Friday, November 17, 2017

Talib Kweli - 'Radio Silence' (Album Review)

Brooklyn Black Star and Reflection Eternal emcee Talib Kweli had been teasing his Radio Silence solo album since 2015 (at the most recent) so for it to come a full two years later is just enough time for fans to wait, even with the other projects Kweli's label Javotti Media made in the interim. Relax and exhale because the anticipated album, finally here, passes the hardest critical tests. With that cool, post-2010 Talib Kweli feel (in other words the first impression made after Javotti's inception), Radio Silence is an indie affair of flyness, anthems, calm vocal protest against violence in the streets, love, and guests from the under- and aboveground, all of them, even Waka Flocka and Rick Ross, pulling substance out for this particular artist and occasion. Despite all the wisdom and awareness in the author, the subject matter takes only some risks and not quite seismic, and the production, while prominent, won't have everyone coming back for seconds or thirds. It doesn't match the perfection or near-perfection of Talib Kweli's earliest work, but because it's nicely conscious, free of any major slip-ups and arriving at a time when mainstream rap is lowering its performance-related standards, Radio Silence really can catch on and silence the radio. (3 out of 5 stars)

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Shredders - 'Dangerous Jumps' (Album Review)

Shredders quartet might be missing three key Doomtree members (Dessa, Cecil Otter and Mike Mictlan, the last of whom guests here), but they have surprisingly made their Dangerous Jumps album hot and very reminiscent of the original collective still. Emcees POS and Sims supply the endless energy on vocals, and Paper Tiger and Lazerbeak do the same on the beats. For an LP that is almost exclusively pump up jams and power raps, these Shredders have truly satisfied at the very least their core fanbase, using artistic EDM, amped up IDM in other words. (3 out of 5 stars)

Stream here

Mr. Lif & Brass Menažeri - 'Resilient' (Album Review)

The genre-fusing swing of Brass Menažeri is slightly new musical terrain for complex, conscious emcee Mr. Lif (not to mention more organic and acoustic than he's used to) but a compliment to his deep lyrics anyhow. In their collaborative project, Lif puts politics in play a few times though he also leans back to simply enjoy the ride, intermittently letting his band partners shine by themselves, like the sheen of their instruments. Resilient could use more rapping, and original rapping at that ("What About Us" is a remix of the 2009 Lif single), but for the most part, the album is a full-bodied treat for the refined palate. (3 out of 5 stars) 

Friday, October 27, 2017

Big K.R.I.T. - '4eva is a Mighty Long Time' (Album Review)

Off Def Jam and onto another major label, Mississippi-born emcee Big K.R.I.T. is still locked in by one of the big boys though perhaps not the most well known of them. His third album and a double LP at that, entitled 4eva is a Mighty Long Time, comes via Multi Alumni, but only after receiving the green light from BMG Rights Management, a subsidiary of multinational corporation Bertelsmann. Needless to say then, we get some superficial subject matter, and much of the first section is its home. Disrespect towards women, drug use plus money, spending and just propaganda for consumerism make praising this portion of the album extremely difficult. Before the more meaningful close, K.R.I.T. even acknowledges the duplicity in “Mixed Messages.” He tries to justify his conflicting themes and inconsistencies as all natural, fine and even cool, if you believe the tone of the song and fail to question the motives of the company with which he’s involved. The large amount of material helps a little bit and so does the fresh production that mainly works as verse accompaniment as opposed to anthem- and hit-making support, but it’s simply mired by hazy language and contradictory beliefs that can’t be taken as genuinely K.R.I.T.’s own. (2 out of 5 stars)    

Yelawolf - 'Trial by Fire' (Album Review)

Slumerican, Shady and Interscope country-slicker Yelawolf returns bearing his fourth LP Trial By Fire, after the typical 2.5 years since his last, the Love Story album of 2015. With more backwoods-active raps over folk rock guitars and an insidious alcohol-and-drinking trope, Yelawolf and his labels have assembled an album more similar to all of his previous projects combined than not, but not necessarily for the better. Yelawolf’s emcee skills are upright and he takes turns championing friendship, family and his musical influences but Trial By Fire is to a greater extent a series of melodramatic character studies, with stereotypes included. People getting their hands dirty to get by, dangerous city dwellers, a cheating male lover and a grief stricken father put on a showcase of human suffering in painfully expected, traditional roles. And as we’ve said, the drinking motif makes everything that much more slimy. Trial by Fire, which is no better than average, fails to exchange the image of Yelawolf as a wild, rural industry-rapper for that of an enlightening, evolving, multidimensional artist. (2 out of 5 stars) 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Sha Stimuli - 'Lazarus' (Album Review)

