Final Reflections

As I reflect back on the past semester’s blog posts it seems to me to be almost like a catalog of my inspirations. From J Dilla and Pink Floyd to the Beach Boys and Kanye West, this semester has allowed to me to take a final look back on these inspirations of mine and see how exactly I’m inspired by them. Even though there’s no way I could’ve spoken about every musical inspiration of mine, I feel like we are all more or less a product of our influences, and I’m glad I can look back and see the ones that were important enough to me to mention. It gives me a bit of a perspective on what the musical side of me is comprised of.

Although I make mostly hip-hop music, it would be disingenuous of me to only mention my hip-hop influences. I’m glad that I now have taste in genres outside of that and could break down and articulate why exactly it is I like them. You may not fully understand something unless you have the words for it. So it’s for that reason I took on the challenge to try and talk about all of the different music I enjoy. Because now, I may be that much quicker at pulling from those influences (unconsciously, that is) while creating my art.

Although all of my inspirations are pretty dissimilar, there is a silver lining that connects them: I think its the authenticity of all of them. The fact that when they made those projects and there was a lasting effect on not only me but for generations of music listeners. I’ve always tried to adopt the philosophy that people respond best to someone who is genuine in what they do. They don’t sell out, they don’t cater to anybody, but they, in fact, do what they do for the sake of doing it, not even for themselves, but just for the creative process itself. I’ve been listening to more music than ever the past few months, mostly on the classic rock side.

I have also been playing with a live band this semester, playing bass amongst three other of my friends. It’s allowed me to learn how to play the songs that I enjoy and it teaches me a lot about the different chord changes and different styles of music of the course of different decades. As crazy as the different albums were in my blogs is how different the songs are when we play live (with the exception fo any hip-hop music). We have only played two shows so far but we’ve had a lot of fun with both of them.

Over the course of this year, outside of my studies, I have been playing, writing and recording music for myself, trying to carve out my own identity as an artist outside of my live music playing. Its been a crazy semester, a grind in every sense of the word. But it hasn’t been for nothing, I have tried to develop something to show for it.  I thought it would be appropriate to leave a link to my SoundCloud below so you guys could get an idea of what I do.

Thanks for staying with me this whole time. I appreciate every person who read and commented!

Take care, everybody!

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We’re Only In It For The Money

This week I’m going to talk about an album that I recently discovered: We’re Only In It For The Money.  I’m confident that most of you probably never heard of this album before but nonetheless it’s still great because of the perspective it takes on the social climate at the time when it came out (1968). This album for me is a muse on breaking the 4th wall. Its title alone should show that. And the cover shows it too.

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(Zappa is the goofy looking guy with the long dark hair and mustache) 

As you can see, it has a striking resemblance to The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and this is, of course, intentional. The reason being is that Frank Zappa (the leader and frontman of the group) wanted to make fun of hippie culture.

The whole album is a disorienting collage – a psychedelic rock album making fun of psychedelic rockers.  I’m gonna show you one particular track that I think is the most accessible to audiences (even though in reality, all of these tracks are obscure). and then the opening two tracks

I recommend listening on a streaming service for the best quality (Spotify, Apple Music)

What’s the Ugliest Part Of Your Body?

I love this album because THIS song was a single. I mean if this is the most accessible song of the tracklist, you can see how weird it could get. This song sounds like a weird twist on 50s pop. With the background vocals singing harmonies over the strange nasally lead vocal. it gives the track a whimsical, almost comedic, vibe. And the lyrics are anything but orthodox:

What’s the Ugliest Part of your body?
What’s the Ugliest Part of your body?
Some say your nose Some say your toes
I think it’s your mind (Your mind)
I think it’s your mind, woo woo

This album constantly has the listener in a “heady” mood. Like there’s a space it puts you in where you’re reconsidering values that you never had previously reconsidered. Just to say that the mind is the ugliest part of your body or your being, is almost to say that things are much weirder than they seem, and Zappa is always trying to put the strangeness at the forefront. He adds to the weirdness with the second part of the track:

All your children are
Poor unfortunate victims
Of systems beyond
Their control
A plague upon your ignorance
& the gray despair
Of your ugly life


Where did Annie go
When she went to town?
Who are all those creeps
That she brings around?

