If you missed any of the new reviews this past week including Talib Kweli's "Prisoner of Conscious," then do yourself a favor and check out this week's edition of the (W)rap Up!
Talib Kweli :: Prisoner of Conscious
Author: Zach 'Goose' Gase
"At one point in my life, Talib Kweli was my favorite rapper. That was 2004 - after catching up with all of his releases from "Black Star" to "Quality" and before I heard the first misstep of his career "The Beautiful Struggle." Since then I've still had a great appreciation for Kweli and loved some of his out put (most notably "Ear Drum" and "Liberation"), but have found myself becoming less fascinated with the Brooklyn-based emcee. With his fifth solo album "Prisoner of Conscious," Kweli is coming off of yet another career trough after two disappointing releases. (In his defense "RPM" wasn't as bad as most initially thought, but it was still disappointing. "Gutter Rainbows" on the other hand, was probably the worst record he's ever released.) Despite his longevity and celebrated releases, he has had quite an up-and-down career. "POC" isn't the homerun many Kweli loyalists like myself were hoping for, and it ultimately falls flat due to repeated themes that he has touched on many times throughout his career. "POC" is extremely unfocused, and sounds like three EPs assembled together into one album. There are the classic Kweli battle raps (a la: "Human Mic" and "Hold it Down"), the conscious raps ("Hamster Wheel" and "Delicate Flowers") and the pandering to the commercial crowd ("Upper Echelon" and "Come Here"). This is something that Kweli has done on previous albums, but this is the first time it is overtly noticeable. Fans are likely going to blame the commercial tracks for this album's lukewarmness, but most of these tracks work fine. "Come Here" is your standard Kweli rapping about women cut and with Miguel's silky smooth chorus, it's one of the album's better tracks. And most surprisingly, the Nelly-featured "Before He Walked" is a banger. Not all the mainstream-sounding tracks work however. The Harry Fraud-produced "Upper Echelon" is just a mess and is easily the worst song on the record."
Factor :: Woke Up Alone :: Fake Four Inc.
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada's own Factor has made his living working with unconventional and at times polarizing rap artists. In fact I'll be the first to admit when it comes to Factor, I often like his production as much or more than the people on it. It's not that they aren't talented or worthwhile - it's that they all seem to crave the notion of being an eccentric misunderstood genius who makes avant garde rap music. That suits Factor's production talents quite well, but often leaves you wondering what the appeal of the rappers themselves are. Now let me be perfectly clear - I'm not saying that artists shouldn't have lofty aspirations to make something of profound wisdom, timeless beauty that can cross generational boundaries to both entertain and inspire the masses. I AM saying that the masses aren't always wrong to choose the entertaining over the dry and lifeless. "Fast 6" and "G.I. Joe 2" aren't high art. In fact a lot of people would say they're just a mindless pastiche of explosion porn and fighting sequences. Are you not entertained though? Perhaps not if you're a cinema snob, but that isn't who those movies were made for. I don't want to turn this whole review into an editorial, so we'll keep it to just this paragraph and move on, but personally I've always felt that a critic should avoid becoming pretentious and/or trying to shape the direction of the very thing they are trying to criticize. I've failed at that goal because it's only human to fail when art and ego collide - your desire to want better music leads to you thinking you know what's best for everyone. In evaluating "Woke Up Alone" it's fairly evident that Factor has considered the fact he may be making high art for rap snobs, but he's also daring you to take the plunge like a French language film with subtitles."
Jah Thomas :: Stop Yu Loafin :: Greensleeves/VP Records
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor
"I sometimes wonder what the lawyers who clear samples for American recording artists would make of Jamaican dancehall albums from the 70s. Biz Markie and De La Soul both got in big trouble for samples that were less than three seconds long; the average 70s dancehall song has the artist chatting over a borrowed instrumental riddim borrowed wholesale from another recording. The most popular riddims were repurposed so often that there are hundreds of compilations featuring ten or twelve artists chatting or singing over the same instrumental track. In some ways early hip-hop did much the same thing, with artists rapping over James Brown or Chic instrumentals. Still, its not like there are scores of albums with MCs rapping over "Ain't Too Proud to Beg," or "Sexual Healing," which is roughly equivalent to what Jamaican dancehall albums are. For the most part, the albums were released by the same studios that had the rights to the instrumentals, but I don't think that the Jamaican copyright industry in the 70s was nearly as robust as the Americans was. Not that that's a bad thing. Greensleeves has just reissued Nkruma "Jah" Thomas's 1978 album "Stop Yu Loafin," which is a prime example of 70s dancehall. The album sees Jah Thomas chatting over ten instrumentals from the Channel One studios. There are instrumental versions of songs by John Holt and Horace Andy that were hits earlier in the decade (Horace Andy's "Skylarking" provides the riddim for the title track). There's also a instrumental of a cover of Bob Marley's "Waiting in Vain", which means that it is a version of a version. The riddims are backed by the powerhouse team of Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, whose drums and bass form the backbone of many reggae songs from the 70s through the present. They were Jamaica's answer to Motown's Funk Brothers."
