If you missed any of the new reviews this past week, including the double feature of Swollen Members' "Beautiful Death Machine" and Gene the Southern Child & Parallel Thought's "Artillery Sluggin'" then do yourself a favor and check out this week's edition of the (W)rap Up!
Gene the Southern Child & Parallel Thought :: Artillery Splurgin'
Author: Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Parallel Thought is so quiet as kept that it's actually become a marketing point on the cover of his new "Artillery Splurgin'" CD - an attached sticker quotes Spin Magazine as saying he's "One of rap's most slept on." Thankfully no pillows are necessary at RapReviews - we've been pointing out how dope his work is for years. His beats are behind some of the most remarkable albums that I've listened to - the Del the Funky Hompsapien and Tame One collabo' "Parallel Uni-Verses" for one and reuniting with the Funky One for "Attractive Sin" for another. P Thought exists in that margin between celebrating hip-hop's roots and completely throwing out the rulebook on what rap music can or should sound like. Putting his name on a project is reason enough for me to pay attention, regardless of who he collaborates with. For those who missed the Bandcamp release of "A Ride With the Southern Child," the impending physical release of "Artillery Splurgin'" in May 2013 may be something of a surprise. Getting this early copy by post confirmed two things to me though: P knows we're not sleeping, and P knows we're not leaking. People who thought Parallel only worked with famed hip-hop lyrical pugilists got their rude awakening with Gene, an Alabama rapper hailing from the same hometown as the legendary "Father of Blues" W.C. Handy. The warm and inviting sound of the combination was like a tumbler of Southern Comfort over ice - slow and sweet for the sipping. It's like hearing DJ Premier produce a track for Bun B - making the mood match the style of the emcee instead of making the emcee try to be something he's not. It's a free download, and since you have to wait a couple months for "Artillery Splurgin'" anyway, you might as well grab it now and savor the flavor while you wait for this CD."
Swollen Members :: Beautiful Death Machine
Suburban Noize Records
Author: Steve 'Flash' Juon
"After a three decade span from the late 1990's through the early 2010's, Swollen Members have shown an enviable amount of longevity in the music industry. Many groups flame out long before that due to substance abuse, record label politics or the old standard "irreconcilable differences" due to big egos within the crew. Well the Members of this crew may be Swollen, but they haven't let their big heads get in the way of becoming hip-hop legends. Not only are they arguably the most famous rap act to ever come out of British Columbia, they maintain a devoted following South of the Canadian border despite the fact Mad Child has actually been banned from legally entering the United States (it's a long story). 2013's "Beautiful Death Machine" picks up beautifully (no pun intended) where "Dagger Mouth" left off two years ago. Rob the Viking understands the underground sound that fits this group like a glove, and rarely deviates from that ideal hip-hop landscape. That's not to say that Swollen Members haven't had a crossover pop hit once in a blue or a Juno award or two, but songs like "Mercenary" are more the norm. It's a dark and eerie backdrop with heavy pianos and equally heavy lyrics from Mad Child to match, who builds off his recent struggle overcoming addiction for an honest and heavy verse. C-Lance picks up wherever Rob leaves off, providing equally brutal beauty on songs like "Colossal Beasts" featuring the Demigodz (namely Apathy, Celph Titled and Esoteric) - a super-collaboration of "East coast meets West coast" nobody who ever used that phrase imagined before now. The thing that remains intriguing about the Members is how they can flip any style and seemingly make it fit their presentation. "Juggernaut" juggles several in one song - Prevail spits over a super fast futuristic beat to open, Mad Child comes in over a dirty grimey bass to follow, and then they trade off and flip flows over each other's previous instrumental."
Common Labor :: Tales of the Troubadours :: Background Noise Crew
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Analyrical rated the praise of "a promising debut" from Patrick Taylor on "First Date" back in 2010. Since then the Minnesotan emcee has linked up with producer/emceePhingaz to form Common Labor. An's label Background Noise Crew describes this tandem in a way some readers may initially find off-putting: "Common Labor isn't another Hip-Hop act; they are barely a Hip-Hop act at all." Don't get it twisted from the hyperbole. Record labels are often overly anxious to make their album stand out, particularly these days in an overly crowded marketplace, where half of what's being marketed comes with a "name your own price (or free)" that's hard to beat. Thankfully this album is NOT in the "not rap" rap category. This isn't The Jet Age of Tomorrow or 3:33, where producers expand their minds (and presumably yours) sans rhymes. Lyrics are very much part of the package and delivered intensely on funky grooves like "Here For You Too (Dreamer of Dreams)" - a tribute to the late great Eyedea. The Common Labor team could be called "progressive" and would probably be comfortable with that, but also come from a long tradition of rap artists who break the wheel just so they can reinvent it. That's precisely what's going on with "Burn Down the Old School," which is not an attack on their lyrical predecessors, but a metaphor for how everything gets upgraded and how obsolences is built into our daily lives. The song could be said to do that itself given it's built on a quirky folsky instrumental, complete with shimmering tamborine, that's not like anything you USUALLY blast out your stereo."
