Aside from the obvious junk albums (*throat clear* Teenage Emotions and Droptopwop), there are five other ones that are way way better. Detroit darkman Esham steps into the light with $cribble, Indy’s Mark Battles sees a new day with Day 2, Wester Nocando severs himself from strictly goofy raps in Severed, Milwaukee’s Renz Young doesn’t quit with More Than Enough and the Indo-Pak and British Swet Shop Boys jump around again in Sufi La.
Detroit hip-hop pioneer Esham (Rashaam Smith) has some grownup rap for you in his sixteenth LP, $cribble. The acid rap and horrorcore legend makes a musical change for the better and healthier now with motivational wisdom, care, consciousness and straight talk on hard work and positivity but still not without an edge. He’s highly critical of the system and he should be, putting in his sense on the media, schools, rap music today, money and these rocky times for the poor and black what with foul cops and depraved impoverished ghetto-communities (if they can even be called communities in the first place). He doesn’t like what he sees and says so, with real blunt speech, but don’t look for the next best thing in $cribble’s just-to-get-by beats.
On the mic end though, Esham is nice, and tight, and just keeps coming and coming in this never-dull twenty-two song set with lines like “it doesn’t matter if you white or black, it’s all about the way you act” and “you sold your soul for the diamonds and gold, but you the one gotta deal with that” from “Sad” and “the system is corrupt and morally bankrupt” from “Abuse of Power.” Esham no doubt has rough vestiges from his horrorcore past but nothing overbearing and always for a useful purpose. $cribble may be hardly a quick classic – God knows it isn’t based on its music production and beats – but it’s a wonderful time of conscientious revelation for Esham, who is intimately in tune with his conscience at this point. (4 out of 5 stars)
Day 2 by Mark Battles (Fly America/Quality Control Music)
Previously independent, Indianapolis emcee Mark Battles is the creator of boutique rap label Fly America but for his third LP, Day 2, he joined the Quality Control Music artist base. Before the deal, he released a project of the same name actually (Before The Deal, Fly America, 2016), and that is his second studio album officially. Aside from putting his city on the map, Battles is a mature, very proficient man on the microphone and thankfully he’s still that to a great extent on Day 2, despite the indirect major label endorsement (Universal through Quality Control).
With his good upright wordplay, ambition and confidence, Battles raps on experiential wisdom, romance, struggles and mental roadblocks over beats of slow, dream soundtrack quality featuring fine samples and sample-blending. New age singer Tory Lanez makes a prominent appearance (in four of the twelve tracks) though there is nothing much else that’s dying to be reported on guest-wise. In a spot or two, Battles and company descend into some jockish sex raps and overall little new terrain is explored by the Midwest native from a subject matter standpoint, but for the solid new words and music, Day 2 is a fine accomplishment for Battles and the producers. (3 out of 5 stars)
The time has come for LA, Hellfyre Club emcee Nocando (Jimmy McCall) to release another studio album, and by the looks of or the sound and subjects on the LP, Severed as it’s called, there doesn’t seem to have been a lot or much in the air with regard to happenings to trigger the playful rapper into a spell of music-making, just that the time has rolled around. McCall released his last album and sophomore, Jimmy The Burnout, in 2014, and his debut, Jimmy The Lock, in 2010. Now seems appropriate to drop the third sequentially and chronologically speaking.
