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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Artists Love the Industry ...Until They Don't

So I was listening to the Sway interview and i got perturbed when DJ Khaled started complaining about magazines and hip-hop media not nominating him or he feels like, respecting what he does. This is a refrain that always happens at some point during the cycle of an illustrious career, the media, and the critics get bored or want to see you do some new tricks and his entire monologue about how award nominations are handed out doesn't make sense.

I'm going to start there. When you look at the most respected of awards in any field, they are never, ever given or dictated by the public. You know why, the public in general isn't expert enough to be able to do so. People within a given industry will know and understand to a greater extent the work ethic, the difficulties, and the final product because they live with it. This goes for contemporaries as well as the media who study and cover these things. Here is why, critics by and large love whatever form of art they are critiquing so much that they notice the minute details the average person overlooks when it comes down to it. That's why the Oscars are never given to the most successful movies in the theaters because there are things they use to draw in the public that aren't always the best techniques and are 'dumbed down' for the lack of a better term, for the mass audience.

Now, looking at someone who believes they have a long track record of success, a critic generally rewards that early on when it is new, fresh and exciting. Part of the reason that it doesn't continue is because at some point critics and audiences too start to look for something different, or even more. Denzel is one of the greatest actors ever but the point where he switched his roles up to something no one expected and yet convinced you that he had become that character was when he won an award, and why, because he proved he could move beyond a singular comfort zone into a new area. In music when a certain producer has a certain sound it becomes popular, rides a wave and then everyone gets used to that and the copycats and you can tell that they have a formula to do the same thing. At some point, that is no longer innovation and greatness, but an assembly line.

Now Khaled seemed to be upset about not being nominated for best collaboration at some point and feels like the fans would have changed this. I doubt it, but maybe it's just the arrogance that one needs in order to be successful that makes him think not, "It wasn't good enough" but instead "We don't want him to win again". At the same time, it should be a warning to switch it up. From Kanye to Taylor Swift, people who ride the wave for a while seem to feel they are entitled to that wave and not realize that like everyone before them, it is only theirs for a moment in time.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Album Review- DJ Khaled- I Changed A Lot

DJ Khaled has taken over the mantle that DJ Clue used to have as creator of the legit mix tape that is turned into an album. Since the South has taken over, he has been the fixture in hip-hop with his energetic ad-libs and collaborations as well as beat making The past couple of years, he has been doing his thing but hasn't had an album for a minute and he has had some singles in the build up to his new album release, "I've Changed A Lot".

The title kind of says one thing, but the music doesn't really show any growth in terms of what the style or subject matter is. The album starts with Future and Rick Ross on the first two tracks, "I Don't Play About My Paper", and "I Ride" which also include Jeezy and Lil Boosie. On Paper, Future has the hook and a verse where I don't understand but three or four words of his ultra-effects aided vocals. I actually like Ross' flow on both songs though but I can't stand Future and what he does. "Gold Slugs" is one of thr latest songs that have come out to support the album and it features Chris Brown, August Alsina, and the flavor of the summer, Fetty Wap. The song is really just average with a typical track and whatever Fetty actually does isn't good.

Now, the one song that could be a single if it were cleaned up somehow is "How Many Times" with Chris Brown, Lil Wayne and Big Sean. Even though Sean is the weak link, at least his verse is last, but Chris Brown makes the song. Some of you may remember "They Don't Love You Know More" which features French Montana on the hook and verses from pre-Drake beef Meek Mill, Jay-z and Rick Ross. The Jay feature is the most unlikely and he tries too hard to do whats popping now. "You Mine" with Jeremih, Trey Singz and Future

Now I'm not the biggest fan of "I Lied" but it is the most somewhat original spin on anything on the album. It features French Montana, Beanie Sigel, Jadakiss, and Meek Mill as they talk about how they swear to the judge or someone close who needs to hear that they are going to be honest about illegal activities only to knowingly lie. This is a song that had the potential if only one of the rappers had given an insight into why they lied other than that they just did it for the streets. However,  understand it is a bit unreasonable to have that expectation on this album. The other side of that is "I Swear I Never Tell Another Soul" which is the anti-snitching anthem and features Yo Gotti, Future, and an appearance from Trick Daddy. Ace Hood is only on two songs and neither really stands out.

