Saturday, August 27, 2016

Red Pill offers another way to perceive the world in 'Instinctive Drowning'

Instinctive Drowning by Red Pill
Southeast Michigan ambassador, Ugly Heroes emcee and very close acquaintance to real life, Red Pill sees nothing much in his style that needs changing, and he would be right in that regard. His tone orbiting reality-based malaise and his solid bars of wordplay don’t require a lot of maintenance at this point. Only a year after coming out with his solo debut, Look What This World Did To Us, he returns with album number two, Instinctive Drowning (Aug 26, Mello Music Group). This time, he again thinks out loud candidly and outside the box bringing quality lyrics of course and inventive beats by Ill Poetic.
The real talk begins in “The New Normal,” as Red Pill’s sagely, spirited spitting projects down-and-out feelings like that which is conveyed when he says “the new normal is hopeless.” From “Four Part Cure,” we can see that he’s really into those unsexy natural discussion topics that everyday people would talk on. There’s no corporate, top-down mandated agenda speaking here. Plus, the aggravated rock refrains and light psychedelia interspersed in the verses there give it a double feeling much like the duality of life. Club privilege, something Red Pill is probably relatively new to, gets the spotlight in its own song over swingy electric guitar and the feelings that come with having unquestioned celebrity pull.
Sh*t gets even realer in “Stars,” as Red wrestles with longing, desire, and the difficulty and refusal to fit into the roles pushed by the media. The one and only guest, P.O.S from Doomtree, stops by in “F*ck Your Ambition” to help make the point that failure makes us what we are more so than success. Two great concept pieces remain, “Instinctive Drowning” and “When The Devil Knocks.” The first is an anti-alcoholism notice tacked to more psychedelic rock, this time building and lightly suspenseful, and the second warns of the final ultimate judgement when we’ll all have to answer for our evils. It’s also a bash on imperialism, religious fanaticism and right wing white supremacy.
Red Pill just supplies incredible wisdom and counter-philosophy in perfect poetry. Of the recurring themes – sadness, the search for happiness, the problems with self-medication and the eventual regret that comes with it – are of course big ones, but Red Pill does touch on a few others, like technology and consumerism. There is still the overhanging question of where his glum disposition will head in years to come, but now it’s like his fuel, his driving force. Shouts also to Ill Poetic, whose creative new arrangements are truly rich and dynamic, never cheesy or thin. Instinctive Drowning is another win for Red Pill, Mello Music, Detroit and hip-hop.
4 out of 5 stars

Thursday, August 25, 2016

'As Seen On The Internet,' Futuristic is turning out to be a great in this era

As Seen On The Internet by Futuristic
Bloomington, Illinois to Tempe, Arizona emcee Futuristic (Zach Beck) has a new album out. Does anymore need to be said? The rising rap talent once again delivers in As Seen On The Internet, his seventh solo album (Aug 26, We’re The Future Records) and a very solid ensemble of rap songs indeed. He has some fun plus some bones to pick with friendly guest artist support, contemporary hip-hop production and like always, quality lyricism.
Futuristic is a grinder. His current, super nice flow that is quick, clean and rhyme-packed not to mention brain food for any rap lover is the product of years of development, exercise and fine-tuning on the eager vocalist’s part. He’s got a good balance of the serious and the zany here. As much as he goes wild, Futuristic also concentrates on sending memos to the people. He sharply tells off his nonbelievers with lots of bite, sense and knowledge but also encourages virtues of hardwork in “Time is Now” and “Do It” and technology portion control (if you will) in “No Service.”
Futuristic is joined by Hopsin, Devvon Terrell, Karmin and Goody Grace. The music features an assortment of synth instruments in modern beat arrangements and architecture with some careful, crowd-pleasing choruses, and the weaved in skits bring the comedy. Let’s face it. The guy did the right thing since dropping the party hearty Coast 2 Coast side tour album from last year, which was of course to sober up and make a project of substance to follow. His evolution is moving forward steadily and on schedule.
4 out of 5 stars

De La Soul carry over tradition in 'And The Anonymous Nobody'

