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 24, 2013

Independent Wednesday

I know I missed last week, but these new artists will keep coming and I will keep going through the e-mails.

This week, the first artist up is Zaze and his project "The World As I See It" . The first thing I received was his fourth single, "Peek a Boo" which has a trap type beat thats heavy enough to get the head knocking that is in style today. The lyrics are simple but the album, which you can download from the link above has some different sounds on it like "Mary Jane" with Kurupt.



Now Zaze doesn't sound like a typical white rapper honestly. He has a raw scratch to his voice and while I doubt you would call him the most lyrical, he has good quality to his music. In fact he sounds a bit like Ja Rule from back in the day. If you like that this might be in your lane, and I know you Rule fans are out there.

Now this next song I got from Veto Vangundy and it is called "No Love". It's produced by Young Shun and this is definitely not substance music, but it bangs. Its a lot of fun and is simple as Veto just tells you how he feels about people who maybe against him or dislike him. I'll tell you what I ran this joint back three or four times which is rare.



Next up we have a California artist named Jordan Norris who has a clean yet musical style with his first song and single, "Just Friends". Fans of more conscious hip-hop might like this a little bit more than some of the more raunchy bass driven songs posted earlier. A recent UCLA graduate, you can kind of tell that he has a musical background just from the way the song is set up. His full project, "Affinity to Infinity" is coming out this fall, until now, here is the video.


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Album Review- Richgang - Rich Gang

So another day, same group of artists, and a new name for a 'group' as Birdman and Wayne, as the two main characters in this case, team up with more Young Money/Cash Money members to record a new album called 'Rich Gang'. I'm not sure what makes this different from the We Are Young Money album but it's their world I guess. If you're looking for in depth content and a variety of different sounds, you are not in luck. Anyway, with much trepidation, I offer you my review of this new album, Rich Gang.

The album starts with the Birdman himself talking about coming up from the streets, before the beat builds and Mystikal takes over, over a minute into the start. Now you know he has a unique style that is based more on the rhythm of the words more than what they actually are but it's straight. "Million Dollar" is the precursor, an interlude of sorts to the first single of the album "Tapout" and this has Detail and Future leading in talking about what the woman the 'million dollar pussy' gets. You've heard the single, which features Wayne, Nicki and Birdman again talking about their sexual prowess mixed in with bars about how much money they have. "We Been On" features R. Kelly in all of his pied piper glory singing about how long they have had money and been stunting with Lil Wayne and Baby.



Rick Ross gets his own song "50 Plates" which has the normal Rozay beat and average Rozay lyrics. I mean if it comes on no one will change but he is getting exceptionally redundant at this point. Yo Gotti handles the chorus on "Dreams Come True" along with Ace Hood, Mack Maine and Birdman.  They get on a very simple beat and say the same thing they always say, they have money and fuck every girl. Chris Brown shows up on "Bigger Than Life" with frequent collaborator Tyga, Birdman, and Lil Wayne as they rap about their celebrity which of course includes examples of their flyness and decadence.



Birdman and Detail are outshined by Kendrick Lamar on "100 Favors" where the former drop simple verses about how they owe a woman for her sexual prowess. Kendrick manages to tell an actual story as always and I hate to see him waste bars on awful Cash Money records. Cory Gunz, who recently dropped an awful mixtape pops up along with Mystikal and Busta Rhymes on "Everyday" where they describe what happens every day with them like thugging out, banging broads, and spending money. it wouldn't be bad without Birdman, or maybe if it weren't three of the more unconventional rappers you know at once. Busta also sounds extra bored. "Detail" gets his own awful auto-tuned song "Burn The House".

Bow wow shows he is still signed on "Panties to the Side" with Tyga and Gudda Gudda while French Montana actually manages to make an infectious hook over a beat that is sounding more average since the sound is so prevalent, however French makes sure you will hear this in strip clubs all over. The 'B' team gets a chance to star as Jae Millz, Mystikal, Gudda Gudda, Ace Hood, Mack Maine and Birdman all get to rap on "Angel" talking about describing a woman. Then the album turns to the left with a feature from someone named Caskey along with Limp Bizkit, Flo-Rida, and Birdman in an attempt to get into Flo's MTV/college market. The song sucks because they pretty much seem to have focus-grouped the song to death. The King of the South, TI joins Baby and Weezy on "Have it Your Way" another decidedly average song with what sounds like one of DJ Toomp's old throw away tracks. Think 'Big Thangs Poppin' with weaker drums. Then The Game shows up to proclaim his Blood affiliated love on "Paint The Town" with Birdman and Wayne proclaiming their colors. The album ends thankfully with "Fly Rich" and Tyga, Future, Mystikal, Meek Mill, and Stevie J.

