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Friday, January 31, 2014

The Hardest Album People Don't talk about

In a vintage mood i was listening to old hip-hop and i started listening to the Terror Squad album and I must say this shit is a classic. It was fire pretty much all of the way through and while most of the Squad never panned out, they all showed tremendous potential on this joint.

From the first track "In For Life" the early Cool and Dre production shined with a polished NY style underground sound with some gloss and polish on it. it wasn't full of high concept hip-hop but it was straight forward and when they needed to get abrasive, Joe, Pun and the crew came through with fire bars that make you want to throw on an aviator jacket and go start some shit at a club somewhere. This is sto,ping down the block in Timbs music. Then they threw in the introspective track and just showed they could all flow and just have some lyrics.

It is sad to know this group of such talented people fell apart and that we lost one of the illest ever Big Pun who destroyed so many verses in his short time on the scene. For those people who think Fat Joe spits now, this was his zenith in my opinion.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Confederate Flag

Black people always have and probably always will have a problem with the confederate flag. For so many of us the flag is only one of the strongest reminders of the history of oppression in the South and pretty much sums up the civil war as far as what was important from our perspective in the whole thing. By that, the war was about more than just slavery and the plight of black people but the opportunity for freedom and this idea that a major concern of a large group of states was keeping that from us can never be forgotten.

Now during Kanye's most recent frenzy of media coverage and outrageous behavior, he was seen rocking the confederate flag as a patch on one of his jackets. Now of course the public went at Ye and he came back with some statement about undermining it in our culture the way the word 'nigga' has been transformed. Now, he might have a point and ability to do so but the main issue was it came at a time of so much ridiculousness for Kanye that no one really was paying attention to and giving him the benefit of the doubt on that point.

This leads me to Yelawolf who has been kind of involved in a different kind of controversy regarding his race. He and hip-hop veteran/legend Lord Jamar got into a war of words back in November after Lord Jamar said that white rappers were merely guests in hip-hop.

“Okay, White rappers, you’re coming to this almost as a guest,” Lord Jamar said. “Okay, matter of fact you are guests in the house of Hip Hop. Just because you have a hit record doesn’t give you the right as I feel to voice your opinion. White rappers, those of y’all who really studied the culture, that truly love Hip Hop and all that, keep it real with yourself, you know this is a Black man’s thing. We started this. This is our shit. We’ve allowed you, those of you who’ve proved your skill and all that, we’ve allowed you to come in and kick your shit, make yourself known. You know what I mean? And if you have enough respect for the culture we fuck with you. But don’t push it too far."

Now there are probably a lot of people who agree with that, I for one don't especially when he goes and decides to list some white rappers that he selectively has decided are alright in hip-hop. Now if it were just the exchange between Yelawolf and Lord Jamar on this subject, and what I would say are Lord Jamar's archaic views on rap when it comes to race and sexuality, that would be fine and just old news. However, we now get Yelawolf posting pictures of himself and his Confederate Flag on Instagram and we need to at least have the discussion because Yelawolf does know the distinction and has opinions like on whether or not white rappers should be dropping N-bombs.

So then to see him drop pics of himself wearing that flag are kind of crazy and makes you look differently in a way. I mean the Confederate Flag might be one of the more complex issues we have to deal with. I can get that for some people they look at the idea of a unified South as something of pride, almost like the Blank Panther's flag and the raised fist of power and unity, but the problem is that those symbols and the people who used and created them, were never intended to or used negatively towards another people. The symbols that refer to black pride have never been used in a way that was anti-white, though some of that may be due to the fact that black people have never been in a position of power to use their agenda negatively and repressively. But it is hard to look at someone and not feel taken aback by the Confederate Flag, I mean if even Kanye got flack what would make Yela think that he is immune?

The one good thing I would say is that because of this, there might actually be a conversation about this and we need to determine if we can separate the slavery aspect from the other things about the South and Confederate Flag that people may actually be proud of. What's your take on the issue?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Independent Wednesday

So last week we ended with a female, this week we're going to kick it off with one. Let me tell you B, I am so late going through these e-mails because I got this from Tina World Order on Christmas, yeah I wasn't checking for this then but this joint does go pretty hard on some remixed for 2013 Eve 'Love is Blind' type stuff. Now it's title is ignant as hell, but the song, "Fuck Niggah" which was produced by Jesse Parks is mean. The beat is tough and Tina is spitting pretty much. She just released a project called "Mike Vick" so check the net for it. I haven't seen it myself but I hope too.

