Friday, March 31, 2017

Locksmith – “Olive Branch” (Album Review)

True enough, Richmond, California emcee Locksmith (Davood Asgari, formerly of Frontline duo) has come through on his promise to release his third studio album Olive Branch, and in timely fashion at that. Olive Branch was promoted briefly on Lock’s masterful 2016 mixtape The Lock Sessions but what’s better is that the LP is every bit as outstanding as fans had hoped it would be. Everywhere here the fierce, respected lyricist has an extraordinary sense of manhood and social responsibility and strong-willed moral character. His messages alone blow out at least three quarters of the mainstream rap field easily and when you add his top notch rhyme flow to the equation, he automatically moves to the upper echelon of hip-hop music. Also, new and returning guest artists and variably textured beats are in store for listeners old and new in what should prove to be Locksmith’s greatest album yet.
The whole idea of the project is to impart critical words of wisdom. There are few breaks from it, but it’s also impossible to tire from it. Spoken word advice atop leads to thoughts on arriving plus toughness in the Kato-produced “Nobody,” which opens for some softer focused lessons-to-carry via “No Way” before Lock’s beast-slaying “Agenda” wakes us up like a bucket of ice cold water to a fast asleep face. Make note of the Tribe “Kick It” quote there and especially the line “’til we see ourselves as one we can never progress.” Next we have “The Margin,” Lock’s special attention to hurting people drowning in a decadent society and a call to think about how we are all connected in this world. Similarly yet some four tracks down, in “Helpless,” Locksmith again touches on our disconnectedness as people. “Home,” with returning Lock music-mate Rebecca Nobel, in her second of three appearances, tells us to be ourselves in the face of resistance, focuses on individual strengths over weaknesses and helps to shed our fears of being perceived poorly by others.
Still, great feelings of love pervade the entire LP and in a few tracks most particularly. In “The One” Locksmith is concerned about struggling to make it work in a relationship enough to voice it (with fine eloquence), and later reconnects with his love in a spell of passion through “Neck Pillow,” which flips the melody and chorus of the Aaliyah tribute song “Miss You” (2002). Much as how “Go There” from Lock Sessions uplifted his and all mothers in general, this set’s “One More Time” immortalizes Lock’s passed mom with so much heart but mournfully this round, dropping the upbeat clip of “Go There” for a slower more soulful style.
The title tracks ends the project here, save for the live version of “Home,” which is just as welcomed and really drives home (pun intended) its many valuable points even further. “Olive Branch” the song sees Lock comment with humble conviction on holding onto his integrity and dignity, and that’s basically what the whole of the album does in one way or another. This is not the same Locksmith of two or three years ago. This is a better Locksmith. The work he’s put in since has delivered him great credibility and proven his confidence in spreading sense, intelligence and reason through his bars. For all those “tough” guys and girls listening out there, know this – the Olive Branch LP is mellifluously inspirational at times but it is incredibly powerful and heavy in subject matter, enough to instantly knock down the cold hardened persona of anyone willing to look at it.
5 out of 5 stars

Friday, March 24, 2017

Raekwon - "The Wild" (Album Review)

