Friday, February 24, 2017

Hip Hop Album Reviews, Week Ending Feb. 24, 2017

Choose your muse. But choose wisely. Know what you’re getting yourself into ahead of time. The best thing about February’s final roundup of new albums is that topping the list are two newcomers, C4 The Explosive and Cise, followed by more experienced career artists Oddisee and Wise Intelligent among others. Let’s take a gander.
The Potential LP by C4 The Explosive (Four Seas Stories)
The life of rapper and beat constructor C4 The Explosive is so very ordinary, and it’s pretty much all he raps about in his debut album The Potential LP, but his interesting, one of a kind craft, his sense of humor, relatable messages and dynamic idiosyncratic beats launch the project into the stratosphere. C4 The Explosive, or C4 the everyman as you might be tempted to call him, raps about being a dad and husband and how his personal life seems to constantly be at odds with his work life, as he tries ferociously to find time for all of his hobbies, his work and his family obligations.
There are several different shades and dimensions to C4 on Potential. He’s nerdy, cool, funny and focused, as his work here involves a lot of self-reflection. He doesn’t overstep his vocal abilities but he’s got bunches of nice rhymes still. After answering his daughter’s clavicle question in “Intro (Clavicle Song),” there comes the title track, “Potential,” in which C4 champions having the right mindset and work ethic to reach goals. With a double layering of stacked vocals, “Dungeon Boss” is a luminous display of firsthand video game stories and scenery mixed with C4’s thoughts on his own addiction to gaming as he sees it. Plus his game music productions are nicely established and pronounced there and a bit more elsewhere.
“Contempt” finds an outlet for C4’s hilarious self-deprecation, perhaps the album’s best exhibition of it in fact, but also some general neutral pensiveness. All of the concluding songs, except for “Dust in the Wind,” the album’s wiley wind-down of beat-boxing and fresh freestyle rhymes, are dedicated to possibly the project’s most serious subject matter. In “Pallets (Warehouse Song),” C4 discusses his woes and truly mixed feelings regarding his menial, modest wage warehouse-work and how it is less than fulfilling, less than enriching for his soul. “Dish It Out” handles putting food on the table, or dishes on the table when C’s little girl and love of his life breaks one too many of them.
Despite being very humorous and tongue-in-cheek, The Potential LP is multidimensional and introspective not only for C4 but for people who are dealing with a lot of the same issues he’s grappling with. He’s fully self-aware of his situation and his weaknesses but brave enough to admit to them and work to fix them. It’s brilliant. C4 The Explosive is being modest and jokey in referring to this set as a “potential LP,” but in all seriousness, the depth of examination within earns it the status of a real bonafide LP, no less, and the driven emcee/producer has in reality explored and reached his full potential through its creation, especially considering all the other duties he’s had on top of making it. Like the nature of his rap name, C4 sets off a big bang here no doubt. He very nicely captures the modern ethos and struggle of the responsible, hardworking family man (or woman) who has passions and dreams on the side.
4 out of 5 stars
Good Enough by Cise (One Nine Eight Seven Music)
His mind size is extra large and with his voluble rap skills he can be either generous or concise. Los Angeles emcee Cise is helping to bring real hip-hop to the forefront in a big way. He even says so not long into his debut Good Enough. Plus he’s got the balls to call out wack rappers and their retarded material, and the vehicle that transports his messages – his solid flow – backs up the quote/unquote smack that he smacks these fraud-emcees with. Cise moves on though. He names his kids as his motivation to go out, bring home the bacon and be a real provider for him and his, and his lovely supportive lady gets appreciation in “Gates Open.”
Dressing fresh to impress, the exhibition of his flirty tendencies and his general Rico Suave-ness are topics within the few spots of filler, but from a much broader scope, Cise is conscious, progressive, kind and helpful. “The Pressure” song is pro-ambition but warns that hard work often turns into stress and also that the government and the wealthy are playing a significant part in our despair. Pulling up on those lame rappers again, he proceeds to pressure them to have a positive impact on the youth, and he ends the LP with cool inspiration in “Dreamchasers” and “Good Enough.” Cise rocks and he is a real jazzy cat who’s soulful too – just like his beats. The album may not be a standout masterpiece in terms of innovation, but in it, Cise is more than just “good enough.” He’s great.
