If you missed any of the new reviews this past week, including A$AP Rocky's "Long. Live. A$AP" then do yourself a favor and check out this week's edition of the (W)rap Up!
A$AP Rocky :: Long. Live. A$AP
RCA/Polo Grounds Music
Author: Jesal 'Jay Soul' Padania
"Major label debuts are a tricky thing to pull off, and there are many ways to approach such a daunting task. You could load it chock full of singles just to get a foot in the door; create a respected concept from start to finish; focus on getting the production right as a safety net… And some prize versatility above all, viewing the album as a showcase for their talents, a curriculum vitae for their entire pre-label come up. That is certainly the case when it comes to A$AP Rocky's major label debut "Long. Live. A$AP" - I knew it was going to be pretty big, but I had no idea that it would have its own commercials in the UK, not to mention top billing on iTunes. That's a real signal of intent.It's been a while since Harlem was hot, but the man literally named Rakim after the ACTUAL RAKIM (good grief, dear Reader, hip hop is getting old) is determined to deliver a listening experience worthy of his neighborhoods illustrious history. To be honest, Rocky sounds little like a Harlemite, let alone a New Yorker - his sprawl is frequently heavy on the Southern angle, with or without plug-ins. Yet he manages to marry the two styles effectively enough - perhaps not directly through the sound, but certainly the ideology. Regardless of his own performance as an MC, Rocky has managed to oversee an impressive array of guest artists and producers, and the end result is relatively cohesive and dressed to impress. It's difficult to describe the subject matter of LLA, simply because it is all over the place. In this decade, it pays to give something of yourself to the fans, and Rocky certainly balances the traditionally macho topics with more emotional and self-examining content. There are a couple of missteps, but on this lean twelve track offering, almost everything works."
D-Sisive :: Jonestown 3. The Dream Is Over :: Bandcamp/URBNET Records
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
""Jonestown 2" didn't make my list for Best Albums of 2011 for one reason only - D bumped himself off the list. His free album was good, but his commercially released record for URBNET was just that little bit better. That doesn't mean "Jonestown 2" was any less of a revelation. The chronically dour Toronto lyricist turned his self-flagellation into hatred for mediocrity, and instead of accusing today's rappers of being weak, he accused the fans of being mindless sheep for "drinking the Kool-Aid" for whatever was #1 on the Billboard charts. Newcomers may have found it a turnoff, but longtime Derek Christoff fans understood his frustration, given he's always critically acclaimed yet far from a household name. It's not unreasonable to expect listeners to educate themselves about the best artists, especially if they claim to care about the art and the culture, rather than simply taking whatever pablum is churned out by conglomerates. "Jonestown 3" is no less of a challenge to the listener, and that includes the fact it's a name your own price release. Mr. Christoff isn't going to tell you what this album is worth, he'll let you decide, and if you decide it isn't worth a penny he's not going to come after you for it. Janet Jackson and Luther Vandross once claimed "The Best Things in Life Are Free," and maybe that's true with a D-Sisive album, but if you're the discerning rap listener that he's seeking out there's a fair chance you'll wind up wanting to fork a little money out. The album is produced entirely by equally acclaimed artist Muneshine, and his attention to detail shows in songs like "Pajama Pants." The title may seem silly or trite - the track is anything but."
The Outsiders :: Fadacy Music Presents: The Outsiders :: Fadacy Music
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor
"The Outsiders is the latest project of Fadacy Music, the label that has been releasing Christian club rap for a several years. According to their website, "Inspired by the life of Jesus, our mission is to serve good food for the soul...We create art from scratch with authentic recipes to serve a message of hope and transformation. At Fadacy, our brand is focused on providing creative content that’s edifying and uplifting." Some of you might think that club rap and Christianity are two mutually exclusive things. Very few of the activities people get up to in the club would get a pastor's seal of approval. For the most part it is music to get drunk, high, and horny to. How do you insert a Christian message into music that is in its very essence all about sin? The label's latest project, the Outsiders (not to be confused with the Outsidaz or Outsiderz), is made up of Applejaxx, Mr. Coldstone, Trini, and G & O. The group spits rhymes about Christ over hard-hitting club beats. It's an odd combination that isn't always successful, but sounds more convincing than you might think. I've heard and reviewed several of Applejaxx's albums and EPs over the years, and I've always had to give props to him for picking good beats and committing to his craft, even if I didn't always appreciate his metaphors or message. The Outsiders continues that trend with solid production and a strong Christian message. "12:2" has stabbing synths over rattling high-hats. It's the kind of beat that usually accompanies rhymes about cars, hoes, drugs, and guns. The Outsiders, on the other hand, use it to rap about how Jesus saved them. When they say "let me see your twelve-two's up" they are referring to a passage in Romans and not a gun calibre or rims. It's one of the better songs on the album, largely on the strength of the beat and fierceness of the rhymes by Mr. Coldstone, Applejaxx, and Crossfire."
