It makes perfect sense that F.Y.I.'s latest video puts the viewer right into the heart of Los Angeles' afterhours scene where hoodsters, hipsters, and everything in between can become somebody else even if it is for a moment. Which leaves folks to ask the question, "What does it profit the party goer to become totally turned up but lose control?"
The era of Sprite rap commercials may be forgotten by many hip-hop historians because it lacked the dangerous cool of West coast G's touting hard alcoholic beverages. After all nobody ever shilling Sprite ever said it would "get your girl in the mood quicker" or make your "jimmy thicker." And yet back in the days when I was a teenager, before I had status and before I had a pager, these were very influential commercials. I couldn't legally purchase a tall can of St. Ides at that age, and in fact, most convenience stores where I lived didn't even carry beers other than Budweiser and Old Milwaukee. Sprite was everywhere though - vending machines, the snack bar at school, grocery stores, etc. This was the beverage every rapper seemed to drink - and not just the pop (no pun intended) crossover rappers.
A Facebook discussion about advertisers using urban slang and hip-hop "swag" to make their products seem cool brought back these commercials in a wave of nostalgia. I instantly remembered the Heavy D spot, as they would air his commercials during Fresh Prince of Bel Air (he would guest on the program several times), but I had forgotten that Hollywood "House Party" sensations Kid 'n Play had one too.
The undisputed king of Sprite commercials may be the Pete Rock & CL Smooth spot, as it features Pete Rock kicking a freestyle following CL's verse... and running out of words, causing them both to break out in laughter at the disaster. Even if it was scripted that way the camaraderie came across as genuine and true.
Now realistically we all know the deal. Hip-Hop music and culture started booming in the mid-80's and early 1990's, and everybody was eager to cash in on what some saw as merely a fashionable trend. The same people who said "rap won't last" were more than happy to use it (and abuse it) to put their products out in front of millions. I'd be lying if I said I didn't fall for it at that age - I probably DID drink more Sprite because Heavy D and CL Smooth said it was AIGHT. They are rappers I respected then and still do now (rest in peace Dwight) and when naysayers tried to tell me they "sold out" my response was always "Ain't it about time somebody in rap got paid to advertise something OTHER than alcohol?"
As each generation comes of age and turns over hip-hop to the next one, we should strive to not only fondly remember the nostalgic past gone by, but to see what lessons come from that past that can serve the next generation well. I've gotten cynical in my 30's based on experience, but at one point I was able to convince myself that sugar flavored fizzy water was "a good thing" just because it wasn't the same alcohol that was destroying so many lives in urban AND suburban communities. Then of course I got to college and the rhetoric of Public Enemy's "1 Million Bottlebags" seemed a little less relevant, as I started to enjoy those tall cold cans Ice Cube made so appealing. It's not that either one was ever really healthy. Alcohol will kill your brain cells, but soda is often cited as the leading cause of obesity and diabetes among today's youth - and the habits you pick up as a youth stick with you for years to come. I don't drink that much Sprite any more, but I've spent years trying to cut back on beer AND soda. It's amazing how many pounds you shed when you cut a large portion of empty calories out of your daily diet.
I'm not here to stand on a soapbox about healthy lifestyles though. In fact you can enjoy a lot of things in moderation that are entirely unhealthy. One beer in a day won't kill you, but a whole case of beer in one night just might. I do think as a hip-hop generation though we need to be conscious of how advertisers try to subvert our natural love for the art and culture to make us interested in their products. It's one thing when rappers throw out shoutouts to the things they buy, at times just to prove how much money they can afford to waste, it's another to be PAID to make product placements. You should always keep one eye open and be a little suspicious - much like Truman Burbank - that the things you see or hear aren't necessarily what they seem to be.
On the whole though, I'm fond of the Sprite era of hip-hop commercials. Even though they were an obvious attempt to co-opt successful rappers to sell Coca-Cola's line of products, there's something that seems more innocent and (no pun intended) refreshing about rappers shilling soft drinks over malt liquor or vodka. I realize I'm wearing rose-colored glasses and feeling nostalgic when I watch these old ads, but I didn't mind it at the time so it's hard for me to feel negative about rappers cashing in. As was once said in the movie They Live, "What's the threat? We all sell out every day! Might as well be on the winning team." And for a brief period of time, Sprite was winning. They even had a revival of their hip-hop relationship in the 2000's by recreating the old beef between KRS-One and MC Shan.
