Saturday, December 10, 2016

Combo Review, Week Ending Dec. 9, 2016

Good news! Lots of solid work from several big names to report on this week. In fact, by the time New Year’s Eve rolls around, this one will likely be the month’s best for hip-hop in retrospect. On Friday we were treated to all new studio albums from each of Ab-Soul, Hodgy (formerly Hodgy Beats), Charles Hamilton, CJ Fly, Tech N9ne and J. Cole. Top that for one 7-day period. As if it couldn’t get any better, not a single one of them is a seriously lacking project.
Do What Thou Wilt. by Ab-Soul (Top Dawg Entertainment)
Top Dawg probably planned a while ago, like at the beginning of the year, to drop Ab-Soul’s fourth LP Do What Thou Wilt at this particular time. It’s the label’s strongest album of the year, they’ll get the added revenue from the Christmas sales, and by releasing it in December, the brand name will remain fresh in the mind well into 2017, giving them some more much needed breathing room.
As for the music itself, Ab-Soul is tough, evocative, brave and open with his stylish poetry, creative wordplay, a natural’s delivery, advanced rhymes, thinking that is outside the box, and mind-marveling metaphors and analogies. For effect and after the “Raw” intro where he states his friends and opponents in the industry, he confesses he “needs the kind of cash to get Trump whacked out” in “Huey Knew” and later on, he unloads on contradictions and hypocrisy, religion, marriage, chauvinism, patriotism, lesbianism (“Womanogamy”), the government, spirituality, healthcare (if you want to count the brief reference in “Invocation”) and how the November election was a “muppet show” in “Beat The Case.”
It’s interspersed with a little bit of thin filler and some locker-room talk but Ab always gets back on course with his multidimensional concepts and ideas. He loves drugs, not to mention all the people in the world (“D.R.U.G.S.”), reveals he’s as imperfect as they come, and proclaims “love is the law” with Mac Miller and Rapsody. Bas, Schoolboy Q and SZA deserve a hand and the producers’ moving voluptuous beats are just the right type of support. DWTW is balanced despite being lengthy, but it’s easily the best rap album of the week, and it just might be the best of the month.
4 out of 5 stars
Fireplace: TheNotTheOtherSide by Hodgy (Odd Future LLC)
Hodgy of Odd Future just dropped his debut album Fireplace: TheNotTheOtherSide, but he’s been in the game for a minute, in duo MellowHype with producer Left Brain and trio MellowHigh with Left Brain and Domo Genesis, and their reputation for making excellent indie rap-fare is impressive. Hodgy’s mixtapes, solid as well, were great warmup, one could say kindling, for this official solo LP. On the beats, Fireplace offers different style combos and musical tastes that pop, spark and sizzle but never overwhelm. Hodgy’s mind state is all clean and clear, and his hot lyrics dance magnificently in the flames of his nice bright audio-tinder. At various points, he avoids trouble over casual swank in “Kundalini,” aims high and slashes hate in “Barbell” and banishes evil in “Resurrection.”
Hodgy gets deepest in “They Want” with “they want you to fail, they want you to hate yourself” so that we the listeners do the opposite, and he steals hearts when he describes the humanity of those affected by the ironfist of juggernaut police. The album is simply decorated by Hodgy’s great lyrics of wisdom, sense, intuition, lessons, advice and words to live by, set to a backdrop of cool vibes. His thought processes are healthy and pure. His bases are all filled by the end when he encourages us to make-it-happen in “The Now” and goes through fluctuating family matters in “DYSLM.” Busta Rhymes and Lil Wayne guest and show confidence and faith in their man at the same time. Though it’s not the best Hodgy can do, this great original Fireplace album is stripped down to the fresh beautiful basics and succeeds intensely.
4 out of 5 stars
Hamilton, Charles by Charles Hamilton (Republic Records/Universal Music Group)
Harlem emcee and 2009 XXL Freshman Charles Hamilton, afresh from moving past a rocky career-start halted and plagued by accidents, minor crime and depression, climbs up and out of the underground trenches with his major label debut and second LP overall, Hamilton, Charles. From listening to the album, the transition doesn’t seem to have been too hard for the tested Mr. Hamilton. This Republic issue was preceded by his Black Box EP from 2015, and the record company has apparently been easy on the guy. There are fun and lightly humorous moments, but it’s bound to hold up in the court of public opinion thanks to Hamilton’s quality lyricism and some substantial messages.
He stresses progression and coming together in “Everyone,” reaches life-changing revelations in “Correct” and contemplates the uncertain fate of poor blacks in “Man’s World.” Even when fun party songs like “Be With You” come along, they don’t sacrifice integrity. The head-nodding music predominant in the score has been finely mastered and finished, and though Charles Hamilton more or less goes through the full range of emotions here, he comes out on the other side unscarred. This is a chronicle of his love for hip-hop music and a cap to his turbulent beginning stages in the game. He and his team must have negotiated their contract with Republic/Universal very well because of the dignity and fairly touchy subjects present on the disc. Hamilton, Charles is not very rebellious or revolutionary but it’s also not dumbed down, which is a pleasant surprise considering its label-source.
