starving artist.***

From Kendrick Lamar to Adele to Alabama Shakes to JGivens and everyone else in-between, these artists saturated the music market with a wide range of LP’s, EP’s and mixtapes. Rather than listing all of my favorites from this year, I’ve decided to put together a list of 30 albums from different genres thate have gotten me through writers block and creatively inspired me this year. So without wasting anymore time, here are the Top 30 Albums That Creatively Inspired Me As A Writer In 2015:

30. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell [Singer-Songwriter]

30. Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell

 

29. Jon Foreman – The Wonderlands EP’s [Singer-Songwriter]

29. Jon Foreman - The Wonderlands EP's

 

28. Same Henshaw – The Sound Experiment [R&B/Soul]

28. Samm Henshaw - The Sound Experiment

 

27. D’Angelo and The Vanguard – Black Messiah [R&B/Soul]

27. D'Angleo and The Vanguard - Black Messiah

 

26. The Lone Bellow – Then Came The Morning [Alternative/Singer-Songwriter]

26. The Lone Bellow - Then Came The Morning

25. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color [Alternative/Singer-Songwriter]

25. Alabama Shakes - Sound & Color

 

24. Dustin Kensrue – Carry The Fire [Alternative/Singer-Songwriter]

24. Dustin Kensrue - Carry The Fire

 

23. Tomeka Reid – Tomeka Reid Quartet [Jazz]

23. Tomeka Reid - Tomeka Reid Quartet

 

22. Jill Scott – Woman [R&B/Soul]

22. Jill Scott - Woman

 

21. Sean C. Johnson – Circa 1993 [Neo-Soul/R&B/Soul]

21. Sean C. Johnson - Circa 1993

 

20. Kirk Franklin – Losing My Religion [Gospel]

20. Kirk Franklin - Losing My Religion

 

19. Levv – Strange Fire [Alternative/Pop]

19. Levv - Strange Fire

 

18. Alex Faith – Bloodlines [Hip-Hop]

18. Alex Faith - Bloodlines

 

17. Dre Murray – 34 [Hip-Hop]

17. Dre Murray - 34

 

16. Leon Bridges – Coming Home [R&B/Soul]

16. Leon Bridges - Coming Home

 

15. The Greg Foat Group – The Dancers At The End of Time [Jazz Fusion]

15. The Greg Foat Group - The Dancers At The End of Time

14. The Sure Fire Soul Ensemble – The Sure Fire Soul Ensemble [Funk]

14. The Sure Fire Soul Ensemble - The Sure Fire Soul Ensemble

 

13. Thundercat – The Beyond/Where The Giants Roam [Funk/R&B/Soul]

13. Thundercat - The Beyond:Where The Giants Roam

12. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah – Stretch Music [Jazz]

12. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah - Stretch Music

 

11. Ben Williams – Coming of Age [Jazz]

11. Ben Williams - Coming of Age

 

10. Kendrick Scott Oracle – We Are The Drum [Jazz]

10. Kendrick Scott Oracle - We Are The Drum

 

9. Taelor Gray – The Mocker & The Monarch [Hip-Hop]

9. Taelor Gray - The Mocker and The Monarch

 

8. John Givez – Soul Rebel [Hip-Hop]

8. John Givez - Soul Rebel

 

7. Eshon Burgundy – The Fear of God [Hip-Hop]

7. Eshon Burgundy - The Fear of God

 

6. Cataphant – Half Dead [Experimental/Electronic/TripHop]

6. Cataphant - Half Dead EP

 

5. Alert 312 – The Upside Eternal [Hip-Hop]

5. Alert312 - The Upside Eternal

 

4. Lupe Fiasco – Tetsuo & Youth [Hip-Hop]

4. Lupe Fiasco - Tetsuo & Youth

 

3. Kamasi Washington – The Epic [Jazz]

3. Kamasi Washington - The Epic

 

2. JGivens – Fly Exam [Hip-Hop]

2. JGivens - Fly Exam

 

1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly [Hip-Hop]

1. Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly

 

