If you missed any of the new reviews this past week, including the Lupe Fiasco's "Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album, then do yourself a favor and check out this week's edition of the (W)rap Up!
Lupe Fiasco :: Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album
Author: Jesal 'Jay Soul' Padania
"The battle between record labels and artists will never cease. Yet, it only ever seems to be the artists taking the worst of the flak. Case in point: Lupe Fiasco. Atlantic Records, for reasons unbeknownst to anyone apart from themselves, attempted to convert a Ferrari by hacking the roof off, sticking a refrigerator in the trunk, and selling gelato to local kids. I am, of course, referring to the Chicago native's last album "Lasers" - a record where the artist was, to all intents and purposes, told what to do and how to do it. That in itself isn't a crime of epic proportions. The problem was taking someone so talented, with a gift so unique in the modern day hip hop landscape, and trying to change them fundamentally from the ground up. It was never going to work. On his latest album, the contradictions flow in abundance, proving precisely why this relationship is doomed to failure. "Lasers" sold pretty healthily, with a big opening week, and a hit single ("The Show Goes On") and probably paid for an executive's Merc or two – but apart from that made little impact critically or on the fans. And Lupe certainly takes it upon himself to channel his frustration into a sequel for his debut album "Food & Liquor" – it arrives six years later, with the addendum "The Great American Rap Album." It's a risky title, simply because it raises expectations to untenable levels (in the eyes of some keen followers). However, ambition should always be applauded, and Lupe felt, on many levels, that he had a point to prove. And so we come to "Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album" (mouthful or what). Can it have the same impact that his stellar debut, in 2006, managed to make upon the hip-hop landscape?"
various artists :: Beyond Faded :: Drank and Dank
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon "At 22 tracks and nearly 80 minutes long, "Beyond Faded" embodies the excesses prevalent in so many internet mixtapes, which is for all intents what this release from Drank and Dank is. As hustlers go this crew has been on their grind though, hitting me with a slew of leaked singles then following it up with a full-length download, so I feel like I've been gradually exposed to this content over a reasonable amount of time. Other people may look at the line-up and find it a little more intimidating though, but there's no option to choose items a la carte - you're all in for 180 MB of music if you click that cover and download their freebie. "Beyond Faded" also embodies a typical internet mixtape in that it freely mixes well established names in the rap game with a slew of talent you've barely or never heard of, in an attempt to put the up-and-coming rappers on the same level as their peers. It's not a promotional tactic you can hate on - it's why UFC puts the flyweight title fight on before a main event with their most (in)famous champion Jon 'Bones' Jones. They want you to think of the 125 pounders and the 205 pounders in the same light - and they're hoping that by mere association alone you'll remember their names the next time and be more likely to buy a fight where Demetrious Johnson is the main event insted of Jones."
A+ :: The Latch-Key Child :: Universal Records
** RapReviews "Back to the Lab" series **
as reviewed by Pete T.
"Teenage rappers are a phenomenon almost as old as hip hop itself, and the most lucrative were those marketed to a teeny-boppers' audience. If one looks back at some of the '90s' teen rap acts, however, manufactured stars such as Lil' Bow Wow and Lil' Romeo might in fact appear the products of years' worth of trial and error. Some among their predecessors, such as Da Youngsta's, Shyheim, and Illegal, were marketed at a hardcore hip hop base, and widespread success proved elusive—after all, why turn to a mere kid for ruminations on street life when one could just as easily listen to Nas and Scarface wax poetic? A+ (not to be confused with A-Plus of Souls of Mischief fame) came from the same wave of East Coast teen rappers in the mid-90s mentored by established MCs. A Hempstead native, he was a green fourteen years old when his debut "The Latch-Key Child" saw light through Kedar Massenburg's first label venture. "The Latch-Key Child" draws mostly from the early work of Mobb Deep and his other slightly older neighbors from the nearby boroughs, and it's a surprisingly gritty listen even given a few concessions made to cater to a young audience. Check the excellent Smith Bros. production "Move On," with a spooky Isley Brothers sample and insight miles beyond his years. "Move On" is a song of the content and quality that countless rappers have aspired to—a deep, stirring rumination on death. It's a stunning opener, and it makes a clear statement that A+ is no ordinary tween or even one of the "stick-up kids" his contemporaries Illegal claimed to be; rather, it places him as an heir apparent to the wide-eyed street poets of Queens and Brooklyn. In addition to the heavy contemplation and poignantly crafted profiles chronicled through his three verses, he sports a fairly complex rhyme scheme."
