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A few weeks ago I had the good fortune to speak with Detroit producer/MC Black Milk who spoke to me on the phone before embarking on the US leg of his tour with the Nat Turner live band.   

You can now read the interview here, where Black Milk talks at length about how basically now 'there are no rules' in terms of production and how with his two most recent records he feels that he has found his voice as an artist.

The article focusses in on three tracks from If there's a hell below: 'All Mighty' 

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In a melancholy mood: writing on hip-hop quiet (instrumentals from the 90s)

Onyx  'Last Dayz', Miilkbone 'Keep it Real' (prod. by Mufi), The Speedknots 'The Zone' (prod. by Stress & War)

'When I asked Samson S. if he would sample a song because of what it represented to him, he was unequivocal in his response:

'Not based on that fact alone. I don't care how much that record meant to me, if it's not poppin' .... I go on straight sound, man. You know, 'Do I like it?, Does it sound good to me?,' that type of deal. I don't really get all up into this mystical shit'. 

Samson S. cited in Making Beats: the art of sample-based hip-hop, by Joseph G. Schloss (Wesleyan University Press, 2004), interview 1999, p.147

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Alternate versions - Chet Baker, 'My Funny Valentine'

Perhaps the mark of genius is the ability to return to the same 'material' and to re-invent it completely. It could be said that all musicians do this in every concert or show, as do comedians, but what we are thinking about here is not improvisation, but rather two distinct versions of the same song.

Originally released on his Chet Baker Sings album (1956), this track only lasts a little over two minutes and starts with Baker's voice (immediately at the start, after one a singular note from the bass). His delivery is even, measured exhibiting none of the eccentric phrasing of the later recordings: it's a perfect performance, controlled and smooth.

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Marco Polo Interview

When asked to identify the key element of his aesthetic, Toronto-born New York-based hip-hop producer Marco Polo answered simply: ‘the drums.

Drums are always the centre of my beats; they’re always hard-hitting, aggressive: you feel them, cause that’s how I was brought up as a fan of producers like DJ Premier, Large Professor. It’s all about the kicks and the snares, you know. And then of course the musical elements too: it’s a vibe. To answer your question, I think what defines my beats, what people probably know, it’s my drums.’

Having worked with many of the greats since coming to New York in 2003 (Pharoahe Monch, Rakim, Masta Ace, Large Professor, Torae among others) and also new generation voices, Marco Polo has marked out a defined niche within the hip-hop genre; that builds on the past, while creating a sound that is distinctively his own.

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Take a moment to listen to this glorious rendition and be surprised by the way Etta Jones completely transforms the song associated with Elvis/the Righteous Brothers (and had - until this point - made me recoil because of its white-wedding slow dance associations).

Described by All Music as a 'most adventurous, eccentric' version in a review of the 2002 reissue of Jones's Prestige era singles, a review that highlighted the Oliver Nelson string arrangement, this song is extremely touching and sweet.   

The sharp contrast between Jones's wavering vocals, hesitant in places, almost shy and the bombastic instrumentation is beyond eccentric; as is the way she swings stretching words in a way that is simply divine. You can hear her voice - her accent - in all senses.

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Just before 3 am in June, 1991 a limousine brought the unconscious body of one of the greatest vocalists of the twentieth century, David Ruffin to a Philadelphia hospital. Wearing 'bright, multi-coloured Bermuda shorts, white sneakers and a lime-green sport shirt,' Ruffin carried no identification; 'when (the) doctors released his body to the Philadelphia Medical Examiner's Office, it was tagged, "John Doe."

Ruffin died one hour later from a drug overdose, aged 50 years old. One of the saddest parts of an extremely sad (and controversial) documentary on Ruffin's ascent to the top of US popular music, as part of the Temptations is the moment when his son, David Ruffin Jr. looks at the camera face-on to insist that his father died in a hospital (not a crackhouse). My father died in a hospital, he repeated with urgency. He died in a hospital. 

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According to the story, Nico's The Marble Index was the only music the American singer-songwriter, Elliott Smith listened to in the months before his violent death.

“I find your albums really good to listen to late at night. What is your perfect 2.45am album?

(Smith) There are several. I think ‘Marquee Moon’ by Television and ‘The Marble Index’ by Nico (laughs).”

Released in 1968, Nico's The Marble Index - produced by John Cale - was a commercial failure and led to Nico being dropped by Elektra, but has since been recognised as an album of genius. Critics tend to use negative adjectives to describe it (desolate, frightening); at times even mocking it for its strange 'suicidal' mood, and yet what strikes me is the strength of the music, as embodied by Nico's voice.

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Pete Rock, hip-hop producer   Image via Hot New Hip Hop

Pete Rock, hip-hop producer   Image via Hot New Hip Hop

One of the first things that strikes you after you increase your hip-hop exposure is the re-appearance of certain names - often over decades - and the key role of communities (linked to labels and producers).

For argument's sake, let's say this is something distinctive and even definitive of the genre as a whole.

Sure, you could talk of a punk scene, or a series of rock groups associated with a city, but each are defined by the fact that they don't last. Rock music, moreover, is driven by the Romantic myth of the genius, battling his/her personal demons. 

This showing respect, acknowledging others and emphasis on collaboration you find in hip-hop reminds me of the act of sampling. Sampling has a dual effect - at once, marking the value of the original while re-imagining it. It re-aligns the source to put it into a new space: to recreate it.  

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ZERO HOUR
noun

The time at which a planned operation, typically a military one, is set to begin.

  • as zero hour approached, thirty ships swung into position

    the appointed time, the appointed hour, the crucial moment, the vital moment, the critical moment, the moment of truth, the point/moment of decision, the Rubicon, the critical point, the crux

ZERO HOUR
adjective

  • Denoting or relating to a contract of employment that does not include a guarantee of regular work for the employee, who is paid only for the hours they actually work: their survey suggested that one million people are employed on low-security zero hour contracts.

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Black and blue justice

Shocking photographs show injuries to Port Hedland immigration detainees, allegedly made by police and detention officers after the 2003 riot. Several high- level investigations have yet to apportion guilt. 

Photographs smuggled out of the former Port Hedland detention centre show detainees with injuries they say they received after being beaten by West Australian police and detention centre officers during the December 2003 protest.

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