Monday, January 30, 2017

Hip Hop Album Reviews, Week Ending Jan. 27, 2017

Last week, the output of considerable projects from both the mainstream and independent underground was immense. The best of the lot may not all be on the same level of artistic quality but they all bring a strength or strengths to the table.
Microphone Jackson by Rise Rashid (Rise & Grind/CAT’s E.Y.E./CollinsBoy/Skyward)
Virginia representer and Raleigh, NC resident Rise Rashid is positively on a roll having released one project a year since 2014. First came Microphone Jordan in 2014, then Microphone X in 2015 and then Microphone Ali in 2016 before Microphone Jackson moonwalked onto the scene earlier this past week. Expect the character traits of a role model from Rashid, who subs as a high school basketball coach in his spare time, something he takes very serious, as it gives him a chance to mentor all types of different students and have an impact in their lives.
Microphone Jackson is a spirited show of skill that’s just plain boastful at times but at every other turn, Rise Rashid opts for deep meaning and timelessness. He’s baffled at the poor integrity of those in power in “Be There,” concerned with real folks going through the everyday struggle in “People Make The World,” focused on learning from past priority-placement in “Dear Rise” and cognizant of the oppression of poor people, minorities and the like in “Skin.” This is a great album from a real rise-minded emcee.
4 out of 5 stars
Watch What I Do by Sam Shoemaker (Sam Shoemaker Music Group/Not 2 Sane Music)
Poetic protestor in the name of good, emcee Sam Shoemaker from Seattle is tough but conscious on his debut album Watch What I Do. With his rapid intricate bars, Sam uses his skills of clarity to touch on the Flint water crisis, Ebola, ISIS, religion and his hatred of war. The single “Not Another Love Song” talks about the pains we experience in love, and soon after, beginning in track five “Masochist,” after a quick look at the miserable, struggling 99% and the middle class in the song, Sam introduces us to the idea that our problem as people is we “love our pain.”
Again, in “So Much Pain,” the concept at the core is that we are addicted to the pain we endure everyday. Guest Bobby Watkins, close kin and singer in sync in style with Sam, appears on two songs and the movingly sung Rachel Jane dances a relationship-waltz of the indecisive sexes with Sam in “Tell Me What To Do.” Surprising considering his showmanship and abilities, Mr. Shoemaker is relatively new to making rap songs. He’s loved hip-hop for a long time, but he only began creating his own music in 2014. Watch What I Do just shows the great things one can accomplish when some positive energy is put to use.
4 out of 5 stars
Fay Grim by Likwuid & 2 Hungry Bros. (HiPNOTT Records)
South Carolina to NYC neo soul and hip-hop fusion artist and academic Likwuid (aka Likwuid Stylez, born Faybeo’n LaShanna A Mickens) hooks up once more with production duo 2 Hungry Bros. for the confident reflective Fay Grim. Emcee Likwuid has the fire to fry stalkers and over-spenders (“Hold That/Faybels”), police who use deadly force (“Fayded/Ebony Stoned”), and chicks who are financially irresponsible, jealous and all bluster with no bite (“UnFayzed”).
Fay looks inward elsewhere, on how she’s almost never on time for anything with the philosophy of “let go and let god” in “IllFayted,” on being in love and then having second thoughts in “Faynt of Heart,” to depending on others for help in “Faythful” to how she feels about constant anxiousness in “BiFaysic Sleep Paralysis.” To some, there may seem to be a tendency on the album for sections to move the project along instead of moving us (emotionally so to speak), but still, for the most part, the concerned unapologetic Likwuid, 2 Hungry Bros. and their guests are all keenly stylish and artistic with their contributions.
4 out of 5 stars
Shards Of Glass by Spnda (AR Classic Records)
Boston emcee Spnda, aka Hologram2beardz, A.Spendacash and one third of trio Retrospek, releases his fourth solo project with Shards of Glass. The longtime student of music and hip-hop, who has a knack for tight lyrics, a refined taste in production and a need to impart a message, spends his time on a few ordinary rap methods here, like supremacy declaration by way of reasonable braggadocio and track-bullying, but his critical thinking and the results he shares are everlasting.
