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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Sherril Metal / Going South Magazine
REFLECTIONS & ANTICIPATIONS – 2016 EDITION
From D MAJOR
Your Host of The Urban Suite Radio Show
I’ll be honest with you…2016 has been a truly difficult and eye-opening year. The (farce of a) presidential election is a divisive topic that could/will be discussed for decades. It was hard to dismiss the protests of the Dakota Access Pipeline as its construction not only destroyed Native land, but threatened the water source of many in the area. At the same time, the water crisis in Flint, MI continued to be totally ignored, threatening the lives of every resident there.
Not only that, the deaths of so many in 2016 were almost numbing. Whether by accident, weather, natural causes, overdose, or by the hands of “justice”, the list is significant. Many were involved in music, film, television, poetry, art, sports, science, and politics. But many were ordinary citizens who, through various circumstances, lost their lives and were thrust onto our news feeds.
Musically, there were many notable achievements. The vinyl renaissance continues as the buying power of wax was greater than digital downloads for the first time. De La Soul celebrated their successful crowdsourcing campaign by not only having their album, And The Anonymous Nobody, debut at #1 on Billboard’s Rap Album Chart, but to receive a Grammy nomination for “Rap Album of the Year”. Fellow Native Tongue alumni, A Tribe Called Quest, decided to release their last (?) album, after the untimely death of Phife Dawg, to much commercial and critical praise.
Locally, Third Root continued to challenge society’s views on race in this country with their latest project, Libertad, which received recognition from National Public Radio. With the growth of the Maverick Music Festival, the debut of the Mana Luna Music Festival, the emergence of the San Antonio Sound Garden and its connection to the city, and the plethora of touring acts performing in town, San Antonio is truly making an effort to expand its musical presence in Texas and beyond.
So, without further ado, here’s my list of the best releases of 2016 (in no particular order):
De La Soul - And The Anonymous Nobody
Apollo Brown & Skyzoo - The Easy Truth
A Tribe Called Quest - We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service
Aesop Rock - The Impossible Kid
Third Root - Libertad
Worldwide - Castles Made of Sand
Ras Kass - Intellectual Property #SOI2
Awdazcate - Bolie
Swamp Thing - Pray To Science
Dynasty - Forever, DY
Photo Credit: courtesy of San Antonio Current
STAND FOR SOMETHING!!!
To say that 2016 has been an interesting year is to put things way too lightly. The sham of a presidential election season, the continued exposure (and denial) of police brutality, the destruction of sacred land for an oil pipeline in North Dakota, the overwhelming dominance of white male privilege in every aspect of this country's politics, business, education, judicial system...it makes one wonder if the end-of-days is actually near.
There are quite a few musical acts speaking out against the injustices of the world. The recently-formed supergroup Prophets of Rage, Paris, Sage Francis, Brother Ali, B. Dolan, and Run The Jewels may come to mind. Well, right here in the Lone Star State, there is a three-man collective who has been spreading knowledge through music: Third Root. Since their formation in 2012, S.A.'s Easy Lee & Mexican Stepgrandfather, along with Austin's DJ Chicken George, have explored the similarities and intertwining of Black and Brown culture, not only in Texas, but the U.S. as a whole. The trio just recently released their latest project, entitled Libertad, and it couldn't have come at a more pertinent time.
From the first drum kick and bass lick on the opening track, you know it's gonna be one helluva party. Third-Coast funk & soul oozes and drips over every track, like sweet Kayro syrup on top of a fresh batch of hot water cornbread. But under each sugary musical note is the core subject matter, gritty in texture, that you must taste to truly capture the essence of the dish. Believe me, these three chefs truly know how to cook!
The list of guest artists, both Texas-based & international, is eye-opening and jaw-dropping. "Clear Force" alone features a who's who of Central Texas all-stars, including Da'Shade Moonbeam, Riders Against the Storm, Bavu Blakes, and Vocab. Other Texas artists contributing to this project include Reggie Coby, Marcel Andrie, World Trade, and poet Amalia Ortiz. Hip Hop legends Fiend and Mellow Man Ace drop some gems, as well as Hip hop artist / activist Queen Yonasda. We are even blessed with a cameo from Sofy Encanto, a member of the funk-fusion outfit Elastic Bond.
If you like to kick knowledge while you're kicking you heels off dancing, this album is definitely for you. It'll be a part of my end-of year Best-Of list, for sure! Libertad is available to stream or purchase on Bandcamp.
Photo Credit: courtesy of Sherril Metal / Going South Magazine
FULFILLING LIFE'S PASSION
So…on one recent night, Sherril and I were chilling at home. You know, just the usual: watching video clips online and checking out Facebook. Then out of the blue, I received a FB invitation from my friend Gabe.