A Khaled album is definitely a mixtape. It doesn't have anything that is a unifying theme and the title doesn't reflect the music or collaborations that we see. There isn't anything unexpected other than the Jay-z and Trick Daddy appearances. The production is all the same, really loud and heavy handed and there is way too much effects heavy voices on the album from singers like August Alsina to Future and Fetty Wap. The sound is almost grating, the one bright spot is the star talent that is Chris Brown who manages to bring something to any song he is featured on that elevates it. (side note the cover even looks like a mixtape. I understand synergy and promotion but that just looks corny and the address on the front, heat jersey....none of it works well.)

Rating: 2/5

As is Hip Hop Awards - Lyricist of the Year

Now we get into a more technical award, because you don't have to have the best album to win this, but just putting together a consistent year of bars and verses that are solid with both the skills such as metaphors, similes, alliteration and vocabulary mixed with solid content. This is an attempt to strip away catchy hooks and beats to focus on the words.

Lyricist of the Year

Drake - sike gtfoh until you can prove to me he is writing all of his own rhymes I can never consider this average lyrics having rappers as one of the best on this list again and I just want to put that out there. Back to Back can't save this guy because all of his accomplishments are in question in my mind.

Lupe Fiasco - Lupe is the guy that rap genius is meant for. His flow is smooth, straight up 90's Nas type flow with the smoothness of AZ because he maintains his patterns better than anyone else. Over both of his releases this year Lupe dropped some of the most complex bars in rap.

King Los - Los finally got the chance to show who he is and can be as an artist. He finally dropped his album and it was a bit better than expected although it had no singles. Los has the ability to make singles be more complex than before- see "No Options" by Kid Ink for example. He showed he is more than just bars with his release.

Wale - Wale is underrated as a lyricist and as a more emotional rapper than he is given credit for. He does a good job at being a poetic emcee in the vein of Common and his flow sometimes throws people off. With the ability to go to pretty much any part of the rap spectrum he showed he does have the ability to hang.

Kendrick Lamar - Here is the thing you don't stop with just his solo album but then go into the classic Man remix plus the records he helped pen for Dr. Dre on Compton and Kendrick has had a more than solid year with the bars.

The Winner is:

Lupe Fiasco

I actually tried my best to find a reason to give this to someone other than Lupe because of his penchant to make things as difficult as possible it seems. He also often puts his foot into his mouth or on his tweets as it may be although he is willing to go down with them but I just can't. I wanted to try and justify Kendrick because of his overall work but Lupe put in just as much and was more consistent and his flow is better. While Tetsuo is best consumed in chunks and not all at once it still is a superb example of just what hip-hop really is. Something designed for you to sit back and really acknowledge the poetry and ability as well as the subject matter. He then dropped another EP just for the hell of it. It's just no way around it, Lupe is a lyrical beast and deserves to be regarded as such by more than just indie and underground press.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

As Is Hip Hop Awards - Biggest Disappointment

So I really wanted to make this on the same place as the album of the year but that one got a bit long winded so here it is. Without further adieu the contenders:

Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly - While Kendrick may be alright, his album still left some things to be desired. There were moments when it was so esoteric it was hard to get a true handle on it. I have mentioned several times that one this album is more of an art project and simultaneously, was shown what it really wanted to be when Compton dropped. The blend was missing a little bit and it may have been too west coast heavy. GKMC was a great composition but it also had the easy listening quality to parts of it which this album lacked.

Meek Mill - Dreams Worth More Than Money - It kills me to give Meek another L this year but honestly aside from the other nonsense with Drake, the album just wasn't what it should or could have been. After the time he spent in jail I would have figured Meek would have added some depth or knowledge from the old heads into his album but it failed on several levels. His new relationship with Nicki Minaj provided the opportunity to try and squeeze a couple of singles onto the album and to hop on her tour but overall the album was really flat.

