Category Archives: Music History

Coltrane Pitch Diagrams

Go to the profile of Lucas Gonze

In the mid 90s I was browsing in the bookstore at Berklee College of Music in Boston. I was looking for Slonimsky’s Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns, a book of algorithmically-generated scales which had a following among jazz musicians, most notably John Coltrane.

Near it on the shelves I came across a similar but more peculiar book, Repository of Scales and Melodic Patterns, by Yusef Lateef.

As a frontispiece he had included two surprising images.

What were these? A small note at the bottom of the acknowledgements said:

Geometric Drawings: By John Coltrane, 1960. Gifts to Yusef from John.

Over time I became fascinated by the Coltrane drawings and set about decoding them using a protractor, compass and tracing paper.

First I made a clean schematic of Coltrane’s marked-up diagram.

In thinking about it I realized it could be simplified from two rings to one without losing any of the intrinsic relationships.

Of course, from a musician’s perspective this had the surprising result of converting from a whole-tone scale in Coltrane’s original to a chromatic scale in my single-ring version. Then I realized there could be a three-ring version as well, with the intervals on each ring describing diminished triads.

This new three-ring version was visually strange and beautiful, and had a feature that wasn’t evident in either the one-ring or two ring versions: a winding pattern.

Pick a section starting with C and walk to the next C, one semitone at a time. The first four notes of the series would be C, C#, D, Eb. In the one and two ring versions D and Eb are adjacent, but in the three-ring version Eb is on the far ring.

That got me to thinking of the series as a winding banner.

And from there a 3D pattern, not a flat one.

I made a clean final version of this sketch.

From there it was natural to go on to versions with four, five and six rings.

When I had finished my six-ring version, I was sorry that I couldn’t go any further, because each set of rings shows a symmetric interval, and there are no symmetric intervals larger than this.

My drawings were complete, so I made a little title page for the collection.

Not long after I went to a Yusef Lateef concert. It was at Lincoln Center in New York City. He was a stellar player and the show was unforgettable.

After the performance I made my way to the crowd of people chatting by the stage door with the musicians, introduced myself, and asked him to sign my copy of his book.

We talked about the Coltrane diagrams. I showed him a version of my work. He told me that Coltrane had been drawing the original diagrams between sets on a gig they did together, and had given them to him. Lateef said this wasn’t the first time. “He was always doing that,” Lateef said.

That was probably during a period when Coltrane was studying Slonimsky and thinking about generative patterns for melodies. The year was 1960. He was growing from the modernist formalisms of bebop harmony — all bright lines and strict causality — to the ecstatic spirituality of free jazz. The connection between his post-bop and free jazz was numerology, a belief that divine or mystical phenomena can arise from quantitative thinking.

1960 was arguably his peak year. He founded his landmark band with McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones and recorded his signature hit, “My Favorite Things.” Whatever the diagrams meant to him, they were connected with his best art.

Lateef was warm and generous with his time. I promised to send my own schematics, and later that year I did, along with a cover letter.

Einstein’s violin could fetch $150K at auction

A violin owned by Albert Einstein will go under the hammer on Friday — and experts believe it could fetch up to $150,000.

“Made for the Worlds Greatest Scientist Professor,” reads the inside label.

The instrument, dubbed Lina, was constructed by Pennsylvania cabinet maker Oscar H. ­Stegerr in 1933, the year the German-born Einstein decided to remain in the United States after Hitler came to power. It is being sold by Bonhams Fine Art division in New York.

Einstein reportedly played the violin often and was known to crank out Mozart while working.

“Life without playing music is inconceivable for me,” he once said. “I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music . . . I get most joy in life out of music.”

The Phenomenal Alexander Hrustevich – A true virtuoso

Alexander Hrustevich – Accordion Virtuoso

…a virtuoso was, originally, a highly accomplished musician, but by the nineteenth century the term had become restricted to performers, both vocal and instrumental, whose technical accomplishments were so pronounced as to dazzle the public.

In recent years, the term virtuoso has been overused and downgraded to include any artist who has command over their instrument. The word ‘proficient’ should suffice when describing most accomplished performers however, once in a while, a musician will come along who goes way beyond just proficient. I am reminded of the likes of Paganini,  Pavarotti and Jacqueline du Pre when looking to fit this bill.

Alexander Hrustevich fits the description perfectly. There is nobody more proficient at playing the accordion than Alexander.

Ukrainian-born Alexander Hrustevich is one of the best bayanists in the world. Mr. Hrustevich is constantly invited to perform in many countries, including Poland, Austria, Germany, Italy, Spain, Russia, Serbia, Brazil and many others. Just recently, he performed with legendary musician and composer, winner of several Grammy awards Bobby McFerrin in a sold out, three thousand audience arena in Kiev.

