If you missed any of the new reviews this past week including Big Sean's "Hall Of Fame" then do yourself a favor and check out this week's edition of the (W)rap Up!
Big Sean :: Hall of Fame
Author: Jesal 'Jay Soul' Padania
"Public perception can play a vital role in shaping the overall viewpoint of an artist, and occasionally it can be crystallised within a single song. For Big Sean, that unfortunately reality has hit home with the unofficial release of an album cut that (allegedly) didn't make "Hall of Fame" due to ‘sampling issues'. The song in question is, of course, the inescapable "Control" featuring a short but sweet offering from Jay Electronica and an axis-shifting verse from Kendrick Lamar. The two guests apparently "outshone" the host, effectively framing him as the ignorant party-rapper that most of the world sees him as. One question: what the fuck was everyone listening to on "Control"? Big Sean's verse was excellent, with a wide range of subject matter, flows, quotables aplenty and dead-on delivery. Obviously it wasn't as attention grabbing as Kendrick's name-calling behemoth, and since Jay Electronica (still) has such a groundswell of goodwill in his favour, few dared to even praise Sean's opener. And so continues that unfortunate duality on "Hall of Fame" - the battle between public perception of the Detroit MC and, dare we say, an alternate reality. On "Finally Famous" I had some harsh words for various aspects of the album, and thankfully almost all of these points have been addressed. He no longer seems in awe of his guests (who include Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, Young Jeezy and Nas); he has a much more identifiable personality now, with an infinitely stronger narrative voice; he's writing actual SONGS too… Pretty much every aspect of "Hall of Fame" is a massive upgrade on his debut. And yet, one can't help but feel this also ends up as a missed opportunity of sorts. It's harsh to judge an album on songs that aren't even on it, but "Control" and a track that was originally slated to make his sophomore until his boss hijacked it - "Clique" - are markedly superior to pretty much everything on here (save for "Fire"). That doesn't mean that HOF isn't a consistently strong album throughout - it most certainly is - but it's also an LP without many truly special standout moments."
Bambu :: Sun of a Gun :: Beatrock Music
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Bambu didn't wait long to put out his next project. Like so many rappers who release their albums digitally/independently these days, "Sun of a Gun" has the Name Your Own Price option, though I'm just going to start the review by saying if you give Bambu anything less than $7.99 for it, you should feel you've cheated the artist AND yourself. Quality is worth paying for. This is some rap Boots Riley can relate to - hella California and hella raw. You can already tell before listening to "Like Jay-Z" that the title's going to be ironic, and the fact it's produced by WorldWarDrew from the Soul Assassins makes it even more rugged. "The son of victim now party with his killer/Son of the oppressed now hang with the oppresser/White boy call you nigga (say what?)/You be like 'It's cool - he my nigga.'" If you don't like serious discussions of racism, inequality, distribution of wealth, vapid conspicuous consumption and other societal ills then Bambu is most certainly not for you. If you do though songs like "Illuminotme" featuring Brother Ali and Odessa Kane are for you. The songs don't need guests based on the strength of the lyrics and beats alone, but there are some sprinkled throughout anyway. DJ Babu produces and stars on "Is You Saying," likewise Rhettmatic on "Galavanter," and R-Type on the Mr. Hek and Felt1 produced "Since I Was a Youth." The song may have my favorite Ice Cube sample in any hip-hop song in a fortnight or a hundred more. "
Crooked I :: Apex Predator :: Treacherous C.O.B., Empire Distribution
as reviewed by Grant Jones
"Slaughterhouse may well be a fully developed four-headed monster that are known for their lyricism, but they are still failing to fulfil their potential. "Welcome to Our House" was overly commercial in its direction, with diluted production and a clear Eminem influence running throughout the record. It left a foul taste in my mouth, having been treated to their fine mixtape and equally strong debut "Slaughterhouse". Everybody has their favourite member, and despite happily admitting that Royce Da 5'9'' was the illest rapper alive five years ago (with his "Bar Exam" mixtapes showcasing a man possessed), Crooked I has frequently been the most outstanding performer of the quartet. His insanely aggressive delivery coupled with internal rhyme schemes reminiscent of Slim Shady himself have helped Crooked attain a loyal following. Crooked is as equally cursed as his fellow Slaughterhouse members in that his mixtapes contain a lot of creativity, but his albums just haven't lived up to them. The key difference here is that Crooked hasn't had a legit studio album released until now. "Yodo" kicks things off, and you'd be forgiven for thinking a Rick Ross CD was playing. Musically it is reminiscent of the Miami coke baron but flow-wise, Crooked has dismissed the internal rhyme schemes and complex writing for a more simplistic version of his usual arrogance. Thankfully, "Vegas on Biz" is a return to form, with Crooked applying his multi-assonant vocabulary to high-end living. Name dropping Van Gogh and Prada in the first verse is something you'd expect Jay-Z to do, not a rhyme machine who used to be signed to Death Row. Despite these initial reservations, "Vegas on Biz" does work musically; the Johnathan Elkaer production feels like something Joe Budden cast off his "No Love Lost" project, with K-Young crooning atop a smooth, electronic journey through an evening of flashing lights and gorgeous women. Crooked leaves the mic crooked on "Let Me Get It", a tongue-twisting song full of technically astute rhymes, but it is Tech N9ne's presence that leaves the whole sound booth crooked. As good as Crooked is at hitting the listener with a barrage of words, Tech operates on another level."
