If you missed any of the new reviews this past week including Illogic & Blockhead's "Capture The Sun" then do yourself a favor and check out this week's edition of the (W)rap Up!
Illogic & Blockhead :: Capture the Sun
Man Bites Dog Records
Author: Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Illogic and Blockhead have something in common besides this album. It's not where they are from - emcee Illogic hails from the hard scrabble Midwestern mecca of Columbus, Ohio while beat maestro Blockhead calls the city of New York his home. It's not that after years of bouncing around the music industry they can both now call that upstart imprint Man Bites Dog Recordshome. Their commonality is far more obvious - so many people sleep on them that they ought to work for Serta. It's hard to be as artistically innovative and musically creative as these two respective hip-hop heads are and not get recognition, but they've quietly fought the good fight for over a decade while flavor-of-the-minute pop rappers come and go. It would be dishonest to not admit a little bit of bias going in. One of the earliest labels to service RapReviews.com was Weightless Recordings, and Illogic's earliest releases are on that imprint. I've known Blockhead even longer thanks to the rec.music.hip-hop newsgroup. It would be equally dishonest to say that I'm personal friends with either one, as though we regularly chat on the phone, or that I'm some sort of trusted confidant when it comes to their hip-hop careers. Now in the 2010's as the duo attempt to "Capture the Sun" I find myself revisiting the backpacker paradigm of the 1990's, where rap nerds exulted in finding the next great thing and then bemoaned the fact they couldn't keep it secret. There's a little bit of that feeling to this album - that it's just too good to share - that one should jealously guard the dopeness and justify it by saying that the masses will never understand it. The album's title does little to dispel this egocentric notion. To "Capture the Sun" is physically impossible - one could never even hold one billionth of its churning hydrogen engine without instantly being burned to cinders. Even sheltered as we are by the Earth's atmospheric embrace, the sun still reaches out to touch us if we are careful, and punish us with skin cancer if we're not."
Killah Priest :: The Psychic World Of Walter Reed :: Proverbs Records
as reviewed by Grant Jones
"It is easy to forget just how strong Killah Priest's discography really is. "Heavy Mental", "Black August" and "The Offering" were all records this reviewer has spun on the regular, having successfully combined Priest's prophetic delivery with production that was never overly hard-core. The problem with a lot of "prophecy rap" is that either the rhymes go over your head, or the production is so dark that it's difficult to engage with the raps. Admittedly, I've always enjoyed Killah Priest as an artist, as he never overdoes it on the vocabulary (a la Canibus) and usually chooses suitable production. With "The Psychic World of Walter Reed", we are treated to TWO discs of Priest doing what he does best – story driven rhymes with plenty of religious references. There are instances of traditional street rap, "Current Events" being one, but even that is a story where the Priest himself even impersonates a woman. "Devotion to the Saints" is a standout Wu-Tang Clan combination involving Inspectah Deck and Ghostface Killah, and is just as dope as you'd expect. The real star is Kalisto who provides a grimey beat RZA would be proud of. The Abbot himself produces two tracks, "Energy Work" and "Fire Stone", the former a spaced out "8 Diagrams"-era sound, the latter a disappointing snooze-athon. "Peace God" feels like a drug-fuelled episode from Priest. As a song it is messy and makes about as much sense as the dreams that inspired it, although Ciph Barker provides another pounding backdrop that helps take the edge of the headache you'll induce from the lyrics. At 41 tracks long, Killah's style of rap is hard to digest in one sitting and the low point of the album is "The Spell"; over three minutes of torture rap. Unless you have all the Saw films on DVD and dig Necro, it's skippable stuff. With such a large number of tracks, it's inevitable there will be a few bad eggs, and "Music of the Spheres" features a horrid Jordan River Banks production. Killah Priest tries his best to sound godly over a beat that sounds like it hasn't been assembled to loop correctly."