The very first notes will take your breath away… Alexader Hrustevich is able to play the most complicated transcriptions of violin, piano and orchestra pieces with the bayan; starting with Tchaikovsky’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra and finishing with a fragment from Antonio Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons.” Using his ten fingers at the same time, he is able to easily play both orchestra and violin parts. For these extraordinary abilities people and critics call Mr. Hrustevich – “the man orchestra“.

As prof. David Yearsley writes about Mr. Hrustevich’s recording, which he saw on Youtube: “The small stage on which Hrustevich demonstrates his art is festooned with yellow and orange balloons and fake flower garlands. The camera is hand-held, but despite all of this, you can feel how great are this virtuoso’s gifts.” The professor also compares his interpretations of Bach Passacaglia with a pianist: “Tricky passages that the pianist divided between the two hands, Hrustevich manages with one. He revels in the virtuosic spectacle of fingers flying and sliding and contorting over buttons and in the same time picking almost every note cleanly. It’s rather like playing the Bach Passacaglia on a travel typewriter, only harder.”(The Musical Patriot).

Born in 1983, Alexander Hrustevich started to play the bayan by the age of 6.  He graduated Ukraines National Academy of Music as a student of prof. Besfamilnov. Apart from his solo activity, he is also a member of the National Academy Orchestra.

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The Inescapable Sadness Of Christmas Music And how it paradoxically makes us happy.

Go to the profile of Julianne Ishler

I’ll just say it outright — Christmas music depresses me.

I’m pretty sure it goes back to when I was 5 years old and was convinced every time I heard Judy Garland’s “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” on the radio that it was actually my grandma singing to me from heaven. I’m not sure why I thought this—my grandma may have looked a little like Judy Garland, but she was (and still is) very much alive. But whether it was rational or not doesn’t change the fact that to this day, that song makes me indescribably sad every holiday season.

Lately, though, I’ve come to learn I’m not the only one who gets depressed by Christmas music. A lot of those classic holiday ditties, from the religious (“Silent Night”) to the non-religious (Elvis’s “Blue Christmas”) are totally melancholic.

This can partly be explained by history: A lot of iconic Christmas music was originally written during World War II. With so many young men fighting overseas, it was inevitable that themes of longing, grief and loss would predominate. In Bing Crosby’s “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” (1943), for example, the singer croons about how badly he wants to return home in time for Christmas, but something in his voice tells us he knows he won’t be. The song is a total downer all around.

Even Christmas songs that aren’t inherently sorrowful can still make us pine for the past in a kind of sad way. The lyrics of holiday music often reflect memories and traditions with loved ones. And whether it’s the image of “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” or the wintery feeling of “Jack Frost nipping at your nose” — both references are from Nat King Cole’s iconic 1950 ditty “The Christmas Song” — we’re attached to these lyrics partly because we’re nostalgic for our own childhoods, even if our childhoods didn’t involve roasting any chestnuts over any fires, open or otherwise.

As we grow up, the magic of Christmas fades, yet Christmas music is a time-hop back those memories. Irving Berlin touches on this notion in his song “White Christmas” (1942), which is a terribly depressing number despite its outwardly pleasing name. Written in a lavish Beverly Hills hotel, Berlin sings about his poor upbringing and how he’s longing for Christmas to be snowy-white “just like the ones I used to know.”

Music of any variety, Christmas or non, is inherently emotional. “Music is unique because it sparks activity in just about every circuit in the brain,” Nina Krauss, a professor of neurobiology at Northwestern University, told me. “This supercharge of activity integrates sensory networks, cognitive networks and emotional networks.” In other words, music is a direct bridge from our senses to our innermost feelings.

The sadness of holiday music may, paradoxically, comfort us. Researchconducted by graduate students at the University of Southern California last year found that songs that deal with emotions like grief and sorrow can purge bad feelings and actually have a healing effect on our brains. We find sad music pleasurable when it’s perceived as non-threatening and when it produces psychological benefits, the study found.

“If you’re the kind of person who listens to sad music during the holidays, you’re more likely to be an empathic person,” Matthew Sachs, one of the study’s authors, told the science website Inverse shortly after the study was published last December.

For so long, I thought I was weird for having multiple playlists dedicated to “Sad Christmas Jams.” I thought there was something wrong with me for cranking the volume on “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” because of the (kind of twisted) way it made me feel connected to my grandma.

But I know now I’m not alone: The same thing has been happening to millions of other people at least as far back as World War II. So while Christmas music makes me depressed, I don’t necessarily mind it — it’s a yearly check in with myself, bridging my past with my present.

What music defines Indian youth culture?

Ankur Biplav
By Ankur Biplav, Indian Musician

When we think of the music that defines our current youth culture, genres like hip hop, jazz and indie music come to  mind. We are living in an era of autotune and lip sync where anyone or everyone can become a singer. On the other hand, classical music is probably one of the genres which many youth would be least likely to identify.

But, the notion of youth towards classical music is changing. The young superstars of any genre of music are the icons for  society and so is the case with classical music. The young maestros are the icons for the youth. The young maestros, who not only are great performers, but are also imparting the rich culture and tradition of Indian Classical Music to the generation next.

