Music

Myka 9 & Factor: Sovereign Soul

Two of the most creative artists hip-hop has to offer have come together for a full album. Will the duo succeed in creating their masterpiece, or buckle under the weight of their own ambitions?


Myka 9 & Factor

Sovereign Soul

Label: Fake Four
US Release Date: 2012-11-13
UK Release Date: 2012-11-19
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I knew full well going in to this that it was going to be a difficult review to write. Even as a longtime Myka 9 fan, I still struggle to find the words that accurately describe his music. He's a rather verbose rapper, with a vocabulary that brings to mind artists like Aesop Rock or Busdriver, but his style of rhyming is much more easily digestible, with a rapid fire, melodic rhythm that could be best described as Tech N9ne meets Bone-Thugs. Though to be perfectly honest, comparing his unique style of rapping to anyone else would be a great disservice to Myka 9, as his technique is so uniquely his own that to suggest he has borrowed elements from other mc's is almost insulting. Myka is probably best known for his work as a member of the legendary west coast collective, Freestyle Fellowship. Alongside other like-minded and uniquely talented artists such as Aceyalone, the group dropped two seminal albums, 1991's To Whom It May Concern, and 1993's Inner City Griots. The two classic albums not only cemented the west coast as a region to be reckoned with creatively, but also showcased the endless possibilities for the hip hop genre.

Now some 20 plus years in to his career Myka is still doing what he does best, creating absolutely enthralling, if not slightly eccentric music. On Sovereign Soul Myka again finds a worthy collaborator in Canadian producer Factor. The two had previously worked together on a full album titled 1969, and while that was a solid and quirky album, it in no way prepared me for the creative leap the duo would be taking here. The biggest shock comes courtesy of Factor's superb production. Whereas 1969 relied heavily on fairly standard hip hop sampling techniques, Factor switches gears here and instead gives us an album ripe with fantastic guitar riffs, gripping basslines, and otherworldly ambiance. He essentially creates musical backdrops that feel both undeniably hip hop, yet reach far outside what the genre is usually associated with. The album's title track, and "Hard Hit" are both perfect examples of the creative direction Factor is pushing the album in with their seamless blend of rock-meets-jazz-meets-hip hop instrumentals.

As any hip hop fan can tell you though, the production is only half the battle. Thankfully Mayka 9 has never been a slouch on the mic, though there are some minor flaws that keep his performance from being as memorable as it could have been . As I mentioned before, Myka is a very, very wordy mc. So wordy in fact that at times it becomes easy to simply become lost in his endless stream of rapping. I can't tell you how many times I reached the end of a song only to realize I had no idea what the hell it was I had just listened to. It's not that his lyrics aren't engaging or skillfully written, it's just the manner that he delivers them in. They just come at you so fast that you have very little time to recognize what it is he's saying. This does lend itself well to repeated listens, and hearing him rap lines like "Don't be dissing the ones you kick it with. It's ridiculous / Like smoking a cigarette but you lit the wrong tip of it" is not only impressive for its multi-syllable rhyme scheme, but also just a fun and colorful use of lyrics. Myka also sings, and to be perfectly honest he's not bad. This isn't the corny sing-a-long type singing that is so often used to anchor down radio friendly pop songs, but instead something that sounds genuine and soulful. He won't be winning a Grammy for best male vocalist anytime soon, but it does lend itself well to the overall atmosphere.

It doesn't all come together for every track though. "Sexy To The Beat" features some very impressive rhyming, but Myka's off-key crooning mixed with one of Factor's more oddball, funk driven beats is fairly grating. Likewise, Myka's rapping on the old school throwback "Heaven Up" showcases why he can be so hard to listen to. He delivers his lyrics in what has to be the most stoned, mush-mouthed way possible, making it near impossible to drum up any enthusiasm for the rest of the song. At the end of the day the album has all the right pieces to the puzzle, but sometimes it just doesn't know where to put them. There are a few moments here where the record collapses under the weight of its creative vision, and with the LP only running for 13 songs, even a few duds is more than enough to kill the vibe. This is easily one of the most experimental hip hop records I've had the pleasure of hearing in 2012, and while I can tell you upfront that it's not going to be for everybody, there is that select group out there who are going to lose their minds to it. Myka's rapping is second to none, and even though his flow is sometimes either too lazy, or too frantic for its own good, he still manages to turn in an hypnotic performance. Still, you might wanna sample this one before taking the plunge and purchasing it.

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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