"Any short list of hip-hop's most influential producers over the last 15 years worth its salt would have to include Pharrell Williams. If that seems to be giving Chad Hugo the shaft, his creative partner in The Neptunes, you've gotten the right idea. Don't mistake this opening paragraph for an indictment of Hugo's work though, it's more about Hugo's fame as an artist. Pharrell is the one who puts himself out there in the spotlight, making solo albums and singing hooks for Snoop Dogg and Jay-Z. You could hardly be blamed for wondering what Hugo does when "Skateboard P" isn't around to collaborate with, and that's just talking about The Neptunes as producers. Once you get into their albums as rock/rap group N*E*R*D he's still a star compared to Shay Haley, who is accurately described as "providing backup vocals" and who hasn't done an interview anyone reading this review would even remember let alone care much about. "
"Dimez and his label Hand'Solo Records are giving away the "Twenty Dimez" album FOR FREE. It's kind of hard to collect much green for you and your team on a download you don't charge for let alone an album you don't sell in stores. That's actually indicative of the Hand'Solo modus operandi though. For 15 years this independent imprint has charted their own route through the hip-hop landscape, not following the well worn paths to success and prosperity for themselves or their artists. Has it been effective? The fact they're still around makes it hard to argue that being the backpack label even backpackers haven't heard of hasn't hurt much. They obviously keep a tight rein on expenses, rely on word of mouth to increase exposure, and drop seminal compilations that grow in acclaim as the years go by. Until they pull up the stakes and fold up the tent it's hard to argue it's not working. Toronto rapper Alex Dimez is the next performer to emerge from the Hand'Solo roster. Ironically by giving away "Twenty Dimez" for free they may be giving Dimez the biggest push of anybody in their label's history, allowing the public to sample from an artist they clearly think highly of and have big plans for. "
Big Mike :: Serious As Can Be :: 7303 Records/Deep Entertainment as reviewed by Matt Jost
"For a minute, there was a punchline waiting to happen involving Big Mike taking the feud with a former label one step too far and ending up doing time (check his rueful verse on Pimp C's "Havin' Thangs '06"). Many a frustrated rapper could surely relate. But for whatever reason the incident never entered rap's collective consciousness. Nor did the fact that Mike Barnett bounced back - 2009's "Serious As Can Be" was Big Mike's third album after parting ways with Rap-A-Lot Records, following "Nawlins Phats" and "Keep it Playa." The title "Serious As Can Be" evidently harkens back to his first two solos "Somethin' Serious" and "Still Serious" and thus promises a return to form. Lyrically and vocally, fans know they need not worry about the native of New Orleans neighborhood Gert Town as his down-home O.G. reflections embedded in a tightly-woven tapestry of rhymes have been consistent across albums. The question is rather how he fares without the producers he worked so successfully with. The CD comes without credits, but there are some indications that the musical contributions are limited to a selected few."
"If you expect Brinson's "OMG" to be a shallow reflection of the text-craze that has invaded rap lately, you'll be pleasantly surprised. "OMG" stands for "Oh, My God," not the blasphemous, but common, expression of surprise, but instead it literally reflects Brinson's awe for his god. Yes, Brinson is another gospel rap emcee trying to evolve the genre. Gospel rap has long been seen as amateur rap whose fans are more forgiving due to the message being conveyed. Brinson and fellow contemporary gospel rappers have been making a concerted effort to expand the appeal of the music through incorporation of current trends. For a secular rapper, this would be considered selling out, but with the purpose of spreading their message further, Brinson's pop-rap oriented tunes are more accepted within his intended audience. "OMG" isn't a complete success, but blends gospel rhymes with secular beats well enough to appeal to fans of the genre. "
"MC/producer Angus 'FatGut' Younga and DJ Elev8 make up the Australian rebel rap crew known as Broken Aesthetiks. You certainly can't fault Younga for his honesty when looking at his bio on or offline - and if he'll forgive me I'm going to take it a step further and make it up to him on the flipside. He's definitely got the fat gut down, but judging by his appearance you would also think he's middle ages and has a receding hairline. Elev8 looks a little more suave by comparison - stylish haircut, well defined chin, the kind of guy who could probably blend comfortably into the same corporate middle management that FatGut is rallying against in the opener "Fact or Fiction." Even if they are opposites compared to each other, what Broken Aesthetiks have in common is that they are both completely unlike the comfortable stereotypes people have developed about hip-hop over the past 30 years. There's no rule stating that fat middle aged looking Aussies CAN'T be great emcees, but that young defiant urban swagger people associate today with the likes of T.I., Lil Wayne, Maino and Kid Cudi won't be seen in this Aussie rap team. "
The Canon :: Waiting For Your Attention :: Bandcamp.com as reviewed by Emanuel Wallace
