Category Archives: artist spotlite

artist spotlite: the weeknd

The Weeknd: House of Balloons Download

Want to leave this artist spotlite as mysterious as TheWeeknd’s sound itself. Download their free mixtape now to hear what the fuss is all about surrounding Drake‘s latest co-sign. The future of R&B is here MF.


artist spotlite: droop-e

“Like a Tattoo” – Droop-E

For such a youngin’, Earl “Droop-E” Stevens, Jr. sure knows his parents music well. Well enough to mine samples from Sade’s classic catalogue of atmospheric easy listening for his latest effort aptly titled Black Diamond Life. It’s especially wild to think when considering he is Bay Area legend, E-40’s son; who himself isn’t the first person you think of listening to the smooth operator. The mix is undoubtedly one of the best underground EP’s from the past year. Hear what I mean by downloading the free mixtape here. Listen to sample tracks above/below and remember where you heard it first MF.

artist spotlite: jessie j

World Premiere: “Do It Like A Dude” – Jessie J

Have you ever heard someone that resonated so much with your life or style that you wondered if perchance you lived-as-them in a, say, former life? Meet Jessie J – singer/songwriter from Essex, most known for penning Miley Cyrus’ “Party In The USA” and noticed by Universal record execs on the internets – my inner alter-pop star. Imagine taking the best qualities of Xtina (Jessie’s first vid is what “Not Myself Tonight” tried and failed at miserably), P!nk (that wrasp), Robyn (that sass), Nicki Minaj (cartoon character persona), Ke$ha (the wild), Katy Perry (the bob), Adele, Amy, and Lily (that soul) and wrapping them into a chav-tastic little British babe package. Her debut single, “Do It Like A Dude,” is like a page out of my own book (remember this?) minus the Insane Clown Posse makeup. She’s all parts authentic, witty, and gives us another reason to love YouTube all too much. Watch her up-close-and-personal bedroom vid below for an example of her vocal prowess and be sure to keep S&M on lock for updates on my new favorite sistah. Remember where you heard it first MF.

artist spotlite: young chris

World Premiere: “Philly Shit” – Young Chris

Christopher Ries a.k.a. Young Chris doesn’t have the best luck in the world – considering he’s most remembered for sharing the mic with Young Gunz bandmate, Neef Buck, he got nixed from Roc-A-Fella once the label dissolved, his ’08 solo LP never saw the light of day, and has recently been relegated to producer Rico Love’s Universal/Motown subset, Division 1. (What’s that?) Yet, with all his shortcomings, it seems the kid’s conditioned his rhymes into tip-top form. This track, which dropped just last week, tickled my fancy with its referencing each and every superstar hailing from the 215 since hip-hop began; from Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson to the Fresh Prince. Oh, and did I mention the beat? Produced by Rico Love and Earl & E, it’s like “Beamer, Benz, or Bentley” times a thousand. Or, if Rico took up glass harmonics and magnified the echos 6,000% to sound something like the sickest game of laser tag ever. It’s like that.

artist spotlite: tinie tempah

“Frisky” – Tinie Tempah (Feat. Labrinth)

Hip hop’s latest acquisition – club music – has taken on a life of its own. First came David Guetta (with Akon), then Tiesto (with Three Six Mafia) and Swedish House Mafia (with Pharrell), and now the barriers of both genres intersect uncomfortably close and end up sounding like house party scenes from Skins … Who can keep up? The thing is – I can’t really stand club music – so hip hop’s latest love affair with Euro-dom is only a ‘bubbling under’ type of phenomenon (at least for me). That is, until I heard Tinie Tempah: a 21-year-old Brit whose rhymes trump even his headiest of beats. His cockney accent compliments each novel phrase, his beats are best described as ‘headbanging club-hop’,  if there were such a thing. Tempah’s #1 U.K. hit, “Pass Out” (below) is  one of the hardest-hitting tracks of the year, resulting from its pulsating ‘call to the floor’ beat and directional lyrics (um.. Heidi and Audrina eat your hearts out?). “Written In The Stars” is an epic almost-“Umbrella” and “Frisky” is mindlessly infectious. Categorize Tempah’s work as garage, dupstep, club-hop or just plain hip hop, no matter what, his flow transcends them all. Say hello to Uncle Fester!

