Robust mami of rhythmic rhyme, Nitty Scott, from Michigan, and Florida… and Brooklyn, returns with her second studio album, Creature, building onto her cool conscious catalog, which includes last year’s Westside Highway Story collaboration with Joell Ortiz and Bodega Bamz, her studio debut The Art of Chill from 2014, and a trio of mixtapes before that. Acclaimed for her authentic emceeing and soul on wax, Scott releases the long awaited Creature on the newly minted Indigenous Digital and in it rides for ethnic pride and independent womanhood on real spit and varying production-treats.
Bumping dance beats, female- and Latin/Afro-pride, just a little Caribbean flavor but plenty kindness for her people paint the top of Creature with colorful hues, if only for a section of the listening public. Scott does as one would expect in songs “Pxssy Powah,” the mildly political “Don’t Shoot!” and the drug-laden “Kaleidoscopes!” She comes with resolve and power though, even if she drifts into filler and braggadocio or sounds like Nicki Minaj in her title track though it’s unlikely that she consciously tried to relive her “Monster”-remake moment in the latter.
Nevertheless, this vibrant Creature has heart and spirit, especially when Nitty Scott is rapping nice and quick. Only some will relate to everything Scott raps about and what greets the ears is nothing very challenging to the status quo. Still, Creature excels because of its array of rap-, song- and music-textures, providing a nice experience if essentially a new spin on select trends. Nitty Scott does well in the satisfying set, but it’s probably wise to not immediately classify this creature as any new species of hip-hop music. (3 out of 5 stars)
With Minneapolis artist and emcee Kristoff Krane and his music, you either listen casually and then go back to the matrix of big industry rap (the wrong reaction) or… you fall to the floor in awe of discovering another unique, progressive rapper – the correct reaction. A new guardian of rap music, rising from his powerful projects from the mid to late 2000s and into the 2010s, Krane (or Christopher Keller) comes with positivity and useful messages with his “stream-of-consciousness” flowing, and musically and instrumentally he is far from a novice. Krane’s latest, Kairos Pt. 1, is his fifth solo album, released on F I X, and produced by Graham O’Brien. Mostly serious, quite witty at times but deeply philosophical and reflective with spades of metaphors, Kairos 1 finds Krane vastly more allegorical than before but no less sharp or insightful.
On the positive side, Krane has an energy and a charging force that resolves to focus on good and keep moving. On the other hand, his voice here sometimes finds meaningfulness in the meaningless, and the hopeless, expressing the colorfully moving, knockabout thoughts of a worried mind and a restless conscience. The style then pairs like a match made in nirvana with O’Brien’s drum-rackety tracks coupled with airy overlays and echoey voice filtering for a very mixed-terrain soundscape. Krane can be unsettling, and unsettled, same goes for the music. Still, what might be the greatest treasure is the man’s impressive exhibition of flow, his various speeds and cadences, and voice stretching. Technically, he’s challenged his vocal abilities more so here than ever before, as his fluid and seamless yet excitingly articulated delivery is put to exquisite use, in a variety of modes.
What’s lacking is rigidity, but that’s a good thing in this case. Krane and O’Brien’s measures are melded, interconnected with nary a blip or pause. Certain bars and lines are repeated for emphasis, sometimes in a chorus-capacity, other times not, blended and tucked in in such a way that Krane seems to challenge classic rap song structure. Likewise, segues to soft singing sections are super smooth. The album’s several repeated lines — mantras, or recurring thoughts of the narrator in another sense — are very telling. Krane is puzzled by circumstances reiterating the line, “how in the world did it come to this?” and portrays denial with “I’m not my thoughts” but he’s also optimistically directed with the refrain, “till everybody is free,” truly showcasing different mental turns throughout the LP.
