Category Archives: REVIEWS

Hip hop album reviews, past and present

Mobb Deep – The Infamous (1995)

If there was an album that sent shock-waves through the rap world in 95 it was Mobb Deep The Infamous. What’s even more shocking is that Havoc and Prodigy were only 19 at the time of it’s release.  Unlike their first album Juvenile Hell (also a dope album) which seemed to fly right over the heads of most, the Infamous was an instant attention grabber with it’s grimy and atmospheric east-coast storytelling, the songs describe life on the streets of Queens, not boastfully but with stark realism and a fatalistic acceptance that their turn will come soon enough.

it amazes me why The Infamous hasn’t received more credit due to Havoc and Prodigy’s ability to articulate 90’s New York streetlife with such vivid and surreal accuracy. They may not possess the charisma of Biggie or Nas with their stern rhyming styles but it fit’s tracks like Start Of Your Ending and Shook Ones Part II perfectly.

“Mobb Deep’s Finest Hour is a tale of Drugs, Guns and Sticking up the Stick up kids!”

Mobb Deep

The production is uniformly superb, with Havoc and Prodigy perfecting that unmistakable Mobb Deep sound. Q-Tip lends a production hand on Temperature’s RisingGive Up the Goods and Drink Away the Pain, also dropping a verse on the latter. Other carefully selected guest appearances include Nas, Wu-Tang Clan members Raekwon and Ghostface Killah, and close Mobb Deep affiliate Big Noyd. The caliber of these guest spots speaks volumes of how respected the young Havoc and Prodigy where as emcees and this album marked Mobb Deep’s transition from a relatively unknown rap duo to an influential and commercially successful one.

Retrospect

Upon it’s initial release The Infamous was well received by rap fans and music critics and gained commercial success spending 18 weeks on the Billboard 200 album chart, peaking at number 15, and it also spent 34 weeks on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, peaking at number three. The Infamous was certified Gold in sales by the RIAA on June 26, 1995. Since then it’s reputation as a certified hip hop classic has only increased, gaining new generations of listeners thanks in part to Eminems hit movie 8 Mile and a string of video game soundtracks including True Crime: New York City, Marc Eckō’s Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure, Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories and NBA 2K13. The Infamous is also widely credited as a major contributor to the East Coast Renaissance after years of west coast popularity.

mobb deep queens bridge crew

My first encounter with Mobb Deep (like so many of my first encounters with rap artists back then) was MTV Raps and it was Survival Of The Fittest that instantly grabbed my attention with it’s incredibly hypnotic dark production and vivid lyricism.

The CD album you see pictured above is the same copy I bought all those years back and as I write this, Mobb Deep are hitting the road for a 32 city world tour to commemorate the 20th anniversary of this classic album.

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)

King RA & Bunty Beats – Back To The Essence (Album Review)

To me in this world of hip hop music there is nothing better than the thought of a rapper/Dj/producer combination. Call me old fashioned if you will but the hairs on the back of my neck stand to attention when I hear an MC spitting heat over a banging beat with fresh cuts. The history runs deep with the likes of Guru and DJ premier, Pete Rock and CL Smooth, Kool G Rap and DJ Polo, KRS One and DJ Scott La Rock to name a few that have carried the flag in this section in the past. What happened to the days when a duo could carry the can for a whole album without the need for guest spots, star producers, ghost writers or guest djs on the cuts? Don’t get me wrong there is nothing wrong with that but it kind of seems like a distant memory when duo’s and even trio’s like De La Soul, Tribe Called Quest, Cypress Hill where churning out dope albums without much help. It’s just refreshing to hear a project that falls into that category. I don’t know about you guys but I miss that relationship between rapper and Dj/Producer. When artists are able to build a repertoire and that musical chemistry that can create classic music.

The present day and in steps King RA and Bunty Beats. Quite an unusual match up with a Jersey MC and Bunty hailing from the UK. I suppose the internet and the explosion of social media makes it easier for people from all walks of life connect. I’ll be perfectly honest I didn’t know anything about these dudes before, but that’s all changed since hearing the album so lets begin this review.

