All posts by Lafayette Hicks

Hip Hop Junkie since 1983 and counting. A native of Portsmouth,Virginia.

Yamin Semali – Monday/Friday (ALBUM REVIEW)

There are so many quality artists that fly under my hip hop radar, which is why I love the Hip Hop Foundation (a little shameless website promotion there). As a self-dubbed hip hop aficionado, I always take pleasure in discovering dope MC’s but with so many out there that don’t get the recognition they deserve, I’ve been put on to a lot of really good MC’s just through my affiliation with this site. One such artist is East Point, Georgia based MC Yamin Semali.

In the same vein that West Coast MC’s such as Digital Underground and Souls Of Mischief stifled the stereotype that all West Coast music was of the “gangsta” variation in the early 90s, Yamin is one of a plethora of Georgia MC’s that provides an alternative for the popular “trap” music that the Peach state has become generally known for in the last decade. Yamin’s style is a nice blend of consciousness and “everyman” music. His third release “Monday-Friday” is a smooth, ride through this MC’s philosophies on life, which includes jewels on everything from straight up knowledge with tracks such as “Prometheus” and “Top Of The 9th” to the temptations men deal with in the opposite sex on “Big Eyes (Ode To Tracee Ross)”. The production here is top notch from Illastrate who provides a cohesive sound that ties the songs together nicely. These beats are as good as any I’ve heard and provide a great backdrop for Yamin’s melodic flow and dope lyricism.

A major point for me is Yamin kept this album streamlined at 12 tracks (one is an instrumental). In today’s A.D.D. world with so many things to grab people’s attention, an album with too many tracks may get overlooked or passed on but here, less is definitely more. I think we’ve just generally gotten past the period of 17 to 20 track albums where 30 to 50% of the album is obvious filler. Give the people the best of the best and the value of an album rises significantly. I really can’t find any qualms with this album. Maybe a bigger track that could stand alone as a single but you know what? Give me a solid album from front to back any day. Dope album,definitely worth checking out.

Rating:

Forgotten Beefs: De La Soul VS Naughty By Nature

Hip hop has long been infamous for it’s beefs between rappers. Some battles are legendary while others may be lesser known to the public but still dramatic nonetheless. One conflict that many may not be aware of was a situation between fellow Tommy Boy Records artists De La Soul and Naughty By Nature. The story goes,as told by Treach that he’s riding in his car one day listening to the De La album “Stakes Is High” the initial week of it’s release. Now keep in mind that previously the two groups were friends. As Treach is listening he hears Naughty By Nature mentioned and thinks it’s a shout out. When he rewinds to hear the line again on the album intro, Posdnuos spits the line;

“stick to your Naughty By Nature and your Kane/cause grafitti that I place upon the wax is insane”.

Now it’s sounding like a diss to Treach. He keeps rewinding the line to see if he’s misinterpreting Pos’ words. He then starts receiving pages (remember this was the 90’s for all you youngsters) from various people who are all thinking it’s a diss as well.

naughty by naturede la soul

So, Treach decides to show up at De La’s album release party for Stakes Is High at the Palladium in New York City, along with 50 or so of his “associates”. Treach says his original intent was to speak with De La and clear up the situation but the club’s security put a damper on those plans, informing Treach that De La wasn’t available to talk as they were set to perform on stage. However, their performance was cut short as Treach stormed through the crowd and snatched Posdnuos off the stage into a swarm of Treach’s crew. Damage to Pos was minimal however as his group members quickly snatched him out of the melee before things got too out of hand. After the incident, Maseo ran into Treach in an airport and they hashed out the situation. Mase told Treach “I told him (Posdnuos) that line sounded crazy. Now, whether it was a shot at Naughty directly or De La lashing out at their label’s resident hitmakers is unclear but the line was clearly a diss. The beef was eventually squashed and the two groups have gone on to tour together but their conflict is just further proof that words spit on a record can easily lead to violence. Luckily, these two legendary groups got past their problem.


8 Million Stories: The Legendary Career Of Dante Ross

From his early days as Eric B. & Rakim‘s road manager to his A&R days where he signed hip hop legends ranging from Brand Nubian to Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Dante Ross’ journey through hip hop is the stuff of folklore. Here’s just a few of the amazing stories from his career….

dante rossAs a young hip hop fanatic, I was so fascinated with every aspect of the music that I would pay attention to details that the average fan probably wouldn’t notice. I would see certain names that would frequently appear in album credits, not really knowing the significance at the time but just knowing those particular names had to have some importance in the making of all these great albums that I loved. One name in particular I would notice on the bottom of a lot of releases from Elektra Records was that of Mr. Dante Ross. Now, with my limited knowledge at the time of the inner-workings of the industry I really didn’t know what an executive producer’s duties really were but as you will read, this man was influential in bringing some of hip hop’s biggest names ever to the world. The artists he’s been involved with read like a Hip Hop Hall Of Fame list. 3rd Bass, Brand Nubian, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, Leaders Of The New School, KMD, De La Soul, Queen Latifah, Digital Underground, the names go on and on. In short,he built the hip hop roster for Elektra Records in the first half of the 90s and contributed greatly to Tommy Boy Records’ roster previously. He also has assistant to Lyor Cohen at Def Jam and road manager for Eric B & Rakim on his lofty resume. In addition to being an A&R he produced records for a wide variety of artists as a member of the Stimulated Dummies production team,who produced 3rd Bass’ biggest tune Pop Goes The Weasel. His
relationships with all these great artists spawned some amazing stories that many hip hop heads may not be aware of but will surely be interested in. The following stories are just a few of the highlights from a podcast he did for Peter Rosenberg and Cipha Sound’s The Juan Epstein Podcast.