Ironically while writing up about Tina World Order I wondered about female producers in the game. You see we get a decent number of women spitting, when lo and behold, an artist I featured once before from Canada named Skultastic sent me an e-mail about her production.

 Now all of these may not be your flavor, but one or two could find a niche on a project you're doing or you could reach out for something else I'm sure. They are more mellow in general though there is one called "Raw Material" I like a lot overall.

Now I rarely do this but I had a song from Matt Skyy and went and looked at his youtube page and music and dude...stop it. Auto tune on rap/singers needs to stop. You're not Future, not T-Pain, not the kid who got the duck tatted on his face then got the shit slapped out of him. Then why these kids are shooting a video looking like they go to a nice college talking about them being in the streets. Stop it. You don't have to be like the other guys rapping you can be yourself and this stuff that you call music is just awful. But here, I'll let the readers be the judge.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Rappers on News programs making Statements

I am all for artists being proactive and making a statement about the urban hip-hop culture to fix up the misunderstandings that people may have about the culture and a lot of what is heard in the mainstream media. I recently saw this clip on worldstar of Slim Thug on CNN which is a response to the recent video that surfaced with the kid in the diaper cursing and having it described as "thug cycle continues". As a guy who has the word in his rap name, I guess it makes sense for Slim to have a strong opinion on it. The conversation between he and Don Lemon centered around the definition of the word thug and what it stands for.

For me, I look at this and understand what Slim is trying to get at but I am still disturbed by it because it often seems we have to continue to try and hold on to and legitimize these sayings instead of admitting that maybe it isn't right to desire to be a 'thug' and to think you are going to change the meaning and perception of that word when so much of what you may represent is what normal people see as being a thug. While Slim talks about the positive things that he does, at the same time, much of his music involves talking about and in some ways, promoting the lifestyle he led before rap. This includes, drugs, guns, sipping lean, and many of the normal tales we have come to associate with gangster rap and mainstream hip-hop in general. So even when he talks about being positive, he doesn't do enough good to change the connotation of the word 'thug' to something positive where as he says the mayor could acknowledge the work he does do in the community.

The other problem that I have is the lack of responsibility he takes for the potential influence of his music. At the end he defends what he does instead of acknowledging that there are people who are negatively influenced. He is 100% right when he says someone who behaves in some way is more than likely a product of bad parenting but when you know that, and know that because of that bad situation the message that you present has an impact and influence, you have to accept some responsibility. It is always the cop out that "it's not my fault blame their parents" that Slim and rappers like him continuously try to use as a pseudo 'get out of jail free' card but the parents often participate in the same lifestyle that he does without as much success. As someone who does have it, it is imperative that he provides a different view or set of options for those kids who lack the guidance and role models. This whole 'it isn't my fault' attitude has got to stop at some point.

As someone who has money and access now, I feel like Slim needs to stop trying to promote the idea of being a thug as positive and instead use the words and descriptions we already have such as entrepreneur. Why not give kids the idea to aim for something that everyone looks to as being positive, rather than a word that has a muddled description and ideal behind it? Why create and cause the confusion because you don't want to 'conform' and try so hard to hold on to this idea which has had to change over your life?

In addition, rappers have to stop going on TV to look like a fool let's remember this from Dame Dash and Cam'ron on the O'Reilly factor where they tried so hard to preserve this image and these hood rules that while funny, had them coming across to a bunch of people in America as dumb asses who reinforced every stereotype imaginable.

You see I really don't care if Dame and Cam want to be seen a certain way or known as assholes, but just like Bill O'Reilly represents Republicans to the majority of black people and a lot of liberal Deomcrats, and that image is not a flattering one, Dame and Cam represented black people and especially the hip-hop generation in this interview and they did us a disservice. Image is important and while it may be profitable for those two to be seen as counter culture, Myself, their kids and my kids probably won't benefit from being lumped in with this image. Right or wrong to be generalized isn't relevant because at the end of the day it happens, has always happened, and probably always will happen.

We need to be very careful with the images we curate when given the chance to do so in the media. Whenever a rapper is asked to speak he cannot just stick to the same old script like he hasn't learned or experienced new things. As someone who has matured and gotten older, i know my views have changed as I have learned more and I can't legitimize some of these old ideas so how could you still go along with it in your position? Stop trying to convince people being a thug is a good thing and work on changing the direction and path for those who follow you.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

B.O.B. - John Doe

No Secret I'm a BOB fan. Dude has surprising depth and song construction and point blank he can spit. I liked the song John Doe from the beginning but the video had a lot of depth to it that made me like it even more, and that's what a video should do.

