Archive for November, 2011

30
Nov
11

Rocky Roll.

A$AP Rocky makes his directorial debut for Danny Brown’s “Blunt After Blunt.” Though this one comes from Brown summer XXX mixtape, it always seemed like a collabo between these two was in the making. It’s certainly not my favorite cut from Danny’s tape, and the visuals are a little cliched, but I’m hoping this is an indication that future collaborative efforts are in the works.

30
Nov
11

I ♥ Tuesdays Vol. 4

November 2011 has been a good month for white people in the rap game: ghostly bangers from pasty producer Clams Casino provided some of the finer moments on ASAP Rocky’s LiveLoveA$AP tape, work behind the boards by 40 was one of the lone bright spots on Take Care, DJ 2Hands proudly accepted his (self)appointment as the driver of the Anti-Drake bandwagon, and just last week, Mac Miller’s Blue Slide Park became the first independent hip-hop record to grab the top spot on the Billboard 200 since Bone Thugs-N-Harmony in ‘97(!), moving 150K units in the process.  Now, in the fourth Tuesday of the month, we get a pair of releases from two of the finest pigment-deficient emcees in form of Yelawolf’s Radioactive and Action Bronson’s Well-Done, a collaboration LP with Caucasian beatmaker Statik Selektah.  Frankly, it’s an impressive stretch that almost makes up for letting Kreayshawn and her people get their collective foot in the door.

A lot has changed since a 25-year-old Micheal Atha first appeared on Missy Elliot’s reality talent show The Road to Stardom back in 2005.  Successfully navigating the course from reality TV castoff to legitimate market entity has proved extremely difficult within a genre where success has long been predicated on credibility. Remember John Brown?  If you answered no, you’re not alone.  But by putting out a series of highly-acclaimed mixtapes and unoffical albums over the past three years, Yelawolf has somehow weathered the storm, and after linking up with the Shady/Interscope team earlier this year has positioned himself to make everyone forget about early missteps with Radioactive, his debut studio record.  Even with Jimmy I and Slim in his corner, Catfish Billy continued to lean heavily on in-house production from WillPower and struggled to find a single that generated enough buzz to warrant an album release.  That led to a series of delays that pushed the album back by more than a month, but it appears that the team believes they have found the aforementioned buzz-worthy single in “Let’s Roll” with Kid Rock, and the record will finally hit shelves Tuesday.

Though various rumors have circulated regarding production and collaborations forRadioactive, the final tracklist is rather pedestrian.  The album contains a few sleeper bangers, namely the brilliantly sampled “Get Away” alongside Mystikal and Shawty Fat and the laidback “Good Girl” featuring Lupe Fiasco associate Poo Bear, but just as many tracks that border on unforgivably bad (see: “Write Your Name” with Mona Mona.)  While listening to the complete 15-track set, there are overwhelming indications that there was too much tampering with Yela’s original recipe, and what results is a bit bland.  Tracks such as the dubstep-infused “Animal” feel forced, and who the fuck had the idea to bring the black Avril LavigneFefe Dobson back from the dead on this one?  The shit is a far cry from the dark, pain-soaked Trunk Musik that garnered Yela a substantial fanbase during his come-up. Don’t let The Source’s 4.5 mic rating fool you, Radioactive falls victim to an all-too-common trend of underground-bred artists changing up their formula in order to put smiles on the faces (and ultimately dollars in the pockets) of major label executives.

Fortunately for us, Action Bronson has thus far been able to avoid the clutches of the major label iron first. After dropping a pair of unheralded projects in 2010, Bronsolinio has made quite a name for himself since releasing Dr. Lecter in March, arguably putting in enough work since then to be in the running for 2011’s Rookie of the Year title (and miles above competition in the Best Facial Hair category). He is one of the artists at the forefront of what has recently been labeled the revival of New York hip-hop, and inevitable comparisons to Big Apple legends pay complement to Bronson’s skill on the mic. Though his formal training as a chef (no Raekwon) and unabashed appreciation for fine cheeses and wine make Bronson a bit of an anomaly in today’s landscape, his emcee styling is a familiar yet refreshing concoction: mix equal parts Ghostface and Pun, add a pinch of DOOM-like references, and get a dish as definitively New York as big-slice pizza. Serve hot or cold; it’s always delicious.

