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.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Album Review- Meek Mill- Dreams Worth More Than Money

Meek Mill burst on the scene a few years ago with tremendous energy and the Maybach Music Artist immediately became a fan favorite with raucous anthems for the streets. His Sophomore album was highly anticipated and due last year but the Philadelphia was delayed by a parole violation which sent him to jail for the period in which his album was to be released. He got out and soon after got into a relationship with Nicki Minaj which has made his profile even larger, all while we awaited the album that finally has been released, Dreams Worth More Than Money.

"Lord Knows" is not a bad opening for the album which has the more current southern music template and Meek's trademark energy and it seems to be the only track that really reflects something that might have come from his time behind bars. "Classic" with Swizz beats and Jeremih is a tough track with a simple keyboard backdrop for the most part but it is spaced perfectly to allow Meek to just go in spitting. I can see this as being the preferred freestyle track for the next few months because it is so catchy, and it's melodic so Meek's volume and tenor contrast nicely. The newest single features his new boo, Nicki Minaj, as well as Chris Brown on "All Eyes on You". This is pretty generic and normal track from the three of them.

The Weeknd appears on "Pullin Up" where Meek spits to the female for whom he is the side piece for as the hook has Weeknd crooning for her to "Come outside when I'm Pulling Up". This is some normal 'I'm better than your man cause I'm trill and I don't care and he's wack' music. Some folks might end up liking this though. Nicki appears again on "Bad For You" and Puff aka Diddy, shows up talking shit on "Cold Hearted".

Now The album has well above average production although too many of the songs fit right into the pocket or flow of the radio that Meek was sort of instrumental in ushering in. "Jump Out the Face" with Future is an example of that. this could be any of dozens of rappers and their mixtapes. "RICO" which features Drake plays more on Drizzy's normal monotone chorus style and a beat that has a lot of interesting things going on. The bars are just lazy though as are the flows and deliveries. Same with "I Got the Juice" which I feel like people are going to say they like but it is really disposable at the end of the day.

That's the problem with this album, too many of the songs aren't memorable. The beats are all tough but they don't fit together like most of the albums this year in that they are just all attempts thrown on the wall to try and recreate some of the energy and magic of Dreams and Nightmares. They fall flat mainly because Meek never gets in touch with any depth like he did on his debut. You would think that going to jail would have given him some more inspiration for some of his music other than just simple dope, money and bitches that makes up pretty much everything else on the album. If it isn't that, it's the songs about Nicki. It feels like at the end of the day this album wasn't focused enough and I get it, Meek isn't the type to make this artistic piece of work, but it still doesn't work together like his debut album did. Too much is reaching to singles territory and missing by not having that spark.

Rating: 3/5

Friday, June 26, 2015

Album Review- Skyzoo- Music For My Friends

Skyzoo is an MC who has a solid following and is one of the few guys who can be considered as legitimately holding down the NY scene and sound. He is not going to ever have the world wide fame of a lot of other guys but he is known for having a certain caliber of records. He also has paired up with other NY emcees for projects. His latest release is called "Music For My Friends".

The album starts up with "All Day, All Ways" and gives the perfect feel for the entire album. The flows are solid, slightly aggressive but the backing production is throwback simple in some ways yet it has a somewhat complex jazzy instrumental sound to it. It definitely reminds you of playing records in the basement and Timberland boots. For me that's just the imagery that comes to mind as it plays. I like "The Moments That Matter" which features Kay Cola.  The beat has some energy, the hook matches whats going on and the flow is there. "Women Who Can Cook" is a simple yet creative track where he talks to the ladies letting them know men just want the simple things. This is actually one of the joints where he gets a little bit more in depth with his imagery and metaphors that are different and a bit more vivid.

Here is the thing, most of the songs are decent, they fall neatly within the same pocket but few of them excel above the others or fall far short. "Luxury" with Westside Gunn is one of what I would call the better ones but I like the clarity of the production. "Asking Bodie For a Package" featuring Skarr Akbar is somewhat of a story about the hustler's struggle but then again just about all of Skyzoo's verses are pretty much the same style. Skarr spits an alright verse but he didn't go all in like he is capable of.

Now most of the time I go way in deep on like every song but there isn't much for me to explain. Skyzoo is very bread and butter, the production is in a certain lane and doesn't deviate from the formula. The bars are all decent to above average on every song but there are few joints that are just one superbly tight theme that can't fit on another song. For his fans you will be satisfied but for me, my ear was never really drawn to any one thing to hold on to and really be drawn into the album. This is the same thing I heard on some of his other material, it's really good, but not great product that is definitely the sound I grew up on but it's missing the panache that elevates some artists over others.

