Every great Beastie Boys album shares one thing in common - well, several really, but one in particular - there is no hint of the real world to be found. True, there are pop culture references abound, in fact the trio drown themselves in culture; but ultimately, all you can hear are three men having a blast, enjoying each others' company, and rapping over beats they put together themselves simply out of love for the genre of hip-hop. Even more importantly is perhaps the B-Boys' calling card, which is the MCs themselves. A detractor of the group or not, you cannot deny that every single LP this group has released (save To the Five Boroughs, maybe) boasts far more personality than any one album should ever be asked to bear. And we've gone a full seven years without a proper new one; thirteen, arguably, without a truly worthy album. Which brings us to the long awaited Hot Sauce Committee Part Two; it has not necessarily raised the bar, or shown us something entirely new, but it gives us all that Beastie Boys fix that we all so desperately needed.

Hot Sauce Committee Part Two can probably best be described as an amalgam of the near-masterpiece Check Your Head and lovely-but-somewhat-overlong Hello Nasty; all the grittiness and raw instrumentation (lo-fi production, broken microphones, etc) of the former are mixed wonderfully with the forward-thinking electronics of the latter, with attitude to spare. Initial singles Make Some Noise and Say It leave no doubt that these guys have still got it. And lyrically? Ad-Rock's verse on Nonstop Disco Powerpack says it all - in fact, there's no need to reference it; just listen to the damn thing. A minute into the track, Ad-Rock shows just how boring mainstream hip-hop has become. The fun, funky beat is almost enough, but hearing him spit "Non-stop going off, kingpin microphone boss, do my own thing, you can't afford the cost of my rhyme style, take you through a turnstile, 'cause I'm live and direct, and I'm wicked and wild" really reminds you not just of how good these guys are, but how absurdly they tower over the likes of any given popular so-called MC that dominates the airwaves these days. And that's just a minute and a half into the track! And furthermore, that's a mere two tracks into this album.

While they may embrace the role of elder statesmen in the genre with lines like MCA's "I burn the competition like a flamethrower, my rhymes age like wine as I get older" on the tremendous Make Some Noise, there's no mistake that they've still got energy to spare. Think these middle-aged men bearing the name 'Boys' sound tired? Just listen to Lee Majors Come Again. The punk rock of their early days drives on their rhymes like nothing the trio have put out since Ill Communication's Tough Guy back in 1994. Though there's really no cause to defend the energy that Ad-Rock, Mike D, and MCA have to offer, particularly when you have Too Many Rappers as evidence - when you can make a legend like Nas struggle to keep up, you know you've got your shit goin' on.

Hot Sauce Committee is essentially the album that should have come after Hello Nasty. Few Beastie fans would argue that Boroughs was anything NEAR their best, particularly since it was the first album of theirs that offered nothing new. Not to suggest that this one does, but it's got the energy and personality that we've been missing since 1998. It may not be their best, but as Mike D is heard saying at the end of Too Many Rappers, I can't help but say "...that was dope."

Like its simplistic album title, /\/\ /\ Y /\, heretofore to be referred to as Maya (because it takes a lot of fucking effort to type out the hieroglyphic emblem), opens with the equally simplistic, fifty-seven second "The Message." Though I usually hate it when artists use intros to start their album since it's generally just a way to make it look like there are more tracks than there really are, it actually works as a nice transition to track 2 on the record (yes, I say record. Fuck you, digitalism), called "Steppin Up." This finds us in the familiar electro sound MIA promoted on her debut, Arular. Following that is the second single from the album, "XXXO," recently remixed by Jay-Z to ensure success.

Some listeners have had mixed feelings about the deliberate and generic pop sound of "XXXO," but doubts about MIA's musical fearlessness are immediately assuaged by the futuristic beats of "Teqkilla," a song that sounds like something you might hear if there were jungles in space (and who's to say there aren't, really?). After "Teqkilla," "Story to Be Told" takes us to another far off place, beginning with the jets of a plane taking off and MIA's voice ethereally echoing, "All I ever wanted was my story to be told." It is easily one of the best cuts off the album.

"It Takes a Muscle" changes the entire tone of the album midway through, altering the mood to the tranquil ambience of relaxing on a beach (preferably one in southern Italy). "It Iz What It Iz" continues this sound with a somewhat 80s backing track for the music. However, while musically enjoyable, it gets kind of old to just hear her repeat "It iz what it iz/This is how I feel" without realizing that there's more to a song than just a chorus.

Next is another single from the album, "Born Free," already well-known for the video being briefly removed from YouTube due to some graphically violent imagery (but really, is there anything the American public hasn't seen already?). This is the track that truly ignited the fever for MIA's album release, a thesis for what was to come--not just musically, but also in terms of MIA's extremely vocal opinions about life in the twenty-first century, including the assertion that Google and Facebook are implements of the CIA (um, totally agreed).

"Meds and Feds" is probably the only song with a rock vibe out of all the tracks, contrasted by the succeeding song, "Tell Me Why," making use of MIA's actual singing talent as opposed to her knack for harsh shouting. Maya concludes with the airy and tenuous modulations of "Space," a perfect disunion from how the album began. Because MIA is all about confusing and discombobulating the expected order.

I didn’t have very high hopes for Eminem’s new record Recovery when I heard about it. 2004’s Encore was pretty damn bad and a far cry from his heyday. 2008’s Relapse was alright, but a lot of the songs were uninspired and seemed like Em was trying much too hard. When I heard about Recovery, I shrugged with disinterest. Not Afraid gave me a little bit of hope, but wasn’t terribly impressed with the song. Despite all my reservations, I checked out the record, because, well, it’s Eminem, and he has definitely put out some badass albums in his day.

I can honestly say that Recovery completely threw me for a loop. It’s pretty much the absolute best record I think Em could release at this point in his career. This is Em’s ninth studio album, and its depth is incredible.

One of the best aspects of Recovery is how critical Em is of himself, and especially the last two mediocre albums he released. He prefaces Talkin 2 Myself by thanking everyone for being patient “while I figure this shit out” over the past few years. In the song itself, he states that he’s come to make it up to us, as Them last two albums didn’t count. Encore I was on drugs, Relapse I was flushin’ em out. The song is one of the album’s strongest cuts, with a memorable hook delivered by Kobe (no, not Bryant).

