Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Finally got my new headphones! These things kick ass. Skullcandy TI DJ stereo headphones with fur headstrap and earpads. Check 'em out...

First thing to notice is the fur. These are the most comfortable headphones I've ever worn. I worried before I got them that they'd look tacky, but they definitely don't. They trap in sound and fit like earmuffs. There's a regular pair or leather pads if I want to swap out, which will probably be nice for summer, when earmuffs won't be desirable. But for now, these are perfect.

Sound wise, they're pretty nice. They pretty damn loud, but never too loud to the point that sound quality is lost. During dead air between songs and on quiet parts of tracks is virtually silent, with none of the static or white noise that other headphones may produce.

One complaint that I found online was that they don't fully mute all outside noise. I'm perfectly fine with this. When they're turned up you can't hear a single word from the person standing next to you, but you will catch something loud like a car horn. I'm not trying to get run down by a truck crossing the street cause my Bob Marley was too loud.

Some headphones are better for bass, others for treble, etc. So, since I listen to a bunch of different genres and styles, I decided to test these out with all of them for a full-range review.

  1. Hip-Hop [GZA, "Liquid Swords"] - The intro to this classic track is dialogue from the narration of the old-school Kung Fu classic "Shogun's Assassin." Sound quality on spoken word is golden. When the music track fades in, the stereo quality is the first thing noticed. High quality instrument separation is a plus. Now, a lot of people into hip-hop and rap like heavy-duty bass. These headphones aren't for those people. This won't shake up your brain while you listen, all for the sake of quality. Bass is heavy enough to get your head bumpin, but not overwhelming. Perfect by my standards.
  2. Acoustic [The Good, The Bad, & The Queen, "Kingdom of Doom"] - Treble quality is high. The frequency range is large enough that you can hear all effects at all volume levels. Now, at about half-volume, some quality is lost. But I think that's to be expected.
  3. Rock [David Essex, "Rock On"] - I was told by my girlfriend to listen to this track ONLY when I received these headphones. She knew what she was talking about! This is what these things were made for. Effects change from left to right speaker constantly and, as mentioned, the stereo quality of these things is amazing. The steady bass thumping in the background isn't lost. Nor is the layered quality of the vocals, which would certainly fall short on regular speakers. Hi-hat taps on the drums stand out as the most impressive sound captured by the TI. For some reason it just sifts perfectly. I love it!
  4. Classical [Frederic Chopin, "Nocturne in F minor Op. 55 No. 1: Adante"] - One thing Chopin is great at is fading out gently, only to crash back into being with power. This means two important things must be right for full enjoyment: (1.) a good sound range, and (2.) enough outside noise elimination to keep the silent parts silent. Like I said before, the range on these is impressive, so nothing is lost there. However, since these aren't made specifically to kill all outside noise (like some headphones are) the softer parts of the song weren't completely silent. BUT, like I said before, I'm not totally convinced that's a bad thing. When walking around campus, I didn't hear my cell phone ring or the people down the hall calling my name, but I did hear the Metro ride by when I was outside. Again, not trying to get hit by a train, so I'm ok with that. All that being said, if you're walking around outside you can expect a lot more outside distractions anyway, so nothing new hear. Lounging around in my room listening to this one later (especially with the uber comfortable fur earpads) was perfect. I didn't hear the airplanes flying overhead (which is a constant since we live right by the airport), nor did I hear my roommate knock on the door. He thought I was ignoring him, but he got over it.
  5. Reggae [Desmond Dekker, "Reggae Recipe"] - This one is a good test song for reggae because it brings the instruments in one at a time, starting with organ and drums. Those are excellent. Next comes the "swingin' guitars", which are also good, along with the piano. Finally, the bass kicks in. This track best exemplifies the reserved strength of the bass in these things. If you want something with a full bass kick, check out the Skullcandy Skullcrusher. If you want a smooth-sounding bass that doesn't overwhelm the rest of the instruments (which are just as important, if not more important, to the song), stick with the TI.

If you can't tell, I'm smitten with these things.

Now that we've tackled sound, check out the artistic design of 'em. Despite the fur accents, these ones are a more reserved version of the typical TI model, which is easily spotted by its shiny gold finish, or flashy graphics.

