Wednesday June 20, 2018

The (W)rap Up for 2012 - September
Posted by Emanuel Wallace at Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013 at 8:00PM :: Email this article :: Print this article

[Dedication 4] Lil Wayne :: Dedication 4
Dat Piff

Author: Steve 'Flash' Juon

"If Dwayne Carter says he's bored with rap one doesn't have to look further than "Dedication 4" for the reasons why. He tries to play it off like this was all for lolz (JUST KIDDING WAYNIACS - DON'T STOP BUYING MY RECORDS & MERCH) and he was just kidding when he raps the lines "I'm skatin and rappin at the same damn time/I said I might retire, but y'all know I be high" on "Same Damn Tune." The problem with that is that these 15 tracks are not a joke. The Dedication series has over the years been Wayne's "thank you" to loyal fans who stuck with him through all his legal problems and industry drama - truly a dedication to the fans. Now he seems completely indifferent to them. Now let's break this down to the organic compounds. First and foremost he's rapping over Kanye West's "Mercy" beat, which is a strong contender for the most overexposed song/instrumental of 2012. Secondly the movie references he's making are really dated - Unbreakable came out 12 years ago and Sister Act came out TWENTY years ago. Arguably even the Michael Phelps reference is dated since his most historic Olympic performance was 2008 - for a swimming reference Ryan Lochte would have been more apt. Hell for the 2012 Olympics in general he'd have done better with Gabby Douglas or Jordan Burroughs. The sample here also shows off his obsession with Trukfit, his own line of skater apparel, which gets referenced in seemingly every song. "

Antibalas :: Antibalas :: Daptone Records
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor

"Antibalas are an 11-piece band from Brooklyn that have been perfecting their version of afrobeat over 14 years and five albums. The group is modeled after the late Fela Kuti's Africa 70 band. They even wrote and performed the music for Fela! the Broadway musical based on the late musician's life. Antibalas are not a mere cover band, however. They use the afrobeat template that Fela created, and add on to it other influences, including latin music, hip-hop, funk, and jazz. Their latest album is their first with New York funk label Daptone, and in many ways sees the band finding their sound and their home. The band started out on dance label Ninja Tune, and their last album was on indie label Anti-, a spinoff of punk label Epitaph. Daptone is the label closest to the band's spirit. The label is home of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, the Budos Band, and the Menahan Street Band. All of these bands make funk and soul music that hearkens back to pre-digital days, when it was musicianship, not production, that made the band. Antibalas' latest album was largely recorded live, which gives the music an energy and vitality that you usually only get with a live show. While the band's sound has not changed dramatically over their five albums, this record sees them paring back their sound and presenting an even tighter package. Their earlier records had a stronger latin funk infuence which has been largely toned down for this album."

C-Rayz Walz :: The Code ::
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

[The Code]
"To put a fine point on it right from jump, "Ravipops" is one of those hip-hop albums everybody heard about that most people never bought. It deserves all the accolades and acclaim it got, as Walz was already ahead of his time when it dropped in 2003, which means hip-hop probably just caught up about 5 minutes ago. The boom for independent labels going underground gold was in the late 1990's though, and Def Jux is to hip-hop like Ring of Honor is to pro wrestling. If that doesn't make sense, it boils down to being able to sign the best in the world, then not be able to market or promote them like it. The underground fans will support it and the world will ignore it. C-Rayz Walz is CM Punk, only he didn't get discovered by WWE (Def Jam)... yet. Walz has kept hustling despite the handicaps, dropping albums like "Chorus Rhyme" and "Freestyle vs. Written" over the years, and getting a mixture of praise and indifference for each one. The buzz he had in the early 2000's is gone though, and record labels have increasingly given up on the idea of signing anybody who doesn't sound like the next Kanye West or Gucci Mane. What's a talented and underserved emcee to do in such an environment? Bandcamp. If ever a better purpose for the site has been invented than for a rapper like C-Rayz Walz to direct market to his fanbase, I can't think of it. This is not a bedroom emcee with his GarageBand app working overtime - this is a real legit spitter straight from The Bronx."

