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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Album Review- Obie Trice- Bottoms Up

Obie Trice's first album was underrated by a lot of people. They felt he was a gimmick because of the lead single and this is a path I've talked about before when he dropped his second album, 'Second Round's On Me' where he tried to push too hard to show his 'harder' side in a sense. The feel was much less refined and though Obie still raps the same, it didn't feel as complete. Now Obie is back with his third album, and here is my review of Bottoms Up.

Obie starts off the album on the intro, "Bottoms Up" where he thanks his fans for following him slightly recounts some of his career trials and accomplishments and speaks generally about himself. Its a good start, he loses some of that steam with his rhyme scheme on "Going No Where" because his voice rises an octave as he flows during the first verse. Talking about how he is going to stay in the game is straight, not greatness but very solid and it shows his technical ability very well over a very vintage Shady sounding track. "Dear Lord" is more of Obie's tough talk, the old school rap hook sounds a bit clouded while he raps about leaving his enemies in caskets.

Obie throws the ladies something on "I pretend" with a decent song for the radio, sort of reminds me of something Maino might record. Ob slows his style down enough to get his point across without watering himself down. The first single is "Battle Cry" which features Adrian Reeza on the hook which serves as his theme song and chronicles how he is not a gimmick, can't be stopped, and is a real person and not a character. "Secrets" is about the life of those who are just trying to get it in and be 'boyfriend or girlfriend #2'. I could do without "Richard" which features Eminem, though I get the idea, they're both talking about how they are assholes but it isn't really compelling. Neither is "BME Up" which I don't get other than another chance for Obie to talk tough (BME stands for Black Market Entertainment by the way).

"Spill My Drink" is cool and Obie talks about people getting at him specifically for his lack of success recently on the mainstream stage in hip-hop. An attempt to be instrumental he throws in some bars about anyone keeping it moving in a positive direction and not letting naysayers bring you down. "Petty" has Mr. Trice, showing off his money with all of his Gucci and Louie clothing. "Spend the Day" is a good harder edged song for the ladies as he talks about a day with him, the chorus is done by Dre Skidne. "My Time" is a filler track but it has a nice track behind it and the verses aren't bad, nothing spectacular but one of the better songs some kind of way. "Ups and Downs" is about the people who claim to have your back that you cannot trust. The hook works, verses once again above average. " Hell Yeah" is another good funky track that overall is good, except for the fact he keeps throwing out his label name in every song at this point every four bars or so. "Crazy" ends the album and features MC Breed- I know wtf- and the beat is throwback west coast style and the song may be just slightly dated, for me it's a good feel. There is a bonus track- "Lebron On" where Obie is talking about getting his Lebron on...duh.

Obie is a solid rapper but I doubt he will ever be great and being on his own helps him by lowering expectations though he is limited in what he can do. He shows he can flow but at times keeping that style up tramples the beat and he doesn't have much variety though he does have more than a lot of guys in the game. Even the songs that I like I don't really have a reason to listen to again and again, so there is limited replay value. However, this is better than his last album and shows that he has something left although I have to wonder how he can really craft a new story or add to the one he covered ad nauseum on Cheers.

Rating: 2.5/5

Friday, March 30, 2012

Album Review- Nicki Minaj- Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded

The most impressive artist on Young Money/Cash Money is Nicki Minaj by far. Very attractive and off-beat yet still skillful, she has been intriguing since she first came out looking like Lil Kim on her first infamous promo poster. Years later, her style has switched up, she has become more popular, doing songs with Madonna and everyone else, because I mean when Madge is calling you and including you in the Super Bowl halftime show, how much more respect do you need to garner? A huge selling album and pop performances on every high profile event also back her reputation up as an icon and superstar. However, following the odd video for 'Stupid Hoe' which was BET banned and her awful Grammy's performance, there is some wonder if she can live up to her lofty expectations. Without further adieu, let's get into my album review of Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded.

The album starts off with the controversial song from the Grammy performance, "Roman Holiday" which is a chance for Nicki to unleash more of her 'Roman' alter-ego which is unstable and prone to more switches than the normal Nicki...The song is better than it was performed live but it's unconventional nature ends up being more than a gimmick because there are few serious moments of spitting from Nicki during it. She follows that up with "Come on a Cone" where Nicki brags about her accomplishments and connections though she borrows one of Drake's weakest lines when she talks about sitting with a designer. The verses are straight but the hook is weird but it will definately work for Nicki fans who like her myriad of voice inflections. She gets into a more serious hip-hop mode on "I am Your Leader" which blends yet another kind of odd hook with straight up rap verses and she does her thing as do her features on the track, Rick Ross and Cam'ron.

