If you missed any of the new reviews this past week including Kanye West's "Yeezus" then do yourself a favor and check out this week's edition of the (W)rap Up!
Kanye West :: Yeezus
Author: Jesal 'Jay Soul' Padania
"Considering the minimalist ethos that Kanye West has, in so many respects, applied to his new album, it's ironic just how many bloody words have been written about "Yeezus" thus far. He has released no singles; it's a short 40 minute blitz through 10 songs; there's barely any marketing (a la Daft Punk); and the album doesn't even have traditional artwork. Everything is the polar opposite to his previous solo effort, the completely OTT "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy." And yet, there are just so… many… WORDS. In the spirit of Mr. West, let's try to strip this review bare and reduce it. A lot of critics had already declared "Yeezus" to be album of the year: that was 3 weeks before it even leaked. West has reached a level where he could, to quote that famous boy band, fart on a record and some would still declare it "ground-breaking." According to Rick Rubin, it wasn't even finished 5 weeks ago - Kanye shuns his previous process of refinement, endless editing and self-criticism, in favour of just BEING. It was probably a tangle of ideas until Rubin came in to sort it out, and whilst it's a shame that the legendary producer wasn't in from the ground up (we'd have a superior album, make no mistake), there are still a few subtle touches of his that remain identifiable. It initially has the air of a college student having left their dissertation untouched until 2 weeks before the deadline. Gladly, however, the more you play "Yeezus" the better it gets. Vocally and lyrically, this arguably cannot touch the polished and thoughtful extravagance of MBDTF, but it's more likely meant to be a companion piece to "808's & Heartbreak" - the screaming production renders this more like "808's & Headache" for the initial spins, with the first half possessing pounding musical highlights that grab your attention and refuse to let go. "808's" was designed to make you feel, make you understand West and his various travails; "Yeezus" is a big fuck you to everyone - nothing revolutionary in the slightest, but Ye injecting a bit of punk into this incredibly bland, corporate superstar-driven 2013 can be considered a necessarily evil. Daft Punk deliver with the opening salvo "On Sight" (have you tried just typing "On Sight" into Twitter?); the sparse, thumping track is truncated abruptly by a choir singing "He'll Give Us What We Really Want" and around it, West spits a venomous intro informing us just how little he gives a fuck."
Assalti Frontali :: Let's Go - Senza Lotta Non So Essere Felice :: Daje Forte Daje
as reviewed by Matt Jost
"Italian hip-hop has always always been a little special. One peculiarity are its historically close ties to the centri sociali ('social centers'), self-governed places where alternative culture and leftist politics find a home. Even the English Wiki entry acknowledges 'Self-managed social centers in Italy' as 'the heart of Italian hip hop.' Combining the collectivism of autonomous activist groups with the strength-in-numbers philosophy of hip-hop posses, likeminded rap, ragga and punk rock enthusiasts gathered in the later 1980s in various centri sociali to define Italian hip-hop as a grassroots movement that would try to find its own path seperate from the established music industry. Neapolitan outfit 99 Posse derived its name from a center called Officina 99. Further north Rome had the Onda Rossa Posse, Bologna the Isola Posse and Milan the Lion Horse Posse, all putting out just a couple of releases under their name. Onda Rossa Posse, originating in Rome's centro sociale Forte Prenestino and named after self-proclaimed 'revolutionary' radio station Onda Rossa ('Red Wave'), soon found a new name befitting its militant mindstate - Assalti Frontali ('Frontal Assaults' - the name also playing on the compound 'salto mortale,' a risky somersault performed by trapeze artists). "Let's Go - Senza Lotta Non So Essere Felice" is their 2012 retrospective, consisting of a preliminary 6-track CD containing one new song and some remixes and a second CD compiling '20 songs for 20 years of Assalti Frontali.' 1992 saw the release of Assalti Frontali's debut "Terra di Nessuno" ('No Man's Land'), according to the group the first rap longplayer in Italian, but "Senza Lotta Non So Essere Felice" ('Without Struggle I Can't Find Happiness') naturally starts with "Batti il Tuo Tempo" ('Dictate Your Own Tempo' or 'Fight Your Time'), the Ronda Ossa Posse track that marked an early milestone for Italian hip-hop in the summer of 1990."
