Sunday June 17, 2018

The (W)rap Up - Week of November 5, 2013
Posted by Emanuel Wallace at Tuesday, November 12th, 2013 at 1:00PM :: Email this article :: Print this article

If you missed any of the new reviews this past week including Eminem's "The Marshall Mathers LP 2" then do yourself a favor and check out this week's edition of the (W)rap Up!

Courtesy @MannyWallace

[The Marshall Mathers LP 2] Eminem :: The Marshall Mathers LP 2
Shady Records/Aftermath/Interscope

Author: Jesal 'Jay Soul' Padania

"Throughout the past few years of Eminem's career, one particular song has been coursing through my veins whenever his journey springs to mind: Embrace's beautiful "Come Back To What You Know" which was originally released around the time that the Detroit MC first started to gain real traction. On "Relapse" he was flushing the drugs and the past out of his system, resulting in a bizarre Dr. Dre collaboration (not without merit) that missed more than it hit; on "Recovery" he allowed outside producers into the fray, allowing him to concentration on writing, and it spawned a divisive album with some great cuts and one of his biggest hits to date; then, Royce da 5'9" returned alongside his 'evil twin' to deliver an enjoyable and lyrically-driven Bad Meets Evil EP. People were surprised by each turn of events, yet after you've been through a life-threatening shock, you spend a few years trying to recapture that "lightning in a bottle" or experimenting with new experiences. That entire series of events was absolutely indicative of the most typical human behaviour. How did Eminem initially blow? He released a cult fans favourite album that he later regretted (for "Relapse" read "Infinite"). He then released a divisive album with a couple of huge singles that made him a global star, introducing him to a new generation (for "Recovery" read "The Slim Shady LP"). He doubled up with Royce Da 5'9" in order to full sharpen his lyrical skills with someone that could push him (for "Hell: The Sequel" read the "Nuttin' To Do" and "Scary Movies" era). What comes next, dear Reader? There was only one logical outcome. Eventually, you always come back to what you know. So here it is: "The Marshall Mathers LP 2" arrives thirteen years later as a "revisitation" as opposed to a full-on sequel. That's wholly accurate, as very little from the original survives (probably hacked to death via chainsaw), yet it's certainly representative of that era, and perhaps adding a touch of "Recovery" to the blend. This feels fresh yet familiar; a throwback picture in a modern frame. It's a similar mammoth length as the original (both in terms of firmly landing in the over-70's bracket), and they even each have seven individual songs that weigh in at over five minutes apiece. That length would indicate that this may be his last album for a while, maybe as he figures out his next move (an aside: seeing him helm a Detroit-focused compilation would be marvelous, highlighting the various talent in his area - just an idea)."

3:33 :: Bicameral Brain :: Parallel Thought Ltd. 
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

[Bicameral Brain] "3:33 has a tradition of scheduling release dates as close to Halloween as possible, as evidenced by prior albums such as "Live From the Grove" and "In the Middle of Infinity." Their latest project "Bicameral Brain" is no exception, having been set for release on October 29th, and at this point I fully expect a new album around October 31st of 2014 - though perhaps not as long as this one. Peeling back the layers of this "Bicameral Brain" we find the core consciousness comes from the production work of Parallel Thought, though this is shrouded so carefully you could not be blamed if you didn't see it. Both the artwork and the music of a typical 3:33 release imply something dark and occult - perhaps even evil - and "Bicameral Brain" is no exception. Even the press release is plotted like a horror movie, implying that an unseen hand guided by the machinations of a mad scientist split 3:33 right down the middle. "The resulting Bicameral Brain was comprised of two parts - one side spoke commands in the form of auditory hallucinations and the other listened and obeyed."There's an intentionally mad/maddening comedy to the track listing, which leads to the lead single as such being entitled "BB2-1." The numbers match the track order if you were to rip the physical album and serve no other purpose, except to suggest 3:33 only reluctantly labeled the tracks and did so in the most "fuck you" manner to the music world possible. The thing is they're entirely right to do so - these are not songs which need naming. What you hear on "Bicameral Brain" is the instrumental soundtrack to the most gothic movie never made. "BB2-1" obeys SOME conventions of music structure: an intro, a strong drumbeat, a breakdown between halves and a return to the beat, but all without any narrator or explanation. A wavering bass tone is layered with hissing sounds, shrieked notes, rustling leaves and a generally thematic air of doom and despair. These all drift away until one is left with the echoing of a drum whose skinhead is too tight, blending seamlessly into the equally nameless track that follows."

