Category Archives: Department Babble

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Free Samples: Kendrick Lamar’s Poetry and Politics

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I decided to take a page out of Kendrick Lamar’s book with this article. Much like the Compton rapper did with his fourth studio album, DAMN., after completing my first three pieces for CKUT, I took more time than usual to craft the latest instalment of Free Samples. (The fact that I was on vacation for the past two weeks with limited wifi access obviously had nothing to do with it). However, unlike DAMN., I doubt this article will go on to win a slew of awards, sell millions of copies, or leave a lasting impact on its genre and pop culture as a whole. Just a hunch.

Known for his clever lyricism and bold subject matter, Kendrick has sampled everything from a 2015 Fox News report to Bruno Mars’ “24K Magic,” making him one of the most unique and prominent voices in rap today.

 

alicia keys“Compton State of Mind” (2009)
Song Sampled: “Empire State of Mind” by Jay-Z feat. Alicia Keys (2009)

Almost a parody of sorts, Kendrick puts his own spin on Jay-Z’s love letter to the Big Apple. Borrowing the beat and hook from the smash hit featuring Alicia Keys on vocals, Kendrick paints a gritty picture of the notorious LA suburb, while also making it clear that he’s “just a good kid hoping [he] can spread love.” Kendrick reworks the chorus of Jay-Z’s track from “In New York/Concrete jungle where dreams are made of/There’s nothing you can’t do/Now you’re in New York/These streets will make you feel brand new/Big lights will inspire you” to “Compton, concrete jungle where dreams are made of/There’s nothin’ you can’t do/Now you’re in Compton/These streets will make you or break you/Expire or inspire you.” Continue reading

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Free Samples: Drake’s Late Night Grooves

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It’s not every day that a record set by Michael Jackson is broken by a fellow Canadian — or by anyone, for that matter. But that’s exactly what Drake did at this year’s Billboard Music Awards. Drizzy took home 13 trophies, beating the previous record of 11 nominations in a single year held by the King of Pop. Not a bad night.

Drake’s signature fusion of hip-hop and R&B, along with unique dancehall influences, skyrocketed the rapper to the top of the charts. Frequently looking to other musicians for inspiration, Drake’s samples range from vintage slow jams to more modern artists, combined with memorable lyrics and catchy hooks to create the 6 god’s unmistakable sound.

 

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“Best I Ever Had” (2009)
Song Sampled: “Fallin’ in Love” by Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds (1975)

Drake’s break-out single off his So Far Gone EP was riddled with controversy. Producer Kia Shine claimed that he co-wrote the smash hit for Drake, making him entitled to part ownership of the song. Shine had produced a track for Lil Wayne titled “Do It for the Boy,” which “Best I Ever Had” uses a small portion of. Drake claimed that he had never worked Shine with, let alone met him. “I wrote the entire composition in Toronto and I borrowed one line from a Lil Wayne song that he produced the BEAT for. The claims of 25% ownership are false and for an artist to brag about splits on a song is distasteful to begin with,” Drake wrote on his website. If that wasn’t enough, the rapper then got sued by Playboy. On June 24, 2010 Playboy Enterprises filed a lawsuit against Drake, Cash Money Records and Universal Music Group, claiming that “Best I Ever Had” samples American rock group Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds’ 1975 hit “Fallin’ in Love”, a song to which Playboy owns the copyright. Listen to 10 seconds of the ’70s disco track and you’ll be waiting for Drake to come in and start his verse.

 

jamie xx gil scott heron“Take Care” feat. Rihanna (2011)
Song Sampled: “I’ll Take Care of U” by Jamie xx and Gil-Scott Heron (2011)

The second collaboration between Drake and Rihanna after 2010’s “What’s My Name?”, this track samples the beat and the hook from Jamie xx’s remix of Gil Scott-Heron’s version of “I’ll Take Care of U,” which was originally recorded as a blues song by Bobby Bland in 1959. In addition, the rapper also references Lesley Gore’s 1963 number one single “It’s My Party” where she sings, “it’s my party, I’ll cry if I want to.” Drake reworks the lyrics to “It’s my birthday, I’ll get high if I want to/Can’t deny that I want you, but I’ll lie if I have to.” If you listen to the chorus of “It’s My Party,” you’ll see that Drake even mimics its tone in this part of his song. These lines are fitting, as Take Care (the album) was originally set to be released on Drake’s birthday (October 24th).