This is where the weirdest groove I’ve ever heard comes in. with some of the best lyrics on the album — he takes the song to such weird places so often and so quick! It’s so experimental in that you could tell that Zappa didn’t give a f**k about what was on the radio – he did what HE wanted to do. That “All your children” bit is some of the most direct lyricism that I’ve heard, and it came out in the 60s!! Nuts if you ask me. The “Where did Annie go” bit is also hilarious. Creeps is, I think, referring hippies, and I think its supposed to be a short interlude of the parents that Zappa is referring to in the previous “All your children” part. To me, it’s such a funny commentary on the hippie generation, and in a way, by Zappa and The Mothers of Invention pointing at it and making fun of it, they separate themselves from the rest of the psychedelic rock scene.

Are You Hung Up?

This is a perfect opener to the album. It sets the mood of disorienting madness of the robotic noises and panned vocals. It starts with, oddly enough, Eric Clapton speaking to a woman, asking repeatedly “Are You Hung Up?” Then its followed by Gary Kellgren, the studio engineer on this album, whispering some randomness into the microphone. Talking about the “all of the Frank Zappa masters.” Following after this, we hear a guitar play some nasty little riff, and then a weird scream. It ends with Jimmy Carl Black, the drummer hilariously saying “Hi, boys & girls, I’m Jimmy Carl Black, I’m the Indian of the group!” 

This whole album is a reflection of a mind (That being mostly Zappa’s) that’s very aware of the social climate at the time. I hope to one day have a piece of work as aware of itself as this album is.

Pet Sounds

The topic of convo for this week is an album very different from my last post. It’s an album that’s a constant inspiration, reminding me that no matter how much music I make, every project can be as much of a triumph of personal expression as the last. Even though this album is the band’s 11th studio album, it nonetheless has stood the test of time as being one of the best albums of the 60s even amongst artists like The Beatles, The Who, The Rolling Stones, etc., and is still considered one of the best albums of all time.

The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds is the lead singer, Brian Wilson’s, personal masterpiece. He tried to make the greatest rock album of all time after being inspired by The Beatles’ “Rubber Soul”. Taking a year to write and record it. Wilson personally produced, composed, and arranged the majority of the album. This may sound trivial but it’s actually very unorthodox, especially for the time. Wilson included instrumentation that was never associated with rock albums before then. He used brass, strings, Electro-theremins, and many more sounds. He even used animal sounds (hence the name Pet sounds) and miscellaneous sounds like bicycles bells. A very experimental yet appealing album, Pet Sounds was Brian Wilson’s opus, and he was aware of it while he was making it

.Wilson mising pet sounds

Brian Wilson Mixing Pet Sounds

The reason I always go back to this album is that it is essentially one man’s vision manifested, that being Brian Wilson. Before any one individual was on the wave of writing producing and performing their music he did it and paved the way for many artists after him to do it. Whenever people think of this album they think of it almost as Biran Wilson’s solo project, and that’s certainly because of his headstrong involvement with the project.

I will note, however, that he did have a considerable amount of help with the lyrics on the album. 8 of the 13 songs on the album were co-written with Tony Asher. While writing the music for each song, including harmonies, instrumentation and lead vocals, Asher would work out lyrics through the melodies Wilson created. This would go on for only three weeks in total and the rest of the time was dedicated to recording the music at 6 different studios across Los Angelas. That may seem normal these days, but back in the 60s, this was unheard of since most artists recorded the entirety of their album in one studio.

You Still Believe In Me

I think this is as good a track as any to look at to capture what this album is really about. With only 4 track recording Wilson managed to throw in a bass, strings, his vocals, and harmonies, along with percussive and miscellaneous elements running throughout the song. He even has a car horn in it for God’s sake. And the most beautiful thing about it to me is that he heard at least what the sonics of the whole thing would be like before he recorded it. A true genius if you ask me.

