Maestro Fresh Wes – Orchestrated Noise album review

After a long 13 years hiatus, Maestro Fresh Wes has a lot to get off of his chest with a lengthy 18 track long album filled with each single thought that has run across his mind over the past literal decade. We don’t know what his obsession ever was with the idea of the symphonic orchestra, but Orchestrated Noise serves as a conceptual follow-up to 2000’s Symphony In Effect. Contrary to the album name, you won’t find any Rachmaninoff samples during the hour long run, but instead, with this album, he took on a no holds barred approach to a new, more modern, and even more commercial sound.

Maestro Fresh Wes lost the funky fresh feeling of his past work but didn’t cut corners when it came to featuring notable old school MCs like Chuck D. and Kool G. Rap. While these features are impressive, the lyrical exchange often seems muddled and the subtleties of the instrumental inflections are the highlights of the album. Even without all the features we’d still be here for the instrumentals and how each one is perfectly utilized.

Somehow each song remains so distinctly different from the next.  It must be said though, that at times, the production can seem a bit scattered. Perhaps this is due to the lack of a consistent theme. “Dearly Departed” featuring Kardinal Official displays brassy cymbals hidden behind fluttering flutes to yield one of the album’s most noted tracks. But this is almost immediately followed by “Desire,” a more electronic, Portishead-laden cut, which features Canadian electro-pop princess Lights and an occasional sharp snares and experimental screech. The off-kilter production never seems to bring the drama and climax of an orchestral movement like the album title promises, but somehow it showcases Maestro Fresh Wes as multi-faceted—he goes from the gritty (“The Conversation”) to the pretty (“See You On The Weekend”) and proves to be an artist that could so easily have been pigeonholed into the cool, but not so ubiquitous 90s rap realm of music, but instead decided to try for more relevance.

But it must be said that the distractingly obscure element of Orchestrated Noise is the concept. Is there one? Is there a deeper meaning we’re not catching on to? Regardless of the answer, it should not be this hard to capture. If you are looking for the Maestro Fresh Wes of the 90’s and early 00’s, you’re not gonna find it here. This album is a good way to explore what he has been up to, but as a disclaimer, it will not satisfy your craving for the artist you came for.

CBC’s Hip Hop Summit Concert Review – March 29, 2011

The Canadian music industry is an odd duck. It has a lot of benefits that our neighbours to the south could only dream of, but, it also comes with some unfortunate pitfalls. In my last post, hip-hop producer Fresh Kils put it perfectly:

“The joke about Canadian musicians is that no one gives a shit about them until they export themselves somewhere else.”

While that may not necessarily be an industry issue, it’s certainly not one being helped by the Junos. With exception to Meagan Smith (New Artist of the Year), all of this year’s broadcast awards were given to internationally recognized and popular artists. And that’s not to say that the Arcade Fire or Neil Young weren’t deserving, but what about Said The Whale or Matthew Good (winners of New Group Of The Year and Rock Album of the Year respectively). Why wasn’t Canada’s national upcoming talent showcased where people are more likely to see it?

And if that’s the case for your average pop or rock artist in Canada, its twice as bad for hip hop. Even with a big celebrity like Drake hosting the Junos, the Rap Recording of the Year award was non-broadcast.

That’s why when I had the chance to go to the CBC Hip Hop Summit concert in Toronto, I was ecstatic. On the bill was enough Canadian hip-hop legends and up-comers to make anyone turn their head. Maestro Fresh Wes, Kardinall Offishall, K-os, Saukrates and Shad were just a few of the crowd that graced the stage.

The whole thing kicked off with Classified and “Oh Canada” from his 2009 album Self-Explanatory. With everyone standing to attention and bobbing their head patriotically, he moved onto his duet with Maestro Fresh Wes on the (fitting) “Hard To Be (Hip Hop)“.

Michie Mee took the stage soon after and brought a few more people to the floor with her old school/ reggae style, complete with a dance breakdown. As someone who had never heard that much of her stuff, she made a big impression on me. She had a great sound and definitely knew how to work a stage.

Kardinall Offishall was next and he went the extra mile to get everyone to their feet. Surrounding himself in the crowd and getting us to chant the chorus with him, Kardinall belted out his ode to Toronto aptly titled “The Anthem“. Cadence Weapon threw the audience for a bit of a loop with his unique style (including screaming into a FX heavy microphone) but, with the help of Shad, showed that he’s just as capable to pull out the big hits with “Baby (I’m Yours)“.

Other notable moments included Skratch Bastid with a DJ set and a breakdance circle, K’naan stopping by to perform “Take A Minute“, and the Dream Warriors belting out the eclectic “My Definition“.

As great as everyone had been, the last 20 minutes was definitely when show came to it’s full potential, including Shad and K-os joining the Maestro onstage for “Let Your Backbone Slide“. Not one to disappoint, the original Can-con hip-hop icon was dressed in full suit and cummerbund as he tore through the ’89 classic.

The big number done, all of the night’s artists came back out for a freestyle session that was more fun than anything. Even Buck 65, who had been hosting the night and strictly stayed off the mic, was coaxed into the circle.

Then, as Kardinall dropped what was supposed to be the final rap of the night, the DJ played back the hook from the Rascalz hit “Northern Touch“.

I can honestly say that of all the shows I’ve been to, I’ve never seen anything like it. Led by former Rascalz member, Red1, and backed by track contributors Kardinall and Choclair, the stage came alive. The MCs were shoulder to shoulder rapping right in our faces as the dedicated crowd hit them with every word. It was a surreal moment that I think will be remembered for a long time to come.

And we need moments like that to sell Canadian artists to Canada again. While the concert had an excellent calibre and energy in the artists, it seemed as if the crowd that night was a little hesitant. At moments, I even felt that some of the greatest hip-hop artists in this country were struggling with their own home crowd.

So do yourself and this country a favour; support Canadian hip-hop and make people care. We’ve got to appreciate what we’ve got here at home.

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If you’re dying to get you’re fix of hip-hop and you live in the Toronto area there’s an event running all day today at the CBC building with performances, break-dancing and, at 6pm EST, the concert being broadcast. If you’re not so lucky stay tuned to CBC Radio 2 who will be broadcasting the whole event over the airwaves also starting at 7pm ET.