If you're looking for the singles I review, you can either check in with The Sandbox or HipHopSite.Com. If they ain't got it - it ain't worth gettin'.
If you want to get my single reviews DIRECTLY, got yourself added to the Ozone Distribution list? You get On Deck reviews, Notes on the Run columns and more...email me to get on.
Aceyalone is the latest West Coast group to step to Rawkus for a quick P&D deal (following Living Legends) and while it's bound to please long time Acey fans, I'm not quite as sure how this will play off wider audiences. "Perfect Romance" shows off Acey's unpredictable lyrical concepts-"see/my first name is Will/my last name Power/my real name is Eddie/last name Bauer/they used to call me Gun/last name Tower/now they call me Final/last name Hour/but on the low/my last name is Flow/my first name is He Got/my middle name's Fo Sho." Imagine an entire song like this and it's a love it or hate it deal but personally, I just appreciate that Aceyalone is pushing lyrical craft ever upwards in a time of lowest common denominator pandering. The problem is that the chorus is fairly blase and the beat is equally flat (hint: hire Evidence more), meaning that this is ultimately a cut for word heads but not sound bombers. The flipside is even more to the left, blending electronic music production with Southern verbal dribblings while Abstract Rude backs up Acey. Again, it's another track for lyrical freaks but it's hard to imagine other heads really trying to get down with this. Longevity Index: Six weeks
Afu Ra's track record on 12"s off his LP has been a little uneven. The first one, with "D&D Soundclash" and "Mic Stance" was blasting like a .44. "Defeat" wasn't even a .22-more like a slingshot with a broken rubber band. This latest fits in somewhere halfway. The two sides are split between True Master's original mix and a new remix by DJ Premier. Truth be told, I was never a huge fan of the original version of the song-I've heard better tracks from True Master before and this one feel lke it just droned on and on without really offering anything to hang your ear on. Even worse, Gza's cameo lumbered as awkwardly as the beat-all his deep lyrical science was there but Gza sounds like he's on cold medicine as he falls on and off beat. You can count on Primo to swing in and retool the whole effort up a notch. Yeah, Prime's biting his own sh*t-notably D'Angelo's "Devil's Pie"-and you've heard the formula a dozen times prior. But does it still knock you out the box, roll you down the street and stuff you in the gutter? Hell yeah. Even better, Gza suddenly sounds tons tighter too as his flow now seems deliberately complex rather than just sloppy. Goes to show you that the right remix can change the whole game on a song.
Pras had it wrong-Jeru's not the one who can't sell it without Primo. Keith without Martin is like Laverne without Shirley, like Mork without Mindy, likeoh, you get the picture. It's shocking how weak Guru sounds without the thunderous snap of Premier's tracks to back him. Left to his own devices and producers (and no, the so-called Primo Jr., Alchemist, can't save anyone's ass with the anemic beat for "In Here") he just sounds like any other MC that you could care less about. I could even bear to listen to either song the whole way through before wanting to throw it off. (Note: I'm not saying that Guru can't survive without Premier under any circumstance-he's done quite well without him at times but this just isn't one of them). Longevity Rating: Last month
Klassik is right-Bas-1 comes with a lyrical approach that has "Bay Area" written all over it (and that's a good thing folks). Laconic but not lazy, irreverent but not irrelevant, Bas-1 clearly feels his own style and that kind of confidence among MCs is a refreshing departure from all the bullsh*t braggodcio you get these days. Yeah, he's not coming glue tight with his scheme and some might think it's a little random but how can you not give some love to any MC willing to drop this on tape: "I'm nearly to the point/where I'm now thinking clearly/but then again/I am quite intoxicated/ebonically speaking/I'm quite faded." Plus, Fanatik's Rhodes loop gives the song a smooth, relaxed vibe that fits in with Bas-1's drugged out haze. "It's a Klassik" is more like the paranoid after-hours track as Fanatik gets down with some tense piano plinks and Bas-1 starts dribbing a manic freestyle that might leave small children crying. My guess is that some are going to straight hate on Bas-1 but for now, I'm cutting him enough slack to either snag me or hang himself.
I'm a little confused-Sadat X's "The Interview" isn't a new cut by a long shot yet the Biz Markie cut "And I Rock" definitely is, pairing the Diabolical with Primo (hot) and Black Indian (not). Primo's beats are fairly generic for him-the kind of track that sounds like he could have hooked up while brushing his teeth but that ol' boom bap, combined with Biz's indelible voice just go together like Mork N' Mindy. Spin it, you'll like it. Black Indian isn't wack but which MC has Biz NOT overshadowed in his long career. As for "Interview", it was a cool song*five* years back when it was on Sadat's "Wild Cowboys" LP but why do we need to hear it again now? Longevity Index: Two months
Unless you're living deep in Queens or Brooklyn, rolling doobies around the corner by a bodega, I'm not sure if you'll give a f*ck about this generic gun clap anthem. Yeah, yeah, the beat is suitably dramatic, ripping off some war movie theme, but the lyrics are as formulaic as a Michael Bay action flick. The remix is marginally better and for some inexplicable reason, the lyrics actually sound better this time around but the illusion fades quickly. "Black Opz" is the same deal-the beat's (laid back in an edgy way) a'ight but while the first set of vocals are passable, the second and third set are forgettable. Longevity Rating: Next week.
Hilarious dis cut that paints a big ass bulls-eye on Masta Ace. Apparently, both artists released similar "ghetto like" cuts and Boogiemann's a little salty at that. Frankly, I'm always down for a good dis 12" (rappers are too polite to each other these daysunless you're a white rapper but that's another story) and Boogiemann hits the Ase One with some nice slaps. BUT-if you're going to dis Masta Ace, you might as well dis Jay Z for doing "So Ghetto" and Kardinal Offishall for doing "U R Ghetto" given that those songs also bear a resemblance to Boogiemann's "Ghetto Love". Furthermore, given that "Just You Wait" does the "let's sample a musical route" ala Jay Z's "Hard Knock Life" and given that Boogiemann's flow shares some striking similarities to the Jigga-man'sit's best not to judge too harshly lest ye be judged. Still, a fun 12" to get down with. Let's see if Masta Ace comes back at him.
