“Has anyone seen Kanye lately? I haven’t heard him piss off the world in like a week so I’m starting to worry.” – Tweeted by me on May 16 at 3:59 p.m.
Not 30 minutes later, at 4:28 p.m., this tweet from Rap-Up.com popped onto my Twitter feed, “‘I ain’t kissing nobody’s motherfuckin’ babies. I drop your baby and you sue me’ – Kanye West”
Like many other Kanye West fans, this is what I’ve had to deal with for the last 10 or so years of his solo career. Whether this soon-to-be father is ranting about not being a celebrity and holding random people’s children, drunkenly yelling at pretty white girls at award shows, freaking out Mike Myers on live television or impregnating the bumper sticker on the Bentley of pop-culture, Kim Kardashian, it’s been hard for Yeezy fans to deal with how “cray” Kanye has been since he was thrust into the public eye.
But with his near-brilliant performances of “Black Skinhead” and “New Slaves” on SNL recently (songs from his forthcoming album, Yeezus, due this coming Tuesday), all of Kanye's followers were reminded that Kanye is a lot like your drunken uncle at Christmas.
Sure, it was embarrassing when he threw up on your sister’s gifts halfway through his tirade about “Obama phones” and how the commie teachers at the university you recently graduated from are ruining America’s youth. But after a long clean up session and your mom stops crying, you open up the card that he gave you before his seventh Scotch and the contents inside contain a joint, $300 and a note stating, “Don’t spend it on drugs,” then you’re immediately reminded of why you loved him in the first place.
So no matter what outlandish behavior Kanye comes up with next, I think we all need to be reminded that the “cray” that has inspired Kanye’s less attractive moments is the same “cray” that has been the driving force in creating some of the most genius and interesting songs in Hip Hop of the last decade.
14. “Drive Slow (feat. GLC & Paul Wall)”; Late Registration – As the laidback beat puts the listener in a trance, Kanye paints a vivid picture of a summer spent driving around with his friend/mentor Mali; blasting his demo tape, looking for girls and desperately trying to grow up too quickly. Even though Kanye displays his great storytelling ability on this song, the real accomplishment here is that West found a way to make Paul Wall’s feature not sound ridiculously out of place, which is a feat in and of itself.
13. “Say You Will”; 808’s & Heartbreak – 2008 was a weird year for Kanye. Hell, 2008 was a weird year for all of us. But his unabashed openness (as you’ll see with the rest of this list) about his lady troubles is what makes this a song stick out. The only downside of this track? It gave Drake the green light to be all open and overly emotional on all his records, so thanks a lot, Kanye!
12. “Drunk and Hot Girls”; Graduation – A lot of people don’t care for this song, which is understandable because it’s not one of Ye’s deeper cuts. What this song does do, however, is give a perfectly, comical description of how one-night stands go. Plus, the song ends in him getting this girl pregnant, which brings to mind that slap-in-the-face reality check that every man and woman has the morning after a random sexual encounter (“Oh my god, not only did I overdraw my account at White Castles last night but is this the person that’s going to ruin my life for the next 18 years and nine months?!?”).
11. “Bittersweet”; Graduation – This is the first time Kanye blatantly admits he is in the wrong on a track. Sure, the first half of the cut makes him seem like a total asshole (wanting to drunkenly “shake the shit out of” his girl), but it makes his soul-spilling at the end all the sweeter.
10. “Addiction”; Late Registration – What’s your addiction? Is it money, girls, weed? Kanye has been afflicted by not one, but all three. But hey, that’s what makes this cut great. There is no catharsis or happy ending about how he found his will power and conquered his many ailments. But instead, we get a track about how, no matter what happens, no matter how hard he tries, his will power will always lose to the bad parts of his life, because they are just too damn good to resist – which is something everyone can relate to.
9. “Everything I Am”; Graduation – He’ll never be picture perfect like Beyonce (no one will, ever) or rock some mink boots in the summer time like Will.I.Am (no one should, not even Will.I.Am), but what Kanye can do is spit some harsh truths about public criticism and Chicago violence over a soothing beat. So please, keep talking shit about him at barber shops if this is going to be the outcome.