The Beginning: On The Road With Eric B & Rakim & Stimulated Dummies

Dante’s story begins on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, a predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood. He was into the skateboard and punk rock scene, venturing to see many shows with friends who would eventually become known as The Beastie Boys. His love of hip hop began upon hearing Run DMC who were making waves in the music industry not only in hip hop, but across the proverbial cultural board. He eventually got involved in the music industry with help from The Beasties, who got him his first job at Rush Management. Lyor Cohen, who along with Russell Simmons mentored young Dante,sent him on the road with Eric B. & Rakim during the Paid In Full era. Accompanying the group on tour was their wild crew which included the now infamous original 50 Cent. So basically, within a year’s span he went from being a fan of Eric B. & Rakim to being with them on the road every step of the way. Not a bad way to kick off a career in the music industry. He also began producing records during this period, forming The Stimulated Dummies production team with partner John Gamble.

Eric-B-and-Rakim

The Tommy Boy Years

The next chapter of Dante’s career began when he was hired as an A&R for Tommy Boy Records by label president Monica Lynch (whose name you may remember from the Rza name drop on Duck Season). The first act she put him in charge of was recent signees De La Soul. He heard the Plug Tunin’ demo and loved it. Remember Dante The Scrub from the inner sleeve of the 3 Feet High And Rising album cover? That was Mr. Ross. There’s a particular story of Dante going on the road with De La and doing a show in Los Angeles at a venue named World On Wheels. It was during this period that he met 7A3 (DJ Muggs of Cypress Hill’s first group) and began a long friendship with Muggs. The bugged part of the story though is De La performing in this spot that was full of Crips before the era where gang culture was common knowledge. Dante and De La had never witnessed an entire place full of gang members dressed in blue and throwing up signs. Ironically,they all loved De La as radio station KDAY played all of Tommy Boy’s stuff. There’s also the story of him discovering Queen Latifah and signing her to Tommy Boy. DJ Mark The 45 King approached Dante at the Latin Quarter and let him hear some of his beats via a walkman. Dante told 45 King to bring all his groups (The Flavor Unit) up to his office. Among the songs that 45 King played for Dante was Wrath Of My Madness and Princess Of The Posse by Queen Latifah. A few weeks later,Latifah signed to Tommy Boy and the rest is history. Interestingly enough, for his advance, 45 King did not ask for money. Instead,he wanted two Akai S900 samplers. Talk about re-investing your money.

Digital-Underground

On another occasion, Atron Gregory (who would go on to manage 2Pac) sent Dante a record by a new group called Digital Underground, Doowutchyalike. He played it for De La Soul who were astounded by the record. Needless to say, Digital soon inked a deal with Tommy Boy and would go on to platinum success. Now, for these great signings, there’s also tales of Tommy Boy blunders in the label passing on both A Tribe Called Quest and The D.O.C. Dr. Dre actually came to the label with the full album “No One Can Do It Better” but Monica Lynch passed on both acts to the disbelief of Dante. He would soon leave Tommy Boy for greener pastures at Elektra Records.

The Elektra Hip Hop Dynasty

Prior to Dante’s going over to Elektra Records,their hip hop division was non-existent. Label head Bob Krasnow was looking to change that and he chose Ross as the man to spearhead the movement. Dante built up a strong roster that eventually included the likes of Brand Nubian, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, Leaders Of The New School,KMD, Del The Funkee Homosapien & one of Wu-Tang Clan’s standout members Ol Dirty Bastard. The Brand Nubian tales alone could fill several pages but I’ll just give some of the highlights. For example, the group members could never get along and the split of Puba from the group not long after their debut All For One was apparent during the making of that first album. Notice how many solo records by each member are actually on that first Brand Nubian joint. Grand Puba never even appears on screen with the other members on the Slow Down video.

leaders of the new school

There was also a similar situation of inner tension early among the Leaders Of The New School. You’re probably aware of the now infamous public breakup of the group during an airing of Yo MTV Raps but this actually was not their first break up. The first time was even before they signed their deal with Elektra. Charlie Brown actually got the group back together by telling them Dante had a record deal for them. The most heat was between Brown and Busta Rhymes. Dante recognized that Busta was a solo star early (as most of us did) just on the strength of the record Feminine Fatt, which was on their first album A Future Without A Past. By the time L.O.N.S. went in to do the second album T.I.M.E., the in-fighting among the group had reached it’s peak. Q-Tip expressed desire to work with the group and Dante suggested that Tip executive produce their sophomore album. Three of the members hated the idea. Only one thought it was a good idea: Busta. So the album gets made and it’s not very good, nowhere near the quality of the first album. Ross sent the guys back in to do it again and it got only slightly better. At that point,he and group manager Chris Lighty knew it was over for the group and convinced Busta to do a solo album. Even amongst the constant bickering, Busta initially remained loyal to the group and did not want to go solo. He was eventually convinced this was the direction for him to go in. Dante signed the iconic duo Pete Rock & CL Smooth on the strength of hearing Pete’s demos on the radio when Pete was a DJ on New York’s WBLS radio show “In Control With Marley Marl”. Dante credits himself as the first person who got Pete Rock to smoke weed. They released the first single off the EP All Souled Out, Good Life. However, their road to stardom began when Funkmaster Flex flipped the single over and began playing the B-side “The Creator”. The record took off and ironically, the first successful record for the duo actually featured Pete rhyming and CL Smooth doing the scratches. Grand Puba actually wrote that record for Pete.

