Sunday April 22, 2018

The (W)rap Up for 2012 - May [1 of 2]
Posted by Emanuel Wallace at Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013 at 6:00PM :: Email this article :: Print this article

[The Money Store]Death Grips :: The Money Store
Epic Records

Author: Patrick Taylor"Sacramento rap/noise crew Death Grips came on the scene last year with their excellent mixtape "Exmilitary" and a series of crazy videos. Somehow someone at Epic Records heard their music, which features MC Ride ranting about illegal drugs over illegal samples, and decided that it was the perfect money-making machine. Eazy-E was on Epic, so maybe they know a thing or two about turning offensive hip-hop into dollar bills. Still, I can't help but think there is heavy irony in the title of Death Grips' major-label debut, especially as it comes packaged with cover art of an S&M diva keeping a large-breasted gimp on a chain with the band name carved into the gimp's chest. That doesn't seem like the clearest path to making Jay-Z levels of cash, but it is a good way to totally freak out anyone over forty. Now that Ride and producers Zach Hill and Andy Morin have gone legit, the Jane's Addiction and Pink Floyd samples have gone out the window. Instead, they've come up with beats that don't require hundreds of thousands of dollars in sample clearances. Rather than looking to samples of metal and punk songs for inspiration, Hill and Morin channel noisy electronica and the sound of Roland TR-808 drum machines. "I've Seen Footage" sounds like "Push It" being played in Hell, with Ride shouting along to the beat. "Hacker's" beat sounds like a mix between Yello's "Oh Yeah" and Dead Or Alive's "You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)."

Calez :: Kid With Raps :: 2008ighties
as reviewed by Zach 'Goose' Gase

[Kid With Raps]
"The absolute worst part of the "Internet age" is the vast amount of clutter that appears daily on rap blogs. There are so many rappers posting so many songs, it's nearly impossible to distinguish what's good and what's wack. This often leads me to just ignore almost everything, which in the past has led me to being a little late on some of hip hop's best up and comers, most notably Big K.R.I.T. and Kendrick Lamar. And yes, when I saw yet another rapper on 2DopeBoyz that I had never heard of outside of the blogger world, I kept it moving, but when I received the press release for Calez's "Kid With Raps" album, I was intrigued. He addresses the same story on the album's intro track "Play First" when his 3rd grade teacher asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up he put "rapper." After mistakenly pronouncing it as "raper," she advised Calez to have a plan B, which he replied "fuck that." As a 19 year-old Calez released his aptly titled LP "Kid With Raps" with the same kind of mentality. Calez's vocal delivery is very similar to Stalley, and his production style reminds me a lot of Tyler, the Creator's. Lyrically Calez is solid, despite his lack of range on subject matter. But his self-production (along with help from UG and Flosstradamus on a couple tracks) is Calez's top skill. He dabbles in the Neptunes/Odd Future style of synths and hard drums on tracks like "Play First" and "Middle Finger" and uses smooth samples on tracks like "Love Text" and "Plenty of Love." "

CopperWire :: Earthbound :: Porto Franco Records
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon


"The fugitives in question are Ellias Fullmore (a/k/a Burntface), Meklit Hadero and the author of one of my favorite albums so far in 2012 - Gabriel Teodros. His name was reason enough alone for me to check out CopperWire's "Earthbound," an album painting the trio as hip-hop Gallifreyans, gallivanting across the universe in a stolen spaceship which just COINCIDENTALLY has landed on Earth (funny how it always seems to work out that way). They're trying to blend into the populace as ordinary humans, but can't help but let their musical impulses out. Even though a lot of time and thought went into the packaging and marketing of CopperWire, including a short story written into the folds of the liner note by Nnedi Okorafor ("resident Naijamerican novelist alien sorceress"), I'm going to take the radically bold step of declaring it TOTALLY UNNECESSARY. That's not meant to be an insult; rather it's meant to convey that the music of CopperWire can simply exist, simply be enjoyed, without the extraterrestrial context to consider it in. The most telling part of the press kit may be in the opening paragraph: "When [CopperWire] met in the studio to see what happened, so many great songs tumbled out so far and the creative connection proved so strong, that the three knew there was no looking back."

