“Ashitaka vs The Boar Demon”- Day Three from 3-15-19

This is day 3’s progress on “Ashitaka vs The Boar Demon” from my fantasy art, Studio Ghibli inspired drawing series.  This might be my final touches but i focused on making the darks heavier and subtracted subtle lighting with an eraser. I added fidelity primarily to the boar including his mame. I also defined its tentacles and main body shape.  I still wanted this one to have a rougher sketchier  feel as compared to the previous cleaner more fine detail focused drawings from this same series.

 

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New Tracks and the Inspiration and Techniques Behind Creating Them.

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I wanted to start something new.  I wanted to post some new tracks I have been working on for my new solo album and also working on for a long time collaborator and friend’s new album (both coming soon) and talk about the ideas, inspiration, and production techniques behind making them.

Drnem79 – 79 BPMs.  This track was inspired by one of my all time favorite music producers of all time and his many classic collaborations with one of my all time favorite musicians of all time.  This is the legendary Dr. Dre and his work with the shady one, Eminem.  “What’s the Difference” from Dr. Dre’s second solo album Dr. Dre 2001, first came to mind when composing this particular track, based on it’s epic, large scale, orchestrated sound and how complimentary it was for Eminem’s crazy delivery and lyrics. If I recall, Dre actually recruited a small symphony to play on the track.  For this one, I started with a simple string section and built from there. Obviously I don’t have the means to introduce an actual symphony on my track, but  I wanted this song to have the same feel of a symphony playing.  The best way to try to achieve this on a small scale, was to include many of the components or instruments you would expect to hear with a symphony and using the reverb and effect techniques to create a large open feel or create a good amount of head space in the recording with EQing and mixing techniques.

After the strings, I wanted to add a lead instrument during the middle of the verse sections so I decided to add brass as well as a piano lead.  One thing I noticed with Dr Dre’s hip hop production specifically and generally, high level music production is that the song builds layers of instruments as you go along, almost like a crescendo effect to build a climax within the song.  This is a departure from most hip hop production which is a lot of times, just simple samples or drum and bass loops played repetitiously and they then rely on the vocalist and or simple instrument or sample drop outs to create the variety and climactic action.

The introduction of the lead brass and piano were placed midway through each of the 3, 16 bar verse sections, in order to build a climax within the lyricist’s verses.  Taking it further, I also used instrument drop outs and other mixing techniques to further build on the climactic effect and add to the variety with each verse section.  One thing I always found appealing with better composed songs of any music genre, for example, “Good Vibrations” by The Beach Boys and “Thriller” by Michael Jackson, is that you have things to look forward to as far as musical changes and climaxes within the same song and you are not just subjected to a secondary instrument backing that relies solely on the vocalist to create these dynamics.  When both the music composition and the vocalist can contribute to this dynamic and do it synergistically, you have a stronger song as a whole.  Achieving this musical philosophy is a bit different and somewhat challenging in terms of my individual recording process and the typical electronic/hip hop work flow.  This is because my own recording process consists of creating and producing the instrumental track nearly 100 percent before the vocals are created and recorded. Aside from this being my own approach it is also very common both in today’s electronic based music production and hip hop as a genre since the actual tracks are mostly composed entirely electronically and in a lot of cases the producer is the composer. Also it is common that the tracks are given to and often remotely, to the artist to record vocals over as opposed to the producer and composer actually working in the studio, hand and hand, with the vocalists before and during the vocal recording process. That said, for this track I had ideas of how the verse and knew where and when I wanted the verses delivered and composed the music around these ideas.

After deciding on all the instruments for the verse sections, for the chorus sections,  I introduced a sustained electronic piano note and 16th note hihats, along with different effects and EQing on the other instruments in order to differentiate this chorus section from the verse sections and allow for the verses to reach a crescendo up to and into the chorus sections.  This technique is used by Dr Dre constantly and in the track “The Difference” that inspired this one, the chorus section introduced a rather infectious, whining lead synthesizer in this same way.

Lastly, I imported this track into Pro Tools to put the final touches and mixing on it, before it becomes a finished track, and ready for the vocals to be laid. Although most of my levels, panning, and general EQing are mostly decided by the time it leaves my Akai MPC system, the Pro Tools phase is for further EQ tweaking, panning, and level setting and additional effects.  Also during this Pro Tools stage of my recording process, I have some outboard effects I can and often introduce which further enhance the track.  From here, there will be more overall levels and efffects added after vocals are recorded but for the most part this is all decided after this phase of the recording process.