"With so many advances in technology, it's become easier than ever for an up and coming artist to record and distribute their work to the masses. While this can be seen as a positive thing by those who have access to resources they need, many times vast amounts of talent can go untapped because of the lack of said resources. It's a real double-edged sword. Meet The Canon. He's another Philadelphia-based emcee that has been at it for years, simply wanting to be heard (and maybe make a little money) by anyone willing enough to listen to what he has to say. From a quick glance at his Twitter page (@TheeCanon), and we're presented with an artist that is aware of his ability, but also has moments of self-doubt. He likes to smoke, he loves to love and be loved and he longs to be appreciated. He presents this collection of songs that have been "compiled over time." The music that Canon describes as "powerful," is spread out over eleven tracks and slightly more than thirty minutes of real estate. It's an ideal length for an artist to introduce themselves, say their piece and be out, hopefully leaving a lasting impression in the process. "
"Somewhere between the demented genius of Kool Keith and the lyrical dexterity of the Hieroglyphics lies the science fiction of Dynamics Plus. Put simply we're talking about hip-hop meets space opera - it's like throwing Doctor Who, Del the Funky Homosapien and Bob Dylan into a BlendTec and hitting the "musical puree" button. (Rap smoke - don't breathe this!) This is not a new phenomenon for the RapReviews crew - Matt Jost first opened a portal into this strange galaxy back in 2005 when he covered "Doctor Atomics and the Fortress of Solitude." This was apparently the sixth album continuing the saga of the voyages of Captain Dynamics, although like Leonard Parts I-V we have no idea where the rest went. Equally perplexing is what happened to volumes VII-XI of his adventures - perhaps like me some of you Whovians will assume the tapes got erased by the BBC in a shortsighted effort to recycle material and/or clear out some storage space. "
"This April we lost one of the most dependable voices of rap music with Keith Elam b/k/a The Guru, or simply Guru, also short for Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal. The rap nation's public mourning was overshadowed by certain circumstances that need not be discussed here, but with the commotions having settled, we hopefully have a less obstructed view of Guru's legacy. Lil' Dap and Melachi the Nutcracker aim to pay tribute to Guru at least in name with their third full-length "Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal." Collaborating with DJ Premier for 1995's gem "Livin' Proof," Group Home were part of the Gang Starr Foundation who left an indelible mark on hip-hop during the early to mid-'90s. That the Foundation's members eventually drifted apart, was the natural course of things, although in view of the aforementioned posthumous drama the absence of communication between its two core members - Guru and Primo - strikes one as especially unfortunate. Unfairly or not, rap fandom's concerns focus on Gang Starr the rap duo, making everyone else that publically worked with Guru a second-tier. That includes Group Home, who from the look of things hadn't been heard alongside Guru since 1999. "
"It's rare to see an artist these days who not only raps but also writes all his songs, produces his own beats, and sings his own choruses. This is exactly what Washington DC rapper Kokayi does, though, on his latest album "Robots & Dinosaurs," named after the two items on his six year old son's Christmas list. Using robots and dinosaurs as a simplistic way to explain the divide between old school and new school emcees, Kokayi creates a well-produced and thoughtful album that delves deep into his personal life and deals with everything from his growth as a father to his battle with depression to his thoughts on age discrimination in hip-hop. Kokayi may not be a mainstream household name, but his credentials are far from lacking. After dropping his debut album in 2007, he continued to produce and worked on various projects for local artists. In 2009, Kokayi was nominated for a Grammy for his co-production on Ethiopia singer Wayan's song "Lovin' You (Music)."
Prob Cause :: Spring Cleaning :: Casualiving/Bonafied Entertainment as reviewed by Pedro 'DJ Complejo' Hernandez
"Judging others gets the best of you more often than not. Sure, occasionally one can predict the music on a CD simply by looking at the cover, but more often than not the cover art is deceiving. Yet, the cover art is many times the only thing a fan has to go off of. In Prob Cause's case his cover art shows a scrawny white kid with what could be a faux hawk holding a mop. Sure, it fits with the theme of the album, "Spring Cleaning," but it doesn't shed much light into the music. Prob Cause's bio does little to help. He's a kid from Evanston, Illinois who claims he's made an impact in the game through his creativity on the mic. It's a claim a thousand other rappers have failed to live up to, so my hopes aren't too high. Given Chicago is know for speed rap and conscious rap, I expect Prob Cause is going to give us his take on conscious rap. Prob Cause's cocky yet humble lyrics are the perfect compliment to his effortless delivery. Prob Cause's flow stays consistently fluid, even when his topic matter tends to be a bit eclectic on this album. He remake's Charles Hamilton's only hit on "Chicago Girls" with good results."
"Pea's Gotta Have It" came about when Tanya Morgan producer/rapper Von Pea was cleaning his bedroom and came across his high school journals. His trip down memory lane gave him the inspiration to make a concept album about his high school days, going back a decade to think about what life was like as a teenager in Brooklyn. The result is fifteen songs and two skits that all deal with different aspects of high school life. You might expect a high school-themed album to lighthearted, full of songs about being in detention and trying to get laid. That side of being young is definitely represented here. "We Should Be Rocking" and "There U Were" are about youthful conquests. "New Pair" is about buying new kicks. On "Open School" Von Pea and Danny! trade rhymes about getting sent to detention for writing rhymes in class and getting bad grades because they spend all their time making beats. There are also songs where Von Pea's older self reflects on being young. "The Yorker" acts as shout-out to his home town, and a portrait of the artist as a young man."