Take the instrumentation aside, though, the lyricism from Asher on this song is very introspective even though it may seem on the surface to be just another love song.

“I know perfectly well I’m not where I should be,
I’ve been very aware you’ve been patient with me,
Everytime we break up you bring back your love to me,
And after all I’ve done to you how can it be?
You still believe in me!
I try hard to be more what you want me to be
But I can’t help how I act when you’re not here with me
I try hard to be strong but sometimes I fail myself,
And after all I’ve promised you so faithfully,
You still believe in me!
I want to cry.”
Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)
For some reason the youtube video didn’t appear, so I  suggest you listen to this song on a streaming services such as Spotify or Apple Music. 
This next song is another beauty on the project. From the beginning of this track we could hear the tenderness of Wilson’s heart. Even though he didn’t write the lyrics, I couldn’t picture it any other way. Asher’s lyrics on this song are some of the best on the album in my opinion.
“I can hear so much in your sighs
And I can see so much in your eyes
There are words we both could say
But don’t talk, put your head on my shoulder
Come close, close your eyes and be still
Don’t talk, take my hand and let me hear your heart beat
Being here with you feels so right
We could live forever tonight
Lets not think about tomorrow
And don’t talk put your head on my shoulder”
The angelic string section of this song shines throughout the whole song but especially on “Listen listen listen” at about the 1: 50-minute mark. A pop song like this is a true feat in my opinion. To me its bigger than just another one of the Beach Boys’ pop songs. It’s a beautifully melodic piece layered with some of the most vulnerable lyrics you could hear on a song up to that point.
Pet Sounds is an album that will always stay close to my heart. Those familiar melodies and arrangements are ingrained in me by this point and, as I said earlier, is a constant reminder of how the will of one man can manifest into a beautiful timeless project. Brian Wilson paved the way for artists in the subsequent decades to come including artists of today and is still considered a musical genius and legend amongst classic rock fans.
Beach Boys Recording
Beach Boys Recording Harmonies. 

TLOP: An Expression Of Our Time

We’ve all heard the name: Kanye West. An enigma amongst contemporary rappers and artists in general. An eccentric with a little bit of a bit of an unstable mind, Kanye West has recently been in the news because of his views on politics. I’m not going to get into that here, but I do want to set the stage for one of the most interesting minds in music today. A lot of people (not me) divide Kanye into two parts: The music side of him, and the rest of him. Now me, I try to look at all parts of him at once, and to be honest it only gives me more appreciation for him.

As an artist myself, I sometimes find it hard to express in the best way the emotions I’m feeling. This is either because of me lacking the vision of how I would translate these emotions into a song or sometimes I just feel that the medium of putting your art onto an album isn’t enough. Well, not that it’s not enough, but it is what is – meaning it is what it is and it’s not going to change. There’s a format to these things, a standard if you will. Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo was a landmark in modern music (especially in Hip-Hop), and the reason for that is due to the strange editing process West underwent throughout the subsequent weeks after its initial release.

After the initial release of The Life of Pablo, Kanye put his album through multiple changes. This includes adding songs, adding parts to songs, dividing songs in half making them 2 songs, remixing the songs to make them sound higher quality, etc. This album was his baby, something he could groom and grow up with and add to without taking the original essence away. For example, on “Father Stretch My Hands” Kanye added layers of a gospel choir that wasn’t on the original. With streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify, artists are able to edit whatever part of their work they want, and Kanye was really the first to exploit that.