Ustaad Waseem Ahmed Khan
Ustaad Waseem Ahmed Khan

Ustaad Waseem Ahmed Khan, who comes from the great lineage of traditional musicians of Agra Gharana, is one of the finest vocalist of Agra Gharana in the country currently. The musicians of the Agra Gharana play with laya, weaving in words, to make patterns around the beat. Khayal in the hands of the performers from the Agra School is a progression — from the abstract to the concrete and from the divine to the human.

All these can be seen in the singing of this maestro.He took his initial taalim from his grandfather Ustaad Ata Hussain Khan and also his father Ustaad Naseem Ahmed Khan. Later, he joined ITC Sangeet Research Academy where he took his taalim under Ustaad Shafi Ahmed Khan. Currently, he is imparting his knowledge of music to the future generation as a faculty at ITC Sangeet Research Academy.

Smt. Kaushiki Chakrabarty
Smt. Kaushiki Chakrabarty

The sweet, melodious and the divine voice Smt. Kaushiki Chakrabarty, one of the most promising classical vocalists of Patiala Gharana of this generation. The famous thumri of Patiala Gharana “Yaad Piya Ki Aaye”, Kaushiki in her unique style has not missed a chance to impress the audience with this thumri, whenever and wherever she sings.

She, born into a musical family learnt music under her father Pt. Ajay Chakrabarty who himself is a legendary vocalist. She, with her mellifluous and melodious voice and her mastery over various ragas has made the music lovers her fan across the globe. She is also regarded as the “torch bearer” of the Patiala Gharana.

A very rising Shisya of a very able guru, Pt Omkar Dadarkar shisya of Pt Ulhas Khasalkar are two such great musicians of the country who can sing the gayaki of Agra, Jaipur and Gwalior gharanas with equal ease.

Omkar Dadarkar
Omkar Dadarkar

Omkar Dadarkar was previously a scholar at ITC SRA and now he is also imparting his unique style of singing to the generation next. Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar has been awarded to him in 2010 for his services to the Indian Classical Music.

The Indian Classical Music is very unique. In order to truly appreciate/learn this style of music, one must have patience and a true love for musical prowess. For current youth, it’s a process to enjoy Hindustani classical music, and it takes some research to find the right songs and proper singers as well. The complexities of the art include the taal (beats), the thaat (notes specific to certain raags), and the coming together of melody, beats, and scales that take years – even decades – to master.

But, one must understand that there is no need to understand music as along as it gives you peace and happiness. There are many musicians like- Ankita Joshi, Arshad Ali Khan, Ritesh and Rajnish Mishra, Brajeswar Mukherjee who are not only great performers but are also passing the rich ethos and tradition of Indian Classical Music to the next generation. The time will soon come when people, especially the youth will have Indian Classical Music in their playlists. Because Indian Classical Music is not only a music to ears but also a music for soul.

To Conclude, Ustaad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan talking about Indian Classical Music said-“If in every home one child was taught Hindustani classical music, this country would never have been partitioned.”

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Our 14th window and out pops an unusual Bob Dylan song

If you’ve ever wondered what Christmas Eve at Bob Dylan’s house might be like, the video for his rollicking Christmas polka song “Must Be Santa” offers a window into what happens when Dylan and his guests have a little too much eggnog.

“Eminem? Jay-Z? They’re a combined 92 years old! Does their music even matter?” Yes, it does. Rap’s never been this great and this old before.

2017’s two most commercially successful and critically judged rap albums are assuredly going to come from Jay-Z, via June-released 4:44, and Eminem, with his December 15-releasing, ninth studio album, Revival. As hip-hop culture prepares to enter its 45th year, it’s possibly shocking to note that artists who are as old as Kool Herc’s DJ set at Bronx, NY address 1520 Sedgwick Avenue on August 11, 1973 (Jay-Z is 47 and Eminem is 45) could be at the vanguard of the genre. However, it’s astoundingly 19-year old pop rapper Lil Yachty who has the best perspective on how and why this turn of events has come to pass. As he told Hypebeast in August 2017, “[Now], you can do anything at any age, and we have it all at our finger tips. It’s amazing, it’s like the best thing ever.” In reflecting on what Yachty said, the idea that, maybe being a commercially and culturally viable personality in rap music is no longer intrinsically tethered to being between the ages of 18–40, is an evolution worth discussing.

Reasons why one should believe that hip-hop cultural excellence is a gift that’s only reserved for the young are many. Firstly, Biggie and 2Pac died at 24 and 25 years old, respectively. Also significant are facts like Will Smith released his last album at 37, and his children Jaden and Willow are currently a combined total 36 years of age. Last, but certainly not least, Cardi B, Chance the Rapper, and Lil Uzi Vert are under 25.