I-20 :: The Amphetamine Manifesto: Part One :: DatPiff
as reviewed by Emanuel Wallace
"What's in a name? Well, it's really hard to say when you think about it. Back in 2000, Ludacris released his major label debut album, "Back For The First Time" with a handful of guest appearances. One of those guests was none other than the Infamous 2-0. By the time Disturbing Tha Peace's compilation album, "Golden Grain" hit record shelves, Infamous had shortened his name to I-20 to coincide with the name of the interstate highway that runs through several cities and states in the south, including his hometown of Decatur, Georgia. It's also interesting to note that there was another artist who would change his name many years later who was also part of the crew. Tity Boi, who switched his name after many years to 2 Chainz, inexplicably became the #2 Hottest MC in the Game...at least according to MTV. Go figure. Back then, it was Shawnna and I-20, along with Chingy, leading the charge as DTP's second-in-command. Chingy had a couple of popular singles and Shawnna had a minor hit with the Missy Elliott-assisted "Shake Dat Shit." I-20 made a name for himself with his memorable verse on Ludacris' "Move Bitch." The table was set for The Dealer to drop his debut album. Backed by the Lil Jon-produced "Break Bread" and "Fightin' In The Club," I-20's "Self Explanatory" hit store shelves in October of 2004 and peaked at #42 on the Billboard Top 200. In 2005, I-20 found himself playing a small role in the film Hustle & Flow alongside Ludacris and Terrence Howard. A follow up to "Self Explanatory" entitled "Blood In The Water" was announced many years ago but has yet to see the light of day. Never one to be deterred, I-20 constantly dropped mixtapes over the years, most recently his "Celebrity Rehab" series with long time collaborator DJ Pain 1. Tity Boi may have changed his name and gone on to do his own thing, but I-20 remains DTP to the core. A clever line from the first edition of "Celebrity Rehab" sums up 20's relationship with Luda best: "I never burn Bridges, that's why I'm still with Chris." Luda's birth name, of course, is Christopher Bridges. While Christopher Dorner is gone (maybe), I-20 is still in the game and he's equipped with a manifesto of his own..."The Amphetamine Manifesto: Part One" to be exact."
Jasiri X & Religion :: Ascension :: Greenstreets/Wandering Worx Entertainment
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Religion appears to have dropped using exclamation points instead of I's in his name, and I'm just fine with that - it was a pain in the ass to type. It has never been a pain to listen to his beats though, as the wunderkind of Wandering Worx has proved a capable Canadian creator of masterful melodies. Whether paired up with long-time hip-hop veterans like Planet Asia and Moka Only or up-and-coming emcees like Donny Goines and Jasiri X, he usually finds just the right note to hit to make their shit sound sweet. Speaking of Jasiri X, who writer Emmanuel Wallace noted was responsible "for most of the album's highlights" on "Revelationz I" along with the other aforementioned emcees, he's getting the chance to step out into the spotlight on his own here. This is his "Ascension," his time to rise, and Religion is providing the rocket fuel in the form of the beats. You might think Jasiri was a NOI rapper based on the name, and you wouldn't be entirely wrong. He's definitely got a political edge to his speech, and he's happy to namecheck the Minister himself on songs like "Pump It Up". And while Jasiri does proclaim his style as singularly political ("you've never heard an emcee so close to Marc' Garvey") he's not trapped in a single political vein for the 55 minutes of "Ascension." He's a man with a message, and not afraid to sample the message of Malcolm X to make it on "By Any Means" featuring Rhymefest, but there's a fun side to Jasiri X too. "TV Land" finds Jasiri becoming your personal DVR, guiding you through the channels of his mind and yours, gently poking fun at today's most popular reality shows on the hook. "21 Forever" also pokes fun at today's hedonistic rappers, the +YOLO+ generation who seem to want to live life without regard for the consequences to themselves or others. "The Unmasking" finds Jasiri proclaiming himself "too real for the blogosphere" but I think most of them will dig his steelo."
