A look at acts breaking at radio and retail and entering Billboard charts. This week: Aceyalone, Rob Dougan and !!!
A look at the latest acts that are breaking at radio and retail and entering the Billboard charts.
REVEALING AN ACE: Socially aware underground rapper Aceyalone has built a following on the West Coast for his political raps and old-school beats. The L.A. MC surprised a few, then, with the first single off his latest solo effort, "Love & Hate." The cut, "Lost Your Mind," mimics the beats of popular party rappers such as Nelly and Jay-Z, and is more influenced by what's happening on MTV than on the indie hip-hop scene.
Yet listen a little closer, and "Lost Your Mind" reveals itself to be mocking mainstream hip-hop, condemning rappers who glorify money and bullets. For instance, the song opens with the derisive shout, "Let's go grab somebody, stab somebody!"
"Yeah, there's some sarcasm in there," Aceyalone tells Billboard.com. "All of these hardcore fans aren't as loyal as they claim to be. They want you to stay put. They don't want you to grow. They don't want you to change. They want to keep you in this little box that is cool for their minds."
While Aceyalone, who is also a member of influential L.A. group the Freestyle Fellowship, has made his name for clever wordplay and thought-provoking raps, he's faced criticism for relying on relatively simple rhythms. For "Love & Hate," released via Project Blowed/Decon, Aceyalone sought to beef-up his backdrops by enlisting RJD2 and ex-Anti-Pop Consortium members Priest and Sayyid.
"A lot of that has to do just with the position where we're in," Aceyalone says. "A lot of the major beats, those producers are at such a high level that it's too much money to get them. This time, however, I was able to do some features with people who have a lot of name credibility, at least as much as I have."
So far it's paid off. "Love & Hate" became Aceyalone's first album to crack Billboard's Heatseekers tally, landing last week at No. 50. It also entered at No. 31 on the magazine's Top Independent Albums chart.
"Love & Hate" alternates upbeat tracks like "Junkman" and "In Stereo" with hardcore political attacks such as "Ms. Amerikkka" and "City of Shit," the latter featuring the in-demand Mr. Lif. It also sees Aceyalone slowing things down with more mellow cuts like "Ace Cowboy" and the standout "Moonlight Skies," a moving lecture about getting one's life in order with up-and-coming R&B singer Goapele.
"I definitely want to do more of the type of songs I did with her," Aceyalone says. "I wanted a lot more mellow cuts [on 'Love & Hate'] so my catalog was rounded out with different types of hip-hop. I don't want everything to be just hardcore, and I don't want everything to be so deep and well thought out that the fun is taken out of my music. It's just a continuous effort to round out my music the way my mind is rounded out."
Aceyalone is touring the U.S. with Prince Paul through the end of the month.
DOUGAN RELOADED: Australian-born dance maven Rob Dougan has remixed tracks for Moby, Sting and Gabrielle, and produced work for Kylie Minogue. His songs have appeared in car commercials, and have been featured in television spots for the NBA finals. While he has a dedicated following in the U.K, it's safe to say that the people who have heard Dougan's work far outnumber those who are familiar with him.
"That's OK," Dougan recently told Billboard. "I've never had a proper record out in the U.S. How can I expect people to know me?"
Yet thanks to exposure in the blockbuster film "The Matrix Reloaded," a North American audience is quickly discovering the underground artist. His "Furious Angels," released on June 3 via Reprise Records/Warner Bros., shot to No. 16 on Billboard's Top Electronic Albums tally, Dougan's first appearance on any of Billboard's charts.
Similar to some of Moby's early work, Dougan's music melds classical orchestration with modern house beats. With his hip-hop savvy and ability to incorporate the work of a symphony, it's no surprise that Dougan's compositions eventually found their way into a film.
"Furious Angels" was first released last summer in the U.K., and its enhanced U.S. edition comes packaged with a second CD and a pair of video clips. The first disc features the songs in their original form, with Dougan's Tricky-like vocals lending the tunes a more aggressive feel.
Understanding the soundtrack-ready feel of his music will attract fans outside the dance world, the second disc on his American debut features paired-down instrumental versions of the songs, with the emphasis on the beats and the string arrangements. Dougan shirks at the idea that the second disc was added solely to capitalize on his music's appearance in "The Matrix Reloaded." Instead, he's confident that the differences will help "Furious Angels" reach as many as possible.
"When it comes to my music, I will not compromise my artistry," Dougan says. "And I believe people will discover this record, whether they're girls under the age of 12, or factory workers over 52."
"Furious Angels" is being streamed on Dougan's Web site.
NEVER MIND THE NAME: The Sacramento, Calif.-bred collective known as !!! (pronounced Chk Chk Chk), recently saw a number of its members relocate to New York. The eight-piece ensemble has marked the relocation with the single, "Me and Giuliani Down by the Schoolyard (A True Story)."
The 10-minute track opens with a rush of percussion straight out of a Blue Man Group production, and quickly gives way to a bass line ripped from Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean." It's a genre-hopping dance/punk cut that descends into a smattering of guitars and oddball trumpets. Like New York buzz bands the Rapture and Radio 4, !!! has studied its Gang of Four and PiL records. Yet ultimately, !!! is more interested in throwing an indie-rock dance party ala Big Audio Dynamite.
"Me and Giuliani" is the group's first release for Chicago-based indie Touch & Go. The band was previously linked with GSL in the U.S., the hip Southern California label run by the Mars Volta's Omar Rodriguez, which released the first !!! album in 2000. Extensive touring, especially with indie tastemakers Out Hud, has built the band's following.
The two-track "Me & Giuliani" single arrived last week at No. 16 on Billboard's Dance Singles Sales chart. The group will be touring the U.S though July, and a heavily anticipated full-length is expected by the end of the year.