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Monday, December 17, 2007

Wu-Tang Clan- 8 Diagrams

Every couple of years the Wu reunites in an attempt to save hip-hop and revive the most diverse, and odd collective of emcees the hip-hop nation has ever known. The sad part is that inevitably it never works out and the clan ends up being bickering brothers afterwards and they swear off working together only to reluctantly reconvene. This might be the problem that has plagued every release since Wu-tang forever the feelings that these albums are more pain than pleasure.

8 diagrams sticks to the same Wu-tang themes of obscure kung-fu samples and song titles that rarely if ever have anything to do with the actual lyrics. This is a problem in this day and age where thought and creativity are all but nonexistent. Lyrically the album is incredibly solid with even the RZA able to hold to topic and a static flow, just check "sunlight" whose slow brooding beat allows you to pay attention to the voice on the track and not an excess of noises. "Gun Will Go" which stars Raekwon, Method Man, and Inspektah Deck is one of the better songs on the cd.

The biggest issue with the Wu is that the less charismatic members such as U-God, Rza, and the lyrically proficient but socially and delivery challenged Gza hold the LP back. While they are still able to spit darts they are to incoherent and fly in too many different directions at time to form a cohesive bond. Any track without Meth or Ghost (and to a lesser extent Raekwon) feels empty by comparison.

Production wise, Rza drops some decent tracks on the album, but the sound is too consistent with early 90's. The group would have done better to look outside of the circle and try something different to bring out something new. There is nothing wrong with basement hip-hop but these guys have the pedigree and ability to be able to branch out and hit many different sounds instead of the same one again and again.

Quotables and hot bars abound every clan group recording but learning to have different deliveries and add something to their voices could help the lesser known members (in the public circle i know all true hip-hop heads know the Wu) gain their own identities and not be forced to ride Meth and Ghosts back. The production's slowness becomes stale by the end of the album as the one single sound begins to wear on the listener. It's too bad because this is better than the iron flag and has some gems hidden within that may never be unearthed due to the climate of today. The Wu deserves better.

Rating: 3/5

Bow wow and Omarion- Face Off

From the jump you already expecting the worse from this duo. I mean Omarion and Bow wow and the kiddie version of Best of both Worlds can't have any redeeming value...or can it. Think about it, Bow weezy may not write all of his own lyrics but he does have some of the best people around penning his words for him, and you can't front, Icebox was hot.

Face Off starts with the obligatory back and forth first song, aptly titled "Face Off". The beat bangs Bow wow lyrics aren't bad and O holds it down. Thats pretty much where your going with this album. There aren't any quotables really, but not too many really dead areas. You gotta think this album is going to be a cash cow for the label with ringtone sales and a potential tour looming. the album is safe squarely in the middle of the inoffensive hip-pop genre. "Hood Star" has the most provocative lyricism of the album- if you could truly call it that.

"That's my girlfriend" the first single is a hot song for the clubs/parties for the junior set. "Hey Baby (jumpoff)" knocks as the Rick Rubin produced back to Cali bangs against Omarion's smooth, if not strained stylings for the hook. The entire album si full of these playboy bachelor anthems for the young ladies that make up the fan base for these two. "Number ones" let's Bow get his shine over a nice track but that ground he loses on "Can't get Tired of Me."

Overall, the album is nothing spectacular but it is listenable. In fact, if you're under 21 it's acceptable to bump this in the car as you get your stunt on, but more than likely any young man's testosterone levels won't allow him to be caught riding around with a copy of this in the whip and will always limit the reach and impact either of these artists can have.

Rating: 2.5/5

Friday, December 14, 2007

Cassidy- B.A.R.S. (the Barry Adrian Reese Story)

Cassidy is known as one of the better young rappers today in terms of lyrics and battling. This is no mixtape artist however, thanks to the production and oversight of Swizz Beats, Cass has had several highly successful singles including Hotel, and the new smash single "Drink and my 2-step". This third album follows a stint in jail and a car accident that threatened his life.

Once again, Cass starts off the album battling himself just as he did on the last album, being this is what he is partially known for, I can deal with it. It's his thing so no one else needs to bite this idea and try to start their album this way. It also showcases a sort of issue with Cass, this entire split personality theme which he has been working since his first album. The one problem I have with that is that one of these personas isn't believable.

While Cassidy shows impressive lyrics in general, especially when compared to today's newer artists, thematically it seems he lacks ideas at times. Generic rap topics on "Will Never Tell" and "Where my Niggas At" are wastes of Cass's potential. In fact when you place these songs up against some of the others you have to wonder what songs he truly desires to write.

