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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.