Prior to a year where Jay-Z could win Grammy’s Album of the Year and Eminem could release a series of flyover state and #RESIST anthems, hip-hop’s most significant cultural icons were never allowed to age while maintaining pop relevance within the culture. Kanye is currently living through his Pablo-esque surrealist mid-life crisis at the age of 40. Apple employed, legendary, and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-inducted 52-year old billionaire Dr. Dre will still occasionally get grilled by the general public as to the release date for Detox.

Whether by invocation of some “27 Club”-esque rule or because, as Moby once told me, “22-year olds are always going to make great records and the most interesting culture,” there’s ample reason to believe that the idea that two rappers with a combined 92 years of age between them releasing rap’s albums of the year is a thing that should not be.

How then, is this happening?

The most significant thing to note about being well past 40 and making dope rap records is that the context into which your creativity is considered could heighten. The expectation for success if this occurs involves recordings having to successfully shift in tone to discover creative comfort when being judged by an advanced critical paradigm. If this occurs, the payoff comes in almost immediately achieving a more iconic level of success.

Songs made by young/younger artists just trend in teeny bopper and early adult bottle popper nightclubs, and the top of Billboard charts. Comparatively, the hubbub surrounding both Shawn Carter and Marshall Mathers’ more old age-aware 2017 output is a mind-blower when contemplating the breath and depth of the artists’ impressively dynamic socio-cultural reach.

  • Jay-Z matured from “big pimpin’ and spendin’ cheese” with then Roc-A-Fella Records co-founder Damon Dash to discussing how his marital infidelities and subsequent psychological therapy sessions with 61-year old New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet.
  • As far as Eminem, he’s matured from being “interesting,” and “the best thing since wrestling” to being quite possibly the most ardent Midwestern and “red state”-representing voice in opposition to the chicanery surrounding the United States Presidential administration of 71-year old Donald Trump. As The Daily Beast notes, “Em has thrown himself into the center of the national dialogue on race, Donald Trump and white supremacy.”

Jay-Z has advanced to the status of being a wizened sage. Thus, he is not rapping as he once did. Rather, he has become a preacher of the gospel that we should all — as a unified, and nearly five decade old hip-hop adoring body politic — generally be able to be intelligent enough to be “smart enough to know better.” On 4:44 this idea is prevalent enough in the album’s narrative for CNBC to report that on 4:44’s brilliant “The Story of O.J.” that, “the rapper bemoans rising real estate values in his home city, calling out one of Brooklyn’s trendiest neighborhoods and saying, ‘I could have bought a place in Dumbo before it was Dumbo for like $2 million. That same building today is worth $25 million. And guess how I’m feelin’? Dumbo.’” As well, they note that Jay “touches on return on investment — he earned on artwork he purchased years ago for $1 million that is now worth $8 million — and underlines the importance of a buy-and-hold strategy.”

Also, in a manner meant to invoke the — and I’ll coin this phrase here — Lauryn Hill doctrine of “adding a motherfucker so the ignant niggas hear me,” Jay also states in “The Story of O.J.” that “You wanna know what’s more important than throwin’ away money at a strip club? Credit. You ever wonder why Jewish people own all the property in America? This how they did it.” The Atlantic was right to note that “it’s beneath Carter, a writer and artist of astonishing ability and sophistication,” to recall “the anti-Semitic canard that Jews maintain financial control of everything you see.” But, as related to the “Lauryn Hill doctrine” outlined in the previously linked Fugees’ track “Zealots,” in Decoded, Jay-Z notes regarding prior claims regarding his possible anti-Semitism that, “when I use lines like this, I count on people knowing who I am and my intentions, knowing that I’m not anti-Semitic or racist, even when I use stereotypes in my rhymes.”

Regarding Eminem, he’s recently premiered “Walk On Water,” a duet with intriguingly enough, Jay-Z’s wife Beyonce, as his lead-in single to Revival’s release. As Billboard notes, the track’s lyrical content offers something more refined and world-aware from the 45 year old and twice-divorced father of three, (including an adult Haile Jade Scott Mathers, who is now 21). “[r]ather than knife his way through the track with his brash, animalistic delivery, Em enters a reflective state and addresses his insecurities regarding fame and his current standing in hip-hop.” This includes Em saying that he’s “not a God,”and “a beautiful mess.” Moreover, he alludes to having gotten rid of the bleached blonde hair associated with his caustic career as a younger emcee, and also notes that he might one day “fall” from the “heights” of his career.

Unlike Jay-Z, whose success has afforded him an opulent, white collar and high class semi-retired rap life that very few men in the universe could ever achieve, Eminem is in a different situation. Jay is largely above any critical commentary. However, Eminem, by virtue of his blue collar and impoverished upbringing is old, yet still hustling for approval. Thus, he is likely, because he’s “too old to be doing this,” more critically approachable. Though the lyrics to “Walk On Water” may note that he may not believe it, Eminem’s indeed a Jesus-like “Rap God” who can walk among the “scribes and Pharisees” and be subject to their derision.

