Friday, July 3, 2009

Mos Def - The Ecstatic

-Just so everyone knows, this will be the last post here. Due to various reasons, this blog has lost its steam and Get Legs is folding. Thanks everyone who took the time to read our work- Pete D

Studio LP
Released June 9th

If everyone could have just forgotten about the years between the release of Mos Def’s acclaimed Black on Both Sides and the release of The Ecstatic – a period that saw the flops The New Danger and True Magic – Mos, and “alternative” hip-hop, might have been better for it. The two releases after his solo debut showed Black Dante indulging in the worst, most extreme of his experimental tendencies, and lacked the passionate delivery of his early work. The fact that one of its biggest stars was allowing his creativity to run his rap career off its rails suggested that, despite its positives, alternative hip-hop lacked the consistent appeal of commercial rap.

For those that followed Mos Def’s career, The Ecstatic should seem like the album Mos Def has wanted to make for almost a decade. This album has a unique, experimental sound, borrowing heavily from Mediterranean and Middle Eastern influences, it sports a shortened roster of producers – seven producers spread over sixteen tracks and five of them produce at least two tracks – and Mos’s more concentrated lines leave it a focused effort. What seems to annoy critics most about this album is that Mos neglected to satisfy the listeners looking for something politically charged. Instead, this album’s perspective is set on descriptions of American cities and foreign lands without providing explicit political messages.

The album explodes open with “Supermagic,” an Oh No-produced track laced with wailing guitars and women’s voices that sound like they come from a Bollywood musical. This track folds into Chad Hugo’s menacing “Twilight Speedball,” complete with bellowing horns and tip-toeing xylophone.

With the momentum built, the next producer to step in is Madlib, the star player on the Stones Throw Record label and the man who could be considered the musical foundation of this album. His first track “Auditorium” begins with Middle Eastern strings slinking under Mos’s laid back flow, fading in and then returning for a verse from Slick Rick. The two guest spots Mos picked for the album are perfect – Talib Kweli steps in later to do justice to the label “Black Star reunion” – and the Ruler’s lines, describing the feeling of alienation of a U.S. soldier in Iraq, do not disappoint. Mos’s light touch in choosing features really leaves listeners with the feeling that the album is well-rounded, bringing just enough distinct flavor to keep the album sounding fresh.

Another way the album succeeds as a unified whole is in its balance between extremes. For every Madlib track with its layered samples, imported instruments, and unhinged song structure, there’s a beat from Preservation that condenses every sound tight and focused. Even in individual songs Mos and his producers toy with the tension between chaotic and ordered styles, such as on Madlib’s “Pretty Dancer,” or his brother Oh No’s “Pistola,” where Mos spits sharp verses in between drowsy choruses. Stones Throw artists have often successfully experimented with this jumbled style of making songs and it seems that the brothers Otis and Michael do well fitting The Ecstatic in the same mold.

Noticeable deviations from the organically developed sound hurt the album, but the only major sin is committed by Mr. Flash on “Life in Marvelous Times.” The record on its own has nothing wrong with it, and it spotlights one of Mos’s strongest verses.

The windows on the av' look like sad eyes.
They fix a sharp gaze on you when you pass by
And if you care to stand, you can see 'em cry,
You can watch them scowl, feel them prowl
While they steady sizing every inch about you.
Fast math, measuring what you amount to:
The laughter, the screams,
The number rolls, the Song of Songs, the book of dreams.
Ends don't meet where the arms can't reach.
Mean streets, even when it's free it ain't cheap.
Ongoing saga, terminal diagnosis,
Basic survival requires super-heroics.
No space in the budget for a cape
That's when you gotta fly by night to save the day.
Crash landings routinely happen,
Some survive, others never rise from the ashes.
Watching asphalt and observing the Sabbath
Creates an ecstatic and there you have it.

Unfortunately, the synthetic sound of this track is jarring, too extreme of a contrast with the continuity of the rest of the album, and the overall product would have been better if Mos had discarded the track or used a different beat.

After the album starts to wind down with “Roses,” on which Mos does more singing than rapping, Kweli comes in with Dante on “History.” As good as Mos Def’s lines are Kweli’s verse over the Dilla track is what ensures a dope record.

I was born in the decade of decadence
Where they worship what they have.
Ford was president – do the math.
War was ending when the North Vietnamese
Stormed the city of Saigon.
We was like "bye," we was gone.
Let bygones by bygones
I'm gon' spread love its the Brooklyn way.
...
We "Get it Poppin'" like a hit chorus
The flow is historic. They can't get rid of us,
Ubiquitous, and we lay the law like Leviticus.
Ten years ago we made history so they missin' us.

The various faults shouldn’t be overlooked on The Ecstatic. Mos lacks in the lyrics department on some of the tracks, especially compared to his early work, and the album’s forty-five minute length is a little disappointing. Personally, the fact that the album got released on vinyl as a double LP is perplexing as hell. Still, the whole of the album possesses undeniable artistic quality and it shows a rejuvenated Mos Def ready to jump back into hip-hop. The closing track, built off a musical theme from Madlib’s Bossa nova duo Jackson Conti, has such high energy that it will leave listeners hoping Mos’s next (rap) project will carry the same spirit with it.

Beats: 8 Rhymes: 7 Overall: 7.5



Friday, June 26, 2009

Friday's "Fitted of the Week"

FITTED HAWAII continues to kill it with their new styles coming for Summer '09, but being that I am a chess-head trying to promote in Boston, I give the space to Johnny Cupcake's newest line, and their first fitteds, coming out for this summer. In addition to the grey chess-board piece shown, they are putting out a grey wool "JC" cap, brown and gray tweed caps, and a slick multi-colored tweed hat that strikes resemblance to Eight-panels or Gatsby caps.

















The full set of release photos and more information are available at STRICTLY FITTEDS.
The website is JOHNNY CUPCAKES.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Brooklyn Bodega Round-Up

Obviously, I messed up on the countdown and missed the last day. Shit happens, and I'd rather be catching some great hip-hop than talking about it. The day I missed will not be made up, but a proper summary with videos and pictures is in the works.

For people who missed it, Brooklyn Bodega was June 20th in Empire Fulton Ferry State Park. Despite the nasty weather, the show went off and the organizers were able to fit a crazy amount of performers into a short amount of time and even had some special guests.

Here's some highlights from Death By Electro Shock

Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival 09 from Death by Electric Shock on Vimeo.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

10 Days to Brooklyn Bodega Festival - Day 9 [Grand Puba]

Real name Maxwell Dixon, Grand Puba has been hustling to gain his reputation in hip-hop since starting the group Masters of Ceremony and releasing with them their first and last album Dynamite in 1988. After Masters of Ceremony disbanded, Grand Puba birthed the impactful alternative hip-hop group Brand Nubian in New Rochelle with Sadat X and Lord Jamar. This group would also prove to be a short venture for Puba, who was pressured to leave the group by Jamar and Sadat soon after the release of their acclaimed debut One for All in 1990.

Puba went on to kick off a solo career with the album Reel to Reel. This was followed by 2000 and then Understand This. The last flopped, and it would be more than seven years before Puba got back into the game, set to release his fourth studio LP in late June called Retroactive on the independent powerhouse Babygrande Records. In addition, the original members of Brand Nubian reformed and have continued producing socially conscious and politally charged hip-hop.

