Thursday June 21, 2018

The (W)rap Up - Week of April 19, 2011
Posted by Emanuel Wallace at Tuesday, April 26th, 2011 at 12:00AM :: Email this article :: Print this article

"The album cover for Atmosphere's new album "The Family Sign" is incredibly distracting for such a remarkably simple every day concept - a raised fist. The longer you look at it, the more you feel there's something off. The fingers seem too pudgy. The thumb seems to be tucked into the hand awkwardly. The nails are an uneven length. The size of the hand seems disproportionate to the arm and wrist. Why is the knuckle of the middle finger concave and not convex? It should not be this fascinating to figure out - and yet it manages to be attention getting to the point you almost miss the artist name and title tattooed directly across the wrist in the middle. Incredible as it seems this is arguably a metaphor for Atmosphere itself - a group that over the years has managed to avoid being pigeonholed into obscurity through distraction. It's not for lack of naysayers trying. If your original claim to fame is that you're the best white rapper in Minneapolis, a whole slew of holier than thou purists are going to snicker under their breath and dismiss you out of hand almost immediately. The incredible perseverance of Slug (the rapper du jour) and Ant (the wizard of production) has come through making music first and putting their image second, and they've made some incredibly good music in the process. "You Can't Imagine How Much Fun We're Having" and "When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold" are paramount examples of what the talented can achieve by ignoring the negative and living to create art. Stick any label from "indie hip-hop darlings" to "college dorm music" to "nerd rap for coffee shop chicks and white dudes" on them you like and they ALL fail. "

Animal Farm :: Culture Shock :: Focused Noise
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor
[Culture Shock] 
"Hip-Hop collective Animal Farm come from the somewhat unlikely locale of Portland, Oregon. Portland is more known for Four Barrel Coffee than the four elements, but amidst the hipsters, crafters, and barristas, Animal Farm have managed to make a name for themselves. The group is made up of Hanif Wondir, Furty, DJ Wels, producer Gen.Erik, and new addition Serge Severe. Their debut, 2008's "The Unknown," generated positive reviews, and they are back with "Culture Shock." Animal Farm are old school revivalists in the vein of Jurassic 5, People Under the Stairs, and Ugly Duckling. They provide bouncy, positive rhymes that draw on Golden Age hip-hop. Their lyrics focus on wordplay with a healthy dose of social commentary, eschewing the materialism, grimeyness, and swag over substance of contemporary rap. The same goes with their music: Gen.Eric lays down sample-based beats that hearken back to the days of MPCs, before laptops came to dominate hip-hop production. There is a heavy dose of melody in Animal Farm's music and rhymes, with plenty of sung choruses. The melodic elements make "Culture Shock" sound colorful and vibrant. It also makes their assertion that they'll "never go pop" on "Pop Music" a little confusing"

Classified :: Handshakes and Middle Fingers :: Decon Records
as reviewed by Pedro 'DJ Complejo' Hernandez

[Handshakes and Middle Fingers] 
"Artistic growth is a double edged sword. We can laud artists for their growth when they step out of their comfort zone or change their topic matter, but we can just as easily call them sell outs for the very same thing. That's the tricky thing about artistic growth, it's such a fickle, malleable concept it loses its meaning. Has Snoop ever experienced artistic growth? Is Kanye's electro-pop experiment considered artistic growth? Do we really expect artists that live in their own celebrity bubble to grow as human beings? The last question is the one with most importance as growth as a person is the fuel that drives artistic growth. Classified serves as the perfect case study in the subject. Rewind to 2003's "Trial and Error" and Tim Lavenz gave Classified props for his beats, but said all the kid ever did was battle rap. By 2011, both Flash and I had given props to Classified albums that do more than just brag and boast. Far from a mere difference in interpretation as to what a "battle" rap is, the Classified you encounter in 2011 is far more evolved than the one Tim Lavenz met in 2003. That was eight years ago and a lot can happen in eight years. For artists in the limelight, those eight years may merely mean eight more rotations of the seasons and eight more rotations of the hot sound or producer of the year. "

David Banner & 9th Wonder :: Death of a Pop Star :: Big FaceEntertainment/E1 Music
as reviewed by Emanuel Wallace

[Death of a Pop Star] 
"Twitter. Twitter. Twitter. Just about everyone seems to have an account, even RapReviews has one. Aside from talking massive amounts of shit, people also find out about the latest news stories, make new friends, stalk old friends, root for their sports teams, give commentary on whatever television show hordes of people are watching on any given night and kill off celebrities at random. A lot of artists that have a presence on Twitter usually bombard their fans about any upcoming projects they may have, building anticipation among their audience and then bounce as soon as the album drops. Other artists stick around and actually interact with their fans, collecting feedback, engaging them in discussion and all that good stuff. Twitter can be an excellent promotional tool if utilized properly. Dating back to 2009, David Banner (@THEREALBANNER) had been tweeting about a project that he was working on with 9th Wonder called "Death of a Pop Star" or #DOAPS for short. The idea was originally conceived as a mixtape, but eventually transitioned into a full scale retail release. Reportedly, the title was the product of discussions between Banner and 9th about the music industry and how it's seemingly impossible for someone to really reach iconic heights in today's musical climate. "