Look, i am no fan of the Young Money stable's content and Birdman in particular has little to talk about and Wayne ran out of good raps years ago. Along with the ridiculous overuse of auto tune on more than half the tracks it turns into one long lame track. I did enjoy Mystikal's energy pretty much everything else is trite run of the mill 'rap' if you can even call it that. There is no subject matter, it's all a bunch of noise about popping bottles, spending money, and how good they are at sex. It's so mindless and simple it's an insult to hip-hop and even Drake and Nicki Minaj who at least manage to try when they record a song. In a summer that has at least had some hip-hop that either pushed boundaries or had some type of content, this is a severe step down even when you don't expect much.

Rating: 1.5/5

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Album Review- Ace Hood - Trials and Tribulations

So a couple of years ago I postulated that Ace Hood might have been one of the most pointless rappers ever, since then, due to his struggles and direction from DJ Khaled to make a hit, Ace has seemed hungrier and put out music that is much better than his previous efforts. Point blank, at put up or shut up time, he put up and proved me wrong. However, while he has had a banging single, I don't think most people were prepared for his latest album to drop, especially after the hype of June. His newest album, Trials and Tribulations may prove to cement him in the game or be forgotten amongst the excitement of Jay-z affiliated domination.



The album starts with a testimonial skit before leading into "Trials and Tribulations" where Ace Hood goes into his struggles, both in the recent past and even earlier. He comes with his trademark energy over a really raucous beat. Even with his style, what has changed about Ace is the way his passion comes through on his verses. "Another Statistic" finds Ace trying to be more political yet street, think Jeezy on the Recession, and not just when channeling the name of Trayvon Martin as he does in the first verse either. "Before the Rollie" with Meek  Mill is Ace talking about keeping the same old friends with him when he was struggling as now. The hook is kind of weak and the beat is decent as a change from the bass heavy production of the start of the album.










"We Outchea" is a bit of a relapse into average trap rap with Lil Wayne but it isn't all that bad. It's right in the middle of the zone of acceptable rap these days. "We Them Niggas" is worse though I think people will be rocking this due to the slow syrupy track. Chris Brown handles the hook on "Rider" where Ace describes his ideal chick and what she is looking for in her dude. He gets back to his more positive aspirations on "Hope" as he talks about feeling like he isn't going to make it and what he needed in his heart to make it. This is one of the better songs when it's all put together.

"Pray For Me" has Ace telling people to pray for him to not go down the worst possible path and really have to resort to the normal street shit. It also serves as a warning to anyone who thinks he's gotten soft on the streets since he has become successful. The single was "Bugatti" with Rick Ross and Future and it was a strong lead. "The Come Up" with Anthony Hamilton is the classic collab with an ultra soulful singer about the grind and come up in a positive way. "How I was Raised" is about how real Ace keeps it because thats how thorough he is. It's generic rap about going after money and 'being real' compared to others. The beat is pretty tough though.

 

"My Bible" changes the sound of the album with a rock/gospel/inspired track that breaks away from the strict trap formula Ace has previously stuck too and it works wonderfully although it takes too long to fade out at the end. The album in general ends with "Mama" unless you have deluxe which includes the Bugatti remix and two other songs. This is one aspect of his life he didn't really cover previously though he did illustrate his struggle at times on his last two albums.

Overall Ace has settled into a nice place in his career. He is still really young as an artist and he is already four albums into his career. While his last two have shown growth they have basically covered the same territory thematically. Unless he plans to continue and become more political I'm not sure where he can go musically and still have growth without taking some time off to experience life. However, looking at today, Ace Hood knows what his fans like and expect and that is pretty much what he delivers. The beats are banging and his lyrics are a step up but it isn't a classic.

Rating: 3/5

Monday, July 15, 2013

Jay-z might get a bit too much credit as an innovator

Now I thought about this earlier but I was reminded as I watched Jay-z's interview on the Breakfast Club and they talked about him being an innovator with his recent Samsung mobile app and music distribution. Now if you read the blog you might know that I just read Prince's autobiography and if you know anything about Prince you know he engaged in a huge fight with his formal label Warner Brothers so let me go down a path showing how he is a person we shouldn't forget what groundwork he layed.