odb

One act that Dante signed whose story would end early and tragically was the group KMD, whom he met through his relationship with 3rd Bass. As most in the hip hop world know, events would transpire that would lead to the end of the group (and the tragic death of member DJ Subroc). Soon after Subroc’s passing, Dante was informed by the label that the offensive nature of the album cover for the group’s second album Black Bastards (which depicted a Sambo caricature being lynched in a game of hangman) was the basis of the label dropping the group from it’s roster. He was there with the future MF Doom the day the label gave him the masters for Black Bastards and a $25,000 severance fee. The two then proceeded to go back to Dante’s house and get drunk on a case of sweet premium wine (which coincidentally was the title of a track on the Black Bastards album).
One of the most enigmatic figures in all of music history is the one and only Ol’ Dirty Bastard. His signing to Elektra was initiated by Matty C letting Dante in on the fact that all of the Wu Tang members were not signed yet to individual deals. Coming off of Protect Ya Neck, it was apparent to the world that Dirty was a star. Dante’ heard ODB on Stretch and Bobbito’s radio show doing an interview and he immediately caught a cab to the station. He informed Rza that he wanted to ink a deal with Dirty for Elektra. His intentions were really to sign both Dirty and Method Man as a group to be the new Run-DMC. A few days later, Ross had a meeting with Rza, Dirty & Masta Killa at his office. He was informed that Meth had already signed a deal with Def Jam however he could sign Dirt to Elektra. Of course there’s too many stories of Dirty’s wild adventures ranging from him hitting on Angie Martinez for the entire duration of an interview to Dirty coming to Dante’s house during an NBA finals game to both pay Dante back $100 he owed him and make use of his bathroom to the point that one of Dante’s friends constructed a makeshift condemned sign to put across the bathroom door while Dirty was inside taking care of business. Dirty and Dante were haggling back and forth over the song Shimmy Shimmy Ya due to the fact Dirt would not write a second verse to the song. Dirty’s argument was Tribe Called Quest didn’t have a second verse for one of their joints (Sucka Nigga, which simply repeats the first verse after the chorus). Finally, he comes back and plays Dante the finished song…which is Dirty saying the first verse again…backwards! Only Dirty would come up with that solution.

KMD elektra

The Post Elektra Years

After his now legendary tenure at Elektra ended in 1994, Dante would go on to have major success with several artists including producing Everlast’s Whitey Ford Sings The Blues and Eat At Whitey’s album. He also earned a Grammy for his work on Santana’s Supernatural album and produced tracks for Macy Gray and Young Z on the 8 Mile Soundtrack. He’s currently a Vice President Of A&R at Warner Music Group. Dante Ross’ legacy in the hip hop world is the ability to recognize talent and help groom major stars with a track record that is impeccable. He drafted the blueprint for how to build an outstanding hip hop roster on a major record label. He’s had a major hand in some of the greatest careers and hip hop albums ever created and for that,he’s a true hip hop legend.

How Marley Marl Brought Sampling To Hip Hop 

Unless you’re just totally new to this movement called hip hop and have no sense of history whatsoever, you know the legendary name Marley Marl. The DJ/producer behind the mighty Juice Crew is a pioneer in the hip hop genre and has crafted production for numerous classic albums. You probably know this. What you may not know is just how significant Marley was in shaping the way modern hip hop records are created. Simply put, he is the man who introduced sampling to hip hop production. Now, this was not a case of the then up and coming D.J. coming to the revelation of lifting everything from drums and effects to musical snippets from existing records into a sampler to create new tracks. Rather,he stumbled upon this technique in the same fashion that Grand Wizard Theodore discovered scratching…..by accident.

“He immediately recognized the importance of his discovery. Excitedly, he asked the engineer “do you know what we just did?” The engineer had no clue.”

marley marl producerPrevious to Marley’s discovery, drum machines were the status quo for creating hip hop beats. We’re talking pre-1985. Now, rappers had been rhyming over popular break beats since hip hop’s inception but no one thought to sample say, a great James Brown drum loop then layer other samples over top of it. Primitive sounding drum machines such as the DMX drum kit were used to create records such as Run DMC’s Sucker M.C.’s and Davey DMX’s One For The Treble. While these particular records were groundbreaking and new at the time, a lot of other records sounded like cheap knock offs and it was only so far this technology could go before it hit a creative wall. Marley Marl’s own musical background is rooted in dance and electronica music, even before hip hop. The usage of multi layered sampling was common in creating dance mixes but it had never been done in hip hop.

The Architect

While doing an internship at Unique Studios, Marley was working in the studio one day. He instructed the engineer to sample a vocal line while remixing a Captain Rock song. In doing so, the snare was accidentally picked up by the sampler. While playing the sample over a beat, he noticed that the sample’s snare actually sounded better than the original snare playing. Marley immediately recognized the importance of his discovery. Excitedly, he asked the engineer “do you know what we just did?” The engineer had no clue. Marley realized that he could use the drum riffs off any of the records in his vast collection at will. Nothing was off limits, everything from James Brown to some obscure foreign record could now be incorporated into a musical creation that sounded light years better than the traditional drum machines. This would eventually lead to the initial sample renaissance in hip hop that would be the James Brown sound which dominated the mid to late 80’s and early 90’s. The fashion in which hip hop records were produced was changed forever. Marley says he immediately left the studio that now historic day never to return to his intern position.

He immediately purchased three samplers, went home and set to creating the blueprint for the modern hip hop sound, never looking back. What followed was an extraordinary run of production for landmark sets of everyone from MC Shan, Big Daddy Kane, Bizmarkie, Kool G. Rap, Roxanne Shante and other Juice Crew alumni to Eric B. & Rakim, LL. Cool J, Lords Of The Underground and numerous other acts. Make no mistake about it,the transition of hip hop’s sound from it’s beginnings to the golden eras of the late 80’s and 90’s going until current times can be traced back to one man, one producer, one D.J. the great D.J. Marley Marl.