And The Anonymous Nobody by De La Soul
It’s been twelve years since the hip-hop men of De La Soul released their last LP (The Grind Date, 2004) so it makes sense that they would require a Kickstarter campaign to fund their new works. And The Anonymous Nobody (Aug 26/AOI), their eighth and latest studio album as a full posse, serves all the great De La idiosyncrasies with some diversity of music and good guests for an all around solid retro-esque rap offering.
These aging De La Soul artists (Posdnuos, Dave and Maseo) are low-key in energy and volume most of the time, but their rhyme games are still respectably sharp. It’s not bad that the general tone is warm. Platitudes and wise adages are sprinkled on their verses like the occasional gray hairs you might find on the authors’ scalps. The majority of the album is spent just kicking it it seems, as these legends casually toss their rhymes down with ease and skill. On their minds are past loves (“Memory Of… Us”), the trappings of the fast glamorous busy life (“Greyhounds”), the problem with snooty people (“Nosed Up”) and hopes that we the people will go out into the world and do good (“Exodus”).
The production is right up there with the vocals in substance, befitting of the De La Soul brand. Highfalutin horns drape “Royalty Capes,” a variation of electro-funk brings the “Pain,” and “Lord Intended” is drawn out with firm rock guitar lines. A couple more joints (“Drawn” and “Here In After”) also feature those semi-extended swaths of instrumental music with cool controlled jazz featured in the last example and penultimate track.
Above all though, fans need to ask themselves if in this album there is the boundary-pushing and trend-setting of De La’s early 1990s past. There really isn’t, but they’re also probably not trying to be cutting-edge also. In some parts, they’re really not talking about anything out of the ordinary in particular, but they’re also not causing harm with their words so it could be much worse. It’s very comforting to hear the welcome sounds of De La Soul again no question. And The Anonymous Nobody is definitely not as middling or poor as a below average rating would suggest, but it’s also not wildly extraordinary. Overall we have a mediocre hip-hop album for the standards of these days and times, but the effort is very much appreciated.
3 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Watsky goes out on some limbs without upsetting anyone in 'x Infinity'

x Infinity by Watsky
Well regarded slam poet and rapper Watsky (George Watsky) from San Francisco cannot be denied for his ability to alter his vocals, twist his tongue and excite with his mouthpiece. His rhymes are always on point, each one fitting in perfectly with the one before, and if he’s not rapping on topic, then you can find him making fun of and poking holes through various worldly phenomena. His wild yet reassuring new escapade of an album entitled x Infinity (Aug. 19, Steel Wool/Empire) is both wily Watsky at heart and cosmopolitan in nature, able to generate interest in just about anyone, exuberantly produced and vocalized impressively and breathtakingly, Watsky’s specialty of course.
Throughout all the records, the Bay born poet/rapper uses a host of vocal techniques and delivery methods for a rollercoaster ride of mouth-audio. Watsky punches, hurdles and stabs through with his words. He lifts, lowers, punctuates and pauses himself so that the lyricism is a sensational extravaganza of a listen by itself. Creating a perfect backdrop, the profuse pronounced productions that Watsky makes a playground out of with his voice are guided by captain Kush Mody of the beat-making crew and serve as a very nice compliment to the lyrics, as Watsky speaks on subjects a plenty and hefty ones too, from cultural segregation and the lack of communal unity to experimentation in sex all the way to end of life issues and questions, even touching on Paris terrorism and gun violence as well.
Common folk will find a kindred spirit in Watsky here, but his spectacular sound-off strategies are far from casual, usual or ordinary. As it is his fourth studio album to date, he is making a sturdy case that he is one of hip-hop’s great vocalists and word-players in this early part of the century. He could not have done it alone though. Danny McClain, Julia Nunes, Chaos Chaos, Mal Devisa and a powerhouse passel of poets and emcees in the bonus finale “Exquisite Corpse” all make x Infinity very memorable. Watsky does dip into challenging thought and ideology, albeit without really putting his ass out on the line so the risk-taking is given a spark if not a roasting. When all is said and done though, this album does have the good stuff of fortitude to live on times infinity for sure.
4 out of 5 stars

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Rae Sremmurd fail to make memories in the struggling 'SremmLife 2'

