ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): DOMINIC FIKE – “PHONE NUMBERS” | 2019-07-07

School, radio shows, TV programmes, and so much more are easily out for summer by now. However, as we all know very well, music and other forms of conspicuous cultural media production and consumption never miss a beat, rising up instead to pull out all the stops in times of abundant times to kill on the part of unaware audiences. New music Fridays know no holidays, if you know what I mean. So needless to say, the initial portion of this year’s warmest season did not go shy in cranking out new creative manufacture to keep us and our moms all entertained. Hence why, this latest ARM instalment found itself forced to come to fruition by way of a hybridised approach, milk-shaking various existing content staples together, such as ARM itself, APIT, and pinches of musical loose odds and ends too.

To cut a long introduction short, despite this very piece being filed under the ever-so-familiar ARM feature section indeed (see above), it actually represents kind of a novelty, an editorial debut of sorts. For the first time after 45 — yes, I counted — individual ARM instalments spread over multiple years, going over either full albums or EPs, this new Dominic Fike short review will instead focus on a single track only. Consider it a precedent, ladies and gentlemen. And, I won’t be afraid to use it in the future. Shocker, I know. Regardless, before we delve into the artistic merits and flaws of this new Kenny Beats-produced song “Phone Numbers“, I just wanted to take this occasion to blatantly implore you, on my bruised knees, to please please give the new Freddie Gibbs & Madlib joint Bandana a listen. Several looped listens, actually. The replay value of this thing is off the charts. Mind you, whether this wholly gratifies you or not, at this point I shall constrain my critical judgement to this tweet alone. Also, if you feel like checking out season three of Stranger Things, which just dropped mere days ago, go ahead and do that too. It’s a hectic and layered third set of episodes. That Bandana album though.

At this point you might have heard or read about 23-year old Florida-born rapper Dominic Fike in-between the lines of previous pieces on this online real estate property, or anywhere else on the Interweb for that matter. However, generally speaking, little is still to be encountered about the somehow elusive rapper/singer-songwriter, who’s already managed to squeeze jail time, drug abuse, a dysfunctional family background, and a multi-million bidding war among major labels under his existential belt. His indie rock-flirting debut project Don’t Forget About Me, Demos — a swirling and hooky 6-track EP that received the re-mastering/re-releasing treatment with Sony Music/Columbia Records shortly after they successfully courted him — is in fact the sole official trace of a music industry pedigree of sorts for the Naples-native, virtually shelved on streaming services alongside a few standalone singles that started to emerge since the month of June this year. That’s where things start to get interesting for us.

First, on the 7th day of said month, it was the hollow, pensive, and sullen “Açaí Bowl“, a slightly distorted autotune crooner aided by gentle guitar arpeggio fingering, navigating through evidently sensual chanted melodies (“She said ‘I dressed in your favorite / I bought two bottles of red / Unless you made reservations / Oh look, you thought all ahead'”) as well as concrete MC-like rap bars (“And when they locked me up, she never listened to her friend / They told her “move on” movin’ on (Mhm) / And now she tells that same bitch ”My shoes Prada / My boo bought ’em, I do love him‘”). Revealed on the same day, side-B to said single was the lo-fi neo-soul number “Rollerblades“, a 2-minute and change fuzzy, laid-back deconstruction of R&B sounds and aesthetics that wouldn’t have been out of place on Frank Ocean’s Blonde. Or actually maybe on its cutting room floor.

This takes us to a few days ago, Friday 5th July, when the BROCKHAMPTON-affiliate saw fit to unveil his third single in the now full-throttling series. The fun and groovy tongue-in-cheek reprimand “Phone Numbers”, which he seems to have confirmed serves as yet another taster in anticipation to his still unannounced debut full-length effort later in the year, sports a borderline tropical-dancehall vibe, embodying a 4/4 slapping beat and what sounds like a zany ukulele strumming moulding the main melodic lane throughout: “Why you not here with me? / Can you break bread with me? / Why you switch phone numbers like clothes? / Why you can’t answer me? (Yeah) / ‘Cause I got more coming“. While not the longest in runtime,  this one definitely feels like the more structured and robust verse-chorus-verse-bridge boilerplate out of all the standalone tunes dropped hitherto, thanks arguably to super mega trendy producer royalty Kenny Beats doctoring the sound architecture on here.