Now Prince signed what on paper looked to be a great deal but at the end of the day he and Warner didn't see eye to eye on his recording schedule, the musical direction, or promotional aspects. This is the period where he became the 'symbol' and continued to release work. Shortly thereafter, at the beginning of the true internet age 1997-98 Prince began marketing himself online and created a music club for his fans where they paid a yearly fee and were able to download music and get exclusive content. He was way ahead of the curve. Another thing he also did, much to the chagrin of Billboard and soundscan, was to include a copy of his album Musicology with every ticket sold on the tour for the album of the same name. Third, before a set of concerts in England's 02 arena, he signed a deal with the Sunday paper to distribute his album free with every copy of the newspaper sold shortly before the dates started.

In the more modern era, it seems to be forgotten that Busta Rhymes actually has released an album (Year of The Dragon) since he has signed to Cash Money Records or Young Money whatever...it dropped maybe two years ago only through the Google Play store and at the time I thought it was unique but it didn't have the impact as this recent Jay-z drop. One reason Busta might not have sold the album as copies to Google which is what Jay did with Samsung in order for them to count. It is also Busta Rhymes who is definitely not of the profile of the greatest rapper to do it. The promotional program was also lacking considering there was no Game 5 of the NBA finals commercial to support it.

At the end of the day, Jay does get credit for being the guy who can bring together a lot of aspects and make them popular and well known more so than some other artists. I mean digital distribution is doen all of the time now, ever heard of itunes? Free music happens all of the time especially with unsigned artists on sites like soundclick and bandcamp. Promotionally, no one does it better than Jay although this is largely a replay of Kingdom Come where Budweiser (who also just dropped a new Jay-z ad) paid for the lead single video and rolled him a truck load of money. This isn't to say that Jay isn't an innovator because he is, but a lot of times in our haste to shower him with praise we don't realize what he did, really wasn't that much of a reach but he is the right person at the right time to pull it off.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Independent Wednesday

First thing's first, Baltimore rap veteran Japiro dropped a new tape and if you haven't downloaded go ahead and get it  by clicking here . I like the "Like Lebron" track myself so I want you to check it out and drop a comment about it here or over on the facebook page which you need to go ahead and like asap.



I also received a track from Eli Saf that's his debut for an upcoming mixtape. it has a brooding beat with a fast tempo but I wasn't filling it. For one the hook was weak and the vocals were low. The other thing he dropped way to many F bombs through the entire song. I mean it was quite a few and they were used lazily. You can tell me if you feel differently though.



In another message Reyshizz sent me a song he hopes will get your attention called "Atheist" where he raps questioning about religion and if it is necessary or just being misused. While I appreciate the beat and attempt to cover a topic that could use much discussion there are times when the raps are choppy and a bit simple in an attempt to keep the serious tone but it could be cleaner and smoother overall.




Finally, from Canada, we have the Grindhouse Project, and I'm going to give you direct from their press release how they describe themselves:

GrindHouse Project is a collective of producers & rappers hailing from Rexdale (West-end Toronto). The group is comprised of rappers Trace Motivate & 360, with Soundwave & Astromega on the beats. Musical freedom and independence is a must for the artists of GrindHouse Project, from production to lyrical ability and all other aspects of the hip hop culture that comes with building a musical following without signing to a major label. Everything is done for the fans. 

Now some of that is all nonsense to me and totally not relevant but the music is better than I expected. When I see those kinds of descriptions, I expect to hear some straight up basement shit with either no melody or muffled convoluted lyrics but these guys are pretty straight forward and the beats are tight and it reminds me of classic East Coast hip-hop in the vein of today's Action Bronson or one of the early Mobb Deep type off shoots. Hopefully those descriptions don't turn you off as I actually like this music.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Wale should front hip-hop's next band

Now it was a while back I realized that while there is a growing trend of live musical performances in hip-hop, there is no nationally known band that can fulfill that need while putting out their own product. While reading "Mo Meta Blues" by Questlove I realized how hard it would be to establish that on it's own especially in this climate. While it is easier to develop a small core following, gaining a coherent musical aesthetic and building upon that is the hard part at the end of the day. Being able to crossover and become an important part of the culture in their own right would be the big difficulty. Bands are typically fickle and experience many ups and downs as well as transitions.

To help eliminate some of the early struggles and gain quicker acceptance a band could invite different artists to front them to help build credibility but then that leaves them as an entity who is reliant on others for shows and limits them to a backing band. A single well-known lead would be a huge benefit because they could cover current catalog while adding new material and branching out in a coordinated process. First by bringing in new feature artists on other songs, or by having one their own members pick up more of the load until after an album and some additional collaborations, today's market is ripe for EP's after all, the band could then be free to step up their own individual music without the front man.




