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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Marz, Bad 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.
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.
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.