The Aztext :: Four :: {self-released} 
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor

[Four]"Anthony Fredianelli, the former guitarist for San Francisco band Third Eye Blind, was just awarded $450,000 because the band failed to pay him tour income he was owed. The details of the lawsuit revealed that Fredianelli was paid $1,000 a week on retainer and $1,750 when the band was touring or recording. That means that the most he was able to earn in a year was $91,000 before taxes. In other words, the guitarist for a successful major label rock band makes almost as much as a mid-level manager or executive assistant, but without the benefits or any future earning potential. To put that in perceptive, $91,000 a year is almost enough to afford renting a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco, which average around $3,000 a month. Maybe being a musician is not exactly a one-way ticket to unimaginable wealth. Burlington, Vermont hip-hop group the Aztext know all about that bad math. 2013 marks their eighth anniversary, and a lot has happened in those eight years. For one thing, MCs Pro and Learic went from being in their early twenties to their early thirties, picking up a girlfriend and wife in the process. They went from roommates whose lives were solely devoted to making music to responsible adults with full-time jobs who have to squeeze in gigs and studio time around other demands. Hip-hop has changed too, and the old school style they made their name with on their early albums has been eclipsed by newer styles and technology. Even their DJ, Big Kat, ditched his heavy vinyl records for Serato. Despite the fact that they have opened for big name indie acts like Brother Ali and hip-hop legends like Slick Rick and the GZA, the Aztext have discovered that being a successful musician pays less than most day jobs. So they changed their approach to making music. Rather than trying to keep up with trends or make an album that would guarantee radio play, the group recorded "Four" with the intent of having fun and pushing themselves artistically. The result is an album full of honest examinations of what it means to be a musician."

J. Stalin and The World's Freshest :: Miracle & Nightmare on 10th Street :: Livewire Records/The World's Freshest Music 
as reviewed by Matt Jost

[Miracle & Nightmare]"Ambition is one of rap's cardinal virtues. Show a little ambition in and with your raps and you automatically get taken more seriously. We're not talking commercial ambition, which comes extremely cheap in rap, but artistic ambition. Rappers with commercial ambitions tend to get taken more seriously as well, still these are two different things. Everybody can dream big, but to aspire to actual greatness takes a modicum of taste, talent, and persistance. Of course, like pop, rap has known many showmen who have mastered the grand but essentially empty gesture. One of this year's big albums, Jay-Z's "Magna Carta... Holy Grail" is a prime example of rap rendering the act of aiming high a still image - iconic but not particularly instructive. Good rap is usually both. Evidently when dealing with a more complex character like Jay-Z there are different layers of artistic ambition and respective success and failure to discuss. The majority of MC's aim lower. That's not to say that J. Stalin aims low with his double feature "Miracle & Nightmare on 10th Street." But going by the title it's a simple concept, two albums, one showing the sunny, the other the seamy side of the rapper's stomping ground (Cypress Village, West Oakland), quite impressively represented by the composite album cover by an uncredited artist (the releases are also available individually but with different artwork altogether). Judging this book by its cover, you'd expect J. to discuss the duality of what 'taking care of one's family' can mean in an impoverished neighborhood - hustling in the streets at night and taking your kid to school in the morning. That's not what you will hear on "10th Street." What you are sure to witness are boasts of sexual conquests and recollections of the dope game. If that sounds like standard street rap, it mostly is, but there are a couple of twists in the mix. While eastwards from Atlanta to Chicago mic slingers of J. Stalin's ilk typically take a heavy and dark approach, "10th Street" features a melodically often exuberant rapper over airy, soul-tinged beats. "