Gotham Green & Quickie Mart :: #HDv4 ::
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

"Picking up where "Haze Diaries Volume 3" left off in 2010, the unusually third-coastal team of Gotham Green (New York) and Quickie Mart (New Orleans) have not missed a beat on #HDv4. Sounds like a whole review doesn't it? Damn, I wrote the conclusion before the intro. Well just play this movie in reverse and it will make more sense. To be honest this album is kind of backward for me too, as it came in an unsorted zip file with 19 songs in alphabetical order. Thankfully their Bandcamp page clears up the order it's supposed to go in, but since I was already listening to it in a "so-random it's sorted" order out of sync with that prescribed format, I've got a different and possibly better appreciation for this release. It starts with the highly enjoyable "All I Know" featuring Freddie Gibbs and T. Mills. Soon enough I'm hit over the head with the pothead anthem "Break it Down," and the instrumental raises goosebumps on my arsm because it re-interpolates the instrumental to Artifacts' "Cummin Thru Ya Fuckin' Block" featuring Redman, one of my favorite rap songs of all time. Appropriate that it's a weed smoking anthem too given the proclivities of the emcees I first heard on the beat almost 20 years ago. Listen to their version on Bandcamp, then listen to Tame, El and Reggie Noble below and tell me that I'm wrong. Goosebumps. "
[Welcome To: Our House]Slaughterhouse :: Welcome To: Our House
Shady Records/Interscope

Author: Steve 'Flash' Juon

"A recent e-mail sent to my RapReviews inbox asked a short but straight to the point question: "Y NO RVW OF THE NW SLAUGHTER?" There are several reasons I hesitated to do it. One was the possibility I'm unfairly biased toward the album given their titular debut is one of my favorite albums of the last five years, one that I still listen to on a regular basis long after most people had put it on the shelf. Another was the fact I was underwhelmed by the free mixtape they put out a week before the new album, which led me to believe I might find the new CD disappointing. Last but not least is the fact I assumed so many writers on staff would be clamoring to do it that I wouldn't need to write it up myself. Everybody's tied up with their own projects to write about though, so it falls to me to put on some Hammer pants and do a "Hammer Dance" for the return of hip-hop's most Fantastic Four. One of the biggest changes since their debut album is the presence of Eminem, who is all but an honorary fifth member of the crew at this point. He has a production or co-production credit on 16 out of the 20 tracks on the deluxe edition (the only one worth buying), and makes vocal cameos on 3 of them: "Asylum," "Our House" and the current single "Throw That" on which he pulls double duty with the help of T-Minus. His presence is less dominant than one might think on this one though, since he sings the hook rather than rapping a verse, and just ad libs to punctuate punchlines throughout. The original foursome still remain the stars of the show. "

various artists :: Grandpa Funnybook's Mix-Tapingly Arranged Rapping Song Album 2 :: Hand'Solo Records
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

[Grandpa Funnybook 2]
"In 2011 Pedro 'DJ Complejo' Hernandez reviewed the comical compilation "Grandpa Funnybook's Mix-Tapingly Arranged Rapping Song Album." At the time it struck me as the kind of one-off project that an indie record label can get away with, able to poke fun at the conventions of the mixtape genre while not insulting their core audience. For example: you'd never see a DJ Drama or DJ Khaled mix hosted by Grandpa Gangster or Grandpa Swag. Even though P's scores for the album only rated it "slightly above average" he did note that "the songs that do stand out are dope enough to warrant future spins," which for a free album is almost as much as you can ask for. Now to be clear "Grandpa Funnybook 2" doesn't have to be free - you can certainly pay for it if you're so inclined since they have a "name your price" option. If not they're conent to let you sample it simply because it's a sample of the various artists that Hand'Solo Records has signed or works with directly, and when you're a small imprint there's little shine that you can consider bad. As such it's not surprising that their most well-known artist Wordburglar features prominently on the album, appearing on a third of the hour's worth of songs."

Busta Rhymes :: Year of the Dragon :: Google Play/Starbus
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

[Year of the Dragon]
So three years go by between "Back On My B.S." and "Year of the Dragon." I can only assume in the interim that Bussa Bus is doing well enough between singles, acting shit and paid cameo appearances on other people's hits that a new album isn't a big hurry for him. Then WHAM, Trevor Smith sneaks up and smacks me in the face with a Google Play release, which I must admit that I didn't see coming. That's aight though. If the 600 pound gorilla called Google wants to break him off some bread to hype up their cloud music service, I'm sure he's more than happy to take their money and break them off an album in return. As Lil Wayne and producer Andrew 'Pop' Wansel will tell you it's no problem because Busta Rhymes is so venerable he feels no "Pressure" at all. I almost think he should though. It's not that "Pressure" is a bad song, but I've noticed a trend in recent years for Busta Rhymes that he doesn't seem to hug a beat tight any more. Perhaps there was a danger of this all along when Busta was spitting "Gimme Some More" raps at amphetamine fast speeds, to the point one couldn't honestly blame him if he missed a beat here and there. The problem is that his tendency to always exceed his own previous performances was motivational and once he stopped competing with his best his lyrical delivery slacked a bit. Now I want to be clear ever since his Leaders of the New School days he's been a little bit ahead of the curve, so even if he lost a step he'd still be in step or a step ahead of most new emcees. That being said, there are a few times on "Year of the Dragon" where he seems to be going through the motions, and "Pressure" is one of those times. Fortunately the majority of "Year of the Dragon" meets my expectations for a Bussa Bus album. "