But more than the changes made to it, the relevance and idea of the album are groundbreaking if you ask me: The Life of Pablo. Who exactly is Pablo? Well, I think we could guess that it’s probably Kanye, but which Pablo? Let’s see what Kanye had to say:

“Which Pablo? Pablo Picasso, Pablo Escobar of course, Apostle Paul. [Paul] inspired and was the strongest influencer of Christianity. Pablo Escobar was the biggest mover of product, and Pablo Picasso was the biggest mover of art. And that mix between message, art, and product is The Life Of Pablo”

You could see that Kanye was trying to go for gold on this project, he was trying to make the greatest project he had up to this point. I get so inspired by listening back to this album and putting myself in the time when it came out because he didn’t need to do this. This was going to be his seventh album, and to think that somebody could stay so hungry for greatness, even after already having been deemed great. It’s an amazing feat and his efforts are definitely shown in how he captures the modern day era. Take the second and third song from the project: “Father stretch my Hands Pt.1” and “Pt. 2”.

Father Stretch My Hands Pt.1

Sampling Pastor T.L Barret’s “Father Stretch My Hands”, Kanye uses the gospel influence he’s had throughout all of his albums, (dating back to even The College Dropout his debut project) and blends his style together with a number of the greatest producers in the game today. Among the producers on this super track are Metro Boomin,  Rick Rubin, Mike Dean and of course Kanye West. I mean how much better can you get honestly. I’m guessing each of them had a particular thing to do with the song: Kanye probably found the sample, Metro the drums, Dean the synths, and Rubin probably just the overall recording mix.

He starts the song with the iconic gospel sample (something Kanye finds best) only to be followed by some of the most menacing synths ever to be put on record. The grandeur is already there and gets taken to another level after “If young metro don’t trust yo I’m gon’ shoot you.” Metro Boomin’s tag never sounded so good :’-).

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Kanye West and Kid Cudi premiering TLOP at Yeezy Season 3 at MSG

The chorus comes in with Kid Cudi doing his thing as always: “Beautiful mornin’, you’re the sun in my mornin’ babe.” An inspiring chorus, I think referring to that Holy Muse that is also referenced on other gospel tracks. I think with this song Kanye was trying to express his need and want for something Holy. He doesn’t see it enough especially with the fame that he has. I mean just listen to his first verse (I apologize of the explicitness, I didn’t write it).

Now, if I f*ck this model
And she just bleached her a**hole
And I get bleach on my T-shirt
I’ma feel like an a**hole”

Its obviously a silly line, and I think it was like that on purpose. Why else would you juxtapose that Angelic intro with something so comedic and trivial? It was to put you into his headspace, and maybe the headspace of many artists in the spotlight. A headspace focused on the menial things that come with fame and this world, but nothing otherworldly, nothing profound. I think Kanye was trying to put his soul on record here, he was trying to show us that what goes on in his mind is: “I just want to feel liberated I-nanana.” He’s a vulnerable, conflicted, confused soul. But something great about him is his ability to convey it, especially in a way where the message of the song is a by-product, meaning, you can enjoy the song as it sounds without ever necessarily delving into the lyrics and song content.

Pt. 2

 

Kanye does a complete 180 on us turning the sample into a higher tempo dance track. At about the 40-second mark we can an inclusion of Desiigner’s panda  You may all remember the song, but if you don’t let me explain why the inclusion of it on this album is so genius. Like I said before I think Kanye was trying to make an album that captured the times in a nutshell. Before this album was released “Panda” was out already but it hadn’t become the big song that it eventually became. You could attribute that to probably Kanye putting the song on his highly anticipated album. Although i remember not liking the “Panda” sample at first. I thought he was stealing it, like it wasn’t necessary. But after reconsidering why he would do something like that, it became clear to me that all he was trying to do was create a time capsule with this album. I mean just look at the cover:

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You see at the top left a family of what looks like a wedding of two African American families (rumored to be his family although that’s never been confirmed) and on the bottom right a photo of the swimsuit model Sheniz Halil. I think that the latter is supposed to remind us at least a bit of Kim Kardashian (the fake butt, if I had to spell it out for you), but its an odd juxtaposition with the photo at the top. To me, this cover is Kanye’s expression of his condition at least in a minimalistic way (the detail comes out throughout the album). It looks like Kanye dealing with a split between the two: His roots, his family, his identity at the top – and then the modern era, his wife, the industry game that he is in a way married to at the bottom. the copied and pasted “Which / One” all along the album making it clear that he trying to choose between the two. All of these things come out on the album and especially on the tracks that I put on display here in this blog.