King T :: Still Triflin :: King T Incorporated/Cycadelic Records
as reviewed by Matt Jost
"When Nas asked around, "Where Are They Now?" (his missing-hip-hop personalities list from 2006), King T promptly answered and appeared on the song's 'West Coast Remix' a few months later. It was a rare vital sign from the Compton rapper, who during the decade (not counting the unshelving of "Thy Kingdom Come") released just one project containing new material, the compilation "Boss Up." But once a mic fiend, always a mic fiend, and so King T is back again with ruff rhymes that, for better or for worse, don't lie about his age. Borrowing some Slick Rick shine and encasing it in a modern dramatic setting courtesy of Poetiq Beetz, "Tha Return" sparks memories of when Tila was simply "The Coolest" MC on the West Coast. "Still Triflin" is sprinkled with such throwback moments, whether he shouts out the late Mix Master Spade ("Do U Rememba Me"), pimp-struts with Xzibit, Silky Slim and Butch Cassidy over a Curtis Mayfield-inspired groove ("Pus-say"), hooks up with 2nd II None to a LD Beatz production that comes eerily close to their old material ("Good to Ya'") or, joined by J-Ro, gets busy to the same loop as Grand Puba once on "Step to the Rear" ("Step 2 Da' Left"). The number of tracks and guests and the mixing (not turntable style, but still segueing) places "Still Triflin" a few years back in the 'mixtape' game. These days free projects like this are usually shorter and unmixed. Nevertheless it contains exclusive production, one track having been removed from the download because it is also included in a purchasable release by Rampage (of Flipmode Squad fame). The majority of the songs are sufficiently described via the guestlist. There's the cross-generational gangsta track "Catch a Body" with Eastwood and BG Knocc Out, a surprisingly up-to-date affair produced by Klassic. "Do U Rememba Me" sees King T and MC Eiht tutoring fellow Comptonite Big 2Da Boy over a relaxedly thumping beat courtesy of Seige Monstracity."
Masta Killa :: Selling My Soul :: Nature Sounds
as reviewed by Grant Jones
"Twenty years after the Wu-Tang Clan first burst on to the scene swinging swords and telling us to protect our necks, a lot has happened to those nine young men. With so many projects, affiliates and compilation albums going under the Wu-brand these days, it's easy to fall behind. After phenomenal debut albums from Gza and Raekwon (and some would say Ghostface and Method Man too) it wasn't until the turn of the millennium that we got to hear solo offerings from Masta Killa. When hip hop fans are asked who their favourite member of the Wu is, rarely would you receive the answer "Masta Killa". Perhaps due to the strength of his colleagues, he didn't get much success on his own until the release of the surprisingly strong "No Said Date" in 2004. Although the lead single "Old Man" got some strong rotation on radio, it was most memorable for Ol' Dirty Bastard's ramblings about sesame seed buns. It's hard to listen to a Masta Killa record without thinking of Rza though, as the two have a similar monotonous flow. The reason Masta Killa isn't held in such high regard as fellow clansman Gza (and even affiliate Killah Priest) is that although they all have a subdued delivery, Gza and Killah Priest show more creativity and conviction when busting out straight lyrics. Killa does throw down some interesting content on "Selling My Soul", but he seems to have lost the hunger that was still evident on the likes of "No Said Date" and "Made In Brooklyn". After a skit AND an intro, "Soul & Substance" kicks off proceedings with a production from the usually reliable Mathematics that's so understated it's borderline boring. Masta Killa brings a somewhat catchy hook to the table but ultimately it's a forgettable track that shows little evidence of soul or substance. "RU Listening" is a stronger offering (produced by Inspectah Deck no less) where the Killa sounds more awake."