“Pass Out” – Tinie Tempah

“Written In The Stars” – Tinie Tempah

artist spotlite: TEACHERS


I’m beyond psyched to announce a project I’ve been helping in the development of for a while now… it’s called TEACHERS and it’s the next level in music. The first single, “GOLD,” is like a sonic relative to Avatar or The Lion King, with it’s cliff-jumping climax and fire-burning tribal chants. It may be the closest you’ll ever come to air-gliding through the rain forest on Ecstasy or stadium-rocking with baboons on your very own private isle. The band, headed by Green Owl Records founder, Ben Bronfman (vocals and production), is a genre-defying testament to music’s current identity crisis – is it pop? is it rock? is it indie? is it major? – it doesn’t matter – shit is GOLD. The best part is there’s so much more to come. Stay tuned for more TEACHERS developments coming soon on Smoke & Mirrors blog. To download the track for free, head here.

artist spotlite: francis and the lights

“For Days” – Francis and the Lights

Francis & The Lights is Drake’s slow song secret weapon. Track 2 of Thank Me Later stands as proof. The little-known NYC band, led by Berkeley-bred “Francis Farewell Starlite” (who has a voice that lands him sonically between the lines of Adam Levine and Phil Collins), creates lush synth-laden compositions worthy of Human League. The fact that Drake is a fan and has commissioned them to open for him on tour speaks volumes to both artists’ versatility. Francis’ Cantora Records debut, It’ll Be Better, positions them as something of a second coming of Spandau Ballet, Peter Gabriel, or ABC. With the kind of sheeny pop songwriting Hall & Oates once pioneered, F&TL appeals to even the most discriminating ear with their self-proclaimed obsession with simplicity. Their most inspiring read? Strunk and White’s Elements of Style – which eased them into “doing things simply and omitting the needless.” (Village Voice, Feb 25 2009) If Private donned fancier rhythms and kicks than once before, Francis simplifies those 80’s eccentricities in their refusal to be categorized. Perhaps this is the reason for Kanye and Drake‘s devotion: just as “Darling, It’s Alright” is Bryan Ferry, “Going Out” (especially it’s opening few bars) is as much KCi & JoJo. You can stream their entire album here.


This was MTV’s homepage last week…Ha.

S&M brought it to you a year ago today.
Have a second look at Curren$y here.

artist spotlite: mndr

“Bang Bang Bang” – Mark Ronson & MNDR (Featuring Q-Tip)

Upon first listen, MNDR is like any other electro-gloss artist out there – carbonated, club-driven, and admittedly ephemeral. Just as Xtina hopped on the Ke$ha/Gaga bandwagon, MNDR sounds like she caught the Santigold train a season or two too late. Her Myspace tracks, filed under the genre of ‘Industrial/German Pop’, are sonically closer to Jem doing Styx renditions (namely “Mr. Roboto”) than anything else. That is, until the Mark Ronson-produced “Bang Bang Bang” landed on my desktop this morning. Could I have been as wrong about MNDR as I was with Santigold’s initial shot (“Pretty Gold”)? The Ronson/Q-Tip collaboration provides a world of change for MNDR – no longer a follower, her brash delivery atop Ronson’s synth-hop backdrop posts her in between Santi and Ri-Ri peacefully. Whether the accolades belong to Mr. Ronson for the pitch perfect positioning or not, doesn’t quite matter. MNDR has found her place amongst Ronson’s land of retro mentalities, hip-hop, mega-hooks, video games, and big band beats.

artist spotlite: o’spada

“Pay Off” – O’Spada

I’ve posted quite a bit on the topic of O’Spada – the little Swedish hip-pop group that hasn’t (yet) taken off in the U.S. of A. They’re just too creative to let die under the plethora of hipster similar’s, so, once again… let me introduce you to the only acceptable neon-lit glitter band this side of Goldfrapp. How many times can I say it? The Swedes go HARD! Just listen to those synths squirt your face. Listen to the kiddie choir on the bridge. The track’s an undeniable pop opus that will (crosses fingers) pay off. Their debut album drops internationally May 19, 2010.