 

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“Hotline Bling” (2015)
Song Sampled: “Why Can’t We Live Together” by Timmy Thomas (1972), among others

Getting sued by Playboy wasn’t the only questionable thing that happened to Drake throughout his career. His smash hit was originally titled “Hotline Bling (Cha Cha Remix)” after singer-rapper D.R.A.M’s “Cha Cha” when it premiered on Beats 1 OVO Sound Radio in July 2015. The two tracks sound eerily similar and Drake has even called it a “quasi cover.” However, although Timmy Thomas is listed as a co-writer on “Hotline Bling” due to the sampling of his 1972 soul hit “Why Can’t We Live Together,” D.R.A.M.’s song has since been removed from the title and is nowhere to be found on the credits. “I feel like my record got jacked,” D.R.A.M. says, “and it’s not just me. People been comparing ‘Cha Cha’ and ‘Hotline Bling’ since it came out.”

 

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“One Dance” feat. Wizkid and Kyla (2016)
Song Sampled: “Do You Mind” (Crazy Cousinz Remix) by Kyla (2009)

It’s hard to believe that “One Dance” was Drake’s first number one single on the Billboard charts. He had been featured on two number one singles prior to the dancehall-infused smash hit, but they were both under Rihanna’s name: “What’s My Name?” and “Work.” “One Dance” features a slowed down sample of the vocals and chord stabs from a 2008 UK funky house anthem, Kyla’s “Do You Mind,” along with a verse from Nigerian singer, Wizkid. He and Drake had teamed up in 2015 to remix his song “Ojuelegba.” Drake had reportedly been a fan of Kyla’s song for several years and after convincing his producer to use “Do You Mind” as a bridge, production of “One Dance” took only about a week to complete. Kyla said of the experience:

“I thought it was going to be a good few weeks before it dropped, but I saw it in the paper on Monday, and Tuesday it was out. It was really crazy, really quick […] They got my track, cut the bits out that they wanted, and just made a song out of it. They explained to me that two tunes [from Views] had been leaked, so they weren’t going to send the song over to me. They played a little snippet of it over the phone. They were very much like, ‘Let’s run with this version, there’s no time for recording it or anything like that. We’re getting hacked left, right, and centre.’”

In fact, Drake and his team were unsure how “One Dance” would be received since they thought it was a significant shift from his previous work. Therefore, they decided to release “Pop Style” along with it, since they felt it was more aligned with conventional rap. After claiming the top spot in the US and global charts, as well as becoming the number one streamed song in Spotify’s history, it’s safe to say Drake and his team underestimated the broad appeal of “One Dance.”

 

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“Glow” feat. Kanye West (2017)
Song Sampled: “Devotion” (Live) by Earth, Wind & Fire (1975)

Despite having joined forces with Drake numerous times in the past, that didn’t stop Kanye West from dissing the hitmaker in a lengthy concert rant late last year. At a  Sacramento gig, Kanye called out Drake, DJ Khaled, Jay Z, Beyoncé and others after stopping his show three songs in. Kanye dissed radio stations for not playing his music, implying that Drake and Khaled had boosted their track’s performance on the radio. “We can love each other, but the rules gotta be fair,” he said, “Khaled, and Drake, and radio, and Doc, and 92.3 and everybody, is it just me or did you hear that song so many times? You say you wanna play it ‘For Free?’ Ayy, ayy, you know what it is, though.” He also claimed that MTV executives told him Beyoncé would be winning the Video of the Year VMA for “Formation.” “Beyoncé, I was hurt cause I heard that you said you wouldn’t perform unless you won Video of the Year over me, and over ‘Hotline Bling,'” he said. “We are all great people, we are all equal, but sometimes we be playing the politics too much and forgetting who we are just to win. Fuck winning!” Kanye said. Finally, the rapper called out long-time collaborator Jay Z: “Call me bra. You still ain’t call me. Jay Z, call me. Ayy brah, Jay Z I know you got killas, please don’t send ‘em at my head, just call me. Talk to me like a man,” he said. Kanye seemed angry that Bey and Jay hadn’t reciprocated the love after the infamous Taylor Swift incident at the 2009 VMA awards. “I went down 7 years of my life of motherfuckas hating me cause I said Beyoncé had the best video,” Yeezy concluded. “Glow” does not necessarily mean that the two have made amends, however, as the track was most likely recorded around August 2016 — well before Kanye’s November rant.