As a sneak preview, he calls out the power structure in “Stones,” and though he digresses to nonpolitical subjects further into the song, the policy issues reappear in “Eggshells,” where Spnda attacks self-censorship, corporate mascots and police brutality and is disappointed that Obama didn’t do enough for the underprivileged.
He speaks to halt the pursuit of celebrity attention with emphasis on the cost of becoming famous in “Piece of the Pie,” and the last of the big three songs, “D’vices,” cautions against our close-minded transfixion on devices and gadgets, especially smart phones. A bright, open-eyed and authentic East Coast rhyme-spitter, Spnda is someone you don’t have to be afraid to let bump through your speakers.
3 out of 5 stars
Chill, Dummy by P.O.S (Doomtree Records)
Back in the music from a kidney transplant in 2014, Doomtree cofounder P.O.S releases his fifth LP five years after his last, We Don’t Even Live Here (Rhymesayers, 2012), in the middle of a shifting hip-hop field on which political content is gradually rearranging the music’s contours to where they should lay. This new album from the rocking Minneapolis emcee is aggressive, filled with hard intriguing confessions and truths, quick succession slam-lines, and slower metaphorical rhymes on various pieces of wisdom in pure art-rap form, from the raving banging beats to the multidimensional guests to P.O.S’s very scattered riotous mind.
Chill, Dummy is frustrated, anxious, and upset (e.g. “Bully”), and at those rare moments when it does sit still, usually in the hooks, it does get somewhere, but perhaps not to the promised land. Among a lot of matters, P.O.S raps of “national distractions” on the news, how kings are typically thieves and also to name drops of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, to his immediate benefit it seems and their long-run memory and influence in that last example. More often than not, Chill, Dummyfeels like hip-hop with coded phrasing that redeems itself with intriguing messages, even if they require a lot of replays, pondering and processing to hit home.
3 out of 5 stars
Central Standard Time by Stik Figa (Mello Music Group)
Southern company man of Mello Music Group, Stik Figa (John Westbrook, Jr.) follows LPs from 2012 and 2013 with a third, Central Standard Time. Westbrook, committed to the wholesome essentials of the music, is all brains and clever with his literary lyricism plus well structured and aligned with his writing and delivery and so are his guests, pros like Elzhi, Homeboy Sandman and veteran Rappin 4-Tay. The soundtrack is scored by stunning coolness from producers Nottz, !llmind, L’Orange, Black Milk, Apollo Brown and Exile. You already know what time it is with this crew. They put majestic, melodic philosophy, experience and righteousness in the music, and they really get in the zone, save for some rigid consistency and loyalty to their brand’s reputed formula and style. Enjoy good down-home rhymes from Stik Figa and friends in CST.
3 out of 5 stars
The Valley Of Death by Tino (self-released)
The Valley Of Death by emcee Tino from Pittsburgh isn’t political or conscious on the surface, maybe just in Tino’s psyche (he doesn’t vocalize it here at least), but he can surely boast of stamina, endurance and great breath control in his consistently mid-tempo delivery on the project. It’s got your typical notes from the rhyme pad of a normal come-up rapper, values, frustrations, confessions and all. Tino makes good points about perseverance and sacrifice at first then admits he’s embedded in the struggle with seeking, grappling and even bitter feelings. The Valley Of Death never gets into very detailed stories or world events, but the upfront bumping beats with great new samples and Tino’s critical honesty of what he thinks are together the very breath of fresh air needed by us and him right now.
3 out of 5 stars
Just To Get By by Jonah Cruzz (Ordinari Music)
Jonah Cruzz from Atlanta has recently been basking in endorsements from the huge power-pulling hip-hop websites for his new Just To Get By album. Some intermediate rhyming and some down moments fail to do justice to its greatest mission of relating to listeners the despondency of the marginalized; nevertheless, Cruzz goes through all of resentfulness of racial prejudice, hopefulness, wishful thinking, and memories of harder times in his life. Portions of the project feel like the rapper is wallowing in sorrowful stories of woe and such, and he doesn’t explore or discover why or how the ghetto is like it is, but what Jonah Cruzz does very well in the safe, fairly substantial Just To Get By is express feelings of folks at the outskirts of society.