8. “Can’t Tell Me Nothing”; Graduation – Kanye addresses a few of his crazy outbursts on the first verse of this track (including the whole “President Bush doesn’t care about black people, right Mike Myers?” incident) and handles it with a precision and poise. He admits that the scrutiny and pressure of fame has changed his behavior, but he doesn’t know how to be himself (slightly crazy) without being criticized by the media. Can any of us understand that feeling? No. Does it sound like a bullshit excuse? Yeah. But hey, at least he knows he has a behavioral problem. Admitting it is the first step.
7. “Spaceship (feat. GLC & Consequence)”; The College Dropout – Anyone who has had a shitty job (service industry, retail) would be lying if they hadn’t felt violent urges towards overzealous mangers who take their jobs too seriously. Lucky for us, we can live vicariously through Kanye on this joint instead of becoming the next viral sensation on worldstarhiphop.com.
6. “Jesus Walks”; The College Dropout – This song came out right when I got confirmed, which, as any of you were raised Catholic will know, is also the same time you stop going to church. It made me feel good to listen to Kanye, like his brand of socially conscious, Christ-loving jams were the sole key to my salvation and the only thing that could outweigh my deeply engrained Catholic guilt. Plus, who else could make a club banger about Jesus? Nobody but Yeezus.
5. “All Falls Down”; The College Dropout – Does anyone else remember when Kanye was the self-conscious outsider of the Rap game? You probably don’t, hell, I don’t even know if Kanye remembers. You’d think Kanye’s egotisical façade he has concocted in place of his old persona would force him to listen to his own music more. But, alas, I fear that this Kanye is dead and gone, much like the career of that cute girl from Clueless that was in the music video.
4. “Roses”; Late Registration – “You know the best medicine go to people that’s paid/If Magic Johnson got a cure for A.I.D.S./And all the broke muthafuckers past away/You tellin’ me if my grandma was in the N.B.A./Right now she'd be ok?/But since she was just a secretary/Working for the church/For thirty five years/Things s’posed to stop right here?”
Kanye makes you feel the pain, anger and confusion of his family as they sit at the bedside of his dying grandmother on this track. I cry literally every time I hear this song come on, but I’m emotionally unstable. Then again, I’m pretty sure if you don’t at least slightly tear up; you don’t know what love is or your mom didn’t hug you enough as a child.
3. “Blame Game (feat. John Legend & Chris Rock); My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – This track is almost “Bittersweet” in reverse because it’s West whose emotions are constantly toyed with by his love interest as she lies about seeing another man. Although this song is mostly serious (especially heavy during the beautiful done Chloe Mitchell poem) it ends hilariously as Chris Rock is revealed as the “mister” (male version of mistress?), reaping the benefits her apparent education at “Kanye West School of How to Wear Some Fucking Jimmy Chu’s”
2. “Through The Wire”; The College Dropout – If you ever question Kanye’s dedication to the craft, go back and listen his first single, “Through the Wire”. Done only two weeks after a car crash that almost took his life, Kanye hit the studio and rapped with his jaw wired-shut. Nowadays, Nicki Minaj can’t even show up to her set at Summer Jam 2012 because radio personality, Peter Rosenberg, dissed her Katy Perry rip-off, “Starships.” So next time you want to diss Kanye, just remember, despite his flaws, he’s one of the only popular artist’s keeping the spirit of hip-hop alive.
1.“Runaway (feat. Pusha T)”; My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – He pleads without being pathetic. He’s unflinchingly honest without being cliché. But most of all, he’s artistically progressive without losing his knack for pop sensibility. The beat is one of the most simplistic of his career, but never once feels repetitive or overdone by the end of this 7-minute-and-49-second journey. From top to bottom this has to be considered Kanye’s masterpiece, but who knows, he’s outdone himself before.
Other Notables: “Heard ‘Em Say”, “The Glory”, “We Don’t Care”
On Sept. 19, Scruby released Boy Genius, which is his second Hip Hop mixtape in less than a year. In two weeks, Boy Genius is less than a thousand downloads from surpassing Best Foot Forward, which Scruby released last November.