Firstly I love the albums title “Back To The Essence”. The fact that it has been thehiphopfoundation’s moto and tagline since we launched in 2012, only got me more intrigued to take a listen. The front cover is pretty plain with the name of the album and King RA and Bunty Beats written across the front. In all honesty I think they could of been a bit more adventurous with the artwork but I suppose “content is king” at the end of the day. The intro is real cool and straight to the point. King recites the words “Knowledge is an important element of hip hop that is missing in today’s culture and music and the only way we can actually get back to that is to bring it back to the essence” I instantly connected with these heartfelt and genuine words because I could not agree more with this statement and message.

The first track titled “King” comes in all guns blazing. The beat bangs with fierce bass and horns and a nice sample from Run DMC that fits the track like a glove. From the get go King RA introduces himself as title contender that plain and simply he is here to takeover from the weak competition. He flows through lines with ease and precision. All competion Fall back King means business and if you need schooling take his class. Bunty cuts up the sample and showcases his skills on the outro.

rapper king raOn “One Of The Best” King stakes his claim to just that over a nice laid back beat from Bunty. King gives reasons for why he is one of the best in every line. He knows exactly what the hip hop masses need and he’s going to give it to them in full. “Bring the hardest ryhmes out I’m that x10 x that by a hundred when I spit this flem. Take several playbacks just to catch these gems, the new, new testament, the truth when I represent. Only here for hip hop and the betterment, good enough reason to keep bringing medicine to the masses, they in need of more relevence, less dumbing down, well here’s some intelligence.” King epitomises his intentions on this track. Dope use of vocal samples by Bunty again on this. This time he uses Guru and again it works perfectly.

“Cry Now” has a nice beat and strings. King delivers venomous lyrics to anyone who cares to step. More lyrical beatdowns and the phyical kind if you enter his zone.

King shares his struggles and mistakes he’s made in everyday life on “Gonna Make It” He’s not prepared to stand still and accept this. That was the past you cant dwell on it, you have to move on if you want to change your life and reach your personal goals. He explains that motivation and focus are key and with a few life changes you can achieve whatever you want. “This time I made up my mind, worked from within, changed the design. Heard a few things about managing time, opened my ears took words from the wise. Turned off the TV to cut down the lies, put my foot on the gas, turned up my drive. Wipe the crusts off, opened my eyes” The track is inspiring and uplifting gives the listener food for thought. Another laid back beat with a soft sounding piano riff and again the cuts are fautless.

King isn’t just nice on the mic he can hand out beatdowns as well and on “Get Em” he proves just that. The beat is moody and grimey and RA spits hardcore lyrics that will get you hype at the push of a button. If you need to get worked up about something this is the track for you.

“Chillin” and “Golden Era” kind of compliment eachother. RA talks about taking it back to the essence and describing everything wrong with the rap game today and where it needs to go with the the help of this duo taking out all fake competitors. Golden era has a nice 90s style beat and RA pays homage to the golden era music and its legacy. He salutes his fans and describes what hip hop hes going to continue to bring to the table. Only the real, no watered down hip pop. He ain’t going nowhere is the big message here.

“the production is tight and Bunty shines on every track with the beats and cuts which really does allow King RA to do his thing”

Another interlude were RA talks about how it used to mean something to be original and have your own style that brought something new to the table. He goes on to say that his own intentions are to be original and not copy or bite anybody elses style. This leads the listener to one of the standout tracks of not only the album but this year so far “No Copy“. The beat is fire and RA spits flames word for word and line for line throughout.” Why these rap birds nowadays rocking dresses, I had to address this. Turned up to stress this, you guys seem obsessed with, being bitch, bitch n***as make no sense. Thats why women switch sides start licking clits.” Booooooooooooooom!!!!!!!!!