artist spotlite: the knocks

“Blackout” – The Knocks

Production duo, The Knocks (comprised of “B-Roc” and “Mr. JPatt”) have been making their name remixing hits for Katy Perry, Britney Spears, and Jay-Z for the past few years and have finally released their very own single, “Blackout” (no relation to Ms. Spears’). The result is a swashing, disco-laden crowdpleaser, complete with a chorus meant for dancefloor sing-a-longs. In the air of recent retro musings by Duck Sauce (“aNYway”) and Justice (“D.A.N.C.E.”), “Blackout” rescues what may have been a passing trend in dance music with a perfected pace, piano clinks, and modified Dracula vocals. This summer, The Knocks plan on releasing a new single each month available exclusively online. Also, under their HeavyRoc Music label, artist Alex Winston is readying her first EP. They’ve been busy polishing up production for other artist, Samuel, whose Columbia Records debut, “Trains to Wanderland” hits this fall.

artist spotlite: tanlines

“Real Life” – Tanlines

The first time I heard Tanlines, I looked like the baby below. I was dumbfounded to have found a non hip-hop Brooklyn-based band I liked. If you’re a Pitchfork regular, you’ve probably read time and again of their recent rise. They’ve been making their rounds amongst the web’s indiesphere throughout the past year and have finally dropped a single worthy of Smoke & Mirrors inception. “Real Life”, the title track off their debut EP, plays like a prelude to paradise. If Washed Out‘s brand of rhythmic lo-fi evokes Cali burnouts, Tanlines sends you straight to sundazed Ibiza with their tropical, conga-driven compositions. Creating tribal thumpers in Brooklyn, NY may sound like a hard stretch, but these boys have more than mastered a technique unto their own. Don’t call it dancehall. Using synths often equated with Lil’ Jon or hip-hop producers, Tanlines skims past the inevitable hipster label and creates a new sect of danceable wonder in the process. If you’re planning on attending SxSW this March, be sure to wave hello. Remember where you heard it first MF.

T  H  I  Z  Z  I  N

artist spotlite: b.o.b

“I Am The Man” – B.o.B (Feat. OJ Da Juiceman & Bun B)

Atlanta native, Bobby Ray, has been generating buzz since signing with T.I.’s Grand Hustle Entertainment (of Warner Music Group) and releasing numerous mixtapes under the name ‘B.o.B.‘ in 2008. Now, he’s on the heels of wrapping up sessions for his debut album, B.o.B. presents The Adventures of Bobby Ray, due out May 25, 2010, and is getting the streets ready by leaking countless underground gems worth a listen… or ten. Especially “I Am The Man,” which samples Clooney’s twang wail from O Brother, Where Art Thou? and verses by OJ Da Juiceman and Bun B. With mentions of Tonka trucks and jumbo sized gumbos, it’s like a country boy’s dream come true (minus Taylor Swift).

artist spotlite: pogo

We all knew music sampling was big business, but this artist takes it to a new medium entirely. Pogo (a.k.a. “Faggottron”) is YouTube’s answer to Prefuse 73. The Australian audio-video artist takes bits and pieces of his favorite Hollywood blockbusters to create equally fantastic musical compositions. As ambient as Stephane Pompougnac’s Hotel Costes, he’s known for seamlessly blending chopped cinematic samples and mid-word blips to compose symphonies from a single scene’s sounds. Even his basslines are recycled, borrowing acoustic backdrops from the silver screen’s often-missed scores. Hear it here first.

artist spotlite: the phenomenal handclap band

Vodpod videos no longer available.