The one I got is a bit classier - note the finely stitched Skullcandy name and logo on the top. Also, the fancy silver end-caps on the phones themselves. Stylish, eh?

-Mike-

Sunday, February 22, 2009

I love Vintage Vinyl. Every time I go in there I end up walking out with a couple gems. The hip-hop vinyl section is easily one of the best in the city. It's made great both because of the excellent selection of LPs, but also the varied assortment of 12" singles, which have their own section (appropriately called Hip-Hop 12s)! If you haven't been in there, I highly recommend it, especially if you're rockin vinyl. CD selection is one of the best in the city as well, but you can get CDs anywhere these days.

So this time I went in there and picked up two records. The first was a split-single with Mos Def and Reflection Eternal and the other was "The Lost Tapes" by Nas. It says right on the front, "No cameos. No hype. No bullshit." Couldn't have said it better myself. These cuts are straight Nas with no added crazy production techniques or over-the-top stylings. Basically, the tracks on this are throw-aways from the albums "I Am" and "Stillmatic." But that doesn't mean they're bad.


I couldn't believe it when I threw it on and heard the first Nas track I'd ever heard, but could never find anywhere for some reason. It's called "Doo Rags." It's a real laid-back retrospective track that would have fit right in on "Illmatic" ...but definitely not on "Stillmatic," the one from which it was dropped.

Another great one is "Black Zombie" -- a powerfully afro-centric track with some strong messages on inequality and the tough circumstances in which young Black men in the US find themselves. It's not a message that is unique to Nas' albums, but its power on this track makes it that much more meaningful.

Overall the album is pretty disjointed, as expected on an odds-and-ends piece like "The Lost Tapes." Though Nas' style has remained relatively consistent throughout his career (with only a handful of exceptions), so maybe it's not as ecclectic as some would expect. That said, this album stands alone -- both in terms of the unity of the tracks and the quality of the lyrics -- as a great LP from a great lyricist. Not just a collector's item for Nas fans, but a great hip-hop experience all-around. Check it out for sure, or hit me up for a listen.

That's all for now.
-Mike-


Hosted a "Wicked 90s" themed party last night. It was fuckin wild. This was one of a series of themed parties including a "Redneck Party" and a "Frat Party" (at which me made up our own frat - Chi Ti...get it?)

Anyway, good costumes, and good turnout (except for the cops). All you suckas missed a fun night for sure. I'll throw up a few pictures to give you a general idea.

Oh, and this counts as a music post cause I dressed as Run DMC. Check out my Adidas.

(1.) Me with all of the Spice Girls; (2.) Me, John Kidwell (the official DJ of the night and the winner of our "Most Wicked Vocabulary Award"), and Jon Lampe (who dressed hella grunge...but with a Hootie and the Blowfish hat); (3.) Me and Sam (the winner of the "Hella 90s Costume Award" -- check out that wicked windbreaker suit!).


























Friday, February 20, 2009

At least as far as I'm concerned. All good writing is just that, regardless of the format. So, with that in mind, I'd like to share a video of one of my favorite authors appearing on one of my top 3 favorite shows (of the three shows I watch total).

I present to you the late, great, legendary Dr. Hunter S. Thompson...



R.I.P. you crazy old bitch.

-Mike-

To illustrate the varied assortment of artists and styles I like, here's a shot of my current Zune Power Listener awards. If you can't read it, here's how it breaks down (it lists the awards in reverse order by the date received):

Bronze Album Power Listener:
  • 'Good News for People Who Love Bad News' - Modest Mouse
  • 'Late Registration' - Kanye West
  • 'The Cool' - Lupe Fiasco
Bronze Artist Power Listener:
  • Modest Mouse
  • Alkaline Trio
  • Mos Def
  • The Roots
  • Rancid
  • Lupe Fiasco
  • Kanye West

Ones in the past have also included Frederic Chopin, Common, US Bombs, Talib Kweli, Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros, Bob Marley, The Slackers, and the Ramones. Decent mix, eh?

