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The (W)rap Up - Week of June 7, 2011
Posted by Emanuel Wallace at Tuesday, June 14th, 2011 at 12:00AM :: Email this article :: Print this article

[Nothing to Lose But Change]Elemental Zazen :: Nothing to Lose But Change
Gnawledge Records

Author: Steve 'Flash' Juon

"To save both reader and writer the trouble of writing Elemental Zazen's entire inspirational story twice, I recommend reading my 2008 review of "The Glass Should Be Full." I also recommend buying the album, but that appears to be hard to do right now as it's out of print and the lowest priced copy on is $19.38. Ouch. I'm really shocked that album wasn't released as a digital download at some point. Thankfully "Nothing to Lose But Change" is available as MP3 only, which means you can pick up the album for only $8.99. As a warm up you may have already heard one or two of the leaks we made available through the RR newsfeed, including his duet with Fashawn titled "Kill Em With the Beat." Joe Beats provided a symphonic backdrop with hard hitting drums that lived up to the song title, but it could just as easily have described the hard hitting lyrics both emcees spit on the shit like Zazen's "Whoever tax the aristocrats/probably end up in a ditch with a slit wrist and fist" and Fashawn's ferocious flow"

Bushwick Bill :: No Surrender... No Retreat :: Wrap/Ichiban Records
** RapReviews "Back to the Lab" series **

as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon
[No Surrender... No Retreat] 
"Falling between previously reviewed Bushwick solo albums "Phantom of the Rapra" and "Universal Small Souljah" is 1998's "No Surrender... No Retreat." It also falls between Bushwick's two reunions with the Geto Boys, the last being on 1996's "The Resurrection" and the next being almost a decade later on "The Foundation." The album comes at a curious point in Bushwick's career where he had publicly and acrimoniously split with Rap-A-Lot Records over multiple accusations of malfeasance, including that the label made all of its emcees sign life insurance policies naming Rap-A-Lot the beneficiary. Apparently this split also resulted in the Geto Boys being persona non grata, but that didn't stop Bush from incorporating some Scarface vocals into this album's third track "2 Hard 2 Test." Oddly enough Bushwick would recycle this same verse three years later for his next solo album on the song "Coming With That Shit." Some 'Face fans might have a hard time recognizing it as him in either case, because these vocals clearly date to his "I Seen a Man Die" era vocal tone and delivery - which is intriguing in hindsight but used to irritate the fuck out of me at the time for being so far removed from his bold "Mr. Scarface Is Back" vocal tone and hard hitting flow."

General Monks :: Each Step Becomes Elevated :: Wandering Worx
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor

[Each Step Becomes Elevated] 
""Each Step Becomes Elevated" is a free album being released by Cali rappers Planet Asia and Tristate as General Monks. The concept of the album is that they are warrior Buddhist monks using any means necessary, including rapping, drinking, and fighting back. Each song is set up with an audio clip of what sounds like a BBC documentary about Buddhist monks fighting oppression in Rangoon, rapping as MC Happiness, and getting their drink on. As the concept suggests, this is a sometimes uneasy combination of hardcore hip-hop and conscious rap. There is an aggressive, militant vibe to the album that is tempered by the Buddhist bent of righteousness. There are also jarring transitions between fist-pumping calls to action like "Moors Code", and more mundane celebrations of hedonism like "Bar Season.". It's another example of hip-hop criticising street life while celebrating it, but the addition of the militant/Buddhist angle makes it even more confusing. Speaking of confusing, some of Asia and Tristate lyrics are downright impenetrable, coming off more as disjointed conspiracy theories than profound statements"

J.O.T. & Ms. Crystal :: Esa Que Pasa (That's What's Up) :: J.O.T. Records/Soul-Full Productions
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

[Esa Que Pasa (That's What's Up)] 
"There's something instantly charming about the cover of "Esa Que Pasa." It's a throwback to the 1980's, when rappers would pose on any street corner or outside of any local store and snap a few quick photos for their album, never knowing which would end up on the front and which would be used in the liner notes. It's unpretentious and when I say that it's not cool I mean it in the most flattering way. These are not people dressed to the nines - they're probably wearing the same clothes they would for a casual night out after work. It's also a compliment to say they look more like someone's parents than the hottest rap act going today. Even the lettering on their names looks like a homemade job of selecting and centering typography. After going through dozens of slickly put together albums from major and well established indie labels, coming across one like this in the stack is refreshing. Regrettably reviewing the album is not nearly as much fun as looking at the cheerful smile of Ms. Crystal and wizened smirk of J.O.T. on the cover. I don't know these people and I like them. I can easily imagine sitting down for a Sunday afternoon meal with them - mashed potatoes and gravy, a meat casserole of some time, green beans and flaky buttery biscuits on the side - or maybe tacos (que pasa). "

Kidd Quest aka Jay Quest :: Put Your Headphones On: Soundtrack ::
as reviewed by Mike Baber

[Put Your Headphones On: Soundtrack] 
"New York City is the birthplace of hip-hop. Ever since DJ Kool Herc rocked his first block party four decades ago in the Bronx, hundreds of emcees and producers have emerged from the five boroughs and made a significant impact on hip-hop history and culture. Today, "East Coast Hip-hop" has become synonymous with the NYC, and while cities such as Philadelphia and Washington D.C. continue to make their presence felt, there is no denying that New York has always been the go-to hotbed for hip-hop. Artists hailing from the Big Apple are a dime a dozen these days, but it is much more uncommon to hear hip-hop coming out of upstate New York, and I was intrigued when I learned that Kidd Called Quest, aka Jay Quest, was repping Rochester. Mainly, I was anxious to see whether "Put Your Headphones On: Soundtrack," which features a number of guest emcees spitting over exclusively Jay Quest-produced tracks, was at all influenced by the soulful and jazzy vibes that characterized New York hip-hop during the golden age of the early 90s. Production-wise, the album starts off on the right foot. After a three-minute intro that probably should have been cut in half, the first song, "Top Billin'," kicks things off with a deep rolling bassline and a pulsing horn sample to set the tempo. "