Cappadonna :: Eyrth, Wynd and Fyre :: RBC Records
as reviewed by Jaroslav 'Czechone' Lavick
"Despite all the criticism he's received over his career for his nonsensical lyrics and poor albums, I have to admit that I've always quite liked Cappadonna. No I don't own all his LP's (I have the first 2 and a more recent one) and I'm not here claiming him to be an under-appreciated legend, but I've always liked his voice and stylistically there is a trace of old school MC's to him that really grabs me (as with the similarly oft-maligned U-God). Further to that, he seems to be a genuine guy and epitomises the struggling artist trying to make ends meet and feed his family, whilst staying true to his core sounds (albeit with mixed results). I will even go as far as saying I've felt a bit sorry for him with his Wu-Tang Clan identity crisis, sometimes being on the inner sanctum of the group, other times on the outer, and to that end I think there's often been confusion (for the fans at least) as to where he really sits with the Wu. Having put the above praise out there, I'm not going to pretend that the thought of a new Cappadonna album excites me, as I've always approached his releases with trepidation and have passed on owning more than half his releases due to not being impressed by preview listens. However, a DOUBLE CD from Cappadonna brings new levels of doubt, as even the recognised greats of hip hop don't always succeed with their multiple disc ventures. It's an album format that always comes with that higher risk factor of flopping, so props to him for having the confidence (or perhaps the audacity) to release such a project. Particularly so when he isn't blind to the barbs being thrown at him, as evidenced on "Real Talk": "I see y'all niggas over there keep talking about, yeah Cappadonna this, Cappadonna that, Cappadonna can't rap". You could say this double album is a cocky act of defiance against those haters."
Caxton Press :: Shame the Devil :: Defcon Records
as reviewed by Grant Jones
"Never judge an album by its cover is an adage as old as the devil himself. You could be excused for thinking "Shame the Devil" is a heavy metal record, or one of them nasty, horror-core hip hop albums boasting a thousand different ways to kill something. Personally, I was reminded of the old Wishmaster films from the late 90s. I digress, but "Shame the Devil" has more in common with horror movies than you'd think. Caxton Press are a group from London consisting of DJ Snuff, Profound, Manage, Kingpin, Amy True and Emcee Killa. Presenting their views on the evil message that today's mass media allegedly feeds us, you'd be forgiven for thinking this is another record full of conspiracy theories and contradictory messages on how powerless the consumer is compared to companies like Apple and Google, yet we must somehow fight that power. We've all heard the ‘anti-mainstream' message that underground hip hop is seemingly obsessed with lately, and whilst Manage (and Snuff) have gone down this road before with the Chain of Command group (alongside Conflix and Skandal), Caxton Press is somehow invigorating. There is a chemistry between the elder statesmen Manage, who guides the two fellow rappers Emcee Killa and Kingpin through some of the grimiest production this side of the pond. Musically, "Shame the Devil" certainly isn't the darkest record on the shelves, but it's far from happy either. Producer Profound fills each track with booming bass and depressive pianos, carving out a bleak image of run-down London neighbourhoods. "Why" is the slickest example of Caxton Press' brand of rap, a morbid outlook on how the poor and vulnerable are taken advantage of by the system. Kingpin is a young voice that already possesses a beautiful flow, whilst Emcee Killa is more upfront in the vein of Dirty Dike. Except Killa is devoid of Dike's humour throughout the album, instead providing relatable rhymes in a passionate manner. Manage has acquainted himself with two emcees that actually usurp his hollow content, and somehow steal his shine."