This album showed me that you could still make music that is “of the times” while being simultaneously aware of it. I thought that this accomplishment was only relevant to artists of previous eras, but Kanye shows us that it’s still possible to be an artist in its truest sense. As much as this cover (and album for that matter) is about Kanye West’s personal battles and situation, it’s also relevant to the everyday person. This new age, with all of its technological innovation, artistic expression, and complexity, seems to be something of another nature when compared to our roots – simplicity, order, familiarity. Now I know that I’ve only scratched the surface with the content of this album and I encourage everyone to listen to TLOP all the way through to catch all of the motifs and themes that I brought up, but I want to make it clear that to me this is probably Kanye’s most conscious work. I think its probably his opus, but that doesn’t mean that its only about him. The Life of Pablo is as much relevant to our lives as it is Kanye’s.

 

Look At Your Game, Girl

This week, with the creepy season of Halloween approaching, we’ll take a look at one of the creepier songs that I know that I found out about recently.

Look At Your Game Girl 

Upon first listen, you may not realize why I find this song to be creepy, because, in a way, it’s initially lovely. A solo singer with a decent voice accompanying an acoustic guitar. But what seems to be a harmless song takes a turn for the dark when you realize who is singing. The cult leader responsible for the orchestration of the killings of seven people. That’s right, Charles Manson!

He presumably sung songs like this to entice the woman that would end up becoming apart of his Manson Family. Deceptively entrancing, you think the song is an endeering call from Charles to a girl. In the song he explains how shes in a “delusion”, and he really capatalizes off of her insecurity and unsureness to make her believe that he has the right view of things. Its very ironic that he himself is playing a game with these women, and they became the victims of his crazy delusions.

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Now, Charles didn’t kill anybody himself, rather he convinced a group of followers of his, who were dubbed the Manson family, comprised of somewhere around 100 people, to commit the murders themselves.

Manson was a musician. He was living in California during the 1960s as an unemployed ex-convict. He was a singer/songwriter trying to make it in Los Angeles, and he managed to build the small beginnings of his career by meeting The Beach Boys’ drummer Dennis Wilson, even managing to get a few of his songs recorded by The Beach Boys. His album “LIE” debuted on March 6th, 1970, the day the court vacated Manson from being his own lawyer after a few members of the Manson Family were caught in the killings of Sharon Tate and a few of her colleagues.

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Charles Manson’s LIE: The Love and Terror Cult

Manson used to trip on LSD with his “followers”. He would perform music for them and rile them up with speeches filled with his theories about the state of the country and where it was heading to. He believed in what he dubbed “Helter Skelter” , based off of the Beatles song with the same name.

Helter Skelter

He believed this song was a song about the begginings of a country wide race-war between white and black people, where black americans would rise up against the police and their government. This was probably because of the racial tensions of the 60s. He was really a nutjob. He even thought of thought the White album by the Beatles was prophetic in other ways too, he thought that The White Album was a prophecy of what was going to happen in the 60s, like a timeline.

Another song from the album, “Piggies” is a song that was picked up by the counterculture movement but also especially by the Manson family when they murdered Sharon Tate.

The Beatles- Piggies

 

Well, when the those members of the Manson famiy murdered Sharon Tate and her four friends they decided to do something very disturbing with the victim’s blood, that is, they wrote in various walls of the house phrases that included the songs title in it. A few examples being “PIG“, “PIGGIES“, “POETIC PIGGIES“, and “DEATH TO PIGS“. George Harrsion, the writer of the song, probably had no idea how his song would be interpreted.

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George Harrison of The Beatles

Although these are all good songss, having a connection to a vast number of youths of the counterculture revolution of the 60s, they unfortunatley have a very dark history and connection to the maniac Manson.

