If you missed any of the new reviews this past week including N.O.R.E.'s "Student of the Game" then do yourself a favor and check out this week's edition of the (W)rap Up!
N.O.R.E. (P.A.P.I.) :: Student of the Game
Author: Steve 'Flash' Juon
Call him Noreaga, N.O.R.E. or even P.A.P.I. - but at this point you have to call Victor Santiago a legend too. Besides his membership in Queens, New York rap super team Capone-N-Noreaga (CNN), he's become a superstar in his own right as a soloist, with one of the most easily recognizable voices in all of hip-hop. It may not have been his intention to blow on his own, but Capone was in and out of prison so much he had to go "Superthug" just to keep his career going. He's always walked the line between being locked up and being a star himself, something he addresses with a firsthand narrative on the Cookin' Soul produced title track. At times through the years I've been critical of Noreaga for putting his charisma above the quality of his rhymes. It's not surprising he would do so given he was blessed with an abundance of it from birth, so much so that if he could bottle it and sell it, a whole lot of rappers with D+ personalities and monotone deliveries could pay for five figures for a jar and drink up to get dope (a better idea than sizzurp). Something's changed over the years though. Either N.O.R.E. has matured dramatically as an artist after almost 20 years of making records, or so many mediocre emcees are making chart-topping singles that Santiago suddenly seems like a lyrical genius by comparison. I've got to think it's a little of both. He's not going to be mistaken for Posdnuos in terms of complexity or Chino XL in terms of punchlines, but a serious P.A.P.I. doesn't sound out of place with Raekwon and Busta Rhymes on "Faces of Death" or Mayday and Tech N9ne on "Dreaming." In fact the biggest problem with the single "Tadow" is that Pusha T is the only guy on his level - 2 Chainz and French Montana drag the song down."
Asylum Lifetime & Sherm Larock :: Political Asylum :: Wasted Talent Music
as reviewed by Grant Jones
Every year I discover a new act that blows me away with that throwback, boom bap shit that caters to my inner rapper. You know the guy, he tells you to "Woooooo" each time you hear a new DJ Premier beat, or gets the hairs on the back of your neck to stand on edge when you line up Track 15 on "The Infamous". Recently it seems the 90s throwback acts are getting better and better, with the last two years seeing supreme releases from Beneficence, Epidemic, Confidence and IDE. Of course, these artists are firmly rooted in the underground and although their fanbase is relatively small, they don't give a flying you know what. One such record I remember discovering through the joys of Spotify is "Political Asylum". So who exactly are Asylum Lifetime & Sherm Larock? Well Asylum Lifetime is an aggressive emcee from Bristol, Connecticut, a former drug addict who chooses to rap over the hardest beats Sherm Larock can cook up. "Political Asylum" kicks off with a dope "Intro" whereby Asylum drops some decent rhymes but lets himself down with a horrible attempt at a hook, "We Run Rap" fits the mould of street rap more effectively, a boastful demonstration of how embedded in hip hop culture Asylum and Sherm are. The Jadakiss line "fuck saving hip hop, we're bringing the streets back" sums up "Political Asylum" as good as anything. Asylum Lifetime isn't a great emcee but if you just want some street raps over dope beats, this is one of 2011's better releases. "Rifal" is more of the same, and although you could probably exchange any of Asylum's verses with those on other tracks, there are moments where Asylum lets his guard down to spit something more substantial."