Kaye :: The Strange and Terrible Saga of Adam Radwan :: Sub Conscious Records
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor

[Strange and Terrible Saga]
"There are very few double albums that wouldn't have been improved by cutting them down to a single disc. Even the best double albums are sprawling, disjointed affairs: The Beatles "White Album," Bob Dylan's "Blonde on Blonde," The Clash's "Sandinista!" Husker Du's "Zen Arcade," etc. Hip-hop has an even worse track record with double albums. Biggie's "Life After Death," 2Pac's "All Eyez On Me," "The Wu-Tang Forever" all would have been better pared down to a single album. The one exception is the Outkast's "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below," and that is basically two solo albums sold together. So imagine my skepticism upon receiving Australian rapper Kaye's debut album. Not only is it a double disc, it is based on the writings of gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. Thompson, along with Charles Bukowski, is responsible for mountains of terrible writing made by young men who think that all you need to be a good writer is be an alcoholic. Writing 32 raps wasn't enough for Kaye, however. He had to go and produce the entire thing as well. No one can accuse him of lacking motivation. The album is divided into two discs. Disc One is titled "Fear and Loathing in Lost-Pages," a play on Thompson's "Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas." The songs here are more uptempo and light-hearted. Disc Two is titled "The Redrum Diaries," a play on Thompson's "The Rum Diaries." The songs on that disc are darker and more introspective."

Lloyd Banks :: V6: The Gift ::
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

[V6: The Gift]
"My review of "The Cold Corner" was as much editorial as review, and I'm willing to cop to that. I felt then as I do now that the availability of no cost albums online has reached a saturation point that's increasingly detrimental to hip-hop artists as a whole. For the consumer it may seem like a great situation to be in, when big rap artists like Busta Rhymes and Game now routinely give away free shit, but it also represents a dangerous devaluation of what hip-hop is worth. The fight for mainstream acceptance as an art and culture didn't just stop 5-10 years ago with a collective "we made it fam, it's all good now" because a few colleges teach some rap music classes. It's an ongoing struggle, and when rap songs become worthless, it hurts one of hip-hop's elements in a big way - one all the others lean on to some degree. Can you break without a beat? What would you scratch without lyrical heat? I'm not getting on my soapbox again though. I know it's a tough economy, but don't be too stingy. We may all find that if we don't feel rap music is worth paying for the next generation of talent may find it's not worth making - and all we'll be left with is free albums by poor imitations of Gucci Mane & Jay-Z. In the meantime Lloyd Banks continues to give away G-Unit albums that I once would have paid $7-12.99 for in stores. "


[G.O.O.D Music Presents Cruel Summer]Kanye West :: G.O.O.D Music Presents Cruel Summer
Def Jam

Author: Steve 'Flash' Juon
Click here to find out more!

"It's a cruel (cruel) cruel summer, leaving me here on my own." No? Well for a child of the 1980's, the words "Cruel Summer" will always bring Bananarama to mind first. If Kanye West's G.O.O.D. Music compilation takes off, then "Cruel Summer" will evoke memories of 2012 for a whole new generation, and it won't even matter if they've seen his movie of the same name (starring Kid Cudi) or not. Curiously there's no song by that name featured in either one, but there's no shortage of cruelty found on songs like his hit "Mercy." A trio of emcees join Kanyeezy to express the heights of materialism the song is named after - the expensive Lamborghini Murciélago car. On one hand you have to admire the sheer hubris of Kanye and comrades one-percenting like only they can, or at the very least, like only he can while the rest are spending out of their advance. (Watch for that rebound on the recoup Chainz, it's gonna hurt like ground and pound from Rampage.) And as long as we're being fair, that beat by Lifted et al is hypnotic as is the Super Beagle chatter of the chorus. The flipside of that coin is that Kanye seems increasingly out of touch with the very consumers that are buying his music. He's always been gassed off his own ego, but with the stack of greenbacks he's standing on these days, any liftoff from that point will take him far beyond stratospheric heights. He's probably 30 miles up now. If the goal of Kanye's album was to flaunt the Benjamins he and his crew burn to light their cigars, there's no doubt "Cruel Summer" will feel like cruelty to anybody scraping two nickels together between thumb and forefinger. Pusha T's "I wouldn't piss on that nigga with Grand Marnier" on "New God Flow" epitomizes their excess excellently. At some point I expected West to rap about using Sevruga caviar as eye black to play flag football, swimming in bathtubs filled with Dom Perignon, and wiping his ass with original drafts of the Constitution."