Rating: 3/5

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Album Review- King Los- God, Money, War

The artist you all might know as King Los started off years ago as just plain "Los" here in Baltimore over a decade ago back when I was running around with my friends trying to get on as well. It's interesting to see some of the national accolades after those years of local labels and even the failed stint Los had on the original cast of Making the Band and then his subsequent signing to Bad Boy after all of that as an artist and then getting dropped and bounced around. So there is a lot of work and years in this new album, "God, Money, and War".

The album starts off with "War" which features Marsha Ambrosius. The first half of the song is plain normal intro type music, but the second half gives that first glimpse of his lyricism to those who are unfamiliar with his work. Especially when he moves into his more rapid flow which is better than his slower one and he still maintains his lyrics. This is also evident on "Ghetto Boy" where he also channels some different sounds and techniques, like rock drums and distorted vocals on a pre-chorus of sorts. This song is unconventional in its composition but it works as an overall audio product.

"Black Blood" featuring Isaiah Rashad and Kent Jamz as they go into a song about how the drama and trauma of the streets has raised them up from the streets a la black roses from the concrete. The song itself isn't for me but i appreciate the concept. The title track "God, Money, War" is dedicated to the streets and Los also adds in the overall political element. Once again the track shines when he switches up the flow. "Blame it on the Money" samples Masta Ace to my ears with some heavy synths and bass. the beat is crazy for sure.

"Glory to the Lord" with R, kelly came out a little while ago but it's not that great to me. It sounds to Big Sean type for me. "Slave" with Eskeerdo is only average to me, when Los is rapping fast he's rocking, but when he isn't it reminds me of a Shy Glizzy type of song and that's beneath Los. he song itself reminds me of Wale's chain music in the theme though. "King" with Puffy and Mark Battles is a throwback to the time when Los would just rap and go off, 90's style.

At the end of the day I saw some crazy initial reactions of the album but thats fine, he can rap and with todays industry being so watered down it can cause those over reactions. To me the album is solid, maybe just above today's mix tape quality for the most part with some stand out songs and varied production that is lively and fits Los' style and voice. Anyone who knows him, knows Los can spit the question is can he put together a full album and for the most part he did but for me I needed just a little bit more to elevate his debut to someone like B.O.B. or Wale, but he definitely has the potential to step his game up.

Rating: 3.5/5

Monday, June 22, 2015

Book Review- Ja Rule - Unruly

Ja Rule was underrated as an artist by myself and others. It is only in hindsight that I find myself wishing Rule was still in the public eye and making music again. This book is really based off of letters written during his time in prison where he finally had the time to reflect upon his life and put the story together much like another bio i recently read from Rick James.

The story is the general one from the hood most of the time but Ja tries to make it more meaningful through his letters that are interspersed throughout the book. There he tries to give an overview of his feelings at that moment and the broader societal implications before the book goes into a detailed chapter that follows the theme. Early on the book moves quickly, too quickly in fact. I mean the first couple of chapters lay a good groundwork but then the formative early teenage years are really glossed over, especially as it relates to Ja starting to get into rap. He mentions that he is trying to get into music, but never really gets into the trials of that, was he going to dingy studios? making mix tapes of songs and handing them out? There is some written about writing his lyrics but it isn't in depth at all.

In fact the one thing he does do is sort of over estimate and have an inflated sense of importance of trying to speak on social issues but the insights are little and follow the normal line of thinking from urban communities. The book also fails to fill in a lot of details on teh actual process once he gets signed to Def Jam and the album creation with the exception of a couple of songs. Now I feel like this is because he wants to be this example of growth and self reflection but those moments seem so superficial save a moment in the last third of the book where he talks about reconnecting with his estranged father. In fact the vast majority of the emotional connection and evidence of growth comes from anything involving his pops.

Another thing I didn't like was how the story was organized at points chronologically. I think it takes a lot of weight from his entire set of struggles with the way its set up. He condenses certain parts into the thematic sections when the true weight of what Ja went through isn't as evident. For instance the beef with 50 Cent ends up kind of being the majority of a chapter and doesn't feel natural or like it was the reality. It is sort of like Prodigy's (Mobb Deep) bio where it feels like his role is overly exaggerated. Then the portion that deals with Karrine Steffans is severely minimized and condensed yet in the few paragraphs given, it seems as if it was a major issue for Ja.

