If you missed any of the new reviews this past week, including the double features of Big Boi's "Vicious Lies & Dangerous Rumors" and Game's "Jesus Piece" then do yourself a favor and check out this week's edition of the (W)rap Up!
Big Boi :: Vicious Lies & Dangerous Rumors
Author: Jesal 'Jay Soul' Padania
"The first thing Big Boi says on his second solo album on the intro is: "If y'all don't know me by now, y'all ain't gon' never know me..." It seems a peculiarly defensive way to open up an album, especially the follow-up to his stunning kind-of-debut "Sir Lucious Left Foot... The Son of Chico Dusty." However, once you delve into "Vicious Lies & Dangerous Rumours" - sorry, "Rumors" (I'm a Brit), you'll realise that he's probably had an awful lot of defending to do in order to get it released in this form, full stop. It's an incredibly eclectic mix of music, the love letter of a music fan and a heartbroken son, blending together joy, pain, death and sex over a bewildering but endlessly fascinating tapestry of futuristic beats. If "Sir Lucious Left Foot" was the perfect album to bump on a hot summer's day, riding round shining, then "Vicious Lies..." is the companion piece for the night.Your first listen - especially if you loved SLLF - will probably be somewhat disappointing (as Patton has admitted in interviews). However, VLADR genuinely improves with each spin: it's just so dense, whether you're talking music, themes or that wonderful variety of choruses. Big Boi is a real Jedi Master of this rap shit, and he's easily one of the few hip hop artists who can write an actual song, from conception to realization, with skill and energy. Whilst this album isn't chock full of the same batshit crazy (and thus awe-inspiring) moments as his 2010 LP, it's refined in almost every way. Patton's palette is simply astonishing, and his ability to orchestrate the whole show is impressive, especially when drawing upon so many different influences. The only letdown that makes it all a bit tougher than it should have been is the bewildering sequencing, which leaves a lot to be desired."
The Game :: Jesus Piece
Author: Jesal 'Jay Soul' Padania
"At this stage, save for a remarkable turnaround, The Game's five album run in less than eight years on Interscope Records will be both remembered and forgotten for clearly defined reasons. His technical rapping ability has steadily improved (which is actually quite a rare and welcome trait); his name-dropping has been so incessant that you can help but give him a bye for it now; plus he's dropped two classics, and two albums that have already been largely forgotten. His is a story of surviving gunshots, hustling that mixtape game, then getting a deal that now probably seems more like an anchor than anything and constant beef. However, to give credit where it is due, he damn well knows how to put an album together: only "L.A.X." didn't flow too well, whilst every other joint - whether well-received or not - is always put together expertly. "Jesus Piece" almost manages continue that fine run, even it is a shamelessly half-hearted attempt at a concept album, whilst also piling in as many guests as he possibly can (I counted at least 24 guest features).The fact that it seems to be getting a lot of praise as one of the albums of the year says a lot more about how disappointing 2012 has been, as opposed to how great "Jesus Piece" might actually be. The name-dropping is here and present, in full effect - it's just that now, Taylor also name-drops God a lot (the religious angle is more of a parachuted-in theme). There is also a catchy single featuring Lil Wayne, Tyga, Wiz Khalifa and Chris Brown that's generated interest. Yet, one can't help feeling that The Game is keen to end his uneasy alliance with Interscope Records, and it seems like JP is a hastily-assembled end of year dorm party where the students rebelliously spray shaving foam and talk all night about how they are gonna rule the world."
