If you missed any of the new reviews this past week, including Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' "The Heist" then do yourself a favor and check out this week's edition of the (W)rap Up.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis :: The Heist
Author: Zach 'Goose' Gase
"Is there anything more exciting than watching something grow and develop from something small into something huge and dynamic? This type of excitement can be found in several things throughout a lifetime from watching a flower blossom, to watching a child grow into an adult. As a 23 year-old music snob, my favorite thing to witness cultivate is budding musicians. The latest, and frankly one of my favorite examples, is the Seattle emcee, producer combo, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. I've been a fan of Macklemore since I heard him on track with my favorite group the CunninLynguists, in late 2009. A few weeks later, I stumbled on a track titled, "Otherside," which Ryan Lewis produced, and somehow made the classic bassline from the Red Hot Chili Peppers of the same name a mere afterthought in the song. And since then, I've been an avid supporter of the duo, writing countless blog posts about every brilliant music video they've released in the past two and a half years. I got to witness him perform in Ann Arbor back in April 2011, where Macklemore performed without a DJ, and still managed to make it one of the livest shows I've ever attended. And finally after about three years, I finally get to see Macklemore grow into one of the biggest independent success stories hip hop has ever witnessed. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis' debut album, "The Heist" which was recorded and distributed all in-house, dominated the iTunes charts and debuted at number two on Billboard with 78,000 copies sold in its first week. Yes their commercial success has me leaning back in my recliner like a proud father watching his son take his first steps, but musically "The Heist" still manages to exceed even my highest expectations."
Brinson :: No Other Heroes :: GodChaserz Entertainment
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Brinson is arguably one of the more consistent gospel rappers out today in terms of his lyrical content and biennial releases. Now amongst the RR intelligentsia opinion varies somewhat about how effective his approach is. While I found Brinson to be a thoughtful rapper with good production who didn't overdo his Bible thumping, Pedro 'DJ Complejo' Hernandez took the view he was narrowcasting too much to a Christian audience and that while they would appreciate his message few others would. Nevertheless as the owner of his own GodChaserz imprint, he's got the means to bring his message and that of his labelmates to the masses. Now if I can pull back the curtain for a minute for the readers, Brinson reached out to me after our recent Lecrae feature. Nothing in life is guaranteed of course, but Lecrae certainly left me feeling more open to Christian rap than I had in a little while. After receiving both a digital and a physical copy I decided to delve into the review, but quickly ran into a problem - the GodChaserz website seems to be down. Every page comes up blank white, even the ones cached in Google, which leaves you with the uncanny feeling that the Rapture came and we've been left behind. That makes the digital copy convenient but useless for a review with no liner notes compared to the physical, so I broke the holy seal to see the real deal hidden inside. Unfortunately the physical turned out to not have any liner notes either, so ultimately I'm forced to offer you the scant information on the back cover: "Executive producer A. Brinson Wright; Co-Executive Producer Wilbert 'Juice2020' Thomas." As best I can tell that makes Juice2020 the producer of the tracks on the album, and not just an executive producer in the stereotypical "I own the label so I get to put my name on your shit" way we're all familiar with."