Constant Deviants – Avant Garde (Album Review)

Since I began reviewing albums for this site, the majority of my reviews have been of artists whose work I’m familiar with. Therefore I have a sense of what that particular artist is capable of and the bar is usually pre-set for how good (or not so good) their latest work is. While the likes of Cormega, Rapsody and others have impressed me by the same token I’ve been unimpressed by the latest Wu album.

Reviewing the work of an artist that I’m not familiar with is a little more difficult because I have nothing previous to compare it to. When I came across the latest effort from the M.C.-producer combo Constant Deviants “Avant Garde”, I admittedly had no previous knowledge of their work so I didn’t know what to expect. As an admitted old school disciple, my standards of quality hip hop has always been simple:dope lyrics,dope beats and a certain star quality (because let’s face it, anybody can rhyme with enough effort given but everyone simply doesn’t have that certain presence on the mic). After a few sittings with this album, I came away with two main thoughts: M.I. (the rapper) has all the qualities of a great M.C. and D.J. Cutt (the avant garde reviewproducer/D.J.) has the same great qualities as a beatsmith. With the countless number of rappers on the scene, I tend to be a little skeptical of artists that aren’t on my favorites list. It takes a certain something to hold my attention for an entire album when I may be anxious to get back to my Gangstarr or M.F. Doom albums. That’s just what the Constant Deviants did though as I found myself remarking numerous times throughout the album “this is dope”.

Although they may be new to me, I discovered that they are both veterans in the hip hop game with some major ties to industry bigwigs. Baltimore rapper M.I. (mic’s illest or Mr. Impossible) has worked with manager Mark Pitts of Bad Boy fame and signed a major label deal with Arista in 2000. DJ Cutt has engineered Roc-a-fella Records releases from N.O.R.E., Beanie Sigel and Memphis Bleek. Very impressive resumes, I must say. Originally forming their group in the mid 90’s, the duo would reunite in 2009, forming Six2Six Records. Avant Garde is actually their fourth studio album.

“There’s great storytelling here, words of wisdom, braggadocia, a bit of thuggery…..something for everyone”

As for the music, everything is intact here. M.I. is a talented lyricist that walks the thin line perfectly between being thought-provoking and not being overly complicated. He has a distinct elderly-statesman like voice that commands respect but still blends nicely with the production. The subject matter is versatile as he touches on the street life in one breath then comes right back with a more philosophical approach. It’s basically the duality of man that isn’t all good or all bad. One thing that really stuck out to me is M.I.’s hooks. They’re catchy and melodic, tying together his verses nicely and displaying his ability as a great songwriter as opposed to just a 16 bars rapper. The single “Breathin” is easily my favorite track on the album. The beat is very Dilla-esque and it’s the track that I had to repeat several times during my listening of the album. All the beats here are top notch. DJ Cutt
may have been unknown to me prior but after hearing his work here, I’ll definitely be checking for his work in the future. His beats have that golden era quality to them but by the same token, they sound fresh and not like some recycled 90’s tracks. I also liked how he incorporated scratches into the tracks, cutting up everything from Onyx to Slick Rick. He even got in a line from my favorite old school movie Beat Street, so I was won over just from that.

There’s great storytelling here, words of wisdom, braggadocia, a bit of thuggery…something for everyone. You can tell that both M.I. and Cutt are not only veterans of the game but also students of the game and fans of the greats. They follow the blueprint here nicely. My only issue is I was looking for that one big, signature track that all of the legends created in their primes and I just didn’t hear it. That’s not a knock on the tracks on the album by any means as there are really no weak moments. It’s a great listen for fans of good, quality music. Constant Deviants have found a good balance between hardcore and reflective lyrics as well as golden era hip hop and today’s hip hop. I must say I was impressed by “Avant Garde” and this duo is definitely on my “hip hop radar” now. Definite recommendation.

RATING: (4/5)

Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly (Album Review)

Some of the greatest music ever has stemmed from topical issues affecting generations. From Marvin Gaye’s seminal work What’s Going On to Dylan’s Blowing In The Wind, music of this nature is essentially a timepiece and it takes not only artistry but also courage to forego the popular Top 40 hits in favor of audio art. Usually, the average listener won’t get it. Compton, California native Kendrick Lamar takes that artistic leap with his latest release To Pimp A Butterfly.

In the wake of the massive success of Lamar’s major label debut Good Kid, MAAD City the music world asked the inevitable question. “How’s he going to follow GKMC?” Well, anyone who’s been a longtime follower of Kendrick knows he’s far removed from your typical rapper nowadays. He pushes his artistry to the limit and foregoes trends. So, if you’re looking for another Good Kid album, you’ll be disappointed here. However, if you’re looking for an album that transcends not only GKMC but hip hop in general then you’ll be thoroughly satisfied with this project.

“No weak moments, Kendrick grows here as an artist and takes risks. That’s not as commonplace as it once was or should be.”

The theme here is being black in America, which may sound cliche’ at this point but in the wake of the recently publicized yet longstanding problem of African Americans being brutalized by police, not only is this album relevant…its necessary. This feels like a product of What’s Going On and Fear Of A Black Planet rolled up into a glorious, heartfelt celebration of black pride. This album wasn’t created simply to make you get up in the club or blast while getting nice. It’s to make you think, instill a sense of pride and to give our counterparts the complete picture of who we are.