As I said before, each album mentioned is here because of how it inspired me as a writer. Qualities such as song structure, sequencing, lyrical complexity, musicality, songwriting, storytelling, being intellectually and emotionally engaging, etc are all reasons why these 30 records helped me through writers block. Not only did it inspire me as a creative, it also broadened my musical palate. Up until this year, I never thought about checking out modern Jazz, Funk, and Soul acts. I’ve always had my ear to the artists of the past but never knew those genres were very much alive today. Jazz, Funk, and Soul are quintessential genres because all three are building blocks for Hip-Hop. It’s no wonder why they naturally inspired me as an Emcee. Rather than relegating Jazz, Funk, and Soul as genres of the past, we saw them as the main musical staple for Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly. On March 15th, 2015, Kendrick flooded the market with live instrumentation, jazz inspired improvisation, funky grooves, and soulful sounds. In the context of Hip-Hop history, Kendrick was not the first to do this. Hip-Hop acts like The Roots, A Tribe Called Quest, Outkast, De La Soul, DJ Quik, Common, Chance the Rapper, Nas, Talib Kweli, and more have always incorporated those building blocks in their music. TPAB (To Pimp A Butterfly) isn’t #1 on my list simply because Kendrick used live instrumentation–although that it was dope to hear that in the midst of Future, Young Thug, and Fetty Wap (no shade to them, I do enjoy commercial Trap music from time-to-time). No, TPAB made it as #1 on my list because it introduced me to Kamasi Washington, Thundercat, and Flying Lotus. All of whom had their hands in forming the jazzy, funky, and soulful musical backdrop for TPAB. Hopefully this list expands your taste in music, like some of these albums did for me. Listen to some Jazz, or Funk, or Soul, or Alternative/Singer-Songwriter if you’ve never considered listening to them before. You might just enjoy it!

On another note, I understand that the content in a few of these projects (like Kendrick’s To Pimp A Butterfly or Lupe’s Tetsuo & Youth) might make some uncomfortable. That’s okay…my personal conviction when it comes to music–and art in general–is to consume it, figure out what worldview is being communicated through it, and sift through the redeemable and non-redeemable qualities of it. I tend to look at music as a conversation between the artist and the listener. Granted, that conversation is one-sided at best–it’s not like I can talk to Kendrick or Lupe or JGivens while listening to their music. With that in mind, I must be a critical thinker, an active listener; and as a Christian, I should know my Bible well enough to sift through what’s redeemable and non-redeemable…I might write a full post on that last thought someday but as of right now I’ll leave ya’ll with this list.

Now that you’ve seen my list, what were some of your favorite albums in 2015? It can be your Top 50, Top 30, Top 10, or Top 5, it doesn’t matter. Feel free to comment with your own list below, otherwise…

Thanks for reading & Have a Happy New Year!

Oh and here’s a Spotify Playlist of all 30 records starting from #1:

Part 1: Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly to Leon Bridges – Coming Home

Part 2: Dre Murray – 34 to Sufjan Stevens –  Carrie & Lowell

 

 

Hip-Hop, Culture, and Jesus: Help Is Just One Prayer Away, Don’t Be Afraid To Say “Mayday!”

Every culture has a uniquely crafted language by which its people use to articulate ideals, struggles, and the realities that are ever-present in that culture. Hip-Hop, an interesting subculture within the American majority culture, has its own language–rap music. The people of Hip-Hop, or better known as hip-hoppers, have used this linguistic vehicle to speak about the struggles that plague disenfranchised youth in the ’70s and ’80s. Even today, rappers, Emcee’s, MC’s (whatever you want to call them) use the language of Hip-Hop to broadcast to the world the cultural values and norms of the subculture and the overall problems within this world. Rap music has this weird, yet amazing way of bringing a certain ideal, worldview, or message to the global table. It is a music style that’s seen all over the globe. From the different countries in Africa to the island nation of Japan, rap music is a language spoken by many. But, the art form of rap was not created by man or for man’s glory. With an understanding of a Creator God, who made all things through Jesus for His glory (Colossians 1:16), it is safe–and rightly so–to say that rap was created by God and for His glory. I am ecstatic to see Christians use this language to point to someone who is greater than them! Not only are followers of Christ using rap music as a vehicle to articulate the raw truth of the Gospel, there are some who use the language of rap to articulate the struggles that plague our culture.