All brown-nosing aside, it’s about time Chef Raekwon step out of the mafia-rap box he willingly occupied for the last twenty plus years, since the Wu-Tang burst onto the scene in 1993 opening the door for his legendary “Purple Tape” of ’95 (a.k.a. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx). He’s been in that niche since the beginning and he’s rarely left. And it’s not like he can’t go back. He just doesn’t go to other artistic spaces enough lately. For his seventh solo LP, The Wild (Ice H2O Records/Empire), Rae’s retreated back to the jungle for yet another gangsta rap album very lightly peppered with intelligence and original substance.
Rae lets us know almost immediately that he’s not gonna change his stance in the hip-hop area of underworld mystique. The first four tracks offer only standard gangsterism over hard beats, but at least there is the short bio of and tribute to Marvin Gaye with guest Cee-Lo Green (“Marvin”) right after. The highlights continue to arrive in intermittent blips. In the next two songs (“Can’t You See” and “My Corner”), some nice advice from Rae and a tight Wayne verse emerge but only around more tough guy street talk and romanticism of rising within the established hood hierarchy. Some fine rhyme interplay between Shallah and P.U.R.E comes via “M&N,” and that’s pretty much the end of Wild’s act one.
Raekwon actually has a great attitude in a few spots on this project, taking turns being hopeful, resilient, wise, firm and persistent, but there is a lack of unique concepts to display these traits and Rae’s moneyed vanity just hides them from sight too often. Fly rhymes are activated in service of capo wealth status, brand names and uninventive aggression-raps, and Rae has let it all happen without trying much that is new or fresh.
If it helps, the bang of the beats and the soul of the samples restore some value to the album though with not a lot of musical breadth. That’s pretty much all there is to say about The Wild. Rae is still ensconced in the thick of his brambly mafioso origins and only starts to claw himself free here. He hasn’t gotten very far in that pursuit at this point. Frankly, he’s philosophically and intellectually lazy at times in these jungly whereabouts, more concerned with his flashy image and adherence to the status quo than his inner integrity, and caring more about looking rich than being mentally rich. Raekwon needs to reevaluate.
2 out of 5 stars

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Hip Hop Album Reviews, Week Ending March 17, 2017

Page Kennedy, Dominique Larue, duo Two Things and brusque backpacker Outpatient are the features to watch this St. Patrick’s Day weekend. This time, we’re tying up loose ends, since there were so many wonderful albums that came out last week. Some had to wait, but not anymore. Those albums will be covered here. It’s all a work in progress, but we at SwurvRadio have your back.

Torn Pages by Page Kennedy (Kennedy Entertainment)
Detroit actor/rapper Page Kennedy – TV programs Weeds and Blue Mountain State are just two of his many acting credits – has finally taken the plunge into a full length studio debut, and it’s paying off in spades, thanks to Kennedy’s quality rapping on meaningful issues over solid beats.
Straight away in the “Reintroduction,” Kennedy makes clear he’s a substantive lyrical rapper, not about the bling or things, and he proves it from then ’til end. Wasting no time, he then details an encounter with the police resulting in a shooting for petty reasons, follows that up with a modern timely tale of the ups and downs of Uber driving, proves the pursuit of popularity and empty fun can come at the cost of one’s soul and resists overeating and weight gain before the pointed subjects take a seat very briefly midpoint.
Still, Kennedy remains tough in “Haters Be Like,” “Assassins” and “Testing Me” with heavy spitters King Los, Royce 5’9”, Mr. Porter, Fred The Godson and Elzhi, who all bring nothing short of super clever wordplay. Kennedy is back to the salt mines thereafter, throwing down on moochers, bills and making ends meet with his tools of crazy nice storytelling, and from there, PK’s personal struggles get worked out in the conclusion.
Kennedy talks from the heart and soul on growing up in Detroit, getting into trouble but also into rap, hesitant yet determined to face the past demons that are his neglectful mom’s mistakes and foul influence on him in the emotional “Renee (Momma)” but there’s learning to be had for him and us. Loaded coda and title track “Torn Pages” has deep therapeutic pockets for Kennedy (and us) in his recovery from purported sex addiction, falling in love with the one and being separated from his kids.
There are obviously so many problems hashed out, handled and gotten over on the disc that the whole thing seems like a big mess, but a relatable one for many. Solutions and the proper reaction to take for each issue may be lacking on Kennedy‘s itinerary – they’re simply implied at times, not explicitly stated – but Torn Pages will continue to be highly lyrical, in depth hip-hop music with relevant rapping-points and some great storytelling.
4 out of 5 stars

