Category Archives: REVIEWS

Hip hop album reviews, past and present

Yamin Semali Ends The Year With His Second Album Of 2013 – “Senior Dues”

It’s been 10 months since Yamin Semali dropped his self-titled album “Yamin” and now he’s back with a brand new joint entitled “Senior Dues“. This album was an early Christmas treat that was released as a “Name-Your-Price” promotional offer. Early reports spoke of a noticeably different sounding album to the last one and from the few run through’s I’ve had so far I can concur that it does indeed have a different feel about it. The rich sounding drums are still there, the meticulous production elements are all present but this is Yamin evolved. The album’s title and artwork is also a clear indication of this.  Senior Dues marks the graduation phase of Yamin’s musical evolution. A coming of age so to speak. Graduating might sound serious yet, it’s not that heavy either. This album is nod your head music, shake your ass music. It makes you think and groove at the same time.  Not many artists can pull this off without compromising core authenticity but Yamin’s not your average Joe. He’s a one man band with a sharp ear for a dope beat, “A producer who can rap and control the maestro” as Dr Dre once described himself, well the same applies to Yamin. 

The album also features a plethora of contributing talent. “Another Way” feat; J-Live, Boog Brown and Joe D was an instant stand out track with it’s very haunting loop. Sa-Roc also shows out with a lyrical blast on “Hotter” but perhaps the most talked about track would have to be “Change Your Style” feat Big Vision and non other than West Coast DPG veteran Kurupt

This is just a fraction of what’s in store for you on the album which is available now for instant download — here.
yamin“It was a fun experience that wouldn’t have been possible without having seen different parts of North America touring with Cyhi The Prynce, where I got to meet individuals who would influence this project and find the time to write ideas that would turn into songs on this album. I called it Senior Dues because I feel that I’ve shifted from one level of artistry to the next, where professionalism is seen in everything I do, from the art to the sound and presentation. It’s like graduating to a higher state within the same culture.”
–Yamin Semali

Jaz-O & The Immobilarie – Kingz Kounty (2002)

Big Jaz, aka Jaz-O, is widely known as the man responsible for bringing Jay-Z in to the game when he dropped “Hawaiian Sophie”, way back in 89 which guest-starred a young Shawn Carter dancing around in a Hawaiian-print shirt for the video. But the professional relationship goes back even further to 1986 when Big Jaz and Jay-Z formed a very short lived act called HPHigh Potent.” They released a song called “HP Gets Busy” which considering the year (86) Jaz and Jay display shockingly advanced lyrical abilities when compared to other acts of that time period. That particular track is in my opinion far more advanced than the later recorded track “Hawaiian Sophie” which (probably due to label marketing) appeared to come off as a little too much like “The Fresh Prince.”

jay-z-jaz-o

Fast forward a few years and one rapper would become a multi-platinum selling artist, while the other would be….well, not quite so successful. All the elements present for a personal beef would inevitably follow. But if you heard the story at the time it unfolded you would know that Jaz had legitimate reasons for coming after Jay. I’m not going to go in to detail here as it’s been covered in depth elsewhere. But I will start with the first single from Jaz’s album “Let’s Go” which started the whole rift between the two. During the filming for the video of “Let’s Go,” when Jaz got understandably pissed at Jay for not showing up to feature his verse in the song. The rest is history.

Now on to the album, which I must point out early on, got a mixed bag of reviews when it first dropped. You either love it or hate it. Me?…I love it.  Production wise, this is one of the most experimental albums of the the last decade. Some of the beats range from straight Preemo standard hip hop, to interesting musical arrangements, to straight up bonkerz! This album has something for everybody and you can pull a track out to suit every occasion or mood. It may not be a spectacular CD by pure hip hop standards, but it has moments were it really shines. “I Do” is a decent track with a nice beat and solid lyrical contributions from both Jaz and Dibiase, who is the best lyricist in the Immobilarie clique… in fact, his skills by far surpass those of his Immobilarie comrades, Jaz-O excluded. “Let’s Go” has been described as run-of-the-mill track by some but it’s actually one of my personal favourites with it’s extremely catch hook and up tempo beat.

“Love Is Gone” is a DJ Premier-produced track about when “best friends become strangers”. One might think that this track is directed at Jay-Z, but being that the beef didn’t really start until after the full album was released, makes that assumption questionable.

Regardless, the beat is nice and the lyrics well-written, blending well with the Preemo backdrop.

Another good track is “Diaries”, which samples from Jay-Z’s “Izzo”. The song takes us down memory lane with Jaz & Dibiase talking about their times growing up in Marcy Projects in New York, and coming up in the hip-hop game. Well placed samples and a beat that changes tempo from time to time make this one of my favorite jams on the album.

