If you missed any of the new reviews this past week including Wordsmith's "The Blue Collar Recital" then do yourself a favor and check out this week edition of the (W)rap Up!
Wordsmith :: The Blue Collar Recital
Author: Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Wordsmith's last album was a refreshingly positive rap album inspired by the birth of his son Kingston. He's been moving further in that direction for a while now, progressively getting closer to the kind of unitarian love exhibited by rap singers like Michael Franti. "The Blue Collar Recital" is no exception to that rule. There are plenty of things in the world that anger him, frustrated him or upset him in this world, but as "When Your Faith Is Tested" illustrates, he's even able to find meaning in senseless tragedies like the Newtown massacre. The quote should also make it obvious that (if you didn't already know it) Wordsmith is a very Christian man, and not afraid to share his faith. He's also cleaner than the average emcee, which means that even when he gets jerked around by a redneck "Officer Yoda" the closest he gets to cussing the cop out is "M.F.F.W." Even being stuck in gridlock can't keep the upbeat Wordsmith down, as he turns it into an opportunity for a little bit of "Traffic Jammin'."I can relate - I did the same thing when I got stuck in construction on I-65 in Indiana - I rolled the windows down and cranked the sound up. There aren't many better ways to relieve the frustration when you are crawling along at one mile per hour. Some readers might be tempted to say "Man that dude Wordsmith is corny - he doesn't drink, cuss, trap or ball - what kind of man is he?" Answer: a grown one. Unless you're young enough to have your parents foot your bills or have a trust fund they left you large enough to leave you set for life, you're not out there trapping and partying every single day. Wordsmith's music is "Blue Collar" for that reason - this is music for the common man not living the life of Jay-Z - so "When In Doubt Give It Your Best." Wordsmith's worldview is even more impressive when given his Baltimore background - a city better known for inspiring "The Wire" that inspiring positive rap affirmations. I'm not likely to get up this early in the day myself, but "It's 5am Smell the Roses" affirms his "itching to make a living off music" while simultaneously not being willing to trade in his core values to do so. It's almost sad to think that it may limit the scope of his audience, since he won't do trap music or raunchy sex anthems, but then Wordsmith is entirely at peace with himself and his life and that washes the sadness away."
Down South :: Lost in Brooklyn :: Big Beat/Atlantic
** RapReviews "Back to the Lab" series **
as reviewed by Matt Jost
"Rap records are often very typical of their time (and anything but 'timeless'). It's hard to imagine Down South's "Lost in Brooklyn" being released after 1994. Here we have a group embracing everything southern, and where are they from? VA. Virginia may be 'down south' from a New Yorker perspective and it may be below the Mason-Dixon line, but it finds itself 'up north' relative to the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi or Louisiana. States that in the years to come would produce national rap stars such as JT Money, Petey Pablo, Pastor Troy, Juvenile, Bubba Sparxxx, etc. Their way was paved by a number of labels and artists, many of whom would also be part of the growing southern scene that rendered a concept act like Down South obsolete by 1995. Still in '94 Down South had every right to exist as they presented a rural, southern alternative to the urban, northern way of life, both on a social and a musical level. To stress that Arrested Development beat them to it by two years would be failing to realize that Down South solely exist within that dichotomy. They purposely hit their heads against the New York city walls, in place of every out-of-towner who ever tried to make it there. "Lost in Brooklyn" is not only a symbol of the hegemony of the birthplace of hip-hop, it also implicitly represents the adventurous journey of generations of southern migrants/refugees/runaways who settled in the northern and eastern cities. Down South directly address those with family in the south, plus allude to having family further down south themselves (although no geographical denominations are given). Down South's most prominent member is Shawn J-Period (not to be confused with DJ J.Period or with Shawn J of Field Mob), who would go on to produce for Mad Skillz, Bush Babees, Artifacts and become one of the architects of the Rawkus sound. Since him and partner Soda Pop share the same family name, we can assume they were blood-related (AllMusic says cousins). They could also originate from the same place (Richmond), including Myorr the DJ, whose family apparently accommodated the trio during its stay(s) in New York."
