album reviews: Ms. Dynamite, Jaylib, Little Brother and the White Stripes are all summer long-players

The White Stripes
The new record from the White Stripes is called Elephant and although it’s their fourth album, it’s the Stripes’ first since being introduced to the entire world via the crossover success of their last album (White Blood Cells). That album rang a bell in pop culture with school’s out hits like “Fell In Love With a Girl,” “Hotel Yorba,” and “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground.” And while Elephant adheres to the White Stripes’ standard guitar-plus-drums equation, there’s more style detailing and less rehash than on their previous records. In fact, compared to WBC, this is a very different animal.
Elephant is a full-on ROCK N’ ROLL record. As many listeners expected, a few tracks have obvious hit-potential akin to the singles branded on WBC (see the pounding stomp-rock of “Hypnotize” and the raucous screamer “Girl, You Have No Faith in Medicine”). What music execs didn’t expect however, is for Elephant to be so dark and heavy, casting devilish shadows over every past LP including their debut, De Stijl. Many of the thunderous highpoints come courtesy of Jack White’s guitar. He seems to understand that technical proficiency does not a great rock ‘n’ roll record make. It simply takes guts and balls. And Jack really lays it all out on this record, snaring a foaming squirrel of sound unlike any guitar recording I have ever heard. For prized trophies, look no further than the abrasive tracks “Little Acorns” and “Black Math.”
But perhaps what really makes Elephant loom over other Stripes’ pervious albums is the way in which it breathes hell-shaking rock ‘n’ roll – as, read, heavy as anything by Led Zeppelin or AC/DC, without a single ounce of macho cocky bullshit. This intentional aversion to misogyny is evidenced in the quieter tracks, ranging from the gentile-rock of “I Want to Be the Boy Who Warms Your Mother’s Heart,” to the emotive acoustic ballad “You’ve Got Her in Your Pocket,” and the smirking closer “Well It’s True That We Love One Another.” Also realize that “The Air Near My Fingers,” by far the best track, somehow breeds the duo’s candy cane fury with emotively clever songwriting. The result is a classic jam on a near classic album.
There are a few duds: the disappointing Meg White fronted “In the Cold Cold Night,” and the lackluster first single “7 Nation Army,” but overall the White Stripes take their sincere, raw-to-the-bone style of music to the nth power. Definitely give it a listen.
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– Brian Hunker

Ms. Dynamite
A Little Deeper
Already a star in the UK, Ms. Dynamite is now crossing the Atlantic with common dreams of making an impact on the American music scene. With her unique brand of r&b, hip hop, reggae and a little bit of UK garage, she is importing quite a stylish war chest. On A Little Deeper, the boards are being controlled by proven producer Salaam Remi, known for his work on the Fugees’ The Score. This immediately invites comparisons of Dynamite to Lauren Hill, but in truth they are two very different, albeit exceptional artists.
Born of Scottish and Jamaican ancestry, Ms. Dynamite grew up in London’s wild North Side and incorporates many tough childhood experiences into her music. She has observed the dark side of drug use, violence and racism and speaks out against the ills plaguing urban societies. Unlike a lot of current American hip hop, there is genuine presence here that’s open to sharing uplifting messages with today’s youth.
Yet, the album is racked by inconsistency. Ms. Dynamite displays a raw, unrefined style on tracks such as “Natural High” and “Watch Over Them” that fully unleash her passion, but then come the other more pop, watered down tracks obviously crafted for commercial outlets. Her lead single for instance, “Dy-Na-Mi-Tee,” is catchy as hell, yet lacks intelligent and innovative content. A few tracks later there is a beautiful song entitled “Brother,” a candid lament on troubled teenage years, the death of her mother, and love for her older brother. The contrast is a little much.
Ms. Dynamite inarguably has charming versatility and an amazing voice – doing a dead-on Alicia Keys impersonation on numerous r&b ballads and drowning most female MCs in a crazy intense flow on tracks like “Danger.” Failing to go a little deeper is the only criticism. Allow her a few months to settle in, and she’ll no doubt be labeled a rare British delicacy.

– Kevin Jaeger

Jay Dee and Madlib
Jaylib (mega bootleg copy)
If any of you were wondering what Jay Dee, the BPM conductor originally from Slum Village, has been up to since leaving the group and dropping his solo album Welcome to Detroit in 2001 (on the hard-to-disappoint label BBE), this is it. JayLib, the other half of which is the chronically eccentric Madlib, is the kind of collaboration that seems almost too good to be true, like peanut butter, celery and raisins: rich and tasty (but definitely cooler when I was a child).
The tracks feature very little of Jay Dee’s voice and a lot more of Madlib’s soothing mumbles. The beats will take you back and forth between their styles (Jay Dee: the simplistic but entrancing ominous drum pattern progression; Madlib: the jazz record hoarder who needs to inform you about it on each track) but there’s enough blending to avoid a grossly two-brained freak.
The vocal snippets (typical of Madlib) range from a Scooby-Doo adventure to some ridiculous “Marijuana Helper” sketch and give the subject matter (bedding girls and money hungry snitches) a smoky mattress so light it softens the misogyny. Yeah, obscure samples are a little done, but Madlib has the keen mind to plant them in the right spots like an Easter egg hunt.
Without getting too stupidly philosophical let me just say: this album bangs, period. Lord Quas shows up for a couple Madlib duets that give the music some extra pimpin’ moonshoes. Jay Dee’s drums are never flat and he manages to conduct a slight electrical shock to the disc’s finer musical specimens. As Fantastic Vol. 1 and The Unseen have shown in the past, super complicated rhymes (even samples that have been used before) aren’t required to make songs into bangers or albums into classics. All that’s needed is a sharp enough ear not to rely on someone else’s formula (at least all the time). So, Jay Dee, now is a good time to put Minnie Ripperton’s “Inside my Love” to rest.
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– Sven Barth

Little Brother
The Listening

The North Carolina trio of Phonte, Big Pooh and producer 9th Wonder may just be the most promising rap group to come around in years. Their debut album, The Listening, is a masterfully composed piece of hip hop art. It is one slow, smooth jam session that leaves the listener not only relaxed and chilled, but also enlightened thanks to insightful, lyrical poetry.
Little Brother’s sound harks back to the early 1990s of rap, when the focus was more on content and form, and less on making product for Right Guard ads and rich white people. They pay homage to rap icons such as Pete Rock throughout the disc, particularly on the cut “So Fabulous.” Much of Little Brother’s album revolves around relationships and universal love troubles, and their reflective and heart felt rhymes echo beautifully against 9th Wonder’s simple and light, bass-infused beats. The soulful vocal samples do not seem overdone like so much doodoo rap, but add to the overall mood of the album (without grinding hip hop’s roots). They can go from “Nobody But You,” a beautifully constructed love song that pays respect to women to “Away From Me,” which laments on harsh love with a seamless transition and flow.
Little Brother speak on levels that rappers like 50 Cent never come close to. They speak on the difficult life of artists who never quite make it and about the groupies and other fake people who immediately attach themselves like well-dressed leaches to success. This is a type of hip hop that isn’t heard, nevertheless seen, today. The Listening melds a constantly mellow yet thought provoking vibe that carries throughout the entire album. If you don’t care to hear their album, basically you’re not fan of true hip hop. That’s a blunt accusation, but The Listening warrants it.
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– Kevin Jaeger

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