If you’re into the apathetic tone of Brazilian hipsters, CSS, then, boy, do I have a treat for you. The Phenomenal Handclap Band, hailing from Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan is less of a band and more of a musical collective. Each member brings along with them their own quirky spin on world, funk, and rock music. Their music is hard to pin down to one genre. Their debut album’s sound is a cross between Blondie and Rusted Root. The video for their single “15 to 20” is something of a “Sabotage” remake (Beastie Boys), only this time with each member’s POV.

artist spotlite: pacewon & mr green

One MC. One DJ. Last year’s best hip-hop album – hands down. Released on the little-known Raw Poetix label, The Only Color That Matters Is Green combines Pacewon’s Rakim-esque flow with beatsmith Green’s accompanying concrete rhythms. On “Children Sing” (below), Green splits children’s choir chants into unrecognizably colorful sonic collages of adolescent “ooh’s” and “ahh’s.” Pacewon graces Green’s symphonic street backdrops with unpretentious ease. Paying no mind to current hip-hop’s confused state of autotune and Grey Goose, Pacewon & Mr. Green achieve heights with their homegrown sound. Forget the mainstream, these dudes are the closest we’ll get to forgetting Flo-Rida ever happened. Hear it here first:

1 “Four Quarters” – White collar, blue collar. I holler. You holler. Let’s get together. Four quarters make a dollar. Middle America’s Confucius raps on Billy Bob Thornton, Wall Street, and food stamps.

2 “So Straight” – Fruits, vegetables, champagne and OJ. Sounds good to me.

artist spotlite: esso

Since releasing ESSOcentric in ’06, Harlem’s Esso has been grinding under the radar, dropping responses to Lil’ Wayne’s The Carter III, freestyling on Sirius, and now, putting out arguably the most respectable open-letter to Michael Jackson yet. The abundance of MJ tributes, revamps, and remixes surfacing lately don’t compare to Esso’s latest Off The Wall concept mixtape. He claims to have begun recording material for the mixtape months before Michael’s untimely passing, but, who cares about logistics when each track is so fucking right? It might be believable, seeing that none of his verses even cite a mention to the music legend. I suppose everyone visiting S&M is Off The Wall fluent, so lay back, light up, and let Esso strike that deep chord. Reminiscent and reinventive, WoodysProduce slices samples from Mike’s classic LP to create the lush backdrops for Esso’s trips down memory lane. Hear it here first…

1 “Cry”

2 “Girlfriend”

OTW Front Final

artist spotlite: big sean

Vodpod videos no longer available.

I had heard Big Sean’s hype-single “Getcha Some” two summers ago, just months before Kanye released Graduation, on his Can’t Tell Me Nothing / G.O.O.D. Music (‘Ye’s record label) compilation. He was brought back to my attention recently when my cousin James (congrats on the engagement btw) asked me if I had heard his new material. I was under the impression the cat had fallen off (as many new rappers do in their pre-album endeavors), knowing how ‘Ye had taken Drake under his wing as of late, and remembering just how similar Sean had sounded to him. Sean, though, is an ’88 baby, whereas Drake is two years elder. At times a straight Drake replica, Sean sounds adolescent to the extent that ‘Ye should probably start contemplating his pre-fab inklings. Could Kanye have been too early in the game? Sean’s verses are so unwarrantedly egocentric and cash-driven, it seems his mother may not have passed him the recession memo at breakfast. I suppose there’s no crying over G.O.O.D. Music now… it took two years for this song to become Sean’s first single/video. And within that time, the world’s changed. No longer is BAPE a big deal when your home’s been foreclosed. In the time it takes for Big Sean to finalize his Finally Famous debut, hopefully he’ll come to terms with reality.

artist spotlite: wiz khalifa

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and Wiz Khalifa are blessed and cursed. They’re just too good to go major. Every time they sign to any mainstream record label, months later, they’re back on the streets releasing unofficial mixtapes again. I just don’t get it. Wiz is one of my favorites of all time and he’s undoubtedly Pittsburgh’s king of rap. His voice is too street to subdue. And to think he’s my age? It’s insane to know Soulja Boy and Flo-Rida are signed and going steady when you hear this kid’s tracks. He’s got nothing more than an indie body of work that could easily sit beside the most established hip-hopper. I’ve been pushing his shit since I heard it in the fall of ’06 and still… no official album release. Even Rolling Stone raved to no avail. The kid just can’t catch a break. Lately, the rapper’s teamed up with his equally cursed counterpart, Curren$y, to record a duo-mixtape based on weed, jets, and babes, expected to hit streets at the end of this month. I’ve compiled my favorite rapper’s best tracks below. His latest work hasn’t been up to par considering his early masterpieces, showing just how Warner Bros fucked with his nerdy flow. His skinny-boy delivery sounds best atop shiny street instrumentals laced with screwed soul or flash-rock samples. Below plays like a mixtape rundown of his best cuts to date…

First up, is likely his best single-ready sound to date – “Keep The Conversation.” The Billy Joel sample is tremendous…

Next is “Pittsburgh Sound.” Think Parliament funk meets Kanye hypersoul. It’s Wiz Khalifa, man!

