If you missed any of the new reviews this past week, including Asheru's "Sleepless in Soweto" then do yourself a favor and check out this week's edition of the (W)rap Up!
Asheru :: Sleepless in Soweto
Guerilla Arts Ink, LLC
Author: Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Say the words "I am the stone that the builder refused" and you already know who Gabriel Benn is. Asheru's words have been the opening of every episode of The Boondocks since it debuted on TV in 2005. Asheru had been an underground favorite long before that, dating all the way back to the late 1990's, culminating in the album "Soon Come..." in 2001. Fame has not really been Asheru's first priority though, as he holds a master's degree in education and works both locally in Washington D.C. and nationally to uplift our youth. He even co-created H.E.L.P., the Hip-Hop Educational Literary Project, to find ways to bring positive and informational rap into the classroom - furthering the very concept of "Edutainment" KRS-One originated. We should all stop and take a moment to applaud Asheru's efforts on behalf of hip-hop music and culture - he's a true leader. As busy as Asheru has been in the classroom and as an activist, it has necessarily led his artistic output to be generously descibed as SPORADIC. 2013's "Sleepless in Soweto" is an overdue return to form for one of rap's most important voices. The title may at first seem to be a pun on a famous Tom Hanks film, and while it no doubt has roots there, it's directly inspired by his frequent trips back and forth between D.C. and South Africa. There were undoubtedly some sleepless days and nights after so many long flights and frequent bouts of jet lag, which makes it more remarkable that he chose to record this entire 12 track album while on the road. As such I can even excuse the obvious sampling rejack of the opening track "Simphiwe's Theme," though I'm likely the only person who remembers Diamond D's "Freestyle" from "Stunts, Blunts & Hip Hop." Asheru rips it so well it's more than fair to let him share the same beat 20 years later."
Action Bronson :: Blue Chips 2 :: Fool's Gold
as reviewed Grant Jones
"I'll admit this straight out the gate – I've never been a fan of Action Bronson. Having heard his project with Statik Selektah, I was unimpressed and find his voice has rarely stood out on the numerous collaborations he has featured on in the past few years. The reason I've chosen to write about the latest Action Bronson mixtape is to prove that if you didn't enjoy his previous work, give this FREE mixtape a chance because I have been converted to Bronson's brand of abrasive hip hop. The Ghostface Killah influence is undeniable (particularly in the constant pop-culture references) and while he can certainly spit, his abrasive language and wild imagery has usually included some stupid shit to spoil it. "Blue Chips 2" is no different, but is musically so diverse compared to the likes of "Well Done" and "Saaab Stories" that Action's appeal becomes more likable. Just as Ghostface excels over quirky production, whether it be from his Wu-brethren or this year's marvelously dark "Twelve Reasons To Die" by Adrian Younge, it most certainly adds to the package. There can't be many current emcees willing to rhyme to a guitar on "Pepe Lopez" the way Bronson unashamedly does. The Wu-Tang comparison re-emerges on "The Don's Cheek" with Bronson sharing a tale of money, drugs and respect not too dissimilar to the original Chef, Raekwon. The real star is the scathing, Oriental loop that just doesn't get old no matter how many times I rewind that shit. Musically, "Blue Chips 2" has a bit of everything whether it be beat jacking in the form of The Pharcyde's "Passin' Me By" or the multitude of 80s pop including Phil Collins (!) on "Contemporay Man". Party Supplies provided these fun, nostalgic backdrops on the first "Blue Chips" mixtape and they've nailed it once again. Bronson does calm it down on "Midget Cough", and the last few songs see him straying towards more comfortable, traditional backdrops. "
Amos the Ancient Prophet & Vega X :: The WitchHammer :: Planet X Records
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"There are some problems unrelated to the music or the artists featured within I'd be remiss to not address right from the jump. This album is not available for sale on Amazon.com, though individual songs like "Coven of the Serpent's Eye" and "Abode of the Damned" are. The Planet X website allegedly offers it for free download, but the site has been domain blocked by DatPiff.com, while the actual album itself was removed due to a complaint by Russell Williams. I don't know what's going on or when it all went down, but I do know that "WitchHammer" was available commercially long enough for iTunes to recognize the CD and pull up song titles when I loaded it on my laptop. The individual songs on Amazon which Vega X recycled on his "Global Warming" album may be an attempt to salvage the material from "WitchHammer" which wasn't in dispute. They may not stand as well out of context. "WitchHammer" is dark and gothic in the most literal sense, with an impending feeling of doom created largely through the production efforts of Amos the Ancient Prophet. The songs sample liberally from pop culture - such as "The Vampyre" borrowing from WarHammer's description of Count Manfred Von Carstein, and "Guardians of the Watchtower" borrowing from "The Prophecy" and its memorable starring performance by Christopher Walken. It may be a lack of clearance of these samples that led to the issues behind its removal online, but that's not established here and should only be considered wild speculation. Without watching the entire movie for the purpose of the review, I think "The Witch Hunters" samples from the film adaption of "Twins of Evil".This sample sets up the heavy handed production of Amos well, and Vega X does his best to carry the theme forward lyrically. "Vatican assassin, snatching out your Adam's apple/then decapitate the Pope on the tabernacle/more sick style than the torture in the witch trials."