SremmLife 2 by Rae Sremmurd
When duo Rae Sremmurd (Swae Lee + Slim Jimmi) dropped their debut studio album, SremmLife, in January 2015, they hit the game with a fun spunky youthfulness that was ingenuous but also fresh and challenging, and combined with Mike Will Made-It’s new age mixes, they quickly became an ear-worm sensation. Fast forward a year and eight months and we have their sophomore/sequel LP, SremmLife 2 (Aug. 12, Eardruma/Interscope). Unfortunately, this followup is a step-down for the twosome, less fun, less decent and less practical than the original.
Mike Will and his helpers P-Nasty, DJ Mustard, Skooly and others combine hard and soft sounds in just the right ways and at just the right volumes for a very moving production set indeed. Their specialty here would be the distant vocal effects and wide, spacey atmospheric ambiance in tracks like the ‘80s-ish “Look Alive.” The bump and bounce of other tracks cut through very well though, and Gucci Mane, Juicy J and Lil Jon help give them that feel. The topics covered as you might suspect never stray from girls, drugs, booze, cars, jewelry, partying, money and a whole lot of spending. Sometimes, when the boys aren’t reading out loud basic rhymes of scripted industry-rhetoric, they are completely content just cry-singing about their unrequited loves.
Except for the creative beats, SremmLife 2 is a disappointment, but this type of near-drivel should be expected from a major money-driven label like Interscope and young artists like these who have so little say and control over their artistic decision-making. It’s a shame the carefully crafted musics by Mike and company had to go to waste supporting Swae and Jim’s dumbed down lyrics. They’re not sloppy vocalists, but they are sloppily principled in the album. Perhaps they should stick together and redeem themselves with an indie project before splitting up. The fans definitely deserve it after this.
2 out of 5 stars

Show Banga breaks his leg in 'ShowTime 2'

ShowTime 2 by Show Banga
San Franciscan hyphy-rapper Show Banga, who has been making a name for himself in the Bay since around 2011, did enough last year to stick in memories with his lacking yet respectable Mayor 4 Life LP. Now he does it again, with the same lowbrow amplitude as before but with much less innovation in ShowTime 2 (Aug. 12, HomeTeam/Mo Betta/Empire).
The album is a score if all you want is undeveloped adolescent chanting, gallivanting and hooting on the fun party life and things of that nature. It’s a real bummer however if you’re looking to hear something decidedly smart come out of Show’s mouth. In no way low on anthemic show choruses or kitschy local catchwords and phrases, ShowTime 2 may not be violent or dangerously crime-ridden, but it’s desperately in need of a dignified air and attitude.
As far as representing the Bay and keeping true to hyphy, this is ok, but overall it’s simply a lot of pep and very little substance, superficial with low quality lyrical content. Not only that, it has the intelligence level of the recent Kid Ink in fact – low. Within the area of hyphy, one could go into an exhaustive unnecessary analysis-slash-critique of this somehow, but the effort would be for naught. Everything done on these records vocally could reasonably be delivered by anyone with a trained set of vocal cords, not just a skilled talented emcee.
1 out of 5 stars

Friday, August 12, 2016

Atmosphere combine two of their favorite things in 'Fishing Blues'

Fishing Blues by Atmosphere
Famous, veteran Rhymesayers duo Atmosphere (emcee Sean “Slug” Daley and producer Anthony “Ant” Davis) from Minneapolis have come a long way and are on their eighth studio album, Fishing Blues (Aug. 12/Rhymesayers Entertainment), but they’ve always been consistently good with their music, even on this their new present to us. The blended music and vocals here are top quality as Slug spins his involved, intricate lyrics around Ant’s modestly diversified new arrangements, all mastered to crisp audio perfection. Nothing on Fishing Blues deviates from the established Atmosphere standard, but it’s a fine, respectable set of records to be accurate.
Slug, like always, raps on a little bit of everything so to speak: self-deprecation, everyday drudgery, misfortune, love, romance and also minute-by-minute relationship feelings and thoughts. All make for a mainly clean, traditional, cozy and safe hip-hop experience by these major players from the land of 10,000 lakes. In one moment, Slug very lightly touches on discrimination, prejudice and the great difference between the living-standards of the bottom and top classes of society, and the most controversy we get is guest Kool Keith’s insertion in “When The Lights Go Out” that money truly has no value (after all, what does have value is help, contribution, sharing, labor, sacrifice, donation, devotion and the like), so from one perspective, just about everything on Fishing Blues is safe sheltered territory for Atmosphere.
The quality artistry of this product with the good mixing and the well chosen sounds and tones coupled with Slug’s clear, rich rapping is still remarkable though. Plus, the guests including DOOM, Aesop Rock and The Grouch are unbeatable. The only real noticeable cause for concern is that Atmosphere are somewhat too comfortable in their usual mode and style at this point. Fishing Blues makes the cut, but the overall impression and feel of this album is so much like that of the last three Atmosphere albums that a switch-up would have been more appreciated. For the most part however, this remains a distinctively unique project from the solid unmistakeable Midwestern group.
3 out of 5 stars