Danny! :: The College Kicked-Out :: Badenov Records/1911 Music
** RapReviews "Back to the Lab" series **

as reviewed by Zach 'Goose' Gase

[The College Kicked-Out]
"If you don't know who Danny! (aka Danny Swain) is by now, this is a good place to start. Back in 2004, Danny! gave the world his overlooked debut LP, "The College Kicked-Out." And yes, that is the same year another rapper debuted his college-themed album, but I'll do my best to not use said rapper's name in this review because lord knows the comparisons have been run into the ground. "College Kicked-Out" is the first setback of Swain's rap career of extensive series of unfortunate events. Sadly, Danny! is still a relatively unknown rapper who hails from Columbia, SC, as opposed to that other rapper who is one of today's most celebrated figures, whose luck just happened to be a little bit better than Danny!'s. While Danny! has certainly upped his game in essentially every aspect (production, flow, lyrics, storytelling, etc.) since dropping "Kicked-Out" eight years ago, it is still one of his most endearing albums in his fairly extensive catalog. For new fans who just got put on to Danny! from co-signs from ?uestlove and Jay-Z, everything you really need to know about Mr. Swain is in the first verse of the "Intro" track. Danny! spits his raw and continuously candid lyrics over his self-produced, lo-fi soul beats. And yes this production style was HUGE back in '04, which is what makes "Kicked-Out" so tragic. Somehow in the world of budding beatsmiths like 9th Wonder and countless others who heavily relied on the "chipmunk" sound, Danny! still managed to get overlooked. Tracks like "Movin' Out" and "Second Time Around" no doubt could've been rapped over by just about anyone in the Roc-a-Fella camp circa 2004."

DJ Premier & Bumpy Knuckles :: KoleXXXion :: Gracie Productions
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon


"Those words echo down the corridors of time from World War II to the present day, where they wind up scratched into the intro of the song "B.A.P." by DJ Premier and Bumpy Knuckles, a fitting acronym for a boom bap hip-hop song. That's not the only thing fitting though - the title of "KoleXXXion" references both the nature of this collaboration (a collection of Primo's best beats and Bumpy's best raps) and gives a sly hint back to the "Konexion" album from 2003, back when Bumpy was better known as Freddie Foxxx. Coincidentally I'm the one who authored that review nearly a decade ago, so my own words echo to me across the years as I read what I wrote in the summary: "The great songs on this album can carry the listener through the mediocre ones." I've always loved the passion of Bumpy's lyrical delivery, but he hasn't always had production to match. The brassy horns and clever scratches of "B.A.P." are exactly what "Konexion" needed back then - but better late than never!! SALUTE. We must also note a hint of irony here - so many artists have tried to pick up Keith Elam's torch since his passing (including many he worked with while alive) but by creating an entire album of thumping hip-hop with Primo the Long Island native just lapped them all in the race. I'm not trying to be sacrilegious by declaring "KoleXXXion" the spiritual successor to GangStarr, but if Primo and Foxxx aren't then WHO IS? This is the album Guru would make with Primo if he were alive today to reunite and collaborate, although Guru's voice would have to get a lot more gravelly and angry. "

D-Nice :: Call Me D-Nice :: Jive Records
** RapReviews "Back to the Lab" series **

as reviewed by Emanuel Wallace

[Call Me D-Nice]
"Boogie Down Productions was one of those collectives that seemed to have a core along with a cast of collaborating role players that appeared and disappeared during the group's tenure. Some of these collaborators would include Heather B, Mad Lion, Channel Live, Harmony and Ms. Melodie among others. Most would agree that at the center of BDP were Scott LaRock, KRS-ONE and D-Nice. As most know, LaRock was killed shortly after the release of "Criminal Minded," what some may not know is necessarily why. The story varies some depending on who you ask and where you look, but when I read Brian Coleman's "Check The Technique: Liner Notes for Hip-Hop Junkies" KRS-ONE recalled the incident stating that D-Nice was being targeted by some hood who had accused him of trying to talk to his girlfriend. Scott took D-Nice up to where the guy was staying in the Bronx River Houses and squashed the beef. Some people across the street started to shoot from a window, basically ambushing their Jeep and Scott was the only one hit. D-Nice called KRS to inform him of what was going on and he didn't believe it until D started cursing at him. After BDP's "By All Means Necessary" and "Ghetto Music: The Blueprint of Hip-Hop," the multi-talented D-Nice decided to give it a go on his own with "Call Me D-Nice" in May of 1990, shortly before BDP's "Edutainment" would hit the streets. Powered by the timeless title track, the album peaked at #75 on the Billboard charts and showed the hip-hop community that he could thrive outside of the shadow of Boogie Down Productions."