Chino XL :: RICANstruction - The Black Rosary :: Viper Records
as reviewed by Matt Jost
"I always thought there was a lot of truth to the opening sequence to Big Punisher's "Capital Punishment" album (an excerpt from the movie 'Fresh'), where two kids engage in an imagined battle of the superheroes (with The Punisher coming out on top, naturally). Oftentimes, rap fans make their favorite rappers out to be some comic-like character who possesses special skills and even superpowers. The rappers themselves are known to contribute to the caricature with varying degrees of irony, and some even create a second rap identity for themselves. But also most primary rap personas allude to superhuman qualities, or at the very least some kind of excellence that elevates them above us mere mortals. It's almost impossible to be a fan of rap without buying, to some degree, into all those antics and images. Rationally I have always rooted for the rare everyman in rap, and frequently for the less rare clown. But I too have been susceptible to rap hero worship. To the point where I purposely ignored the drama, the disappointments, the banality their private life holds just to preserve the image I had of them. Over the years I have developed a more mature relationship towards my favorite rappers, but knowing how much acting rapping requires I'd never dismiss a rapper just because he wears a mask and cape. Chino XL has been one of my rap heroes, precisely in his assumed role of superhero. "Here to Save You All," his 1996 debut, was a focused tour de force that joined high-level lyricism with a baring of emotions seldom heard at the time. In my recollection it remains one of the most awe-inspiring rap albums of all time. "
dan le sac vs Scroobius Pip :: The Logic of Chance :: Sunday Best Recordings
as reviewed by Zach 'Goose' Gase
"It took me a while to really understand, appreciate and enjoy UK hip hop. I gave artists like Sway and Dizzee Rascal a few chances in my younger days, but could never get past their accents and didn't really take them or any hip hop outside of the US seriously (this is OUR music). But then around 2009, I kept seeing a group named The Streets appearing on Best Albums of the Decade list. After reading a synopsis of an album titled, "A Grand Don't Come for Free." At first I was put off by emcee, Mike Skinner's extremely thick accent, and the way he rode the beats. But I couldn't stop playing those songs because the production was so intoxicating. The beats were a unique blend of electronic and hip hop staples, and the end results were incredible. But as I continued to listen to these songs, I started to pick up on what Skinner was saying, and I noticed how excellent of a storyteller he was. Now "A Grand Don't Come for Free" is one of my favorite albums, and it served as a major inspiration for a UK-influenced album I recorded myself. But this review isn't about The Streets or me (well maybe a little bit). This review is about the UK duo dan le sac vs Scroobius Pip. I had been familiar with Pip since 2010, when he was featured on my friend and frequent collaborator (who also hails from the UK), producer FlamesYall. Initially I was blown away by Scroobius Pip's insight and content, and the fact that he rolls with Sage Francis and Strange Famous Records didn't hurt either. Producer dan le sac's style is deeply rooted in the electronic sound, but still has hip hop tendencies."
Flying Lotus :: Until the Quiet Comes :: Warp Records
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor
"Stephen Ellison, AKA FLying Lotus has been deconstructing and embellishing instrumental hip-hop since his 2006 debut, "1983." His 2010 album "Cosmogramma" was his most fully-realized work yet. Each track was full to the brim with ideas and sounds, and Flying Lotus was channeling avant-garde jazz more than hip-hop. For his follow up, he has taken it down a notch, moving away from the noisier moments of his earlier work and instead going in a subtler and more subdued direction. Like "Cosmogramma," "Until The Quiet Comes" feels more like a unified composition than a collection of songs. There are eighteen tracks here, but they all blend together to an extent. Sounds and themes repeat through the album, and some tracks glide into others. If "Cosmogramma" didn't manage to distance Flying Lotus from being labeled a hip-hop producer, "Until The Quiet Comes" will. There's very little here that reads hip-hop except for the occasional head-nodding beat. Flying Lotus has left the orbit of hip-hop and gone off to different dimensions.. The dubstep and house influences that showed up on "Cosmogramma" are gone. There are several guest vocalists, including Radiohead's Thom Yorke, Erykah Badu, Laura Darlington, Thundercat, and Niki Randa. Their voices are used as instruments rather than centerpieces. They fade in and out of the music, never becoming the focal point. They aren't backed by Flying Lotus's production, they are part of it."
Grand Papa Tra :: Lost in New York :: Bandcamp.com
as reviewed by Matt Jost
"Mos Def taught us that hip-hop is not "some giant living in the hillside coming down to visit the townspeople." His statement was a product of the great '90s debates about what is hip-hop and what is not hip-hop, and by rearranging the question slightly - what hip-hop is and what it's not -, he provided us with a much needed reality check. "We are hip-hop," Mos continued, "Me, you, everybody, we are hip-hop. So hip-hop is going where we going. So the next time you ask yourself where hip-hop is going, ask yourself: Where am I going?" All this holds true as well for New York hip-hop, this monument that to some people seems untouchable in every sense of the word. New York City still stands, and everybody who wants to contribute to its hip-hop history is free to do so. Grand Papa Tra, a francophone Swiss beatmaker, understands that, and so he set off for NY to make a rap platter, not a merely nostalgic one but one that reflects his intake of and his take on the culture. If the opening title track is day one, he arrives on a cloudy day, the sky overcast with moaning and weeping instrumental fragments. But New York weather can change quickly, and it instantly clears up with Sadat X's "Gotham City." Tra creates an open space with clear, reverbrating tones and light-footed drums as the Bronx MC plays tour guide."