Welcome to pistol bangin’… “Walk With Me” is a somber, piano-led hometown tour. Swirly and mysterious, you can almost taste his slum…

“Youngin’ On His Grind” is a ghetto narrative with a bassline to end all basslines. Speed that ish up and Ciara could take it…

“My Thing” is pure bang. The beat is outrageous and can only be played at full volume. He slyly remarks, Make it look easy, like we do this shit for fun, but we do this shit for funds atop a video game background like nothing at all.

“Burn Something” could be an inspirational people’s anthem, but then again, it’s about hustling. At least he tried…

“History In The Making” is violent. Its over-the-top [Europe] “Final Countdown” loop is hilarious. The seven-minute diary entry will eat through your flesh. So beware.

Lastly, hear Wiz play Cassanova on “Sometimes.” The kid does it all…

artist spotlite: nicole wray

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Whoaa. Halt. Stop the tape. Rewind. Nicole Wray is about to release what? Her sophomore album this September? No, it can’t be. Miss MJB, jr. has had albums pushed back for the last decade. You probably know her as Missy’s lil’ kiddie-voiced protege from the 90’s. She released her first LP in 1998 and hit it out of the park with her first single, Timbo tune “Make It Hot,” dominating urban airwaves as underdog for the entire summer. The video’s pop-up book set is fantastic! Peep the vid below…

Resorting to dollar bin status, Nicole’s first album didn’t make her a star. The chick’s been putting out mixtapes for years now, trying to get an album release date without success. She even had an album ready for release through Roc-A-Fella that never surfaced. During this hiatus, though, Nicole’s put out some pretty stellar work. Beautiful, concrete, and gutter as fuck – Nicole’s songs could easily be act one to Carmen part deux. Her voice is ragged (much like her idol Ella Fitzgerald’s) and lyrics surprisingly complacent. The track, “Can’t Get Out The Game,” speaks just that. In it, Nicole plays a struggling storyteller, a character she often finds complimentary to her fiery lyric style. Her honest tone makes for some believable anecdotes. The song’s background, made of horns and skittering midnight drums, is one Nicole excels on. Beanie’s guest verse doesn’t sound forced or ill placed, rather playing as an afterthought to Wray’s teary ghetto tale. Stream the deep cut below…

Nicole can pretty much do no wrong when putting down mediocre R&B fluff tracks. Without sounding subdued or muted, Wray gives songs usually thrown to Ashanti or Christina Milian, a new life entirely. With a voice that could blow out a tire, she has the ability to whip boring album-filler tracks back into shape. Giving Keyshia a run for her money, the woman can make any note sound studied. Hear the muffled “Friend” (1) and piano-wound “Stand Up” (2) below…



“I’ll Take Your Man” is one of my favorite unreleased tracks of hers. Originally for Amerie, the DC joint was much too gangsta for the twiggy songbird. In the song’s first few seconds, Wray’s heard screaming Who the fuck is that bitch? on the other end of a telephone. The Rich Harrison produced firestarter could take on James Brown’s with its driving drumbeat. The soulstress commands the track with a been-there-done-that stuffiness rivaling Bey’s, the difference being that when Wray sings, you must listen.

artist spotlite: miguel


Funky music IS alive. For newbie, Miguel, it’s what he lives for. I hadn’t heard anything inherently funky or eclectic since ’97’s The Velvet Rope (obviously), so, when I flipped on his most recent mixtape [Mischief] to hear some ordinary R&B, I was taken aback – shocked, amazed, short of breath. The kid blends found vocal clips (like vintage ODB croaks) with alienic moans on “All Night Long” to sound like a chemistry project. Hear it here first:

My favorite track of his is “Sure Thing.” With its screwed vocals and flighty falsetto – the kid is on that Prince tip. You could say he’s Purple. It’s from ’07, but still stands as his hottest to date. The lyrics set off the drippy background into territory once explored by D’Angelo and Maxwell before him. While The-Dream goes for Prince’s surefire pop [“Little Red Corvette”], Miguel aptly examines his sweaty soul side [“Diamonds and Pearls”].