The video has Grand Puba and Lord Jamar talking about the good old days of hip-hop that cats are going to be revisting for a while. The two links are for new cuts, the first off Puba's new album, the second off of Sadat X's upcoming album Brand New Bein'.



Grand Puba - I See Dead People [f Rell, Lord Jamar]
Sadat X - Brand New Bein' [f Lord Jamar, Grand Puba]

10 Days to Brooklyn Bodega Festival - Day 8 [Styles P]

Bringing a more gritty style of music to the Brooklyn Bodega is Styles P. Along with fellow Yonkers, NY emcees Jadakiss and Sheek Louch, Styles P makes up the hardcore rap group D-Block, formerly known as the L.O.X. Styles is also a successful solo artist, having put out three LPs on top of his work on D-Block's three (soon to be four) studio albums. Styles P will definitely be the street's answer to the more alternative acts on the festival's bill, but he already has collaborations under his belt with the other acts such as Pharoahe Monch and DJ Premier. One of these collaborations is below, Pharoahe Monch and Style P's "My Life." The site is http://www.stylesp.net/.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

10 Days to Brooklyn Bodega Festival - Day 7 [The Knux]

The brothers Lindsey - Kentrell aka Krispy Kream and Alvin aka Rah Almillio - make up the Knux. Originally from N'Orleans, LA, after being displaced by Katrina, these two made their way into the hip-hop scene in Los Angeles that is developing outside of the influence of the once-commercially viable gangsta rap stage. Raucous and bouncy, the Knux, which is short for the Knuckle Heads, are gaining notoriety for their intense live shows and this year grace the stage with the rest of the main-stagers. The link here redirects to the official video for their song Fire, off their debut "Remind Me in 3 Days..." At the Knux request, their videos cannot be embedded. The website - oh fish ull - is http://www.theknux.com/.


Monday, June 15, 2009

10 Days to Brooklyn Bodega Festival - Day 6 [Smif-n-Wessun]

Here's an update. Due to a lack of funds, the festival will not be setting up and running a second stage. However, the second stage artists will still perform, beginning at noon, before the main stage artists. Today's post starts up with the main stage artists proper.

---

Things get complicated in the Boot Camp Clik. The Clik is headed by Brooklyn rapper Kenyatta Blake aka Buckshot, who also heads the trio Black Moon. Apart from Buck, there is the duo Heltah Skeltah and the trio O.G.C. The last quarter is made up of Tek and Steele aka Smif-n-Wessun coming out of Brownsville, Brooklyn.

This pair has been in the game since '93, when they debuted on Black Moon's first album Enta da Stage. Their first two albums, released in 1995 and 1998, were benchmarks for hip-hop, even though they would be overshadowed by bigger acts in the New York scene. They have been working the underground, through cuts on Rawkus Records' Soundbombing and Lyricist Lounge. Now signed to the quickly growing independent monster of Duck Down Records, and sixteen years deep in the rap game, they're showing up for a set at Brooklyn Bodega. Below is a live cut at Southpaw, Brooklyn. The website is http://www.myspace.com/smifnwessun.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

10 Days to Brooklyn Bodega Festival - Day 5 [Marco Polo & Torae]

More and more, Canada's hip-hop artists are aggressively imposing themselves on the American hip-hop scene. Marco Polo arms himself with not only an impressive selection of beats, but an extensive rolodex, recruiting many of rap's entrenched veterans for his projects. Teamed up with Torae, Brooklyn's own, the duo recently released "Double Barrel" on Duck Down Records. Below is the song "Hold Up," starring Masta Ace and Duck Down labelmate Sean Price. The duo's website is http://www.myspace.com/doublebarrel08.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

10 Days to Brooklyn Bodega Festival - Day 4 [Tiye Phoenix]

Don't think that we forgot about the ladies. Among the ranks of the talented young emcees blessing the Second Stage is Tiye Phoenix. This woman is incredibly talented: a classically-trained pianist, producer, songwriter, and composer. Tiye was formerly signed to Rawkus Records, during which time she teamed up with DJ Spinna, Shabaam Sahdeeq, and Mr. Complex in the group Polyrhythmaddicts to release the album Break Glass in 2007. She recently released her album Half Woman Half Amazin' May 26th. Look down for her song "Killin' Everybody." The website is www.myspace.com/tiyephoenix.

Friday, June 12, 2009

10 Days to Brooklyn Bodega Festival - Day 3 [Nyle]

I fudged the entry today, got it in late. But the Pittsburgh Penguins are now the STANLEY CUP CHAMPION Pittsburgh Penguins. This lil' cat's excited.

Today's highlight is Nyle, a rookie out of Philadelphia that will be blessing the second stage at Brooklyn Bodega. Like the other two artists we have covered so far, Nyle is smart, and he has drive. A graduate of NYU's revolutionary BFA program in recorded music, Nyle already has two albums out and keeps working. The addition to Get Legs below is his video "Let the Beat Build." The website is www.nyleraps.com.

Friday's "Fitted of the Week"

Summer's here and the time is right for wearing the appropriate fits. HUF of San Francisco brings the table-cloth inspired set of gingham fitted hats. These come in red, black, and light blue with a black HUF ball logo on the front. They go on sale today, but so far it looks like only in their physical store fronts.

Suckers.
HUF's website is http://www.hufsf.com/

Thursday, June 11, 2009

10 Days to Brooklyn Bodega Festival - Day 2 [Donny Goines]

Another second stage act, Donny Goines is young, and a recent newcomer. While other rappers are bragging about the fact that they have been rhyming since they first started to walk, Goines admits that he did not start emceeing until 2006, inspired by the movie "Fade to Black," autobiography of Jay-Z. Despite the late start, he has put out a lot of material (and check how nice the album covers and videos are designed and shot). Donny Goines is unsigned, you can check out his myspace here http://www.myspace.com/donnygoines and the video is below.


"What Happened" Directed by John Colombo from Donny Goines on Vimeo.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

10 Days to Brooklyn Bodega Festival - Day 1 [Homeboy Sandman]

So, on the 20th of June, an organization that promotes the hip-hop movement will be putting on a very, very exquisite showing of some of real hip-hop's up-and-coming talent, established emcees, and veterans of the game in a show called the Brooklyn Bodega Festival. The festival runs from Thursday the 18th in various venues across Brooklyn, coming together for the main show at Empire Fulton Ferry State Park on Saturday the 20th. There will be some big names there, so the Get Legs team and friends will be getting down to BK to see it. As a lead up to the show, I'll be slapping up a preview of one of the artists each day til the night before.

---

Today, it's Homeboy Sandman from Elmhurst, Queens. Both in and out of the AOK Collective, Homeboy Sandman (not to be confused with Sandman, formerly of Re-Up Gang) has ripped the mic on three full lengths and loads of mixtapes. Here's a warning, guy is completely out of left field and comes across corny at times, though mostly in a good way. In addition to being a class rapper, guy does some excellent work hosting and documenting some really great shows in the New York area. The website is http://www.myspace.com/homeboysandman and the video, from his series "Live From..." is below.


