Saturday, July 29, 2017

Mr. Lif & Akrobatik – “Resolution” (Album Review)

The second collaborative LP by Perceptionist emcees Mr. Lif and Akrobatik comes at a darker or as dark a time as their first (Black Dialogue) did back in 2005, when fresh wounds from 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were still bleeding heavily with just about no signs of abating. Along with DJ Fakts One and El-P playing major producer roles on their Definitive Jux debut, Lif and Ak delivered a fine combination of conscious cool hip-hop to enlighten and refresh the people. Twelve years later, Mr. Lif and Akrobatik return together again to release their sophomore in a like ravaged era of war, confusion and economic malaise, this time without Fakts One or Def Jux but with a new assortment of beat makers for the one and only Mello Music Group. It’s safe to say that what they’ve turned out, the Resolution LP, is a clear confident statement set to thoroughly enjoyable music.
Our heroes of rhyme pull the pants down on the one percent, corporations, the government in collusion with both and just the greedy, brutal and violent, problematic police included, in ghetto settings especially, where they seem to do most of their dirt. Lif and Akrobatik have energy and conviction, with many relatable messages one after the other, meaning they know what they’re saying to be true. In “Lemme Find Out,” the two raise suspicions of technology and the huge part it plays in everyone’s life, and “When Push Comes To Shove” makes time for the necessary elements of romance.
With no truly dull moments, Resolution does reveal spots not as attention-grabbing as others. The proceeding trio of tracks, “Let’s Battle,” “Free At Last” and “Dirty Drumz,” while good for advancing the spirit of competition, self-determination and real hip-hop, feels more like a connector of the beginning and end than a bridge or bond with material equally awesome as what sandwiches it. The dynamic duo nevertheless manage to make their finale as splendid as anything preceding it. Lif and Ak rap on something everybody’s been guilty of at one time or another – control obsession – in “Grab Hold” sharing that there’s no end or win when you’re trying to grab hold of what you can’t control.
Supported by a calming backdrop of smooth jazz and soul, the last two songs, “A Different Light” and “Resolution,” are beautiful commitments of the mind about surviving hard times in the first and pure thoughts on everything from optimism, wisdom and positivity to compassion, perseverance and care in the second. Instead of junk food rap, try Resolution, which offers healthy artistic beat-creations from the likes of Willie Evans Jr., Synesthetic Nation and Paten Locke and which doesn’t stoop to name-calling, foul play or debauchery thanks to Mr. Lif and Akrobatik’s dedication to spreading the good word and nothing but. The New Year’s celebrations of 2017 are long past but it’s never too late to make a resolution, or a revolution for that matter. (4 out of 5 stars)

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Nitty Scott – “Creature!” (Album Review)

Robust mami of rhythmic rhyme, Nitty Scott, from Michigan, and Florida… and Brooklyn, returns with her second studio album, Creature, building onto her cool conscious catalog, which includes last year’s Westside Highway Story collaboration with Joell Ortiz and Bodega Bamz, her studio debut The Art of Chill from 2014, and a trio of mixtapes before that. Acclaimed for her authentic emceeing and soul on wax, Scott releases the long awaited Creature on the newly minted Indigenous Digital and in it rides for ethnic pride and independent womanhood on real spit and varying production-treats.
Bumping dance beats, female- and Latin/Afro-pride, just a little Caribbean flavor but plenty kindness for her people paint the top of Creature with colorful hues, if only for a section of the listening public. Scott does as one would expect in songs “Pxssy Powah,” the mildly political “Don’t Shoot!” and the drug-laden “Kaleidoscopes!” She comes with resolve and power though, even if she drifts into filler and braggadocio or sounds like Nicki Minaj in her title track though it’s unlikely that she consciously tried to relive her “Monster”-remake moment in the latter.
Nevertheless, this vibrant Creature has heart and spirit, especially when Nitty Scott is rapping nice and quick. Only some will relate to everything Scott raps about and what greets the ears is nothing very challenging to the status quo. Still, Creature excels because of its array of rap-, song- and music-textures, providing a nice experience if essentially a new spin on select trends. Nitty Scott does well in the satisfying set, but it’s probably wise to not immediately classify this creature as any new species of hip-hop music. (3 out of 5 stars)