Qwel & Maker :: Beautiful Raw :: Galapagos 4
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"It's a well known fact even our reviewers will admit - Qwel & Maker are stereotyped as hip-hop for nerds. I suppose when your name starts with a Q and you're signed to a label that sounds like a chain of islands, people are going to make unfair assumptions from jump. Can you imagine Galapagos 4 changing their name at this point though? Def Galapagos? Galapagos Jam? Nahhhh kid, it doesn't work, nor does the idea that Qwel should try to conform to some nebulous idea of keeping it real. In fact the point of his whole career has been to be an UN-typical cat who doesn't conform - representing for Chi-Town while simultaneously representing a style and sound all his own.
"This new album is a testimony to the hard work and thoughtful care that the two put into all of their music." - "Beautiful Raw" press release
I come into this review favorably biased toward Qwel & Maker based on past experience, but for those unfamiliar let break it on down. Vocally I think of him as being a Midwestern blend of AZ in vocal tone, Common in accent, and Lyrics Born in his detailed construction. Even though Qwel clearly puts hard work into each and every one of his verses, he seems to toss off his lines effortlessly, with the polished delivery that only an experienced and self-confident emcee can. At times while listening to Qwel I get the feeling that 35 years of rap history culminated in a single moment. I'm not saying he's the perfect emcee - that's going too far - but I will argue that he's one of the best rappers you probably don't know. If you put him in that same conversation as Nas, Jay-Z, Posdnuos, Eminem, et cetera I'd be fine with it."
J. Cole :: Born Sinner :: Roc Nation
as reviewed by Jesal 'Jay Soul' Padania
"Oh, Hip Hop. We used to get classic social commentary; nowadays, it's more like social network comments. There is no doubt that the art of making an album has taken a backseat over the last decade – however, a few artists still take this shit seriously, and whilst tastes vary, we've certainly received excellent long plays from Kendrick Lamar and Drake, in particular. Following his somewhat bland debut "Cole World: The Sideline Story" J. Cole returns with his sophomore, lining up his release date to go toe-to-toe with Kanye West's "Yeezus" (both albums are due to drop on June 18th). It's fair to say that the limited advance offerings from either artist have failed to match the commercial might of the epic media takeover of West vs. 50 Cent back in 2007 ("Graduation" vs. "Curtis"). Since then, Kanye has gone from strength to strength, with 50 treating the rap game as a mere passing interest. Make no mistake: this little tête-à-tête is not in the same league. J. Cole comes across as this decade's version of The Game. They sound eerily similar at times; they both namedrop insecurely about legends/mentors; they both know how to put together a good album; both also seem convinced they are the new Tupac Shakur. Cole likes to produce his own music, whereas The Game knows how to get good beats for his budget; Cole is a touch better as an MC in certain respects; The Game at his peak was arguably more charismatic. But the common ground between them is clear. Cole has learnt from his bland debut album, and whilst it is a step in the right direction, can "Born Sinner" be considered a classic or even anywhere near 2006's "Doctor's Advocate" (which still bumps pretty damn hard)? In almost every respect, J. Cole improves upon "Cole World" – it's ambitious, a more unified sound is present throughout, lyrically he's spitting like the underground Cole that earned his following in the first place, and it's certainly vastly less marketed (cynically) towards the females. "Born Sinner" as a theme is subtly identifiable throughout most of the songs, with references to preachers, Adam and Eve, liberal sprinklings of choirs and some well-balanced confessionals."
