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Thursday, October 24, 2013

As Is Hip Hop Awards - Album of the Year

So at some point in the year there was a lot of talk about this being a great year for hip-hop and I was very skeptical. I mean yeah Kanye and Jay both dropped solo albums, but they weren't the unadulterated classics they had in the past. However, when looked at in the prism of my 'calendar year' which runs October through September, the year got remarkably better with some really solid albums that came out just before the end of 2012. Without further adieu, here is my countdown of the top albums of the year.

5. Kanye West - Yeezus

Yeezus was highly controversial and unorthodox to say the least but Kanye did create a large amount of excitement behind his album. It wasn't as bad as you would think with "Black Skinhead" and "New Slaves" being pretty creative and a large push to expand the boundaries of hip-hop. This was a love it or hate it album
and while I can't say I loved it, I didn't exactly hate it either.

4. TI - Trouble Man

It seems like this album dropped so long ago it is forgotten. But TI came back pretty strong with "Trouble Man: Heavy is the Head" even if commercially it wasn't as widely seen as his previous albums. Lyrically and thematically, it was solid full of the normal TI anthems like the raucous "Trap Back Jumping" and more introspective cuts like "Can You Learn". "Sorry" with Andre was a good song and a good representation of the quality of the album. The biggest flaw was that the promotion fell off as the deal with Atlantic wrapped up for Tip and Grand Hustle.

3. Jay-Z - Magna Carta Holy Grail

I know the hardcore Jay fans are labeling this a classic but lets not be presumptuous. It was better than a lot of albums but only average for a Jay-z album. The title track fueled the album and he did have some stellar moments talking about his life but there are too many 'rich people' problems and a couple of tracks that Jay should and could have ripped that he kind of wasted. The Nas feature was totally wrong. He did strike for the clubs and culture with "Tom Ford" which everyone is claiming to wear now, and the phrase 'twerk Miley Miley' from "Somewhere in America". It proved that Jay can literally roll out of bed, create a unique marketing plan and still outrap most dudes in the game.

2. Wale - The Gifted

This was to be the summer of Wale but if it wasn't people criticizing his flow, a lack of promotion and singles, or the revelation through old tweets that a lot of his peers don't like him, Wale battled for everything this year. The Gifted was a trip back to his roots with a more indigenous sound utilizing live instrumentation, Wale seemed to finally stop fighting the critics and just embrace being who he is. He was focused on the music with deep nuggets like "Golden Salvation" and "88" being powerful. Never questioned for his lyrics, he had hits with "Bad" and "Clappers" but the album seems to have stalled though it probably shouldn't.

1. Kendrick Lamar - Good Kid M.a.a.d. City

Yeah, for me, Kendrick's album counts for this year. What Kendrick managed to do was put together an album that was a movie or tapestry telling a story while being popular and making lyrics cool again. Though it didn't seem as though it would have commercial viability, it did end up going platinum and he did it the hard way. "Poetic Justice", "Swimming Pools", and "Bitch Don't Kill My Vibe" propelled the album and made Kendrick the most influential young new artist out and gave older dudes like me a reason to look forward to hip hop releases.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Group Dynamics - Ab-soul upset that Kendrick is 'Eminem'

So while perusing the internets I came across some information about Ab-Soul, one of the artists signed to T.D.E. and member of this 'Black Hippy' collective and apparently he is upset by the fact they are often being billed as id they are members of a backing band for Kendrick Lamar.

Apparently upon seeing this cover and following up with the BET Hip-Hop awards and the entire #Kendricksverse hash tag instead of one for TDE like the one for Slaughterhouse. Finally, before even getting a chance to shine on his own he published this tweet:

This has been a problem since there have been groups. Unfortunately Ab Soul needs to just take the ride and enjoy it and use the work that Kendrick has put in to his advantage and use that affiliation to make other people give him a shot. See, sometimes when you become affiliated and one guy is either A. That much better than everyone else, or B. that much more marketable and possibly charismatic, then you have to play your position.

Let's look at the St. Lunatics, while they have all done something solo, they understood the best chance at success was to put efforts behind the most unique one of them, Nelly. While none of them had close to his success, they were able to eat and live based off of Country Grammar, the follow-up features, and the St. Lunatic solo album which allowed them to have some part of an independent career and be something rather than try and force their hands and end up being tossed to the side because they don't stand out. Take Goodie Mob as another example and they kind of went in the other direction as Cee-Lo went off and did his own highly successful thing, they showed some resentment, just look at the title of "One Monkey Don't Stop no Show". Did this help the group, not really, even though without Cee-lo they still maintained a core contingent who followed them, the success of their former member forced them into the shadows and even their reunion this year didn't feel the same. R and B groups have long had these issues and what happens is the people who don't 'get down' with the stars usually just fall off of the map.