Drake - If You're Reading this You're Already Late - I still don't know if this was an actual album or a mixtape that was cleared to get out of label obligations. While at the same time he has been winning according to the streets I haven't been impressed musically, especially since fining out about the Quentin Miller reference tracks that exist and were used. But even before that I was never impressed with Drake's lyricism and verbal ability.

Nicki Minaj - The Pinkprint - Nicki Minaj has a lot of weight on her shoulders and her third album was one that was made while in the middle of heartbreak and a break up. Unfortunately it took away from her aggressiveness and she didn't really get much beyond the surface as it comes to her relationship status. Aside from "Only" none of the songs have seemed to have the longevity that Nicki is used to on the chart although her core fan base has not wavered one iota.

Biggest Disappointment of the Year

The winner or loser if you want to look at it that was is Kendrick Lamar. Honestly I'm not going to say that I didn't like to Pimp a Butterfly but at the same time the failure was more to this an album that was a closer extension to his debut mainstream album. This was exacerbated by the release of Compton a few months later which had a similar thematic feel to it although Kendrick's album was designed to be more political and hold the west coast feel, it could have used some more polishing to make it the album it could have been.

Monday, October 19, 2015

As is Hip Hop Awards- The Albums

I'm going to keep it short and sweet here, there are two lists I really think of when it comes to albums, The best and the most disappointing. Here is why, now the best albums is what everyone always wants to talk about, the validation of your fandom rests on how your favorite artist ranks among the best of the year. We seem to be so invested in this one aspect, and hell we all like titles. There is no bigger one than anything that says album of the year.

On the other end my favorite is the most disappointing award and that's not because I like to be negative, but to be real and let folks know what we kind of were looking forward to that let us down. Sometimes it isn't that it's a bad album at all, but that it doesn't blow us away like we want us to or it is overall lacking in some way. At the end of the day I feel like it's just as important to be critical in areas where we are let down as those which we love so that true growth and improvement can happen.

With all that said, let's look at the contenders.

Album of the Year:

Wale- The Album About Nothing - Wale is one of the most eclectic artists you will find who is candid about his assorted likes from sneaker culture to wrestling, the streets of DC, multiple kinds of music, and Seinfeld to which this album's theme was centered around. The album while sort of one note still was more than solid and produced two singles yet wasn't so corny that it got tiresome.

Dr. Dre - Compton - Compton isn't Detox but honestly who really cares? If you're still waiting on that you need to grow up and get over it. Instead, we got an album that was very cohesive, thematic, and had the great signature Dre production sound with new aggressive writing just in time for the hit biopic of Dre's NWA years. This album was the perfect lead in for both the movie and the Beats Music service. With an updated West Coast sound, Dre proved he still had the ability to make great compositions.

Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly - TPAB was one of the most controversial albums just because of it's construction. More Art project extensions of Good Kid MAAD City, it was a critical success even though there was only one single from the album. However it wasn't a perfect album as Compton would kind of prove when it dropped. There is a way to make an album that is thematic yet accessible which this album from Kendrick isn't quite in that arena.

Scarface - Deeply Rooted- Face came back with a vengeance with this album which came on the heels of the release of his autobiography. His most complete album since "The Fix" Scarface put together a great collection of solid tales about the street and his own career and life. While it wasn't groundbreaking new material it was still a great album with great imagery and above average lyrics.

Album Of The Year

At the end of the day, for my buck, the Album of The Year does end up going to the DC hero Wale. Of all of the albums to release this year, this is the only one I have to continue to go back to. The other albums on this list are worthy in my mind of being considered great but none strike a chord with me nor had what I consider the combination of lyrics, accessibility, content and still marketability as Wale put together. Over his career with 4 albums under his belt, they might be the most consistent first 4 albums in rap.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Album Review- MGK- General Admission

I don't know what to think of what MGK does these days. I rarely hear any real buzz about him in the normal hip-hop circles but I know he still sells out shows and gets it in on the road. While the last news I heard was he was dating Amber Rose for a period of time. he also is still recording. I didn't really go through his last release, "Black Flag" but I did decode to come back for this new album - "General Admission" which is still going through Bad Boy courtesy of Interscope.