-Mike-

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Holy fuck Charles Hamilton! You ever heard this dude? Seriously, go to DatPiff, search Charles Hamilton, and listen to one of his mixtapes. Dude is fucking nuts...both in the head and behind the mic. Dude loves Sonic the Hedgehog too. He seems a bit fucked up at times, but musically speaking he's on his game! Here, take these links to heart [click the covers]:

< This one on the left (Well Isn't That Awkward) is the hot one this week. Just came out and is definitely the shit. Download it first. That one down there on the right (Sonic the Hamilton) is from back in November. Just as hot, similar style. Puts the new one in context. Dig the tracks "10 Minutes" and "Supersonicevents", especially if you're into crazy ass beats developed from video game sounds. Seriously. If you haven't heard this dude (and I just found him myself) then you gotta check him out. Ignore all the other tapes I posted earlier and grab these first. He's got a really unique style and some great production behind him. You won't regret it.

-Mike-
Check out what the Made Monarchs have been up to and catch a glimpse of moi [here].

Important and meaningful conversation is the name of the game. The monarchs know this...but every once in a while some shit like this comes up.

Still, it's interesting to hear what people appreciate in others and what factors affect that appreciation. Call it a social psychology experiment.

Disclaimer: I'd had three (free) Bombay Blue Sapphire / Monster Energy Drink mixes prior to this. Just sayin.

-Mike-

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Just a real quick shout out to the official followers of this page - Adrian, Paige, Twiggy - and the people who have specifically mentioned checking it out - Karyn, Chris in FL, Derick Rife, Kate from WI, and Jared. Thanks for the support and interest, folks!

Also, happy 2nd anniversary to Adrian and Twig. Keep it going.

-Mike-

EDIT: Nesbitt subscribed and Becki, Alex, and John checked it out as well. Thanks folks.
This blog thing isn't nearly as hard as I for some reason thought.

Anyway, I'm still waitin' on those headphones, so I don't have a review of those yet. But, I've got something altogether different to review. Took a trip west to Slackers this evening and picked up a new CD for the mix. This one's an album I'd heard of a while back via my Pandora radio account, but never really gave a chance after those initial few listens. Well I decided to grab it and it was well worth it.

Guru is one half of the hip-hop duo Gang Starr. They were one of the first groups to begin to fuse hip-hop and jazz. So it makes sense that Guru's solo attempts would all focus on this same ideal.

On Jazzmattazz Volume II (1995), Guru further enforces his status of lyrical master, as first established with Gang Starr. While a lot of his lyrics may be a bit boastful of this talent (and rightly so I could argue), he manages to balance that out by including and focusing heavily on the support of a whole list of supporting musicians. He also makes it a vital point to list many of those collaborators and give much thanks to them in the introduction of the album -- not at the very end of the outro, which many artists try to slip in last minute. Pretty modest move if you ask me.

Virtually every song features one of many talented guests, some hip-hop and some jazz. The list includes Chaka Khan (yup), Jamiroquai, Freddie Hubbard, Ini Kamoze (who is actually a prominent reggae artist -- ever heard 'Welcome to Jamrock' by Damian Marley? Well he was the dude who wrote the sample that goes "out in the streets, they call it muuuurder!" Know what I'm talkin about? Yeah, that was Ini), Big Shug, and others. Wicked 90s right? Definitely.

Despite the fact that he looks like a malnourished DMX on the cover of this album (no offense), he sounds much smoother. You can see how he influenced current artists like Common and The Roots -- both of whom integrate jazz heavily into their acts -- both lyrically and in terms of beats. When Guru says Jazz Matazz [matters, get it?], the dude means it. Instrumentally speaking, JM Volume II represents the best possible blending of two musical styles with no gaps left unfilled and not a single awkward transition to speak of.

Which leads me to my final point: production. This album is virtually flawless in terms of production, despite the range of producers who participated, which is something of a standard in hip-hop, though most of it was finished in-house by Guru. Tracks by the Solsonics and DJ Premier (the other half of Gang Starr) are definitely worth checking out.

