Yeah both Snoop Dogg and Biggie (with Faith Evans) have albums dropping today, but if you take a sample of each, you can tell there’s a lot of fluff there. They’re largely intended to be money grabs for Doggystyle Records and Warner Music. That leaves The God Box by rapper/producer David Banner and Renaissance by The Underachievers as the main foci for now. Not bad but also not fab, both have their assets yet not without issues too.
Member of late ‘90s duo Crooked Lettaz (with Kamikaze) and solo artist David Banner has been quite active since 2000 though after his 2010 Death of a Pop Star collab with 9th Wonder, Banner took time off until starting what has been long coming but is finally here – The God Box, the Mississippian’s sixth LP as an individual act. To unpackage this God Box is to reveal angry rage at racism and racist policy, but with some quieter discussion points as well. Banner has crafted a collection that fluxes and ebbs on various levels musically and vocally.
Banner targets societal racism yet he can sound a bit so himself using the word “cracker” to refer to whites twice or so in “Magnolia” and somewhat irrationally complaining that whites are stealing or taking rap and hip-hop from blacks in “Elvis.” Pretty ridiculous. If you’re dope, you’re dope, doesn’t matter what color your skin is. Likewise skin color just isn’t a factor in how good or bad an artist is. Moving on, we come to Banner’s women studies. He looks at what in women we are drawn to mentally and physically via “Cleopatra Jones,” how good black men should step up to claim their good black women in “Marry Me” and also the case of the fickle girl who ostensibly gets her way with everything in “Judy Blare.”
Next are some tough gangster-ish notes (“Traffic on Mars”), “Black Fist”-raising, more race talk of course (“AK” and “Evil Knievil”) and some wisdom and calls to get on the clean path of life (“Wizdom Selah” and “Burning Thumbs”). Sonically and structurally speaking, God Box is a handsome statue, or silhouette, to behold so to say. By a small margin, this is the most rebellious and conscious Banner has ever attempted to be and he’s pulled it off, even if his material is mostly race focused and much more sociopolitical than socioeconomic in nature. The main problem is that David Banner has framed his issues as white versus black when really they should be framed as racism versus truth issues at the core. Still, The God Box is in depth and dynamic and explores some new hotly charged topics for the seasoned Banner and guests. (3 out of 5 stars)
Renaissance by The Underachievers (RPM MSC Distribution)
For their third studio album, Brooklyn Underachievers AK and Issa Gold really have underachieved in regards to not always keeping honor in their sentiments and not building onto their past work. The new project, titled Renaissance, is worth a listen or two because the guys bring good wordplay and some useful talking points, but there’s a lack of variety in the boom-bap music production and sections in the second half really contradict what the emcees have usually been all about.
Especially at the top and into the midpoint, AK and Issa continue to be about knowledge and using the mind in new expansive ways but in “Any Day,” track ten of fifteen, they begin to truly give us reason to believe they’re still boys instead of young men with lines like “baby, no I ain’t tryna bride-and-groom ya, when I say recruit ya, I’m just tryna screw ya” and “don’t try to test us, we resort to violence.” Later they’re cold, distant thugs and womanizers in song fourteen “Final Destination” as they “load the clip with sixty rounds” and “kick b*tches out like Pam.”
Renaissance is a pretty large departure, in decency and growth, from these Underachievers’ last two LPs. It’s not a complete disaster, but the boys bring nothing new to the table with it. Their open mindedness toward experimenting with drugs has been replaced by pretty much just booze and weed only, there is as we’ve mentioned a substantial gangster component disturbingly enough and the vast majority of the songs sound basically the same. Yes the Underachievers have a message or two in store but their careless formula-following and damaging shenanigans do hold them back a great deal. (2 out of 5 stars)
Week one of May has resulted in a bumper crop of nice albums and in addition to the best all new albums of this week (four total), we’re featuring a very special project that dropped at the end of last month, fresh off of our palates to yours, so check out and enjoy the latest offerings from Anoyd, Wrekonize, Brother Ali, Spose and Logic.
There was a giant sleeper of an album that came out late April which cannot remain unawakened any longer. A Time And Place, the fourth album by Bloomfield, Connecticut emcee Anoyd (Dashorn Whitehead), is a great example of versatile fusion hip-hop and very likely Anoyd’s best release to date. The sharp clever rapper, who is the son of contemporary reggae artist Chuck Fenda, comes with his heartfelt singing on love and romance, pointed stories, creative lyricism of course plus mature messages on this great godsend of a project.
Sincere genuine love and intimacy are the prevailing themes around a few political/socially observable concept-songs. Anoyd opens with on-point bars via “The Reason I’m Here” and through his next three offerings he goes right into his endearing affectionate feelings and not just for his lovely lady but also family and friends. “Name Brand Water” then pours wisdom to hydrate the psyche over a lovable Statik Selektah production, and Anoyd recognizes his achievements in “Moon Walkin’” before going back to his love in the earworm-making “Want Want” and “Rock Paper Scissors.”
The topic-songs build up to full force first in Anoyd’s tale of poverty vs privilege titled “Cardboard Box,” which tells of two families, one poor one affluent, and the current widespread income gap we should all be mindful of and second in the mega “Phony Habits,” an allegorical depiction of one’s overly obsessive relationship with their phone. “Phony Habits”’s latter half reveals a warning of the dangers of cigarette-smoking, economically depressed schools and heroin use. Lastly, Anoyd continues to express his euphoric joy of finding love in “Lucky,” perfectly titled because seriously, how often can anyone willfully and persuasively make sparks fly with a crush these days?