E-40 :: Revenue Retrievin': Overtime Shift :: Heavy on the Grind/EMI Music
as reviewed by Matt Jost

[Revenue Retrievin': Overtime Shift] 
"There comes a point in an established rapper's career where he or she would like to make some sort of statement with a new album. The message isn't always understood or welcome, but that didn't prevent Jay-Z, Nas, Common, or Kanye West from crafting longplayers with a certain theme to them. E-40's recent releases have a theme as well, but rather than varying his approach, he emphasizes his angle. Already pulling a "Day Shift" and a "Night Shift" on the same date last year, he continues the "Revenue Retrievin'" series, this time putting in overtime and adding a graveyard shift to boot. Putting his money where his mouth is, the actions of this hustler speak as loud as his words. Where others talk a good game, E-40 puts his hustle to the litmus test with not one, not two, not three, but four discs dedicated to the art of making money. To the Bay Area mouthpiece, the premise to have no money and to do something about it has always proven more interesting than to already have money and find exquisite ways to spend it. Physically Earl Stevens may have left poverty behind, but as is characteristic for an old-style street rapper, he keeps coming back to his formative years. In the process, he also revisits his musical past. The rhythmic backbone of several of his latest tracks are the mechanical mobster grooves that were one of the trademarks of late '80s West Coast hip-hop, specifically its regional, independent branch. "

E Dot Spencer :: Inside My BackPack 2 :: Phresh Musiq Group
as reviewed by Mike Baber

[Inside My BackPack 2] 
"Creativity is what separates the good emcees from the mediocre ones, the great from the good, and the best of all time from the great. Creativity is the ability to tell a story that involves more than just plain language and everyday descriptions and instead paints a vivid picture through the use of tongue twisting lines and a powerful vocabulary. Some rappers have a way with words that makes the lyrics jump off the track and seer into the listener's brain, while others simply fail to captivate the listener's full attention. Unfortunately, E Dot Spencer falls into the latter category with his latest release "Inside My BackPack 2," which, despite solid production, suffers from an overall lack of creativity. It's not a good sign that three of the first five tracks on the album are titled "I Do It," "Still Doin' What It Do," and "How We Do," an early testament to the album's overall unoriginality. In a day and age when too many rappers are concerned only with making money, chasing women, and smoking weed, E Dot Spencer falls prey to the same influences, and he simply does not have enough to rap about to keep things interesting throughout the entire album. Despite constant assertions of being "phresh," E Dot Spencer relies more on clichéd punch lines than on innovate rhymes"

Jessie J :: Who You Are :: Universal Republic Records
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

[Who You Are] 
"Yours truly needs to listen to pop radio a little more often. Working as I do as the webmaster of OHHLA, I sometimes get submissions from artists well before I've heard their music, and often before it's even out in stores. Still I've got this nagging feeling that if I had turned on XM 20 on 20 more often, I would have known right away that Jessie J was not a hip-hop artist. Then again considering her biggest single to date is with B.o.B I think I could be given SOME slack on this one. I figured she was an up-and-coming artist affiliated with B.o.B through Atlantic, the next Nicki Minaj or Trina, and with a handle like "Jessie J" she doesn't exactly strike out as being in the same category as a Christina Aguilera or Mary J. Blige. Well actually that's true. Jessie J wouldn't fit into the traditional mode of powerful vocalist divas that both of those ladies come from. Jessie J is more the Ke$ha type of singer - super young, popular overnight, and not shy about adding a little hip-hop attitude. "Who You Are" is the first major label album from J, real name Jessica Ellen Cornish, and there was so much demand for her CD that the release date got pushed up by a month - or at least that's what her publicist/Wikipedia editor will claim."


"In the span of twenty minutes it can be hard to get a handle on a new and (possibly) upcoming hip-hop artist, but of Jon Notty I can safely say this - nothing on "Back2Bed" made me want to hit the FF button and skip ahead. The press kit fails to mention who produced it, and the CD didn't come with liner notes, so it's possible Notty did it himself. Whoever deserves the credit should know they're a 9th Wonder clone, and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. The title track is a jazzy, bouncing, headnod of an opener that's aching for a Phonte cameo, but Notty does it for dolo. "Back2Bed" as a song is that unexpected hit of dopeness you find on a regional mixtape from time to time, while expecting the same tired cliches and overdone DJ sound effect drops. It smacks you in the face like a slap: "Whoa, hey this kid is nice and I like the beat! I want to hear more from him." Unfortunately there's only four more songs to go. The laconic and organic "Whatever" bubbles over a jazzy drumtrack that keeps you guessing whether it's truly random or just freestyles well - a description that suits the rap too. "Carolina BBQ" might imply something calorifically heavy, but it's actually the lightest song on the whole EP, a breezy dedication to his home turf and the beautiful ladies from it. "

Kool Keith :: The Legend of Tashan Dorrsett :: Junkadelic Music
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