RA expresses his conscious side on “Rise Up” an uplifting song for the people. RA explains Its everybodies responsibility to raise awareness and not only that its time for less words and more action. RA touchs on many topics, revolution to dirty cops to bringing back family structure. The need for fathers and mothers to guide the youth. I can totally relate to this in every way. RA mentions no colour and that we are one under the sun, original and authentic. Wise words from the King and another dope beat from Bunty who tears it up on the cuts at the end.

GUDLUV has the only feature of the album EJdoesit, a female artist who lays soft vocals on the chorus which fits the song and is a nice touch. Topic here is love in the relationship. This track shows King’s versatility on subject matter showing he can spit to any type of track. If you thought the album was about to go soft, think again. The last three tracks finish like it all started, HARD!!! “Slow but calm” is another grimey beat with a biggie sample on the chorus. King weighs in with more lyrics on “Sinister”.
The Album even finishes on a high with “Metaphors” the production is ill, a real neck snapper. King spits more heat at the competition. “Which punk gonna jump up next, try to flex in a no flex zone, broke neck” Love it.

Ok, verdict? In all honesty King RA and Bunty Beats have lyrics and beats for days. They never seem to run out of steam. The album is a banger and their are few low points, if any. If you like your hip hop with no frills then this is for you. For me this is hip hop as it is mean’t to be done. I love the fact the album has no guest spots, it shows RA can more than handle the spotlight on every track with dope, wholesome lyrics that can fill any listeners tummy. The album has substance and meaning and the tracks flow nicely without the need to fast forward which is always a good sign. Very little filler, the album was consistent in all departments. I hope this duo stick together for future projects as I feel it will grow even bigger with time. Let me also add the production is tight and Bunty shines on every track with the beats and cuts which really does allow King RA to do his thing. I love big beats and cuts with dope lyrics and this delivers in every way what I expect in a hip hop album. The only downside to me was the already mentioned album art, it didn’t stand out enough for me. Like they say though “Don’t judge a book by its cover”. The other slight gripe was that the tracks were a little short for me and when I wanted more lyrics and cuts they never came.

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)

Ghostface Killah & BADBADNOTGOOD – “Sour Soul” (Album Review)


Toronto-based jazz and hip-hop trio BADBADNOTGOOD have come together with one of Wu-Tang Clan’s most valuable and consistent emcees, Ghostface Killah, to produce Sour Soul. I wasn’t really familiar with BADBADNOTGOOD up until a month ago when I peeped some of their releases. They specialize in modern jazzy improvisation, but got a lot of love for the hip hop shit, and have applied their sound to their own interpretations of rap instrumentals, which have caught the attention of a lot of hip hop heads lately. On the other hand, Pretty Toney has spent the last few years putting out concept solo albums, sharpening his storytelling skills and putting out some dope projects which include Twelve Reasons To Die and 36 Seasons.

Sour Soul isn’t a conceptual album like Big Ghost’s last two projects, there’s no narrative, no story line, it’s just Ghost spitting rhymes over music produced entirely by BADBADNOTGOOD.

Ghost is a perfect fit for BBNG’s jazzy and moody production, which makes sense since he always sounds dope on grimy ass, blood splattering, funky, murky, gritty, 70’s inspired noir shit. Now I’m adding random words in this.

Aight, aight, hold it down, let’s get on with the review. Canada Vs. Shaolin, I hope it’s better than the last time that shit happened (Looking at Drake’s bitch ass).

1. Mono: Some jazzy shit, sets the tone. Starky Love is nowhere to be found though.

2. Sour Soul: BADBADNOTGOOD keep it moving with the dope, jazzy production. Ghost’s two verses are a bit weak though. The second verse is all conspiracy theories and shit, but it was aight. The first half of the collaboration manages to provide an amazing, gritty backing instrumental which fits Ghost perfectly. Unfortunately, Tony doesn’t take advantage. A pretty good start despite Ghost’s poor performance.

