Thursday, October 30, 2008

East Coast Revival Part Deux

Towards the beginning of the month I dropped a review for Termanology’s solo debut – all my Seattle folks be sure to come out next Wednesday (11/5) for the Meth & Red show, Term will be opening! That review was intended to kick off some features on some albums that, in my opinion, are helping bring back that classic sound the east coast is known for.

One such crew would be Jedi Mind Tricks and their extended family the Army of Pharaohs, check out the two crew albums and I can recommend the first two JMT records, after that things get suspect. While my ears have given up on enjoying Paz’s rhymes (All I can say about Jus is that every recent verse I’ve heard is terrible) he put on his homies back in ’04 and I can say without a doubt that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every release from the duo known as Outerspace since.

Unlike their frequent collaborator, Planetary and Crypt the Warchild are great emcees who can ride a beat to perfection. The Pharaohs crew has a strong team of beat makers behind them and while Stoupe has been MIA (I’m copping the new JMT record just for his audio masterpieces) as of late they wasted no time finding the next generation of aspiring cinematic producers.

Taking a cue from their mentor’s records they drop several instrumental interludes throughout the album all of which help the record flow and work as great segue’s between tracks. Sake is responsible for these constructions and while it’s dope to have beats to enjoy from him, you have to be disappointed you don’t get to hear Planet and Crypt rock over at least one of them.

Luckily Sake isn’t the only one with heat here as Seattle’s own MTK has three contributions including the first (lyrical) track “Hail Mary” where he lays down multiple keyboard synths and a rolling drum pattern for Planet and Crypt to “use the mic as the brush to paint their diction” over.

If it wasn’t obvious after yesterday, I like me some posse cuts and while that is what the AoTP albums really are, the off shoot projects (like this right here) are always good for a couple bangers to. Undefined laces the first with Doap Nixon & Mr. Arnell joining the brothers for some rough, rugged and raw hip hop goodness that can only be laid down where the sun rises.

Given the affiliation you expect all of this though. The beauty in this record is a bit deeper. Crypt and Planetary spend much of the album addressing topics we can all relate to and the frustrations that come along while on our road of life. “Lost Battles” is my shit right now for so many reasons (Reef? Well used samples? Bumping drums?) but above all it comes down to the realness they spit about the struggle to survive off whatever money you can hustle. When was the last time you heard an emcee admit that he can’t afford that fresh fitted, or new pair of JO’s he is rocking?

They question American culture, the culture that labels them less given their racial background, but still admit the pride they hold in their country and they look at how to reconcile the obvious contradiction. This ability to find a balance is extended throughout the album consistently pushing the bounds of what one might expect from their crew, but still remaining true to their roots.

This is exemplified best by the tribute to Nicko, Crypt’s son (I believe). Here he breaks down the struggle new parents face and the pain that it can cause i.e. his marriage falling apart. But in the same verse he proclaims his love for his family and his desire to work through the hard times. It is in these moments of real life that you can appreciate their honesty and feel the strength of their words.

But beyond the serious topics, Crypt and Planetary demonstrate their passion for the art throughout the album whether it is on some braggadocios Hip Hop shit or on some from the heart honesty.

The love don’t pay
Hip Hop won’t
So I keep it real when you say I don’t.
If you didn’t get enough of that boom bap from the OS crew I got more for you! Another member of the AoTP extended fam is Boston’s own Esoteric and while he and his partner 7L have been laying down that classic east coast goodness for a minute now he took a break from his usual duties to team up with fellow emcee trademarc and DC the Midi Alien (frequent AoTP beatmaker) to form the East Coast Avengers. If it isn’t obvious from the crew’s name, this album was the whole inspiration to me for this idea of looking at some good new east coast Hip Hop.

Prison Planet is filled with a wide range of beats from DC as he demonstrates a plethora of styles. No matter the style though, from the opening drum break (anyone know it? Kanye flipped it last year) the Midi Alien proves that he is firmly rooted in the diggin’ in the crates aesthetic I dream of more producers picking up on.

Our old friend Termanology comes through here along with Apathy to deliver some “Vengeance” on wax. They also pull Freddie Foxx out of nowhere to open the album with the title cut, and in typical Bumpy Kucks fashion his gruff voice and smooth NY flow make it an instantly replay-able track.

But beyond the guests, and a couple more pop up, Eso and trademarc are more than capable of holding down emceeing duties. On the lead single “Kill Bill O’Reilly” they one up Nas calling for the head of the conservative talk show host and demonstrate their knowledge and attention to detail for the fools lies and misinformation.

The political commentary doesn’t vanish after their open letter to Bill though as they go in over some sad strings on “Too Much To Ask” breaking down their discontent with the state of affairs throughout the country, the political process, and our biased media sources. As the closing vocal sample states, their loyalty lies with the country not to those who claim to have our best interests at heart while steady making money off of us.

Celph Titled proves he is still the always entertaining emcee on the pounding “East Coast Overdose” brought to life even more so courtesy of some expert cuts by Statik Selektah and filled to the brim with punchlines and battle rhymes for all the weak emcees out. While this is what these guys are known for, they don’t rely on their laurels for the album pushing different ideas and concepts on multiple tracks.