Over the 10 months since officially entering the music scene, Scruby has taken off. While making Boy Genius, Scruby studied at Ohio State University and played a few shows. His biggest shows included opening for J. Cole at May’s BuckeyeThon Benefit Concert at OSU. Recently, he opened for Machine Gun Kelley and performed at Ohio University’s 10Fest.
Along with live performances, Scruby and his team at LandSea Media produced enough videos to keep fans entertained while they worked on Boy Genius.
The wait for the new music was worthwhile. I was instantly blown away at the quality of the music. It didn’t sound as if it was produced in a dorm room, but rather a professional studio. The audio was balanced and the vocals weren’t hidden under a blanket of bass.
As for the lyrics, Scruby uses a mix of wordplay and comedy in his songs, and it works. His tracks follow a life of love (or rather, lovemaking), success and partying. Although I find these themes to be a stereotype of rap, Scruby pulls off the stereotypical rap lifestyle with ease.
Mixtape opener “Double Time” features Cincinnati’s own DJ ETrayn. He welcomes fans to the musical journey before the song begins. The start of this track is reminiscent of Dumbfoundead’s “Green.” This song makes me want to lean my driver’s seat back and drive with one hand on the steering wheel while doing 50 in a 25.
What seems to be a fan favorite is “Fux With Me.” Crowds at 10Fest wore shirts donned with "I Fux With Cal Scruby." The song isn’t my personal favorite, but I enjoy the tour of people who "fux" with Scruby and how he doesn’t let it slow him down.
My personal favorite is the bonus track “Midwest City,” which is a tribute to his hometown, that city where they sin two times. This closes the album and leaves me wanting to hear more from Scruby.
Even though high school is long gone, I can’t go somewhere
without hearing about the guy who was super cereal about ManBearPig and now,
he’s super cereal about his music.
Zeng is an award-winning performer and a music educator but he’s never ventured into song writing, until now. He’s currently working on an upcoming album titled Through These Doors about the discrimination he’s faced and he wants to influence others.
"During difficult times in my life, I have always turned to music. This time, for the first time, I was inspired to write and perform my own music. After personally experiencing discrimination, I hope that my music will help others who face similar situations,” said Zeng in a press release.
Combining his story with his professional knowledge in opera and musical theater to create an album that’s both emotionally driven and musically appealing.
His singles “Through These Doors” and “Now” are currently available on iTunes and other major music distribution sites, but audiences have to wait until October to get the full album.
Zeng is hosting a free launch party on Friday, Oct. 19 from 8-10 p.m. at the Below Zero Lounge in Over-The-Rhine. The party is open to the public and those attending will see Zeng perform his singles as well as unveil other album songs.
The Eli Young Band brings a taste of Red Dirt music to the forefront of Country music. The band has an upbeat and distinct sound that has caught on quickly on a national scale. EYB saw mild success through the years touring on Jet Black and Jealous and hit a major stride with its most recent album, Life At Best, featuring the hits “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” and ACM "Song of the Year," “Crazy Girl.”
The Eli Young Band has now reached a new height, opening Kenny Chesney’s current tour (which is hitting mostly stadiums). CityBeat was able to catch up with band drummer Chris Thompson to get the band’s feeling on its new found success and life on tour with Kenny. The tour comes to Cincy tonight at Riverbend Music Center for a sold-out stop (the tour moves to Crew Stadium in Columbus on Saturday night). It is truly the most impressive tour in Country music.
CityBeat: How did the tour come about with Kenny Chesney?
Chris Thompson: A lot of people don’t know this but Kenny is really involved in who he picks to go on tour with him. In a lot of other tours, a record label will put someone on the bill or management will partner up with other management to find a tour that works with that kind of artist, but Kenny is super hands-on.
Two years ago at the Academy of Country Music Awards, we were nominated for "Song of the Year" and so was Kenny, and we actually beat him, we won the category. I guess shortly after, there was a text going around from Kenny to his management, “Who are these guys that beat me?” and “I want to find out more about them.” He started getting into our music and shortly after we got the phone call that we were invited to go out on tour with him.