Cyrus Malachi :: Black Athena :: First Son Records
as reviewed by Grant Jones
"Two years ago, a brilliant album called "Ancient Future" dropped and is actually the last British rap album I purchased. Having recently praised that album here on Rap Reviews, I won't try to hide the fact that I'm a big fan of Cyrus Malachi, having followed his development since Triple Darkness' "Anathema" came out in 2008. One of the few rappers that truly has his own style, a ferocious delivery coupled with an incredible vocabulary helped push "Ancient Future" towards the upper echelon of UK Hip Hop. Whilst highly adept at traditional street rap, it was when Cyrus united powerful stories and poignant observations with his metaphorical style that made the record stay in the CD player. Whilst "Ancient Future" ultimately missed out on classic-status, being let down by some monotonous production and an inconsistent flow (the strongest records were all at the end of the album), it had plenty to say. It's refreshing to see that Cyrus has omitted American rappers from "Black Athena", preferring to collaborate with colleagues from his Triple Darkness crew. On "Godspeed", Jesse Blue provides Cyrus with a beat that you could imagine Greek gods gathering together to drop a cipher over. Amongst a tracklisting as eloquent as "Black Athena" possesses, "Godspeed" is apt. Cyrus doesn't reflect on anything too serious, but as the first song it lets the listener know exactly what Cyrus is all about – powerful vocals and thumping beats. "Contraband" is the embodiment of what made "Ancient Future" such a strong record. 7th Dan has produced a subtly vicious beat that Havoc would have been jealous of in '96."
Durag Dynasty :: 360 Waves :: Nature Sounds
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Within the last week I stumbled across an article on Twitter with the controversial title "How 'Illmatic' Ruined Hip-Hop." If the intent was to get me to click it worked - and within the first paragraph the author was already apologizing for the shocking title. He reassured readers that "Illmatic" was a hip-hop classic, always had been and would always be one of the greatest albums ever made, and yet his beef was that Nas started the trend of multiple producers contributing to a single rap album. The argument in its simplest form boils down to this: LL Cool J + Marley Marl, Pete Rock + CL Smooth or Guru + Premier = dope. When one producer (or perhaps one production team, such as the Bomb Squad) does an entire album, you attain a unique chemistry between the team, the vision of two artists with one common goal. One producer isn't so bad when it comes to making music, but most rappers today bring in every hot producer to do a song, hoping one or two will be magic. Just imagine any GangStarr record with 12 different producers instead of Primo holding it down throughout. Wu-Tang Clan albums were better with RZA in charge on production. You know this. The art of the two becoming one hasn't been ENTIRELY lost. Gene the Southern Child and Parallel Thought was a strong reminder of how a producer with a single sound can give an up-and-coming rapper the kind of artistic consistency that makes them stand out from peers of similar ability. In that same vein comes the Durag Dynasty, the union of long time California rap star Planet Asia with newer Cali emcees named Killer Ben and Tristate. Asia knows a little something about letting one producer bring out your artistic best, so it's not surprising he would enlist Alchemist to oversee this project."
Ghostface Killah & Adrian Younge :: Twelve Reasons to Die :: Soul Temple Entertainment
as reviewed by Zach 'Goose' Gase
"Now that most of the greatest rappers from the 90s are about 40 years old, this generation is at a major crossroads. While many rappers from this era still possess the skills to release music consistently, they must find a way to reinvent themselves enough to remain fresh, but not so much that they alienate their fan base. Around 2007, I noticed a trend among successful rappers pushing 40 – they told stories. Jay-Z released the narrative-driven "American Gangster," and found himself rapping about the same stuff he did in the mid-90s, but with a fresh, even wiser, approach. Slug, of the indie rap mainstay, Atmosphere has found himself rapping about other people's lives rather than his own on recent releases. And The Roots' latest LP "undun" was a concept album where Black Thought (and the album's guest rappers) channeled the mind of a young Philly man named Redford Stevens. With Ghostface Killah's tenth studio album "Twelve Reasons to Die," Ghost takes on this method of extended storytelling, which helps make this record his best since 2006's "Fishscale." With Ghostface's acute attention for details and imaginative storytelling that he's displayed over the course of his 20 year career, it's almost surprising that he's never tried a full-blown concept album before. He has played a major role in Raekwon's "Only Built 4 Cuban Linx" and its sequel, both of which feature a loose narrative, but "Twelve Reasons" features a well-plotted and extremely focused storyline that serves as both a strength and weakness for this record. The story is based in 1960s Italy, and without giving too much away, it tells the story of love, betrayal and revenge. Ghost sticks to the narrative outlined by producer Adrian Younge and executive Bob Power, which makes the story easy to follow, but also takes away from some of the dynamism of Ghost's lyrical prowess."
