T.I. :: Trouble Man: Heavy Is the Head
Grand Hustle/Atlantic Records
Author: Emanuel Wallace
"The 1972 blaxploitation film, Trouble Man was the story of a private detective that simply went by the name of T. He also does what he can to help people in the neighborhood...but never for free. Eventually he is framed for the murder of a local crime boss' man, setting off a city-wide war. Tons of double crossing abound, but at the end of the day, everyone learns that you don't mess with Mr. T. The score and soundtrack were produced and performed by Marvin Gaye, who was making his first foray into the world of blaxploitation cinema. Fast forward to 2003 and we have a new T, T.I. to be more specific, who had dropped his second album, "Trap Muzik." Although he was fresh off of what I like to refer to as his coming out party on Bone Crusher's "Never Scared" and his own "24s," there was another song that caught my ear. I often like to say I predicted that the David Banner-produced "Rubber Band Man" would be a hit, and it was. Fast forward to 2012 and we can certainly say that Tip has seen his fair share of trouble over the years. I'm also sure that the "couple hundred grand" has ballooned quite a bit and there's much more than Chevys in the Harris family garage now. The ongoing battle between T.I.P. and T.I. has been well chronicled, so I won't really get into the specifics here. In fact, some of the incidents make their way onto the album in the form of short skits. So here we are now...T.I. is out of prison and off of probation. Will the result be something closer to "Urban Legend" or "No Mercy?" The album art looks like it's straight out of a film starring Fred Williamson or Jim Brown. Continuing the "Trouble Man" theme, upon beginning the album, the first voice we hear is that of Marvin Gaye on "The Introduction." The track is an unapologetic realization that T.I. is going to be who he is and there's no change in sight."
Iron Lyon :: From the Ground Up :: Iron Dubz Music
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor
"Iron Lyon has been DJing since he was 14 years old. He spent some time in New York before relocating to Miami last year, keeping busy by spinning everything from classic hip-hop to reggae and dancehall. In between his DJ sets he's found time to record some raps of his own. His 2009 album "Time Capsule" was well-received by this publication, and he's released two EPs since then. "From the Ground Up" is his latest album, released this fall. As a hip-hop DJ who came up in New York, Iron Lyon has a soft spot in his heart for classic 90s New York hip-hop. The title of "Time Capsule" was a reference to the nostalgic sound of the album, and he had a song on it called "Boom Bap," further driving home where he was coming from. He hasn't abandoned the sampler for "From the Ground Up," but he is expanding his palette beyond hard-hitting beats over sample flips. He starts off with "Come Back," an upbeat song that sets the mood for the album. Judging from the lyrics and the vibe of the album, it seems like Iron Lyon is feeling reborn and revitalized after losing his way. "Was going the wrong road but I turned it around" he raps, and it's a theme that is repeated throughout the album. He deals with it most explicitly on "Way I Feel." The song is written like a love song, but you soon realize that the "she" he is rapping about is alcohol. "No escaping these demons, they already had me/It runs in the family." It's an incredibly moving and honest description of how partying can catch up with you, and how sometimes you don't even realize how sick you've become."
Melanin 9 :: Magna Carta :: Red Snow Records
as reviewed by Zach 'Goose' Gase
Yes, UK appreciation month was October, but I think it goes without saying that our blokes across the pond deserve to get some shine more than just one month out of the year. Melanin 9 is a rapper from the UK, but unlike most of the "brit hop" I'm familiar with, his style is heavily influenced from the states. Melanin 9's debut album, "Magna Carta" serves a heavy dosage of mid-90s, East Coast-influenced production; even M9's vocal delivery is more reminiscent of a MF Doom rather than Mike Skinner (my personal favorite British rapper). Not to say M9 disowns the UK and wishes he was trading bars in a cipher somewhere in Brooklyn, in fact it's quite the opposite. Much of "Magna Carta's" lyrical content covers what life is like in the United Kingdom. Melanin 9 juggles duties as an emcee and a spoken word poet over "It Was Written" era production from the likes of Anatomy, Parental, Tony Mahoney, and others. While everything is in order for "Magna Carta" to be a successful record, its main fault is that Melanin 9 struggles in being engaging to the listener. "Magna Carta" has 14 tracks and clocks in at just under 58 minutes, but it's a record that tends to drag despite its average amount of tracks/run time. M9 is a skilled wordsmith, he pairs together syllables that work well together, and the things he raps about are of social importance – all qualities of a good rapper. But simply saying dope shit, isn't enough to capture an audience."