If you’re unfamiliar with Gabriel Itzcoatl Luera, he’s a former student DJ at KSYM-FM, a former member of the phenomenal S.A. hip hop group ASTEX, and now has become an aspiring playwright. The invitation was for the “Teatro Salon”, a showcase of six 10-minute performances from different playwrights (which included Gabe's play, "Two in Hand"), held at the Guadalupe Theatre on October 29th. (Unfortunately, we weren’t able to make it. No Cash + No Ride = No Fun…sorry, Gabe.)
I wanted to find out more about both the event and his plays. By the time we were done with our conversation, I realized that the discussion felt like an interview session. So now, with his permission, here is my conversation with Gabriel Itzcoatl Luera. We begin where I congratulate him on his play being selected for the showcase.
GIL: Dope! I appreciate it. Yeah man, the play I have in it won the audience vote for the 48-Hour Play Festival I did in September.
US: I'm reading the info on the event page. How did you come up with the concept for the play?
GIL: I received the prompt from the organizers of the 48-Hour Play Festival. I got to choose 4 props and had to incorporate them and a line of dialogue also given by the organizers. I didn't even meet the actors until I got the prompts. The theme was "Elephant in the Room", and I got 2 female actors. So I wrote a play specifically for them. I didn't want to write about the typical women stories (marriage, men, babies, etc.).
US: Wow! Now I'm even more intrigued to see it! So how did you get Kareem Dahab to direct the play?
GIL: I met him last year when he stepped in to help me with the show I did back in January at Brick of 3 of my plays. We kept in touch and he was the first choice when I got the confirmation my play would be included in the Guadalupe Theatre's "Teatro Salon" showcase this year.
US: How may plays have you written since your days at Texas State?
GIL: From when I graduated with my BA or when I went for 1 semester of the MFA play-writing program?
US: Either...your choice.
GIL: Since I graduated I've started work on 6 plays. Three 10-minute plays (one I wrote during my MFA semester), a one-act (also written for the MFA), and 2 full-lengths.
US: That's awesome! Are you making any plans to bring your next play to the stage?
GIL: Yeah (lol), that's always the point of every play I write. This production for the Guadalupe Theatre's "Teatro Salon" will be my 3rd production this year. I do plan to self produce again next year, but I'm barely beginning the groundwork to make that happen.
US: Well, I'm so glad to see you doing what you love, and Sherril and I can't wait to see your play!
GIL: Hell yeah! I think I'm better at this than I ever was musically.
GIL: Yeah (lol), I really feel like this is my calling.
US: Well, maybe the music was your stepping stone to help lead you down the path to get to this point in your creative life.
GIL: Yeah. It definitely helped prepare me in terms of stage presence with my acting.
US: Sometimes you never know what direction your life's passion may lead you.
GIL: Very true. I have moments when I miss doing music, but I have been writing plays since 2009 and I have barely begun to throw myself all in on this theatre thing.
US: So that means there's much more to come!
GIL: Exactly. This is only the beginning. You've seen the hustle when I was doing music. I'm determined to make my mark on San Antonio theatre.
US: You've definitely got a good start.
GIL: Yeah, just like Raekwon told me when I opened up for him in 2003: First you take your city, then you take the state, then you take it worldwide.
US: Path to success!
GIL: Straight from the God's mouth!
NOTE: Gabriel's next stage production, entitled "La Pastorela", will be presented December 17-18, 2016, at the San Antonio Mennonite Church, located at 1443 South Saint Mary's St, San Antonio, Texas 78210. Hopefully, Sherril and I will be there!
Photo Credits: Apollo Brown - courtesy of sampleface.co.uk / Skyzoo - courtesy of Joey Amandola
RELEASING THE “TRUTH” TO THE MASSES
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I don’t know about you, but when I’ve had a few rough days, I try to look for an escape from all of the madness. For me, that escape is music. So after a busy week at the 9-to-5 recently, to get a preview of a new album from two dope hip hop artists currently on the scene truly made me smile.
Producer extraordinaire Apollo Brown linked up with New York heavy-hitting emcee Skyzoo to release one hell of an album, entitled The Easy Truth (out now on the Mello Music Group imprint). To say that this collaboration works is an understatement. Apollo Brown always comes with hard-knocking, neck-breaking beats, while Skyzoo always brings awesome, colorful wordplay to the table. You know what to expect from each of them, and that’s exactly what you get with this combo: greatness.