E.S.G. & Slim Thug :: Boss Hogg Outlaws :: S-E-S Entertainment
** RapReviews "Back to the Lab" series **

as reviewed by Matt Jost

[Boss Hogg Outlaws]
"In 1999 Houston rappers E.S.G. and Slim Thug set out to put the ongoing rivalry between South- and Northside behind their city when they collaborated on "Braids n' Fades," the title designating the division by preferred haircuts (braids = North, fades = South). After the song was met with a strong response, the two teamed up a year later for "Grippin' Grain." At the time E.S.G., a veteran of the H-Town scene, was signed to Wreckshop Records, while Slim Thug was a freshman at Michael Watts' up-and-coming Swishahouse. Convinced of their chemistry, they decided to put out a full album on their newly established label in 2002. S-E-S Entertainment stood for Slim Thug, E.S.G. and SIN, the latter being the album's main producer. "Boss Hogg Outlaws" was a focused record, featuring both rappers on all tracks with only a few guests. Its inoffensive subject matter and solid production indicated that S-E-S purposely intended to deliver something for the people. Nevertheless, the first couple of tracks also suggest that each rapper followed the urge to be his own master. Consequently, they literally appoint themselves to an executive position on "I'm the Boss" ("You can see E flow / just pay E the dough / cause he the CEO"), once more explaining what the Boss Hogg Outlaws are about, essentially portraying independent rap as a form of self-empowerment. With that point made, E and Slim are ready to revisit various staples of regional rap. Bun B assists them on a combination of late '90s verbiage and early '80s proto-boom bap, "Thug it Up." "

Kool Rock Jay :: Street Life :: Triad Records
** RapReviews "Back to the Lab" series **

as reviewed by Matt Jost

[Street Life]
"In 1991 a young Bay Area rapper by the name of Spice 1 released his debut EP on Oakland-based Triad Records. The buzz it generated led to him being signed by Jive Records, where he became one of the West Coast's premier MC's. As Spice was releasing his first full-length in 1992, his former label put out an EP by Kool Rock Jay, who had just come off a deal with - Jive Records. After his LP with DJ Slice, the Rock continued independently and solo. Slice and unofficial third member Nate the Great are shouted out in the liner notes but seem to have given no musical input. Engineers Al Eaton and Chip Harris were still on board, so it wasn't a complete break with the past. For the most part Kool Rock Jay stayed true to the persona he established on "Tales From the Dope Side" - but there were some adjustments. The title track is a typical cautionary song but highly listenable largely thanks to the Barry White sample and the background singers' surprising Crusaders interpolation. Verses two and three work well as Jay tells a teen mom to "wake up and smell the orange juice / because you know you shouldn'ta been so loose," while a knucklehead is told, "Brother, you pulled the trigger all by yourself." But verse one makes little sense when fourteen bars detail a drug dealer's lavish lifestyle and then the last two suddenly state, "Next time you better think twice / because it's hard in that street life." "

Obie Trice :: Bottoms Up :: Black Market Entertainment
as reviewed by Matthew 'Matt G' Gutwillig