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Kristoff Krane – “Kairos, Pt. 1” (Album Review)

With Minneapolis artist and emcee Kristoff Krane and his music, you either listen casually and then go back to the matrix of big industry rap (the wrong reaction) or… you fall to the floor in awe of discovering another unique, progressive rapper – the correct reaction. A new guardian of rap music, rising from his powerful projects from the mid to late 2000s and into the 2010s, Krane (or Christopher Keller) comes with positivity and useful messages with his “stream-of-consciousness” flowing, and musically and instrumentally he is far from a novice. Krane’s latest, Kairos Pt. 1, is his fifth solo album, released on F I X, and produced by Graham O’Brien. Mostly serious, quite witty at times but deeply philosophical and reflective with spades of metaphors, Kairos 1 finds Krane vastly more allegorical than before but no less sharp or insightful.
On the positive side, Krane has an energy and a charging force that resolves to focus on good and keep moving. On the other hand, his voice here sometimes finds meaningfulness in the meaningless, and the hopeless, expressing the colorfully moving, knockabout thoughts of a worried mind and a restless conscience. The style then pairs like a match made in nirvana with O’Brien’s drum-rackety tracks coupled with airy overlays and echoey voice filtering for a very mixed-terrain soundscape. Krane can be unsettling, and unsettled, same goes for the music. Still, what might be the greatest treasure is the man’s impressive exhibition of flow, his various speeds and cadences, and voice stretching. Technically, he’s challenged his vocal abilities more so here than ever before, as his fluid and seamless yet excitingly articulated delivery is put to exquisite use, in a variety of modes.
What’s lacking is rigidity, but that’s a good thing in this case. Krane and O’Brien’s measures are melded, interconnected with nary a blip or pause. Certain bars and lines are repeated for emphasis, sometimes in a chorus-capacity, other times not, blended and tucked in in such a way that Krane seems to challenge classic rap song structure. Likewise, segues to soft singing sections are super smooth. The album’s several repeated lines — mantras, or recurring thoughts of the narrator in another sense — are very telling. Krane is puzzled by circumstances reiterating the line, “how in the world did it come to this?” and portrays denial with “I’m not my thoughts” but he’s also optimistically directed with the refrain, “till everybody is free,” truly showcasing different mental turns throughout the LP.
A few genius song pieces emerge as particularly stunning, though the entire project shines effusively (don’t get me wrong). The murder of one element of mother nature at the top of “Head Stone” is brilliant and unforgettable – maybe a commentary on climate change even. The mixed thoughts on religion and criminality in “Forgiven Blood” and “Confession” never lead to hardline stance-taking but they equally examine inquisition versus faith, and law-breaking versus rule-bending respectively, recognizing that each side of either duality offers something important to consider.
Like all of Kristoff Krane’s previous releases, Kairos Pt. 1 is thoroughly and incredibly pleasing with plenty to think about, wonderful lyrical wizardry, and a drenching of mood-befitting background music. The fun is in pondering and interpreting, to an emotive soundtrack, the myriad analogies and creative messaging that the rap-and-rapping-expert in Krane has crafted for us. In this way, these talks are obviously not formatted in everyday casual wording or conversation-style speech but what we have is another amazing load of intellectual art-rap from Krane’s free associative mind, an audio amusement park of verbal textures, ideas and sounds, and a great time for those who live and die for advanced hip-hop music. (5 out of 5 stars)

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Hip Hop Album Reviews, Week Ending June 30, 2017

Five-star album alert! And it’s not because of 4:44, the new album by you-know-who. The end-of-June/beginning-of-July weekend is blessed by Crooked, the new set by fresh LA emcee Propaganda, whose music is the opposite of propaganda as a matter of fact.