I for one don't mind a couple of pioneers from the 1980's collecting a little of that sugar water money. Knowing Kris he probably invested it right back in the Temple of HipHop, and Shan probably put it into a youth center in Queensbridge. Even if they just pocketed the money, rappers DESERVE to live comfortably. Hell we all do. We all have choices to make, and hopefully rappers will make sensible ones about what endorsements help them live comfortably without compromising their artistic message. Hopefully we teach the generation growing up swimming in social media to stay alert and not trust everything they see online, or buy everything just because their favorite athlete or movie star endorses it. If it's something cool you'd do or use anyway fine, but the lessons of Chuck D should come back full circle in 2013: Don't Believe the Hype.
What up y'all. In Vegas winding down from a great tour so I'll be brief. A lot of news happening.
1) new track. Peep "Doubt Me" by myself, Lefty and Futuristic. video coming next Tuesday, shot in sunny AZ by Mike Cardoza. I'm working on a TRAP sequel for later on. Stay tuned.
Download for free while you can!
2) another tour. I know, I'm all over, but this one is an honor to announce. Ill be touring with 2 of my favorite MC's: HOMEBOY SANDMAN and OPEN MIKE EAGLE. We're all former teachers, so it just works. Tour dates and info:
MC Jin - 13 years and 2 countries later and still a recognizable face and name in Hip Hop. Known as BET's Freestyle Friday Hall of Fame champion with 7 consecutive wins, MC Jin was formerly signed to Ruff Ryders with DMX, The Lox, Swizz Beatz, Dragon-On, and Eve. After the buzz from the MC battles and his debut album died down, Jin moved to Hong Kong and built a resume as a model, actor, and rapper. With a solid fan base in the U.S. and Hong Kong, Jin reconnected with his older fans and international fans on social media while building with a whole new demographic in the Christian arena. With 140,000 fans on Facebok and 32,000 on Twitter, Jin is seeing the fruit of his labor - post major label.
"I hated "H.N.I.C. 3." It was one of the most disappointing rap albums of all time for me, only coming in second place behind Divine Styler's "Spiral Walls Containing Autumns of Light". Actually no, it was worse than that because I only had one album's worth of background to build up my expectations for Divine Styler's follow-up LP, whereas I had almost 20 years worth of releases from Prodigy (solo and with Mobb Deep). I know most people were pretty let down by that album, but it really upset me and I was very close to throwing the CD out the car window on my first listen, I just couldn't believe how bad it was (making Mobb's "Blood Money" seem like a brilliant album in comparison). Maybe Prodigy only had his old Father MC and Candyman tapes in prison, or he was simply missing the punani too much, but I couldn't understand or accept that at least one-third of the "H.N.I.C 3" album comprised of soft/smooth songs geared towards the ladies. Even the non-cassanova type tracks weren't up to his usual standards, being either bland, or more "glossy" than usual and generically flavoured for radio play ("Pretty Thug" - WTF?!). In contrast, the "Black Cocaine" EP with Havoc was solid and hard without being amazing, P's solo "The Ellsworth Bumpy Johnson" EP (and later album) was decent and kind of cool in its theme, and "Product of the 80's" from a few years earlier was outstanding, but P simply didn't take the momentum from any of those releases, and instead kicked the hardcore material and his reputation to the curb with "H.N.I.C 3". Based on that most recent release I did have fears about whatever Prodigy was going to do next. That fear was somewhat alleviated when I found out that his next album was going to be produced solely by Alchemist (reassuring too that the couple decent tracks on "H.N.I.C. 3" were Al’s creations), plus the album was to be called "Albert Einstein". Surely an album with a name like that wouldn't have P rapping lines such as "baby feel on my chest/I made that for you/and you can squeeze off my back and scratch up my tattoos"? Alchemist wouldn't risk his rep to drown the album in smooth R&B ballads would he? THANKFULLY my assumptions were correct and "Albert Einstein" is Prodigy back in TOP FORM. The Theory of Relativity has been recalculated from E=MC squared, to P=MC DOPE."
