Kipori Woods is being Mr. Mom with his 3-year-old daughter on his knee, bouncing her as she watches the traffic on Magazine Street. He and rapper MYSELF have recorded Now or Never (21st Century Blues) with Chris Thomas King under the name 21C-B-Boyz. At first glance, the project is a puzzling one. The cover photo is of Woods and MYSELF, but the liner notes show that King produced the album, played most of the instruments, co-wrote the songs, and sang or played guitar on six of the 11 tracks. "Chris is the visionary for the project," Woods explains. "Basically, it's his project, and he's using us to speak his vision."
The songs combine rap and blues, something King explored on his 2002 album, Dirty South Hip-Hop Blues. "It's his vision that this is the next level of the blues," Woods says. On his Web site, King says, "Hip-hop came from the same neighborhoods as the blues ... What Cash Money and juvenile [sic] are doing is coming from the same neighborhood where Blind Willie Johnson recorded in 1925 in New Orleans." Connecting hip-hop and the blues is a provocative idea, and, to his credit, King has invested his reputation, time and money in the concept. In addition to the 21C-B-Boyz, "he has another group he's thinking about signing," Woods says. In fact, King first approached Woods in 1999 before Woods' Big Black Cadillac album. "He called again to see if I wanted to work with MYSELF in 2002," Woods continues. "It wasn't me and MYSELF getting together and saying, 'We want to do this.' I wasn't into it immediately," he confesses. But the success of R.L. Burnside's more electronics-savvy blues made him reconsider. He also thought of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford -- "when they invented things people laughed at them in the beginning stages" -- and he decided to join. "I didn't want to miss twice," he says with a laugh.
Now or Never isn't entirely successful. It finishes strong with a string of acoustic blues. On a remake of the Delta classic "Death Letter," Woods plays dobro and sings while MYSELF's rap fills in the blanks in the narrative and, by connecting contemporary rap to Delta blues, he subtly reinforces how the song's story of love and loss stays modern. Less successful are tracks such as "She's a Dogcatcher" and "Lemon Juice." It's hard to imagine fans of either blues or rap getting what they want from these songs; the beats won't set off car alarms, and the blues seems reduced to a series of gestures. In those occasions, the CD is slightly reminiscent of the tweedy English teacher who tried to tell you that if you liked songs, then you really liked poetry.
"It's kind of weird. Blending it was a task, but Chris made it work," Woods says. "The blues hasn't stagnated, but it hasn't made a whole lot of progress. Hip-hop's gone farther than anyone expected." For some, a new blues might not seem necessary, but the tradition can't survive if its practitioners and supporters die out. Sadly, Woods admits, "the younger generation doesn't embrace the blues." After a successful 21C-B-Boyz performance at a festival in Norway though, Woods is optimistic: "This might be a way to do it."
March 24 marks John Gros' 12th anniversary of his solo piano nights at the Tropical Isle on Toulouse Street, and he is celebrating the big day by retiring from the gig. "I'm stopping because I need more Papa Grows Funk time," he says. "Believe it or not, I'm going to miss it." At press time, he's hoping to line up a few special guests for the occasion, but no one is confirmed. Gros is also finishing a solo album with Tommy Malone, Robert Maché, Kenneth Blevins and David Doucet. "It's songs that didn't make sense for Mulebone or Papa Grows Funk," he says, and he plans to have it out in time for Jazz Fest.
Live 1964: Concert at Philharmonic Hall -- The Bootleg Series Vol. 6 features a 23-year-old Bob Dylan playing solo on Halloween a few months after the release of Another Side of Bob Dylan. He seems giddy throughout the performance, laughing and having fun, but it's easy now to hear Dylan telling his fans he wasn't the moral voice of a generation they wanted to believe he was. At one point he laughs, "I have my Bob Dylan mask on. I'm masquerading, " and he introduces "Who Killed Davey Moore?" by declaring, "This is a song about a boxer," then, "It's not even having to do with a boxer, really. It's got nothing to do with nothing," then after suggesting the song isn't what people think it is, he suggests he's not who they think he is either: "I fit all these words together, that's all."
Local musicians who will release new CDs in time for Jazz Fest and would like their work considered for review at Gambit Weekly are encouraged to send them to our offices or contact me at email@example.com. Please feel free to add any updated photos.
- Kipori Woods and MYSELF join Chris Thomas King to update the blues on 21C-Boyz' Now or Never.