If you missed any of the new reviews this past week including Drake's "Nothing Was The Same" then do yourself a favor and check out this week's edition of the (W)rap Up!
Drake :: Nothing Was the Same
Cash Money Records
Author: Jesal 'Jay Soul' Padania
"After the epic "Take Care" - which spawned countless singles, mottos, hashtags, memes and probably babies - his third album title makes another bold statement in a similar vein to his debut, this time declaring that "Nothing Was the Same". In reality, it ends up being more a case of "Same Same But Different". Similar formula, different structure. A few tweaks, very few radio singles. It won't sell in droves, but it will cement his reputation (the last point is far more valuable when you're basically competing with yourself right now). The Canadian applies lashings of mystery and intrigue, effectively locking you in his car while driving you around to places he used to go, pointing at people he used to know. However, at no point does he unlock the door, step out and explain the story. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Drake's world. Your tour guide is Drake, talking mysteriously about Drake. It's at this crucial juncture that he risks becoming so self-aware that he loses self-awareness; the point where instead of actually drawing you into his life, he just talks about himself for hours. It's wonderful that he seems to be so giving of himself, opening up and expressing his deepest emotions, something that takes others years to understand: but having listened extensively, you'd be forgiven for not having absorbed much at all. He's a master of the #HumbleBrag and while it may seem that he's deep and shit, with a hidden backstory that's so fascinating, looking strong but scarred, it's actually just a way to seduce you (like the scene in "Phone Shop" below where the guys are trying to teach Newman how to impress a female target). Sometimes you get the feeling that Drake stands in his bathroom listening to "Man in the Mirror" just staring at his own reflection for hours on end thinking about how mysterious he is, with his hands in ‘praying' formation like an early-90's R&B singer. (How much time is this writer spending on the intro?) The album itself draws on the vibe of "Take Care" but Drake seems particularly interested in creating a watertight structure, one that is leaner and significantly tighter with far less excess. It's a well-crafted puzzle, aided and abetted by that now familiar ‘open text' writing style that he continues to perfect with panache - both more personal, yet wonderfully vague. You have to connect the dots, and that's half the fun (a trait shared with Nas on tracks like "Silent Murder" and "Last Real Nigga Alive"). Incidentally, the Nas comparisons - in terms of influence amongst other things - are concrete, and it would have been better to see the two doubling up instead of hearing Jay Z on the album closer."
Guilty Simpson & Small Professor :: Highway Robbery :: Diamond Media 360
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Guilty Simpson is one of those guys from Detroit picked as "The Next Big Thing" in rap. It happens every few years as people look for the next J Dilla of production or Eminem of emceeing. (See current contender Big Sean for the latest example.) Simpson had a little bad luck though as he was hand picked BY DILLA HIMSELF, so Jay Dee's untimely death was a huge obstacle to overcome. It's fair to say that amongst underground rap fans he has acquitted himself well, but those who thought he'd be a household name by now need to revise their expectations. Small Professor is the latest producer to step in and fill the role that J Dilla would have were he still with us today. Given the Philadelphia producer's rising reputation in the bad world, it wasn't a bad choice, and it pays dividends on "Highway Robbery." Currently the album is exclusive to iTunes, but will hopefully be moving to more widespread distribution soon. There's intensity in spades spread around - a harrowing blacksploitation sound to "On the Run" with DJ Revolution, hard clapping claves for "I'm the City" with Boldy James and Statik Selektah, and the growling challenge of "It's Nuthin" featuring A.G. There are no wasted moments on this short 25 minute album - even instrumental interludes like "Blap" pack a punch. The short length is probably the most significant downside of "Highway Robbery," although at a $6.99 entry point you're not getting jacked that much by Pro, G.S. or Apple. To a much lesser extent there are small problems (and we're talking microscopic) with Guilty Simpson's delivery. "
Lungz :: Inebriation :: Inner Loop Media Group
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Hungry young rapper Lungz is straight from the Northside of the Chi. His name seems like a fairly obvious rap appelation - to the degree I'm a bit perplexed that in 30+ years I've never seen another rapper use it. In fact I'm absolutely boggled no pro-legalization emcee has ever adopted the name. Lungz is not all about what he's inhaling though - and even though he raps "NorthSide Get the Money" on his (ironically) free album he's not all about the cheddar either. For a relative newcomer Lungz seems to be fairly well connected, especially when you stop to consider that Cam from J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League contributes three tracks - "Empty Cup," "Never Take Me Alive" and "I'm Out." He's also got a few high known guests artists as contributors on this project - most prominently King L a/k/a King Louie on "Drink Smoke" and Dizzy Wright on the mellow BP The Producer laced "Sunday Drives." Lungz has an unhurried leisurely pace, which lends to his confidence in that he won't be off beat or make many mistakes, but also leads to a lack of a competitive edge in his flow. Over time he reminds me of Chicago's answer to an Odd Futurer B-teamer - somebody you wouldn't necessarily fast forward through on a posse song but somebody who doesn't reach out and grab your attention like Tyler, the Creator. He's got concepts on songs like "Time Machine" and "Pictures on the Wall" (the latter has a really smooth piano and bass backdrop thanks to February), but the intricate origami folds to turn the paper writtens into 3D visuals don't pop off. The assessment may come off a bit harsh to this point, but Lungz still has a lot going for him. His natural swagger and vocal tone are pleasant to listen to, and he does drop a clever line here and there."