Grip Grand :: GG DOOM! BUT HOW? :: Rappcats/Grip Grand
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Grip Grand is already an underground favorite going into this newest project, his 2008 "Brokelore" having put his name on the map in a big way, and his sarcastic "Everyone Sucks At Everything" attitude resonating with rap heads fed up with the mediocre mainstream. Basically there's nothing for GG to prove at this point - except that he can rework another underground favorite into something fresh and new. It may seem like a familiar path to travel, given Jnerio Jarel already went down this road, but that was an official collaboration between JJ and hip-hop's favorite supervillain. "GG DOOM!" is a little more bootleg, a little more on the down-low, and as such it's also a little more on the down-LOAD (as in free). You may ask "Why do an unauthorized DOOM remix album?" But Grip Grand would be just as apt to ask "Why not?" Metal Face has left no shortage of material to work with in his wake over the years, much like Bruce Wayne left no shortage of DNA all over Gotham for Amanda Waller to find. There's DOOM-capellas to be found (even though he allegedly has asked labels not to ever release any) from all of his numerous solo albums, side projects, collaborations and singles. Any producer of any repute could mix his lyrics and create a Daniel Dumile album - but the mere stature of the man and perhaps the possible permutations of litigious lawyers have kept them at bay. Grip Grand is therefore a bold man with a master plan and no fear of The Villain. He's willing to take that risk and create a project that even Latveria's would have to listen to and say "DAMN THAT SHIT WAS DOPE!""
Homeboy Sandman :: Kool Herc: Fertile Crescent :: Stones Throw Records
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor
"This EP marks the first in a series of proposed projects where Homeboy Sandman works exclusively with one producer. The Aztext did the same thing for their "Who Cares If We're Dope?" series, to good results. It's nice to have the cohesion of a rapper working with a single producer, and the EP format ensures that the idea doesn't get worked into the ground. For this installment, Homeboy Sandman is working with producer El RTNC, who has produced for Mos Def and De La Soul as Rthentic. The concept of the album is paying homage to OG DJ Kool Herc, the man who almost single-handedly invented hip-hop with his South Bronx block parties in the 1970s. If you've never heard Homeboy Sandman, his style is a bit of an acquired taste. His rhymes oscillate between simple and complicated, with a lot of wordplay, inner rhymes, and commentary on the state of hip-hop. Given his positive message and playful rhymes, Homeboy Sandman can come off as corny at times. I was really excited about Homeboy Sandman's 2010 album "The Good Sun," but have grown less interested in his subsequent output, to the extent that I didn't even bother picking up last year's "First of A Living Breed." It's not that I don't like the guy, but I found myself skipping his tracks whenever they came up on shuffle. I was intrigued enough by the title and concept of this EP to give the man another shot, and I'm glad I did."
Mac Mall, Sleep Dank, Tic, Dubee :: Thizzpire Strikes Back :: City Hall
as reviewed by Matt Jost
"At first glance this project's title looks like another more or less evident pun on the term 'thizz,' as popularized by the late Mac Dre and spread further by his disciples, but after some research it reveals a meaning that was at first hidden to a casual consumer like myself. As the Vallejo Times Herald reported in late April 2012, law enforcement arrested 25 people suspected to belong to a drug trafficking ring, including, as the newsportal rather maliciously put it, 'many of them Vallejo-based rappers [...] tied to Mac Dre.' According to the U.S. Justice Department release cited, 'the investigation uncovered a network of drug distributors centered in Vallejo's Country Club Crest neighborhood in north Vallejo.' The authorities associated several of the suspects with Thizz Entertainment, the label best known for fervently administering the artistic legacy of Andre 'Mac Dre' Hicks. Thizz Entertainment, owned in part by Mac Dre's mother, pointed out that the targeted enterprise was actually Thizz Nation, a label with 'no ties whatsoever' to Thizz Entertainment. A spokesperson said: 'You have involved a continual grieving family, innocent company and reputation as part of an investigation of criminal, illicit and illegal acts and elements that are untrue and unfounded as it relates to Thizz Entertainment. You have also named Andre Hicks aka Mac Dre as 'at the core' of this drug trafficking ring even though it is common knowledge that he has been deceased for eight years now.' The investigators had gone as far as tracing Thizz back to the Romper Room Gang, who made headlines in the late '80s and early '90s with first sticking up pizza parlors and later graduating to robbing banks. The Romper Room affiliation had already successfully been stuck to Mac Dre himself, who in 1992 was convicted to five years in prison for conspiracy to commit robbery. The whole story was even told in an episode of BET's 'American Gangster' with testimony from Romp members and rap artists J-Diggs and Coolio Da' Unda' Dogg."
