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Friday, July 31, 2015

Album Review- Joell Ortiz and Illmind - Human.

I am not a fan of a lot of producer centric albums with artists. There are often too many self-indulgent pieces based around the production, which I understand that it can be as much of an art as just crafting raps and bars but it can often be too over done in my opinion. Especially these more underground guys who end up making everything sound alike so though I am a fan of Joell Ortiz, I have some trepidation of the new album he has with producer Illmind "Human".

The album starts with a production intro with Joell talking about how he feels a need to explain more of his story, yet all of the projects he has put out are about this era before he was able to make it in rap so this is a bit redundant. The first song is "New Era" and the beat is a brooding looping piano riff as the basis with a heavy drum and bass line. The bars are solid as Joell talks about how real it is in the environment in which he grew up. "I Just Might" has Joell rapping about what he might just do that you can't because he's better or realer than you. It's another heavy track that almost seemed like it is born of the end of New Era.

"Light an L" is definitely a throwback NY style of track from the slow beat and as uncommercial as can be hook to the description of living in the roughest projects in New York. "Lil Piggies" has Joell switching up his delivery and at this point in the album it's a good idea cause the overall sounds are so much alike that it needs something to make it different. As far as the song itself Joell is sending warning shots to dudes who might talk slick. The best song to me is "Latino, Pt. 2" which has Emilio Rojas, Bodega Bamz, and the star, the raw and talented Chris Rivers, son of Pun.

"Who Woulda Knew" is the hard love life song on the album and "Bad  Santa" is an interesting concept about fatherhood and the relationship with kids when there is is strife with the baby mother and touring and schedules can get in the way.  Now "My Niggas" and "Six fo'" seem like wastes especially when there are only 10 tracks, 9 songs. They weren't really good enough and interesting to capture my attention.

The album is decent, it isn't as bad as it could be but the one thing I do fear is so much production being by one person trying to keep a unified sound or theme is everything kind of sounds alike. The drums on most of the songs are the same and the entire album is heavy mood wise when you listen to the production. There needs to be something else to freshen or liven up some parts of the record. The subject matter has been well trod as well like I said before with Joell handling most of these subject multiple times, maybe he is trying to get that era of his life perfect on wax and this isn't bad especially if you haven't kept the older albums in rotation.

Rating: 3/5

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Throwback Thursday Review- Puff Daddy and the Family - Now Way Out

The year 1997 was right in the middle of the golden age of 90's hip-hop that many people have decided is one of the best two eras in hip-hop history, the other being the previous late 80's era. 1997 was the year after the murder of Tupac Shakur and saw hip-hop lose the East Coasts biggest artist Biggie aka Notorious BIG in gun violence in March of that year. In the beginning of July, Bad Boy founder Sean Puff Daddy Combs released his first label compilation where he served as the headliner, in the first release (other than Biggies own album) after the death of his friend and artist. You have to wonder what additional changes would have come if Big was there to finish. This week, the Throwback Thursday album review belongs the "No Way Out" by Puff Daddy and the Family as they were known at the time.

The album starts with the classic BIG verses on Victory which feature his pre verse talking and Puff's small introductions to the massive verses from the Notorious One. This is one of the true memorable beats and raps of the era as it brings in the album with the voice hip-hop would come to miss. The hook provided by Busta Rhymes always leads me to believe there are bars out there from Busta on this track. This is followed up by a more upbeat track that probably was destined to feature a verse from BIG as he is on the hook of the song which the new Bad Boy star Mase and Puff traded verses on what would be the second single from the album.

The thing you can tell on this album is Puff isn't truly comfortable with being an artist himself at this point. "What are you gonna do?' for example, he struggles mightily on. "Do You Know" which is an introspective track inluenced by the loss of Biggie is a decent song but Puff doesn't really have his flow together. "Young G's" has him reciting a verse that sounds like it was written by feature artist Jay-Z and seems to fit more with Puffs abilities. The song is brought to a close with a verse by Biggie which sums up the song quite nicely.

Black Rob came through with his simple but effective story telling for the first time on "I Love You Baby" before leading into another classic track and song "All About the Benjamins" which we all bumped so heavy back in those days. This song still knocks today. I do question sequencing and following the Benjamins with the puff solo "Pain" which while it has depth, again has Puff struggling to work with the beat before going into something more mellow and smooth which features Twista who kills "This is The End".

There is some filler type tracks like the wanna be single that features Lil Kim "Don't You Stop" and another failed old soul sample "Friend". I don't like the sound of "I Got The Power" at all. "I'll be missing you" really should end off the album but I think I get the thematic reasons for ending with the first single "Can't Nobody Hold Me Down" which is hilarious as it doesn't seem anywhere near melodic enough to power an album's release.