Craig G :: Ramblings of an Angry Old Man :: Soulspazm Records
as reviewed by Matt Jost
"Hip-Hop is no country for old men. Or is it? Jay-Z and Dr. Dre are still at the top of the game yet older than virtually any of their contemporaries. (Whether they're still at the top of their game is another question.) Obviously they remain exceptions to the rule in a genre with an insatiable thirst for fresh blood. It's a small crew who has survived as actual recording artists since making their debut in the 1980s - Beastie Boys (at least until MCA's passing), KRS-One, Rakim, Too $hort, Public Enemy, De La Soul, Kool G Rap, Masta Ace, Bumpy Knuckles, Poet, E-40, DJ Premier, DJ Muggs... Starting out in 1985, Craig G has been in the game for as long as any of them - if not longer. Embracing his elder status, including the mockery he might earn for it, the veteran names his latest project "Ramblings of an Angry Old Man." It's a wonderfully self-deprecating album title that seems to fall flat considering the only lyrical irony to be found within is of a rather mild variety and it's strictly leveled at others. Yet if it's meant as an anticipation of the stereotypical reaction releases from established rappers who speak from experience often get, it's dead on. In that case Craig G is out to prove that what he has to say isn't simply a bitter distillate of 26 years in the game. It's unfortunate that he warns us at the top, "If your idea of hip-hop is 90% of what you hear on the radio waves, then turn this album off now," because with its critical observations on the rap industry it could serve as a wake-up call to a younger generation."
Domo Genesis & The Alchemist :: No Idols :: Odd Future
as reviewed by Matt Jost
"One of the marks of any great producer is that he understands his artists. Rick Rubin understood Run-D.M.C. The Shocklees understood Public Enemy. DJ Premier understood Jeru the Damaja. Timbaland understood Missy Elliott. Organized Noise understood OutKast. Dr. Dre understood Eminem. Rap music's elite producers push an artist's existing qualities firmly believing that together they are able to reach the goal they set for themselves. Enjoying one of hip-hop's most enduring careers behind the boards, The Alchemist possesses the musical relevance and networking skills to be in demand to the present day when high-profile releases are given away for free and new beatmaking talent sprouts on a weekly basis. In 2012, he completed projects with both New York's Action Bronson and Los Angeles' Domo Genesis. The bicoastal presence is nothing new for ALC, whose closest affiliations for years were Mobb Deep and Dilated Peoples. But while "Rare Chandeliers" stands to reason given Bronson's overall New-York-ness, "No Idols" is a trickier task. Domo Genesis is part of a crew that came out rallying against the hip-hop establishment and for the better part of its existence has created its own musical identity without outside help. The Alchemist gets the Wolf Gang's nod of approval because his track record speaks for itself - Alan the Chemist understands rappers, period. Admittedly, Domo Genesis is not that hard to get, at least compared to crewmates Tyler, the Creator or Earl Sweatshirt. His previous full-lengths, "Rolling Papers" and "Under the Influence," ultimately lacked the focus that separates plain stoner rap from hip-hop with a truly 'higher' purpose. Already indicating a different state of mind via its title, "No Idols" attempts to define Domo Genesis the artist with a variety of short but themed songs."
Freeway :: Diamond in the Ruff :: Babygrande Records
as reviewed by Pete T.
"It's a cold winter, and Freezer's got you bundled up. Just as he once transferred his legendary ambition from the street corner to the recording studio, he's parlayed his Roc-A-Fella run to a productive independent career, lending his verses to tracks from the whole spectrum of the underground's best and brightest. In a sense, "Diamond in the Ruff" brings one of rap's most captivating voices full circle, reuniting him with both Just Blaze and Bink!, two producers from his 2003 debut "Philadelphia Freeway," as well as Jake One, with whom he recorded an entire record, 2010's "The Stimulus Package." A decade in the spotlight has dulled neither his inimitable delivery nor his insatiable hunger to make ends meet no matter the cost, and his shouts of "EARLY!" and recollections of hustling 'til the sun come up permeate "Diamond in the Ruff." Freeway's albums tend to open with soulful, ethereal gems welcoming the listener into his world, and the Marsha Ambrosius-aided "Right Back" joins the ranks of "Free" and "This Can't Be Real" as a smooth, contemplative winner. His coarse verses are also abetted by songstresses on the piano-laden "Wonder Tape" featuring Suzann Christine, "Greatness" with Vivian Green, the eerie, ambitious "Sweet Temptations" with Nikki Jean, and the lively "All the Hoods" with Miss Daja Thomas and Alonda Rich. The R&B-tinged collaborations infuse the record with a tasteful maturity, but they hardly blunt the force of his emphatic delivery."