Punchline & DJ Soulclap :: Underground Superstars :: Soulspazm Records
as reviewed by Grant Jones
"Punchline has been around for a while, dropping tracks since the late 90s with his partner-in-rhyme Wordsworth (one of my favourite MCs). They mostly did battle-rap style verses, but in 2007 they teamed up with the legendary Masta Ace and his accomplice Stricklin to put out probably the best rap release of that year in "The Show". Although Wordsworth has had the superb "Mirror Music" and last year's (admittedly underwhelming) "The Photo Album" to showcase his skills, Punch has always just been a guy who jumps on collaboration tracks. And this, his first solo release, proves that he is not quite on par with his collaborators. Following in the footsteps of El Da Sensei, Ruste Juxx and endless others, Punchline has recruited a European producer to work on "Underground Superstars". DJ Soulclap is an upstart hip hop producer from Germany, and like his European contemporaries Fabio Musta, DJ Connect and various others, is deeply rooted in the boom bap era. It's hard to find any of his work online and although he holds his own on this release, there are only a couple of joints here that stand out. "Underground Superstar" is a solid start with Punch throwing punch-lines aimlessly, ranging from garbage to decent: "I don't rock Afro Puffs but I'm still filled with rage" being one example. In fact Punch's best lines are when he just rhymes about real shit, as most of the clever lines sound like they are forced and come off corny."
Quanstar :: Yo Soy La Mierda :: First Team Music
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor
"Quanstar is an Atlanta-based rapper whose resume includes ten albums, a documentary,a book, a cooking show he does with his kids (razingdough.blogspot.com), and a blog about indie hip-hop (indiehiphop101.info). You can't knock Quanstar's hustle or dedication to his craft. His latest album, titled "Yo Soy La Mierda: La Subida de un Hombre Negro" contains ten tracks of positive and independent hip-hop for your appreciation. If my high school Spanish can be trusted, his album translates to "I Am the Shit: The Rise of a Black Man." No one can accuse Quanstar of being overly humble. On album opener "Standing Ovation" he takes the opportunity to pat himself on the back. The tag line below the title reads "Real life hip-hop for real live people," which speaks to Quanstar's main lyrical focus. He keeps it real, rapping about his struggles, his frustrations, his victories, and his faith in hip-hop as an art form and way of life. He raps about how central music is in his life on "Sunshine," owns up to his own shortcomings on "Guilty Intentions," and raps about life on the road in "Home Coming." The latter song is a warts-and-all examination of the ups and downs of touring, and getting screwed over by shiesty promoters. In terms of flow and delivery, Quanstar sounds inspired by "Reasonable Doubt" era Jay-Z, rapping with an unhurried and self-assured style. The 90s vibe is also present in the production. LexZyne offers up beats that split the difference between 90s East Coast and early 2000s Southern rap. The beef track "Big Mistake" has a stuttering beat that layers on scratches and guitar. The title track chops up bluesy R&B; "Do Dat" mixes echoing guitars with what sounds like the drum break from "Bust A Move," and "Guilty Intentions" and "Home Coming flip soul samples to good effect."