3 out of 5 stars
The Iceberg by Oddisee (Mello Music Group)
Oddisee of Mello MG and the DMV area can always be relied upon for real substantive hip-hop. Now deep in a sizable catalogue of solo and group works, instrumental and vocal/instrumental, he is again intriguing and musically luminescent in his latest, The Iceberg. Within his patchwork of stylish flows and sophisticated disco grooves are several weighty topics and stories on meager beginnings and the want for more, Islamophobia, the income gap between the sexes, infatuations, the immigrant experience and racist politics, all discussed either extensively or somewhat thoroughly.
Most of Oddisee’s vocal efforts are spent in solid blocks of rap, but once in a while he’ll throw us a memorable refrain or two as in “Like Really” with its incredulous look at ridiculous state policies. Slim on guest features but fat with talking points, The Iceberg is another quality project from the intellectually mellow emcee/beatmaker if a little samey in relation to his other albums.
3 out of 5 stars
The BlueKluxKlan by Wise Intelligent (self-released)
In light of all the incidences of police brutality reported in the last few years, legendary veteran-emcee Wise Intelligent (Timothy Grimes), of golden era group Poor Righteous Teachers, has issued a vitriolic indictment of all police in his new album The BlueKluxKlan. Verging on scary exploitation, the LP is no doubt influenced by real trends of abuse in impoverished sectors going back centuries wherein the meek and vulnerable (black folks for the most part in the case of the United States) are harassed, tormented, tortured and all too often killed by the people who are supposed to protect the public – law enforcement officers.
More than once, Grimes gets carried away with his words, at one point (in “One Good Cop”) elucidating that there are simply NO good cops and in later sections encouraging ghetto inhabitants to take up arms and form grassroots militias sort of like the Black Panthers to combat police violence. The latter recommendation has some logic to it; however, it could also be seen as fighting fire with fire, meeting aggression with further aggression. Still, Grimes understands that the subject of his new project is at its core a rich versus poor problem, in which the rich have always had an upper hand.
He remembers to state that the out-of-hand police brutality in poor and black neighborhoods is a product of social engineering and the corporately backed drug war set in motion to fill prisons to build an uncompensated jail workforce at little to no cost to the business community. Sound a bit like slavery? If you answered yes, you would be right. It and minimum wage employment are by and large the present day forms of slavery.
Unfortunately, a little too much of BlueKluxKlan runs off negative energy. Anger and hatred fuel a number tracks, most notably “F*ck U,” where Grimes explicitly attacks specific cultural figures and demagogues instead of faulty institutional thinking. His major claim that many cops are direct members of the KKK is, contrary to Wise Intelligent’s most sound sensibilities, an alignment with media-generated fear mongering, shock-talk and even more fuel to the fire of mass confusion. Following stellar Wise albums El Negro Guerrero (2013) and Stevie Bonneville Wallace (2016), The BlueKluxKlan is much less all encompassing when it comes to criticizing the corrupt social, political and economic system because it zones in on and crucifies only one agent of the system – police – though quite depraved some of them truly are. Most of the time, the problem is not that people or groups of people are bad but rather that some ideas and proposals are bad, and are implemented and reproduced at the behest of the powerful.
2 out of 5 stars
Primitive Tomorrow by Adlib (Faction Entertainment)
Underground Philadelphia rapper Adlib is proudly rugged and rough around the edges with his macho tones but at least he is aware of it because he manages to work some insight into his fourth project, Primitive Tomorrow. Following albums Teenagers From MarzBad Newz and The Highway, this new set showcases the East Coast aggressor’s hard and soft sides and the former much more so than the latter. His tough, sort of unrefined bravado and the by-the-book beats make the album hard to admire but the messages in the second half deserve some respect.
Adlib fosters a questioning mind frame and by extension freedom of mind and self but also persistence and dedication in “All I Ever Had,” and in “PEACE,” he harnesses “positive energy” for “constant elevation.” Guests Demrick, Tabs, Res Thomas and Jessica Lamb add a little something extra, but while it has its wise bits here and there, Primitive Tomorrow is wanting in lyrical complexity and it is too abrasive and to-the-extreme in most sections.
