If you missed any of the new reviews this past week including Lil Wayne's "I Am Not A Human Being II," then do yourself a favor and check out this week's edition of the (W)rap Up!
Lil Wayne :: I Am Not a Human Being II
Young Money/Cash Money/Republic Records
Author: Steve 'Flash' Juon
"At this point the best part of waking up for Dwayne Carter is simply WAKING UP AT ALL. Weezy spent almost an entire week at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles after suffering a seizure while shooting a music video with Nicki Minaj. Both the cause of the seizure and the length of the hospital stay have been under debate, with TMZ trying to stay abreast of the situation, while Wayne's closest friends and handlers tried to downplay the incident and say he it was a minor medical matter. Wayne himself couldn't resist stirring the pot after his release, saying he was "more than good" in a now widely watched video. Depending on your point of view, the timing of the whole situation is either incredibly unfortunate or unbelievably lucky. Since his sequel to "I Am Not a Human Being" had already been announced for March 26th of this year, the hospital stay robbed him of valuable time he could have spent doing appearances and interviews to promote the new album. On the other hand the back and forth between Wayne's crew and TMZ's reporters is the kind of social media coverage a million aspiring rappers would kill for. Obviously you don't want to DIE to get a gold or platinum album (it's hard to be around to reap the rewards) but anything short of that would certainly increase the # of people talking about you and/or purchasing your CD. Besides that we're already three singles deep on this album before it even hit stores, with the latest being "Bitches Love Me" featuring Drake and Future. This version had to be cleaned up extensively to make the radio friendly "Love Me" version, but the Mike WiLL Made It beat and star power cameos on the song's chorus made it worthwhile to do it. That's right - Drake and Future don't even have verses on the song - they just show up to lend an assist. Such is the power of Wayne at this point in his career, but it has also led to an "Emperor's New Robes" level of arrogance where everything he does is right, even when it's just plain bad, let alone when it's just plain bad for him. Lest we all forget both Pimp C and DJ Screw died from their overconsumption of cough syrup, and even though everybody involved including Dwayne himself will deny it, the writing is on the wall right now."
Ambush & Kareem Ali :: Ali Bomaye :: Ambush Music
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Kareem Ali and Ambush don't set the record for lack of information included with an album for review. I have at times received a single CD-R in a sleeve with the artist's name and album title written on the CD itself with a marker, with no insert for the artist's bio or even a URL to find out more about them online. "Ali Bomaye" is better than that to a small degree. It comes in an actual CD case, although it's one of the thinnest I've ever seen, with actual artwork front and back that does include websites where you can learn more about them. I would have considered the industry standard "one sheet" about them a plus though, and there's something not quite right about the disc in the case itself. My MacBook was queasy about it from the get-go, and by track 5 out of 12 my CD drive was making noises like a wheezy asthmatic dying from a lack of oxygen. "My MacBook isn't a spring chicken, so maybe this CD will rip better with Windows Media Player." In fact this CD stopped reading and ripping in the exact same place - track 5. Since there are no visible scratches on the disc (nor should there be straight out of the package) and the same exact error happened on two different computers, I have to believe this is a manufacturing problem. I don't intend to rip Kareem and Ambush too much (no pun intended) for something that's the fault of the production plant, not them, but as an indie artist quality control needs to be a priority since you have a direct one-to-one relationship with your customer base. There's a streaming version of their album on Bandcamp, so I was still able to hear tracks 6-12 and complete this review. As you might expect from the title, "Ali Bomaye" is inspired to a degree by the boxer Muhammad Ali and samples from the build to his famous "Rumble in the Jungle" fight in 1974. They are far from the first in hip-hop to reference the historic event, and will certainly not be the last, though they show a wide range of influences throughout the CD. Even where they are patently obvious, they are no less appreciated for their sound. You'd expect "Shut'Em Down" to sample from the famous Public Enemy song of the same name, and it does, but it also mixes that with Gil Scott-Heron's "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised." The result is undoubtedly what they intended - a throwback to the days P.E.'s militant pro-black message dominated the hip-hop landscape. Ali and Ambush are not in it alone though. "
Angle :: White Andy :: Public School Records/One Leg Up Productions
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Not intimidated by his first go-around with the RR process, Midwestern rapper Angle is back for a second turn at bat, swinging for the fences with "White Andy." While the artwork suggests a throwback to the late 19th and early 20th Century, Angle is a thoroughly modern emcee. He's not going to do a song and dance routine for your amusement. If anything there's something borderline sinister to his top hat and black lipstick. His hands beckon you to come forward, while his rolled up eyes suggest it's better to keep a safe distance, and the overall effect is to make him look like hip-hop's Marilyn Manson. Songs like "Chinee" play up this sense of danger. The production by Coolzey is highly effective here - equal parts boom bap, orchestra and horror movie that without warning shifts to a piano melody in the second verse. Angle's vocal tone is well suited to darkness - he's got a low vocal pitch and a flow that at times is eerily reminiscent of Chali 2na. As for the rhymes, it's clear that Angle seeks to please himself first, expecting the audience to either get with it or get the fuck on. There's some genuine swagger to his rap though. With only seven songs on "White Andy" and 3 tracks featuring guest stars, Angle runs the risk of getting lost in the mix. This is a problem on the posse track "Farns" featuring Felix Thunder, D Average, Toby Diligent, Tremayne, Ryan Nixon, Mic L and Coolzey. Other cameos include The Pleaser on "Abysses" and Tess1 on the Tinkerbot produced "Rocket," a song on which Angle's personality shines. His best track may be "Hiyah" though, one for which Angle has released a video that fits his left-of-center personality and vocal styling quite well. It appears to have been shot at a ren faire, complete with fire breathes, a King and Queen in garb, some chain mail bottled booze, and Angle interrupting the whole affair with his hip-hop swag - some of the people bop their heads to it while others stand stoically looking puzzled by his antics."