The “hometown hero” Anoyd has no doubt crafted a masterwork with A Time And Place because of his talent, skill, hard work, dedication and love for the art form of hip-hop music, which he’s not at all too rigid with, since he’s known to place some (but not too many) r&b-style confessions next to his hardcore rap joints. And due to the fact that he is a bright optimistic role model in the game, it’s pretty much a guarantee that his content will be substantial and healthy whenever he hits the mic. A Time And Place has those memorable refrains, choruses and beats not to mention unique word-workings and flows, some in the best possible vehicle: storytelling, but most importantly it is a profound show of love for life, achievement, knowledge and that special someone to hold dear. (5 out of 5 stars)
Ben Miller, a.k.a. Wrekonize from Mayday and solo fame, is signed to Strange Music, Inc; however, his music is in no way strange to the mentally resilient and strong-willed. Following A Soiree For Skeptics and The War Within (the latter on Strange Music and the former on Baggins Family Produce), Wrekonize goes forward in the right direction once more, with Into The Further, his third LP of fine lyrical work, tasteful music and grown mindsets. More than simply a feast for hip-hop heads with its cool production vibes and bars-a-plenty, Into The Further is teeming with intelligent adult themes, social commentary and thoughtful awareness. As you might expect, Wrekonize puts his spin (or spit) on general struggles with love, jealousy, breakup recovery and more, but a few moments address deep seeded, little noticed problems in our society such as our conformist culture in which few people have their own unique, individual identities in “Clones” and also folks’ unconsciousness of the grand deception of the inequality, oppression, hate and division in the modern day system through the track “Nightmare (Yeah).” Wrekonize is again a standout emcee who is mature, optimistic, grateful and humble here and his product is a splendid one to experience. (5 out of 5 stars)
It took five years but the great Brother Ali is back again with another album. The longtime Rhymesayer/Entertainer’s All The Beauty In This Whole Life is nothing but Ali’s casual yet advanced rhyme schemes on heartfelt matters over lovely musics produced by Atmosphere producer and Ali’s fellow label-mate Ant Davis. Compared to his preexisting catalogue, it isn’t a stretch for the wise brother nor a deviation from protocol but still, it’s his usual wise thoughts, feelings and stirrings from the soul. As is the case here, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it in other words.
Brother Ali’s focus outside of himself is directed towards helping us firm up our real human connections with others, and he speaks out against the curtailment of free speech, intense paranoid homeland security and irrational anti-nationalism in “Uncle Usi Taught Me,” the invention of race for the acquisition of money, land, power and dominance in “Before They Called You White” and dirty spoiled media-servings in “The Bitten Apple.” Still, Ali shines brightest when he’s praising good as opposed to decrying bad so for example his recognition of the black masses for all they’ve been put through in “Dear Black Son” carries tremendous weight needless to say. Through the ringer yet conscious and intelligent to this day, everybody’s big bro Ali has of course catered to the spirit of goodness once again here. (4 out of 5 stars)
Adding to the growing list of rappers with a second name ending in the suffix “-izzy,” Maine’s Spizzy Spose (or simply Spose) of label Preposterously Dank brings to the table another solid audio assortment in Good Luck With Your Life, his fifth LP. Some of the wonder behind his rise seems more lowkey this time around. In fact Spose plainly updates his status on the album as “white suburban rap dad” but he’s still good at what he does nevertheless. GLWYL has the typical moments of fun braggadocio, skill-flaunting, motivational remarks, arrival celebrations and reflections and still one or two drawn out subjects, as in “All You Need Is You,” where Spose encourages beginning artists to stay independent, and in “Buy Now,” which examines what we should call shop-til-you-drop-and-rot disease. Overall Spose exhibits fine lyrical dexterity and a grown mentality for the most part – there happen to be a few nearly harmless immature jokes in the mix, see “Pretty Dope” for example – but Spose is generally adult and refined in Good Luck With Your Life, with wishes and sentiments that are as wholesome as the very title of the project. (3 out of 5 stars)
Not long into the new year, Def Jam artist Logic scrapped AfricAryaN as the title of his second quarter-arriving, third studio album for the possibly better name Everybody, reserving the former for the LP’s final track. It makes it less obvious that Logic is still very self-conscious of his mixed biracial heritage, something very much noticeable on the project as well, to highly observant listeners that is. Everybody is a success however, and for all its warm rosy glow at moments, emphasis on the show more than bars and spitting, a few juvenile remarks and some obsession with ethnocentricity, especially black ethnocentricity, it IS pretty much an album for everybody, in that it unveils some alternative ideas infrequently pondered by the masses, ideas like the refusal to give in to greed, consideration for people from all walks of life and banishment of evil. Pro production credits from Logic, 6ix and others ensure a fully fleshed out score and various sound manipulations and tricks. The whole procession gives off an almost larger than life, self-congratulatory, possibly cocky air and feel – Logic explains himself and his return as something close to that of a deity in opening cut “Hallelujah” – though he does buckle down to get back to business the rest of the time and although his rare use of the word “bitch” and a childish Juicy J in “Ink Blot” stymie their grownup development somewhat, the team behind Everybody have done enough justice by creating a solid, pretty conscious hip-hop album with thrills. (3 out of 5 stars)