On “Torture Rack” DC laces a great beat with that has to be heard to comprehend, but it’s unlike any other track present. As the album begins to hit the closing stretch they bring their political rhymes back into play first with King Magnetic on “Riot Act” spitting over a looped up chick humming they get a little grimy and make it known they won’t stand down to anyone.

Over what may be the Alien’s best beat filled with dusty drums, guitars and a slick piano riff Esoteric and trademarc trade rhymes on “Hey America” about all their grievances towards the power structure and our need driven culture.

Hey America
I don’t understand your whims
You’re so grim
With all your sadomasochist grins
And double chins
Gluttony is the least of your sins
You’re the bane of existence
My sanity is wearing so thin
And so is my resistance
To everything you’ve ever been
It’s crawling under my skin
It’s really sinking in
Prozac nation
A patient with no patience
After this it’s only right that they plot the revolution and every so subtly they do just that on the grim but amusing “The Trouble with Motorcades.” Being careful not to say anything that might turn them into the latest victim of the Patriot act, the well constructed song demonstrates just how fully they are disgusted with the current administration and how one could go about rectifying the wrongs.

I embody the soul of Saudi soliders.

If that isn’t from the heart, what else could be? Throughout the album we are provided two emcees take on what we have all witnessed over the last eight years. To quote everyone’s favorite hater, Byron Crawford, the album is filled with “not-particularly-astute-and-yet-completely-spot-on political analysis.”

And the beats knock! So do yourself a favor and get down with some of the east coasts future.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

"I Can See the Vision in that..."

Royce and Budden squashed the beef! Yeah at this point it’s old news, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t any less exciting. On top of putting aside their differences, they got in the lab together – hopefully we will get to hear that soon!

But in the meantime Budden has a mixtape out in preparation for his official sophomore project. The Halfway House hasn’t made it’s way into my rotation just yet, but given the strength of “Slaughterhouse” I think it will be in the iTunes before the end of the day.

Joell Ortiz, Nino Bless, Crooked I, Royce Da 5'9" & Joe Budden "Slaughterhouse"

Posse cuts are the holy grail in Hip Hop – they aren’t common, but not completely rare either. Given that they have to include a number of emcees the tracks are almost always longer than your average song and it’s hard to get together a group of emcees who can all carry their own, far too often a week link comes along diverting your attention away from the song before it’s finished. Luckily even the least known here holds his own next to some of the strongest spitters out.

But while the posse cut’s come and go, Hip Hopers are even less likely to be treated to group projects from already established artists. We all have dream collaborations we would like to see happen, but never before have a group of rappers discussed and seemed more serious about putting something out they Budden, Joell, Royce and perhaps Crooked (He isn’t present in the videos, but they do say they have to get him on the line to discuss the proposition).

Seeing them deliver “Slaughterhouse” without any notice was the first hint. But over the last few days Jumpoff has been getting his director game on filming the antics that he, Royce & Ortiz have been up to in the lab. While more Patron has been consumed in these videos than is healthy the liquid courage only seems to inspire these guys to come harder at each other. But it’s all in the spirit of friendly competition.

At one point Joell breaks down what he envisions as them all just trying to one up each other, coming in, cutting one another off just getting real grimy seeing who can spit the hardest. It sounds like it could be that dope shit, and when Royce screamed out “I can see the vision in that” you know was ready. Budden too, from behind the camera, is obviously digging the concept and emphasizes that he wants to cut Royce off just as he is about to drop the illest punchline his fans will (then) never hear.

"I feel like we should have a record where we're all just throwing bars at eachother."

This could be amazing.

But just like the much talked about Nas/Premier album or the Dre/Timbaland record (anyone remember those rumors?) who knows if this will ever materialize into a tangible product. These video clips have served Budden well in exposing what he is up to and they have obviously been laying down tracks – but if they truly do follow thru and throw a dart at a map to lock themselves away for three weeks? It’ll be a problem.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Mick Boogie & MC Serch Present "The Honor Roll"

On October 6th VH1 aired the fifth annual Hip Hop Honors celebrating some of the best artists Hip Hop has given us over the years. To pay tribute to the honorees Mick Boogie and MC Serch teamed up to deliver the Honor Roll mixtape filled with updated versions of the Hip Hop classics this year’s class is known for.

With Cypress Hill, De La Soul, Slick Rick, Too Short and Naughty by Nature all being members of this esteemed class it’s only right that the king of the mixtape game brings forth another unforgettable tape filled with updated, reinvigorated beats by a strong staple of current heat makers including 6th Sense and M-Phazes and a long list of emcees of every level of stature.

The aforementioned 6th Sense (if you haven’t peeped dude’s debut, stop sleeping!) holds down the majority of the beats never straying far from what the originals were known for he does an amazing job of bringing to life old classics that you may or may not be familiar with.

When first thinking about this project I was a little suspicious of so many young emcees getting on to pay tribute to legends this early into their career, I’m not interested in no egotistical hipster rapping wannabes thinking they are the shit before they’ve dropped an album. Luckily this is a Mick Boogie tape and his ear for talent is as good as they come in the industry right now.