A few genius song pieces emerge as particularly stunning, though the entire project shines effusively (don’t get me wrong). The murder of one element of mother nature at the top of “Head Stone” is brilliant and unforgettable – maybe a commentary on climate change even. The mixed thoughts on religion and criminality in “Forgiven Blood” and “Confession” never lead to hardline stance-taking but they equally examine inquisition versus faith, and law-breaking versus rule-bending respectively, recognizing that each side of either duality offers something important to consider.
Like all of Kristoff Krane’s previous releases, Kairos Pt. 1 is thoroughly and incredibly pleasing with plenty to think about, wonderful lyrical wizardry, and a drenching of mood-befitting background music. The fun is in pondering and interpreting, to an emotive soundtrack, the myriad analogies and creative messaging that the rap-and-rapping-expert in Krane has crafted for us. In this way, these talks are obviously not formatted in everyday casual wording or conversation-style speech but what we have is another amazing load of intellectual art-rap from Krane’s free associative mind, an audio amusement park of verbal textures, ideas and sounds, and a great time for those who live and die for advanced hip-hop music. (5 out of 5 stars)
Five-star album alert! And it’s not because of 4:44, the new album by you-know-who. The end-of-June/beginning-of-July weekend is blessed by Crooked, the new set by fresh LA emcee Propaganda, whose music is the opposite of propaganda as a matter of fact.
Propaganda (Jason Petty) from Los Angeles has never been the type of Christian rapper to namedrop the “Lord” every two or three bars or rap a lot of vague statements of faith. Instead, he opts for profound reflection on the conflicting issues at the center of human existence in his music. In this day and age where emcees of God run the gamut from loosely religious (Kanye West) to joyfully ecclesiastic (Chance The Rapper) to zealously devout (Lecrae and most others) to clearheaded and truly concerned (O’hene Savant), Propaganda is another different breath of fresh air in the field, focusing on the types of core problems that Jesus himself would actually focus on if he were here today.
Prop’s new LP, Crooked, is a multifaceted examination of human troubles and another unique addition to his growing discography. And it’s comprehensive, going through a ton before it’s all over. Going along with the theme of the album title, “Crooked Ways” intros by testifying to incredibly terrible contradictions, tragedies and inconsistencies in society and basically how ridiculous things are currently. Propaganda raps like a highly skilled poet so it’s no wonder he’s excellent at spoken word. “It’s Complicated” does just that on the topics of self-betrayal and refusal to love who we are on the inside in exchange for ugly masks picked by you decide.
Riding along on super smooth production that’s hardly generic as a pleasant surprise, Prop continues rocking us, with thoughts on the West and the Ultra Right at odds with the rest of the world (“Cynical”), hip-hop music how it was and how it was easier to fall in love with in earlier times (“Slow Cook”), a native’s love for Southern California (“Do Know Wrong”), and the shaky reasons for and results of gentrification (“Gentrify,” feel the light salsa music tinge in the beat there). Next comes a big one, the interlude-like “I Hate Cats.” Propaganda shows how racism and bigotry are like how some people claim to hate cats and think dogs are better, in this outstanding analogy, which really proves how pathetic the phenomenon of hate actually is.
The content never steps down from being as loaded as Prop can make it. “Darkie” looks at the self-consciousness of “colored” people and how inferiority complexes are common in them if embroiled in a white skin preferring culture. The climax of Crooked in many rights, “It’s Not Working (The Truth)” is then a meditation on segregation, poverty and alienation of the powerless have-nots and it also seems to ask toward the end if we will feel better if things do change, a bit nihilistic to this end yes but deep, exploratory and inclusive of both sides of the issue indeed, plus Propaganda might be alluding to the imperfection of a perfect civilization – what would there be to fix, to motivate us to fight for better in life in that situation? The bottom line is there’s a lot of work to be done as things are right now.