For all you fans of conscious reflective rap, you’re in luck. Nocando tries his hand at deep mature lesson-learning and teaching and he comes off more or less convincing but still he can’t shake his natural sense of humor, at times. Most of his pensive, intelligent thoughts spring from relationships with family and friends but McCall momentarily hits on race relations and the various different Lives Matter movements, signs of the times really yet continuously relevant. He ponders the past with an ounce of softness but with some on-guard toughness remaining. In the end he dabbles in his usual vulgarity and the beats are a little thin and unentertaining but props to Nocando for doing something different with style and a small bit of grace. (3 out of 5 stars)
The Swet Shop Boys (Indian American rapper Heems, Pakistani English rapper Riz MC and English producer Redinho) had a good 2016 with their cool Cashmere debut album and now, following their Coachella appearance last month, they are back with more original music in EP Sufi La. A hot banging Redinho beat catches the ear in “Anthem” and Riz and Heems quickly proceed to lace their lines with fun rhymes and wordy cleverness on flyness, braggadocio and other random lyrics, always light and jovial however. There is a big reliance on chorus catchwords but it is fine and appropriate for the dancy exciting hip-hop style the Boys are about. Concepts on the girls in “Thas My Girl,” bird-wording in “Birding” and the parody of money-chasing in “Need Moor” are very nice cuts so the guys still know how to smartly craft and direct their bouncy music and buoyant boyish essence. The satisfying but not overly satisfying Sufi La hits the mark, and this is a group that deserves to stay in the game for some time more. (3 out of 5 stars)
There’s a hidden treasure, and prior to last year a best kept secret, in Milwaukee’s Renz Young, a quick-moving, productive working startup with strong chops and a revolving mind. In 2016, It Was Nice Knowing You was the greeting, or farewell, in album form for the emcee but now there’s more, More Than Enough, from him. The new EP displays Young’s developed flow stamina and articulation as he follows his heart, has some fun and just shares these mic thoughts from the brain of a busy determined guy on the go. What’s the catch? Or the drawback(s) you ask? Not many but Young sticks to typical topics and means with no shocks or whistleblowing and his love for girl-stripping may sound regressive to a few, but they’re nothing at all that should be seen as major offenses to fans looking to support and hear from their man. On top of last year’s album, this might be more than enough from Renz Young yeah but nevertheless some sturdy hip-hop music also no doubt. (3 out of 5 stars)
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)
Well KRS-One is back. That should be enough to get your heart racing, but there’s more. We’re also showcasing David Dallas, B.o.B and Machine Gun Kelly. Every artist except one drops with an independent label this time, so three out of four as safe bets for quality output is not too shabby.
Legendary emcee from Boogie Down Productions, accomplished solo artist and massively respected educator of hip-hop culture, KRS-One (aka Kris, born Lawrence Parker in The Bronx, New York City) has so much spirit and so much conscious intelligence that he’ll likely be writing/reciting until he’s on his deathbed and that’s a good thing for all of us. Billed as his thirteenth studio album but more like his fifteenth if you count The Mix Tape and DIGITAL projects, The World Is Mind has a number of similar tones and sentiments as those found on the last KRS album Now Hear This (2015) but still more new concepts, sounds and ideas for both fans and pundits.
The high-powered lyricist in Kris needs no warm-up time. After “Show Respect,” it’s off to the races in tracks “Same Sh*t” about common shady trends in society (“I remind you, don’t let the criminal mind blind you, instead let the spiritual mind find you, see I’m you”), “Keep Clicking” showcasing the African clique language and the graffiti/bombing tribute “Out For Fame.” Like the concerned elder he is by nature, Kris gives cautionary advice in “Don’t Ever Stop,” warns of divisive politics in “You Ain’t Got Time” and spreads love, strength and truth with “No Problems.” Right afterward in “You Like Me,” he stresses the importance of unity and harmony and hacksaws toxic, corporate media influence over the public.
Into the end but also through and through, Kris’s verses are impactful and pronounced and as his final acts, he honors the legends of the game who have gone before (“Hip Hop Speaks From Heaven”) and tells of two very differently geared hospital patients, mentally speaking, in final song and title track “The World Is Mind.” Let’s face it. Did you really expect anything less from KRS-One? The man is a beast – the good kind – and while he can get rough and hard-hued in verses here and there, he always comes through again and again with compassion, character and dignity, or “peace, love, unity and having fun” as he’s been known to put it in the past. Yes, The World Is Mind may have production that is less than extremely impressive, and it’s not as shocking or controversial as the man has been before, plus there’s that mixup in “Heaven” in which deceased Beastie Boy MCA is mistaken for Ad-Rock, but who can get enough of Kris, since he’s back in full gear, as relevant as ever and “fresh, for 2017, you suckaaaaaaz!” (4 out of 5 stars)
Emcee David Dallas from Auckland, New Zealand is definitely another spitter worth checking for, if you appreciate crafty lyricism and inspirational attitudes, lessons and stories. The fast developing, award-winning hip-hop artist releases his fourth LP to a very healthy following and a continued saga of integrity. None of his previous three albums came off major corporate labels, and two (The Rose Tint and Falling Into Place) were actually cosigned by American underground outfit Duck Down Records. His latest, Hood Country Club, is pure Double D from start to finish.