"This review almost didn't happen. Although nothing seemed obviously wrong with the CD - the shrinkwrap was in tact and the jacket holding it unfolded - the picture accompanying this review shows what I found when I pulled out the disc. It looks like a MythBusters experiment testing whether or not shards of a broken CD could put your eye out if it spins too fast. I had much more mundane concerns - my laptop is relatively new and putting a broken disc in the drive in a hopeless attempt to import it to iTunes would either (A.) jam the gears up permanently or (B.) leave broken bits rattling around inside my computer for its entire life. I don't blame Acid Lab Records in any way - I know this got mishandled somewhere in the mail - but thankfully I didn't need to request a new copy. The entire album has been uploaded to Soundcloud. Patrick Taylor's review of "Diversity" is what piqued my interest in Acid Reign, and that level was only heightened by the fact they chose the French duo Chrono Triggers to produce this 6 song selection. Chrono Triggers is not known for their video game remixes, nor long odes to the adventures of Marle and Lucca, but they do acknowledge their 8-bit and Super Nintendo infleunces in their electronic music style. They may sum it up best with the description "an ingenious mix of hip-hop, electro and chiptune." All of those things collide with the Acid Reign crew of Gajah, BeOND and Olmeca and result in the sonic explosion of the title track. If Jurassic 5 had ever decided to do hits of ecstasy and make a club music album while stoned, "Synergy" would no doubt be the result. In fact every now and then I could swear one of the trio sounds just like Chali 2na, though that may just be their common Californian heritage speaking through the music."
"If you made a short list of progressive rap artists from the Twin Cities +not+ signed to Rhymesayers, Adam 'Botzy' Botsford would be well placed on the list. His first taste of mainstream acclaim was as one-sixth of alternative hip-hop band Culture Cry Wolf. They gained a local cult following that might have become something more had the group not broken up in May of this year. You might say Mr. Botsford has to start over from scratch, but since he was also working as a promoter (hosting events called The Best Love Is Free) and getting his music videos premiered on URB's website at the same time, he's arguably at the same level of fame he was before if not higher now that he's on his own instead of sharing 6 ways. "Couldn't Breathe" featuring Lizzo is the Kudo produced single and music video in question. It harkens back to the era of Guru dropping "Jazzmatazz" albums, where the brassy blasts and mellow vibes are equal if not in some ways greater than the lyrics. That's not to say Botzy isn't a wordsmith though - he's just good at sharing - a band member mentality. Botzy doesn't need to spend long mocking himself to be accepted. The humility in an industry full of the egotistical is appreciated, but this is a relatively short album at just over 23 minutes. Thankfully he's not as punch drunk as his avatar on the cover of the CD. The energetic "Bandwagon Massacre" and bluesy "Thrill Is Gone" featuring Justyn Dow are the opposite sides of Botzy's coin, showing no matter which way he flips he'll freak the flow. "
"Why "Phantom Menace"? Because it's the first episode in a series of EP's that pairs CookBook with a different producer for each release. World Famous Beat Junkie DJ Rhettmatic gets the honor of the first dance, providing the L.A. Symphony alumni with lean Left Coast productions anchored by his expert cutting. On the opening title track he supports Cook's mockings of competition with sharp bursts of derisive laughter. CookBook is pretty outspoken on this EP, but moreso than other people's career choices he analyzes his own. Introducing himself with the succint self-description "From Puerto Rico, face and vocals gringo (...) head-butt MC's like Ochocinco" and concluding with the confident "It ain't stopped bein' fun yet / My guess is I ain't done yet," he nevertheless struggles to reconcile certain elements of his career. Particularly his background as a Christian rapper seemed to have posed some problems, which he discusses in several songs here, spanning from the early stages to today when he's still forced to defend himself against accusations like "Book stopped believin' - Cook's been deceived - CookBook is a heathen." There's a time and place for everything, and if it's on this EP where CookBook comes to terms with these things, then that's completely okay. It resulted in above-average rap tracks like "I'm Thirsty" (with ingenious "Shook Ones Pt. II" cuts) or "In Your Memory," dedicated to his father - also on a recurring topic but special nonetheless as it also addresses Rhettmatic's dad."