Maybe I was sleeping but I'm guessing Bravo's on the come-up as a producer. The first thing I remember hearing from him was recent-on Amad Jamal's new 12" for ABB. Assuming they're from Oakland, they two are making another Bay Area hook-up, this time with Rasco for "Aged and Laced". It's a decent song, but nothing you haven't already heard from a ton of MCs, Rasco included. Generic underground-intelligent, abrasive but not extraordinary. Same goes for the B-side where Sandman's flow seems even closer to Rasco's than I had noted before. It works-hard-hitting, aggressive and all that-but with Rasco, Planet Asia, Encore and others in the current mix, Sandman doesn't stand above the pale. I will say this much-he can flow on forever, especially for "Audio/Visual" where you'd be hard pressed to figure out when he has time to breath. For that matter. neither do Bravo's tracks-compared to Evidence, DJ Design, Joey Chavez and Kutmasta Kurt, they lack the same kind of punch or style. It's all good, just not great.
Casual's comeback trail is still getting blazed but the road isn't as smooth as we'd probably like. His braggadocio style is as brutal as always and "Same O.G." gives you a full three verses to marinate in. The hook is the only things that's really off-"just because I got my own CD/and I'm probably on tv/there ain't no change in me/the same O.G." No offense, but Casual hasn't had his own CD since 1993 and when's the last time we saw his mug on the telly? Dangerous game of bragging when you don't have back-up to pick the slack up. Vic's beat is s'okay-functional but nothing that'd stick to the wall. Dante Ross comes through better with the dramatic piano track on the flipside and I'm partial to this as the better braggart song of the two: "mics get disrespected/like whites in our communities/so layoff/it won't payoff/my tune will be way off." Forget pistol whipping your head, he's got the shotgun butt going upside the skull.
As much as I may want to dis on this 12", there's something entertaining about the drug ode "Purple Pills" that keep my player hating in check. I still don't think D12 has much skills to write home about-take out Eminem and they disappear like lights in a fog but the song's a hilarious mix of disses that include refs to everyone from Vanilla Ice to Elton John, plus drug flashbacks and of course, a requisite homophobic remark. Ah, somethings will never change. The beat's not so badif you like countrified beats. Too slow to really bump heavy but it's not wack. "That's How" is another barrel of disrespect, served up slow n' funky-hilarious song about how people deserve to get f*cked up. Peep this politically incorrect line: "you're living at home with your kin folk/and the world keeps f*cking with your mental/and all these kids keep making fun of your trenchcoat?/that's how students get shot up." Or even more brazen: ""choking your wife all in front your peeps/she toss a brick through the window of your jeep/they back together by the end of the week/that's so sweet/Slim and Kim argue too much." Ill-tacular.
"Open" was never really one of the best cuts on Da Beatminerz LP to begin with-Caron Wheeler just doesn't have the vocal ability to make the same kind of impression as, say, Vinia Mojica or even Jonell. And Pete Rock's cameo comes and goes without most even turning their head to notice. The remix tries to shore up the weak buttresses in the song with a revisit to "Eric B. Is President" but the problem was never the track-you need to juice up Wheeler's paper-thin voice before you worry about the beat. Likewise, "Anti-Love Movement" could have been a winner if Total didn't totally f*ck up the hook, taken from Betty Davis' original "Anti-Love Song". They're just so out of their league, it's a shame, especially since Talib Kweli does his part just fine. As for "Live and Direct", I was bored of its thuggish rubbish the first time I heard it and I'm not inclined to change my mind the second time around.
Right off the bat, I have to give credit to Dr. Oop aka Droop Capone for one of the more imaginative handles flipped off from popular culture icons. Dread Kaczynski? Who the f*ck would have thought of that? Too bad the song itself isn't quite as clever as the name as DJ Midas fails to-um-blow things up with a track that's just a little too thin to rest your ears on. Luckily, he comes back hard with the funked out buzz beat on "1998", a sick little number that finds Dr. Oop radiating hotter than a supernova: "yo Babylon can't appreciate my lyricals/when I know in my black heart I got that classic material/so witness while I come off like names off my hit list/it is the seven day inventest/the holy poet." The synch between words and music is perfect and every minute that passes just amps the energy a notch higher. "Somethin' About Mary" takes it the other direction, relaxing you out with a super laid-back flow from Oop over a beautifully jazzy, vibed-out number from Small-J. "Lbs. And Hugs" is another likable song-also fairly chilled-out-but after three cuts, it's a little much to have to get into. Stick with "1998" and "Somethin' About Mary" and you'll be right as rain. Longevity Index: Three Months
I could only stand listening to the A-side for about a minute-the singing just annoyed me and it was so generically NY underground in music and lyrics that I lost patience. Seriously, if you're going to dare put your name on wax please come with some sh*t we haven't heard 100 times before. Thank god for the B-side-Spinna instantly improves the worth of 12" with a cool track powered on vibes and a dope drum track and suddenly Dynas sounds good too (more proof that producers are more vital to hip-hop than MCs are). Peep: "if you attain success/you've been named suspect/'nuff stress/puff cess/unless there ain't none left." It sounds better than it reads, especially as he comes with a quick-spit style that rides the cracks of Spinna's track well.
For whatever reason, I'm really feeling Edan. Maybe I just have a soft spot in my heart for wacked-out white MCs from Boston. Ormaybe it's just because Edan is dope-a-delic in a way that hasn't impressed me for a long time. Yeah, his retro-88 style-nicely exemplified on the Ultramagnetic tribute song "Ultra 88" (beautifully executed in a scary, fandom sort of way)-might seem derivative but he pulls it off so masterfully you never even think to notice. "Drop Some Smooth Lyrics" sounds like part two of his "Syllable Practice"-mondo-slick lyricism set over a simple, SP-1200 gritty track. Frankly, I could have done without the seemingly endless Big Daddy Kane loop that plays at the intro and the chorus (I mean, we get the point already) but it's a small annoyance to put up with given how enjoyable it is to hear Edan get down with his own bad self.