Em addresses critics with On Fire, the next track, which has a juicy beat and some vitriolic lyrics delivered by Em. The entire first verse is a perfect example of Eminem’s fierce wordplay skills, the kind of vocal delivery that in my mind is one of his greatest talents. The first time I heard this song, the chorus didn’t really grab me, and I thought it was pretty lame. Well, Em follows up that chorus with the line I just wrote a bullshit hook in between two long ass verses -  if you mistook the for a song, look/This ain’t a song its a warnin to Brooke Hogan and David Cook/That the crook just took over so book/Run as fast as you can, stop writin and kill it/ I’m lightning in a skillet you’re a fuckin flash in a pan. It’s this kind of self-deprecating honesty and creativity within the song that Em uses on Recovery so well.

Won’t Back Down, featuring Pink on chorus duties, is set to a pretty repetitive beat, but it allows Em to deliver some of his most aggressive vocals on the album. It basically sounds like he’s yelling for the entire song…and by the time his final verse comes around and the volume drops on the track while he yells Bitch you listening tryna turn me down??/ Slut I’m talking to you, turn me back up/Are you insane?? Tryna talk over me in the car/ Shut the fuck up while my shits playin I was already sold on this track, too. That’s an inventive trick to throw into a song, and it really caught me off guard.

The majority of Recovery can be called ‘highlights’, really. It’s that good. Going Through Changes is a bit of a slower tune, set to a sampled chorus of Black Sabbath’s Changes. I initially thought that was an odd choice for a sample, but it works for the song, an introspective cut with Em questioning things and wrestling with his demons about things such as balancing his career and Hayley’s upbringing.

I have to mention that I was pretty surprised at the lack of Hayley and/or Kim references on Recovery…in the past, these two topics would take up a good chunk of Eminem’s songs, but he seems to have shed all the pretenses and fake accents and typical lyrical boundaries this time around. Because of that, he really shines on Recovery.

No Love, featuring an unexpected sample of Haddaway’s club jam What is Love?, is blazing, even though Lil’ Wayne takes up the first two minutes of the song. I don’t like Weezy or his lazy annoying delivery, but the fact that he doesn’t ruin the song with his extremely long guest verse is a good thing. Em & his producers picked a random song to use as a sample, but it works well.

Space Bound almost sounds like an Everlast song, with the acoustic guitar strumming in the background and the easy beat, but it takes off during the chorus, with what sounds like a female voice singing I'm a space-bound rocket ship and your heart's the moon/And I'm aimin' right at you/Right at you/250, 000 miles on a clear night in June/And I'm aimin' right at you/Right at you/Right at you. If you thought Beautiful (From Relapse) was a change in direction for Em, check out Space Bound and see what you think.

25 to Life is another female-chorus-driven song with a tender beat, with Em lamenting a tumultuous relationship. The song works like an M. Night Shyamalan movie, taking a drastic change of direction toward the end, as Em reveals that he has NOT been speaking to who you thought he was for the entirety of the song. Just listen to it, you’ll get what I’m hinting at.

Love the Way You Lie, featuring Rihanna, was already #1 on iTunes the day Recovery dropped last week, so it’ll undoubtedly be a smash hit. That’s understandable, as her vocal hook is ripe for radio play. The song as a whole is another gem on the record, demonstrating Em’s ability to balance aggressive lyrics with a poppy chorus.

Don’t think that the songs I’ve mentioned in this review are the only highlights of Recovery – in fact, they’re just the ones that came to mind as I wrote all this down. The album is arguably Em’s most solid collection of songs since the Marshall Mathers LP. The songs work well together, creating a fluidity and cohesion that you don’t really see anymore with his albums.

Eminem really raised the bar for himself with Recovery – I didn’t think this was possible, but the album is easily one of his strongest outings, and restored my faith in him, honestly.

Check this out if you like Eminem, and especially if you were as bored with Encore and Relapse as I was. This is a complete 180 and a return to form for Marshall Mathers.

Guess who’s back?

Let’s be honest, B.O.B. deserves a B.a.R.F. I don’t do them often, but I do think that this album deserved to be broken down in a way that only the BaRF can explain properly. The Adventures of Bobby Ray tell some of the stories of the newest star out of Atlanta, and truth be told, he brought something new to the table. I think this a step in the right direction for the rock and rap music collaboration movement, and after this review, you’ll know what I mean.

Beats- 7/10

This album’s beats did crack the mold, but I would exactly say broke them. Still though, for a first album I loved bumping the tracks in the car. Bet I immediately had me thinking of what the perfect club beat should sound like. It easily painted a picture of the sultry, sexy women who pour themselves into little black dresses at the club. There’s a point where a club beat gets to rough for a woman to dance smoothly too, but even with the Nintendo keyboards in the background, I loved it.

The best beat on the album, and I’m sure most will agree was track 9, Fame. Produced by the Knux, Jackpot and HamSquad; It holds the charm of blending old electric guitar, even older samples from the prime days of music, with that modern twist. With two of the three producers being newcomers (at least in the spotlight) Fame should entitle them to just that. I’ll go ahead and predict you’ll catch this track on the next Entourage soundtrack.

Rhymes- 8/10

This album rocked the rhymes throughout, but I feel like the strongest contenders were the two last songs on the album. I feel like finishing strong is something that’s lacking in not just rap at times, but with music in general. I want to listen to the last song and ask for an encore, not “what the hell just happened?”

5th Dimension takes the Del tha Funky Homosapien route and rhymes about how badass he is, whilst keeping sci fi elements the driving factor of the track. Grant Del was telling more of a story with his sci fi, Bobby used sci fi in a way that I still felt was creative and original.

Featurettes- 8/10

The Adventures of Bobby Ray was chock full of great artists: Lupe Fiasco, Hayley Williams (of Paramore fame), of course you had T.I. on there, hell; even Rivers Cuomo from Weezer jumped on a track. But the best of the bunch came at the end of the adventure, Airplanes Pt. 2.

