Various Artists: Urban Spotlight DVD-Zine: US West Coast World Premiere [DVD]

Chris Catania

West Coast rap publication melds two types of media to promote its latest stars.

Various Artists

Urban Spotlight DVD-Zine: US West Coast World Premiere

Label: MVD
US Release Date: 2007-04-03

Urban Spotlight’s DVD-Zine production is the next installment in an experiment to combine two types of media, the DVD and the Zine, and get the word out about the current state of West Coast Rap. Delivered in a DVD format with the layout of a magazine, this ambitious combination showcases more than just the West Coast artist as it dips south to include southern rap stars as well as Latino artists. It boasts that it was the first Video-Magazine to appear on the shelves of all the top retail stores in the country and now this DVD-Zine is the first to appear on magazine racks worldwide.

This edition of Urban Spotlight is anchored by gangster rap pioneer and Hollywood star Ice Cube. His featured interview, a quarter into the DVD, with an Urban Spotlight vixen journalist, is entertaining and humorous. Ice Cube appears happy to do the interview, but he seems a bit irritated as he fields questions that end up revealing everything that is wrong with gangster rap.

The DVD's first moments are with Snoop Dogg as he charismatically introduces himself and his new album the Blue Carpet Treatment. Snoop Dogg is never slow to entertain with his silky smooth pimp style flow, and Urban Spotlight made a solid choice to begin with him and also utilize a sleek side view portrait of him for the DVD’s main menu selection screen.

Then the Urban Spotlight crew takes you to a backstage after party with Mobb Deep. It’s not really about the music here as much as it is about being right there in the mix, among the screaming and lady-fan grabbing as Mobb Deep raps and eventually gives way to a surprise appearance by 50 Cent who for almost two minutes stands awkwardly looking around waiting for the right moment to begin his rap.

It wouldn’t be a West Coast DVD without a spot for the Bay Area genre craze hyphy and its main promoter and self-proclaimed creator, E-40. His interview about his career and the legend of the sub-genre is also followed up by a performance, which like most of the performances on this DVD, are plagued by poor production that takes away from the music.

Besides Ice Cube’s interview the other keepers are with legendary producer Too Short who offers his thoughts on West Coast rap’s status quo and the candid introspective chat with Power 106 DJ Felli Fel. DJ Felli Fel is genuine and laid back as he openly talks about what it's like for him as a radio DJ and how he thinks the culture of the mixtape is evolving. Recently signed West Coast rapper Glasses Malone, following his chat, does a smooth and on the spot freestyle version of one of his songs off his debut release.

There’s somewhat of a pattern with the layout, but other times it seems like the layout was just an afterthought. I should also mention that there are two ways you can watch this DVD. You can watch it from front to back. Snoop Dogg to the Credits. I don’t suggest this, because at over 90 minutes it’s a long and laborious ride, mainly because of the commercials and lack of planning on the flow of the layout. The other way to take it in is via the usual way you would read a magazine. Check out the table of contents and flip to what interests you. Taking this DVD-Zine in via the Special Segments sections, where you find the Concert Series Highlights, The Listening Party and G-Unit West, worked the best after I made the mistake trying the front to back route and gave up about half way through.

Ice Cube’s concert was fiery from what I could see because like the other concert footage, it was difficult to watch due to the amateur filming that seemed to be filmed from the cheap seat in the far back of the house with a cell phone video camera. The experience was not at all what you’d expect from the usual DVD concert footage. Nonetheless you felt the energy as Ice Cube raged across the stage, spitting verses from his new album Laugh Now, Cry Later, amidst the chaotic clutter of waving hands the blocked most of the view.

Houston label and Screwed up music the SUC (Screwed Up Clique) are briefly featured as they sport their trademark sparkling grills and phat rides along the street of the H-towns ghetto in two videos featuring rappers Bun B and Spider Loc who both lead the way down the syrupy trail of screwed-up flow.

Aside from the Ice Cube, Glasses Malone and DJ Felli Fel and Too Short’s chat nothing really jumped out as something I have to hear more of. I didn’t feel anything exciting coming from upstarts Ladie G, Young Dre, or J-211. And I wish the Dirty South Screw Up Click would get to reinventing themselves soon because I wanted to be blown way by what new music is coming out of the gangster genre, an artist that doesn’t feed into the easily dismissible cliché.

I wanted to be able to say that there is something worthwhile to listen to and that there is an up and coming rapper that can both captivate me with his/her style and stage charisma and challenge me with his/her lyrics and most of all add something positive and inspiring to hip hop that doesn’t simultaneously contradict. But I didn’t see it a whole lot of that on Urban Spotlight. What I did see, though, was an encouraging mixing in of Latin culture via an interview with comedian Carlos Sanchez, and a portion of his stand up show, also representing were border rapper Chingo Bling and trio Malaverde.

The interviewers did ask some decent questions. But even with the aforementioned discomforts put to Ice Cube, they never go in for the kill and ask the tough questions. With this installment, anyway, Urban Spotlights mission doesn’t appear to be to challenge their audience. Instead, in the end, this DVD-Zine seemed more like an expanded press release that made me feeling empty and sad that the genre is still falling into the same pit falls that confirm the stereotypes of non-hip hop fans and ultimately keep them from listening to hip hop at all.

It’s an ambitious attempt that could benefit from deeper interviews and a few less commercials in-between the artist profiles. It obvious that one of the main goals is to reach the urban demographic to which gansta rap primarily speaks to and I don’t fit. But I appreciate and respect the music and the artists who do, and who also want to push the genre forward and not shackle it with tons of bling clichés, pimped out rides, and shinning grills.


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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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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