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.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Combo Review, Week Ending Jan. 6, 2017

It’s a new year and the new music we were given in the first week of 2017 is pretty solid, some great some lacking, but sturdy overall. The big showbiz artists are scheduled for later this month and next but the mighty underdogs of the game keep barking and these hip-hop hounds can’t be ignored. Check out what the hunt has yielded this time…
The Deeper They Dig The Blacker The Planet Gets by Millenium Falcon (self-released)
Connecticut emcee Harold Walker II, or Millenium (with one, not two n’s) Falcon, drops an outstanding project with his new EP which is called The Deeper They Dig The Blacker The Planet Gets. The healthy conscious one discusses the clone-populated rap industry of late in “New Age Slaves” and what we use the web for in “Internet,” and particularly how it fosters vanity and self centeredness. Later his words focus on his responsibilities and becoming a man, all to hypnotically fresh production. The clever rhyming Walker, who stands for goodness, strength and knowledge, has the progressive wisdom of a good Millennial and the grace, upward momentum and aggressive ambition of a peregrine falcon in this properly oriented album.
4 out of 5 stars
The Past Is Always Present In The Future by Substantial (HiPNOTT Records/QN5 Music)
Longtime QN5 artist and past label-member of Mello Music Group, Substantial, releases his fifth solo LP, The Past Is Always Present In The Future, at the top of 2017 and he’s at the top of his game and on top of his craft with a fully grown mentality, a byproduct of him remaining a responsible emcee and deciding to be a good father (“In My Daughter’s Eyes” includes lessons on raising our world’s little girls). Substantial has an iron-will as he fights for the have nots, shows where he comes from, and looks at the state of the ghetto and his past daze (and days) with perfect clarity. T.P.I.A.P.I.T.F. may sound a little too rosy for some hardcore listeners, but with peace and love, Substantial nevertheless comes bearing hopes, values and lots of motivational speech in the everlasting, time-conscious masterpiece.
4 out of 5 stars
A Thousand Words by Styliztik Jones (self-released)
Styliztik Jones, an LA emcee, member of both Malcolm & Martin and the legend-claiming Likwit Crew, and generally speaking an overachieving rhyme-writer and exciter, has major connections obviously, but in his new EP, A Thousand Words, he doesn’t rely on them, going at it just about single-handedly, save for guest Sindri in the project’s opener, “Ok.” Truth be told he doesn’t need their help to succeed anyway. The clear-minded line-grinder is once again super clever with his bars, eloquently fluent in delivery and balanced and conscious in his subject matter. He states his aims in the game and addresses hard times and the problems of the world but trudges on with the appropriate mindset and positive vibes. Prominent new-age beats assist in a major way but Jones alone steals the show. There may seem to be a lack of original topics, but lyrically, A Thousand Words is a gem that paints a vivid picture for its audience.
3 out of 5 stars
Get The Gringo 2 by Cynic The Apache (Millennium Jazz Music)
PENPALS emcee Cynic The Apache from Brooklyn provides a public outlet for his audio free-association, some shock music-therapy for him and plenty of rad rough East Coast demeanor in Get The Gringo 2, off the quality-providing UK imprint Millennium Jazz Music. For the better, Cynic is not a mirror image of the golden era Flavor Unit emcee with whom he shares the second part of his stage name, but he definitely shares the same tough rugged nature of the former Apache, a nice homage from one perspective. Cynic is not shy when it comes to admitting his past mistakes and letdowns though he’s also sure about the new path he’s headed down in life and love. His style is old New York rap one hundred percent with punched, upright vocals that are lyrically heavy and supported by an unshakable foundation of firm, modernized boom-bap from Squires, Rapswell and Killclaw. Re-experience early ’90s hip-hop all over again in Get The Gringo 2 but with a fresh new face and an energetic young narrator in Cynic The Apache.
3 out of 5 stars
Pink Season by Pink Guy (Pink Records)
Internet TV comedian Filthy Frank steps into the ocean of hip-hop and gets his feet wet once again as character Pink Guy in his sophomore album Pink Season, the followup to the self-titled Pink Guy from 2014. The controversially vulgar and nerdy Pink Guy uses his shameless mockery and side-splitting humor to spoof trap rap and frolic insensitively over topics of sex, backwoods white racism, homophobia, sex, dog meat consumption, mass shootings, sex and oh yeah, sex, highly raunchy sex in fact. Filthy Frank as Pink Guy here certainly does not come with the most hardcore of lyricism, and actually it’s quite difficult to came him a full blown bonafide rapper, and the album does drag between the most notable tracks, but one thing that Pink Season does very well is open a window to some of society’s major prejudices, bigotries and stereotypes to show how ridiculous they are. It never accommodates our hypersensitive culture nor gets dead serious about really anything, but it is good for a few laughs and a straight shot of goofiness.
2 out of 5 stars
We’ll Be Fine by Justin Lucas (self-released)
Independent rapper Justin Lucas from Massachusetts released his debut album We’ll Be Fine to a modest congregation of dedicated followers on Friday, and while the project generically explores themes of an aspiring emcee on the come-up, there are glimmers of hope for the artist. Lucas has a serious flow with some solid though mostly just decent wordplay, but conceptually he hardly goes into anything of monumental substance or specific original value besides his own individual situation. At a distance, he tells the tale of a young man (himself) from a relatively quiet place fighting to banish vices and naysayers from his life and striving to achieve great things in hip-hop, possibly on a major public stage. Producer Frace supplies a mellow, downtempo, blankety production-spread with enough knock to grab attention. They’re the type of beats that sync perfectly with the regular guy status of Lucas himself. Ultimately, there is nothing outrageously objectionable about We’ll Be Fine; however, there is little here that can reasonably compete with the most outstanding pieces by the greatest emcees in game right now.
2 out of 5 stars
There are a lot of young hungry artists working hard in the field right now. The vocalists above can attest to that. Most importantly, they are putting out cohesive collections without major label deals, and they’re getting plenty of fans at the same time. They are making serious moves behind mainstream scenes, which is where the heart of the game lies.