Airplanes Pt. 2 was a pleasant surprise. I try not to read who features on an album until after I’ve listened to the whole thing, and this was one of the better guest stars I’ve heard on an album in a while. It’s been a little bit for me, but Eminem really brought it to the table and impressed me. Sure he talks about his troubled past, but it felt very welcome alongside the storytelling of B.O.B. Hayley Williams came back for the second part, to round out what I consider the best song on the album.

B.O.B. made himself a welcome member to the Grand Hustle family, and is definitely great live. I had the pleasure of checking the talented multi instrumentalist’s set at Coachella, and he knows how to get the crowd hyped. But don’t take my word for it. Give it a listen.

Until next time my friends, ~Flak

Posted
AuthorFlak
CategoriesHip Hop

Lo-Fi Hip-Hop? That really seems the best way to describe Gonjasufi's debut album, A Sufi and A Killer, presumably titled as such because of left field producer the Gaslight Killer's large contribution to the beats (the rest provided by Flying Lotus and Mainframe). Gonjasufi (born Sumach Ecks) brings an impossibly broad variety of influences to the table, with tons to digest from soul and doo-wop to dubstep, world, and ambient, all prcoessed through a low, crackling psychedelia. It's a truly unique experience, and while I'm hardly a vinyl enthusiast, it's one of those few albums which leaves me wondering how it would sound in the format.

With the exception of She Gone, which is by far the most immediately accessible song here, and the Mainframe produced Candylane and Holidays (the former giving a clean, pure disco vibe that barely fits in with the other tracks), A Sufi and a Killer is unified by a charmingly muddled and almost dirty sound. The production almost buries Ecks' voice at times, as it is so understated and frail, and the roughness blends so easily into the soundscapes, but he still carries quite a presence nonetheless. His weathered vocals give an added abrasiveness to even the poppiest moments - particularly She Gone, which has an insulated early beatles-esque quality to it that gets ravaged by Ecks' distorted wails. He demolishes another sixties trademark in the following SuzieQ, skewering Fogerty styled pop rock with a heavily fuzzed out garage sound and a rapid, frantic flow.

Kowboyz and Indians and Duet serve as wonderful send-ups of Indian pop and funk, respectively. Duet is based in a simple funk rhythm slowed down and distorted, with a synthesizer weaving its way through each measure. Kowboyz nearly drowns Ecks with a loop of Indian singing, resulting in a track so delightfully bizarre that it's worth blaring even if just to get people to wonder what the hell you're listening to. The Eastern influence is also apparent in the sitar and worldy percussion of Klowds, which, with its deliberately grainy production, actually sounds like something from the sixties, or in the very least a unique take on a Ravi Shankar song. The strange echo-filled ending leads into Ageing, an introspective blues and western sounding track with Ecks giving the already fantastic vocal melody a bluesy wail

Some songs seem to embrace a bit of camp, as well. Stardustin' and Change seem almost as if they would be at home on the soundtrack to a seventies blaxploitation flick, while DedNd and the main hook from I've Given belongs in an old fashioned horror trailer. But while the whole of Sufi and a Killer is incredibly diverse, the deliberately lo-fi production along with Ecks' ragged voice, with his almost equally diverse delivery, keeps things together. This is textbook trip-out music, and the hour long running time breezes by. It might feel for longer though, if you've dropped enough shrooms... not that that would be a bad thing, of course.

Rarely is an album bursting with so many ideas, yet so wonderfully cohesive. Gonjasufi and the Gaslamp Killer have created something more unique than just about anything that has surfaced from the underground hip-hop scene in the last decade, and produced a near-perfect amalgam of a staggering amount of genres, many of which seem completely unrelated. Definitely a record you should hear at least once.

After an ear catching EP and a song stealing cameo in P.O.S.'s Low Light Low Life, expectations had been set fairly high for Dessa, the latest addition to the hip-hop collective Doomtree, and her first full length album. A lot of folks in the underground hip-hop community have been waiting for her debut, and it is not only well worth the wait but it more than stands up to the accrued hype as well. Having started out as a poet, Dessa's tremendous skill as a lyricist does not come as much of a surprise, but the sophistication in her rhymes and the stories they weave is startling all the same, particularly to be found on an underground debut album.

Dessa is an incredibly adept storyteller, which is abundantly clear right away. A lot of it is how spectacular her flow is, and how good she is with words (as is probably mentioned in every review of this album, she had a degree in philosophy by the time she was twenty), but a big part also is because A Badly Broken Code is a highly personal debut. The perspectives she takes when dealing with her family life (Children's Work), toxic relationships (Matches to Paper Dolls), or even the difficulties with being in a genre dominated by men (The Bullpen) are incredibly clever, but very relatable as well. From wordplay like "You've got to strike while the irony's hot" to cutting lines like "Something harder, look, like a moth you see, and I still get chills when you talk to me, but the years pass by now in twos and threes, these thrills ain't as cheap as they used to be," her writing's got something to impress just about anybody.

The diverse beats are provided for the most part by Doomtree DJs. MK Larada, Lazerbeak, and Paper Tiger handle the bulk of the production duties, and offer a broad variety of beats. From moody alternative to brooding underground hip-hop, even big band to gentle, piano-led soft rock, there is quite a lot represented here. And even more impressive is that the able emcee augments her delivery accordingly with whatever style is backing her. Dessa has an enviable flow and impressive way with words to be sure, but on songs like Dixon's Girl, the gorgeous The Chaconne, and the trip-hop sounding Go Home, she proves that she has quite a beautiful singing voice as well. Plus with her past as a spoken word poet, amelodic speaking parts are old hat to her as well, and sometimes she even combines all three approaches (like on Dutch, Momento Mori, or Alibi).

,

Definitely an exciting new hip-hop artist to watch, Dessa has shown tremendous talent on A Badly Broken Code, not just in her rhymes, but her writing and versatile delivery abilities as well. The Doomtree collective has struck pure gold with her, as the idea of Dessa becoming big in the scene is not only plausible, but frankly the way it should be! As she says in The Bullpen, "Forget the bull in the china shop, there's a China doll in the bullpen."

