Friday, November 17, 2017
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
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
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)
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
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)
Friday, October 13, 2017
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)
With all the internal disputes going on with the Wu-Tang Clan recently, anything put out by the group or some of them will not easily match their usual excellence. It’s no wonder then that their new studio album The Saga Continues, which features most of the collective (sans U-God and most disappointingly GZA), is listed on some platforms as a Wu-Tang release, minus the “Clan” end-tag. Is it one of their official LPs then? Short answer—yeah, but unfortunately it’s their worst to date. The Entertainment One album (which by the way could have used a better title) has some decent standalone moments via Raekwon’s nice storytelling skills in “Fast and Furious,” a moment for love in “My Only One” and RZA’s politics-kicking (a series of laments really) in “Why Why Why” and “Saga,” but the majority is typical gangsterdom over basic production from DJ Mathematics. Besides the two close-to-conscious sections by RZA, the Wu crew have completely missed the D.I.Y.-target of actually using their raps for the all important goal of communicating something purposeful. Instead, the task of wisdom-giving is left to two anonymous speakers in their respective skits, defeating the point of the rap-verse as a tool to share good ideas or healthy messages. Once again, this is an eOne Music product and little more than that, a step back from A Better Tomorrow and not good enough to make us forget about Once Upon A Time In Shaolin. (2 out of 5 stars)
Friday, October 6, 2017
If rappers are critiqued mostly for what they say on a record as opposed to what they don’t, then conscious Southern trio Cunninlynguists (Kno, Deacon The Villain and Natti) are still making great product. Yet despite all the soulful poetic wisdom in their layered bars, there is still plenty in the world the men don’t talk about, but we’ll focus on what actually makes it into their lyrics. The group’s sixth studio LP, Rose Azura Njano (APOS Music/RBC Records), is a success to cut to the chase though perhaps not a lot more than that. Like always, the Cunninlynguists’ concentration primarily on smoothness and technique with their broad truisms begs the question - shouldn’t the fellas rap more pointedly on new specific subject matter, in other words get to the nitty gritty quicker without dancing (let alone beating) around the bush with style? Most with a clear honest mind would answer yes. With some variation, Rose Azura Njano is basically the same type of music the brand started with, but it’s a fine type still. The Cunninlynguists might not sound straight-to-the-point enough for some, but their continued attention to politics, the poor, minorities, and social injustice generally speaking is still very admirable. (3 out of 5 stars)
Thursday, October 5, 2017
Asian American participation in hip-hop takes stronger hold as emcee Ruby Ibarra drops her debut LP, Circa91, on Beatrock Music. Having released her debut mixtape in 2012 (the Kay Slay-hosted Lost in Translation), the Philippines-born, San Lorenzo, California-raised artist has also accumulated a stack of videos, high profile performances and several article-features on prominent publications, for her career catalogue. All things considered however, it is the fall of the traditional emcee in the mainstream mass-media and its continued evolution in the underground that have helped give a platform to this talented young lady from the East and West.
If you are at all familiar with Ruby Ibarra’s work, you’ll know that it is steeped in authentic rap lyricism, finely developed and filtered, and put to good use. Lost in Translation told of that tale and so does Circa91. With her spunky energy and genuine nature, Ibarra reveals the world of a young girl, now young woman coming of age, having grappled with and now working out her conformity and assimilation issues, though not necessarily to the appeasement of everyone in society mind you. This is in many ways the story of her hunt (and that of many others) for acceptance and identity in America as a member of a dark skinned ethnic minority.