Compared to typical mainstream matter, the wind-down of the album starting with “Andrew Mandela” feels like so much more than a wind-down, as its inspirations include civil rights and democracy in the face of injustice, hard motherhood and athlete drug abuse, a truly wonderful change on earth that is yet to come, and the fact that we can’t judge what we’re not or have never been – just some of Prop’s final thoughts in this section. Through Crooked, Propaganda gives us the gift that keeps on giving – wisdom, and although he never gets too heavy, he no doubt provides plenty to think about across many a repeat spin. If you really want to know what it’s like to be conscious and caring and hopefully be inspired to become those things yourself, head straight to Crooked. Stay woke everyone. (5 out of 5 stars)
How does the average person feel about a classically fine hip-hop emcee who seems to become a bigger business mogul with each successive album? However the media tell them to. “Jigga” Jay-Z is not only that but he continues to make each of his new albums look larger than life via special promotion strategies and release methods. 4:44, Jay’s new album for 2017 and his thirteenth solo LP overall, is the Roc-A-Fella leader’s first to be dropped exclusively on his Tidal online music service since the streaming source opened in 2014, marking a milestone in his music career and a watershed moment in how the face and brand of Hov are shared with and viewed by the public.
Jay’s last album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, was not delivered on Tidal. In 2013, that one was given away as a digital download but only to Samsung customers, forcing folks without Samsung to pirate it in order to listen in before its wide release came some days later. Similarly, 4:44 is being offered only to Sprint customers and those Tidal subscribers who signed up for the service well before June 30. If you wanted to listen to the album on the 30th without having Sprint and without having signed up for Tidal in time, you had to tune in to iHeartRadio at certain time slots during the day and only on that day. Sound exclusive? Yes indeed. Too exclusive for what the album actually offers? Yes.
How and why can Jay-Z keep his art so private, and is it right? Is it appropriate? If it’s not easy to get, won’t few have it in their hands at the end of the day? Maybe but remember that Jay-Z has all the wealth-begotten pull and clout to get the mainstream marketing machine on his side to make anything he issues look like the best thing since sliced bread. He’s doing it now with Sprint to get more paid subscribers to Tidal plus that good Sprint money, just like in 2013, but for that good Samsung money back then. The journey to jump through some hoops to get the new music might have been worth it for Magna Carta Holy Grail but it’s not the case with 4:44. It’s an average album and one might as well wait for its wide release to peep it. At the moment, Jay-Z and his associates are basically just using the idea of a great album to collect more revenue from patrons of their stores, on the web or otherwise. Like it or not, it might be working because of the good to very good reviews it’s received so far, unless the consumer is properly informed that is…
Produced nicely and soulfully by artisan beat specialist No ID, 4:44 has its moments, as cliched as that sounds, however it’s an expectable product from Jay-Z. The forty-seven year old rhymer, businessman, husband and now father of three dangles in front of us a slim ten tracks of casual thoughts and more than some pop culture soap opera clocking in at a little over thirty minutes. Vocally, it never gets very comprehensive or deep philosophically, and Jay-Z, in some of his most laid-back spitting ever, is less spirited than his early-career self. He takes turns saying things appealing to all and other things appealing to only a select few, tapering off toward the end with filler instead of building where the album needs it.
Personal to an extent but politically lacking if not politically truant altogether, the thing has Jay getting tender at various points about his daughter(s), motherhood, memories and something akin to a society in society at the end, but he’s also cynical in rapping about unfaithful fans and traitorous friends in “Kill Jay-Z” and “Caught Their Eyes.” Likewise the rich man in the rap-capitalist cannot escape from his bars. In “The Story of OJ,” Jay raps at no little length about his real estate investments and property values over time, but who’s itching to hear about that besides the Trumps of the world? Shouldn’t Jay be discussing racism and upward mobility there more so than his own business endeavors? Isn’t that what the song title suggests? Also in “Family Feud” are some comments on excessive wealth that are intended to be light but are far from. Jay raps of “no such thing as an ugly billionaire, I’m cute” (wrong) and “what’s better than one billionaire? Two” (wrong again).
