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Friday, September 21, 2012

Album Review- Lupe Fiasco- Food and Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album

Let me say this, I have had a hard time keeping up with Lupe Fiasco's musical career. I go back and listen to his last album and am sorely disappointed. I think he tried too hard to get some popularity and pop sales, and while there were some good songs on it, it wasn't enough overall. In fact I have always had trouble getting into his albums and I admit some of it was probably me. Now Lupe has been in the news a lot as he builds up for this new release and some of his statements this time were taken better than last time when he called Barack Obama a terrorist. This time his tears on the issues of the hood were touching and his fear about the type of guys that are similar to Chief Keef is relatable. Take all of that and incorporate into Food and Liquor II: The Great American Rap album Part 1 and this is what you get...

The album starts with a poem by a young woman named Ayesha a la the Common records where someone 'says' something before getting into the music with "Strange Fruition" with Casey Benjamin. This song is about the history of the country as well as black people and the musical culture of today and how it impacts and has come to the point it's at. "ITAL (Roses)" is a really good track as he asks to get a break from the content of today's rap songs and get something different and positive if not practical when he suggests upcoming people cop a Camry instead of a luxury automobile. He follows that up with more heat on "Around My Way (Freedom Ain't Free)" where he does such justice to Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth's classic 'T.R.O.Y.' . I'm glad they were able to work out the clearances because this song represents the struggle of today and the nonsense in the media.

"Audubon Ballroom" is about how black people in this country have built from nothing. One of my favorite songs of the year "Bitch Bad" follows that as Lupe talks about the issues surrounding the freely used term "Bad Bitch" in hip-hop. "Lamborghini Angels" has Lupe spitting, flowing and showing his lyricism in verses that are talking about religion and hypocrisy. "Put Em Up" is a general rap song but it's cool. Poo Bear is a featured artist on "Heart donor" which is the first track aimed at the female audience. "How Dare You" with Bilal is saying How dare the woman in question come into his life and make the major change. "Battle Scars" is about the failed relationships and has feature vocals by Guy Sebastian.

"Cold War" (featuring Jane) and "Brave Heart" which again features Poo Bear are both solid tracks. "Brave Heart" in particular speaks about Lupe realizing the position he's in now working with the enemy in the system. Lupe gets to show off his rapper shit on "Form Follows Function" and ends the album really strong with "Unforgivable Youth". It features Jason Evigan and is about the youth and he goes forward in time to look back at our time and era through the eyes of future anthropologists and what assertions they would make from our leftovers, with the ironic fact being much of that isn't true. It's a deep track. "Hood Now" is the outro and feels like a Spike Lee type of celebration to end what could be seen as a downer of an album.

This is the album I have been waiting for since Lupe came out. From beginning to the end it is very thorough. Well thought out, you can tell every song and verse is being used to make a statement. This is an elevation of hip-hop and some truly thought provoking, yet not boring music. Lupe manages to keep his concepts down to earth and gives us his real feelings as he looks out onto the landscape that encompasses our music, culture and identity.

Rating: 4/5

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Album Review- Kreayshawn- Something 'bout Kreay

So we all remember Kreayshawn from early last year when her song "Gucci, Gucci" bubbled up and became a short time sensation that brought attention to herself and her white girl mob partner in crime V-Nasty. They weathered a small controversy over their use of the 'N-word' well, more V-Nasty than Kreay, but have yet to escape the feelings that they are just creations by the machine. Some circles don't respect the girls, but lo and behold, here is Kreayshawn with her debut album, Something 'bout Kreay.

The album starts off with a 80's feeling throwback hip-hop track with "Blase, Blase" where Kreay covers the topics of getting money despite the haters and having fun. It's amazing that "Gucci, Gucci" still ends up on the album since it was out so long ago but it's here. The actual single from the album was a video I saw a while ago called "Summertime" which features V-Nasty. "Ch00k Ch00k Tare" which features Chippy Nonstop is another about nothing smoking type song. "Left Ey3" is an homage to the late Lisa Left Eye Lopes of TLC and the incident where she burned down her boyfriend's mansion because she caught him cheating. The second verse isn't bad as she uses the names of some infamous women caught up in criminal activity.