Like the gem that she shares her name with, Ruby shines bright but her heart also bleeds as she relates to us the hard, complex feelings behind the immigrant experience in the US. Some anger at the setup of the system is invariably included in her speech. No matter what though, the beauty in her voice and her end-resolve nevertheless find sanctuary in her love for family and her craft. In short, her path heads toward success, simply because she shows us her real self and is more than open with her emotions. In almost exclusively discussing the clash of cultures between the native and foreign born, Circa91 does not get into much else, but as a concept album of sorts, it excels, and as a debut with flavorful guests and production not to mention important themes and sharp lyrics, it no doubt exceeds expectations and then some. (4 out of 5 stars)
Saturday, September 30, 2017
Long Island rapper Hoodie Allen is gonna need that hoodie more so than ever before because he’s just been exposed and he’s getting colder. His new album, The Hype, recalls the same topics and some of the same feelings he sprinkled on tracks from projects previous to the very good Happy Camper album of 2016. Now, Allen interchangeably goes with and against love (like he won’t make up his mind and wants to satisfy both sides of the fight) but mostly goes with the grain of mainstream hip-hop. A Wale feature, soft warm singing, more or less basic rhyme schemes, gleeful preschool-ready chords and teen-geared drum loops, plenty of following along with the trends and nothing that would gather controversy make the project if not break it. The Hype is simply that, hype, for the sometimes promising young man, but Hoodie Allen is going to need something deeper, more multidimensional and more original than this if he wants to start his thirties with great growth in the music. (2 out of 5 stars)
Now that speedy spitter Rittz has proven he’s no fading presence or disappearing act in rap (as far as technical skills are concerned), it’s time to focus most of all on what he has to say, basically his character. The relentless rhyme-killer from Strange Music Inc. releases his fourth studio LP on full steam thanks to his “top of the line,” momentum-making work of 2016. Aided by satisfactory production directed by Seven, Rittz does what he's best at in Last Call, sharing sad but valuable stories that scarred him, changed him or taught him priceless lessons. Rittz makes this blues-rap motivational in fact, inspiring us to beat the odds and prove the naysayers wrong. In his own case, Rittz will boost and boast of his own set when no one else will and even go in on the competition. The only problem is that he can come off a little too mean at parts, hurling one too many insults at the haters. In just one example, it’s unclear which artist or artists Rittz is alluding to in “Dork Rap” when he impersonates a hipsterish new-age rapper, but his subject of ridicule actually brings up some good stuff, like tofu and vegan friends. Likewise, to eliminate the disease in “F*ck Cancer,” Rittz mentions a few measures to take except for one of the most effective if not the most effective—a whole food, plant based diet that minimizes or better yet excludes animal-derived products. For the most part though and when one takes into account all of the project including the bonus tracks, Last Call is another impressive, even compassionate Rittz set but next time he might want to try the opposite of hard, rough and charging. (4 out of 5 stars)
Saturday, September 16, 2017
Unapologetic art rapper of dark comedy, the very open Michael Eagle II, can make any song or album extraordinary just with his lyrics, his complex socially meaningful lyrics that do get straight to the point but within layers of metaphor and deep poetics, never in basic formulaic flows that is. Simply put, Mike is for everyone, especially the highly intellectual heads. On his fifth non-collaborative LP of real stories and art-beats titled Brick Body Kids Still Daydream, he never skips a beat from his usual track. More heartfelt and personal than Mike’s been in a while, the intricate patchwork of the album (at least at the beginning) is woven with a soft fabric of tender words from the kindly rhyme-kicker. Family, perseverance through hardship and desire for relief from life pressures shape the best initial segments unless tough showing-off presents itself (“No Selling (Uncle Butch Pretends It Don’t Hurt)”) or until Mike’s staple sharp, tongue-in-cheek wit strikes through in “TLDR (Smithing).” Still, it’s all throughout the album that Mike’s rich, society-conscious observations and opinions pop up, especially in the superb ender, “My Auntie’s Building.” As a dedication and commentary on Chicago’s former Robert Taylor Homes and the situation surrounding its ilk, Brick Body Kids does a great service, for them, us and Mike himself. (4 out of 5 stars)
The coming together of members from Public Enemy, Rage Against The Machine and (one from) Cypress Hill have made good on their collaboration as artists, dropping their eponymous debut LP, Prophets of Rage, to rap and metal fans alike. Head men Chuck D, Tom Morello and B-Real plus Tim Commerford, Brad Wilk and DJ Lord set off controlled musical explosions on their tracks to call attention to common people’s struggles. Together they raise their voices and instruments for the legalization of people (and weed implicitly), to question our so-called democracy, drones and surveillance and to cause collectivization in listeners and typical everyday folks. Prophets of Rage feels almost exclusively like an outlet to protest - aggressive, cynical and lacking in both positivity and musical variety outside of only hard rock - but it’s strong and relevant and really quite good at bringing to light the outrage of the many for the understanding and betterment of all. (3 out of 5 stars)
It took six years, a breakup and a reunion for Midwestern bred duo The Cool Kids--Chuck Inglish and Sir Michael Rocks--to put out a sophomore LP (Special Edition Grandmaster Deluxe) but they’ve done it, and while it’s an indie release with a near roster of similarly indie guests, Special Edition Grandmaster Deluxe on the subjects-end commits the sin of repeating common low-grade tropes of a mainstream nature, despite its stylish rhyming over fresh beats courtesy of Chuck. Loose promiscuous sex, name brands and party-times typify this heavily titled project, and the few times we get nice respite from the themes occur in the comedic proportions of “20/20 Vision” and the monogamously oriented love and romance of “Symptoms of a Down” and “Gr8Full.” Okay but not fully grown up, Special Edition resembles ostensibly important releases from earlier in the year, particularly Big Boi’s Boomiverse, 2 Chainz’ Pretty Girls Like Trap Music and Tyler The Creator’s Flower Boy, projects that have something to offer from a technical rhyme and production standpoint but few messages and in fact harmful ones too. It also proves that The Cool Kids, despite what they’ve done and what they can do, are still in some ways, kids. (2 out of 5 stars)
Saturday, September 9, 2017
The Mayday men of Strange Music can't celebrate the release of their sixth studio album Search Party in their native Miami, as scorned mother nature has dispatched Hurricane Irma to unleash fury upon the Caribbean and now Florida; however, no matter where they are for the initial reactions to the LP, they'll no doubt be close to fans, as supporters of the trio can now be found all over the country and around the world. In many ways, Search Party is standard product for Mayday, despite their having lost a few band members in the last few years (down to Wrekonize, Bernz and NonMS). It could also mean they’ve tried harder than usual, to get back that breadth of sound and style they had with more personnel. Basically, this particular search party has more or less found what they were looking for.