Aside from the technical aspects of this track, artistically, I wanted this track to be near the beginning of an album and be an epic, anthem track that announces the artists return to the game.  I left the overalls structure as a 3, 16 bar verses, with pronounced chorus sections which will make this an attention grabber on an album.   The sparse instrumentation and mixing with a lot of head space and clean EQing, are made for consise and articulate lyrics, with simple intelligible deliveries, and meant to play loud and often.  The highs are mixed very clean and the lows do not drown out the other instruments.  The drums are crisp and stand out in the mix which will compliment clear, simple delivered vocals all done at a good, head nodding tempo.

 

“Ashitaka vs the Boar Demon” – Day two from 3-6-19

More from my third Studio Ghibli inspired drawing, “Ashitaka vs the Boar Demon”. This drawing series is me taking scenes from the legendary animated movies and adding a dark, fantasy art twist to them. This movie “Princess Monanoke”, the first Ghibli movie I saw and my favorite is dark enough to stand on its own in a  fantasy art sense, so I wanted to do a more rough, gesture, and sketch feel. If I don’t put this away and move on, I will add some fidelity to the demon but will primarily focus on the light and dark transitions via subtractive erasing and hard sketched lines.

 

 

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“The Sweatshop” Podcast – Episode #4 From 2-28-19

It’s been a minute but I’m back with a brand new episode of “The Sweatshop” Podcast.  On this episode I talk about Studio Ghibli and its inspiration for my newest drawing series, as well as I talk about Ice Cube’s new album “Everythang’s Corupt”, and finally I talk about turning 42.

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“Ashitaka vs The Boar Demon” – Day One From 3-01-19

This is day one’s progress on my new drawing of “Ashitaka vs the Boar Demon” from my Studio Ghibli with a dark fantasy art twist, collection. This is the opening scene  from “Princess Mononoke” when the infected, demon possessed boars attacks the village and the young prince/warrior, Ashitaka is forced to defend his village and take the demon down with just his bow and arrows.

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“No Face” – Day Two From 2-27-19

More progress on “No Face” from my newest collection of Studio Ghibli drawings with a dark, fantasy art twist.

This might be my final day for a bit on this one before moving on to the next one. Here I reinforced some shadows and added detail to the skin texture of the creature. Though many of these legendary animated films have a dark edge on their own, with this particular piece I wanted to take the spirit at its darkest moment when it had been luring the bathhouse workers with fake gold only to consume them in order to get closer to the protagonist, Sen. I wanted to capture the spirit in its angry, hideous form and to differentiate it from the way the movie depicted it, I emphasized a fleshy, oozing skin, almost alienlike.

 

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Impressions of “Everythangs Corrupt”, an Album by Ice Cube

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“Everythangs Corrupt”, is the new full length studio effort from an artist with far too many aliases at this point to list, west coast, hip hop legend, Ice Cube.

It is easy to take for granted so many things about Ice Cube and hard to summarize the scope of his influence in hip hop in just a few sentences. It is very easy to forget his status as a pioneer of west coast hip hop and creator of an entire sub genre of hip hop in the form of gangster rap. Cube’s unheralded song writing ability helped establish him as one of the original hip hop ghost writers, i.e. NWA, and his innate ability to tell vivid stories in the form of rap helped influence future and fellow legendary artists like the late B.I.G. and Nas, to name a few.  He can also be remembered as the person who took battle rap and diss tracks to the next level with “No Vaseline.”  Ice Cube was also a key player in the era of politically charged rap music and at the front and center of social, cultural controversy with songs like “Fuck The Police” and albums like “Death Certificate”.  All this was just from his music endeavors, and one could equal time discussing his other successful ventures, whether the pop culture cross over and uber successful foray into Hollywood and entertainment, or his position as a preeminent, African-American Entrepreneur and entertainment mogul.

This brief synopsis hardly does Cube’s epic career justice but is worth mentioning since an artist and influential figure of this magnitude, still living and creating new work (and prolifically I might add) should never be taken for granite. Whenever they do release new stuff, it is always worth paying attention to, for better or worse.  After such a long and multi faceted career we ask, how does the new music stack up and is it, and the artist, still relevant?