The album starts off with "Spotlight" which features Lizzy Hale. On this song MGK is actually getting into some depth talking about the things that lead to him having the focus on his life. Production wise this one starts out with some very simple guitar and bass chords that builds up for the first chorus and takes off and he lets you know that this is his story, not someone else. "Alpha Omega" brings the more typical MGK energy and I like it a lot. Then he switches up the feel again with "Till I Die" which has a more spooky and sparse beat with a heavy bass drum kick punctuating the track.

"Everyday" is another cool track that has a real nice sound to it where Kells raps about trying to survive on the daily in Cleveland before making it. It represents the kind of song people love him for as he speaks for them. "A Little More" with Victoria Monet is Kelly's more political side as he looks at whats going on from celebrity worship to bullying and the untrustworthy government. The chorus states "We All Need a Little More Love" and thats where he is going with it, being more in tune with one another. "Make It Happen" is a general inspirational song it's alright. "Therapy" has Kelly getting some things off of his chest the only way he can deal with them since he is always moving around.

"Gone" with Leroy Sanchez reminds me of some of Eminem's songs about having to be away from what matters the most in order to be successful in order to take care of them. "Merry Go Round" is a story rap with a sad ending dealing with substance abuse and a negative decision when dealing with stress. "Eddie Cane" is a more personal song from MGK about the consequences of the streets and he also features Kid Rock on "Bad Mother Fcker" to satisfy his rock cravings.

This album was better than I was expecting from a surprise from MGK. He can get too amped up at times and get caught up in the rock star lifestyle. This album was a swing back in the other direction with more personal less party oriented songs that hit home a bit more. These songs seem to be more along the lines of what made him a sensation to begin with. Now some of the sounds are a bit repetitive after the first 5 tracks which have different sounds on each so it could have been sequenced a little better to help keep the interest up. I think Everyday is a real stand out track in the midst of all of that. If you have every checked out some of his music I recommend that you give this album a listen you should like it. This is also a good album if you haven't checked him out before or been a fan.

Rating: 3/5

Friday, October 16, 2015

As Is Hip Hop Awards - "Independent" Album of the year

This is now a really tough category to even make. True there are more independent artists out than ever and more albums being actually released through digital means than ever before it is hard to go through a list and pick out what albums to go and listen to to qualify. When you add in all of the EP's, street albums, and mixtapes it gets down right overwhelming. There is no way anyone can continuously listen to new stuff and keep up as well as be able to accurately rate when they don't ever get the time to go back to their base of what they know they like and is good. So my list is going to be a mic of somewhat mainstream artists, mainstream guys who have no real promotion beind them and possibly true independent efforts from henceforth.

Once again, let me state some of these guys are on major deals but don't get major promotion and support from their actual labels.

The Contenders:

King Los - God, Money, War - Los finally got his debut album and it featured decent production overall and more depth than I was expecting. While it allowed him to showcase his lyricism, the one thing is it didn't really allow him to get any good singles and he is capable of mixing the two as he killed Kid Ink's "No Options" single so there did need to be some more work to punch this album up a bit.

Lupe Fiasco - Tetsuo and Youth - Lupe is definitely one of the nicest rappers around and mixed with his consistent political and socially conscious message allows him to constantly put out quality music. The problem is sometimes he can get so engrossed in his flow that it gets hard to follow and he can be to esoteric. Some of the songs were too long overall.

Joell Ortiz and Illmind - Human - I can say the first listen didn't make me love this but it grew on me after multiple listens as the production wasn't as over done as I was afraid of and Joell's lyrics were on point. The topics however seemed to be the same however as Joell's other solo albums.

Hopsin - Pound Syndrome - I had never really given too much time to Hopsin but I did know he had technical ability and a different view and way he approaches his songs. He turns people off because he is a 'corny' type of rapper and not street but it was interesting in a lot of ways.