To understand you have to hear "Leanin on the Lord" where Cassidy weaves three cautionary hood tales into one compelling song. The stories themselves aren't new, but he is convincing as a story teller. "Damn I Miss the Game" is a strong song that would make a more powerful statement about the current age of hip-hop if Cassidy weren't one of the biggest reasons he has to make a song like this. Like many rappers today, Cass incorrectly assumes he can criticize the rest of the industry for the same things he is guilty of. That's what makes this so frustrating to listening to.

The glimpses of greatness elevate the album only to be let down by songs like "I get my paper" and "I pray" which lack personality. "Innocent" is a decent song that is driven by its hook and Cassidy doesn't do bad with Bone and Eve on "Cash Rulez".

The album is solid and it is tempting to rate it slightly higher but it is the believability of what Cassidy says. After his trial and car accident Cassidy publicly said he was going to change his style and some of his subject matter, this is a theme he repeats on the album however it is all empty promises. Too often Cassidy slips back into the comfort of average thuggery and dope dealing while claiming he doesn't shoot one second but he will kill in the next. It is these contradictions that ruin the effort that could be a classic. The bravado isn't as believable as a Beanie Sigel LP and feels like half-hearted attempts to do what is acceptable.

Rating: 3/5

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Dream- Love Hate

So back to the r and B tip I go with the latest sensation (also from the A) The Dream. The writer of Rihana's smash(?) Umbrella, and the song "Shawty is a ten (the shit)". I must say it's a trend of people with questionable singing talent to make it big lately, from Chris Brown, to T-pain. The Dream is just another one in that mold, only without the dancing ability of Chris nor the weird likability of Pain. He does his bets however to work with what he's got.

I've never been a fan of r and B singers cursing and getting extra vulgar in their music. It has always been to me like hearing a poem, not straightforward and more ornate and things covering the true meaning that you have to decipher. So the first two songs turn me off for that reason, the first being "Shawty is the Shit" which is terribly annoying in it's own way. "I luve Your Girl" is alright but still adds vulgarity waay too early in the album.

After that however, The Dream decides to show what makes him stand out with "Fast Car" which sounds just like a Prince song- Purple rain a little bit, with the use of the horns and piano riffs. "She Needs My Love" is crowded with a lot of sounds in the background of the hook but manages to sound alright when it gets down to it.

The other thing that holds the album back other than Dream's voice, is his constant use of the "Aye" ad-lib on almost every song. Once or twice after the initial single it would have been find to hear it, but when it becomes part of every hook it becomes monotonous and shows a lack of ingenuity and imagination.

Totally, the Dream has some good ideas and some decent songwriting on songs like "Purple Kisses", "Nikki", and "Falsetto", but then he missteps into boring territory with "Ditch That" and "Luv Songs". And that isn't even to mention the terrible collab with Rihana "Livin a Lie", which i would be doing if i wrote that song sounded good.

While the Dream has enormous potential as a songwriter and the ability to make singles and show some uniqueness, his downfall is the fact he wants to be getting his shine as an artist too. some people are better off in the boardroom and his voice becomes an arduous task to listen to after a short while.

Rating: 2.5/5

Gucci Mane- Back to the Traphouse

Well i finally brought myself to listen to this Gucci Mane and I must say that i am surprised somewhat. Atlanta is on the map now and in a big way, it seems as if 2/3rds of all the new artists are from the A.

The album starts off strong with the new stripper album, "Freaky Gurl" the remix featuring Lil' Kim and Ludacris. Don't think there is much to say about this song we've heard it and know what it's about. (though this is what made Lil' Kim hot in the first place trust me). The rest of the album, is more of the same after this, although not as "freaky". The entire album sounds like the soundtrack to Strokers or some other ATL institution of exotic dancing.

Gucci does reach out his hand to get the Game on a track as well as Trey Songz, providing a departure from the average southern album. This could be because Gucci is outside of the traditional circles via his "beef" with Young Jeezy. New signee to Icey ENT., Shawnna shows up on "I Might Be" where the beat sounds like an extra from the d4L album. The Game's verse on the track does impress as usual.

as far as lyrics go, there isn't much to say. From what I can understand there is absolutely no content here. And this sin't even a bad thing, because you can't even attribute the normal negativity of southern rap to Gucci. This is literally a pop in the whip for the bump in the trunk cd, the raps are an afterthought for the most part. The one song where Gucci tries too hard to change up the pace is "G-Love" which is like the bastard child of many LL Cool J songs, only southern fried.