Monday, August 8, 2016

3D Na’Tee impresses and inspires in ‘The Regime,’ her debut LP and a new hip-hop classic

The Regime by 3D Na'Tee
The newest first lady of New Orleans hip-hop, 3D Na’Tee (Samantha Davon James), demands to be heard with her piercing, impactful rap-lyricism in The Regime, her first official full-length studio album, independently released with pride on August 1st via her own self-titled imprint. This incredible emcee has been developing her skills since she was a child growing up in NOLA’s 3rd Ward, and now, fans of real rap will see that all those years of training were very well worth it. She has collaborated extensively, having left her mark on other spitters’ joints, and was lured with no success to serve under the labels of Timbaland, Birdman, Russell Simmons and Steve Rifkind among others but like a true champ, she remained a freelance (and professional) rhyme-writer/reciter through it all, as she is here. Not only does she bring fine bars and lyrics in this nice long album (twenty-five tracks and around eighty-two minutes in duration), but she flaunts admirable maturity and a commitment to grow herself mentally and socially.
It properly features original comprehensive beat-production blending samples and the best hip-hop trends of the modern era, but it is without a doubt Na’Tee’s impeccable verses that take the cake. Consider yourself warned of her coming reign. Surprisingly open about her life and affairs, Na’Tee is also strongly against fitting into stereotypes, including those that revolve around female rappers. She is staunchly opposed to body enhancements and women giving sexual favors in return for career advancement. She is in search of love but also explains the importance of preserving self and being sexually wise, not to mention musically autonomous. Plus she shares that she has been betrayed by cheating men in the past in “You Don’t Know What Love Is” and “Deserve Me” featuring T. Cherrelle.
The storytelling and messages, as you could guess, are out of this world and major sources for success here. In the deep, multilayered tale within “Maria,” she tells of her competitive relationship with a childhood friend by that name who takes a dark path later in life and ultimately falls on very hard times as Na’Tee tragically discovers. Later she puts a modern day twist and shares her take on relationship specters in “No Pressure” (ft. Jhene Aiko), forming a less strict, less demanding new policy on finding chemistry with a mate there.
In examining the downslide of American civilization currently, she is gravely concerned about the poor intellect, mental decay and the drop in sophistication among the poverty classes of America in “Young America.” She discusses growing up economically depressed in “Rich Dad Poor Dad” but nobly steers us away from the traditional route of wage-slavery in that same song. Continuing with this classy, courageous “controversiality,” she discourages going for flashy superficial materialism, sky-high money and consumerism, as she picks honor and art over a big record deal and rejects empty money-based pipe-dreaming in “Industry Negus.” From a purely lessons-based standpoint, those are hands down the three best records on the album.
“Running Away” finds 3D Na’Tee wrestling and yet dealing with some of her own significant mental burdens, and in “Authentic,” she owns her own brand instead of letting a private business entity do it for her with impropriety. She will not buy into or sellout for the BS. Her “Miseducation” and title track end The Regime with sheer wisdom, resolve and more notice to us of her arrival. Na’Tee surely has love and kindness in her soul, but it’s so much fun to hear her tear apart her competition with her ripping condescension, honed from years of battle-rapping as a youth. She is an amazing lyricist with fiercely creative lines of entertaining metaphors (name-drops included) and a ton of very respectable wordplay, all rifled off without a hitch, backed by her everlasting stamina and vocal endurance. Still, she is at her best when she focuses on undoing social ills with the power of her words and actions. With her stories and values, she gives us every reason to be independent of mind. Now it’s up to us to take after her example.
5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Slim Thug's domain may be an American king-dumb in fourth 'Hogg Life' LP