Skyzoo - Music For My Friends - Skyzoo it would seem might be one of the heirs to the fans who were left behind by the untimely death of Sean Price. He is classic NY with the sound and feel of the mid 90's. He has a good skill and ability especially if you really love or enjoy that sound with the gritty classic beat up the pavement feel. now he isn't as thugged out as Price or someone like Styles but he is has those moments.

And the Winner is:

This was one of the toughest to really look at because I felt like all of these albums were worth listening to but also flawed enough that at times they came back down to each other but in the end I think the Hopsin album had more High points and was still accessible even though  it can have it's moments that are sort of out there and geeky the production and lyrics are still solid. Contrast that with Lupe whose album is overflowing with lyrics but the concepts can often become crowded out and muddled in metaphors. Los also had solid lyrics and production but some of the reaches to make singles didn't really work and the back half of the album fell off.

Hopsin I think best completed all of the items on my potential checklist and the Ill Mind of Hopsin holds up well as a series still. The album is far from perfect though and being truly independent kind of is a negative because he does need some direction to make sure the album stays unique all the way through and to switch up the sounds just a little bit to an outside production sound so it ends up being more than one note. By a small margin Hopsin gets the award from me this year.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Album Review- Joe Budden- All Love Lost

Joe Budden might be everything but a rapper to a lot of people. Reality star, podcast host, twitter fingers? But for me he has always been one of my favorite emcees for an ability to use lyricism to actually tell a story and further expound on his emotions. Now some folks grow weary of it at times and it can definitely wear you down unless he is going over more than just relationship stress. The third in the "love" series he has hinted that this might be his last solo album. That aside, we can finally take this album and look at it for it's merits, here is my album review of the new Joe Budden album release "All Love Lost".

The album starts with the title track, "All Love Lost" where Joe does in talking about battles with addiction with alcohol, pills and depression again. Just like Ross is good and describing the luxurious life, Joe is excellent at describing going through the motions and battling his inner demons, painting vivid pictures. "Broke" is one of the singles from the album as Budden raps about how a relationship breaks down. The flow is a little different than normal but the beat and hook work really well.

I like the beat and how he leads into the hook on "Man Down" and the strong guitar licks are a constant component on the album. However I wasn't a fan of the second verse and the third cops out a little bit with celebrity references that aren't as unique as they could have been, they weren't used to really hammer home any emotional points. Jadakiss and Marsha Ambrosius feature on "Make it Through The Night" which is for the fellas on lock down and surviving in the hood. "Slaughtermouse" has gotten a lot of press because it is written as Joe talking to Eminem and talking about their relationship and how Joe feels like they are similarly connected as people. He also talks about fitting in with Slaughterhouse and learning how to work within the group dynamic.

"Love, I'm Good" is another song dedicated to hip-hop as he talks about the state of rap music which is a topic he has talked about before. It's good lyrics as usual but the haunting beat I feel like could have been used to do something a little more different and unique. Emanny, long time collaborator is featured on "Love For You" and "Only Human", the first where Joe talks about the fans and women whose love for Joe is conditional.  The latter of the two songs is about Joe's life mistakes again.

There are five other songs on the record "Playing Our Part", "Immortal", "Fuck Em All", "Where do We Go" (featuring Eric Bellinger), and "Unnecessary Pain" with Felicia Temple and Yummy Bingham. They are all somewhat the same song and that's the problem at the end of this album, too much is one note. The topics are all so close with more than half of the album dedicated to Joe's personality defects and pretty much how they affect others especially the women in his life. The beats are all extremely heavy and claustrophobic without any real space in them and all hooks which are so alike. While on his previous album he kind of took things out of the same vein with songs like "NBA" which weren't quite what was expected, this album could have used something to switch up the tenor of the album. A production switch, something more up beat or hard edged, at the very least a slaughterhouse feature or different voice would have helped. This isn't to say he doesn't have features because Kiss is on the album but something where he just kind of went in on some regular rap would have helped the album balance some especially since Joe never met a 32 he didn't fall in love with.