DJ Mustard :: Ketchup :: DatPiff
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor
"Even if you haven't heard of Compton producer DJ Mustard, you most likely have heard him. He produced 2 Chainz "I'm Different," Tyga's "Rack City," and Young Jeezy's "R.I.P." He's YG's producer and DJ, and toured as Tyga's DJ. He's the go-to producer of the new West Coast resurgence and the ambassador of West Coast ratchet music. "Ketchup" is a compilation of some of his tracks in anticipation of his album with TeeFlii that is dropping in July. Ratchet is basically this year's version of crunk or hyphy. It's party music that skews young, with uptempo beats and lyrics about getting drunk and high and having sex. The only intellectual decisions being made on the songs here is what substance to ingest and which girl to take home. Mustard's sound shares some of the DNA of crunk and hyphy, but it is less aggressive than the former and less busy than the latter. Mustard likes his beats stripped down, often with little more than handclaps, some 808s, and some icy synths. More often than not it's the MCs that carry the melody. The skeletal frame of Mustard's beats prove that less is more. He provides plenty of space for the MCs to do their thing, and the result is a song that has the energy of club rap without all the noise and jibber-jabber. His beats would almost be avant-garde if Mustard weren't more focused on keeping the party going than on artistic expression. With trap music becoming the latest African-American art form to be co-opted by white hipsters, it's nice to hear a young urban kid showing the ironic mustache crowd how it is done. This 21-track mixtape (which contains 17 actual songs and shoutouts from Lil Jon, DJ Drama, Timbo, and Funk Master Flex) features tracks from Lil Snupe, Joe Moses, YG, Ty Dolla $ign, C. Hood, Clyde Carson, RJ, Royce the Choice, Skeme, Cocc Pistol Cree, Bounce, Dorrough, Kay Ess, Nipsey Hussle, Dom Kennedy, and Killa Kam among others. Every single song is about partying and having sex. It's fine for a track or two, but it gets old long before the last song ends."
Drapetomania :: Drapetomania :: Branch Out Collective
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"It's time for Tree City to branch out again. The latest album to land on fertile soil and take root is the self-titled "Drapetomania," a word with a disturbing pseudoscientific background that was once taken seriously by plantation owners. To cut right to the point, the "cure" for this supposed disease was to whip the crap out of any slave who dared to think of running away to escape his/her station in life. Most scholars outside the South saw this for the farce it was, but the word is still powerfully evocative hundreds of years later. Gen Pop may have found dark humour in it as the bio for this album notes he was depressed bordering on suicide when this album was being recorded. Instead of fleeing Michigan or getting "the cure" for their malady, Gen Pop and Big Walt opted for an entire album of self-flagellation to dope beats. Take "The Tardedness" for instance - it's what would happen to Run-D.M.C.'s "Peter Piper" if the whole crew was chugging cough syrup smoothies. At times the depressed duo almost accidentally stumble into something upbeat, like collaborating with fellow heads Blackberry Aries and Clavius Crates on "Way of the Future," but Walt's cynical perspective shines through with lines like "these rappers are way more paid than we are/they ain't in the bar/pulling skee-zars." And some songs on Drapetomania are so dark and dour that they defy simple explanation. I don't know what "EEMNAA" stands for but I hope it's on the label of the prescription drugs they both need.This is an intentionally and in fact painfully inward looking album. Gen Pop and Big Walt have parked themselves on the corner of Life Sucks Boulevard and Dead End Street and pulled out brown bag bottles, sitting on the curb commiserating as the liquid gold flows down their gullets."
Eve :: Lip Lock :: From the Rib/Tenth Street Ent.
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"There have been some pretty long layoffs between second and third albums in hip-hop, but the gap between "Eve-olution" and "Lip Lock" is nearly record setting. The only reason I can't definitively give Eve the crown is (1.) my copy of Ego Trip's "Book of Rap Lists" isn't handy and (2.) I'm sure there are at least several old school rappers from the late 1970's or early 1980's who waited more than a decade to make a comeback. Nonetheless if you presumed she had retired from rapping to work on her fashion line (Fetish) or her acting career ("Barbershop" and "Glee" come to mind) you couldn't be blamed. A few singles came like "Tambourine" came out in 2007, but that was already a five year span as it was, and a new album never materialized. It's worth noting that Eve was once crowned "Ruff Ryders' First Lady" on her 1999 debut. Flash back a two decade span and she was seen as the female hip-hop version of DMX - a pitbull who would bark and growl as loudly as he did. The paw print tattoos on her chest are a reminder of that heritage, but you won't see them on "Lip Lock" and wouldn't even know they were still there without a Google search. You also won't see the Ruff Ryders logo, nor a cameo from Earl Simmons, and in fact any vestige of that past seems almost entirely erased. That's nobody's fault but Earl's - it's pretty hard to run a music empire when you're in and out of prison every other month. That may have contributed to Interscope's lack of satisfaction with her status back in '07, or the fact she had to launch her own imprint (From the Rib Entertainment) to finally put a new CD out. The swagger is still in tact though - she's the bitch you "Wanna Be.""