Linking up with veteran Beantown beatmaker Statik Selektah proves to be a palatable move for Bronson on Well-Done. Coming off of the underwhelming Lord Giveth, Lord Taketh Away joint EP with Freddie Gibbs, Statik was clearly searching for an emcee that sounded more at home over his throwback production, and here on Well-Done, the combination works to near perfection. It’s an album so consistent that it’s difficult to point out highlight jams and even tougher to find a weak spot. Tracks like “Central Booking” and “The Rainmaker” easily evoke memories of New York’s min-nineties Golden Age, yet never come off stale. The record’s lone street single “Not Enough Words” finds Statik getting nifty with a humming sample chopped from a 1972 Addeisi Brothers joint. In the interest of transparency, the only issue I really have with the project – and it’s under extreme nitpicking – is “Terror Death Camp,” a collaboration with some of the less-than-impressive emcees from Action’s camp. It’s not a bad offering by any means, but I’d prefer to hear two more verses from Bronsolinio over what amounts to a generic posse track. Front to back, Well-Done provides provocative lyricism and rugged production from two of hip-hop’s undeniable throwbacks. Coming on the heels ofLiveLoveA$AP, I’m starting to get on-board with this so-called Big Apple revival after all.

Nice job, fellow white people. We’ve come a long way in this game.

On other fronts, Ludacris set free his latest mixtape, 1.21 Gigawatts: Back to the First Time, last week. With features from heavyweights like Flocka, Gucci, Ross, and Wiz plus production from K.R.I.T., Juicy J, and Drumma Boy, Luda reminds us to keep in discussion for the currently-vacant King of the South throne. Bonus points for the /history lesson/bitchslap of Big Sean and Drizzy on “Baddaboom;”“Counterfeit rappers say I’m stealing they flows, but I can’t steal what you never made up, bitch.” This mixtape is way rawer than most cats studio LPs. Well done, Mr. Bridges. On top of that, we get the Mad Gibbs EP, a collaborative effort from Stones Throw senator Madlib and The Windy City’s wickedest, Freddie Gibbs. This one was somehow a secret to me until early this morning, and to no surprise, it knocks. Gansta Gibbs sounds right at home over The Beat Konducta’s hazy strings, and the addition of some vaulted Loop Digga instrumentals is always welcome. Also filling space on shelves will be records from Kidz in the HallKrazie Bone, andDoomtree. Me? I’m saving the bandwidth for Friday. That’s when Mobb Deep reunite for the Black Cocaine EP, the group’s first effort since Sickle Cell P came up out the clink this past summer.

I’m hoping to see many of you out at Micasa this Saturday when Vicar, Charles, Leo, Ooh, Bear, and Serp shut shit down for Get ‘Em High. If you’re reading this, I’m positive there is nowhere you’d rather be. Peep game. Until then, Los Blastos, ya’ll.

Originally published Novermber 22 at theblast-blog.com.

30
Nov
11

I ♥ Tuesdays Vol. 3

At the end of my column last Tuesday, I mentioned I would use this space to delve into Drake’s sophomore album Take Care in time for the official release this week.  I began to do what I could to get ready: as much as it hurt, I put LiveLoveA$AP on the back burner for a minute and dedicated my playlist to getting acquainted with Aubrey’s new offering for a track-by-track breakdown.  But just as I was beginning to articulate my overwhelmingly negative opinions on the album, the homie Big Ghost unleashed his own views on The Kitten Whisperer’s Drizzy’s latest.  And really, how the fuck am I supposed to compete with Big Ghost?  The self-proclaimed Inventor of the Slap brings his A-game for this review, chalked full of enough hate to make 2Hands seem complimentary by comparison.  Ghost provides hilarious quoteables for days ; my personal favorite is the analysis of “Shot for Me:”

Im pretty sure that son gets up in the morning n plays his harp for his cats n then slides down the muthafuckin banister in his satin man nightie n has a full glass of breast milk before he goes to the studio n hammers out some pooned out shit like this b.