3. Six Degrees: The production here is really Wu-tang-ish, sounds like something RZA would make before he started to fall off a bit. Ghost delivers a pretty good verse but sounds uninterested, kind of sounds like he spit some unused couplets last minute. Danny Brown comes along to spit some shit right after Deini, and yo, I’m a be honest, I hate this motherfucker, he annoys the shit outta me, he sounds less annoying than usual on this, so I’ll give him a pass. Chef would of definitely elevated this track if he was on it (no Wu members other than Ghost on this project, sadly). Still a pretty good track overall, again BBNG kill it with the production.

4. Gunshowers: Aight! The Wallabee Champ seems to give more of a shit about this track than the last two. Still isn’t peak Starks but pretty dope. It works nah mean? Elzhi outshines Ghost easily, punch lining all over BBNG’s instrumental. Gunshowers is the first track on this bitch that works, on all levels. Above a straightforward guitar loop, Ghost and Elzhi both deliver some ill bars. The Simplicity and Spaghetti Western aesthetic of the production, resembles a prime RZA produced Wu track or Quentin Tarantino score. All in all, dope.

5. Starks Reality: An excellent instrumental interlude by BBNG. Nice. That’s all I got.

6. Tone’s Rap: “Ayo, bitch, what the fuck? I got lint on my robes / I can’t pimp in these clothes” Tone opens up the track with some pimp shit, his one-verse contribution to the track isn’t real impressive, but it reminded me of a younger “Ironman” Ghost, which is cool. The production saves the track from mediocre status, BBNG laces Ghost with a real delicate jazzy instrumental, on some smooth backstreet mobster shit. Not bad.

“It’s clear that his two last projects and his contributions to his group effort, The Wu-Tang Clan’s A better Tomorrow, have taken a toll on the rap veteran”

7. Mind Playing Tricks: BBNG’s musical backing pumps much more energy into the proceedings than before, and at least Ghost comes across as aware that the tempo has changed, but “Mind Playing Tricks” isn’t anything special. Not bad, but not good either. Nice change of pace though.

8. Street Knowledge: Chicago rapper Tree’s slow flow opens “Street Knowledge”, mirroring the intensity of BBNG’s backing instrumental. While he doesn’t spit anything overly sensational or deep, he still sounds pretty good on the smooth instrumental. Ghost follows up with a pretty good verse, but his voice lacks conviction. Makes you feel like Ghost didn’t really want to be there. Not a bad track though (saved by the production again).

9. Ray Gun: Nice! Ray Gun gives listeners a preview of the Ghost/MF DOOM collaboration DOOMSTARKS (that will probably never fucking see the light of day). If the tracks on DOOMSTARKS bang like this one, I’ll be a happy motherfucker. Ghostface and DOOM lyrically square off as rival superheroes, as BBNG deliver a loungey seventies groove, complete with organ-sounding keys and clean, vintage guitars. Easily the highlight of the album. An instrumental album better come out.

10. Nuggets of Wisdom: Sun God get’s on some positive shit. Dropping nuggets of wisdom on y’all. This was the weakest backing instrumental on the album so far, but still wasn’t all bad. Ghost delivers a nice verse and let’s BBNG do their thing near the end of the track.

11. Food: BBNG’s jazzy instrumental keeps a low profile, only jumping into frame after Pretty Toney half-assedly spits his bars, which, still, are some of his best work on the entire album. On this track, Ghostface extols the benefits of eating fish, rather than selling fish scale, of yoga and deep meditation. “Protect ya neck,” he advises, recalling an old Wu track. The music is soothing as shit. Another album highlight.

12. Experience: Sour Soul caps off the evening with a final instrumental break that will leave listeners diving into BBNG’s previous work (You better check them shits out). “Experience” is the end credit theme music for a movie that needed a more engaged lead actor. A really good movie, though.