“Ooh Ahh” is a Doors-y throwdown, complete with hand claps, mean guitar stabs, and oversexed lyrics. Think Maxwell on a Hendrix fix.

“Strawberry Amazing” is an obvious ode to Paisley Park, Minneapolis, with its glimmering beat, lo-fi groaning, and electric guitar farts a la The Time. Do you see this cane, sugar? Do you see the feather in my hat? The track is pimp grand. His voice is somewhere between Raphael Saadiq, the lead singer of 112 [Slim], and the Purple one… all certified gangsta macks in their own rights. It could easily pass for an unheard Prince b-side, without a doubt. Take a listen:

artist spotlite: kevin michael

It’s likely you missed Kevin Michael’s self-titled debut album when it was released back in ’07 by Atlantic Records. Unfortunate, since it was exactly what the radio was missing – a politically-inclined, bi-racial, R&B crooner with equally relevant and sentimental lyrics for the Obama era. He had two singles released; that if charting, could’ve easily knocked Ne-Yo from his pedestal. The problem with his Atlantic management was the fact that most of his album sounds exactly that – Ne-Yo. His tracks were placed in videogames, cell phone commercials, and as the free “single of the week” on iTunes; creating a false pretense for what he could actually do. Michael is no Ne-Yo. He’s old soul. He sounds best with acoustics and meaningful verses, in a way Amy Winehouse and Raphael Saadiq do not. His singles sound more current and sincere with less reliance on retro-novelty than those aforementioned. His tenor chops and afro-pick add to his 60’s-era simplicity. He takes these characteristics and juxtaposes them against current-day lyrics like DJ’s in the club, Jesus freaks and thugs, We all want the same things, We all want the same thing. At 23 years old, Michael’s already saying things Marvin Gaye only got to saying before his untimely death. To think of the possibility Michael had to become the voice of his generation so shuddered by bling – it’s hard to understand what went wrong. Cross your fingers he gets another round to prove to Top 40 that songs with substance can, in fact, hit harder than anything Taylor Swift or T-Pain. Hits should be measured in their impact socially, too.

Listen to the single version of “We All Want The Same Thing” below, featuring Lupe Fiasco. Although it’s not my favorite version of the song (peep the acoustic version), it sure is a porch stomper.

Here’s the acoustic version, featuring guitar by Akil Dasan…

“It Don’t Make Any Difference to Me (Acoustic)” is another track accompanied by guitarist Akil Dasan. People treat you different when you’re in between / But it don’t make any difference to me. Love ain’t got no color

artist spotlite: the gabe dixon band

I’m not one for anything more than classic rock when it comes to the caucasian music scene. So, when I recommend a rock band, bet it’s got some soul. The Gabe Dixon Band dropped into my lap accidentally – they’re from Nashville, TN for fuck’s sake – when I was searching for something else on Limewire. Their album sounds like it could have been released alongside Andy Pratt’s or Elton John’s circa 1973. The sound is vintage piano pop a la Steve Winwood and has the voice of Paul McCartney. They’re bluesy enough to rank beside CCR, wispy enough to parallel Paul Simon, have songwriting skills to match Billy Joel, and could easily open for Coldplay (if they wanted to). Dixon’s winding piano style evokes staircases, skies, highways, and backseats. It’s rumored the album took only ten days to record, basing most of its final material on first takes and live performances. They’re still relatively unknown, seeing that they’ve released three albums prior to The Gabe Dixon Band LP without any notice at all. Have a listen below.

“Find My Way” is my favorite of the trio’s tracks. You can feel each piano key slammed as it were playing live in front of you. I challenge you to keep your foot still.