Rating: 3/5

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Independent Wednesday

So this week J. Lately makes our featured list with his single "I miss You" featuring Champluther Vandross ( I do not like that name as an entertainer) and Della. This is a jazzy, r and b single about the male/female relationship dynamic. This is really a nice cool song, easy to listen to, not too turned up or reliant on most modern gimmicks. Just solid music for most ages and occasions. I really liked the groove on this one. Overall, he is an underground artist from the other songs and production sounds I heard an this was by far my favorite, although his "Make Believe" album had spots where I liked it there is a certain market for this sound and it's not going to always be me. If you kind of like Little Brother it might be worth your time to check out more from J. Lately.

Next up from the land down under is Winston Anthony, who while he may be from overseas, his sound is right in tune with the popular rap sound that garners the majority of the airplay today. There are times when he has flow, and can rap a little bit but to me musically, its more of the same which is part of why he is featured this week. You see you can listen to this and feel like you aren't listening to an independent or unsigned artist and that is a good thing in some ways. For me the use of auto tune and voice effects, simple hook and same old topics doesn't excite me but he isn't worse than any of these local mixtape rappers some of you love.

Now Don Panama is also an artist who doesn't blow me away as far as the things that I like personally but his video for the new single "Think Twice" is alright and once again there are the computerized vocal effects during the hook. The production in this song is pretty crisp and the flows are catchy and have a bit of bounce and swagger to them, although it's more of the same when it comes to originality. However, this is Don's style. He is the new era swag/trap rapper who has mastery of how to use brand names and money references, the Rick Ross Effect as it is.

Friday, October 9, 2015

The As is Hip Hop Awards Return!

So the past few years have been really difficult for me when it comes to hip-hop. I haven't been too happy with the overall shift of the culture and where things have gone. much like most of the internet, instead of reaching new areas and growing, rappers have doubled down on their core audiences and topics without the pressure to really reach across sub-genres for radio play and acceptance. On the one hand it leads to some strong and thematically tight records, but on the other hand they are very much in the same vein and not very well rounded. There have been some interesting moments but have they been legitimate or created by the hype machine of social media?

Either way I guess it's time to get into what I'm going to do a condensed down version in a way of what I do because there is so much and it is so difficult sometimes to listen to and break down all of this material.

Quickly let's do a slight recap of some big moments:

4. Albums are better but less versatile - Now since radio plays slightly less of a part and the internet has changed marketing and promotional strategies so much, artists are being freed up to make the albums that they want to make and not the albums they have to make to appeal to a larger group of people. That has led to some really high quality projects in the past year but they also have seemed to be one note and artists choose to not incorporate the other sounds and song approaches that would appeal to a larger audience. It's a good thing and a bad thing. Being pushed outside of one's comfort zone creates growth when done correctly.

3. Streaming Wars - As Apple snatched up the Beats music service and flipped it into Apple Music and Jay-Z rook over Tidal and attempted to market it as the ultimate place for artists, the new record store- the streaming service wars took off in earnest. Sort of left in the dust in the fight over exclusives and name recognition were rhapsody, Pandora, Slacker, and Spotify who are afterthoughts at the moment. This is the new frontier in the non-ownership age and it will be interesting to watch the developments.

2. Young Thug - Thugger has been all over, beefing with people, driving old heads crazy with his style and the noises he makes that some mistake for music. He used controversy to promote a record/mixtape or whatever it was called and dropped it to less than stellar sales for all of the hype yet managed to stay in the spotlight through the use of social media.

1. Drake vs Meek Mill - this was definitely the moment of the year. It solidified both Drake as the force to be reckoned with and that social media is king. What it also did was make clear that the rules have changed for being considered the top artist by the public.The fact that Drake fans came out crazy to defend the ghost writing and reference tracks was a stunning revelation for an old head like myself. Meek also crushed his own credibility and that of Funkmaster Flex with his delayed- and then utterly uninspiring diss record.


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