While I’m still not ready for the Kidz in the Hall bandwagon I will give them their respect here as Naledge and Double-O do an excellent rendition of “Children’s Story.” Freeway and Young Chris drop verses over an excellent Kickdrums update of “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” that sounds just as lively and fun as it had to sound when Vinny, Treach and Kay Gee brought it to us 16 years ago.

The Cypress tributes are fun and they chose wisely who would remake what with Evidence and Alchemist teaming up to take “Hit’s from the Bong” and Scram Jones, Joell Ortiz and Loot do “Stoned is the Way of the Walk” to perfection. Kickdrums shows up again for a nasty bounce inducing “Insane in the Brain” with Izza Kizza (who?) spitting nothing special.

While the unknown emcees here aren’t complete trash, they often times are easy to ignore – which should never be the case when remaking classics, either do em justice or leave them alone.

Mistah FAB does a decent job paying tribute to what has to be one of his childhood inspirations in Bay area originator Too Short for the super smooth “Short But Funky.” Fashawn shows up and disproves the theory that all the no name guests can’t spit as him and AB deliver a great update to “Life is Too Short.” Bumping all this Too Short makes me want to go back and hear his back catalogue.

De La are paid due respect here from a number of diverse emcees including Tanya Morgan and Ragen doing an awesome cover of “Breakadawn” and Rapper Pooh, 6th Sense and Butta V rocking “The Bizness” down to the original rhyme scheme. U-N-I are given one of 6th Senses best pieces here for what has to be as much a tribute to the late, great J Dilla (R.I.P.) as it is to what Pos, Dave and Mase gave us when they rocked their first Yancy construction letting us all know the “Stakes is High.”

While the tape serves as an introduction to 6th Sense the beat maker, he is an emcee with considerable skill and while he popped up for a verse to the Plugs, he also delivers the closing cut dolo repping for Slick Rick. Plucking a nasty Jay sample for the hook – “Hey Young World” – is another great demonstration of elevating an already classic to another level. 6th doesn’t try to imitate Slick Rick, and by doing himself he pays Ricky Dee the greatest respect.

Whenever Mick Boogie drops a tape it’s worth checking for, and this one is no different. But beyond the typical freshness we have come to expect from Boog, The Honor Roll tape is incredibly refreshing and fun bringing something to the game that is missing – respect of the elders. Just as I think it’s important that VH1 continues to support those who helped make this culture what it is today, I think it’s equally important that this tape becomes a annual tradition regularly filled with the dues that need to be paid to those who came before us.

Get the tape here!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Jay-Z "Vol. 3: The Life & Times of S. Carter"

For those that know me they might not believe this, but there was a time that I wasn’t a Jay-Z fan. It was the same time that this album came out, and no this album didn’t change my opinion – that would take a couple more years. I picked this album up almost entirely on Jay’s name alone, and while I wasn’t disappointed you can bet I was banging …And Then There Was X far more often.

X never did release another solid record and as I listened to Jigga more I found him to be the far superior rapper that he is. Unfortunately Vol. 3: The Life and Times of S. Carter isn’t the best demonstration of said skill. Sure it has its moments – I’ve been quoting Skyzoo’s recent line about “So Ghetto” for a reason, but after listening to this album all week I’m still just as confused and disappointed as I was on Monday.

As I’ve gone back over these albums from Mr. Carter it’s becoming more and more clear that Jay is at least as motivated by the money as he is by the art and here I think the money got the best of him. Not that I blame him, if I could find a way to make a living with my writing I would leap at it!

The commercial tracks are here in abundance with Timbaland and Swizz Beatz holding down several beats along with some unknowns and a few legends, including Primo on the monster track “So Ghetto.” Jay also links with Prem’s west coast equivalent getting a beat from the good doctor who also holds down the hook. “Watch Me” isn’t a bad track but the beat is an obvious throw away from Dre’s 2001 sessions.

From here it’s not too positive. It’s a Jay-Z album so you don’t need to worry about him dropping the hot lines you expect, although much of the content within his stanzas is more oriented towards the dope game than the game of life and for the first time we see Jay taking the easy route telling us stories about his past without giving us the real life connection that brought Reasonable Doubt to life.

But beyond his substantially dumbed downed rhymes the beat selection is very interesting with few tracks feeling at all like a typical Jay beat and many teetering between trying to be for the street and for the club.

Swizz does impress with the flutes on “Things that U Do” but it’s destroyed by a lame Mariah Carey hook and comes across as a too blatant attempt at pop appeal. Timbaland pulls of a similar trick on the monster hit “Big Pimpin” sampling an old Indian record, however with no singer on the hook and the Underground Kings themselves holding their own next to Hov you can’t be mad at it being one of the biggest tracks of the last decade.

Elsewhere Timbaland isn’t quite as lucky. Responsible for three other tracks here, they all have his similar keyboard heavy sound that may have worked for the clubs in 1999 but today sound dated and ill advised.

Luckily the other two beats from Swizz are hidden at the end of the outro, but I would suggest just listening to the pair of “Hova Song’s” as they are laced by K-Rob with the perfect haunting sample courtesy of the Rotary Connection allowing Jay to do what he does best – speak to the people open and honestly leaving this pair of open and closing tracks as the best the album has to offer.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Ced Hughes "What Up Tho?!"