If you look at the title, I say that Wale is the perfect candidate for this. Number one, he is from the D.C. area which is already the home to the wildly popular go-go music. He has that tradition and listening to his albums, it isn't a stretch or too much of a gimmick to see him with a backing band like it would be for some other mainstream artists. Secondly he has a solid fan base that would support this, (others like J.Cole have even more supportive bases but they don't fit as naturally). Third, his subject matter fits in with the vibe you would expect from a live band. You wouldn't jump to hear an artist talking about popping mollys and popping pistols the first time you hear them. Being able to naturally weave social commentary and have a flow that can vary would be very important.

The other thing is that while popular and a name, Wale isn't too big of a name that would over shadow the band and his absence wouldn't be too much of a detriment that the band isn't able to stand on it's own. This is kind of something we have grown to be accustomed to due to the Roots but there isn't anyone stepping up in those footsteps and a live band that has their own product would be missed in the market when the Roots finally do retire. This would be a win-win for everyone involved.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Album Review- Jay-Z - Magna Carta Holy Grail

If you're a Jay-z fan, you have to know he plants seeds of what he wants to do down the road early on. There was destined to be a "Black Album" years before although at the time he wanted to drop it with little to no promotion or singles. Oh wait, guess what, while it wasn't the actual album with the title, "Magna Carta Holy Grail" fits the bill in most respects, and he even hinted at this as an album title before, playing off of his last name. I wrote a while back about the hype beasts and how he had a great promotional idea and tactic, my hope would be that he could actually deliver musically. While there are some calling this magnificent, and a classic already within it's release, I remain less than convinced. So after taking almost an entire day to listen to this several times I am ready to give my review of the new album. I must say right now, mentally I am in a different place, after all, he is competing with proteges J.Cole and Kanye West as well as Wale. I also just finished reading Questlove's autobiography, Mo Meta Blues and started reading a book about Prince. Sp yes, all of this as well as Jay's stature in the game have something to do with how I view this album.



The album starts with Justin Timberlake driving the 'title track' "Holy Grail" with some serious vocals on the hook. Ultimately, I'm not a fan of the beat during the verses or Jay-z's flow which is choppy as he talks about the struggle with wanting to be in this position. We have all seen lyrics where he spits about not being able to take Blue Ivy to the store, but i was hoping for something more continuously soulful. The interpretation of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" chorus near the end of the first verse was a waste of a high brow concept. "Picasso Baby" starts with a hard guitar riff while Jay talks about coming up and getting to his goals financially. The song perks up more as it gets darker when the beat switches at about 3 minutes in bringing the Jay-z I'm more looking for to out to play for a minute.

Now I've seen a few people sweating the next two tracks "Tom Ford" and "F8ckwithmeyouknowigotit" . Tom Ford has some Timbaland beat that is alright at parts but the hook probably annoys me a lot more than anything else. It's lazy as Jay raps about his new euro balling again like he did at times on Watch the Throne. The other thing is he attacks the social media generation slightly like he did on Death of Autotune a few years ago as he speaks about not having time to instagram or tweet. Meanwhile this is the biggest promotional tool for viral popularity and he benfits immensely from it. The second song actually has a tight beat but features generic Rick Ross-ness from the boss himself. This song could have benefited from something to really take it in another direction, or maybe a different voice than what was expected. Ross is too predictable and his verse wasn't as good as some of the ones he throws away on mix tapes.



Obviously Frank Ocean is on "Oceans" which watching him explain in the clip was cool until Frank's extra obvious hook started and literally spelled it out for you, wasting what is a good track by not allowing the listener to put that connection together. It ruined the song but I didn't even catch it until the fourth listen because I was skipping past it. "F.U.T.W." was more rehashing of Jay's come up as Jay starts talking about a past that is pretty much another lifetime ago. I'd prefer him to have attacked it differently. "Somewhereinamerica" is a new interpretation of talking about the American experience. Jay raps about the changing world we are in - bringing up slyly, the issue he had buying a penthouse years ago over a beat with a nice jazz trumpet and piano riff. He ends off his verse talking about "Miley Cyrus Twerking" which became a quick catch phrase.

"Crown" wastes almost a minute letting a heavy bass beat build though Jay isn't at his lyrical best with his straightforward shot at baseball agent Scott Boras which Jay could have pulled off more adeptly. He could have dropped more bars on this song as well. "Heaven" sounds a little cluttered in the beat to me, like it's ultra compressed as Jay addresses the illuminati rumors more directly and it's good but he lets way too much of the song get away, with only two verses and choruses that play over and over. "Versus" might be the mulligan on this album but it's more of an interlude than an actual song.