[Bottoms Up]
"In recent years, Shady Records has gone through a major overhaul of its roster. Dubbed Shady 2.0, the new generation of Shady Records has launched with the recent releases of Bad Meets Evil and Yelawolf, along with the pending album of rap super group Slaughterhouse. Gone are Cashis, Bobby Creekwater, Obie Trice and key members of D12 such as the late Proof, along with Mr. Porter and Bizarre. Almost six years since his last solo album, the April release of "Bottoms Up" shows Obie Trice has decided to take matters into his own hands and reestablish himself with his independent label Black Market Entertainment. The opening track, "Bottoms Up/Intro," illustrates the Detroit-based emcee shouting out Shady/Aftermath Records and proving that there is no bad blood between him and the two labels. In fact, the song features Dr. Dre behind the boards with its thundering keys and bassline as Trice declares that he's a veteran in the game who raps with a chip on his shoulder. Hardcore tracks like "Going No Where" and "Dear Lord," showcase the emcee going on lyrical rampages as he sounds hungrier than ever and he makes it clear that he's ready to fire a few shots if challenged. As well, Eminem lends his production assistance on "Going No Where," which contains brilliant buzzy synths and hard drums as Trice takes his verbal dexterity to the next level. "

Prozak :: Paranormal :: Fontana/RBC Records/Strange Music Inc.
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon


""Paranormal" is the long awaited follow-up to 2008's "Tales From the Sick," an album that received high praise from RR staff writer Pedro 'DJ Complejo' Hernandez. While admitting the hyperbole he heaped on Prozak might SOUND excessive, he nevertheless declared the following: "Prozak flawlessly weaves through a dark, but political, world of despair, hope, love, hate, consciousness, and insanity." The sound blasting out your speakers on "Paranormal" will suggest that DJ Complejo hit the nail on the head. Stylistically you might be tempted to compare him to fellow Strange Music compatriot Tech N9ne, but that would only be paying him a compliment while simultaneously understating his appeal. "End of Us" is the kind of song that completely turns rap music on its ear in a good way. Sid Wilson from Slipknot provides the scratching, while Brad Fielder & Joe Kotts play guitar, and Jason Arnold pounds out the live beat. Even though Pro's theme is darkness and gloom, the song is so energetic that jumping in a mosh pit and throwing caution to the wind sounds like fun. It's that juxtaposition of death and life intertwined that makes his rhymes so compelling. The song reminds me of the potential to reinvent hip-hop displayed on "Judgment Night" that so many people could have capitalized on, yet so few successfully did. "

Vintage Tux :: Hood Stories - A Tribute to the Trayvon Martins of the World :: Bandcamp
as reviewed by Matt Jost

[Hood Stories]
"The Trayvon Martin case raises questions that carry significance for the entirety of US society. Suddenly old wounds open and the country finds itself once more debating fundamental issues. To comprehend what might have happened on the evening of February 26th in Sanford, FL, pundits have made a variety of points. A minor but widely publicized one has been the 'hoodie' argument, as brought up by Geraldo Rivera, who on Fox News offered that many people associate hooded sweatshirts with criminal behavior and that simply by wearing a hoodie the young man made himself a target to an overzealous neighborhood watcher. As far-fetched as Rivera's claim that "the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin's death as George Zimmerman was" is, it does highlight the state of paranoia America has watched and talked itself into where individuals can seemingly only act as stereotypes. Rap may be partially responsible for the proliferation of the hoodie in teenage wardrobe, and it has definitely reinforced negative stereotypes with its music aimed at that same demographic, but to those listening close enough rap has also been on the forefront of fighting stereotypes - unlike certain media outlets. As Bronx MC Lord Finesse put it many years ago: "To many I may look like a hoodlum / But I'm a rapper and a pretty damn good one." "