The album contains some amazing tracks, but I do have a few personal favorites. The verbal vernacular from Joell Ortiz is put on display alongside Skyzoo’s on “A Couple Dollars”. The combination of Zoo, Westside Gunn, and Conway on “Basquait on the Draw” is like a Canelo punch to the gut. Yes, it hits that hard! Add “Spoils to the Victor” and “Innocent Ambition” to the list of suggested tracks for you to check out.
Don’t be surprised if this collab is on many end-of-the year Top 10 lists, including mine. You can stream and purchase The Easy Truth via Bandcamp.
Photo Credit: courtesy of Quinn Essential
HIP HOP IS "QUINN ESSENTIAL"!!!
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While doing my usual internet surfing on a late Saturday afternoon, I happened to come across music on Orfium from an artist I've never heard of. To say that I was pleasantly surprised is truly putting things lightly! After doing some digging to find out a little more about this artist, I just knew I had to hit him up for an interview. He has a finesse and style that deserves to be showcased.
So with no delay, I proudly introduce to you, currently residing in El Paso, TX...hip hop MC/producer Quinn Essential!
US: Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to conduct this interview for Going South Magazine Online. Could you give me a little info on your childhood and where you grew up? How does that play a factor in the music you put out?
QE: Ok, so I'm the second oldest out of six. My childhood was tough…I was raised in the house with my mother and grandmother. But I was lucky because I do have a great relationship with my father, so I had that father figure coming up. My parents split up when I was like three so I don't remember them ever being together.
That plays a huge factor in my music. I rap about my life experiences, my trials and tribulations.
US: As kids, we all have certain ideas or statements we make about what we want to be when we grow up. What sparked your interest in music, and hip hop in particular?
QE: It has always been in my family. I have numerous family members who make music. I remember when I realized rhyming was easy…it was in the fourth grade. But it wasn't until sophomore year when I was like, “I could do this.”
US: In your bio, you listed your hometown as West Medford, MA, located just outside of Boston and it’s the home of Tufts University. When did you move from West Medford to El Paso? How big was the culture shock once you arrived to West Texas?
QE: I moved from West Medford back in 2006, we lost our home to foreclosure. I moved around, spending four years in Boston’s Uphams Corner, then to Orlando, FL, back to Massachusetts, then eventually to El Paso, TX. I haven't been here in Texas long, only for about six months.
West Texas is different, but I like it so far. Whenever I meet people out here, they can tell I'm a “Yankee”, I have a Boston accent.
US: Not only are you nice on the mic, you’re pretty dope behind the boards as well. What inspired you to try to create beats? Have you received interests from other artists looking to spit over your sonic creations?
QE: I always wanted to rap, but I needed beats to rap over. I came across FL Studios back when it was called Fruity Loops and I use to loop samples. In recent years I focused more on rapping and less in production. But I actually was going to dive back into it. I had a few local artists back home rap on some old beats, but that’s about it.
US: Artists received inspiration from others’ music, no matter the genre or location. Who are some of your favorite musicians? Who gives you that drive to create?
QE: Of course I love Rap music, my favorite rapper of all time is DMX and that’s based off his first two albums. But I love R&B, Soul & Jazz. My inspiration comes at random times. I’ll have writer’s block for weeks and then it will just hit me and I’ll write a whole song out of the blue.
US: Are you working on any new projects or collaborating with other artists? Are you planning to perform anywhere in or outside of El Paso?
QE: I am! I’m working on my next project…it’s called Mickey’s Boy. Mickey is my father. It’s like the next chapter after Lost Soul. I have four songs done so far and this one is going to be better than my last project.
I do plan on getting back on stage as early as January. My son was just born so I'm taking some downtime and enjoying the moment.
I’m open to collaborating with other artists…I have in the past. Hit me up!
US: Where can the public find your music or connect with you?
Photo Credit: courtesy of Mr.Composition
BOMBING THE WORLD WITH “GRAFFITI”
Whether as a member of ToneHeadz (with fluent flowmaster Spy MC) or as a solo artist, Mr.Composition has been a stable of quality hip hop music in San Antonio for quite a few years now, with at least 5 full-length projects in his catalogue. In 2014, he made some major noise with the release of Graffiti the Mind, a truly solid album from start to finish that made my Top 10 list for the year. After a short hiatus, he returns with his latest, entitled Excuse My Graffiti.
I must admit, this new project has a different feel than the others, but it shows his progression as an artist. As always, Mr.Composition is very effective in expressing his point of view on many topics, including current events, politics, and relationships. His strongest tracks are “Seat of the Soul” and “Living This Way”, two songs where he collaborated with S.A. staples Avitt Greene and Hacksaw. Other highlights on this album include “Texas Pyramids” and “Maze Runner”.
With this release, Mr.Composition continues his quest to entertain and educate the world on how San Antonio gets down. To stream and purchase Excuse My Graffiti, it’s available on Bandcamp.