3 out of 5 stars
Sleep On It by Lil Freckles (Frex Music)
Following her Plan B mixtape from two years ago, Lil Freckles (Emma Carroll), a Brooklyn production assistant, actor and rapper from HBO’s Girls, is taking rap more serious as time goes by. One must look deeper into this quietly quirky, hipster-ish young lady’s vulgar lyrics to discover the profound feelings of uncertainty and instability beneath her very Millennial-esque rap character, which is probably an exaggeration to some degree of her real life self. The blue comedy in Carroll’s hip-hop about her sad addictive sex life is hard to fully embrace at first or take at face value but the light jokey Frexxx in the woman somehow pulls it off. Also loyal to her generation are her feminist views, notably her “Feminist King’s” announcement that “real men eat pussy, f*ck boys give roses.” Lil Freckles is admittedly horny, hopeless and hokey all at once, and she would be a novelty, but she can rap and she’s definitely funny in spurts.
3 out of 5 stars
Ego And The Enemy by M-Dot (Own Lane Music)
Experienced, well-connected emcee M-Dot (Michael Januario) from Boston returns this January (the month most befitting to his last name) after several mixtapes and one LP (Run MPC from 2010) with Ego And The Enemy, a wrought iron hip-hop quest from none other than several East Coast masterminds of beat and rhyme with M-Dot of course leading the pack. Conventional to the Northeast in style, Ego And The Enemy showcases hard plowing flows and caffeinated boom-bap from Hi-Tek, Marley Marl, Large Professor, Buckwild, Khrysis, Marco Polo and the Snowgoons among others. Krumb Snatcha and Method Man are among the guests. Parts to note most importantly include “Days Are All The Same,” where overconsumption and overspending are criticized, and “Chrissy,” which chronicles the downward spiral of a troubled young lady. The album suffers from some classic sadistic rap sexism (misogyny perhaps?) there and in “Death To Raquel” and “911,” and there is more stress on impressive mic mechanics over all else, but overall there’s enough substance, skill and artistry to save the day.
3 out of 5 stars
When Hell Falls by Wifisfuneral (Rich Life Records)
What do you get when you mix bling rap with hippie rap? Wifisfuneral. The Florida artist born Isaiah Rivera, who claims to have been a drug dealer and addict in the past, builds on last year’s Black Heart Revenge with this January’s When Hell Falls. Depressed, grappling but still somehow determined, Rivera and his guests on the new album definitely have high flossy aspirations, as their style can be considered rich-dreaming hip-hop under the influence to psychedelic beats on downers, but for all its gimmicky appeal and shortcomings, When Hell Falls by Wifisfuneral is a collection of real thoughts from the young, hungry and rapping, a window to the world of the disadvantaged working to get ahead.
2 out of 5 stars
Ghetto Olympics by Dyme-A-Duzin (self-released)
New era emcee Dyme-A-Duzin (Donnovan Blocker) from Crown Heights, Brooklyn has used his time between albums wisely, by holding his Ghetto Olympics (mixtape/EP) open to the public, for all to partake in. It is the latest stopover for the rapper before Crown Fried, his next official album. This five track set of microphone skill-testing games is by no means a classic – Blocker devotes much of it to braggadocio of his own wild fun and sex life – but his developed style of flowing and some societal consciousness at the end in “Raw” raise promise for the vocalist’s future.
2 out of 5 stars
The Local Cafe by Eric Biddines (Juggernaut Sound Productions/Empire Distribution)
It’s been around three years since South Florida artist Eric Biddines released his planetcoffeebean 2album and one would think that the well padded time gap from then to now would generate something fresh from the rapper/singer’s camp, right? Biddines, who’s made a name for himself with Southern heartland hip-hop cut with bluesy folk music from the country cut with chilled laid back pop beats and swank, jazz and maybe a little rock on occasion, has turned in a pretty ok project in his newest, The Local Cafe.
The beginning starts off quite solid. Biddines raps on growing up poor and in want of better things and sprinkled throughout the album are bits of sagacities like in “20 Dollar Loan” when he accurately observes that too many are “stuck working a job with sorry ass thirty minute breaks, by [the] time you warm your food, you’re already late.”