Dibiase’s lyrics really add some entertainment value to the album.

On “Take Me Papi”, he flashes a little wit about the intellect of the women he seems to run into…

“Diabase, layin’ my game on strong/
she’s like ‘dia-ba-see’, sayin’ my name all wrong”

And on “I Do“, he brags to us a little…

“It’s like 30 g’s a verse, they pay me for spewin’/
My label calls me Shaq, they wouldn’t trade me for Ewing/
You know them guys, who flow N.Y./
Nicknamed ‘Sony’ ’cause I’m so N.Y.”

Not only can they make you crack a smile at times, but Immobilarie’s “Heron & Crack (Just Say No)” promotes an anti-heroine & anti-crack cocaine message (I’d say anti-drug, but they seem to promote smoking bud)… not only is it a positive message, but they describe the kind of damage that the drugs can do to the person, the family, and the friends involved… not something I expected when I bought the album.

[youtube url=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1K4Gx93SMy0″ width=”800″ height=”600″]

But my favorite track on the CD is “Deadly”, which has one of the sickest beats I’ve heard (produced by Jaz-O himself). Not only that, but he gets a little political at the end, expressing his displeasure at a certain ex-President’s migration to New York:

“Throw meals to the poor/
Throw bills to the board/
Who in Harlem? Throw Bill to the dogs/
Don’t need no friends, don’t need your favors/
Love ain’t a feeling, love’s a behavior/
You know that’s right, you ain’t gon’ act right/
You brown-nose, then you back-bite”

I get the feeling that if Jaz wasn’t trying for commercial success, he might have a little more political and social commentary on this LP.

Other tracks worth a listen are “Pledge Allegiance”, which features Brownsville’s finest, M.O.P., and the pride of Carson, California, Ras Kass“718”, another Primo-laced track, contains yet another nice beat, which seems to be the strength of this album.

Overall, there’s something to be said for Jaz. A resilient figure in a fickle hip hop industry. Some of the lyrics may be a little played out, especially when he gets on the whole consumerist tip, placing far too much emphasis on money, fame and designer label’s, but his unmistakable rhyming ability masks any hint of lyrical slackness, plus the beats on this album alone make it worthy of 4-stars. This album is a straight banger that definitely deserves it’s place in the category of most slept on albums.

Dr. Octagon – Dr. Octagonecologyst – (Kool Keith) 1996

The album is almost 20 years old yet it sounds as relevant and new as anything released in today’s so called Hip Hop market! Futuristic sounding, dirty beat yielding, intelligent wordplay, a hip hop album classic. For me, it makes me smile “more ways to blow blood cells in your face, react with four bombs and six fire missiles, armed with seven rounds of space doo doo pistols” I have no idea kool-keithwhat that line is about or if it even means anything at all but just listening to it again as I write this reminds me of Kool Keith’s abilities and originality.

Throughout this album Kool Keith is introducing you to a “dark alien comic type doctor a misogynistic coloured afro sporting charlaton” through his dirty lyrics and filthy sexually charged skits. The way he broadcasts his message transports you right into his warped world of halfsharkalligatorhalfman and moosebumps examples of Kool’s skilful literate invention.

If you are of a prudish nature or easily offended what I would say is do not buy this album, avoid it, if it comes on when you are around leave, go to your nearest music shop, online store, or wherever you get music and buy the “instrumental version”! I’m not kidding because if lyrics ain’t your thing the beats on this album will not disappoint!

If or when you get this album remember the artwork is just as important when visiting your local backstreet ‘gynaecologist’ but remember those prudes at that ‘fruit shaped’ music store won’t let you have that original cover so we have kindly put the original on this article for all you heavy weight hip hop heads!

METHUZULAH – House of Halogens

I first discovered Methuzulah from the track ‘Bo Bo Bo’ which was posted on a friends facebook page. The impact of that track quickly prompted me to uncover any other material I could find on the Atlanta native. Up until that point I had never heard of Methuzulah so surely there couldn’t be much material out there? I was shocked to find out that Methuzulah had been grinding on the underground music scene for some time, featuring on many guest spots, ghost writing for other artists, as well as dropping 2 full solo projects! Then I learned that the first of the 2 solo albums “Kemetic Aha” was a kind of “jackin for beats” type project that saw Methuzulah spit napalm verses over familiar Dj Premier anthems. The joint is exceptional and Methuzulah’s flow works seamlessly over Primo beats, but it’s his follow up album that reigns supreme!

