October 26, 2012

Discover New Artists

I recently read a interesting article on the Rap Genius website that reviewed several online tools you can use to discover new artists who could be suited to your musical tastes.  Now I was going to just point you to the Rap Genius article and recommend that you check it out, but I wasn't really feeling the examples they gave and I didn't think you would either, so I've decided to do my own review here.

The tools on both websites serve the same purpose.  You tell them an artist you like, and they'll tell you a number of similar artists that they think you should explore based on your input.  However, the mechanisms used to generate the suggestions differ greatly, and therefore the results you get from each site vary quite a lot too. 


First of all, let’s explore TuneGlue. This is the better presented of the two websites and is based upon data provided by Last.FM and Amazon. I’m guessing that Amazon’s input is much the same as the recommendations they make on their website based on purchases that other customers have made previously.

Let me show you an example so that you can keep up with my ramblings. I decided to use A Tribe Called Quest as my favourite group, not because they are, but I think it’s fair to say that they are universally recognised and most people will know all of the main members by name. 

Click on any of the images for a larger version. 

So here you can see that when I clicked on my choice (in the centre) and chose to ‘expand’ it, 6 nodes were added, each one representing an artist with similarities to ATCQ. And we can all follow the logic here, if you like the ATCQ, then you’re probably going to like one, or more, of the suggestions being made. So I can see the influence of the input data taking shape. I’m not teaching you to suck eggs here, but please bear with me because the logic that’s apparent here will become more relevant when I move on to review the other site.

Using the ‘expand’ principle demonstrated above, you can build node upon node and uncover a wealth of additional artists. In the next screen shot I’ve done this on several nodes and then used the ‘lock position’ function to enable me to move them all around and see the connections. If you don’t lock some of them down, it can all get a bit messy!

There are a couple of other useful functions too. As you can see in the first image, there is an option entitled ‘releases’ that allows you to see all of that artists releases on Amazon. And the ‘Delete’ option allows you to remove any artists you aren’t interested in and keep your music map that little bit cleaner.

But what are the limitations? Well, the links to Amazon only work if the artist actually has music listed on Amazon. The more underground the artist is that you choose, the more limited this will be.

Equally, this applies to the main search too. If you choose someone who isn’t on Amazon or Last.FM then you will only get an initial node, there won’t be any expansions to it.

However, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many little known artists it is aware of, and the accuracy of many of the links. I’ve also enjoyed using the software and have spent some time just playing with it to see what it throws up. As a result of this, I now need to review some of the new artists on YouTube before parting with my cash to validate whether it can be relied upon (in my opinion, of course).


Music Map describes itself as ‘a search engine for music you don’t know about’, which sounds impressive. Like TuneGlue before, you enter a search term, in this case I’ve used ATCQ again, and Music Map will interrogate its database to provide you with a visual map of artists that may be similar to one of your favourites.
It uses a similar method of mapping out the results, but there are notable differences which separate it from TuneGlue and make it a distinctive tool.

Let’s start by looking at the first search result using ATCQ.

As you can see, ATCQ appear in the middle again, but they’re not quite so easy to spot. You’ll also notice that there are no links between the artist’s names and this is because they aren’t linked any way.
What Music Map does, is places the other artists closer or further from your choice depending on how many people have previously said they listen to them. So in this example, lots of ATCQ fans have also been Gang Starr fans, but despite liking ATCQ they clearly weren’t that keen on Q-Tip!
However, before I become too critical, if you look at 90%+ of the names in this example, they are mainly artists I would have suggested to someone who likes ATCQ (Mobb Deep and Jedi Mind Tricks are clear exceptions in this scenario!).

One of the plus sides to Music Map’s method is that if your listening ear extends beyond the realms of hip hop, then Music Map frequently suggests non hip hop artists. Although it should be noted that Amy Winehouse popped up frequently when I tested a range of artists.
Another benefit is that using the radius to show the closeness of the links allows you to prioritise your choices.