Maybe it's just because we're all getting older (ok, at least some of us are) but Edan's retro-88 hip-hop style manages to be both invigorating and comforting because of its familiarity. A more forward-minded critic might deride him for just recycling Marley Marl and Ced Gee's beat science and failing to innovate but I disagree. You don't need to be the Anti-Pop Consortium just to sound next level-Edan picks up where many simply abandoned and he's a smart-and dedicated-enough artist to pull it off. For one thing, his rhyme patterns and, in his word, "syllable practice", is contemporary, a quick-spit style that's usually more clever than profound, but digs into the beats like a wedgie does your ass crack. As for his beats, yes, they're pretty rough-hewn especially compared to the prettiness of, say, Just Blaze's studio soul, but haven't we all had enough of the Neptunes for a while? What's wrong with some bash-your-head, overmodulated drum blasts (like on "Humble Magnificent") or the chaotic fury of "Adrenaline Rush" or the slick SP flavor of "Dope Rhymes for Sure"? Simple, accessible and packing more flavor than a semi loaded with MSG. On this 12"-his third so far-Edan packs it to the gills with tracks (count em, four, plus two instrumentals). "Mic Manipulator" is a pleasant enough song from the "Primitive Plus" album, especially with its quirky piano loop, reminiscent of something Prince Paul might have whipped up for De La circa "3 Ft. High". Edan's lyrics are typically long on style though a little short on substance-"well, I'm the rhyme regulator/mic manipulator/teradachtyl/there and back to terminate ya/super duper classic for the dick head gerbil/kids go red carpet/when I flip fresh verbal." "Humble Magnificent" is a head-basher but I tired from the repetitive drum loop and two note horn stabs by the first chorus. Luckily, "Adrenaline Rush" (which is not on the album as far as I know) revitalized with another hyped-up effort split between Skillz Ferguson laid over another frantic horn and drum loop. Another bonus cut, "Dope Rhymes For Sure" takes it back mid-tempo and more ridiculous lyrics from the Beantown bomber: "my titanium, tri-cranium/maintains a third brain/that's dedicated to word games". Sicker than anthrax-laden cocaine snorted off broken glass. Longevity Index: Four months, or until that fucking album finally drops. Don't keep us waiting too long dunny.
No offense to El Da Sensei and D-Tension but Encore's "It's Time" is the alpha and omega of this 12" and the other artists sharing space might as well have recorded 3.5 minutes of static. I mean, does anyone really remember what the B-side of "The Choice Is Yours (Revisted)" was? Did anyone really care for the remix to "One Love"? Now, I'm not claiming that "It's Time" is going to stand the test of time like either of those two certified classics. But I'll say with absolute confidence that this has to be my favorite song for at least the last six months if not year. Yeah, it's that good. I have a white label promo so I can't credit the producer by name, but if you thought the days of four-bar loops was deaded, think again. This just sounds so damn good that even the instrumental gets me juiced. The fact that Encore lays in the cut deeper than bone marrow is just a bonus. I mean, how can front on the sped-up soul vocals for the chorus (similar to what Jay Z's entire album sounds like)? How can not get moved by the slick shimmy of the track with its intense strings and chicken clawed guitar? And then Encore plows in: "I relinquish correspondence with the world for a minute/on a mission for dolo/exposing myself to my soul to see what's in it/staying relentless with it/making everything I'm spitting/passing every litmus test with gritty finesse." I'm not quite sure how this is an ode to "Breaking Atoms" except that it makes me feel as good as I did listening to "Snake Eyes" or "Peace Is Not the Word to Play" a decade back. Cop this. Longevity Rating: Nine months.
Erule might have to live under the shadow of his own achievements, having cemented his name with "Synopsis" and "Listen Up" from the mid-90s, but at least he's striving to reach that peak again. His last 12" was pleasant enough ("The Real Me") but "Milestone" seems to go a step further. While a lyrical style that has me thinking of Nasty Nas circa "Illmatic" era, Erule spits with conviction: "sincerely/this is really/how severely fucked up/from what's what/getting' cuffed up/murder or stuck up/it's tough luck." Frankly, it's not that easy to figure out exactly what he's trying to say but on record, it sounds genius. Chew on that for a minute and while you do it, enjoy King Born's simple, slick track of hard-knockin' drums and a sprinkle of keys. It's so good you might as well forget about the B-side, "Sabotage" which mostly just suffers from an anemic track (also by King Born) though Erule's still dropping some cipher-strung lyrics on the line.
While I like Prozack and Marc Stretch-two nice, sincere guys-they're not exactly lyrical geniuses and you know what? Cool with me. This Bay Area pair keep knocking out entertaining hip-hop that knows how to have fun without taking themselves too seriously (PUTS' problem) or being a tad too silly (Ugly Duckling's weakness). This new 12" kicks off with a Paul Nice remix of "Let Me Tell You Something" and with Woody Woodpecker inaugurating the song no less. It's a bouncy remix-simple in its structure and while I liked it it just feels a tad too stripped down. I'm still partial to the more musically dense original mix. The B-side is the bonus, as Prozack and Marc Stretch rhyme over one of their own instrumentals from the recent album and flip expert chemistry and biting punchlines. It's one of the better cuts I've heard them put together-all hearty ego boasts that don't front too hard. Ain't nothing but a party y'all. "Who keeps it hotter than block parties in hell?" You know the name-that'd be the F.L.