This is a bright spot and the thing is when you go back you remember all the songs you never really listened to and have to bring down the album grade. If those four or five didn't exist this would be a perfect record, but as it is 4 of the 17 tracks should have gone to the mix tape circuit and not the actual realease, dropping the grade down some.

Rating: 3.5/5

Monday, July 27, 2015

How important is it to write your own raps?

Well worn out over the past week has been the barbershop discussion of whether or not Drake writes his own bars and then whether or not that is even important and the opinions are flying all over. Let me drop in with my nickel of wisdom on the matter.

As rap has become more and more fragmented, the mainstream artists have been looked at more and more like pop artists and it has indeed become more acceptable to the masses to just make good music regardless of where the words are actually coming from. I like Kanye but I did lose a certain amount of respect when I learned that Rhymefest co-authored Jesus Walks. One, because a rapper is supposed to write his own bars, but two it was such a deep and different kind of song that seemed to reflect a personal sentiment. That therein lies the problem, hip-hop is considered the ultimate self-expression. The rhymes you hear are from the artists mouths and hearts for the most part and are taken very personally by the fans.

The thing about Drake is you have a lot of people proclaiming him on top of the game and not just because he makes good solid records (which I can admit) but they also put him as one of the top rappers in ability (I have always disagreed on that) and being called on the carpet about that is the most serious charge in rap aside from being an informant. The other people who have had songs written for them are never put in that category of top or elite artists. Bow wow, Dre, Puffy, lil Kim may sell records but as far as rap criticism they will never make the 'hall of fame'.

Now some of you may not care about that, in fact most of the public will now turn and claim that it doesn't matter to them, mostly to save face on being fooled for all of this time. The reason a guy like Drake makes it to the position he can be in is because he starts with that true underground love and respect which promotes him until he bubbles and reaches a critical mass that allows him to be a star. That love is built upon that initial idea that this is him and he makes these songs. It is critical to him becoming the man he is so for a lot of people this is a violation.

Now let's look at what is even more likely to have happened from all of the evidence, much like a singer buying a song from Ne-Yo or R. Kelly, he had a reference track which is the weirdest thing we have seen in hip-hop. That might be worse because one of the things Drake is universally lauded for is his song creation ability. If a guy is paying someone else to create the song structures and melodies then that is the thing he is known for and how can he be the man in rap? There are a lot of things that end up being bothersome about all of this at the end of the day but what I can say is that it marks a change in the way we look at and evaluate rap artists in the future.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Album Review- Hopsin - Pound Syndrome

Hopsin is an artist who can be polarizing. While he looks like he could be a nerdy or shock rapper sort of like Tyler the Creator, there is a serious depth beneath the veneer that doesn't fit the conventional. He has had several long form videos such as his 'Mind of Hopsin" series but he also has had struggles, both dealing with the fame and the industry and just being in hip-hop in general. He is someone that a lot of mainstream fans would look past but this new album, "Pound Syndrome" could change your mind.

"The Pound" introduction is a spitter's intro, with a beat that is at a nice tempo that allows Hopsin to go off and start the album with a serious rap about his style and status and is a good mix of what you will encounter coming forward. Now the first official track, "Forever Ill" has a hook that I don't look and an awkward sound that will definitely remind people of something off the beaten path like an odd future but that's more in the production, the verses are straight up back pack hip-hop as he criticizes other rappers in the industry. I enjoyed "Ramona" with Jarren Benton which is a story about a crazed groupie named Ramona. It would probably remind folks of something Eminem might have done but it also happens to be more creative than a lot of the songs you'll hear on most albums.

"Fort Collins" with Dizzy Wright is a song he made to apologize to fans and explain skipping out on a show in Colorado and the struggles he goes through with dealing with being an artist who is known. "No Hope" is a song for 'the successful one' in a crew or family who feels the pressure of people leaning on them to support their lifestyles. "Ill Mind of Hopsin 7" the series where Hopsin questions and discusses everything that he is thinking about, from the industry to faith came out quite a while ago (over a year)  but it is still worth a listen for anyone who wants to hear rap verses with some real content.

"No Fucks Given" is average in it doesn't stand out amongst the rest of the songs. I'm not jumping over "Mr. Jones" either. "I Just Can't" ends the album and the track doesn't really go with the flow as Hopsin goes in on the industry again. Speaking of going in on the industry, the skit "No Words" has him damn near recreating Future's career in under 2 minutes. I really like "Fly" which is created just to emphasize what the content of the rhymes is on the song as Hop encourages self reflection and discovery to find yourself.