However on the downside, once you’ve submitted your search, what you see is what you get. There’s no ability to further expand some of the artists like there is on TuneGlue, you need to search again. I should say that if you click on an artists name it then searches that artist for you, but this takes time and the results often seem distorted.  Remember I said earlier on about understanding the logic, well at times I've struggled with Music Map's logic.  For example, in the image above the closest link to ATCQ is Gang Starr.  But when I clicked on Gang Starr to reverse the search, I found that ATCQ were a long way from Gang Starr!  So Tribe fans like Gang Starr, but Gang Starr fans don’t particularly like Tribe, a little strange.
Obviously the preferences that Gang Starr fans entered will be different to ATCQ fans, but you wouldn't expect there to be such disparity.  I can only assume the database is better populated for some artists than it is for others.
You also don’t get to see multiple links. If you look at the last screenshot of TuneGlue you’ll see that both ATCQ and De La Soul have links to Pete Rock & CL Smooth. So if you liked both of those artists, then you’re even more likely to enjoy Pete Rock than say Eric B & Rakim.

But the biggest disappointment for me with Music Map is the presentation. I feel like I’m using a Commodore 64 again, and after I search it seems to take an eternity for all the names to settle down and stop drifting about. As the database gets bigger, surely this will take longer.
The large box in the bottom left of the window is an intrusion into valuable space, and if you’re going to use the principle of a radius then some kind of faint bulls eye watermark behind the search results is surely essential.

Final Verdict

There are certainly benefits to using either tool, but overall I found myself drawn more to using TuneGlue and, based on my experiences so far, its provided a more insightful experience.
It’s also refreshing to see new ideas and innovations being developed and integrated with existing technology. This can only help us to expand our musical collections at a time when the market is so saturated, that seeking out new music can be an off putting experience.

I hope some of you find these tools useful.

Mike Check.

October 18, 2012

Crazy K.I.D.

I wanted to do this post a few weeks ago, but due to my NAS drive dying on me and a lack of time to fix it, it’s taken me much longer than I would have liked. The saga with my NAS drive was the main issue, because the rare footage I’m going to share below was residing on that drive, and doesn’t exist anywhere else. I’ve therefore had to rip it apart and retrieve the data, but hopefully you’ll appreciate the work involved (for the techies out there, why is there not a simple way to copy data from an XFS formatted drive to NTFS or FAT32?).

Earlier this month, I heard the tragic news that Lloyd McDevitt (AKA Crazy K.I.D.) had been found dead. He had been missing for more than a month. Although the causes of his death have not been made public, it was not suspicious. This is another tragic loss of young life and another fallen hip hop comrade.

K.I.D. was a UK legend. In the 80’s he was a key member of the world renowned Rock City Crew and recognised as one of the UK’s finest b-boys. In the 90’s he became one of the most talented, yet underrated, emcees the UK has ever had, and was sometimes referred to as a British Rakim. His most successful track is his collaboration with DJ Mink and Carruthers on the underground hit Hey, Hey, Can You Relate. I’ve previously stated that this is one of my all time favourite tracks, and more than 20 years on it stands the test of time. K.I.D. was ahead of his time and it’s a great shame he never blew up like he deserved to. There is rumoured to be an unreleased LP in existence, but whether this will ever see the light of day remains to be seen.

Now, I mentioned earlier that I had some rare footage of K.I.D. I call it ‘footage’ rather than a video because it’s important to keep this in perspective. In the early 90’s K.I.D. released an EP called Killin' MC's that was only available as a demo cassette. This is before he signed with Kold Sweat Records. The footage below is raw and unedited and was shot for a video to promote the Killin' MC's EP.  To my knowledge the video was never completed. So the sound isn’t perfect and it’s by no means a final product. However, I feel this clip shows K.I.D. flowing at his finest, taking his rap shit serious but also shows his fun loving side at the end.

I have more of this footage, and in time I may edit it down and share it with you, but for now, this is how I remember K.I.D., he was killin emcees. 
After the video, I’ve added some links to some of my fellow bloggers tributes to K.I.D. In their posts, you can download most of his back catalogue and hear for yourself what a talented emcee he was.