At one point, within the stuttering, slow quiet drill-frills and sampled soul vocals of “Smile,” Jay mentions that it’s just the way of the world that there are drug dealers and jewel dealers of blood diamonds and whatever else. He’s saying he’s okay with it, that he doesn’t care too much about it. Talk about laissez-faire. This impartiality to inequality and crime is a turnoff. What’s also a turnoff in an inexcusable way is the famous “4:44”/apology-to-Be-for-messing-around song. It’s all very well and good for what it can do but if Jay did in fact cheat on his wife (it could be a made-up tabloid story), apologizing doesn’t change the fact that it happened. Infidelity is not ok as long as you say sorry afterward.
In short, 4:44 doesn’t have the power, spark or duration that previous Jay-Z albums have, and of course, if Roc Nation is still in bed with Universal or one of the other majors, that goes a long way in explaining its adoration for rags-to-too-many-riches and the other indecencies that are flapped about on the project. Plus Jay-Z is getting quite a bit older, AND he has little kiddos now so he should be more socially responsible with his words than he is here, and if not for them then for the tens, hundreds of millions if not a billion or more he speaks to through the music. So much more good could have been done for humankind had this album contained better messages. (2 out of 5 stars)
Hip-hop is picking up as June draws toward the end, giving hope for the rest of the summer. Whirlwind wordsmith Jarren Benton returns after his fine sequel to Slow Motion from last year and Vince Staples with his full length sophomore, in not an extremely remarkable week but one that will move us along at any rate.
Atlanta backpacker Jarren Benton releases his third studio album less than a year after his classic-qualifying independent LP Slow Motion Vol. 2, a glowing highlight of 2016. The new collection, The Mink Coat Killa LP, too comes on the vicious emcee’s indie label Benton Enterprise, LLC, and has the marks, if not all the marks, of a solid, non-major label, self issue – some challenging subject matter and complex wordplay, but Benton frequently falls back on his standard barbarous attitudes and feels all the way through the bonus tracks.
Two reoccurring themes cause some concern. The brutality and money-and/or-gifts-for-sex topics pop up more than once though they maybe shouldn’t at all. When the verbal violence and cold lovelessness are in the forms of Wu-like kung fu sound bites via “The God Intro” or the coined “money over b*tches” idea in “Designer Belts” or even the paying for sexual favors as a relationship centerpiece in “Again,” then there’s obviously a dedication to that overly hard toughness that is ultimately deleterious in overcompensating for fear and vulnerability with too much hardcore aggression and stoicism.
Frankly, the album follows a trend that rap album fans are well familiar with by now. The savage, sometimes adolescent tough guy talk rules in the top three fourths of the project only to get to a few recycled messages of weight in the bottom fourth but even after that, two rough-’em-up bonus tracks revert to low level beastliness. Benton brings up Flint, for the infamous water crisis of course, in “$30k Mink” and elsewhere and presents the thought of “overthrowing the government that rules with an iron fist” in “Ill N*gga.” Those are fleeting moments in their respective songs however.
The conscious ending quarter is good but doesn’t last long and should have distributed its intelligence in earlier parts. Benton strolls down memory lane in “Passenger Side” to show love to hip-hop greats who inspired him, he rejects personality flaws in “F*ck Everybody,” and “Mental Issues” ends it with some decompressing and venting with prescription medication being one of those questionable targets. Some might say this section ends as fast as it comes on and really rappers have hit on this conceptual terrain in the past. It’s still relevant though.
