|At The Date Of This Writing (Vol. 1) by J-Live|
Friday, December 23, 2016
Friday, December 16, 2016
Thursday, November 24, 2016
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
Saturday, November 12, 2016
Friday, November 11, 2016
Sunday, November 6, 2016
Five albums to tell you folks about this week. None are debut projects (except for one by a new pairing, Blu with Union Analogtronics), but all are catalog builders for and from established artists like Common, La Coka Nostra, Sims, Czarface and the aforementioned Blu. Let’s see how they stack up to each other.
Wednesday, November 2, 2016
|Congratulations by Mac Lethal|
Kansas City native Mac Lethal (David McCleary Sheldon) is a lot more than a tight rapper of quality and substance. He is a former artist of Rhymesayers Entertainment and a cofounder of his current label Black Clover Records but most importantly he is an emcee who is committed to staying independent (not on a major label). His debut LP 11:11 arrived in 2007 followed by Irish Goodbye in 2011 and this year, on September 13, he unhinged his door-kicking third full length studio album Congratulations. It’s a wise opus of dream word-offerings with a Tech Nina feature and fun music accompaniments.
Off the hook conceptually, Congratulations is in order with Mac’s sharp vocalism including some of his famous double-time rapping, loads of new advanced rhymes and lots of direct social commentary on the economy, self-employment, health, parenthood and marriage. Before he raps on society at large, he goes into his rocky youth, but once he gets into his explicitly harsh critique on corporations and capitalism, things really start to get interesting. He calls out the love of money and things and explains the problems and pitfalls of menial corporate employment, cubicle pencil-pushing, paper-shuffling and such. He makes clear that this type of wage-slavery is really just building up someone else’s fortune at the expense of the builder.
Later, Mac hits on the importance of living healthy by eating well, exercising and consuming “Weed & Coffee” (optional yet pleasant). Towards the end, he starts in on the family-man topics, i.e. the hard but true realities of being married with children, how it’s very much both bitter and sweet. He reads these notes with a splash of humor but also gallons of sincerity. He’s going through it. Through it all though, Mac’s delivery is clearly spot-on, serving our ears streams of well written lyrics of beautiful wordplay. Congratulations, Mac. This is easily one of the best albums of the year.
5 out of 5 stars
|Happy Camper by Hoodie Allen|
As a young man entering the real world, Hoodie talks a lot about what troubles him, whether it’s girl problems or the demands put on by society, but he’s also decided to be bright about where he is in life and what he has to hold on to. “Intro To Anxiety” is Hoodie’s outpouring of concerns, worries and feelings on nervousness, stress and insecurity in a nice joyful-sounding song ironically. It doesn’t feel hectic at all which is nice. “Are U Having Any Fun?” has a bunch of light dating wiles, and the honest “Remind Me Of” has Hoodie reminiscing but also some of that optimism mentioned before (one line that rings true: “we got sh*tty jobs and bills to pay”). In “So Close To Happiness,” he reminds himself of that intermediate stage of life he’s in with the very millennial-esque chorus line “big house, don’t really need that.” The next four songs in line go along with Hoodie’s thoughts on romantic love, as we'll soon see.
In “Too Invested,” he’s completely committed to the right relationship (“put the money in the bank, girl, I ain’t never too invested”), and in the hotly intimate, super lurid “Surprise Party,” he spends a special night in with his shorty and raps “that’s just me being a little cocky, we can do it on the stairs like Rocky.” His mixed feelings about love then surface in “Make You Feel” and “Champagne And Pools.” All of a sudden he sees the relationship divisions caused by his hard-work, and in the latter song, he wishes for something other than superficial, immature, fun-obsessed girls. For the end, Hoodie has decided to put aside the chick issues for stirrings on fame and family. He weathers the storm of work and comes out on the other side to celebrate in “25th Hour,” and in "King To Me," he speaks to his father with love in his words and voice and in general just talks about the power of family connection, to beautifully cozy piano and his own gorgeous singing.
Happy Camper is the product of no meddling label-intervention (remember, it’s self-released), quality features (Blackbear, Meghan Tonjes, Ricky Smith, SuperDuperKyle), excellent rapping (extra credit for Hoodie’s neat, impressive quicker flows), original innovative production and true proper personality. Hoodie Allen is comfortable being who he is and puts on no showy, pretentious personas, aided mainly by his producers’ help, his own skills and the fire in his belly from his ambitious Jewish roots and upbringing. He spits on relevant topics and unloads tons of awesome, memorable and highly quotable lines, some more being “I got the people divided, I call that Gaza flow” and “take out the gat and ‘Eric-Clapped’ them.” It's not very rebellious or politically testy, and it's perhaps too comfy in its safe suburban spirit, but Happy Camper is excellent feel-good rap that is ok to feel good with.