Moonshine Bandits :: Whiskey and Women Deluxe Shiner Edition :: Suburban Noize Records
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Don't feel bad if you're experiencing a case of deja vu right now. I was too when the label asked me if I was going to review the copy of Moonshine Bandits' "Whiskey and Women" they just sent me. "Wait a minute - didn't I already review this album last year?" As a matter of fact, yes I did. Much like Future did with "Pluto" and Nicki did with "The Re-Up" though, the success of the original album inspired the people at the label to release a new version. You can call it the "enhanced" or "extended" cut if you want, but Moonshine Bandits call it "Deluxe." The new songs that weren't on the previous version I reviewed are an "Average Joe" remix of "Super Googles," the "Hell Raisin' Country" remix featuring Big Smo, plus the following new songs: "Shotgun Sheels & Shine," "For the Outlawz," "Addicted" featuring Paradime and "Dive Bar Beauty Queen" featuring Danny Boone of Rehab. For whatever reason "Summer Girl" and "Whiskey and Cigarettes" have been removed. If you have the physical version of the "Deluxe" edition you also get a bonus DVD with six videos, and the video for "Dive Bar Beauty Queen" features adult film star Tera Patrick. I have to imagine for some of the hornier teenagers out there, that might be reason enough alone to pay the price of admission, particularly if they don't own the original version."
Nas :: It Was Written :: Columbia Records
as reviewed by Pete T.
""It Was Written" is one of rap's most difficult albums, not because of the album it is but expressly because of the album it isn't. There are three stages of grief with "It Was Written": first, despondence that rap's greatest debutante took an undeniable step backward; second, genuine appreciation for the good album it is; and third, reconciliation via a widely varying middle ground. One of the drivers behind rap's sophomore slump clichÃ©, it's the album where Nasty Nas, he of the tech on the dresser, is replaced by Escobar, an unformed mafioso thrust upon Nas following his overwhelmingly successful turns on "Doe or Die," "Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...," and "The Infamous." From a purely technical perspective, Nas's performance on "It Was Written" is at least as good as on "Illmatic." His rhymes spew forth in flawless cadences with nary a syllable out of place. Early standouts "The Message," "Street Dreams," and "Take It In Blood" are technical triumphs of the utmost, and the posse cut "Affirmative Action" is a standard of the mafioso subgenre despite its reliance on allusion over plot. However, the equivalences with "Illmatic" essentially start and end there: the wordplay is rarely as sharp, the hooks generally unimaginative, the insight hardly as poignant, and the narrations seldom hitting so close to home. "It Was Written" is, of course, where Nas made the much-maligned decision to employ the labor of the Trackmasters, themselves on a layover somewhere between "Mr. Smith" and "Big Willie Style." While ostensibly this move would position him for crossover appeal, nothing here even sounds like a potential chart-topper, and their productions are notably lean, if not spare. Among them the moody funk of "Watch Dem Niggas" with Foxy Brown particularly stands out, but the rest of the album's inner section comprises a mixed bag. "I Gave You Power" is a tired concept record not nearly as good as those in his latter catalog, the boring Dr. Dre track "Nas Is Coming" underwhelms, and "Black Girl Lost" is a thoroughly middling stab at consciousness amid an hour's worth of extortion, chases, and shot-callers."