Musically, the production here is excellent, experimental at times but not too much so. We get flavors of 70s Funkadelic albums when they were in their prime. We get a neo-soul vibe that fits Kendrick’s vibe, when he’s on that vibe. For smooth tracks like Momma and These Walls, he shows us he can also spazz on joints such as The Blacker The Berry and Hood Politics.

As far guest appearances, there arent many rappers here. Rapsody makes an excellent cameo on Complexions and Uncle Snoop drops a hook for Institutionalized. Bilal, the legendary Ronald Isley, George Clinton and Layla Hathaway among others contribute as well. Kendrick controls this show though flawlessly. I got through this album front to back four consecutive plays and found it more amazing each listen. No weak moments, Kendrick grows here as an artist and takes risks. Thats not as commonplace as it once was or should be. While there’s no huge single here, its not needed. Think The Beatles in the Sgt. Pepper era or Stevie Wonder in the Songs In The Key Of Life era. I truly believe this album will be talked about and played for generations to come. Thats how good it is. Highest recommendation here.

RATING: (5/5)

Joey Bada$$ – B4Da$$ (Album Review)

At an age when most people are just beginning the thought process of where they want to go in life, 20 year old Jo-Vaughn Scott aka Joey Bada$$ has not only staked his claim in the hip hop realm but has also taken up the hefty task of throwing New York on his back. In only a five year span, he has risen from obscurity to heading up a movement so far reaching that the daughter of the leader of the free world,the President Of The United States, was seen in a picture wearing a shirt with the logo of Joey’s Pro Era crew. Not bad for  a young kid out of Brooklyn. On the strength of his much-heralded “1999” mixtape and the follow up “Summer Knights” comes Joey Bada$$’s debut album “B4Da$$”. Upon hearing this album, two things become reinforced about this young man. He’s so 90’s and he’s so Brooklyn.

“He’s also great at hooks, an artform that seems to be lost on a lot of rappers nowadays.”

The pressure on an MC whose debut is highly anticipated is great. Fans come to expect being wowed based on previous performances. “Can he deliver? Will he stray away from what brought him to the dance?” Thankfully for Joey fans, he sticks to the script and basically picks up where “1999” left off. Production duties are handled by constant collaborators Chuck Strangers, Kirk Knight, Statik Selektah and others along with tracks from legends DJ Premier and the late,great J Dilla. These jazzy,melodic soundscapes allow Joey to do what he does best. While not a Rakim-esque lyricist,his strength is that he evokes emotion with a maturity way beyond his years. While most rappers his age are either banging on wax or selling fictitious amounts of drugs,he’s delivering a heartfelt ode to his mother on Curry Chicken and speaking words of encouragement to his friends locked down in the system on Piece Of Mind. What’s strongly evident is his Carribean roots as he rhymes with a dancehall influenced melody in his voice. He’s also great at hooks, an artform that seems to be lost on a lot of rappers nowadays. With this album, he’s giving you actual songs as opposed to just three verses with a hook to bridge them. The first two singles “Big Dusty” and “Christ Conscious” are nothing more than pure, early 90’s boom bap for a new generation. Hard rhyming and hard beats, with the former imploring the listener to do nothing more than check his style. And Joey certainly has a distinct Brooklyn, New York style that in his own words would make Biggie proud. O.C.B. (Only Child Blues) is indeed a bluesy track that I found myself repeating a few times.

My personal album highlights are the Premier produced Paper Trail$ (Preemo has been rejuvenated it seems in the past few months), Black Beetles with it’s haunting female vocal track and an excellent hook from Joey, the fore mentioned Piece Of Mind, Curry Chicken and Belly Of The Beast which sounds like it came straight from the early Boot Camp era Beatminerz. Like Me reminds us of how missed J Dilla is and just how great he was. All the producers bring it on this album and it has a cohesive feel and flow to it. One moment that I found a little disappointing was the mandatory collabo with Action Bronson and Statik Selektah. It’s not bad but feels a little underwhelming considering Bronson features are usually album highlights and Statik brings some of the best beats on other tracks for this album. Escape 120 has a “Bombs Over Bagdhad” feel to it but it just fell flat to me no matter how much I tried to give it a go. The lesser moments are far in between here though as 90% of this album is amazing.

“There’s no huge radio single to satisfy a corporate entity such as Roc Nation”

B.K. rappers just tend to have a grizzled,veteran type outlook to their style and Joey is no different. He’s reflective a lot here. You can just tell that he’s grateful to have made it out of the hood yet he’s still repping it to the fullest. One wonders had he signed with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation would this album have even seen the light of day. There’s no huge radio single to satisfy a corporate entity such as Roc Nation and that’s probably the reason Joey turned down the deal. He’s making music on his own terms and in the process has earned a devoted following that firmly supports him with no Top 40 single. This album is a testament to that mindset and while not totally flawless, it’s a very good album that will ultimately stand the test of time. You just can’t say that for a great majority of music coming out now.

RATING: (4/5)

Venomous2000 – A Moment To Reflect VOL-3  (Review )


For every mainstream rapper making music strictly to cater to the masses, there’s a slew of MC’s dwelling underground still fighting the good fight for the love of the culture. One such artist is New Jersey native Venomous 2000. When Karl Smith asked me to do a review for this album,this was my first exposure to Venomous so I came into this project listening for what I feel are the fundamentals for a dope MC: lyricism, flow ,personality and beat selection. After several listens, I can say that all these factors are intact.

