Wednesday May 23, 2018

The (W)rap Up - Week of July 29, 2014
Posted by Emanuel Wallace at Tuesday, August 5th, 2014 at 7:00PM :: Email this article :: Print this article

If you missed any of the new reviews this past week including Common's "Nobody's Smiling" then do yourself a favor and check out this week's edition of the (W)rap Up!

[Nobody's Smiling] Common :: Nobody's Smiling
ARTium/Def Jam

Author: Steve 'Flash' Juon

"The title of Common's latest offering "Nobody's Smiling" immediately evokes memories of Eric B. & Rakim's "In the Ghetto" for me. The interludes and scratches Eric put between the verses used that single phrase from R over and over again, and burned it into my brain as surely as if you had cracked open my skull and etched the line with a laser. "Nobody's Smiling." Why is nobody smiling? Because if you're "In the Ghetto" life is hard. Damn hard. In Common's hometown of Chicago, it couldn't get much harder. The murder rate in 2014 is damn near Ebola hemorrhagic fever - live in the wrong neighborhood and sooner or later you'll catch it. Common's not pulling any punches with the title - he wants to hit you over the head with this fact. The unfortunate reality is that nothing about this situation will change today, tomorrow or in the near future. Hiring more cops won't solve it, nor will throwing more money at the problem, building youth centers and funding after school programs. The violence of Chi-Raq is deep rooted and treated as a way of life. Nobody's smiling because nobody dares to dream it will get any better - and since it doesn't the lowered expectations and feelings of hopelessness seem justified. Keeping your head down and surviving is a defense mechanism - hoping for change just leaves you as vulnerable emotionally as physically. Hope never stopped a stray bullet from killing a three-year-old."

Illa Ghee :: Social Graffiti :: IMOR Entertainment
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

[Social Graffiti]"Illa Ghee is one of those emcees you're bound to have come across as a guest star if you're down with The Infamous. Dating as far back as the mid-2000's the Brooklynite pops up on projects by Mobb Deep and The Alchemist, showing both where his loyalties lie and the respect with which they hold Ghee as an emcee. Somewhere along the line I missed his first two solo albums though, because the press kit for "Social Graffiti" proudly notes this is his third full length release. I know we can't cover every single album at RR, but I'm flat out stunned I didn't even know Illa Ghee albums existed. Discogs reveals they came out in 2005 and 2007 though, but judging by the "CDr" notation it seems they were self-made and distributed. In a rather roundabout way what I'm trying to say here is that while Illa Ghee is a name you'll know, the reader and the writer are in the same boat here - you probably don't own an Illa Ghee album, and we haven't reviewed one. "Social Graffiti" allows us to rectify that mistake. Ghee didn't hold back on his most widely distributed album thus far - he's loaded it up with guest stars and guest producers. Before you're even two deep on the disc he's already hit you over the head with Lil' Fame of M.O.P. on the hook of "Salute the General," which is appropriately hard and heavy."

Christopher Michael Jensen :: CM Cool J :: CMJ/Bandcamp
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

[CM Cool J]"Minneapolis emcee Christopher Michael Jensen takes pride in being an authentic product without any false pretense. He doesn't have a rap name - it's the same as the one printed on his birth certificate. He doesn't act as though he's the coolest cat on the block, even though he (figuratively and literally) comes from one of the cooler rap scenes out there today. If you asked Jensen he'd probably say he's a bit nerdy - not quite "nerdcore" but posessing the sense of whimsy you'd hear on a mc chris record. While Jensen is serious about his rap career, he's not so serious that he can't use his own name as a pun on LL Cool J in the title of his new album "CM Cool J." The mirth also hides his thoughtful reflections on deeper issues. Jensen employs a diverse range of producers on "CM Cool J" who are able to suit their beats to the topic and style of each song. "Political Party" (prod. ICETEP) is CMJ's vow to "take (power) back from those empowered by the evil" and appropriately enough sounds like the Twin Cities meets The Coup. Jensen is a little bit Marshall Mathers on "Psychosis" (prod. Wesley Opus) but we mean that only as a compliment to how well he captures his lyrical feeling of madness. The darkest track may be "Nightmare" though (prod. dB), a haunted castle of hip-hop with ghostly melodies floating over drums and hi-hats."