Help Me, I’m Poor by Dominique Larue (The Magna Media Group)
There’s no getting away from the despair in the tone of Dominique Larue’s latest, the Help Me I’m Poor EP. The Columbus, Ohio native begins her studio project rapping on feelings of being lost and on the edge from living without (“IDK”), but her resolve tightens up further on. Her independent decision making is plenty evident, and we begin to really understand the “f*ck it” response to being poor in “Do What I Wanna.” The theory is that under poverty, things seem so hopeless no matter what and circumstances can only get better so you might as well let loose and have fun.
It’s from that philosophy that Larue finds the energy to rock out in tracks “Coin Toss” and “You May Stay.” She gets serious in concluding track “Help Me Please” to fight off some of her depression. HMIP is not politically jampacked but at least begins to look at and handle economic inequality. The empathy-generating EP may be hard to listen to in spots but Larue‘s lighter humorous side, in the interludes especially, softens the blow and her emcee skills will have your respect.
3 out of 5 stars

I Am I Be by Two Things. (self-released)
Rapping duo Two Things provide a fine example of maturity in the rap game with their I Am I BeLP. With inflated tones of voice and fine rhymes but also seriousness of subject matter most importantly, the emcee twosome from Pine Valley, California are hard edged from being the victims of theft in “UNLV Starter Cap” and right afterward in “Back To Coney” but they also consider and embrace the opposite side of the spectrum – the tender, loving and joyous aspects of life.
“Love Song” attempts to hold on to a romantic connection that seems all but destined to split apart, “Theme Song” with its splendid piano/horn combo is nothing but a fun interlude in the heaviness of the project, and “Pink” is blindsided by the bliss and change of growing up, sacrificing and accepting the responsibility of raising a child, a baby girl in this case. There isn’t much by way of shock or audacity from the low-on-the-radar rap troupe, but I Am I Be remains an uncontrived piece of healthy hip-hop music no matter what.
3 out of 5 stars

Ascended Basterd by Outpatient (self-released)
Hardcore backpack rap, while mean and layered, can be pretty bland all by itself. That’s why its practitioners need some interesting talking points, guests and production to be worth a damn. Veteran, New Mexico rhyme-spitter Outpatient, author of album Incorrigible and other works, fills his new LP, Ascended Basterd, not just with coarse complex wordplay but some conscious topics, notably failed policy, unequal unjust economics and fabricated, twisted news stories in the album’s attractive centerpiece “Idiocracy.”
Credited guests Sean Price and Pacewon among others, Outpatient‘s satirical jabs at popular white rappers in “Refundz” and simply the richness of all the rhyme verses constitute the remaining major draws. The ad-nauseam boasting, bullying and vulgarity reach a tipping point regularly so what should have been a lively effort in Ascended Basterd instead becomes a dark dismal effort with only a few pockets of sunshine.
2 out of 5 stars

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Hip Hop Album Reviews, Week Ending Mar. 10, 2017

Want an eloquent rhymestress’s perspective on love and the everyday struggle? A saucy sauntering Brit’s flippant mockeries about anything and everything? Or maybe even a quote/unquote living legend’s exposition of the dangers found in the ghetto? Ill Camille, Jam Baxter and MURS have you covered. We’ve narrowed down the list of this week’s new releases, and the best are below.
Heirloom by Ill Camille (Illustrated Sounds/Frontroom Entertainment)
Los Angeles emcee Ill Camille spreads out more food for thought and invites everyone over on her third album, Heirloom. The author of LPs Illustrated (2011) and The Pre Write before it (2012) is back with her questioning reflective mind frame to share on love, sex, dreams, hopes and optimism in a sweet escape style format. Strong with wisdom and insight, the smooth Ill Camille learns from her hardworking, blue collar elders in “Spider’s Jam,” expresses disappointment that people let love (and the possibility of) fall by the wayside due to trivial fixable matters in “Slip Away,” and slowly sadly mourns the souls lost to gun violence in the streets on “Lighters.”
After her teaching job has been accomplished, Camille admits the major reason behind the album in “Few Days.” Because problems have been building up, she decides to just get away from them all for a bit, and the calm uninterrupted “Renewed” follows through with the plan, allowing Camille to get still more pests out of her psyche and cleanse. Heirloom is a little up in the clouds with its almost dream-state feel in the semi-soft music and Camille’s casual flows, not extremely rich or intricate in any one way, but through the soulfully extended slow burners and despite her knowing of all the foulness around us, Ill Camille is committed to grinding on in life.
3 out of 5 stars