The bulk of The Local Cafe however is sold to topics that mainly pleasure Mr. Biddines himself, a banging car and car stereo system (“Whole Trunk”) and a lot of romancing, some successful, some less than requited. Biddines’ lyrics are also less than complex and sophisticated, as his embraced natural drawl but mostly his settling for elementary to intermediate wordplay keep the project from reaching peak heights. The type, style and nature of the music we get in The Local Cafe are all too familiar for fans and also for Eric Biddines. In short, we’ve already been here before.
2 out of 5 stars
Risk/Reward by GrandeMarshall (Fool’s Gold Records)
Philly Fool’s Gold artist GrandeMarshall returns from hiatus with his new project Risk/Reward, but really there’s no risk in the album, and it’s unclear if there will be a substantial reward stemming from it for the rapper. There’s certainly not a huge one for fans picking up the music from where GrandeMarshall last left them on previous album My Brother’s Keeper (November 2015), which has more meat to it than Risk/Reward‘s got.
GrandeMarshall puts forth some of his staple logic and less than fully enlightened experiential wisdom, but for the most part, this affair touts casual, mildly lyrical big-shot raps, modest mediocre production and some but not a lot of vigor. In need of strong messages in its neutral stance in the gray area between trap and consciousness, Risk/Reward’s only risk, if it has any, is that it doesn’t push anyone’s buttons, and it will only pay off by lowering expectations of GrandeMarshall, assuming he wants that and thinks it’s a good thing.
2 out of 5 stars
The Art Of Rock Climbing by Boldy James & DJ Butter (Mass Appeal Records)
The second studio album from Mass Appeal artist Boldy James of Detroit is not an LP and it’s not a street release but a seven track EP, presented by DJ Butter, entitled The Art of Rock Climbing. Rap made Boldy’s dreams come true, but throughout the EP he celebrates the ins and outs of rock dealing as well, never letting us forget the rarely compromising art of hardcore gangsta rap in 2017.
Just listen to the hook on “Married to the Streets” – “the first rule of thumb, pinky ring on freeze, and my trigger finger on my gun, ring finger married to the streets, ain’t got no heat better get you some, they gon’ send me back to the clink, if I get caught with another gun, but my ring finger married to the streets, and my middle finger to the judge.”
There is obviously some creative wordplay there, but the five finger salute to the block as it were rules too heavy handedly. The Art of Rock Climbing showcases some nice bars and the guest list can boast of legend Kool G Rap, vet Kokane and some other hard dudes, but it’s primarily made up of some glorified entries in the diary of a zealous trap-cat from the drug game.
2 out of 5 stars
Culture by Migos (Quality Control Music/300 Entertainment)
Atlanta pop and trap trio Migos have returned, two years after dropping their debut LP Yung Rich Nation, with their sophomore, Culture, again on Quality Control Music, 300 Entertainment and Atlantic Records. Aside from just the fact that the boys have even made a second studio album, the formulaic project is not much of an accomplishment for Quavo, Takeoff and Offset.
This Culture album is filled with basic rap talk on choppers, expensive whips, high end apparel brands and jewelry, hoes, ungodly amounts of loot, drugs to sell (coke in particular) and drugs to take (lean mostly), plus the quotes are downright hazardous. After media poster child DJ Khaled opens for the group in the intro, Migos remark in that title song that “ni**as get money, don’t know how to use it” as if they know how to use money. Later they claim Versace as a “hobby,” contradicting themselves in the process.
Among their other ridiculous lines are the following from “Get Right Witcha” and “Brown Paper Bag” respectively: “I done f*cked a lot of ni**a’s wife” and “I had a dream in a pool I was swimming through cash.” They’ll mention here and there how their elders gave them good advice or that they’re proud of them somehow, but it’s only to try to make you think these guys are upstanding pillars in society when they’re not, and it’s easily refuted by Migos’ much more predominant, lowbrow harmful material.
The only good true thing one could say about the group in the album is that they continue to delivery their new unique flows over modern beat styles from their producer friends, but the subliminal messages in their words are so bad to absorb. The only type of culture in this album is propagandistic gang culture and it’s got very little if anything to do with real hip-hop.