Her next feature is much less impressive as Nicki lowers her rapping to keep from terribly outshining 2 Chainz on "Beez in the trap" which is a lame attempt at being trendy. It will probably be a hit. "HOV Lane" which she pronounces 'hove' lane is a straight rap track but could be a little better but I like how she played on the HOV lane concept with the name Jay-z has given himself. Like she's putting herself on that path so it works. The meanest rap track is "Roman Reloaded" where she kills Lil' Wayne when it comes to just spitting. She is more directed in her verses than he is which of course gives her points as he rambles randomly as usual. Most disappointing track goes to "Champion" which features Jeezy, Drake, and Nas. Drake's verse is lame, Jeezy sounds like he just finished a concert recorded vocals and said fuck it while Nicki cops out slightly and Nas sounds like he gave her one of those verses from "N" that didn't make the album. He sounds a like he mailed it in on this one, people will probably be on this like the Jeezy "I Do" but neither song lives up to its potential.

This is the point where the album hits the brakes and turns to the left starting with the Chris Brown assisted "Right By My Side" which is destined to be an urban/pop crossover single. Think of Superbass style Nicki singing about a relationship and its a duet with Breezy- 106th and Park all day right here. I could also do without Lil' Wayne's verse on "Sex in the Lounge" which also features Bobby Valentino who is still hanging around. Then there is the most recent single, the completely Katy Perry-esque "Starships" which is what she just performed on American Idol. It sounds like the same on the next song "Pound The Alarm" which is going to go crazy in dance clubs all over. "Whip It" yet again is the same exact thing so if you like that, this is the segment meant for you. In fact, I don't even know the difference between any of those or "Automatic" and "Beautiful Sinner" which follow. "Marilyn Monroe" - I am not feeling the generalized lyrics but it is a pop ballad that will have a beautiful video to accompany it. "Young Forever" reminds me of something Jordin Sparks might have done if she had slightly less vocal ability. "Fire Burns" is cool I like the hook but its more of the same pop stuff I can't really devote myself to getting behind. She throws in Beanie Man on "Gunshot" which really rounds out the album for the most part although "Stupid Hoe" takes the album back 180 degrees when it comes in after that song.

It seems like a lot of this album is what i would consider throw away material in one sense because it's 'empty' pop music that is clearly designed to make use of Nicki's crossover appeal, get her on more award shows and videos that will play on any channel and not be confined to an urban block. While it is a very sound business strategy, it means that I look at this album as being sonically inferior to the first one. There isn't any growth on her rap songs to support the idea we're going to get to know more about Nicki and her life. There isn't a progression in the story of her life in that sense. I'm not going to knock her for pushing the boundaries of being an urban artist and mixing genres but I will decry the lack of serious content and originality in the pop portion of the album. As risky as she is in rap, she plays it too safe in that arena opting to stick to the formula and sell off of her name more than what was here creatively.

When it comes to the first 6-8 songs where rap is prevalent, she takes three and uses unconventional verse set ups and gimmicks to make the songs stand out and doesn't deliver enough of the lyrics that gained her acceptance. Her features don't even put forth a whole hearted effort and while I'm thankful Baby isn't on the album, where are Corey Gunz, Mack Maine, Tyga, and Gudda Gudda? Wayne and Drake both take the lazy way out and leave me feeling worse than Drakes wack album because I know what Nicki is capable of. So let me have it, call me a hater, and prove to me why this is a decent hip-hop album- hell prove me why its a decent pop album if you can but I can't really recommend you bump this one. Stick to the first Pink Friday.

Note: I thought Roman was supposed to be more gangster than Nicki not just confused and a Katy perry clone...

Rating 2.5/5 (a less than Chiddy Bang 2.5 at that)

Monday, March 26, 2012

Album Review- Chiddy Bang- Breakfast

So I saw these guys on a video a while back and I had no idea who they were. They look like average new school skateboard rappers so I am not expecting too much as I post the album review of Breakfast by Chiddy Bang. Imagine my surprise after seeing them that they are from Philly, hell I had to wiki them because I wasn't even sure it was actually a duo as I listened to the album I can't tell them apart.

The album starts with the title track, "Breakfast" and these dudes aren't talking about anything, but the beat has a nice new school vibe to it and they rap a lot better than I was expecting. As an introduction, the one thing you get is that they smoke weed which is highly unoriginal but not really that important. The aptly named "Handclaps and Guitars" follows and reminds me of a B.O.B. track and is about how the duo is just trying to have some fun. "Mind Your Manners" is aimed at the group's detractors and features a hook by Icona Pop. They also use a slight west indian accent to start their verses in a more melodic- manner than a normal verse. The lead single was "Ray Charles" and I can't discern what the song is about but it is very catchy and a solid single.