This critical concern makes itself even more apparent in an Uproxx report that notes, “Em is going back to the drawing board to reassess the release of his what will be his ninth solo album. The first step in that process appears to be be distancing himself from ‘Walk On Water,’ the album’s supposed lead single with Beyonce, as Eminem has stopped promoting the song as his lead single. The track debuted at #14 this week on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart, a high debut for sure, but a disappointing one on the heels of Beyonce’s first musical appearance since Lemonade, an SNL performance, and a massive rollout.”

By virtue of being a white person, Eminem can’t “add a (metaphorical) motherfucker so the ignant niggas — and yes, this extends to ignorant people of all racial extractions who love hip-hop culture — hear him.” So, his “smart enough to know better” campaign has had a tougher road to navigate insofar as hip-hop fanatics who are entrenched within the culture. However, when it comes to those who are — and yes, after 50 years there are those who are — newly accepting of hip-hop having a place in their existences, it’s a different story. Eminem, because his age allows him to have established pop (meaning, beyond initially hip-hop specific) cultural resonance, stands to gain much in the way of support of the multi-racial, multi-ethnic, Democratic and Facebook adoring anti-Trump #resistance. To that end, somewhere between his instantaneously iconic and Trump-lambasting BET Awards freestyle and Revival’s “new” lead single “Untouchable” which literally starts “black boy black boy, we ain’t gonna lie to you / black boy black boy, we don’t like the sight of you,” the change in tone aligns well with a demographic in line with his age and the nation’s anger best collide for commercial success.

Speaking directly to the aforementioned point, The FADER noted that Eminem’s BET freestyle was “red meat for #TheResistance,” but also noted that, “the rap itself…is bad.” Via their own advertising site, The FADER lists its core demographic as being an 18–34 year old male college attender (note, not necessarily a graduate) earning $40,000 year. In the same FADER piece, it was written that Keith Olbermann, host of GQ’s “The Resistance,” tweeted, “After 27 years of doubts about rap I am now a fan. Best political writing of the year, period. 👏👏👏👏👏 #Eminem2020.” Keith Olbermann is a 58-year old male college graduate, who in 2011 was rumored to be earning $10 million a year on Al Gore’s Current TV. Clearly, numbers and words never lie.

On January 28, 2018, it’s more than entirely possible that 47-year old rapper Jay-Z will make a clean sweep of the Grammy Awards for Song (“4:44”), Record (“The Story of O.J.”), and Album (4:44) of the Year. As well, if there’s any justice, we’ll probably get a performance by Eminem of “Untouchable,” too. In the crowd, marveling at how the depth and scope of expectations for excellence have shifted in hip-hop will be rappers who are half these artists age who will be suddenly confronted with the fact that they now have twice as much to learn about how to succeed and sustain within the genre. Lil Yachty’s right. Because of their age-driven maturity, Jay and Em have everyone from the New York Times to President Trump within a fingertip’s reach, and have likely created 2017’s best and most important rap albums, respectively.

Maybe it’s true that youth is wasted on the young?

One For All: An Album That Changed My Life — Literally

This article was written by
Go to the profile of mauludSADIQ

It’s such an overused trope now but in 1990, this album shaped the direction of my life

It’s hard to believe now, but there was a time when almost all your favorite rappers were Five Percenters.

If you’re of my era, you knew of Rakim, King Sun, & Lakim Shabazz, very few people knew or thought of LL as God body.

Nowadays you hear the language everywhere — now cipher (incorrectly, annoyingly, pronounced non cipher), build, cipher, etc.

Back in 2005 when I interviewed Barry Gottehrer (author of The Mayor’s Man, one of the only outsider accounts of Five Percent founder, Clarence 13X) before he passed away, Gottehrer found it hard to believe that the organization still existed.

A large part of it still existing has to to do with Rap music, in the 90s particularly, we’re talking the music of Brand Nubian, and for me, specifically we’re talking One For All, which was released on 4 December 1990.

The only way I can explain the significance of the album is to flash you back to that Fall/Winter of 1990.

Mysister-in-law Melanie refers to me as being ‘wide-eyed’ when I first stepped foot on Clark Atlanta University’s campus and I was indeed that.

I went to high school in Denver and lived in the war zone of Park Hill. A fifteen minute walk from Colorado Boulevard to Grape Street was like a trip through the Walking Dead but instead of zombies we had men and women addicted to crack and the people that supplied it constantly screaming, “you looking?!!”

Sprinkle in tinted windowed Impalas, Broncos, and 6–4s, with gang members rolling their windows down taunting with the question, “where you from,” and that was my daily existence. That and jumping in the tub whenever I heard the spraying of semi-automatic weapons — which was often.

Being in Atlanta, particularly the AUC (which is Clark, Morehouse, Mo Brown, & Spelman) was heaven. I mean that. If I crossed the path of another Brother or Sister, we’d greet each other with peace or a right fist to the chest.