For as much of a gifted emcee Jarren Benton is at this time, his Mink Coat Killa LP is a default to and over-reliance on backpack typicality with very little innovation if any. The former Funk Volume artist has shed even more original funk from his nature and kept the volume of rap-ruthlessness at his regular high setting. As a backpacker, Benton is still unique enough, with a recognizable voice and for the fact that he does put consciousness next to his destructo-rhymes, though he rarely juxtaposes, blends or mixes them, quartering them off into their own sections instead. Mink Coat Killa is thus satisfactory, just barely, but now, in the prewriting phase, Benton must be smarter and more conscious of how brutish and obnoxious he has a tendency of getting so that the fresh, smart, conscious side of him in his verses doesn’t go from endangered to extinct. (3 out of 5 stars)
Long Beacher and Def Jammer Vince Staples’ debut LP, Summertime ’06, got sparkling reviews across the board in 2015 and his sophomore, Big Fish Theory, is eerily and quickly getting the same, thanks to the mainstream press’s obeisance to the commercial mastermind behind B.F.T. Remember that the album comes from Def Jam and Def Jam pretty much takes strict, direct orders from its owner, the corporately structured Universal Music Group. Vince may squeeze out a few okay lines here and there but he’s largely and regrettably an unoriginal instrument set to reconvey a few common contrived rap sentiments on Big Fish.
There is talk of experimental production in the album and it is accurate talk yet the LP mainly features a dancy, bouncy sonic-likeness. The topics on the other hand leave more to be desired. Vince makes inequality not a character issue or economic issue but rather a color and race issue with the race-baiting of “Crabs in a Bucket,” rapping about battling whites and talking black oppression briefly there; then it’s money and aspirations in “Big Fish,” the confusticating life where Vince crashes a sports car and charges a premium for the d*ck in “Love Can Be…,” and then the expectable trials and tribulations of love in “745.”
At one point in the middle, in “Yeah Right,” which features Kendrick Lamar, the proverbial waters that our “big fish” swims get a bit deep, with Vince admitting his wariness of pretty girls, with heavy allegations against them, and the criteria that we judge other people’s success by there – well layered stuff for center-of-the-album material. Production-wise, Big Fish maintains its avant garde integrity to the end, but since this is your usual major-label release, the head-scratching oddball statements still pop up on occasion. It’s apparently cool to Vince and his crew to do the same thing again and again in “Samo,” one of his examples being to put his dudes through college, in business and with your mother as Staples so eloquently puts it, not really (*sarcasm alert*).
The rest unfolds nearly identically, with speech that might mean something but just sounds problematic. Vince Staples may drop the loaded line of “tell the one percent [and government] to suck a d*ck because we on now” in banger “Bagbak” but also thinks the next Bill Gates (his model for greatness?) could come from the ghetto of all places. In much the same way, there are notes of technical realism in “Rain Come Down” when Vince gabs on about “never needing a girl to love me” but it’s also just cold, heartless and un-engaging. The music has a good sum to offer but Vince and his casual, slightly dull spitting and his habit of making act-a-fool comments leave a Big Fish Theorythat would have been able to stick in the memory had it contained better messages and sharper vocal delivery. (2 out of 5 stars)
We here at SwurvRadio are not afraid to play hard ball with hard-to-learn rap acts that seem to do the same things over and over again but we’re also honest about where they’re going wrong and how they need to shape up because there’s always something substantial about them that leads us to review their projects in the first place. And being the benevolent sort we are, we only want to tell them and their fans the truth to see them think and hopefully grow. Why butter them up and mislead them, even if only to save face? Again and still, we must also bring up the positives in their features so before we begin to stall, let us start.
The best album of the week, Known Unknowns by NYC rapper Billy Woods, is the typical product one would expect from the alternative underground one from the East Coast and despite not blowing us away with flash, controversy or a bang in the production, all of Woods’ wordplay, clever metaphors and concepts, and interesting assorted music (mainly by producer Blockhead) give K.U. a leg up in the ratings. Smart, left-field art rap is put to use for political and social commentary, making subjects of police at a rap show, the people of porn, rapper rankings and surveillance among several other topics.