“Til You’re Gone” is a Winwood-style piano jam that’s a bit Bill Withers, a smidge ragtime, a tad folk, a hint blues, and a sliver gospel.

“Far From Home” is afternoon music. To think of how polished it sounds in only one take – it’s astounding.

“Ever After You” is like an updated Billy Joel and Wings lovechild. It’s as if nothing’s changed since “Piano Man.” If only. The swelling strings give the midtempo a majestic tone.

Lastly, I recommend “Sirens.” It sounds like Paula Cole in her heyday. Raise your hairy pits and imagine you’re at a men’s-only Lillith Fair.

artist spotlite: private

I’m going to share with you a secret. I know your new favorite band. They’re from Denmark and they haven’t hit stateside yet other than a few blog mentions here and there. Their name is Private. Two guys, one chick. And they blow all that other hipster shit right out of the water. They’re 80’s pop purists: think Prince, MJ, Debbie Gibson, Culture Club, George Michael, Tiffany… hybridized. Their album is close to perfect other than it’s practically impossible to find this side of the pond. Fuck MGMT, Scissor Sisters, Annie and Lady Gaga; if you want those saccharine 80’s sounds, look no further. They take all that’s dated and fantastic about 80’s music and need not update it at all, they use it as a module for perfection. They’re tacky but highbrow in a way Chromeo isn’t (they’re always in head-to-toe Hedi Slimane), the frontman’s sensitive affect is so outrageous and moody, it can only be praised. I heard their debut album when it was released back in 2006 and it sounded as if it hadn’t aged a day past ’85. The album has so much eccentricity and character that it makes up for its lack of substance. It carries itself on its camp. It’s in [current] Prince’s lack of humility that he’s unable to sound this good. Leave it to Copenhagen and the rest of Europe to concoct such a novel pleasure.

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Start off with their overseas hit “My Secret Lover.” The frontman (Thomas Troelsen) sounds adolescent over the bassline and if you listen closely, it sounds like there’s some keytars, keyboards, synthesizers, and xylophones in the room with him. And are those video games I hear in the background? It’s classic 80’s tack and could pass as a Controversy-era Prince track – the overt falsetto, phone call interlude, and melody are straight from the pages of his songbook.

Here’s one that could have made the Purple Rain tracklist;”We Got Some Breaking Up To Do.” The shimmering synth-cussion gives the song a Europop-meets-The Time vibe (think “Jungle Love” without the ooh-wee-ooh-wee-oh). Troelsen’s voice at times sounds like a whinier Justin Timberlake, but, who’s really listening when you’re dancing?

Next up is “Crucify My Heart.” Cross Madonna’s “Like A Prayer” with Michael Jackson’s Dangerous [album], add some Italo-disco, and this is what you get. The choir never gets old. Sing it sister.

“Waiting for Tonight” is my favorite. It’s eccentric. The spanking snares and sharp synths are the perfect background to Troelsen’s melodramatic affections. It’s definitely not Jennifer Lopez.

Lastly, “That Boy Is Hurting You.” It’s the least 80’s of the bunch and instead sounds a bit gender-bent, like 90’s Roxette or Savage Garden. Don’t say I didn’t warn you you’d fall in love.

artist spotlite: colin munroe

It tastes like a trend — you know, the street label that signs the young, blue-eyed crooner (see Chester French on Star Trak or Mr. West’s new butt-boy, Mr. Hudson), in hopes of capitalizing on Kanye’s famed emo/indie-rap formula (you’ll find Chris Martin play hook man on more mixtapes than Lil’ Wayne, second only to the almighty autotune). Yet with most trends, there are exceptions to the rules of ephemera: see Colin Munroe. The 28-year-old, Toronto-native (big ups), knows his place. He realizes he’s of the trend (he was recently signed to the urban subset of Universal-Motown, Rowdy Records) and plays the part of token, pianist slash hook boy almost jokingly; screwing with his vocals to sound like an infant beside Jim Jones on “Piano Lessons (Remix)” (posted below). He’s recorded recently with Black Milk, Brick and Lace, Drake, and 88-Keys, but has yet to release anything more than a mixtape.