Random (Mega Ran) :: Time and Space :: MegaRan Music
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Random a/k/a Mega Ran is one of the most prolific artists in underground hip-hop today. The former teacher turned rapper with a hero alter ego is always doing one of three things: writing, recording, or touring. I sometimes think he's doing all three at the same time. How else could he release a new EP every month of 2013? His announcement of this plan feels more like formalizing something he was already doing in 2012 without saying so. Perhaps I'm exaggerating, perhaps not, but none of his devoted followers mind his prodigious output one bit. Random is all about keeping listeners happy, and the more they demand, the more he creates. The simple fact is Ran found an untapped vein merging hip-hop and gaming, and mined it to a depth no rapper or compilation ever had before. Ran's followers are true believers in this cross-pollination. "Time and Space," as much or more than any Random album before, is a testament to just how loyal Mega Ran's fans really are. Every song was fan funded via Kickstarter, meaning specific amounts were donated in return for fulfilling specific requests. The services of a professional rapper shouldn't come cheap, though if you clicked the link in this paragraph and got an initial case of sticker shock, I don't blame ya. A custom song is anywhere from a $100-$250 commitment. That might be hard to wrap your head around - paying 100 times more for one track than you would for one Amazon.com song feels steep. This is special though. Would you pay a painter less for a portrait made to spec with easel and canvas? Ran's Kickstarter funders weren't buying A song, they were buying THEIR OWN song. Try getting Shawn Carter to record a song for you for that price."
Red Pill & Hir-O :: The Kick :: Bandcamp
as reviewed by Jesal 'Jay Soul' Padania
"Hopefully this won't come across as arrogant - actually, I couldn't care less - but I know next to nothing about Red Pill or Hir-O. Here's what managed to get through into my brain: there are two of them; one's an MC, one's the producer; one is black, one is white (no idea which is which, couldn't care less either); they are from somewhere in America; one's an MC - ok, I've used that already. I'm out. That's all I know. Shoot me. The thing is, who really cares? You see, having had an advance copy of "The Kick" for quite some time now, it really doesn't matter that much. Having listened to it - a lot, it must be said - I care EVEN LESS about the superficial details... The underground rap game is a damn hard hustle: you need a watertight bio, co-signs aplenty, clever videos, be a brilliant networker... But as a fan, you just need someone you trust to say: "Hey, I really think you'll like this." Word of mouth trumps marketing hype almost every time. And that's also where much maligned rap critics can be of some use. Well, dear Reader, you and I are friends, right? Okay. Well, I think you might like "The Kick" quite a lot. This is that real "RapReviews Sound" (if there is one) - and the artists themselves have succeeded in making an arrogant bastard from London actually give a shit about them. My ignorance has been assisted by the fact that when you type "Red Pill" into Google, you basically get a bunch of fan sites for "The Matrix" (true story). But I'm pretty sure he's the rapper, and he comes from Detroit. He's also an excellent lyricist: even if the flow takes some getting used to, and the delivery initially seems a touch reticent, Red Pill will really grow on you. Some of the verses are top notch, and songs like "Waiting On A Train" are quite superb. "One Simple Idea" is a brilliant instrumental to lead with, too (the kind that betters most of "Food & Liquor II"). The title track has a wonderful live feel to it, with other first half highlights including the soulful "Half-Remembered Dream" and thoughtful "Architect.""
T.D.S. Mob :: Treacherous, Devastating, Supreme :: Race Records/Diggers With Gratitude
** RapReviews "Back to the Lab" series **
as reviewed by Matt Jost
"There must be something about the earlier days of Boston hip-hop that inspires not just crate-digging and high-bidding but the curation of entire collections of out-of-print and unreleased music. Last year, Guru fans were able to obtain a limited edition replica of his very first demo tape from 1986 recorded under the moniker MC Keithy E. In 2008 Edo.G's "Life of a Kid in the Ghetto" was completed with "Demos and Rarities" while the Top Choice Clique was commemorated with "Reel Chemistry - The Anthology," and in 2010 UK-based platform for wax archeologists, Diggers With Gratitude, put out the collected works of T.D.S. Mob on CD and DVD (following the reissue of the songs on vinyl). T.D.S. Mob was one of Boston's premier rap groups in the later '80s. The origin of the name might have something to do with T.D.S. Mob having been formed between members of different crews, as the adjectives Treacherous, Devastating and Supreme also seem to have been applied as individual names and the 'Mob' part additionally served as an acronym for Musically Organized Brothers. Be that as it may, the lineup during "Treacherous, Devastating, Supreme" remains the same. MC Kool Gee is the only rapper, but he is backed by two DJ's, Devastator (aka Devastation or DBC) and Michael K (aka Treacherous). They released two 12-inches, "Dope For the Folks/Crushin 'Em" in 1988 and "What's This World Coming To/T.D.S. Scratch Reaction" in 1989. As is typical for the dawn of the sampling era, the drums dominate the sound while non-drum samples still only play a supporting role. In fact this may really be one for drum fanatics who love to trace the many bits and pieces that found their way into late '80s/early '90s hip-hop and often spread from there even further. "Crushin 'Em" samples a grainy rhythm from a Grandmaster Flash live bootleg ("Flash it to the Beat") that DJ Premier would later use for Gang Starr's "You Know My Steez," either lifting it directly from the Flash record or from "Crushin 'Em," as that's what Edan seems to have done on "One Man Arsenal," which contains further references to the T.D.S. track."