3 out of 5 stars
Flytrap by CJ Fly (Pro Era/Cinematic Music Group)
For general hip-hop heads and fans who can’t wait for Joey Badass’ next album, there is a brand new Pro Era release moving through the airwaves as we speak. Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn emcee CJ Fly follows his 2013 debut Thee Way Eye See It with the gripping, piquantly textured Flytrap, his latest. Nothing vastly extraordinary or typically mundane or superficial, Flytrapcatches CJ maintaining respect in his pursuit of dreams, a lane of his own, peace, serenity and candidness. In “Harder,” he’s grateful for the technological conveniences and advances of modern day society, as he looks back on a time without cars or precooked food to buy.
He has no love for parasites, leeches or suckers and while he enjoys nice things to wear and drive, he also raps on working hard and that money just can’t buy other more important things. Later he comments on sex as a connection and something very intimate between two people and deals with pressure in “Always Confined.” Over sometimes floaty, other times grounded production notes, the chill CJ’s head is on straight though he should bring out his real firm rapping chops more often and stronger. The singer’s sway in his vocals might be a bone to contend with, but this is all brought up because he does have a mean pen game and a nice flow, as he demonstrated so well in 2013. Still, Flytrap is something fly you’ll surely get trapped into after starting. CJ Fly makes the trap fly with his signature coined flight (flyt) rap.
3 out of 5 stars
The Storm by Tech N9ne (Strange Music Inc)
Building off the steam behind him and his label Strange Music no doubt, veteran spitter Tech N9ne has been caught in a perfect storm of circumstances enough for him to birth a new album, The Storm, one year after his last, Special Effects. The vastness and breadth of content in this big project is astounding. The standard edition alone houses twenty tracks plus a whopping twelve in the bonus section, thirty-two total. If it covers any at all, The Storm goes through a little bit of new terrain for Tech but less from a greater hip-hop standpoint. All those stunning qualities and traits reflective of Tech are certainly present though, from his catchword/catch-phrase choruses and his chants on braggadocio and raunchy sex to his incorporation of metal rock and as usual his spates of technically swift rifle-rhymes. There’s even some Bay-style hyphy thrown in for this go-around. No offense to Kansas City.
Unfortunately there is little in The Storm that will truly throw hardcore fans. Tech still considers himself an under-appreciated outsider when in fact he is one of the biggest names in mainstream rap at the moment. The most problematic the album gets is in the self-centered “Erbody But Me.” Nothing else requires forgiving. The pro-gun-rights song “No Gun Control” and the bonus “Gridlock” that exposes the corrupt ties between the government and business community are the most turbulent and juicy that this torrential affair gets so be prepared to weather a somewhat moderate mediocre reign here but an admittedly pummeling, plowing and thorough one too.
3 out of 5 stars
4 Your Eyez Only by J. Cole (Dreamville/Roc Nation)
As if to not stay out of the album-spurred spotlight for too long, mainstream hip-hop chosen one J. Cole returns with a fresh drop this winter via the warm 4 Your Eyez Only, his fourth LP. The emotionally evocative Cole admirably keeps to love and his concern for the social wellbeing of the poor in this short-lasting epic in which the best parts no doubt show at the closing. Confusion and opposite pulls are suggested in “For Whom The Bell Tolls,” and “Immortal” describes hitting the block to sell product and segues to an explanation of the lack of avenues available to poor blacks. In “Deja Vu,” Cole is particularly aggressive in the song in his attempts to romantically recruit a woman already spoken for, with the subtly implied justification being that he can provide better than her current attachment.
The general sound we’re given is soft, slow and cozy and Cole has cut down on rapping, making headways in singing like it or not. The perky “Change” is an exception and from it we get the valuable line “only real change comes from inside.” Cole’s staple suaveness never trips, and after treating his lady in “Folding Clothes,” he celebrates and rejoices in the recent birth of his daughter Nina in “She’s Mine, Pt. 2.” On a separate note, the song is also home to his testament that Santa and Christmas represent “greed and the need to purchase sh*t from corporations that make a killing because they feed on the wallets of the poor…” The final track is the title one and Cole expounds on the hardships of hood poverty and his love for Nina and his father. Too few hard raps for the heads but plenty of heart for the loyalists, 4 Your Eyez Onlyis far from a disappointment, but it doesn’t feel like a gigantic leap for Jermaine Cole.
3 out of 5 stars
As you can see, this new music Friday was almost too good to be true. If there was a five star album in the mix, then that would have truly made it so. Next week it’ll be The LOX long-awaited third album leading the pack, if there’s even a “pack” of releases at all, which looks doubtful at this point. Not too long after that, we’ll comprehensively review the year in total for hip-hop music, where only the finest albums and no counterfeits are allowed. Catch it all first and done right only at

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