Slightly Stoopid :: Top of the World :: Stoopid Records
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"San Diego jam band Slightly Stoopid might seem an odd choice for us to review, but even the so-called free encyclopedia says on their Wiki page that "the band has also experimented with hip-hop on their more recent albums" and even collaborated with the late great Guru before his passing. It would not be that far of a stretch for the Stoopid dudes to reach out to hip-hop, since their sound already embraces reggae, funk, blues and punk among oher genres. They've even been called "psychedelic rock" by some observers - they're fairly hard to pin to just one sound. Take "Don't Stop" for example - if you didn't know anything about their history and heard this song as a one-off, you might assume that Slightly Stoopid were either from Jamaica or hang out with a whole lotta rastas. Less than four minutes later they're funking it up on the "Devil's Door," a song that could be the soundtrack to any 1970's movie or TV show. And yet just when you think you've got them pegged, the grooves of "Way You Move" will make you think of a 1990's alternative or rock act like Blind Melon or Blues Traveler. If you had to pick an overriding theme for the group though it would definitely be Carribean, and their collaboration with Barrington Levy on the song "Ur Love" certainly seems to back that up."
Substance Abuse :: Background Music :: Feed the Peeps
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Last week I denoted certain difficulties while reviewing the Liotta album I had been sent in the mail - chiefly in the area of Google searching for anything about him without getting sidetracked by unproductive "Goodfellas" references. In hindsight that was a cakewalk compared to looking up Substance Abuse. Even if you add keywords like "rap group" you get endless editorials decrying the abundant abuse of both legal and illegal drugs in popular music. Were it not for the helpful publicist who sent me both the "Background Music" CD, a digital copy and a link to their bio online, I would have been almost completely up a creek without paddles or even a boat. Thankfully they've also got a few videos on YouTube - "What It Takes" and "West Los" - and to make it easier on us all I've included both below so your search results will be more cohesive. Neither of these songs feature any guest appearances, but for Eso Tre and Subz that's almost the exception rather than the rule. The number of known and big name artists on "Background Music" is to say the least impressive - Tash from Tha Liks us on "Don't Get Us Wrong," KRS-One blesses "Rear View," Sadat X can be found on "Three Sheets to the Wind" and even veteran Compton rap legend MC Eiht shows up on "Flossin'." The group isn't shy about sharing the wealth though with lesser-knowns, as you can find Mawnstr on "Crew vs. Gangs," Hanif Hobbs on "Young Hollywood" and Waes One on the album's title track just to name a few. "Goon Hand" is a solo track that represents their vibe well."
Supreme General :: The Best of the Champions Mixtape :: DatPiff/Hustle Game Enterprises
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"A little over a year ago RR contributor Pedro 'DJ Complejo' Hernandez reviewed Supreme General's "Supremacy EP," which for all intents and purposes seems to have been his national debut. Hernandez was non-plussed about it though writing "the kid could do something big because he has all the tools to succeed and charisma to spare, but with generic/played out topics, it's hard to really give Supreme General a recommendation." Fast forward to 2012 and Supreme General is back with a new free album available on DatPiff, though S.G. took the extra effort to send us a hard pressed copy on CD - respect for that. He also made sure to include a press kit, which for understandable reasons doesn't include any quotes from our less than glowing review. Amanda Miles says he posesses "an effortless execution of lyrical depth and vivid storytelling" while Lisa Ford wries that he "represented real life in Buffalo where all the soldiers march." Coming from the B actually helps S Geezy get a second chance, because having recently gotten up on Mad Dukez the idea Buffalo is an untapped hip-hop talent pool has been greatly reinforced. Periodically samples weave in and out of the "Champions" mixtape which tie S Geezy to a far more infamous Supreme - known to the federal penitentiary as Kenneth McGriff. This makes the choice to rap over the "Shook Ones" instrumental for what he considers a "Part 3" odd to say the least, though perhaps nobody involved stopped to consider McGriff was convicted of attempting to have Mobb Deep affiliate E-Moneybags murdered."
The Year 2012 in Review
* Steve 'Flash' Juon
* Jesal 'Jay Soul' Padania
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