Mansion 38 by Jam Baxter (High Focus Records)
London emcee of posses Contact Play and Dead Players, Jam Baxter, is on solo album number four and shows no signs of weariness or halt in his step. Out on High Focus Records (like each of his three previous LPs), Mansion 38 is yet another wild ride from the weirded out rapper, packed with bizarre lyrical revelries and a message or two here and there. The critique of manipulative marketing schemes and gullible consumer culture in “For A Limited Time Only” is right on but an exception in the album’s dreary malaise of hokeyness and horseplay.
Baxter purges his cluttered mind of all his pent up frustration, angst, irreverence and goofiness to tracks of dismal art-house music that is impossible to dance to but perfect for Jam to jam awkwardly to. For the most part, this is a showcase of Baxter describing abnormal far-out circumstances in involved left field wordplay and random wacky prepared freestyles.
Mansion 38 is perfectly content basking in strange wonderment, which is one reason why it lacks a great amount of useful messages. The young man Jam Baxter is only occasionally intriguing in an intellectual sense, and he comes across depressive and hopeless with his dark sometimes morbid humor, but his textured metaphorical rhyming deserves attention, some study even, and although the feel in and out is largely low and despondent, Baxter is dedicated to getting back up to rub uptight people the wrong way for his and our amusement.
3 out of 5 stars

Captain California by MURS (Strange Music, Inc.)
The MURS man himself is here again, two years after his breakout hit-album Have A Nice Life for Captain California, his tenth solo LP overall and second on Strange Music Inc. With his prominent, unmistakeable mic-presence, the “Maker of Underground Raw Sh*t” surely brings the raw topics, around fewer of great social responsibility, for a mostly standard project in the current hip-hop landscape, and not exactly underground anymore at that.
MURS has some significant things to say here no doubt; however, they are in just a few songs or looked at through dicey seedy tales from the hood. MURS playfully squabbling with rapper Curtiss King over a girl (which of course helps to give her all the power of choice in the dating arena, like it or not) in the opener “Lemon Juice” clears the lane for stories of tragic love, hustling, gang-banging, cheating and just people behaving badly all throughout the project, and the foulmouthed in-studio jibber jabber of final track “Wanna Be High” makes matters that much more unrefined and uncouth.
The glimmers of light exist in how MURS describes scenarios of urban violence in “GBKW” (though the Kanye-mention is misplaced and too much praise already for the super famous mogul), in the advancement of love and family-rearing in “1000 Suns,” and in how MURS shows the differences across socioeconomic lines in “G is for Gentrify.” Except for MURS’ fine storytelling, he hasn’t changed or challenged himself lyrically, and all the themes and tones follow mainstream establishment rules, rarely encouraging people to question, think deeply and get to the root causes of our madness. It’s decent but simply doesn’t dare decry the most major underlying evils in society, like wildly out of control, government-sponsored capitalism and the divisive, inhumane, materialistic media.
2 out of 5 stars

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Hip Hop Album Reviews, Week Ending March 3, 2017

A sharp tongued emcee from the East Coast, the brother of a rap megastar and a hardened trio of veteran artists are the main attractions as we open March ’17. In order of discussion, they offer incredible technique and wisdom in the case of MC Bravado’s Hip-Hop album, stylish pastiche in Taylor Bennett’s Restoration of an American Idol, and abrasive hip-hop strong-arming in War Pornby rappers Everlast and Sick Jacken with producer Divine Styler.

