If you missed any of the new reviews this past week including Z-Ro's "The Crown" then do yourself a favor and check out this week's edition of the (W)rap Up!
Z-Ro :: The Crown
Author: Matt Jost
"It hasn't been that long that Joseph W. McVey officially renounced his nom de plume Z-Ro, arguing that the name has become a stigma that he can't shake no matter how many assets he accumulates. Coincidentally, at the time the Texas rapper was also hit with a cease-and-desist letter by his longtime label. Just half a year later Z-Ro is back, on Rap-A-Lot (technically acting as an intermediary for producer Mr. Lee's label Xclusive Music Group). Musicians often try to escape what they consider the curse of their classic debut or their greatest hit, the clutches of their record label or the expectations of their fanbase. Here's the thing, though - if you're really serious about changing your image in a credible, uncompromising way, in a bonafide act of emancipation, you gotta follow through. The legends of rap music have all, except for those who shone for a very specific period, gone through some sort of transformation. Where they end up isn't always pleasant, but there's a discernible evolution, built on the talent that they had since day one. Z-Ro not wanting to be 'Zero' anymore is totally understandable and the fact that he's 'back to zero' again is no reason for us bystanders to gloat. The problem is that as an artist McVey makes very little progress. The frequent comparison to one rap music legend that territorially is very close to Z-Ro, Scarface, may be apt as a cursory judgement, since they share a basic configuration. But when it comes to those leaps and bounds, or even those small steps that lead to greatness, Ro will never get to where Face is."The Crown" at least is the wrong album to argue otherwise. It especially suffers from simplistic song concepts that will do when you had a couple of shots or tokes and are high enough to perceive depth in a hook like "I love these bitches - but I don't really love these bitches" ("Love These Bitches"). Or if you still have enough motor coordination, you can participate in the gymnastics of "Hands Up." Maybe you've always been curious about what if the Missouri City, TX abbreviation 'Mo City' was an acronym and what it would stand for. Then "Mo City" has got you covered. Maybe you'd like to hear yet another song about jewelry or strippers, in which case "Keep Shining" and "Exotic Girl" are your tunes. Either way "Love My Dick" will lead you to he conclusion that Z-Ro himself loves that thing just as much. On a more serious note, "Live Your Life" uses a "Mama Used to Say" interpolation to remind Crips of the essence of their gang. Limited audience but positive message. Also, "Imposters" lectures gossipping bitches but ended up with the wrong hook and title."
Chris Clarke :: The Handpicked :: LA Boroughs Music
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"Chris Clarke may have the biggest list of guest stars on a single album I've seen in a while. Instead of me running it down song by song let me just quote directly from his Bandcamp: "Featuring Sleepy Brown, Blu, Smooth Bee, Double K, Thundercat, Ronald Bruner Jr, Kamasi, Taylor Graves, Computer Jay, p.u.d.g.e., Great.Jsn, Sum, J Thorn, Blvme, Malkovich, Ahmad Rashad Jr, Bei Ru, Ali Baba, Natasha Agrama, Slaucienega, Jermajesty, Willpower, JTowers,Big Sin, Lil Miss, Rebel Doctors and Mr. Stanley Clarke." That last one is actually the key. Chris Clarke doesn't go out of his way to point this out - it's not even mentioned in his official press release - but he's the son of jazz legend Stanley Clarke. You might have expected him to grow up playing bass or piano as a result, but instead he's a producer for almost all of his tracks on "The Handpicked." I guess that musical genius had to manifest itself somewhere other than just in his rap, passed down from father to son, but I'm secretly glad that Chris wound up as a rapper instead of rocking a double bass. I think it's a good sign for hip-hop that the sons of famous fathers from other genres would rather rap. Yes - that is Smooth of Nice & Smooth fame. Even though Clarke is a Los Angeles artist and a majority of his guests represent a West coast state of mind, he's reaching a hand out to anybody he thinks is dope from the past or present. This results in both familiar and completely unfamiliar collaborations - I can unapologetically say there was nobody I recognized on the aptly named "Something New" featuring Lil Miss, Voy & Natasha Agrama."
Kid Vishis :: Timing Is Everything :: Seven13 Music
as reviewed by Zach 'Goose' Gase
"Being a little brother is hard. Being the little brother of one hip hop's most dynamic lyricists must be especially hard. Detroit's Kid Vishis, little brother of Royce da 5'9", has long dwelled in his older brother's shadow. And while being Royce's little brother probably helped Vishis gain a lot of exposure, it has been difficult for him to stand out as a unique artist. And that is what's most disappointing in Kid Vishis' debut LP "Timing Is Everything," - he ends up sounding like a poor man's version of Royce da 5'9". "Timing Is Everything" is a painfully safe record and lacks creativity. Yes, Kid Vishis is a skilled battle rapper and he has some quality punch lines on this album, but his "rap on juices and berries" rarely translates into good songwriting. Much of the album is filled braggadocio and battle raps held back by lazy and ineffective hooks that focus on tired rap cliches. "Talk Behind My Back" and "Look at My $hit" sound especially dated, while "In Yo Face" uses a cheerleader chant as a hook and is one of the more cringe-worthy things I've heard in a while. In addition to poor hooks and relying on cliches, the production on "Timing Is Everything" is also pretty mediocre. Being a well-respected emcee in a city with some of hip hop's best producers, Kid Vishis should have been able to get better production that what's on this album. A lot of the beats have a grainy lo-fi sound to them, but not in the raw, "36 Chambers" way, but more of a low budget, poor sound quality way. Mr. Porter (of D-12) produces two tracks on this album - "Message to the MC's" which is one of the better beats on the album but still a disappointing beat from a producer as good as him and "The Juice," which is also not all that impressive. "Heaven" is one of the few times on the album where the grungy, lo-fi sound is effective and has a nice energy for Vishis' aggressive raps."
