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.
Wednesday, August 9, 2017
The life and times of SkyBlew have never been easy. As a child, the illustrative emcee born Mario Farrow was shuffled to and fro from family and friends to foster and adoption homes, sometimes for the better, other times for the worse, but Farrow made it through to healthy young adulthood. To this day, though he enjoys awards and recognition for being Chapel Hill, North Carolina’s preeminent hip-hop artist, the conscious positive SkyBlew, who is also independent, works tremendously hard to reach the audiences that mainstream acts are given access to so easily. In short, he earns all of his accolades. Practiced at releasing multiple quality albums per year, SkyBlew has reached the feat again this year, with the followup to February’s Dreams, Toonami and Jazzier Days, entitled Destined: The [R]Evolution, a June 2017 issue from the visionary rhymer.
The sequel to Sky’s Destined: The Rebirth EP from last year, [R]Evolution is produced by beat prodigy SublimeCloud (Christian Whitson), who also served on the boards for Rebirth. This time we get a full LP with [R]Evolution and song after song of hearty wholesome rap that paints pictures – but keep in mind Sky’s staple saying: he doesn’t rap, he paints the sky, blew! Opening to memory-forming jazz, a “Tin Man” sample from ’70s band America, and of course Sky’s signature positivity, [R]Evolution can do nothing but hook us in atop before it gets even weightier in “Autumn, Lovely Convo!” with wisdom on everything coming at a price, notes on ambition, ATCQ-love and more classic rock sample-strength.
Sky succinctly summarizes the pleasure-from-pain principle in “HM04!” rapping, “I suffered, it made me tougher, through the hate became a lover,” referring to his own growth experience. He shakes his head at a rap game of greatly expanding head counts yet with little compelling material throughout the vast field. Still he stays himself, an aficionado of animation and worldly awareness. Listeners will find at least one loaded line to love per song. The classic metaphor of words as food is reimagined perfectly in “Chill, We Coolin’ Off!” where Sky says:
[I] cook food for thought so, here goes my recipe, psych! You ain’t gettin’ it, I’m thick and they have to but the flow is too much to process like fast foods.
Around claps, light piano and sax, Sky brims with dreams, aspirations and true knowledge but admits “there’s just gotta be more to living than labor and woe, we offer hope to the globe then after, we go.”
Look out because next, SkyBlew will melt your heart, in “Sailor Moon & Stars!” and soul-weaver Donovan and his soft song vocals add an irreplaceable suppleness over this pretty love-piece’s happy piano lines and joyful admissions. Naturally the heat goes up again afterwards. Sky drops some of his heaviest thoughts in “Speak That Breeze!”, this time regarding the terrible effects of negativity but with hope at the end:
Most cast away their dreams ‘cause they fear rejection and failure. Look at the election. That’s proof anything is possible in this nation of idiots, humanity becoming insidious. My city ain’t the prettiest but I still rep to the death. Just give us your all until there’s none left.
Of course SkyBlew knows there are many fabulous people out there but it’s also true that there are enough of the other kind to make a nation as he says, if only a small one at most.
The elegant SublimeCloud and the eloquent SkyBlew make the album’s step down to the close smooth yet impactful still. Hip guitar flicks and drum snaps in “Pen Tama!” move to more committed resolved wisdom from our generous wiz (never dumb) in “Movement of the Destined!” and “Parallel Echoes!” provides the calm cap-off of Sky stating where he’s from, what he’s about, where he’s going and how he’s gonna get there. Sky the “Colorful Dreamer” hasn’t an equal ratio of hard to soft obviously, seeing as how he’s mostly warm and bright, but he makes it work because one – it’s what the game’s been sorely missing – and two – his background and personality have given him allowance to be as such. SkyBlew with incredible help from the gifted talented SublimeCloud firmly takes his place next to the most progressive optimistic emcees of all time thanks to Destined: The [R]Evolution and the rest of his catalog. (4 out of 5 stars)