If you missed any of the new reviews this past week including Wale's "The Gifted" then do yourself a favor and check out this week's edition of the (W)rap Up!
Wale :: The Gifted
Maybach Music/Atlantic Records
Author: Steve 'Flash' Juon
"I know we tend to be self-referential on RR at times, but it's almost impossible to review Wale's "The Gifted" in a vacuum anyway. I would just as soon refer to Jay Soul's "Ambition" review as a starting point because it addresses my biggest concern about Wale as an artist - whether or not he's "fast food rap" that is quick and enjoyable but lacks the minerals and vitamins, irons and the niacins to be good for you. The fact he had MexManny remix "Bad" and replace Tiara Thomas with Rihanna only increased those concerns. The original version was a charmingly rough song - a squeaking bed for a beat, Wale's crass sexuality and odes to "oceans between legs," and the husky voiced Thomas sounding like just like a bad girlfriend you'd still want to take to bed after a fun night at the bar. The Rihanna remake tries to drown out the squeaking springs in the production, and it's no longer a rough shot of whiskey - it's now a froo froo drink. More than most artists who have risen to prominence in the short time Wale did, the D.C. rapper seems intimately aware of the impossibility of pleasing everybody. He went from being Unsigned Hype in The Source to being a million dollar baller signed to Rick Ross' imprint. The people who knew him when he was just the shorty who had (and lost) a college football scholarship liked when he was the local boy who made good, then hated him when he made it "too good" and no longer made amusing mixtapes inspired by Seinfeld. Jay-Z has had two decades to figure out how to walk the balance between being a superstar and still respected in the hood - Wale has had less than half that. "Ambition" was the growing pains in that process - it was his "Hard Knock Life." That doesn't forgive or excuse his choices in all cases, but it lends insight into why "LoveHate Thing" is a very personal single."
Daft Punk :: Random Access Memories :: Columbia Records
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor
"The French duo Daft Punk are arguably one of the most influential musical acts of the 21st century. They are largely responsible for the prevalence of Auto-Tune in R&B and hip-hop, hip-hop's love of dance music, the rise of electronic dance music (EDM) as a global phenomenon that has outranked rock and roll and hip-hop as the music of choice for the under twenty set, and DJs who wear masks. They are the reason why the Black Eyed Peas went club and why Skrillex and Deadmau5 have jobs. Not bad for two Parisians who have always pushed the boundaries of pop music. Daft Punk's first album, 1997's "Homework," combined hip-hop's hard beats and use of samples with the swing of house music. Their 2001 follow-up "Discovery" went further in a pop direction, making music that was as fun as it was cheesy. "Discovery" was their breakthrough album, generating several hits and selling over a million copies worldwide. They followed that up with the quick, dirty, and disappointing "Human After All." Their 2007 tour to support that album exposed them to a whole new wave of fans, as did Kanye West sampling their music for his hit "Stronger." They did the soundtrack to the Tron reboot and appeared in that film, but have been pretty quiet for the last few years. In the meantime, EDM, which they helped bring to the mainstream, has exploded. Artists like Skrillex, Deadmau5, and the Swedish House Mafia sell out stadiums. There are massive festivals all over the world that attract hundreds of thousands of dayglo-clad kids. An entire generation of kids who grew up on Daft Punk albums are now making their own take dance music and/or lining up in droves to go to festivals and parties. So when Daft Punk's first non-soundtrack album in seven years was announced earlier this year, it was big news. It is one of the most hyped and promoted albums of the year, second only to Justin Timberlake's comeback album. In interviews, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Cristo and Thomas Bangalter say that they were turned off by what dance music had become. They compare the current wave of popular DJs to hardcore porn, delivering nothing but sensory overload with absolutely no subtlety. "
Nerd Ferguson :: Gunshots & Twizzlers :: NerdFerg.com
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Nerd Ferguson's "Bitch, Where's My Sandwich: The Album" was a pleasant surprise last year. "Gunshots & Twizzlers" is the follow-up album and as both the artist and album name suggest, it's a precise balance between intelligence and thuggery. He wastes no time jumping right into the thick of things on the self-produced "How Many Mics." There are no pretentious skits or interludes to keep you waiting, and no questions that he's cocky about his skills. As with his last album he's offering this digital release with the "name your own price" option starting at 99 cents, and in my humble opinion if you only pay a dollar you everybody involved a disservice. This is a professional and polished album in every way other than coming to you shrinkwrapped for sale at retail brick and mortar stores. Nerd splits the production duties with Lee Treble, and he deserves his fair share of both the credit and the price the consumer pays for it. He showcases a pleasant variety of styles - an uptempo minimalism and slick chorus on "Breaking Bad," a super over-the-top South Florida sound parody on "Hyundai Elantra Music," and some slinky sex funk for "I Miss My Jumpoff." I'd be lying if I said I recognized any of the guests on Nerd Ferg's album other than Defakto, and that's only because he was on the last album. That's alright though because Ferg is a near 50% average of completely solo songs, which doesn't sound that high at first, until you remember a .300 batting average makes you a star and that's LESS than half. Even on the songs he shares Nerd Ferguson is clearly the man, and the ones he holds down on his own like "Dark" (produced by Justyn Waves) have just as much swagger as a man signed to a major label. "
Ras Kass :: Barmageddon :: Cre8yte Corporation
as reviewed by Grant Jones