More importantly, the review eloquently ghettoquently articulates – perhaps in an exaggerated manner – the frustrations of listening to the record.  Though the review comes off as more of a comedy roast than an honest review, Ghost is rarely off-the-mark with his critique of Aubrey and his product.

There are several central issues that derail any promise the record possessed, and I’ll get to them in a minute.  First, though, I do want to give some shine where it’s been earned.  Drizzy deserves credit for keeping production in-house on Take Care, the large majority of which was handled by a pair of fellow GTA beatsmiths, longtime collaborator Noah “40” Shebib and summer 2011’s breakout superproducer T-Minus.  For the most part, the musical canvases are lush and deeply layered while retaining a distinctively clean and airy styling.  It couldn’t be a farther cry from the ruggedness of classic records like Return to the 36 Chambers or Illmatic, but the production team can’t be blamed for the failures of Take Care.  In fact, this shit might just sound better as an instrumental record.On a couple of occasions, Drake also manages to show off the skills that have so many folks itching to get to their local Best Buy come Tuesday morning.  Though the video appears to have been filmed on a VideoFACT budget, “Headlines” puts on display Drake’s undeniable talent as a maestro of melody as he effortlessly alternates between choppy aggression and his idiosyncratic sing-song delivery.  Drizzy comes correct alongside fellow T.O. representative The Weeknd on “The Ride,” a smokey jam dripped out enough to make Ben Stein feel fly. On the LP’s best cut “Look What You’ve Done,” The Harvester of Pauses Aubrey even shows improvement in his ability to craft the honest and vulnerable ballads that have made him a favorite artist of Jennifer Aniston females and sensitive types worldwide.Which leads directly into my biggest qualm with Take Care:  The piss-poor pacing and conflicted messages of the record make for a strange journey through sound that left me wondering who exactly Mr. Graham is and who he is making music for. The review over at the Mishka Bloglin summed up my confusion quite nicely:

If there was a specific moment where this album would sound entirely appropriate, it would be getting dressed in your freshest outfit to jerkoff to your ex girlfriend’s Facebook profile while sobbing gently. Simultaneously leaving vaguely poetic and emo messages on a photo of her in a bikini “…remember our trip out to Miami? I love’d it when your hair was still wet…” while writing amorphously boastful tweets about how you’re “killing the game.” If you’re in that very specific situation and mind frame, Take Care might be the most affecting piece of art since you saw The Notebook.

Even the unofficial compilation of promo tracks released in the run-up to drop day seemed to have a more clear direction than the finished studio product.  How does that happen with so many checks and balances in place?

The seeming honesty and humility put forth on So Far Gone is… so far gone.  But the problem is that he let us in on his secrets in the first place.  Look, Aubrey, we know you’re not a hood cat.  We know you’re not a boss, regardless of how manyCosby sweaters you put in your closet.  We know you starred on a Canadian teen drama.  We know you’re Twinkie-filling soft.  Just stay in your lane and make hits instead of trying to be that dude.  We will appreciate the music for what it’s worth.  An appearance from Kendrick was nice, but why did you hide his verse at the end of a record? And what happened to the promised Phonte feature?  The 9th Wonder beat?  You’re in a position now where you can make those moves, pay homage to those you say provided you with so much influence in the game, and still have high-school girls lined up at Walmart come release day.  Maybe it’s true that, as you say on “Marvin’s Room,” you’re having a hard time adjusting to fame.  It certainly seems that way, and it leaves me disappointed to say that the most famous hip-hop artist my surrogate city has ever produced has been reduced to a shell of the potential he once offered.

 