1 out of 5 stars

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Hip Hop Album Reviews, Week Ending Jan. 20, 2017

In addition to the new album by Prodigy of Mobb Deep, we got a bunch of other nice albums on New Music Friday and throughout the week leading up to it. There are six big ones this time and they all advance the best principles of the new rap era.
Writing HERstory by Jazzmyn Red (Jazzmyn RED Music)
Emcee, singer and spoken word artist Jazzmyn Red from Taunton, Massachusetts builds upon her debut album Caught RED Handed (2013) with Writing HERstory, the driven vocalist’s newest talent show of social activism, female solidarity and ethnic reconciliation. Through ups and downs, from being demoralized to feeling empowered, Jazzmyn never once lets go of her wisdom or positivity. Her trifecta of skills at rapping, singing and a cappella poeticizing keep all of Writing HERstory a rockingly good ride on all those levels and more, and producers Lingo, Vinny Idol, Mikhail O. Johnson, HuanGi, Montez Kirkland and The Arcitype also make it a multi-terrain musical journey with depth too. Jazzmyn Red is a diva who demonstrates politically through her music and also talks about what’s important to her specifically, like alcoholism (“Fade Out” asks, “how does one stay sober when your life is on the rocks?”) and the perceived obfuscation of racial identity for someone of mixed ethnicities in America (“Questionable Blackness“). Jazzmyn herself is of white, black and Arabic descent. Writing HERstory is beautiful and medicinal in these times and has a lot to offer hip-hop.
4 out of 5 stars
Sky by Riplon (self-released)
Out of Tampa, Florida comes Riplon (Justin Acevedo) with some more valuable emcee skills from the Sunshine State, but not everything has a rosy glow in life for the rising rapper. Having to overcome obstacles like weaving through a rough hood and losing his brother to cancer, which is how he got his stage name (R.I.P. Launie), Riplon is tougher for his trials but also wiser, as he proves on his self-released, debut LP Sky, the followup to the 7th Day EP (2014). Among other notes and feelings, he begins with a show of respect for his inspirer, J. Cole, which in one way tells us how his style is oriented, and like the Ville rapper, Riplon is committed to imparting indispensably useful messages. Topics like refusing to chase wealth, not fitting in perfectly as a youngster and holding on to your passions are bread and butter for the smart aspiring wordsmith. With impressive chops, healthy subject matter and a good taste for beats, Riplon is willing and able to do more great things going forward, but for the time being, reach for the Sky, a real, sometimes raw, set of stories from Riplon about where he is from and what influenced him to become the man he is today.
4 out of 5 stars
New AmeriKKKa by CnC Squad (Haffway House)
If gritty, hardcore East Coast style rap is your cup of tea, then look no further than the new album by CnC Squad, New AmeriKKKa. The thing is, the guys of CnC Squad, Big Vic, Knukle, Kwality and Yay Plus, are West Coast representers, hailing from the South Bay of Los Angeles. Following their Minority By Birth LP and The Hand That Rocked The Labels EP from 2010, the foursome continue their career of crafting conscious hip-hop with muscle in New AmeriKKKa, with lots of awareness of oppression in the ghetto, attitudes critical of the police state, and commentary on everything from the 2016 election results and aftermath to the construction of racism in America and elsewhere. It’s definitely fresh to hear more voices in rap from the USA’s Latino community, as we do here; however, the crew’s combative tones and intermittent gun talk (though natural reactions to living in communities where the threat of violence is high) will have fans asking, “where is the love,” or more accurately “where is the love for anything at all not touched by society’s iniquities?” CnC make for a compelling sum of men who rhyme well and refuse to ignore the gross inequalities across the land, but the substantial baggage they carry over from the gangsta rap time period coupled with their relentlessly dark, morbid and unrefined demeanors fail to provide an opening for the requisite brightness and tenderness needed for the album to excel greatly.
