Week 13 Review (Readers Pick 1)

This week I’m reviewing the Super Fly soundtrack which was picked out by a co-worker for the first Readers Pick Review. Super Fly soundtrack has the distinction of making more money than the film.     

Artist: Curtis Mayfield
Album: Super Fly
Year: 1972
Genre: Soul, Soundtrack
Rating: 5/5

Worth Your Time? So good it doesn’t matter if you’ve seen the movie or not.

Twitter Review: It’s not only a great movie soundtrack, it’s a great soundtrack for life.  Headphones and Super Fly will have you walking around feeling 20% cooler.

Top 3 Tracks:

  1. Pusherman
  2. Think
  3. Superfly

Things to Look For:

  • Composition. Curtis Mayfield wrote an absolutely gorgeous funk filled soundtrack. The way instruments play off each other and work together throughout the 9 tracks is phenomenal. The way Little Child Runnin’ Wild crescendos into pounding orchestra hits that transitions to strings and a minimalist bassline and finally ends with just the strings as they fade out is just so beautiful.  There’s another part that I love in Junkie Chase where the bright horn sections plays off of the piano chords.  It helps to create the sense of urgency felt throughout the track. Think, which I picked as my second favorite track, is an instrumental that easily won me over with its bewitching laid back arrangement. Johnny Pate was the orchestra/arranger for this soundtrack and deserves to be recognized for his work on the album carrying out Mayfield’s directions.
  • Henry Gibson.  The percussion in Pusherman is just awesome. It is the grease in the machine that enhances the performance of all of the other instruments. Henry Gibson played the rototoms on the track and did an amazing job but that shouldn’t be a surprise since Mr. Gibson has appeared on about 1200 albums.
  • SaxamaphoooooneCurtis Mayfield played many instruments including saxaphone so it might be him playing tenor sax but I can’t really find any reference to who played sax throughout the album. Regardless, the saxophone sprinkled throughout several tracks is incredibly well done as it takes lead during the song or plays off of the other instruments. I loved every moment.
  • Why Curtis, of course. Mayfield’s silky smooth falsetto delivery is definitely one of if not the highlight of the soundtrack.  If anybody else sang these songs, I don’t think it would be so highly regarded. His singing in No Thing on Me (Cocaine Song) delivers a sense of optimism and tragedy juxtaposed on top of each other.

Low Points: This is such an incredible album. Complaining about this album is like trying to take issue with Leonardo’s Mona Lisa. If there’s anything to take issue with the album is that the movie Super Fly comes nowhere close to the level of excellence that the soundtrack achieved. Not that I thought the movie was bad or anything, but they just aren’t on the same level. The music is just so good it seems out of place.

Anything Else: After listening to this album for the first time, it brought an idea into my head. And that is the evolution of the drug dealer song. I don’t know if Pusherman is the grand-daddy of all drug dealer songs but I like to think it was an inspiration for later music such as Master P’s Mr. Ice Cream Man and Bone Thugs N Harmony’s 1st of da Month.

Also, Super Fly actually had two sequels. Super Fly T.N.T. in 1973 and The Return of Super Fly in 1990. Why do I mention this? Because of this jewel of early 90s awesomeness:

Superfly 1990 by Ice-T featuring Curtis Mayfield and can’t nobody make a song (or TV show) awesome like Ice-T.

Not everything about 1990 is awesome though. In 1990, an accident at a concert caused Curtis Mayfield to spend the last 10 years of his life paralyzed from the neck down until he died from complications due to diabetes. During this time he was able to still put out music. He recorded the vocals for his last album, New World Order, line by line as he only had enough breath to do one line at a time from his bed. Reading this made me really sad. It didn’t seem fair that a man who created such beautiful music for the world and inspired an entire generation during the civil rights movement would end up getting screwed over so badly by life.

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Week 12 Review

In 1994, hip-hop supergroup Gravediggaz created the single most important album for the horrorcore sub-genre. Though not a huge commercial success, 6 Feet Deep is a landmark album of hip-hop history.