Friday, June 5, 2009

There were a lot of nice styles that surfaced this week, including a very fresh piece from FITTED HAWAII and two throwback joints to commemorate the "Battle of the Bay" (As a note, though your man hails from Oakland, I will never cosign the Athletics' color scheme. That just looks ugly). My choice for fitted of the week is Stall & Dean's Washington Federals cap. Stall & Dean's whole shtick is designing clothing for defunct teams from defunct leagues, the Federals being a member of the United States Football League back in the 80s. It's like fake history.
Stall & Dean's website is https://www.stallanddean.com/index.asp

Friday, May 29, 2009

Friday's "Fitted of the Week"

Rolled out recently from urban hat/clothing makers Elm is a new line of 59Fiftys. The first model is the Homerun Fitted, which comes in Braves, Dodgers, Giants, and Yankees colors, featuring the Elm "E." The other model produced was the Dead Rabbits (shown below), which comes with "The Dead Rabbits" written in script with the dead rabbits logo underneath. My favorite piece of the whole line is the fire-engine red with only the rabbits as the logo. It's morbidly fly, like the space shuttle Challenger. Go to the site and check them all.


Elm's website is http://www.elmcompany.com/store/

Friday, May 22, 2009

Friday's "Fitted of the Week"




We will resume reviewing albums (and shows) soon.

This week, we have a sharp looking style from Boston's own Bodega. Maybe you've heard of this store from your hipster friends. The store is getting popular enough that it is getting its name into the public's earshot, recently having had a huge sale on sneaks. Rolling out their limited addition fitteds, Bodega has two new designs, available in 100 piece runs for each colorway. My preference is for the navy blue with the white pinstripes. shown below, but they are out of 7 1/2s. Dag.
Bodega's website is http://www.bdgastore.com/.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Ayo the Wu is comin through!

So this could be the second or third resurgence of one of hip-hop's sharpest sets. People really began counting them out after the tension surrounding 8 Diagrams and its lukewarm reception.

It has to be said that the RZA must have some thick skin considering that a few months ago Ghostface and Raekwon were calling him out for his questionable production choices on the latest Wu-Tang and now he is back producing the bulk of Rae's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II and held the boards for the latest leak from Blackout 2, "4 Minutes to Lockdown" featuring Rae & Ghost. At the end of the day, these boys are family.

'Nuff talk. Shut up and rap.

New Wu



This joint is set to be on Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II, dropping (according to Rae) on August 11, 2009. The song features Method Man and Ghostface Killah. The RZA and the GZA, along with some other Clan members and various associated acts, have guest spots in the video.

4 Minutes to Lockdown




Featuring Ghostface and Raekwon. Off of Red and Mef's Blackout! 2. Confirmed for May 19.


Other Wu-Tang Projects in the works:

U-God - Dopium (Rumored Summer 2009)
Ghostface with DOOM - Swift and Changeable (Shelved for the time being due to financial troubles)
Method Man - The Crystal Method (No announced date of release)
Redman - Unnamed album (Winter 2009)


Also, GZA, RZA and Raekwon are set to be performing at Rock the Bells this summer. Tickets on sale tomorrow. Get Legs will be there in full effect.

SUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Hip-hop sucks, look at these shirts.

Hip-hop is, as everyone knows, in a terrible state. The last couple weeks of April have been especially awful. It's enough to make a boy lose hope. I don't even have the energy to hate on Asher Roth properly. So in the absence of any hip-hop to take note of, here is some gear worth checking out.

BX's finest. Available from PennantRaceGear.com

























Dedication to Ricky Henderson, one of the Athletic's greats. For my birth town out in the Bay Area. Also at PennantRaceGear.com.




















Caps:

All City Fitted (http://www.myspace.com/allcityfitted) does some pretty sick work with custom colored fitteds. They even have a Connecticut Defenders fitted! Custom, limited runs, and very slick. An update on the caps and shipping: They do ship, and it comes to 39.99 shipping included. Though that seems pretty expensive for a hat, compared to places that turn-over product en masse very quickly, that's not a bad shake. Plus, the guy that runs it is very friendly.

Sample caps...


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Jadakiss - The Last Kiss

Studio LP
Released April 7th

One of the most hotly anticipated albums of 2009, The Last Kiss, the third studio album from the emcee that loves talking about kissing, is already up on people’s Top Five of the Year lists. To be fair, if you want the same hardcore street rap, you'll probably be pretty satisfied, but if you're looking for something - anything - new, consider passing.

With maybe the exception of Letter to B.I.G., Jadakiss never really approaches anything that should be considered clever, inspired, emotional, or intense lyricism. He makes a pass at political hip-hop credibility with the track "What If," which should end up generating some buzz with its faux-intellectualism.

What if Shyne beat the case? What if Diddy did a dime flat? / What if Nelson Mandela could give his time back? / What if Malcolm was silent? What if Martin was violent? / What if you could really ‘sneak an uzi on the island’?

Though Jada would have liked to think these questions would evoke profound in his listeners, there are really no edgy questions being asked. He just tallies off historical events relating to the treatment of black people, asking “what if” things were flipped the other way. What if Peyton was fighting dogs instead of Mike Vick? What if Peyton Manning, whose very aw-shucks dopeyness makes him millions in ad revenue, was running a dog-fighting ring? Jadakiss should have picked his battles more carefully if he was trying to raise insightful questions about race. Maybe What if a black man was really controlling Fema? could have been one if the topic had not already been turned into a marketing device. The worst crime of the song is when ‘Kiss inserts threats directed at no one in particular into his musings on history. What if I hit you with the razor from cheek to chin? Just like no one would believe Arnold would just let Tookie get life, no one is gonna buy into it when you toss swagger around like that.

Overall the production on The Last Kiss is mediocre. Jada grabbed a handful of the most popular producers in hip-hop and sprinkled them around on the album. The only producers that have more than one joint on the album are The Neptunes. The result is that every track comes packaged sounding like a single for the radio, the clubs, or the billboards. You are starting some grumbling coming out of the fan bases and even the industry for albums with more cohesive production, which might be accomplished with the use of one producer or production team for an entire album, like Clipse’s Hell Hath No Fury.

Q-Tip himself came out, comparing hip-hop of today to music in the 50s where artists created music with the sole intention of getting singles released. He says on Twitter (Can Twitter be considered a legitimate journalistic source? Guess so) “the industry has generally gotten far from what an album should be. ‘Tracks’ with various ‘producers’ is what we get.” The result in this case is a sonically disjointed album with Jadakiss’s rapping not being enough to pull it together.

Jadakiss originally wanted to call this album “Kiss My Ass,” but changed it because the name “wasn’t testing well at retail,” according to an interview with BET.com. He should have kept it, considering that this album is basically a big fuck you to anyone who wants it real. Get on his dick about how he's the best rapper of all time, kept it street and never went mainstream. But he brought in Nas, Weezy, Jeezy, Ne-Yo, and Pharell as guests, and pulled production from The Hitmen, Just Blaze, Swizz Beatz and the Neptunes. Best rapper in the game? He's not even the most impressive emcee in D-Block anymore. I don’t wanna hate, it’s just a disappointment that another emcee jumped into the mainstream and shouted “too many cats are selling out” as he fell.

Rhymes 6.5 Sound 5.5 Overall 6
Best place to listen to this album: A club...and I'm already too drunk to care.