"With the exception of Aceyalone, many would regard Ras Kass as the finest lyricist on the West Coast. That is of course open up to debate, but the rapper that affectionately calls himself Rassy (or Razzy) has certainly provided some of the most intricately delivered verses of his generation. "Soul On Ice" was an incredible debut, lavishly written yet musically understated (and despite some reviews, not as poorly produced as many like to think). I've always enjoyed Ras Kass' verses on Xzibit albums in particular ("3 Card Molly" being the best) and I recall The Golden State Warrior project with Xzibit and Saafir that unfortunately never materialised. Their collaborations regularly stole the show on Xzibit's albums and this increased exposure saw his third release, "Van Gogh", heavily bootlegged and ultimately shelved. The last ten years has seen regular output from Ras Kass, but each release has felt like a compilation of individual tracks rather than a focused project. "A.D.I.D.A.S" was an interesting release (his 2010 album) which seemed to embrace his underground icon status, combining it with some surprisingly good boom bap production. Much like MC Eiht's "Keep It Hood" EP that came out earlier in the year, it's nice to hear West-Coast emcees on production that isn't stereo-typically West-Coast. "Goldyn Chyld", produced by DJ Premier no less, is an excellent anthem that always felt like the West's "Nas Is Like" and still stands as my favourite example of Ras Kass; tongue-twisting flow, ridiculous confidence and a healthy dose of metaphor."Barmageddon" dabbles with boom bap, but ultimately feels like another compilation of tracks rather than an album. It's full of guest features, which makes sense when you're making a record for French Montana, but Ras Kass is a lyricist. Granted, he does have some tracks to himself, but when they are club fodder like "Upscale Ratchet" and ANOTHER track based around the word ‘cunt', you can't help but feel underwhelmed. There must be a fad in the USA right now with this word, as everyone from RA The Rugged Man to Wax are writing songs about it. "
Shawn Lov :: Grotesque Heads :: Bandcamp.com
as reviewed by Jaroslav 'Czechone' Lavick
"Although he's been releasing albums since 1994 (THIRTEEN of them), I'd never heard the name Shawn Lov until recent years when he dropped a couple albums on Nuffsaid Records, one of the best known underground hip hop labels here in Australia. Aside from being aware of the fact those albums were in existence I never felt inclined to check them out, so his new self-released Bandcamp album "Grotesque Heads" is my first dose of Shawn Lov. I have to say I feel like I've stepped into a time machine with this album, which isn't generally a bad thing in my books, but one aspect in particular leaves me feeling more like I'm being dragged into that time machine against my will. Being of "mature age" myself, I'm often guilty of romanticising over the golden era and wanting to re-live my younger days by seeking out that "back in the day" feel in my hip hop, but Shawn Lov has an element of throwback which is quite bizarre for the hip hop world as it stands today - his own focus on being a white rapper. I'd like to think I'm not wrong in stating that the days of being a white MC are no longer a novelty or much of an issue, to the point that the majority (if not all) of white rappers these days don't even mention the fact. For comparison, it just so happens that lately I've been listening to albums by Ugly Heroes (two white guys and Apollo Brown), Esoteric and another white MC from Boston called Effect - none of them utters a word about their skin colour. However, listening to some of Shawn's raps take me back to a time where the likes of 3rd Bass, Vanilla Ice and the Young Black Teenagers were all looking for the answer to the "How can I be down?" question in the predominantly Afro-American and Latino hip hop culture. Not that Shawn is actually putting on any sort of front or campaign for acceptance, but the fact he is making references to MC Serch, Mike D, Vanilla Ice and others strikes me as something not particularly relevant or necessary in the current era. Listeners from the 3rd Bass generation would likely be feeling a confused sense of déjà vu, and the younger heads that grew up on Eminem, Non Phixion, The Demigods, Vinnie Paz etc. would probably be thinking "umm ok you're white and you're a rapper ... so what?"
Small Professor :: Mixed Jawns :: Bandcamp.com
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"It may seem like Small Professor is trying to make a political statement of some kind by calling his album "Mixed Jawns" and putting Rashida Jones on the cover. Actually, he's not. She's incredibly good looking, and not a bad choice to grace the cover of ANY album, but the well regarded musical maestro is not talking about any kind of integration other than of culturally divergent sounds. In fact he's not doing any talking at ALL. Small Pro lets his music speak for him. You can try to draw allusions from the song titles if you like, but I'm not sure that works any better than drawing one from the album title. Take "Bloody Mary" for instance. One might assume from the Spanish guitars heard on the song that it could be the drink in the hand of a dusty ranchero walking into a Mexican watering hole in a gritty pelicula. The hypnotizing track could also easily find its way into a film by Quentin Tarantino. It's that evocative, that powerful, that pleasurable to listen to. And yet there's a better chance the song titles reference mixed drinks - there's a punchy "Vodka Gimlet," a Kanye West-esque "Miracle Margarita" and even a funky and seductive "Apple Pie." At first I doubted this could really be the theme - after all the song "Charlie Brown" certainly sounds like it samples the Vince Guaraldi style piano of Peanuts animated specials of my childhood, but after checking around I found a cocktail of the same name made with cognac, drambuie and cacao liquer. I guess I don't drink enough. Surely there couldn't be a "Herbie Hancock" though - that has to be a reference to his fellow producer and instrumentalist. Nope - a Herbie Hancock has beer, orange juice, pineapple juice and rum in it. I bet it's just as sly and funky as his song - something that doesn't seem like it should come together than is greater than the sum of its parts."
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