The production is lowkey yet quite marvelous for an artistic variety of beats, mixed flavors of music and new sample sources – Nirvana, a few others. Known Unknowns is a geek’s cup of tea though. Instead of all the nerdy scatterbrained thought processes, free-styling and random poetry slams and such, Woods might desire to give his messages – and he has many – directly, to the point and undressed for more effective results, but if you’re looking to spend a good chunk of time to really study lyrics, knock yourself out with this album for sure. (3 out of 5 stars)
As another new offering from the recently reborn DITC Studios set up by none other than NYC’s beloved Diggin’ In The Crates crew, Take It Back is also the latest LP from fine Golden Age duo Showbiz & AG. There hasn’t been a great deal of evolution in AG’s rapping, which still to this day promotes the basic essentials of emceeing, un-rushed, careful, and even though it’s honestly a delight to hear boombap of the smooth agreeable type from Showbiz’ pro hand, Take It Back truly and staunchly takes it back to the heyday of the group. It’s a time capsule, not really a step up.
In the first half, some gangster notes (believe it or not) dissolve later in and open up to friendlier topics of love, traveling and the world, with nice little stories and light wisdom scattered throughout. At the end of the day however, the album is nothing innovative or cutting edge for fans, just some pretty solid rapping from two legends looking to get back in the game after a five or so year hiatus, though they likely won’t get the same places they sat in in the late ‘80s and early to mid ‘90s. (2 out of 5 stars)
Seasoned Hartford, CT emcee Blacastan has done it again with producer Stu Bangas, releasing his second collaboration LP with the beatmaker, The Uncanny Adventures of Watson & Holmes, the sequel to their Watson & Holmes album from 2014. Blacastan is no doubt an accomplished rapper and member of Army of the Pharaohs and the Demigodz, with a sizable catalogue of solid releases, but despite that and despite the fierce upright wordplay in the bars topping Stu Bangas’ brutal boombap, there are obvious problems with this Uncanny set, and this is WITH Blacastan playing the rap version of the detective Holmes in one bright concept moment within the mix.
The LP is very little besides weak gangster rap, smothering murder raps and immature barbaric sex rhymes, all in the backpack style of vocalism of course. The lyrics never leave behind those rough coarse textures giving us no deep mission, meaning or message at any point to learn from. Stu and Blacastan both have considerable histories in the music and TUAWH is a decent lesson in intricate advanced rhyme composition but it’s dragging its heels in the past in failing to move forward with greater, useful subject matter. (1 out of 5 stars)
Since there are two legends (Wise Intelligent and Kool G Rap) releasing albums this week, each with vastly different moral character, this start to June 2017 presents a very good seminar on the dignity-divisions that still exist in the rap music game today. If the veterans aren’t even on the same page as far as scruples and decency are concerned, how can the majority of new artists coming up now be expected to start a movement for more substance, principles and values in the lyrics? A discussion is in order but that’s far from all it will take for a change. Caught in between the two, rising Brooklyn emcee Latasha Alcindor is the middle of the debate with material that favors the artistic and progressive side of the aisle in her latest project. Overall it’s been a solid week.
Game of Death by Gensu Dean & Wise Intelligent (Mello Music Group)
If February’s BlueKluxKlan wasn’t enough of PRT’s Wise Intelligent for you then you’re in luck because he and alternative producer Gensu Dean just dropped a joint album, Game of Death, on respected label Mello Music Group to boot. This is no doubt the main attraction this June 2nd, with Wise upholding black culture and showing great concern for the health and integrity of hip-hop music on it, as he exposes the escalating phenomenon of wack, bad-influence rappers pushed by the mainstream system. And he does it to Dean’s professionally crafted joints of psych rock, folk, soul and electronica plus enhancing backup sound bites.