The story of the video is pretty much the same thing as a lot of others, young girl gets caught up in drugs and alcohol and does things she never intended or thought. Simple but it was shot very well so the director K. Asher Levin deserves much credit for that.

I will take up an issue for my more feminist friends, why is this about a female? I mean isn't that just cliche to the point of overkill now? I would have enjoyed seeing something different with BOB or some actor playing the central protagonist. Though the fact BOB is male and to juxtapose that with female imagery works, I'm just a little tired of the female used sexually vibe in these types of videos. I am also pretty sure the female lead is a pornstar by the name of Skin Diamond which if you know her adds a little bit more to the depth because of the idea that most of the women in porn fall victim to the exact things in the video. This may have been in the past but a lot of these women now are more business oriented. I thought this was interesting as a visual and wanted to bring some attention to it.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Independent Wednesday

We back and this week we're going to start off in Brooklyn with an MC named Amari Mar. Point blank dude has the NY sound down pat with a classic NY voice and some tracks that are vintage NY yet they aren't old. They just have a solid feel to them. His latest effort is called "Da God Must B Krazy". It starts off cool with a title track but the drums on "Prepaid" come in and the head nodding begins. Now I must say, the vocals could use refinement in their mix. He is a little choppy lyrically and with the flow on "Proof in the Pudding" but I actually liked the hook.

The theme kind of continues, as Amari really channels his inner Wu. It seems he would find that a compliment but the trouble is that in today's market there just aren't going to be many people looking for that feel yet trying to grab a new artist's cd. I know for myself Triumph is just a few clicks away on my phone. While I totally respect this direction, Amari is going to need to do something that might be a bit out of his comfort zone to break through even to people of my generation. Does hip-hop need more darker, in the basement type of rappers? Only the fans will be able to tell. Check it out and let me know what you think in the comments.

In contrast to Amari Mar, New Jersey Native King Ra takes that same East Coast classic feel and brings in a track that has the hardcore feel yet a little bit more energy and it's produced by a cat from Serbia named Luka. "I'm in The Area" makes me want to grab some fatigues and Timbaland boots and a chew stick and stomp down the street.

I could do without all of the scratching at the end, but it doesn't really take away from the song. I even checked out his bandcamp site and some of his previous songs on mixtape releases. Ra has a good strategy of limiting his verses and not doing complete songs each time, instead maybe grabbing a couple of beats and giving you a taste of what he can do which leaves you actually wanting to hear the next track. A lot of artists do too much when developing themselves and overkill and over extend themselves by trying too hard to show they have verses and songs for days when they don't.

Third this week, the ladies are represented with Stacie Banks and her new joint "Light Me Up". Now this isn't anything new as Stacie is comparing herself to a blunt and I'm not into smoking nor overly sexual females not named Lil Kim circa 1996 but Stacie was aight. Her voice is cool and she flowed well over the song. Now I looked at some of her past Youtube videos and she doesn't seem to be too experienced, with only a couple of years in so there is still room for her to truly find her own lane, style and direction but she seems to be off to a promising start.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Critical Acclaim and artist Anger

Every year we get several hip-hop lists and they always cause controversy. Most of the time I feel like publications are doing so to create some buzz about their content. Most of the time when an artist goes on a rant, they degrade and denigrate the publication while simultaneously claiming that they don't care. Look, we know you all care, if you didn't you would not get so worked up about it. But honestly, it's not a problem that you get so excited as an artist, after all at the end of the day, most of you are making money and you want to see the respect for your work and how it stacks up against others. Sometimes you have a point, sometimes you don't. That brings me to the catalyst for this blog, Wale vs Complex.

Now Wale doesn't get a lot of respect in the general rap circles. There are people who consider him whiney or they don't respect his skills and that is the opinion of some people though I happen to disagree. The main thing that bothers people about Wale is his Kanye-ish antics at regular intervals. These are followed by periods of reflection and promises to not make the same mistakes again. This time, while he over-stepped with his threats, Wale has a valid argument against Complex which failed to include his latest release "The Gifted" in their top 50 albums of the year.