French Montana :: Excuse My French :: Bad Boy/Maybach Music Group
as reviewed by Grant Jones
"Looking at the abundance of guests featured on French Montana's debut "Excuse My French", I can't help but think of Nas' line from "Ether". It's difficult to know what is more surprising, the fact that "Stillmatic" is now twelve years old, or that rappers still insist on putting features on near enough every song, on an album that is supposed to welcome the world to your talents. Admittedly, French Montana is an artist I've heard of, but not necessarily heard. Considering his debut is linked with Bad Boy and Maybach Music, it's what type of fan this album is aimed at, and it doesn't seem to be hip hop fans. "I Ain't Worried Bout Nothin'" doesn't even make sense, and considering the hook is just that line repeated consecutively with the n-bomb thrown in after each utterance, it's cringe worthy stuff. At least "Pop That" tries to be fun, feeling like a modern 2 Live Crew record, yet French Montana is out-rhymed by Rick Ross (which says A LOT about the level of emceeing we're looking at). It's also sad to see the likes of Drake and Lil Wayne completely waste their talents, with Wayne even pretending that he is a skateboarder in the video. As infuriating as these guys' rhymes are, I've always got time for Nicki Minaj despite her rapid transgression in to a pop icon. "Freaks" sees Nicki do her thing with a catchy chorus but ultimately disappoints lyrically (FYI guys, she is effectively topless in the video). French Montana however, is an abominationHe can't even stay on beat, which for somebody signed to Bad Boy is shameful. How did Diddy go from Biggie Smalls to French Montana. There's not even one record that highlights why Diddy signed this dude, and it's glaringly obvious why there are so many producers, writers and features throughout "Excuse My French". The album isn't a complete waste of time, however. "We Go Where Ever We Want" is essentially a re-jigged "Ice Cream" from Raekwon, featuring the Chef himself and Ne-Yo in fine form. French actually manages to drop a tolerable verse, and the track is decent but ultimately not a patch on the original. Another redeemable song here is "Fuck What Happens Tonight", a posse cut with DJ Khaled's trademark bass-heavy anthem sound that steals heavily from The Diplomats' "I Really Mean It". Mavado does his thing, Ace Hood is surprisingly fluent while Snoop Dogg's personality is still oozing charisma no matter how old he gets."
Mac Miller :: Watching Movies With the Sound Off :: Rostrum Records
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"That sounds like a well thought out statement of principle - except moments later on the same song ("The Star Room") Malcolm McCormick brags that he's "freebasin' with freemasons." It's hard to know when to take Mac Miller seriously when his most successful album was a collection of songs about what the late great Biggie Smalls once called "Party & Bullshit." One can certainly take his success seriously though. While other emcees flounder in the social media ocean Mac Miller hangs ten on the highest wave until he crashes into your eardrums. He said it himself on "Knock Knock" - "from the ground I build my own damn buzz." He may look like he belongs on "Leave it to Beaver" but he's eager to rap on your FM radio receiver - and songs like the Flying Lotus produced "S.D.S." suggest he's taking his hip-hop credibilty seriously. The surprising "S.D.S." single sounds like a mixture of Odd Future and [adult swim] bumper music for all of the right reasons. In keeping with that youthful sound, most of Mac Miller's collaborators are in his tech savvy demographic. Black Hippy crew members Ab-Soul and ScHoolboy Q appear on "Matches" and "Gees" respectively. The aforementioned Golf Wang show up too - Earl Swearshit on "I'm Not Real" and Tyler, the Creator on "O.K." (a deluxe edition bonus track) - a song he also produced. Production is diverse as well, ranging from the mellow jazzy sound of Pharrell on "Objects in the Mirror" to the blunted violins of "Red Dot Music" courtesy Chuck Inglish - the latter featuring Action Bronson and Loaded Lux. It may be hard to take Mac Miller seriously at times, but it's just as hard to dredge up any overwhemingly negative feelings about "Watching Movies" save for two - I could have done without the cover art (I know he's being purposefully shocking but C'MON SON) and the deluxe edition is a little too much for me (over 70 minutes). It feels like there's some filler material that could have been left on the cutting room floor that nobody would complain about."
