Giant Step’s Resident: The City, The Sounds, The Soul Part 8

By Mawuse Ziegbe

This week I was posted up with the sniffles so I spent most of my time chugging Spirulina, gawking at Andrew Zimmern’s cast-iron constitution on the Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods” and giving even less thought to my hair in the morning. However, I did get to know two people a lot better – Mike Ladd and Duffy.

Mike Ladd is a Boston ex-pat MC whose new album I was shamefully apathetic about for some time. I often leave the ‘pod on shuffle because I’m, well, I’m lazy and every now and then, whatever well-worn disco beat I was bumpin’ would give way to some rabid yet velvety cacophony. “Wild Out Day” is a grinding, urgent enterprise with wheezing horns and chaotic percussion – perfect for an afternoon of looting or whatever less genteel activities are etched in your planner. The whole album, Nostalgialator, has an ambient steadiness that underscores tracks like “Off To Mars” and “Earn To Fall.” Even the wily, elastic instrumentation of “Afrostatic” and the rickety thump of “Trouble Shot” sound comfortable next to the milky electro of “Housewives At Play.” Ladd also handily satisfied my weakness for lively songwriting with songs about a graying Benjamin Franklin and party-hopping throughout Asia. I’m not so down with his delivery which is noncommittal and hampered by a slippery command of rhythm. But all in all, the Nostalgialator did much to help flush out the sinuses.

Duffy has been lording over the UK charts with her dusty, folky, Northern Soul. Imagine Dusty Springfield with the defiance of Aussie singer-sourpuss Missy Higgins. Usually touchy-feely tones are not my thing but Duffy’s smoky sound has a straight-up authenticity that’s hard to ignore. Songs like the blissfully campy UK chart-topper, “Mercy,” are brimming with “not-gonna-take-this-no-mo’” sass. I imagine instead of an agile neck-roll and finger-snap combo my American sisters do so well, Welsh women put this on when they’ve had it up to here. I especially love the trembling crescendos and vintage orchestral sensibilities of “Warwick Avenue.” Her main weakness is that when listening to her music, there’s a lot of, “this kinda sounds like Dusty, Joni, Amy, etc.” The sound does warble into derivative territory but real talk; it’s very capable and satisfying pop music.

I wrapped up my week-long quarantine by watching Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, a film made blocks from the crib and what seems like ages ago. Let’s take the way-back machine to 2004, when “Chappelle Show” was gleefully ruling the catchphrase circuit and everybody’s favorite rapper from Kanye to Kweli dropped by for the fun. It was an idyllic time when some of us were just chubby college-dropouts in ill-fitting blazers and none of us could win a televised Grammy. The Fugees long-awaited third album had a street date and I think Common and Erykah were still goin’ steady. Now Kanye rarely wears cardigans, I was more excited for Jill Scott’s new movie than her album and “Chappelle Show” doesn’t even live on through the magic of syndication.

But in 2004, I was an intern at Giant Step and now they’ve given me prime real estate on their homepage for my rambling musings. The moral of the story is get over it; things are usually better now and the past will always be on DVD.