3 out of 5 stars
Mark Of Futa by Futa (self-released)
Rapper Futa (Joseph Holloway) from Little Rock, Arkansas, who has battle rap beginnings, follows his 2016 LP O.W.E., or Out Work Everybody, with an even better album, Mark of Futa, a sophomore project that is just as intense but in the arena of care and love this time. Futa exhibits remarkable maturity that is years ahead of his peers in the trap, as he shows great concern for the falling souls in the streets across the nation. He mourns the wicked ways of the hood and keeps the tools of hope, positive persuasion, bright optimistic feelings and Tupac-like compassion at his disposal. Futa’s talents include both singing and rapping but he never leans on one more than the other. He has never been an angel, and he’s the first to say so. His mental burdens from life issues at the bottom and toxic connections have him down however his understanding, kindness, hardwork ethic and his focus on sharing the good word lift him up. Futa’s style may be in need of specific stories and instances from his past, his present situation and current events making headlines, but he makes up for the album’s general at-a-distance nature with tons of heart.
3 out of 5 stars
A Way With Words by Keenan Cunnin (self-released)
Chicago emcee and producer Keenan Cunnin has A Way With Words on his debut LP. After dropping a comedy sound clip/beat tape last year mocking several statements made by head of state (more like head of hate) Donald Trump, he’s added to his credibility with this new authentic tape. Over his upright, boom bap-like beats, Keenan has much attitude with his articulate lyrics of prominence. He’s critical of lesser rappers and much of his style is committed to bullying the competition in a traditional sense, but when he shows love and gratefulness in “Dedicated to Love” with AudioLogical and Orator, it’s clear this guy is the real deal. It may only be to show some muscle, but he seems to contradict himself a little later in “CGI (Suckas Know)” when he says, “I hate love and I love bad shit” and his beats and hooks could be more enriched, fleshed-out and distinguished, but overall, A Way With Words is quite satisfactory and true to its title.
3 out of 5 stars
Hegelian Dialectic: The Book Of Revelation by Prodigy (Infamous Records)
Mobb Deep legend Prodigy last released a studio album in 2014, which was the Young Rollin Stonerz collaboration with rapper Boogz Boogetz. To his benefit, his name has been in the news a bit since, enough for his new official solo project Hegelian Dialectic: The Book of Revelation to get the adequate attention. Reported as being the first in a series of three albums, which goes along with the theme of Hegelian Dialectic (two counterpoints and then one synergy of the two), this Book of Revelation joint is not intensively enlightened but certainly more so than the history-cemented emcee has ever been before, even within Mobb Deep.
Interspersed with several eye-opening sound bites including one from Tupac (and not his most respectable public remark by any stretch of the imagination at that), the album is without a doubt wise and not criminal minded as Prodigy’s track record typically proceeded in the past. In “Tyrrany,” he raps on the corrupt system that delivers “toxic food” and “government tyranny” however targeted criticism of the business system is absent from P’s program. He presents himself with a cleansed spiritual outlook, encourages love over hate, hoists black pride, and cherishes and appreciates the balanced disposition he acquired from the different role models he had as a child.
Disapproval of today’s fraud rappers marks a good portion of Prodigy’s preoccupations, and he has a point, but it would help if he named some of the folks of concern, without being derogatory or nasty of course. Without naming names, it just leaves us to guess what he thinks is bad rap and a bit like propping himself up unduly. Prodigy’s lyrical flow is easygoing and no more advanced than before and not that it is an excuse but the mostly calm beats from Alchemist, Knxwledge, Beat Butcha, Budgie Beats, Mimosa, Mo’ Betta, Mark the Beast and others are hardly enough to motivate P to challenge himself in that department.
Every now and then on the disc, Prodigy will say something not everyone can dig, like in “Snakes” with the line “I still shoot guns for the life of me,” but there are many more bits that everyone can look up to. Later in “Snakes,” P fixes that last snafu by saying, “they took the chain off our wrists and put it on our brains.” The album culminates in the second to last track “No Religion” where Prodigy remarks on how immoral indecent behavior is more accepted and rewarded these days than good upstanding character and ethics are, especially in the music business. Prodigy’s eloquence and articulation in rhyme-technique and message transmittance alone might not have grown since last time, but his personal maturity and his courage to introduce topics of awareness and truth have by quite a bit.