Rich Quick :: Sad Songz EP :: Ben Frank Recordings
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"It would be fair to say Rich Quick's name is chosen with a wry sense of humor - he's likely to get anything but. That's not for lack of talent - in fact he's already made a name for himself with well received mixtapes like the DJ NoPhrillz and Benja Styles hosted "I'm With the DJ." It's more likely to be a factor of his refusal to compromise and make the kind of music that would take him mainstream. Lightning does occasionally strike and artists like Macklemore reach the national and international "household name" status, but if you sit around waiting for lightning to strike the rent goes unpaid and your gas and water gets shut off. Then again if your rap name was Metriculating Money Slowly, you probably wouldn't get paid any time or attention let alone ducats. That's just how hip-hop is. Even by the conventions of being unconventional though, Rich Quick is taking a quick risk with the brief but impactful "Sad Songz" EP. Emcees often don't want to get in touch with their emotions, unless that emotion is righteous anger at perceived injustices, and that can be anything from a sucker MC dissing to a cop's racial profiling. Rich Quick is definitely going to stand out with "Songz" like "Cry" though, which sounds to my ear like a screwed and chopped version of Crowded House's pop hit "Don't Say It's Over" from the mid-1980's. It's probably a coincidence, but what's not is that both songs have a big dramatic musical sweep that echoes behind the lyrics. Quick is not your posturing macho emcee, and he addresses the listener as though they're his therapist and he's sitting on the couch."
Spectac & Amiri :: Soul Beautiful :: HiPNOTT Records
as reviewed by Jaroslav 'Czechone' Lavick
"My first encounter with Spectac occurred a long time ago. In 1993, an unknown group from South Carolina called "Da Phlayva" released their one and only album called "Phlayva 4 Dem All". As I was buying anything and everything in those days the album ended up in my collection. Although it was heavily jocking the hyperactive, tongue twisting styles of the more popular crews around at the time (like Das EFX and Leaders of the New School), it was a very enjoyable album and I played it often. One track in particular always stuck in my memory, a posse cut called "Hookaz". A guest MC on that track was Spec Da Spectacular, and he was the star of the show by far. I'd never heard of him before, and didn't really think I'd ever hear from him again (being an extra on a pretty obscure album), but as the years went by his verse on that track was the thing I'd remember most about Da Phlayva's album. Wind the hands of time forward to 2013 and a review written by Flash appeared on this site for an album by an MC called Spectac (and producer Shakim) called "For the People". There weren't many clues in the review as to Spectac's history in hip hop aside from hints at his age, but the review sparked my interest enough to check out the album. As soon as I heard the voice, I KNEW this was the same Spec da Spectacular from all those years ago (confirmed to me by making a few online enquiries), and I was pretty overjoyed that he was still around. After checking out "For the People", I was even happier to discover that he knew how to make good music in this day and age where other veteran rappers often struggled to fit in to contemporary sounds. I also found a few more items of his recent work, including an album called "Spectac Returns" featuring production by 9th Wonder (amongst others), and another album called "Almost Famous" with producer and long-time friend Amiri."
Statik Selektah :: Extended Play :: Showoff/Duck Down Music
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Statik Selektah is one of those hitmen for hire you bring in on an album when you need a hot boom bap track to get the heads talking. His beats aren't always going to blow up a rapper on commercial radio (though he's had his share) but that's hardly the point. When you see the name in the credits next to a song on Wikipedia, you know it's going to be a certified head nodder. It's going to have that vintage East coast swagger - that DJ Premier, that Pete Rock, that Havoc sound that makes you heart pound in your chest. He's the kind of producer you want working with M.O.P., Action Bronson, Styles P and Freeway. The lucky few like Termanology who got to collab' with him on an entire album created underground gems. He's the producer's producer, and he is a working DJ when he's not crafting jewels, so be sure to "spell the name right. Thanks to a cooperative publicity department and a heavily watermarked copy (which came with the stern warning "IF IT LEAKS, WE WILL BE ABLE TO TRACE IT BACK TO YOU") RR was able to check out an early preview of "Extended Play," scheduled to hit stores on June 18th. A couple of singles have already come out in advance of the album though. First and foremost is "Bird's Eye View" and it's pretty much every thing we described in the opening paragraph. Selektah's R&B soul backdrop croons their way through the tune like Kanye West meets RZA, and an all-star line-up of emcees bless the music with their bars: Black Thought, Joey Bada$$ and Raekwon. In fact if the song had been billed as "Raekwon featuring Black Thought et cetera" people would be screaming THE WU IS BACK. It's like that. The second single's title "21 & Over" might have you expecting J-Ro and Tash, but it's actually current flavor of the month Mac Miller and the legend Sean P!!!"
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