Wiz Khalifa :: Taylor Allderdice :: Rostrum Records
as reviewed by Daniel Oh

[Taylor Allderdice]
"This mixtape is all about being unapologetic. There's no justification for the lack of width in the content (smoking weed, being rich as fuck, hanging out with hella hoes), the heavy hands on the drum machine, and the interludes where Wiz speaks braggadocio in a blunted voice. If "Taylor Allderdice" represents the next step in Wiz Khalifa's development as an artist, it's a solidification of his status as an unrepentant successful man-child of the 21st Century. Wiz Khalifa represents how most dudes of our generation would act if they made it. Who wouldn't want to smoke inordinate amounts of weed, show off all the new cars and clothes, and kick it with other established celebrities like Juicy J or Rick Ross? Shit, I would. So if you're looking for an album that'll expand your mental perspectives on poverty, philosophy, politics, or other topics you'd find on college essay prompts, this is not the album for you. If you're looking for an album with technically sound rapping, bulletproof rhyme schemes and lyrical gymnastics in flow and delivery, this is not the album for you. Don't get me wrong, Wiz Khalifa is a talented MC with flexible flow and a penchant for the clever one-liner, but he's not one to force the issue to impress anybody, regardless if they're a fan or if they're a critic. "Taylor Allderdice" is almost "Grindhouse"-esque in how over-the-top it is, and like "Grindhouse", it's entertaining if you don't put any elevated expectations on it. This mixtape is half-kickback in your homie's apartment and half-night out in Vegas while dropping $30K, and a complete expression of the artist Wiz Khalifa wants to be known as."

[Strange Clouds]B.o.B :: Strange Clouds
Rebel Rock/Grand Hustle/Atlantic Records

Author: Steve 'Flash' Juon"The sentiments of Bobby Ray Simmons on "Both of Us" are undoubtedly sincere, but as an entry point into reviewing "Strange Clouds," I'd like to take a moment to consider the context. The song is produced by Dr. Luke, who has produced some of the biggest Billboard smashes of the last five years. Even living in a rap bubble it would be DAMN hard to avoid songs like Kelly Clarkson's "My Life Would Suck Without You" and Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl" entirely. The guest feature on "Both of Us" is Taylor Swift, who is herself one of the most successful country/pop singers of the last five years, having sold over 20 million albums, subsequently using her music success and good looks to launch forays into Hollywood acting. On the one hand, Bobby Ray is sincerely telling us that money and image don't matter. On the other hand, "Both of Us" is almost the most carefully cultivated single to promote an album one could conceive to achieve pop success. One could argue that taints his sincerity JUST a little bit. Now to be fair, carefully crafted or not, the song works. Dr. Luke and Taylor Swift are both successful for a reason, and B.o.B was already a rising star of rap without their help, so their contributions don't really elevate Bobby Ray to a higher level - they just make the lift rise faster. Bobby seems to have found his newfound fame and success a little overwhelming though, and the ostensible science fiction setting of "Strange Clouds" is his attempt to escape from "a fucked up reality" he's now trapped in. "

4two7 :: Internal Dialogue :: 3sixty5 Records
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

[Internal Dialogue]
"Every rapper with a record deal and an album to sell has a story to tell, but some stories are better than others. 4two7 has one of the more compelling ones I've read on a one-sheet in a while - he suffered multiple seizures while in the studio finishing his album. When he arrived at the hospital and doctors took X-rays, they found he had a tumor in his brain, and three days later he had a craniotomy to remove it. That certainly adds a layer of depth to his hand drawn cover art for "Internal Dialogue," in which he's got a finger pointed at his head like a gun. On one hand, the light coming from the "barrel" of the gun could represent the knowledge he shoots. On the other hand, you could say his body was his own worst enemy - nearly taking his own life without him ever having to catch a bullet to the head - stray or otherwise. The good news is that 4two7 made a full recovery for major surgery, and was able to put the finishing touches on this album after he recovered - otherwise we'd be reviewing this posthumously and that'd be a damn shame. It's also clear it hasn't affected his joie de vivre, as colorful bass driven songs like the EAT Machine produced "Butta On Ya Muffintop" show that 4two7 can take something people usually think of as a fashion faux pas and celebrate it as something wonderful."

BeOND :: Everythingz Backwardz :: Acid Lab/Project Blowed
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor

[Everythingz Backwardz]
"BeOND is one-third of SoCal rap group Acid Reign, rapping alongside Olmeca and Gajah. Acid Reign have a new full length dropping soon, and both Gajah and BeOND have solo projects coming out in the meantime. “Everythingz Backwardz” features 15 tracks of underground SoCal hip-hop. Production is handled by Knox Stedy, Broken Finguz, Kush For Real, and Remy, and it is solid throughout. The beats range from funky boom bap on “Born Bad,” Lex Luger-stye synths on “Change” and “Mo' Money,” and sampled loops on “Moment of Truth” and “Silence Is Golden.” BeOND honed his craft at Project Blowed open mics,the same scene that gave birth to old school revivalists Jurassic 5. His flow has some of that freestyle battle rap style, as well as the sing-songy approach of Chali 2na and crew. At his best, like on “Props,” BeOND has a deliberate, verbose flow similar to Del Tha Funky Homosapien. BeOND doesn't have Del's lyrical skills, however. For most of the album he goes for a smart-ass persona that he doesn't pull off."