"Does She Love Me" of course is about determining if their female interests are returning the feelings. Meanwhile they try to throw out a 'harder' set of verses on "Run it Back" where on the chorus Shirazi suggests if you like the song you run it back. The switch between chorus and verses is awkward and it doesn't fit. Lyrics are fine but it's not that ill where I have to do what they suggest. "Out to Space" is either about getting high or getting money, probably a little of both. Similarly the theme is echoed on "Whatever We Want" and you should be able to guess what its about.

They speak a little bit on how it is when you can't find the way to communicate on "Talking to Myself" which is better than the previous couple of tracks because it is less monotonous. "Happening" sounds like a faux- Rihanna  dance track where they talk about the fact that life is going on right now. The hook also sounds like it samples Gwen Stefani or something and is actually annoying. "Baby Roulette" is about having safe sex so there isn't a mistake about conception. "4th Quarter" is more bragging and rounds out the album with the most aggressive track of the album-and thats not very aggressive at all.

Listening to this album I think about this could have been Smilez and Southstar had they come out about a dozen years later then they did. I have seen Mac Miller's music described as "Capri Sun and Lunchables" but that is Chiddy Bang even more so. It's a very happy sounding album, and there is nothing wrong with that, but when you have 3 or 4 songs that are relatively the same, with almost identical sounding hip-pop production and singing hooks, it can get kind of old. While I think this album isn't bad, it isn't really all that good either. It reminds me of that last Lupe album and needs some balance on the darker end of the spectrum to add some weight to it, a beat by the Cool kids, would have helped to round it out. I think they have potential because they can actually rap and I prefer the tempo and feel of this album over Diggy Simmons'. I see potential in this duo I just don't know if they will ever have anything to actually say.

Rating: 2.5/5

edit: so to show how much I know- there is only one dude rapping- I decided to let my ignorance about them show. I can learn things you see. Either way I was confused as hell listening to it because I knew it was some sort of duo.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Album Review- Diggy Simmons - Unexpected Arrival

The hottest thing in the streets other than Mindless Behavior for these teeny boppers right now is Diggy Simmons. The son of Ru DMC's Rev Run and the nephew of Defjam founder and hip-hop legend Russell Simmons, he gained fame on the mTV show Run's House, and while early on the future of the family in music looked dim as brother Jo-Jo now known as Young Simmons was the focal point of the musical endeavors. However, Diggy came into his own which was pointed out on this blog as well as others in the past few months. He dropped a mix tape and got signed to Atlantic and finally after a couple of years of hard work, he is here and thus is my album review of Unexpected Arrival.

"Hello World" is Diggy's chance to try and introduce himself and create something to talk about for the album. Mostly bragging, he tells his focus is 'money and girls'- duh, so original, while trying to downplay where he comes from so he can try to stand on his own merits. "Need to Know" shows Diggy trying to get personal with some self doubt in a way as he asks if you would still love him and look out if he didn't have his background or burgeoning skills. "88" is the first single and features Jada for some reason, maybe to add street or normal hip-hop credibility and he gets outshined by the youngster over an energetic track. "Two Up" is a more mature party track designed for a lounge and not the teen spots where Diggy suggests you put up two fingers and live it up.

You can tell Diggy has good connections and a professional pedigree, as "Special Occasion" features soulful singer Tank. This is also a song about enjoying life to the fullest. "Glow in the Dark" is about Diggy being a shining light, or a star amongst his peers and being the one. "4 Letter Word" is a song directed back at his core fan base, the young ladies and he tries to be unconventional with today's generation but this sounds like something from the 90's hip-hop mash-up heyday in the way the hook is worded and sung. Jeremih is more year appropriate to sing the hook on "Do it Like You" where they team up to tell a young lady no one else has it like them.

The idea behind "Tom Edison" plays out too long on the initial hook but this is more of a filler where Diggy is trying to do some traditional rapping. on "Unforgivable Blackness" Diggy tries to scratch up some depth on what is an otherwise simplistic album. It works as a song that a 16 year old who is directed toward the pop audience would do. The album ends with "The Reign" which isn't about much either.

The album is unexpected in a couple of ways, the first is that it sounds very mellow and more mature, with the exception of "88". The beats and hooks are more mellow and laid back and while Diggy does show that he has skill, the biggest issue is that he hasn't really lived life and so he doesn't have a grasp of actual issues though he does talk about the trappings of growing up with some success and tries to get deep, it just only goes as far as he can go and because he hasn't been very deep he can't get there. Not to say it's bad, I can definately listen to some of these songs with the kids in the car but overall, the feel just seems odd slightly and the pseudo-pop can remind me of Lupe Fiasco's last album, though this is actually better.

oh yeah and if you are under 22 I don't even want to see a comment from you. You haven't heard anywhere near enough rap to have an educated opinion on this, just grab your skateboard and skinny jeans and roll on out of this blog here.

