Griz’s new EP Mad Liberation is by far the most surprising, impressive, and ambitious electronic work I’ve heard in a while. The man manages to incorporate sample-based electronic hip-hop, dub-step and jazz. Imagine if something like Pretty Lights or Break Science had a baby with something like Bassnectar or Eoto, and that baby lived in the future but liked to time travel back to jazz clubs in the 1940’s . Yeah, that’s what this sounds like. This is not the jazzy hip-hop production you might hear from Rhymesayers Crew (which is awesome, tons of respect). Mad Liberation is something completely beyond that. Griz unites these seemingly contradictory elements with ease. Not just ease – swag.
The cover art for Mad Liberation is unique as well. The best way to describe the image is two people floating from the mouth of a cave onlooking a futuristic Mayan settlement below, complete with pyramids, hidden amongst jungle-covered cliffs before a rising moon. Although you can’t see the hovering duo’s faces, their body language suggests excitement, wonderment, and curiosity. The image grabs you immediately through it’s use of perspective from inside the cave viewing the digital valley.
I’ve always been especially impressed by album art that transcends its medium and inspires an intimation between itself and the music, and this image does exactly that. Essentially it looks like how the music sounds. How does it do this? There’s references in the cover art that parallel what seem to be three main musical themes throughout the album: sample-based hip-hop, electro/dub-step, and jazz. Visually, the image itself collection of samples, a mash up of themes. There’s a futuristic science fiction feeling to it which mirrors the dub-step and electro sound, and the body language of the two subjects is evokes what, for me, equates the feel of certain types of jazz, whether it’s dreamy or up beat and swinging. Aside from all that, there’s a birth metaphor in the fact that people are exiting the cave, which further inspires a sense of marvel before you even hear the music.
So what about the music? Mad Liberation is a twelve track EP available as a free download at www.mynameisgriz.com. Plainly, no track on this collection should be skipped. While this is not specifically a concept album, each song flows seamlessly into the next while exploring a diverse sonic landscape. It has a concise beginning, climax, and resolution through which each of the three major musical themes are showcased. From the very beginning of track one, ‘Too Young for Tragedy,’ Griz establishes a distinct ambiance with dreamy synth melodies that evoke the feeling of flying and reflects the floating people on the cover art. From there, Mad Liberation rises to a climax at track seven, ‘Mr. B. (featuring Dominic Lalli),’ takes a brief but memorable breather with ‘Better Than I’ve Ever Been,’ and finishes strong all the way through the final track, ‘See You Again.’ Stand out tracks include: ‘Rock n Roll,’ ‘Mr. B. (featuring Dominic Lalli of Big Gigantic),’ ‘Fall in Love Too Fast,’ and ‘Better Than I’ve Ever Been.’
#3 ‘Rock n Roll’ is probably my favorite track on the album. The intro spans many of the samples that will come back around throughout the song, however this is really the first track where the jazzy side of Griz begins to shine. The beat drops at :24, 1:24, and 2:24 with intermittent jazzy saxophone and keyboard samples mixed in with top shelf dub step which really peaks around 2:24-3:24. It’s hard not to bob your head from about 30 seconds in, but it all comes to fruition at 4:12 when multiple layers of jazz overtake the hip-hop beat cut up with dub-step consistently until the song fades out. Golden.
#7 ‘Mr. B.’ is especially memorable not only because the album as a whole peaks half way through adding a subtle element of symmetry to the whole collection but also because Dominic Lalli, the virtuoso saxophone player of Big Gigantic graces the track ranging from chilled out to fiery, showing his whole range as a contributor to just one track! The tune kicks off with very jazzy keys cut with soulful vocal samples and a minimal beat. The track begins to round out around 30 seconds in when the bass drops and the keys and vocals become more regular. The electro interjects at 1:30, rising to a monstrous drop at 1:45, kicks up at 2:45, and at 3:24 all the layers give way back to the introductory keys and sax samples, except at this point Lalli begins to take off. Relaxed at first, soloing over a 50 Cent sample, “Go, Go, Go…” until 4:00, when it all takes a turn. The saxophone takes over but doesn’t overwhelm by any means, and it just gets better and better. At 4:58, the entire album peaks when the electro thunder returns to compliment Lalli’s incredible chops on the sax for another 30 seconds until a reasonably abrupt end, lowering the lights and setting the stage for a huge surprise in the next track.
#8 ‘Fall in Love Too Fast’ (featuring Muzzy on guitar) is more of a cover than a mashup. Originally, the primary sample was written by Jule Styne & Sammy Cahn in the mid 1940’s, and has grown to be a jazz standard performed by Miles Davis to Frank Sinatra, and now Griz! Track eight is a breather in the perfect spot. By placing a more relaxed super jazzy jam just after the peak of the album, you’re forced to calm down and reboot for another rage-worthy four tracks. The beat in Griz’s version drops at 1:00 on the dot and never gets too wild. Rather ‘Fall in Love Too Fast’ is an amazingly transitive track. It puts a cap on the first half of the album, and sets up for the rest perfectly by fading into another jazz sample at the start of the next track.
#9 ‘Better Than I’ve Ever Been’ is an ambitious track. Much of ‘Classic’ by KRS-1, Nas, & Kanye West is sampled throughout including the beat and some pieces of the verses, but what’s impressive is how it’s mashed up with Notorious BIG’s flow from ‘A Man with a Gun’ (featuring Jay-Z & Joell Ortiz)! It’s conceptually reminiscent of Pretty Lights’ ‘Empire State of Mind’ remix. (If you haven’t heard it, it’s available as a free mp3 here.) as it’s a electronic mashup of Jay-Z & Notorious BIG.
The last few tracks on Mad Liberation include samples ranging from Waking Life, possibly the trippiest animated film ever, about lucid dreaming to Sugarhill Gang’s ‘Rapper’s Delight.’ There’s dirty hip-hop beats and heavy electro interwoven with jazz samples throughout the rest of the album achieving a fantastic overall balance between all three musical themes of which I truly cannot get enough and I’m sure you’ll agree. So check it out, throw your bro some dough and go see a show, I promise you’ll have a blast.