Giano :: S.O.R.I. :: PNG Productions
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor
"Virginia rapper Giano makes hip-hop that tries to incorporate his Christian faith while staying true to the art form and not coming off as preachy. Over five albums released in the past 9 years, he's managed to rap about faith while making compelling hip-hop. He succeeds for two reasons: his lyrics are about him exploring his faith, not preaching, and he can rap. "S.O.R.I.," his latest album, is another solid entry in his discography. He claims that "S.O.R.I." is meant to explore dreams and prisons, and the fine line between the two concepts. The album also explores the tension between the sacred and the profane, between wanting to be successful and wanting to be a good person, and the temptations that can come with success. "Hardcore" is the most explicitly Christian song, with Giano describing the passion of Christ as if he were observing it from a dream state. It's an interesting if somewhat confusing conceit, with Giano wondering where he would stand had he been at the actual event. Would he have intervened, or would he have sat on the sidelines, safe in the knowledge that it was none of his business and there was nothing he could do anyways?"
Liotta :: The Prequel :: Legend Records
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Liotta is not the easiest rapper to look up information on. Search engine entries are going to turn up as "the actor who played Henry Hill in the movie Goodfellas," and to be honest that was the first person I thought of when I opened his package. There was no one-sheet inside, which in some respects is refreshing for a reviewer as they tend to be a cliche over time, but the only link anywhere on his CD artwork was @Liotta. The puzzling thing about that is he doesn't seem all that into Twitter - only 105 tweets as of this review with the last one being back on September 22nd. Fortunately with a little poking around I finally came across the CD Baby page for his album. Distribution seems fairly widespread for Liotta as his album is also available on Amazon and iTunes. Having enough material for release is definitely not a problem either - as "The Prequel" is 22 songs and nearly 80 minutes long. Oh - and he's "The Bad Man." Depending on your point of reference, the tune he's sampling for this track is either The Who or Limp Bizkit, although the former are the originators and the latter are increasingly hard to fathom (though perhaps signing with Cash Money will be their career resurrection). Sampling is not always the operative word though. The opening song "Back in the Day" basically jacks the Ahmad song of the same name wholesale, down to the scratchy sound of the record and Liotta singing his own version of the hook. "Bad Santa" jacks A Tribe Called Quest's "Buggin' Out," and if you have to ask where "Just the Two of Us" comes from I suggest you get some Grover Washington Jr. or Bill Withers records for your library. It's not hard to see why Liotta might want to be somewhat low key, given how impossibly expensive it would be to clear all the samples on this album."
Pause :: Pacific Rose :: Fontana/INgrooves
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Allow me to introduce Daniel Kushnir, a rapper hailing from Venice, but not the one in Italy. Pause comes from Venice neighborhood of Los Angeles, an area you've seen in more movies and television shows than you could possibly name. Any time somebody director wants to make the point that people in California are bizarre, they just go to the Ocean Front Walk and start filming all the street artists and fortune tellers. It's a freewheeling artistically creative community, which in my parents' generation would have been derisively called "hippies," but which today is recognized as one of the cultural centers of L.A. Pause doesn't sounds like a fortune teller or a snake charmer or even Jim Morrison though - he sounds like a traditional California emcee who if you hadn't been told otherwise could hail from Long Beach or South Central. In fact "So Scandalous" is for all the world a G-Funk bomb straight from Snoop and homies, complete with a suspiciously George Clinton-esque singer and the trademark P-Funk twang you associate with his music. The story Pause tells isn't anything new, but he tells it with his own flair. The producers on "Pacific Rose" are not the big names you know in hip-hop - not at this stage of their career anyway - but they do a fine job. Bird laces "That's How I Do It" f/ Devin Mares with a thumping drum beat and some wailing guitar licks. The posse-all-in song "It Keeps On Rainin" would pass for an Alchemist or Evidence track if somebody didn't tell you that Mnemonic did it, and Mix Master Wolf joins in the fun to provide scratching on the hook. Indy One gives "Caroline" the echoing boom bap you'd expect from an early 1990's song from the Native Tongues."