Awhile ago I burned a grip of mixtapes from an assortment of these new “internet” emcees. I call them this because the only reason they are known anywhere out of their locality is because they’ve gotten the bloggers going nuts! After having more than enough time to listen and break down these albums I got some things to say about them and the artists responsible for them.

First up for your consideration is Ced Hughes. With a vocal tone and playful demeanor on the mic he reminds me of Kanye at times, but his influence plays into many of the new acts popping up these days. Ced leads the pack however with his tape being mixed by Kanye’s right hand man Plain Pat – perhaps the kid has an actual connection Mr. West?

As for the album, What Up Tho?! expect some new ideas and some smooth flows from Ced. He has good presence on the mic and can tell a story well. His track “The Virus” is probably as responsible for his internet hype as anything else he might have going for him, on which he crafts an audio virus that he wants to infect every blog he can find. Shouting out all the usual suspects (where’s the TML yo? One day...) over a grimy synthesized beat this tracks energy is enough to get anyone ready to party.

This energy is not unusual here however as Ced is great at picking beats that knock and change up at key moments to keep the feel forward moving. He teams up with Currensy on “Calm Down” with both spitting well, Currensy proves his worth here doing a far better job of drawing you into his rhymes leaving you wondering who took the first verse.

Perhaps the best demonstration of Ced’s skill is found on “Blame it On Ced” over the perfect beat he breaks down where he sees himself in this game with a great hook from an un-credited singer whose vocals create the perfect harmony with the beat. The laidback atmosphere continues as Ced and Novel turn “American Boy” into “Southern Boy” breaking down the pride they have for their region.

Ced isn’t a weak rapper; he has potential and will probably manage to put out a steady stream of consistent work for the next several years as long as he can capitalize on whatever hype he generates here. Unfortunately, as what seems to be the case with so many of these blog friendly rappers, the hype disappears the moment the album is out. If you missed this tape when it dropped check it out and get familiar with a sampling of the future.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Statik Selektah... The future

What is going on up in Massachusetts? I’m tempted to call it the new NY! Last year Statik Selektah crept onto the scene with the sleeper giant Spell My Name Right. Filled with an assortment of guests and beats that brought to mind a certain legendary producer who made his name with an emcee from the Bean.

I’m speaking of DJ Premier of course and while the influence he has on any producer trying to do their thing in this game is common knowledge, when was the last time you heard him get on the mic and rep for another beat maker? Primo shows up on the intro, along with Term, to set the record off right!

Rooted with smooth beats thanks to some serious diggin’ Statik has been putting in work for awhile now helping build Termanology’s buzz, and as such expect to hear several collabo’s between the two here. Luckily these two’s chemistry is on par with any number of classic producer/emcee pairing’s and they deliver the goods over and over again throughout the duration of the album.

But don’t worry this album is far from a solo Termanology affair. Never holding down a track for self on the entire album he pairs with big and small name emcee’s here including the likes of Talib Kweli and Consequence on “Express Yourself” the 2008 edition. While Statik maintains the feel of the original (with some excellent chops of the classic Charles Wright record of the same name) he makes it his own with some great cuts on the hook and a more bare bones approach to the beat as a whole.

This minimalist approach works well for Statik, but he is no one trick pony as his beats pull from an array of sounds both familiar and not. Obviously growing up on a steady diet of soul and funk the man knows his records, but he also knows the hip hop history behind those classic breaks and whether he is flipping something original or reimagining an old stand by he does it to perfection.

On the breathtaking “Stop, Look, Listen” we hear Termanology again, this time alongside Styles P and the abstract poet, Q-Tip. No one disappoints and Statik’s use of the Kool & The Gang track (of the same name) is magical.

On “What Would You Do” we see a Philly connect go down between Cassidy and Freeway, while Statik get’s his Kanye on with a sped up vocal sample playing in the background, and some bouncing conga drums that you have to nod your head to. I’m a big Free fan and Cas has always been cause for some suspicion on my part, but dude has been on some shit lately and this is no different.

The record pretty much continues on like that for 21 tracks of that raw and uncut vintage east coast greatness you can’t help but love. Statik pulls a grip of DJ’s together to demonstrate the art of scratching, brings KRS and Extra P together for a track, and spits a rhyme just to let y’all know he doesn’t fuck around with this Hip Hop, it’s in his blood. And what does a producer do when his spirit won’t let him rest? He puts in some calls, gets behind the boards once again and laces us with a second record in less than a year.

Seemingly out of nowhere a video for this track “To The Top” popped up on a number of blogs (I threw it up on the PI one) and featured scathing verses from all three guests. Cassidy (remember what I just above? It’s still the truth), Saigon & Termanology all go in over some high pitched strings and Statik is nice enough to show all these other dudes the right way to use the voice box! Saigon takes the prize of best verse (when does he disappoint?) speaking to the fallen who have helped him become the emcee he is.
You would swear I inherited Tupac’s soul
Both Christopher’s brains
Mindstate of the Roc
Wittiness of Lamont
Spirt of the side walk
Grittiness of the block

If this track doesn’t get you hype then the second one is guaranteed to make you smash something! With a brilliant vocal sample courtesy of Levert and Troop from the opening scene of New Jack City, Statik creates maybe the hardest beat of the year (I’m open to contenders, but this is on another level). M.O.P. and Jadakiss do what they do best repping for their city like only those three can.

