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gepubliceerd op woensdag 4 maart 2009

English translation - DJ Monkey: "We just do what we feel, and that is what we do"

This article is a translation of the same article published in Dutch on January 19, 2009.

Last time I was in touch with Joey Alkes (see the article on the anniversary concert of "Back to Basic") I had promised him to give some attention to DJ Monkey. Since then I had expected to receive a package by mail with maybe one CD containing some MP3 files. I didn't.

What I did get was a big package with no less than three audio CD's, a DVD of "W the Movie", a CD with photo's and documents, a CD with the video "God is an underachiever" (a protest against the many injustices in this world and featured on the CD "3rd World War") and a whole bunch of reviews from overseas. In this review I'll just be looking at the audio CD's.

Like "Baby Charles" or Blondie, DJ Monkey is not the name of one person. DJ Monkey was founded in Los Angeles in 2002 by Mick McMains (guitars, keyboards, dums, production; has worked with Earl Slick among others) and Joey Alkes (singer, songwriter; his songs have been recorded by the Plimsouls, Phil Seymour, The Roadrunners and others). They are the band's core members. Other members are rapper Lil' TipToe (Jamal Cryer), scratcher "MR1" (Jeremy Roth), guitar player Ian McMains (Mick McMains' son) and sax player Mitch Rafal, aka Count Daddy-O (who worked with Rick James among others). Alkes has been active in the music industry for many years and earned his merits as a music critic as well. He was also the manager for several local L.A.-based bands and for bands of international fame; his co-operation with internationally acclaimed mixed funk-rock band Mother's Finest being the most prominent. This band's claim to fame is the 1977 monster hit "Piece of the Rock".
Before Alkes joined the music industry, his poems were officially published.

A mind of their own

DJ Monkey poster DJ Monkey, clockwise, starting at the upper left hand corner: Lil' TipToe (Jamal Cryer), Count Daddy-O (Mitch Rafal), Mick McMains, Joey Alkes, "MR1" (Jeremy Roth)

My heart did skip some beats when I first opened the package from California, USA. The name DJ Monkey, in combination with a cover displaying the one-finger-salute, song lyrics like "Democrats, Republicans - what's the fucking difference? / They're all puppets or whores" (taken from "Big Oil", from the CD "another evolution"). Oh no, - I thought - not yet another rapper/hiphop artist trying to gain ground in Europe with a genre that has already been beaten to death?

...styles and influences are mixed by DJ Monkey like paint is mixed into a completely new color...

hoes van 'another evolution' "another evolution", from 2003
The first sounds however told me I need not have worried. DJ Monkey do have a mind of their own and can easily put you off balance. The music on the albums "another evolution" (released in 2003 on Alkes' own independent label Airborne Monkey Records) and "3rd World War" (2006) is not just accessible, but downright good and enjoyable.

Musical rainbow

It is not easy to pinpoint them as far as musical genre is concerned. I can hear some hiphop, I can hear soul, I can hear jazz, blues and even rock. I even hear quite some spoken lyrics, á la Lou Reed, sometimes in a real rap, sometimes in normal spoken words. And of course I hear singing. All those styles and influences are mixed by DJ Monkey like paint is mixed into a completely new color. And somewhere in this musical rainbow you can see the word 'urban', but whether that is urban-rock, urban-jazz, urban-soul or urban-something-else, I still have to figure out.
Joey Alkes: "Categories? We just do what we feel, and that is what we do. I personally don't understand the Hip-Hop tag myself. What I do accept is alternative rap/slam poetry -classical rock and jazz as what we lean to".
The CD "Corporate Oil War" from 2008 is an 'Election Year Special Ltd Edition Compilation' containing songs from the first two albums. All its profits went to Barack Obama's presidential campaign. The CD is an excellent way to get to know the music of DJ Monkey, although I imagine it will be hard to come by, especially outside the USA, it being a 'Special Ltd Edition'.

I personally don't understand the Hip-Hop tag myself. What I do accept is alternative rap/slam poetry -classical rock and jazz as what we lean to.

