If you missed any of the new reviews this past week, including 7L & Esoteric and Inspectah Deck's "CZARFACE" then do yourself a favor and check out this week's edition of the (W)rap Up!
7L & Esoteric and Inspectah Deck :: CZARFACE
Fly Casual/Brick Records
Author: Matt Jost
"One look at the cover and you know this is boys rap. What is boys rap, you ask? You know how boys can create the most elaborate figments, fastidiously detailed universes full of heroes and villains. Once they're past a certain age their own imagination may wane but they remain susceptible to relatively simple stories unfolding in spiffed up settings. If you follow me you may go even further and offer if not all of rap is essentially boys rap then, and I'd see your point, but there really is that specific subset of rap that serves as a rec room for the boys and the boys at heart. Inspectah Deck and 7L & Esoteric aren't necessarily poster boys for boys rap, but they naturally are drawn to it on their collaboration album "CZARFACE" (pronounced 'tsar face'). The connection was established as early as 1999, when Deck was, somewhat unexpectedly, featured on the title track of 7L & Eso's "Speaking Real Words" EP. They resumed their relationship more than a decade later on the inseperable Boston duo's "1212" album, which eventually led to "CZARFACE." The creature they dress up as has been described by Eso as "a vigilante, anti-hero character" whose "focus is on annihilating the media darlings that the mainstream caters to." In terms of character development and background the project is set up promisingly with "Air 'Em Out," a first strike set to a droning bassline and hard drums. A Lil' Fame-like voice yelling "He just air 'em out / he don't hear 'em out" acts as the hook while Deck and Eso match their invasive styles. Both rappers are clearly in their element on "CZARFACE." But that doesn't guarantee coming up with five when putting two and two together. Because after "Air 'Em Out" the "CZARFACE" saga is cut short and ends up a typical rap album characterized by references to pop culture and past times, guest spots and familiar imagery and attitude."
Apollo Brown, Verbal Kent & Red Pill :: Ugly Heroes :: Mello Music Group
as reviewed by Zach 'Goose' Gase
"After working with legends like O.C. and Ghostface Killah, Apollo Brown assembled a group of relatively unknown but up-and-coming emcees – Chicago's Verbal Kent and Detroit's Red Pill for his latest project – "Ugly Heroes." Brown recruited these two rappers for a project about "blue collar individuals who make the world go round." Despite never recording together prior to this project, the two emcees have a strong chemistry on all of the album's 15 tracks. Red Pill's smooth but intense delivery is perfectly complemented by Verbal Kent's gruff voice, and Apollo Brown's signature mid-tempo samples and hard drum patterns tie the whole sound together. Opener, "Desperate" is not the most traditional start to an album, but it perfectly sets the tone for the whole project. "Ugly Heroes" is driven by a blue collar theme and the two emcees rap about their first-hand experiences with poverty. "Graves" is a nod to the proletarian worker, who struggles to feed his or her family, and "Long Drive Home" has both rappers reflecting on their struggles during a drive home. "Impaired Judgment" focuses on using drugs and alcohol as a form of escapism, over one of Brown's best beats on the record. While most of "Ugly Heroes" is relatively dark – both in production and subject matter, there are still some lighter moments. Most notably, the closer "Push" is an motivating track where the two struggling emcees "push through" their setbacks. Tracks like "Good Things Die" and "This is Life" are less intense than most of the album, and give the rappers a chance to flex their lyrical skills. Kent thrives on these tracks, and offers his strongest verse on "Good Things Die." Apollo Brown has been one of hip hop's most consistent producers over the past few years."
Hannibal Stax & Marco Polo :: Seize the Day :: Soulspazm, Inc.
as reviewed by Grant Jones
"As far as Gang Starr affiliates go, Hannibal Stax (aka H. Stax) is a rapper that has complemented DJ Premier's gully New York soundscapes rather than stood out on them. Vocally along the lines of NYGz, H. Stax brings Marco Polo in to provide the boom bap sound that he so often prefers to rhyme over. Despite spitting one of the best verses on Gang Starr's "Same Team, No Games", H. Stax hasn't really been given his shine, yet Big Shug has had numerous albums released. To be fair, as poor as Big Shug is, H. Stax isn't the most lyrical emcee himself and it could be argued he is the carbon copy of numerous New York rappers from the 90s. "Seize The Day" has been offered as free streams online, and it is easy to see why. Marco Polo provides some decent, yet unsurprising production throughout that just doesn't match up to his "Newport Authority" material; let alone the "Port Authority" series. "Righteous Kill" and "Keep Grindin'" stand out amongst the mediocrity purely because H. Stax actually crafts songs with a theme. OK, the themes may be as generic as hip hop gets, hustling and threatening wack emcees aren't going to win any accolades, but "Seize The Day" isn't about art. Just as Marco enjoys working with grimey rappers such as Ruste Juxx and Torae, H. Stax raps about the streets and the stress that money brings with it. There is an abundance of money-talk in fact, surprising considering this is as underground as it gets in terms of the audience they are aiming at."
