When I first moved to Orlando, I started going to school at Westridge Middle where the re-districting gentrification effort immersed me in the hardcore rap sounds of Public Enemy and N.W.A. Their cacophonous attack reflected the fury and paranoia of that zeitgeist and made for a dizzyingly thrilling soundtrack.
And man did the recent Phat-N-Jazzy show (Aug. 17, the Social) bring me back with an audio-visual edition called Public Enemy vs. N.W.A., a great head-to-head concept to honor two of history's hardest rap acts, even though we all know P.E. is king. And since I'm practically pissing my pants in anticipation of Public Enemy's upcoming show celebrating the 20th anniversary of Fear of a Black Planet (Sept. 16, Firestone Live), this was a timely fix. On four big video screens, Orlando DJ/VJ Varras Tower spun video sets that bounced between the two landmark groups and their spinoff projects. He's no Mike Relm, but he had one dope idea on his side that was an outstandingly visual way to highlight two straight-up street acts that did America the immense solid of scaring the ever-living shit out of the mainstream. Even today, P.E. and N.W.A. remain the most raw and lurid sonic captures of the underbelly of the minority experience in America.
Ahhh, chillwave. Is it legit or is it bullshit? Is it a real scene or just some overreaching journo fabrication? To a certain degree, it's all of the above. And one bill featuring a couple notable electronic dream-pop acts this week was especially illustrative of this point (Aug. 8, Back Booth).
The floating sound of Long Island's Twin Sister is awfully trendy right now and is passable on record. But all the fashion points in the world can't conceal the fact that their live act is numbingly passive, often to the point of amateurishness. The ideas they and their ilk aspire to — abstractness, ethereality, emotional distance — can be done effectively, but it takes real craftsmanship to pull it off. And in the face of such live diffidence, it's impossible to be convinced that their clunky, half-formed sound is something conceptual.
Although equally dreamy in intent, there was far more craft, commitment and point to the music and performance of Canadian headliner Memoryhouse. With just enough thoughtful construction and tons more talent, they rode the gauzy cloud without losing sight of their meaning and purpose. While Twin Sister pursues the meteoric micro-genre like a sophomoric trend-hopper, Memoryhouse is the fully realized concept.
Its timeless, buttery sweetness can spin one mighty rapture, but the true significance of orthodox neo-soul is not as a conduit of innovation but rather as a lodestar, which is something that varies in significance according to how lost we are at any given time. When Erykah Badu (Aug. 15, House of Blues) first emerged in 1997, R&B was completely off-course. Now, there's an entire wave of new revivalists kicking up more noise in her footsteps. But Badu's not the modern era's gold standard for nothing. I'll take her over a thousand Beyoncés any fucking day.
Her latest Orlando performance reaffirmed that few singers alive can command a room like she can, and it had nothing to do with that awesome blonde Mohawk she was sporting. That combination of purity, grace and strength in a voice is a nearly mythical thing nowadays. Pair that with her signature brass and you've got a legend on your hands.
For as seriously as neo-soul can take itself, which in Badu's case is very, getting a taste of stuff this classic is a real palate cleanser. (Besides, dropping a "Planet Rock" version of her own classic "Apple Tree" is something that will always earn mega-points in these electro-loving parts.) This is music made by a deep student and devout fan. With Badu around, you can never lament that they just don't make soul music like they used to. And you can never give enough credit to one who inspired enough soldiers to possibly save R&B.
FYI: I'll be on break next week but will be back up in ya biz the week after. But start marking your calendars and busting out your dancing shoes now because the sick, colossal, sure-to-be-historic parade of music stars is about to kick in all over the city. And when I'm back, it's pedal to the metal, babies. See you at the firstname.lastname@example.org