If you missed any of the new reviews this past week including Michael Franti & Spearhead's "All People" then do yourself a favor and check out this week's edition of the (W)rap Up!
Michael Franti & Spearhead :: All People
Author: Steve 'Flash' Juon
"I always seem to say this when I review one of his albums, but its been too long since we've spoken of Michael Franti. He's as much singer as rapper these days, but is honestly one of the few people other than Lauryn Hill who I believe is equally skilled at both - and enjoy either way. These days most audiences know him from his bubbly anthem to joy and relationships "Say Hey (I Love You)," but my first taste of him back in the early 1990's was as a protest rapper who was as much spoken word poet as emcee. He has grown in his sound since then - incorporating folk music, reggae, modern rock and even the punk aesthetic into his mix. One thing that hasn't changed is his ability to make protest music, such as tracks like "11:59:59." The live version is a little different from the album one, but this is a good taste. The reference is of course the famous Doomsday Clock which depicts how close we are to armageddon, be it through nuclear warfare or a global environmental catastrophe. And if you didn't already know Michael Franti, you'd find out pretty quickly from "All People" that his message is (A.) as inclusive as the title suggests and (B.) as hippie and beatnik as anybody this far removed from the 1960's can't be. At times that leads him to sounding eerily like will.i.am, or at least what will used to sound like back when he actually had anything worth saying. Most of his peaceful vibe is just about love and good times though, such as "I'm Alive (Life Sounds Like)". I've actually seen some criticism of the this crossover hit as being "too bubblegum," which makes me wonder if those same people didn't like "Say Hey (I Love You)" too. To me proclaiming love is a protest in itself these days, when so much of the world has been divided by religious and racial prejudice and intolerance. Franti is unpretentious about his views and his attitude - he doesn't eschew wearing shoes to be cool or say "leather is murder" - he just does what feels right."
BarAlarm :: Welcome to the World :: Branch Out Collective
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"In music as well as in life, one thing leads to another, and Drapetomania led to BarAlarm. It's yet another project from the incredibly diverse and talented Branch Out Collective, who never fail to impress me with their abilities nor their willingness to break from the lock step of the national hip-hop mindset. I think that may be in part because of their roots in Ann Arbor, Michigan - a place I can tell you from personal experience is the closest thing to a hippie enclave outside of Southern California. What I can't tell you is why they vow that "BarAlarm('s) Back Now," because before I was sent this album I didn't even know they were gone. So far as I can tell, this branch of the tree consists of Ashod the God, Clavius Crates and Professor Megablown. This is a pretty quick album by Branch Out standards, clocking in at less than 30 minutes, but they take full advantage of that time. Clavius produces the majority of the 10 tracks and his talents are put to their full use. The reverberating boom bap of "Ruff Blades" featuring The Blaine Nash is a swinging toe-tapper that's very hard to resist. "Olympic Habits" has a snappy bass that sets off the bars lovely. The whistling melody opening "Welcome to the World" f/ Drapetomania is addictive - you hear it once and it's stuck in your head. Even when Clavius is not behind the boards, the rest of the crew step up and put in work, such as Megablown's jazzy Hiero-esque backdrop for "Land Lords." The song also features one of my favorite punchlines of the entire release: "I know I got game like the Unreal engine/don't mention it, when I render it.""
Big Skip :: No Longer Slept On :: New Peoples Army
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Big Skip is a mystery to me - both before AND after reviewing his "No Longer Slept On" mixtape. The source who sent me his album for review had only a Hulkshare link, and when I pressed her for more, she was able to come up with a YouTube channel that features him along with several other artists. Even though we all know it's dangerous to make assumptions, I'll take a leap of faith and assume that New Peoples Army is at best the name of his label, and at the least the name of the crew he rolls with. That works for me on an Odd Future level for identifying his imprint, but still tells me nothing about him personally. The most I can glean is that he's a rapper from San Antonio, Texas out there hustling. "I Be Wit It" is fairly typical of Big Skip's style and flow. His braggadocious banter consists of witty lines like "I don't even stink, but God damn I'm the shit/I'm the closest thing to real that any nigga ever get." The good news is that as rappers go, he's well above a Gucci Mane in terms of his pronunciation, rhyme writing, and flow. The bad news is that he throws a shout out to Chief Keef and then raps over "Diamonds" on his own song "Ready for War." I can't really endorse doing either of those things. Since the loosely organized "No Longer Slept On" is a mixtape, and a lot of these beats originally had homes elsewhere, I'm going to just toss scoring the music out the window. The focus here is on whether Big Skip can make it out of San Antonio and become a larger known factor regionally in Texas, throughout the South, or possibly even nationally. He's certainly got the topic matter to blend in with the commercially successful rappers of the day - praising marijuana on "Smokin Good," promising to get turnt up and drop nothing but "HeadBanga" music, and he does have a natural degree of swagger in both his accent and his ability to switch from slow to fast flows."