This is going to hurt my fellow Wu-Stans, so fuck it, Ghostface Killah sounds lazy and uninspired on a great majority of Sour Soul. It’s clear that his two last projects and his contributions to his group effort, The Wu-Tang Clan’s A better Tomorrow, have taken a toll on the rap veteran. His bars on here are on the same level as a no-name mixtape rapper trying to make a name for himself. Aight, it’s not that bad, but still, a lot of his bars are mediocre and his flow is inconsistent throughout the album. Musically, Sour Soul is incredible though, BBNG have only gotten better with time, honing their jazzy interpretation of hip hop. BBNG managed to secure a good line-up of features, but even some of the lesser-known names trump Tony Starks at every turn, and they don’t even have to try all that hard. Well, everyone with the exception of Danny Brown, who sounds like an annoying, hipster version of ODB. If your a Ghostface fan or a BBNG fan, you’ve probably already checked this shit out. For all the newcomers, don’t go into this album expecting great lyricism from Ghost Deini, cause you’ll probably walk away disappointed. This is definitely worth a listen though, the album contains a few gems and Ghost actually delivers some real dope bars on some of the tracks. Peep it yo.

RATING: (3.5/5)

 

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)

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.

Ghostface-Killah

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,

PRhyme – Album Review (DJ Premier & Royce Da 5’9)


Traditionally, the fourth quarter for album releases has always been a big deal for hip hop fans. The biggest releases of the calender year have strategically dropped during the holiday shopping season with hopes of shoppers grabbing up albums while they’re filling their gift lists. With album releases becoming more and more infrequent during the calender year,consumers can still be guaranteed an influx of new music during the winter months.

One of the more anticipated releases this December has to be the debut album from frequent collaborators Royce Da 5’9 and DJ Premier AKA PRhyme. I was personally excited and intrigued upon hearing the news of the ultra-talented and much revered MC Royce teaming up with my all time favorite producer Preemo for a full plate of boom bap. I’ve always reguarded Royce as a lyrical tyrant but sometimes the beats he rhymes over do not do him justice. “Boom” and “Hip Hop” are my fav tracks from the Detroit MC,with Premier on the boards for both tracks, so the chemistry has always been there between these two.

“The beats here feel fresh and should kill the talk of all those who feel Preem has become too formulaic”

The question lingered though. “Could this album live up to the hype surrounding it?” The answer is a resounding “Hell yeah!” It’s almost as if these two veterans reinvigorated one another as this album is pure energy from both ends. Premier samples the work of another genius producer Adrian Younge exclusively for this album,venturing outside of his usual practice of crate digging and the result is a soundscape that sounds focused and gives the album a very cohesive feel. The beats here feel fresh and should kill the talk of all those who feel Preem has become too formulaic in the later years of his career. Royce rhymes as if he’s an animal off the leash, flaunting his arrogant yet complex rhyme style and seemingly effortless flow in full force.

prhyme-royce

PRhyme Time

The first track “PRhyme” is a slower paced song that is laced with the Adrian Younge signature sound that feels as if it’s leading you into the firestorm that’s coming.

“U Looz” is vintage Premier as I can easily hear Guru or Jeru in their prime going off on this beat. Royce takes full advantage, rhyming for “the real hip hop niggaz who would never ever ask if he’s here to replace Guru”.

“You Should Know” featuring fellow Detroit native Dwele, finds Royce quoting the opening bars of “Nas Is Like” then proceeding to equal the iconic lines with his own proverbial lyrics of fury. That in itself is an accomplishment and proof that on that mic, this man is not F’in around.

One track that I found very interesting is “Underground Kings”. Premier uses drums on this track that many are not accustomed to hearing from him and the song has a very sinister, evil feel to it. Royce trades verbiage with guests Killer Mike and Schoolboy Q and all three rhyme as if their livelihoods depended on it. Premier lifts the drums from the break of the classic Eric B. & Rakim opus “Microphone Fiend” for the Slaughterhouse collaboration “Microphone Preem” and the four members of the supergroup continue to prove that they murder microphones,as stated on the hook.