Listen to Jadakiss's "What If"

(It's not streaming yet, we're working on that)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

FOCUS ON MASSACHUSETTS ARTISTS - STATIK SELEKTAH

Hails from: Lawrence, Mass.
Project: Saigon's All in a Day's Work

Studio LP

Released March 17th


Here it is. Hip-hop doesn’t get any more raw or pure than this. As Saigon himself admits, he and Statik Selektah, who comes out of Lawrence, Massachusetts, got together and cranked out this eleven track album with only 26 hours to work with. The result is that the beats are perfectly simple and the rhymes are crisp and hard. If you want “polished” beats, chopped-up-til-there’s-nothing-left samples, or a goddamn Vocoder go elsewhere. Statik is here to put down exactly what each track needs, and the best part of having only a day to put into this album is that the two artists create by reacting to each other’s style. Just in terms of the drum tracks, there are so many subtle changes that Statik is cooking under every beat that you owe it to yourself to listen to the album a few times over. Listen to “Spit,” a track with a catchy hook and a staccato synth-flute melody, and just count how many times Stat switches it up. That’s just work you just don’t see coming from producers these days.


Of course Statik’s showing off under Saigon’s flows, but uses great discretion and a light touch on the boards. It should be expected that for an album that took 26 hours Statik uses a lot of samples. He rips Biggie, Raekwon, and pulls Busta’s vocals off “Whoohah” for the hook on “The Rules.” The hip-hop samples are aight, they create decent tracks, but they never really elevate the songs. Statik really shines when he flips the old R&B vocal tracks for his beats. It bothers me, but I couldn’t find out the sample he grabbed for “Lose Her.” Doesn’t matter though, he treats that song nice, and the vocals and little guitar licks really leave an ill backdrop for Saigon to flow over in a song about getting his heart broken.


The give and take between Saigon and Statik Selektah, the product of getting the two together in the lab and creating an energetic atmosphere, really adds to the great subtlety of this album. New technology allows for DJs and emcees, who might never have even shaken hands, to work together, producing interesting and sometimes brilliant beats and songs. Still, you cannot top the energy of live collaborations. Statik really exploits the opportunity, reacting to what Saigon spits. He drops the vocals and keys out completely on “The Rules” in two spots, letting Saigon’s hardest flows come out. On “Lose Her,” he drops the melody out again, exposing Sai at his most vulnerable, when he confesses his anxiety, “And now you wanna get back, for what, just to see me naked again? / So you can take my heart, reshape it, and break it again?”


It’s definitely not every emcee that could elevate himself up to the challenge of putting together an album this quick. Saigon doesn’t just rise to the occasion, he defines the album. This isn’t due so much to the intelligence of Sai’s rhymes, but more to his boldness and charisma when holding the mic. The themes are not groundbreaking, there’s a song about his crew, a song about getting your heart broken, there’s the song about how hard Saigon is. What separates Saigon from the pack is how crisp and bold his flows are.


On most of the tracks, the rhymes settle into the realm of average and are hardly noteworthy. The exception is “Lady Sings the Blues,” which is built of the usual critique of selling-out theme, but is elevated by Saigon’s intense reflection on the subject. He raps that Sixty percent of niggas spittin’ is inconsistent / The other forty came with the grain but then went against it / Tryin’ to get rich in an instant.” The idea behind the track is that you can’t let yourself slip, not even for an instant. He even goes so far as to wag his finger at Rakim: I thought about all the kids I admired / The Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, why they ain’t remain in the game / They should never changed, they shoulda kept it the same / They let the music industry play tricks on their brain / If I remember correct, when Ra rocked with Jody Watley he lost some respect.


So watch yourself. Even if you make one move in the wrong direction, you still might be selling out the culture. In this case, it’s the collaboration between Eric B & Rakim and Jody Watley, entitled “Friends,” in 1989, considered rap’s first crossover track. And yeah, twenty years later, Saigon remembers.


You can’t give this album more points just because of how long it took to put together, and this album does hit its lulls. During the times where the album drops to a mediocre quality, you have to wonder whether more time in the lab would have made this a brilliant, rather than a very good record. But even ignoring about the amount of leg work the two artists put into these cuts, the album proves to be among 2009’s best offerings so far.


Spittin’ 8 Spinnin’ 8.5 Overall 8.5

Album bonus: No guest spots!


Friday, April 3, 2009

Streamed Illy

So apparently SXSW had something for everyone. Check out this video, clip from a cipher with Fresh Daily, Von Pea, Homeboy Sandman, and others.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

C-Rayz Walz - Who the Fuck are You?

Studio LP
Released February 10th 2009

C-Rayz Walz gained his reputation in the underground scene as a battle rapper, and the man himself claims that Immortal Technique is the only MC who can go pound-for-pound with him. He is also part of the Wu-Tang affiliate group Almighty, so it is safe to say he has paid his dues in the culture of hip-hop. Unfortunately, to call this a C-Rayz Walz album is misleading as this album really proves to be group effort. The problem with Who the Fuck are You?, the fourth LP from C-Rayz, is that the emcee in question gets lost in a sea of guest rappers that only occasionally break past being mediocre. For an emcee of Walz’s stature to rap as little as he does on his own album, it’s a damn shame.

Listeners should remember Nas’s boast in Stillmatic: “My first album had no famous guest appearances. The outcome: I’m crowned the best lyricist.” As is the problem with too many albums these days, Who the Fuck are You? becomes the bizarro-Illmatic, as the number of guest appearances totals 18, and C-Rayz only flies solo on 5 out of 15 tracks.

Guest rappers are not necessarily a bad thing, but not only are the appearances on Who the Fuck are You? numerous, they are generally lackluster. A guest should add something to a track – think Eminem on Hova’s “Renegade” – but the majority of the ones on this album seem to be perpetually at a standstill.

Despite the gripes with the astounding volume of guests, the album is not at all bad. In fact, the first four tracks got me expecting a great album. After the intro, the album starts off with “The Art of Energy,” a dope track backed by a harpsichord lick. “Spread News” follows, and solid production lays the base for Walz to spit lines about his underground status.

“The basement’s locked, so I keep it low key, homie.”

“Love New York” follows, which is probably the best track on the whole record, despite the fact that it is littered with what is the most unattractive feature of the album, clocking 5 guest appearances. However, tight production by DJ Ruckspin leads to the artists juxtaposing the beauty of the city with its harshness. The biggest guest star of the album, Slug of Atmosphere, makes a guest appearance on the next track, “In Your Soul.” He comes strong, spitting:“I don’t front, so my soul watches over my back.” There are three guests in all and, including Walz, the four artists hold their own.

After these first four tracks the album drops off a bit. There are several tracks that are mediocre, and do not stand out or leave much of an impression. There are also some stinkers thrown in there. “Infected” is certainly not the strongest lyrical effort that C-Rayz has ever put forth, and it includes simple metaphors such as, “There’s blood in the streets, like the days of Rome.” Tracks like “Oxy Killa,” “Hot Sauce,” and “Crazy King” include annoying hooks and poor production features. “Red, White & Blue” has a strange dance-oriented beat that does not fit with the rest of the album at all. And it certainly does not fit with an underground rapper from Brooklyn.

Thankfully, “Deeper Feelings” and “Whiskey Mechanics” save the second half of the album from being bland. In the former, C-Rayz employs a slicker flow than any others on the whole album. In the latter, he collaborates with Roman E. Gripp to create some nice rhymes over a tight beat produced by Enock Root.