Dallas is committed to working for and contributing to hip-hop in a non-mainstream-media-esque way (see “Probably”) and if not conforming to the masses or the status quo is the price to pay, he’ll willingly put his money where his mouth is (“Fit In”). No stranger to adversity with regard to illness in his family and his struggle to win many fans and a large audience, Dallas tells tales of folks falling on hard times in both “Don’t Flinch” and title track “Hood Country Club” but gets back up to chase his dreams in the “Lose Yourself”-like “This Is It.” “Don’t Rate That” is then a great piece in which Dallas dissociates himself from ignorance, bigotry and close-mindedness.
Of course there is Dallas’s usual raps on strength, swagger, ambition, hard work and the like, but with his sharp writing and delivery and fresh, well mastered music sounds, Hood Country Club is a heck of a tape to play. Not a lot of what is here can’t be found in some way, shape or form in the rest of the David Dallas catalogue, but the all new original rhyme-verses and just the compositional artistry therein will blow your mind pretty well once again. Hood Country Club is one country club experience you don’t have to be rich or well connected to join in on. (3 out of 5 stars)
Now that rapper/producer B.o.B (Bobby Ray Simmons, Jr.) seems to have purged most if not all of the commercial/pop substances from his body (of work) with albums Underground Luxury and Psycadelik Thoughtz, he is now set to regain his listeners’ trust with both his fourth LP, Ether, and last year and the year before’s conscious, four-part mixtape series Elements – Water, Fire, Earth and Air. This fifth element-advancing Ether project is B.o.B’s first studio album independent of a major label since the Decatur experimenter boogied on out of the Atlantic Records’ stable sometime late in 2015. Already the progressive change is starting to be felt, albeit gradually and in doses.
Ether does show some mainstream stigmas midpoint where guests Young Thug, Young Dro, T.I. and Ty Dolla $ign pop up for a trippy druggy ballad in “Xantastic,” a dumb drowner in “Tweakin’” and “f*ck shit” in “4 Lit” where all the boys get to hit but the rest is a fascinating and admittedly enjoyable mixture of fine enlightened B.o.B thinking and new eclectic production blends, which should get more appreciation now since they arguably didn’t get enough on Psycadelik Thoughtz.
B.o.B admits that he knows people are upset at the musical directions he took in the past, but he seems to not care much, and he’s honest in dealing with celebrity, trying to keep his head and having a hard time coping with being different. All the while he keeps his feet on the ground. The first big political hitter comes via Big Krit and Simmons’ talk for justice and against oppression in “Peace Piece.” The next is “Substance” with signature B.o.B commentary on the food, entertainment and drug industries. Overall, he’s got a somewhat chilly disposition for the most part over the whole album. A disproving B.o.B in second to last track “I Know” very much goes along with the trend. Still, Bobby Ray get lighter in “Big Kids” with CeeLo and Usher for some wisdom on the attitudes we keep and how adults are more or less big kids playing with the world like a toy. It’s really a relief that B.o.B is off Atlantic and Ether is sound enough assurance that the man is just about back on track. (3 out of 5 stars)
Bloom by Machine Gun Kelly (Interscope Records/Bad Boy Records)
If you’re gonna try to surpass the success of your last album, it’s best to use more lyrical substance and even more sobriety to perfect it than Machine Gun Kelly, Interscope Records and Bad Boy have done with MGK’s third LP, Bloom, the followup to the Cleveland rapper’s 2015 sophomore General Admission. Notwithstanding it’s brighter, cleaner cuts (the happy and inspirational yet nonspecific and under-detailed “Go For Broke” and the general motivator “At My Best”), it’s disturbing that this album-update from the part-punk rapper lets us know that he is rather drug-obsessed, more than likely a byproduct of his recent (wild?) forays into high fame and celebrity.
MGK is just stoned into oblivion, under the influence (maybe life-threateningly so, see “Can’t Walk”) and almost out of his mind from substances for virtually all of the album. If not that, then he’s partying like an animal or sexing like a certified freak and beyond, possibly suggesting breaking open skin during the act with guest Camila Cabello in “Bad Things” and making a sex tape in “Moonwalkers” featuring DubXX. I wonder when we all get to watch the final cut. Just kidding. In the three cuts to curtains, MGK stretches himself with some amateurish singing in the soft, lightweight closing-songs where he really sounds like he’s letting himself fall victim to his addictions and distractions, especially in “Rehab.” Quite alarming. With Interscope’s sketchy record of late with rap at least, the type of product we get with Bloom is completely expectable from the major. Let’s just hope MGK doesn’t owe them many more albums at this point. (1 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. (4 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)