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Friday, September 18, 2015

Album Review- Mac Miller - GO:OD AM

I remember when Mac Miller first hit the scene along the same time as Wiz Khalifa and Asher Roth (who had all the money behind him) and it was questionable if he would have staying power. Was he just another gimmick white rapper in the hope of being the next Eminem? What Mac did was build upon his independent fun loving buzz fueled by the weed smoking counter culture. His second album got him some respect but those around the industry had that idea floating that drugs and partying were kind of bringing him down. After a bit of a hiatus, Mac has gotten things back together and his latest album, the first one on a major label, "GO:OD am"

The first single from the album is called "Brand Name" which has a nice laid back soul sample in it and crisp drums where Mac raps a bit about consumption and how it is kind of meaningless in and of itself, especially for those who identify themselves by these things. "100 Grandkids" flips the idea that his mother want's grand children with himself getting 100 grand as a kid and being able to hustle and make money which takes precedence over having kids. The beat for the song is enveloping but still feels a little more like Blue Slide Park Mac that he has moved away from.

"In The Bag" is a banger for the whip or the club which isn't about nothing but Mac needs to push this as a single. "Break The Law" has a distinct feel to it and I can't quite put my hands on it, it's crisp, with the topic being getting money and getting high, but it's a cool little joint. "Perfect Circle/ God Speed" is a more introspective song combo on the album with Mac doing the 'dealing with success' song and God speed is about those relationships which inevitably fall off. "When in Rome" is another raucous joint perfect for the turn up.

Now as far as features, the album is kind of limited, Ab soul joins Mac on "Two Matches" which is a nice jazzy composition."Time Flies" features weirdo Lil B talking on the track. Chief Keef is on "Cut The Check", while Miguel handles the chorus duties on "Weekend".

There are a lot of songs on the album and none of them are bad but at the same time Mac Miller's voice and production are a bit monotone. Then there are no exceptionally deep tracks and the topics of money, fun, and drugs get typically boring after a while even when his is rapping pretty well. I like a few of the songs but there is nothing on the album that makes me feel like I will have to listen to it multiple times. For some people In The Bag and When in Rome might be upbeat enough to get into someone's rotation but for me I can't really listen to Mac for a long time. This is a step back to the Mac Miller that first hit the scene but not an overall improvement from his debut.

Rating: 2.5/5

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Throwback thursday- DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince - Code Red

Will Smith as he is known now was originally just the fresh Prince, a fun loving sometimes comedic rapper who created one of the all time hip-hop songs in Summertime on the Home Base album. The residuals from that song still have to be enough to pay my salary for a year. After that, he ended up doing TV and during the run of his show released his last album as The Fresh Prince with long time friend, DJ and sometimes producer Jazzy Jeff in 1993. While listening to an old school playlist, some of the songs came up and inspired this week's Throwback Thursday album review, "Code Red".

The first song on the album, "Somethin Like Dis" is definitely in the vein of their previous music but slightly more matured with a go-go inspired sound for the party scene of the day. I'm pretty sure "Doin da Butt" was popular when this dropped as is some of the DJ Kool inspired songs so this was a fit. Then they followed up with the single which I thought was really tough although it never hit the top of the charts in the US with "Boom! Shake The Room". Now this song took the party vibe and tried to meld it more with the hip-hop of the time just a bit because this is the time the gangster rap period was officially taking hold and for a while fun music wasn't around in rap without having some serious lyrics about violence and drugs so this song represented the end of an era for party records in a few ways, in fact after this, r and b took the place of these kinds of rap songs.

There are some somewhat middling songs on the LP as it sometimes seems as though they wanted to show more depth and not just the fun going side and the concepts are decent but they aren't catchy and Will wasn't the best lyricist. "Shadow Dreams" for existence is trying to encourage the listeners to fight for what people tell them can't be done and to accomplish the impossible. It's a great concept but lyrically could have been better even though the production fits pretty perfectly in the vein of where they fit in the hip-hop hierarchy of the time. "Just Kickin It" actually kind of reminds me of Summertime a little bit but doesn't make that same magic. The title track "Code Red" sounds sort of House of Pain-ish and it tries to marry the funny story telling style with a new sound backdrop with The Prince talking about avoiding getting caught cheating by his girlfriend.