Don't get me wrong-because I actually really like "Keeps It Gangsta"-but if you ever were curious what it'd sound like if 88 Keys tried to sound like Timbaland, producing for Jay Zwell, here you go. The A-side track is great-fun and bouncy without being on some insultingly basic sh*t (ala a lot of the Neptunes production). Definitely a potential party favorite. But once Graph starts doing his little "uh uh uh", it's hard not to think Jigga. And when his flow locks in, hell, it's like listening to Jova's younger bro take the mic. Not that this is a bad thing per se-if you can get past the questionable originality, it's actually pretty entertaining to listen to. "Gimme Dat" doesn't quite make it as far though, mostly because 88 Keys' production is too sparse to be that interesting and with the sonic support, Graph's eerie S. Carter channeling starts to make him sound like any number of pretenders to the throne. He's worth listening to but there are certain limitations you have to be willing to deal with. Just get down with him as he "Keeps it Gangsta."
I don't know if Heather B is aiming for Rah Digga on this 12" (did Digga dis Heather B at some point?) but there are some veiled vocal references that seem aimed at Heather's fellow New Jersey femme fatale. If it is, I wish she'd be a little more obvious rather than playing sly-it seems kind of lame to hide beyond vague metaphors. But if it's just Heather B. doing her standard gun clap sh*t, then I can't get too mad. This is as good as she gets which may not say much but as usual, Premier's beat adds a luster on the song that otherwise would exist. It's not one of his greatest production feats-certainly not as sublime as "Tha Squeeze" but it's still banging like a diesel engine. And Heather B comes with some wickedness, peep: "basically/I'm telling you/cross me/I'm swelling ya/the chiropractor goin' be/the only thing feeling you." The worst part of the song is the chorus though with some no-talent, Mariah wanna-be soulster revising the hook from Michael Jackon's "I Wanna Rock With You." That's not quite as bad as Total f*cking up Betty Davis' vocals for "Anti-Love Song" (on Da Beatminerz LP) but it's in the same ballfield. Like De La said circa '89, "take it off." Longevity Rating: 3 months
This double A-side puts the Pharcyde's Imani back to back with freestyle legend Supernatural. Imani's "Citizen Strange" is about the same as the Pharcyde's last album ("Plain Rap") which is to say that it's a shell of their older material yet doesn't go far enough to change the game. No notable quotables in this one and while the track has a playful touch to it, the lackluster drums drag it down into blandness. As for Supernatural, his "let's take it back" song suffers from the same problems that Supernat has always had-his off-the-dome stylistics just don't translate well to written. This song might have been coolsix years ago. But the jiggy backlash attitude has become such a tired refrain and Supernat doesn't update it with anything you haven't heard it 100 times already. The production is better at least (compared to Imani's anemic track), sounding like something Fat Jack might have hooked up.
Wow, Jeru is still up in this motherf*cker? I'll stop making the obvious observation-without Primo, he can't sell it-but at least he's still trying to persevere. The only problem is that his lyrics just lack the spark that he used to bring to the mic. Like on "It Bees Like Dat", he just sounds bored in his observations of social ills-"police come down/like magnum force/it's brutality/but here's the chemistry." Weak rhymes-no real flow or cleverness. Same goes for "Renegade Slave"-he tries to heat it up with a faster rhyme scheme but this time around, the anemic beat cools the passion down to a mere luke warm. Jeru did a better job with the song "Frustrated N*gga" covering the same bases. As I already noted, the production is fairly dull on both sides-not terrible-but they lack character despite their attempt at being moody. Altogether, Jeru's still sounds like he's only at half power.
Rumor has it that Rawkus spend seven figures (that's seven dunny dun) to sign Kool G. Not to produce or market the album-just to sign the self-described "First N*gga". Well, you better pray G Rap starts to pay off something beautiful if Rawkus is gonna recoup and right now, he ain't batting so hot. Yeah, Primo helped heat things up on the remix of the aforementioned "First N*gga" but "Thug for Life"? "The Streets"? And now "My Life"-which manages to milk the Zapp vocoder effect for the umpteenth time (Roger Troutman didn't deserve this, DJ Quik excepted). Look, I think G Rap is one of the nicest MCs in history but that's "in history" and while he may be a pioneer, his ability to stay current in a new J-Hova era is doubtful. He just soundstired, just like the track sounds tired.
Hey, I like Kool Keith. Really. But every album he's put out since Dr. Octogon have practically been the same. Keith excels as these bizarre, stream of consciousness rhymes that invent new ways to disrespect you. It's all wildly entertaining-I mean, Keith says on "Stank MCs", "I'll slap you with a condom"who the f*ck would come up with a line like that? Wicked! But in the big scheme of things, it can get a little redundant after a while because each song sounds like the last. I suppose the 12"'s saving grace is that the production is different from what Keith typically rolls too (Kutmasta Kurt's wide-bottom electro beats). But DJ Mighty Mi doesn't really smack you with anything too innovative-good, solid beats but unremarkable past that. What you're left with is another dope 12" that preaches to the Kool Keith choir but it doesn't reveal any angles we haven't already been poked with already.
First of all, it's about damn time these Texan cats have an album coming out ("Universal")they're one of those underground groups that have put out what seems like a dozen 12"s and finally, they have the full-length to tout for a change. BUTuntil we get there, we still have one MORE 12", "Take a Breather." Catchy song, especially the trill flute that sounds on the mellow, Rhodes piano track but compared to other material on the album, it comes off a little light-pleasant enough to listen to, but far from haunting your ears afterwards. "The Word" grips the mic in a tighter fist, with its dramatic strings and heavy basslines but it too seems like lack a certain ooomph. Part of it's that we've heard from these cats so many times, they're average braggadocio just ain't gonna cut it as much anymore-at the risk of sounding dumb cliché, it's time for K-Otix to elevate game. (Hint: put "Front Row" on 12". That sh*t is ill bugged.)