Gavlyn :: From the Art :: Broken Complex Records
as reviewed by Grant Jones
"You cannot underestimate just how powerful a tool YouTube is. For the past year I have regularly seen a so-called "Featured Video" appear in the top right of ANY video I was watching, a video of Gavlyn's "This Is What I Do". Either her label has some connections at YouTube, or Gavlyn is on everybody's lips – at the time of writing that video has over five million views. Taken alone, "This Is What I Do" is unremarkable hip hop. A disjointed flow and blasé lyrics, along with a masculine, female voice (if that doesn't make sense – listen to Eternia) would have many fans clicking on the next YouTube link. Yet, when coupled with a video of a gap-toothed woman of Oriental heritage – rapping through the streets of Los Angeles becomes strangely enthralling. "From the Art" is full of average production from the likes of Vokab, Cakes and DJ Limegreen. The aforementioned "This Is What I Do" is probably the weakest track on the record, sounding as generic as the title suggests. In fact the whole album reads like a list of vague hip hop song names: "Set It", "Make My Move", "Let It Go". That's not to say I haven't enjoyed songs with clichéd names, but coupled with equally generic verses that don't provide any personal stories, any background or even some wordplay to add depth, "From the Art" is (for the most part) Gavlyn rapping about rapping. That's not to say the album is completely redundant. If you enjoy cuts on your hooks, Gavlyn ensures they appear on EVERY song. Personally I find scratched hooks can help bring life to the most mundane beat, and DJ Lord Ron's performance on "Stepoff" is a fine example of this. But it also highlights how limited Gavlyn is in her approach to song writing. When she does give the turntables a rest, we are treated to the nastiness of "Survive". With a relatively deep voice, and no attempt to sing (prolonged rapping is not singing) it's a let-down, especially when the beat supplied by EQ is a strange concoction of horns and strings that somehow works with quick-fire drums. "
Krizz Kaliko :: Son of Sam :: Strange Music Inc.
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Krizz Kaliko is an unquestionable star of the Strange Music label, having cracked the Billboard Top 200 with every solo album, and charting as high as #3 on the Top Rap charts with "Genius." He'd been rolling with Tech N9ne and the SMI label for a decade before he stepped into the spotlight as a soloist, and it's hard to imagine a N9ne album without a cameo from him or vice versa. "Son of Sam" is no exception. Nina appears on both the hilariously over-the-top "Titties" and the soulfully sung "Scars" produced by Matic Lee. I don't usually encourage rappers to croon, but Krizz can get his. Other SMI family also make cameos throughout "Son of Sam," such as Ces Cru on "Reckless" and long-time producer IcyRoc Kravyn on "Send Your Love." Kaliko tends to hold shit down on his own though, and "Son of Sam" is no exception, as he's soloing on more songs than not. Kaliko also tends to live out his personal demons in personally revealing songs like "Bipolar" on previous releases, and the P-Funk influenced "Do You Drink" walks the line between celebration and madness as he vows he "wants the world to have a drink with me." I'm sure @Vodka_samm can relate (#YOLO). Kaliko (real name Samuel Watson) never apologizes or makes excuses for his actions, which gives him the credibility of truthfulness even if not all of his behavior is itself admirable. Yet through it all even at his darkest moments, Krizz always seems to see the light."