As a follow up to these one-offs, it now seems more than legit to expect a fuller, more cohesive body of work sooner rather than later from the “3 Nights“-sensation, not least judging by the amount of unofficial and unreleased material that appears to be making waves around the web, including the raunchier underground gansgta hip-hop brand he started off in Florida with before moving off to shinier pastures new in Los Angeles. Also, if the stripped down Rain of Shine — the recent stream-of-consciousness impromptu Paris livestream he uploaded to his YouTube channel — is of any indication, then it’s signalling a clear pivoting towards beginning to re-populate the artist’s digital footprint with careful content pills apt to his new redux-ed persona.

Don’t get me wrong here, in spite of the slightly underwhelming and unfinished state of the material we got our hands on so far, we are indeed dealing with a raw and unrefined piece of artistic talent, capable of mastering a wide range of genres, instruments, and vocal interpretations dutifully puzzle-pieced together in service of clear pop sensibilities. After all, record labels might be cringeworthy and shallow, but they’re not stupid. With that being said, pretty much every element of his musical production is still quite all over the place, from his songwriting to even the slightest notion of a coherent sound apparatus. Yet, the various scatter-plotted pieces of gifted evidence we’ve gotten so far echo more and more promising by the drop. Furthermore, let us not forget the qualitative heights he managed to achieve for what he provided on BROCKHAMPTON’s leader Kevin Abstract recent ARIZONA BABY, a project on which he outshone any other collaborator. Come to think of it, we might indeed be witnessing the gradual unravelling of a caterpillar becoming butterfly just before our very eyes.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

DOMINIC FIKE

“PHONE NUMBERS”

2019, Columbia Records

https://dominicfike.com

DominicFike_Phone#

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A PRELIMINARY INTRODUCTION TO: YESTERDAYS NEW QUINTET | 2019-03-10

In times of slim pickings and underwhelming new music Fridays, one can often find warming inspirational comfort in looking back and digging through some blasts from the past, with no particular rhyme or reason. Such a contextual predisposition is what sparked a fairly recent nostalgic drive in yours truly that fuelled an eclectic and colourful journey into projects, gems, and scenes that had pretty inexcusably slipped through the cracks hitherto. Admittedly, it would have been a little bit of a shame not to unify these new found trips down memory lane into a solid chronicle of selected delicious picks, so we figured why not put this out in some way, shape, or form, kind of like a pamphlet-resembling primer for those who might perhaps also not be in the know of a particular cultural phenomenon. So this is what happened when we began perusing the crates of Los Angeles-based independent record label Stones Throw by way of several ancillary and adjacent jazz releases a while ago. To spare y’all the details, what we mostly ended up on was a rather mysterious and elusive US jazz collective with a surprisingly prolific catalogue that went by the name of Yesterdays New Quintet. Little did we know that behind such moniker lied Oxnard, CA-native DJ, music producer, multi-instrumentalist, and rapper Madlib, who had apparently created a parallel sonic outlet in form of a virtual band – à la Gorillaz, for those wondering – that acted as a placeholder vehicle for him to explore the multiple universes of jazz-meets-electronic music over the span of almost a decade.

This educational rite of passage of sorts came as a blessing, not least for esteemed readers of this web property might have already noticed the scarcity revolving the reporting and critique of jazz projects, that have thus far only permeated and found their way to the surface by indirect means ferried inside of hiphop containers. In the hope of redeeming said thin editorial substance appraisal, we are humbled and delighted to introduce to you in this article a precious and reputable wealth of new nu jazz repertoire composed and performed by gnarly cats (just so you know, most of the historical information presented in here relies heavily on Stones Throw and has been adapted for brevity). So the story goes that Otis Jackson Jr, aka Madlib, first conceived Yesterdays New Quintet in the summer of 2000, after he had already made a name for himself in the indie hip-hop pantheon as creator and producer of Lootpack and Quasimoto. Right around the turn of the new century, he took an extended break from hip-hop production and, we quote, “decided to replace the SP1200 with the Fender Rhodes”. The initial Yesterdays New Quintet fictitious line-up comprised of Joe McDuphrey on keyboards, Malik Flavors on percussion, Ahmad Miller on guitar and vibraphone, Monk Hughes on bass, and Otis Jackson Jr. on drums, with each session player drafted under Madlib’s guidance and supervision as producer, arranger and engineer (personnel metadata fetched from Discogs and Wikipedia).

