If you missed any of the new reviews this past week including Tyler, the Creator's "Wolf" then do yourself a favor and check out this week's edition of the (W)rap Up!
Tyler, the Creator :: Wolf
RED Music/Odd Future/Sony Music
Author: Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Trying to quantify Tyler Gregory Okonma is an exercise in futility he'd probably rather people other than his therapist not even attempt - except of course he's his OWN therapist. That's a clever gimmick for intros, outros and filler material on his albums but it also hints at a deeper truth - one of the few things about Tyler that CAN easily be quantified. At times his signature trait has been identified as lyrics that are designed to provoke shocked reactions, but behind the homophobic slurs and rape fantasies is a young man with as much angst as talent. His deep syrupy voice provides an endless array of audio manipulation opportunities, many of which come from his own production - among the best in his Odd Future clique. If you get beyond the shock and awe campaign, he's quite the narrator and storyteller - splashing lyrical paint on audio canvases in methods that only SEEM haphazard to the unobservant."Wolf" features another of Tyler's trademarks - raw unrepentant anger - but he's not loading up full clips and spraying innocent verbal targets. Tyler has a hit list, and when he takes aim, his verbal barbs only hit those who are chosen to deserve it. One of them is his absentee father, and while "Answer" is full of vitriolic language, it's also a darkly beautiful song where he sings the hooks along with Syd Tha Kid. Tyler outright admits the rage he feels about not getting a positive male role model growing up fueled his artistic success. Tyler's personal therapy also includes his escapist fantasies, such as those seen in the three part song "PartyIsntOver/Campfire/Bimmer." Even though his fame and fortune have risen to the point he could pop champagne in strip clubs like a NBA baller, he waxes poetic about wanting to go to Odd Future summer camp like a Golf Wang Boy Scout. At first you might assume it's a big put on, but Tyler's production and the singing children match the dreamlike atmosphere, so he's not joking - at only 22 he has been aged beyond his years by stardom's responsibilities."
Boldy James :: Grand Quarters :: DeCon Records
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor
"Forget New York, forget Atlanta, forget Chicago, forget Los Angeles: Detroit is where it's at right now for hip-hop. The city generally makes headlines because of the many problems it has: a crumbling infrastructure, mass exodus of citizens, and a horrific crime rate all make Detroit the poster child for urban decay and the failing American dream. The upside to Detroit's problems is that they have created fertile ground for a generation of rappers making some of the best and hardest rap music today. Black Milk, Danny Brown, Guilty Simpson, Big Sean, Elzhi, and the Cool Kids are just some of the rappers Detroit has turned out in the past decade. That's not even counting J Dilla and Eminem, who came up in the 90s, or the Insane Clown Posse and Esham, who are genres unto themselves. Detroit might not have figured out how to reverse their city's decades-long decline, but it sure can churn out rappers. Boldy James is one of the latest MCs to come out of Detroit. Born James Clay Jones III, he took his rap name from his friend, a neighborhood drug dealer. When the original Boldy James got murdered, young Mr. Jones decided to honor him by using his nickname as his rap name. Boldy appeared on a few tracks with the Cool Kids in 2009, working alongside his cousin Chuck Inglish. 2011 saw the release of his "Trappers Alley Pros and Cons" mixtape, which he followed up in 2012 with "Consignment: Favor for a Favor" mixtape. Now he's released his debut EP, "Grand Quarters," offering up six tracks of his trademark cold-as-ice rapping. Boldy's style is sparse, stripped-down, and nihilistic. He's got the cold-blooded swagger and laconic flow of Chief Keef, delivering his lines with a disaffected menace. Unlike Keef, however, Boldy is a good lyricist, which elevates his songs above their well-worn themes of drugs, money, and girls."
DJ Khaled :: Kiss the Ring :: We the Best/Terror Squad/Cash Money/Universal Republic Records
as reviewed by Grant Jones
"Anyone guilty of downloading songs at least ten years ago around about the time broadband internet access was becoming readily available will know exactly what I'm talking about when I share one of my grievances with hip hop; DJs talking shit over a song. It was usually Funkmaster Flex found talking nonsense over numerous Dipset, G Unit, *insert standard R&B/Hip Hop radio single from 2002*. If you tried downloading hip hop in the early noughties, you would have your fingers crossed you got the original version and not one recorded from the radio accompanied by an annoying DJ. This brings me nicely on to DJ Khaled, as you can listen to any of his previous work and find his intense ranting throughout. The thing is, Khaled has regularly (almost annually) released albums with A-list line-ups of the biggest stars in hip hop. Remember the "I'm So Hood Remix" video? Or the "All I Do Is Win Remix"? Regardless of your taste in rappers, there was always an artist on board that delivered. On his SIXTH album, Khaled has stuck to the formula that worked previously; assemble the regular rappers such as Birdman, Rick Ross and Lil Wayne, and combine them with club-friendly, thumping beats that allow the rappers involved to be as a self-indulgent as possible. "Shout Out To The Real" features Meek Mill, Ace Hood and Plies, three artists probably not known for being "real". Considering Ace Hood spits a verse consisting of cars, jewellery and riches, it is strange hearing him shout out to the real emcees. Plies is so obnoxious yet devoid of any subtlety to come across in any way likeable. It's a complete shambles of a record, with the wall-shaking production from Jahlil Beats being the only reason to listen to it. "Bitches and Bottles (Let's Get It Started)" is a single with vague similarities to "Paris" by Kanye West and Jay-Z. It's a more straight forward track musically, bass-heavy as expected, that has a surprisingly strong verse from Lil Wayne, who I find either drops clever wordplay, or nursery rhyme bullshit."