2 out of 5 stars
Open 24 by YL (self-released)
NYC casual-rhymer YL is consistent and predictable, and with the likewise ambling Roper Williams, who produced the entirety of YL’s new album Open 24, the resultant product is the ultimate experience in cool laid back smooth sh*t. YL and Williams may know how to set the mood in a very soothing way, and YL may know how to take turns speaking on herb, his romantic attachments, the streets and sex, but Open 24, though easily accessible, is quite the generic experience, very prototypical and hardly remarkable.
There are few explicitly stated ambitions from its author. In very small parts he raps on racism, how mean his urban haunts are and how other rappers don’t stack up, without proving that he’s better through topic or technique. YL is no flagrant hood criminal in drug-peddling or violent assault; however, his project is too chill and stands for few pursuits besides big dough and taking it easy.
1 out of 5 stars
Rosebudd’s Revenge by Roc Marciano (Marci Enterprises)
It took Roc Marciano three years and two months to come up with some more creative rhymes, not many but some, and unfortunately, the time did nothing for the guy’s maturity level, and it’s pretty pathetic because he’s thirty-nine years old now. Rosebudd’s Revenge, the Hempstead rapper and UN member’s fourth LP, is a slog of gangstafied jock-speak over uninspiring, lo-fi boom-bap productions that stand back from the main procession the whole time.
The best this thing can possibly do is convince Roc Marciano to rethink his style and his dangerous, childish, materialistic persona, but maybe this is his innate personality, in which case he needs religion, and not the street type. He’s got too much of that already. In the past, Roc Marciano was intriguing with his quiet sneaky mobster lyrics that showed and still show some elevated writing craft, but thematically this album is just Marciano scraping the bottom of the barrel, a gun barrel in this case.
1 out of 5 stars

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Hip Hop Album Reviews, Week Ending Feb. 17, 2017

This week, recognized rap icons Fat Joe and Remy Ma released their joint album, to once again profit off feeding the industry’s appetite for pulp formula (shamefully enough), but aside from that and best of all, there is a bundle of better projects from more respectable, art-minded producers and emcees, artists like Jonwayne, beatmaker Superior, SkyBlew, AllttA (Mr. J. Medeiros + 20syl) and others. Those are the works that should be given the most attention.
Rap Album Two by Jonwayne (Authors Recording Company/The Order Label)
Apparently La Habra, CA rapper/producer Jonwayne never retired back in 2015 after his Jonwayne Is Retired EP, or did he? The artist formerly on Stones Throw Records purportedly had some drinking problems which he has supposedly moved on from since then, thanks to his work on Rap Album Two, the big man’s new rap-plus-beats LP. Via casual rhymes and gentle production, Jonwayne is very poignant on the project, discussing the vagaries of human pain in “Human Condition” and other bohemian styled philosophies in “Out of Sight” to take one example. Still, he now and again brings it back to his lighter side – him messing up his recording takes in “The Single” is impossible to not smile at.
Through the happy and sad, Jon strikes a chord with his thoughts and feelings. He’s at turns  regretful for disappointing friends and himself for his recent behavior but also hopeful for the future, with dreams of a getting sober, growing up and starting a family. Jon reserves a very loaded track in particular to close everything up. In “These Words Are Everything,” he knows that his current label and artistic choices won’t get him the most money or followers, but he is focused on doing it his way and not selling out, the greatest choice of all. Guests on the album are Shango, Danny Watts, Zeroh and Low Leaf. Rap Album Two doesn’t jump out at you but rather lays back in the cut; nevertheless, it’s a nice setup from the reliably solid Jonwayne.
3 out of 5 stars
The Journey by Superior (Below System Records)
When it comes to boom-bap, Spanish-German producer Superior (Marcos Oviedo) is steadily becoming one of the best in the business. His brand of the East Coast American style of beats is on the smoother end of the spectrum, lovely and almost romantic in its gentle sway of samples, yet firm on the drum end. His new LP The Journey, the followup to Scenes from 2015, is a pro-compilation of some of Superior’s best stuff of late married to great guest verses from emcee-names big and small so you’ll learn about some new artists in the process.