Kid Cudi is a guest on "Like it or Love it" which is a weird song like Kid normally produces. Kreay sort of remakes the JJ Fad classic 'Supersonic' on "K234ys0nixz" but it doesn't have the quality of the original. "BFF" is out of place, even though they position Kreayshawn as an amalgamation of a bunch of different things. She is singing on it but Kreay's style is more of the type who would make fun of this type of song. "Twerkin" with Diplo and Sissy Nobby is a dance track aimed at the rave crowd.

Kreayshawn also shot a video for "Breakfast (Syrup)" which featured 2Chainz. This song also seems old for the album's final cut and this song about smoking and drinking isn't exciting and even the hook manages to be tired. "Go Hard (La La La)" also doesn't quite fit. "The Ruler" is in the perfects tyle for Kreayshawn as it is slightly tongue in cheek but it's a dumb song. I do like the hook though. I was also confused by "Luv Haus" which wasn't a good fit with the image Kreay has cultivated.

I don't expect much from someone like Kreayshawn because she is just a gimmick whether she knows it or not.Her style and look make her an interesting character and characters can always be slapped on to lunchboxes and etc. This is an example of that, she doesn't ever bring much different to the game. Gucci Gucci was fun when it came out, but too much of the album is about smoking and getting money, but no real moments that carry out that fun feeling. It's all too contrived and the ultra-pop songs just throw the album for a loop.

Rating: 1/5

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Album Review- Lecrae - Gravity

Some of you might remember Lecrae from last year's BET hip-hop awards cypher. He was the Christian rapper in the section with Skillz and other up and coming artists you had never heard of or seen before. Earlier this year he dropped a mix tape named Church Clothes I never got around to listening to, but here before the next hip-hop awards, he is with a full length official album titled Gravity. Get this clear, this isn't just the average rapper spitting out Jesus name in every bar, this guy can actually rap and he slides it in pretty inconspicuously so he isn't being preachy about it. So let's talk about the album review of Lecrae's album Gravity.

"The Drop" starts the album with a serious beat that has some 'organ' type sounds as Lecrae goes in on the verse and when he slides bars in like ' we plugged into the highest power that's why we ain't gotta act up' that could be taken many ways but then he ties it back into his religion and makes it even slicker how he plays with the words. "Gravity" featuring JR shows that Lecrae is balanced when he addresses corrupt preachers as well with a couple of bars before talking about the struggle to keep on the righteous path. Industry Vet Novel is featured on the chorus of "Walk With Me" while Lecrae talks about the difficulties of life and asking Jesus to help him continue. This is one of those songs that the radio could definitely use right now. Mathai is the guest on "Free From It All" where Lecrae addresses dealing with people and the problem with living to please others instead of oneself.

"Falling Down" has guests Swoope and Trip Lee and the track makes me think someone would be on this saying 'swag' in their ad-libs, but instead the artists talk about how even when things are seemingly good, they will still come down. It's a good song that is critical of the hip-hop and urban scene today. "Fakin" with This'l has the rappers spitting about how guys stunt out and pretend to be something they aren't. "Violence" has a track that bangs and has a reggae tinge to it, meanwhile Lecrae talks about how violence is taking over our culture. Big K.r.i.t. and Ashton Jones feature on "Mayday" and Krit tells us he isn't saved but about his relationship with God. "Confe$$ions" is about people who value money over all while "Buttons" is about staying with his girl even though they get on each others nerves.