Fortunately for heads everywhere, Drizzy’s weed plate disc isn’t the only thing dropping this week.  Donald Glover is perhaps best known for playing the role of Troy Barnes on NBC’s hit sitcom Community, but that may change with the release of Camp this Tuesday.  Glover, who raps under the alias Childish Gambino, has dropped three well-received straight-to-Internet “albums” since 2008, and Camp will be his first project to be released in physical form.  Though Glover could stand to take some time out of his acting schedule and step his rap game up, his latest project has been garnering some positive early reviews, and at the very least, the video for lead single “Bonfire” makes for interesting viewing. There is also a pair of releases from Cali emcees that have potential to earn heavy rotation: Heiroplyphics affiliates Eligh (of Living Legands) and AmpLive (of Zion I) link up for Therapy at 3, a nice mix of nostalgic West Coast smoothness and the off-the-cuff quirks that keep these older Gods relevant in today’s landscape.  Another full-length collaborative effort comes courtesy of Locksmith, who recently linked up with thelegendary Ski Beatz to release Embedded courtesy of Ski’s Blu Roc records.  Though Ski isn’t quite drawing memories of his prime behind the boards (when he orchestrated the likes of Camp Lo’s “Luchini,” Jiggaman’s “Feelin’ It,” and Fat Joe’s“John Blaze”), he clearly hasn’t lost his ability knock out the odd banger, and Locksmith, though far from novel in his style, rarely seems over-matched by the production. Meanwhile, back on the East Coast, Artifacts alum El Da Sensei selects five of his favorite producers to remix cuts from last year’s GT2: Nu World for his latest, The Nu World Remix EP.  As far as free product, Big Apple veteran Scram Jones comes through with The Hat Trick mixtape, a collection of 16 original cuts that – while not as traditional as one might expect based on past work – puts on display the full array of Scram’s talent as an emcee, producer, and DJ.

The truth is my playlist remains A$AP over everything.  Rocky killed ‘em with this one.  But there’s hope:  With new records from Yelawolf, Action Bronson, and Mobb Deep coming next week, there is a good chance that Rocky will have some company real soon. Until then ya’ll, it’s The Blast.

Originally published November 14 at theblast-blog.com.

30
Nov
11

I ♥ Tuesdays Vol. 2

Following last week’s impressive list of drops in the hip-hop industry, this Tuesday is admittedly a little tougher to love.  Perhaps the biggest release of the week is Mac Miller’s debut Blue Slide Park which hits stores November 8.

 

After a few minutes of calling the right people scouring Google, I was able to locate a copy.  Cool, right?  No.  Because in order to give my thoughts on Mac’s record, I was required to turn off ASAP Rocky’s tape which, since its arrival last Monday, has been quite the chore.  I can’t take this shit off of repeat.PalacePesoBassWassupPurpGetLitTrillaKeepItGKissinPinkHOHLeafOuttaThisWorld.  Again and again.  Can’t stop, wont stop.  No Diddy.
So once I did eventually load up Young Malcom’s latest offering, he was at two distinct disadvantages: 1) Those who know me are aware that, with fewexceptions, I have an unavoidable bias against white emcees and 2) Blue Slide Parkwas interrupting the steady rotation of a contender for 2011’s best release.

Thankfully, I didn’t need any external factors to cloud my judgement:  I wouldn’t like this album under any circumstances. Mac has been riding Wiz’s coattails a string of YouTube smashes, including the 33-million-plus viewed “Donald Trump,”and has positioned himself to move serious units with Blue Slide Park.  The album isn’t without high notes: The production on the title track is impressive, “Smile Back” boasts a thick bassline that must have a handful of ATLien emcees drooling, and “Of the Soul” finds Mac at his laissez-faire finest.  And therein lies the core issue with BSP:  Mac so rarely sounds comfortable on the endless stream of club/raido crossover attempts.  Miller finds himself in a similar situation to that of his Rostrum labelmate Khalifa: Though it may not have payed immediate financial benefits, both would have done well to avoid alienating existing fans with such brazen, unfamiliar crossover attempts.  The release of the Nielson numbers next week will reveal whether or not it was worth it for Mac.

Also dropping this week: Pusha T repackages his summer mixtape Fear of God as the new-and-hopefully-improved Fear of God II: Let Us Pray.  The first version ofFear of God, was worthy of a few spins, but left a lot to be desired in comparison with his past work on Clipse releases.  He adds a few potential bangers, including single “Amen” with Yeezy and Jeezy, but the tracklist is filled with familiar records that didn’t exactly resonate on the first go-round.  I had always imagined the younger Thornton’s debut solo venture would be a more conceptual and cohesive body of work, and I’m hoping that Push-A-Ton goes back in that direction for his next effort.