Street themes are present in several spots, but worth mentioning specifically and besides the typical urban tales are Lyric Jones’ wise perspective on “Open Letter,” Rocdwell’s love for lady in “I Got You,” and the excited power coupling of M-Dot and Revalation in “Earn It.” The “bigger” boys worth shouting out include REKS, Verbal Kent, Termanology, Lil Fame of MOP and Spnda. Superior doesn’t show many angles of his producing style, even within boom-bap, but his sample selection, his mixing and the silky finish of the final audio-product are truly from a trained, skilled technician and artist of hip-hop music.
3 out of 5 stars
Dreams, Toonami & Jazzier Days by SkyBlew & Pabzzz (The Jazz Hop Café)
Chapel Hill rapper, proactive project-maker and prolific collaborator SkyBlew (Mario Farrow) has come a long way since being Young Millionaire from Auburn, Alabama back in the day when heads were eating up Jay’s Black Album and Ye’s College Dropout as the then biggest crave-crazes in hip-hop. Now, the conscious emcee has ten albums to his name, including Dreams, Toonami & Jazzier Days, his new EP with French producer Pabzzz released by UK internet radio channel Jazz Hop Café.
Pabzzz plays us warm welcoming piano in the intro “This About Dreams,” but with life SkyBlew doesn’t play around. He holds onto his sanity and remains committed and persistent to the EP’s midpoint commenting, “I refuse to snooze, I turn off the news” in “Always on Call.” The whole EP is about cool chill vibes, on music and musings. SkyBlew’s focused vocal delivery is of a prepared freestyle type, but he’s all about love and good attitude all the time. Pabzzz is more than a match for the man with beautiful easy listening, serene spa sounds, tasteful jazz of course and more.
Dreams, Toonami & Jazzier Days is a gift of random notes from the young, smart, and open-minded. SkyBlew is technically not the most complex rhymer nor the most renegade in subject matter, meaning he likely won’t turn your casual listening into deep intense concentration but still, he remains a very good guy in and for hip-hop who stands for all the right things.
5 out of 5 stars
Price of Freedom by Prince of the City (Freedom Records)
Prince of the City, Tariq Ali Muhammad, hasn’t developed his emcee-craft into a whirlwind of complex lyrical rhymes, but since being reborn as a pious Muslim in the Nation of Islam some time back, deep moral teachings have been his strong suit. The teacher and rapper from Stockton, California and Norfolk, Virginia has a lot of perspective needless to say. In his debut album Price of Freedom, Tariq leaves out none of his concerns or values so he’s completely sincere with his integral outlook on life.
Muhammad’s heartache stems from the ghettos’ problems with drugs, gun violence, arrests and lockup, and his solutions include love and self-improvement, though there’s scantly any mention of the greater economic and political system acting upon communities, poor, affluent or otherwise. Still, his messages are a great start. His “M.O.B.” is not money over b*tches but rather “my other brother,” he’s not for selling one’s soul for a check, he’s seen a nine-to-five turn into a “lifelong prison” and he states simply that you can’t take wealth into the afterlife.
Muhammad’s been converted to good but it’s always been in him. He says, “my body left the trap, but my heart always stayed in.” He rarely brings up his own flaws, which hurts some chance of connecting with listeners, but his words of dedication and discipline to principles of integrity and dignity are no doubt refreshing amidst new rap music that glamorizes street crime. Prince Muhammad is also technically plain with his basic rhyme schemes and standard production but through his words he can surely help many onto safe paths of healthy thinking.
3 out of 5 stars
The Upper Hand by AllttA (On And On Records)
The new duo of L.A. rapper Mr. J. Medeiros (pronounced Muh-deer-us) and French producer 20syl called AllttA release their heavy debut LP The Upper Hand through On And On Records, and despite its lyrical complexities and loaded subject matter, it sort of feels like a heartbeat away from being a pop rap crossover, mostly because of 20syl’s groovy, electro dance club beats, nu-disco music if that makes more sense. Medeiros shoots his quick flash rhymes on love, fame, celebrity-worship, race, religion, injustice and childbirth with more than an air of awareness.
