We here at SwurvRadio are not afraid to play hard ball with hard-to-learn rap acts that seem to do the same things over and over again but we’re also honest about where they’re going wrong and how they need to shape up because there’s always something substantial about them that leads us to review their projects in the first place. And being the benevolent sort we are, we only want to tell them and their fans the truth to see them think and hopefully grow. Why butter them up and mislead them, even if only to save face? Again and still, we must also bring up the positives in their features so before we begin to stall, let us start.
The best album of the week, Known Unknowns by NYC rapper Billy Woods, is the typical product one would expect from the alternative underground one from the East Coast and despite not blowing us away with flash, controversy or a bang in the production, all of Woods’ wordplay, clever metaphors and concepts, and interesting assorted music (mainly by producer Blockhead) give K.U. a leg up in the ratings. Smart, left-field art rap is put to use for political and social commentary, making subjects of police at a rap show, the people of porn, rapper rankings and surveillance among several other topics.
The production is lowkey yet quite marvelous for an artistic variety of beats, mixed flavors of music and new sample sources – Nirvana, a few others. Known Unknowns is a geek’s cup of tea though. Instead of all the nerdy scatterbrained thought processes, free-styling and random poetry slams and such, Woods might desire to give his messages – and he has many – directly, to the point and undressed for more effective results, but if you’re looking to spend a good chunk of time to really study lyrics, knock yourself out with this album for sure. (3 out of 5 stars)
As another new offering from the recently reborn DITC Studios set up by none other than NYC’s beloved Diggin’ In The Crates crew, Take It Back is also the latest LP from fine Golden Age duo Showbiz & AG. There hasn’t been a great deal of evolution in AG’s rapping, which still to this day promotes the basic essentials of emceeing, un-rushed, careful, and even though it’s honestly a delight to hear boombap of the smooth agreeable type from Showbiz’ pro hand, Take It Back truly and staunchly takes it back to the heyday of the group. It’s a time capsule, not really a step up.
In the first half, some gangster notes (believe it or not) dissolve later in and open up to friendlier topics of love, traveling and the world, with nice little stories and light wisdom scattered throughout. At the end of the day however, the album is nothing innovative or cutting edge for fans, just some pretty solid rapping from two legends looking to get back in the game after a five or so year hiatus, though they likely won’t get the same places they sat in in the late ‘80s and early to mid ‘90s. (2 out of 5 stars)
Seasoned Hartford, CT emcee Blacastan has done it again with producer Stu Bangas, releasing his second collaboration LP with the beatmaker, The Uncanny Adventures of Watson & Holmes, the sequel to their Watson & Holmes album from 2014. Blacastan is no doubt an accomplished rapper and member of Army of the Pharaohs and the Demigodz, with a sizable catalogue of solid releases, but despite that and despite the fierce upright wordplay in the bars topping Stu Bangas’ brutal boombap, there are obvious problems with this Uncanny set, and this is WITH Blacastan playing the rap version of the detective Holmes in one bright concept moment within the mix.
The LP is very little besides weak gangster rap, smothering murder raps and immature barbaric sex rhymes, all in the backpack style of vocalism of course. The lyrics never leave behind those rough coarse textures giving us no deep mission, meaning or message at any point to learn from. Stu and Blacastan both have considerable histories in the music and TUAWH is a decent lesson in intricate advanced rhyme composition but it’s dragging its heels in the past in failing to move forward with greater, useful subject matter. (1 out of 5 stars)
Since there are two legends (Wise Intelligent and Kool G Rap) releasing albums this week, each with vastly different moral character, this start to June 2017 presents a very good seminar on the dignity-divisions that still exist in the rap music game today. If the veterans aren’t even on the same page as far as scruples and decency are concerned, how can the majority of new artists coming up now be expected to start a movement for more substance, principles and values in the lyrics? A discussion is in order but that’s far from all it will take for a change. Caught in between the two, rising Brooklyn emcee Latasha Alcindor is the middle of the debate with material that favors the artistic and progressive side of the aisle in her latest project. Overall it’s been a solid week.
Game of Death by Gensu Dean & Wise Intelligent (Mello Music Group)
If February’s BlueKluxKlan wasn’t enough of PRT’s Wise Intelligent for you then you’re in luck because he and alternative producer Gensu Dean just dropped a joint album, Game of Death, on respected label Mello Music Group to boot. This is no doubt the main attraction this June 2nd, with Wise upholding black culture and showing great concern for the health and integrity of hip-hop music on it, as he exposes the escalating phenomenon of wack, bad-influence rappers pushed by the mainstream system. And he does it to Dean’s professionally crafted joints of psych rock, folk, soul and electronica plus enhancing backup sound bites.
Not only an attack on the shady industry model, G.O.D. has a love component by Wise that buffers the criticism and rebuke. Despite lesser rappers’ cowardice, Wise has love for all rappers, even the sucker rappers (can’t really call them sucker MC’s because a lot of them aren’t technically emcees to begin with), since they are the offshoot and result of foundation-laying by him and other Golden Age greats. Also “Ooh Wee (Shakiyla Pt.4)” has Wise depicting sex not lewdly or raunchily but as intimate love-making with his spirit-mate, as involved and meaningful, not simply as f*cking. In a nutshell, GOD succeeds because of neat quick spitting on useful important topics over artistic musical beats. (4 out of 5 stars)
Brooklyn artist and rapper Latasha Alcindor, found in workshop, concert, and music by Sammus, Radamiz and others, issues her retail debut during an upswing in her career and at a time when the feminine spark is still very much needed in hip-hop. Teen Night at Empire has all the verve, spunk, strength, spirit, flyness, vocal fashion and yes even fight (the good kind) that Alcindor has developed a reputation for over the last few years in her songs. This new output of emotions and charging resolve is distinct for ‘90s throwback loops atop most prominently then crystal clear, ambient chords later in, no doubt from the greatest that modern studio mastering and expert craftsmanship have to offer. Latasha speaks on typical emcee fare – braggadocio, memories, etc. – but what she has to say in this set are things not extremely dire to talk about, mainly common notes and thoughts from her own life important to her above all else. Teen Nite is still a creative piece though, original LA yet influenced by the greats with some nice creativity on the production end. (3 out of 5 stars)
There’s not much more to say about Queens Golden-Ager Kool G Rap at this point, especially with a new LP (his fifth solo one, eighth overall) of banal mafioso rap. The gangster emcee from the legendary Juice Crew with Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, Roxanne Shanté, Masta Ace and Craig G (and the rest) is hiding his desire for big money numbers, fame and celebrity in the Return of the Don album with talk about his music not being gangster rap but “reality” rap (*denial*) and one of his guests saying he’ll leave the teaching to KRS-One, plus he’s literally hiding behind a sizable number of big, equally gangster guest-rappers on it. It’s simply nothing more than violent brutal street rap that’s sometimes women-hating and women-using and never deeply intelligent or intellectual outside of the rhyming and spitting craft. More than some skillfully conceived wordplay recited expertly is the only attribute worth studying here – even producer MoSS’s nothing-new boombap compositions are hardly exciting – so the music and the lowdown dirty pastimes and preoccupations do a lot of damage to the dangerously distinguished don on Return. (1 out of 5 stars)