MC Melodee x Cookin' Soul :: My Tape Deck :: Jakarta Records
as reviewed by Matt Jost
"It's been a few years since I first saw MC Melodee in a TV format that introduces up-and-coming European musicians. I understood that she was based in Amsterdam and rapped in English and despite personal sympathy didn't really see much potential there. A female European rapper trying to reach a wider audience with traditional hip-hop? Not a chance. But since then the chances for independent rappers everywhere to break out of their niche have increased, thanks in large part to the internet. The net also spurred international collaborations, which places "My Tape Deck" firmly in the here and now. Melodee first teamed up with Spanish production outfit Cookin' Soul in 2011, who themselves are ahead of their emceeing partner in terms of name recognition, having worked with a number of well-known US rappers (most recently N.O.R.E.). "My Tape Deck" follows last year's free "Check Out Melodee" mixtape and has a clear musical theme to it. As the cover suggests, "My Tape Deck" is inspired by the 1990s. More precisely, Cookin' Soul evoke the years 1994 and 1995 with jazz-funk-sourced basslines, horns, flutes, Rhodes, etc., all arranged in Pete Rock/D.I.T.C. fashion - or rather the relaxed variant. Making her first appearance as early as 1999, Melodee, who is in her late twenties now, has first-hand experience of '90s hip-hop, and she peppers her performance with trademark phrases and adlibs. Check the "Rock, rock on" shoutouts in "Exhale" (which in the '90s might actually have been an '80s throwback themselves) with which she tops off the warm embrace of the track."
Quasimoto :: Yessir Whatever :: Stones Throw Records
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Quasimoto is an in-joke that not everybody who listens gets let in on. If you're not familiar with the adventure of Lord Quas, I'll give you a short explanation that will at least open the door to the bizarre - whether you step through afterward is your own choice. Quasimoto is the alter ego of rapper and producer Madlib, which is in turn the alter ego for Oxnard, California's own Otis Jackson, Jr. Since Madlib tends to be better known for his production work with others or on his own, Quasimoto exists to indulge his occasional penchant for penning raps - just not necessarily in his own voice. Seemingly at random the vocals on a Quasimoto song will jump from his normal speaking voice to a helium-inflated counterpart, and at other times the higher pitched persona totally takes over with Madlib only offering occasional interjections to break up what is seemingly his partner-in-crime's flow. In other words Madlib raps with himself on his Quasimoto albums. If that seems crazy, deranged, possibly a little bit out to lunch, then you have reached the appropriate understanding of an album like "Yessir Whatever," an album where Quas proudly brags that "We've been out there in orbit, and walked further than the moon - ain't we?" on songs like "Astronaut." Since Madlib's skills as a producer are not much questioned these days - it's pretty much a given he's dope behind the boards - your enjoyment level is a direct reflection of your ability to deal with the self-indulgent flows of a man who admits he's "a DJ first, a producer second and an emcee last." Madlib lets Quasimoto behave badly, acting like he's not responsible for the actions of his cartoonish alter ego, and the artwork reflects that as a porcine figure stands scowling at you with a brick in his hand and cigarette dangling loosely from his lips."
RA the Rugged Man :: Legends Never Die :: Nature Sounds
as reviewed by Grant Jones
""Legend" is a word that is thrown about all the time in hip hop circles, and RA The Rugged Man has been linked with this word before on his previous release "Legendary Classics" – a superb compilation of various highlights from RA's career. Obviously everything RA says can't be taken seriously (most of the time it should never be taken seriously) as he certainly likes to throw humour in to the mix, usually of the black variety. But with "Legends Never Die", RA drops only his second album a mere nine years after "Die Rugged Man, Die". Considering the album titles, and the fact that ever since his ridiculous verse on Jedi Mind Tricks' "Uncommon Valor" he has made a living from dropping song-stealing verses, has he really earned legendary status? Referring back to the above definition, he most certainly hasn't experienced the fame but MOST DEFINITELY has notoriety. This notoriety was gained through an unabashed reluctance to do what any record label suggested that may affect RA's liberal views, and a clear infatuation with the word 'cunt'. The brutal "Cunt Renaissance" with Biggie Smalls is one of RA's claims to fame, whilst "Stanley Kubrick" and "Flipside" are curse-laden ramblings from a very charismatic and grimey emcee. "Die Rugged Man, Die" was a heady mix of this style alongside some more personal tracks like "Lessons" and "A Star Is Born". "Legends Never Die" is noticeably more intense lyrically, with RA adopting his multi-syllable style which shows influences of Big Pun. "Defintion of a Rap Flow" is the perfect example of how refined RA is at his art. The only person I can think that may match him for breathless flow is Esoteric, or Pun himself. This relentless verbal assault follows on "Media Midgets" which carries on RA's hatred of the industry, critics and everything else in between. This is a theme which understandably ran through "Die Rugged Man, Die" as it was his ten years-late debut, but having now established himself with regular work and clearly not toning his act down for radio, the anti-industry message seems redundant at times."
