A blog about hip-hop, rap music, its trends, and an overall thought about the music an culture, without indulging in gossip. A real set of opinions and discussions, not based on the popular sentiment, but examining and challenging it.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Album Review- Sap - Self-Employed

Sometimes a risk can pay off. I was looking for some new releases from mainstream artists and something directed me to check out this release from Sap. Now, I had never ever heard of this guy before but when looking into him I learned he is from Delaware, Mid-Atlantic area and that's different. He also has done some production work for other artists and a few features but doesn't seem to be well-known. I took a listen and decided it was worth doing a review of his new album, "Self-Employed".

The album jumps off with "O Eight" and the first thing I noticed is that he has the voice of the 90's East Coast. It's like an Ali Vegas almost. i mean Troy Ave sounds somewhat similar but Sap has a much better flow. The track sounds like some Golden Era production and he just goes in as Sap talks about his journey and it's funny that 2008 is the pivotal year for this young man and reinforces my own age. "I'm Made" feels like a late 90's East Coast meets West Coast production and is serious head nod potential.

Speaking of head nod, the first song I checked out was the video for "Boom Bap" which has that kind of sound and feel to it as Sap spits alongside Hit-Boy, Mike Zombie, and Hodgy Beats. This is a throwback to the crew cuts that would come on Rap City. My dude Stat Quo co-features on "Trading Places" and the track is superb with movie samples over the place of the chorus. "On Mute" has Sap talking about established rappers who have failed by not paying attention to business while he waited for his time and still ignores the haters.

I'm not fond of "And I Mean That" with Shizz Nitty, but it's an uptempo song some dudes will roll with. "Nobody Out There" has a dance hall clap  but I really liked how Sap freaked the sample and the flow within his verses. it was cool yet fit into what else he has been doing on the record. "In the stars" with Devin Cruise gave me a nostalgia for the 90's with this track that is directed at the ladies but it isn't syrupy. Just smoothed out a bit and the way it is produced I can allow the auto tune a pass.

Mac Miller features on "C4" which reminds me of something from his last album. His verse is average and Sap out does him. "Don't Call Me" with Tdot Illdude is just a cool song where Sap talks about struggle a little bit but not in some way where he is talking about himself being in the streets but a more arrogant way that reminds me of the attitude Fab or a Young Jay Z brings to the track.

He also has "B4 The Documentary dropped" with the Game and "Backpack,Backpack" with Chris Webby and Jitta on the track before ending the album with "I'm Tired", which wasn't the strongest way to end this album.

For someone I had never heard I was glad I ended up with the chance to listen to this album. There were some real solid songs that gave me some faith in this new generation and hip-hop in general. it's hard to find someone who balances a sound I am familiar with and like with some new energy and freshness. The crispness of his beats and the quality stand out far and above that of a guy like Troy Ave who wants to represent that sound and era so bad.

Rating: 3.5/5

Album Review - Macklemore and Ryan Lewis - This Unruly Mess I've Made

Now I know I go MIA for long stretches but forget all of that because I'm back after taking a listen to the latest project from Macklemore and Ryan lewis, "This Unruly Mess I've Made" which has gotten considerably less press and radio play than his first album which spawned several major hits. I do remember the first single being dropped but it did little to create the same buzz as "Thrift Shop". Now I don't recall ever fully listening to the last album, but this new record is more than solid and deserves more press and attention from mainstream and underground hip-hop publications because it represents what we like to claim we ask for from our artists.

The album opens with "Light Tunnels" which has Macklemore ruminating over the fame and results from his previous acclaim. He talks about the struggles of keeping up appearances and the expectations thrust upon him when he just wants to chill and be a more regular guy. He also talks about the "media" desires for moments that they can market at the expense of artists. So the lead single was "Downtown" which features Grandmaster Caz, Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee and Eric Nalley. The song is alright I guess, the flavor of the track might be too old school for modern radio in reality and I didn't care for the hook, but what he did do, was show his bonafides by including some pioneers which most artists these days don't do. He follows that up with "Buckshot" which features KRS One and Premier and he talks about growing up listening to hip-hop, specifically grimey Boot Camp Clik style hip-hop.