He teams up with his wife Beyonce on "Part II (On The Run)" a sort of continuation of the Blueprint 2's 'Bonnie and Clyde' as they use the age old idea of if being in love with you is wrong i don't want to be right. In a lot of ways this feels like a throwback to more mid-90's song with the keyboards and synths but Jay kind of struggles to get his verse started to me. Often that's the hardest part and it's a simple song and it works because of that dynamic I spoke about within the track. This leads to another short track "Beach is Better" where he talks about his lady and life being the 'beach' that is better than yours.

"BBC" is the best you could expect when you have Swizz, Pharrell, and Timbaland involved in the track and recording along with Nas, Justin Timberlake, and Beyonce. The beat isn't overly busy and while I appreciate Nas on the album, couldn't he have been on a more meaningful track that allowed him to show the best of his talents? Let me get "La Familia" one of my least favorite songs on the album first where Jay starts with a wack hook and continues with some truly sub-par tough talk verses. Now, waiting for you Biggie tribute, check "Jay-z Blue" which includes Big's trademark 'ugh' in the back as an ad-lib and Jay going back and forth with a bar from 'Suicidal Thoughts' with Big. This is a very solid track and my favorite on the album, reaching back for that hunger while pushing subject matter forward into the point he is in his life. The beat is mean too. "Nickels and Dimes"  is about the small things to build and create growth as well a couple of plays on the phrase in each verse.


Overall Magna Carta Holy Grail is a good album but I wouldn't call it great. There are some good verses but too many are simple and not really up to the lofty expectations that exist for Jay-z. Listening to "Welcome to the Jungle" from watch the throne was a great example of the type of lyricism that was expected. Instead we get trite and played out songs like the one featuring Ross. Even if you're doing something that is average having someone unexpected on it would spice it up, say reuniting with Memphis Bleek or bringing Kendrick Lamar on board though that would be expected. The problem is at this point in his career with the incredible hype, every song should be an event on this album and it isn't. They are just songs. Looking at Watch the Throne they had some moments that really shone, Yeezus had some great moments interspersed with attempts that may not have gone over. This album is in a lot of ways too safe and not progressive enough to really push Jay where he needs to be. It reminds me of the blueprint 3 mixed with American Gangster when he should have been the Black album mixed with Kingdom Come if that makes any sense.

Rating: 3.5/5

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Independent Spotlight

So sometimes I wonder if 2 chainz got lucky but I know how he got around. I mean his sound was similar but to but not what it quite is today. He evolved with the game. At the same time it's still odd to hear guys trying to get into the game, with the current style that is in vogue of the day. With that, I present to you this week's first spotlighted group "Super High Society".

The first song I listened to was called "Slow" by SHS . From the jump you can see Ju Harley and B. Easy (who are twins) have been studying the current temperature of the game. The song is so perfect with todays sound that it really ends up being boring to me. that said, if you like trap music or whatever the aforementioned Chainz does you would be right at home with some of the the other music such as "On It" and "No Trust" from their 'OurKrown' mixtape. I did hit their youtube and I didn't mind the song 'Loyalty' though the hook was weak (though it might just be the voice got annoying) but the beat and verses weren't bad at all. Not rewind worthy, but head nod worth.




Next up I received a project from Will Santos (apparently several times) called "Women and Wine" as he and a fellow artist named Praze put together an EP for the ladies. I can't fault the strategy because as Pac said, get the women the men will follow cause they want what the women like. Click the title above for the bandcamp link to the EP and give it a listen. Overall I like the sound as it is mostly clean and crisp and ready for mixing into regular rotation though it is the more West Coast flavor than the Southern one that is the most popular today. Some of the songs kind of blend together and the verses can become redundant and it would have been better served maybe telling the story of a relationship from beginning to middle to end with some trials if you listen to it, at some point you will find at least one or two songs that you really like.



Speaking of what's going on in the industry, I also have Matty Da Kidd who submitted recently and this really isn't what i'm looking for in general. now thats not to say Matty sucks, but it's more swag rap about getting money, balling and getting high. One of his Lead singles is "Racked Up" , how many songs have we heard with that title recently? The beat is serious as is the one for "Rollin" If you're looking for something to just slide into your rotation without anyone knowing it's new then you need to download this. If you are the type who likes to be first among your friends on an artist then you can easily win with Matty and have them bumping it all summer.