NIM-One :: The 13th Disciple :: Solidarity Records
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
"San Francisco based Solidarity Records is a hip-hop label dating back to the 1990's now operating under the leadership of Equipto, with a strong focus on homegrown talent from the Cali scene. The latest plant to grow out of that turf is NIM-ONE, who doesn't come on the scene like a small potted plant. "The 13th Disciple" is more like a full fledged hydroponic project at over an hour in length and packing 23 tracks. From the jump NIM grabbed my attention with songs like "Dirty Cops" featuring DJ Apollo - scratching in KRS-One's "Sound of Da Police" to good effect. The accent and flow immediately remind me of the Hieroglyphics collective - at times NIM could be a mistaken for Saafir too. He's definitely a product of his environment, having the long drawn out "awww" when he spits about "sheisty dudes flossin hella hard" - not hard but HAWWD. This particular track is courtesy of JDEF as are a majority of songs on "The 13th Disciple," and it turns out to be a good collaboration. "I guess knowledge seems sinister to the ignorant" quips NIM on "Sinister," a track laced with appropriately menacing piano and percussion. It's all in how you loop it though - because when JDEF wants to keep it light and refreshing the same elements create the opposite effect on "Little Man." If you're not familiar with the local scene then the list of guest collaborations may not mean much to you. The aforementioned Equipto cameos on "A Lil Sumthin" along with Dags of Dnh, while White Mic adds to the brassy and bottom heavy "Born 2 Succeed," and "Bawl Out" brings Mercy into the mix for some edgy rude bwoy hip-hop."
Royal Flush :: Ghetto Millionaire :: Blunt Recordings
** RapReviews "Back to the Lab" series **
as reviewed by Matt Jost
"As a title, "Ghetto Millionaire" makes the same statement as the Big Tymers' "Hood Rich," Lil Keke's "Platinum in Da Ghetto," Slim Thug's "Already Platinum," 5th Ward Weebie's "Ghetto Platinum," WC's "Ghetto Heisman," Pras' "Ghetto Supastar," or Mystikal's "Ghetto Fabulous" - except that Royal Flush's is the oldest album in this series. There is no title track that would further explain the idea of a 'ghetto millionaire,' but to anybody familiar with rap the dichotomy isn't really one as rappers have for the longest highlighted these special hood honors that include but aren't limited to financial success. When his debut came out in 1997, Royal Flush was part of a major trend of New York acts with a purported background in illegal business. He came up under the wings of fellow Queens representative Mic Geronimo, on whose 1995 effort "The Natural" he was featured half a dozen times. "Ghetto Millionaire" was released on the same label, and Geronimo returned the favor with three cameos. The two albums also share a number of producers, who are one reason Royal Flush's debut is a noteworthy specimen of late '90s East Coast rap. Another one of Flush's connects were Capone-N-Noreaga, and two of his singles were directly related to "The War Report." With "Iced Down Medallions" E.Z. Elpee tries his hands at an epic production in the vein of the "T.O.N.Y. (Top of New York)" beat as Flush unapologetically spins his dreams of being an underworld figure that still doesn't lose sight of reality: "Watch jake / can't go to jail with no cake / cause when I come home I got to live crazy straight." It doesn't take Noreaga's hook to see the kinship, even though "Iced Down Medallions" doesn't challenge "T.O.N.Y." as one of 1997's defining singles."
Shabazz Palaces :: Lese Majesty :: Sub Pop Records
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor
"It's a cliche but it is true: hip-hop is a young man's game. Rappers rarely age gracefully, and the most successful rappers either fade out of the game or fall off. It is the rare rapper who is able to maintain artistic relevance decades into their careers. Ishmael Butler is one of this rare breed. After being part of the successful New York jazz-rap crew Digable Planets in the 1990s, Butler released an album as Cherrywine in 2003, and then re-emerged in Seattle alongside Tendai Maraire in Shabazz Palaces. "Lese Majesty," their second full-length, sees them continuing to develop their dense and psychedelic sound. Butler has managed to stay relevant because he has not trying to compete with younger rappers. He's not trying to get features from YG or 2 Chainz, he's not teaming up with Zaytoven or DJ Mustard, and he is not trying to kick it old school over funk loops. He's not even trying to make rap albums. He's on some other level ish, getting cryptic, trippy, and interstellar. Shabazz Palaces' music is heavy and weird, existing at the intersection between rap, jazz, funk, and electronic music. Butler's lyrics are obtuse, equal parts metaphysical and revolutionary. It's not always easy to understand or decipher what Butler is rapping about on "Lese Majesty." There are a lot of trippy lines that make you think that Butler and company have been on Mars in between albums. The effects his voice is often filtered through don't make him any easier to understand.The album opens with Butler intoning, "The light hath names/Just like the heavens and the stars/Reclaim us to further along the spaceways." They must have some good legal weed up there in Washington."
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