P.H.I.L.T.H.Y. :: A Little Light for You :: BLAT! Pack
as reviewed by Zach 'Goose' Gase
"So far in 2013, Michigan-based crew, The BLAT! Pack has been responsible for some of my favorite releases (Jahshua Smith's "The Final Season" and Red Pill & Hir-O's "The Kick"). This has led me to check out some of the group's back catalog, and based off of the strength of his verse on Smith's "Carry On/The Ark" I decided to check out P.H.I.L.T.H.Y. He is based out of Lansing, Michigan, and last July he linked up with producer KuroiOto for a pre-album EP titled "A Little Light for You" or "#ALL4You" for short. The six-track EP is the prequel for P.H.I.L.T.H.Y. and KuroiOto's upcoming album "Living Daylights," which is dedicated to people who use their talents and gifts to bring light to a dark and bleak environment. "A Little Light For You" packs a lot of positivity and uplifting moments into just under 20 minutes, but does so without being cheesy or preachy. "I Try" stands out as one of the EP's best cuts with blasting horns and a top notch hook – one of P.H.I.L.T.H.Y.'s strongest attributes as a rapper. He talks about his spirituality pretty regularly throughout the project, but has the charisma to pull off lines like "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength like Creatine" without sounding pretentious or overly religious. Production-wise "#ALL4You" is predominately bright sounding – great for the incoming spring and the summer, when it was originally released. BLAT! Pack vocalist Yellokake drops by on "A Little Light 4 You (Interlude)" and serenades the brief track with her sultry vocals. And Sareem Poems, who sounds a little like Chuck D, also drops a spoken-word verse on the interlude. One of KuroiOto's best beats on the project is the up-tempo "David's Dance," which is driven by a strong vocal sample. He steps away from the light briefly on "Sometimes," which features some very dark, filtered guitars."
Quelle Chris :: Niggas Is Men :: Mello Music Group
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"If you know of Detroit, Michigan's own Quelle Chris to this point it's probably because of his production - working with everybody from Roc Marciano to Danny Brown. A few years back he started dabbling in rapping and released an album called "Shotgun & Sleek Rifle," and I'd be lying if I said I even remember it coming out. He reached a higher altitude on my radar when he linked up with Mello Music Group, who have been dropping free MP3's and limited edition 7" singles. They've clearly earmarked Chris as one of their stars of the future, and since MMG is one of the more reliable independent imprints out there, that alone would be reason to check "Niggas Is Men" out - his reputation as a producer sealed it though. I'm always fascinated when somebody known for excellence in one of the arts of hip-hop switches up and tries another - some can pull it off and some fall harder than Mark Henry did on Ryback. Let's start with the production of "Niggas Is Men." I almost have to, because Chris gives up three fourths of the 45 minutes here to guest stars, meaning his voice doesn't stand out a lot of the time. Anyway the D-Town in Chris comes across a lot on this album - and by that I mean a lot of the time his style sounds like J Dilla. That's probably unavoidable if you grew up in a market where he became a legend - it's the same reason so many producers in New York wound up sounding like Diamond D or Pete Rock (not coincidentally two other producers who crossed over to rapping). The first two words that come to mind listening to "Greene Eyes" are "quirky" and "etheral." The first two that come to mind listening to "Aura" are "mellow" and "jazzy." Any song here can combine one or all of those terms. This is not a bottom heavy, big bass, fast paced or menacing album. The most rugged Quelle gets is on songs like "Long Tokes," but the influence there is blunted blues, not bar room brawls."