It’s just a huge honor. Like I was saying, he hand picks the folks that are out here on the road with him. It’s the biggest tour in Country music and we are just happy to be here.
CB: I was there the night you guys won the "Song of the Year" award. I was so happy for you guys. I know you have worked very hard over the years. What was the highlight of CMA for the band this year in Nashville?
CT: We were only there for a couple hours really. We flew in that morning and did a signing for two or three hours and then had a couple meetings. Then, we were out of town.
We have been going to CMA Music Fest for seven or eight years now. Back in the day we would stay for three or four days and play a show or two and be able to hang and meet as many people as we could. It seems like more and more nowadays, especially with the tours we have been on and our headlining tours, we are only able to get in for a day and get out.
It is always fun to do the signings because you meet people from all over the country and from all over the world really who love Country music. They are so excited to meet you. They are die hard fans. They bring pictures from five years ago when we met. It’s just cool that Country music does that. We are the only genre of music that has anything like that where fans can go and interact directly with the artists and have one-on-one face time with them.
CB: Tell me a little bit about “Drunk Last Night,” the new single.
CT: I think “Drunk Last Night” is a lyric we can all relate to. When we all first heard the song, we were like, “Yes, this is a song for us."
A lot of people hear a title and automatically think it’s a drinking song. We went through some of that with “Crazy Girl.” A lot of people saw the title and went “Oh, I know what this song is about,” and I think they were wrong.
I think people will find this is not the standard drinking song. It is all about, I hate to sum it up as drunk dialing, but it is kind of like the thought of doing that and alcohol feeding that desire a little bit more than in daily life.
It is also a song that we went in the studio and recorded (and) as soon as we finished the session, we could go out and play (it) live right now because it’s a great track, it’s rocking, it’s in our wheelhouse and we actually did. We started playing it at the very beginning of the Chesney tour before it was even picked as a single. The crowd really seemed to dig it and now here it is, going to be a single. Good stuff.
CB: Do you guys know or do you have a feeling when you have a hit or when you hear a hit presented to you?
CT: Yeah. I think sometimes you hear a song, sometimes people say the song gives them chills and they know that’s the one. Sometimes you get that feeling in your gut. When you hear a song sometimes, you write a lyric and you feel that, it is almost like that feeling of falling in love. Your chest kind of swells.
When multiple people feel that way at the same spot or for the same song, then I don’t know if anybody can guarantee a hit, but you know that it is at least a lyric or a song that people can relate to and I think typically good songs are universal in that sort of way.
CB: I loved your “The Cuss Jar” video — I could buy a house if I implemented that process. I wanted to know if you had bought anything fun with the money?
CT: No, actually I think that era ended. The jar got too full and I think we used that jar for laundry money one day when we stopped somewhere on the road and had a few days off and emptied the whole thing for band and crew’s laundry. Then we got too lazy to keep up with it.
CB: What has been your craziest tour story recently?
CT: I think playing Cowboys Stadium in Dallas on the Chesney tour was probably the craziest thing because we are from Dallas and we have played every tiny bar around the stadium. To just get up on stage at the biggest stadium in America was totally wild. All of our families were there; it was craziness.
CB: That’s such a special moment, I am sure you have plenty of those all the time. Do you do anything special yourself to keep the tour memories? Do you take photos or journals? Some bands blog or journal and do things to keep it fresh.
CT: Yeah, we have been fortunate on this tour, since the beginning of this year, we have had a guy out on the road with us that has started doing social media. Mainly he is taking pictures. Since January, this whole thing has been documented and we really appreciate that.
It is definitely hard for us to get good photos when we are on stage playing, when we are really in the moment, because we are playing, so he is out there doing that. This is the biggest tour we have ever done and just the momentum that this year is building, we are just happy about that.
CB: What does a typical day look like for you?
CT: On the Chesney tour when we are doing stadiums like we are doing today, we will go out and do a tailgating event, at 1 or so in the afternoon, we will all get into some golf carts and we will go out to where all the fans are tailgating and they will bombard us with jello shots and beer bongs and the local foods they have.