This is the remix to “Piano Lessons.” Produced by Colin alongside Black Milk, the song speaks of Munroe’s upbringing. The beat evokes something street yet suburban. It’s an interesting listen…and the screwed vocals are strangely attractive. I bet a million to one you’ll agree.

Next up is “Last Cause,” featuring a phoned-in verse by 88-Keys (another little-known breakthrough M.C.). The beat sounds like a tweaked version of Angie Stone’s “I Wish I Didn’t Miss You Anymore.” Again, his screwed vocals are in place and sound incredible (without them the track would sound like Ben Folds).

Lastly, it’s the reason the kid’s gotten any mention at all. Featured here on Drake’s “Cannonball” (off mixtape Heartbreak Drake), Colin demonstrates indie-hooking 101. Consider it a lesson in swimming in Olympic pools of money.

artist spotlite: homeboy sandman

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It makes me happy to know one musn’t necessarily live street to go hard in them. See Homeboy Sandman – a UPenn grad with book smarts to match his streetwise. The 6’5″ Queens-bred M.C.’s been hyped as an underground stunna for some time now, performing for the likes of Rakim and The Roots without any major record deal. He released his first non-mixtape LP under his own label (Boy Sand Industries) entitled Actual Factual Pterodactyl last year with only a YouTube clip for support (watch the low-budget vid below). You could consider him an “absurdist;” he has little interest in commercial success, merely honing his craft. His only drive seems to be his enjoyment of the English language to the extent in which he practically spews Merriam-Webster. Confusing as his rhymes may be: they do make sense. Especially when taken line for line, his lyrics tend to weave themselves into Ivy-League brainstorms. On first listen, his tracks sound nonsensical and humorous (which they are), but not for long – his talent for linguistical lists will tangle you up in a web. Who said good music had to be practical any way? Sex, lies, burgers, and fries

The first track up is the smart alic “Us & Them.” It’s a shorty, only two and a half minutes long. The beat’s Soca horn sample is one of his mixtape’s best.

For prime rhymes, peep “It Is What It Is (Acapella)” below. ‘One with words’ would be an understatement. No beat needed.

If you’re into Eminem’s sing-a-long flow (I don’t know why you would be anymore), stream Homeboy’s “I-Tunes Song” below, featuring hilarious one-liners like, I don’t really write rhymes, I write haikus.

Lastly, I give you Homeboy playing politico in The Roots-vs-Coldplay-sounding stunner, “Wise Up,” featuring P.CASSO.  Past the turntables, there’s something profound. Consider it one of his best.

artist spotlite: curren$y

For the first artist spotlite, I’ve got to give it to one of the most underrated and unheard-of lyricists out: Curren$y. 28 years young, C’s been releasing mixtapes almost monthly for the last few years without much attention from bigwigs. He even named his first official release (under his own label Fly Society), This Ain’t No Mixtape. Hailing from New Orleans, he flows so nonchalantly (even moreso than Loso) that he sounds almost comatose (but in a good way?). His rhymes got him noticed by Wayne in ’06 and in turn even recorded a song together with Remy Ma (“Where Da Cash At?”) that never surfaced on a released album. Curren$y is also a You Tube phenomenon. He’s taken his stoner-turned-rapper persona public to host a series of hilarious virals with the name Mythblazers, where he takes on the many misconceptions of marijuana smoking.

When recommending tracks, I’d have to go with his most electric beat-wise. Firstly, “Blown Away.”

You can’t escape the background’s swirling synth and majestic faux-horn. The beat itself could make any listener nauseous (also in a good way). The chorus is as addicting as the drugs he’s on (MDMA and THC) and his flow glides across the tune as if it were laced. But what makes this song a hit is the whistle that fades into the end as it were traveling faster than you can catch.

Second is another with an extraterrestrial sound; “Drug Flow” in which he’s joined by Freck Billionaire.

If you’re concerned with the track shooting lasers at you, relax and think how the quick, synth-heavy background pops and gathers as Curren$y; unamused, reclines in the sky. The high-pitched whine atop the complex drum patterns cushion the chorus from being too repetitive, proving once again the producer’s the one with the hit at hand. What Curren$y lacks in delivery is made up for in his producer’s spacecraft sounds.