In the midst of a tense political climate and troubled times in this country, it seems like the perfect opportunity for vintage Ice Cube to appear. For the once controversial figure, turned cultural and entertainment icon,  just the album’s title, “Everythangs Corrupt” insinuate that this might mark Cube’s long awaited return to classic political/gangster fueled rap. However, the first half of the album is marred by musical production that does not fit the direction and scope of Cube’s lyrics and subject matter.  The music production on the first eight songs comes off as a generic attempt at achieving a more modern, mainstream rap sound, and fails to fit the political subject matter. Songs like “Arrest The President” and “Chase Down The Bully” have so much potential in the context of great Ice Cube music, but fail to deliver on their promise.  The sparse, electronic driven production seem to force Cube to dumb down his delivery and lyrics, and at times, even force him to rhyme words just to fit the beats.  As a result, the social commentary is lost and he does not scratch the surface of the subject matter.  As a Cube fan, when you see the song titles you have this hope of a return to sample driven Sir Jinx or Bomb Squad style tracks fueling a vivid, aggressive, and witty story teller espousing fiery politics, think songs like  “I Wanna Kill Uncle Sam”. Instead you get cheap, generic “trap music” sounds that don’t give the legendary artist a chance to flex his legendary skill set.  Speaking of “trap sounds”, the remainder of the first half of “Everythangs Corrupt” ironically have Cube rapping about the very subject matter of dope and drugs over even more,  “not so dope” driven music.  Even if the subject of drugs and dope were relevant to the overall theme of the album, and were at the forefront of modern politics, which I believe they are, we don’t get anywhere close to Cube classics on this same subject like “Dopeman” or “What Can I Do?”.

If you are patient enough to wade thru the first half of “Everythangs Corrupt” and lucky enough to make it to “Street Sheds Tears”, then the “Super OG” finally gets to cooking and you get some of the vintage Cube you have been waiting for.  It takes an overused west coast sample on “Street Sheds Tears” to bring Cube back into old form and away from the trappings, pun intended, of  “Trap” style music.  He continues this old school approach with fellow west coast legend Too Short on “Ain’t Got No Haters” and the simplicity and nostalgia factor continue to shine.  He gets experimental and does a sort of “Jackin For Beats” but jacks different vanacular and takes references from different eras on the ultra cool, “Can you Dig It”.  With “The New Funkadelic” he pays homage to P funk and channels his “Bop Gun” days.  Here he draws from the most comparable Cube album to “Everythangs Corrupt” in “Lethal Injection”.  This comparison can be made as far as the album being comprised of mostly cleaner, more mainstream production at that perticular time period, that still compliment his classic skill set and also includes a share of vintage moments..

The strength of the second half of the album continues even on his most mainstream effort and NBA TV anthem–esque “Non Believers”, where the beat choice and delivery finally seem to blend well, unlike the aforementioned first half album tracks.  Finally, he closes out “Everythangs Corrupt” on the political tip with the title track and “Good Cop Bad Cop”, a track that initially surfaced as one of the bonus tracks on the 25th Anniversary Edition, of what I believe is Cube’s Magnus Opus, “Death Certificate”.  Here we are treated to a fiery, Cube tackling the latest politics, and although it fails to reach the levels of the album it first appeared on, (for the record it was obvious then, that it was not recorded during the “Death Certificate” sessions but long after), it still gives fans a glimpse into what makes him so great as a rap artist, and musician for that matter.

A  good analogy  for Ice  Cube’s latest studio album, “Everythangs  Corrupt”, and something I wrote about awhile back, is the older athlete. This is the perfect analogy given that Cube is the founder and owner of a basketball  league, The Big Three, which, is comprised of older NBA player. In this case Cube, himself, is the older athlete. By the time we trudge through the first half we are left realizing that it took quite awhile for the older athlete to warm up and find their rhythm. It also seems as if the elder statesman is busy trying to keep up with the younger players instead of doing what they are best at. By the second half, we do catch glimpses of what made them great and for brief moments at a time they not only keep up with, but they surpass their younger contemporaries.  We are then left wondering if the older athlete can continually sustain this vintage form and become as dominant as they once were in an everchanging landscape and evolving sport.  On this album, Cube, shows flashes of his old brilliance but you just get that feeling that he might have lost a slight step, and at this point in a long and illustrious career, he may not be capable of creating an entire classic from beginning to end.  However, since we are dealing with an all time great, whose face belongs on the Mt. Rushmore of Hip Hop,  a fall off for him still puts him above most of his modern peers, especially, when he is still motivated and when the conditions are just right.