Hogg Life Vol. 4: American King by Slim Thug
Word must have gotten back to the original “Thugga” himself, Slim Thug, that the last two parts of his Hogg Life album-series, Vol. 2: Still Surviving and Vol. 3: Hustler of the Year, were being seen in the eyes of listeners as too basic, formulaic and superficial because his newest installment in the string, Vol. 4: American King, was intentionally recorded with a more mature, wise tone from Thug. Immediately after he begins rapping in the first cut, you’ll be able to tell that this time Thug has come with some (contrived?) character and depth, and it stays this way all the way to the end.
The nature of Thug’s rhymes is still very rudimentary and facile in his constantly slow tempo of delivery, and the productions by Mr. Lee, G&B, Donnie Houston and the others are totally unremarkable and run-of-the-mill like the imagination put into filling the guest-spots, that feature Boosie BadAzz, X.O. and Nikki Lactson, but the common messages and lessons Thug gives us make up for both lesser aspects of the disc and the rapper’s recent lacking album-performances enough for a little redemption and no more.
Thug’s emphasis on a positive attitude and hard work (which could be propaganda telling us to work for “the man” how “the man” likes until our backs give out) pops up regularly and often, and he varies his topics only somewhat across the entire length of American King. He is critical of the childish primitive behavior of folks in ghetto communities, saddened by the loss of his friends to prison and death, and is committed to avoiding the same fate. He envisions a brighter future for “his people” as he refers to them and is mournful and dumbfounded by the inexplicable ways of the status quo in the hood, using violence in the black community as a prominent example.
His commitment to hustling and grinding and his dedication to his offspring, trademarks of his personality and style, are of course very much evident in the project, but nowhere does he disapprove of the grossly uneven, oppressive capitalist economy that brought him to great wealth and superstardom and many other respectable working people to dead or limited ends. Moments like “Chuuch” suggest that Thug’s solution is to try and pray away the problems in our system or hope that God fixes them, both irrational options. He keeps saying “Hold Your Head Up” and that things will “Get Better,” but it’s easy for him to say. He’s rich, and too many of us aren’t.
After contemplating how Slim Thug does business on this album, it almost seems like he’s saying whatever he has to to make customers out of his critics. It’s suspicious that Thug would make three albums last year of mostly kingpin/mogul-type rap content and then one this year of deep philosophical perspective. If Slim Thug is a caring concerned representative of the modest masses, why didn’t this side of him appear to any considerable extent in any of his 2015 LPs or those from years prior? It is certainly noted and maybe even appreciated that Thug would put forth meaningful words like those in American King, but they are all ones that the few powerful elite-members of the media would approve of and not necessarily ones that only the bottom ninety-nine percent of the population would approve of, i.e. populist, socialist, progressive values that would enfranchise and empower all, not make promises that may not be kept or come true.
American King is perhaps offered more to ensure Thug’s continued music career survival and our obedience to buy his products than to enlighten us actually, and while this is supposed to be an improvement on the first three entries in the Hogg Life saga (in fact, it’s only as good as The Beginning which itself is only a little better than 2 and 3), it mainly repeats mainstream talking points and agendas, rather than challenging the foundation, core and structure of our modern day society. And ultimately, it’s difficult to tell if Slim Thug is all the way sincere with his views here. On one hand, American King seems to encourage smart sensible thoughts and behavior in people on the surface, but on the other, it also seems to foster in us complacent satisfaction with the heavy problematic way that things are so as not to spread revolutionary beliefs or start grassroots collectivism at the bottom.
2 out of 5 stars

Joey Purp’s three eyes are wide open in his official sophomore mixtape, ‘iiiDrops’

iiiDrops (mixtape) by Joey Purp
Right in line and fine formation with Chicago’s growing renaissance of young flourishing hip-hop artists like Chance The Rapper, Vic Mensa, Noname, G Herbo, Kembe X, Lance Skiiiwalker and many more, Joey Purp (Joey Davis) of the Savemoney and Leather Corduroy crews is in like fashion making a way for himself with his creative well written rhyme lines focusing on his environment and the conditions of his residence over music made by his similarly talented friends and producers de la Chi. His second mixtape, iiiDrops (released independently on May 27), follows his 2012 debut The Purple Tape and is a firm potent mix of fun jams and joints displaying his societal sociopolitical awareness and consciousness that reveal the uneven keel he, his family and mates experience everyday in their city. Purp’s attention to authentic rapping on smart brilliant topics to beats of a new unique nature makes iiiDrops one of the most urgent Chicago hip-hop projects to come out so far this year.