All-in-all Jazzmattaz Volume II is definitely worth picking up sometime if you dig 90s alternative hip-hop. Gang Starr is one thing, but Guru solo is a mighty contender, proving that he can stand just as tall on his own. Recommended tracks include "Looking Through the Darkness", "For You", "Choice of Weapons", and "Respect the Architect".

If you wanna check it out, swing by the place sometime or shoot me an email. I'm willing to share.

-Mike-

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Hip-Hop mixtapes are one of the greatest things about music as far as I'm concerned. It's a true testament to the solidarity of the genre as an artistic movement. Through mixtapes, artists can sidestep their labels and release some seriously def shit to their fans, free of charge in top form. There's no worry about copyright legal shit as far as profit, releases, or proper use of samples. They can also cover each other's tracks without any legal questions since the aim isn't profit, it's exposure. Lupe Fiasco is a perfect example of this. I remember one particular conversation about music I had with my girlfriend after I mentioned that Lupe's new album was supposed to be his third and final, to which she replied "Wait, he only has two albums out? But you've got like twenty on your computer." That's cause Lupe is the man when it comes to releasing mixtapes. He's got a bunch of them, each one different and better than the last. The dude is so good he's had singles off his mixtapes. That's unheard of as far as I know.

The second reason mixtapes are so great is the fact that fans can use them to put their own spins on their favorite artists' tracks. The difference between an "official mixtape" and a "DJ mixtape" is simple: officials are put out by the artists with some new stuff and some revamped old material, while DJ mixtapes are usually almost all old cuts, but remixed and mashed up, spun around completely. The whole musical experience becomes 100% interactive when DJ mixtapes are thrown into the mix.

Here's a list of a few good new mixtapes that are certainly worth checking out. They're all available for free listen or download over at DatPiff.com, just click on the album covers for a direct link. If you don't have a DatPiff account, you better get on it. There's all kinds of great shit over there as far as hip-hop mixtapes go. Just search your favorite artist and get started. Plus, it's user-updated constantly, so there's always new greats. Like these...

Alright, the new Drake mixtape 'So Far Gone' is pretty good, especially if you're into Lil' Wayne and all the dudes that skip around behind him. That's not to say he sounds just like Wayne, cause he doesn't. I just don't necessarily agree that this tape would be so hot right now if Drake wasn't affiliated with Wayne. But hey, if that's your thing click the cover and definitely check it out over at DatPiff. I obviously thought it was worth mentioning here, so it's gotta be at least sorta worth it, right? Check it out...



Now, if that's not your thing (cause I've gotta be honest, it isn't really mine) and you want something of a little different flavor, check this next one out. It's called 'Afro Samurai: Mixtape'. It's mostly a collection of stuff from or inspired by the Afro Samurai series, which is musically produced by RZA of Wu Tang fame. Here's where I put my foot in my mouth regarding my "Lil' Wayne and all the dudes that skip around behind him" comment. If you follow the Wu Tang Clan at all, you know they like to help their own. So, in true Wu fashion, RZA's soundtracks are filled to the brim with contributions and cameos from other Wu Tang Clan regulars -- which is a nice way of sayin they "skip around behind him" on this one. Along with RZA it's got Raekwon, Ghostface, GZA, and a couple full-on Wu Tang Clan tracks. HOWEVER, it's also got good ones from Jay-Z, Nas, MF Doom, Q-Tip, and some other classics. This shit puts the mix back into mixtape. Not to mention all the funky dialogue from the Afro Samurai series that pops in occassionally throughout -- and if you didn't know, Afro Samurai is voiced by Samuel L. Jackson, so you could say this tape is kinda hosted by him, which adds some style as well. Anyway, some of it's new, some of it's old, and some of it's wholly reimagined. It comes highly recommended by me (and check out the show too, if you've never seen it; it's fuckin wild). Click the cover to check it out for listen or download...



One more mixtape for your listening pleasure. This one is a mix/mashup disc from DJ Eggnice called "The Jay-Z Dropout". You guessed it, it's a Jay-Z tape. Not that there aren't way too many Jay-Z mashup mixes, but this one is probably the best as far as I'm concerned. It's got some great stuff mixed from and/or featuring Kanye, Mos Def, Common, Nas, Talib, and even Ludacris. And don't forget about the Lupe Fiasco "Superstar" remix -- it's a little bit weird, but you know I love Lupe Fiasco. Not to mention, it flows well and stays pretty onbeat, so it's a great party mix. Check this one out for sure...