"Stash House" and "I Move Chickens" sit up to be hustle tales, but Gucci is more of a Young Dro than Young Jeezy, a bunch of items get listed, and he lets the beats do the work. The album ends with Shawnna carrying "Ballers" and Gucci playing second fiddle.

The album is nothing impressive unless you count that it isnt really as bad as it could have been. After 30 minutes, Gucci's verion of "Yeeeaaaahhhh" does become annoying but that is possibly the worst thing I can actually say about the album, however that doesn't make it a classic in and of itself.

Rating: 2.5/5

Friday, December 7, 2007

Mary J. Blige- Growing Pains

So whilst I was looking over the new releases, and debating on whether to burn my brain cells listening to Birdman, or Gucci Mane, I thought, why not toss some r and b up in here too. I mean most of it now has a mean hip-hop influence, and besides it can't be as bad as some of this "hip-hop" out here. So the first album I was able to take a grab at is the new one from Mary J. Blige.

Growing Pains starts off with "Work That" which you should know from the Ipod/Itunes commercials from Apple, a quick paced anthem tailor made to fit into the clubs and having the patented "been through it so listen to me" Mary message of positivity. This of course is Mary's calling card, the ability to show how she overcame her past and empower you to do the same, thus the first official single "Just Fine" which is slightly annoying but not so much that you dont want to hear it anymore...yet.

The bulk of the first two-thirds of the album is mid to up-tempo songs with some slightly confusing production behind "Grown Woman" which features Ludacris. It is a unsuccessful attempt at riding the hip-hop turned r and b sound that she pioneered. "Fade Away" sounds like a hybrid of Amel Lieurreaeux (i know that isn't spelled right) and maybe an older 70's funk tune. It's a different sound but it works. Mary steps into the blues area with "Roses"

She returns to her roots and the theme of the album with "Work in Progress(growing pains)" to let everyone know that her life just like any, is a work in progress from the beginning and every day afterwards. The majority of the rest of the album is standard r and B fare however the song "Shake Down" featuring Usher is a strong pairing as their voices mix together well. I can see this being a single in the near future if Usher can get himself together (we all know that woman got the poor brother whipped)

Overall, this is a solid album, and i have happened to listen to some of her lesser offerings earlier this week, such as the one Puffy produced, i can't remember the album title it was so lame, but this isn't one of them. Go Mary, Keyshia Cole ain't ready to knock you off yet.

Rating: 3.5/5

Monday, December 3, 2007

Freeway- Free at Last

Point blank, Philadelphia Freeway was probably the third most solid and complete hip-hop album ever released under the Roc-a-fella album, eclipsing the albums of Kanye West and just about every Jay-Z album save Reasonable Doubt and the Blueprint. Fortune wasn't kind to Free however, the critical acclaim gave him little push in the sales department, then the Roc split up, Beans went to jail, and according to himself on the Roc remix of "Can't Tell Me Nothing", Free went to Mecca and gave up rapping. However, he changed his mind and returns, united with 50 cent as an executive producer on his sophomore set, Free at Last.

The album starts out well enough, with "This Can't be Real" featuring Marsha of Floetry who has been making the hip-hop rounds lately. The song is a basic round up of Free's early career, and the sound sets the tone for the entire album. By the end of the album however it becomes a little trying as the samples are all played out in the same manner on most of the tracks.

"Spit That Shit" is not the most original track ever but Free manages to keep his clever lyricism on display, the overall strong point is the beginning of the album anyway. "It's Over" is a fiery and energetic track that brings out the best of Free's energy and bravado, as does "Rocafella Billionaires" which is the official single featuring Jay-Z.

But the album, though punctuated with Free's charisma and wittiness, does have dull points if not missteps. Take for instance the horrible attempt at radio friendliness on "Take it to the Top" which features 50 Cent giving one of the leftover hooks from the Massacre...and it was leftover for good reason. Free tries his best but can't rescue the song. Afterwards the album just rehashes the same points from the first album although without the aplomb and passion evident on the previous release. He tries on "Lose Control" which would have been better without the intrusion by Rick Ross, and the final track "I cry" which misses its target slightly.

Overall it's not a bad sophomore album but after the high expectations and quality of the first album it is a slight letdown.

Rating: 3/5


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