A serious emcee in all respects, Purp gets his points across without wasting time or added unnecessary filler but keeps his tone light in songs like the bouncy flirty “Girls” featuring Chance The Rapper, “Photobooth,” and the hazy blurry “Kids” narco-ballad. To set the overall emotional framework of the project initially though, he admits he has firsthand eyewitness knowledge of Chiraq violence yet hopes for the best in “Morning Sex,” he raps about the status quo and speaks on ways the poor and disadvantaged are kept down in “Money & Bitches” featuring Mick Jenkins (another great Chicago rapper), and states in the Teddy Jackson-assisted “When I’m Gone” that “the system just make[s] a victim out of innocent people, set[s] us up for failure and tells us that we [are] not an equal.”

In “Cornerstore,” with Saba and theMIND, Purp touches on some of his touching childhood memories from when he was a more impressionable, vulnerable youngster, and in “Say You Do,” he confronts his girl who he suspects is feigning affection for him. From there on out, it’s nothing but good vibes. “Godbody” is an exhibition of Purp’s ability to transmit tight flows in perfect music time and to close everything out, “Winners Circle” (ft. Vic Mensa) and “Escape” march forward into the horizon with persistence, determination, ambition and commitment, ignoring all distractions at every step. All along the way, Joey is aided by eleven all new, original, unrecycled beats from maestros of record-making like Knox Fortune, Peter Cottontale, Thelonious Martin and Donnie Trumpet. Obviously the Social Experiment influence on the music is effulgent and unescapable though altered a bit for an overall coarser, more overcast shade and essence, tailored to Purp's personality. Joey Purp may not do anything much more progressive besides diagnosis the problems evident in his hometown here (some solutions and a possible prognosis would have been helpful), but without question, iiiDrops is another big one-up for Chicagoland and a fab add-on to hip-hop history for a city that really needs it at the moment.

4 out of 5 stars

Monday, August 1, 2016

Noname has a fresh new way to call on us via 'Telefone'

Telefone (mixtape) by Noname
Buzzing Bronzeville, Chicago rapper Noname (Fatimah Warner) has finally made it to that special milestone of sharing with the world her very first project, a "mixtape" titled Telefone, released July 31 on SoundCloud. The cool young rhymer keeps it very kind and lovely on the issue, rapping on her desires, hopes and concerns and recalling un-erasable childhood memories and other mental snapshots from her past. She is very chill and soft and sends well wishes to her fam and friends in “Bye Bye Baby” and reveals her prayers for peace amidst the violence in her city in “Casket Pretty.”

All of the soul-soothing crooning and rhyming fit the warm, quiet, twinkly background music like a glove, and besides herself, the eleven guests, including theMIND, Raury, Cam O’bi, Saba and Smino, astonishingly don’t overcrowd the project and on the flip side help generate enthusiasm for the calm, gentle and tranquil feel of the proceedings. Noname is a welcome contrast to the brash harsh femcees of other areas and eras, and she is wise to reject over-sexualization and sassy booshy tendencies. It’s quite unique and original of her. Kudos to Noname.

Now for the part all artists dread, the blunt criticism. Noname is almost a singer at times so in the mixtape’s thirty-three minutes, she hasn’t given us enough of a show of her rapping/rhyming skills. She has them, but it would have been nice to hear more than we actually get here. And except for her thoughts on the rampant problem of Chicago violence, there is not much unconventional protesting or wowing going on that is so commonplace in rebel, renegade rap, but Noname seems to be no shock artist so she gets a pass (also considering this is her first album-effort). Otherwise, she does very well for hip-hop and Chicago overall in Telefone. The cuddly cozy productions are reminiscent of the general tone of Kanye’s College Dropout beats for example and blend nicely with the comforting Chancellor Bennett-style sounds and sentiments. It’s a real win by most accounts.

3 out of 5 stars

Johnny Richter is chock full of positivity and emcee-spunk in 'School's Out: Still Laughing'

School's Out: Still Laughing by Johnny Richter
Former Kottonmouth Kings emcee Johnny Richter released his official sophomore LP, School’s Out: Still Laughing, on July 29 via Suburban Noize Records, and besides some unremarkable production and quite generic subject matter, Richter has kept his writing and rapping skills firm and even spreads positive messages urging us to be ourselves, make something out of life and get up and work for our keep.