Brother Ali :: Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color :: Rhymesayers Entertainment
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor
"After a three-year hiatus from recording, Brother Ali, America's best legally blind Muslim albino rapper, is back with a new album. The cover of the record shows him doing an Islamic prayer using the American flag as a prayer rug. It is a provocative image, but Ali isn't doing it to rile the right-wing talk radio crowd. He means the image literally: he's praying for this country. The last three years, described in detail on "Stop the Presses," saw Ali touring the world, putting on weight, having two DJs quit on him, losing his father and a close friend, and traveling to Mecca, the Islamic holy land. His trip to Mecca helped him reaffirm his faith, and he came back itching to get into the studio. His go-to producer Ant was on tour with Atmosphere, so Ali hooked up with Jake One to make "Mourning in America." The opening track, "Letter to My Countrymen," sets the tone of the album. The beat starts off with a menacing guitar line that is then lightened up by a xylophone and singing. It's both heavy and uplifting, which is the the mood that Ali hits for much of the album. Ali acknowledges the trouble in the world while staying optimistic about our ability to overcome. "I used to think I hated this place," he raps. "Couldn't wait to tell the President straight to his face. But lately I've changed/nowadays I embrace it all/The beautiful ideals and amazing flaws...I want to make this country what it says it is." He also tackles America's uncomfortable relationship with race, owning up to his own white privilege."
Joey Bada$$ :: 1999 :: Pro.Era
as reviewed by Matt Jost
"In 1999 Sean Combs threatened to be here "Forever" while seeing to it that Christopher Wallace was "Born Again." Meanwhile Afeni Shakur resurrected her son not for the first and not for the last time, in keeping with his motto "Still I Rise." Missy Elliott landed from whatever planet she and Da Brat had been strutting around on in that "Sock it 2 Me" video back in "Da Real World," Marshall Mathers took said world by storm as "Slim Shady," Dr. Dre played musical puppet master with "The Chronic 2001," 50 Cent experienced the music industry's pulling of strings first-hand when his debut "Power of the Dollar" was scrapped, the Beastie Boys, Gang Starr and A Tribe Called Quest were commemorated with anthologies and anticon made "Music For the Advancement of Hip Hop." It wasn't what you would call a classic year in terms of album releases. In fact the output of Wu-Tang clansmen alone lended credence to every single apocalyptic prophecy making the rounds (exempting Method Man, who found a congenial companion in Redman). Legends cemented their utter irrelevance in the contemporary scene (EPMD, Ice-T, Rakim, Public Enemy, Naughty By Nature), while the ruling class of mainstream artists turned into millennium jitterbugs (Jay-Z, Nas, DMX, Foxy Brown, Mase, Noreaga, Juvenile). Saving the day artistically was the thriving indie scene as critics' choice awards went to Mos Def's "Black on Both Sides," Pharoahe Monch's "Internal Affairs," The Roots' "Things Fall Apart," Prince Paul's "A Prince Among Thieves" and MF DOOM's "Operation Doomsday." "
Masta Ace :: MA_DOOM: Son of Yvonne :: M3
as reviewed by Matt Jost
"Few rappers can look back on such a long and rich recording history as Masta Ace. Ever since he was part of the Juice Crew's defining moment of glory "The Symphony," he's been conscious to craft durable longplayers, starting with the classic debut "Take a Look Around," to fan favorites like "SlaughtaHouse," "Sittin' on Chrome" and "Disposable Arts." Masta Ace albums often feature an underlying theme/storyline/concept, albeit mostly loosely applied. His latest is no different. The idea is encoded in the cryptic album title. This is Masta Ace meets DOOM, and it is the story of Duval, son of Yvonne. "MA_DOOM: Son of Yvonne" is simultaneously a dedication to Ace's mother, who died in 2005, and a retrospective of her son's journey as an artist, from earliest days when he would mess up her prized record collection, to earning his living far away from his Brooklyn birthplace. The soundtrack to it he found in MF DOOM's popular beat catalogue, melodic, homespun tracks that ostensibly make Ace think of times past and inspire songwriting. Ace's lyricism is seemingly simple, short sentences, basic double rhymes, factual descriptions and characterizations. But dig deeper and you find that he puts a little bit more thought into his writing than the majority of his ilk. "Nineteen Seventy Something," on the surface recounting how young Duval would raid his mother's records against her orders, not only serves to document the musical influences at home on one side and the attraction of the newly emerging style of hip-hop on the other, it also sheds light on his upbringing by a working mother and a watchful grandmother. The coming of age story continues with "Son of Yvonne," the Brownsville kid eager to explore the neighborhood that still knows him as son of Yvonne, instilled with maternal "lessons on honesty and virtue / and the people that'll hurt you." "