Rating: 2.5/5

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Hoodie Up - movement or hipster propaganda?

First off let me say this- Nothing is going to excuse this dude fro murdering Trayvon Martin at all so before I get the angry pro-black crowd attacking me. You see because this isn't about him or George Zimmerman in as much as it is about our reaction as a people and a culture in hip-hop. You see racism still rears its ugly head but it isn't as pervasive and wide reaching as it once was even though heinous acts still pop up. Reverse racism- or black doing the same to whites as has been done to us all of these years- isn't right, though somewhat understandable.

My beef right now is with the hip-hop community because I swear if I see Wayne or Baby or Ross wearing a hoodie for Trayvon Martin I'm going to scream. Guys like this promote the type of imagery that people like George Zimmerman have fed upon and use to legitimize their fear and anger towards our people. Constantly claiming and trying to be the toughest, illest, killers ever known to man and be so uber-macho and ultra-aggressive that no one would question your tendencies to wear leopard jeggings. Meanwhile Common who actually does try to preach some type of positive lessons can't really get the mainstream exposure of Drake, who could be an inspirational figure but instead chooses to limit himself to crooning about acquiring material things and women. Look, it's alright for everyone to not be political or even positive for that matter, the bigger problem is when the vast majority of what is put out for mass consumption overwhelmingly represents one extreme side of the spectrum, it does a disservice to the community as a whole.

I've said this before about a lot of the hip-hop elite because my feeling is that they do not take seriously the plight of our communities. More interested in going to strip clubs than creating and promoting urban opportunities, and while that would not have prevented this latest tragedy, what it could do would be to promote positivity. Too many images on the news are of black on black crime for us to continue to follow them up by choosing to show the same thing an in it, taking pride in being seen as something to fear. As much as it doesn't excuse what happened, we can't realistically try to show and glorify this side of us, then be mad when it is 'mistakenly' or flat out wrongly applied to an innocent person. You cannot have it both ways. While judgements like this are obviously dangerous, those of us in the position to show a different side of our culture need to make it their responsibility to do so. In hip-hop, our desire to show our toughness at all costs is not the responsible way to behave and changes need to be made there as well in our everyday lives.

This is not an excuse for the murder of Trayvon but it is another example of an incident that brings to light our willingness to unite and act in only the most dire of circumstances when we seemingly ignore many of the every day issues that affect our communities. It's not just good enough to talk a good game, or to take your #millionhoodies picture if that's all you're doing. We have too much influence, too much money, and too many opportunities every day to show and prove in a good manner. In the end, that is all I ask, that we don't treat yet another tragedy as a flavor of the month where we make some empty gesture and try to ascribe value to it even though it doesn't do anything. So put on your hoodies, get out and vote, clean up the neighborhood, and work toward a more positive future not because someone told you to, but because you want to.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Can you cover hip-hop?

Now a lot of people might look and look confused by this because as rap and hip-hop fans what is valued over most things is originality. If you're in a band of any sort, you will have played your favorite songs from other artists well before you get known for writing your own. That's just how you learn to play, how you practice different techniques and get an appreciation for music in that sense. Because most hip-hop doesn't rely on live instrumentation, although it is starting to become more of a trend, doing a remake, with ones own lyrics is far more commonplace. The few times we have seen hip-hop covered, and especially recently, would be with pop duo Karmin and their rendition of Chris Brown's 'Look At Me Now' which I thought was really cool, and led me to their original music, though I had heard some of their previous covers. It also led to their record deal and Saturday Night Live performance. More recently, I came upon this video of Katy Perry covering 'Niggas in Paris', and no, she doesn't say it.

Now some of the comments on the message board I first saw this clip on were odd to me because they seemed to take it too seriously. Katy Perry was accused of trying to steal their style and doing something so unoriginal, which leads me to believe that a lot of our brothers and sisters don't understand the concept of a cover and how much that signifies respect between artists, especially artists who are both relevant at the same time. It's also a way for an artist to share with their audience, music that has influenced them and made an impression. It's their chance to be a fan once again. I laugh at some of the comments about Miley Cyrus covering Nirvana's 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' while on tour south of the Equator but it's cool because she feels a connection with that song as much as anyone else who has heard it.