– Matthew Martino

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Free Samples: Kanye West and the Art of Sampling

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Hip-hop and sampling go together like peanut butter and jelly, like apple pie and ice cream, like police brutality and unarmed African Americans (case in point: remember the Dallas police officer who recently shot and killed unarmed 15-year-old Jordan Edwards, the passenger of a car that was too far away for the officer to tell if there was any imminent threat?).

According to Amir Said, musician and author of The Art of Sampling, sampling is “one of the most innovative music processes to emerge in the late-twentieth century.” The technique consists of taking a portion (or sample) of a song and inserting it into a new production, creating an entirely different concept and sound. This is has been the foundation of the rap genre since its humble beginnings, allowing beat-makers to express themselves and expose the harsh realities that far too many young black Americans like Jordan Edwards experience everyday.

While some may discredit the practice as simply stealing, there is no doubt that sampling has left a profound impact on hip-hop and popular music as a whole. Perhaps Mark Ronson said it best in his TED Talk: “Sampling isn’t about hijacking nostalgia wholesale. It’s about inserting yourself into the narrative of a song while also pushing that story forward.”

In keeping with this spirit, CKUT’s latest project, Free Samples, will highlight a rap artist each week, dissecting a handful of their songs and what they sampled along with the history behind each track.  Continue reading

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School’s Out for GOOD

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Venus – Girl Divided
City Taster – Un Peu de Wat?
Simeon Wiley – Bright Lights
Adrian Hu – Switchblade
Fleece – On My Mind
Glenny – [Bracket]
Jaymes – Good Morning
Brother Joe – Le Sony’r Ra
Alexia Avina – Plans Fall Through
Carla Sagan – Make Believer

Thanks to everyone who has been following this project throughout the spring, and a special thank you to CKUT, Joni, and all the musicians who helped make this such a fun and fulfilling experience.

– Nora Duffy

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School’s Out: Alexia Avina

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A few weeks back I wrote a small piece on “Cups,” a short and sweet new song from Alexia Avina. Apparently, this was just the beginning of what looks to be a very exciting spring for Avina’s solo project. Most recently, she put out a music video for the song “If I’m the one that you need,” giving us the first taste of her upcoming release, the Surrender EP. The video is directed by Miriam Brellenthin, who “did an excellent job of capturing the song’s ephemerality and leaving the video as an open question – to love doesn’t always mean to hold,” according to Avina.

“If I’m the one that you need” is very minimalistic in terms of the use of lyrics, which are limited to the repetition of the song’s title in complicated harmonies over Avina’s wide vocal range. The variety of textures and ambient noises flowing in and out of the track provide the sonic complexities that make Avina’s work so interesting. The corresponding music video falls seamlessly into the warm, dreamy realm conjured by her signature soothing sound. A spectrum of colour filters and soft focused double-exposures set the visual compliment for the almost trance-like tone of “If I’m the one that you need.” Avina’s face dominates the video, shown in both soft morning light and hidden amongst sparkling visual filters in a pool of water. A straight-on shot of the artist mouthing the words to the song intimately links the lyrics back to Avina, deepening the emotional impact of the video and tying the visual/audio experience together.

Surrender, a split-EP with fellow Montreal act Desert Bloom, is set to be released on April 12th with an official release party hosted by Moon Boy Records. When I asked Avina what fans could expect from the new EP, she said that “with this batch of songs I felt myself coming full circle to my initial process of making music whereby writing and recording were deeply inextricable.” She believes that the unplanned character of the recording process remained true to the nature of her music. “Spontaneity and mistakes are what my music has always thrived off of,” she explained, which provided her with “a gentle reminder to myself to harness that.”

As the winter finally melts away, keep your ears tuned in for more stuff from Alexia Avina. I’m sure there will be a lot of magical tunes to get excited about.

– Feature by Nora Duffy

School’s Out: An Interview with Rosie Long Decter

On the last Friday before McGill’s reading week, just as students were preparing to turn off their brains for a minute, I managed to sit down with Rosie Long Decter. As a vocalist and synth player in the popular band Bodywash, as well as the new music librarian at CKUT, Rosie has set the bar high for what it means to be a student in the Montreal music scene. Based on her fantastic resume, I knew Rosie would be able to provide some unique insight on the student scene in the city as well as some advice for those looking to get started as musicians in Montreal.

Nora: Ok, so – you’re in Bodywash, which is a really great band putting out some really amazing stuff. You guys started as a McGill band, is that true?

Rosie: Yes.

N: Could you give me your origin story? How did you guys get together as a band?