Aesop Rock :: Skelethon :: Rhymesayer Entertainment
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor

"In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that this is the first Aesop Rock album I've ever listened to. I know he's from my hometown, I know he's been making records since the late nineties, and I know critics love him. I'm a fan of his old production partner Blockhead, and I'm a fan of his old label Definitive Jux and his current label Rhymesayers. I've even heard him featured on countless rap albums, lending his distinct voice to tracks by everyone from Percee P to Blueprint to El-P to Atmosphere to Illogic to Tame One. I've heard of Aesop Rock and I've heard Aesop Rock. So why have I never bothered to actually listen to his music? The fact is Aesop Rock makes intimidating music. His raps are quick and dense, full of convoluted wordplay and references. He favors beats that are loud and disquieting. This isn't music to rock the party, get a club jumping, or provide a soundtrack for Friday night. Aesop's music is paranoid, insular, and unnerving. If your stereotypical rap party is a bunch of dudes in designer clothes smoking weed and drinking cognac with half-naked models in the VIP section of a swank club, "Skelethon" is two grad students on Ritalin chattering competing conspiracy theories in the kitchen of a dilapidated flat. Listening to his music is like reading a William Faulkner novel - you need CliffsNotes to understand what is going on."

DJ Vadim :: Don't Be Scared :: BBE Music
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor

[Don't Be Scared]
"British DJ/producer DJ Vadim has been around the world. He was born in Leningrad in the USSR, raised in London, and now splits his time between Berlin and New York. His music is equally diverse, combining elements of soul, electronica, reggae, and hip-hop. His latest record, "Don't Be Scared," was just released on his own BBE Music label, and sees Vadim incorporating dubstep and dancehall into his array of sounds. Things start off slow, with the mellow instrumental "Hide N' Seek." It's not the best hook to get a listener excited about the album, but perhaps Vadim is setting up his album like a DJ set, starting off slow and building up. Things pick up on the second track, "Lemon Haze." The album really kicks in on track three, "I'm Feeling U." Gregory Blackman's soulful voice is a nice compliment to Vadim's stuttering dubstep beat. Jazz Baily sings on "Lost My Love," and his voice is processed in a way that recalls Burial's work. Vadim uses a "less is more" philosophy on the track, limiting himself to a stuttering dubstep beat, some ambient noise, and a little bass. The empty spaces are filled with Baily's voice, and the end result is a beautifully sad song. Vadim switches things up on the boisterous "This DJ," sampling KRS-One. The song features booming dubstep bass and J-Man's hyperactive dancehall chatting. Unlike some of his younger counterparts, Vadim manages to make a banger without having all of the dials set to eleven, showing how subtlety and restraint can actually make a song better."

Oddisee :: People Hear What They See :: Mello Music Group
as reviewed by Matt Jost

[People Hear What They See]
"Leading up to the release of "People Hear What They See," Oddisee proposed that he only now felt ready to make a rap record of his own because he finally had, as he put it on a track from 2010, "something worth saying." Commenting on that now available release, the DMV representative carries on with the candor when he writes, 'All too often in Hip Hop, reality is limited to that of the artist's own, actual experiences. People Hear What They See is my attempt to liberate the MC from those constraints and allow reality to be penned other than my own. Listening to congressmen and lawyers converse on the steps of the supreme court inspired American Greed. Watching a couple argue over the phone in a bar inspired Maybes.' Honestly I was taken aback by that statement. Because when I listen to "People Hear What They See" I hear an MC who speaks from experience and says things that are congruent with the image that I have of Oddisee. Is he right then? Do people hear what they see? Is my perception of a 'rapper' someone who knows what he talks about because he's been through it himself? I know I'd be a fool to believe that, but maybe I still wish it were so, against better judgement. I could go off on a tangent here about certain subsets of rap, or about the genre's greatest artists being observers rather than participants. But I'd like to keep the focus on Oddisee and his in many ways exceptional effort. "