Enter the House of Halogens

In the last 10 years I can count on one hand the number of albums that have really stood out and impressed me. I have heard a lot of very good albums but I’m talking about truly great albums. Classic’s like “Illmatic“, game changers like “Enter The Wu-Tang 36 Chambers or more recent modern classics like Little BrothersThe Minsrel Show.” When reviewing a hip hop album all you really have to do is ask yourself one question. Would it hold up against the classics like these? House of Halogens might not be quite an Illmatic but in today’s hip hop climate it certainly shines like one. There are instances throughout the album where Methuzulah pays homage to old school hip hop. One such instance is the incredible track “Childhood Skyline“. Set against a backdrop of haunting female vocal harmonies, Methuzulah recaptures the essence of growing up during the golden era.

“A re-establishment of emotive hip hop”

The albums opening track “The Rain” is a lyrical narration of events in methuzulah’s life from birth to present, and the trials and tribulations that came along the way. The songs concept will really resonate with listeners born in the 70’s and early 80’s.With the passing of time we have all witnessed the changes that unfolded within the music industry. Unless you’re willing to sell your soul and make trend hits in return for shifting units, record deals are a pipe dream. I feel that if Methuzulah had peaked in the mid 90’s just before this rot set in, you would probably be looking at a platinum selling artist. Fortunately there has been a steady uprising over the last couple of years and a whole new non-commercial hip hop scene is starting to re-emerge bringing with it a new generation of fans who are not only appreciating real hip hop, but demanding it!

The album is currently FREE to download, which is criminal when given the quality of the outstanding work contained within.

You can download the album here

Yamin Semali – Yamin

Set sail on a musical journey and rediscover the fundamentals of what makes hip hop, “hip hop.”

From the “Yamintro” to the final “Live in Your Day,” it is clear right from the outset that this is a very personal album with intimate insights in to Yamin’s world and the thought process behind his music.  At times abstract, but clear in its intention.  Words on this disc both challenge and sooth, they bring the listener home, and then slam the front door, song after song.

 “from the point but is about to bring the east back.”

YAMIN COVERListen and you’ll find an enlightening experience as Yamin moves you beyond the  stereotypical hats turned backwards, and boxers hovering way above the leather belt. Track’s like “So Much” will have you questioning your perspective on life with ironic scenarios we can all relate with. I sense elements of Outkast which is hardly surprising given that Yamin is “from the point but is about to bring the east back.”  If you like clever lyrics that play on words, this album is filled with them.

Something else that struck me whilst listening to the album is the similarities in vocal tone between Yamin and The Pharcyde’s Slimkid3. Both have the ability to sing-rap an ill verse as well as straight rapping.

Of course no hip hop album would be complete without other artists stopping by to spit a verse or two.  Appearances  coming by way of Boog Brown, Truth Be Cold, Lyric Jones, Blc Txt, Gotta Be Karim, Chop, John Robinson and of course fellow Clan Destined member DT. I think Yamin has struck the right balance here unlike a lot of other rap albums that overwhelm you with cameo appearances to the point that you forget which artist you’re actually listening to!

Stand out tracks for me in addition to the excellent title track of the album are the already mentioned “So Much,” “Are You Sure” and “More Than Kings,”  The heavy percussion layerd “Never Leave” will slap you until you run out of cheeks, but it does it well and you will be grateful for the mark it leaves on you!

If you like hip hop with soul then don’t hesitate to pick this one up.  Yamin has raised the vibration where argument becomes debate, and love is more than just sweaty sex. To sum it all up this is hip hop gold. You smacked this one out of the park, Yamin. Now spin it again for me brother!

RBX – The RBX Files (1995) REVIEW

December 1992 and N.W.A’s Dr Dre emerges from a spell of obscurity to bring the world one of the greatest gangster rap albums of all time…. The Chronic. He also introduces us to a whole new crew of exciting West Coast talent, Daz, Kurupt, Lady Of Rage and the young and rapidly rising star Snoop Doggy Dogg, who had previously featured with Dre on 187 Undercover Cop for the Deep Cover soundtrack. When Snoop came on to the scene he brought a whole new flavour and style in to the rap game. At that point the west coast was dominating hip hop and it would stay that way for the majority of the 90’s. The Chronic also featured one other rapper whose uniqueness set him apart from the others……..

“In this dimension / I’m the presenter / and the inventor/ and the tormentor / Deranged, like the hillside strangler / MC mangler / tough like Wrangler / I write a rhyme, hard as concrete / Step to the heat and get burned like mesquite. / So what you wanna do / The narrator RBX, cell block two”

rbx-poster

The Narrator aka RBX added an extra element to The Chronic, with his menacing presence and sinister vocal tone he really sold the serial killer emcee image. For me it was X’s contribution that perfected Dre’s album. His delivery of unforgettable verses and phrases helped raise The Chronic to the highest heights of the gangster rap genre. A year later he would recapture the fans again when he featured on Snoop’s Doggystyle, dropping the same signature style that he had become known for. It’s safe to say that during 92 and 93 RBX was hot property and so a solo album within a few months would seem the obvious outcome.