From here the record continues to blow minds.

Prior to it’s release I heard some talk that Statik was telling people that he had stepped his beat game up for this go around. Now if you made it this far you know what my take was on the first go round when it came to the beats – them shits knocked! But if that is how they can be described then nothing can possibly do these ones justice. Flat out period this is some of the most amazing demonstration of hip hop production in recent years (No dis Jake).

He makes another trip to Philly here, this time to resurrect the scattered State Property. Over a thumping track P Crakk proves why Quest and Thought added him to the Roots line up. Free and Chris eat up their mic’s and even with their general being MIA this track will get any State P fan salivating for more.

Skyzoo, Joell and Talib break down the chick they are in search for over a soulful beat that continues to show Statik’s Kanye meets Primo steez (Shout to my boy Chris!). The Justus League camp strolls on through with Pooh continuing to show that he deserves just as much respect as Tay and Tay showing us that he’s ready to take out all these so called “singers.”

I could really keep on breaking down every track but by this point you’re either sold or you’re not. If you aren’t then fuck you! Nah, not really, but in all seriousness if you have ever heard a Hip Hop track you have no reason not to enjoy the hell out of this record.

This is why I love Hip Hop.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Jay-Z "Vol. 2: Hard Knock Life"

Last week I reviewed Termanology’s new album saying that he was bringing back a sound missing from East Coast Hip Hop. This might be the album responsible for the loss of the traditional NYC aesthetic disappearing from the public ear.

Jay-Z is three albums deep in as many years, proving that his hustler mentality could be applied, and applied well, to the rap industry. This album represents the birth of Jay-Z the superstar.

I picked this album up along with Jay’s discography through one of those CD clubs (Don’t front, you know you were in one!) and listened to it for the first time while driving home along the Umpqua river - Oregon stand up! While not the greatest local to be listening to tales of the streets, I did… and I hated it.

But my hate for Vol. 2 wasn’t because I couldn’t relate to what Jigga had to say. It was because he was making his music for kids like me, and the pop feel that killed certain tracks on Vol. 1 turned into a pop album that, while still demonstrating credible lyrical skill, was filled with keyboard beats, annoying hooks and countless features from lesser emcees.

With these thoughts in mind I approached Vol. 2 this week to review with as open of ears as I could. But 10 years does a lot to a persons head and while I still think this will rank as my least favorite album from Shawn Carter I won’t ever be quite so quick to bash the “Hard Knock Life.”

It’s hard not to address said title track when it comes to anything regarding Jay-Z. He and the 45 King successfully took a sample from Annie (yes, the Broadway production) and turned it into the “Ghetto Anthem” and hit of the year propelling Vol. 2 to be Jay’s best selling record. Today I hear so much more in this track than I ever thought was present. 45 King hooks up a hard beat that, as Jay appropriately states at the beginning, screams to have the bass line studied! This makes up for the fact that the intro beat courtesy of Premier is wasted on Bleek.

Unfortunately this highlight is quickly stifled by the sounds of Swizz Beatz on the boards for “If I Should Die.” In recent years Swizz has been responsible for some of my favorite beats, and to his credit he had one filthy one in ’98 (Anyone remember the Anthem?) this right here is a demonstration in what not to do with a keyboard and with the featured Ranjahz it comes off pretty generic.

I guess things have to get worse before they can get better, and Vol. 2 continues down a path of mediocrity. Hitman Stevie J marks the only appearance of a Bad Boy affiliate, a stark contrast from Vol. 1, but doesn’t deliver anything memorable as “Ride or Die” goes along without ever really jumping out to catch you and what’s with this hook Jay, can you get any lazier?

Vol. 2 also marks the first meeting of Jay and Timbaland for “Nigga What, Nigga Who” (or “Jigga What, Jigga Who” for you MTV fans) and “Paper Chase,” another duet between Jay and Foxy. Amil makes her Roc status known on the former along with Jay’s mentor and future enemy Jaz-O. While neither track is terrible, the beats are incredibly boring and repetitive showing the leaps and bounds Timbaland has made when it comes to his tracks.

Swizz pops up again for “Money, Cash, Hoes” - another hit here from Jay and it features the other breakout star of ’98 in DMX, proving that he rolls with Swizz for a reason sounding far more energetic over Swizz array of synthesized sound effects. Luckily we are finally treated to a better display of skill from Mr. Beatz with the second Bleek feature on “Coming of Age (Da Sequel)” with the young gun playing his part next to the elder statesmen in Jay.

As the record hit’s its mid point we start to hear more of that grittiness we were familiar with from the debut but had slowly left Jay as he gained the fortune and fame. Too Short comes through for a great track in “A Week Ago” with Jay telling a tale of betrayal over a guitar loop and some sprinklings of piano. The only flaw is Short not rhyming? After the chemistry these two displayed last record, it’s a bad tease to put Short on the track solely for adlibs.