All in all, Who the Fuck are You? leaves something to be desired. Overall, the production is mediocre, and the lyrics follow suit. There are several tracks that are definitely worth checking out, and a few that will leave you scratching your head. At the end of the day, I wanted to listen to a C-Rayz Walz album, and instead, I got an underground collaboration where C-Rayz happens to be on every track.

Beats: 6.5 Lyrics: 7 Overall Listen: 7
Lesson Learned: If you have skills, show them, rather than deferring to others.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Cipher: DOOM's Born Like This

The Cipher: DOOM’s Born Like This is a collaborative review between Pete D’Amato and Andrew Cominelli. DOOM, formerly MF Doom, released the album on March 24th, 2009.

Pete: First of all, the first part of “Supervillain Intro” is so ill. It just gets me pumped up for what's to come, but I think the dialogue on this album, the clips of the characters talking, is a lot weaker and forced than on past albums. In the past he found clips that were relevant by just mining from the old cartoons and stuff. The scripted stuff is weak.

Andrew: Yeah I agree with that. I think the album in general is more in your face than a lot of his releases. The scripted stuff is definitely a little disappointing. I have to say that his characters are always a big draw for me, though.
Andrew: It's another reason to listen to him. Even on this album. You can listen for the beats, or you can listen for the lyrics, or you can listen for the mystique and the mood that he creates and just zone out on that.

Pete: What do you think of the production of “Gazzillion Ear?” (The beat for “Gazzillion Ear” is two chopped together beats from J Dilla).
Andrew: I really love it. It hits hard when it comes in. I like the beat switching up. It's a big contrast. Two different soundscapes, with kind of just a rolling beat, and then something a little eerie and evocative.

…In any event, it's fake like wrestlin' / Get 'em, like Jake the Snake on mescaline / Elixir for the dry throat, tried to hit the high note / Villain since an itsy bitsy zygote / By remote, send in the meat wagon / Braggin' emcees packed in with their feets draggin' / These stats are staggerin' / Had his PhD in indiscreet street hagglin'…

Pete: This rap stuck out to me, but there are tons of highlights just on this track.
Andrew: So nasty. That’s what I've come to expect from DOOM. Both a sick flow and that cartoonish imagery. I like "Raps on backs of treasure maps stacked to the ceiling fan."

Pete: “Ballskin” was produced by a dude named Jake One who's done beats for DOOM, Freeway, Slug, and your man, Brother Ali. Real nice, though the beat wouldn't hold up for a longer song as it is a little repetitive
Andrew: It's definitely a good DOOM beat and it suits his no-hook style. It's funny how Jay-Z has a whole song about having "No Hook" when guys like DOOM do that on the regular.
Pete: Whoa, whoa, whoa. That song had a hook, fuck that “no hook” shit.
Andrew: True. (laughs).

Pete: I liked the idea that here you have DOOM doing so much on this album. He's holding down emcee duties over someone else's beats, he's rapping with a partner over his own beat, he raps solo over his own beat, and he makes the beats on some tracks but backs off the mic to let another emcee take a go. There’s every possible combination.
Andrew: I like “Yessir!” because, like you basically said, it's DOOM being unselfish on his own album. It's him featuring a hardcore legend and letting him do his own thing. It just says a lot about DOOM and his take on what hip hop should be.
Pete: I feel that, but one of the problems with that is I think that DOOM didn’t really work hard enough to craft a track that suits the emcee’s style. Rae doesn't seem to do well when he's alone, and this track doesn't provide enough structure as it is.
Andrew: Actually, the “Yessir!” beat sounds to me like it was tailor-made for Rae. It's raw and kind of haunting. It sounds kind of stripped down instead of funky or layered like a lot of DOOM beats. A little like RZA’s sound. I don't know if that was a conscious thing on DOOM's part.

Andrew: “Absolutely” is a pretty toned-down track, but it's also some of the most socially conscious rap I've heard from DOOM. I like the fact that he showcased his ability to do that, it's an essential element of hip-hop, even though it's obviously not the reason that I listen to DOOM.
Pete: The first time going through and listening to “Batty Boyz,” it seems homophobia-laced. It’s disappointing because DOOM isn't exactly a man you would call an ignorant emcee. But then you listen to it again; the point can be made he's calling out the emcees that use homophobic lyrics as a cover to hide their own insecurities about their manhood.
Andrew: Yeah it's hard to tell. I'd like to say he's trying to make a point, because he's such a smart guy and because he's so antithetical to pretty much every attitude you see in the mainstream. This is kind of a tangent, but the song reminds me of Nas's It Was Written. Nas raps as a materialistic, murdering gangster throughout that album and was criticized for it. But my take on that album is that he's schooling his listeners to the problems with the projects and the people responsible.
Andrew: Lines like ‘Queens'll be the death of me,’ and ‘Life's a bitch, but God forbid the bitch divorce me,’ define that album more than the talk about guns and drug dealing to me. He's just bringing all the problems to life while throwing in bits of commentary. I think this track “Batty Boyz” is so tough to decipher though.

Pete: I’m going to post the original version of “Angels.”

Original version of Angels feat. Ghostface

Pete: Tell me which beat you like better, the original, or the one from the album.
Andrew: I think I like the original beat a little better. The drum track on the album almost sounds tacky in comparison. Not something I would have noticed without the contrast, though.
Pete: That track “Angels” was floating around on various mixtapes for almost a year. DOOM doesn't even remix it except for those really fake drum machine kicks and snares. The “Lightworks” beat is recycled, too - another Dilla beat - Talib Kweli and Q-Tip rapped over it on a compilation called Peanut Butter Wolf Presents 2K8 B-Ball Zombie War. I have a problem when it gets to the point that artists seem to be having a hard time coming out with enough material for both mixtapes and studio albums. Still, you hadn't heard the mixtape version, so maybe artists are worried about throwing away material that might not have been heard by a majority of their fans.
Andrew: Yeah, I don't pay attention to too many mixtapes.

Pete: The first half of “Cellz” is actually a clip of Charles Bukowski reading "Dinosauria, We."
Andrew: I fucking love “Cellz.”
Pete: The beat is so disastrous…in a good way.
Andrew: Hell yeah. It gave me goose-bumps the first few times I listened. Bukowski reading over that apocalyptic backdrop is incredible. The rest of the track is good too, but I'm always a little disappointed when the beat switches and DOOM comes in. Only because of the start of the track is so unique and theatrical.
Pete: It probably could have been two tracks. The second part of the beat is definitely pulled from the old superhero cartoons.
Andrew: Yeah! I didn't get that but definitely. That's cool. I think it could have been two tracks. I really like both parts, but I don't think DOOM's shit fits with the mood he created behind Bukowski. I find myself wishing that DOOM's beat/verse was elevated to the same epic level of the top of the track, but that might be impossible. To me, Bukowski over that noise is the centerpiece of this album.

Pete: At first I liked the next track, “Still Dope.” I still do, but now I wonder if it messes with the flow of the album. Still, one of the biggest problems for the album is its overall lack of flow, so to argue about one instance might be pointless.
Andrew: True. It's a patchy album. I like the beat on “Still Dope” and Empress Sharrh is pretty ill on it. But yeah, I thought the album was generally top-heavy, so not too much going on at the end. The last two tracks were disappointing: a Bumpy knuckles phone call and then DOOM replays the beat from the intro, which was itself already on Special Herbs.
Pete: If you're gonna recycle material, make sure you're recycling it for a reason.
Andrew: Yeah there was no reason for that beat getting tagged onto the end. Good beat, but at least spit a verse or something.