4 out of 5 stars
(Review by Alex originally appeared on Examiner.com on January 30, 2016.)
Saturday, October 29, 2016
Friday, October 28, 2016
Monday, October 24, 2016
|Nihilismo by Sole & DJ Pain 1|
By the end, you'll see that deep down Sole knows exactly what's wrong with the world, and he's not afraid to voice his concerns. He exposes inherited wealth, Native American genocide, privatized education, slave-employment, vanishing democracy, fracking and more in "Generation F*cked," the intro. In "Too Small To Fail (DIY)," he spreads more awareness, this time about big brother taking over our time and lives, and "Capitalism (Is Tearing Us Apart)" is his pop-anthem decrying how neoliberalism and out-of-control free markets are crushing the world. Nature and people are visited in "Flood" with topics on chemically and genetically modified foodstuffs, women being pushed into the workforce away from their children and families, and white privilege versus black despair. In fact, his epiphanic observation there about how whites can freely run weed stores while blacks get jail if they sell the same product is extremely telling and embarrassing for America.
"Hostage Crisis" is concerned with the very usual practice of the US, NATO, OECD nations, really any of those entities, being at perennial war with third world countries and their seemingly endless, restricting imperialism overseas. Sole's got incredibly conscious knowledge, criticizing leadership when the shoe fits, describing the last days, extending end-of-the-world feelings, even polemicizing those people who are actually afraid to die ("Exodus"). DJ Pain 1 is likewise right there with Sole in essence, matching all the lyrics with fitting sound pieces note by note, tone for tone. It's all brought together at the end with Sole's intelligent accelerated lyrics saying people everywhere pretty much think the same and agree on many of the same values in "Our Words" with family struggles and the fortitude to work through them being the focal point of "Battle of Humans," the one spot where Sole gets really personal about his own life. Nihilismo is one of those rare wonderful moments in hip-hop when artists really focus on the painful conditions of real people all around the world, not catering to the agendas of corporate machines. It's a sign of the times, a cry to rally around the common cause for good and a sign of cohesion in hip-hop - in this case one proven undersurface rapper linking with a supremely gifted producer from aboveground. Nihilismo explains why nihilism is prevalent these days but makes it its goal to find a better lifestyle and philosophy.
5 out of 5 stars
(Review by Alex originally appeared on Examiner.com on April 24, 2016.)
|Everything in Between by Ugly Heroes|
Everything in Between gives us a lot of what we all need more of, beautiful universal truth. Let's start at the top. In "Today Right Now," the refreshing lyrical duo of Red and Kent bring forth eye-opening revelations with the ultimate message being to not take life for granted, and they proceed with more fresh wisdom ("Daisies"), the advocation of good strong character ("Peace of Mind") and their own experiences with diversity, tolerance and community ("Place Called Home"). The most time-marked, most newsworthy song of the first half, "This World" lets Kent and Red Pill set things straight and rap sense about maladies across the globe - racism, Trump, brutal police, etcetera, and everything is presented in a very calm, serene and unobjectionable way, especially thanks to Apollo Brown. His gorgeous soul and easygoing jazz productions are to die for, commonly agreeable listening for all.
Down the line, the subject of "Can't Win For Losin'" is falling on hard times, and then Red Pill, who is the biggest star of "Roles," raps about being reluctant of bringing innocent children into a hateful world there. "Heart Attack" makes sure dreams, goals and high aspirations do not drop dead, and "Unforgiven" lays out two great rap stories. Red Pill confronts a detached resentful grandfather and Verbal Kent says accurately that a criminal set free by the justice system will forever be in mental prison. Lastly, they show their fangs in "Fair Weather" to help balance out any softness heard in the lead up sections. This timeless triumvirate are nothing short of magnificent in this perfect Everything in Between album. These Ugly Heroes could literally bring anyone onto their cause because one: they speak the truth and very eloquently at that, and two: they are backed by beat-prodigy Apollo Brown and his soothing jazz, blues and rock in a dynamic mixture. Furthermore, he reaffirms and strengthens his own style. Three heads are better than one here. Each man makes the other two tremendous people by giving them support and approval, and overall, they simply have an exceedingly splendid project on their hands and now it's in their fan's hands.
5 out of 5 stars
(Review by Alex originally appeared on Examiner.com on June 24, 2016.)