Ciryl Da Great :: Adolescence :: Reformatory Records
as reviewed by Grant Jones
"The press release for Ciryl Da Great's "Adolescence" highlights Ciryl's ability to make a punchline of just about anything including current events, and song writing based on his life experiences combined with his lyrical styling truly showcase the diversity of this artist". There's little evidence of diverse lyrics on "Adolescence", as topics don't stray far from the standard rapping about rapping, rapping about grinding and numerous other clichés. What "Adolescence" does benefit from is haunting, lo-fi production you'd expect to find on Soundclick. "But hang on, surely that implies an amateurish approach and sounds technically garbage?" There are examples of this sure, but if you can appreciate underground hip hop at its purest, most raw, and don't mind occasional generics of this genre we love so much, this "Adolescence" is worth visiting. What I will say is, Ciryl Da Great has created a surprisingly well produced record that you'll find listening to more than you'd expect. That's no disrespect to the artists involved, but looking at the artwork reminds me of a 90s wrestling pay-per-view font combined with all the aesthetic inventiveness of a Master P record. "All We Do Is Grind" is a decent introduction to Ciryl, with a gloomy backdrop and husky chant helping hold together the pretty forgettable verses. Unfortunately there is some trash to sift through on "Adolescence" to find the good stuff. "Uncle Sam" is Pete Rock's nightmare, with more misplaced horns than a unicorn fuckfest. It's a perfect example of how not to copy successful Dirty South records. The annoying horns and a leisurely approach to the rhymes combine to create a truly awful song. A similar example of cheap production can be found on "The Atmosphere", a poorly produced amalgamation of industrious snares and ambient pianos. The only atmosphere generated here is that of a bedroom setup, but that criticism falls on VTZ Beats as Ciryl demonstrates his ability to spit flowing rhymes that you'd expect from a so-called ten year veteran. "Chi-Town Horror Flick" is Ciryl's attempt at horrorcore yet instantly fails when the first verse is based around his success with the ladies, and the second mentions diamonds in his wristwatch."
Devlin :: A Moving Picture :: Island/Universal Records
as reviewed by Grant Jones
"As a British fan of hip hop, Devlin has surprisingly crept under my rap-radar. Associated with breakthrough Grime emcee Wretch 32, it's easy to see why. Grime has never been my cup of tea, with its intimidating pace and often vicious themes of gangs and criminal activity, it has always lacked the maturity that UK Hip Hop demonstrated through artists such as Task Force and Klashnekoff. Ever since Professor Green crossed over from cocky battle rapper to chart-topper, he has been followed by Giggs, Plan B and the aforementioned Wretch 32. Whilst Plan B operated on a more artistic level, applying words in place of actions, the likes of Giggs, Wretch and Professor Green relied heavily on singers to gain that desired fanbase the British hip hop scene just doesn't offer. Devlin doesn't hide from his Grime roots, rapping with a stop-start flow reminiscent of an asthmatic Kyza. This style of delivery is nothing new to hip hop, a ton of emcees from Skriblah to Jibberish have demonstrated its effectiveness when applied with a British accent over kicks and snares. Devlin has a solid enough voice for spitting (imagine a restrained Charlie Sloth – hard to, I know) but lyrically he still shows a lack of depth. "Sun Goes Down" is an underwhelming start with the ridiculous comparison of himself and Katy B to Jay-Z and Rihanna. It is the musical outcome of listening to Eminem's "Recovery" one too many times. "A Gift & A Curse" exudes a more intense delivery from Devlin which actually combines with an epic, cinematic production to brilliant effect. Just as Devlin draws you in with his rhymes, the track cuts to Chasing Grace; the featured singer. It's an issue I have with the majority of cross-over rappers in the UK, the inability to craft dope hip hop without an accessible hook. Thankfully there is some strong cypher-style lyricism evident on "Off With Their Heads" featuring a Drake-infused Wretch 32. Devlin is at his best atop violin-backed production as he delivers a relentless syllable-heavy verse paying homage to his grime roots. It's nothing more than a brag rap, but the tongue twisting delivery is where Devlin excels."