A final release that deserves some shine is Pac Div’s RBC Records debut The DiV.  It’s been a while since the Cali kids were generating buzz on the West Coast with mixtapes like Church League Champions and Don’t Mention It, and the release of the new record has certainly flown below the radar.  As we’ve seen in the past, though, the lack of buzz doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t be good product.  Lead single “Posted” isn’t the most flattering beat, but the video is fresh, and it’s pretty evident that Like, Mibbs, and BeYoung haven’t lost the swag that first caught the attention of Universal Motown once upon a time.  Peep game.

As I was exploring the iTunes store blog comments-sections for links to the aforementioned records, a strange thing happened:  It appeared as though attention had generally shifted away from the release in the post and towards Drake’s highly-awaited (by some, anyway) sophomore LP Take Care.  Call Thomas Crapper; seems someone sprang a leak and the Internets was going nuts.  Drizzy and his team did quite well to keep things close for so long: eight days before release is quite a remarkable accomplishment this day and age, especially considering the mainstream anticipation that had been generating for Take Care.  It’s still going to sell in stores, regardless of how many copies get downloaded illegally. Still, the OVOXO team can’t be happy with the amount of negative buzz the record has generated in the twenty-odd hours since release.

I know I’m in the minority amongst The Blast blog crew, but I consider myself a Drake fan.  I spun the shit out of So Far Gone, and saw progression with Thank Me Later.  Did I love either record?  No.  But for whatever reason, I wanted to. Perhaps it was watching a young Aubrey star as Jimmy Brooks on Degrassi when I was in high-school.  Maybe it’s because young man Aubrey puts on so hard for Toronto, a city with which I have also formed a strong connection.  But most likely, I just like the music, cornball or not.  The fact that I need to justify why I like it is kind of fucked up, but it’s tough to think of an artist who polarizes an audience like Drake.  You either love him, of hate him, and judging by early reactions to Take Care, there is no room for folks in the middle.

As much as I want to praise the album, my early impressions don’t make it easy: like Thank Me Later, pacing issues preside, and Drizzy doesn’t appear to have addressed the repetitiveness and heavy flow that leave his work so open to criticism. Of course, there are still impressive melodic displays and Drake’s hit-making skills show no sign of slowing down.  After less than a day to digest, there are already message board morons rushing to label Take Care a classic, and a whole slew of others in a hurry to dismiss the record as nothing more than jaded, pop fluff.  At the risk of rushing to judgement, I’ma fit in a couple more listens between spins of LiveLoveASAP, let it marinate a bit, and provide a more comprehensive look when the album hits shelves next Tuesday.  Until then, it’s The Blast ya’ll.

— Originally published November 7 at theblast-blog.com.

 

01
Nov
11

I ♥ Tuesdays.

I fucking love Tuesdays. No, Pos, Dave, and Maseo never dedicated a song to Tuesdays. Nor did Rebecca Black or The Mamas & The Papas. Shit, it’s not even on the good side of Hump Day. But Tuesday is the only day of the week upon which your local record shop the Interents is stocked with the freshest material the game has to offer.

Not so long ago, I would have considered myself a hip-hop traditionalist; I bashed radio records and the artists that created them without really giving a second listen. I longed for The Golden Age records that, I told myself, “really mattered.” Then something happened: I realized I sounded like my pops, coming off truly jaded as he discussed the Good Ol’ Days of music. You know, when bands made records for “the good of the art form,” not just “to make a quick buck.” I hated it, and I was becoming it.

It wasn’t easy, but I embraced the fact that – sorry TwoHands – hip-hop is a young man’s game. Not that the older Gods can’t still get it right: cats like Mr. Lambert are living proof (no Group Home). But by opening my mind to Generation Swag, I’ve been introduced to a whole slew of quality material.

This week alone, we heads will be blessed with no less than seven exciting releases. On Sunday, CTE’s Freddie Gibbs dropped his mixtape Cold Day In Hell, packed with features from the likes of Freeway, Juicy J, and his boss Jezzy. In honor of All Hallow’s Eve, Chicago duo L.E.P. Bogus Boys set free Now of Neva, a mixtape of all original material hosted by none other than The Evil Genius Green Lantern. Today, record stores and iTunes will begin stocking a trio of long-awaited official long-play releases: Little Brother alum Rapper Big Pooh drops his third solo joint, Dirty Pretty Things; Coney Island vet Torae attempts to rekindle thoughts of the aforementioned Golden Age with production from Primo and The Chocolate Boy Wonder on For The Record; and DC’s finest Wale looks to rebound from a disappointing debut on Ambition, his first release since joining forces with Rick Ross’ Maybach Music team.