Having initially released a series of singles and EPs during the year following its gestation, such as the gorgeously tight and dry Elle’s Theme as well as the defining genesis statement Uno Esta, the instrumental collective went on and played various secretive and experimental shows, cutting their live performance’s teeth and starting to make a name for themselves in the West Coast alt jazz scene. Their 19-track debut LP Angles Without Edges – which borrowed multiple rough drafts from its preceding EP Uno Esta – was released on the untimely and unfortunate date of Sept. 11, 2001 and was as result “ignored by virtually everyone, except those who listened, and loved it”. The formative and consolidating year that followed saw the up-and-coming ensemble record and release a full album of Stevie Wonder covers, including but not limited to “Superstition”, “You’ve Got It Bad Girl”, and “Golden Lady”; another project that dropped without much fanfare in 2003 on Stones Throw Records. As the collective evolved and progressed, a vision began to take form in Madlib’s head, where each of the founding band members would have gone on and branched off from the core group releasing standalone records one at the time, all the while introducing entirely new – fictional – members and groups into what he would subsequently dub Yesterdays Universe. As of today, the transitional timeline describing the original formation’s evolution from Yesterdays New Quintet into solo offspring outfits and eventually the miscellaneous multi-dimensional supergroup cluster Yesterdays Universe could be described as follow:

Phase 1: Yesterdays New Quintet – 2000
Phase 2: Joe McDuphrey Experience – 2002
Phase 3: Ahmad Miller – 2003
Phase 4: Monk Hughes & the Outer Realm – 2004
Phase 5: Malik Flavors – 2005
Phase 6: Otis Jackson Jr. Trio – 2007
Phase 7: Yesterdays Universe – 2007

Soon after the twofold sound recording manifestation outed under the standard Yesterdays New Quintet alias (Angles Without Edges and Stevie), it became evident that Madlib had envisioned something reminiscent to New York hip-hop heavyweight Wu-Tang Clan’s orbit for the project, with each of the subsequent records following Stevie announced as different phases of the group under each member’s individual name. However, quickly after finding this new spin-off purpose shining well-earned light onto individual musicians, a wealth of even more jazz and funky performers joined the wider ranks of the collective, many of whom, it turned out, were invited to feature on Madlib’s Blue Note Records remix joint Shades of Blue (2003). As previously hinted at, this growing circle of more or less staple collaborators became known under the free and loose band Yesterdays Universe. It was very much in this spirit that the self-titled all-star 2007 compilation showcase LP was released (see official compilation jacket below), announcing both old and new side-projects, such as Young Jazz Rebels, The Last Electro-Acoustic Space Jazz & Percussion Ensemble, Sound Directions, Jahari Masamba Unit, and Jackson Conti. By then, almost inevitably, what was manifested and recognised as the original Yesterdays New Quintet line-up had officially disbanded and indefinitely split up in 2007. Relatedly, home label Stones Throw had this public announcement to make when addressing various rumours coming through the grapevine at the time:

“At this point we should address the frequent claims that the five members of Yesterdays New Quintet and the entire Yesterdays Universe collective are fictional aliases, mere figment of Madlib’s hazy imagination. Unfortunately, our agreement with Yesterdays New Quintet/Yesterdays Universe prohibits us from divulging any biographical data about the group members or commenting on their physical status in space and time. We can, however, point out that there are documented live performances, and Yesterdays Universe artists who are known for their work outside of the Madlib circle – Karriem Riggins, Ivan “Mamao” Conti, Todd Simon, and Dan Ubick among them. But due to the private nature of Madlib and the members of Yesterdays Universe, we can say no more.”

The years following alleged diatribes and chaos surrounding Madlib and his joint venture with virtual jazz cats nurtured further full length releases from additional spin-offs The Last Electro-Acoustic Space Jazz & Percussion Ensemble, Jackson Conti, and R.M.C., amongst others, while master conductor-conspirator himself Madlib saw fit to release yet another bold statement around the psych-electro-jazz experiment by dropping Madlib Medicine Show #7: High Jazz in 2010. As the title suggests, this was the seventh instalment in the Oxnard producer’s 13-album series of the same name, where a strikingly fiery number of even more outfits floating within his jazz universe got a platform to showcase their commercial works. These previously unannounced and latent names include Generation Match, The Kenny Cook Octet, The Big Black Foot Band, Russell Jenkins Jazz Express, and Poyser, Riggins & Jackson. Not that it would somehow help shed more clarity on the blurred fuzziness frame entailing the true arc and trajectory of Madlib’s electro-jazz-swing pet project, but here is a fairly comprehensive and updated discography of Yesterdays New Quintet and what became of it after its break up in 2007 (excluding unofficial releases, remixes, bootlegs, and live performances):