DJ DMD and the Inner Soul Clique :: Twenty-Two: P.A. World Wide :: Inner Soul Records
** RapReviews "Back to the Lab" series **
as reviewed by Matt Jost
"There's a picture to be found online of a group of nine young gentlemen and one lady posing by the roadside captioned 'The Land of the Trill - 1988 Port Arthur, Texas.' Six of the men are named. They are Lee Master, Boomtown, MQJ, Pimp C, Boonie Loc and DJ DMD, the latter, dressed in all black, standing at the front and center. It's possible that the picture was published via MySpace by Mr. Boomtown, a Port Arthur native and in-demand music video director whose portfolio includes clips for Gucci Mane, E-40 and Z-Ro. It's furthermore feasible that the people in the photo were identical with a hip-hop posse known as Dangerous Music Incorporated (two of them dancers, by the look of their synchronized gear). Said DMI would soon disband, leaving only Pimp C and MQJ, who first went by Mission Impossible and later decided to call themselves Underground Kings, after one of their songs. At one point they merged with duo P.A. Militia, which included a certain Bun B, temporarily forming the group 4 Black Ministers. As fate would have it, 4BM too fell apart, eventually giving us the legendary Underground Kingz, Pimp C and Bun B. Pimp C and DJ DMD went separate ways professionally when UGK rose to prominence as one of the premier Southern acts, but they did meet again when D co-produced two tracks on 1994's "Super Tight..." and was even featured on one ("Three Sixteens"). DJ DMD eventually became a leading star himself, starting with 1997's "Eleven." His most known release is the follow-up, "Twenty-Two: P.A. World Wide," which also contains his most famous song, "25 Lighters." "25 Lighters" is an undisputed Texas classic, reverberating through rap music to the present day, from Mac Miller using the instrumental for his "K.I.D.S." mixtape, to rappers-du-jour A$AP Rocky ("Wild For the Night"), Kendrick Lamar ("Backseat Freestyle") and Big K.R.I.T. ("Money on the Floor") all referencing the "25 lighters on my dresser, yessir" line during the past year. What's more, after a long hiatus, Texan blues rock cornerstone ZZ Top returned in 2012 with a rendition of "25 Lighters" entitled "I Gotsta Get Paid," the lead single off their 15th studio album."
Heliocentrics :: 13 Degrees of Reality :: Now-Again Records
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor
"Heliocentrics are a project of Malcom Catto, a drummer who has worked with DJ Shadow, Mr. Chop, J. Rocc, and Madlib. The band combines funk, world music, and avant-garde jazz. Their name is a reference to jazz weirdo-auteur Sun Ra's "Heliocentric Worlds" albums. For those unfamiliar with Sun Ra, he claimed to be from Saturn and made a series of avant-garde jazz albums from the sixties through the 80s, exploring electronic music and free jazz in the process. Heliocentrics' debut album came out in 2007, followed by a remix album and several EPs. "13 Degrees of Reality" is their proper sophomore album, three years in the making and is available now via Now Again's digital subscription. Where "Out There" explored hip-hop and funk through a jazz lens, "13 Degrees of Reality" goes in a much darker direction. The songs are still grounded in Catto's backbeat, but the band goes for the slow burn more than immediate gratification. The first single they released is "Wrecking Ball," which clocks in at 7'44." It begins with a minute of feedback before the bass and drums kick in. Catto and bassist Jake Ferguson keep things simmering while the keyboard and guitar keep the sparse melody. Many of the songs follow this template: drum and bass holding a slow, funky backbeat, keeping things at a sinister drone. There aren't many strong melodies or uptempo tracks, with the exception of the Southern funk workout "Mr. Owusu I Presume." Instead, the album is punctuated with free jazz exercises, acid freak outs, and a lot of dark grooves. Heliocentrics seem more intent on opening up your consciousness than in moving your ass. This is music for a drug trip, not the dance floor."