In the beginning, the guys set themselves up like conscious distraught truthseekers, with thoughts on being lost and found, the problems we as people face, and how we’re separated and apart from the true nature and essence of life and thus alone. Starting around track five though, in the “Better Place” station where the crew start to find amusement for themselves, the tone changes to a fun one for a bit, if only for a couple songs. Tech N9ne shows up and we pretty much get a real party, just enough of a party and not a crazy wild one either. The rest of the revels on Search Party pop up sporadically, in throes of flirtation found in “Have Someone” and hangouts and after hours in “Do.”
The bulk of the album then is patented Mayday pensiveness and poignancy, several times concerning romantic relationships. In “Pretender,” a one night stand is (probably rightfully) seen as an intimate rendezvous that sticks in the mind and obscures the vision, sexual attraction and urges are seen as distractions and unwanted beckoning calls in “Tempted,” and “Extra” focuses on the overwhelming nature of a partner. Needless to say, the goings get stymied due to this negativity, but it does help that in their last relationship-related discussion, “Same Old Us,” Mayday say that while the connections they’re in are typical day in and day out, they are in fact reliable, unshakably trusty.
With all this mental malaise happening, it’s no wonder Mayday make time to purge (“System”), disconnect from the everyday routine (“Airplane Mode”) and go to their coping strategies (“Save Me From Myself”), and last song “One Way Trip” is a perfect description of what getting older is—not going back to where and what we were before, for the good mostly but also for the not so good as well. From top to bottom, Search Party takes the slightest of dips as far as offering intellectual subject matter goes and this is really just the usual based on the group’s reputation, but the cool expert production is chill and enjoyable, the emceeing is still quite solid and there is just enough variety of topics to keep us tuned in, if just for one listen. (3 out of 5 stars)
Monday, September 4, 2017
Yes Audio Push by now have a formula for making projects but the results are usually fun and informative. The duo of Price and Oktane from California’s Inland Empire have been on several paths since breaking onto the scene in 2009 with their hit “Teach Me How To Jerk.” Signings to Interscope and Hit Boy’s Hits Since ’87 and the formation of their personal label, Good Vibe Tribe, have boiled down to mostly focus and concentration on their own indie set and business endeavors, and their new album, Last Lights Left, reflects their now fully embraced freedoms in life, art and work.
Rapped by both Price and Oktane and mainly produced by Price, Last Lights Left, like their previous LP, 90951, has the group’s questioning, observatory messages plus style for miles guided by fresh mild productions and Cali-cool choruses. While AP showoff some typical braggadocio and boast of sexual exploits here and there, they’re quick to profess their love for positive peaceful living at other times. “Planet Earth is Live” pays homage to the late comedian and activist Dick Gregory, and the politically loaded “Soledad Story” drops thoughts on Bill O’Reilly, Bill Cosby, police-presence resembling martial law, the early deaths of legendary artists and anti-racism. The track perhaps grabs attention most with the group’s consensus that says, “I don’t wanna rap about cars, we teleport on Mars, and even Nas told us here the world’s ours, but now everybody wanna be stars.”
Cupid finds romance for the guys in “Stay” and some chilling and dealing with the everyday struggle commence before “Save the Sinners,” a proper ending, spreads care, consideration and compassion to our listening ears, and power to the people. Committed to being new age in some of the best ways possible although not very much so all of the time, Audio Push here are nevertheless solid paladins (when they decide to be) for liberty, equality and integrity. They’re loyal to the essentials and principles of hip-hop music, as this Triple L album is an indie release with crafty rapping on whatever the two want to discuss, including goodness and progression for them and us. (3 out of 5 stars)
Saturday, August 26, 2017
Monday, August 21, 2017
Saturday, August 12, 2017
Is it a surprise to anyone that the two best albums of the week are completely independent, meaning not released by a label or outfit outside of the artist’s own camp, and also meaning these artists retain full control over the direction of their projects? It shouldn’t be, but maybe some folks subconsciously think those albums promoted most heavily by the mainstream are the best. In reality the opposite is usually always the truth. The best ones are most often found behind the scenes, away from big commercials and advertisements and such. Anyway, so as not to move too far off course, enjoy our briefings on the latest from Dizzy Wright, Wordsworth, John Robinson and the others, and then check out the music for yourself.