I'd like to know thisit's been seven years since we've heard shit from Kurious and out of nowhere, he's back with a 12". What the hell has he been doing since 1994? Selling cars? Managing information systems? Leading backpackers through the Appalachian Mountains? I mean, what do rappers do in their off time and what compels them to return? On that note, don't quite call this a comeback either. Kurious doesn't embarrass himself but he's hardly going to take the hip-hop world by storm. Celph-Titled handles the beats for "All Great" with a snappy, stab-heavy track and crunchy drums-not his most outstanding work, but it'll do in a pinch. As for the man formerly known as Kurious Jorge, his rhyme style's done some evolving since the days of "Walk Like a Duck"-it's more stop-and-go now, with quick pauses dotting his stanzas-but he's definitely not about to blow minds open. "All Great", despite its ambitious name, is notably thin on notable quotables though his hook is suitably catchy. The remix is far worse than the original mix because of its dulltastic production that drones on and on (not credited). Longevity Index: Six Weeks (it would've been a month except for the novelty factor)
Last heard getting down with LA's Self Scientific, Lao Fai returns for an ABB affiliated 12". DJ Khalil lends his production talent to the sides but hits a slight misstep with "My Word". The guitar melody is a welcome departure from the conventional boom bap but it comes off too light, lacking the meat to bring you into the song or to back up Lao Fai and Chase Infinite's verses. Pleasant but not punchy. Cue up "I Put My Life On It" instead-falling key melodies and a roughneck bassline starts to nudge your neck into motion and Lao Fai's coming in battle-mode rather than philosophical sparks some heat. It's cool sh*t though nothing I ain't never heard before from other MCs. Last up it's "Spitover90"-word up to Khalil for sampling a vibe version of the classic Japanese lullaby "Sakura" (same song that "Tried by 12" was based off of, but not the same version). Unfortunately, I wasn't impressed by Lao Fai's verses-standard issue underground lyricism and compared to Chase Infinite who walks a nice line between the thuggery of LA's streets and the introspective wisdom that Self Scientific has become known for, Lao Fai is clearly more disciple than master.
I've always cut LMNO some slack because while I don't always like his flow, he at least stays true to it rather than trying to switch up styles ever two weeks like others. LMNO is one of those take it or leave it MCs and there's no good reason why I'm willing to champion him further than say, Mr. Brady. But I like how he does his thing, the way he accents and slurs certain syllables. And he's smart about his beats-take the mellow, jazzy affair that is "Natural Beauty", something Black Star might have dropped back in '99 (and the fact that a Talib Kweli snippest is on the hook doesn't hurt). LMNO comes philosophical without sounding too pretentious and I can see a lot of heads getting into the song's vibe. "Enhanced" is more middle-of-the-road braggadocio-nothing you've never heard before and I just skipped past it to get to "James Addiction" (automatic points for title cleverness). It's a song about, well, addiction and while it has some rough edges-and lacks the utter humor of D12's recent "Purple Pills"-I liked how LMNO tried to pull off a concept song. How can you front on this: "I treat Rogaine/like cocaine/I don't take it/heard the rock/in the stem/when I shake it." That's bonus points for working the word "Rogaine" into any hip-hop song. Not stellar but a fairly solid effort for LMNO. Longevity Rating: Three weeks
Wow, even DITC are making Primo-esque beats nowadays. Not that this is a bad thing, especially when MOP are screaming over the tracks-I'm just curious what their upcoming Rawkus LP is going to sound like after peeping out their newer, crunchy beat steez. This sh*t sounds classic MOP-stylea terse, taunt track hard enough to crack concrete which melds with Lil Fame and Billy Danze's high-caliber verbal spit. If you didn't get enough of these guys on their recent LP, here's another fix.
Now that Mad Skillz (actually, I think he's dropping the "mad" and just going as Skillz since "mad" anything is about as played as "catchin' wreck") is on some spittin' hot sh*t tip, I can't be too mad at him. After all, he's clearly paid his dues (meaning his first album was trashed and ignored) in this rap game, besides, for a punchline rapper, I can't help but be amused by some of his lines. "Y'all Don't Wanna" is ok-Hi-Tek provides a bumpin' funk track for your pleasure, but Skillz' slow, deliberate flow seems all punch with not enough lines. I can see this making some noise for a hot second. Flipside tries a lil' too hard to be hot, like a half-weight Ruff Ryders wanna-be track. That may not be such a bad thing since Skillz is a lot more fun to listen to than Jadakiss but the plodding track needs a steroid upgrade.
For a braggadocio cut, "54th Regiment" ain't bad, reminding me of something Mic Geronimo might have cut before he fell the f--- off. The track is minimalist-just bassline and drums really-and while it doesn't burn, baby, burn Maspyke at least shows some spark on the mic. Better than a lot of the other sh*t I've been snooring through though it's not blowing my mind wide open. My attention was drawn instead to ""Family Stand" by BJ aka Homeskill whose flow and voice is going to invite immediate comparisons to Q-Tip though he's more like a sound-alike than a clone. The beat also reminds me of something Jay Dee would throw together, especially the hand-clap beat and the mellow vocals that form the song's melodic platform. It's as pleasant as a warm day in the park.
Damn, Master Fuol might have a cool little fall anthem on his hands with "It's On." All the right components are there-R&B croonings on the chorus (weak vocalist but you can forgive her since she's not too prominent), easy hook to remember ("it's on!"), a slick, post-Pete Rock track by 1Eye and Fuol's rappin' about the peeps around his way and coming up from the streets (familiar narrative but it gets the job done). The song is very NY-centric in its appeal yet that seems to add to its luster rather than detract. It's not deep, it's not sizzling yet it simply works as one of those songs that you could see rising up the charts or blowing up the club. Didn't know Fuol had it in him. Longevity Index: Three months
I'm embarassed to admit this but I still haven't actually listened to the Mission: album yet (and yeah, they're name is Mission: with the colon included. Go figure). After peeping this 12", I'm far more encouraged to take a listen, though my sudden eagerness is no doubt inspired by the sublime production by PUTS' Thes One on both sides. The floating Electric Rhodes notes on "Home" are aural ambrosia-I can't get enough of it. Definitely one of the slickest, sweetest songs I've heard in a while and Mission: keeps up their end of the bargain with some heartfelt, hard-hitting verses about their concept of home. "The Come On" is crunchier, namely due to the chopped drum break that plies underneath the thin strings. Not quite as good as the A, the braggadocio is more commonplace and neither MC's flow is really worth writing home about. But the elements that need to come together do very nicely on "Home"-don't be the last one to it.