Overall it was a strong start but the book lost a lot of steam and I feel like it fell victim to unrealistic expectations on the social impact and a desire to try and keep a lot of useful and interesting information close to the vest. To that end, the chapters about his father and grandparents are really good as are the letters from prison. I just think the storytelling wasn't in depth enough about the things I wanted to know and the editing could have been tighter in regards to sequence.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Independent Wednesday

 Let's start this week with Partners in Irony, a duo from Columbus Ohio who dropped their video for "Love and Happiness". The group is going for an old school feel with this song and are a lot like some of the new young hipster groups dropping these days. I don't mean that negatively, but what I do see from these two is a lot of youth. While not straight raw, they need some finishing and to kind of grow up a bit and polish themselves. They look to be in-between being normal and really becoming artists in the way when you see them it comes across immediately.

This will extend to and help their music and rapping as well making it more consistent.

I got this track from an artist who goes by Sanghera called "Hold Me". The song is a laid back track and it reminds me of the late 90's quiet storm radio intros you would hear at 10pm when the slow jams took over local radio. The flow can seem a little rough and the hook and female vocals aren't mixed as well as they could be in my opinion to truly blend in but I still seem to like this track. Now he also submitted another song called "In The valley" and it's not a great ground breaking song but it's catchy and I like it. Sanghera has a little something here although I can't put my finger on it.

We have to finish up back in NY with Bronx rapper Joey Sucio and his submission "Off The Rocker" which is classic hardcore NY hip-hop, but the good kind not the out dated BS. The song is tough and the flow is on point the entire time. Looking and listening to some of his other songs one thing that Joey has to do to make it further is find a way to break up his voice and cadence sort of how Kendrick lamar finds ways to make it so that you dont get tired and start tuning out his voice.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Independent Wednesday

We have another Kansas City MC this week named Domineko with his joint "Smantha" which is produced by Curbside Jones. Let me say this, the track is nice even if it is sort of the almost over produced stuff I normally shy away from, but overall it's a nice backdrop. Now Domineko's lyrics aren't bad but they aren't all that great either especially the hook. I'm just about always against the use of the word Fuck in a chorus it just seems lazy and in this instance it could have done better to have something less straightforward to keep up with everything else going on in the song.  Now listening to more of his songs Domineko has a great rap voice and I like the delivery. I would like to hear some different production that maybe isn't so old-school or chopped soul. I do suggest you check out his "Wood Floors" LP though.

First thing I thought when I heard this was what southern city is Hotboy Mula from? Turns out he is from Paterson New Jersey and his song "Actin Funny" is right in the sweet spot for popular rap music today. A weird voice on the hook and verses and a simple song about money and this really could be on the radio across the country today. Personally I dislike this song immensely but when looking at the overall culture he is trying to pop at the right time, especially considering the recent success of fellow New Jersey product Fetty Wap and the entire sound from Chicago. Now I did hit up his soundcloud and "Stressin" is slightly better to my ear and seems like it would be an even stronger single but it isn't breaking new ground by any means.

I may have saved this week's best for last but you can be the judge of that. Sincerely Yours (thats a throwback rap name for sure) dropped off his single "Everything I Love" and this is definitely a polished song and sound. The beat by producer Slot-A is very 'industry sound' and quality as my friends and I would have said, and the verses and flow are on point. The other thing I think artists need to take note of is the mix is crispy and on point with the vocals not being drowned out by a producer who just looks to showcase his beat. It's refreshing to hear a non-drill Chicago rapper and Sincerely Yours is worth multiple listens he has the 'ready to make it' sound. I mean there is some J.Cole in there, but thats just because he is the newest artist that comes to mind but if you're a fan of his I think you would do good to check out Sincerely today.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Indpendent Wednesdays

So today I listened to this joint from Tommy Swisher called "Rockstars". This is a slowed down 'rockish' rap song. Rock in the way the cadence on the hook is and the drums and some guitar sounds are sequenced within the track. Now lyrically it's pretty simple but it's cool up until the end where there is a ridiculous amount of F-bombs that really don't serve an artistic purpose to me other than to say them, but you can be the judge on that yourself.

 Now for a change I'm going to take it to the R and B side because I kind of liked the songs from Rhonnie O'neal. She has a sweet voice that reminds me of Marsha Ambrosius a little bit and these songs from her short EP release, "The May" . The only issue I have is that it isn't mixed where it needs to be. The vocals are way too low and get drowned out by the solid musical backdrops but they aren't working together as well as they could.

Finishing up this week is EMJA with his track "Acura Legend".  A soul sample that has the artist reminiscing a bit is a very cool joint to ride out to. It isn't ultra lyrical but it does paint a pretty solid picture of hanging out as a youth. The Kansas City rapper has a nice flow and doesn't do anything to make the song wack by any means.The one thing I will say listening to some of his other music is that he still needs to step up opportunities on the flow. It can stay too simple at times and if you're going to do that you have to really get nice with the verbiage and metaphors. It's pretty much a common problem these days if you're not trash juice people let you live but I would stress EMJA needs to push a little bit further.