It was the first wave of Sistas wearing their hair natural (in my lifetime), we rocked African medallions, red, black, and green belts, ‘It’s Black Thang You Wouldn’t Understand’ T-shirts, being Afrocentric was a point of pride.

As I wrote here, we read every book that we could get our hands on that dealt with our identity and we discussed those books the same way people discuss their top 5 today. This is what the B-boy and B-girl was like in the Fall of 1990.

Despite that, for the majority of the semester (Sep — Dec), most of us didn’t listen to Rap. I always struggle to think of an album from those first months. I can think of some singles like “Around The Way Girl” or “Bonita Applebaum (Hootie Remix)” beyond that…I gots nothing.

It’s amazing how much time I spent in Club Woody (the nickname we had for Woodruff Library). If I wasn’t working on my school work, I was down in the basement, off to the left, four rows back in the African Religion section.

My main focus was on the African’s relationship with God. I studied the different initiation processes from KMT to the Bantu. I studied the Negative Confessions and how priests would study and learn self until they could control the weather. I read about how the Bantu would study and work to become one with Mantu, the great vital force (as Europeans came to describe it).

No matter the region, the African had an innate connection with nature and nature’s connection with God. Some cultures assigned God’s many attributes to animals causing the European to call the African animist. But that was never truly the case.

A vast majority of the cultures that I read about placed an emphasis on Self-Actualization. It was said that he or she who knew themselves would in turn know the universe — to know the microcosm is to know the macrocosm.

If one could master themselves, they could master the forces around them as they are one with them. Pretty heady stuff. But hella inspiring. The only thing that sounded remotely like that was the stuff I heard this Brother Wise kicking. He talked about man being god.

(l-r) Faruq, Daoud, True and Living, Wise, Khalim, & Alijuan circa 1992

Mymain objective when I got to college was to become a Jazz Aficionado.

Mo Better Blues came out right before my freshman year in College on August 3, 1990 and songs from the soundtrack played alongside Soul II Soul instrumentals during Coronation and Fashion Show intermissions.

You rolled up on anyone my first semester, they at least had that soundtrack or Miles Davis Kind of Blue. I wanted to go beyond that. I wanted to know everything that I possibly could about the music.

So what a blessing that I went to school in the AUC. We had (and still have) a 24 hour, 7 day a week Jazz Station. WCLK is solely responsible for me learning the kind of Jazz I prefer (modal), finding my favorite trumpet player (Clifford Brown), and learning the different eras of Jazz.

Every night at midnight, the DJ would play “Acknowledgement,” my intro to Coltrane, and he would give the Arabic greetings of As Salaam Alaikum Wa Rahmatullah. This is what I studied to. But on Sundays, I would be looking for something else. That’s how I found WRFG.

If I have to give credit to WCLK for educating me on Jazz, WRFG has to be credited with bringing me back into the Rap-fold. WRFG gave me the same feels that WBLS, KISS, or Power 99 used to give me.

They played 12” B-sides, remixes, bootlegs, songs that I still can’t find. And this was the era for that. Part of what I love so much about Rap between the years 1990 and 1994 are the hundreds of songs found on 12” or cassette single that never made it to an album.

WRFG played all them shits. And they played the hell out of some bootlegs. Years later, that’s where I heard Illmatic for the first time and it’s where I heard Brand Nubian for the first time.

I knew nothing about them when I heard “Brand Nubian” but I knew “Rigor Mortis.” The Jungle Brothers had used the song for the bridge on “Feelin’ Alright” and it was always one of my faves off Cardiac Arrest. It’s one of them Black family cookout jams.

Can’t lose with that sample. But the lyrics stopped me in my tracks:

Make the people aware that Black means first — Four hundreed years and we’re made to feel cursed — But now it’s our time to rule — Student of the old, teacher of the new school — My inspiration is the Five Percent Nation — As I cram, education was born

This is the first verse, delivered by Lord Jamar. (Sadat had an ill flow but rarely kicked that Five Percent shit). In the last verse, Puba offered up these gems:

I bet I’ll swing something this summer for the Benzi — Seep into the mind the brain and activate the pelvis — Keeping the blind, deaf, dumb, and blind is Elvis — Meaning old, so behold (The black, the beautiful, the bold) — Now if this falls short, I’ll try harder — A wisdom to me is someone like Assata

This was so-called conscious Rap very much in the same vein as The Native Tongues. They kicked these verses all within the confines of partying and having fun.

WRFG also played “All For One” and that song completely blew my wig back. Yes Puba and Sadat had ill rhymes but what stuck in my head and what I can never forget is the end of Lord Jamar’s verse:

Not a Dapper Dan fan, I stay casual — To rock like the J it comes gradual — You got to Know the Ledge to Wise the Dumb — And Understand your Culture of Freedom — Power Equally with the Gods — So you can Build and Born your Cipher — All your life you must teach truth — Of the True and Living God, not a mystery spook — And when you do that, pursue that goal — Which made the Student Enroll and only then you’ll prosper

It sounded like he was rapping with code..and he was (“Ragtime” was also played, but we’ll get to that). I wanted to know that code but in 1990…it was not that simple.

