Friday June 22, 2018

The (W)rap Up for 2012 - December [1 of 2]
Posted by Emanuel Wallace at Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013 at 9:30PM :: Email this article :: Print this article

[God of the Serengeti] Vinnie Paz :: God of the Serengeti
Enemy Soil Records

Author: Steve 'Flash' Juon

"God of the Serengeti" is the second solo album from Vinnie Paz, a follow-up to the well received "Season of the Assassin" in 2010. It's not surprising that it would be critically acclaimed given his long history as the frontman of Jedi Mind Tricks, and they dropped an equally acclaimed album between these two. At this point in Pazienza's career, the only thing he should fear is not fear itself, it's simply finding a way to stay near the apex of underground hip-hop after having been there for so damn long. "God of the Serengeti" doesn't pull any punches in that respect by having DJ Premier produce "The Oracle," one of the most bruising beats from Primo in many a minute. It's bass, distortion, reverberating guitars, slapboxing beats and Biggie samples - SHIT HITS HARD. Vinnie's unbridled ambition is on display when he spits the words "I'm trying to make the same money that Madonna make." I don't know if that's realistically possible for Vinnie Pazienza, but if you don't aim high, you'll never hit anything but the concrete. Actually I don't know if that's obtainable for ANY underground rapper, since having Madonna money would contradict being "underground" in the first place, but let's examine this idea a little more closely. Paz has a devoted following, but he's more than a bit of an anomaly, and not just in hip-hop. There aren't many people who are born Roman Catholic in Sicily and convert to Shia Islam in Southern Philly. As much as I respect his religious choices, I'm still not sure how he reconciles the amount he raps about drinking vodka and swearing profusely - perfectly acceptable for a rapper but not exactly in keeping with his faith."

Big Shug :: I.M. 4-Eva :: Brick Records
as reviewed by Pete T.

[I.M. 4-Eva]"Rap is an innately collaborative genre—even the most mundane "solo" material necessitates the contributions of countless producers and studio technicians—and hip hop history is fraught with the sagas of crews of varying merit built around the success of a single act. Loyalty being a similarly vaunted tenet of rap, such crews frequently enjoy the benefits of their affiliation with said success story via promotion, deals, and collaborations they wouldn't otherwise get, and at times this can lead to criticism of their benefactor. Simply by virtue of being great, legendary acts take constant flak for sharing their gifts with inferior entities. Sure Memph Bleek was never going to approach Hov on the mic, and perhaps there were rappers who could have done more with an album's worth of Pete Rock beats than Deda Baby Pa, but then again Jay and Pete are such singular talents that virtually any collaborator is going to pale in comparison. Depending on who you ask, DJ Premier is the best or at least a top three producer in rap history, yet he too has been faulted for maintaining a stable of fairly interchangeable East Coast MCs to grace his beats. For every master with a four-letter stage name ending in "-ru" there are three or four Lil Daps, Smiley the Ghetto Childs, Shiggy Shas, and Blaq Poets—faceless hood reporters who've inexplicably been cashing in on Premo beats for the better part of two decades. Big Shug first appeared on Gang Starr records in the early ‘90s, but his moment of glory on the "Moment of Truth" posse cut "The Militia" came a long fourteen years ago."

Da$h & Retch :: La Cienega :: Heir Gang
as reviewed by Matt Jost

[La Cienega] "While absorbing the frequently excellent "Lord$ Never Worry" and trying to figure out who's who in the A$AP Mob, I stumbled across the name Da$h. It came without the customary 'A$AP' prefix, but with a dollar sign-S, so I figured he might still be an official member of the crew. The internet deigns to tell me two facts about Da$h. He represents his own clique, the Heirs, and he is the nephew of sometime rap mogul Dame Dash. On "La Cienega" he partners with another Heir Gang member, Retch. We don't know if he has a famous rap biz uncle as well, projecting his career based on some kind of inheritance that is to be expected in the future, or if the heirship in question is more of the spiritual sort. La Cienega meanwhile is a major boulevard that runs through Los Angeles that occasionally happens to be mentioned by L.A. rappers. Da$h & Retch themselves typically roam the streets of New Jersey, which is fine as well, but it ain't L.A. Just so we're clear. Nonetheless "La Cienega" does feature a couple of references to the City of Angels. But it's a characteristic of our time that Da$h & Retch don't commit to the theme. What they do commit to is today's drug talk rap delivered over vaguely otherworldly tracks, who in this case are provided by Mordecai Beats. Mordecai does a solid job mimicking Clams Casino et cetera, but like the two rappers he partners with there's zero originality to his creations. The tape is low ambition hip-hop in every respect, purely functional, riding an already rolling wave, because that's how young rappers today apparently have to sound like."