Hip-Hop by MC Bravado (self-released)
NYC to Baltimore rapper and English teacher MC Bravado may not be on a top tier stage but he is inching ever so close to one at the moment. Having performed at SXSW 2016 and opening for artists like Nappy Roots, Onyx and Chris Webby, he’s a heartbeat away from catching a big break, thanks to his loyalty to traditional, authentic principles of rapping and his persistence and hard work. His latest project, the straightly named Hip-Hop, explores a lot of the preoccupations of your typical standup, young adult millennial – the longing and search for love, character flaws, family values, etc., but MC Bravado likes to switch it up and use the mic as his voice box’s own personal punching bag from time to time.
MC Bravado is a backpacker, in the most respectable sense of the word. When he’s not on random subjects, his swift upright delivery touches on emcee-skill development, personal value, confused girl problems with vanity, conformity and high expectations (“Unfiltered”), gratitude for dad (“Dead Man’s Dream”) and here’s a new one for all the single guys who’ve tried everything – romance with a homeless girl (“Homegirl”), not to be taken very seriously in the last case. The album has some generic music-plus-drum combos and less than several forms of great controversy but Bravado’s sincerity and vocal vigor and the spunky guests, Nitty Scott, MC and Pacewon among them, make for an unforgettable experience.
4 out of 5 stars

Restoration of an American Idol by Taylor Bennett (Tay Bennett Entertainment)
Taylor Bennett, the younger brother of Chance The Rapper (by two years), isn’t riding on the coattails of big bro since he has projects dating back to 2013 and has been rhyming for years prior, yet on the other hand, his sound and style could stand to be a little more unique, less like Chance’s. His new project is titled Restoration of an American Idol and provides a chill ride overall, albeit with a low-profile promulgation of some undesirable norms and social trends.
Responsibly rejecting obsolete crime-rap and gangsterism, Taylor sets tones that are at points positive, warm, ambitious and sagely to musics of similar flavors, but he never says anything that challenges the establishment and actually reinforces it with several soft subtle remarks, denouncing niacin and cigarettes of all things in “Intro (The Kid’s Alright),” broadcasting lascivious promiscuity and exuding an unchecked sexual aggressiveness numerous times further in.
Ignoring those stereotypes for a moment, we have on the bright side a Taylor Bennett who’s trying to have some fun and sort things out on Restoration. Add to that some fine guests, notably Chance, Kyle and Raury and we definitely have an album worth commenting on. Taylor Bennett has drive and a pretty solid flow with stamina, but his new album is a bit immature and lacks any jaw-droppers that would otherwise make it more than simply a conformist’s exercise in style.
2 out of 5 stars

War Porn by Everlast, Sick Jacken & Divine Styler (War Porn Industries/DatPiff) 
In order to get Everlast (from Rhyme Syndicate and House of Pain) and less urgently Sick Jacken (of Psycho Realm) back in rap, those two and experimental golden age producer Divine Styler have thrown together a backpack album of tough raps and thunderclap boombap, samples included.
War Porn as it’s called is rarely a criticism of war for being arousing to war-profiteering companies and such as one might hope (it comes close in last track “A Day in the Life”) but it is instead a lot of brutal rhyme-spitting of a macho militant texture that the trio believe is still very cool. Everlast and Sick Jacken with guests Termanology, Big Daddy Kane, B Real, Gravity Christ, Vinnie Paz and Rakaa Iriscience (Dilated Peoples) throw down traditional rap fare for their camps but very little that is unexpected or focused on differing concepts.
Every now and then they’ll drop some random verbiage on ancient cultures, religious symbols and the like, just for effect, but never as excellent as those that Killah Priest for example could bring in that department. Along with Divine Styler’s rigid crate resurrections, the whole procession is basically an exhibition of fair to good old-style rhyming, and as a matter of fact, that’s good for the kids these days to study. War Porn is a decent show of technique but it hardly ever bothers to be very fresh or innovative.
2 out of 5 stars