"Scream" is the same way just average, "Ain't No Place Like Home", below that, and "I'm looking for the one to Be with Me" is an alright new jack swing flavored attempt to get some more singles distance in the cruising lane like summertime was. I did enjoy "Can't Wait To Be With You" which features the strong vocals of Christopher Williams on the hook. The other real highlight of the album however was "I Wanna Rock" which is a bit of a showcase for Jeff and has The Fresh Prince rapping about how nice Jeff is after a mixed and scratched introduction.

For 1993, a year in transition and two young men at a crossroads Code Red isn't a bad album at all. It's not stellar either and can easily be listened to at any time. It's a little unfortunate some of the songs aren't just a little bit better or more energetic. Jeff was clearly getting more into the soul and jazz music at this point and Will went right along to try and show a different side but the album went too far completely I think and maybe should have used some less heavy sampling at points to bring the lightness they were known for out more. This isn't to say this was a dark or heavy album, but for this duo who was known for the party and being fun and funny it's just slightly off from that aim.

Rating: 2/5

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Throwback Thursday - Bulworth Soundtrack

At this point, there are those of you who actually remember what a soundtrack is and when they were an insanely important part of the marketing effort of an album. Back in 1998 a 'fish out of water' movie named Bulworth which starred Halle Berry and Warren Beatty was released and while it was modestly succesful (maybe my memory fails me) and popular with some cinephiles, the soundtrack made way more headway in the circles which I belonged at the time. Produced by Dr. Dre, it had some interesting music and also featured a pre-Ruff Ryders Eve amongst the tracks.

The album started with the lead single "Zoom" which featured LL Cool J and Dre. Dre produced the bass heavy track with LL being his most LL as he brags and talks about his status but much like in Flava in ya Ear there are times he doesn't make much sense though there are subtle jabs at Canibus with whom he had beef with at the time. The most successful song by far was the Wyclef Jean produced "Ghetto Superstar" which featured singing by Mya and verses from Pras of the Fugees and ODB. Speaking of Canibus, his song "How Come" which was also created by Wyclef featured Haitian artist Youssou N'Dour on some really lyrical that talks about the heaven's and earth and is slightly political and philosophical. It showed the kind of thing Canibus was capable of although he never really was able to harness this talent.

Now Wu fans might have liked the RZA song ""The Chase" but I have never ever been a fan of his flow and rap style. The beat is also very different and just seems like someone was hitting buttons to find songs that fit for different areas. Mack 10 and Ice Cube collaborated on "Maniac in the Brainiac" on some classic Wets Coast shit but Mack 10 is so lackluster it's crazy. I have to wonder what happened to artist "Nutter Butter" whose song "Freak Out" is about his prowess with the ladies. A group you might familiar now is Black Eyed Peas with "Joints & Jams" which has some DNA of the hits they would later have along with their underground jazz influenced roots.

Cappadonna, long the bane of Wu-Tang fan's ire has a solo song "Run" which is better than the Rza's contribution. Female rapper D-Fyne reps for the West Coast on "Bytches are Hustlers Too". B-Real has a song and i am not a Cypress Hill fan so I can do without "Lunatics in the Grass".  It fits that in a Political satire soundtrack Public Enemy would have a song, "Kill Em Live".

Another region featured was the southern flavor of the Dungeon Family with Witchdoctor with "Holiday/ 12 Scanner" with a song about the hoods of Atlanta. The beat is cool and fits with the Dre style production that comes before it while still being original. The title track "Bulworth (They Talk about it while we live it)" features some great production by DJ Muggs and vocals from Prodigy and KRS-One who goes in on the magazines publishing about music and their lack of diversity, notably Spin and Rolling Stone but also the Source which was founded by Dave Mays. It also features Kam and Method Man. They finished up with Kam, who happened to be the weakest link. The album also had the unexpected at the time highlight from Eve on "Eve of Destruction" where she talks about being about to break out and not going back to Philly. Unfortunately, she was with Dre at the worst time during that early Aftermath time and ended up leaving the label, but just think about the fact Dre had both her and Joell Ortiz signed at the same time along with Rakim.

At the end of the day the Bulworth soundtrack was uneven yet it had points that were extremely interesting and the fact that Dr. Dre was involved was a huge plus. The other thing is most of the songs don't seem to go together or with the movie but it was a different experience.