Photo Credit: courtesy of blog.bundle.media
DE LA TEASE?
As many of you know, hip hop legends De La Soul have been in the studio working on new material. Thanks to a very successful Kickstarter campaign, where 11,000+ loyal fans helped raise $600,000, the trio is preparing to release their 8th full-length project, entitled And The Anonymous Nobody. The album was set to be released on April 29th. But by taking the DIY route, the group is having to play the part of a label (which includes inking a distribution deal with Kobalt Music), which has pushed it back to August 26th.
To the surprise of many expecting the new LP, the Plugs instead released For Your Pain & Suffering, an EP meant to temporarily quench the fans’ thirst for fresh material until And The Anonymous Nobody hits outlets this summer. The EP contains two new tracks sandwiched between two original skits. The two songs, along with the first skit, are awesome and may help continue to build excitement for the new album. Although it was funny, I must say the closing skit ran longer than necessary, though it will not deter me from enjoying this EP.
Like most De La fans, I must admit to being somewhat disappointed that the new project was pushed back. But I will savor this small taste and hope it will hold my anticipation for the complete meal come August. For Your Pain & Suffering is available for stream & download via Audiomack.
Photo Credit: courtesy of hiphopdx.com
THE ASSASSIN IS AIMING for YOU!
Thanks to local emcee (and all-around cool dude) SpyMC, we were able to be in the presence of a hip hop legend...no other than Agallah F.A.R.O. (Fuck All Rappers Out). The artist formally known as 8-Off the Assassin has been linking up with Spy to formulate plans for shared projects and performances. This veteran mic slayer and producer (who has worked with top-notch artists such as Busta Rhymes, Mobb Deep, and the late Sean Price) is currently promoting his latest project, entitled Bo: The Legend of the Water Dragon.
You may ask, “Aga-who?” Don’t front on yourself, bruh. Agallah is an alumnus of The Source Magazine’s "Unsigned Hype" column (back when what was published in the mag actually mattered). It’s no surprise that he comes out swinging with this release. Guest appearances on the album include Hus Kingpen & Rozewood, Planet Asia, lil Eto, Self Jupiter, and the aforementioned Sean Price. Agallah holds down much of the album’s production, with additional tracks provided by J.O.D. as well as Chris Prhythm of iLL-It Beatz.
Who were some of the guests of The Urban Suite Radio Show with D Major??
Photo Credit: courtesy of Sherril Metal / Going South Magazine
REFLECTIONS & ANTICIPATIONS
From D MAJOR
Your Host of The Urban Suite Radio Show
2015 has been a very interesting year in music. Fabricated conflicts (the Drake-Meek Mill “beef”, in which Drake received a Grammy nomination for his diss record, “Back to Back”), major accomplishments like De La Soul’s Kickstarter fundraising campaign for their new project, and the loss of hip hop veterans, like the death of the incompatible Sean Price, all made headlines. A lot of great music was released as well. Highlights include: Mega Ran’s highest-charting release to date; Public Enemy’s strong position on college radio; the top-5 debut of the Foreign Exchange’s new album; critically-praised projects from Blueprint, Apollo Brown, Semi Hendrix, Murs, Red Pill and more.
It’s been a great year locally as well. With the success of his video, “Find Me”, Twigutta continues to be an artist to watch in SA and beyond. Lehley Hood released a solid debut album. Mad-One, Kree23, Spy MC, Amaze, Third Root, and Greg G have all made major moves in the past year. The concert scene in the Alamo City has also grown significantly. With the addition of the Tobin Center and Paper Tiger, as well as the Aztec Theater and Limelight being controlled by new management, we have seen major acts in rock, R&B, and hip hop come through San Antonio.
I’m truly looking forward to what’s next in 2016. Many aspects of the music scene are emerging in this city, and its citizens should applaud the efforts of everyone involved (artists, promoters, venue owners, journalists, etc.) to help show the world that San Antonio is a hotbed for talent.
On that note, here is my list of favorite releases of 2015, locally and nationally. If you have not check any of these releases out, take the time to do so. I guarantee you will not be disappointed. Here’s wishing you a happy, prosperous, and blessed 2016!
Apollo Brown - Grandeur
Semi Hendrix - Breakfast at Banky's
Guuru Sagod - GOD
Run The Jewels - RTJ II
Mega Ran & Storyville - Soul Veggies
Blueprint - King No Crown
Mayday - Future Vintage
CES Cru - Recession Proof
Ceschi - Broken Love Ballads
Sean Price - Songs in the Key of P
Oddisee - Life is Good
Hail Mary Mallon - Beastiety