Irv Gotti shows up and shows why Murder Inc had the reign it did, with a great pop beat in “Can I Get A…” featuring the third of Def Jam’s late nineties power trio, Ja Rule. The classic “Reservoir Dogs,” one of the few posse cuts you can find Jay on, is some vintage NYness thanks to Sermon flipping “Shaft” like a producer of his status should. Lyrically the track is as hard as they come with the LOX proving that they didn’t belong under the shiney suit regime that was Bad Boy and we are introduced to a young kid out of Philly named Beans who might have the best verse here.

The album closes with the bonus cut “Money Ain’t a Thang” from Jermaine Dupri’s solo and while the song captures all that was wrong with Hip Hop towards the end of the decade I can’t help but turn it up and bang the shit out of it! Between a fun beat and great interplay between the two artists this track is that hot fire everyone wants to make, plus I remember spending a hundred with a small face.

Hip Hop was a commercial entity by this time and Jay-Z found his niche with this album, remember what he said on The Black Album:

I dumbed down for my audience to double my dollars
They criticized me for it yet they all yell "HOLLA!"
If skills sold, truth be told, I'd probably be
lyrically, Talib Kweli
Truthfully I wanna rhyme like Common Sense
But I did five mill' - I ain't been rhymin like Common since

As much as I want to be bitter, his honesty here only proves the genuine skill those hidden album tracks on Vol. 2 demonstrate.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Termanology "Politics As Usual"

Remember how trendy it was to hate on NY and the East coast Hip Hop scene? People placed a lot of high hopes on the likes of Saigon, Papoose and Tru Life. Well none of them have yet to drop an official release, although they have some great unofficial work available.

With them taking their time playing the major label games, I’m going to spend the next couple weeks looking at several loosely associated artists from around the East coast (who actually release music) and have taken the art into their hands and brought back the classic feel to their tunes that only their coast is known for.

First up hailing from Massachusetts is the latest young gun to grace many a Primo banger. Termanology built his name up traveling to Boston and NY while releasing a series of great mixtapes - what you know about them Hood Politics? Over the course of his grind he made some valuable connections and with the delivery of his debut album we are treated to the fruits of the hustle.

With an old lead single produced by Prem (why they didn’t include the super grimy remix is a mystery) in “Whatch How It Go Down” to a not quite as old follow up in “So Amazing” which has to be one of the best Primo beats, ever, Term knows how to handle Mr. Martins work. The surprise we were all in for though was the official single, once again ably handled by Premier and features an always on point Bun B. While it’s unfortunate that the Texas connect couldn’t have happened sooner, this track proves that while Prem may have been born in the lone star state his heart and soul are in New York with a sound he helped shape.

Beyond this the record is filled with other Illmatic producers with Pete Rock cooking up something special for Term to get serious on with “We Killin’ Ourselves.” Addressing the issue of unprotected sex and promiscuity, Term has to receive props for taking the time out to address a serious topic that is overlooked far too often.

While he does take this time out to speak on a serious topic, the majority of this record is your typical braggadocios I’m the shit raps with Term making light references to running the streets. At times he pulls off a clever punchline or two:

I used to fuck with chemistry in the street
Now I fuck with chemistry on the beats

Over a nasty Alchemist beat you can’t help but chuckle, but you are quickly drawn back into the grittiness that is an ALC production – plus Prodigy comes through for a scathing guest verse and you already know how the M-O-B-B flows over these tracks.

P’s better, and free, other half laces Term with the closing beat of the album where Term takes one last stab at claiming the crown – you got a few years homie! Politics as Usual is filled with banging beats, gritty street raps and a charismatic young emcee, can you really ask for anything more?

Come through next week for a look at Term’s fellow MA representers East Coast Avengers, here’s some cats looking to bring it back! Kill Bill O’Riely.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Jay-Z "In My Lifetime, Vol. 1"

It’s 1997 and the reigning king of NY has been shot down in LA. A young emcee out of the Marcy housing projects that made a name for himself off the strength of an Illmatic like debut returned to the scene to carry the torch for his fallen brethren.

Where Reasonable Doubt was a raw and unabridged look at the streets Shawn Carter had sprung from, In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 is like the sprawling step child filled with the same great lyrical voice but missing the sense of reality. In place are glossy beats and R&B hooks courtesy of Puffy and his Hitmen production team – a pairing much more fruitful a decade later with Jigga’s 2007 release (I can't wait to talk about that joint!).

While Jay has commented that he believes he may have gone a little too far with the “pop” styling’s Puffy was so famous for – listen to “I Know What Girls Like” with the trademark Puff jacking on the hook. It’s pretty bad, but thanks to an amazing Lil Kim guest verse I’ll over look it. Speaking of Kim, anyone bump Hardcore lately?

While Puffy’s hand is felt heavy here, the album is deep with cuts that are some of Jay’s best of his career and prove the album is far more than just an attempt to go commercial – that comes next year!

Opening with Pain in da Ass once again before falling into a classic Prem piano chop for “A Million and One Questions” with a beautiful transition and just as wonderful second beat for “Rhyme No More.”