Truthfully I think Hopsin is one of the more surprising and better rappers that is overlooked by the mainstream because of his image and the fact he isn't a hood or trap rapper. He isn't cool or all about swag either. This album is more about what has happened with him since he released his debut and the things that have changed around him. While he was already critical of the industry he is able to speak from a different perspective now. The thing is his voice isn't the best and most conducive to constant listening but the biggest issue is perception, he isn't in the 'cool' mainstream of urban culture (which he tackles on the album by the way) so he will always be looked at differently but he is worth listening to.

Rating: 3.5/5

Album Review- Capone N Noreaga - Lessons

One of the most successful hardcore hip hip groups to emerge at the end of the 90's "golden era" was Capone N Noreaga, affectionately known as CNN. The Queens duo has had many ups and downs but have found themselves in a solid spot at this point in their career. With a solid core following, they can afford to do albums for their sheer enjoyment, and Nore has enjoyed his time being active on twitter and frequenting the Breakfast Club. With plenty of experience under their belts, CNN drops their new album " Lessons"

The album starts off with an intro by Tragedy Khadafi, one of the instrumental figures in the Queens rap scene who helped bring the duo to the mainstream. He is a perfect person to bring in this album because he taught them a lot as well as learned himself as the group has gone through many ups and downs and he figures as the de facto third member on this album. Musically, "Future" opens the album in classic Capone N Noreaga style with a grimey beat that samples audio from the cult classic The Warriors. Nore actually seems to put thought into his bars on this joint and he has his trademark realism and a throwback to NY seriousness on this track. This is also a great chance to see how Capone is different and how they work together, while Capone raps more about what has happened than leading into what is to come.

"Pizza" is some cool throwback NY shit that doesn't have a real cohesive point other than to just showcase an event as they experienced it. "Foul 120" has the same vibe of mix tape NY rap and features solid performances from Raekwon, Capone and Tragedy. Noreaga however trips all over the beat and it seems like he is out of rhymes by this point in the album. I also was digging the chamber music feel of "Shooters Worldwide" as well as "7 Continents" with Tragedy and Royal Flush.

The album isn't without mis-steps that don't involve Nore. "3 on 3" which features Tragedy and the Lox is just a bunch of noise in a failed attempt to have a classic posse cut. It just doesn't work. "Chinese Girl" is totally something that should have never seen the light of day for real. "Not Stick You pt 2" tries to have a story and give depth with the phone line effects but the beat is boring, and the story itself doesn't make sense and it's a generic robbery tale.

Capone n Noreaga are never going to be everyone's cup of tea even if you are a fan of that era of rap music. It's hardcore but that doesn't make it good. This album is too long and I understand the allegiance with Tragedy but he doesn't add enough to be on so many songs. Thats the other thing, there are too many tracks. At 12 it would have been still more songs than I would like to see that I would consider as less than stellar but it would be at least half. The first 6 or 7 tracks are cool and I think accomplished the core goal of the album but it loses steam and gets old pretty fast.

Rating: 2/5

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Throwback Thursday album Review - Bone Thugs-n-Harmony - E. 1999 Eternal

In July of 1995 a group from the midwest who had just turned hip-hop sideways released their second album. That group is Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. The group which was found by Easy-E and signed to Ruthless Records had twisted us up with their quick multi-syllabic rap style which added harmonizing elements with Creepin on ah Come Up, but that album was so short it was almost an EP. This is a full length follow up "E. 1999 Eternal" for this week's throwback Thursday album review.

"Da Introduction" has a really long intro before they get into rapping over a slow beat with haunting organs playing which gives that dark feel it seems they were going for. But the next song "East 1999" comes in with some serious bass. This track is serious and probably slept on by none Bone aficianados cause they aren't the easiest random listen, although if you aren't worried about lyrics you can nod and right out to this. "Crept and We Came" features Bizzy with a flow that sounds like Eminem borrowed from on "Just Lose it", and it is very catchy and draws you into a song that maintains the album dark flow but moves in a more energetic way. The song itself is about how they are still the same guys despite their success.

OF course this album is remembered for creating "Crossroads" the smash and classic hit about dealing with death. This is one of the few songs where you hear more than six or seven words. "Land of the Heartless" is more about the streets and how rough it is in Cleveland. In fact just about every song references Cleveland, proving Bone was determined to put on for their area. The other huge hit was the dope dealer anthem "1st of tha Month" which has a simple, repeatable hook about the celebrations that occur when checks come out.

I haven't listened to this album in years but what i can say is that it's still hard to tell what the hell is going on in the actual songs themselves. This is because of the layering used to create the harmonies along with their flows. but an artist like Twista I can still hear his actual words. it's a bit disconcerting when you want to do something other than listen to the harmonies which can definitely lull you. I can also see how weed smokers would enjoy their music because it's just so melodic and you can just nod your head to it. For me it's cool but I can never really get into it because it's so complicated to listen to.