The issue arises in that Medeiros brings forth all these sad and intriguing truths but doesn’t slow down to discuss what we can do and how we should respond to them. It’s interesting but also troubling that on “The Woods,” the chorus states that “who controls the past controls the future.” That’s obviously not a reassuring prospect in light of who and what has been controlling the world. For the most part though, The Upper Hand may not have a leg up on the best rap ever, but it’s a pristine, finely mastered hip-hop project that does explore some of those less than comfortable topics and areas with which we need to get acquainted.
3 out of 5 stars
Golden Crown by SK Invitational (Kopfhörer Recordings)
Acoustic live hip-hop band SK Invitational from Austria may not be Europe’s version of The Roots crew, but they definitely have ambitions to become it or something close to, as they routinely have something around sixteen member-instrumentalists on board and work with several talented artists, especially on their new third album Golden Crown. Firm, strong, hard-driving and invigorating tones break open the start, and appearances from MOP, John Robinson, Homeboy Sandman, Sadat X and Edo G only sweeten the pot.
The striking whole music sounds of hot jazz, funk and soul in concert with positive rap and lush singing are top notch and no less than par for the course; however, on the whole, Golden Crowndoesn’t test the system in those natural, controversial hip-hop ways, and there is generally not a great deal of emceeing, certainly not enough from the original group members, instead depending on the guests to spit the greatest heat so to speak. This is a nice music experience, albeit with a tamed and limited rap element.
2 out of 5 stars
Molotov by Saga & Thelonious Martin (Saga 718/Empire Distribution)
One could argue that Brooklyn rapper Saga on his new album, Molotov (with Chicago producer Thelonious Martin), is brash, openly and grossly sexual, materialistic to an extent, moderately lyrical and basically unoriginal but there are a few things to learn from him here, even if he is largely a less than venerable personality on his records. Saga’s lyrics on the new album unveil the face of a rapper looking more to vent, brag, and self-counsel than spread positive progressive messages. He feels as if he’s a tough savvy urbanite though he doesn’t often come down to our level (or our part of town).
He’ll one moment put cocky ones in their place when he can be pretty arrogant himself then warn fellas who chase skirts that the girls very well might scam them in the end – just two examples of where he’s coming from mentally. “Where We Live,” the crowning achievement in this set, makes us aware of warring, whoring, pimping, poverty, ghetto violence, low standards of dress and physical impropriety among young girls and so forth, all around the parts he comes from in BK, NYC, but it applies nationally really, even globally. Taking smooth twinkly samples and applying lowkey drum rhythms, Thelonious Martin loops his cuts with rigid precision but has a cozy bed of productions for us still. Saga is caught between two worlds in Molotov but avoids the worst of both with his common sense and support from new-age music mate T. Martin.
2 out of 5 stars
Plata O Plomo by Fat Joe & Remy Ma (RNG/Empire Distribution)
It’s been a long time since Fat Joe and Remy Ma dropped LPs. Joe’s last was 2010’s The Darkside Vol. 1 and Remy has been without a new studio album since 2006 when she released her debut There’s Something About Remy. In their Plata O Plomo (“silver or lead,” i.e. “money or bullets”) collaboration, they literally pick up right where they left off, going commercial, superficial and gangster to the fullest and pretending as if character and responsibility in the music are not important to observe. It’s funny but also sad how Fat Joe’s beginning statements give allowance to coke, minks, Gucci flip flops and beating cases and rats, among other demons and misdemeanors.
It’s not rare that the two are flagrantly confrontational, romantically unfaithful or obsessed with extravagant wealth. Final cut “Dreamin” attempts to regain some respect lost but just skims the surface. Put another way, if you were looking for Fat Joe and Remy Ma to confound our expectations of them here, you’re gonna be disappointed. Plata O Plomo is totally detached from intelligent hip-hop and worldly consciousness as it’s nothing more than a glitzy mobster fashion show gone much too wild.
