If you missed any of the new reviews this past week including NF's "Perception" then do yourself a favor and check out this week's edition of the (W)rap Up!
NF :: Perception
NF Real Music/Capitol Records
Author: Matt Jost
"In the run-up to Eminem's latest, I caught a song on the radio that had me believing I was listening to a "Revival" teaser. Vocal tone, structure and instrumentation were at least in the vicinity. Admittedly the only more recent Em song that at that point still lingered in my memory was the one that I assume is called "Monster," and in my state of self-preservative Marshall Mathers ignorance what I picked up on the car radio sounded vaguely like a sensible comeback. "Revival" firmly let me know I was wrong. On a number of levels. It was someone else's song, as far as I can tell now, "Let You Down," the third single off NF's "Perception." I ended up spending time with both releases, the obligatory one by Eminem and the curiously obscure one by NF. Both happen to be Billboard 200 number 1 albums. To get any misconceptions out of the way, NF is no Eminem, not by the longest shot. "Revival" holds the premium emceeing that defines the Eminem legacy, that which remains after you subtract all the self-sabotage. "Perception" is a personal but guarded and professional but mechanical work from a rap artist who patterns his basic manner of expression after Eminem, but artistically has little else in common with one of the paragons of the artform.Nathan Feuerstein, ostensibly a hard worker, has found an audience in a relatively short time span. "Perception" is his third retail album in three years, following a presumably intense release called "Therapy Session." NF appears to chronicle his mental and general condition with his music (recalling Eminem as well, see "Relapse," "Recovery" and "Revival"), which would make "Perception" the latest update on his personal wellbeing. He's not oblivious to conventional success, but he's not necessarily coming from a business perspective when he says, "A lotta pressure on a record, so you know I'm makin' diamonds." If the opening "Intro III" makes you feel that you're late to something, the track itself launches head-on into an inner dialogue, with two voices engaged in a suspenseful power struggle. The psychological thriller scenario in which the conflict unfolds and the undeniable dynamic of the dispute set up certain expectations - also artistic ones - for what follows. The final act of "Intro III" segues into "Outcast," and from here on it's the listener who becomes the subject of manipulation. "
Above the Law :: Black Mafia Life :: Reprise/Ruthless/Giant Records
** RapReviews "Back to the Lab" series **
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
Some of our Back to the Lab reviews at RR are directly inspired by reader feedback. This isn't one of them. Some of the reviews are inspired by the untimtely death of a rap superstar. If that was the case here we'd be about five years too late, as founding Above the Law member KMG the Illustrator passed away in 2012. He left us far too young as he was only 43 years old. May he rest in power with my condolences to all of his family, friends, and fans. In this case nothing inspired the review other than stumbling across the "V.S.O.P." video at random. It had been a long time since I had pulled any Above the Law records out of my collection to listen to, and listening to the song immediately made me regret that. ATL was at the cutting edge of West coast G-Funk when I was still in high school, and some have even suggested that the production techniques of Cold 187um were a direct influence on Dr. Dre. Me myself I'd rather not get into semantics on a 25+ year old debate about who inspired who or who did what first when we've got some funky ass tunes to listen to. At a time in life where I only drank occasional beer or two, the stylings of 187um and KMG introduced both new vernacular and sophistication to my young mind. I knew nothing of brandy, cognac or even Hennessy at that age -- and I certainly didn't have the means to buy anything V.S. or V.S.O.P. (let alone the next step up to XO). Nevertheless the funky stew of their in-house production on "V.S.O.P." seemed finely barrel aged to my ears, although if you break it down by the ingredients it's quite a curious blend. It's part Hall & Oates, part Tom Tom Club, part Fatback Band and part Jimmy Castor Bunch. Maybe these disparate elements shouldn't have worked together but damn it they do. There was just something about the smooth pimping flow of KMG and his high-pitched contemporary 187um that was magical together. Even if I couldn't afford the beverage (let alone legally buy it) I could sure as hell cop the tape and bump "Black Mafia Life" in my 88 Oldsmobile. Yes -- I said tape, not CD. Yes -- I also said 88, not 98. I wasn't as fly as Chuck D. That didn't stop my 88 from booming with a WHOLE trunk of funk when "Black Mafia Life" was in the deck. These days young heads who are into the legacy of Tupac Shakur may know the group and album better thanks to the lead single "Call It What You Want." The 2Pac heard here was fresh off "2Pacalypse Now" and just two weeks away from releasing "Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z" so we're definitely in the "clown around when I hang around with the Underground" era, though 'Pac spices it up by adding "but when I'm with the Mafia, we DROPPIN' YA." A heavy Funkadelic sample rides through the song as Shakur and fellow D.U. cohort Money B tag team with ATL for a song that remains a West coast classic today. These two songs remain memorable by virtue of having been released as singles with accompanying videos, but that doesn't make "Black Mafia Life" one of those unfortunate albums where you bought the whole album just for a couple of tracks you liked."