There are reasons why a certain person is the one the public clamors for. Most of the time, they have something the others are obviously lacking. Jadakiss had a trademark flow and was the 'better' lyricist of the LOX. That's normal. Eminem, had the advantage of being both white, and the nicest rapper in d12 by far. As an artist it's a bit hard to kind of get humbled to the point you can accept you are not going to be the star you dreamt of and to take advantage of what you can get and build your following. It's not Kendrick's fault, it's the media and you would only be punishing yourself by removing yourself from the situation where you can get exposure just by standing next to him if you are Ab-Soul. This is why people want to be signed and affiliated with other rappers and their labels/collectives. I'm sure Stalley and Wale have no problem with being mentioned well after Rick Ross as just members of M.M.G. . Ultimately, this will be an unfruitful effort and reeks of bitterness on the part of Ab. Hopefully they talk it over and he thinks better of ending his affiliation.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

As is Hip Hop Awards - Biggest Disappointment 2013

As always there are a bunch of albums that are looked for but unfortunately they tend to not be as good as the ideas coming in for them. Now sometimes this is a wide disparity between expectations and results sometimes it isn't as much but there is still a disappointment left after the album has been listened to even if in retrospect it gets listened to or becomes one of your favorites.

5. Lil Wayne - I am Not a Human Being 2

At this point when Wayne drops, people are meeting his music with shrugs as it isn't a lot of creativity to it and his raps have gotten stale over the past few years. He was able to have a decent single, courtesy of Future and Drake but that was about it until his mini controversy for stomping on an American Flag in a music video and then dropping on the Rich gang album which was about the same. It seems as though that 15 minutes is almost up for Weezy.

4. Meek Mill - Dreams and Nightmares

While the intro to the album knocks and bangs, Meeks album was wildly inconsistent and that definitely hurt. His lyricism was shown to be lacking and there was too much repetition in some of the choruses. He was able to get some singles off on the album but none of them really carried in the way they should have for a guy who entered the year with so much momentum.

3. Kanye West - Yeezus

Look Ye' did what he intended to do which was shake up the rap game but the overall impact was less than that of 808's and Heartbreaks and I'm pretty sure thats not what he was looking for. Maybe we will get it in hindsight but for now this album is mostly a head scratcher. Even while pushing the envelope style wise with his song construction, he failed to really push on a lot of concepts.

2. Drake - Nothing Was the Same

Look Drake has created high expectations for himself and this album doesn't really meet them. There seem to be a few lazy songs and lyrics and even his catchy tracks and big singles seem to be lacking on the drizzy scale. Then Drake channels his inner Memphis Bleek, getting outshined by Jay-Z on his own song which is pretty much the highlight of the album.

1. J. Cole - Born Sinner

J. Cole fans hate me but it's their own fault. if you're going to build a guy up on the level as the next Nas, he cannot follow up with a second, average album that doesn't shine. More superficial attempts to be conscious abound and Cole can't sell me on whatever his 'character' actually is. The single "Power trip" rocks but other than that the best song is a remake of TLC's "Unpretty" which is cool but not making me run it back multiple times. It seems unfortunate that one of the guys held up as the representatives of the new generation can't really get over no matter how much labels try to push him.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Indeoendent Wednesday

This week my first song is a single from a San Antonio, Texas rapper named GQ Marley. This song "Show That" is a dance song for sure. Ready for the clubs and the young generation. Honestly if you want something new to just 'turn up' to it works really well. It's a clean sound and fits right in professionally with anything you might hear today.

For more about GQ you can check his Facebook here or Twitter.

This next artist I found while checking out the song from GQ Marley actually. So see it works on Soundcloud when they randomly play your joints! Phranchize reminds me a lot of Big K.R.I.T. in that he has a socially street aware sound. the first song I heard echoed that and the subsequent songs didn't really change that. they can seem inconsistent because it is the South and sometimes things get real ratchet but he can rap.

The next submission is from OJ the King from Saginaw, Michigan. Stand up! Who has the usual type of song about coming up from the struggle but it's a good song. He has some decent flow and lyrics and the beat is straight too. You could definitely ride out to this one and for the most part though it is not particularly new subject matter, he does a good job with it. I was surprised at the quality of this one overall and that's a good thing.