With that being said, I’d like to introduce ya’ll to Lecrae, a rapper whose album Gravity won a Grammy earlier this year.  Some would call him a Christian rapper, others would say a rapper that just so happens to be a Christian. Either way, there’s no doubt that he approaches life and sees everything through a biblical worldview. One song  on Gravity that had the most anticipation and received the most criticism was “Mayday,” which features both Big K.R.I.T. and Ashthon Jones. Here’s the song below:

When the tracklisting for Gravity released, this song was the most anticipated song on the album because it featured K.R.I.T. Interestingly enough, it also received a lot of criticism from the Christian community because of K.R.I.T.’s feature. Critics disliked the song not because of the content or what K.R.I.T. said in his verse–the song hadn’t even come out yet. Some people in the Christian community simply did not like the fact that Lecrae decided to collaborate with a “secular” artist.  At first, I was somewhat thrown off by the collaboration until I began to think a little bit more about the song, Big K.R.I.T., and Hip-Hop culture in general. Like I said before, Hip-Hop culture has always used rap music as a language to communicate just about everything and anything under the sun. That’s exactly what Lecrae and Big K.R.I.T. did with this song; they used it as a tool to communicate something. What was that something? Well if you’ve already listened to the song then you probably have it figured out, but I want to take what they said and go deeper. I won’t go into a line-by-line study of both Emcee’s but I do want to highlight key lines. Starting with Big K.R.I.T.

Up until I heard Mayday, I had a vague understanding of who Big K.R.I.T. was as an artist and a very shallow understanding of what topics his music touched upon. I thought his music simply spoke about what we hear on a day-to-day basis on the radio: sex, drugs, money, braggadocio, and material wealth. I did some homework on K.R.I.T. after hearing his verse on Mayday and found a mixtape called King Remembered In Time and a song such as Praying Man from his Live From The Underground album. This mixtape and song caught my attention because of the heavy Christian content in it. I know that MC’s throughout the history of rap have used Christian themes in their music, album artwork, and music videos, but K.R.I.T.’s constant use of Christianity seemed unique, almost personal. I came to the conclusion that K.R.I.T. has a personal understanding of parts of Christianity. It’s no wonder why he said

A non-believer I never have or could be
Lord give me time to peep the signs I should see

This line pretty much sums up everything K.R.I.T. communicates in his verse; he’s never been an atheist–never doubted that God exists–but isn’t completely sure about everything Christ has to offer. Towards the end of his verse he continues to be honest with listeners about his wrestle with Pastors and “church-goers” and makes it clear that he isn’t claiming to be perfect. He’s simply being as honest as he could be.

I rarely go to Church
False prophets rocking Prada so I rarely feel the word
Jezebels lurking in the pews on the first
Preacher’s weaker than the deacon cause it’s hard to fight the urge

It’s hard to live and serve when you on the Devil’s turf
Sell your soul for the low with no sense of what it’s worth
Don’t get it twisted, I ain’t no saint, I ain’t no pastor
But prayer ain’t just for cloudy days and natural disasters

Aware of what comes after, I bet you ain’t for sure
I was warned that Heaven ain’t the only place to go

K.R.I.T. has heard about all types of Christian doctrine and bible verses from his grandmother but confesses that he is still unsure whether or not all of it is truth. I appreciate this honesty and believe that many of us can relate to this. Whether we’ve been a Christian for years or never even thought about becoming a Christian, there will always be times where we doubt what we believe in. What will either make or break our faith is dependent on having some type of way to confess our doubts. Next to that, we need someone to walk us through our doubts. They may not be able to answer every single question perfectly–and we should not expect them to either–but for some odd reason having a mature believer in Christ walk us through our doubts helps. It did for me when I began to doubt Jesus’ very existence and the truth of the Bible two years ago. For me, I had a pastor, church leaders, and other friends who wrestled with me through my doubt. Even though they were a big help, they would not have known I doubted God’s existence until I spoke up.

It seems to be the same way for  Big K.R.I.T. He’s been wrestling with doubts, with how some Pastors and Christians represent Christianity in a bad light; with whether or not the stuff his grandma taught him growing up is truth and Lecrae has been that person to walk with him through those wrestles.

When I hear K.R.I.T. confessing I respect him
Cause most of us be lying like our lives don’t need perfecting

This line from Lecrae simply states that there’s nothing but respect for K.R.I.T. for confessing his doubts. If you’re someone who can relate to what K.R.I.T. confessed, then it’s the same for you. There’s nothing but respect for you. So my encouragement to anyone who is doubting Christ–whether you believe in him or not–is for you to be honest with yourself, with God, and with someone else who you know you can trust because…

Help Is Just One Prayer Away, Don’t Be Afraid To Say “Mayday!”