even Gems:: Golden Era Music Sciences :: Ill Adrenaline Records
as reviewed by Grant Jones
"Seven Gems are Tragic Allies and Tragedy Khadafi. I was unaware of Tragic Allies' existence until I understood The Purpose of Confidence, a slick throwback-sounding album from the brilliant young producer Confidence. Despite the top sounds being provided by Confidence, Purpose more than held his own on the record alongside his Tragic Allies' partner-in-rhyme Estee Nack. It was an easy to listen to, East Coast head-nodder that brought about heavy rotation amongst the underground in 2012. Purpose has returned in 2013, this time with Codenine and Estee Nack (the trio forming Tragic Allies), as well as Queensbridge legend Tragedy Khadafi. Despite losing the sublime sounds of Confidence, "Golden Era Music Sciences" remains firmly entrenched in boom bap territory, with Purpose producing the whole album himself. Before you run for the hills at the prospect of a good emcee producing his crew's album, "Without You" is proof of the quality Purpose can deliver. Combining Estee Nack's infectious reggae-tinged hook with three emcees tearing shit down is a recipe for success no matter how unoriginal it is. There is an effortlessness from Purpose when he raps, the way he rolls words together is reminiscent of early Nas, but whilst Nas brought vivid imagery to the forefront on classic tracks like "NY State of Mind", Purpose and friends flirt with it. But then being an album that fully embraces the Golden Era of Hip Hop, you can't expect every track to contain stunning lyricism. The difference, and it's a subtle one, is that Seven Gems are very good rappers. They are helped by Purpose in particular, as he provides some production that many emcees would kill for. If like many Hip Hop heads, you're a sucker for 90s rap that has that classic CNN/Mobb Deep production, it's hard to knock the beats. The few let downs come in the way of "Presume the Unpredictable" inexplicably muffling Nas' classic line on the hook, coupled with a limp production and average verses. It's only worth listening to for Roc Marciano's ridiculous ramblings of his 'private dancer drinking panther piss'. "No Good" certainly isn't that, in fact the beat is too good. Suffering from dreaded Dipset-ism, whereby a ridiculous vocal loop is paired with a swinging bass-line that totally dominates any featured vocalist. "
Tree :: Sunday School 2: When Church Lets Out :: Creative Control
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor
"Chicago rapper Tremaine "Tree" Johnson grew up in the notorious (and now demolished) Cabrini-Green projects in Chicago. After dabbling in the crack game as a teenager, he realized what a dead-end street it was and focused his energies on activities less likely to land him in a cell or a casket. Unable to choose between producing or rapping, he decided to do both. He released his first mixtape, "Sunday School," last year, and has just released a follow-up. Tree calls his music soul trap. The term perfectly describes both his beats and his rhymes. Musically, Tree favors dusty soul samples over snapping trap beats. Lyrically, he has one foot in the gutter and one foot in the confessional booth. The album is set up like a Sunday mass, with songs divided into categories like "Call To Service," "Hymn." "Devotion," and "Benediction." Over the course of the album he tries to reconcile his life on the streets with his life at church. He can be both sacred and profane, often in the same song. He'll rap about a strong woman on one track and then trade groupie stories with Danny Brown on another. He raps about escaping life on the streets and about selling coke to white girls. What makes Tree stand out from the other rappers trying to straddle the line between street rap and conscious rap is that Tree makes it work without sounding hypocritical or like he's trying too hard. Tree's most obvious predecessor is David Banner. Both rapper/producers not only have similar gruff voices, but they both made street rap that was conscious and conscious rap that was street. That polar opposition of those two styles was too much for Banner to hang on to; it's been years since he's made an album that successfully mixed Southern trap, club rap, and conscious rap. Tree is better able to juggle the different styles and perspectives. This is partially because his voice is a more nimble instrument than Banner's. Tree is able to sing his own hooks and often carries the melodies in his songs. Tree is also not trying as hard to be either a pimp or to have crossover success. Some of the tracks on "Sunday School 2" would work well in the club, but he's not overreaching in that direction. Nor does he waste too much breath trying to convince the listener of his street cred. "
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