Motherfuckers can’t rhyme no more
About crime no more
Time No more
Cause I’m so raw
My flow expose holes
That they find in yours
Wasn’t for me niggas still be dying for whores
While the beats aren’t as consistent – Prem only makes one more contribution – Jay remains just as relevant as he showed us he could be in ’96. On “Lucky Me,” complete with it’s soft drums and cowbells, Jigga takes time out to speak on something far from the norm:

Y’all don’t even know
Everyday I’m livin with stress
Got up out the streets
You think a nigga can rest
Can’t even enjoy myself at a party
Unless I’m on the dance floor
Hot ass vest
You think I’m freaking these chicks right
Tryin not to brush against they chest
You get a law suit shit like that
The hustler spirit isn’t leaving Jay-Z anytime soon.

And it is that spirit that makes him and Too Short such a perfect combination on “Real Niggaz.” I’m clueless as to who the beatmaker is, but Anthony Dent lays down a smooth groove that suits both Jigga’s need for that NY boom bap while rooted with a laid back loop that gives it that chilled out Cali feel Short can own. Where is another record from these two?

Vol. 1 is a follow up that shows us a lot. Once it became clear to Jay that he wasn’t going to get away with one record he had to focus on making it worth his while. The fan base was looking for something more in line with the debut, but the pop hooks worked and by the time Jay-Z was ready to deliver his third record that mainstream appeal hinted at here would be fully formed and ready to blow with a tale of the “Hard Knock Life.”

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Jake One "White Van Music"

Anyone from around here is going to be looking at this album with just a slightly different take, making me wish I could be talking with some people outside of the S-E-A about what they think of the debut offering from Jake One.

The resident beat maker extraordinaire has been fudging the lines about what exactly “underground” and “mainstream” Hip Hop is for years now and to this end we see a diverse group of guests. From Young Buck and Busta Rhymes to MF Doom and a host of locally known emcees who will hopefully receive some much deserved attention after sharing grooves with the talent found herein.

Now it could be my own bias but those tracks from the local emcees stand up incredibly well, to a point that I have to say I find them to be the best tracks on the album. From the D. Black solo “God Like” with it’s subdued beat (Blueprint esque? Shout to Crawford!) to the power trio of J Pinder, GMK and Spaceman on “Big Homie Style,” this is the hidden gem if you ask me. All three emcees hold their own over a top 5 of all time Jake beat. If anyone is looking for some mid-nineties NY griminess tune in to this, I swear you will think you got caught in a time warp.

Opening with a great dialogue about music being “dope” Jake drops in a bouncing bass line and a great vocal sample before Black Milk shouts “drums” and in come some knockers for him and Nottz to rock. Chosing two producers who also emcee to open your album may be a ballsy move, but they handle the track and get you started off in a good mood, before being totally smashed on by the sounds of the Mash Out Posse for “Gangsta Boy.” Props to Jake for creating a beat that is filled with the best of what both coasts style in beats has to offer, if this record will do one thing it will prove his versatility.

Much has been made about the Freeway and Brother Ali featuring lead single “The Truth” but you all know what the deal is, these two lace the beat like only they could and it sounds perfect! But Freeway is also lucky enough to get another placement here with “How We Ride.” I think we might be in the presence of a future power duo with these two three for three this year alone – what might Freedom of Speech hold?

This is a Rhymesayers release and for those fans who think RSE is the be all end all to this Hip Hop game, don’t worry lots of your favorites are here. Blueprint shows up with what will probably be a far to over looked tale of a scandalous lady with a slow and soft beat, don’t know if I ever thought I’d say this about a rap record but nice strings Jake! Of course Slug makes an appearance and continues to impress me when he is outside the Atmosphere “style” holding his own next to the almighty Posdnuos for the fun and braggadocios “Oh Really.”

As I mentioned Doom is here for not one but two tracks and while I don’t want to give the bastard any hint of happiness with anything he does these tracks don’t sound that bad. Doom does sound damn good over Jake’s soundscapes but quite wasting them on such a fool, I’m calling for an industry boycott!

We get a couple treats from Jake’s short stay in the bay area with Keak da Sneak’s “Soil Raps” and Casual’s “Feelin My Shit,” both of which I’ve seen a fair amount of hate for which I feel is a bit unjustified. I’m not particularly a fan of either but the tracks don’t take anything away for me and hearing Casual say that “the Neptunes are feelin’ my shit” is hilarious.

Jake has had an impressive career by any standard you could use to judge such a thing. He has consistently created beats anyone in the game could rock with, and he has regularly stated that beats he gives to G-Unit are the same ones he gives to the underground heads. Will the fans show the same open mindedness?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Royce Da 5' 9" "The Bar Exam 2"

The thing that constantly comes to mind when I listen to The Bar Exam 2 is Royce’s vocal tone. It’s scathing, biting, as though he took all of his pent up frustration and held it in, and then used it as motivation to spew forth some of the strongest lines ever directed towards the industrialization of Hip Hop.

But beyond sounding so serious, it proves the passion someone in Royce’s position has to have to still be in this game. After what seems like a continuous roller coaster ride of a career could Royce Da 5’9” finally have the focus he needs to get himself where he belongs - in the company of kings.

Jumping out the box loud and hard Royce and his younger brother Kid Vishis attack the mic, bringing that “Heat to the Streets.” Royce and his brother have excellent chemistry, so much so that it might prevent Vishis from escaping the shadow – with four features here I can’t think of one line that I’m sure it was him and not Royce spitting.

