Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Old News: An Enigmatic Rap Prodigy and Daft Punk Go to the Movies

Jay Electronica Rising

Somewhere in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, a young black man conspires to save the rap game. His apartment is relatively bare, save for some clothes strewn on the floor, a couple of pairs of shoes and a few scattered personal items. He hails from the South, having made his way up from New Orleans slowly but surely, spending some time as a homeless drifter on the way. Today, he feels poised to take the hip-hop world by storm.

Anecdotes like that above are a dime a dozen amongst people trying to make it entertainment, and unfortunately a lot of those dreams will never come true. Yet for one man, the elusive rapper Jay Electronica, massive success seems all but a certainty, a certainty he seems to toy with as he still embraces the quiet life of a starving artist. Despite being a virtual no-name, a quasi-recluse living in Brooklyn, Jay is engaged to and has a child with Erykah Badu, produced a track for Nas on his 2008 LP, and claims Diddy, Nas, and Mos Def in his close circle of friends, all of whom attest to his prodigal talent. And while he has a small following of committed fans and tours often, he’s never released an album and remains unsigned, thereby remaining largely unknown in the hip-hop world and by extension mainstream music.

If you dig this or "Exhibit A," you should buy them on i-Tunes. Support an up and coming artist and the sound quality is significantly better.

That all may be changing, slowly but surely. Whispers that began as early as 2008 of a southern rapper with Kanye’s ear for production and ability to sample but with the East Coast flow of a Jay-Z have become hard to ignore for industry labels, and a slowly growing fan base seems intent on having the rest of the world discover the epic and unorthodox works of Jay Electronica. Late last year two tracks were finally released on iTunes, “Exhibit A” and “Exhibit C”, with the latter creating a spark as it briefly hit the iTunes’ Top 10 Hip-Hop list and #86 on the U.S. Billboard’s R&B charts before quickly fading again.

For the people who heard those tracks, however, they won’t quickly be forgotten. Jay's beats are catchy and well-produced, but that's the easy(er) part. The most impressive part about his songs, as it should be with a rapper, is his flow and skill as a lyricist. Just listen to the first verse of "Exhibit A", or fast forward 3 minutes and 5 seconds into "Exhibit C".  And while these are only two tracks, they're the first two tracks to be released by Jay commercially, and a promising sign that there’s more to come, something that hip-hop fans might find both exciting and relieving.

When it comes to hip-hop, by no means do I consider myself an expert. But I have enough of an awareness of it to be able to see the changes that have occurred over the last decade as rap has moved into the mainstream, and hip-hop taken over rock music as prominent on the airwaves. There was once a time where MCs were (at least at occasionally) socially and politically aware, and would deliver poignant and enlightening commentary regarding life in America. Alternatively, modern MCs are mostly divas. In the last ten years, the “h” in hop has seemingly become silent and the "p" on hip now drags out. Hip-pop. Tracks are over produced, utilizing silly effects likes auto-tune. Lyrics have no content and songs are written for their hooks so that they’ll get played on the radio and snatched up on iTunes. Guys like Ludicris rap on Justin Bieber songs. The list of guys I respect in the game today pales in comparison to guys who are jokes, and most of the guys on the former list are guys who were around before it all happened, like Nas and Jay-Z. The most exciting thing about Jay Electronica is that he might be able to bring new accountability to a genre that’s rapidly losing it, much in the way bands like Radiohead and the Strokes saved mainstream rock a decade ago.

Daft Punk to Score TRON: Legacy

Although the announcement that Daft Punk would be scoring the modern revival of the visually groundbreaking 80’s film TRON was made last March, it wasn’t until the first trailer featuring the score premiered as a Coming Attraction to Inception in July that the full potential of such a relationship materialized. It’s no surprise that almost immediately following Inception’s theatrical release six tracks were leaked onto the world-wide-web before quickly being pulled down again.

While the idea of the quintessential space-age electronic duo scoring a film set in a futuristic digital world whose architects clearly had a penchant for glow-sticks is more than serendipitous, don’t expect anything overly intricate or that will have you dancing in the aisles amongst elementary schoolers and video-game nerds. Initial impressions of the soundtrack indicate it will be surprisingly minimalistic, Hans Zimmer-esque (Zimmer most recently scoring the aforementioned Inception), invoking repetitious and straight-forward melodies that slowly build to create heart-racing tension as the listener becomes more and more aware of them, a rising crest before finally crashing into a brief but potent explosion of bass and brass (or in this case, synth-brass) at the opportune moment.

The above trailer displays the most compelling of the Daft Punk composed music for the film yet released. You can also find three relatively brief and uneventful tracks on Disney’s Offical Tron website: I have to say, I never thought I’d be promoting a Disney website on this blog, nonetheless for its musical content.