Wiz Khalifa :: O.N.I.F.C. :: Rostrum/Atlantic Records
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Cameron Jibril Thomaz b/k/a Wiz Khalifa has certainly made a big impression in a short amount of time. "O.N.I.F.C." (an acronym for "Only Nigga In First Class") is his third album since 2011 if you're including his collaboration with Snoop Dogg, and if you're counting mixtapes he's been even busier than that. Although he's been an active emcee since 2005 it was the release of "Black and Yellow" in 2010 that propelled him to superstar status, spawning an unlimited number of parodies and remakes in its wake. These days he's "that rapper" that has to be on every remix or mixtape if you want to be official - a very enviable position to be in. Wiz lives by the motto of his first single from this CD: "Work Hard Play Hard." The first time I heard the song I honestly thought it was a new release from DJ Quik, which I mean as the highest form of praise. Even though Wiz calls Pittsburgh his home, he has the natural charisma and playeristic attitude of the man who made getting fucked up anthemic on "Tonite" back in the early 1990's. Now admittedly Quik would have to pitch down his vocal tone a bit for it to be a perfect fit, but try listening to both artists with your eyes closed for 30 seconds and tell me you can't imagine they were twins separated at birth. As for "O.N.I.F.C." he's clearly not the only brother on his flight, and in fact some of the passengers on the list struck me as a bit odd - Cam'Ron for one. To be fair the I.D. Labs beat is so lush that it's impossible to hate on the song, even if Cam still rhymes at a kindergarten level. Labs is a frequent collaborator and is responsible for many of the album's best tracks including "The Plan" featuring Juicy J, "Got Everything" featuring Courtney Noelle and "Paperbond." The latter is so hypnotic that I'd personally enjoy a completely instrumental version more than the one with Wiz' rap, though it's his typical flossing fare."
Wu-Block :: Wu-Block :: Entertainment One
as reviewed by Matt Jost
"Its title might bring to mind any of those mash-up mixtapes from around ten years ago, but "Wu-Block" isn't some hustling DJ's 'What if the Wu-Tang Clan and D-Block actually got together and made a record' mix burned on a CD-R, it is exactly that record. Initially more widely conceived, the project is co-headed by Ghostface Killah and Sheek Louch but features appearances from various Clan members and both Styles P and Jadakiss on the D-Block side. There was a time when you could draw a relatively clear line between these two camps. Wu were the elite team of rap's underbelly, thrilling, vigorous, brilliant, while the Sean Combs-monitored trio of Sheek, Styles and Jada (then known as The LOX) painted a more streamlined, shinier portrait of the same era and area. But their transition from Bad Boy to Ruff Ryders to finally the self-contained D-Block is also a history of emancipation from the influence of the music industry. In short, that line has become blurred and maybe it's no coincidence these two crews originating from New York rap's periphery (Staten Island and Yonkers) have persisted and eventually joined forces. On an individual level, Ghostface Killah and Sheek Louch seem an odd couple at first as well. Providing the Clan's most consistent and creative solo output, GFK shouldered the weight of the Wu in critical times almost all by himself. Louchiano on the other hand was never able to follow his partners' footsteps and his solo efforts were often derided. But while the two may not be at eye level lyrically and technically, they share vocal passion and colorful imagery. They also both have a rather peculiar stressed demeanor sometimes, which creates an unsual bond between the two. With one exception Ghost and Sheek pass the mic to each other on all tracks, but it's ostensibly one of "Wu-Block"'s strengths that they pass it to the likes of Raekwon, Styles P, Method Man and Jadakiss as well."
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