Artist: Gravediggaz {Prince Paul aka The Undertaker, Frukwan aka The Gatekeeper, Too Poetic aka The Grym Reaper, RZA aka The Rzarector}
Album: 6 Feet Deep
Year: 1994
Genre: Horrorcore
Rating: 666/5

Worth Your Time? Place it at the top of your Albums to Listen to Before You Die list.

Twitter Review: One of my all-time favorite albums with lyrics and production both achieving levels rarely seen with so much raw talent entombed in 6 Feet Deep.

 Top 3 Tracks:

  1. Diary of a Madman
  2. 1-800-Suicide (video is fanmade)
  3. Nowhere to Run, Nowhere to Hide

Things to Look For:

  • From Start to Finish. On both the album and track level this album flows effortlessly as the tide.  The Just When You Thought It Was Over sets up the tone of the album flawlessly with Chopin’s 3rd movement from Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor, Op. 35.  It’s obvious Prince Paul, who produced nearly all of the tracks, put an enormous amount of care into this album.  Gravediggaz was his baby after all.  Even the tracks roll from one to another such that you would swear it was one song despite using different beats. Defective Trip (Trippin’) starts out with Too Poetic and Frukwan getting high and about to start about on their ill-fated drug journeys. The music immediately transitions to a surreal beat until the first verse starts up. Later, 6 Feet Deep starts out with one of the most memorable intros of the album with a excerpt from jam session by the 4 members screwing around on instruments.  RZA, being the genius that he is, turned that tinkering into an entire track. The album ends with Rest in Peace (Outro) summing up the album almost like a 6th grade book report as names and track titles are called out creating a very unique ending.
  • The Grym Reaper.  I know RZA is straight up raw on this album.  I know this. But the majority of memorable lines for me come from Too Poetic. His word play combined with energetic delivery make for some unforgettable moments. Sadly, Anthony Berkeley aka Too Poetic aka The Grym Reaper died on July 15th 2001 from colon cancer. Just given his work on this album alone, his premature death is a tragic loss for the hip-hop community.
  • An Excerpt from the Diary. There is an incredibly eerie female vocalization used as a loop in Diary of a Madman. RNS made this loop which RZA showed to Paul which is how it ended up on the album. What’s crazy is where the haunting vocal comes from: a Johnny Mathis song. Crazy, eh? What’s even crazier is the whole courtroom scene was all thought up and put together by Paul AFTER all the verses were recorded. If that’s not a testament to his god-like production skills, I don’t what is. 
  • It’s the Little Things. As a final testament to Paul’s skillset, he took a verse done by RZA that should have been re-recorded because RZA messed up in his delivery and turned it into this completely natural transition point by adding in a kung-fu movie sample. You really have to listen to this album to appreciate all the little touches going on with the beats. Little things are added and taken away from the beat as the song switches between rappers.

Low Points: Uh. No.

Anything Else: I’m really annoyed of how people reacted this album both before and after it was made.  First, it took them years to even get signed to a deal to make the record because everyone thought it was a gimmick that was just too out there. This album is not a gimmick. Far from it. This is some of the best hip-hop you will ever listen to. It represents the emotion of four men grown tired with the music industry unleashed in an incredibly dark atmosphere. Paul stated in numerous interviews that he was going through depression at that time and that the music reflects that. He even admitted later to crying as he saw other rap groups came out with actual gimmicky horror albums that destroyed everything pure about his intentions. Moreover, I’ve read some initial reviewers describe this album as silly. To me, that’s just a complete insult. That’s like calling the original Nightmare on Elm Street silly when Wes Craven dreamed that movie up to tap into your deepest most basic fears.

Finally, I could spend another 1,000 words explaining how important and influential Prince Paul and RZA have been to hip-hop but I’ll save that for other reviews. For now, just trust me on this or go educate yourself.

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