Polari was originally released to some critical success in early 2002 by the now-defunct queer punk and hip-hop distro Agitprop! Records in Boston. Following lineup changes and the group’s relocation to Portland, the CD was recently released again by group member Collin “JoJoBoy” Clay (with lyrics and more expansive liner notes) through his Jaffa Orange Station imprint.
The CD, like its namesake (a gay subcultural slang term last popular in 1950’s and 1960’s Britain), is a sprawling, rollicking, giddily theatrical and complicated tapestry of words, sounds and ideas. Clay and Ghallib El-Khalidi smartly use the race and identity conflicts of the Middle East as a metaphor and jump-off point for intensely complicated conversation. A bit of everything gets covered here, from dialogues on misogyny and sexism among the “revolutionary activist” hip-hop set (“Melt By Your Mouth”) to the consequence of militarily and religiously influenced closets (the scathing traditional cover “Iko Iko Phalastini”).
Recorded in Maui, Hawai’i, the island’s post-colonial history serves as a backdrop for a number of tracks, most notably the deceptively singsongy lament “Hawai’ian Love Song.” (“That Haole/ he all sentimental, he all inter-continental/ he all thinkin’ everybody mental who don’t want a border/ Borders Bookstore/ built over their bones/ Hawai’i/ The lovers the dreamers and Elvis so blue/ pineapples are native/ and the labor is too.”) JoJoboy and co-producer Adam Capriccio’s sample selection (everything from Islamic prayers to slack-key guitar loops to 1980’s dance synths and bass drum hits), well-placed live instrumentation and tight vocal arrangements allow the musical backdrops to do justice to the density of their lyricism.
BELLADONNA THE VIRTUOUS
Off My Chest
(New Harlem Productions)
Well-regarded as a live performer in the Toronto, Canada, spoken-word and music scenes, Belladonna’s seven-song EP mixes producer Gerry Sylvia’s crackling hip-hop production as well as complex live jazz, blues and folk instrumentation by The Awakening without seeming forced or thrown together.
Bohemian-influenced flows and turns of phrase that would seem dated or pretentious become fresh and urgent in the lyrical context of “Free-Dom” (“How does it feel when everything you own is plastic/ the government prescribes your mental and your gastric/ Your credit’s solid, but your morals are elastic/ You only know what’s on your mind when they broadcast it”). The Sylvia-produced opener “Uplift Me” (“Down a family, a job or a ham hock/ eating ketchup packages in the parking lot”) further exemplifies Belladonna’s gift for alchemy in a variety of sonic constructions.
Uniendo Fuerzas….y apoca no?!
SalviMex are the protégés of Los Angeles queer hip-hop/punk legend Deadlee. Their first full-length CD of “Hip Hop Realidad” is a complicated dialogue on love, nationality and struggles within the urban pan-Latino experience. Rapped primarily in Spanish by Juan “Drastiko” Pacheco and Roberto ‘Tercer Discipulo” Gomez, and laced with strong keyboard and string driven production by newcomers Player GC and Anomino Cinco, Uniendo veers wildly from playfulness (“La Pathetika”) to eerily sweet mourning (“Lost Bullet”) to anthemic made-for-your-car stereo bangers (“Loteria”). And yet it remains politically coherent and emotionally resonant.
Fall Out Selections EP
Stuart “Mid*One” Mahoney has spent the last several years making a name for himself as a key member of the San Jose-based Tributaries crew, having fostered the recent development of the city’s hip-hop and spoken-word scenes. Fall Out Selections serves as a tantalizing introduction to Mid*One’s varied skills as an emcee and vocalist. From the gentle radio-ready lilt of “Open Up” to the hyperkinetic anger and hurt expressed in “Here Is Your Guilt Back,” Mid*One’s knack for honest conveyance and disdain for cliché assures that any full-length projects in the offing will provide even more exceptions to the rules.
Former Goodie Mob frontman (and later soloist and Carlos Santana collaborator) Cee-Lo Green and mash-up maven Danger Mouse have managed to create a truly amazing and groundbreaking CD given the potential for interference by corporate marketing interests on an album as experimental as St. Elsewhere. Green has been given free reign to let loose even more with his trademark gospel whoops and hollers (and shows some impressive songwriting chops), while Danger Mouse’s pastiche of drum hits, organs, strings and distorted guitar samples perfectly complement Green’s vocal and lyrical gymnastics on dysfunctional relationships (the monster hit single “Crazy”), paranoia (“Monster In My Closet”) and standard MC braggadocio (“Feng Shui”). Sounding like a mid-1960’s R&B TV show on an interstellar spacecraft, St. Elsewhere is a sonic trip to somewhere way out there and back. It is what music listeners would be hearing lots more of if the term “neo-soul” actually meant something.
The Unreleased Album
Initially released as a download-only product through ITunes, The Unreleased Album was recently issued on CD and is thankfully available to a much wider audience. The 19 songs comprising the album came from several Ruffin projects that were aborted during his legal and personal troubles with the label following his firing from the Temptations in 1968 and his solo career that began the following year. Rather than being a thrown together mish-mosh of inferior tracks that should have never seen the light of day, Unreleased is filled with covers (most notably the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” and Brook Benton’s “Rainy Night in Georgia”) and originals (“I’ve Got A Need For You,” “Let Somebody Love Me”) that feature performances as strong as Ruffin’s Temptations-era leads. It has a forward-looking intensity and inspiration that mirrors his work on My Whole World Ended (1969), the classic early and 1975’s Walk Away From Love. Serving as a bridge of sorts over the period between the aforementioned LPs, Unreleased provides a bittersweet glimpse at what might have been, as well as what might not.
Juba Kalamka is a founding member of the queer hip-hop group Deep Dickollective and creator of the label Sugartruck Recordings. Send suggestions for review to firstname.lastname@example.org.