That's all for now. If you like these tapes, be sure to hit me up to suggest some more. Leave me some comments and all that. I wanna know what you think. Thanks for the read.

-Mike-
Oftentimes -- or every time it happens -- when i receive some unexpected amount of money, I have a tendency to spend it on some superfluous item. Maybe it's a few extra hours got added on to my paycheck, or perhaps I got some money back from the school for having a loan that was way too freaking big. Who knows. This shit happens.

Typically, as is perhaps predictable, this superfluous spending goes to support my *ahem* slight addiction to music, be it a new album or some rare collectible piece of work with alternate booklet design or something fancy, or (less often) some sort of new music hardware update. Like some headphones or speakers or whatever.

This time I got both. Got a few extra bucks I wasn't necessarily expecting and decided to make a couple purchases with it. Here's what I got...

Lupe Fiasco's "The Cool"
This one falls under the category of 'old favorite' (albeit maybe not that old). If you noticed from my first post, I've already got this album. The difference here is that this one (which I ordered a couple days ago and am anxiously awaiting the arrival of) is vinyl. I fucking love vinyl shit. What's great about the recent emergence of vinyl as the "cool way to listen to music" is that all of the stuff I listen to is now available in this format. It used to be that I was limited to minor-label punk, hip-hop singles, and classic rock albums from the thrift store to spin on my bunk-ass Goodwill-purchased record player. Now that this stuff is cool again, I've since been able to find whatever I want, plus buy myself a decent player for it. I love it. Ok, now to the second purchase...

Lupe Fiasco's "Daydreamin' Part 01"
This one's also on vinyl, so all the same joys apply. However, since this one's a single, that means I've got a lot more greatness to expect. First, alternate covers. Fuck yeah. I'm a collector, and a dorky one at that, so this shit gets me every time. Check out that anime-lookin Lupe and his walkin' project building. Priceless. Second, Hip-Hop singles tend to come with instrumental and A Capella tracks as well. This only serves to further stoke my dreams of learning to scratch on some decent tables and have all kinds of funky shit to mix. Believe me -- I started buying records well before I ever bought a decent enough turntable on which to enjoy them. In a similar vein, I've been buying singles for the past year or two, which is long before I'll ever have a couple of DJ tables on which to actually get solid use out of them. I'm giddy as shit.

Ok, now with this in mind, let's move on to the final purchase...

Skullcandy Ti DJ Quality Stereo Headphones
Ok, so if you've been following along, you see where I'm going with this. These things are gonna kick ass. Once they get here (which is estimated to be around 2/25/09 according to Amazon), I'll post an actual review. But for now, lemme just point out some specs. See that headband? Yeah. That's fucking fur. (Not real fur, that's cruel.) For the pleasure of sound they pack 41mm titanium drivers, a frequency range of 100-18,000 Hz, a 3 meter chord so I can run all around my room and not need to carry a damn thing with me to keep listenin, and some soft leather touch ear cups so my precious little head don't get uncomfortable while I'm rockin out. And the coolest thing about it is that this particular design of this particular model is something of an oddity. It isn't listed on the Skullcandy site. In fact, the designs they post are quite different -- they lack the faux fur, the intricate stitching on the top of the band, and the sleek black/silver color scheme. Consider this the fancier, cooler looking cousin of the already badass Ti Headphone. Plus, since they're DJ quality with titanium drivers and a crazy frequency range, they promise to sound as nice as they look. More on that though when they arrive.

Anyways, if you're still reading on after this long rant on the shit I bought but don't even really have yet (cause it's in the mail, and USPS better not fuck my shit up), then I've got a final thought on which to wrap up. Note the title of this post "The Effect of Purchasing Power on the Love of Music" -- that's what this is really about. I love music, always have. When I was six I used to rock out on a hand-me-down tape deck with the only two tapes I had (The Clash self-titled and The Cars greatest hits) all day, every day. Clearly, I'm a lo-fi kinda guy and I can handle a shit quality system as long as the music makes up for it. However, since I'm now no longer six years old and have a job and the ability to decide on what I'll spend the income from said job, my love for music has only increased.