"Growing Up" featuring Ed Sheeran is about just that. Macklemore as a father and trying to be a man, especially one that has to go on the road and earn a living to provide for his daughter. "Kevin" with Leon Bridges is about the loss of a loved one due to addiction and drug use. "Need to Know" is another song where Macklemore gets caught up in the trappings of fame and it features Chance The Rapper.

Now one of the strongest songs I think would be great for top 40 features Anderson.Paak and Idris Elba, called "Dance Off". The track has crazy rhythm and bounce to it. Idris brings a Euro dance club vibe to it when he talks over the track. "St. Ides" is a throwback track again where Macklemore ruminates on the past and where he would kind of like to go back to. "Brad Pitt's Cousin" which features XP on hook duties is a fun little song that kind of tries to trap and update that Thrift shop vibe where he also makes some fun of himself. This is another one I could have seen being a single.

"Let's Eat" also features XP and it's about enjoying his life before he has to go and get fit and the whole lifestyle change. It's a fun little song that isn't too serious. "Bolo Tie" and "The Train" are decent little songs, but the album is truly caped off by the Jamilah Woods assisted "White Privilege II" where Macklemore gets in depth about his place and that of other white artists in what is a black musical genre of rap music. In the face of the Black Live Matter Movement, it is a great song that delves into his own personal issues and what his place is or should be. It was one of the most important songs of the past year.

Look, Macklemore I think is slept on because a lot of people felt he was gimmicky when it comes to black rap listeners. Many had a problem or issue with "Same Love" which really took him to the next level and some homophobia showed as a lot of people took the promotion of this song as the thing that made him an establishment favorite, and indeed it played apart along with race but what it showed was that maybe some other subject matters should be explored within hip-hop in some form or fashion and only this white artist has really explored in some manner. He covers the well traveled ground of trying to deal with fame and he unlike most took time off for himself after a crazy touring schedule. He came back with a solid album, and while it doesn't have the big epic singles built in, there are several solid songs that deserve both radio play and attention from real hip-hop fans.

Rating: 3.5/5

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Album Review- Kanye West - TLOP

Look I haven't written about hip hop in over two months and frankly the state of the industry and music bores me so much. The music being released is corny to me most of the time and the hype of social media is indeed tiresome. Take for instance the early discussion of the new Kanye West album "The Life of Pablo" or TLOP as it trended on twitter. So much of the comments was simple flame emojis or pronouncements that no one should speak ill of the album lest face repercussions. In this climate is it possible to see through the publicity stunts and games and get back to the music itself and be able to be critical and fair? Or is it all a race for the hot take and then as soon as it's given have people jump to attack it instead of absorbing it like they ask you to do with their favorite music? I don't have the answers to those questions but what I have is my review of the first album since 2013 for Kanye.

Point blank, everyone loves the opening track to TLOP, "Ultra Light Beams" which features Chance the Rapper and Kelly Price. The song also features Kirk Franklin. This is the best of Ye though, what happens when everything is going right. Unfortunately, too often his hubris gets in his way and he just puts out whatever and we are supposed to take it as great because he claims it. "Father Stretch My Hands pt. 1" for example. The song features Kid Cudi who does a decent job on the hook but the verse that Kanye drops using auto tune is boring and pointless. The song continues into a 'Part 2" which has some sort of energy in the production and flow but it has the same lazy auto tune usage that isn't needed and it features a Future clone named Desiigner.

"Feedback" isn't bad but it also isn't anything that is so outstanding as to make you forced to listen. It does some halfway decent things in the second half of it but not enough to make up for the lackadaisical beginning. "Highlights" could have been a way more fun song if of course, Kanye didn't use the auto tune and actually tried to do something with his lyrics. I don't listen to Kanye for lazy bars about his dick, I leave that to Lil Wayne and by the time the song gets going I'm already turned off.  Chris Brown is featured on "Waves" which has been out for a while but the song would be fine for him, it's boring for me. "FML" with the Weeknd is saved by his vocals to me. Ye's verse about Mexico has some lame and boring jokes.