LMNO :: After the Fact :: Up Above Records 
as reviewed by Grant Jones

[After the Fact]"No matter how much (or little) substance backs up an emcee, give him/her some dope production and as long as they have a charismatic voice, that shit is Cool with a capital C. Unless you think Miley Cyrus is "cool", there isn't another genre where coolness factors so highly. Some rappers could read the phone book to a metronome and sound phenomenal. Others could recruit the lovechild of DJ Premier and Dr Dre and still crap all over it. The music, not the lovechild. LMNO is one of those rappers who has always benefitted from excellent production but perhaps relies a little too much on his "cool" delivery. If Evidence is Mr Slow Flow, LMNO is Mr Horizontal Flow – the guy dangerously balances between monotonous and effortless. If you're not clued up on LMNO, let's recap. His name is actually just a bunch of letters, pronounced individually rather than the preferable term ‘LemonNo'. He was in the crew Visionaries alongside the likes of 2Mex and DJ Rhettmatic, and has been the busiest of the lot having released records on an almost annual basis since the early 2000s. For his latest release, LMNO has called upon the production wizardry of Dilated Peoples member Evidence, who has established his own style that while distinct, has a heavy influence from The Alchemist. "After the Fact" carries on where Evidence's previous work on "Cats and Dogs" left off, but instead of the infectious vocal samples has opted for more minimalist beats that often gives this album a sinister edge compared his earlier projects. There's typically monstrous kicks and snares throughout each track, most notably on "On With The Show" and "All Things Pass". Some songs feel more like Alchemist tracks than Evidence ones, namely the brooding "Back Burner".

M.I.A. :: Matangi :: N.E.E.T/Interscope 
as reviewed by Jesal 'Jay Soul' Padania

[Matangi]"It sometimes feels as though M.I.A. can trap the media within her very own Steve Jobs-like 'Reality Distortion Field' - except one that cuts both ways. When it's positive, it's unfailing OTT; when it's negative, the whole fucking world is gunning for her. Either way, the strength of feeling she inspires is impressive - and "Matangi" is an album that deserved to be released into the wild (something the label had to be threatened into doing). It's an absolute mess, practically a kinetic DJ mixtape with a never-ending patchwork of ideas, beats, samples and FX. It ends up feeling like you're hanging around one of the genuinely cool/crazy people that continually tells you to go and fuck yourself, feels you up, calls you a wanker while smiling charmingly, takes you to places in Shoreditch to laugh at try-hards, dumps you drunk in the kebab shop and after you sober up in a state of shock, you're hooked and want to do it all over again. Within the initial audio assault of "Matangi" lies a fine album, but it's also one that could have done with some pruning, a bit more care taken in the sequencing and perhaps a bit more self-belief. Some of the best moments are tragically cut short ("Boom Skit"); some of the worst are unfairly awarded prominence and time (the title track is a pale reworking of the first three tracks on "Kala" and only becomes tolerable through repeated exposure). The breakdown at the end of "Matangi" (the song) works well, and opens up for the real start of the album: "Only 1 U" is hard, inspirational and references Lady of Rage and Lara Croft within the same breath. Hit-Boy rocks up to lend those now-familiar patterns to the shape-shifting "Warriors" (one of the toughest tracks she's ever laid down, surely). The joyous "Come Walk With Me" (which should have opened up the album) starts off a la "Paper Planes" and after a minute and a half, goes absolutely mental with infectious energy. "aTENTion" is the kind of moment that only M.I.A. could even have conceived, let alone recorded: an exhilarating WTF mashup of discordant anti-AutoTune, and a hybrid of speed garage with Armand Van Helden's '97 remix vibe (think "Spin Spin Sugar")."

P-Dash :: Dying 4 a Living :: Bryant P. Robbins 
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

[Dying 4 a Living]"Dying 4 a Living" made an impression before I opened the album. Reviewers are used to receiving self-released albums by mail in the form of a burnt CD-R with a handwritten label. P-Dash ain't goin' out like that though. Even though he's his own label of record, under his real name of Bryant P. Robbins, Dash still spent the cash to have his album get a proper print run. It comes in a foldout digipak, with a full insert that has all of his album's lyrics and production notes, although it's somewhat redundant in the latter case since all songs besides "The Format" are self-produced. Either way it's clear P decided not to half-ass this album in any way, even getting his face painted and professionally photographed for the cover artwork. Even though I'm relatively new to P-Dash, the level of care and detail suggests he's not new to the music industry, something his bio makes perfectly clear. Creeping up on 30 years of age, he doesn't have the time to waste half-assing any part of his effort - he's not making rookie mistakes he'd have to rebound from or correct later on. He's here to put in "Work." The song is a spiritual successor to Kool Moe Dee's hustle anthem with a much more Southern swang. P-Dash's thoughtful lyrics keep the listener engaged throughout the near 60 minutes of "Dying 4 a Living." He's grateful for being shaped into the man he became on "Letter 2 My Teacher," something we should hear more of in society - and not just from our emcees. "Only My Tears Can Explain" is his personal confession of hardship and loss, with P not fearing showing us his vulnerable side. He also shows us his self-motivation on "Get Up," which is also an anthem to get everybody off their ass and put in the effort he does. There are only two drawbacks to "Dying 4 a Living," which I'm somewhat reluctant to mention given P's drive and professionalism, but I'd be doing him a disservice if I didn't."