Flobots came to prominence in 2008 with their hit single Handlebars, which grabbed people right away with its broad backing band and politically minded lyrics. While it was certainly nice to hear a popular hip-hop single tackling issues other than bling, bitches, and the like, a lot of the attraction came with the different musical approach, which drew in the indie and underground hip-hop crowds alike. The album featuring it, Fight with Tools, received mixed reviews, and indeed had its issues, but ultimately showed a bit of promise. Survival Story, the band's third LP (counting their independently released 2001 debut Onomatopoeia), sadly lives up to very little of that promise, and suffers from the very same faults that plagued its predecessor.

On Survival Story, the Flobots incorporate a hard rock element into their sound, which really wasn't a good move. One of the strengths was their organic beats, which kept them sounding unique in spite of other shortcomings. Here, they push this component too much and it clouds the songs to the point that they sound like generic rap rock. The worse example of this is lead single White Flag Warrior, with Rise Against's Tim McIlrath. The chorus soars unnecessarily with a bombastic arena sound, only made worse by the proclamation that "we'd rather make our children martyrs than murderers," which leads to the issue of the lyrics. This was, as their musical approach, one of the things that set them aside from other hip-hop acts. Political unrest is a great source of inspiration, but just like heartbreak, social awareness, general angst and the like, if it's all you sing about, it's going to get old. Politically charged lyrics run this risk in particular, because they can get preachy if not sold properly, and here even more than on Fight with Tools they come across as pure preachy rhetoric.

Head Flobot Jamie Laurie (or Jonny 5) has received the brunt of criticisms leveled at the band, particularly for his lacking delivery (in addition to the aforementioned heavy handed lyrics), and they're far from unfounded. Laurie has a very sloppy flow, oblivious of tempo, time changes, and really the music in general. This has improved slightly since the group's last album, as there are less awkward moments with the lyrical delivery, but they are still present far too often and ruin the momentum of several songs, especially Defend Atlantis, By the Time You Get This Message..., and Whip$ and Chain$.

The songs that do work on Survival are, unsurprisingly, the ones that depend least on the hard rock facet. Airplane Mode is led largely by violinist Mackenzie Roberts with a great, half frantic, half melancholic melody that the band backs beautifully. The distorted guitars are used quite tastefully on Superhero, which avoids another factor that drags down the songs - a lot of them simply go on for too long. Not many tracks have enough ideas to keep them interesting past the four minute mark, and the ones that do usually are handled so clumsily that the presentation is a total wreck.

Basically the strongest aspect that Fight with Tools had going for it was the music, not creating beats so much as crafting songs with several intricate elements. On Survival Story, they completely cluttered the sound with needless and generic hard rock stylings, particularly the genre's lowest common denominator - basic chords, loud chanting choruses, and basically trying to sound loud and angry. Things like the rapping and lyrics, which could have used a lot more finesse, have been largely untouched, leaving the Flobots essentially making a mess of their initially promising style.

While technically classified as hip-hop due to his funk laced beats and heavy sampling, RJD2 (or Ramble John Krohn) has always had a very soulful sound to his work. Both of these qualities were largely downplayed, however, on his last full length, The Third Hand. Dominating his signature sound with a near ambient indie pop production left his fans somewhat alienated, while the remaining traces of his hip-hop orientation put off his intended audience. The good but ultimately adequate songwriting wasn't enough to carry everything, and it ended up being extremely unpopular. Three years later, RJD2 returns with The Colossus, which brings some of his early turntablism and instrumental hip-hop back into the mix, as well as an array of guest vocalists. It still sounds like Krohn doesn't want to let go of his new found indie experimentation, but while The Colossus isn't likely to pacify fans of his older material, the fact that he's playing a bit more to his strengths definitely pays off.

The large amount of live instrumentation from 2007's The Third Hand is still present, though scaled back a bit in favor of light sampling, which is scattered throughout but used largely in the instrumental tracks. The instrumentation style has broadened as well, which results in a very eclectic yet cohesive album; The opening Let There Be Horns and Salud 2 (an obvious nod to his debut) are more turntable driven, but don't negatively rub up against tracks like The Glow's irrestistable neo-soul or the upbeat Chicago-esque closer Walk with Me.

The guest spots help out a lot as well; Kenna's vocals shine on Games You Can Win, a perfect fit for the smooth, progressing beat. Phonte Coleman sounds great on The Shining Path as well, and the combined effort sounds like a more spacey, psychedelic Gnarls Barkley song. It's A Son's Cycle that really steals the show though; Krohn stitches together a cleverly progressing beat and loads it with hooks, and while The Catalyst, Illogic, and NP each have great raps to contribute, the beat's blend of instrumentation and sampling is done well enough to detract attention from them. The instrumentals have a great deal of diversity as well; Tin Flower recycles a folkish flute loop while tastefully adding more harmonies over until finishing abruptly, and the basic A Spaceship for Now is dominated with intensifying synths and drums, with an eerie keyboard underlying them.

The Colossus doesn't always work as well as it should, however; there is a bit of fumbling with lackluster melodies. Giant Squid's flat out doesn't work, and too much is added on, resulting in an overwhelming production with no direction. The other notable example is The Stranger, where the production is very tastefully done, but there is simply nothing to work with, and the result is a frustrating listen that, again, doesn't go anywhere.

RJD2's latest sees him continuing on in the vein of his last album, but with more balance and a stronger sense of confidence. One of the things that made The Third Hand awkward in places was the fact that he didn't seem sure how thick to lay on which aspect of the hybrid he was going for, but here most of the proverbial wrinkles feel ironed out. The Colossus may not be as grandoise as was intended, but it does show an artist gaining momentum in a new direction, comfortably leaving an old sound behind.

It was easy to be unenthusiastic about Relapse, Eminem's first album in nearly five years. And not even just because of the large amount of time that had passed; his previous release, Encore, came across as little more than Eminem by-the-numbers. It lacked the heart of even The Eminem Show, which showed maybe three quarters the heart of his two previous albums, at best. Instead of cutting loose with his morbid sense of humor, he was streamlining it with celebrity parody (Just Lose It) and generic hip hop sentiments (Ass Like That). While admittedly, the political stances were appreciated, all of the rest was lackluster by comparison to the rest of his discography, and it didn't look too promising for Relapse. However, Relapse delivers the goods, and more; I daresay that this is his strongest effort since The Marshall Mathers LP. ...I have definitely taken too many of these.