Joey Alkes, DJ Monkey

The instruments used are acoustic guitar, electric guitar, keyboards, piano, bass, saxophone, violin, percussion, turntables and voices, both in song and in spoken word (more so on "3rd World War" than on "another evolution"). This somewhat strange combination does work amazingly well.
On one song I hear the sound of a rock guitar ripping apart, the other starts off with a smooth jazzy saxophone and yet another has you listening to an acoustic guitar and singing. The song "The Hum" starts off with a laid-back combination of violin, bass, sax and guitar and Joey's voice talking. The world of DJ Monkey is a wondrous world that adds a completely new and self-defined genre to the diversity of musical genres that exists today. But if this is the start of a new genre, then I am a 'follower'.

cover of '3rd World War' "3rd World War", from 2006
Personally I prefer '3rd World War' to "another evolution". And the more I listen to it, the better it gets. It doesn't contain even one weak song. However, some are still better than others: the song "Hard Times NYC" can be classified as a classical rock song, which would have been a great choice on any Lou Reed album, combined with tropical percussion. "All Else Is Shadow" is more of a cross-over between rock, jazz and rap and a really good effort at that (I could swear I hear some Bowie-influences in the singing, but that may be my imagination getting carried away). And "Love Knows No Color" is yet another great cross-over song with good lyrics and great music. And, of course, I should also mention "God Is An Underachiever"!
These are favorites already. Don't turn your back on "another evolution" though; the album is really worth a listen!

Social engagement

None of us could have predicted that a Harvard trained, world conscious man such as Barack Obama had a hair-of-a-chance of becoming the President of the U.S.

DJ Monkey's Joey Alkes DJ Monkey's Joey Alkes
The lyrics on the whole are very socially engaged, without becoming rude. The song "3rd World War" is a clear accusation against a war that is being fought, while next to no-one is giving any attention to America's social problems: "We're going to war / on the backs of the poor".
In the song "Big Oil" (on "another evolution") Mick McMcains sings "Democrats or republicans / What's the fucking difference? / They are all puppets or whores".
Still, DJ Monkey supported Obama's campaign last year. In an e-mail Joey Alkes explains: "When that was written, and Mick actually wrote the lyric on "Big Oil"(one of his few lyric writes), it was in 2003. None of us could have predicted that a Harvard trained, world conscious man such as Barack Obama had a hair-of-a-chance of becoming the President of the U.S.then. Many progressives were disappointed in the Democrats at that time. We will see if anything really changes, but Barack Obama's rise transcended that disappointment for many of us. Just the fact that a black man could become the President of the U.S. is huge for evolved people planet-wise. We included Big Oil in the release of COW because it has been one of our talked about songs off that debut, and because it still holds true for the most part. I have always felt, myself, that evolved and educated people must change their views and their behavior with new evidence. Football teams that are succesful change their tactics at half-time to reflect what they have learned from the opposition in the first half. We as an act do support Barack Obama, for whatever that value is to him and his administration. The Democrats as a party???"

Music Awards

The 'South Bay Music Awards' were founded 'to provide a platform for emerging Independent Artists to showcase their talent as well as for on-line distribution of their music'. DJ Monkey is one of its 2009 nominees in two categories, i.e.: 'Video of the Year' for their video "3rd World War" and 'Hip Hop Group or Artist of the Year'.
According to the 5th Annual Annual Los Angeles South Bay Music Awards have been temporarily postponed. 'A late-April/early May date is in negotiations'.

For me, DJ Monkey are winners, no matter what. With DJ Monkey music turns a corner that is truly new and exciting.

Surprise yourself and buy these albums!

Information on DJ Monkey at Allmusic Guide.
At an can be found of reviews, biographies, photos, interviews and news on DJ Monkey
All CD-s mentioned in the article were released on the Squid Music label.
An interview with Mick McMain and Joey Alkes was published at the Squid Music site
DJ Monkey review at Garage Radio.
Joey Alkes' Myspace
The video "God is an Underachiever" can also be viewed on Youtube; a warning should be given though - this video contains some shocking images.

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