Them WRFG jawns were played right before the November break, a couple of weeks later, the album came out. I spent those weeks leading to the album release trying to get my hands on what was called Supreme Mathematics.

Wise was not coming off them. He pushed me off on his ‘Enlightener,’ Wakeel. Wakeel wanted to know if I was trying “to get down.” I ain’t know about all that, I just wanted to see what this Supreme Mathematics looked like.

Now you can Google em and get a gnarled, Frankenstein Math from god knows where. The only way you could get Supreme Mathematics in 1990 was someone had to allow you to copy theirs…and you had to “get down.” Since I wasn’t trying to do that, no dice.

Then the album came out.

The One For All cassette could have been an Al B Sure Nite/Day side type affair. Side One was The Brand Nubian side and Side Two was the Grand Puba Side. Side One was the Knowledge Side, Side Two was the Wisdom Side.

Opening with “All for One” was a good start, “Concerto In X Minor,” Sadat X’s solo, still brings a smile to my face — hearing a Cannonball Adderley sample can do that. Sadat X gave us the flip side narrative to X-Clan’s more militant one as he recounts the Yusuf Hawkins protest.

The protest known as The Day Of Outrage and Mourning was 7,500 people organized to protest the murder of sixteen year old Yusef Hawkins by a white mob. The protest was mired in violence. This is how Robert D. McFadden of the New York Times described the incident:

‘’Over the bridge!’’ someone shouted and the crowd surged forward into the police line. There was pushing and suddenly the clash erupted. Bricks, bottles and other missiles flew at the officers, who responded by swinging night sticks at protesters who tried to push through their ranks. Chief Scott was struck in the right cheek by a missile.

At least 20 police officers sustained injuries ranging from cuts to broken bones, and an unknown number of demonstrators were hurt in the 20-minute melee. Four people, including two photographers, were also arrested as the police kept the protesters off the bridge’s roadways. NYT, Sep 1 1989 pg B4

Brother J described the mind of those protestors, “Fist up to get down, always ready to step — And if they hit me with that stick yo man I’ll break your neck.” But Sadat gave the other version:

Now case in point y’all remember that Brooklyn Bridge joint — When things got wild and willy? — Yeah that day the Feds played the golden bully

Now we knew more were slain and we all felt the pain — of Yusef Hawkins, and they was mad but we was squakin’ — They tried to show a false compassion, yet at the rally — They tried to bash in our brains — Further adding to the bloodstains

I was mad at this news and so was my brothers — And I wanted to get violent but I’m a lover of Black mothers — And Black mothers need sons — Not children that’s been killed by guns

I had never even considered another perspective beyond being militant and violent. Sadat gave a more thoughtful perspective thus succeeding in one of my criteria for a classic — shit made me think.

“Ragtime” sticks out to me because of Grand Puba trying to throw off the scent of the Gap Band telling us if we want a beat like that “check the stack of Otis Redding,” that and Lord Jamar dropping Math again.

“Dance to My Ministry” is still one of my favorite songs, certainly my favorite thing that Lord Jamar has done. It’s a “Bad Tune.” And it’s lessons from top to bottom. Lost Tribe of Shabazz, Quran and 120 is his fuel, 12 Jewels, Show and Prove, Question and Answer Number 17 in Lost Found Muslim Lesson Number 2, the oft used Allah acronym, all that, rhymed fast as hell over a funky beat.

“Drop the Bomb.” Yo, I love reading the Genius annotations for songs like this. The stuff they miss is great and their explanation for things that they think they catch is hilarious. Like, they totally mess up Lord Jamar saying Just I See Equality (Justice) and Equality are must. Got him saying just I seek equality (I can read the twitter argument between me and the person who read and believes in annotations now).

Then, although they correctly point out where a couple of verses came from in the 1–36, they give the simplistic answer of the wrong food being pork but in the context of the song, Lord Jamar is talking about the mental food consumed that has us thinking like slaves. Jamar offers Islam as the solution for that.

Then a separate annotation posits that the Student Enrollment (the 1–10) is a Nation and Gods and Earth lesson which is entirely wrong. First of all, there was no such thing as that organization in 1990, we were Five Percenters or the Five Percent. Second of all, all the lessons originate from the Nation of Islam. Every one who registers in the NOI has to quote the Student Enrollment.

Then the annotator tries to explain Knowledge Knowledge. Just wrong. This same annotator also falsely claims that some of the Supreme Wisdom derives from Masonry…

See what I’m talking about? Before the internet, this type of thing wasn’t even possible. No one would pretend to know. And forbid the thought if they did because they would be confronted, you can bet on that.

If you wanted to know what that was about in 1990, you had to let someone TEACH you. There was no way around it. There was no other way for you to learn that information and that’s part of what made this album so appealing.