The other songs on his soundclick page are attempts at having a female friendly radio single so I wasn't feeling those as much because they seemed to be trying too hard to make something happen and didn't work as well.

Friday, October 11, 2013

As is Hip Hop Awards - Lyricist of the Year

This year I think I was slightly disappointed by the candidates overall because I was expecting to really have this be tough. However, I really never got beyond the five finalists. Now there are some of you who actually think 2 Chainz and Big Sean are lyricists or good rappers, I pity you because they both often spit incredibly simple verses and lack subject matter. For the rest of you, here is my list,

5. J. Cole - I went back and forth with this between Cole and Drake but at the end of the day, I really listened through that Nothing Was The Same and Drake really doesn't have a lot of metaphors and similes and the basic subject matter of how he is nice doesn't really hold up as well as his penchant for R and B. Cole, while terribly overrated did at least seem to make some attempts at creative lyrics and topics. He slid some stuff on 'Power Trip' and 'Crooked Smile' and his mixtapes leading up to the album had some decent imagery.

4. Pusha-T - Pusha's biggest flaw is that he only has one subject. His biggest asset he does it masterfully. He somehow manages to have his delivery timed right to emphasize the right thing at the right time and his vocabulary choices seem to fit and be just a step above similar rappers like Rick Ross.

3. Jay-Z - Magna Carta was not his best album by any means but as I said before this year, Jay can roll out of bed and drop bars that can contend with the best of this generation. Some of the concepts on the album were the same as he has done before and sometimes he can seem to try a tad bit hard to be extra lyrical and it comes off a little awkward with a simile that seemes too easy for a rapper of his caliber, but he is still solid. And when Jay uses something like "instagram" or the phrase "in his feelings" it means more because he isn't always running around yelling it.

2. Wale- Wale is also extra solid. His album might be an overlooked effort because he gets so much hate but it was one of the best of the year. Every album Wale drops has at least one poignant track and "Golden Salvation" was that on The Gifted. He also shined on "88" and the song with Cee-Lo is really deep. While his flow turns some off when you stop and actually listen to his lyrics the boy spits and says something. Even when he is talking about a trite subject like "Bricks" it is from a unique perspective.

1. Kendrick Lamar - Before we even get to the 'Control' verse which embarassed half of the popular rap industry, we still had the album which was straight up fire with lyricism and concepts both individually and overall as an album. That wasn't easy to do, then there were his features which were all intended as he mentioned on the verse with Big Sean, to take out whoever else was on the track with him, including "Memories Back When" where he spit some serious fire alongside TI and B.O.B. It's a true testament to his abilities that he is able to keep his standards high while being as popular as he has but Kendrick has done it.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

One thing about artists

I have been thinking about this since Kanye's last ridiculous interview and blow-up with Jimmy kimmel. On the one hand Kanye made a lot of good points, especially since he was talking about the fashion industry. There are quite a few people who will look at him and downplay his ability or potential knowledge with no good reason to at leats hear him out and maybe give him a shot. It's a common issue for people who consider themselves artists. But it's a simple issue, you cannot really be a master of all trades.

Her eis the problem Ye faces, the people in the industry he is seeking to become a major figure in, have put in years doing the things that are considered prerequisite qualifications for what they do. Kanye has spent the last 15 years doing the same thing, in another field, music. Unfortunately for him, though he may have an innate talent to do multiple things, the physical existence of time kind of limits him from being able to do both on a consistent high level because he has to be able to prove himself. I know a lot of people may wonder why he has to prove himself to these people in know why, because they run the industry and they get to make the rules. Just as he paid his dues musically, if Kanye wants to be a fashion icon he has to understand and respect the rules. Just because he feels he has done things to prove himself doesn't mean that community at large respects what he has 'done'.

The other issue Kanye is faced with I realized has been seen before in the music industry, notably with Mos Def. Recently, with actor Tristan "Mack" Wilds as well. There are times when a person as an artist wants to expand and show a new or different side but the public, the fans, aka the people who value your work enough to allow you to be an artist, don't necessarily want to see that. Mos Def for instance seems to refuse to just drop a straight up rap album, choosing instead to do hybrid mash ups of hip-hop, blues and rock and roll. Same goes for Andre 3000 who has left us salivating for a rap album for years now.

