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Monsters of Alt

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The Stranger's 2011 Bumbershoot Guide!

Our Massive 2013 Bumbershoot Guide

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The Stranger's Bumbershoot Guide

How Does It Feel to Be Back?

Mad Ruins

The Bob Dylan Torture Test

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The Shins vs. Their Future

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Hari's Big Break

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I'm More Than Hair

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Let Them Bring You Brown

Countdown to Courtney

Let's begin with J Dilla. No other major producer in the history of hiphop has matched the deep and lasting influence of the late Detroit-born-and-bred beat composer. From his work, three thriving modes have been established: erotic, intellectual, and spiritual.

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The music Dilla produced for Slum Village, particularly Fan-Tas-Tic (Vol. 1), gave hiphop its first, and so far fullest, erotics. Hiphop has too many pornographers and too few eroticizers. The intellectual mode that extends from Jay Dee has Flying Lotus as its most visible and leading producer. By intellectual, I mean an artist who abstracts something to the fineness of a mental form, a thought, a concept. Flying Lotus's music has much of its home in the head; it's all about design, structure, architectural arrangements. As for the spiritual line of Jay Dee's work, it has been perfected most of all by singer and composer Georgia Anne Muldrow, who is reported to be the first and only woman signed to L.A.'s Stones Throw Records.

Since her 2006 EP Worthnothings, Muldrow has dropped a total of seven LPs—six of which were rushed into the market in the past two years! One, Cosmic Headphones from her Eagle Nebula project, is a collection of dreamy hiphop instrumentals (Muldrow makes her own beats). Another, SomeOthaShip, is a collaboration with her husband, the rapper Declaime (this record also features Muldrow rapping to a beat by the leading intellectual producer of the Jay Dee school, Flying Lotus). Another LP, Ocotea, is a voyage to the psychedelic and dubby limits of avant-garde jazz (on this particular record, she performs as Jyoti, a name she received from the mother of free jazz, and FlyLo's aunt, Alice Coltrane). All in all, her best work is 2009's Early. Her most recent LP, Kings Ballad, is by no means bad, but it's not as innovative and melodically windy (more about this windiness in a moment) as Early.

There are three prominent aspects of Muldrow's spirituality. One is maternal, another is political, and the third is existential. Michele Wallace, in her book Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman, describes maternal spirituality as a black woman with roots growing out of her feet. Muldrow's maternal spirituality does not break with this image; for her, the mother always deeply loves her children and life, and reminds men to love their children and life, and sends this flow of love to every cold corner of the universe.

Muldrow's political spirituality is also a standard but powerfully expressed view of American blackness—power, beauty, and self-reliance. What Muldrow adds that's new to the black spiritual tradition is found in her form of existentialism. For Muldrow, nothingness is distinct from, and better than, emptiness. Nothingness is almost something pure, something we return to, and something that is all around us. Her nothingness is very much like the "vibrant void" of ancient Indian philosophy. Life is not possible without this essential nothingness she sings about on her EP Worthnothings.

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And when she sings, it sounds like a wind is blowing through the music. A forest that's animated by the wind (branches swaying at different rates—suddenly fast, suddenly slow—leaves brushing against each other) is the condition (the image) her vocals strive to capture. Suddenly she is high, suddenly she is strained, suddenly she is frantic, suddenly she is low. And the content of the songs (which is often fragmentary) seems to have little to no influence on these fluctuations. As a consequence (and this is certainly the desired effect), her singing feels less emotional than purely natural, a breeze blowing through the leaves without rhyme or reason.

We can conclude from Muldrow's spirituality, Flying Lotus's intellectuality, and Slum Village's eroticism that Jay Dee's work is not simply a branch of hiphop, but a new form of music, a form of music in a class of its own. The other great producers—RZA, DJ Premier, Pete Rock—made great music, but it never expanded far from its source, meaning it never became, as with Jay Dee's work, something that could easily grow and flourish without any support or contributions or nourishment from its creator. Jay Dee's funk functions as a tool kit, and a musician like Muldrow can use it for purposes that begin and end with her. recommended

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