I don't even know what to do with this. It's so much a backpacker EP that I'm surprised Jansport didn't pay for endorsement rights. The beats drone on which is exactly what you'd say about Mr. Brady's vocals. I'm not dissing this as wack, only uninteresting beyond that sub-sect of hip-hoppers who spend their time listening to hip-hop in each other's bedrooms and garages. Longevity Rating: An afternoon.
Mystic hooks up with fellow Oaklander A-Plus from the Souls for "The Life", the new single from her upcoming solo debut. Adam hooks up a track like I've never heard before-fuller production rather than just loops, a smart song musically with many elements running in the background. As for Mystic-I really don't think singing is her forteshe can't carry herself in the same way that most R&B torch singers can pull off but as an MC, she's ill as hell and I wish she'd stop trying to play Lauryn Hill and just stick to rhymes. As it is, we only get a 12 bar sampler of her mic skills on this song. Too little, too late.
This might be the first ABB release that I utterly just do not feel. On any level. Nance Nickels (already losing points for what I'd consider to be a corny name) tries to scold the whole NY-centric attitude in hip-hop yet does so in a fairly oblique way, not only sounding like any other generic Tri-State MC, but the production is pretty lackluster. If you're going to dis NY, the least you can do is come with some heavy firepower rather than just shooting off from the lip. As you can tell, I was mightily underwhelmed. The flip, "Spit Back" did little to raise the adrenaline level, despite cameos by Superstar Quammalah and Young Topic. It just sounds so mad generic for the underground, I can't understand what's supposed to make either song compelling at all.
Afu Ra's larger clan, first name-checked by Jeru back in the day, finally turn up on record. I don't have enough details to pinpoint everybody but "Doin' It'" starts with Afu on the verses-nothing new that you haven't heard from him but it's pretty good by his own standards. JahDan backs him up on the ragga tip-left me wanting to fast-forward but that's mostly cause I can't stand the general sound of it. The production is snappy, bearing a fairly close resemblance to the head nod sh*t that Afu tends to get from DJ Premier but this time, it's Gang DuLyonnais providing the beat. "Perverted-ness" features some strong lyrical chemistry exhibited by the whole Monks clan. Da Beatminerz bring a decent track-another stripped down banger but I think Mr. Walt and company needed drums with a harder smack to complement the multiple lyrical spears being chucked by the Monks. Compared to Afu's recent 12"s, this new 12" is better than "Big Acts, Little Acts" but still not nearly as tight as "D&D Soundclash".
Previously featured on a limited-edition, Japan-only 12", "Back on the Block" is likely to have heads getting teary-eyed for the days of Mecca and the Soul Bro #1 as CL and PR combine one a sublimely smooth reunion. Pete's vibes shimmer with a cozy warmth while his shuffling drums accent the rhythm just right. Meanwhile, CL brings back the kind of verses that makes you wonder exactly why Pete bothered rolling solo. I mean, for real, what has he really gained alone? A decent but unspectacular album. Some good remixes but nothing on the level of Primo's output. Pete and CL just go together nice-like milk and Kahlua. Or E and house music. Orwell, you get the f*ckin' idea. Just to be ridiculously generous, the flipside gives you Freddie Foxxxx shoving his bumpy knuckles in yo' face on "Mind Frame", a hard banger for those who want a little crunch with your cream. This 12" is so good it's embarrassing.
Phil the Agony executes this 12" pretty well considering it's a one-gimmick record. Ever line begins with Phil warning you, "watch out for[fill in the blank]." Sample verses: "first you got to watch out for yourself and your fam/because if you don't watch out/nobody else will give a damn/watch out for those niggas in the streets/they'll follow you with the heat/and rock you to sleep." And so the song continues as Phil pretty much mistrusts, well, everybody. The cops, bitches, A&R, magazines, etc. It can get a little redundant, especially by the third set of verses but at least Joey Chavez's funked-out loop keeps your interest even when you want to watch out for Phil's next line. Longevity Index: Six Weeks
It's been a minute since this blue-eyed, Boston duo dropped anything and they team up with former Beantownian Mr. Lif for "I Am Myself". I wanted to like the song more than I actually did-the production lacks substance and really needed some harder drums just to anchor the floating melodic elements. Lif's cameo is cool but nothing he hasn't blazed better for Push Button Objects or Vadim. I see backpackers gravitating towards it but honestly, the song has limited appeal. "R.A.W." is another story, the playful piano loop is much easier to dig into and Raw Produce's quick-spit flow on this song turns up the energy meter and grabs your attention far better. Add a chorus that blends some soaring horns and the sound of Big Daddy Kane spelling out raw and you got a song that's, well, raw. Definitely a 12" where the B-side wins. Again. Longevity Index: Three Months.
That's pronounced "reese"-lord forbid you actually f*ck up Res' name. What's the concern? It's not like Res is necessarily going to last long enough for anyone to care to remember her name, especially with her drawling, Erykah Badu-rip off vocals. Not like she's terrible but there's absolutely nothing that remarkable about her voice or the instrumentation backing her and in day where divas like Jill Scott, Sunshine Anderson and Badu are bringing heat like a hair dryer, you'll need more than Nas to juice up your joint.