"I Know" is another cool track while "Lord Have Mercy" is one asking for forgiveness and talking about his past in the streets. "Power Trip" has several features, Pro, Sho Baraka, and Andy Mineo and on the hook, they ask who really has the power, implying it isn't earthly. "Tell the World" with Mali Music, is a song of testimony. "Lucky Ones" with Rudy Currence is about how the saved are the lucky ones. "No Regrets" with Suzy Rock is generally like any other song would be with the added idea that Lecrae cannot wait to get to heaven. Tenth Avenue North handles the hook on "Higher" about going to the next level in the after life. The album ends with "Fuego" which features Suzy Rock and KB.The track is uptempo and allows Lecrae to go back to his faster flow to end things.

Now Christian rappers in general have gotten a bad rap like Christian Rockers. They are expected to be annoying and overly holy which can make people feel bad. I've heard a few and none of them could spit like Lecrae who has good lyrics and an ability to make his point and not be too preachy, most of the time. The album runs a little long, but the production is on point throughout which helps a lot. Now there are a lot of features and since many of them are in the same category, they aren't really household names but being able to secure Novel and KRIT who have stable followings is a win. Overall Lecrae has some really good songs and if you're looking for something different, or something with a message that isn't Common or Lupe, give this a shot. In fact just give it a listen anyway because it's just a really good album.

Rating: 3.5/5

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Album Review- DMX - Undisputed

So X is back with a new album after quite a few years. In fact, I wasn't even aware of this until I saw it online and watched his interview with the Breakfast Club recently. This is actually a shame because the true X fans would love to have known about this before the drop. For him, he has to be hoping for a better reception with his return than Nelly and Ja Rule got in their returns.

The initial single for the album was released quite a long time ago. "I Don't Dance" features Machine Gun Kelly and it's alright but it doesn't have the aggression you would expect from DMX. "Cold World" uses an old sample and drums and a boring chorus, though the mood fits that of original X it doesn't hold up over the length of the song to make you want to really bump it. The same thing happens on "What They Don't Know" but it's better as X does is patented get grimier than anyone else shit. However, the hook is just bad even for a DMX song.

"Sucka For Love" with Dani Stevenson has Earl Simmons telling us he isn't going to fall for love when he's just trying to get the ass. Rachel Taylor has some odd vocals on "I Get Scared"  and D mumbles along through the song even though he drops some classic song titles of the past in his verses I hope intentionally. Meanwhile "Slippin' Again" has a good intention, but once again X is done in by a lazy lackluster hook and a mind numbing track. "I'm Back" pretty much uses the same sample and track with a slightly different drum as AZ used like six years ago. In fact this sounds like a freestyle and probably would have been a decent intro, but as a track to hold down the middle of the album, it just shows how far DMX has fallen.

"Have You Eva" is forgettable, and at least "Get Your Money Up" brings some energy to the album. I hate songs about getting money but for this album, this brings out the 'dog' DMX that is sorely lacking. His simple hook works and the good old ad-libs are back. "Head-Up" also brings back that classic feel successfully even if the song isn't all that great. "Frankenstein" continues the revival with the party feel. "Y'all Don't Really Know" has that dungeon feel and solid production.

"I Got Your Back" with Kashmere is a more positive song geared toward the ladies who are willing to hold down their men. She spits off better than X and gives a new dimension to the album. "No More Love" with Adreena Mills is about DMX getting rid of the fraudulent people in his circle. "Already" with another newcomer named Jannyce is about how X is already hard and in the game. "Fire (Grease)" is interesting slightly because of the beat which has a real throwback drum track, and an odd sample. Once again, there is a feature that brings something to the track because the flow and style is so different. "Fuck you Bitch" , I know creative title, sounds just like you would expect, like a waste of space. "Love that Bitch" is the same.

It is interesting have DMX back in the game. The beginning of the album makes you think he should have remained away from rap because it just doesn't have any energy or passion behind it. Lyrics were never his strong suit but his passion and feeling are. There are four or five songs where that really shines through, but after that things fall off again with extra material that is skip worthy. For nostalgia purposes, it may be worth a buy but unless you just love X, I don't see this lasting very long in your rotation.