All that, and we haven’t even arrived at my choices for this week’s hottest drops. Hip-hop is dead? Never that: Maybe you just need a hearing aid.

In this slot each week, I plan to take a look at the most promising and/or hyped new jawn. For this my debut here for The Blast 2.0, I’m gonna get into it with a pair of records that have me hella geeked.

First up is the new and somewhat-unexpected collabo EP from two of Motown’s new guard, Danny Brown and Black Milk’s aptly-titled Black and Brown. Prior to releasing his XXX mixtape this past August, Danny Brown may have been best known for giving up the struggle braids in favor of a highly-questionable Flock of Seagulls hairdo. He’s been on the Pitchfork/hipster radar for a minute now, but this record – particularly Black Milk’s psedo-Dilla production stylings – is sure to introduce The Hybrid to a so-far-untapped audience of traditionalists. As for Black Milk, he seems to have emerged as the torch-bearer for the familiar Detroit sound, and coming off the success of 2010’s Album of the Year and the Random Axe project alongside Sean P and Guilty Simpson earlier this year, is in position to become known as one of hip-hop’s most consistent young producers. Though Milk only steps into the booth for one of the EP’s 10 tracks (the crazy title track), his work with the MPC provides an ideal auditory landscape for Danny’s always-aggressive lyrical bombardment. In short, Detroit stand the fuck up. This is a record Mr. Yancey would certainly be proud of.

Still more? Indeed. And with the ink still drying on a $3 million deal with Sony/RCA, A$AP Rocky has had a whole gang of folks – your humble narrator included – waiting on his official debut LiveLoveA$AP with a nearly-unprecedented level of anticipation. Rocky seemingly emerged from nowhere by releasing a short-but-intriguing video for his street single “Purple Swag” in July. When he followed that up with his summer anthem “Peso” a month later, That Pretty Motherfucker caught more buzz than a vibrator factory: Co-signs from damn near everyone, an upcoming tour alongside Drake and Kendrick Lamar, a feature in the New York Times, and the aforementioned deal with Sony. With hype, of course, comes expectations. In the hours since LiveLoveA$AP touched down early this afternoon, I’ve had a chance to give the tape a couple of spins. The verdict? That shit cray. Backed by top-shelf production his usual team of upstart beatmakers, including Clams Casino, Beautiful Lou, and fellow summer noisemaker Spaceghost Purrp, Rocky skillfully deploys his smoked-out delivery in a variety of innovative ways. Harlem born and raised, Rocky makes no secret of the role Southern music and culture has played in fathering his style, and listening to LiveLoveA$AP, the eclectic influences are obvious: From the screwed up H-Town sounds on “Bass,” to the Bone Thugs-infused double-time cadence of “Palace,” and the clear Outkast imitation on “Get Lit,” it seems as though the only scene that was somehow left out of Rocky’s technical upbringing was his hometown.

Make no mistake about it; the lyrical content of this project isn’t anything revolutionary. Despite his birth certificate bearing the name Rakim, Rocky has very little in common with his city’s God Emcees in terms of bringing any sort of enlightening message to the table. Instead, we get lots of records about Rocky’s ASAP crew, blowing and/or sipping purp, fashions you can’t afford, and various sexual encounters. Still, Rocky’s potential to be influential within the genre doesn’t lie in his message, but rather his widespread acceptance and blending of regional elements used to birth an unquestionably unique microphone command. Rocky is the personification of swag. If you’re looking for inspiration from your hip-hop, I suggest you dig out an old Blackstarr or Common record. If you’re looking for a progressive sonic experience that offers a look at the untapped potential of an ever-expanding genre, peep the link below.

I hope I made your Tuesday a little brighter. Stay wavvy. Until next week, it’s The Blast ya’ll.

DOWNLOAD: ASAP Rocky – LiveLoveA$AP