Crooked by Propaganda (Humble Beast Records)
Propaganda (Jason Petty) from Los Angeles has never been the type of Christian rapper to namedrop the “Lord” every two or three bars or rap a lot of vague statements of faith. Instead, he opts for profound reflection on the conflicting issues at the center of human existence in his music. In this day and age where emcees of God run the gamut from loosely religious (Kanye West) to joyfully ecclesiastic (Chance The Rapper) to zealously devout (Lecrae and most others) to clearheaded and truly concerned (O’hene Savant), Propaganda is another different breath of fresh air in the field, focusing on the types of core problems that Jesus himself would actually focus on if he were here today.
Prop’s new LP, Crooked, is a multifaceted examination of human troubles and another unique addition to his growing discography. And it’s comprehensive, going through a ton before it’s all over. Going along with the theme of the album title, “Crooked Ways” intros by testifying to incredibly terrible contradictions, tragedies and inconsistencies in society and basically how ridiculous things are currently. Propaganda raps like a highly skilled poet so it’s no wonder he’s excellent at spoken word. “It’s Complicated” does just that on the topics of self-betrayal and refusal to love who we are on the inside in exchange for ugly masks picked by you decide.
Riding along on super smooth production that’s hardly generic as a pleasant surprise, Prop continues rocking us, with thoughts on the West and the Ultra Right at odds with the rest of the world (“Cynical”), hip-hop music how it was and how it was easier to fall in love with in earlier times (“Slow Cook”), a native’s love for Southern California (“Do Know Wrong”), and the shaky reasons for and results of gentrification (“Gentrify,” feel the light salsa music tinge in the beat there). Next comes a big one, the interlude-like “I Hate Cats.” Propaganda shows how racism and bigotry are like how some people claim to hate cats and think dogs are better, in this outstanding analogy, which really proves how pathetic the phenomenon of hate actually is.
The content never steps down from being as loaded as Prop can make it. “Darkie” looks at the self-consciousness of “colored” people and how inferiority complexes are common in them if embroiled in a white skin preferring culture. The climax of Crooked in many rights, “It’s Not Working (The Truth)” is then a meditation on segregation, poverty and alienation of the powerless have-nots and it also seems to ask toward the end if we will feel better if things do change, a bit nihilistic to this end yes but deep, exploratory and inclusive of both sides of the issue indeed, plus Propaganda might be alluding to the imperfection of a perfect civilization – what would there be to fix, to motivate us to fight for better in life in that situation? The bottom line is there’s a lot of work to be done as things are right now.
Compared to typical mainstream matter, the wind-down of the album starting with “Andrew Mandela” feels like so much more than a wind-down, as its inspirations include civil rights and democracy in the face of injustice, hard motherhood and athlete drug abuse, a truly wonderful change on earth that is yet to come, and the fact that we can’t judge what we’re not or have never been – just some of Prop’s final thoughts in this section. Through CrookedPropaganda gives us the gift that keeps on giving – wisdom, and although he never gets too heavy, he no doubt provides plenty to think about across many a repeat spin. If you really want to know what it’s like to be conscious and caring and hopefully be inspired to become those things yourself, head straight to Crooked. Stay woke everyone. (5 out of 5 stars)