Rating: 1.5/5

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Album Review- G.O.O.D. Music- Cruel Summer

Flying under the radar somewhat in this latest era of artist backed label growth has been the GOOD Music banner of Kanye West which previously counted Common and Kid Cudi as members. Cudi still remains and Common is still loosely affiliated with the Midwest based label which is backed by the sounds of Kanye West. This is probably the biggest obstacle in having this actually grow as a label as Mr. West is often preoccupied with his own projects. The much delayed album is finally out, and unfortunately most of the songs have been heard before on various leaks and mix tapes.

The album starts off with a feature from R. Kelly and an unknown female singer on "To The World" which is sort of like "All of The Lights" in the way Kells sings his parts of the song as well as the construction of it. It actually highlights how Kanye can organize something unorthodox and make it work and not just have it be awkward. The newest song is "Clique" which features Big what is his best verse ever, Jay-z in an alright verse, and Kanye who drops a decent verse. The best thing on this song is the beat though. "Mercy" with Pusha T, 2 Chainz, Ye, and Big Sean also makes the track list.

My favorite current real hip-hop joint of the moment has to be "New God Flow" with Pusha T, Kanye, and on this album, a verse from Ghostface who is sampled for the hook. A song not really about anything, Pusha starts it off by explaining why he made the unconventional choice to get with G.O.O.D. Music. "The Morning" has an interesting lineup that features Raekwon, Common, and Pusha T leading off with all of the strength, a soulful hook by D'banj, before going to 2Chainz who took the most time ever writing that 8 bars, Cyhi the Prince, Kid Cudi. The song is pretty slick though and no one fails to step up. This is followed up with what was all known as Theraflu but is officially called "Cold" and was fully expected to be on DJ Khaled's recent album.

New artist who has been making a lot of noise, Cocaine 80's is featured on "Higher" alongside The Dream, Pusha T, and Ma$e. Yes, that Mase...on a song talking about people being high...You can think what you will about that one. Malik Yusef, Travis Scott, John Legend, and Teyanna Taylor all chip in to help hold down "Sin City" with Cyhi the Prince. Now on "The One" Kanye enlists Marsha Ambrosius to sing the hook over one of those big orchestra tracks that he makes. Kanye has a decent verse though his last bar is so off-topic it is annoying because it's superficial and pointless. 2 Chainz and Big Sean both tried but I wasn;t impressed by anything they spit. Kid Cudi gets some solo action on "Creepers". Teyanna Taylor and John Legend croon together on "Bliss" and she just sounds awkward. It might be the arrangements don't fit her voice or she is just trying to do too much but I'm not convinced. The album ends with the "I Don't Like Remix". Chief Keef gets to have his song on the album by the biggest Chicago artist today along with Jadakiss, Pusha T, Kanye, and Big Sean.

The album has some strong songs and they occur during the first half, but when The Dream and Mase show up things go downhill in a hurry. At only 12 tracks, this album can't afford to have about half of it be uneven or uninspired, especially when you have some serious music in the first. The production is pretty good but there aren't many interesting concepts and big Sean and 2 Chainz just out right suck so you have to try and hide them, not feature them. This is a compilation that just reeks of a lack of attention and time put into it by Kanye. One of his albums would never be this stilted or disjointed so this is really disappointin, especially when three of the songs have been out for months now.

Rating: 2/5

Friday, September 7, 2012

Mixtape Review- Mikkey Halsted- Castro

So I downloaded this mix tape because it was getting a lot of hits on datpiff and I wanted to find something new. I was glad I chose to give it a listen. Mikkey Halsted is overall a street rapper, but he isn't totally designed on pumping up the hood life with no repercussions. He also has some throwback joints where he goes in with his skill, about his skill such as "King" which is produced by No ID and is early on in the set of songs.

