The first two days of December 2016 in hip-hop didn’t open with a bang, more like a pound, but they did give us a number of considerable releases. Five are worth reporting on and looking at closely.
Family Business by Trademark Da Skydiver & Young Roddy (The Barnes Corp/Good$ense/iHipHop Distribution)
We’ve heard of the Kanye West song “Family Business,” but now we have the album of the same name, by Jet Life rappers Trademark Da Skydiver and Young Roddy. After going solo after the Life, the two decided to link back up minus Curren$y in what is a step-up for both artists since flying high in the sky in their former trio. Over slick, on-point beat-productions of cool classic funk, soul and jazz with a modern digital update, the Family Business LP satisfies music and beat afficionados alike plus, both Rod and Trademark have something in store with their flows and lyrical deliveries. With a renewed sense of excitement, they’re noticeably crisper and more pointed with their bars than on previous works and no less ambitious, rapping about reaching higher plateaus in the industry and gettin’ it. Don’t get carried away though. There are a few qualms. A lot of these songs are about the same things and stay generic plus Roddy and Trademark keep to the traditional rap narratives involving big time paper and lady chasing and gun talk throughout (be extremely aware of the loveless misogyny in “No Luv” and elsewhere), but if you can look past them, you can see Family Business is largely okay hip-hop fun. They may talk about getting rid of folks here and there but state they “never kill people, just instrumentals” in “Get It Right.” Two heads are better than one in this chill jam session.
Smoke DZA from Harlem and of course, legendary producer-extraordinaire Pete Rock have forged an old-meets-new bond for their joint LP, Don’t Smoke Rock, off Babygrande Records. As anyone might have guessed, based off DZA’s history and the type of artists Pete Rock has worked with but mostly DZA’s history, D.S.R. captures their street dreams and urban aspirations with a healthy side of grit. Roughly half of the album is devoted to boss-talk, but it’s nice when a guest or two come through or when the tone shifts to celebration and landmark occasions (e.g. “Milestone”). There are only a couple problems, however they’re not small ones. First is the overall emphasis on swift intricate lyricism over message-value and second is the repetitive recycled subject matter of rags to extravagant riches employed just about everywhere. From a hip-hop essentials standpoint however, the framework of D.S.R. is quality-made as expected. The wordplay is tight, Pete Rock brings the classic crate-sampling mastery only he can, as always, and with guests like Rick Ross, Royce Da 5’9’’, Cam’ron, Jadakiss, Styles P, Wale, Big KRIT and Mac Miller, the star-power is absolutely through the roof. Pete Rock and Smoke DZA cannot be smoked here so just don’t try.
Atlanta alternative rap posse Spillage Village brought us Bears Like This, and then Bears Like This Too, and now they have Bears Like This Too Much (an EP) for our listening pleasure. Through the years, the guys have been closely involved with city-mates Earthgang, who show up on the EP more than once. Let’s take a look inside. Memories of being poor are recalled in “Can’t Call it,” as blues rapping rules and J. Cole croons, yet at this point Spillage Village need to distinguish themselves from Earthgang and similar artists more so. Over swanky jazz, the youngsters explain how they do things where they’re from in “Yellow Snow Freestyle,” and in a vocal (imitation?) style that smells of Chance The Rapper, they discuss probs with the police in “Voodoo.” Over eerie street horns in “Outside,” they repeat “a n*gga not violent ’til police come,” but what of black on black violence in which police are not involved? The rest continues just like this until “Willow Tree,” which is saved for warm kindly rapping, suitable for a closer. Bears Like This Too Much has unfortunately typical street rap themes (there is mention here and there of gun-packing and gun-using because of felt/compelled necessity), and in the group’s freestyle/ad-lib speaking style, the waters get a little muddy, hazy and murky. Also, you can hardly make out one member from another so there is meager uniqueness even within the collective. In general, they put greater importance on style-blending and trendy audio/vocal textures over substance and lessons, the latter being very few and far between. Bears might like this but not many humans will.
Richmond, CA rapper of filth G-Mo Skee is a buzzing name in underground horrorcore circles for his clever, crafty lyricism on twisted topics, flowed with no hitches over basic production styles (at least on this project). He’s seemingly a natural at constructing well written rhyme schemes and delivering them with potent force. In My Filthy Spirit Bomb, he upchucks and regurgitates his despicable lines and gruesome agenda with pro technicality and only toward the end does he go into any type of deep reflection. His hardcore bars explore independent artist-moves in “Sawed Off,” his Buffalo Bill fashion sense in “Human Cloth,” and his charactered take on cannibalism in “Better Dayz” confessing he stopped eating humans because they “taste like sh*t.” Much of the album drags due to incessant raps on tough talk and other sick and deranged subject matter spun ad nauseam. His topics are as gross and disgusting as drinking bleach, as he describes in “Filthnificent.” The human element shows in “Jaylin,” a track dedicated to his daughter, and to a much lesser degree in the slut-bashing “Our B*tch,” but he goes right back on the prowl in the closing “Honey Badger,” named after his side moniker. Content-wise, My Filthy Spirit Bomb offers not nearly enough but possibly a few thrills for fans of nasty Eminem-inspired hip-hop Juggalo style.
2 out of 5 stars
Jubilee Year by Curtiss King & Oh Gosh Leotus (The Chill Palace)
Southern California’s Curtiss King has been active in the biz since before 2010 and is now seeing the light above ground with his regularly issued projects. His latest, Jubilee Year, has all of the sunny side emcee’s strut and swagger, his respectable rhyming and some crisp, clean and clear studio-sounds courtesy of producer Oh Gosh Leotus. King discusses coming up, shedding staff, depression and being independent in the opening title song “Jubilee Year,” a track in which he also testifies to his network of major contacts in the industry. A little egocentric to say the least, King’s hubris and arrogance are more than noticeable in “King Me” and later on in “Glory,” where he celebrates his success and expresses plenty of self-admiration. Needless to say, Jubilee Year could use some humility. Whiffs of responsibility and deep meaning are given off occasionally. “Listen 2 U” shakes off negative comments from others, and the magnum “Everybody” champions perseverance (i.e. fighting through struggles), helping family, common sense and wisdom. This is a short album though that doesn’t dive into waters of any great depth or last for as long as say King’s last effort, the Raging Waters LP. Live and flashing yet run of the mill and abbreviated, this jubilant year for Mr. Curtiss King is decent and solid enough but won’t stick out as one of his best in the fans’ eyes.
2 out of 5 stars
Obviously this last week was not stellar but that happens sometimes. Next week should be more eargasmic, as Tech N9ne, Hodgy (f.k.a. Hodgy Beats), Charles Hamilton and J. Cole are all slated to drop albums and of course there is the best projects of the year list to land after that. See ya then!