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.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Album Review- Common- Nobody's Smiling

This is a prescient yet sad time to really talk about Common and his latest album considering Chicago just had another awful weekend. This is the kind of stuff that has inspired the latest release of music from the rapper/actor who used to go by Common Sense. One of the unique things about this is how Common is reaching back and connecting the new generation of Chicago rappers by featuring them on his album cover. It's the theme overall for the people who grew up fans of Common to try and connect them in a way to the trials of today's urban youth. But with all of that said, let's talk about the music, here is my review of Common's new album, "Nobody's Smiling".

The album starts off super strong with "The Neighborhood" which features singer Cocaine 80's and Lil' Herb, one of the new generation of Chicago rappers who are coming straight out of the trap and struggle and I will admit, if he has this kind of skill I will have to check out more from Herb because he fits in seamlessly with the theme of the life in the Chi right now with Comm who is known as one of the supreme wordsmith's in the game. The momentum stalls a bit for me on "Diamonds" which has the unfortunate reality of featuring Big Sean and his garbage. Common does his thing though and I like the production but the hook is mediocre and then Sean gets to spit some actual bars.

Chanting drums that channel an African Tribal nature drive "Blak Majik" with Jhene Aiko but I disdain the hook which reminds me of something from Yeezus. "Hustle Harder" with Snoh Alaegra and Dreezy is alright as Common talks about a woman who is holding it down and going to get it herself. Dreezy finishes up for the ladies and it's cool. The title track "Nobody's Smiling" has a heavy bass with synthesizer element to it with a simple but effective hook and it's fire. Malik Yusef gets his chance to shine with his poetry at the end of this song but I really wanted to hear more bars from Common over this track.

"Speak My Piece" which uses a sample from the late great Notorious BIG, is vintage Common and while it has a retro sound to it, it still transitions from "Blak Majik" easily in what could be seen as a traditional single that can get radio and club spins. It somehow reminds me of a house party with it's energy and rhymes that sound almost freestyled enough that you know it was an intentional delivery. Elijah Blake sings the hook on "Real which is just a run of the mill song to me. Album filler, but after that comes the fire single that features Vince Staples, "Kingdom". Common spits a verse first from the perspective of a killer and what his story was and how he ends up in jail, while the second is from the viewpoint of a victim as he ascends after his death. Vince Staples comes through with the reality right now raw perspective of youth. Everything on this track works well from the bars to the choir chorus and the track.

"Rewind That" is a trip into the past and history of Common musically and also what happened in his career with his questions in his life and the results. He talks about regrets with No I.D. whom he has reunited with at DefJam and on this album. He also talks about dealing with J. Dilla and some of the sort of regrets he has as well as how he will keep his name and history alive. Vince Staples joins Common again on "Out on Bond" a decent song where they end up spitting and it is like an older song from the late 90's for modern times. Then there is "7 Deadly Sins" where Common gets a bit gritty talking about what can get you killed in the streets. "Young Hearts Run Free" with Cocaine 80's is about growing up overall in multiple ways.

Honestly this is probably the best album of the year so far. While I don't think it is Common's best overall work it isn't a detriment to his catalog either. It emphasizes his ability to truly spit and also remain poetic and true to himself. As a bridge to the younger generation it works because I'm now interested in Vince Staples and Lil' Herb thanks to their appearances on this album. While it doesn't break new ground, this is a solid, and mature hip-hop album. Not full of pop music and not too esoteric or spiritual in a way that becomes off putting, it's very grounded in reality and the production throughout is solid with varied sounds that all feel like they belong together.

Rating: 4/5

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Album Review- Ab Soul - These Days

Now I'm normally on an album for a review almost as soon as an album drops if not before but I haven't been able to really dig into this Ab Soul album the way that I need to and I have listened to it enough to know it's at the very least a decent album. Ab Soul is yet another member of the West Coast powerhouse known as TDE which includes Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, and Schoolboy Q who have all released albums. While Ab Soul had been anticipated, the actual release date of the album was closely guarded until it dropped. Now that it's out here is my album review of "These Days".

The album starts off with a title track that features Sza, another labelmate, and though it isn't called 'These Days' the phrase is an important refrain in what is titled "God's Reign". On the track he puts forth what kind of artist he is, introspective yet still centered with street common sense and logic. On the song he talks about dropping knowledge as well as bucking some conventions. Schoolboy Q features on "Hunnid Stax" which is about the chase for the paper. "Twact" takes things to the Bay Area with Jinx and Short Dawg on some living and partying Hyphy flavored music.