"Momma in My Ear" features Pusha T who is one of the other artists that Mikkey most closely sounds like. Also similar is Freddie Gibbs so if you like him, you would probably like Mikkey. His voice reminds me of an old artist named Journalist slightly and his flow varies somewhat but he could easily be a member of the Clipse. Cocaine 80's who was just on Nas' album sings on "Pain" where Mikkey spits about the opposite sides of the spectrum in the hustle. Listen as he talks about hustlers getting money but still live with their mommas in the projects. It's a strong picture he paints.

Like I said, he isn't just rapping about the streets, he also takes aim at rappers with more character than realism on "Occupy" where he spits about his credentials versus the fakers, as well as his skills versus those who are only talking about their album sales. This joint is complete fire. "Obamanomics" is political in the same street way as Jeezy did a few years ago as he talks about how things stay the same from Reagan until now.

I also really liked "PTSD" and "Movie Time". The actual album intro isn't bad either. Overall, Mikkey Halsted put himself onto my short list of artists to look out for in the future with a good balance of responsibility and street and quality songs composition. I look forward to hearing more from him in the future.

Rating: 3.5/5

As another note, the "New God Flow" by Kanye West and Pusha T is something serious. it seems like unlike most of the artists Kanye works with, that Pusha will be getting himself some quality tracks to work with.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Songs with Serious Impact- probably a part 1

So there are some hip-hop songs that I just feel have a great cultural relevance beyond just being music. Now most of the time, they can tell a story, and while some are deeper than others, here are some that I feel should be iconic in some reason beyond that.

Will Smith - Just the Two of Us

I will always have this song on a list because in rap there aren't but two songs that I know of that are about a father talking to his son, and especially just about the feelings about having a child and those first few moments and days. Then this isn't about trying to make him street smart and tough but just some true to life conversation that no matter who you are you should be able to relate to in some way. It's a shame more of the men in the rap game have chosen to neglect this aspect of their lives.

Wale - Shades

This song was never made into an actual video but one of the songs on Wale's near-classic debut was Shades which chronicles the feelings of both Wale working to be accepted for having African parents and his skin color. This is an issue we know exists, hell my dude NC-17 posted about it on his blog: I Bet She Look Better Red . We never talk about these issues in hip-hop so it was very refreshing for a guy to express how he feels about the differences in the way we behave because of our skin tones and the direct effect on him and his life.

Nas - Daughters

This is a recent song and I have chronicled what I like about this before. Just the whole thing about his personal relationship with his daughter and how he sees that it has affected her through the years and the way she suddenly grows up and it's all in his face. It is just so important for men who have young daughters to hear and adjust their lifestyles before it's too late.

Lupe Fiasco - Bitch Bad

Now I just listened to this song and it is what inspired this post. I'm not the biggest Lupe fan though he makes some really good music at times. This is an example of what he does best. This is about how the music that is popular today affects our youth today when we are playing some of these songs around them, and not explaining them if we are going to do so. It also looks at the eventual disconnect between men and women and the video is pretty powerful as a visual on its own. Parents need to take a deep listen and try to take in what he's saying and maybe change up some of their habits.

Common - Retrospect For Life

Always one of the most powerful hip-hop compositions, Common tackles the subject of abortion and he really goes over all of the options and emotions that deals with making such a decision. He talks about the reasons on why he made the choice, and then talks about himself and going back into the same things that put him into the situation in the first place. There are few songs that cover any topic, never mind this one, anywhere near as solidly. Agreeing with it or not, it's all about the discussion with this one, not the result.

So this is a top five discussion of some of the more thought provoking songs that are out there. None have been smash hits but all deserve more than occasional play especially in todays climate. It shows rap music can be more than just bragging and popping bottles, it can educate, and these are all good solid songs musically as well as having a good message. What are some of the hip-hop songs that you think are important for their messages beyond the surface?


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