Devin the Dude :: The Dude :: Rap-A-Lot Records
** RapReviews "Back to the Lab" series **

as reviewed by Mike Baber

[The Dude]"If you're reading this, chances are you're already familiar enough with Devin the Dude to know what to expect from one of his solo albums. Often billed as "your favorite rapper's favorite rapper," Devin has made his career rapping about some of life's simple pleasures and everyday problems with his laid-back, almost lazy delivery, aided by smoking massive amounts of "coffee." Despite making records for nearly two decades, he has failed to achieve widespread mainstream success, but his refusal to sell out is part of what has made him so endearing to fans over the years. "The Dude" marks a turning point in Devin's career, as he shifted his focus from group acts such as Odd Squad and Facemob to pursuing a solo career, and his debut album only confirms his consistency as an emcee. Longtime listeners will already be familiar with a number of the tracks, but more recent fans will find that little has changed since 1998, as "The Dude" exemplifies Devin's laid-back outlook on life that has come to characterize his style. The southern vibes continue on "Don't Wait," as the deep bassline, crisp drum loop, and high-pitched synths on the chorus are reminiscent of a UGK track. But while the song has a slightly more aggressive feel than the rest of the album, Devin chills back out on "Do What You Wanna Do," as he raps about the importance of enjoying life and making your own decisions, rather than letting others dictate what you do, over gliding synths and laid back drums. The lighthearted feel disappears, though, on "Alright," as Devin takes on a more somber mindset and spits an introspective second verse on life and death."

Gangrene :: Vodka & Ayahuasca :: Decon Records
as reviewed by Matt Jost

[Vodka & Ayahuasca]
"MCA mixed "the Bass Ale with the Guinness Stout." Method Man "the green with the chocolate." Young Jeezy "the Grey Goose with the cranberry juice." Andre the Giant "the hydro with the cocoa bud." MC Ren "the blunt with some motherfuckin' malt liquor." Twista "the sour diesel with the kush." Jayo Felony "the weed with the leak leak." Pimp C "the wine with the lean." Wiz Khalifa "the OG with the pizzurp." Paul Wall "the Sprite with this sizzurp." Snoop Dogg "that Moët White Star with them orange juices." Yukmouth "the hashis with the backyard boogie" and "the baking soda with the china white." Gucci Mane "the soda with the cola" and "the Cristal with the Powerade." That much is clear - rap is quite apt at mixing different substances. Gangrene combine Russia's national drink with an Amazonian psychoactive and purgative fluid in the title of their 2012 album, but primarily "Vodka & Ayahuasca" stands for the cocktail that is Gangrene itself, the collaboration of West Coast beat fiends and sporadic rap spitters The Alchemist and Oh No. This is the second go-round for Gangrene, and while 2010's "Gutter Water" had the same set-up (including DJ Romes on the cut), "Vodka & Ayahuasca" is clearly superior. It's darker, dirtier, heavier, trippier. "

J. Dubb :: The EP: Game Related :: Relentless Records
** RapReviews "Back to the Lab" series **

as reviewed by Matt Jost

[The EP: Game Related]
"Not to create the impression that I'm cyber-stalking dude, but this is my third review of the same rapper in as many weeks. An artist who has lingered in the shadows of local rap for decades and who personally might not see the point in receiving lukewarm reviews years after the fact. Well, such is We take rap seriously like that. The rapper formerly known as Kool Rock Jay made a re-entry into the game in 1995 as J. Dubb. High profile appearances were still ahead of him (on several Ant Banks compilations and the "Straight Outta Compton - 10th Anniversary Tribute"), but the "Game Related" EP sported some prominent cameos itself. Spice 1 and Too $hort join Jay on the opening "Trouble," which is notable for $hort's verse that catches him in the middle of a quarrel with the Luniz and Dru Down. Short Dog's also on the hook to "I'm a Player," which sounds a lot like Ant Banks but is actually by fellow Oakland producer Terry T. Ant Banks is still a key figure here as he mixed the entire EP at Oakland City Studios in - Atlanta, GA, at the time Too $hort's adopted home. Despite having been around (notably to Fresno), J. Dubb continued to call Oakland his musical home. On "Where it's At" him and Father Dom mellow out to a smooth groove laid down by a backing band that includes Oakland saxophonist J. Spencer, who released a couple of hip-hop influenced jazz albums on Motown. "