As far as rap goes, I would like to see more dudes do this, even if only in live concert. It's nice to see a rapper become that fan you know he was when he was in his early teens, whether he was riding the bus back and forth to school, or holding it down on a block with his boys trying to make some money, to hear a guy go on stage and recite those lyrics that he used to play back and forth in his head are magical. The only time we can see this type of love is during the VH1 Hip-hop honors specials- and the artists usually end up performing their own joints.

This is cool, this is hip-hop and shows comraderie, love and respect. This is what other artists in other genres do for themselves and their craft, they love it. In hip-hop right now, it's not cool to love the art. So what do you think about rappers doing covers of one anothers work?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

My Top 20 Favortie Rap Albums - Part 2

10. Camp- Childish Gambino

Now this is the most out of place album for some people, especially those who don't know of Childish. I heard Derrick Glover's mix tape last year at  the behest of someone else and liked it but I wasn't prepared for how ill this album is to me. I haven't gone a week without listening to this album twice from beginning to end since I got it. I relate to it in several ways and see how it reflects more accurately the lives of the people I associate with more than many other artists out there. The production was tight and the insecurity and sincerity in this album are all real. This album has impacted me more than anything else in years musically and I heap high praise on it personally.

9. Capitol Punishment- Big Pun

Pun's debut was full of hard beats, hard lyrics, and enough appeal to spawn "I'm Not A Player" with Joe which got played so much I thought I was going to throw up. That song got Drake spins before Drake was acting ok. Pun was huge and was well on his way to breaking through the ceiling with his personality and hot lyrics. He was a game changer for real.

8. Blueprint - Jay-z

This is a consensus top 10, probably top 5 for most and might get into the argument for best rap album of all time if people were to assign a point value. This one might average out as the best. Jay put his all into this album with singles, lyrics, and a reach that was acceptable to everyone who heard it. This album came out right after September 11th and the soul samples reflect the whole mentality of the time."Heart of the City", "Hola Hovito" and of course "Song Cry", made this Jay's most personal album.

7. Get Rich or Die Trying - 50 Cent

The pinnacle of 50's street campaign was in this Shady Records debut. From beginning to end this album was all aggression and energy, much of which had sort of been missing from the game in the time when Ja Rule's harmonies ruled the radio. 50 came through and switched up the direction of the game and elevated Eminem's stock even higher just for signing the guy. He was unapologetic and had nothing to lose. Everyone was bumping this album.

6. Me Against the World- Pac

This album was the best of what Pac had to offer, he was ready with his message and wasn't so filled with anger he turned people off. He disarmed you with songs like "Dear mama" then hit you with "Death Around the Corner" and "So Many Tears". This also was an album my parents bought me allowing me to hear parental advisory lyrics for the first time after I explained to them why I felt i was responsible enough to listen to them, yeah I'm a nerd but I will always look at this as one of my favorites.

5. Aquemini - Outkast

While ATLiens was a short jump from Southernplayalistic for the Atlanta duo, Aquemini really expanded their sound and reach. From the high energy "Rosa Parks" to the slowed down "Aquemini" and futuristic sounding "Synthesizer", outkast took their style to an entirely new level. The lyrics were present from Big Boi and Andre 3000 was beginning his evolution into one of the greater all around hip-hop talents. It's hard to describe because it's just so damn good.

4. Marshall Mathers LP - Eminem

This album was Em's coming out as he was able to better adapt to the production of Dr. Dre and also had more to discuss. While his first album was more random, this one was all about dealing with fame and the changes that come with it, along with some of the previous dysfunction that the blue eyed mc already had. He dealt with the fall out of his crazy antics and took them even farther. Even the skits dealt with the fact his album wasn't the easiest to sell because it dealt with a lot of unsavory topics that people weren't trying to admit hearing. This was Marshall putting everything together for the first time.

3. Life After Death - Biggie

This Double LP was what was left of too short an end to a career. While Ready to Die was all about Big's life, this album played more like a movie which seemed like the intent. Along with dealing with the loss, this album also had some good material, "You're Nobody til somebody kills you" might be just as prescient as anything Pac ever created, while "What's Beef" painted the musical feud in a lesser light because it really wasn't that serious. BIG was great at telling stories and weaving in some disturbing lyrics so effortlessly you don't even realize what's going on until later and you just say 'damn'.