Oh No :: Disrupted Ads :: Stones Throw Records
as reviewed Grant Jones
"After the thumping Gangrene collaborations with Alchemist, Oh No proves that while his name may not ring bells quite as much as the self-proclaimed rapper's best friend, Oh No is more than worthy of his status as production extraordinaire. He is a producer who you may well have already heard, having worked on video game soundtracks, from the ultra-hardcore fighter BlazBlue to scoring the ultra-popular Grand Theft Auto 5. Proof of Oh No's abilities can be heard throughout "Disrupted Ads", a concise mix of instrumental segments and rampant, horn-heavy tracks. Much of the album feels like listening to the radio; well, not THE radio but the structure is of that ilk. Tracks such as "Boom" emit a possessed style, as if the music equipment came to life, became out of control and threw the engineer against a brick wall. "Punchdrunkpatternz" feels like a European movie thriller, while "Perfect Cylinders" is on some Italian cathedral vibe. It's no wonder Oh No has caught the interest of video game companies as his music truly does take you somewhere. Retro adverts rear their well-worn heads on "The Difference" (reminiscent of DJ Yoda's mixtapes), with a more laid back instrumental that has enough about it to carry the listener's interest. Where I find myself normally struggling to enjoy instrumental records, Oh No is able to bring together a variety of samples on "Disrupted Ads" that certainly feel disruptive when compared to other records released this year. The disruptiveness somehow works though, with weaker moments actually being the tracks featuring emcees: "Animals" sees Roc C and Chali 2na proclaim how animalistic they are, yet Chali's smooth tones just don't convince."
Peter Leo x DJ Concept :: Young Baby Father EP :: AudioMack
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"I was on the fence about DJ Concept as a producer until I heard his "M99: Dexter Beat Tape," at which point I realized he had some potential and promise. Concept took the instrumentals of a show about an grim anti-hero serial killer and injected some hip-hop style and personality into them through his personal rearrangement. It was a natural given how many people in the arts I've heard say they are fans of the show, but to my knowledge Concept was the first to go for broke and actually do it - he gets the props. Much like the "Dexter Beat Tape" his new collaboration with Peter Leo is a free download, although for the former it was probably necessary for legal reasons (Showtime may not like it but if he didn't "profit" per se he'd be less likely to get a nasty legal letter). With Peter Leo he finally seems to have found the right voice to match with his music, and with "Young Baby Father" Leo has found the right theme to rap over Concept's beats. The seven songs of this EP all revolve around the responsibilities of fatherhood to some degree, including the trials and tribulations of hustling to make ends meet on "Gotta Escape" and potential legal ramifications. At only 23 minutes long there's not a lot of time to get to know Peter Leo, but I like what I hear here. "Oh Baby" is a salsafied "hood tale from the streets of Brentwood, New York" with Peter flowing smoothly about one of his various escapades - only to find out two months after doing the deed that he's a baby daddy. At first he's in denial and believes he used a rubber, but "Now that I think back, maybe I ain't check that/plus I was leaned back from sipping a six pack." That's how it happens. "Cycles of Life" featuring Rich Rivera is a more serious take on fatherhood, talking about how baby mothers give up on baby daddies who are dead broke, only to have their daughters grow up to be hood rats. I'm not saying that's a 100% guarantee, and neither is Peter Leo, but when he says "the cycle of life comes back around" it's something worth contemplating."