Rihanna is featured on "Famous" which is now infamous for the Taylor Swift lyrics which were arrogant and unnecessary. The beat is one which knocks and Swizz tries his best to ruin the song but doesn't get it done. The "I Love Kanye" skit/interlude/freestyle had so much potential but Kanye pretty much does the laziest thing possible with the idea and fails. "Freestyle 4" which also has Desiigner is average. I wasn't a fan of "Wolves" when it leaked, and "Real Friends" with Ty Dolla Sign is fine. "Facts" is cool I guess as is "No More Parties in LA" which features Kendrick, but "30 Hours" is the second closest thing to a realistic rap track on the album.

Kanye is capable of making good and even great music unless he is getting in his own way with his ego and attention whoring. Last week's time was wasted with tweeting and nonsense when this album could have been tightened up and a true A and R stepped in to control the direction. The songs are all too short in general and over produced with a bunch of stuff going on that isn't relevant. His lack of dedication to lyrics shows across the album. Just boring and lazy raps when he is doing it and an over reliance on auto tune. This album falls near the bottom of the Kanye catalog for me easily.

Rating: 2.5/5

Friday, December 18, 2015

Album Review- Pusha T - Darkest Before the Dawn: The Prelude

Pusha T has been on this odd trajectory during his career. While a member of the Clipse he was well respected by his peers and the underground but mainstream success was somewhat elusive. His perseverance paid off and after his brother took leave of the rap game pusha stepped up even more and built upon his following. Linking up with Kanye West only helped and now he is the President of Good Music and one of a few artists who has managed to build upon a solid core following while not flooding the market too much. As his profile has grown so has the anticipation for his next project, and while the official album is still being waited on, he has just dropped a street album or EP, King Push Darkest Before the Dawn: The Prelude.

The collection starts with the typical heavyweight sound for Pusha, just so you know he's not on some light hearted shit. He goes in with braggadocios bars about his skills both in rap and in the dope game. That leads into the underground single, "Untouchable" which uses a Biggie sample over a haunting string and drum track that's simple yet effective. The second verse is such a stand out and exemplifies what Pusha can do.

Kanye West, Asap Rocky and The Dream feature on "M.P.A." where the first verse is about the fellas and their motivations. money, pussy and alcohol. The second verse is directed to the women who are tired of getting used and Push lets them know to go out and go for theirs. Pusha evens coaxes Beanie Sigel out his exile for "Keep Dealin" where they rap over the idea of doing what it takes to keep moving on the streets. "Retribution" featuring r and b artist Kehlani is decent, it has a different sound and feel to it, a more accessible and friendly song with a booming bass line.

Now I know Pusha loves his dude Ab-Liva but as usual, the song on which he is featured is a weak link. The production is odd to say the least on "Got Em Covered". "F.I.F.A." is alright but really short. "Sunshine", with Jill Scott is a political song with a take from the Virginia Rapper on the events in the news affecting the black communities today.

"M.F.T.R." with The Dream is another banging aggressive song which is the best of Pusha's nature as he observes the world around him and pulls people's cards. Now, "Crutches, Crosses, Caskets" is a different track in the way it feels but Push brings the guns out as he goes off on the attack aiming shots at some of his favorite rap targets from Cash Money. He shows some of his great imagery and his delivery is on point.

Pusha T is a more than capable rapper. Much like I said with the Rick Ross review, he has the ability to paint a great image of his lifestyle for the listener. Unlike the Florida rapper, there is something extra in his delivery that brings an extra edge across when he raps. He also isn't a formulaic rapper, experimenting with different sounds and altering his delivery between and within tracks to bring something new to it. That said, his subject matter is of course limited at times and while this isn't a full album set of songs it could have used a little variety and hopefully when the next project drops it will be more well rounded to break up some of the street tales.