Smoov-E :: Breakdance :: Rap Entering Another Level Records
as reviewed by Matt Jost
"Until I spotted his latest release "Breakdance" on the virtual shelf, I was oblivious of Smoov-E's existence. Internet information on the rapper is inconclusive but I do get the impression of someone who takes the music seriously but not necessarily himself. Smoov-E reps NorCal and cites, among other musicians, early '90s Bay Area rappers as an influence. His musical works go beyond one specific genre, but there is one instrument he seems to be particularly fond of - the drum machine. According to Smoov-E's most prominently placed career resume, 'his collection of both vintage and modern drum sequencers continues to grow and has been evident in all of his work.' It is certainly evident in "Breakdance," his tribute to early 1980s electro and hip-hop. We can therefore assume that every 808 heard on this album comes from an actual Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer. Either way he assembles all those toms, kicks and snares in vintage fashion, and that goes for the entire arrangement of bass stabs, synth lines and anything else needed to evoke that brief era in electronic music that would have such a lasting effect on dance music (including rap/hip-hop). Smoov-E also remains faithful to the rapping and rhyming style of electro, affecting a monotone, almost 'robotic' flow (often via filtered vocals) while maintaining a humorous note last but not least due to completely basic and random bars. Sometimes his brags have a sexual undertone, but there's little actual vulgarity. Hence a number of tracks are total throwbacks - opener "Computer Rhythm" reaches thematically back to electro's inception, when electronics began to permeate everyday life, while musically Smoov-E sets the time machine to 1983 with stuttering percussion, a bouncing bassline, laser-beaming synths and that spellbinding Egyptian Lover delivery."
Uptown XO :: Colour de Grey :: Mello Music Group
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor
""Like Lao Tzu in Hiphop, Mello Music Group provides music for the soul, from the heart of American culture, opening the realm of the intelligent Hiphop experience through melodic evocations, beats that corroborate the truth, and voices that roar above the rising void and impose order on the terrible & triumphant moments of everyday life." That quote, adapted from a short story by James Baldwin, is the mission statement of Arizona label Mello Music Group. For the past few years, the label has established itself as an important voice in underground hip-hop, offering a carefully curated roster of artists. One of the cornerstones of the label is the Diamond District, the DC group made up of Oddisee, yU, and Uptown XO. While the Diamond District has only released one album, the group's members have put out several essential releases. "Colour de Grey" is another solid entry by Uptown XO. XO was always the brasher, flashier member of the Diamond District, the MC more drawn to street life. His 2009 mixtape "Monumental" was mostly about partying, and trying to cover up depression and pain by partying. In my review of that mixtape I said XO didn't have the finesse of Wale (XO: Monumental). All I can say is, what a difference four years makes. Whatever strengths Wale showed on his "100 Miles and Running" and "Mixtape About Nothing" projects has mostly been squandered as he alternates between being corny and failed attempts at strip club rap. XO, on the other hand, has added an "Uptown" to his name and spent the last four years honing his craft. He still has some of his youthful brashness, but it is tempered with a maturity far beyond his age. "Colour de Grey" is all about self-empowerment, self-improvement, and trying to escape the traps of poverty and crime before they destroy you. The title is a reference to how so much in life is neither black or white, but a shade of grey, and the interconnectedness and oneness of all things. That's some heavy spiritual thought for a pop album, but XO sells it by keeping things real and deep rather than preachy."
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