Hey WTF Records :: 1 Year of #WorkThatsFresh :: Hey WTF Records
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"RR recently delved into the world of Hey WTF Records with Lawnmowher's "novembre amour" album. They're a relatively new crew on the scene, but this Boston-based label ain't takin' no shit. They are passionate about their progressive artistic hip-hop, and at least if Lawnmowher's album is any indication, they're on the right path. As such I wanted to take another chance on the crew and check out their celebratory album "1 Year of #WorkThatsFresh," signaling 12 months of survival when many well intentioned indie labels fold in half that time or less. As a sign of just how seriously Hey WTF takes their efforts, I got a heads up about the album before doing my review: "The last two tracks are bonuses that aren't visible/streamable online." It's a small thing but it's also appreciated given I don't have to apologize later if I talk about something that people complain isn't on Bandcamp when they go to listen to or preview this album. Incidentally those two tracks are "Ayo Brain (We Meet Again)" by Brian to Earth x Mike Wagz and "Reasons for Using Meditation Beats" by Ryan Lucht (also the founder and head of Hey WTF). The latter is an amusing pastiche of vocals reminiscent of a West coast turntablist paired with a beat that lives up to the billing - in fact I could swear I even hear a gently burbling stream in the backdrop of the drum track. It's very hypnotizing. Background elements are very important to the Hey WTF producers. It's the same reason you can hear a scratchy crackle and pop behind the light electronic tune and sharp taps of "eenvironment" by ewonee. What Hey WTF strives for above all else is music with atmosphere. In an empty room, with your eyes closed, these songs fill up the space in your physical AND mental presence. And though there's a definite amount of hip-hop attitude to the sampling and arrangement found in songs like Dataka's "When They Begin," it's a playful and welcomed form of swagger - like a video game designer purposefully hiding easter eggs for you to find. The vocal samples in the track make me want to hunt."
Jonwayne :: Cassette 3: The Marion Morrison Mixtape :: Stones Throw Records
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor
"The revival of cassettes is just another trend that is making me feel like an old man. I listened to music exclusively on cassettes until I was sixteen. I still have a stack of tapes in my parent’s garage that I don’t have the heart to throw away, despite the fact that I haven’t owned a cassette player for fifteen years. Cassettes were always a second-class format. They didn’t have the cool cache that vinyl LPs have, and they didn’t sound as good as either vinyl or CDs. They had a tendency to get eaten, which led to winding the tape back up with a pencil. You couldn’t skip to a song, which meant that you had to fast forward and hope your timing was good. I remember getting frustrated with my Ghostbusters soundtrack trying to skip Laura Brannigan’s "Hot Night" so I could get to Mick Smiley’s "Magic." The tiny format didn’t lend itself to album art. There was often hiss. If the tape got old, it could slow down. Ironically, this happened to my copy of Lionel Richie’s "Can’t Slow Down," which always sounded like poor Lionel was singing underwater. However, cassettes also had their advantages. They were much more portable than LPs or CDs. Well into the 90s most people had cassette decks in their cars. They also cost a third less than CDs, at least in the U.S. A CD in 1990 went for 15 or 16 dollars, while a cassette was only $10. Most importantly, you could record your own cassettes. In the 80s, the record company was terrified that home taping would kill the industry, which was one reason why they championed the more expensive and harder to dub CD. For kids today, cassettes have several huge advantages over MP3s. For one thing, they are something you can physically own, instead of just bits of data. This also means that they need to be listened to in their entirety, and not just one track at a time. Then there is the nostalgia factor, which is not to be underestimated. "
Kool Keith :: Total Orgasm 3 Mixtape :: Junkadelic Music
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Being a fan of Kool Keith is challenging. If you tried to explain to anybody why he's great and played them something he both produced and rapped on in the last 15 years, they'd probably stare at you like you were touched in the head. In his Dr. Octagon era there was magic in his unrepentantly scatological and sexual raps, and not just because he had better production. Keith's unconventional and at times vulgar rhymes were a challenge to the hip-hop mainstream. He'd rather rap about smearing feces on the wall than about how big of a car he could buy and drive around in while flashing expensive jewelry. He challenged hip-hop as a whole to be unconventional and more creative. The unfortunate truth is that in 2013, Keith Thornton is in need of the very challenge he once gave rap's stagnant Puff Daddy mimicking mainstream. There's no question he's a legend in hip-hop and deserves his respect as such, even though he would probably tell you to fuck off with that shit if you tried to give it to him. He revels in being an iconoclast and not conforming to any musical or lyrical norms - and therein lies the problem. Not ALL reasons to conform to a normative value are bad. Sure it's fun to shoot baskets at the gym all day, but if you're hitting the rim or the backboard all the time, you might want to adjust to a standard jump shot instead of winging the ball out there wildly and praying it goes in. If you want to make a delicious chocolate cake but decide not to follow a recipe, that lumpy burnt mess you scrape out of your oven teaches you it's not so bad to stick to the script. Kool Keith's "Total Orgasm 3" is an example of baking turds and expecting the result to be brownies. It is at times charming to listen to his stream-of-consciousness raps - if you don't care that there's no artistry in it and no point to it. He could read letters written to a porno magazine and get the exact results he achieves on songs like "Cock." In fact you could probably use it as the script for a really D-grade porno - at it's possible he has."
