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)