Friday, April 14, 2017

Hip Hop Album Reviews, Week Ending April 14, 2017



This release date Friday is being celebrated most fervently for being the day that Compton’s company line-toeing Kendrick Lamar drops his fourth LP, but actually that’s the least noteworthy of all the week’s new albums. Check out some of the others that surpass the famed Damn in intricate artistry and valuable concepts and messages.
Altars by Sadistik (Equal Vision Records)
Seattle bred emcee of the night Sadistik returns with another semi-concept album of dark clever metaphors, powerful puns and just fine advanced wordplay of high quality in Altars, his fourth full-length overall. The theme of the LP seems to be examination and critique of religious idol-worship, followings and cult tendencies plus the pitfalls of societal subjugation and conformity of course, staples for Sadistik. Of his analogies are the “Roaches” and “Honeycomb” cuts comparing our existence to that of insects, the “Free Spirits” warning of the no-cost liquors and poisons dispensed to those off guard uninhibited soul-searchers, and tracks “Cotard’s Syndrome” and “Salem Witches” exposing the demons around us, specters like ghosts and surely witches not to mention those they wrongfully target, hence the name of the latter record. Humbly introduced in the second half come guests Kristoff Krane, P.O.S from Doomtree, Terra Lopez and Lige Newton. The straightforward, overcast drama of the production leaves a bit more to be desired on the beats, and Altars is just a little too gloomy, helpless and hopeless sounding in general but overall it’s another very substantial effort (especially on the vocal end) from Sadistik.
4 out of 5 stars
The Cover by Smizzy (I Forget, Sorry!)
Emcee Smizzy from Sydney, Australia releases something of a serious-slash-fun mixed bag with his ten-track debut album, The Cover, and in that order in fact, serious then fun, political and then heartfelt. The first two tracks off the project, “We Swear” and “Lucky,” handle wisdom and consciousness toward a variety of topics in the first and next how grossly excessive wealth and unneeded material possessions won’t bring happiness in the second. Rappers usually confine songs like those to the end or next to the end, but since they are real draws naturally, Smizzy got it right and put them in the right place to begin with. Through it all we listen to a light twist on IDM music tailored for rap and other chill music vibes near the close in addition to some fine guests and friends of Smizzy from the land down under.
The songs steadily become more light onward, especially after Smizz refuses to argue with family and friends over meaningless trivialities in “Problems Aside” and also after he connects with fans in “You Don’t Understand.” In fact the middle section may not be the heaviest in material but it works as a good bridge to the finale. Smizzy puts out fun, multi-themed rhymes with Cooper and Di Apprentice in “Shark Party,” reviews love nuances in “On My Nerves,” and tells of a run-in he had with the cops in “Don’t You Blame Me.” The finale couldn’t be more appropriate. Smizzy pays homage to an emcee hero he had as a younger aspiring artist plus some of his other inspirations in hip-hop through “Who I Owe My Rhymes To,” a good dedication to the music in general. Aside from the beginning comments and their weighted messages, everything seems to fall in place quite perfectly for Smizz, perhaps a little too squeaky cleanly as a matter of fact but his game and craft as an emcee are a sound for sore ears. For a man from a country/continent that needs all the strong hip-hop representation it can get at this point, Smizzy does well as an Aussie and as an artist.
3 out of 5 stars
Damn by Kendrick Lamar (Interscope Records/Aftermath Ent/Top Dawg Ent)
Truthfully, Kendrick Lamar’s fourth studio album Damn confirms some of the most alarming suspicions that hip-hop’s most cautious fans had of it leading up to its drop. Now steeped in the quagmire of mainstream rap, Lamar was no doubt overwhelmed into conforming to the pop industry’s steadfast rules for the music, requirements that he’s fulfilled dutifully for his labels – Interscope, Aftermath and Top Dawg. To a production spread that takes avant-garde acid soul, jazz and trap on a slow trippy journey through heavily modified samples, sound clips and instruments, Kendrick Lamar is once again sufficiently lyrical but it is an afterthought if one focuses on the tone and example he sets with his words.
His undomesticated hood personality rules strongly to be frank. Talk on “money to get, b*tches to hit” (“Yah”) and “100k spread across the floor” (“Element”) and later remarks on wanting to be a gun man since a young man, “flexing, laughing to the bank” and paying people to have others killed (“God”) are simply littered all throughout the project. Still not convinced? Notice how “b*tch” so easily slips out of K Dot’s mouth in single “Humble” or how flagrantly he spews the following dangerous advocations in “Lust”: “go hit you a lick, go f*ck on a b*tch, don’t go to work today, cop you a fifth maybe some kicks.” Also, a number of listeners may be somewhat concerned by the subtle, perhaps subliminal insertion of Israel promotion in both “Yah” and “Fear.” Kendrick goofily and outrightly says, “I’m a Israelite” and then a preacher talks about a few of America’s minority groups as the “children of Israel” respectively in those song-sections.
The only words on the disc worth holding onto for any extended period of time can be found in the U2-assisted “XXX” in which Lamar states, “it’s murder on my street, your street, back streets, Wall Street, corporate offices [and] banks; employees and bosses [have] homicidal thoughts.” Still there are very few positive signs of hope, words of encouragement, pieces of advice, plans of action or remedies addressed by the media’s chosen one of hard, hardcore rap. Be very careful here, as Kendrick Lamar has let himself go slow, hazy, cold, bitter and openly aggressive in the problematic LP-entry.
2 out of 5 stars

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