“a performance that will surely be the talk of hip hop conversations for a long time to come”

The disc has a slew of guest appearances ranging the aforementioned names to Common, Jay Electronica and Ab-Soul. All these MC’s deliver on a high level that gives this album a level of intensity that flows throughout. The only guest appearance that feels out of place is Mac Miller. He’s channeling his inner “Slim Shady” on “Dat Sound Good” but for some reason it just feels out of place to me. Perhaps Mr. Mathers himself would’ve been a better fit. However, this doesn’t deter from the dopeness of the track too much.

The star of this show is clearly Royce as he delivers a performance that will surely be the talk of hip hop conversations for a long time to come. There simply isn’t a weak moment here from 5’9 or Premier. The album is only nine tracks deep, however that seems to work as an advantage as this album doesn’t drag proving that sometimes less is more.

From the opening track until the closer, I found myself shaking my head at how purely dope this joint is. This is how hip hop should be done and hardcore heads will be thoroughly satisfied. If someone is looking for catchy singles that you can dance to in the club,this is not the album for you. If you’re looking for some good old fashioned banging beats and killer rhymes, the PRhyme album is essential. Based on those credentials, I can’t give this album anything less than full marks

RATING(5/5)

Wu-Tang Clan – A Better Tomorrow? Not Really (ALBUM REVIEW)

When it was announced over a year ago that legendary hip hop collective Wu-Tang Clan would be releasing a new album (their first since 2008’s 8 Diagrams) to coincide with the 20 year anniversary of their landmark debut Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) I admittedly did not have high hopes for this new project.

Now, let me preface that by saying I’m a huge Wu fan, always have been. They are one of the greatest things to happen to hip hop and their initial run at the top was like nothing that came before them as far as quality and quantitiy. For five years they consistently released hip hop masterpieces and even when their momentum began to wane a little after 1997’s double album Wu-Tang Forever, they continued to release music ranging from good to great going into the new decade. But as the musical landscape began to shift a number of factors decreased their status among the average listener.

wu-tang-albums

Probably the most stifling factor was that group leader and main producer The Rza increasingly produced less of their works most likely due to burn out (the man was producing entire albums of classic beats at a breakneck pace in the 90s) and a lot of their later albums suffered as a result. However, their was one constant flagbearer for the Clan in member Ghostface Killah who kept trucking along with dope albums and keeping the Wu name relevant.

In the midst of one of Ghost’s many renaissance’s with the highly successful 2006 album Fishscale it seemed as if the iron was hot enough to strike with a new Clan album, 8 Diagrams. However, problems began to surface even before the album’s release with reports of Ghost and Raekwon not being happy with the direction the album was going in as far as production and song selection. The album was released and while it wasn’t completely terrible, it was not great or even very good. It had it’s moments (Take Em Back,Rushing Elephants) but if someone were looking for a return to form of the 90s,they were disappointed.

A Better Tomorrow? 

Fast forward to the announcement of this latest effort. I was more skeptical than stoked but my love for everything Wu gave me a little optimism. I thought “maybe they’ll get it right with the beats and don’t give us lazy,sub par Wu beats or attempt to be relevant to the average “Joe Blow” with experimental,way out of the box beats. And the production is what really matters because regardless what anyone says, these brothers can still go on the mic so I wasn’t really concerned with the lyrical aspect. Then the concerns that plagued the previous album began arising again. Word started circulating that pivotal group member Raekwon was unhappy with the direction of the album (again) and hesitated to participate. He and Rza had a very public disagreement over this and the completion of the project was stalled. I groaned,thinking “not again”. Rae’s concerns were well founded with 8 Diagrams so his stance very well may have validity. Eventually they worked through their issues and the album release date was finally set. The singles “Keep Watch” and “Ron O Neal” began making their rounds and I was less than impressed. “Keep Watch” isn’t a bad track. I liked the beat and the verses but the sing-songy hook diminished it for me. It just didn’t fit the aura of the Wu-hard, gritty, unfiltered and unapologetic. Ron O Neal was also decent but seemed to drag a little. It could have been more energetic. It just didn’t shake up the world like Da Mystery Of Chessboxin’ or Triumph did. In other words, they’re capable of so much more.