Prozak :: We All Fall Down :: Strange Music Inc.
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Prozak is the Hitchcock of Hip-Hop - it's both his catchphrase and his rap mentality. Another good description would be "gothic emcee." He doesn't fit neatly into the definition of horrorcore, which is often (and at times incorrectly) associated with shock value. Prozak does talk about the paranormal and supernatural in his rhymes, and is willing to do so in an atmosphere of the dark and macabre. Pro willingly walks a line between Hellraiser and heaven seeeker - straddling the thin line between life's harsh realities and a surprisingly affirmative hip-hop given his honesty and directness with the listening audience. "Blood Paved Road" is a perfect example - it's grim but thoughtful. The cover of "We All Fall Down" looks like a post-apocalyptic nightmare, but Prozak clearly survived the destructive rampage. There are no 50 shades for him - there's only the "Darkest Shade of Grey" - a rock and rolling rampage where he snarls and screams "Tell me why we all just hurt each other?" On Vendetta he declares he's somewhere "between sanity and psycho" for an uptempo rap over a harsh drilling but not unpleasant drum track backdrop. He is so intensely bad-ass on many of his rip-rocking songs that the quiet moments like "Before We Say Goodbye" stand out that much more. Having been a consumer of Prozak's music for a while now, I don't mind that he kicked the rock quotient up a notch for songs like "Three, Two, One" - though those with a more traditional rap bent may prefer the speedy delivery of "Audio Barricade" and the folksy melody of "Fading Away." It's a testament to Prozak's skill how easily he transfers between seemingly disparate genres though while maintaining his gothic rap style flawlessly. "
Swave Sevah :: Son of a One Armed Man :: Creative Juices Music
as reviewed by Grant Jones
"Credibility can be a grey area when talking about emcees. There aren't many artists that can hold their own in a rap battle with Dizaster, tour with Immortal Technique and acquire Killer Mike and Sean Price for guest spots on a solo project. Swave Sevah may not be well known to the uninitiated, indeed many will only know of him from his affiliation with Immortal, but he is well respected for good reason. I actually saw him live with Poison Pen and Immortal Technique in concert and whilst his material lacks the political awareness Tech's music offers, Swave possesses an authenticity beyond the gun talk. Sometimes an emcee possesses that unique air of respect, and Swave Sevah looks and sounds like he has been through a lot emotionally. "Son of a One Armed Man" is remarkably, Swave Sevah's debut – named after the fact his father is a master martial artist (possessing three black belts according to one skit). This album is a strong example of how Swave embraces his roots, with nearly every song, for better AND worse, demonstrating how tough a neighbourhood Harlem is. "4 U Haterz" is a heady mix of broad New York street rap and oddly, thought provoking examples of sociology. Despite a decent enough beat, "4 U Haterz" suffers from some superiority-complex rhymes that clearly stem from Swave's history of battle rhyming. Plenty of put downs and filler bars ensure the track is never anything more than average hardcore hip hop. Unfortunately, much of "Son of a One Armed Man" follows this theme – "Point of View" is gritty but Sevah's lines come off as discarded battle verses while "Goonery" is a strange combination of slow flows throughout except on the hook, which is packed with rhymes. The endless braggadocio wouldn't be so monotonous if it was injected with some humour, but the production rarely veers from depressive, doom-filled instrumentals that lend the record an almost dated, early 2000s sound. The worst part of the album is undoubtedly Sean Price's guest feature; a slurred, lazily written piece of P that proves how far Sean has fallen from his "Monkey Barz" and "Jesus Price Superstar" days. This isn't the first time he has recycled rhymes or barely pieced together a verse – see El Da Sensei's "Everyday on the Street". It's probably the reason Swave Sevah is so pissed off on tracks like "This Nigga Here", and it is when Swave is angry he works best. "
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