Reks :: Revolution Cocktail :: REKS
as reviewed Grant Jones
"After storming the underground with the brilliant "Grey Hairs" and gaining the stamp of approval from legendary producers such as Large Professor and DJ Premier, Reks went on to make an excellent sophomore in "Rhythmatic Eternal King Supreme" (it was actually his fifth album, but his second that was widely released). It was mature as well as including some pleasant deviations from the more traditional style that was heavily associated with Reks at the time. Since then, Reks has clearly been playing his Public Enemy collection more than usual, with much of his recent work containing political undertones as well as a minimalist, rapid-fire sound. "Rebelutionary" remained authentic, including the scathing single "Unlearn" yet I found the Statik Selektah collaboration "Straight No Chaser" a bit well, boring. Thankfully, "Revolution Cocktail" is one of, if not the best record from Reks' rapidly increasing discography. Continuing the revolutionary theme of "Rebelutionary", "Revolution Cocktail" is mildly more light-hearted but sees Reks deliver his trademark style – relentless raps and hard beats. Production ranges from the lo-fi, pessimistic sounds of the song "Revolution Cocktail" to more experimental pieces like "Flags", which even sees Reks perform a hook not unlike a southern gangsta rapper. Perhaps it is ironic, given the emcee's passionate defence of traditional hip hop, and his rhymes on "Flags" confirm that Reks isn't happy with his country as a whole. Reks has always been angry, but there is a maturity to his delivery throughout "Revolution Cocktail" that makes this album sound like a step up from "Grey Hairs" and even "R.E.K.S". The latter was a well-received record that I actually imported from the States at the time (damn you Amazon UK), because it felt like a balanced, complete artist combining streetwise rhymes with surprisingly friendly production."
Sivion :: Group Therapy :: Illect Recordings
as reviewed Grant Jones
"Packing an album with guest features only really works when you're a producer looking to showcase your skills for a variety of artists. In hip hop terms, it gives a group of emcees the opportunity to catch wreck. As an emcee however, Sivion's decision to be accompanied on 12 out of 16 songs is a strange one, especially as Sivion feels like a natural rapper. It's not as if Sivion is operating on the level of French Montana, hiring guests to hide his own shortcomings, but it still baffles me why a rapper trying to make a name for themselves would milk every last contact in their phonebook. Despite these reservations, "Group Therapy" isn't as disjointed as you'd think, with a good-natured atmosphere running throughout giving each track a likable charm. Although some clichés rear their ugly heads ("Real Talk" is another rap song claiming authenticity), "Group Therapy" sees Sivion provide hip hop at its most pleasant. There is minimal swearing, cleanly produced instrumentals and an overall feel of positivity underlying much of the content here. Sivion isn't a preachy rapper though, but he does lack a certain X-factor with songs like "The Best" devoid of identity and "Free Your Soul" proving Sivion's presence is easily outmatched by unknowns like Sojourn & Ahred Strenge Indeed. "One Two" is as good as anything you'll hear on the radio, a real stonker of a hook from Heather James raises the bar and really surprised me with its appearance on such an overlooked album. Looking at the production credits proves just why some songs sound as refined as they do: Symbolic 1 (Jay-Z, Beyonce) provides "The Best", The Are (LL Cool J, Nicki Minaj) goes hard on "Ladies and Gentleman" but PICNICTYME's brought the bears back to the studio with him on "Watch Out", a certified face stomper."
Too Phat :: Plan B :: Positive Tone
** RapReviews "Back to the Lab" series **
as reviewed by Jaroslav 'Czechone' Lavick
"When you think of hip hop, what countries besides the US, Canada and the UK spring to mind? Of course Australia has many artists, you might even be aware that France, Germany and other European countries have long established hip hop scenes. How about Asian countries? It might not surprise you to read that Japan has numerous local artists, but how about Hong Kong, China and The Philippines? Yep, all have their own fair share of mic wielders. Not only do the bigger Asian countries produce rappers, but smaller nations like Cambodia and Malaysia have a sprinkling of artists involved in the once exclusively American music and culture. One of the better known Malaysian groups was Too Phat (who disbanded in 2008), and the album I'm taking a look at here is the "Platinum Edition" of their 2nd album called "Plan B" (from 2001). How did a CD by a Malaysian crew find its way into my collection? I've always had a curiosity about international hip hop and, as such, every time friends went overseas I'd ask them to bring back some local hip hop from the country they visited (I've also had a couple chances to do that myself). Hence, some years ago a friend returned from a Malaysian holiday and dropped the Too Phat CD in my lap. Right off the bat I have to say that this album doesn't scream Malaysia or even Asia in general at me. Some non-American artists wear their nationalities on their sleeves via their music, others could (by design or accident) pass for American artists, and some don't make an effort to fall into either category – Too Phat belongs in the "we're pretty American" section. Yes, the charismatic, nimble tongued Malique and somewhat more orthodox Joe Flizzow rap in American accented English (Malique to a greater extent), which is often seen as a blight on non-US artists, but it may well be a natural enough voice for these guys, given that countries such as Malaysia and The Philippines take some American influence into their day to day spoken English."