1 out of 5 stars

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Hip Hop Album Reviews, Week Ending Feb. 3, 2017

You might be thinking that there can’t be anything that just came out that’s better than Big Sean’s new LP, but while that one is good, there are plenty of other albums that are kicking down the door in the name of hip-hop. Among them are several Christian rap projects. Regardless of any officious or impractical religious dogma, any vague piety or loss of identity to group conformity, all of which are virtually absent in this week’s albums, they stand for deep meaning, the fight against evil and the defense of good, so why not include them in the conversation?
My Heroin(e): An Opera In Two Acts by Nik VRSI (VRSI Music)
On his debut album My Heroin(e): An Opera In Two Acts, singer, songwriter, emcee and producer Nik VRSI (Vivid Realities Sang Immortally), born Nik Srinivasan, a real hip-hop protege, vocally trained in the classical style of music, finds his way through school, the party scene, love, life and the airport. Yes, the airport. The LP begins with Nik being stopped by TSA agents before his flight because of his resemblance to known terrorists (Nik is Indian), and things get pretty hairy.
The album then unfolds to tell of the experiences that led Nik to his predicament. His lush operatic singing, advanced rap-storytelling and his big beautiful productions, which sometimes sound like a full jazz ensemble playing their hearts out, other times like an epic movie score, demand the ears of all music fans. Nik finally works things out with the TSA boys and props love and the strength of the human spirit in the ender “World Go Round.” Nik and his guests perform extraordinarily well in the spectacular tales of My Heroin(e), a seesawing ride through early adulthood and a groovy new twist on hip-hop.
4 out of 5 stars
Nobody Famous by Jered Sanders (Hope Hop Music/Soulspazm)
Perhaps never before has Christian hip-hop had so much substance and texture as now, and Florida to DMV youth minister and emcee Jered Sanders is largely responsible for helping the movement. Not only does he show strength in his faith in the Nobody Famous LP but he also shows what it’s for, which is to teach, educate and counsel. From statements like “everybody living like they upside down” and “love is supposed to be your foundation” in “Upside Down” to thoughts on ghetto violence, advising sinners and holding religious leaders accountable, Sanders is spot on with his preachings. He has an astute awareness that the system is controlling people and not the other way around, and he’s first and foremost out to save souls. A man whose message is that nobody is really famous in God’s eyes (i.e. there’s no favoritism in the Lord’s work), Jered Sanders might have been nobody famous before, but he’s gradually becoming someone who is famous in the rap world.
4 out of 5 stars
Welcome To My Dreams by Manuel (Dreams Collective)
Welcome to emcee Manuel’s dreams. The positive persistent one is nimble and clean with his sharp rhyming and his different speeds and cadences of flow here plus he’s got forward messages out the wazoo. His emphasis is on creating music so the fans can get more out of it than he can and also that there is more to the music and industry than material gain. Inner struggles of the mind are among his ending soliloquies. Manuel can turn your nightmares to sweet dreams at the spit of one verse.
4 out of 5 stars
#Ih8rap by Y.Luck (self-released)
The #Ih8rap album by NOLA native Y.Luck (Keith Swanier II) is a bit uneven in presenting its power of goodness, but it’s surely worth hearing through until the end when the LP really gets juicy. Some sexual boyishness, condemnation of pretenders, love chasing and almost too much boasting must be worked around in order to get to the gold underneath. In the thick of it, Swanier comments on not being out for the fame but rather for the music and a career livelihood, plus he’s fully intent on bringing real rap back from the glory days. In his last three tracks, he asks several serious questions about race, politics and business in the music and other endeavors and this is where the heart and soul of the album truly lie. Truth be told, Y.Luck loves rap, not the counterfeit type that’s shamefully peddled to the masses nowadays.
3 out of 5 stars
Blue Eyed Devil by Krum (Get Nice)
Gospel-spreading rapper and musician Krum of Dallas, Texas never betrays where he’s from and what he believes in with his electric folk-music backdrops and good word in rhyme atop them. In Blue Eyed Devil, he again casts out the devil and Satan, feeds the urge in us to be different and just spreads goodness and values throughout, as he belts out his tunes in both rap stanzas and cooly crooned song verses. Like a lot of Christian hip-hop, there is somewhat of an avoidance of explicit topics on current world events, but Krum’s enriching words of wisdom for the soul here are helpful much and disappointing never.