“He has a voice that was seemingly made for rhyming, full of energy and the lyrical ability to back it up”

Venomous lets it be known that he is heavily influenced by the greats of the game throughout this album with references to several legends, including an excellent tribute to The Fugees with his own rendition of “How Many Mics” and an entire verse with a scheme containing the names of everyone from KRS-One to MF Doom on “To Emcee”. He has a voice that was seemingly made for rhyming, full of energy and the lyrical ability to back it up. “Wake Up” is a standout joint that immediately commanded my attention, particularly the second verse from B3B3. “Time to wake up, strippin’ off the makeup, givin’ you the best that I got…Anita Baker”. That opening bar just stands out to me, it’s simple yet witty, and makes me wanna hear more from her.

The album mainly consists of Venomous collaborating with a host of talented underground MC’s and they all tend to mesh very well. “Hacksaw Jim Duggan” is a lyrical free for all posse cut with Venomous leading the way via a crazy verse over a solid yet frenetic beat. My two personal favorite cuts are  “Passaic Edition” with it’s usage of a sample from the classic rock anthem “Whole Lotta Love” by Dennis Coffey and the following track “I Represent”, which is a statement that hip hop’s underground is still alive and vivrant with Venomous his cronies representing to the fullest.

” With just a few tweeks in his strategy, Venomous2000 has the potential to rank among the greats.”

Overall, I enjoyed this album for it’s theme of sticking to hip hop’s roots with thoughtful lyricism and slamming boom bap beats. However, at 25 full tracks in length it became somewhat of a chore to listen to from front to back. That’s bordering on double album length and with the attention span of the average listener being short in today’s world,that’s too long. There are a couple of songs that maybe should not have been included, or perhaps break the set down into two separate releases. Another issue that I had was after hearing this album,I really didn’t have any insight into who Venomous2000 is as a person. I know that he loves the hip hop culture and waves the flag for creativity over cookie cutter rap but what’s his story? What was his life like coming up in Passaic, New Jersey? The greatest artists in any musical genre convey their story and the tales of their environments in their bodies of work. You came away from Illmatic feeling like you knew Nas. You came away from Enter The Wu-Tang feeling like you knew about growing up in Staten Island. As an artist, you want to get the fans invested in you and I just didn’t get that feeling here for the most part. He touches on these things in small doses (the song “You” for example) but he should expand on that. Maybe I missed that because I haven’t heard his previous works but it would do a lot to expand his base. I’m all for guest features however that’s the bulk of this album so it never really feels like it’s his show. Nonetheless, dope album that will definitely keep me checking for his music in the future. With just a few tweeks in his strategy, Venomous2000 has the potential to rank among the greats.

RATING:(3/5)

The 10 Most Important Albums In Hip Hop History

Hip hop has seen a plethora of great albums in it’s four decade existence that have pushed the genre’s creativity and trends into all sorts of directions. From the early albums which saw hip hop expand from the streets of New York into homes across the country (and subsequently the world) to the peak eras of the late 80’s and 90’s, the best albums helped to grow and nurture the artform and became the soundtracks to millions of listeners. Of the numerous albums that have been deemed classics by fans and critics alike, there are a few albums that went even beyond this lofty standard to shift the entire landscape of the music. They weren’t just albums,they were moments that changed the game. From advancing the lyrical standard to reinventing how hip hop sounded,these albums set new standards. Without these innovative bodies of work,hip hop would’ve become simply a trend and went the way of other once popular genres of music that died out (disco anyone?). I always point to hip hop’s survival and thriving due to the music constantly changing and being updated by artists that placed their own personal touches on it and dared to be different. This list is the top ten albums that accomplished those feats. Now, as with any list,my picks are subject to debate and there will always be those people that say “where’s this album? Where’s that album?” Keep in mind that these are only ten and if the list was expanded,certainly some albums that have been omitted would have a place. But,in this writer’s opinion,the following albums are the most significant moments in hip hop history. This is not a Ten Best Albums Ever list (although each selection would arguably make that list as well). I’m strictly talking the albums that sparked movements and pushed the culture to new heights and different directions.

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10. LL Cool J – Radio (1985)

This is one of the first huge albums of hip hop but it’s real significance is this is the foundation that hip hop’s greatest record label ever was built on-Def Jam Records. T La Rock’s It’s Yours was the first record to carry the Def Jam logo however when partners Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin set out to release the then-fledgling label’s first full length album,they had a concise vision of exactly how they wanted the label’s product to be:hard,unfiltered and non-commercial. When Simmons and Rubin got hold of a demo by young Queens M.C. LL Cool J, they knew they had found a frontman that fit their vision. The result was this early masterpiece that was strictly hard beats and harder rhymes. A new star was created who would subsequently go on to be a mainstay at the label for over 20 years, which itself became the biggest and most respected hip hop label in the industry. Their all time roster reads like a who’s who of hip hop. Legendary names such as The Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, Onyx, EPMD, Redman, Method Man, DMX and Jay-Z all had their greatest success on Def Jam. And Radio is the album that started it all.

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9. Geto Boys – Grip It! On That Other Level (1989)

For younger fans, it may be hard to imagine a time when hip hop only came out of New York and California. Southern based hip hop exploded in the mid and latter part of the 90s with Outkast, Cash Money, No Limit, UGK and countless others staking their claim to a piece of the hip hop landscape alongside the East and West coast but for a long time in hip hop’s early years the South was virtually quiet. It’s common knowledge that the music started in New York but as it spread to various regions of the country, rappers abroad looked to put their own spin on this music. While the 2 Live Crew out of Florida made a huge splash in hip hop and MC Shy D out of Atlanta was making noise, many historians point to the Geto Boys‘ second album (and the debut for the group’s most popular inception) as the pivotal moment that opened the door for the entire South to be taken seriously alongside their N.Y. and California counterparts. One legendary producer, former Def Jam co-owner Rick Rubin, took a particular interest in the Houston, Texas hip hop group and remixed 10 of this albums tracks for the re-release “The Geto Boys”. Their next album,”We Can’t Be Stopped” featured the huge hit “Mind Playing Tricks On Me” and suddenly hip hop had a new region making waves,”The Dirty South”.