Rating: 2.5/5

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Independent Wednesday

This week we're going to start with a rap/ r and b hybrid song by G.J. . Honestly I know those are intials but it's always an awkward set of consonants to pronounce, like a tongue twister. As for the single I was sent, "Burn" the production is decent but the mixing is slightly underwhelming as the vocals aren't clear and as crispy as I would like. This also comes from listening to their mix tape as well, a touch more treble would help. For this song it's alright, I'm not going to say it's bad cause it's not but it isn't ground shattering either. Also listening to multiple songs, She is the stronger talent and the rapping elements need to go away or be ghost written. They just don't really work. Overall, with some more work and development this duo can improve and find a place but they need more creativity with the male singer's parts to make it work for the best.

Next up is Artist Noir who has some tracks I don't care for to be sure but also some that make me go ok, he's doing something here. The big thing is I think he can make it. As I sometimes can tell, he has the "industry sound" which means what he is doing sounds professional from the production and mixing standpoint as well as the content and arrangement. It's a nice set of talents and skills that put you into that comfortable pocket. The song he sent me was called "Pussy" and it's a pimping song, which I can say is a recurring theme for him, however the song that I think is what should be pushed is "Mirrors" which has too much auto tune for me but looking at the game it's right there where it could break through.

Now I'm not normally a fan of overseas rappers. A lot of times it's the accent and it sounds really off to my ears. I must say though Big Ribzy isn't that bad to me. The UK rapper drew me in with the song "Iceberg Slim" the intro to his new EP which is called "No Games". Maybe it's his inclusion of things I take as typically American like Lean but it's pretty cool. For my less mainstream music fans it might be worth a listen or two.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Throwback Thursday Reviews - Me Against The World

Listening to new music often feels somewhat pointless to me because I just don't feel it. One of the things hip-hop isn't good with is remembering our past. There are a few reasons but that's neither here nor there. So I'm going to try and get a new series of posts, reviews of albums I had in my youth long before I ever started this blogging thing. First up, Tupac's "Me Against the World".

Me Against the World was the second parental advisory album that I ever got and my parents got me this for Christmas. They didn't have much knowledge int he way of what was going on in the rap scene overall but this was a good pick even if they didn't know it. The album starts with "If i Die Tonight" where Pac came with an aggressive flow that had one of his stronger rhyme schemes and relied heavily on alliteration yet it wasn't just pointless rhyming which Pac generally didn't do. Thats not to say he always had great lyricism because there aren't any metaphors or similes on this song but it's damn near perfect for what he makes. It tells a story of the daily struggle and in just a great way. Let's also get the greatness which is "Dear Mama" out of the way now. I'm not sure if this was the biggest single Pac had, in a few years the industry would love rap music even more but this might have been it. Just the tenderness in with Tupac talked to and about his mother to the world makes this one of the best and most important songs in hip hop ever.

"Fuck The World" is another aggressive track as Pac pretty much yells at everyone over a West Coast classic funk fueled beat. it's a rallying cry for him, his peoples, and whoever is down with him and his movement. "Death Around the Corner" is about having the life where at any minute it could be ended in the streets. Once again the production is extra strong and Pac channels that lifestyle. It would seem that it is too similar to Fuck the world but there is a different aura around this track, it's not to say it isn't as rebellious, but "Death around the corner" is more of the resigned aspect where in this version of the story he isn't rebelling against the life but embracing it to be the best at it.

Now back then I wasn't a fan of  "Can you Get Away" and I'm still not although I understand it a bit more. But while he tries to have the 'love your women' message his slow cadence and straight forward nature make the song a struggle. "Lord Knows" I think has some strong production for the era but the over singing on the hook doesn't help things. It also beats the well worn topic of hood life but it is a bit better than I initially thought. "Young Niggas" covers the same ground but is more personal and is more of the "how" you become a thug instead of what being one is.

"Temptations" was the third single and I just vividly remember the video. It's pretty straight forward but the track and the classic r and b groove hook definitely sold this song. "Old School" doesn't really fit in witht he rest of the album in tenor really and i can do without it.

The album was really more West Coast than I remembered it being on this listen because I can pull out every funk influence and synthesizer sound. This is still Pac's best work even though some of the songs that aren't good still aren't. They don't all appreciate but the good ones were so good it seems a shame that a song like "old school" is there to kind of bring the album down. I feel like that was a huge production mistake even if the vibe remained the same.This album is a classic but I can't call it a complete 5 because it's 3 songs I still can't drum up the nostalgia for.

Rating 4.5/5


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