Richie Branson :: Otaku Tuesdays :: RichieBranson.com
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Hip-Hop has gradually become more inclusive over the years, not without controversy at times, but the once hallowed halls of b-boys have found room for the gamers and the nerds. The turning point in many ways can be attributed to the rise of the Wu-Tang Clan, whose passion for badly dubbed Shaw Brothers martial arts films was (if we're also being honest) a bit nerdy in its own right. In the course of their ascent we learned that these pillars of East coast hip-hop were also fans of comic books, video games and professional wrestling. In their wake Zev Love X was reborn as MF DOOM, pushing the envelope of hip-hop's big bearhug around comics and animation even further, and now in 2013 we've reached a point where even Japanese manga and TV shows are in the rap mix. The stereotype that only fat white nerds who live in their mother's basement enjoy gaming and comics has now been shattered, and in the process a new generation of rappers has risen who doesn't need to be "hard" to create dope shit. I've oversimplified a bit in the opening paragraph for the purposes of setting up this review - actually more than a bit. If one so desired an entire book the size of Ego Trip's Book of Rap Lists could be devoted to every hip-hop artist from 1978 to 2013 who gradually pushed open the door a little bit more with a casual reference to something considered "nerdy" as a punchline or to pop one or two friends who would get it while listening. Since the general reaction to writing that book in this review would be #TLDR let's accept the argument that Ghostface Killah and the Metal Face Villain made it cool to be a dork. Richie Branson's "Otaku Tuesdays" is the natural extension of that love of comics and animation, taking it to the next step with songs like "Bring Back Toonami.""
Sho Baraka :: Talented 10th :: Lions and Liars
as reviewed by Grant Jones
"The beauty of hip hop is that there are artists for every taste and mood. Of course, the best emcees can cater to a variety of different styles, but at its essence, hip hop is documenting your life and thoughts alongside some kicks and snares. That is a generalization that doesn't really serve any purpose but to highlight that Christian hip hop is one of the least accessible entries in the sub-genre. There is always a time and place for aggressive music, or listening to a real lyrical rapper, but you have got to be pretty fanatical about religion to want to hear it heavily featured in your hip hop. I believe in God myself but am not a practicing Christian, and have no interest in the Bible and attending church every week. I also know many Christians that do these things, but most certainly don't listen to music revolving around their faith. So whilst this review isn't going to convert non-believers, it should be pointed out that to those of a more spiritual persuasion, you'll likely take more away from the rhymes than I did. That's not to say Sho Baraka isn't godly on the mic, but he proves to be a good emcee by releasing a Christian hip hop album that tries hard not to dwell on its religious material. Benefitting from raw, crashing production that possesses a tribal quality, particularly on the controversial "Jim Crow", Sho delivers an accessible album let down by the odd self-indulgence." Similar in style to fellow preacher Brother Ali, "Mahalia" is a confident piece that wouldn't sound out of place on the radio had the content been less about Christianity. The production often stands out, most notably on "Peter Pan", a more traditional Kev Brown-influenced number you could imagine Blu rocking to. "Denzel" sees Sho Baraka mocking ‘swag' rappers, and when not talking religion is where Sho excels most. The lyrical content isn't what lets "Madoff" down, but the spoken word manner it is delivered, thankfully saved by a great Caribbean-infused chorus."