DMX :: Undisputed :: Seven Arts/Fontana
as reviewed by Pete T.

[Undisputed]"Our editor Steve 'Flash' Juon closed his January 2000 review of DMX's quintuple-platinum third album "...And Then There Was X" as follows: "With a demanding audience who expects him to turn out product every nine months and convincing album sales that reflect this pent up thirst for D, he may never actually get the time and introspection he needs to pen a perfect release." Of course, there was absolutely no way for our benevolent dictator-for-life to foresee the various obstacles that would befall Earl Simmons from maintaining a regular recording schedule through his late thirties, and "Undisputed" is the dog's first LP in over six years. His personal, legal, and substance issues are no secret and hardly worth discussing here, but as rap is the most biographical of pop music it makes for a compelling prospect from an MC who's already nothing if not compelling. Reading the decade-and-older DMX reviews on this site is particularly fascinating for me because I can't recall a time when X didn't enjoy universal acclaim from hip hop and pop audiences alike. Perhaps my experience is an unusual reflection of the precise time and place I grew up, but among folks I know, even those I'd hardly characterize as big rap fans, X still enjoys somewhat of a cult hero's status. Beyond being one of the fiercest, most charismatic pure spitters to ever rock an East Coast mic, X wasn't unlike Eminem and 2Pac in that he put his vulnerable, volatile emotions at the forefront of his platinum-selling albums, and his decorated criminal record only furthered the notion that it wasn't an act."

The Gaslamp Killer :: Breakthrough :: Brainfeeder
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor

[Breakthrough] "William "Gaslamp Killer" Bensussen's stage name comes from San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter. For those who have never been to San Diego, the Gaslamp Quarter is the historic downtown that is home to many of the city's nightclubs, mostly of a slightly frat boy variety. As a young DJ, Bensussen had a penchant for clearing dance floors with his sets, hence the monicker "The Gaslamp Killer." HIs solution for addressing his reputation for killing the vibe at clubs wasn't to change his set list, but to find venues with a vibe more suited to his particular brand of music. He moved to L.A. and hooked up with the Low End Theory, the weekly experimental hip-hop party, joining the likes of Flying Lotus, Nocando, and Nosaj Thing. He's released several E.P.s and mix CDs, and also worked with Gonjasufi. "Breakthrough," his debut, was released on Flying Lotus's Brainfeeder label. The Gaslamp Killer's sound is hard to describe. "Experimental hip-hop" is probably the best description, but only because it is vague. He mixes in acoustic instruments, Middle Eastern music, booming drums, electronica, glitch, and noise. There are elements of rock, hip-hop, avant-garde composition, and whatever the hell it is Gonjasufi does, all mashed together in a bewildering mess."

Heems :: Nehru Jackets ::
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor

[Nehru Jackets] "Das Racist announced they had officially broken up over the weekend. Himanshu "Heems" Suri announced the split onstage in Munich, and his former partner Kool A.D. admitted that they had actually broken up months ago, despite the fact that they had been working on a follow-up album and a TV show. The split is not totally surprising given that Heems and Kool A.D. both released solo mixtapes this year. Heems just dropped a new one, but I finally took the time to catch up with Heems' "Nehru Jackets." I had missed it when it came out earlier in the year, and by the time I decided to download it, all of the download links had been removed. I get that piracy is an issue and websites are being more diligent about not posting illegal links to copyrighted materials, but I don't understand why they would remove a link to a FREE mixtape that the artist himself posted. Luckily, the link at SEVANY still works, so I was finally able to listen to it. I'm not sure it was worth the trouble. Heems is full of contradictions. He's managed to turn a novelty song ("Combination Pizza Hut") into a real rap career with Das Racist. He makes jokey rap but deals with serious subjects like racism, identity politics, and police brutality. He's a dudey weedhead who has some serious book smarts. It's as if he can't decide whether he wants to be an Indian-American activist, an academic, a rapper, or a stoner man-child. "Nehru Jackets" doesn't answer the question. The album was released not by a label but by SEVA NY, a non-profit that serves South Asians and West Indians in Queens. It features South Asian rappers spitting verses in their native tongues. Based on that information, you'd think it was a serious project, full of serious rhymes. You'd be wrong."