Illmatic

The first time I heard Illmatic I was a freshman in high school. My school, the Academy of Independent Studies (A.I.S) offered Music Production as a major and I was eager to start the year to finally learn about the creative process behind music that I enjoyed to listen to. The teacher of the program, Mr. Figuereo, was what you could call a hip hop historian. He was always dropping knowledge about the history of the genre and the artists in it. I was an aspiring rapper and vocalist myself, trying to get myself, little by little, to ease up my inhibitions to perform in front of people. I was also nervous about sharing my content with people because I thought they wouldn’t get it. Naive in that way, I thought of myself as weird and an outcast in the field of rapping and I wasn’t sure if I even belonged in that field begin with.

There was another rapper in the school, Trevor was his real name. His stage name at the time was T Jay-Tag. He was the only rapper in the school who was taking himself seriously as an artist. My brother, Abbas, played guitar and played while T-Jay rapped. I showed my brother a verse of mine and he told me that I should show T-Jay. Its so funny thinking how seriously I took him at the time because we ended up being close friends, and even performers together. But I digress.

So with my brother’s encouragement, I decided to show T-Jay a verse of mine, that I wrote to a Lupe Fiasco song (I can’t remember for the life of me the name of the song). So I pulled out my phone and went into my notes, rapped my verse, and to my surprise he enjoyed it very much. He immediately took me to Mr. Figuereo, room. A music studio with white rock walls, that looked as if they were covered in pebbles. The room was filled with Macs desktops for students to use the various music production softwares that were on them (like Logic Pro 9, and Pro Tools). I performed my verse even more nervous then when I did in front of T-Jay. The first thing he said to me was that I listened to too much Eminem before even asking me whether or not I did. To my embarrassment I did in fact only listen to Eminem. and he told me to start listening to different artists.

I took his advice and throughout my freshman year I learned more about hip hop music and culture than the rest of the kids my age, and even the rest of the school (granted there was only 110 kids in the whole school, though). One of the artist’s that I stumbled upon, naturally, was Nas. I quickly found Illmatic, which people said was his best work. I listened and found a 10 song collection of some of the best hip hop songs of the 90s. This album featured the production of the best producers in the game at the time: Q-tip, DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Large Professor, and L.E.S. Accompanied by the beautiful poetry of Nas, Illmatic was a certified classic as soon as it was put out. Oh and I forgot to mention that he was 18 when he put this out. 18!! I was 14 at that time. All I was obsessed with at the time was trying to be the best rapper, and I remember thinking “if I’m trying to be better than him I only have 4 years! ” He made it seem impossible to top.

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Left to Right (Pete Rock, L.E.S, Nas, Large Professor, Q-Tip, DJ Premier)

I was in my music class one day and Mr. Figuereo was talking about Illmatic and asked us whether or not we knew it well. In a way to test us. Neither of us did that well only knowing 2 or 3 songs on it. He pulled us aside to show us a song I had never heard before Memory Lane.

(As always, I highly suggest you use a music streaming service like Apple Music or Spotify to have the best quality sound possible).

Memory Lane

As soon as it started I was entranced by the steady pace of Nas’ verse riding above the  instrumental done by DJ Premier. Then my teacher made me realize what it was: “Are you noticing how many words he’s saying? This was in 1994, nobody was rapping like this. The closest was Rakim. and even he wasn’t rapping as quick, with lines that were as potent.” The main reason Nas stood out among the other artists in the game at the time was because he said his lines with a natural grace, like he was talking – but it was still deep, you know. He was deemed a “street poet” for a reason.

In a way I looked at the level of skill as unmatchable initially, but after a bit I realized that if he had the ability to manifest the best album in hip hop history at the time at the age of 18, basically a teenager, then why couldn’t I? So I turned to another classic form the album: The World Is Yours.

The World Is Yours

Nas paints a picture of of who he is as as a person starting the perfect juxtaposition to explain who he is as an artist and as an individual:

“I sip the Dom P, watching “Gandhi” ’til I’m charged
Then writing in my book of rhymes, all the words past the margin
To hold the mic I’m throbbin’, mechanical movement
Understandable smooth shit that murderers move with.”