So I finally got to give the album a thorough listen and it’s not a horrible album overall. It’s really better than 8 Diagrams in a lot of ways. But if you’re a newcomer to the Wu-Tang brand, chances are you’re not gonna like it.

“Six months down the line it’ll probably be forgotten and that’s my issue with a great many of my all time favorites who attempt these comeback albums.”

Here’s the thing: this album wasn’t designed for those people. If you’re a Wu head and you’re expecting the resurrection of 36 Chambers, again you probably won’t like it. And therein lies the problem. When you base an album on the idea that “it’s a celebration album of the 20th Anniversary of Enter The Wu-Tang” and you come with a product that’s not even close to that high bar set by one of the best albums ever then it’s a recipe for failure.

wu-tang-new-album

The disc starts out strong with a collaborative production effort by Rza and the legendary Rick Rubin on “Ruckus In B Minor”. This solid opener begins with a posthumous Ol Dirty Bastard intro leading into a dope track with the swordsmen sounding as if they haven’t lost a step.

The second track “Felt” instantly became a favorite of mine. The beat is vintage Rza and the concept is rock solid. Remember how you felt when you heard “Proteck Ya Neck” for the first time? Or how the world felt when the Wu-Tang movement stormed the game? That’s the ongoing theme of this track and a display of just why they are among the all time hip hop elite.

The Adrian Younge produced Crushed Egos (who helmed the acclaimed Ghostface 12 Reasons To Die album) is a banger. Raekwon opens this in classic Chef mode, spewing his brand of venom over the track. One member that stands out to me throughout is Method Man. His verses sound like he’s got the hunger of a rookie looking for his big break and his level of lyricism is top notch. Meth even teases a foray into the world of battle rap, aiming a lighthearted shot at battle scene regular Godz.

“Hold The Heater” is another standout moment. It’s classic Wu with, again, Meth stealing the show. The problem with this album is it loses steam midway and some of the moments are bad. Like, really bad.

“Preacher’s Daughter” is a remake of the Dusty Springfield song Son Of A Preacher Man and quite frankly this track has no place on any hip hop album, let alone the Wu-Tang reunion album. Sheesh! It’s an all-around fail and I cannot fathom how anyone thought this was a good idea or that it would appeal to any demographic, mainstream or hardcore.

“Miracle” could’ve been a decent song but the hook ruins it. It’s campy and syrupy and corny. Now, I get that the guys are older and they’re attempting to reflect that here but no. Just no.

The more I hear “Keep Watch” the more I like it. The beat is good,the verses are dope and the concept of the hook is admirable (urging the “G’s” to keep watch over the black communities) but the execution of the hook leaves a lot to be desired. I’m not one of those backpack rap fanatics that feels singing on hooks “ruins the culture” but it just felt unneeded here. Rhyming it would have been way more effective.

My general feeling after hearing this album is that it’s not bad and could’ve been a very good album but the bad moments drag it down a lot. To be fair,there’s a couple of cuts here that I can rock with but I just can’t see this album having a lasting impact on hip hop in general or fans’ playlists. Six months down the line it’ll probably be forgotten and that’s my issue with a great many of my all time favorites who attempt these comeback albums.The music comes and it goes just as fast. Hell,it’s been 21 years since Enter The Wu-Tang and I still play that album regularly (as do most fans around the world). We don’t get lasting albums like that anymore. To be fair though,no one in the history of music maintained those top tier performances for their entire careers unless they passed away in the midst of their peak. It’s all about nostalgia with a lot of the legends. And the legacy that the Wu-Tang Clan established can never be disputed or diminished. I’ll most likely be bumping the tracks on this album that I do like for a while but when I really wanna hear that Wu shit,I’ll be spinning the classics.

*I’m breaking down this rating more specifically to give you guys an idea on how I came up with the overall rating Out of 15 Songs,5 are dopeness, 5 are from bad to terrible and 5 are average. (More bad or average moments than great moments)

Overall Rating: (2/5)