"Epidemic have been quietly releasing worthy throwback albums that revel in the 90s sound. Granted, I'm a sucker for 90s hip hop, and us Hip Hop writers regularly laud it as the greatest time for rap music, but artists that release music as if it still is the 90s tend to end up releasing forgettable records. As nice as it was to hear 5th Element's production on "Illin' Spree", it was the two emcees – HexOne and Tek-Nition, that stood out. Weaving words around snares has almost become a forgotten art yet 2011's "Illin' Spree" and last year's "Monochrome Skies" were examples of plain old dope emceeing and effective production. Personally I found the records a little devoid of much energy, and thematically hollow, but "Somethin for the Listeners" is definitely third time lucky, made even better by the fact they found a superb producer in Esco. Growing up, I've enjoyed numerous rap duos like Das EFX and Smif N WEssun, and didn't know (or particularly care) which emcee was killing it the most – they complemented each other in a way that at times it was hard to differentiate each persona. Epidemic are slightly more distinct, but offer a friendlier form of Golden Era that's amiss of the gun talk and sinister atmosphere. "One Life" is a mature offering, blessed by an incredibly basic Esco beat that's basically, incredible. It's precisely the timeless approach that helped all those boom bap albums from yesteryear stay in your system. An example of less is more, in the vein a DJ Premier beat is beautifully simplistic, Esco consistently provides backdrops for Hex and Tek to rhyme their asses off to."
"Gensu Dean first came to my attention when he collaborated with Large Professor to provide a beat that could well have been crafted by the grey-bearded great himself. It was actually his debut single, and to obtain verses and a video clip of somebody so well-respected is as good as any ‘co-sign from Kanye'. On the other side of the coin, Planet Asia is an emcee I've heard plenty of music from, but never really absorbed much of what he has to say despite finding his voice incredibly easy on the ear. He is one of those emcees who could say the dumbest shit and still sound good. Of course, there is a depth to Planet Asia's style of rap and that is where the strength of "Abrasions" lies. "Abrasions" is as rough and ready as the name implies. Gensu's beats are drum-heavy yet possess a quirkiness to separate him from the atypical New York sound that Extra P and the like provide. "God Hour" plods along nicely with Planet teaming up with AA Rashid and Tristate – all complement each other well, providing a very abstract almost Ghostface Killah-like style of slang rap. Part of the fun however, lies in deciphering the wild metaphors and appreciating the vocabulary. Gensu does his best Alchemist impersonation on "Faces of the Dollar", an addictive beat that Planet Asia uses to rhyme about nothing in particular. Planet Asia has often taken advantage of the Eastern sound, most notably on his Cali Agents projects, and it tends to be his more accessible records that are predominantly of this ilk. "Listen" sees Planet Asia even admit he enjoys spitting over strange loops, yet ends up being one of the more ‘normal' tracks."
Peeps :: Waiting to Die :: Bandcamp
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor
"Peeps is a rapper/producer who is part of Australian hip-hop group Gravity Ponds. "Waiting to Die" was released alongside fellow Gravity Ponds member Remz "Consequence & Chaos." While Peeps shares Remz's aggro persona, his rhymes are more introspective than his partner in crime. Where Remz traded mostly on brute strength, Peeps is a more wiry rapper, spitting his lines like a deranged hyena. The liner notes say that this EP was recorded during a big change in Peeps' life. Judging from lines like "I don't want to be near her/Don't say her name again," that big change involved a messy breakup. "Who the fuck am I? I don't know no more/They say happiness is wealth then I feel so poor" he complains on the title track, while he lays out how hopeless and suicidal he is. He gets unhinged on "Perfectly Sane," bragging about murdering people and stuffing their dead bodies in his septic tank. "Did I offend you?," he asks, "I meant to." He teams up with Tornts and Vampts for the equally murderous "Burn It Down." Vents and Remz assist him on "The Razz." He ends the album with the confessional "168 Hours." Production is supplied by Vampts, who gets some help from Woz on "The Razz." Where Remz's EP was heavily influenced by 90s East Coast hip-hop, the beats here go in a more dramatic direction. "Waiting to Die" is backed by wailing guitars; "Perfectly Sane" has a piano flourish which provides a nice contrast to the psycho rhymes; "168 Hours" has melodramatic piano and female vocals providing the backdrop. Only "The Razz" has a throwback beat, with heavy, jazzy drums and a throbbing bassline. It's the best track on the album by far, largely because it's the least serious. Peeps is still rapping about being damaged and filling his body with controlled substances, but he's not nearly as self serious as on the rest of the EP. Instead the track is three friends talking shit and bragging about how fucked up they like to get. It's a nice break from the intense psychodrama on the other tracks."