2. Ready to Die- Biggie

This was good because while Big was just relating the hustlers tale, he gave it reason and justification on his first single, "Juicy" before the verses even started. On the album, the progression from his beginning to the end where during "Suicidal Thoughts" he questions the legitimacy of everything that he's done and wonders if the world would be better without him attack questions that rappers today won't touch with a ten foot

1. The Black Album - Jay-z

Okay, this album grew on me as a result of watching Jay's career from it's beginnings. The song order was a bit messed up because "What More Can I Say" should have ended the album but the one song is so accurate. This album sums up a career best and is like the ending of the old testament of Jay's career. After this his albums have been on and off but this was a great way to cap things off. "PSA" is one of my favorite songs ever. "Encore", "Lucifer", just everything was on point from production to lyrics. Jay was ready to put in his all and hang it up, everything after this is just for fun, a little extra just because but this was the finale and just worked so well. I was so excited to get this I stopped at Metro II in Mondawmin to get this one on my way to school since it was still there. Best Buy had it for 10 but I couldn't wait until they opened, I had to have it right then.

Friday, March 9, 2012

My Top 20 favorite Rap albums Ever

So I know that lists always generate discussion, and while I'm not about to put down a concrete definition behind this one, it is what I feel are 20 hot rap albums and I would love to see some top 5's or 10's from you the readers and we can talk about this, so without too much let's jump right in.

20. The War Report- Capone-n-Noreaga

The War Report is a hood grimey NY trenches classic banger and I loved every minute of it. From "T.O.N.Y." to "L.A., L.A." this album was so tough. Of course Capone was back up North locked up and Nore will never ever be known as one of the tightest rappers to grace the mic, but with the help of Tragedy Khadafi and the rest of Queens borough held down important roles to make this a true hip-hop classic.

19. Doggystyle - Snoop

Everyone should know by now I have a certain affinity for the early work or Calvin Broadus. He introduced us to the West Coast and his smooth flow still carries an influence today. As I always state, by the end of this album you feel like you could throw on some khakis and chucks and fit in, even if it's not true. One of a few albums I can pretty much let run through on its own. This album inspired plenty of future mc's.

18. It's Dark and Hell is Hot - DMX

This one is hard because I feel as though if it were put together with Flesh of my Flesh it would have been better in an overall sense, however how could I not love the energy of the Ruff Ryders Anthem and "Stop Being Greedy". The Dark Man killed the game with this album and marked the high point of Defjam dominance. "Damien" was also hot as X took us on a walk with the devil before redeeming himself at the end of the album with "The Prayer".

17. The Fix- Scarface

Thsi probably isn't a Southern rap fans favorite Scarface album but for an East Coaster like me, this album was the best blend of both sets of sounds with Face's truth and lyrical ability full on display. There were moral lessons, reality raps and the big business of the underworld style that Face was the master of. This was also during the big run Defjam had up until the release of Scarface signed Ludacris. The song with Nas is so mean and "My Block" straight up fire.

16. Stillmatic - Nas

I like this album and I think it shows the peak of Nas' lyrical and commercial career. First he crushed Jay-z with "Ether", then dropped joints like "One Mic", "You're da Man", and "Rewind" where he sp[it backwards in the style of the movie Memento. This album is hot from start to finish with few of the Nas "Letdown tracks" he is known to have. This was a true evolution of what Nasir had been doing up to this point.

15. It Was Written - Nas

This followup to Illmatic spawned the mega hit "If I Ruled the World" but overall was a cold calculating collection of straight up street banging material. This is one of those albums that sets the standard for what I look for in hip-hop. The dark brooding beats, the rhythm of Nas' voice all put the listener in some sort of mood as did most of the albums from this time period.

14. Reasonable Doubt- Jay-Z

This used to be my favorite Jay-Z album but as I grew older I realized I didn't really feel it as much anymore. Doesn't make it any less great, just feels different to me now. It will still hold a place in my heart for being what it was, and I still have the original issue cd with a picture of a gun in the street, not a download or reissued copy. "22 twos" is some real fire there. This was an introduction for me to the harder NY hip-hop sounds back when it dropped in 94.

13. College Dropout- Kanye West

Before Kanye turned asshole I was a huge fan. This album is still great and was such a departure from everything that was out in such a major way he really shook up the game. From silliness with a point "workout plan" to "All Falls Down" I was feeling everything yeezy was saying. However, he went nuts after this success and has never been as focused on an entire composition  as far as I'm concerned. What he did was make a lane for those who weren't going to talk about only the streets so he has to be thanked for that.

12. ATLiens - Outkast

"Me and you, your mother and your cousin too" was all you heard because this is one of about 5 albums I will still play start to finish. You have "Ova da Wudz" and of course the save a stripper anthem "Jazzy belle" that really secured the duo as being one of the hottest teams to ever drop albums on the planet. The production, feel and direction were all great and showed growth from their first album. They also expanded upon the Organized Noize notoriety and featured Goodie Mob again helping to push out the first wave of Atlanta artists to the national scene. then it came with a comic which I think I still have around here somewhere.