mc chris :: Marshmellow Playground :: mc chris LLC
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

[Marshmellow Playground]
"The biggest asset and biggest criticism of mc chris over the years are one in the same - a distinctively high pitched and arguable UBER-nerdy vocal tone. It certainly lends itself well to doing voiceover work for cartoons, but it causes his detractors to overlook the dope rhyme writing ability and a flow he's spent years polishing to a professional level. That's not the only problem though - when you have a voice that sounds like a pre-pubescent boy and you DO work in cartoons, you tend to attract an audience of children whether you like it or not. I've seen it first hand. Even though Aqua Teen Hunger Force is rated M for mature, tons of tots show up for his concerts and rap along word for word as he takes us all to 6-1-2 Wharf Avenue. I'm sure all of the children in the audience had parental supervision, but whether he wanted to or not, mc chris couldn't change up the lyrics of his songs to be age appropriate to a minority of his audience at the club that night. He may have a youthful voice, but the majority of his paying audience is adults who relate to his topics - Star Wars, Tarantino movies, Harry Potter, et cetera. It's worth noting that we addressed in the "Race Wars" review that a lot of these topics USED to be considered nerdy, but as they've gone mainstream so has the appeal of mc chris' music, leading to songs like "Hoodie Ninja" being featured in car commercials. "

Nerd Ferguson :: Bitch, Where's My Sandwich: The Album ::
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

[Bitch, Where's My Sandwich: The Album]
"I can't help but crack a smile listening to the opening of "Warning: Don't Sign Me," and it's not because of the self-effacing song title. The joy I feel is from the extended instrumental sampling of Bob James' "Nautilus," one of the best breaks of all time, used liberally in hip-hop classics ranging from Eric B. & Rakim's "Let the Rhythm Hit 'Em" to Ghostface Killah's "Daytona 500." (It gets a little overshadowed by Commodores and Pleasure samples in the former, but you can still hear it clear as bell on every wordless chorus.) Nerd Ferg may be a young cat, but he's got an old soul. He's definitely got an old school flair for braggadocio on the song too, and there's another reason to smile - he IS a comedian on the bars. He manages to mock both Rick Ross ("I'm not a star? Somebody lied") and pop music ("Remember me like Teairra Mari or Ciara's career") and call out fellow rappers from his city ("And that wasn't subliminal, but just in case you thought it was/Papoose chill with all that shit you talkin cuz") without fear. He spits over-the-top absurd notions about wasting advance money from any label that's crazy enough to give him a deal, and then says "Who knew a nerd could be so grimy?" I like this kid."

Wordsmith :: King Noah :: Wordsmith Music
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

[Marshmellow Playground]
"This album is literally a dedication to Wordsmith's recently born song Kingston Noah, with an intro before the title track explaining that numerological coincidences abounded when he was brought forth on the Earth. Even without those coincidences, any father will tell you that bringing a son or daughter into the world is a life changing event, putting all of your priorities into a totally different focus. It hasn't changed Wordsmith's focus on being a musician though - it just enhanced it. Wordsmith is already an unconventional emcee who purposefully decided to ignore modern day trends, "Bridging the Gap" to days gone by to record an album with hip-hop legend Chubb Rock. There's nothing nihilistic or excessively indulgent about Wordsmith - he's all about the "Essence of Life." Wordsmith's mission is not just to elevate hip-hop for himself and his son, but to connect with like-minded artists so they can ALL lead the movement. "This is a revolution in music right now - all that garbage that's out there is about to be abolished" quips Wordsmith on "Generation X," before turning the mic over to peers Substantial, K. Sparks, CuzOH! Black and J The S. Other quality collaborations are not hard to find - Gods'illa and Junclassic are on the "Rhymesayer Revival Remix," Kontact joins CuzOH! Black for "Globetrotters" and "Voice of the World," and Phil Ade and Steven Drakes have an "Eye for the Spotlight" among other collaborations. "