Drinking liquor, watching Ghandi, and writing his rhymes past the margin, unconfined and breaking the status quo. Nas is explaining who he is, which he continues to do through out the verses. The Chorus “Whose world is this, The world is yours.” sung by Pete Rock, is Nas saying that he knows that he can do whatever he wants, and he’s telling everybody that they can too. That sentiment resonates with me to this day and though I’ve learned about way more music – hip hop and other genres included – I look back at this song as a reminder of where I started at, where my musical roots are at, and also how I felt during those times, like I could conquer the world because I saw other artists who who did.

Even though I was intimidated by the standard I put on myself, I felt encouraged and even empowered to try the best I could to develop as an artist that freshman year. and to learn as much as I can about the history and progression of hip hop. I did and even though the majority of albums I’ve been talking about have been classic rock, hip hop music will always be my foundation.

Illmatic studio

From left to right (DJ Premier, Q-tip, Nas, Large Professor)

 

The Velvet Underground & Nico: If They Could Do It So Can I

As an aspiring artist myself, I sometimes feel that the lack of funding that I have limits the quality of music I can make. All of these artists in the mainstream make the quality of music that they do because they have the money to purchase the most expensive equipment to record and listen with. It can get pretty discouraging even causing me to lose my inspiration. But then an album comes along that rejuvenates that inspiration. An album simple in its form but potent in its quality. an album like The Velvet Underground & Nico.

The reason I’m talking about this album today is because its a testament to how much work an artist (or band) can get done without that any money. The Velvet Underground formed in New York City in 1964. When they burst onto the scene they weren’t very well known but they did get a co-sign by Andy Warhol the famous artist. Warhol is credited as a producer on the album, and he was the also the band’s manager (even though he never managed a band before). Warhol is also the one who introduced Nico to the group. When they dropped their self-titled first album, they didn’t sell many records, and it wasn’t until Lou Reed, the frontman for the group, gained commercial success a decade later that people knew about this album. Once it was known to the mainstream it became a generational classic, marking a new wave in artists that started to make music on their own, without the backing of a major label.

This album had barely any backing behind it, with the exception of Warhol, and even then it didn’t sell well. The amazing thing about this album is that the recording was done with vey minimal equipment and money. It was recorded between 1 and 4 days, and reportedly costed around $3,000 dollars to record.

velvet underground and nico and warhol

The Velvet Underground and Nico, and Andy Warhol (Second from the left)

Amidst the gems on this album, there a lot of technical flaws. Take the track Femme Fatale, written by Lou Reed and sang by Nico. (I suggest to listen on a streaming service like Apple Music or Spotify for the best quality)

Femme Fatale 

Near the 1:10 mark you can hear Nico’s vocals start to distort. Even though it is a flaw on the album they kept it (probably because they didn’t have the time money or general opportunity to record it again). And in a weird way it adds to the overall feel of the album. Its just another example of how the raw recordings match how raw these guys were in the music scene.

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Lou Reed (Left) Nico (Right)

Heroin

Heroin is a song that took incredible vision to create. Lou Reed used heroin during this time and with this song it seems like he was trying to convey what it felt like to be on Heroin. The song only has 2 chords going back and forth, and its made up of only 4 main instruments: Acoustic Guitar, Vocals, Drums, and an Electric Viola. I can’t explain it but Lou Reed’s rambling lyrics, along with the tempo constantly building up and slowing down (but never seeming to stopping). That sinister viola going on throughout building up to one of the most disturbing climaxes to a song that I’ve ever heard, all of the sounds that they put into this song conveyed a disturbed confused mind of Lou Reed, in an original and simple way.

The fact that they managed to create such a grand sound with such little tools and money is amazing to me and inspires me to this day. And oh – yeah this is all done in 1967, before any of the stuff we have now to make music at home, and during a time when nothing sounded like this. Truly in a class of their own, and it took a decade for people to realize it.