3 out of 5 stars
Libertad by Third Root (self-released)
San Antonio three man band Third Root (MexicanStepGrandfather, Easy Lee and DJ Chicken George) lead the revolution in their pocket of the country with their third album Libertad. Following albums Stand For Something and Revolutionary Theme Music from 2012 and 2014 respectively, Libertad is liberation for the ears and mind. Racist politics, a brief hit on the corporate sector and wide open awareness of aggravated social dynamics are all prevalent topics on the album as these music men, educators and OGs (who are anti gang violence and crime) fight with the good movement to free all men, women and children, to a 1960s, protest music inspired sound-set.
3 out of 5 stars
Canopy by Nobigdyl (Indie Tribe)
Middle Tennessee rapper Nobigdyl (Dylan Phillips) of the Indie Tribe collective puts up no fronts about sounding like Chance The Rapper and peers. He openly cites them as influences, and with his bright, unashamed Christian lyrics that uphold love, wisdom and understanding, there’s nothing to dislike about him. His debut Canopy is of that type of magnificence and more because his virtues transcend the listening experience. The productions and Phillips’ rosy tone create an innocent air that is without bite or offense. Little hardness is evoked. For a subtle, more or less standard gospel rap engagement, Canopy has those fine contemporary Dylan-bars that associated act Derek Minor gushed about him for a few years back. It celebrates being saved and shares the welcome feelings that come with it, and it serves as an excellent how-to guide for rappers trying to be both popular and pure of soul.
3 out of 5 stars
I Decided by Big Sean (GOOD Music/Def Jam)
Detroit/Def Jam artist Big Sean (who is also on Ye’s Getting Out Our Dreams) releases his fourth LP, I Decided, in more or less the same form he’s had since the beginning. It’s got its positives, and it’s got its negatives, but overall, it’s solid enough for him. The Eminem feature as well as those from Jeremih, Jhene Aiko, The Dream, Migos and others are okay, not bad, but definitely market grabbers, and the sizable staff-made beats are pretty typical for the modern day. Sean falls victim to sexy whips, jewelry and dice gaming (sneakily put in there, almost subliminally) as well as some jealousy of his exes and the men that have taken his place in their lives. Those are just about the only dents in the fine finish of the album. As for the high points, there are of course Sean’s solid creative writing and lyrical delivery and fortunately he’s got a bunch of lessons for us. He promotes inner strength, chemistry over “anatomy” in evaluating potential partners, love for mom, sacrifice and just thinking and living right in general. I Decided may not have any huge standout hits for the radio, tv and such, but it’s without a doubt a good addition to Big Sean’s catalogue.
3 out of 5 stars
Misunderstood by Hector Dominguez (self-released)
Humboldt Park, Chi emcee in service of Him, Hector Dominguez not only has spiritual views but power in his lyrical punch, from the spirit that has imbued him with salvation. On his most recognized, most self-realized project yet, Misunderstood, Dominguez regrets having a negative impact on ex girlfriends but now that he’s a husband and father, he’s man enough to admit his mistakes, teach on righteousness and seize the day. The posse-packed “Bar Exam” with guests from various corners of the country is the tour de force of the EP. The whole of Misunderstood though is greater than the sum of its parts. The album doesn’t often get secular to touch on all the social issues out there, but it nicely represents cleanliness of attitude with a gestalt that is fully sanctified and glorious.
3 out of 5 stars
Laine’s Baby Boy by J Hood (ODG Entertainment)
What happens to a former affiliate of a famous band who was never in it for the fame, fortune, glitz or glamor? He or she doesn’t quit and keeps making music. Yonkers’ J Hood from the LOX side camp has a traditional product in Laine’s Baby Boy, but there is no mask over J’s presentation of himself therein. He has his thoughts on the hood and keeping at it through life, his appreciation and love for his passed away mother, his adherence to Islamic doctrine and the influence of ancient Egyptian gods and leaders, plus a truly profound moment of realization in “Negga Woke.” Laine’s baby boy really has grown up.