Apathy :: The Widow's Son :: Dirty Version Records
as reviewed by Sy Shackleford
"Unlike most establishments, hip-hop doesn't place an "off limits" sign on the topics of politics and religion. Well, religion is too broad of a word, so instead, the term "belief system" is more appropriate. Many hip-hop artists use their rhymes to make references to their own belief systems, most often those of Five Percenters or the Nation of Islam. Belief in the Judeo-Christian system gets nods from time to time, but not with as much prevalence as the aforementioned two. But no matter which belief system rappers embrace, they all commonly use it in their attempts to reconcile it with their rap personas. But what this does is shed light on their own dichotomy, and thus proving that they're more than one-dimensional. Connecticut emcee/producer Apathy falls into this category and his latest release, "The Widow's Son", takes time to delve into his own belief system: Freemasonry. The widespread mainstream thought which typically links Freemasonry with an idea of the Illuminati has given the fraternity and its customs a skeptical reputation. But Apathy shows that he can correlate it with the hip-hop he creates, being as much of a battling wordsmith as he is creatively informative. Also, it should be noted that his Freemason references do not begin here. His 2014 album "Connecticut Casual", ended with "The Grand Leveler", whose accompanying video was filled with Masonic imagery and symbols. Even before his 2006 full-length debut "Eastern Philosophy", Apathy's brand of hip-hop was always inextricably inspired by the '90s aesthetic: Hard beats with hard drums and dusty samples and hardcore intricate lyrics on top of that. He's a master at braggadocio rap and topical rhymes, often digging deep when it comes to the latter. He's always applied his production skills to his own projects and "The Widow's Son" is no exception. He handles four of the fourteen tracks, with Stu Bangas trailing in second place with three of his own. He's also enlisted veteran east coast producers such as DJ Premier, Pete Rock, and Buckwild to complement his aggressive style. The self-produced "The Spellbook" has his customary pop culture-referencing battle rhymes over a guitar sample-driven beat that has a full moon-horror movie feel. It's worth noting early on that nearly every track contains a dialogue sample as its ending, allegedly to drive the point home about an esoteric correlation between hip-hop and Masonic cultures. As with most albums, some songs will inevitably come stronger than others. On "The Widow's Son", the strongest tracks tend to be the collaborations and the ones with subject matter usually avoided by hip-hop. Strangely, the Stu Bangas-helmed "Chaos" doesn't fall into that category, as the exultant horn sample that the beat is looped with is what captured me about the song the most. Apathy is behind both the boards and the hook on A.G.-assisted "Never Fall Off". Nottz Raw utilizes piano and flute samples on "Alien Weaponry". A slight reference to his former moniker of Apathy the Alien Tongue, it also alludes to his ability to examine concepts foreign to hip-hop. However, none of those hit with as big of an impact on this listener as the latter half of the album did."
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