Is it me or has Def Jux just come in from nowhere and started flipping out product like flapjacks? Good to see El P's fledging label fire off from the launching pad with so much good material. While RJD2 isn't about to touch the ill subliminals of Cannibal Ox, if you've liked the edgy, off-kilter styles that Def Jux has promoted through Mr. Lif, Cann Ox and Aesop Rock, this deserves a spin in that same rotation. "June" follows along the same kind of unconventional aesthetics-how else to describe a song where, after Copywrite's intro 16 bars, everything goes instrumental for the next two minutes, only to bring Copywrite back to close. This ain't no radio joint, that's for sure. As you can probably already guess, it's all fairly cerebral though Copywrite's lyrics themselves are more pedestrian than the 12"s construction. Frankly, I wasn't that impressed at what he had to say but RJD2's track more or less bolsters what I'd consider to be an otherwise undistinguished cameo. Both the original and remix are intriguing though it takes a more studied ear to appreciate the nuances-this is no 2 bar loop being assembled. "The Proxy" is mis-listed on the track-listing, I think it's actually B2, not B1 as noted. Cool listening-not quite as pieced together as "June", but it's short and sweet.
The fact that Sage Francis - who 90% of hip-hoppers would likely dismiss as yet another backpackin', "genius rapper" from the Anticon school - has been one of the few and first MCs to tackle the politics of America post-9/11 shows exactly how out of touch the mainstream of hip-hop has become with the society around it. That's not to say other rappers are making moves to help the relief effort or make their own political statements (expect the Coup and Dead Prez to weigh in) but that Francis could draft such a incisive missive in such short time partially speaks to the power of modern media and how hip-hop has insinuated itself into it. All that being said, the song itself is more interesting for its social relevance that its intrinsic qualities. The beat is throwaway and while Francis' has some articulate things to say, he's not winning many style points. Truth be told - hip-hop's history on anti-war songs has been mediocre at best, but "Superpatriot" hardly ranks anywhere on the map with the explosive and masterful lyricism that we've seen in the past from everyone from Public Enemy to KRS-One to Mos Def to Boots. While his is a statement that needs to be told, "Superpatriot" is almost too stilted to demand to be heard. (O-Dub)
I hope to god that Shanti is really South Asian cause otherwise, I'm gonna have beef but for now, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. Like his last 12", "Blaxploitation", this new single is packed to the gills with four songs, five MCs, three producers. Shanti's flow is still improving-he's got a nice alacrity to it though his higher-pitched voice lacks the slap-back impact of other MCs (like L-Fudge who graces "Deadline"). Still he's got that underground cleverness-metaphors, slick similes, tongue-in-cheek humor. I'm still not completely won over but he's getting there. Of the four songs, I'd stick with "Deadline" and "Black Ops" (feat. Louis Logic and R-Son), mostly because they have the best production-smooth, jazzy cuts with a nice blend of aural elements. "Stardom" is crunchy nuff but the mix sounds off, bringing Shanti's vocals too much into the forefront and reducing the punch of the drums. The main thing with this whole 12", like the last one, is that I really don't feel strongly enough about any of the songs to want to throw them into the mix. It's not that their wack but nothing (beats, rhymes) sticks to the mind and seems to demand attention. It's all competent work but that doesn't make it compelling.
It's not clear that these remixes are by Jay Dee but they bear his sonic signature. The revisit on "Hold Tight", feat. Q-Tip is even more stripped down the original (if that's possible since JD's mark is in his minimalism) but it's not bad-hand claps set the beat while there's some subtle keys flowering underneath and that's that. Sparse but funky. I'm really liking the flipside though, where Jay Dee throws Bataan from S.V. on with Jill Scott and replays the Libi Saffre beat ("My Name Is") on the Rhodes for an altogether different feel and approach. Funky funky funky like you heard it from here see. For Jay Dilla fans, another worthy white label for your consideration.
I should be upfront-I've hated about 99% of what the Smut Peddlers have put out (with the exception of their first-ever single) and so it's hard for me to listen to any of their stuff and take it too seriously. That's a big reason why "The Red Light" and "Anti-Heroes" lasted all about a minute on my tables before I just had to take em off. But even I couldn't really front on the hotness that is "Talk Like Sex Pt. 2". The remix is off the rails as one of the few beats that actually seems to do justice to the original that Kool G laid down a decade back. My only issue is that even the radio edit is so laced with offensive sexual innuendo, I can't swing with it. Call me a prude, but whatever-hip-hop could use a lot fewer dumb sex songs. Still worth checking out for most of you though who don't have my moral hang-ups.
I have no shame in admitting that I will check for ANYTHING these two put out. This is now their fourth 12" and I have yet to peep anything that's remotely close to flat on any of those singles. Verbally, they're just getting better all the time-I can hear their schemes tightening up, especially Profile's and there's no slacking on their tracks. I love how they flip jazz samples to make em funky, blending the best elements of both genres. Their latest 12" brings on another emerging talent, Grap Luva, for "Who am I?" over a joyful piano loop that makes every day seem like Spring. Grap helps make the Mount V to San D transition smooth as velvet and I could see some great collabo opportunities for these guys to pursue in the future. "Fresh Rhymes" comes heavier with its filtered-bassline drive as Soulo and Profile try to live up to the chorus grifted from Special Ed, "I drop fresh rhymes/daily". You burn SP? Really?
I don't have anything of substance to say about this. Would rather pass on it.
If the beat on "Full Contact" was just better, this might have been a hot collabo-Evidence, SM and Chali 2na all pop up, but the simplistic track had me reaching for the FF button even before Chali got his turn on the mic. How did someone manage to sleep on this one? A wasted effort by all four MCs involved. "Take It Back" at least understands this-the video game-esque beat is instantly infectiousyou won't get folks doing the electric slide to it, but the head nod factor is high enough to warrant a listen. And the vaguely free association style of the vocal flow had me going for a minute: "the mighty dollar is taller than the scholar/ask your neighborhood martyr about the fire starter." I mean, I have no idea what this sh*t is supposed to mean but they manage to get by on flow alone (a rare talent these days). The remix, a frilly funky affair, kills that vibe dead though, oops. Longevity Rating: Two weeks
Not that talent necessarily has to run in families but the more production I hear from Madlib's younger brother, Oh No, the more I'm convinced the Jackson clan has some scary genetics running through it. The musical mind behind Kaliwild and Epitome slaps down a nice blend of tracks for the Infamous MC. "Attitudes" is light and playful-looping up a child's mobile tune with some James Brown "heys" thrown into the mix. I can't even keep track of how many MCs hit the track-it feels like three or four and I confess, I haven't studied the Kaliwild long enough to start parsing apart who's who but it's all good braggadocio that doesn't get stuck in some bullsh*t gunclap chatter. "Affirmative Action" is another Oh No work, a strong example of a minimalist ethic that drops in backward warping strings, a simple breakbeat and the pinging dagger of a piano plink. Now that the Infamous MC gets to hold it down for self, he comes with an aggressive but not overblown flow that darts with a stinging pacing-slick. "Bring the Ruck", done by DJ Double Duck, is probably the weakest link in the chain-the track is dull as a broken pencil and sudden the IMC starts to channel Talib Kweli's rhyme scheme just minus the insightful polemics. He still comes with a cool flow and some biting lines but it's nothing new. With a hotter track, it might have hit harder, but the best "Bring the Ruck" can do is land some glancing blows.