Relapse probably has the best introduction on an album all year in Dr. West. Half darkly funny and half mildly disturbing, he addresses his demons while making fun of the whole situation at the same time. Eminem actually seems the most comfortable he's ever been with making fun of himself, which is a must for somebody like him ("And this Christopher Reeve shit? You know the guy's dead, right?"). The Steve Berman skit near the album's finish is the best example of this, showing Eminem at the receiving end of the following mockery: "Oh poor me, I had a drug problem!" The skits alone this time around are the best they've been in quite a while.

Loosely telling a story of Eminem resurrecting his Slim Shady persona, Relapse starts with 3 a.m., a song so violent and fearlessly offensive that it's just... it's just great. What makes it so endlessly fascinating is not just how over the top he gets, but how eloquent he is as he unveils these tales of horrific carnage as well(and to think, they just get worse after this!). The following pair of My Mom and Insane explore his childhood (with his usual exaggeration, the latter in particular) has wordplay that tops anything he did on Encore by leaps and bounds; Mom's chorus of "That's why I'm on what I'm on 'cause I'm my mom" or Insane's opening line, "I was born with a dick in my brain, yeah, fucked in the head" are absolutely brilliant. Insane reintroduces us to the off the wall jokes that have been gone from his repertoire for far too long, such as "Well this is called Ass-Rape and we're shooting the Jail scene," as well as some that would probably be best not repeated here.

After that we return to fantasies involving kidnapping and murdering celebrities, or simply banging them (Same Song and Dance and single We Made You, respectively). For all its name dropping, We Made You sounds like genuine Eminem talking shit, as opposed to Just Lose It which sounded like borderline posturing. After these we have a series of drug related songs which culminate in the Mr. Mathers skit, leading into the surprisingly honest and soul searching pair of Déjà Vu and Beautiful, the latter actually being produced by Eminem himself. The rest of the album's production is handled by Dr. Dre, who does a fantastic job all throughout Relapse. The beats all snap and sound fresh, matching whatever mood is being conveyed to a T.

Closing out Relapse is Underground, ending with a cameo from everybody's favorite creeper, Ken Kaniff. The beat is extremely smart, playing with its time signature (unheard of in commercial rap) with Eminem's flow sounding aaaalmost disjointed, but he keeps up effortlessly. Throw in his reliably intelligent rhymes, and you've got six minutes that will fly by every time. A spectacular way to close a truly outstanding album.

STRATE TRIPPN

Relapse shows Eminem at the top of his game once again. Brilliant rhymes, great beats, and he flat out sounds more confident than he has in nearly a decade.  After hearing this, I personally don't think Relapse 2 can come fast enough.

Posted
AuthorDagan
CategoriesHip Hop

Once having listened to Scott Mescudi's (a.k.a. Kid Cudi) debut album Man on the Moon: The End of Day, it's easy to believe that he had a part in Kanye West's 808s and Heartbreak last year; it's got the same amalgam of electronic influences as well as dealing with the same somewhat morose subject matter. Kid Cudi is able to avoid immediate comparison to West's last album thanks to a broader assortment of influences and sounds, which could be in part thanks to the larger number of collaborators. Is he being hatched out of an egg? AMAZING.

While Kid Cudi's debut is definitely impressive, it hits a number of snags. One big thing is Common's completely unnecessary narration, which appears at random. It's as though Mescudi feared that the unity among the tracks as far as the production and lyrics were concerned wasn't enough to make the album feel conceptual, so lines for a narrator were tacked on between certain songs. It doesn't flow, and doesn't feel genuine; it only serves to disrupt Man on the Moon's momentum. Speaking of flow, another issue is that Kid Cudi barely has one. This isn't exactly crippling, as the vocal patterns are very well constructed, but his voice is caught awkwardly betwixt singing, rapping, and talking voices, not really registering as any of these. Lyrically, while Mescudi certainly can't be accused of being empty or bereft of feeling, as there's a lot of that here, more often than not he sacrifices any sense of poetry for directness to the point of coming across as self pitying. Up Up & Away is an unfortunate example of this, with the embittered cheerleader-esque refrain "They gon' judge me anyway, so WHATEVER."

Jinkies!

Issues are indeed abound in Man on the Moon, but as mentioned before, the album is far from a flop. One of the record's best qualities is the production; not only is it fairly diverse, but the elaborate construction in many cases is remarkably accomplished. The best moments come when Kid Cudi runs with the spacey feel that underlies the album; on Alive and Pursuit of Happiness in particular, both helmed by indie electronic outfit Ratatat (with help from MGMT on the latter track), the beats are trippy while with an alluring, head bobbing rhythm. Pursuit's music is also a perfect match for the deformed hope in the lyrics, psychedelic with a hint of sadness.

Soundtrack 2 My Life is a perfect example of how capable the melodies are. The vocal harmony is so compelling that the cheesy Charles in Charge reference, Jay-Z quoting, and dramatic lines like, "it's close to go and trying some coke, and a happy ending would be slitting my throat" are barely distracting. The following Simple As... has a beautifully layered intro and startlingly clever wordplay ("as simple as that for your simple ass"), and the piano leading along the heavy synths and Mescudi's bitter lyrics is absolutely beautiful. Great as these moments are, the highlight has to be Kid Cudi and Kanye West's send up of Lady Gaga's Poker Face on Make Her Say, which carries an amusing energy on par with The Roots' single Birthday Girl.

Man on the Moon fumbles a bit at the end with the generic slow jam sound of Hyyerr as well as Common popping up once more to conclude his narration, but the album doesn't quite end on a sour note. Kid Cudi is able to largely live up to the hype that has surrounded him for the past year, and his interesting perspectives on the genre will no doubt yield even better works in the future.

Reformed Muslim albino MC? That's the last thing you expect when you listen to Brother Ali's mesmerizing, almost smoky flow, but that's exactly who's spitting it - and on Us (his latest opus) he is damn near in top form. Backing him up on his third full length release (as he has for the previous two, as well as an EP) is Ant, a producer best known for his work with the alternative hip hop duo Atmosphere. It's safe to say that he is performing even better than Ali himself; despite the obvious looping, nothing ever gets repetitive, plenty of interesting sounds are thrown in and the production feels fresh all throughout Us' sixteen tracks. The beats reflect the eclecticism often found in this type of underground effort, but the heavy jazz and blues influence to Ant's production, along with Ali's fantastic storytelling, gives Us a great golden age feel. Everyone seeing everything in black and white? Yeah, well maybe in a perfect world. Dick.