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8. Wu – Tang Clan-Enter The Wu-Tang 36 Chambers (1993)

By the early 90s, New York hip hop had become somewhat stale. There were still great records coming out of hip hop’s birthplace but the creativity that went into creating all those late 80s masterpieces was waning a little. A new sound was needed and this was one of the first albums to step up to the plate. With a heavy kung-fu movie soundtrack influence, a group of MC’s out of Staten Island and Brooklyn, respectively,changed everything about hip hop from it’s sound and feel to how record deals were done. Each member bought their own unique style to the table and the result was like nothing ever heard not only in hip hop but music period. The impact that the Wu-Tang Clan has had on hip hop is indisputable and this,their first work,is still considered their best. The game would never be the same again. Suuuuu!

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7. Nas – Illmatic (1994)

The bible of 90’s hip hop. Nas’ debut album forced every rapper worth their salt to step up their lyrical game. If there ever was a perfect hip hop album, Illmatic is it. Nas set the bar so high with this magnum opus that no one (himself included) could ever reach the lyrical heights that he achieved here. He painted the perfect portrait of young, black males struggling to find their way through a life permeated with crime,incarceration and death. The disc still ranks at the top of many Best Hip Hop Albums lists and rightfully so. As I type this,I just finished watching the documentary “Time Is Illmatic” which gives this album even more clarity (as if that was possible). It boggles the mind to think that such mature lyricism was evoked from someone who at the time was very young. Living in the hood forces you to grow up quick and Illmatic captures that feeling to a tee,serving as inspiration for later great albums such as Only Built 4 Cuban Linx,Reasonable Doubt and many others. Is is also a pivotal moment in the 90’s hip hop renaissance,which many consider the peak era for hip hop.

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6. Notorious B.I.G – Ready To Die (1994)

In the same vein of Illmatic, Biggie’s debut album Ready To Die was also a musical portrait of the black male growing up in a poor neighborhood. However the difference between the two albums was the commercial impact that Ready To Die had. Influenced by one-time friend 2Pac as well as Bad Boy label head Sean “Puffy” Combs,Big helped create the new formula for how hip hop albums would be constructed. He still had the hardcore cuts for the grimey, street cats hanging on the corner but he also included more radio friendly joints such as “Juicy” and “Big Poppa” that were more accessible to females and club-goers. As a result,record sales for this album went through the roof and countless rappers followed suit. Everyone was attempting to re-do Ready To Die in their own form and this album became the proverbial blueprint for hip hop albums in the later half of the 90s.

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5. Dr. Dre – The Chronic (1992)

Dr Dre is one of the most innovative producers in the history of hip hop. The proof is he is the only artist to appear on this list twice. He helped re-define the game not once,but twice. Not many can make that same claim. With his debut solo project “The Chronic”, a new sound known as G-Funk took over not only hip hop,but popular music period. Dre transcended hip hop and crossed over without actually crossing over. This album dominated the industry and ranked among the biggest pop artists of the day in both sales and popularity. Now,I’m not privy to the fact of who actually invented the G-Funk sound as former Dre associates Above The Law says they were the first to do it but I do know who made it blow up. And the sound of this album is really just an extension of Niggaz4Life, Dre’s final album with N.W.A. Dre and his new Death Row camp,including a young breakout star named Snoop Doggy Dogg, captivated the nation and re-defined the sound of hip hop to the point where other rappers were attempting to copy the sound of this album in an effort to keep pace. For the first time since hip hop’s inception,California owned hip hop and it would take a concerted effort by numerous new N.Y. rappers to shift the tide. For a while though, Dre and Death Row ruled the world.

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4. Public Enemy-It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back (1988)

Hip hop began strictly as a party thing. It was all about having fun and braggadocia. However, rap records began taking on a more serious theme beginning with the seminal Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five record “The Message”. Rappers began doing more serious songs on their albums but they were the exception more than the rule. It was with Public Enemy’s sophomore album “It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back” that political hip hop reached it’s apex. This was all serious,no fun and games here. And while their previous debut effort “Yo! Bum Rush The Show” contained political themes along with other albums (certainly Boogie Down Productions’ By Any Means Neccesary) it was with this album that mainstream publications such as Rolling Stone Magazine and The New York Times first praised a hip hop album for it’s sheer genius. This was Bob Dylan protest music,only a hundred times angrier and energetic. The Bomb Squad’s production here rendered everything before it obselete and rappers became more ambitious with the making of albums after this landmark set.

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3. N.W.A.-Straight Outta Compton (1988)

If there were ever any rules to how hip hop records were made prior to N.W.A., they broke every one of them coming out the gate. Before N.W.A., profanity was not commonplace in hip hop records. Addressing subjects such as police brutality, gang warfare,sexism. Now this is not to say that they were the first to do these things but they were the first to do it on such a wide scale and sell millions of albums initially only by word of mouth. They were that revolutionary. Going from the clean rap of The Fat Boys,Whodini, Run-DMC and others to N.W.A.’s brand of “street knowledge” was a culture shock to the industry that basically re-shaped the status quo of the music. Now I know Schooly D and Ice T. made “gangsta” records before the California natives but ask yourself…Who made it huge? That’s the legacy of this album. The Niggas Wit Attitudes made what was previously taboo into what would eventually become the norm for hip hop,for better or worse.