Castle :: Gasface :: Mello Music Group
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor
"The bio for North Carolina MC/producer Castle on his Bandcamp page doesn't tell you if "Gasface" is his first album or just his first album with Mello Music Group, and it doesn't tell you anything about his background. The bio does let you know that Castle doesn't take himself too seriously. The comic book album cover is another indication that Castle isn't on some super tough ish. Then there's the fact that he sounds a bit like Redman if Redman had gone to college instead of doing hallucinogens. Castle shares the Brick City rapper's deep voice and smartass sense of humor. That comes through loud and clear on "Prep Time." If Castle is laughing, it's to keep from crying. There is an undercurrent of seriousness that runs through the album. Castle is a funny rapper, but he's also rapping about failed relationships, friends and families lost to drugs, and the dismal job market. "Orientation," imagines Castle at an orientation for a horrible job that is all too relatable. "Krillz" is about people in his neighborhood who are struggling. Castle does all the production, offering a mix of uptempo and slower tracks. "No Prep Time" has the strongest beat, with booming drums and a clattering organ riff. A lot of the songs are built around dusty breaks, but he also throws in some ambient and psychedelic sounds.Most of the tracks are downtempo, which gives the album a low-key feel. The slower, more serious tracks show off what a thoughtful writer Castle can be, but they put a damper on the album. By the album closer "The Punisher Kills Hip-hop," a brooding song in which the rapper kills hip-hop, I was missing the witty smartass of "Fool's Errand" and "Cruising on Fumes.""
GDP and the Wrong Address :: Holla :: Run For Cover Records
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"GDP is quintessentially New Jersey - so much so that his vocal tone could be rap's Jerseyite prototype. Either he sounds like Young Zee, or Zee sounds like GDP - you make the call. Since I consider Zee an unheralded star of hip-hop and his shelved "Musical Meltdown" album a classic, GDP certainly benefits from the comparison, as I could listen to anybody who sounds like him all day. Coincidentally he uses the phrase "all day" a lot in the song "Mascara." Production notes aren't included with my press copy of GDP's "Holla," but whoever did "Mascara" made it appropriately downbeat and moody to match the anguished tone of the rhymes. "Your insecurities left you ignoring me" sums up the troubled relationship he broke off well, with his pronunciation making "insecurity" and "ignoring me" sound like perfect rhyme when in fact it's a slant rhyme. The significance of the technique is not to be taken lightly - it's a careful choice of words AND their delivery on GDP's part that makes his emotive construction that much more impressive. This is not simply some sad sack crying into his beer about his lost love - GDP is putting power behind his feelings of hurt, betrayal and anger. Perhaps it's the troubling nature of relationships that leads him to seek out a casual sex tryst in "Friends That Fuck." Unfortunately it doesn't seem that being friends with benefits works out much better for GDP. "I lose my stomach when I think of sweet nothings you would whisper in my ear while I was coming/found someone else/said you can't love me if you don't love yourself." He's a tormented soul, but this is a different look for GDP, who last time out was more focused on being high and weird."
Malek :: Opus :: DM360
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Simply stated, "opus" is latin for "work," and generally refers to a classical musical composition (Beethoven, Chopin, Faure, et cetera). You may have also seen or heard the word in the phrase "magnum opus," which refers to a "great work" beyond the pale of all others by a single artist. By the time of my childhood though both uses were being supplanted by a cartoon strip penguin whose butt seemed to constantly fall off. I doubt any of the classical composers who the word "opus" is attached to would mind. In fact many of them based the opus # they gave a work on its commercial value, rather than sequentially numbering their works in the order they were written. One composer had five separate "Opus No. 12" in his lifetime. Judging by his publicity photo, Malek definitely wants you to draw a comparison to composers of days past, since not many rap artists are seen in a suit and bowtie. He certainly doesn't need to walk with a limp and talk with street slang to get your attention - his music will do all the talking for him. It's certainly garnered him success so far. He's been a semi-finalist in a competition sponsored by Red Bull, finished in the top four at the One Stop Producer's Conference, and even won an ASCAP "I Create Music" showcase. Skills to pay the bills? Undoubtedly. All the Californian lacks is mainstream exposure, which DM360 is aiming to give him by making "Opus" free. Malek's "#Analogic" shows his willingness to embrace a whimsical, electronic musical style that would fit well in a retro style 1980's platforming video game. It's not quite a chiptune, but the spartan white noise drum track and simple appealing melody certainly suggest one. "
Swami Baracus :: The Recipe :: SwamiBaracus.com
as reviewed by Jesal 'Jay Soul' Padania
"If ever there were a "RapReviews.com Sound" this would probably be it. "The Recipe" - a free mixtape by Swami Baracus - has been a long time coming (about two years, in fact). Now that it's here and real, it soon becomes crystal clear that Baracus has delivered on the promise and emerged as an elite wordsmith. In some ways, he's got that "old school mid-90's flavour" on lockdown, but there are many more strings to the Baracus bow, as he fires his lyrical arrows at a variety of targets, with dizzyingly accurate wordplay somewhat reminiscent of Big Pun. It's wonderful to witness the evolution of an artist over time - even as recently as three years ago, Swami Baracus had yet to release very much in terms of concrete output. After a few missteps, he seems to have doubled down and found his voice, style and a general narrative. There is no back-story here - just a genuine hip hop head with talent, lyrics to burn and the flow to match (incidentally, he’s also a very accomplished live performer). Perhaps this step up is down to one predominant factor - finding the right beats to both inspire and bring out the best in him. It's still criminally underrated on the underground scene, where naïve MC's frequently think/hope they can carry an entire album through their words alone, but the music matters. From the off, it's clear that Baracus has sourced carefully selected production more or less throughout. "Way of the Dragon" has got that head-nod shit on lock, with piano stabs and breakbeats combining to excellent effect, while Baracus spits for about two and a half minutes straight. It's a great way to start the mixtape, as it proves from the get-go that you've got a rapper able to handle the mic with aplomb. An overlong intro follows with just a few too many snippets of radio DJ's lauding the title track (two and a half minutes borders on self-indulgent), but it eventually leads into the blindingly brilliant song "The Recipe" (with stellar production from Zaheer). It serves as a mission statement for the album, and is pretty much the perfect concoction of choruses, rhymes and concepts. "
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