Pete: It was a good album. I think DOOM crushed it on “Batty Boyz” and “Gazzillion Ear,” but he did some things wrong. Album flow being one, recycling - and sometimes ruining material like on "Angelz" - being the other.
Andrew: For me, definitely not DOOM's best. My favorite MF Doom albums are probably Operation: Doomsday and Vaudeville Villain, which he didn't produce. I think Born Like This reflects the best and worst of Doom. You got plenty of dope rhymes, a fair share of good beats, and that cool as hell super villain theme. But you also get some incoherence and some question marks. Still, this album is definitely worth the listen.
Pete: Yeah, and you can get the album for like 13 bucks. So go out and buy it and get your money's worth, like Andrew and I obviously did.
Andrew: Yeah. And that's like a quarter of my paycheck.
Pete: Ya'hearrrrd. What's your rating?


Andrew: Beats: 8 Lyrics: 8.5 Overall Listen: 8.5
Pete: Beats: 7.5 Lyrics 8.5 Overall Listen 7.5


Born Like This was just released on Lex Records. You can cop it on the cheap from Amazon.com or iTunes. GET LEGS

Monday, March 30, 2009

Havoc - Hidden Files

Studio LP
Released February 24th, 2009

Someone should write a book for the gully emcees - How to Age Gracefully in the Rap Game. Hardcore rappers don’t have the model for how to go deep in the game, what your tone should be, what your lyrics should be about, how you should posture yourself when you are too old to sound hungry anymore. There are a few rappers still releasing albums in their middle age. Jay-Z came out under cats like Big L in the 90s, debuted with the hard-yet-slick Reasonable Doubt, and then sanded and polished his image until he became less and less of a rapper and more of an icon. Ghostface Killah became the hardcore equivalent of the older brother, using his veteran status to voice his opinion about how the younger generation should treat their brothers, their women, their art.

And somewhere in there would be a long list of those who fizzled out, retired, or bombed themselves into irrelevance.

Mobb Deep exploded into the hardcore scene with The Infamous in ‘95, the Queens duo following artist like Wu-Tang out of New York’s worst streets and onto wax. Almost fifteen years later, Havoc has not done much growing as an artist. His newest solo effort, with the exception of a handful of club tracks, obsesses over the idea that he still hustles. That’s fine, you don’t have to become the self-reflective, jaded hip-hop icon or the family man with a haunted past. But if you claim you’re still out there in the streets, make it sound like you’re hungry. That is where Havoc comes up short, in a huge way.

In terms of production, though he veers off into the territory of mainstream rap, Havoc handles the sonic aspects of the album competently, sounding like New York's version of Hi-Tek. He’s average, but solid, and the only complain a listener can really make is that the tracks' production suffers from incredibly generic drum beats. It’s frustrating that underneath all of the orchestrated piano and strings, Havoc sounds like he could not be bothered with the most basic element of hip-hop production and does not elevate the complexity of the drums much beyond BOOM...BAP..…..BOOM.BAP...BOOM...BAP…....BOOM.BAPBOOM.

Lyrically the album has a good start. The first track is “Can’t Get Touched,” where Hav spits: “It’s a very big difference between y’all and us/First of all we clean them guns, y’all be lettin' 'em rust/Let 'em sit around for years then expect them to bust.”

It’s an ironic line, ‘cause you use it or you lose it, and for the rest of the album, Havoc proves he’s overlooked spending any quality time perfecting his art. He visits all the cliches and on most of the tracks he spits as if his mind where somewhere else, the equivalent of trying to get your grandfather to answer your questions while he concentrates on parallel parking. From “Don’t Knock it Til’ You’ve Tried It” he rambles on without any quality material coming out.

“We gon’ have 'em jealous if it’s anything we ever do/Cause anything we ever do we do it like it’s never been/Done even better than, nothing could be better than/You got my adrenaline/Rushin’ when we touchin’...” Listeners who buy the album should feel cheated that any artist would include the verses Havoc does instead of leaving them for mixtapes and b-sides.
New York made itself huge in the hardcore rap genre because of the way the pioneers, including Mobb Deep, crafted gritty yet poetic narratives out of the troubled environments that surrounded them. Havoc doesn’t even come close this time around. At best, the writing on Hidden Files is lethargic, with no real storytelling to speak of and similes as unimaginative as “I grip my nine like an old man hold a cane.” It hurts to have to rip into a rap legend, but at age thirty-four, Havoc already sounds tired, over-the-hill, and no longer able to hold his own in the game.

Beats: 6.5 Lyrics: 5.5 Overall Listen: 6
Lesson learned: If you're still hard, spit hard, or you'll sound like you're faking.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Capone-N-Noreaga - Channel 10

Studio LP
Released March 17, 2009

Capone-N-Noreaga broke into the underground hip hop scene as two thick-skinned emcees with nothing to prove. They flowed over tracks, they fed off one another, and they reported the ups and downs of their Queensbridge projects รก la Nas’s Illmatic and Mobb Deep’s The Infamous.

Those were the days.

With the past in mind, CNN’s reunion on Channel 10 disappoints, the same way eating foie gras at a fancy restaurant disappoints when all you want is some pizza. There’s plenty of glitz and glam, but the substance of the tracks is flimsy, and at times completely absent. When you pay the bill, you’re left unfulfilled, and even a little angry.

The biggest failure for Channel 10 comes from its production. The majority of the tracks sound overproduced and pop-infused, to the point where it’s hard to believe that you’re listening to a couple of raw thugs from Queensbridge. The first few songs off the album feature an abundance of heavy bass-drum thumps and electronic noise, complimented by electric guitar melodies and weird splashes of what might pass as an Indian rainstick. This flashy-but-empty production infests a good chunk of the album, most notably on the tracks “Beef,” “United We Stand,” and “Talk to Me Big Time.”

The mainstream club sound is best showcased in the album’s first single, “Rotate”—a Ron Browz-produced joint complete with a vocoder-enhanced hook that urges listeners to “find a girl to rotate, cause the super-thug is back.” Busta Rhymes makes a guest appearance on “Rotate,” embarrassing both Capone and Noreaga with his flow and salvaging a track that otherwise sounds forced and stale. In Busta’s words he is “from a different fabric” and his bars outshine 90% of the rapping on Channel 10.

In terms of the general emceeing, nothing too interesting is happening on Channel 10. It almost seems like CNN think they can skate by on reputation alone. The track “Stick Up” is an attempt at storytelling that comes off trite, while tracks like “United We Stand” offer up questionable ideas, like Capone’s “United we stand divided we ball, and let our nuts hang like plaques on the wall.”  In general, Noreaga’s flow is lethargic and uninspired, as if he took sleeping pills in the studio while recording. Capone flows well, but every verse deals with the same tired tough-guy posturing. There’s no wordplay, no true lyricism, and CNN just don’t kick enough knowledge for me to stay interested in their rhymes.