Montage One :: 10.6.3 OGX :: Stimulus One/Gold Chain Military
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Montage One is a soldier of the Gold Chain Military, a California collective led by General Planet Asia, consistently one of the most slept on emcees in hip-hop. As such I'm almost honor bound to give anybody that Asia considers family the time of day, and Montage certainly sports an impressive list of credentials - even if they're fictional. He's a self-described "10th degree black belt in MMA mic grappling" who is decorated with medals for fighting "the global war on lyrical terrorism." Oh and did I mention he's descended from Sun Tzu, William Wallace and Thor? I'm not sure how the latter fact is even FICTIONALLY possible, but what the hell - if you're going to dream you might as well dream big. What's not fiction on "10.6.3 OGX" is the who's who list of talent he brought in to rap with him, to the point that six out of seven straight songs feature an underground heavyweight. He teams with Strong Arm Steady on the aptly named "Strong Arm Spittery," kicks it with Foreign Exchange on the silky smooth "Lie #1," trades hot bars with Ras Kass and Guilty Simpson on the thumping "Beat 2 Def," joins the Durag Dynasty (Killer Ben and Planet Asia) for the pissy drunk night club venue theme "Chain Sinatra," gets down for a delicious dish of "Cornbread and Oxtales" with Oh No, and then hammers one of the hardest tracks of the whole LP with Evidence on "State of Emergency." The only unfamiliar name smack in the middle of that run is Mark Noxx on "Scared 2 Live," and I'm not hating on it. For that seven song run along "10.6.3 OGX" would be worth the purchase price, but there are two other songs with cameos too - the Military family all guest on "Mafia Movement" and J-Ro joins the fun along with Styliztik Jones, Med and Phil the Agony for the finale "Likwit Assembly." You could consider Montage a third or fourth generation Alkaholik emcee if you like, something he does himself in his own bio, and the fact he's rapped with both J-Ro, Phil and Xzibit (sadly not featured here) does make a case for it."
Styles of Beyond :: Reseda Beach :: Dirty Version Records
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"If I had to make a short list (say under 10) of rap groups in 1999 I expected big things from in the century to come, Styles of Beyond would not just have qualified - they'd have been damn near the top. Ryu and Takbir not only sounded like the cutting edge of hip-hop, they practically sliced and diced their competitors into little bits. While their second album "Megadef" was far from a disappointment musically, the long time between albums was not a good sign of things to come. A partnership with Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park fame produced one collaborative album but ultimately seems to have hindered their career even further, as no S.O.B. album ever came out under his imprint, and it seems both sides (amicably) parted ways. In order to abbreviate an otherwise long tale, it's fair to say if you didn't know the name Styles of Beyond in 2012, you couldn't be faulted or blamed for it. The rap genre is less forgiving than most when it comes to staying relevant, and two years is an almost generous length of time to go between albums to stay current in the scene. S.O.B. is pushing a DECADE. You can count a mixtape they did in 2008 if you like, but that's still four years, and if you count the Fort Minor project with Shinoda that's still seven. Critic and reader are one in the same here when these questions are posed: "Why should I give a fuck about these guys in 2012? Can they be that hot after so much time off? Aren't they going to be out of touch with today's trends in a rapidly changing culture? Have their skills resulted or are they still Ginsu sharp?" "
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