Maestro Fresh Wes :: Black Tuxedo EP :: Wes William Enterprises
as reviewed by Matt Jost
"Meaning... the creative control was completely in Wesley Williams' hands when he decided to dress for the occasion and go with the image that his chosen rap title might evoke. The album cover and title alluded to classical music, it had a ballad called "Private Symphony" and his hit "Drop the Needle" opened with Beethoven's 5th, but that's as far as it went, actually. In retrospect, nobody would accuse him of exploiting a gimmick with "Symphony in Effect." And yet the subject lingers on his mind, despite having long left those days behind. The title track of his 2012 EP "Black Tuxedo" features someone testifying how some in the local scene were repelled by the sight of the brother in "a black tuxedo with the cummerbund" ("Drop the Needle") - "They thought him wearing a tuxedo was the wackest thing that any rapper could've ever done. Maestro was a victim of the hate that Toronto is famous for." "Black Tuxedo" then is his retort to the "T.O. critics" he already in '89 characterized as "hard to please." "Every now and then I'm reminiscin' of how you pricks missed it," he ponders, but still aware of the adulation he also received: "Nitwits couldn't get their fuckin' lips off my stick shift / kissin' on the same tip that the chicks licked." All that should be over and done with by now, but Maestro Fresh Wes isn't the first character to squeeze himself into a worn outfit to settle an old score. If there ever was a point when Maes wanted to dispose of the tux, he now knows it will always be part of his wardrobe, along with the different hats he's worn (actor and author, more recently). In another one of the EP's tracks he rhymes, "Shortie played me like Clark Kent, wouldn't give me her name / When I came with the suit, Lois stayed in her Lane.""
TeeFlii :: AnnieRUO'Tay :: TeeFlii.com
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor
"South Central's own TeeFlii first came on the scene in David LaChappelle's "Rize," a documentary about krumping. His dance skills also got him a spot in "Stomp the Yard," as well as some choreography work. He's spent the last few years writing and recording his take on R&B, which he likes to call "Flii&B." Flii's family is rooted in gospel music, and while he sang gospel as a kid there is nothing holy about the ratchet-ass R&B that he makes. "AnnieRUO'Tay" is the first of two mixtapes Flii has released. Both are concept albums about seducing a hottie with a big booty in the VIP room of a club while drinking champagne and popping molly. Yes, that's right, TeeFlii has released TWO concept albums about hooking up in the club. That may seem a little unambitious given that most concept albums are about grander things like, say, a deaf dumb and blind kid who loves pinball and is taken as the Messiah, or a runaway who becomes a hare krishna, or a murdered drug dealer who comes back as a zombie, or Deltron's fight against corporations in 3030 (The Who's "Tommy," Husker Du's "Zen Arcade," Lupe Fiasco's "The Cool" and Deltron 3030, respectively). But hey, if DOOM can make an album about food, and Kool Keith can make an album about having sex, why not make two mixtapes about getting drunk and getting laid? The song titles tell the story: TeeFlii shows up in the club looking for Annies, slang for bad girls with big butts. He announces "I'm On." He begins having sex in the club with "Groupies." Things are getting "Ratchet" as the "Bands Play," and one of the annies has to "Take 1 for the Team" on the "Furniture," which gets a "Standing Ovation." Since the girls "Like Me," the "Girl Strip" in the "VIP Section" and "Celebrate" getting "Nasty" on the "Table." It ends with "Think of U" and "Get That Shit For Me Annie." Basically, it's a porno set to music. Every song is exactly what the title suggests, and some of them are so crude that they are unintentionally funny."
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