Rating: 3.5/5

Monday, December 14, 2015

Complex is the Ultimate Troll

Complex has been seen as one of the standard bearers for hip-hop and urban culture in the new media era. They stepped up and took over in a lot of areas when the Source and XXL kind of failed to move forward and urban men's magazines pretty much faded away due to blogs and internet forums. Enter Complex which was to me, an urban style and fashion magazine that occasionally dived into other things, like a hip-hop Maxim or Mens Journal. now it seems they have truly been taken over in a new hipster, hip-hop fashion with a strong foothold in sneaker culture, fashion, and music, specifically hip-hop.

Now one of the reasons I don't like Complex is to me they feel like Culture Vultures who jump onto any trends that is somewhat happening and take it over, purporting to be engrossed in it where they get the nuance to speak on it and look down their noses onto others. Recently, they dropped their top albums as well as top singles of the year and these lists speak to that.

Many of the times they seem to try to hard to show they are of the culture, yet not snobs because they are all inclusive, yet intelligent enough to elevate music that no one else would to cult status. Point blank, anyone who puts Rae Strummond in the top 10 albums of the year, behind Future's Dirty Sprite 2 and To Pimp a Butterfly are just being assholes. To pick the third or fourth 'best' song from Dirty Sprite as the highest rated song from the album (according to every other set of experts) is trolling in it's highest form.It's literally saying "we know you all love this, but we know better than you at this specifically".

Look I know a lot of people will go run to their site because it gives fuel to the barbershop arguments and gives something to talk about and argue over, but I can't truthfully put forth much effort when I don't feel the effort or opinion is genuine. I look at the majority of their lists and can't believe that they truly go along with the lists and posts that are made that run so far concurrent yet manage to create some way to run counter to conventional wisdom. If you're a hipster, or one of those guys who believes in Complex magazine, god bless you.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Album Review - G-Eazy - When It's Dark Out

So I have seen pictures of G-Eazy before and heard of his albums through the internet and his nomination at one of the season's past award shows, but I had never taken the time to listen to his music. Now I have his first album but have never played it, but this one I decided to go ahead and give a spin. So here is my assessment of the new album release by G-Eazy, "When It's Dark Out".

The album gives me something I wasn't expecting, because I was thinking he would have a more soulful, or underground basement sound. Instead I get something that is more energetic and upbeat that reminds me of Big Sean in some respects on "Random" which is actually a decent cut. Speaking of Big Sean, he is the first of the big name features that Eazy has on this album on "One of Them" and it's alright when G raps but Sean takes the song and just ruins it with his run on flow. The song isn't about anything really but the lust for new things and more of them. Now it was somewhat obvious he was a West Coast MC, but the addition of Too Short as a feature shows me G is a Bay Area native who respects the culture and history, and not a 'culture vulture'.

Speaking of that, G-Eazy kind of brings up the issue of his credibility in a small way among a lot of other things he goes over on "What If" which features Gizzle on the hook, along with auto tune. "You Got Me" reminds me of a Drake song with a mean bass driven beat and lyrics that match the patterns of the drums with their start and stop pattern. 'Don't let me Go" featuring Grace is a good song with a slightly distorted affect on the rap vocals contrasted with the powerful clarity of the hook. "Calm Down" is a short Bay area Hyphy track.

"Think About You" with Quin is the quintessential reminiscence track with a soft beat and Quin's voice making it kind of a lullaby. "Everything Will Be Ok" is another song about the lost relationship's with people when success and drive starts to get in the way. This song features singer Kehlani on the hook. "Some Kind of Drug" is about the addiction that comes from a sexual relationship. Marc E, Bassey handles the chorus duties. "Drifiting" features Chris Brown and Torey Lanez.

"Me, Myself and I" is about G-Eazy standing up to make it on his own. It features Beba rexha. "Sad Boy" is a jazzy tune about the personal struggle dealing with touring, life, and making music. "For this" features an artist called IAMNOBODI and the album finishes with "Nothing to Me" which features Keyshia Cole and E-40. This is a track where he talks about his desire to get more when others would be satisfied.

