ALLEN ANTHONY / “Alright” (Blackbeard Rework)
For me*, Blackbeard’s transcendent rework of Allen Anthony’s “Alright” began as little more than a hook on a halfway decent rap record. Back in 2003, a second-tier Roc-A–Fella rapper named Freeway needed a hook. Allen Anthony, formerly of the duo Christión (and now signed to the Roc as a solo artist), got the nod. Allen did a capable job, but his well-done chorus work couldn’t save the record from Freeway’s par-for-the-course blustering. (“I’m from a block where niggas might blast your Pops / No chance, ambulance can’t save your kin.” Good one, Freeway. You paint quite the vivid picture.) A few months later, I heard another version of “Alright.” This one was a solo version by Allen Anthony—no MCing at all. It was decent. The lyrics were straightforward and heartfelt; there wasn’t much in the way of poetry, but sometimes the best way to say something is just to say it. I wasn’t crazy about the beat though. It was as though the tune had wings, wanted to soar, but something was holding it back. Then, after another few months, I heard the Blackbeard rework. From the opening chords (lifted from “Mystic River,” "Mystic Brew," a well-known Blue Note break-beat by keyboardist Ronnie Foster), I knew I was gonna dig it. Funny thing is, those same chords are in all three versions, Blackbeard just had the musical sense to strip them out of the mix and fatten them up a little; add some synth-strings, a little percussion and that nice “Mystic River” "Mystic Brew" bassline and I’ll be damned if “Alright” didn’t finally have a groove to go along with Allen’s vocal work. True to their usual style [ http://www.kalamu.com/bol/2005/07/31/common-ft-mary-j-blige-come-close/ ], Blackbeard’s mix is nothing but the beat for the first two-and-half minutes. Finally, Allen’s soulful lament begins: “This world’s a crazy place / Filled with such misery… / You may not understand me / But I’m trying to save my family.” Yeah, alright. —Mtume ya Salaam * I say ‘for me,’ because although I heard Freeway’s version of “Alright” first, Anthony’s version is the original. For the entire convoluted history of “Mystic Brew”/”Alright,” check out this excellent post [ http://www.o-dub.com/soulsides/2004_07_01_archive.html ] from Oliver Wang’s Soul Sides. Bonus tracks: Freeway feat. Allen Anthony – “Alright” (from Philadelphia Freeway, Roc-A-Fella, 2003) [Excerpt] Allen Anthony – “Alright” (from Dame Dash Presents Paid In Full, Roc-A-Fella, 2002) [Excerpt] Ronnie Foster – “Mystic Brew” (from Two-Headed Freep, Blue Note, 1972) Well, alright i really don't have much to say about this other than the remix is much, much better than a simple sum of its various parts. This is the kind of remix I would use as an example to demonstrate the thesis that in the 21st century, a musician is not simply a player of instruments, or to demonstrate that the making of music (i.e. music production) is no longer solely the province of instrumentals and vocalists. Producers, DJs and engineers are also musicians, i.e. producers of music. Blackbeard is a musician. Got to be. He took some stuff that was just alright and made it: well, alright! —Kalamu ya Salaam
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