3 out of 5 stars
Same Moon Same Sun by O.C. (DITC Studios)
Here to take some responsibility and pitch in with the work of enlightening through rap, Brooklyn DITC legend O.C. (Omar Credle) is socially conscious as ever in his new issue (and just one of several albums in his discography), entitled Same Moon Same Sun, like a force that binds us all. After taking a sec to share his story of how he learned of homie Big L’s passing, O.C. shares his disapproval of drugs like lean taken by the kids, the murder of the young in the streets, the bullying done by America (see “My City”), confusion regarding ISIS and Al Qaeda plus a few other stories, which are what he has always excelled at telling. Mr. Omar “O.C.” Credle has always been a caring man but perhaps at no other time than now has he been more upfront and open about showing it in various relevant forms to his fans and the public.
Same Moon Same Sun can actually be download for free from DITC Studios’ site above on the album title link.
3 out of 5 stars
The Calm by Zarinah (self-released)
Zarinah from Philadelphia is assertive, composed and dignified on her own in The Calm, the followup to the native East Coast belle’s Dope Becomes Her Mixtape project from 2010. Zarinah is cautious of seductive men in “Love You” and further resistant to the man in “Snapped” but goes to the other side for sexual relief in “Flower,” a fairly convincing attempt at balance. Her storytelling is flexed in “Dear Jesse” (the tale touches home for losing someone close), and although her intermediate lyricism, typified character and lack of original substance and consciousness won’t leave you speechless, Zarinah helps prove with some aplomb that rap is far from just a man’s game.
2 out of 5 stars
Black Privilege by Hubbs & M16 (self-released)
Pittsburgh emcee Hubbs over production by M16 is no problem when the former Hubbs rhymes like second nature on sense, logic, opinions, memories and observations, a mixed bag of topics that follow the company line of conventional hip-hop subject matter. Worthy to mention, “Be Careful,” which doesn’t quite condone banging, looks out for envelope-pushing risk takers in the ghetto with care and concern, so that they don’t pass the point of no return. Any flaws however are mostly made up for by Hubbs’ quality wordplay, and a Skyzoo assist in “Buck” only helps in this adroit affair that has the audacity to call itself Black Privilege.
2 out of 5 stars
Room 39 by Ty Farris (self-released)
Detroit emcee Ty Farris and layered lyricism are one and the same. The moxie-possessing Midwest rapper derives his self confidence from surviving a tough hood, and though his new project Room 39 is mainly a showcase of intricate wordplay that could cut down on the cockiness, Ty is technically enrapturing and particularly relevant in a socially conscious manner in “Product of My”; however, that is the only fresh moment of new era enlightenment on the album. D monument Royce 5’9’’ guests in this full service bar-festival of rap that is a true testament of skill for Ty Farris.
2 out of 5 stars
Greater Than Great: 3rd Quarter by Kwestion (Rock Da Block)
Rapper Kwestion, not to be confused with DJ Kwestion of Jedi Mind Tricks, aims to be greater than great again in the third entry of his ambitious string of albums that began in the “1st quarter” in 2011. The Little Rock, Arkansas to LA transplant has the persistence and determination to overcome obstacles in his path. He revisits childhood memories of simpler times and how to approach women with class and tastefulness, with a bright inspirational tone but not a great deal of originality. He is a real guy, straight from the heart, and he plays no shenanigans but also takes no risks in this safe, mostly hopeful 3rd Quarter.
2 out of 5 stars
The Artist LP by L2B (Elm City Origins)
Elm Street Assassin and New Haven, CT native L2B is another one of those respectable guys who are keeping real rap lyricism existent in a dogged mainstream bastardized by major label joker “artists.” The Artist LP has that homemade, cottage industry feel in a good way… for the most part. The somewhat rough, renegade nature helps to an extent; however, there is genericness in standard talking points like criticism of wack rappers, coming up, the struggle, etc. L2B carries himself carefully on The Artist but doesn’t get very high off the ground.
2 out of 5 stars