Kid Sean :: Bona Fide :: Young Kids/Bandcamp
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

[Bona Fide]

"Biographical info on Kid Sean is hard to come by. I followed the link in his bio to Facebook and came up with the following facts: he's from Bucks County in Pennsylvania, he's the founder of an imprint called Young Kids, and his artistic influence is "life around you." I'm not expecting a full FBI style dossier with black lines redacting out any sensitive information, but other than the "Kid" in Kid Sean being accurate (it appears he was born in 1994 - making him either 19 or 20 years old) I just don't know, man I just don't know. I don't blame his publicist - she's usually chock full of details when sending us new albums - but based on how little his Facebook reveals my guess is she didn't have more to offer us than he does on his own. I have nothing for "Bona Fide" to go on other than that the album was mastered by "a local engineer" named Mike Horn and the production credits for each track - names like Keith Science, Gravity and Blaise Palmer. By the end of the album I finally ran across one person I was familiar with - Clams Casino was responsible for "Time Changes" featuring Kev KiLL. It's one of the more interesting tracks on "Bona Fide," relying heavily on a kick drum and rim shot percussion at the start while slowly and steadily building up the background elements until it all melts into Kid Sean's sing-song chorus. This is the kind of track that somebody who knows as little about Kid Sean as I do should be introduced to - it shows off his artistic potential."

Lizzo :: Lizzobangers :: Totally Gross National Product
as reviewed by Matt Jost

[Lizzobangers]""Inspiration - let me think about it," Lizzo begins her album. I'm not sure if that's a rhetorical question, but the first name that came to my mind was Missy Elliott. Not that we should expect the start of a career filled with certified club bangers, but as far as quirky, kinda clever female soloists not just concerned with spitting straight 16s go, Lizzo fills the gap left by the missing in action Missy in her very own way. After a number of group gigs, her solo debut, presumably out since last year, just now comes to our attention. The artist's various musical and biographical stops are reflected in "Lizzobangers," but it's also evidently the product of the vibrant Twin Cities scene, with Doomtree producer Lazerbeak acting as her Timbaland. The days when musical styles were largely segregated are over, and so Lizzo, Lazerbeak and local whiz Ryan Olson draw inspiration from all kinds of places, including the alternative world. Opener "Lizzie Borden" is instantly reminiscent of Killer Mike and El-P's "Run the Jewels" project, the beat bringing the noise like '80s rock-influenced hip-hop while the rapper herself evokes Missy and OutKast with her theatrical poses but precise performance. A big mouth and bigger drums mark the first half of the album, from the Miami Bass-leaning "W.E.R.K. Pt. II" (a nod to her former group The Chalice) to the slow-dragging funk of "T-Baby.""

Mighty Misc :: The Secret Lives of Hobbits :: Mighty Misc
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

[The Secret Lives of Hobbits] "The Portland based Mighty Misc has two things going for him at the jump - he's from one of the coolest cities I've never visited (believe me when I say Voodoo Doughnut is on my "to do" bucket list) and he unapologetically brags about how nerdy he is. HOW NERDY IS HE? He's so nerd that he went to a Lord of the Rings movie marathon and was so moved by the experience that he came home to record a rap album about it. That's right. Mighty Misc wants to take you on a hip-hop journey through The Shire. Since Mighty Misc is being completely honest, let me be equally honest with you all when I say I haven't read J.R.R. Tolkein's books since I was in high school, and that while I saw the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy in theaters as it was released, I haven't been to a single one of the Hobbit movies that have followed. I get enough of the references to understand Misc's humor though, particularly since Misc insists on rapping as though he was a Hobbit himself. In "Love Sick" he talks about falling in love with a human ("a big person, no doubt a cutie/the kind of face that elves write song for") and how he's consumed with desire "to forge a ring and slip it on her enormous finger.""

Skipp Whitman :: Whitman Can't Jump :: Bandcamp
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

[Whitman Can't Jump] "Skipp Whitman is Los Angeles, California by way of Brookline, Massachusetts. It shows in his flow from the word go with the "Intro" of "Whitman Can't Jump" - he's still got his East coastachusetts accent and a "Mr. Slow Flow" style reminiscent of Brentwood, Long Island emcee Parrish Smith. The press sheet for "Whitman Can't Jump" indicates that Skipp is putting together "a West coast band" so he can perform the album on tour, but the construction and philosophy of the album will remain Eastern. He recorded the album in New York City, mixed it at Wonka Sound in Lowell, MA and was able to collaborate with fellow Massachusetts artist Statik Selektah for the album's featured track "Hi School." Whitman is matter of fact about his origins and aspirations, so I can give him an A+ for integrity and honesty. Regrettably I have to score anywhere from a C to a D for charisma. At times he picks up the pace of the flow on ably produced tracks like the piano-tinged "Game," but yet his vocals betray any sign of emotion. If you thought the late great Guru only had one pitch, then the Roxbury born rapper should have met Skipp - he takes it to a new level."

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