Longtime Brooklyn emcee Sha Stimuli (Sherod Khaalis) took a four year hiatus from the music in the years of 2013 through the greater part of 2016. In September and December of 2016, the conscious rhyme-gymnast at last dropped two singles, “Sticks And Stones” and “New Jordans/A Poem For Mike.” Lazarus, Khaalis’s comeback LP and a September 2017 release (with 10 Minutes Late Records) can already easily be called one of the supreme rap highlights of the year. In it, the straight-up lyricist and role model sounds not a day removed from his craft. Listeners are in for real honest stories, wholesome lessons and a clinic in the fine points of rapping all in one.    

Since Khaalis has been away so long and also because he’s not caught in the mainstream spotlight, his background needs some revisiting. This artist’s journey began during the golden era. As the younger brother of Masta Ace Incorporated producer Lord Digga, Khaalis would learn from and contribute to his elder sibling’s work. In addition to befriending Masta Ace, he also met the other Juice Crew artists being in such close proximity to him. Khaalis’s own debut LP, My Soul To Keep, arrived in 2009, but he is perhaps most well known for his extensive mixtape discography. In 2008 alone, he released twelve of them, one in each month of the year.  

In Lazarus, Khaalis of course stands out for his outstanding wordplay and messages but so does the rock and gospel-tinged production with samples of “Frere Jacques,” Paula Cole’s “I Don’t Want To Wait” and more. Plus velvety song-vocals by guests like the reappearing Jennifer Myles provide nice counterbalance to Khaalis’s intense lyricism. More than mere supplements, this music and the feature artists are part and parcel of the project alongside the main attraction—Khaalis’s priceless verses. 

With his complex yet conversational flow, he raps on the tragic, violent hood-environment and how his life as a child revolved around basketball, rap and the streets in “The Wake, Pt. 2.” Another opus and an industry study in fact is rolled out (or enrolled you could say) in “Jail University,” where Khaalis examines how the separate paths of prison and college affect a career in rap, differently and sometimes with little to no difference. 

We really start to see how healthy his mentality is in “So Grateful” and then immediately afterward in “The Edge, Pt. 1 & Pt. 2.” As you may have guessed but are yet to truly experience the glory of, the first describes how blessed our author is just to be alive. In the second, he says ‘bring it on’ to any and all tests of strength that could possibly come his way, with a ‘give-me-all-you’ve-got’ attitude, and by summoning his inner Melle Mel stating, “please push me ‘cause I’m close to the edge […] ‘cause I, I wanna know if I can fly.”     

Your heart and soul will no doubt be soothed and warmed by the end but also, your mind will happily carry the weight of Khaalis’s load-bearing speeches. He discusses the struggle for positive racial identity in the hood and the deterioration of the health of black culture in America due to commercialism for one, how media and program directors for example have played a ravaging part in drawing a distorted picture and painting the color lines with unsuitable hues. But still, Khaalis doesn’t shy away from placing some responsibility on the shoulders of the very people who are having the hardest time. Because some of their problems are self-wrought.

Khaalis remembers to say something severely critical about absentee fathers in “Remember Me,” following it up with a tragically ending cheating-slash-domestic-violence story across songs “Bad Day” and “Escape The Lies.” Fortunately and as a result of great song placement, penultimate track “Impatience” comes through to encourage us to seize the day, reach our fullest potential, and recognize and appreciate the greatness of simply having life. Using his positive knowledge and wisdom, his sincerity and of course his high caliber flow, Khaalis enriches the spirit, whether he’s inspiring us to fight on with force behind his firm words or by connecting with us through his clarity and sprawling relatability. (5 out of 5 stars)    

(Sha Stimuli's Lazarus can be purchased at all major retail sites and can be streamed on YouTube and streamed and purchased on Bandcamp.)

"Jail University" music video here

"Together" music video here 

Friday, October 13, 2017

Spose - 'Humans' (Album Review)

Maine-bred emcee Spose (Ryan Peters) claims to have made Humans, his third album of 2017, in twenty-four hours but the planning behind it probably took much longer. An exhibition that (on the surface at least) proves the P. Dank crew masters at project execution, Humans is another example of the fine offerings typical of hip-hop’s artistic underground, which is outside the jurisdiction of major labels. Spose’s established style recreation, standard loyalty to the music rules and too few wow-moments pull Humans back from perfection, but melodic hooks, musical beats, good guests and solid concepts place it above the average. Intro track “Humans” is a must listen but the entire ten track set is surely no waste of time either. (3 out of 5 stars)