Illy :: Bring It Back :: Obese Records
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

[Bring It Back]"Illy's "Long Story Short" was one of my favorite albums of 2009 - not just from the Melbourne scene, not just from Australia, but from anywhere in the world people appreciate hip-hop music and culture. His album was the personification of both, and offered those from the States who still sleep on their "Down Under" counterparts a serious wake-up call. Even though it's not practical for most Aussie artists to tour any further than New Zealand, if Illy comes to any part of North America and you love hip-hop, you owe it to yourself to be at his show. If you live in his neck of the woods, no excuses, you should have already been to one already and own an autographed t-shirt. Suffice it to say I'm biased toward Illy already, but "Bring It Back" gives me no reason not to continue to be. Production is largely split throughout between M-Phazes and Trials, though Taku gets a co-credit on "All the Above" featuring Thundamentals and "The Bridge" featuring Elemont and Reason, while One Above does "Heard It All" and Billy Hoyle does "Check It Out." If the song titles sound like hip-hop cliches, that's not really a bad thing, as Illy fancies himself a throwback to an era where your lyrical skills mattered more than the make of your car or size of your rims."

Jai Nitai Lotus :: Something You Feel :: Jai Nitai Lotus
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

[Something You Feel]

"Not many hip-hop artists pray tribute to Charles Mingus and his magic fingers these days, but Montreal-born Jai Natai Lotus decided to make a statement these days by saluting him on the opening track of his album. The two do have a few things in common - Mingus was a composer and a bandleader, and as a self-produced rapper Lotus can also claim to be the leader of his own band. They both have an eclectic style that critics will strive hard to define, which ultimately may not be summed up by anybody but the artist himself. Most importantly, both Mingus and Lotus are completely uncompromising about their artistic vision - it's their way or it's not any way at all. Though Lotus has previously worked with the likes of Little Brother, Planet Asia and Moka Only at shows, none of them make cameos on "Something You Feel." In fact to be honest the only guest stars I recognize are L.E.S. on "The Heat Stew" and the tag team of Georgia Anne Muldrow & Declaime on the song "Hard Times and Bless." That seems fitting though, as someone who values the expressiveness of his music would not want to be sidelined on his own album by too many big names. To give credit where it's due though, both Karma Atchykah and CeasRock make fine cameos on "Get Gone" and "The Barrel" respectively. Neither is one you'll skip or fast forward on. Even though Jai Nitai Lotus is clearly his own man, not wanting to be like anybody else in the industry or even anything like his own father (who gave up all non-religious music), one can't help but notice a Declaime slash Dudley Perkins type tendency to both the production and flow on "Something You Feel." In fact I found myself checking this CD at least three times during the course of listening to it just to make sure it wasn't on the Stones Throw imprint."

Swamp Thing :: Creature Feature :: Hand'Solo Records
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

[Creature Feature]"Timbuktu, Chokeules and Savillion are hip-hop's latest supergroup, coming together under the moniker Swamp Thing, but they're not from Okefenokee. In fact Canada is not a place I normally associate with brackish waters, though Wikipedia claims there's a bog or two to be found there. That being the case, I sincerely doubt any of them are in Toronto, although there are plenty of movie theaters and hip-hop clubs. Somewhere at the intersection of the two is this group's inspiration, as their bio unapologetically claims they are fans of "good rap and bad b-movies," and this "Swamp Thing" clip would certainly fit comfortable into the latter half. I can only believe most boys my age back then would go just to see Adrienne Barbeau, a sexpot star of horror and science fiction films, and not because DC Comics fans expected an accurate portrayal. The film has achieved a certain level of cult classic status regardless, and undoubtedly this Toronto trio would like "Creature Feature" to achieve the same level. They don't necessarily expect this 13 track album to be a commercial success on the level of "E.T.," but they'd be happy with the profitability of your average "Toxic Avenger" flick - not to mention the amount of devotees that Troma has. It's not hard to picture them getting it right from the start on "123," a song which embraces b-movies the same way Mystery Science Theater lampooned them - with an affection for just how goofy it all is. "

[Vicious Lies & Dangerous Rumors] Big Boi :: Vicious Lies & Dangerous Rumors
Def Jam

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."

[Jesus Piece] The Game :: Jesus Piece
Interscope Records

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

[Ramblings of an Angry Old Man]"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

[No Idols] "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.

[Diamond in the Ruff]"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

[S.O.R.I.] "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

[The Prequel]"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

[Pacific Rose]

"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

[O.N.I.F.C.]"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

[Wu-Block]"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."

[Trouble Man: Heavy Is the Head] 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

[From the Ground Up]"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

[Magna Carta] 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

[Whiskey and Women Deluxe Shiner Edition]"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]""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 cliché, 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."

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