Mitchy Slick and the World's Freshest :: Feet Match the Paint :: Empire Distribution
as reviewed by Jaroslav 'Czechone' Lavick
"Not that long ago, Ice Cube made a pretty bold claim with "I am the West". Whether or not Cube best represents what West Coast hip hop is these days is an argument for another day, but to me an artist like Mitchy Slick (along with The World's Freshest AKA DJ Fresh) is bringing the exact flavour on his "Feet Match the Paint" album that I want to hear when in that Cali state of mind, cruising the streets in my imaginary '64 Impala. In fact, Mitchy is a prime example of what I see as a big advantage that many West Coast artists hold over their East Coast counterparts, i.e. a duality that allows them to switch between the more sample based, break-beat side of hip hop, typically regarded as traditional East Coast hip hop, and the more funk laden, heavy bass and synths of the gangsta styles of their locales. Mitchy makes mention in the album of touring with everyone from DJ Quik to Living Legends, and that in itself typifies the diversity of an artist like Mitchy in the West Coast scene. His past work has always made somewhat of a distinction between the two sides, with his crew Strong Arm Steady (Mitchy, Krondon and Phil the Agony) being a mix of NY flavour combined with touches of Cali funk, but his solo albums delivering much more of a straight-up gangsta lean. "Feet Match the Paint" is very much the latter with Mitchy stating on "Loot Hungry" that his life is "a microcosm of g-shit compacted in one life", and this album also delivers a microcosm of "g-sounds" compacted on one disc. Actually, what grabbed my attention initially about this album was the cover. It's very different these days with the ease of access to new music, but before the world of dot-com it wasn't unusual for me to buy albums based on the cover/artist name alone (as we had little else to go by in my part of the world in terms of exposure to hip hop songs/artists), and the process of buying "Feet Match the Paint" was a throwback to those days for me."
Random a/k/a Mega Ran :: Castlevania: The Nocturnal Cantata :: MegaRan Music
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Off the top I want to be sure to credit Sammus for her role in producing a majority of the album. In Random's press sheet accompanying the album, he's proud (and rightfully so) of honoring the spirit of the original game which inspired this album, "Castlevania: Symphony of the Night." That game's haunting orchestral score was composed by Michiru Yamane, so even though the game and this album are a generation apart, there's a common bond in having a female composure put in work on both. Random is all about capturing the spirit of the video games he pays tribute to, as we've learned from the success of his past releases like "Mega Ran 9" and "Black Materia: Final Fantasy VII." To that end Random has split this EP into three chapters, although to be honest at 12 tracks long it feels more like a full album. Random tells the story of both the game and the Castlevania mythology throughout, building up Alucard (son of Dracula) and his quest to undo his father's evil. If you're not familiar "100 Years" will bring you up to speed quick as he raps from Dracula's perspective. To break up the chapters there are "Interludes" which narrate the story, further drawing you into the story and revealing who characters like Richter Belmont are. Sammus also plays a vocal role in the album representing Maria Renard, one of the integral characters to the game. "Sweet Sorrow" is one such track."
Styles P :: Float :: Nature Sounds
as reviewed by Grant Jones
"Float is certainly short, but there's nothing sweet about this release. With Styles P records you know what you're getting, a relentless barrage of machismo spliced with black humour. His last project was one I enjoyed but ultimately wanted more from, as it was only ten tracks deep. "Float" is marginally longer, but with Scram Jones producing the whole thing, there isn't any chart-material here. This is that New York rap that flips the bird at any censorship issues the radio may have. Musically, there are a few moments of greatness where Scram keeps things simple on "Manson Murder" (featuring a typically stupid verse from Nore) and "Hater Love" brings some much needed life to proceedings. The dramatic "Intro" benefits from intense strings and dope scratches that really should have been applied on more tracks, because as hard as Styles P's raps are, they get monotonous if the production isn't up to par. And there is an unhealthy proportion of average beats being served up by Scram Jones, lending "Float" an almost dated feel. It's no surprise to find features from Sheek Louch, Nore, Jadakiss and Raekwon, all four at a similar age, yet all rapping about things you'd like to think they did when they were younger. What sets "Float" back the most is Styles P himself, with raps that are predictably hardcore, but devoid of any intelligence or irony. The cursed ‘seriousitosis' is evident more than ever, which Styles has always flirted with but usually spices up his verses with a threat or claim of superiority that is so ridiculous that it becomes tongue-in-cheek. It's the reason he has always been my favourite LOX member, the fact he is SO hardcore that his lifestyle is probably impossible."
Twice Thou :: Bank Attack :: The BuyBack Initiative/Music Group
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor
"The bursting of the American housing bubble of 2007-2008, and the bank bailout and foreclosure crisis that followed, is one of the biggest boondoggles in U.S. history. The only reason why people weren't more incensed about what happened, and the broken and twisted system that allowed things to play out as they did, is that it was so complicated that most people never quite understood what was going on. Here's my understanding: a combination of factors, including growing wealth in countries like China, policies in the U.S. to encourage middle-class home ownership, and de-regulation of the banking and insurance industries led to the creation of complicated securities packages that allowed investors to invest in packages of subprime mortgages. This led mortgage companies to offer loans to riskier and riskier prospects, to the extent that people didn't have to even prove how much money they made. In other words, you didn't even have to prove that you could pay the mortgage back in order to borrow hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy a house. Many borrowers were given adjustable interest mortgages that started off with a low interest rate and then raised sharply in 3-5 years. This meant that your monthly house payment could double or triple in just a few years. The idea was that by the time your balloon payment kicked in, your house would be worth twice as much and you'd be able to either refinance or sell the house, and thus wouldn't have to worry about higher mortgage payment. This was combined with aggressive campaigns by lenders to have people take out second and third mortgages on their homes. The logic was that the housing market was rising so sharply that your house would be worth much more in a few years so you'd easily be able to pay off your second mortgage."
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