[Trophies] Apollo Brown & O.C. :: Trophies
Mello Music Group

Author: Steve 'Flash' Juon

"What happens when you combine one of hip-hop's fastest rising producers with one of hip-hop's favorite lyricists on one album? "Trophies." Apparently they've already started handing them out even before this review. Some would say that's arrogance, and some would say that's justified, but most of all most would say that's premature. After all Apollo Brown is pretty good, but he's relatively new on the scene; and O.C. is pretty good, but his most important and venerated album came out almost TWENTY years ago. Could an album between the two possibly live up to the kind of hype its title implies, or is this overzealous salesmanship for a car that might actually turn out to be a lemon? There's only one way to find out. I don't know name of the speaker on the opening (and titular) track, but he certainly sets the right tone for this album, by turning the title and the cover art right on its ear. Instead of being a boisterous declaration of what they deserve, "Trophies" instead becomes a wry joke with the punchline being they don't get them and don't WANT them either. The motto for this duo is creating worthwhile music and letting it speak for itself without the acclaim or the wealth, and if that creedo seems familiar it's the same one O.C. so eloquently articulated on the song "Time's Up" decades ago. If you haven't heard it take the time to check out the video below, and when you come back we'll continue this conversation. "

Fraction & Fresh Kils :: Extra Science :: Kilzone Productions
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
[Extra Science]
"Canadian hip-hop combinations are nothing new, but the collaboration of Kitchener, Ontario emcee Fraction with Toronto, Ontario producer Fresh Kils still feels like something original and interesting. It probably doesn't hurt that their publicity firm is called Must Be Santa, which is a eye-catching name for me, as is the fact their business cards come with a hole punched out so you can tie it to a present as a gift tag. Doing anything that makes your project stand out from the endless parade of digital and physical projects that come across my desk is highly appreciated, but the "Extra Science" this duo displays is what really makes them stand out. Things seem bad at this point but trust me they only go downhill futher, and the scratched in samples of "another sad story to tell" and cackling laughter create a track that could put any "reality" rapper to shame. It's also more horrifying because unlike emcees who try to shock and awe with their body count or ability to chop body parts, every part of the song sounds like a plausible real life scenario of how the monsters among us are madeThis is only one aspect though, one of eleven different chapters in the "Extra Science" story that Fraction & Fresh Kils tell. Some of the topics are familiar, but the quality with which they are delivered is not. "Change" is something people always call for, but Fraction and Fresh Kils personalize it by flipping the production for each verse. "

Gentleman :: Diversity :: VP Records
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor

"First impressions can be totally wrong. I've been at parties where the shlubbiest, mousiest guy there was also a multi-millionaire. People I thought were stupid and shallow turned out to brilliant and deep. So it shouldn't suprise me that my first impression of reggae artist Gentleman's new album was off-base. I made my judgement in the first 52 seconds of the first song of his latest album, "Diversity." His bio had me skeptical: A white reggae artist? From Germany? The well-meaning but lightweight music on "The Reason" added to my suspicions. And then he dropped a cliche so tired that even the most patchouli-soaked hippie wouldn't say it: "Mother Earth is in pain/Oh how She cries." Mother Earth crying? Are you serious? With that, I wrote Gentleman off as a cheesy and completely ignorable. Luckily, I left "Diversity" on my MP3 player, and found myself not skipping the songs when they came on shuffle. I was initallly drawn in by the bass-heavy dancehall track "Tempolution." Over a thick, languid riddim that echoes Tenor Saw's "Ring The Alarm," Red Roze and Gentleman trade licks about killing a rival sound. I was sold with the King Jammy-produced "Good Old Days," which features late reggae legend Sugar Minott. Like the best singjays, Gentleman is equally adept singing and rapping."

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