Things start with a somber choir, but quickly explode with the highly energetic, horn driven The Preacher, a fitting introduction with the potentially unsettling opening lines "If you know me, you know I, love my family, love my god." However, the music is too rousing and his charisma too undeniable for that "whoa, back up there buddy" moment you get with similar lines like "I'd like to talk to you about Jesus," and while the spirituality is a significant theme on the album, it seldom takes more of a role than a setting (especially considering that a few bars later he asks, "what the fuck can stop Ali?").

As mentioned before, the production's diverse feel is a strong positive for the already impressive beats; the eastern twang of Breakin' Dawn has a great, convincingly head-bobbing rhythm, and almost blends with the following The Traveler's Carribean allure so well as to render the gap in between hardly noticeable. Crown Jewel follows the raucous opening with a thick, jazzy atmosphere, and the smooth blues on tracks like the almost harrowing House Keys and Round Here fill out the musical makeup strikingly.

Also very deserving of mention are the stories Ali is able to tell. Babygirl is a particular standout in this department, telling the story of a rape victim with such unapologetic empathy that you can't help but feel a little bit of what the girl he's rapping about is feeling as well. In this day and age, it's great to hear a hip hop artist rapping about anything that isn't, to quote the Eminem skit Steve Berman, "big screen TV's, blunts, forties, and bitches."

Alright, check out the lighting. Do I look like Jeff from Behind the Hype yet?

Too much of the genre borders on self parody with the repetition of the same old boasts, so deviations are naturally going to be most welcome - but there are times when musing over serious political and philosophical matters can cross the line over to preaching. On the closing title track, he proclaims that in spite of "your religion or your past and your race, the same color blood just pass through our veins." To anybody living in post-civil rights movement America (particularly one of Brother Ali's fans), this is hardly a revelation, and it comes after quite a few other well worn sentiments addressed here.

Preachy while it may be, in the face of the fantastic production and otherwise excellent lyrics, it's hard to dwell too much on this somewhat minor gripe. Brother Ali has put out better work in the past, but Us isn't much far behind, and the album still serves as proof that hip hop has far more to offer than what the mainstream would have everyone believe.

jay_z_blueprint3_cover

I’ve been listening to this album repeatedly for the last ten hours or so, trying to figure out where to start with this review. Finding a direction to where the richest and (disputably) best rapper alive’s album is going was taxing. But after much deliberation, I think it’s safe to say that not only is he at the top of his game, but also has been meditation on his evolution.

People have been saying that this is Jay-Z’s last album, but of course I’m going to throw that notion potion out the window. So let’s get to the nitty gritty, and BaRF on this album; something I haven’t done in quite some time now. What better album than this?

Beats 8/10

I honestly think the rumor of Timbaland producing the entire album would have been great…if it were true. While most the beats had me bobbing my head for invisible apples on my desk, they weren’t the best I had heard all year.

A Star Is Born, is track nine, and had that gritty/harmonic juxtaposition that has a flowing head nod feel to it. Sampled from the Mother Freedom Band’s Touch Me, it was a perfect flow for Hov to rap over.

D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune) was a tight beat, albeit heavily sampled from the song In the Space by Janko Nilovic and Dave Sucky. I guess I liked it not because of the creativity of the beat, but rather the excellent song sample choice.

Swizz Beatz produced the seventh track, On To The Next One, which apparently sampled D.A.N.C.E. by Justice, but I don’t know from where exactly. It reminded me of the beat from A Milli by Lil Wayne, with the same thing droning in the background, and the beat dropping out save for the drums for certain parts.

My two favorite beats go to Timbaland though. First, the eighth track, Off That, which gives me that futuristic urban feel; with Venus Vs. Mars being that downlow jungle beat that gets the ladies in the mood.

jay-z1

Rhymes 6.5/10

Jay Z isn’t exactly the most socially conscious rapper out there (unless it has to do with him directly), But I do appreciate the message and direction of the album. He does just like President Obama did, and clarified the bullshit for everyone before saying thank you and moving on. Lets Discuss.

What We Talkin’ About was a great way to kick the album off, calling out Jay-Z’s defectors and competitors. He even takes time out to make a shout out to the President (the first time of many on the album) and the White House. Here’s a clip of the lyrics:

Blueprint 3 And now that that's that Lets talk about the future We have just seen the dream as predicted by Martin Luther Now you could choose ta Sit in front of your computa Posin' with guns Shootin YouTube up Or you could come with me to the White House get your suit up

Off That was another favorite of mine, for its rant about what Jay-Z used to be into, but now what he’s off. Drake sings the hook, with a song about calling out haters and their old ways. Here’s the hook:

Drizzy Drake: Whatever you about to discover We off that You about to tell her you love it, we off that Always want to fight in the club and we off that But you can't bring the future back Ya'll steady chasing the fame, we off that Oversize clothes and the chains, we off that Niggas still makin' it rain and we off that But you can't bring the future back

Tell them hatas get off me Cris we off that Timbs we off that Rims we off that

Jay-Z: Yeah we off that Is you still on that And we still making money cuz we still on that

Featurettes 8/10

I give the album this score because of the level of album sales the people featured on it will bring, in addition to their relative badassness.

Rihanna was an obvious choice for this album, with Jay-Z playing the big brother role for quite some time now. She sings the hook to Run This Town; quite well I might add.

Alicia Keys sings the hook (and I assume played the piano ) on Empire State of Mind. I’ve always been a fan of her work, and being a resident New Yorker, it was only right to have her jump on a track with Hov.

I was pleasantly surprised to see Drake on the roster for this album, for his hook on Off That. Drake is one of the most hyped guys in the business right now, so I tip my hat to him gaining a pass to record on this album, albeit only the hook.

Kanye West actually cracked me up on the first verse of Hate. A song which he also produced, his verse was cocky to the level we have known and learned to love.