The issue is when you are good at something, borderline great, while you as an artist may feel you have room to grow and expand, it does not mean that your fans want to see or hear such an expansion or that they feel you have pulled it off as equally as your earlier endeavors. The difficulty exists as "the box". It gets boring and one of the things I chastise rappers for is remaining in that box without at least trying to push or expand the boundaries of it.For Kanye, he has pushed it successfully musically for years however the album "Yeezus" was too far gone for most people. The biggest issue, it didn't have enough of what we are used to and expect as far as 'formulaic' or straight forward hip-hop songs.

At the end of the day, Kanye as well as others coming up in the game have to recognize that if they truly want to be respected in multiple artistic areas, they have to 1, make sure they are involved with these in some capacity early on so it isn't a shock or sudden change of direction later on down the road; and 2 understand that all of the fans or people they wish to have shower praise upon them and their work will not do so just because they as artists feel they deserve it. Fans and critics have their own minds and expectations and wanting to have them all accept everything you do is a recipe for instant failure.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Album Review- Pusha T - My Name is My Name

Pusha T has enjoyed a recent career renaissance to be sure. As 1/2 of the Clipse he has dropped three albums and long been considered one of the tightest lyricists and one of the true 'coke' or 'trap' rappers. Since signing a solo deal with GOOD music, Push has been on many features and his popularity has soared. His last album wasn't bad but more of a rehash of the mixtape that preceded it. However, expectations have been raised. Can Pusha deliver on his new album, "My Name is My Name".

The album starts with "King Push" a video for which was just recently released and it is more of the serious dope rhymes Pusha has laced us with over the last 15 years. He manages to match the beat with the right mix of intensity and sharp witted bars that aren't the usual obvious metaphors and similes as he tells you on the chorus that "he doesn't sing hooks'. That is followed up by "Numbers on the Boards", the song he was so excited about that the video of him screaming to get it released made the rounds on the internet. The beat reminds me slightly of 'grinding' because it has some weird sounds in it that throw me off repeatedly. Chris Brown handles the chorus on "Sweet Serenade" where Pusha goes to describe his drug lifestyle again before leading into a hook by saying "Gun Shots in the Dark are like a sweet Serenade".

"40 Acres" featuring The Dream is another collaboration that brings the singer into the street realm slightly where Push spits his unapologetic coke bars and the first verse is especially poignant. The track on "Suicide" reminds me of something from a late 90's underground mix tape and it's a decent song and even the best gets coaxed out of Ab Liva whom is generally a disappointment to me. "Hold on" with Rick Ross is a good example of how two guys who are so similar in topic are different in style but the annoying auto-tune from Kanye (yeah I hear you in the background) undercuts the entire thing and is slightly irritating.

Now "No Regrets" seems like the oddest song to feature Young Jeezy along with Kevin Cossum on a song that seems like it's more suited for Ace Hood or Drake than Push who slows his flow down. Jeezy's verse is cool but this song just seems odd. Meanwhile, the lone 'chick track' "Let Me Love" with Kelly Rowland is weird because Pusha channels his inner Mase/Loon and the beat is different but it works. However, I know people will like the 2 Chainz and Big Sean featured "Who I Am" but Pusha doesn't really spit on it and my detest for Big Sean runs strong.

"Nostalgia" with Kendrick Lamar is more of the typical what we expect from both rappers as Pusha gets descriptive about how he hustled starting out. Something about the beat makes this even more visual, Kendrick on the other hand relates the drug game to rap bars and while his verse isn't sensational, manages to bring it home with the energy and emotion he dredges up near the end. "Pain" would be straight without the presence of Future mangling the hook. The album ends with the Pharrell feature "S.N.I.T.C.H." and reminds me of some real Clipse music as Pusha talks about coming to the realization a friend in prison is looking for information so he can drop dimes and come home.

Pusha has so much potential at times it feels squandered. Songs like Snitch and King Push are borderline great for trap rap but they fall by the wayside due to bad sequencing, yes that matters. See Snitch should be near the middle of the album, not ending it. It's a song like that which is a strong concept I would have liked to see more of. We know Push can talk about moving blow like no other and sometimes the redundancy can feel tiresome even though coming in I knew it would happen. Then there are too many features and the Kelly Rowland song ends up feeling out of place. I really enjoy about 5 or 6 of the twelve songs and really dislike 2 of them. The others kind of blend in and that's slightly disappointing because this is Pusha's time.

Rating: 3/5


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