I could go through Grand Puba’s verse also but you get the point. I could also go through the whole album but this ain’t that type of party. I’m sure there’s retrospectives out the wazoo about the album. This is about how One For Allchanged my life.

All of the above mentioned led me into learning about the Five Percent, the tipping point was the video for the remix to “Wake Up.”

The video is magnetic enough, straight propaganda, which isn’t necessarily a bad word. The video PROPAGATES the Five Percent culture, from the beginning where a cipher is taking place, the Universal Flag being seen throughout the video, to the School being shown, I doubt anything done before or prior has had as much of a mass influence (in regards to the Five Percent).

Brothers are wearing crowns, there’s a huge ass Universal Flag behind Grand Puba as he raps, as well as on the neck of an elder, and on the pin of several people throughout the video. That Black and Gold was mighty attractive and hella magnetic.

Then there’s the lyrics. Without knowing the Lessons, Puba might as well be talking straight jibberish. “The attribute Hagi, Helpful to another God In need, He Allah God Islam…” Wait, what? That’s how the song starts.

“Making sure these travels are twenty-three million miles the other six I set the crucifix…” Ooook.

“Preacher got my old earth putting money in the pan…” Your what?

“I wrote this on the day of wisdom power, all being born to myself — god.”

So on and so forth. I’m sure folks listened to it and either phased the words out or did like we tend to do, made up their own words for what they thought Puba was saying.

After that, Hagi takes us through the 1–36. That’s the whole song. Lessons. With an accompanying video. From that moment on I was determined to learn what the hell Brand Nubian were talking about.

My African studies led me to believe that I could arrive their on my own but Brand Nubian and a verbal duel with Wakeel Allah ended all of that.

For the next ten months I researched everything that I possibly could on the Supreme Mathematics, writing down my own definitions, taking on my own name (Sayyed and myself both did, Zig and Zag, we thought that shit was fly), and hunting down someone to give me the lessons.

No one did.

I had to join. And on 31 Oct 1991, before a Rich’s night shift at Lenox Mall, Wakeel finally let me photocopy his Supreme Mathematics, I memorized the words and definitions that night, found an attribute both in English and Arabic that weekend, got tested that next Monday, was on to my Supreme Alphabets, and finished my lessons by 8 March of 1992.

Brand Nubian made the Five Percent appealing. They were B-boys who could rap but they also dropped knowledge. They were fallible, ‘loved’ women, stylish, a couple of years my senior, they were like us.

When I read people saying that 808 and Heartbreaks changed their lives, I can imagine that it was to them what 3 Feet High and Rising was to me, something that made them feel that it was okay to be themselves. If they’re musicians, I gather that it opened up to them the possibilities of making music outside of Rap and R&B.

But I doubt Kanye changed the whole course of their lives.

The past twenty-six years of my life, the majority of my relationships and experiences (I can RELATE to the opposition the Prophet (saw) faced, and know what it’s like standing on belief in the sight of death), all can be traced to that time in my life, my study, my environment, and the catalyst that was One For All.

I remember once I learned the Lessons, listening to the album with a grin. It all seemed so simple to me. And that was part of what made it so dope. That was the power of Rap.

Learning 120 cracked that album open for me as well as Rakim verses, Poor Righteous Teacher verses, Just-Ice verses, etc. It’s also why people’s so-called conscious albums do nothing for me now, if Brand Nubian was steak, that shit be baby food, but that’s another writing for another day. Peace.

Bach – Christmas Oratorio

Written in 1734, J. S. Bach’s popular Christmas work is one of the choral masterpieces of the Baroque era – but the great composer took all of its tunes from other works.

Towards the end of J. S. Bach‘s career, around 1734 and 1735, the great man composed three large-scale choral works for major feasts – the Christmas Oratorio, the Ascension Oratorio and the Easter Oratorio. The Christmas Oratorio is by far the longest – lasting nearly three hours – and the most complex of the works. It was incorporated within services of the two most important churches in Leipzig, St. Thomas’ and St. Nicholas’.

For the Christmas Oratorio, Bach cleverly used music he had already composed, adapting it for a new purpose. He took the majority of the choruses and arias from earlier secular works and gave them new words.

The Christmas Oratorio is in six parts, each of them being intended for performance on one of the major feast days of the Christmas period. The first part – for Christmas Day – describes the Birth of Jesus, the second – for 26 December – the annunciation to the shepherds, the third – 27 December – the adoration of the shepherds, the fourth – New Year’s Day – the circumcision and naming of Jesus, the fifth – for the first Sunday after New Year – the journey of the Magi, and the sixth – for Epiphany – the adoration of the Magi.

Despite being conceived in six parts, the composer clearly envisaged the work to be heard as one united whole. Its unity is apparent within the music itself, through Bach’s use of key signatures. Furthermore, each section combines choruses, chorales and, from the soloists, recitatives, ariosos and arias.