We hang out with them for an hour or two then we will start doing radio events where we will play a couple songs acoustic, sitting on our bus or backstage for various winners. Then we will do a meet and greet for about 60-100 people. Then, we will grab a bite to eat around then. Then we hit the stage and rock out for about an hour.
After that, we will go hang out with some radio folks or some friend that are in town and wind down about the time Kenny hits the stage so we can watch him. It’s pretty cool. It’s pretty unreal.
CB: If you could trade places for anyone for about a month, who would it be?
CT: Right now it feels like we are living the dream. I think the four of us are really happy with what is going on in our careers right now. We have had some national success. It feels like we have broken out of being a regional band and it feels like we are on the cusp of something more than that. It’s a great time for Eli Young Band and it is important for us to enjoy this. I probably wouldn’t want to trade places with anyone right now.
CB: What can the fans look for from you guys tonight in Cincinnati?
CT: We try to always bring a high-energy show. We were playing a show last night and there was this older gentleman almost in front row sitting in his chair arms crossed and it looked like he wasn’t really enjoying himself. About halfway through our set he leaned over to his wife and he points at us and he goes, “Those guys are workin’ up there.” Then he smiled real big.
We want to bring that energy. We want to get on stage and have a good time and fire up the crowd. We go on right after Kacey Musgraves. Kacey is real cool and laidback and all that when she does her thing and it’s great. Then we get to come in and kick the audience in the butt a little bit.
During our set we have some new music in there and some cover songs I think gets the crowd up and clapping. After that Eric (Church) comes up and burns it down. Then Kenny Chesney comes out and the place goes nuts.
The air seems sweeter here in the front of the website, the sun a little brighter and the deadlines a little more immediate, but as Uncle Ben once reminded Peter Parker, with great power comes great responsibility. So here we are in relatively short order with a batch of new reviews and a few more older titles in my continuing quest to revisit the deserving releases from the not-so-waning months of 2011. We’re getting there, slowly but surely. Read them while they’re hot; there’s more where they came from.
If you happened to have checked out this past Saturday's Beats Summer Concert Series event (the popular Hip Hop/Dance/DJ night presented by Self Diploma every Saturday this summer) on Fountain Square, you probably got a taste of the skills of Cincinnati native Santino Corleon, who performed right before headliner DJ Clockwork.
This week, you have another chance to sample Corleon's goods as the head-turning MC has released his latest track and accompanying music video, "Tats."
Corleon has already become a "name to watch" around the region. Upon returning to Cincinnati after a stint studying (both at college and in the Hip Hop community) in Brooklyn, Corleon stepped up his game and has been invited to perform with artists like Big Sean, Method Man and Redman, J. Cole and Gucci Mane (among other big-timers) and performing at various music festivals around the region. He's also built his buzz up by releasing several widely distributed mixtapes, including his most recent, The Hangover, hosted by DJ E-V (who works with Machine Gun Kelly and Mike Posner) and featured on Hip Hop/mixtape sites like TheOneMic.com, Live Mixtapes and LeakJones.
You can listen and download The Hangover and its predecessor — the more freestyle-oriented Where's the Love? — right here for free through Corleon's site.
Corleon is also giving away free downloads of "Tats," which will be a part of his next full release, Keep the Change. Check the video (directed by Dan Gotti) below, then click here if you'd like your very own download. The track has a cool sparse/ambient quality, with some great, tricky beats and a bass-rumble that could wake the dead. (Note: The track is also pretty non-PC and probably NSFW for most of you reading this at your job, due to language. But if your boss is cool with it, so are we.)
The winners of the "Best New Artist" trophy at the most recent Cincinnati Entertainment Awards, DAAP Girls, will celebrate the debut of their new music video tonight at Japp's Annex on Main Street in Over-the-Rhine.