Yesterdays New Quintet – Elle’s Theme, 12-inch EP (2001) STONES THROW
Yesterdays New Quintet – The Bomb Shelter, 7-inch EP (2001) STONES THROW
Yesterdays New Quintet – Uno Esta, 12-inch EP (2001) STONES THROW
Yesterdays New Quintet – Rocket Love, 7-inch (2001) STONES THROW
Yesterdays New Quintet – Angles Without Edges, Album (2001) STONES THROW
Yesterdays New Quintet – Heaven Must Be Like This, from Rewind, 12-inch, Album (2002) UBIQUITY
Joe McDuphrey Experience – Experience, 12-inch EP (2002) STONES THROW
Yesterdays New Quintet – Deja Vu, from Rewind 2, Album (2002) UBIQUITY
Yesterdays New Quintet – The Meaning of Love, 7-inch (2002) STONES THROW
Ahmad Miller – Say Ah!, 12-inch EP (2003) STONES THROW
Yesterdays New Quintet – Suite for Weldon, EP (2003) STONES THROW
Yesterdays New Quintet – Nuclear War, from Dedication: The Myth Lives On, Album, 7-inch (2003) KINDRED SPIRITS
Sound Directions – Skyscrapers, 7-inch
Yesterdays New Quintet – Stevie, Album (2004) STONES THROW
Malik Flavors – Ugly Beauty, 12-inch EP (2004) STONES THROW
Monk Hughes & The Outer Realm – Tribute To Brother Weldon, (2004) STONES THROW
Joe McDuphrey Experience – Entrando pela Janela, from Keepintime, 12-inch #2 12-inch EP (2004) MOCHILLA
Sound Directions – The Horse, 12-inch (2005) STONES THROW
Sound Directions – The Funky Side of Life, Album (2005) STONES THROW
Young Jazz Rebels – Miss K, from The Sound of L.A. Vol. 2, 12-inch EP (2006) PLUG RESEARCH
Sound Directions – Wildflower, from From L.A. With Love, CD (2007) ART DONT SLEEP
Otis Jackson Jr. Trio – Jewelz, 12-inch EP (2007) STONES THROW
Various Artists – Yesterdays Universe, Album (2007) STONES THROW
The Last Electro-Acoustic Space Jazz & Percussion Ensemble – Summer Suite, CD (2007) STONES THROW
Jackson Conti – Sujinho, Album (2008) KINDRED SPIRITS
Jackson Conti –
 Upa Neguinho, 7-inch (2008) KINDRED SPIRITS
Sound Directions – Wanda Vidal, EP digital (2008) STONES THROW
The Last Electro-Acoustic Space Jazz & Percussion Ensemble – Fall Suite, (2009) STONES THROW
The Last Electro-Acoustic Space Jazz & Percussion Ensemble – Miles Away, Album (2010) STONES THROW
Young Jazz Rebels – Slave Riot, Album (2010) STONES THROW
R.M.C. – Space & Time, Album (2010) OROCHON
Madlib – Madlib Medicine Show #7: High Jazz, Album (2010) MADLIB INVAZION

To this day, it is not clear whether we will ever see another collection of tracks associated with Yesterdays Universe, and to be frank the quickly approaching 10-year hiatus doesn’t sound too reassuring for those in hope. One should not despair though, as during their fruitful decade of busy and dense manufacturing activity, both Yesterdays New Quintet and Yesterdays Universe including all its offspring collectives did not sit idle and delivered over thirty different exquisite, intricate, and sophisticated music products that ought to be able to whet the listeners’ appetite for quite some time. Whether that is through the more canonical jazz cuts flirting with rap production of the early Yesterdays New Quintet days, or the left field and off the beaten path latin jazz, samba/funk of duo Jackson Conti, there is certainly no shortage of auditory entertainment in this collective’s catalogue, displaying almost no artistic or genre boundaries, thus opening up a myriad of sonic ventures and new opportunities ahead, much in the spirit of Yesterdays Universe itself, really.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time. And no, I still haven’t completely figured out whether Yesterdays has the apostrophe or not. Pretty on brand, at least.

AV

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