Blue Sky Black Death

Beats & Rhymes: Blue Sky Black Death’s Noir

Each Monday, Beats & Rhymes highlights a new and notable hip-hop, rap, DJ, or electronic record that embraces independent sensibilities.

Blue Sky Black Death: NoirBlue Sky Black Death: Noir (Fake Four Inc., 4/26/11)

Blue Sky Black Death: “And Stars, Ringed”

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When one thinks of West Coast hip-hop production, the mind likely won’t rush to the kind of music made by San Francisco’s Blue Sky Black Death. And yet the duo of Young God (Ian Taggart) and Kingston (Kingston McGuire) has become a sought commodity for its production skills, having worked with members of Hieroglyphics, Non Phixion, Jedi Mind Tricks, and Wu-Tang Clan affiliates Hell Razah and Holocaust.

Though its most controversial release is likely The Evil Jeanius, which reportedly featured vocals from rapper Jean Grae without her knowledge or monetary compensation, the duo’s instrumental records have received tremendous critical accolades. BSBD returned in late April with Noir, an album of hazy instrumental beats that skirt the boundary between hip hop and electronica.

Nearly 80 percent of the record is composed of non-sampled instrumentation that’s largely influenced by shoegaze — an unusual muse for a DJ, to say the least. The tracks certainly show it. Many instrumental hip-hop records, even ones lauded by critics and beloved by fans, feature songs that repeat themselves over and over. This pattern provides a useful verse-chorus-verse structure when a rapper is involved, but when beats are allowed to break free, they can be so much more. BSBD understands this and presents tracks that evolve, build, and change as they go, with intensity rising and falling throughout, keeping the listener on his or her toes.

Pharoahe Monch

Beats & Rhymes: Pharoahe Monch’s WAR (We Are Renegades)

Each Monday, Beats & Rhymes highlights a new and notable hip-hop, rap, DJ, or electronic record that embraces independent sensibilities.

Pharoahe Monch: We Are RenegadesPharoahe Monch: WAR (We Are Renegades) (Duck Down, 3/22/11)

Pharoahe Monch: “Black Hand Side”

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Hip-hop veteran Pharoahe Monch is a lyrical force of nature, with an ability to rap complex rhymes with a muscular, rhythmic, and seemingly effortless flow. Even after 20 years, the quality of his three albums with Prince Poetry (as part of Organized Konfusion) hasn’t been diminished.

His first solo LP in 1999, Internal Affairs, was a more thug-inspired record that saw Monch making a significant move towards mainstream success, until legal battles over lead single “Simon Says” and its unlicensed Godzilla sample torpedoed its climb. Monch laid relatively low for the next eight years, releasing occasional singles and guest spots before presenting the soulful and inspired Desire in 2007.

Thankfully, he didn’t make the world wait as long for his third solo album, WAR (We Are Renegades).  On his latest, Monch doesn’t waste time reaffirming his place as one of the genre’s best, frequently employing polysyllabic rhymes and repeated sounds that move beyond the simple AABB end rhymes on which many rappers lean. He boasts about this on the standout “Evolve,” describing himself as “The anomaly / your mama nominated me phenomenal / I dominated without a six-pack abdominal.” The machine-gun assonance on display here is just one example of the lyrical complexity that Monch brings to the record.

Rita J

Rita J: Lyrical Resilience Sparks Hip-Hop Evolution

Rita Jackson works to represent the “middle-ground” woman in hip hop — unfitting of the sex-kitten or tomboy labels usually attributed to women in the genre — delivering smooth rhymes with a confident swagger.