Ras G :: Back on the Planet :: Brainfeeder
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Ras G is closely associated with Flying Lotus and with good reason - the two have shared an apartment together and Ras' is signed to FlyLo'sBrainfeeder record label. Much like kindred spirit Lotus, Ras G focuses on creating densely layered hip-hop influenced instrumentals. Unlike Flying Lotus, he doesn't appear to have a rap alter ego - or at least not one which he's alerted us to. Seemingly random bleets, pops, blurts and industrial drill like whistles make up the melody of "OMMMMMM..." - a song so noisy I can't imagine anybody actually meditating to it. That's a quasi-random example, but it's not hard to have a similar experience by hitting random shuffle on your player of choice before starting "Back on the Planet." The occasions where the noises coalesce into pleasant background melody, such as "G Spot Connection," tend to be more the exception than the rule. On even rarer occasions such as "Ancestral Data Bank" I would say Ras G succeeds in drawing a direct line between the drum beats of the African continent 600-700 years ago and the modern synthetic sounds of today. The problem I have with "Back on the Planet" is that unlike Flying Lotus, Ras G doesn't seem to have a strategy for how to transition from what you'd hear as bump music on [adult swim] to producing for himself and others to critical acclaim. I don't deny the influences that I hear Ras G working with here, pulling from George Clinton, Sun Ra, the Bomb Squad and more to create an electronic mash-up for a modern ear. It may well be that Ras G is a genius - I think very few people could produce tracks like "Children of the Hapi" and "Asteroid Storm" as successfully as he does. I'd also argue few people should."
Shane Kidd :: Learn to Live EP :: ShaneKidd918.com
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"It's impossible to start this review without thanking Shane Kidd for his kind words in the letter accompanying the CD. The cynic in me tends to assume overly friendly inserts with albums are designed to curry favor, but as Kidd is an artist who proudly professes his Christian faith, I think he's on the level when he writes "I respect the site (even though) I've disagreed with the ratings from my favorite writers." Since very few of us in this process are cashing Jay-Z level checks whether rappers or writers, "respect" is a highly valuable commodity - one I hope the staffers of RR continue to bank. I appreciate Kidd's faith that we'll give him a fair review. "Student of Life" was Kidd's first introduction to the national scene back in 2010, so I regret that he didn't reach out to us sooner - it feels a little late to introduce you to the young Kidd at this point. Nevertheless a brief bio (you can get more from his Facebook) is that he was born in Dallas, graduated from the University of North Texas (home of the Mean Green football team) and describes his style as "theme music for dreamers" with a "consciousness of Christ." Judging by the title of his song "Revenge of the Nerds" he may also thing he's a little bit of a Poindexter: "Won't dumb it down, don't want us to come around/Ain't Morlocks so we ain't stayin underground." Okay so it's fair to say not every rapper drops H.G. Wells references in his songs, but that plus a thumping beat and some hilarious scratched in samples from the movie of the same name make the song a winner. Though Kidd points out his religion in both his bio and press release, there's nothing ostensibly overt about it on the seven songs of "Learn to Live." In fact I'm hard pressed to point out specific examples of the Christian rapper traits we know so well - citing chapter and verse from the Bible, thanking "Him" (always capitalized) for all blessings, offering an undying devotion to Jesus that sometimes feels sexually awkward (something Cartman easily took advantage of on South Park)."