Also making me laugh was Pharrell in his Neptunes produced song, So Ambitious. He sings the hook with Z, amid another playful circus sounding beat.” I’m so ambitious…I might hit two sisters”. Classic.

In Conclusion

I would have loved to see a collaboration between fellow Bedford-Stuyvesant MC Mos Def, but maybe that’s just me (or theres some beef there that I don’t know about). But overall, this was another great album by Jay-Z, even if I don’t think it would be the best album to walk away from the game with.

I think this is the intro album to another chapter in the Hov universe, with several oppoutunities to make more albums during the current presidency. What would be really crazy though, is if Beyonce and President Obama jumped on a track with Jay-Z… C’mon, you know that shit would be insane.

Until next time my friends,

~Flak

wordspit

With all the mediocrity that is flooding Hiphop right now, it's very refreshing to have someone who is doing something different and unique. WORDSPIT definitely falls into that category. Instead of rapping about guns and crack, you hear him either waxing poetic about everybody's favorite video game or rhyming a narrative of a comic book. While that may sound a bit odd to you, he makes it work. I got a chance to sit down with him a few days before the release of his LP, THE COOLEST BBOI STANCE, which is out now, and pick his brain about how and why he does what he does.

Ge Oh: When did you first decide that you wanted to be a rapper?

WORDSPIT:I was In Back of my 3rd or 4th grade class freestyling with some friends and my teacher asked me, "Did you have something to share?" I was like, "yea," and she made me come to the front of the class, so I started spitting and my classmates cheered. Since then, I knew hiphop was something I wanted to do.

Ge Oh: Who influenced you?

WORDSPIT: My influences are CanibusRakimKanye, Pharrel and N.e.r.d, Nas, Cold Play, Lupe Fiasco, Massinesa, Wu-tang, Linkin Park, Nirvana, for real it is too many to name.

Ge Oh: Where do you draw your inspiration from now, as opposed to back then?

WORDSPIT: I draw inspiration from everywhere. Before, I would listen to Canibus and want to be the ILLest Mc in the universe but over time I realized I wanted more. I wanted to become a dope Mc and make great music at the same time. I started studying other artist inside and outside of hiphop. I also draw inspiration from my TV, current events, video games. Life gives me inspiration to suffice my creativity.

Ge Oh: You seem pretty active on twitter, and you have your own website. How important is it to you to be connected with you fans, and how do you feel the new social networks help an artist such as yourself do that?

WORDSPIT: Yea, www.wordspitwashere.com is dope and Im very active on twitter. Not only Twitter, but all of these new social networks have helped me in so many ways. It helps me directly connect with people and that is what's really important to me. I love being able to chat with people from different parts of the world who like my music. These new social networks play a big part in spreading in getting your name out in the market.

Ge Oh: Your most recent music video, Joystick Madness, recently came out. What was the inspiration for it? Do you have any stories about the shooting of that video?

WORDSPIT:Yes, Joystick Madness just dropped in August. The inspiration for the video came from countless hours of video game addiction. I use to go to the laundromat ,pizza shop, arcade and spend hours. We wanted to give People the same feeling as when Xbox online wasn't available and you had to be in the same room as your opponent. A story... lol.... while trying to spoof the Christian Bale  "line"  situation, one of the director's interns walked in and thought I was serious. She was scared! You could see it in her face. That was super funny.

Ge Oh: Joystick Madness is from your new CD, which comes out on Monday. What's it called, and what is the central theme?

WORDSPIT: Joystick Madness is one of the songs off THE COOLEST BBOI STANCE, That drops Monday. THE COOLEST BBOI STANCE is my tribute to hiphop. At the same time it follows the journey of an artist as he tries to become a great MC. I want people to feel connected to this character. I want people to feel engaged by his story and be able to relate it to what they are going through. Im excited about this project.

Ge Oh: You seem like a decently successful D.I.Y (Do It Yourself) Indie Hiphop Artist. What does it take to be a successful artist in this day and age?

WORDSPIT: I laid the ground work Myself. Then I linked with a lot of people who helped me, like my manager David J. Hamilton, Kartay of 3Afilms who shot my first video Not A Joke This Year. What does it take to be succesful?  The drive to reach for your goal even when people tell you no. Networking is a vital key as well, some times it's about who you know. On top of all that just make good music.

Ge Oh: If you could work with anyone, who would it be?

WORDSPIT: Right now I would have to say Nas. He is an icon and I respect his work.

Ge Oh: Do you have any advice for anyone trying to do what you do?

WORDSPIT: Don't be afraid to get shut down. If one door closes another door will always open with a new opportunity. We The ILLEst.

Follow WORSDPIT at the following websites:

Twitter:  www.twitter.com/wordspit

Myspace: www.myspace.com/wordspit

THE COOLEST BBOI STANCE is available now on www.wordspitwashere.com

sa ra

I have a feeling that the members of The Soulquarians are going to make a hell of a comeback, and very soon. Just like you’ll read in the upcoming release of mathematic-jazz artist Robert Glasper’s new album, the trifecta that is Sa-Ra (or Sa-Ra Creative Partners) is back at it again.

These guys know how to define Neo Soul with the content that they put out every once in a while. This month, the boys had perfect timing in releasing their long-awaited second full length album, Nuclear Evolution: The Age of Love. The band says that their type of sound isn’t likely to get MTV play, but it’s unlikely that the members of the Soulquarians get a MTV run anyhow, and I’m sure they don’t really mind (there I go saying they are in the Soulquarians again…).

Comprised of members Om’Mas Keith, Taz Arnold, and Shafiq Husayn, the boys are responsible for some of my favorite neo soul tracks Star Warz, Hey Love, So Special, White!,  and Bitch from both their early EP SetUps and Justifications and full length album The Hollywood Recordings. This album renews my faith that Sa-Ra is on point forevermore.

The two disc album starts out with a windy background with a voice copying the stylings of the Warriors classic line “Warriors, come out and play” to “Sa Ra, come out to space”. It might not be as funny as Dave Chappelle using it to say “breast milk, you make my day” whilst clanking empty glass bottles, but its badass all the same. After breaking into a funky 70’s sounding beat, we are treated to a song verse in Spanish (which I still haven’t deciphered) before trailing off into the rest of the album.