Funnier in concept than in execution, Thirstin tries his best to match the hilarity of Biggie's classic B-side, "Dreams of F*ckin' an R&B B*tch" but frankly, the execution falls far beneath B.I.G.'s original simplicity. Plus, his X-rated perversions just ain't that funny as Howl describes how he'll violate all your Saturday morning favorites. "Mr. Mojon" left me similarly bored-but maybe that's because I don't speak Spanish (which the majority of the song is in). The production is just so incredibly boring that I was praying for the 3 minutes to finish so I could fine something else to wash away the bad taste this 12" left.
Who the hell are these guys? "Reststop Sweetheart" is such a bizarre narrative, about this kid hitting on girls whilst crossing the country-call it RV rap. It's playful and whimsical without being wholly irreverent and the smooth beat held my attention for a full listen. I'm guessing the lead MC is white which might explain the strangeness of the topic (us p.o.c. don't do road trips). Bonus points for the cheesy soul chorus-this is one of those cases where they must know how silly it sounds, thereby making it sound good because of the irony factor. "Block Troopin" is practically a part two-type sequel, another humorous narrative, kind of like a latter day KMD song feat. Jaysonic and Comel. And the jazz piano beat by DJ Mek? Milk like D. Same goes for the slick track under "A Million and One Things To Do." This is a backpacker 12" for certain but at least it's damn entertaining. Reminds me of an Ugly Duckling 12" just with much better rhymes. Longevity Rating: Two months
Only a real Ummah fan would want this, which isn't to say it's wiggety wack wack but at this point in the game, do we really give a f*ck about an Ummah remix of Das Efx's half-decade old "Microphone Master"? Or Busta's "Woo Hah" (half-assed remix at that) or De La's "Stakes Is High". This isn't to say that the material isn't nice-Jay Dee or Q-Tip or someone's caressing the Rhodes electric with a smooth touch on all the mixes and the drums snap tight like concert bracelets. But like the recent Madlib remixes, this is more for the novelty than inspired, creative music. I don't want to sound cynical, but there's something vaguely opportunistic about the EP-as if they're trying to cash in on the Ummah fame but this random scattering of five year old remixes just doesn't offer anything for you to hang your ear on. It'd be different if they were all amazing beats that made us here the songs in a new light, but these seem like half-formed ideas that never made it to fruition. Keep in mind the obvious-these weren't released the first time so clearly, someone decided to pass.
Rumor has it that Virtuoso has been flirting with softening up his approach to cozy up to the honeys but frankly, I'm not hearing it in his last couple of efforts. His flow is still as aggro as ever-a more consistent version of what 7L and Esoteric have been pumping for years. Virtuoso actually does a pretty good Wu Tang slang imitation on "All We Know" (that's not a dis) as he holds his own in a trio of intimidating MCs that include Del and Casual from the Hieros. Stoupe's beat works well-dramatic and fierce during the rhymes thanks to the big string sound but the chorus chills it out with some gentle Latin guitar, giving you a moment to breath before you get tossed back into the fray. This one should be a great spin for fans on either coast. "One" might be what some folks are complaining about, especially since the female vocal on the hook has a voice thinner than razors. Virtuoso tries to get socially conscious, mixing pseudo-religious rhetoric (ala Five Percenter mathematics) with run-of-the-mill gov't paranoia. Pleasant track by Fakts but otherwise, the song is middle-of-the-road.
Is Yeshua and Siah ever going to pair up again? Until that day comes, I guess we'll have settle with dapo Ed holding it down with his Wee Bee Foolish. Like practically every song that this crew's put out, it's an ideal blend of strong production and lyrical fireworks. Like their last 12", "Main Event", this is another narrative song, talking about an aspiring rapper getting jerked (familiar tale) by all sides. The beat flips on some late 60s jazz tune and goes down smooth and easy. A likable song though it won't twist your head around. But twist the disc and bump "Turn It Out" which not only sports an ill little, vaguely Persian loop but Yeshua stalks onto the mic like a panther chasing prey. Peep: "an MC/some cats believe/I'm out of league/but really man/who gives a damn how it's perceived/I be a prince among thieves/like breeze to the bruin(?)/who in their right mind/can find a flaw in what I'm doing." These guys are so dependable for quality product they should be FDA-certified. Longevity Index: Three months
Zion I have always put out consistently good 12"s and this one is no exception. Both songs offer a different side of the group-"Boom Bip" is a relaxed, jazzy gem that might surprise those expecting some heavier boom bap material. It works well, as smooth and sweet as gelato-so nice that I actually never really paid much attention to Zion himself (that's not a dis, just a compliment paid to the production). "Le Le Le" is on another tip altogether, hitting you in the head with some of the funky electro sh*t that's becoming more popular all the time (see Kardinal Offishall's "Bacardi Slang".) Feel your shoulders start to hunch, your head start to snap and your thighs pop back and forth-don't fight it, just go with the flow as Zion I take you down into the funk zone. The hottest sh*t I've heard from them-no D n B remix needed.