Ill Bill :: The Grimy Awards :: Fat Beats Records
as reviewed by Grant Jones
"Ten years ago, an album was released by a group of young white males going under the guise of "Non Phixion". Unless you're already clued up on Ill Bill, you're probably thinking "Wow, big deal" but not only could each member rhyme their asses off, they somehow managed to collate an insane line-up of producers worthy of an established veteran. Boasting soundscapes provided by DJ Premier, Large Professor, Pete Rock and Juju from The Beatnuts, "The Future Is Now" went down a storm. Ill Bill's brother Necro held down the rest of the album whilst Sabac Red, Goretex and Billy himself exchanged verses using their distinct New York accents which although similar in nasal tone, complemented each other perfectly. Cutting a long story short, Ill Bill prospered and went on to release numerous solo efforts whilst the other members (minus DJ Eclipse) slowly faded into obscurity. "The Grimy Awards" brings Ill Bill full circle, boasting a production cast as good as, if not better than his debut work. DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Large Professor and the other Beatnut; Psycho Les, all return whilst DJ Muggs and El-P bolsters the line-up to mouth-watering levels. With all this association comes expectation, and although Bill has crafted strong albums previously (namely "What's Wrong With Bill?") his recent work has been heavily influenced by conspiracy theories. That's not a bad thing of course, but the creative juvenility had been sapped out, most notably on "Heavy Metal Kings". Thankfully, the supreme production that has been assembled for "The Grimy Awards" has reinvigorated Bill to craft an album for fans BY A FAN. "Paul Baloff" demonstrates his heavy metal influences, including a conversation with the thrash metal member of Exodus. "World Premier" is similar to Royce Da 5'9'', Phonte and Stat Quo's "Homage to Premier" in that it delivers a well-deserved tribute to DJ Premier, with Bill demonstrating his acclaimed nasal flow."
Marcus J :: For Now EP :: 1987 Music Group
as reviewed by Matt Jost
"There are various ways to excel if you are a rap artist. You can write smart songs. You can rap really fast. You can create a larger-than-life image. You can rhyme as many syllables as possible. You can get exceedingly poetical, personal, political, or profane. One crucial yet often underestimated rap competence is the ability to pick the right music. The probability for MC's to find the perfect beat may have increased exponentially during the age of the internet, still not everyone has an ear for beats and the skill to write and rap in tune with the music. Austin, TX up-and-comer Marcus J made exactly the right choice by teaming up with Austin native/Philadelphia resident Johnny Swindles for his "For Now EP." The beats are musical in the traditional sense, organic compositions that advance with a sense of direction. When Marcus J ponders the importance of patience ("For Now"), Johnny Swindles supports the notion with a slowly progressing track consisting of steadfast drums, strategically placed bass plucks, and spheric synth twines. "Yin Yang" and "Nimbus" both build on thick funk grooves, the former could as well be a simple loop, but the latter is fully fleshed out, a harmonica lifting the track onto the "cloud nine" J claims to be on. Emphasizing its ethereal elements, the fragile construction of "Where Is the Love" may be most familiar to contemporary listeners, while "New Religion" and "Check It" balance their lucent synths with bass stabs and kick drums, respectively. While Johnny Swindles isn't out to revolutionize hip-hop, he's a beatmaker who doesn't resort to the same sounds for every track. The same could be said of Marcus J and his lyrics. He develops his thoughts, illustrates them with real-life examples."
Wisdom :: Full Spectrum :: Wisdom Creations
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"If you're not interested in a quick overview of Hindu religious figures, it would be best to skip ahead to the third paragraph. For me the subject can't be avoided. It's not just because Wisdom adorns the cover of "Full Spectrum" with religious and mystical symbolism, but because he goes to great lengths to devote the inner gatefold of his CD to "my beloved teacher Sai Maa Lakshmi Devi" - both the left and right side offer her praise. Poking around online reveals Sai Maa is a devotee of Sathya Sai Baba, who in turn claimed to be the reincarnation of the original Sai Baba of Shirdi. If you're not familiar with Indian religious practices though these names mean nothing, and as I knew very little about them myself, I had to dig a little deeper and discover who these holy personages were. Now to say that any of these three let alone Sai Maa could be summed up in one paragraph would be foolish. What can be said in fairness is that each of these people are venerated by their followers as an avatar, which from a strictly Hinduistic perspective means a deity/God who has descended to Earth to take human form. This is of course complicated by the fact that Hinduism has multiple deities - it's not as simple as saying Jesus Christ was the son of God for example - a one to one holy relationship. For their adherents this hardly matters. Those who venerate these men and women often associate them with the same kind of miracles that one reads about in the Gospel - for example restoring the injured or incurably ill to full health. Naturally this has engendered controversy in many forms - challenges to prove their "miracles" scientifically for one, accusations of being "cult leaders" for another. The original Sai Baba of Shirdi gets the best rap of the three - probably because the internet wasn't around in his time. His disciples are much more widely challenged."
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