Lega-C :: Off My Medication :: Block Starz Music
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"To say Danielle McLean b/k/a Lega-C's life has been full of trials and tribulations would be an understatement. Having two pastors for parents didn't help McLean in her youth - if anything it made her even more rebellious. Perhaps it's a bad stereotype that white girls immerse themselves in black music and culture when they want to piss off mommy and daddy, but that's exactly what she did, and this future YouTube viral sensation was already performing her own rap songs at 10. The thing is that hip-hop COULD have been her salvation back then, but her desire to rap wasn't outpaced by her desire to get into fights at school, get suspended, then get arrested for identity theft while pregnant with her daughter. It may sound like the plot for a Hollywood movie, but this was Lega-C's real life in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Now if this WAS a movie, we could say "Lega-C cleaned up her life after giving birth to her daughter and lived happily ever after." That didn't happen. The next few years were just as turbulent as her high school days if not worse. While she was trying to get her rap career launched via Swishahouse, she was being victimized by an abusive boyfriend, who eventually got into an armed standoff with the cops. Fearing for her life, she left her daughter in her mother's care and fled to Seattle. This set her music career back at least three years, until she resurfaced in 2011 with the aforementioned viral music video "White Girl Raps Fast." The talent she displayed in this clip was enough to get her a record deal from Block Starz Music."
Soldjasoulz :: Soulz of the Storm :: Bandcamp.com
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"UK month continues with a look at the Soldjasoulz, the hip-hop duo of DPF and Reds, both hailing from Norwich. I took the opportunity to educate myself not just about the group but about the city that they hailed from, which is older than any settlement in the United States, pre-dating even European voyages to "discover" the West (Spain or Norway - take your pick). It seems to be generally accepted that it was built on the ruins of a settlement abandoned by the Romans at about 450 AD, and by the 11th century had become the second largest city in England other that London. Famous exports include Colman's mustard and the Premier League football club Norwich City. (Soccer for the yanks reading this.) It's considered to be a prosperous area with a temperate climate, and census figures peg Norwich at over 93% white, with a small but significant minority of Asian ethnicities. Now if this doesn't sound like a hotbed for fiery hip-hop compared to the roiling economic, social and political turmoil of the London metropolitan area, perhaps you've drawn the same conclusion I did. Nevertheless the Soldjasoulz bio professes their music "owes as much to dancehall reggae as it does 1990's hip-hop" and that their work has impressed a wide range of artists on both sides of the pond and gotten them billing on the same stages as Souls of Mischief and Klashnekoff to name a few. Three selling points caught my eye beyond that though - the three tracks produced by Tricksta, the guest appearance by Main Flow on "Night Breed" and the fact it was offered at "name your own price" via Bandcamp - perfect for a first-time foray into their musical offering."
ricky :: Pre-Millennium Tension :: PolyGram/Island Records
** RapReviews "Back to the Lab" series **
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor
"British rapper Tricky first made a name for himself as part of Bristol's Wild Bunch, which morphed into Massive Attack. After rapping on that group's albums "Blue Lines" and "Protection," Tricky struck out on his own with his 1995 debut "Maxinquaye." The mix of hip-hop, soul, electronica, and reggae was a hit, and won a Mercury prize. Tricky retreated to Jamaica to make his follow-up, determined to make a punk record that shed the trip-hop label he had been saddled with. The result is one of the darkest, dankest, paranoid albums ever made. Right off the bat, Tricky is hitting you with a heavy sense of suffocation, and hinting at some disfunction in his relationship with Topley-Bird. The next track, "Christiansands" is Tricky at his best. The beat layers sounds on top of each other, including rumbling bass, heavy drums, and assorted ambient noises. The cherry on the cake is a heavily reverbed guitar line that adds just a touch of melody to the proceedings. "Always, what does that mean?/Forever, what does that mean?" Tricky asks. Tricky delivers his lines in a deadpan, and a guest MC shouts alongside him frantically. The song feels like it was recorded at four in the morning after an all-night drug binge while Tricky was wallowing in paranoia and the ill-effects of heavy cocaine use. In fact, a lot of this album could be seen as highlighting the downside of heavy drug use. There was a lot of ecstacy, speed, and coke being used in the U.K. club scene in the early 90s. By the time the millennium was closing in, music started to reflect the darker moods that come with constantly jacking up one's dopamine levels. The giddy rave of the early 90s gave way to darker jungle and drum n' bass, and "Pre-Millennium Tension" seems to reflect this transition towards darker, more introspective electronic music. "
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