Phoenix Da Icefire :: The Quantum Leap :: PDI
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

[The Quantum Leap]
"RapReviews is officially scheduled to have another "UK Month" in October, but owing to the insistence of a persistent publicist, Phoenix Da Icefire just can't wait that long. His bio is the hard knock life story any rapper from a ward of New Orleans or a project of New York City could relate to, with the only difference being that story gets transplanted to a poor neighbourhood of East London. His father died in 2002 and he witnessed the death of a close friend when he was only 12, and these experiences both forced him into adulthood young and simultaneously fueled his ice hot rage to rise like a phoenix from the ashes of poverty to the heights of success. Now that we've got the roots out of the way, let's get to the rhythm and the reggae. Like so many of his brethern from the UK hip-hop scene, Phoenix has a pattern of speech and vocal inflection that mixes British and the West Indies. To the uninitiated, he's going to be a little hard to follow lyrically; even to the initiated it is at times a challenge. What works on his favor on "The Quantum Leap" though is that he's a storyteller, so if you follow the thread of the story to its conclusion on songs like "Tales of the Cobblestones" the words will make more sense in context."

Reef the Lost Cauze & Snowgoons :: Your Favorite MC :: F.U. Pay Me Records/Goon MuSick
as reviewed by Matt Jost

[Your Favorite MC]
"The high hopes I had for the 2011 M.O.P./Snowgoons collaboration "Sparta" weren't quite met. It felt as if Bill and Fame went for unspectacular backing tracks that would not detract from their performance. A year later I've come to the conclusion that the album falls right in line with all the other prized M.O.P. longplayers and I take it as proof that the Snowgoons, known for lining up legions of mic mercenaries on compilations, are able to service single rap acts with tailor-made beats. Arguably not even Boi-1da beats or Clams Casino instrumentals would detract from the fact that M.O.P. are in town, but no one can deny that both camps have an affinity for rap loud and insistent enough to bring down the walls of Jericho. Simultaneously with "Sparta" another full-length co-starring the Snowgoons was available, Reef the Lost Cauze's "Your Favorite MC." The Philly MC has been a fixture on Snowgoons albums since "German Lugers" and is certainly worthy of the preferential treatment. "Your Favorite MC" too is trademark Reef. After an anthemic intro defining the collaboration as nothing less than a "Brotherhood," he launches into "Fuck Rappers," essentially revisiting his "I Ain't No Rapper" sentiment from '08 (he prefers we refer to him as MC). It's what they do best, Reef projecting lyrical darts over a martial, dramatic beat straight out of a Hollywood blockbuster."

Rock Mecca :: Pirate Radio Star :: Rebel Vein Entertainment
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

[Pirate Radio Star]
"Queens, NYC rapper Rock Mecca has been a staple of the RR newsfeed since 2011. We've gotten enough of his singles and videos in that time that I've actually memorized his Twitter handle just from seeing him so much. That's a compliment incidentally, not a complaint. In fact it caused me to check for him here and there, and to feature his songs on The Hip-Hop Shop when I heard something I liked. Rock Mecca was already off to a good start before I hit play on "Pirate Radio Star," and then he pleasantly surprised me again by having an intro/skit that I not only didn't hate but replayed a second time. It doesn't hurt that Rock and his producer sampled from a reggae classic - "Pirates Anthem" from Home T, Cocoa Tea and Shabba Ranks. You may not know you know it but old school hip-hop heads have heard this line before: "JUST BECAUSE WE PLAY WHAT THE PEOPLE WANT." This turns out to be a recurring theme for "Pirate Star Radio," as Rock Mecca fashions himself a Rastafari rebel illegally broadcasting his hip-hop music to the masses without FCC permission. Snippets from movies and TV shows play up this persona, while Rock describes himself as what you get "when an angel gets pregnant by The Devil - a rebel on another level" on songs like the Ralph Ellison inspired "Invisible Man Radio." Not many rappers have the cajones to brand themselves a cross between "Doctor Who, Doctor Doom (and) Doctor Strange" because they're afraid to sound like a nerd, but Mecca sounds like the hardest of Rocks when he does so."

Lupe Fiasco :: Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album
Atlantic Records

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[Beyond Faded] "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.

[The Latch-Key Child]"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

[Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color]"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

[1999]"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

[MA_DOOM: Son of Yvonne]"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

[10.6.3 OGX]"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 FICTIONALLYpossible, 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

[Reseda Beach]"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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