3 out of 5 stars
Not everyone will love these albums right away, but give them some time and I guarantee the styles will have you converted. If mainstream hip-hop has you down in the dumps, look to the indie scene, where a world of great possibilities awaits.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Combo Review, Week Ending Jan. 13, 2017

We’re halfway through January and already there is a perfect scoring album in the running for 2017, in addition to a few solid contenders. Rap activist and antics-maker Dan Bull released a new collection of outstanding breadth, suburban Atlantan Kyle Lucas of Marietta, Georgia came with a powerful punch of consciousness, BK to CT transplant Day Day P delivered his messages straight from the heart in his debut, and grime pioneer Wiley recognized his status atop the ranks of underlings spawned from his unique sub-genre of hip-hop. The fine joints just keep rolling in from these and other artists.
Hip Hop Hooray by Dan Bull (self-released)
Topping the list of this week’s best hip-hop albums is the new LP by the long-established, comedic nerdcore emcee Dan Bull, from Bromsgrove, England. Dan released his first studio album Safe in 2009 and has since been an outspoken artist in the areas of video-gaming, politics, society in general, autism (which he has) and personal struggle, as exemplified particularly well in Safe’s story of a man fraught with inner demons. The title of his new masterpiece is Hip Hop Hooray, an obvious homage to the Naughty By Nature anthem, but also a fun extensive ride through the happy, funny, serious and compassionate corridors of Dan’s awake mind-frame.
Dan is super clever and highly witty with his vocabulary-intensive stanzas and one can tell instantly from listening to the project that he has tremendous talent and skill at infusing complex rhyming into his storytelling which he delivers with the utmost crispness. True to its promotional descriptions, Hip Hop Hooray features Dan in a very upbeat, tongue-in-cheek light in the first half then a more pensive, philosophical tone in the second, but still with a lot of spirit and energy.
So culture-conscious of his homeland, Dan exaggeratedly pokes fun at the pretentious giddiness of rugby-excitement in “Rugbuggery” and he’s playfully self-deprecative on the stereotype of poor dental hygiene among his British kinfolk in “British Teeth.” In “Sellout,” he punches through the track with hit-making stamina, comfortably content at being counterculture. The time-traveling “Toys” goes to Dan’s youthful fascination with toys and the imagination it brought him then and now. In “Can’t Be Arsed,” he again jabs himself kiddingly for his propensity towards laziness over cool jazzy sax frills. He famously says “eff it to effort” but eventually decides, “eff it, I’m doing it.” The irresistible silliness just keeps flowing in the supremely rapped “Wiggly Willy.”
For his serious material, Dan is just as varied in subject matter as before. He relates the destructive feelings of self-harming and violent personalities in “I Hurt Myself” and moves to softer themes like friendly feline companionship in “Stroking A Cat” and acceptance of natural appearances in “How To Smash Your Mirror” before getting uncomfortable again in “Look At The Elephant,” a healthy caring dose of reality that brings us up close and personal to all the ugly issues surrounding human life on earth at the moment. Riskily taking a deliberate stance, the pro-life “I’m Going To Be A Daddy” explores the anxieties of coming to grips with having a baby but looks on the bright side as well.
Dan Bull is masterful in Hip Hop Hooray and has used that album name responsibly, crafting such perfect work to categorize under the title. Even when it seems that Dan is not being completely serious or when he’s straight up goofing off, there is always a hidden meaning behind what he says. The last track “F*ck Everything” is a good example. Bull’s latest album is no doubt 2017’s first true five-star album for its magnificent vocalism, its fun lively new production and its unflinching ability to mesmerize. It’s best not to judge Hip Hop Hooray by its cover art. You might have reservations about it since Dan strikes a fabulously girlie pose for it but believe me, the contents are amazing.
5 out of 5 stars
Almost Famous, Almost Broke by Kyle Lucas (self-released)
A Marietta, GA native, Vonnegutt member, and past signee with Outkast emcee Big Boi’s Purple Ribbon Records, Kyle Lucas is so true to his background and where he comes from that he named his debut album from 2015 after his very hometown. Marietta, Georgia: The Albumboasts advanced lyricism, brilliant consciousness and contemporary production and the same is true for Kyle’s new EP, Almost Famous Almost Broke, with just a little more bite than the former.