Lil B :: Red Flame :: {self-released}
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor

[Red Flame]
"I've been hearing about Brandon "Lil B" McCartney for a while now, but had chosen to ignore him. I knew he was in the Pack, and I knew he was releasing more music than Lil Wayne on a meth binge, but a lot of the buzz I was hearing about him was that he was a teeny-bop rapper and not worth the time or effort. I decided to investigate Lil B after he was championed by Noz from Noz is many things, but a teeny bopper ain't one of them, so if he said Lil B is worth listening to, I believe it. I downloaded "Red Flame" from, and started my voyage into the weird world of Lil B. Lil B's Wikipedia entry claims that he has over 155 Myspace pages, and has recorded 1,500 tracks since July 2010. Doing the math, that means recording roughly five tracks a day. Which tells you that he's incredibly prolific, and could give a fuck about quality control.

Lil B's obvious inspiration is Lil Wayne. B is copying Wayne's prolific release of mixtapes, as well as Wayne's off-the-cuff, rap style. B copies Wayne's knack for saying crazy shit that doesn't make any sense, doing Wayne's alien rap one better by totally forgoing any attempt to make sense at all. In that sense he can be compared to Kool Keith, another rapper who has built a career on saying crazy shit. "

Pete Rock & Smif-N-Wessun :: Monumental :: Duck Down Records
as reviewed by Pete T.

"Best shortstop of all time? Derek Jeter. Best "Rocky" film of all time? "III." Best Air Jordans of all time? XIs. Best producer of all time? Pete Rock. Glad that's out of the way. Anyway, a more descriptive title than "Monumental" could not have been chosen for a full-length Pete Rock and Smif-N-Wessun tryst, uniting two influential New York acts whose consummate legacies each date back to the early ‘90s. But even that doesn't quite capture the extent of this project's monumentality. Despite the utter brilliance of his solo work, Pete's best work has come on his full-length collaborations with rappers, where he develops a special chemistry, catering to the rapper's strengths as much as his own in devising a distinct vision for the project. However, Pete hasn't laid down a full-length collaboration since the long-shelved LPs with InI and Deda in the mid-90s, so the fact that he's doing one with anybody in 2011 should already give fans visions of "Mecca and the Soul Brother" and "The Main Ingredient." That it's happening with such a decorated act as Smif-N-Wessun, a duo who could quite plausibly be cited as one of the reasons we still wear Tims and hoodies in the winter, is icing on the cake. "

Prodigy :: The Ellsworth Bumpy Johnson EP :: Complex
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

[The Ellsworth Bumpy Johnson EP] 
"With a name like Bumpy, you have to be bad - and he was. In fact Ellsworth Raymond Johnson may be one of the top criminal minds in Harlem history, let alone in the annals of organized crime in the United States. In an era where Italian mobs held power and control over every racket in New York City, Bumpy stood toe to toe with them and gave no quarter, and in due time Bumpy not only earned their respect but that of Harlem's criminals as well. He progressed from running a numbers racket to being an out-and-out kingpin of crime, and it was said during his heyday not a deal went down in Harlem without Bumpy's approval or say-so. His story has taken on legendary and arguably mythical qualities, and he's been portrayed accurately or otherwise in dozens of movies. Just released from a three year stay in prison on gun charges, Albert 'Prodigy' Johnson was "Infamous" long before that as one half of the now legendary rap duo Mobb Deep. They don't play on illegal firearms charges in New York City - just ask Plaxico Burress - but some would argue he had a right to self-defense given he's been held up for his jewels before. Then again when you're a famous rapper, that's what you pay a bodyguard for, and New York rappers often get an extra unwanted scrutiny that could result in his bust anyway - their relationship with the police has a long acrimonious history. "

Trackstar the DJ :: The Guest Chamber (Best of Wu-Tang Appearances) :: Hip Hop Needs Balance
as reviewed by Pete T.

[The Guest Chamber (Best of Wu-Tang Appearances)] 
"Trackstar the DJ's "The Guest Chamber" mixtape is a collection of some of the Wu-Tang Clan's greatest guest spots on tracks that appeared on other artist's albums. While I need provide no contextualization concerning the impeccable stature of the Wu's earliest group and solo albums, some listeners might overlook the fact that their collaborations with hip hop's best and brightest have yielded countless thrills dating back to the early ‘90s. Thus, Trackstar found it appropriate to assemble some of the best among them on this mixtape. Many of the classics are here and clustered at the beginning of the tracklist: "The What," "Above the Clouds," "Eye for an Eye," "Extortion," "Tres Leches (Triboro Trilogy)," "Tru Master," and "Skew It on the BBQ" each appear in their full glory. There are a few more overlooked gems from the ‘90s, such as Onyx and Wu's "The Worst" and Jayo Felony's "Whatcha Gonna Do" featuring Method Man and DMX. More recent productions include Royce da 5'9"'s "Give Up the Guns" with Raekwon and Talib Kweli and a remix to Q-Tip's "Renaissance Rap" featuring Rae, Lil Wayne, and Busta Rhymes. "

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