Snoop Lion :: Reincarnated :: Berhane Sound System/RCA Records
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor
"Calvin Broadus Jr., aka Snoop Doggy Dogg aka Snoop Dogg, aka Snoop Lion, is nothing if not a dabbler. He's dabbled in being a gangbanger, he's dabbled in being a pimp, he's dabbled in being a pornographer, he's dabbled in Southern hip-hop, he's dabbled in R&B, he's dabbled in being a variety-show host, he's dabbled in being in a reality TV show. He's even dabbled in being part of the Nation of Islam, although I'm guessing their attitudes towards drugs and sex prevented Snoop from converting. Now he's dabbling in Rastafari culture, which was perhaps inevitable given how integral weed is to his existence. If you have been a wake-and-baker for your entire adult life, why not explore a belief system in which marijuana is a sacrament? Here's the story: Snoop took a three-week tour of Jamaica, and it led to a spiritual transformation where he took the Rastafari sacraments, embraced the faith, and changed his name from Dogg to the more noble Lion. He released a documentary, also titled "Reincarnated," which follows him on his spiritual journey. In the wake of the documentary there has been controversy about how sincere Snoop's foray into Rastafari culture is. Bunny Wailer, who performed with Bob Marley in the Wailers and appears in "Reincarnated," has publicly accused Snoop of being a fraud and failing to meet "contractual, moral, and verbal commitments." So how sincere is Snoop about being a Rasta, and how convincing is his reggae album? Ultimately, whether or not Snoop is fully committed to Rastafari isn't really an issue. There have been plenty of non-Jamaicans who have made decent reggae music: the Police, the Clash, fellow LBC residents Sublime, and Diplo, to name four. So long as Snoop is sincere about his interest in Rastafari and reggae music, and adapts reggae to the West Coast gangsta rap he knows best, "Reincarnated" could potentially be a solid album. The problem is that Snoop tries too hard to go native, and his spiritual growth isn't evident in the lyrics."
Wax :: Continue :: Scrublife
as reviewed by Grant Jones
"Wax is an emcee that capitalized on the Internet, accumulating millions of views and thousands of subscriptions to his Youtube channel. This was a few years ago now, and having been scooped up by Def Jam (and subsequently spat out a year later), he hasn't really been able to break the popular-rap genre. So another emcee that has experienced major label politics and been promptly dropped soon after. "Continue" is Wax moving on, carrying on doing what he does best, and there is a clear freedom on this record that shows his creativity. Wax raps a lot like underground stalwart Slaine, but devoid of an aggressive, political agenda. It would be stupid to pinpoint Wax with one sound as "Continue" darts all over the place musically, with "Dreamin'" showing influences from The Beastie Boys to Will.i.am. Party records such as "Get It In" and "Toothbrush" are too dumb to deserve prolonged rotation, and detract from the more acoustic, lyrical affairs. Minus the rock-flip, "Tomorrow" proves just why Wax got signed to Def Jam in the first place. A catchy ode to false promises, Wax shows he can sing enough to warrant thousands of views online, whilst "I Shoulda Tried Harder" is a more realistic view on the effort he puts in. Wax undoes this message by proclaiming that "We Can't All Be Heroes", insisting that no matter how hard you try, unless you are naturally gifted you will be subjected to limits. It's also worth noting that perhaps the reason Wax isn't a platinum seller, is his constant cursing. Much like R.A. The Rugged Man, he is infatuated with the word ‘cunt' on the song "Continue", and even attempts to purposefully shock the listener on "She Used To Be Mine." Sounding more like a Tenacious D record, Wax narrates a 9-way gangbang featuring his ex-girlfriend, as she proceeds to engage in all sorts of pornographic situations with each member of a Salsa band, SIMULTANEOUSLY."
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