R: So, two of our members met through rez and living together: one of our guitarists and our old bassists. And they knew Chris, who is our guitarist and singer, through mutual friends, and the three of them started jamming together. Chris actually met out drummer, Austin, at a SSMU Musician’s Collective meet-and-greet. So that was a group on campus that was very useful for us. Most of us were in Gardiner [a McGill Residence], and Gardiner used to have once-a-month coffee houses. I was always a solo musician – I used to do a lot of singer-songwriter stuff and the guys saw me performing and asked if I wanted to jam.

I think for us, the context of us all being in Gardiner was super important because Gardiner used to have a music room that students could use. So that’s where we practiced all of first year, the Gardiner music room.

N: That’s sweet.

R: I mean, it was kind of a shithole, but you know, it was our shithole. Continue reading

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School’s Out: Alexia Avina

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When the topic of McGill student musicians comes up, it’s rare that the name Alexia Avina isn’t mentioned. As both a prolific solo musician and part of the dreamy electro duo, Best Fern, she is pretty much the pinnacle of what a writer like me could hope to find in the student scene.

Earlier this week, Avina posted a track called ‘Cups’ on her Soundcloud page. For fans of her work, this song hits all the bases of what makes Avina’s music special. The whispery vocals so characteristic of her work are especially noteworthy, not only in the sweet, sad lyrics but also in the layered, dreamy back-up vocals that saturate the track. Rich guitar melodies drift in and out, softly fading into a warm hum at the end of the song.

In her Facebook post about the song, Avina expressed her nervousness about releasing the song and asked for kindness from listeners. ‘Cups’ is a soothing track to drift away to, and I hope that the calming vibes the song conjured for me are given back to Alexia Avina in return.

– Nora Duffy

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Artist Profile: Molly Drag

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I ventured up to Le Dépanneur Café in the Mile End a few weeks ago to chat with Molly Drag (née Michael Hansford) about his upcoming album, Whatever Reason. After settling down with our coffees, Hansford confided that he and his roommate, Aaron Powell (Fog Lake), actually live right around the corner from the café; it has been a long-term dream of his to eventually end up in this neighborhood, and he appeared very at home with the plants and locals populating the crowded joint.

Most of Whatever Reason was recorded in a basement studio in London, Ontario. Hansford moved to Montreal this summer with only a few close possessions, and conceded that at first, he felt quite isolated in his new home. The loneliness was compounded by the fact that he knew very few people, and would have to wake up in the early hours of the morning to get to his job at the time as a café cook. This solitude, though now only a memory, ended up inspiring one of the tracks on the new release; he has also begun to sprinkle Québecois into his latest songs to celebrate and acknowledge, in his words, “a culture that has been here for so long, and has fought to keep it.” 

Hansford has an exciting, frenetic energy about him at times, and it shows in his music. When he writes or records, it is done all at once; everything is done “on the record” without much forethought, and he will sit for hours in his apartment focused solely on his craft. On previous albums such as the sprawling Deeply Flawed release, Hansford acknowledges a lack of focus; every song is raw, intimate, and wandering.  Hansford praised the more focused energy of the Whatever Reason, describing the contrast between various tracks: “There’s a bit of anger on this record, but there’s also a lot of self-reflection.”

Whatever Reason is a very conceptual album, signaling “the end to a dark trilogy” of records that Molly Drag has produced so far. The contemplative attitude reflects an “addiction” to nostalgia, and the inevitable sense of separation that accompanies those feelings. He also described his inspiration for the album cover art: a painting he saw of a sick child surrounded by piles of things that they love, but that are just out of reach. Whatever Reason’s album cover depicts a young girl in a dark wood surrounded by rabbits, Hansford’s favorite animal.

For an important project such as this, Hansford said he was happy to have a solid, more permanent live lineup to support his vocals. Powell acts as his secondary guitarist, adding a professional aspect to their good personal relationship; in fact, all but one of the Molly Drag lineup also play in Fog Lake. The constancy and familiarity helps to make the live performances sound more like the recorded ones, a factor that Hansford holds in very high regard: “If people have been listening to your music and they go see you live expecting to hear what they love, and they don’t, you’re not doing your job properly. You’re there to entertain.” For Hansford, the most important issue at hand is the integrity of the project; he needs musicians who want the project to succeed as much as he does, instead of being there simply to play or just to support him.