"Nevermind That" with Rick Ross has a slow tempo and Ab-Soul uses a variety of flows and techniques on the song before Ross drops a decent verse. The song is unorthodox but it's still slick and laid back. Lupe Fiasco and Nikki perform on "World Runners" which shows Ab's diversity and ability to cover different areas of modern hiphop. It's of course a thought provoking song encouraging accomplishment and not settling. Then things get dark on "Stigmata" with Action Bronson and Asaad.

Solo, Ab Soul does have songs like "Tree of Life" which samples Eric B. and Rakim's 'Paid in Full' and gives it a new spin as Ab spits about traveling around to get the money to enjoy life. "Dub Sac" is about how things haven't changed for Ab. "Just Have Fun" is a smokers anthem. I'm not feeling "Sapiosexual". "Closure" is cool, and there is also a Kendrick Lamar interlude where he drops some bars before the track turns into a jazzy throwback to the early 90's in hip-hop. Danny Brown and Delusional feature on "Ride Slow" which is a track that everyone won't just gravitate to but the bars on this song are serious. My dude Jay Rock gets his feature on "Feelin Us" along with Ravaughn on the chorus.

At the end of the day Ab Soul can really rap and he has some solid song concepts and it fits in with what TDE has brought us so far. Each album has fit together by being of a distinct personality yet they exist in the same world together. It's like a well done book. Now this is a good album in the way it's constructed and nothing is out of place or too weird but it's really gloomy and oppressive. It could use some type of balance or high notes and brightness (sounds like describing a plate of food)  because the album kind of swallows you into it. It is very moody and atmospheric and can be a good listen in certain circumstances but I couldn't see this getting to be in my regular rotation. However, in today's Ipod generation, the songs will be good scattered amongst the rest of your playlists.

Rating: 3.5/4

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Independent Wednesdays

This week I'm opening up with another artist from what ahs always been a booming West Coast Independent rap scene with Julian Rothschild. Now I can tell you I'm not feeling his music as much because it reminds me a lot of the over use of auto tune I have witnessed because it's trendy. I actually think he might be better off cutting back off of that and using his regular voice more especially during the verses since it doesn't do anything much to add to them. Especially on his song "Not Coming Down" where he does some interesting things in the delivery of the second verse.

The song he initially sent, "Trendsetter" he uses his regular verse more and I like it a little bit better. The songs themselves aren't getting new ground but they are solid in the pocket of what is popular now.

Taking it in another direction is Es who has a more conscious mindstate and focus. His newest project, "Aspire to Inspire" speaks volumes in the title alone. Now a lot of times you can have guys who have this angle and be have grimy production that can seem dull at times. Es doesn't fall victim to that with nice tracks that provide a balance between being entertaining themselves and allowing himself to put in that work. My favorite song on an early listen might be "For The Loot"

Es wastes no time or song with frivolous lyrics so if you like lyrics, and some consciousness and just quality songs, check out Es and then go to his bandcamp and drop a couple of dollars off to him to thank him for his music.

Third up this week is Ynga (Young-ah) is from the Bronx and currently lives in Worcester, MA and the joint he sent is called "Livin Too Wild" and it's off of an upcoming project he plans to talk about ' about anarchism, sex, drugs  and some dark life moments he's experienced ' on a project he calls "Wasted Youth". Now his soundcloud only has two joint but livin Too Wild is pretty tough. I like the beat how he spits and attacks the track.

The other track I heard sounded more like Drake and Wayne so I wasn't feeling it as much because it wasn't unique enough from a new artist to really stand out but it isn't a bad song from that perspective.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

So y'all Mad at Iggy Now huh

I remember when no one knew who Iggy Azalea was and she was just like thousands of other rappers, and that is white and female to make it even more narrow, and now she has finally broken through. Hell even as of last year there were serious questions if the album would ever even see the light of day because she was in label disarray. It could be seen easily that she might just fade away like so many others. However she was big international even without an album, with singles that popped and made it to the top overseas easily. Yes, we could possibly attribute that to her skin color and the fact she isn't an American because those things do hold some sort of weight but she still lacked the success on these shores.

So what exactly are people offended by when it comes to Iggy? In my opinion it's that she is winning. When she was on the brink of failure the past couple of years no one was worrying about whether she was authentic or a real representation of hip-hop. No one questioned her as a credible artist until she finally broke through and became a chart topper this year. But why would they anyway? Is it her content? In that case then 90% of today's artists would fit that criteria because all they talk about is the same things, the trappings of success and luxury.