Not only an attack on the shady industry model, G.O.D. has a love component by Wise that buffers the criticism and rebuke. Despite lesser rappers’ cowardice, Wise has love for all rappers, even the sucker rappers (can’t really call them sucker MC’s because a lot of them aren’t technically emcees to begin with), since they are the offshoot and result of foundation-laying by him and other Golden Age greats. Also “Ooh Wee (Shakiyla Pt.4)” has Wise depicting sex not lewdly or raunchily but as intimate love-making with his spirit-mate, as involved and meaningful, not simply as f*cking. In a nutshell, GOD succeeds because of neat quick spitting on useful important topics over artistic musical beats. (4 out of 5 stars)
Brooklyn artist and rapper Latasha Alcindor, found in workshop, concert, and music by Sammus, Radamiz and others, issues her retail debut during an upswing in her career and at a time when the feminine spark is still very much needed in hip-hop. Teen Night at Empire has all the verve, spunk, strength, spirit, flyness, vocal fashion and yes even fight (the good kind) that Alcindor has developed a reputation for over the last few years in her songs. This new output of emotions and charging resolve is distinct for ‘90s throwback loops atop most prominently then crystal clear, ambient chords later in, no doubt from the greatest that modern studio mastering and expert craftsmanship have to offer. Latasha speaks on typical emcee fare – braggadocio, memories, etc. – but what she has to say in this set are things not extremely dire to talk about, mainly common notes and thoughts from her own life important to her above all else. Teen Nite is still a creative piece though, original LA yet influenced by the greats with some nice creativity on the production end. (3 out of 5 stars)
There’s not much more to say about Queens Golden-Ager Kool G Rap at this point, especially with a new LP (his fifth solo one, eighth overall) of banal mafioso rap. The gangster emcee from the legendary Juice Crew with Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, Roxanne Shanté, Masta Ace and Craig G (and the rest) is hiding his desire for big money numbers, fame and celebrity in the Return of the Don album with talk about his music not being gangster rap but “reality” rap (*denial*) and one of his guests saying he’ll leave the teaching to KRS-One, plus he’s literally hiding behind a sizable number of big, equally gangster guest-rappers on it. It’s simply nothing more than violent brutal street rap that’s sometimes women-hating and women-using and never deeply intelligent or intellectual outside of the rhyming and spitting craft. More than some skillfully conceived wordplay recited expertly is the only attribute worth studying here – even producer MoSS’s nothing-new boombap compositions are hardly exciting – so the music and the lowdown dirty pastimes and preoccupations do a lot of damage to the dangerously distinguished don on Return. (1 out of 5 stars)
Aside from the obvious junk albums (*throat clear* Teenage Emotions and Droptopwop), there are five other ones that are way way better. Detroit darkman Esham steps into the light with $cribble, Indy’s Mark Battles sees a new day with Day 2, Wester Nocando severs himself from strictly goofy raps in Severed, Milwaukee’s Renz Young doesn’t quit with More Than Enough and the Indo-Pak and British Swet Shop Boys jump around again in Sufi La.
Detroit hip-hop pioneer Esham (Rashaam Smith) has some grownup rap for you in his sixteenth LP, $cribble. The acid rap and horrorcore legend makes a musical change for the better and healthier now with motivational wisdom, care, consciousness and straight talk on hard work and positivity but still not without an edge. He’s highly critical of the system and he should be, putting in his sense on the media, schools, rap music today, money and these rocky times for the poor and black what with foul cops and depraved impoverished ghetto-communities (if they can even be called communities in the first place). He doesn’t like what he sees and says so, with real blunt speech, but don’t look for the next best thing in $cribble’s just-to-get-by beats.
On the mic end though, Esham is nice, and tight, and just keeps coming and coming in this never-dull twenty-two song set with lines like “it doesn’t matter if you white or black, it’s all about the way you act” and “you sold your soul for the diamonds and gold, but you the one gotta deal with that” from “Sad” and “the system is corrupt and morally bankrupt” from “Abuse of Power.” Esham no doubt has rough vestiges from his horrorcore past but nothing overbearing and always for a useful purpose. $cribble may be hardly a quick classic – God knows it isn’t based on its music production and beats – but it’s a wonderful time of conscientious revelation for Esham, who is intimately in tune with his conscience at this point. (4 out of 5 stars)
Day 2 by Mark Battles (Fly America/Quality Control Music)
Previously independent, Indianapolis emcee Mark Battles is the creator of boutique rap label Fly America but for his third LP, Day 2, he joined the Quality Control Music artist base. Before the deal, he released a project of the same name actually (Before The Deal, Fly America, 2016), and that is his second studio album officially. Aside from putting his city on the map, Battles is a mature, very proficient man on the microphone and thankfully he’s still that to a great extent on Day 2, despite the indirect major label endorsement (Universal through Quality Control).