4:44 by Jay-Z (Roc Nation)
How does the average person feel about a classically fine hip-hop emcee who seems to become a bigger business mogul with each successive album? However the media tell them to. “Jigga” Jay-Z is not only that but he continues to make each of his new albums look larger than life via special promotion strategies and release methods. 4:44, Jay’s new album for 2017 and his thirteenth solo LP overall, is the Roc-A-Fella leader’s first to be dropped exclusively on his Tidal online music service since the streaming source opened in 2014, marking a milestone in his music career and a watershed moment in how the face and brand of Hov are shared with and viewed by the public.
Jay’s last album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, was not delivered on Tidal. In 2013, that one was given away as a digital download but only to Samsung customers, forcing folks without Samsung to pirate it in order to listen in before its wide release came some days later. Similarly, 4:44 is being offered only to Sprint customers and those Tidal subscribers who signed up for the service well before June 30. If you wanted to listen to the album on the 30th without having Sprint and without having signed up for Tidal in time, you had to tune in to iHeartRadio at certain time slots during the day and only on that day. Sound exclusive? Yes indeed. Too exclusive for what the album actually offers? Yes.
How and why can Jay-Z keep his art so private, and is it right? Is it appropriate? If it’s not easy to get, won’t few have it in their hands at the end of the day? Maybe but remember that Jay-Z has all the wealth-begotten pull and clout to get the mainstream marketing machine on his side to make anything he issues look like the best thing since sliced bread. He’s doing it now with Sprint to get more paid subscribers to Tidal plus that good Sprint money, just like in 2013, but for that good Samsung money back then. The journey to jump through some hoops to get the new music might have been worth it for Magna Carta Holy Grail but it’s not the case with 4:44. It’s an average album and one might as well wait for its wide release to peep it. At the moment, Jay-Z and his associates are basically just using the idea of a great album to collect more revenue from patrons of their stores, on the web or otherwise. Like it or not, it might be working because of the good to very good reviews it’s received so far, unless the consumer is properly informed that is…
Produced nicely and soulfully by artisan beat specialist No ID, 4:44 has its moments, as cliched as that sounds, however it’s an expectable product from Jay-Z. The forty-seven year old rhymer, businessman, husband and now father of three dangles in front of us a slim ten tracks of casual thoughts and more than some pop culture soap opera clocking in at a little over thirty minutes. Vocally, it never gets very comprehensive or deep philosophically, and Jay-Z, in some of his most laid-back spitting ever, is less spirited than his early-career self. He takes turns saying things appealing to all and other things appealing to only a select few, tapering off toward the end with filler instead of building where the album needs it.
Personal to an extent but politically lacking if not politically truant altogether, the thing has Jay getting tender at various points about his daughter(s), motherhood, memories and something akin to a society in society at the end, but he’s also cynical in rapping about unfaithful fans and traitorous friends in “Kill Jay-Z” and “Caught Their Eyes.” Likewise the rich man in the rap-capitalist cannot escape from his bars. In “The Story of OJ,” Jay raps at no little length about his real estate investments and property values over time, but who’s itching to hear about that besides the Trumps of the world? Shouldn’t Jay be discussing racism and upward mobility there more so than his own business endeavors? Isn’t that what the song title suggests? Also in “Family Feud” are some comments on excessive wealth that are intended to be light but are far from. Jay raps of “no such thing as an ugly billionaire, I’m cute” (wrong) and “what’s better than one billionaire? Two” (wrong again).
At one point, within the stuttering, slow quiet drill-frills and sampled soul vocals of “Smile,” Jay mentions that it’s just the way of the world that there are drug dealers and jewel dealers of blood diamonds and whatever else. He’s saying he’s okay with it, that he doesn’t care too much about it. Talk about laissez-faire. This impartiality to inequality and crime is a turnoff. What’s also a turnoff in an inexcusable way is the famous “4:44”/apology-to-Be-for-messing-around song. It’s all very well and good for what it can do but if Jay did in fact cheat on his wife (it could be a made-up tabloid story), apologizing doesn’t change the fact that it happened. Infidelity is not ok as long as you say sorry afterward.
In short, 4:44 doesn’t have the power, spark or duration that previous Jay-Z albums have, and of course, if Roc Nation is still in bed with Universal or one of the other majors, that goes a long way in explaining its adoration for rags-to-too-many-riches and the other indecencies that are flapped about on the project. Plus Jay-Z is getting quite a bit older, AND he has little kiddos now so he should be more socially responsible with his words than he is here, and if not for them then for the tens, hundreds of millions if not a billion or more he speaks to through the music. So much more good could have been done for humankind had this album contained better messages. (1 out of 5 stars)