With every new setup you try out, you can catch slight little nuances and effects from songs you perhaps thought you knew front and back. Take 'Rock the Casbah' by The Clash. The first time I heard that album (Combat Rock) was on a tape deck -- a different one than the afore-mentioned hand-me-down, but a tape deck nonetheless. I loved it for its energy and beat. Sometime later I heard it on CD. This time I noticed a ton of weird sound effects and even some background vocals that didn't quite come through on tape. I loved it even more! It was like finding a whole new song. Consider it similar to watching a movie you own and have seen a hundred times, but on the 101st time, you catch some little reference you didn't quite notice the first few times and a whole new level of enjoyment arises. That's what happened. Then I caught 'Combat Rock' on vinyl. When you hear an album on vinyl (especially one that originally came out on that format), you hear it in a different way. It's warmer, somehow more personal. The music is good enough to carry you away, but the occassional pops and the slight static if you listen close enough pull you back down and give it a more personal feel. There's just something...romantic about those sounds. So listening to Rock the Casbah on vinyl opened a whole new door entirely to the song. This was what the band wanted to be heard. You can still catch the little sound effects and hidden vocals mentioned before, but they're once again subtle. So hearing them is even more enjoyable. Not to mention the visual effect of watching the record spin and the levels jump, or the act of flipping the record over and being able to reference Side B to Side A (or C or D if the artist is that hard working!). That alone makes your listening experience into two or four wholly different ones.

Maybe I'm crazy or hopelessly romantic when it comes to this art form, but music like this, in various formats, sometimes with different cover art, or bonus tracks, or liner notes, or whatever, gets me every time. It evokes an excitement for me rarely achieved by other pleasures in life (save for a select few that achieve an entirely different level of emotion...but we won't go there). So having this new music coming, with new headphones on which to listen to it (!) is like Christmas or something. But this holiday season, I can sit alone in my room and truly enjoy the gifts, instead of ducking around 50 crazy aunts and uncles with plates full of food and bad senses of humor. Ya dig?

Alright I'm spent.

-Mike-

Monday, February 16, 2009

Alright, after posting that list of favorites I decided I better throw up some stuff on local acts. Support local musicians for sure! These acts are most definitely some of the best in the country, and they all happen to reside here in StL.

Click their respective images to give 'em all a shot and lemme know what you think!

  • Black Spade - [Hip-Hop]
  • Rum Drum Ramblers - [Blues]
  • Dead City Dregs - [Punk]
  • 7 Shot Screamers - [Psychobilly]
That should do you good for now. Much love to all local musicians. I'll post more later.

And, while I'm plugging these acts, I might as well mention that you can hear ALL those guys and other local acts on my weekly radio show 'Rebel Music' every Thursday from 2:00-3:00 on The U - http://www.umslradio.com. Stream that shit, son.

-Mike-
Listening to "The Cool" by Lupe Fiasco, browsing through the blog of some friends (http://www.mademonarchs.com - check it out), I decided to try the blog thing out myself.

I've got a deep love for music and an exponential amount of exposure to it as the Music Director of UMSL's student-run station "The U" (http://www.umslradio.com - check that out too), so maybe just maybe there'll be some unique perspective I can offer regarding my favorite artists/albums/tracks.

As far as my tastes specifically, I tend to rotate frequently between punk rock, hip-hop, and reggae. To put this whole deal into context, I'll list a few favorites:

Punk - Rancid, The Clash, US Bombs, NOFX, Lars Frederiksen & the Bastards, Distillers
Hip-Hop - Lupe Fiasco, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Common Sense, The Roots, MF Doom
Reggae - Aggrolites, Bob Marley, Desmond Dekker, Derick Morgan, The Slackers, Tim Armstrong
Other - The Good The Bad & The Queen, Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros, Tom Waits, Frédéric Chopin, Gorillaz

I think that about covers all the bases of a first blog post, wouldn't you say?
I'm outty 5000, fools.
Peace.

-Mike-
 

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