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)