CNN gets another lyrical thumping from Clipse on “My Hood.” Clipse’s verses draw the listener in, proving to Capone and Noreaga that gangsters can still wow heads with rhyme skills alone:

I talk it cause I live it, I ain’t storytellin’/ Read between the lines, n***a, I ain’t good at spellin’/ Writing’s on the wall, got the whole city buying vowels/ Turn them O’s over for my fortune Vanna White style 

That’s the type of lyrical venom that I love—the stuff that strikes quick then hits you a second later. Stuff that you just don’t see Capone-N-Noreaga do on Channel 10.

A lot of tracks off Channel 10 suffer from shallow themes, which slap you in the face via the painfully obvious hooks like “talk to me big time!” and “My life, my life, not yours.” The rapping is almost unnecessary when you get all you need to hear just by looking at track titles.

CNN show that they still have potential to create some interesting and poignant hip-hop with “The Argument,” which is the album’s smartest track lyrically. The two emcees express their brotherhood in an interesting way, trading off lines to say the things they can’t stand about each other. Although it has no jaw-dropping lyrical displays, this track contains the type of originality and honesty that should be expected from artists, and it was a welcome deviation from the empty-headedness that characterized most of the rapping on Channel 10.   

Another ill track comes with “Wobble,” which features fellow Queensbridge staple Mobb Deep. The four rappers kick it together over a solid beat from Havoc, and the result is a hot track that doesn’t try too hard like a lot of the others.

The album’s standout track is probably “Grand Royal.” I had almost lost hope in the album after five tracks of, well, bullshit. I needed a savior. Enter DJ Premier. Primo’s beat on “Grand Royal” borders on devastating. The pulsating piano melody makes for a unique sound that puts your head in the dirtiest, darkest streets of New York. Not only is the sound dope, but Primo, as he is often capable of doing, forces the emcees to elevate themselves above the mediocre quality of the album’s other tracks. See Capone’s entrance:

“See, money is power/Power put the fear in a nigga heart/A high school dropout, but I’m mentally trigger-smart” 

Premier’s contribution is certainly one of the best on Channel 10, but it’s still not enough to save face for ‘Pone and N.O.R.E. My advice: stick with The War  Report and The Reunion. If you like those, there’s little for you to enjoy on Channel 10.  
 

Lyrics: 6 Beats: 6 Overall Listen: 6

Lesson Learned: If you're gonna talk our ears off about being raw, at least have the beats to back it up.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Right quick...PackFM's "I Fucking Hate Rappers" video



I think they're a little harsh on dudes that are involved with the mixtape game, but everything else is on point. PackFM has one of the best points, responding to rappers like Asher Roth claiming they're not rappers, "You don't have enough respect for the drive and the culture to claim it? Then you need to put the mic down and make room for the people that do."

I fucking hate rappers cause they live in fantasy worlds. Every one of them has name-checked Tony Montana since the early 90s.

I fucking hate rappers cause no one is in the game for the long haul anymore. They just want to bleed it out for all its worth. They confuse making quick money for artistic achievement or the advancement of the culture of hip-hop.

I fucking hate rappers cause they'll use a dollar sign instead of an S. Every damn one of them.

-Pete JD

Monday, March 16, 2009

Braille & Symbolyc One - Cloud Nineteen

Studio LP
Released March 3, 2009

Sensing that this blog lacked a purpose, Bryan Winchester AKA Braille Brizzy AKA Braille got together with Symbolyc One on the boards, and put down Cloud Nineteen. Cloud Nineteen is a rejuvenating listen, simply because Braille embodies in an emcee the spirit that first attracted me to hip-hop. Unlike the other albums that have been reviewed on this blog so far, Braille's is the most genuine, the most passionate. He did it because he loves the music, not to fulfill fans' expectations (which he does and more), to show off his skills (check), or to make a paycheck (I hope he makes it big off this one though).

People have been talking about Braille defying expectations and stereotypes so that no longer needs mention. It's funny, but Braille's attitude reminds me a lot of UGK. Obviously, Braille doesn't slang drugs or live life in the streets, but he shares with the duo the ability to rap about his life and his struggles in a bold, unforgiving, unapologetic way. Braille doesn't want your admiration for what he has accomplished in his life and he doesn't victimize himself or demand pity from you for what has gone wrong. In fact, he's not gonna be a dick about it, but Braille really doesn't give a fuck what you think. He's going to rap about saving himself for marriage and about how much he misses his dad without resorting to whiny defensiveness.

Braille may not have the rags-to-riches story that everyone - including those in the underground - loves, but he brings back to hip-hop a passion that comes without bitter overtones. The most surprising moment of the album comes with the first track, a completely unironic skit in which Braille interviews a dude about to jump out of a plane and skydive. Braille is just simply excited about skydiving and in a strange way, the tone is set for the rest of the album. If you can find nothing else to like about this emcee, admit that he's genuine and that that is what the game's been looking for.

Braille has been emceeing and making tapes since he was 17 (Guy is just over thirty now) and his control of the mic is solid. His flow is hard and he switches it up enough not to get redundant. On "Found Her," he deftly mimics the twirling flow you would find on the Pharcyde's first album. The song, recounting how Bryan saved himself for marriage, is testament to the power of Braille's particular brand of swagger.

"I didn't wanna expose/I was a hopeless romantic with visions of marriage/I'd get nervous and panic/Have you ever met a dude who was known as a prude/Didn't wanna kiss her because I already knew/That if I crossed the line it's like the point of no return/And inside you burn and yearn feelin' concerned/So I turned the other way before it was too late."

Your pastor would make fun of how corny that is. But Braille spits it without apologizing, he acknowledges it sounds cornball, but he won't live it any other way. And this guy is getting write-ups in national magazines like The Source along with loads of respect from sites like rapreviews.com. Too genuine.

The shoddy production on "Fill it In" mars one of the better lyrical shows on the album.

"Do these kitty-cats really wanna battle a lion?/I didn't think so/Forgive them they know not/Reprogram their brains/Cause the future is robot/I flow hot, make the fans go (hey!)/While your wack flows make them cut off their ears like Van Gogh[...]Racism isn't the answer/Neither is war/We keep swinging and taking shots/But nobody's keepin' score/They slept on my style now I'm living the dream/The radio is a nightmare and I hear the victims scream."

Combine all those ingredients - Biblical quotes, Van Gogh reference, flipped rap cliches, Braille's insistence on love and peace - it makes a tasty lyrical stew. Too bad S1 fucked the beat up.

To focus on the music, Symbolyc is at his best when he is riding in his comfort zone, playing to his strengths. To be sure, Symbolyc does not really have a regional flavor; if he does he doesn't show it on this album. He draws from the West and the South, and there's a little bit of the Dilla wobble on "Skepticold." Still, he takes (maybe more accurately, he steals) most of his cues from the New York scene. He lays slick piano licks and vocals over a boom-bap drum beat on "For Life," showing a great ear for choosing the soul samples that get woven into the tracks. On these more traditional-sounding tracks, for the most part he stays low key and lets both Braille and the supporting vocals take the spotlight. Sometimes he steps beyond the low-key, like tossing some bombastic horns and finger snaps into the mix on "That's My Word."

Symbolyc's problem is that he can't handle a track that gets too complicated. I mentioned "Fill it In" before. It has little clicks and beeps going nowhere, interjected gospel choirs, random screams, all sloshed on top of synth drums and keys. It's a bit reminiscent of the Cannibal Ox/Def Jux sound. But Symbolyc isn't El-P. The beat ends up sounding as if Symbolyc got so excited by all the sounds he learned he could make that he decided he could cram them into one song. Lyrically, it may be the hardest song on the album, but Braille's more traditional flow would have benefited from a more traditional beat.