After the official interview ended we lingered at Dépanneur a bit longer, chatting with ease about mutual friends and personal heroes – he regaled me with a story of his online conversations with local author Heather O’Neill – before Hansford looked sheepishly at his phone and said he had to duck out early; there apparently was no water in his apartment. We ushered ourselves out into the Mile End dusk and parted with handshakes and smiles before he hurried up Avenue du Parc, shoulders hunched against the wind and signature wool cap bobbing up and down: a true Montrealer out and about in his city.

Whatever Reason will be released April 21, 2017 and is available for pre-order now.

interview by Juliana Van Amsterdam 

 

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School’s Out: Pottery @ Bar Le Ritz P.D.B.

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An excited hum filled Bar le Ritz PDB on Thursday night in anticipation of the first show from the newly-formed Montreal group, Pottery. I loitered with friends of the band around the stage, drinking beer and waiting to hear what Pottery was all about; with no music online and a week-old Facebook page, it was hard to know what to expect.

Around 10pm the quintet, two of whom are students, took the stage. Understandably for such a new project, there was equal nervousness and anticipation from the crowd as they launched into their set. The first tune started with a long vamped intro, slowly building on one chord until exploding into a soaring chorus. The whole room let out a deep breath – the band sounded tight and confident, and all the tension melted away as Pottery plowed through the rest of their set.

The songs were mostly upbeat rock numbers with some interesting influences of boudoir jazz, new wave, and a little country, resulting in a remarkably balanced sound overall. The rhythm section stayed steady and driving while the guitarists traded riffs back and forth over droning, rich synth chords. Austin, Pottery’s frontman, kept the stage banter minimal with the occasional brief song introduction and a few “thank yous” throughout the set. His stage presence, though, was a force to be reckoned with: his energy during the performance was contagious and his vocals, punctuated by some excited shouts and fun lyrics (something about Hank Williams doing speed?), had a similar effect. After half a dozen songs, the set finished off with a fast rock & roll number showcasing a sample of the riff, if I’m not mistaken, from Gary Numan’s “Cars.” Sick.

Short but sweet, the first show by Pottery was a great debut and an impressive start for a group that’s going places. Someone in the crowd told me they got asked to play another show right after their set, and given the strength of their debut performance it comes as little surprise. They’ve got a few more shows this spring that I highly recommend everyone check out, especially if you’ve got a taste for local bands on the rise.

– Review and photo by Nora Duffy

 

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CKUT Presents: School’s Out!

The winter months in Montreal can be rough, especially in the era of climate change when the rapid fluctuations in temperature can seem almost worse than just a normal, unrelenting deep freeze. This year, I decided my course of action against the elements would be to take refuge in the amazingly diverse music scene that exists within the city. In particular, I wanted to focus on how students like me contribute to the music culture of Montreal. Who are they? What kind of stuff are they playing? Over the next few months, the School’s Out series is going to try to answer these questions and shed light on the talented students who are making waves in the city and beyond.

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Released this past January, Space Race is the first LP from Montreal’s own The Sad Birthdays, a band made up of four guys who happen to be students. It’s a whole lot of good ol’ rock and roll, but also draws on influences so varied that it hard to pin down exactly what’s going on in a few adjectives. The low, droning vocals on some songs are definitely reminiscent of early ‘90s grunge, but the addition of melodic guitar riffs and steady four-on-the-floor drums sound more like something out of ‘70s classic rock. The band takes a stab at pinning their genre down on their Facebook page, describing themselves as “a grungy psychedelic baroque pop band,” which I’d say is a pretty good summary. What is clear is that these guys are coming up with stuff that is distinct and new but also irresistibly fun.

Some of the magic of Space Race comes from its unpredictability. At first listen, the classic catchy guitar riffs and steady driving rhythm section sets the listener up for a run-of-the-mill-four-guys-in-a-rock-band trope. But there’s more to it than that. In particular, the lyrics on songs like “RIO,” “Movies” and “Pantless” threw some curveballs into the mix that helped to reify the laid-back, cool vibe of the album. One line goes, “I’m pantless by the ocean/ I’m pantless by the pool/ My friends are all around me/ And they’re pantless, too”. Who can’t get behind a lyric that? Another surprising touch came from the song “Lie,” which showcases not only a really sweet vocal performance, but also a fantastic arrangement for trombone, flugelhorn, flute, and French horn.

The Sad Birthdays certainly hit the ground running with this one. Whether you love a good homage to classic rock without the same old tired tunes, appreciate some high quality sound production, or are just looking for a fun set of tracks by some local Montrealers, Space Race is a great album to hit all those bases.