Lee Bannon :: Never/mind/the/darkness/of/it... :: Bandcamp
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor
"Sacramento producer Lee Bannon is best known for providing beats to Joey Bada$$, Busta Rhymes, and Ab-Soul. While he's made a name for himself as a hip-hop producer, his instrumental work has more in common with electronic music. I guess it's only fair that if electronic producers are looking to hip-hop for inspiration, hip-hop producers borrow from electronic music as well. Bannon's music is tagged as "experimental," which is a risky label. Too often experimental means self-indulgent and/or unlistenable. What Bannon means when he calls his music experimental is that he is experimenting with different sounds and song structures. Bannon is not the first hip-hop producer to take inspiration from electronic music, and particularly ambient music. There's a whole subgenre, cloud rap, which includes Clams Casino, SpaceGhostPurrp, Main Attrakionz, and Blue Sky Black Death. Those producers take hip-hop to its blunted extremes, making music for rappers that is somewhere between street and psychedelic. Three of the tracks out of seven on the EP ("SupremeKllah" "H," and "Chocalat Coated Smoke") are ambient. They have no beat to speak of, and instead see Bannon working with different sonic textures. The rest of the songs are more beat oriented, with Bannon mixing mixing synth washes, sirens, hi-hats and filtered vocals. The snares and hi-hats are straight out of the street rap playbook, but the synths and filtered vocals are elements borrowed from European electronic producers. "547" and "all u had..." are exercises in minimalism and restraint, with Bannon providing just the skeleton of a beat. "Rellahmatic" and the title track are more bombastic. Bannon's beats hit hard as he splits the difference between electronic music and loud street rap production ala Lex Luger."
Mr. Green :: Ill Piano :: Green Music Group
as reviewed by Matt Jost
""Hear my jam with the funky piano!" Public Enemy's Chuck D belted out in 1987. The jam was "Timebomb," and it sho nuff was funky, but the funk drifted straight from the guitar opening up The Meters' "Just Kissed My Baby" while the alleged piano was nowhere to be heard. EPMD didn't forget the piano when they let Chuck's line inspire a song called "Funky Piano," and there have undoubtedly been plenty of funky pianos in the history of modern music, but under normal circumstances piano and funky don't go as naturally together as, let's say, electric guitar and rocking or vibraphone and jazzy. Of course it all depends on your definition of 'piano' since sounds played on certain keyboard instruments (Hammond organs and a variety of synthesizers) are staples of funk music. Typically a 'piano' in hip-hop nomenclature denotes music played on grand or upright pianos or electronically emulated sounds that imitate these analog instruments. Given hip-hop and funk's close kinship, most pianos would have been out of place on a rap track through the 1970s to the 1990s. Still, while synthesizers were omnipresent in the earlier 1980s, the traditional piano eventually gained a foothold in rap music. Early milestones came by way of sampling, on records such as Biz Markie's "Make the Music With Your Mouth Biz," Public Enemy's "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos," or the Juice Crew's "The Symphony." Those pianos were accidental insofar as they weren't sampled to evoke a certain 'chamber music' mood but simply because they sounded spectacular, irresistible or, in hip-hop lingo, 'ill.' Eventually hip-hop artists also went for pianos in the 'classical' (and 'classier') form, particularly the Wu-Tang Clan camp and Queensbridge rappers. Even budding superstar Jay-Z made a crucial contribution to the pianofication of rap music with his debut album "Reasonable Doubt." Fellow hip-hop heavyweights Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and 2Pac were also fond of the 88 keys and finally a number of all-time rap classics incorporate ivories, from Mobb Deep's "Survival of the Fittest" and Nas' "The World Is Yours" to Goodie Mob's "Cell Therapy" and Scarface's "My Block.""