Pitbull :: Global Warming :: RCA Records
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor
""I do it for the paper, I'm a businessman." Say what you want to say about Pitbull, at least he's honest. On his seventh album in nine years, the man born Armando Perez is doing all he and his label can get the maximum ROI on their production and promotion costs. Unfortunately, the way they do that is by driving ideas that worked before for Pitbull and other artists into the ground, resulting in an album that might have sounded good in the board room, but doesn't work in practice. The title track samples Los El Rio Boys "Macarena," which gives some indication where this album's head is at. I'm guessing Bass Ill Euro's thoughts went like this: "You know what song was super popular? 'The Macarena!' I bet if we put that to a hip-hop beat and had Pitbull rap over it, it would move mucho units. Let's be sure to have him rap in Spanish and English to maximize the potential market share for the album. Done!" The formula of sampling a cheesy 80s or 90s pop song, which the Black Eyed Peas have perfected to a diabolical T, is repeated over and over again here. "Feel This Moment" samples A-ha's "Take On Me," Back In Time," samples Micky and Sylvia's "Love Is Strange," and "Have Some Fun" samples Sheryl Crow's "All I Wanna Do." Yes, that's right: Pitbull is rapping over a SHERYL CROW sample. I really hope that he at least questioned that decision, before being assured by the label and producer Afrojack that it would be dope. Of course, it's not like Pitbull ever had a ton of integrity or street creed to defend. He's made a career out of making club-friendly hip-hop songs. Anyone who has been on a dance floor when "The Anthem" or "Krazy" drop can testify to Pitbull's power to get asses moving. There's absolutely nothing wrong with a club banger, but with "Global Warming," Team Pitbull seems so intent on making hits that a lot of the fun has been sucked out of the songs in the process."
Styles P :: The World's Most Hardest MC Project :: eOne Music
as reviewed by Grant Jones
"There aren't many hard-core rappers that still sound hungry after nearly twenty years deep in the game. Many lighten their act up, some go underground and others make rare appearances here and there. It's fair to say that a lot of hard-core rappers don't peak as their careers lengthen, but Styles P just seems to get better and better. It's fair to say Jadakiss was the lyricist that had the most buzz about him when The LOX members went the solo route, I remember buying "Kiss Tha Game Goodbye" the week it came out back in 2001. That album hasn't aged well, yet the debut effort from Styles P (then going under the name of just Styles) still sounds good today. As each solo album followed, the radio singles were less and less evident as the man born David Styles crafted more intense, angry music, often backed by aggressive piano-led production. "Super Gangster, Extraordinary Gentleman" was a strong record, one that RapReviews' own Flash enjoyed but felt was formulaic. It's a formula that has worked though; possibly to even better effect as "softer" rappers clog up the airwaves, Styles P is a refreshing throwback to a bygone era where murder and crime were sure-fire selling points. "The World's Most Hardest MC Project" does what it says on the case - hard rhymes over hard beats. There's nothing as inventive as the clever "Barbara" track that surfaced a few years back, but as far as legit gangsta rap goes you'll do well to find more authentic artists than Styles. "Araab Styles" is musically reminiscent of Dr Dre albeit more sinister. Crashing pianos, eery horror-flick atmosphere and the subtle humour Styles throws in equals unadulterated madness. Hearing tales of dumping bodies, endless stories of violence and various laws being broken is all well and good for a while but soon becomes boring, surely? But just as a Nintendo game satisfies gamers with its perfected approach to gameplay and the little details that bring a smile to your face, Styles does the same. Hearing him say "I'm a gangsta" in the middle of a verse, as a background adlib lets the listener know that no matter how much gun talk is coming out of P's mouth, he's really just having fun with it. Thankfully Styles doesn't suffer from dreaded seriousitosis, although tracks like "I Know" tread awfully close to cliché. "
Verbill :: Verbill :: Zurik Records
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
""Why haven't the hoods replied to me on MySpace?" People still USE MySpace? Either way this was the first line that caught my attention on Verbill's self-titled Australian import. Although he's fairly new to North America, he's a long time member of the Aussie rap scene, having won "Best Up And Coming Artist" almost a decade ago at the 2004 Oz Hip Hop Awards. He's picked up awards and acclaim for his collaborations and mixtapes since then, but his bio also hints at some personal turbulence given how many times the word "former" is used to refer to people he no longer works with. On "Slice" he channels years of hardship and frustration into rhymes. Unless you actually listen to the audio, a little of the impact of Verbill's performance gets lost in print. The best I can do to clear it up is to point out "erase" sounds more like "e-RAYS" and "can't" sounds more like "KAUNT." This is a Brisbane emcee through and through, with the lingual tone any fellow Aussie would immediately pick up on and find familiar, that audiences outside the continent need time to adjust to. The learning curve for Verbill's vocal tone is not steep though, especially when you compare it to some of his compatriots, which makes him an ideal choice to export to audiences in the U.S. and Europe. Verbill benefits from the production skills of fellow Brisbane artist Nick One, who both mixes his vocals to come out clear and provides a consistent quality of audio production throughout the release."
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