With his good upright wordplay, ambition and confidence, Battles raps on experiential wisdom, romance, struggles and mental roadblocks over beats of slow, dream soundtrack quality featuring fine samples and sample-blending. New age singer Tory Lanez makes a prominent appearance (in four of the twelve tracks) though there is nothing much else that’s dying to be reported on guest-wise. In a spot or two, Battles and company descend into some jockish sex raps and overall little new terrain is explored by the Midwest native from a subject matter standpoint, but for the solid new words and music, Day 2 is a fine accomplishment for Battles and the producers. (3 out of 5 stars)
The time has come for LA, Hellfyre Club emcee Nocando (Jimmy McCall) to release another studio album, and by the looks of or the sound and subjects on the LP, Severed as it’s called, there doesn’t seem to have been a lot or much in the air with regard to happenings to trigger the playful rapper into a spell of music-making, just that the time has rolled around. McCall released his last album and sophomore, Jimmy The Burnout, in 2014, and his debut, Jimmy The Lock, in 2010. Now seems appropriate to drop the third sequentially and chronologically speaking.
For all you fans of conscious reflective rap, you’re in luck. Nocando tries his hand at deep mature lesson-learning and teaching and he comes off more or less convincing but still he can’t shake his natural sense of humor, at times. Most of his pensive, intelligent thoughts spring from relationships with family and friends but McCall momentarily hits on race relations and the various different Lives Matter movements, signs of the times really yet continuously relevant. He ponders the past with an ounce of softness but with some on-guard toughness remaining. In the end he dabbles in his usual vulgarity and the beats are a little thin and unentertaining but props to Nocando for doing something different with style and a small bit of grace. (3 out of 5 stars)
The Swet Shop Boys (Indian American rapper Heems, Pakistani English rapper Riz MC and English producer Redinho) had a good 2016 with their cool Cashmere debut album and now, following their Coachella appearance last month, they are back with more original music in EP Sufi La. A hot banging Redinho beat catches the ear in “Anthem” and Riz and Heems quickly proceed to lace their lines with fun rhymes and wordy cleverness on flyness, braggadocio and other random lyrics, always light and jovial however. There is a big reliance on chorus catchwords but it is fine and appropriate for the dancy exciting hip-hop style the Boys are about. Concepts on the girls in “Thas My Girl,” bird-wording in “Birding” and the parody of money-chasing in “Need Moor” are very nice cuts so the guys still know how to smartly craft and direct their bouncy music and buoyant boyish essence. The satisfying but not overly satisfying Sufi La hits the mark, and this is a group that deserves to stay in the game for some time more. (3 out of 5 stars)
There’s a hidden treasure, and prior to last year a best kept secret, in Milwaukee’s Renz Young, a quick-moving, productive working startup with strong chops and a revolving mind. In 2016, It Was Nice Knowing You was the greeting, or farewell, in album form for the emcee but now there’s more, More Than Enough, from him. The new EP displays Young’s developed flow stamina and articulation as he follows his heart, has some fun and just shares these mic thoughts from the brain of a busy determined guy on the go. What’s the catch? Or the drawback(s) you ask? Not many but Young sticks to typical topics and means with no shocks or whistleblowing and his love for girl-stripping may sound regressive to a few, but they’re nothing at all that should be seen as major offenses to fans looking to support and hear from their man. On top of last year’s album, this might be more than enough from Renz Young yeah but nevertheless some sturdy hip-hop music also no doubt. (3 out of 5 stars)