Lloyd McDevitt (K.I.D.) 1969-2012 - Rest in peace


October 16, 2012

A Life of Rhyme

Some of our readers based in the UK may have seen the excellent Channel 4 documentary Life of Rhyme that was originally shown last summer.  For anyone who missed it, it can now be seen on YouTube and is certainly worth watching. 

I recently shared with you a copy of Ice-T's documentary Something from Nothing: The Art of Rhyme.  Although this film went some way to exploring the art form, it failed to properly recognise many aspects of American rhyme styles (dirty south, mid west, bay area etc), and it completely overlooked the rest of the world.
The UK scene has long been established and constantly at the forefront of hip hop outside of the US.  It's created many interesting sub genres and for decades it's continuously carved it's own sound (well OK, there was a period where some people sounded like the yanks!).  This documentary helps to show a different perspective.

Hosted and narrated by UK emcee Akala, he explores rhyme and the evolution into emceeing through various forms of poetry and rhyming.  There are numerous well known artists (Wiley, Blak Twang, Giggs, Rodney P,  Wretch 32, Sway and many others) spitting 16 bar acapella's to demonstrate their own styles or discussing what emceeing means to them and their approach to it.

Watch out for a rare and informative interview with the highly under rated Lowkey, and then possibly skip forward a couple of minutes when the grime section kicks in, lol.

There's been very little (if anything) in recent years to document the UK rap scene and showcase it on mainstream TV.  This documentary made a pretty good job of pulling together the key players and enrolling an intellectual and respected rapper to pull it all together (instead of a random black celebrity).  Well done Channel 4.

Unfortunately Channel 4 don't want me to embed the video here, so you'll have to head over to YouTube using the link below to watch the film.  It's last approx. 45 mins.


October 8, 2012

Free of Style

FreeOfStyle Mixtape (1 Long Track) cover art

This is a great little mixtape for those golden age nostalgists out there.  Instead of being the usual mix of classic tracks from established artists, this mix infuses a number of short freestyles over a selection of both well known, and not so well known beats all mixed together by DJ Sav One and DJ Dyllemma.

Dubbed the FreeOfStyle Mixtape - The Underground Come Up: 90's Edition, the whole mix lasts around 45 minutes and kicks off with a nice Lord Finesse track.  There are other DITC offerings from the likes of Big L and A.G. (who goes over a classic Jeru beat to great effect), along with some unexpected inclusions such as Dead Prez and Children of the Corn etc. 

A couple of the freestyles will be familiar to some (hasn't every freestyle by Eminem, Big L, Biggie etc been used to death?), but nonetheless there are plenty of unheard or relatively unknown tracks in here too.  These are frequently coupled with beats that you wouldn't expect, but work well and make for an enjoyable mixtape.  Check Guru over Mobb Deeps Quiet Storm instrumental for example.  The embedded music player and full tracklisting is after the jump.

Mike Check

October 1, 2012

Month in Review

September has been a good month.  Maybe not for everyone, but for those of us who crave old school and golden era nostalgia, it's been a bumper month.  What's been most surprising though, is that much of this little collection is kind of new, despite being old (bear with me and you'll see what I mean).  Ah heck, to save me explaining it, just peep the first item and you'll see where I was going. 
Be sure to follow the jump link as there are mixtapes, break beats, new music and much more for your eyes and ears.  I told ya, it's been a monster month.

Bizarre Tribe


No, I've not found a previously undiscovered group of cannibals deep in the Amazon rain forest!  But if you haven't heard this mix yet then you must have been deep in the Amazon yourself.  Amerigo Gazaway (who previously fused Fela Kuti and De La Soul to critical acclaim) has been hard at work again, this time reinterpreting the music created by A Tribe Called Quest.  Using the original soul, funk and jazz samples, Gazaway recreates the instrumentals from some of ATCQ's classics, and then drops vocals from the Pharcyde over the top.