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2. Eric B. & Rakim-Paid In Full (1987)

The moniker “God MC” wasn’t bestowed upon Rakim because it’s a dope nickname. Rakim Allah changed the entire way in which M.C.’s rhymed and bridged hip hop from the old school to the new school. Just listen to how every rapper rhymed previous to Paid In Full. There would be a line, a pause, then the next line. Influenced by the continuous horn patterns of jazz, Rakim decided to rhyme in the same pattern with continuous flow to his lines and multiple rhymes within the bars. He set the standard for how rhymes are created and to this day it’s the format that’s used. Rappers from every generation after this album continuously pay homage to him as one of the best ever and this is the album that started it all.

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1. Run-D.M.C – Raising Hell (1986)

If you’ve read any articles on the significance of Run-D.M.C.’s third album Raising Hell (including my own on this site) or better yet if you witnessed this era,you know exactly why this album ranks as the most important album in hip hop history. Quite simply,the success of this album rocketed hip hop into the big time and squashed all the doubters who said this music was just a fad and would never last. The first hip hop album to reach a million in sales (three to be exact). The first hip hop album to have a video in regular rotation on the previously rock music dominated MTV (Walk This Way). The first hip hop album to garner a hip hop act an endorsement deal with a sneaker company. All of these things which would become commonplace for hip hop started here. Without the success of this album,this music and culture probably wouldn’t be in existence today. Hip hop went from a place of concerts in small clubs and house parties to selling out arenas. It went from the albums being sold in mom and pop record shops and a small section of the local record stores to dominating the music charts. Raising Hell is the most important hip hop album ever because it was the first to reach heights in that were previously thought to be impossible. All hail Run, D and the late, great Jam Master Jay. They will forever be The Kings

*The rankings in this list are those of the author 

Name your Top 10 in the comments below

Ghostface Killah – 36 Seasons (Album Review)


The Great Adventures Of Tony Starks

Ghostface Killah has been the most consistent member of the legendary hip hop collective Wu-Tang Clan. That’s not news to hip hop fans, pretty much common knowledge at this point. But being one of nine members of a supergroup where everyone has released solo albums, how has the rapper also known as Tony Starks been able to stay ahead of the pack and consistently remain relevant in an industry where the average shelf life of a rapper is three albums at best?

“There are many great storyteller rappers but few have the creative stamina to do an entire disc”

Ghostface has released ten solo albums between 1996 and last year’s 12 Reasons To Die, in addition to numerous Wu-Tang group albums and guest appearances on a slew of Wu solo albums and Wu-Tang affiliate projects. On more than a few occasions, Ghost has stolen the show becoming one of the most quotable M.C.’s in hip hop history. Like the proverbial phoenix,whenever it seemed as if the Wu-Tang name was to be relegated to the list of great hip hop names from the past, Ghost has risen from the ashes to redefine the Wu legacy and show these young cats coming up just how this should be done.

On the heels of last year’s critically acclaimed concept album “12 Reasons To Die”, GFK returns with the sequel “36 Seasons”.  Now,concept albums are difficult to pull off and have rarely been attempted in hip hop (Prince Paul’s 1999 album A Prince Among Thieves is one that immediately springs to mind) but even there numerous MC’s were recruited to pull off the idea. There are many great storyteller rappers but few have the creative stamina to create an entire disc with an ongoing plot throughout every song. Ghost is one of those creative geniuses and his talent is on full display on 36 Seasons. He enlists the aid of some legendary MC’s as his co-stars in this tale of drugs,murder, love lost and ultimately victory.

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The plot finds Tony Starks returning to his home of Staten Island after a nine year absence (36 seasons) hoping to change his former criminal ways. However,nothing is as he remembers as the streets are now being controlled by a murderous drug kingpin played by storyteller extraordinaire Kool G. Rap. Ghost’s former running partner, played by another visual master AZ, has found a new hustle in the form of being a crooked cop and immediately enlists Starks to eliminate the new king of the streets. To add salt to the wound, our hero attempts to reclaim the love of his life Bamboo (played by R&B singer Kandace Springs) but unable to cope with his long absence, she is now the woman of his new arch-nemesis.

“Ghostface succeeds in proving that he is without a doubt one of the all-time best storytellers in hip hop”

What follows is a brilliantly illustrated tale filled with twists and turns. Now, I won’t spoil how the story plays out here but let me say that the MC’s do a great job of lyrically telling this tale. Kool G. Rap is his usual excellent self here as is AZ. Each track plays out like a scene advancing the story and I found myself anxiously awaiting the next song each time. The story is that good.
The production is handled by The Revelations (who also churn out an excellent rendition of the R&B classic record It’s A Thin Line Between Love & Hate by The Persuaders) with additional production by Fizzy Womack (aka Lil Fame of M.O.P.) and Mark The 45 King. The beats never lag and fit in well with the storyline, creating the proper feel for each song. Ghostface succeeds in proving that he is without a doubt one of the all-time best storytellers in hip hop, with his lyrics ranging from cocky to angry to downright heartfelt at times. He hasn’t lost a step going back to his early days of Ironman and Supreme Clientelle lyrically and this disc can only further add to his legend as one of the best ever.

This album is brilliant and is accompanied by a comic book created by Matthew Rosenberg, who also wrote a comic mini-series for the 12 Reasons To Die album. The level of creativity by all involved with this project is refreshing and a shining moment not only for Ghostface Killah and his co-creators but for the hip hop culture as well. I give this album my highest recommendation as there isn’t a flaw here (December 2014 is turning out to be a landmark month for hip hop,the Wu-Tang album notwithstanding). If you’re a fan of hip hop narratives and just love a good story as well as great hip hop, get your hands on this album. You will not be disappointed.

RATING: (5/5)

Get On Down will be the only retail outlet selling the album in vinyl format until January 2015,