He’s hellbent on grasping tightly to his fresh, smart, and strong new mindset and he’s very generous in sharing it with us, his fans and listeners. Now if only he would say some testy statements to cripple the current corrupt power structure around us. Oh well. What we have here is fine.

Positivity certainly is the name of Richter's game these days. Some of his rhymes though are of a basic, mid tempo nature, not to be overlooked because of his super optimistic attitude. The professional finish of the whole album is not as stunningly clear and crisp as the average major label issue, but the music gets across and touches the heart still. The fun-loving Richter can’t avoid coming off in tone as a hangout surfer type almost at times so his hard image takes a minor hit needless to say.

Overall though, School's Out: Still Laughing is a solid, respectable rap album with lessons that may feel doper to people of privilege than those in poorer circumstances who have less control over their destinies, but the lessons still apply to everyone. That being said, Johnny Richter’s helpful, universally relatable messages are still appreciable no matter who or where you are.

3 out of 5 stars

Jonathan Hay and Mike Smith cause an artistic big bang 'When Music Worlds Collide'

When Music Worlds Collide by Jonathan Hay & Mike Smith
Production duo Jonathan Hay and Mike Smith with co-producing help from the legendary King Tech (of Sway and Tech) have a best kept secret on their hands that must not remain so because the project in question, their debut album together called When Music Worlds Collide, is an exceptionally pleasing marriage of authentic rap and super smooth music compositions that is an excellent new hip-hop creation. The regular edition of the LP actually came out last year in April, but the deluxe version just dropped on July 26 of this year via SMH Entertainment/Urban Hitchcock Music. Hip-hop heads rejoice.

It features such microphone luminaries as Royce Da 5’9’’, Kxng Crooked, Cyhi The Prince, Kool G Rap, Sadat X and several other new-to-rise emcees. Together they share their thoughts on the fruits of labor, the growth of hip-hop culture, sex and the disappointments of falling away from relationship love. Hay, Smith, Tech and also DJ Revolution in spots have built a set of music pieces that might be best described as a melodic mainstream blend of piano and drum sets, clean cool coffee house-like sounds and even some calm country rock mixed with scratching, bass and moving jazz drum-kit mixtures. This is an audio feast for music lovers and connoisseurs of involved rap lyrics.

There are almost no controversial, revolutionary thoughts or ideas in store though, save for Cyhi’s exhortation for continued intelligence in hip-hop, but the rich rap flows by all the incredible rappers here are inspiring and welcome advancement for the craft indeed. Some of the tracks draw themselves out into extended, tipsy, hopeless romantic confessionals, but it’s definitely a nice break from current trap sounds of relentless gangsta brutality and drug-moving. If you’re a heavy listening, diehard rap-addict, make room in your schedule for When Music Worlds Collide for sure, and make it the deluxe version if you have time.

3 out of 5 stars

'The Urban Hitchcock LP' has great rhymes, good music and risky business by Hay & Co.

The Urban Hitchcock LP by Jonathan Hay
Producer and publicist Jonathan Hay just got done dropping his deluxe collaboration album When Music Worlds Collide with King Tech and Mike Smith but four months ago and some change, he released his own debut compilation LP, The Urban Hitchcock LP, which also features a long list of remarkable emcees suitable to Hay’s style of commonly appealable, contemporary music productions. In other words, there's a lot in store here for fans of rap and of music in general.

The quality rappers take their turns spitting on struggle, love, pain, heartbreak and more. The chemistry between Hay and the vocalists has allowed a different softer side to be heard from historically hardcore rappers like Canibus and Planet Asia for example, but Urban Hitchcock is still very much a rap affair, and a good rap affair at that. The likeness of a lot of the rappers seems to have been put through a filter to go along with the artistically pop-friendly beats and that is only one of the (minor) complaints about this project. Make no mistakes though. This is mostly a fresh quality album.

The “Jerk” track in which Hay claims that producer Statik Selektah and Action "Bam Bam" Bronson may be more than friends is weird and pretty defamatory, maybe even slanderous. At this point, Hay should hope and pray that people forget about this little mistake of his sooner rather than later and that he doesn’t get isolated by the industry and culture as a result. Those two after all are major players and heavyweights in the game right now. Other than that, listeners of rap should get to know Hay. Urban Hitchcock has value.

3 out of 5 stars