[The Legend of Tashan Dorrsett] 
""Legend" is such a small word compared to the largess of Keith Thornton. The man is hip-hop's reigning king of dissociative identity disorder. Far from confounding his fans, hip-hop fans treat each change like Tara Gregson's family on Showtime - they show love and try to roll with the punches no matter how crazy things get. Not every personality results in #winning rap music. Sometimes that's due to Keith's inability to reign in his fetishistic impulses, but more often it's his insistence on self-producing noisy electronic beats. When Keith marries a new personality with a great producer the result is compelling, bizarre, raw hip-hop that leaves you greatly entertained. That's why despite the flops Kool Keith fans keep coming back for one more fix. "Tashan Dorrsett" was originally one of those flops. Mr. Thornton does so many side projects, bootleg albums and spur of the moment recording sessions that even the most dedicated Wikipedia editor would not be able to keep up with his prodigious output (not to mention his/her work would be undone by some Notability Nazi). As such bad Keith projects can fly under the radar to even his most dedicated fans, although "Tashan Dorrsett" did make a couple of blips here and there in the music world. "

Quanstar :: 4/11 :: Quanstar Music
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor

"When Radiohead released "In Rainbows" as a pay-what-you-want download in 2007, people lauded it as the future of the record industry. Who needs labels when artists can reach the fans directly, and Radiohead's success seemed like proof that this was a viable business model. What people forgot was that Radiohead are one of the world's most popular bands, and the reason for their popularity has at least something to do with the close to two decades of major label support for the band. Ask the struggling indie artist with an album on iTunes how many copies they've sold, and they'll tell you that it isn't so easy when you don't have years of a major label's advertising budget behind you. The other thing the indie artist will tell you is that doing it yourself is a hell of a lot of work. Quanstar, who has been releasing his own material and booking his own shows for a few years now, loves the freedom of being an indie artist, but acknowledges that it takes a lot of hustle to get yourself heard. His new pay-what-you-want EP "4/11" might make less of an impact on the market than "In Rainbows" did, but it's not for lack of trying. The Compton MC has put out several albums, mixtapes, live recordings, and a documentary, all by himself. This site was impressed by last year's "The Underdog" and Quanstar doesn't disappoint with this follow up. "

Justice System :: Uncharted Terrain :: Illrivermuzic, Inc.
** RapReviews "Back to the Lab" series **

as reviewed by Pete T.

[Uncharted Terrain] 
"New York outfit Justice System toured and recorded extensively after their 1994 MCA debut "Rooftop Soundtrack," a brilliant record with somewhat of a cult following, eventually breaking from the label and establishing their own imprint. The follow-up didn't come until 2002, and while many of their non-concert-going fans were surely dismayed by their long absence, the overdue "Uncharted Terrain" didn't disappoint in the slightest. The band's growth between the two records is monumental, and where "Rooftop Soundcheck" was often a celebration of youthful exuberance despite its exploration of a variety of moods, "Uncharted Terrain" is a far smoother and more mature record. Much of the LP adopts a more tasteful and artistic vibe, perhaps more suitable for a late night than the predecessor's sunny summer afternoon. Once again the band sounds fantastic. Although truth be told Justice System has few competitors in the "hip hop band" realm, the instrumentalists are truly masters of their art and by this point had years of experience to add to their immense talents. Songs such as the ultra-smooth "Parole" and "Thoughts Left Behind" showcase Wizard C-Roc's majestic guitar, Eric G's impressive yet never overpowering percussion, and Coz Boogie's infectious basslines with extensive soloing. The contagiously relaxed "Girlfriend" features a gorgeous airy flute break, and the band's sonic balance is at times a wonder to behold. "

various artists :: Roll Wit Tha Flava :: Flavor Unit Records/Epic/Sony
** RapReviews "Back to the Lab" series **

as reviewed by Matt Jost

[Roll Wit Tha Flava] 
"While coming into prominence as an outspoken and gifted rapper in the late '80s and early '90s, Queen Latifah also kept herself busy behind the scenes, running Flavor Unit Management with her partner Sha-Kim. Their clients included Naughty By Nature, Black Sheep, Freddie Foxxx, The Almighty RSO, and Nikki D. Latifah's rise to hip-hop stardom coincided with the disbandment of her erstwhile crew, the original Flavor Unit, a collective of mostly New Jersey-based artists gathering around producer extraordinaire The 45 King. And so evolved a new, more populated, less defined Flavor Unit between '91 and '93. The intent behind "Roll Wit Tha Flava" was to showcase the talent represented by Flavor Unit Management and to hopefully establish Flavor Unit Records. While the imprint didn't survive the next few years, throughout the '90s the management branch continued to thrive with high-profile rap artists such as OutKast and L.L. Cool J and a slew of popular R&B acts (SWV, Faith Evans, Total, Gina Thompson, Monica, Donell Jones). Forecasting the success in the R&B field, the compilation's biggest hit was "Hey Mr. D.J." by female duo Zhané (then spelled Jhane'). Naughty By Nature's Kay Gee lays down a classy club groove as Jean and Renée make out the DJ as a key ingredient for a successful weekend night. Complemented by a short hype verse from Fam of Rottin Razkals, "Hey Mr. D.J." became a regular on dancefloors and airwaves and remains a pick for any 'best of the nineties' set. "

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