23 tracks is a lot of ground to cover, but I did pick out my favorites among the bunch, starting with the third track, I Swear, which talks about realizing that the love of Sa-Ra is so good that she (Noni Limar) has never felt that way before, she swears. The beat is dirty as hell, with a funky and catchy bass line; my weakness of course.

sa ra 2

Gemini’s Rising, the tenth track, features the lovely Rozzi Daime, a vocalist who is not a newcomer to Sa-Ra’s work. The beat has what I THINK is a high pitched guitar, with an overall heavenly feeling to it. Rozzi Daime is perfect for Sa-Ra’s talent, with echoing voice making the perfect addition to the boys chiming in every once in a while on the track. My assumption is that Daime gets more than just Gemini to rise on often occasions.

Track twelve, White Cloud, is amazing, because it reminded me of Michael Jackson’s Captain EO, the badass 3-D experience that used to be at Disneyland (and has since been replaced with the lackluster Honey, I Shrunk the Audience). Rozzi Daime is back on this track to lend her talents with Lil’ Kenny to make me feel like we are out to save the world again.

The third track on the second disc has the raw beat entitled, Double Dutch, which has the first appearance of auto-tune this year that didn’t piss me off right away. I promise I wanted to grab a giant jump rope to do the dutch to this song in a funky manner, while out front with the neighbors.

But by far, the best track on the album is back on the first disc, and is entitled Love Czars. The tempo has the gritty pace that lets you really fill in the gaps with an amazing bass line and funky drums to team up on yo’ ass. “The L’s commin’” looms in the background while the boys get the live instruments and jam out on this nearly 8 minute track. Obviously the bass line is the best part for me; this time because I never knew where it and the guitar were going to go next. This is what neo soul, funk, and hip hop used to be about, and I feel like some artists have lost. Listen for the blissful chorus of “I’m takin’ you way out” while you’re at it.

This album is worth the digging I had to do at Amoeba Music in Hollywood to find it. I will be the first one to claim that Neo Soul is about to explode, and if you want to be in the know, then I recommended going out to space with Sa-Ra and take a look around.

Until next time my friends,

~Flak

mos-def-the-ecstatic

What better way to get back into my little writers nook than to do a little BaRF action for you guys eh? Let’s begin shall we?

Our boy Dante has been for years an advocate for Brooklyn hip hop, and for good reason. He isn’t your run of the mill artist talking about bullshit. I first really got into him whilst in his powerful duo with MC Talib Kweli, forming Blackstar. Their self titled album debut in 1998, and has remained one of the most important hip hop albums in the industry today. Taking a break from acting, he jumped back in the studio to try and update us on the times.

And while Blackstar hasn’t made their triumphant return just yet, Mos Def recently released his latest work entitled The Ecstatic. Mos takes us on another trip down the deepest parts of all of our cultures, from drugs, to violence, to the war in Iraq. Let’s break it down BaRF style.

Beats 10/10

Just like the lyric in Casa Bey, the entire album has a ‘fantastic rawness’ to it throughout the album. I say this because while keeping the funky Brooklyn vibe alive in later songs, the first half of the album has a Middle Eastern organic feel to it sprinkled about it.

The intro track, Supermagic, was produced by Oh No (the brother of the legendary Madlib) and brings electric guitar to an Islamic culture (very suiting since Def is of Islamic faith) for a very successful beat.

Another favorite of mine is the sixth track, and also the second single off the album, entitled Quiet Dog Bite Hard. It focuses heavily on the drums; many types of drums to be exact. In a live performance on David Letterman (which I wanted to embed, but it was pulled), Mos plays drums along with the band behind him.

Pistola, the tenth track, was also produced by Oh No. Maybe it’s the sampling in the background of Billy Wooten’s In the Rain, or the xylophone playing amongst the track, but it’s beautiful nonetheless.

But Casa Bey, the last track (and also the third single), is by far the best, with a live band jamming out the funky tunes. Produced by Andre Lyon, he made sure he got the east coast feel perfectly right, and I tip my hat to him for it. Some of you may see me bobbing my head to this one around town, even if my speakers are already torn to shreds.

mosdef3

Rhymes  8/10

What can I say really? It’s Mos Def at his finest. I was a fan of his other work, but his writing on this album is for sure his best work yet. While the song Life in Marvelous Times (the 7th track) isn’t my favorite beat, the message in the lyrics are clever and as usual, picture painting. Here’s a piece of the lyrics:

Ends don't meet where the arms can't reach Mean streets Even when its free it ain't cheap. On going saga, terminal diagnosis, Basic survival requires super heroics.

No space in the budget for a cake It's when you gotta fly by night to save the day

Crash-landings routinely happen Some survive, others never rise from the ashes.

Watching asphalt and observing the Sabbath. Creates an ecstatic and there you have it

Featurettes 8/10

While there aren’t that many people jumping on this album, they are very powerful additions. In the studio, you have producer Dre on Casa Bey (although I don’t know what he exactly said), and Georgia Anne Muldrow on Roses.

The two that will attract big flies however; will be Talib Kweli on the J Dilla (whom is resting in peace) produced song History. Talib is always welcome on a Mos Def album to give me a taste of Blackstar. The track may not have been Definition from the Blackstar album, but it’ll do. However, the biggest surprise to me is the addition of the one and only Slick Rick (lahdy dahdy) to the mix, giving his amazing verse about being a soldier in Iraq in the song Audition. While giving that trademark soft humorous tone in his voice, Rick still delivers a powerful message about the state of our war.

But to get to the nitty, the best track all around would have to be Casa Bey, for its overall creativity, from funky bass line intro, to the piano outro to take us home. What’s more, is that the video for the album was extremely creative and original, and with the bonus featurette of The Roots playing live with Mof Def on Jimmy Fallon, it sealed the deal. I’ve delivered (as I always do *wink wink*) the  live video link for you to see what I mean. And here's the link to the actual music video from YouTube (they didn't want anyone embedding apparently). MySpace is selling the album for 3.99 so go cop it!

Hopefully this BaRF is just what you needed to eat up before the weekend. More love to come next week!

Until next time my friends,

~Flak