various artists :: Dimension X: 2012 (A Compilation of the PXR Praetors) :: Planet X Records
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"As a matter of habit I check the RapReviews archives before starting any new write-up to make sure it's not something we've already covered. In doing so I discovered only one other review to ever reference "Planet X," that being a MF DOOM live album released byNature Sounds back in 2005. I'm surprised it hasn't come up more often given how many rap artists are fascinated by both science and science fiction. Ironically it was only a year after DOOM's album was released that the IAU reclassified Pluto as not being a planet, which makes the very concept of a "Planet X" problematic at best. Pluto was the 9th planet, and if a 10th even existed, it would have to be beyond Pluto's orbit. Now that ice bodies like Pluto are no longer considered planetary, our solar system is deadlocked at 8 planets - never to reach 9 let alone 10. Nevertheless much like Pluto will remain in the mindset of children who grew up being taught "the nine planets orbiting our sun," so too will the idea of 10th planet remain in pop culture to some degree, whether called Planet X, Nibiru or even Mondas. MF DOOM andPlanet X Records don't have anything in common other than their fascination with this fictional heavenly body, though the artwork of this compilation's cover depicts a sci-fi scenario that DOOM's namesake Victor von Doom could certainly relate to. Some unnamed and apparently omnipotent being (bearing similarity to Euro-Christian depictions of God) is pointing guns at a wolven creature - one in a normal hand and one appearing to extend from a cybernetic arm. In the background a nuclear explosion erupts on an unnamed body, possibly Planet X, with what could be an orbiting moon in the background. It's vaguely apocalyptic and certainly distinctive, though it also feels a bit Photoshop. Songs like "Sky Erasers" suggest overarching New World Order fears."
various artists :: West Coast Rap: The First Dynasty, Vol. 1-3 :: Rhino/Excello
** RapReviews "Back to the Lab" series **
as reviewed by Matt Jost
"The number of witnesses I'm calling to the stand illustrates how hard it is to get a handle on the topic at hand - rap and hip-hop on the American West Coast in the 1980s. In his 2007 song "I Was There," Bronx rapper KRS-One challenges "rap historians" who according to him chronicle events they never witnessed first hand. Well, I wasn't there either. (I was never anywhere near where things relevant to rap music happen, to be perfectly honest.) The following is mainly to make the reader aware of an often ignored part of hip-hop history and to draw some conclusions for myself and anyone interested. For more information on the early West Coast scene refer to, for instance, the website www.westcoastpioneers.com, selected books by/about specific artists (Ice-T, Dr. Dre), or more general overviews from 'It's Not About a Salary... Rap, Race and Resistance in Los Angeles' (1993) to '6 'N the Morning: West Coast Hip-Hop Music 1987-1992 and the Transformation of Mainstream Culture' (2013) - as well as anybody you might run into who was actually there. "West Coast Rap: The First Dynasty," a 1992 compilation series that gathered close to 40 relevant recordings, was released when the region was on the verge of being the dominant force in rap. Dr. Dre's "The Chronic" hadn't seen the light of day just yet, but kids all over America hung on the words of Ice-T, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, DJ Quik, Cypress Hill, Paris and Too $hort. 1992 was a banner year for West Coast rap that began with Ice-T winning the 'Artist of the Year Solo' Source Award and ended with Ice Cube's "The Predator." The time had come for a little history lesson, and with "The First Dynasty" compiler Lee 'DJ Flash' Johnson and journalist Billy Jam presented a convincing body of evidence for the existence of hip-hop pioneers far away from New York. The recordings cover the years 1980-88, the majority falling into the mid-'80s era. Revisiting the collection many years later, listening to all three volumes remains a mind-boggling experience. We might come across a couple of curiosities, but eventually come to the realization that they're simply part of the peculiarities of the early West Coast rap scene. And a scene it definitely was, connecting a number of early exponents who would hold leading roles in the aforementioned heydays of L.A. rap."
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