The spooky, visually arresting clip is for "Molly," one of the many great tracks off of the band's debut album, Tape Songs (every song has a girl's name). Shot at the Kenneweg Compound in Alexandria, Ky., "Molly" was directed by local visual artist Philip LaVelle, alongside graphic designer Josh Jacob and videographer Sean Steininger. The video is mesmerizing and matches up with the lurching, dreamy swagger of the song perfectly. It's fairly low-budget, but doesn't look it, with it's creatively captivating effects and overall vibe.
DAAP Girls guitarist/singer Stuart MacKenzie provided this synopsis of the video:
"The video tells a story of five young people on the cusp of adulthood enjoying a last weekend together. (Unbeknown) to them, they are being viewed by the ghosts of their future's past. The video incorporates aspects of romance, nostalgia and magical realism to tell an alternate, complimentary story to the song."
Tonight's new video celebration at Japp's kicks off at 9 p.m. with a DAAP Girls performance, followed by the screening of the clip at 10 p.m. The band will perform after the screening as well.
Here's a sneak peek of "Molly," followed by the video's creative credits:
Directed by Philip LaVelle
Filmed by Sean Steinger and Josh Jacob
Edited by Sean Steinger, Josh Jacob and Philip LaVelle
Special effects by Josh Jacob
Casting by Erica Turer
Catering by Joe Diedenhofer
Filmmed on location at Kenneweg Compound, Alexandria, KY
Special thanks to Josh and Stephanie Kenneweg
Cast: Cody Reinhard Amir Gamble, Zachary Müller, Sarah Davenport, Rosie Carpenter, Emma Roberts, and Allison Gathof
DAAP Girls is: Jay Duckworth, Stuart MacKenzie, Daniel Peterson, Alex Duckworth, Michael Felger, Collin Thompson, Brian Gilronan.
Well before social media made it easier to connect directly to fans, veteran Cincinnati music legends Over the Rhine were already whispering in their fans’ ears via regular notes on the band website, written intimately and poetically by OTR’s Linford Detweiler (mostly). The direct, worded contact fit well with Detweiler and wife Karin Bergquist’s mystical, emotionally resonant music, which has earned the group a dedicated fan base that spans the globe.
Along with a series of excellent albums and mesmerizing live shows across the country and beyond, the couple’s fan-friendliness and fairly consistent engagement no doubt helped not only build that fan base, but also maintain it.
The tight bond between OTR (which has put out albums on its well distributed Great Speckled Dog label since 2007) and its fans was tested in 2010 when Detweiler and Bergquist came to them with a proposition.
Before sites like Kickstarter or PledgeMusic became the hugely popular resources for artists to “crowd-fund” projects that they are today, Over the Rhine (as well as a few others) was a step ahead of the trend, allowing fans to pre-order the album and kick in additional funds for bonus perks. The experiment worked incredibly well and the band ended up with a nice budget to record (with Grammy-winning producer Joe Henry, no less) the exquisite full-length, The Long Surrender, one of the group’s best (and best reviewed) albums to date, which ended up on many “Best of 2011” lists late last year.
The Long Surrender campaign was so successful — at least partially due to the members’ way of making fans feel like they are a part of the resultant records — OTR has returned to its fans for assistance, this time so they can record and release two new albums by the end of 2013.
In a letter on OTR’s website, Detweiler explains the two albums, the material for which has been crafted over the past few years. One of the albums is tentatively titled The Farm and will feature songs written about the couple’s past several years living in an old farmhouse in Highland County, Ohio. The duo even plans on hosting a live performance of the songs on their inspirational property to celebrate the release.
The other project is a new holiday album, Blood Oranges in the Snow. The album will be OTR’s third holiday release, following 1996’s The Darkest Night of the Year and 2006’s Snow Angels. Not your typical Christmas-classics toss-off LP, OTR’s holiday releases, as Detweiler writes, “(hopefully) capture some of the reality of a beautiful — but often conflicted and even heartbreaking — time of year.”
For more on how to donate, click here. There you’ll also find the different tiers and perks, which include everything from digital bonus tracks, a “thank you” in the album artwork and signed posters to a private house concert, admission to any OTR concert through 2014 and … a tree, to be planted on the twosome’s farm and dedicated to the contributor.