Now, this is 50 albums of all genres so I wasn't really expecting him to be number one, though I feel it is way better than Yeezus, but more on that later, there are at least 5 rap albums on the list that are way worse. For instance, Juicy J and Big Sean both make the list but even and almost ridiculously surprising was Birdman and Rick Ross' album(?) The H which didn't even move the needle on the hip-hop radar. I mean The Migos makes the is this ridiculousness.

At this point let me say this about a lot of publications that are more than hip-hop related, they often have odd tastes in what they consider to be good hip-hop or rap albums. You see while at the same time, they can have hardcore rap like Rick Ross and Jay-z, straight pure rap music, they also love the experimental stuff like Kanye's Yeezus which for some reason has become this 'glorious masterpiece' in the months since it was released. I wouldn't say it was a bad album but it wasn't great at all. It feel like some mags feel as though they need to reward things they don't understand or that are majorly unlistenable for various reasons such as being too grimey and having odd sounds and production. They overly reward risk without the added value of measuring success. How do you measure that, by the fan reaction. Huge mixed reactions are not a measure of success, but love  and respect for the record from multiple directions. When the vast and caried groups of critics can agree something is great, then it truly becomes transcendent. Any time I see a list with three or four of the worst albums I have heard in a year on a list I question it's validity.

That's really what Wale and all artists need to do. They need to take a close look at who else is on the list and use that to determine if they should even care whether or not they make said list. Some lists, like this one from Complex, are so ridiculous that you have to stop thinking about them moments later. Remember the absurd Vibe bracket 3 or 4 years ago? No one really took it seriously and they couldn't because of who was on it. It was generally something fun to laugh at and talk about for a minute, but artists took it seriously, and in some ways I guess I expect them to be serious about something like that if they want to be taken seriously, but it created so many more headaches than it was worth especially because it was intended just to be intentionally angering.

You see in 2013, it's not good enough to be serious if there is no controversy. You are better off just throwing some stuff together than putting together a comparison that makes some sense. Now I will admit I am pretty biased because once I don't like something I get confused as to how anyone would, but at the end of the day i ask for consistency. If there is a southern rap reviewer on staff, they don't get the 4th pick. I would think they need to bring their own top 10 with the other segment editors or reviewers and look to find common ground which is why I often have a problem with these lists. It just seems as one person rules and everyone else gets to just throw something out there, and they often go by what they think the public wants and not what the public may need to see and hear.

Hip hop has a love hate relationship with journalism, if what passes for urban writing can be considered that. That's not to knock the professionals too much, but it always seems as if real writing and critical credibility is secondary and sometimes tertiary in the level of requirement. Hip hop artists don't respect writers and critics as lovers of the culture and the music and it leads to those people who may butt heads being forced out. That, along with the rise of blogs who (unlike this one) just post blurbs and half hearted reviews and editorials with little in the way of true explanation or exploration because they figure the reader won't get too far past 140 characters and seem to be incredibly lazy have damaged an industry that had just began to get it's legs.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Independent Spotlight

Welcome to 2014 and I'm looking to bring on another person or two for independent music reviews so we can really see what's good with the new artists who want to be heard. Let's get into it.

This first independent song of 2014 I listened to brought me in right. A combination of West Coast and my home town of Baltimore, Y1 teamed up with Young Scrap for "Rada" a song about a female trying to get the dough out of the artists. This joint bangs with a simple hook and a solid Baltimore club influenced drum track produced by Arctic. It's nothing trying to be too hard or overly ambitious as far as content but it's still a solid overall track.

Next up from Little Rock, Arkansas is 20 year old C. Sharp who reminds me a lot of Big Krit in he is a southern rapper sort of but he has an introspective mind and he sent me an album that is pretty cool and soulful. I definitely suggest this one. Now in it's purpose it's supposed to tell the story of a woman named Brenda, I can't tell how focused it is off of one listen but in any case he has some real quality stuff here that deserves multiple listens. I mean this channels Little Brother only slightly more energetic to my ears. The production is hot and the songs are put together really well. Go to his bandcamp and check this out, colleges, might want to look at having this dude as an opening act.

Rhyme and Reason -- this is a link directly to bandcamp

Now I received a video for a song called "Louie Armstrong" from Harn SOLO. This dude really looks like he's about 40 for real. Not quite sure what kind of rapper he really is. He strikes me as a goofy/funny/shock rapper. He is unorthodox to say the least with a hyped up style of flow. Some people will get it, some people won't really feel it. I'm kind of leaning against it, but it's worth a look for yourself.


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