Rating: 2/5

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Independent Wednesday

This week a Boston rapper who goes by the name of "Greatness" is our first up. Now with a rap name like that there is a lot of hype to live up to. For me he isn't quite there but there is some potential in this song it didn't start out very strong to me until the beat kind of broke down a bit and came back in when Greatness hit his stride. As for the track it is a straight forward rap track for the most part but it is filled in with rock guitars and it plays well especially during the verses. Now I'm not a fan of the hook but the song is decent overall. I tried to download his latest mixtape from his site but it  didn't work for me.

Next up is Shade Gang Crazy with a new song called "#OhYes". Shade Gang is made up of Cashbilz and Cool r the Don who are two solo artists coming together for a full project even though they pretty much work together often. The song is very busy with a fast tempo snare. Verses are alright nothing crazy to write home about but this is more of a song that fits in at the parties and last few cookouts of the year. The hook could have been more crisp and better done to really make it into a banger.

To finish up this week we're going to head down south to the A for artist Kristopher (formerly Kris J) who sent in some music for the 25 and under crowd. His song "Dope Lady" has the current sound of rap music in the mainstream down pat from the tweaked effects on his voice which I completely dislike to the beat and the way the hook is made. Now I also checked "Curtis Snow" on his sound cloud which was much better to me although the hook is weak to me, the young crowd will mess with it heavy. For me, I wouldn't listen to it too much cause it's not for my generation.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Album Review- Scarface- Deeply Rooted

A few months ago I read Scarface's autobiography after listening to an interview on the Combat Jack Show. I knew an album was coming soon but sort of forgot about it until recently when the speculation was answered and people started searching the internets for a leak. Well, the album officially dropped on September 4th and the time has come to see if the album is as good as billed by the legend himself as one of his best pieces of work.

The traditional Mr. Scarface sounds open the album before the first song "Rooted" which features singer Papa Rue on the chorus where Scarface drops bars where he gives you the realness about where he is coming from in the streets and for the people like him who claim that to respect the rules that come with it. The "Hot Seat" is a politically motivated track where on the surface it's just about getting locked up over a weekend and getting sentenced, but the deeper issues lie just underneath and he even comes with some great metaphors in the last verse that aren't top the of the head references.

"Anything" has Face warning those in the street lifestyle that their friends will do anything for their own survival from snitching to robbing their own crew. Scarface talks about struggles with the opposite sex and how the relationship changes on "Keep It Moving" which features an appearance from Avant who has been off of the scene for a while. On "You " he goes back to tell his mother he probably should have listened to her from the beginning but that's the hindsight which is always 20-20 until the last verse where he tries to let his own children know that he is now in the opposite position but hopes they can be better than him. The hook is carried out by Cee-Lo.

Now Scarface is also deeply religious and there are a couple of tracks where he delves into the topic of spirituality. "All Good" is the first while "Voices" is the second and coupled with reading his book and thinking about his mental health this one has some added meaning to it. "God" with the incomparable John Legend on the chorus is an examination of the world we're in today as it pertains to religion and how 'bad' things are or could be relatively speaking.

The album ends with "No Problem" which is kind of meant to remind everyone there is no softness here even though he may be willing to expose himself and his doubts a little bit because this song will let you know he isn't scared to handle business and what the repercussions are for testing. "Do What I do" is an excellent track and features Rick Ross, Z-Ro, and Nas . "Fuck You Too" and "Dope Man Pushing" are just serious hard songs with excellent tracks and Scarface really shows his King of the South and the Streets status.

While Scarface may say this is his best album ever I would have to slightly disagree just because the Fix is so iconic in my mind, however this could very well be his second best pieces of work. The production is solid and on-point as is Face's delivery and general message as well as his bars and flow. However, being the stickler that I am for growth from artists and change I do feel like so much of the content is already well-covered by Scarface throughout the other albums in his catalog. Especially after reading the book I feel like the album could have had just a bit more depth if he had talked about some of those issues, whether it be learning how to stay out of trouble on the streets, something introspective about his musical career itself, or something about his actual health which he had to improve which would set the tone for people coming up to think about something other than street life. For most these will be easily overlooked but for an artist with 12 albums in, they are the things that make an album something I will keep going back to.



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