A.F.A.B. has only seven tracks but is completely explored in topics. In “Cellar Door,” Kyle is hurt by a traitorous girlfriend but harbors the thought of a reckless response thinking, “I’ma go f*ck all your friends, get revenge, now we’re even.” That might be the most controversial inner-kerfuffle and temptation on the disc, but the point of the line is not that he recommends the reaction but rather it is to convey how upset he is. Onward, Kyle grieves over-reliance on mind-altering substances, spits venom at his critics and an ex-girl, backstabs backstabbers, pulls a chick from the spot and gets political in “All My Rich Friends Are Sad,” pinning down bad police, faulty clergy people, war hawks and still those critical of him there.
This album is perhaps a moment of venting like never before for Kyle, and just to let you know, the last two songs are even more loaded than those at the top. It’s there that Kyle reaffirms his stance in favor of great notes over bank rolls and brain food over fake news.
4 out of 5 stars
Easier Said But Done by Day Day P (self-released)
Brooklyn-born, Connecticut-raised emcee Day Day P, aka Sunny Hasselhoff, delivers a brand of hip-hop he can truly make a career out of in his Easier Said But Done LP. Smartly lyrical, loyal to tradition and authentic to the emcee-craft and with a fresh real perspective, confidence and a clean clear delivery, Day Day is reflective and honest and comes from the heart with his confessions on courtship, family and friendships, figuring his way through young adulthood and life all the way through. His nods to hip-hop dignitaries Souls of Mischief and Joe Budden are just as refreshing.
Day Day doesn’t run with a weak gimmick but rather holds onto the unbreakable basics and excellent essentials of rap in Easier Said But Done, which of course is easier witnessed than replicated for viewers and for Day Day much easier than being a fake copycat rapper, because it’s au naturel and what he really feels in his heart and soul. The teasing album will have you begging for more by the end, but fortunately, it looks like this artist has plenty more good stuff in the bank for further on down the road.
3 out of 5 stars
Godfather by Wiley (CTA Records)
Hip-hop veteran from East London, Wiley, aka Eskiboy or Godfather of Grime, has finally embraced the heavy second title bestowed upon him in his eleventh and “final” album Godfather, but if he’s made aware of the real rating of this LP instead of just being buttered up by some major publications’ glowing reviews, well then he might just be convinced to comeback to improve on the too familiar-sounding, self-flattering project.
Wiley has jumped around on several labels since his solo album Treddin’ on Thin Ice arrived in 2004, taking turns on all of XL Recordings, Boy Better Know, Big Dada, Asylum and his own Eskibeat Recordings. Several retail sites suggest that Godfather is self-released; however further research says that it is a product of indie label CTA Records with distribution from Warner Music Group (as Wikipedia indicates). The second explanation is more likely than the first in this case.
Godfather never deviates from Wiley’s traditional brand of macho wall-bangers of overly energetic fraternity raps and braggadocio with some slang of Caribbean influenced patois in accented Afro-UK vernacular. Say hello to grime music in its purest form, unadulterated and yes, grimy as ever. It’s hard to tell a subgenre of hip-hop to be something it just is not at its core, but it would help Wiley to expand outside of his niche to have even more positive influence outside of his current circle. He does have the skills and abilities to do so after all so why not?
The execution is on point here and there are in fact lines of motivation and inspiration in a handful of choruses, but for the most part, Wiley and his boys have noticeably chosen pumping, pounding power, speed and force of voice over substantive messages and diversity of concepts, formula over innovation and evolution.
2 out of 5 stars
It should be stated once again that no matter what rating is given to a project, the fact that any one is reviewed and rated at all really says something about the significance of it and its artist, especially when the origin of the commentary is from a serious, dedicated and unbiased source, whose reference points for critique are derived solely from models of substance and originality and not from figures indicating who is the most popular or who fits the mass media mold closest. Also, it’s much more important to be honest in examination than sugarcoated, so the artist is not in the dark about how their most ardent fans feel. After all, the reason for making music is to advance the art, not to bloat sales numbers.