At least Iggy has some type of unique story. She came to this country at 16 to pursue a foreign dream that she had wanted for years. Most of you won't even go to a new place to eat because you're scared of how the food might taste and you don't like her because of her story? I don't understand how sometimes the rules change so arbitratily when we talk about rap music. We are truly worldly and global now, influencing people of all ages from all over and then when they become a success we try to say why they don't deserve to be here.

I generally love the Combat Jack show but I was listening to the beginning of his latest episode with Freddi Foxxx and Reggie Osse aka Combat Jack kind of went in on how he was at a Complex Mag roundtable discussion (which i'm searching for) and that she isn't a credible rapper. I respectfully disagree with Combat because you have to define what is credible. What makes someone credible. There is nothing I have seen her present that seems to be artificial or made up in order to be popular. Conversely a lot of rappers brag on selling more drugs and holding more guns than they have ever done in reality. Does that make them credible? Is it race? Is it Gender? Is it that she is being marketed to the pop market now and not the urban market? Thats the question I ask people when they are quick to knock Iggy. I have never even heard this term used until now.

That's probably the most frustrating part to me that there is this inconsistent standard placed upon certain people and that Iggy is now being reversely singled out kind of how Eminem was. It's this whole idea that Hip-hop is black music, and yes like many other forms of expression it was almost uniquely ours and more than most others it still remains that way but things change. She isn't the best rapper, she isn't the best female rapper, she just exists but she fits in a fun area that isn't bothering anyone but how it is more or less credible than anyone else I can't see. Nelly fit into this lane when he dropped. Flo Rida is settled right into this area as is Pitbull. Honestly it feels like a rejection of mainstream success, the way we used to call people who got massive radio play commercial, like someone wanted to say no to the radio if they chose to play their music. Everyone wants to have success, there are just varying levels of it. I'm not sure what she has done to make her less credible nor who that is in comparison to  in the first place. We have to look more into this issue because it reeks the same way as the "realness" debate which makes no sense. In a world where Puffy can tell you he doesn't write his lyrics there is no longer any way I can really look at anyone else and ask if they are credible.

By the way if you don't already - Go listen to the Combat Jack show. There is a wealth of great podcasts over there that we definitely need to be taking advantage of.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Independent Wednesdays

Artwork 1 photo WilliamRoseArtWork1.jpgSo I fall off from time to time but know this, I will be back. First off I heard a new joint from William Rose II called "Keep It Real". I listened to this joint about four times before even looking at the short bio and seeing that this was another local Baltimore artist. I was impressed by the content, skill and production - which was by Vanilla.

Only 17, he exhibits a high level of skill for someone so young. He also spit over the Dead President's track and did not embarass himself as could be done easily by being focused. All of his songs have the 90's vibe but it isn't too underground, it has a bit of polish to it that reminds me of a young Nas or for the newer generation J. Cole. For those who know the obscure, think slightly Ali Vegas only without the NY accent.

While we back at home in Baltimore, I have to go ahead and drop the new visual by my dude Japiro, also over the Dead Presidents track. This was off of his project "2" which remade the Reasonable Doubt soundtrack around the theme of his two sons being born a few weeks ago.

If you're free tonight He will be performing at Mex at the Powerplant tonight along with VIP Gutter.

From Dallas, Texas T-Shawn doesn't really sound like an artist from Texas on his new single, "so High" which isn't about smoking as you might expect but it's about some fly shit. The hook is perfect with the beat and the flow is on point. When I hear a song like this I imagine it should easily fit into someone's roatation.  The production by Grits N Gravy is worth noting too. Several more of T-Shawn's songs have that production and they all sound really polished as well. T-Shawn can rap and he has the fast rap style but you can tell he is still refining his voice, working toward being compelling yet maintaining his own lane where he isn't getting to be too "gangster" or too "corny". Go hit up his soundcloud after So high and let me know what you think.

Finishing up in Texas is Tre Crowell from Houston who once again is shattering the idea of what a Southern artist sounds like. With a definite east cost sound, Tre is an artist I think could have a very long future. In fact this is one of the best independent Wednesdays I remember in terms of these kinds of artists who are less 'gangster' but still reality based. Tre has some serious flow as he demonstrates on both "Vintage Flow 2" and "At the podium". At the Podium mixes classic production and flow I can't place but if you grew up when I did and miss some of those rappers- Tre will satisfy that. If you are from the DMV area and ever hear of Gods'illa, I get a similar feel to them from this artist. I can't see the audio mack player but hit this link and listen asap!.