11. All Eyez On Me- Tupac

This is most people's favorite Pac album. It was double length, made fresh out of jail and had some rocking beats. "California Love" was crazy and he covered pretty much every topic from banging groupies, to changing homies and his own death. All of the anger Pac had held up he unleashed on this album and it is complete, but not my favorite Pac album. This is also one of the albums most people copped more than once because one of the discs ended up going missing on a regular basis. I had the tapes, my father had the cd's, thats how ill this was.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Album Review- Ja Rule- Pain is Love 2

So at the turn of the century Jeffrey Atkins ruled mainstream radio. While Jay-z was widely regarded as the king of NY Ja was busy selling records and popularizing the sing-song hip-hop flow that is ultra-prevalent today. Beef with 50 Cent put a cap on his career and a recent jail stint for a gun charge hasn't really helped an out of the spotlight artist who is desperate to make a comeback. All that aside, I have missed the sound Ja brought to the game so here is my album review of Ja Rule Pain is Love 2.

The album starts with a short intro and a song that might be two minutes in length that has a promising beat but Ja mumbles through his portion, trying to do something artistic and wastes it. "Real Life Fantasy" is a recap on whether or not the career trajectory had was really real or not when you go from the top to the bottom that fast and Ja talks about friends not being by his side anymore-not in depth mind you but that was a part of it. The hook is handled by Anita Louise. "Parachute" has a strong pop-focused backdrop and features Leah Sigel on the hook as he talks once more about his fall from grace and his rise on this album.

"Superstar" is a stretch as Ja goes to the tried and true well concept about being a 'star' having some money and banging broads. It isn't bad but it's pretty boring. "Black Vodka" is a better track and shows Ja can still make songs good enough to get airplay if he was more popular again. "Drown" with Somong and Kenny Dark has Rule asking to be kept safe from falling down and being a victim. This song sounds like it was written and recorded before Ja's bid. Another newcomer Jon Doe, sings the hook on "Never Had Time" over an old sounding dance track about not having time to spend with a lady. "Strange Days" features 700 and Ramzo has Ja using a lighter than usual auto-tune, which is totally unnecessary for him, except for the fact he is going for a futuristic sound. This is like the too late answer to 'Ayo Technology' but it isn't really a bad song, just total pop.

The most well-known feature on the album is Kalina of Dirty Money on "To the Top" on his version of 'swagger talk' or bragging. It is the more east coast version of it so it doesn't feel like Ja is trying too hard to keep up with today's artists. Leah Sigel returns for "Pray 4 the Day" as Ja talks about when he hopes things will get better. Ja has a Maino moment on "Believe" where he talks about how he is the true savior of NY hip-hop. "Spun a Web" featuring Amia is Rule talking about how he was trapped by fame and uses a brooding beat and strong bass line. The hook is a little convoluted but it's a solid way to end the album.

So Ja Rule is back but what does he bring to the table? As before, not much lyrically, I have never heard someone drop a 16 that stayed generic over and over but yet was still directed at the topic. He has singles potential all over the album and can still get hooks done but there isn't that sure-fire breakout hit. The main problem is that he is no longer popular so the songs he makes are wasted with no promotion. Ja Rule has put out a decent album but it isn't the come back effort he really needs to welcome him home from prison.

Rating: 2/5

Monday, March 5, 2012

Freshmen 10 2012- Part 2

So this second half of the freshman 10 is the set of artists coming into this I was less familiar with for the most part so I took some more time to check these people out and see what they really had to offer.

1. Danny Brown - So Danny is from Detroit and has collaborated with Black Milk for some projects who is a J. Dilla type clone. Danny himself is a mild Tyler the Creator, nerdy rapper with a weird flow and a missing tooth and odd haircut. Basically his concept is to be a little odd but he can spit in that underground type of way. I think he is more of an inclusion for that segment of the hipsters that appreciates a sort of awkwardness from its artists.

2. Don Trip - Don Trip is a guy whom I didn't know of before, but who made this whole process worthwhile. The first song I listened to, "Letter to My Son" which features Cee-Lo is about a bad father-mother relationship that keeps him from being as involved as he wants to be. I listened to the mix tape "Guerilla" and the Memphis native impressed with a variety of songs about hustling, why he does it, being responsible, and of course, some stripper music. I am looking forward to seeing how he puts together an entire album because he has the passion, some lyrics, and a reason to be doing this so it should work out well.