Prinx Mikul :: Brooklyn Meets Africa :: DatPiff/PrinxMikul Music 
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

[Brooklyn Meets Africa]""Brooklyn Meets Africa" is a self-explanatory title for Prinx Mikul (pronounced Prince Michael). He linked up with two African producers named Envy 'The Loopdigger' and Vez 'The Scenestar', and from there purposefully chose artwork, guest artists and references to reflect his project's concept. As an older head in hip-hop it reminds me of the Afrocentric movement of the late 1980's and early 1990's, when rappers wore dashikis and African medallions, with songs about the universal experience of racism in the face of a European white male hegemony. When KRS-One and similarly minded artists said this was the history that wasn't found in your classroom textbook or local library (or "lie-bury, where the lies are buried") it rang true for me. As much as I admired the movement I never adopted the attire since I knew how much of a poser I'd look like, and the popularity of conscious rap quickly faded as the rougher rappers of the 1990's got radio edited just enough for the mainstream to latch on. Some elements of the movement have persisted though, and the Prinx Mikul album attempts to forge a more direct link than those who wore the clothing but knew nothing of the African continent (something King Sun famously made fun of on "Be Black"). I may have had some mistaken impressions about how edutational the album would be though. Mikul does at times acknowledge the African influence on songs like the title track, and not in a lip service way, but not in a way that offers new insights or provides lessons for the listeners. There's no sense of political struggle either in Brooklyn or Africa - just Mikul's own personal struggle to be a success. Envy's sprinkling of pianos and drums is effective on the song, so it's enjoyable even if it's not that profound, and sometimes silly when it tries to be: "Rest in peace J Dilla/that blueprint you left, we gon' follow like Twitter." The bulk of the production is E's and you can see why Mikul sought him out. "Things You Do" featuring Jade Rene may be a quiet storm cliche, but Mikul channels his inner J. Cole to make it work. "Would'a Been Gone" featuring BB Sling channels Wiz Khalifa instead, as the tandem are in search of "killer kush" and "munchies" to ease their troubled minds. The most Afrocentric song may be "Ya Beautiful," which celebrates the beauty of the Nubian goddess."

Ransom :: The Proposal :: Showoff Records/Brick Records 
as reviewed by Grant Jones

[Proposal]"Judging by Spotify, I've been sleeping on Ransom. I'm not alone either, as Ransom has not had a single review by RapReviews. Having known about Ransom for a few years now, I've always dismissed him as just another street rapper, regularly found on fellow street rapper projects dropping verses that are reliable more than anything. With "The Proposal", Ransom has acquired some strong production that adds immensely to his street mentality and street is exactly what this record represents, utilising Statik's ability to combine powerful piano loops with crashing snares."The Proposal" remains authentically engrained in the hood, with struggle and pain common themes. Given Ransom's name, there are few mentions of money other than the constant chase for paper which inevitably pops up on many rap records. This record is hard in the vein of Blaq Poet and Ruste Juxx, but also borders on bland. Even the lighter moments are still drenched in the hardcore mentality Ransom embodies, with "Jade" ensuring nobody picks up "The Proposal" expecting the Ryan Reynolds film in audio form. "Jade" is actually based around the topic of sex, but is still bogged down in overbearing threats. It feels less like angry sex and more like the thoughts of a rapist. Perhaps the best track is "Outcast" which boasts some cinematic piano work and Ea$y Money's appearance makes Ransom up his intensity levels to Freddie Foxxx levels. Speaking of legendary hardcore figures in rap, Styles P swings by on "It's Ransom" to provide a suitably intimidating hook, and Ransom offers up a brooding presence with increased intensity. Statik's production suits Ransom more than ever here, but could have benefitted further from a Styles P verse. "The Proposal" is standard hood rap that's delivered in a polished manner and despite Statik's efforts, there is a lack of identity throughout the record."

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