From here Royce runs through a series of braggadocios raps all with the intention of proving how nice he is.

They succeed.

As you might have recently heard Royce remaking “Love Lockdown” and “Live Your Life” here he takes on Game and Wayne’s “My Life” to perfection with the hilarious, but accurate “I’m Nice.” Between a perfect Weezy imitation on the hook (voice box and all) to some pointed criticism of the lack of skills seen in Hip Hop today, Royce has taken what got 50 signed and elevated it to a new high.

An upside to having Green Lantern mix your tape is that you are probably going to be getting some beats from the Evil Genius. Royce gets treated to a few, none more powerful than the monstrous, and aptly titled, “Gun Music.” Utilizing a familiar sample (Where’s my Dilated fam?) Royce and Green mash on everyone here! Where’s the M.O.P. featured remix?

Royce and Trick Trick meet up for some Detroit love over a symphonic Mr. Porter beat – Dre has helped dude so much. We see another D connection with Elzhi going in over the “Royal Flush” beat along with Royce and a long lost Canibus (well for us Seattle folk he’s been around, any Fort Lewis readers?) all of whom do their thing, but this one was pristine the way it was, could have been left alone.

As is probably apparent I could go on about most every track. Royce is a tremendous emcee, more verbose than many and he utilizes it well. His flow is soft and while I can’t say I’ve ever thought about a rappers vocal control, Royce isn’t singing here but he uses his voice to convey emotions – something unheard of in this genre.

If you were thinking that the DJ Premier and Statik Selektah helmed Bar Exam couldn’t be topped, you were probably right (I’m about to go back and bang that tape!) but Royce and Green deliver a worthy follow up and an album on par with the best releases of the year.

And all of it for free

Or if you want to have just the tracks minus all the DJ bullshit, no hate to all my DJ's out there!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Jay-Z "Reasonable Doubt"

A friend had asked me to get her the The Black Album and it’s companion The White Album so she would have some Jay-Z in her collection. I’m gonna make her learn a bit more than she may want to, but before the end of the year you’ll have those two requests miss Caroline!

But before we get ahead of ourselves let’s make it clear from now until the two double 0 nine I’ll be delivering a Jay album on Wednesday’s – it’s Jay Day.

Jay-Z has been around this game for a long time now. While he has become a household name, at one point he wasn’t even able to command interest from the big dog majors and had to deliver his debut through the lesser known Priority records. But Priority also let him and his partners Dame Dash and Kareem ‘Biggs’ Burke establish there own label.

Roc-A-Fella Records and a dynasty was born.

That dynasty that ruled the end of the 90s and the beginning of this decade began with one record, a record that was suppose to be the only one from one Shawn Carter.

But you all know the story, he drops a classic and his BIG Brooklyn homie passed – who else was going to carry the crown? It wasn’t going to be Memphis.

Filled with tales of the hustler life that left him still spending money from ’88 (does anyone believe this?) we were introduced to a kid who saw the downfall to the street life and took the business mind to the board room.

Rocking over beats from some of NY’s finest we see Ski make his name with the brilliant flip of Lonnie Liston Smith’s beautiful “Garden of Peace” and of course with the scratched in Nas vocal we have the track that helped inspire the greatest battle of the century.

Elsewhere we see Ski preparing us for what he would deliver the following year as “Feelin’ It” has Camp Lo written all over it filled with that bounce only their style of club music can induce.

Irv Gotti shows up as DJ Irv for “Can I Live” probably my favorite track here both for the brilliant looping of Isaac Hayes “The Look of Love” (Is this the best rendition of this track? I know Dionne Warwick’s doesn’t have nothing on it) and for Jigga’s rhymes about the trap before that was it’s name.

My mind is infested, with sick thoughts that circle
like a Lexus, if driven wrong it's sure to hurt you
Dual level like duplexes, in unity, my crew and me
commit atrocities like we got immunity
You guessed it, manifest it in tangible goods
Platinum Rolexed it, we don't lease
we buy the whole care, as you should
My confederation, dead a nation, EXPLODE
on detonation, overload the mind of a said patient
When it balls to steam, it comes to it
we all fiends gotta do it, even righteous minds go through this
True this, history school us to spend our money foolish
Bond with jewellers and, watch for intruders
I stepped it up another level, meditated like a buddhist
Recruited lieutenants with ludicrous, dreams of
gettin cream let's do this, against T-D-S
So I keep one eye open like, C-B-S, ya see me
stressed right? Can I live?

Quoteables abound left and right here, as do top notch beats. Primo delivers some classic work, along with Clark Kent and a then unknown Sean C who some may know as one half of Diddy’s most recent incarnation of the Hitmen, responsible for a significant portion of the beats of Jay’s most recent effort American Gangster.

From opening with the beautifully haunting “Politics as Usual” featuring a stunning performance from MJB (what performance of hers isn’t?) that makes you fiend for their rumored in the works collaborative record to hearing Biggie and Jay trade bars in an attempt to be titled “Brooklyn’s Finest” to the guest verses from Bleek that have left fans disappointed in him ever since, Reasonable Doubt is an un-ignorable record for any Hip Hop head, but fans of good music should give it a listen as this is a classic in the cannon of music.