Potential donors will have a chance to be swayed by Over the Rhine’s sublime sounds this Saturday, as the group returns to the Taft Theatre to perform many of their holiday tunes (and other songs). This year's event is being billed as “An Acoustic Christmas Concert.” The concert begins at 8 p.m. with opener Lucy Wainwright Roche. Tickets are $37.50 (via ticketmaster.com) or $42.50 at the door.
For those hardcore fans who just can’t get enough, OTR presents its annual “Holiday Sunday Soiree,” a casual, intimate gathering at St. Elizabeth’s (1757 Mills Ave, Norwood). Tickets are not issued for Sunday’s 3 p.m. get-together; sign up and pay for admission to the event ($20) here and your name will be added to the guest list.
The album is an endangered concept in music, with MP3s and streaming encouraging more and more people to listen to tracks “a la carte.” If people aren’t listening to a collection of songs intentionally put together by an artist in a specific order, why should the artist bother trying? It’s one of the reasons releasing EPs seems to have become more popular than issuing full-lengths.
With some exceptions, the “album as art” concept has long been dwindling amongst Hip Hop artists, many of whom have more fully embraced the hodge-podge “mixtape” format, which is perhaps more in tune with our ADD/social media-plagued culture.
So it’s beyond refreshing to hear the new release from Cincinnati MC Sleep, Branded: The Damon Winton Story, a collection of eight tracks that tells the story of a young man’s troubled upbringing. It’s not just that Sleep has compiled eight songs that kind of fit together; Branded is a fully envisioned tale that requires the listener to hear the entire album in order to get the total impact. And it’s quite an impact.
It helps that Sleep’s “concept album” is based on some excellent storytelling skills, contains some fierce rhymes (with a flow and timbre that recalls Jay-Z at his peak) and is supported by the excellent, often hauntingly atmospheric production of Dope Antelope, which brilliantly reflects the dark, chaotic, heart-breaking nature of the story. The way Sleep — half of local duo 2-Man Cypher — lays the story out is also sharply clever. In lieu of titles, each track is labeled as simply “Question,” followed by the track number. The album opens with a police officer hitting “record” to begin his interview with the main character’s social worker about “what could have led up to what transpired with him this past weekend.” To kick off each track, the social worker is asked about a different aspect of the trouble the young man had experienced and been in.
Working backwards from the incident (which isn’t revealed until “Question 8,” so the listener is left to wonder what transpired), Sleep creates evocative, harrowing slices of life, usually told from the main character’s point of view, but with other voices popping in occasionally to give an even bigger picture. The young man’s horrific surroundings are revealed gradually; the listener learns that he has self-mutilated himself, been molested, lost (or never had) faith or religion and had family involved in drugs. Sleep’s brilliance is turning the smaller stories from the big picture into vivid, cinematic tales in themselves — “If this is grown folks’ business/Then why when you conduct it, there’s a child as a witness,” he raps after it’s revealed that the main character’s mother had substance abuse issues. When the social worker tells the officer that the young man had been bullied over his clothes in school, Sleep echoes that pain with lines like, “The peer pressure to be above the status quo/It’s never ending, it’s never taking sabbaticals.”
By the last track, the listener is primed to hear just what happened to the main character, but when his fate is revealed, it’s not what most would expect, making the album that much more powerful. (In the spirit of not ruining the final act, I’ll refrain from giving away the ending.)
Sleep’s Branded shows just how much power Hip Hop still has to tell a realistic story poetically but without hyperbole. It’s an incredibly moving piece of work that stands as one of the best Hip Hop albums to come out of Greater Cincinnati in recent memory. And Sleep shows that if he ever gets tired of the Rap game (which itself would be tragic becomes the genre needs more voices like his), he’ll be able to find some kind of career as a writer, be it an author, a journalist, a filmmaker or whatever field he decides to lend his talents to.
If you’re a fan of intelligent Hip Hop or just great storytelling in general, you must download (for free or whatever you’d like to kick in) Branded immediately at sleep513.bandcamp.com.
Here is a music video for the track, "Question 2":