Sister Crayon :: Cynic EP :: Fake Four, Inc
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Sister Crayon's EP was described to me by their publicist as "a beautifully crafted trip hop record." Now the dude in question is not normally prone to hyperbole when e-mailing me, but then again in the music business, you take these sort of statements with a grain of salt. On the flipside though I'm certainly not opposed to trip hop, or dubstep, and in fact I often leave long mixes of either streaming from YouTube in the background while I'm editing reviews. After all I've just spent hours listening to hip-hop for my OWN reviews, so some good electronic beat driven music where I'm not analyzing the lyrical content is a welcome break. I suppose in fairness I should say then that Sister Crayon's actual lyrics barely registered a blip on the radar while I listened to the "Cynic" EP. Terra Lopez and Dani Fernandez seem a fine combination - the former being the vocalist and the latter providing the "beautifully crafted trip hop" sound. A little investigation turned up that they released an album called "Bellow" on a different label in 2011, which must have been at least some degree of success for Fake Four, Inc to recruit them into the fold. A good example of their trip hop styling can be heard on the third track "Floating Heads." "
Skillz :: Thoughts Become Things :: E1 Music
as reviewed by Grant Jones
"The annual "Rap Up" tracks from Skillz are still an obligatory part of any hip hop fans' playlist come New Year. Although Skillz (initially Mad Skillz) has released six studio albums, he is more recognised nowadays for his commentary pieces on the year that was, rather than the dope rhyme-spitter I first experienced on the classic "B-Boy Document '99" alongside Mos Def and Mr. Eon. Possessing a high-pitched delivery reminiscent of Big L, Skillz dropped the underrated "From Where???" in 1996, then followed it up with the good, but not great "I Ain't Mad No More". With each release, Skillz got stronger, as shown by his consistent 8/8.5/8 scores handed out by my RR colleagues for his three albums previous to 2012's "Thoughts Become Things". One thing that Skillz is, is consistent. Yet being consistent still hasn't helped Skillz drop a classic record, or find himself featured in Top MC Lists across the internet. It's a strange position he finds himself in, and "Thoughts Become Things" sums up the no-nonsense approach taken by the former mad man. It is a shame that this is billed as Skillz' final album though, as tracks like "So High" and "Ignorant Levels" showcase Skillz' ability to combine modern sounds with a traditional rapping style. "Ignorant Levels" is a rapid-fire production from Rik Marvel with Skillz showing that his experienced flow hasn't been affected by years of spitting. "Love n Hip Hop" is a refreshing take on the Hip Hop/Woman metaphor that is so often revisited. Instead of vaguely rapping about his love for hip hop as if he was talking about a lady, Skillz has iconic samples from classic songs scratched in as if they are past relationships, over a hypnotic take on Madvillain's "Accordion" "
Tim Dog & Kool Keith :: Project X: Iconic :: Rap Legend Recordings Inc.
** RapReviews "Back to the Lab" series **
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"The recent passing of Timothy Blair b/k/a Tim Dog had me combing through my collection of tapes, records and compact discs to see what album review I could do in honor of his memory - much like I did when Heavy D passed away in 2011 and something I feel I've had to do far too many times in general. You become increasingly aware of your own mortality when so many of the artists you grew up with pass away, but that's a subject for another day and article. As I compared Tim Dog's discography to my own I noticed a glaring omission - a 2009 collaboration album with Kool Keith called "Project X: Iconic." 2009's "Project X" is the latest (and now sadly last) salvo in an Ultramagnetic friendship that dates back to the 1980's. One of my favorite collaborations that these New Yorkers recorded is an album called "Big Time" in 1996. As a self-confessed Kool Keith junkie, I felt double dumbstruck I somehow overlooked the "Project X" album. Thankfully Amazon.com had the hook up, so I was able to fill in this gap for both Keith and the D-O-G while simultaneously bringing you this review. The first thing that's obvious is this album should have been called "Kool Keith, Tim Dog and Marc Live Present - Project X." From Clayborne Family to KHM, there are no shortage of Keith fronted projects in which Live performed. The notable thing about Marc's lack of mention is that Marc is often as not the most sensible rapper in ANY collaboration. We all know Keith tends to be an eccentric weirdo even of his best days, while Live has always shown himself to be down to earth and solid on the microphone. I'll even go one further here - solo Marc songs like "Do It 2 Death" are the glue that holds this album together."
Von Pea & Aeon :: Duly Noted. :: HiPNOTT Records
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Although he got his initial fame as one-third of beloved rap group Tanya Morgan, Von Pea has emerged as a well respected solo artist in recent years. The chemistry between him and the other members was always interesting anyway given Pea is Brooklyn born, while Donwill and Ilyas (who recently left the group) were from Cincinnati. Von was already recording as a soloist before Ilyas left (as was Don) so that change definitely wasn't the impetus. At times Von is more identified with his beats than his rhymes, so really he's out to have fun and doesn't give a damn what critics have to say. Literally. He devotes an entire verse of "Alive" to that subject. Hey it's all good Von. I'm sure some negative review set you off when you penned that verse, but you've been getting high scores here for years, so I doubt it was one of ours. And if it was, so what? I appreciate the sentiment anyway. You can't and shouldn't record hip-hop with the sole goal of impressing the "nerd jizzing journalists" of the blogosphere - even though it's not lost on me that Tanya Morgan was formed on the Okayplayer message boards. Tanya Morgan are internet darlings, so his words may have leave some people butthurt, but as he says on the song "Dog put your laptop away and pay for a show." F'real - just take a look back at any rap album from the 1980's we hail as a classic and you'll realize there was no social media like we know it today. Hell there were barely even cell phones - if you had one it was heavy as a fucking brick - and you weren't taking pics with it. Rappers made music for the consumers - the ones browsing the shelves at record stores (with actual vinyl records no less), reading print magazines, buying mixtapes and listening to their favorites on commercial or college radio. I'm not trying to be all Atari 2600 and Sega Master System about this, but there's something to be said about the authenticity of that era, where you couldn't buy buzz like you can buy YouTube video views."
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