Despite all the praise he gets, I wouldn't put hope in Braille saving hip-hop. I don't think his next album will be an underground classic . I don't think he does the right things in a radical way to be a huge progressive force for the genre. Still, Christians can be happy they finally have an competent emcee putting out positive music and heads can be happy 2009 finally saw a GOOD album getting exposure. Hipsters move along. This album is too genuine and too genuinely good.

Beats: 7.5 Lyrics: 8.5 Overall Listen: 8
Lesson learned: Be yourself

-Pete JD

Thursday, March 12, 2009

K'naan - Troubadour

Studio LP
Released February 24, 2009

K'naan comes to the game well-hyped. His label has positioned him as an anti-mainstream emcee, whose experience of growing up in the violent streets of Somalia pales the gangsta rap that America still obsesses over. While the fact that his face is plastered all over websites in iTunes ads makes it hard to buy into the fact that he is the answer to the mainstream, his lyricism should be enough to convince listeners that he is a talented, unique emcee. Still, though K'naan has creative control over what comes out of his mouth, listeners may feel a creeping suspicion that his label strong-armed him into using bland, radio-friendly beats.

People can come out and claim that K'naan's album is breaking ground insofar as bringing new sounds into the genre. The glaring problem is that the musical influences brought in on this album are already so tired. Did hip-hop really need Maroon 5's Adam Levine on the hook of "Bang Bang," which sounds more like a Robbie Williams track, or Kirk Hammet playing watery riffs ripped out of a radio-rock song from 2003? The story of K'naan is that he was rapping along to tapes of Rakim and Nas before he even knew how to speak English - it is hard to believe that, were K'naan to have creative control over his music, he would have taken the album in the direction that it went.

That is not to say that there are not highlights in terms of production. "America" brings to mind old-school dancehall beats and K'naan gets a little nostalgic before breaking into the Somali-sung hook. Reggae influences surface on other songs such as "Fire in Freetown." In fact, once you get past the hit-or-miss first half of the album, where it seems most of the more radio friendly songs are, the album's production settles down and stays very consistent in terms of quality.

Lyrically, K'naan holds his own. He is solid working with metaphors and spitting politically, but he sounds at his most comfortable when weaving a story. His history growing up in Somalia obviously provides a great deal of material to draw from. "Fatima" is about the object of affection of a young Somali who is taken away from him by a masked gunman. "Take a Minute" describes the emcee's personal development and hardships.

K'naan has absolutely improved since his debut. His presence on the mic, lyrically and stylistically, is bolder and sharper. He sometimes stumbles with lines that come off too cutesy, such as the hook on the closing track "People Like Me." In trying to steer himself away from the fakeness of gangsta posing, he ends up on the other end of the spectrum singing, "Heaven/Is there a chance that you could come down/And open doors to hurting/People like me." Despite this, it is important to realize that K'naan refuses pity from his listeners. His efforts boil down to the fact that he doesn't want to boast about his tought upbringing or complain about it, he merely wants to tell the stories he has to tell.

Beats: 6.5 Lyrics: 7.5 Overall Listen: 7
Lesson Learned: Mainstream pop is not the best place to mine inspiration from when you're trying to innovate.

Video with Sadat X of Brand Nubians


True Hip-Hop Stories: Sadat X of Brand Nubian from D-Nice on Vimeo.

Great interview done with Sadat X. If you do not know Sadat X, that means you:

A) Have none of his Brand Nubians or solo stuff.
B) Do not have the insanely great underground album Soundbombing 2 from Rawkus.
C) Have Soundbombing and not listened to it.
D) Have Soundbombing and not really listened to it.

Watch the interview, cop Soundbombing, cop the Brand Nubians debut album. I for one realized how much more I gotta get up on their shit.

-Pete JD

Sunday, March 8, 2009

B-Real - Smoke 'N Mirrors

Studio LP
Released February 24, 2009



As a kid born in 1987 and growing up in suburbia, I grew up in a place where the lunch room arguments revolved around who was better, Limp Bizkit or Rage Against the Machine. Nu-metal and rap-rock bands were at their peak. And Cypress Hill put out a disc called Skull & Bones. It was among the first CDs I ever bought as a kid, but after the first few listens, even back then, I wrote it off as being just part of the background noise created by the other groups at the time. It was not until I started getting deep into hip-hop a couple years ago that I began looking harder at Cypress's earlier albums and appreciating the contribution they made, sonically by Muggs, who still continues to put out formidable work (Muggs vs GZA is an essential album for heads) and on the mic by B-Real.



It might be that high expectations then that affected the listening to this disc. First of all, Muggs does not produce a single cut on the album. It's disappointing, it's like a member of the Clan putting out an album without a beat or two from the RZA. It might have been an effort to make his solo work drastically stand out from that of the group, which according to XXL is dropping a new album later this year. It's good to want to push yourself in a different direction musically, but too often on this album, the emcee merely pulls away from Cypress Hill's sound to drift into the uninspired world of commercial rap, with a couple standout exceptions.

The first song on the album is the title track, a solid joint produced by Scoop Deville, beginning with a sped-up vocal from the Stylistics playing over smokey organ chords and strings before hitting you with the bass and the hand-claps. Not like it should surprise anyone, B-Real's flow on this album is as solid as his work with Cypress.


"What's good in the hood/Can you tell me?[...]
The streets are ugly and the world is going through changes/
We fighting at home and out here at unknown places/
We never know what peace is/
We all about war for the money and the violence increases/
I never thought about it when I was younger/
I never thought about we all just numbers/
I only thought about the food on the table/
I was taught to make moves when you're ready and able."


The song sums up B-Real's backstory. A gangbanger and dealer that used to have to hustle to feed his family gets into hip-hop to leave it behind. He's older and he looks back on it, disgusted by the way the world is but unapologetic because he did what he had to. It's a pretty common story, but it's told in a reflective way, and his personal spin on the theme produces a worthwhile listen.


Unfortunately, B-Real visits other rap cliches without spinning them in a meaningful way. Three throwaway tracks come one after the other, including one with the sixteen bars' waste that is Snoop Dogg. Okay, so I guess once you "Get that Dough" you gotta be "Stackn Paper." A hustler would be nothing if he weren't organized. The ideas are tired, and the production, with its try-hard ominous beats and hooks, of some of these songs are something you would expect from a G-Unit offering.


Some of the standouts on the album come about in unexpected ways. "1 Life" brings Sen Dog into the fold. The Cypress emcees switch between Spanish and English over classical guitar, with a hook that translates as 'This is the life I chose, am I the foresaken or the chosen?' "Fire" is, well, it's just about real good weed, but the beat and the hook are catchy as hell. Another track steals the synth and melody of Suzanne Vega's "Tom's Diner" for the chorus. It is up to the listener to decide for themself whether or not that approach works.


If it's not one thing, it's another, and there always seems to be something missing in this album. B-Real is still sharp lyrically and his flow's still solid, although he doesn't switch it up enough for some tracks, but the album might have been great if he could have gotten more than a handful of competent producers and guest spots.


Beats: 6.5 Lyrics: 8 Overall Listen: 7
Lesson Learned: You put Snoop Dogg on your album, you'll just sink to his level.