various artists :: Grandpa Funnybook's Mix-Tapingly Arranged Rapping Song Album 3! :: Hand'Solo Records
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"For the third year in a row, Grandpa Funnybook is back with a new free album that coincides with the Toronto Fan Expo. If you were looking for a San Diego Comic Con outside of California, or a PAX located in Canada, it would be the event for you to attend. They did a pretty good job of hyping it up South of the border this year - there were even press releases on wrestling websites saying Toronto's mayor Rob Ford would be arm wrestling Hulk Hogan at the event. Most cartoon and comic conventions these days feature pro wrestlers anyway, although considering his featured role as "The Dean" on the [adult swim] hit China, IL it's fair to say Hogan's more animated than most. (Also ironic given the Saturday morning WWF cartoon from the 1980's DIDN'T use his voice and really should have.) Whoa - got off on a tangent there. It's not unrelated though since "Grandpa Funnybook 3" celebrates the same elements of pop culture that these cons and expos do. Video game music can be heard throughout, from the "8-Bit Intro" to renowned producer Fresh Kils chopping up the sounds of famed game "Double Dragon," to rap superheroes Mega Ran, Open Mike Eagle and friends rapping on the song "Super Move." I'm slightly confused by the latter as it was on the zip file that Hand'Solo Records sent me, but doesn't seem to be listed on the Bandcamp page. Maybe it's a hard copy exclusive. Both versions include a "Klopfenpop Remix" of Random's song "The Opening Movement" though. True to its title as "Mix-Tapingly Arranged," the songs on this compilation bleed together (almost) seamlessly into a mix slightly over an hour long. The results are also mixed. Rift & Savilion's "Take You Higher" has an all-star list of guests including Chokeules and Wordburglar, but would succeed even without them thanks to an rap meets jazz swing reminiscent of the late Guru. Nerdy rap icon Dual Core (the duo of rapper int eighty and producer c64) also bring in big names like Ghettosocks and Timbuktu to join them on "Go Figure." Kabuto the Python's "Verdauga Greeneyes" is an intriguing Variant produced track where the protagonist raps like a mixture of R.A. the Rugged Man and D-Sisive rolled up into one."
Wyld Bunch :: Unbreakable :: Effiscienz
as reviewed by Grant Jones
"You would think Wyld Bunch was a group of rappers on some rowdy flex, but despite this promising premise Wyld Bunch is ONE dude. Crazy I know, but Wyld Bunch sure has the energy of five men, providing a gritty record that feels so tough, so street-smart, that you'd think the CD was actually unbreakable. Originally an EP that culminated from building a rep in the underground scene (2011 saw the release of a free EP with DJ Soulclap called "Life") and regularly receiving airplay from the GOAT himself - DJ Premier - it is easy to dismiss Wyld Bunch as just another street rapper in the vein of Ruste Juxx. For the most part, Wyld Bunch rarely strays from this stance - "Hard On The Beat" is nothing more than a dick swinging contest with fellow 90s tribute act Dirt Platoon's Raf Almighty. Despite this, DJ Brans (who produces the first 8 tracks - the original EP) really impressed me throughout with his grimey backdrops. Granted, if that East Coast boom bap isn't your thing then this record isn't for you, but if some hard beats, deft scratches and street raps get your neck snapping like mine does, "Unbreakable" gives and gives. "Long Time Ago" is well produced by DJ Brans, minimalist in its approach but certainly benefiting from Wyld Bunch's emotive "I feel like a dinosaur" delivery documenting his feelings towards what hip hop has become. A truck-load of rappers have rapped about hip hop's so called demise, but it's always nice to hear somebody say it in a way that acknowledges it was a long time ago that this "Golden Era" happened - let's move on. Underground stalwarts Guilty Simpson and Masta Ace provide added authenticity to "Skillz" and "Can't Please Them All" respectively, but are careful not to steal the shine from Wyld. Torae sounds gruffer than usual on "Beast'n", providing a standard Torae verse full of boasts and hustling that is so confidently delivered that the track feels like it his with Wyld Bunch featuring, rather than the other way around. "Keep It Movin'" is perhaps the most authentic joint on the album, consisting of a minimalist production from Brans and a suitably laid-back verse from Roc Marciano. This is only boosted by DJ Djaz's swift turntable scratches, getting Xzibit and Pharoahe Monch involved, whether they like it or not. "
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