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

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


All City Fitted ( 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 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


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 or iTunes. GET LEGS