3. Iggy Azalea - The most controversial choice for the freshman 10, I highlighted her a few months ago when "Pussy" came out. Image wise, it was a no-brainer but the thing is her content isn't as bad as I would have thought it was so I respect her a bit more. She is embroiled in a bidding war and I see why, labels see money machines when they look at her.

4. Macklemore - This guy is from Seattle whose most well known artist is Sir mixalot. For artists out there it might be about time, and I can say Macklemore has the general underground old-eminem flow that isn't as melodic as most mainstream artists. From the couple of joints I heard content is at a premium but I am not sure how much he can put out without seeming too preachy, however a Dilated peoples' type of career wouldn't be out of the question. I really like this song "Otherside" about falling victim to using drugs and mimicking the artists you see on tv sipping syrup and popping pills.

5. Hopsin - So the final member of this year's freshman class is Hopsin who is another "shock" rapper in the vein of Tyler the Creator without the silly voices and a more basic late 90's flow. He sounds like he would be an ill battle rapper, he can spit but the fear is that he will try too hard to push the envelope and not be genuine. On "Sag My Pants" he goes in with some nice verses and punchlines but is there really a method to his madness. He isn't going to be the best at crafting songs and will probably offend too many people to get anywhere because Tyler is already in the industry heavy and will be seen as more of a jokester while Hopsin's aggression will make him seem more like a serious threat to the status quo.

Who are you looking forward to in this year's Freshman 10 class?

Friday, March 2, 2012

Freshman 10 -2012

So every year XXL magazine comes out with it's top 10 freshmen to watch for the next year in hip-hop. The results are often a mixed bag, two years ago Nipsey Hussle was in the top 10 and has yet to see a major label release and his buzz has quieted some, Wale took a label move to finally blow up, and while Big Sean and Mac Miller both released albums last year from their class, the results are mixed with Sean's album being garbage even though he had plenty of singles, and Mac moving a solid number but not breaking out as expected. The list is always worthy of debate and is a mixture of styles and overall experience levels. Let's get into it.

1. French Montana - French has been around for over 8 years now dropping mix tapes and cocaine city dvd's to be considered a freshman to me. He is currently signed to Bad Boy and MMG with a previous Konvict Musik deal to his credit. French is all about "swagger" talking about his jewels, moving weight, and generally balling. Pretty much the same thing as Ross only with a sleepy, nasally delivery. In today's climate, French keeps it simple and does the same thing over and over and apparently is successful. Personally his music is old and boring already because there is no real substance to it.

2. MGK - Also signed to Bad Boy, I noticed Kelly a few months back because of his passion and huge following. While, I wouldn't have suggested he sign with Puff, and most people believed, which is why he did it. Hopefully he isn't enjoying the fame too much and can focus on recording material that is more like "Stereo" from the Bad Boy preview mix tape and less like the raucous but rambunctious bunch of noise what was "Wild Boy". With the trademark midwestern speed flow, it's up to MGK to slow things down so his songs don't get repetitive and boring.

3. Roscoe Dash - I'm not quite sure how Roscoe made this list either as he has been on major songs for two or three years now but apparently he hasn't had any serious releases. As it stands, he doesn't really need to and he should stick to beats and hooks in my opinion. Roscoe makes party music but it's all the same and has the annoying auto tune added to it. While he can get the women twerking, Roscoe isn't a good rapper, more like a Kid Cudi of the South who specializes in strip club anthems.

4. Kid Ink - So I first listened to Kid Ink this week and I can compare him to B.O.B., Roscoe Dash, and Chris Brown or Tyga or something all rolled into a ball. He raps better than Roscoe but still tries to do the harmonizing thing using auto tune and he is young so he has a lack of subject matter overall. He also is yet another West Coast hipster skater types which is the trend right now. Actually he is more like a better Wiz Khalifa. What is left to see is if he can really delve and create subject matter or if his songs will remain superficial and on the surface about partying and getting paid.

5. Future- Another Atlanta rapper who has more of the party vibe than the traditional hip-hop skill set, Future is the latest in what I feel is a lineage of the title "Worst Rapper Alive". I have heard three or four songs from this guy and they all sound the same and all use auto tune...I really thought Jay-z had killed it and that Wayne sucked whatever little bit was left in it and eaten it all. I guess not, because this guy also uses it and it sounds fucking terrible and even more annoying than before. This goes to show you if you have the right beats, money, and promotion behind you anything is possible. This is the type of shit that makes me sad for hip-hop and rap in general for those who think of them as two different things.

Out of these five freshman (half of the class) I would only say that Kid Ink and MGK actually have a chance to be remotely decent but with the industry so crazy that Roscoe and Future can actually have careers, I can't really call it. I just hope that people will really be critical when listening to some of this stuff. What do you think about these five rookies?


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