Toby :: Evolutionary 2 :: Toby Music/Bandcamp
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Toby describes himself in the following contradictions: "Failed child actor, cynical optimist, the smartest and most modest person alive." Born and raised in Los Angeles, he fell in love with hip-hop at the age of 12 thanks to albums by Common and OutKast, and the acting career would soon take a backseat to his passion for rap. 2012 was Toby's breakout year with the release of two EP's, this one obviously being the second, and this review being a little bit overdue. Better in January 2013 than not at all, the compact but tight "Evolutionary 2" packs a lot of musicality into just barely over 21 minutes on six tracks. Some actors turned rappers take their craft very seriously, others aspire to rap dreams and fall somewhat short. Happily Mr. Ganger is the former and not the latter, and has surrounded himself with a quality crew to achieve his musical vision. Adam Berg plays the strings and synths. Joel Van Dijk plays guitar. Just Matter provides the scratches, and so on. The end result is more of a hip-hop band than a solo act, and that ensemble format serves Toby well. With strong musical backup he's able to delve into the topics he flows about unfettered, such as on the opening track "Nowhere to Run." Throughout the song Toby advocates for respect and tolerance, two ideas which have gotten short shrift of late in the face of jingoistic nationalism - not just in the U.S. but worldwide. This attitude is probably at least partially informed by the year Toby spent in Ecuador, which suggests more rappers from Cali might want to spend a year in a foreign country to broaden their perspective. Each of his songs is informed by a positive attitude, but not tinged with any kind of cornball hippie do-gooderism that often accompanies such albums. "Slow It Down" suggests that we should all take the time to appreciate life more instead of being "all in a hurry going nowhere," while "Echoes" is a harrowing cinematic narrative of child abuse."
Triple Darkness :: Anathema :: Dented Records
** RapReviews "Back to the Lab" series **
as reviewed by Grant Jones
"You can judge most rap albums by the name of the artist and the title they have given their record. Triple Darkness implies three dark souls, in this case Nasheron, Cyrus Malachi and Melanin 9. A trio of hardcore rappers from London with styles reminiscent of the Wu-Tang Clan. Fair enough, but what on earth is an "Anathema"? There are numerous definitions of the word, but the one that sums this album up better than any is: "a person or thing accursed or consigned to damnation or destruction". Being British myself, I spend my life complaining, but Triple Darkness demonstrate an educated ferocity unlike any other British rap group. The vocabulary is varied, the delivery is passionate and the British accent is as accessible as it gets. Wholly produced by Chemo and Beat Butcha, two of the UK's finest beat maestros, there is a haunting atmosphere throughout "Anathema" that suitably portrays the grim, rain-sodden streets of London. "Machinations" continues the theme of bleakness with Nasheron and Cyrus Malachi trading rhymes over a morbid piano-led Chemo production. If the Prime Minister needed to hear what needs fixing in the UK, he just needs to play this record because gun control, homelessness, drug abuse, racial profiling, it's all here. That's nothing new for a hip hop crew to talk about, but the refreshing way in which the MCs encourage listeners to read and better themselves so that they can use knowledge to overcome hardship hasn't really been met with such a powerful presence since Immortal Technique burst on to the scene. Cyrus Malachi in particular, impresses on each track with his booming, thick Hackney accent. Nasheron is the weakest link of the three, with an offbeat delivery that sometimes feels like he is using long words to sound smart. Melanin 9 (who recently released his Magna Carta LP) is the most rounded MC with an effortless flow that combines insightful story-telling with pure assonant lyricism."
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