To say I was a bit surprised would be an understatement in a way. There is a lot of soft stuff on this like I was expecting at one point about halfway through the album and that took away all of the momentum. It became monotone and somewhat depressing when a song with a different kind of melody or production style would have helped everything stand out. He also doesn't have the best voice so he needs to do something different at times. the large number of sung choruses also hurts in my opinion because they are all done the same way, as if hoping one catches fire instead of them standing up and out as different compositions. All in all, it's solid but not spectacular.

Rating : 2.5/5

Album Review - Rick Ross - Black Market

Ricky Rozay, or Renzel as he is apparently calling himself now is already with a follow up to the album he dropped late last year, just like clockwork. While the Boss of MMG has been dealing with a lot of issues, whether it be house arrest, lawsuits and potential trials, or his label signees having issues with associates from around the industry and themselves, he still found the time to record last week's Renzel Remixes mixtape (which is a similar take as the lil Wayne No Ceilings mixtape), a mixtape that dropped in the summer, and a new album. While it has been a lot of music, it hasn't had a lot of staying power because something else is always around the corner. With all that said, let's talk about the new album from Rick Ross , "Black Market".

One thing you can never take away from Ross is his ability to have an infallible flow and the album starts in his normal way with the cinematic sound of the production on "Free Enterprise" which features John Legend on the hook. Ross paints great pictures of luxury and an opulent lifestyle and it fits on the idea of the title of this track. Mariah Carey features on "Can't Let Go" which also samples her hit "Can't Let Go" and actually is a pretty standout track which has a slightly different feel with the sample usage.

the Mary J. Blige assisted "Very Best" is Ross' forte, swagger rap about what a huge level he is on compared to other guys in the game and in life who 'hate' on him. For me, it's alright but nothing great although I think this is what Rozay fans are looking for and will consider evidence of his greatness. The second single was the Chris Brown feature "Sorry" where Ross talks about changing his ways to be with one woman. This coincides well with his recent engagement to vixen Lira Galore. "Everything Dope" has a catchy bass line and there are definite Future fans who will love this song in the club, strip or regular, and whenever the turn up is occurring. My feelings about Future and auto tune are well known so I'll leave it at that.

I'm not a fan of the DJ Premiere produced "Black Opium". The song isn't really about anything, the beat seems a bit awkward to me and the scratches weren't too great to me. "Crocodile Python" is alright, vintage Ross. Now "Color Money" has been getting a lot of publicity because of the bars directed at Drake and Baby. The track is a throwback to Miami bass music in a way, it isn't as layered and cinematic as what is on the rest of the album and I don't care for most of it honestly. "Silk Road" is a head nodder. Nas is the guest feature on "One of Us" and it's cool but the song I expect to have more depth than just the description of being another rap/street character cliche. "Smile Mama, Smile" with Cee-Lo is just what you would think by the total. Ross tells his mother not to worry and to smile because he has made it. The deluxe version has 3 more tracks one of which was the street single, "Foreclosures". It also features "Carol City" and "Money Dance" with The Dream.

Look, Ross is never one who puts out something bad, he is too good and consistent to do so, but my problem is nothing ever stands out either. The music all sounds the same, the flow is the same, the voice and inflections the same. I get it, you find a formula and want to stick to it, but you have to take some risk and show some sort of growth in either sounds or concepts. Ross always raps money and extravagance. His metaphors and descriptions are decent and especially strong in the latter writing criteria, but they are still a step removed from a real emotional connection that I get from an artist like Pusha T. Some of it can be the mixing, but it's just too perfect, too monotone and the same. It's like his persona as the boss has been taken too literally. If there were more moments like "Color Money" where he seemed to step outside of that a little bit it would be better but I'm not sure if he can allow himself that opportunity especially since his fans will find this good enough. For me he needs to do something to make an album stand out and be necessary to have and not just fit in line with the rest of his work.

Rating: 3/5

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Creative Interpretation of BIG

So in perusing the internet this week I came upon this concept project that combines samples from the music of the star wars movies with seminal Notorious BIG songs and I can't really believe how cool this is in a lot of ways with some of these iconic sounds mixed with these iconic Biggie songs. The true amount of geekdom in this is hard to calculate but I enjoy this and listening to it brought a smile to my face. I suggest that you all go and check this out.