“Remember me?…. I drop bombs like Hiroshima!”

Fast forward 2 years. Liverpool UK, November 1995, I remember the time well for 2 reasons. The coldest winter I can ever remember and I had just picked up a copy of RBX’s debut album The RBX Files after a very long wait! By this time the mighty Death Row records was already starting to fragment with internal conflicts that probably impacted on getting RBX’s debut finished and ultimately released. After some deliberating between labels, the album was finally released on September 26th 1995 on Premeditated records, a subsidiary of Warner Bros.

 This is not a laid back summertime in the LBC joint…”

On first listen of The RBX Files I was a little bit shocked. This was probably due to the stark differences in production compared to the previous albums X featured on. The heavily G-funked beats where nowhere to be found! In fact in many ways this album didn’t feel like a west coast album at all. But was this really such a bad thing after all?

I remember by about 95 a lot of hardcore hip hop fans were starting complain about G-Funk’s mainstream appeal in the same way people complain about Lil’Wayne’s music today. You can rest assured that RBX’s album, which is almost exclusively produced by Greg “Gregski” Royal, is anything but mainstream.

It will probably take even the most seasoned rap fans a few full listens before they can fully appreciate the depth of this album. This is a classic case of an album that grows on you and then becomes ingrained in your subconscious the more you hear it. These are the kind of albums I like the most because they always provide the greatest replay value. Be under no illusions people, this is not a laid back summertime in the LBC joint.

 “From track 7 onward the album takes a very interesting turn….”

For the most part, the album’s tone and concept is serious and lyrics are straight hard-core! Even the sound echoing distortions over X’s voice makes some tracks feel literally demon possessed! Strangely enough the production on the Dr Dre diss track “A.W.O.L” is probably the softest on the album. “Rough is the texture is like a declaration of war on neighbouring west coast emcees outside of Long beach which ties in nicely with “Slip in to Long beach”,” The Edge” and “Burn. It is at this point from track 7 onward that the album takes a very interesting turn. It appears that at some point from the time of  The Chronic and Doggystyle, RBX had embraced Islam. It is unclear whether this happened during the recording of the album, but the content on the remaining tracks appears to be inspired in the same way Mc Ren was in his 1993 classic “Shock of the Hour”. Track 8 “Our time is now” has one of the most unusual and catchy rifts I have ever heard.

The remainder of the album abounds with conscious joints that merge with prophetical inserts and snippets of empowering sermons. “Akebulan (as the title hints) is an anthem of repatriation to Africa and is definitely one of my favourites. Perhaps the track that left the biggest impact on me was the amazingly haunting “No Time“, which makes excellent use of Dexter Wansel’s Life On Mars sampleIt will quite literally leave you in a trance.

To this day I haven’t heard an album that sounds quite like The RBX Files and sadly I doubt I will again.

RATING:

Beneficence – Concrete Soul (REVIEW)

2012 has been another good year for hip hop. We saw some heavy albums drop from the likes of OC & Apollo Brown, Oddisee, Methuzulah, Blu & Exile, Venomous2000,  Sean Price, Roc Marciano, 9th Wonder & Murs, even Masta Ace & MF DOOM to name just a few! We also saw the release of a new album from Beneficience that has been making big waves in underground hip hop circles.Benificence is no stranger to the mic. He has been in and around hip hop since the early 90’s and has been a long time associate of the Artifacts.

Since copping the CD a few weeks ago, I am happy to say that “Concrete Soul” certainly lives up to the standards 2011’s “Sidewalk Science”.  Purchasing a Beneficence album is always going to be a safe investment because you know your going to get nothing but straight up, good old boom bap! You don’t have to worry about mainstream crossovers and gimmicks with this type of seasoned emcee because the history speaks for itself.

“Perhaps the hardest hitter of all is the phenomenal AG collaboration “All Real” which see’s the D.I.T.C legend deliver a monster of a verse”

Having said that the album is not completely flawless as there were one or two tracks like “Getting Stronger” and “Y.W.E” that didn’t quite hit the mark. I was also hoping for a little bit more from the Masta Ace collaboration, “Reality Vs Fiction”. Not that these tracks are bad (Benef is on point and Ace is flawless as always), but I just felt the production didn’t deliver as well as it could have. Aside from these very minor gripes, I can safely say that overall this is a very solid offering that flies in the face of the majority of hip hop churned out these days. When you are dealing with a hip hop album of this caliber it’s difficult to find anything to be critical about. This becomes even more apparent when you sample the albums big bangers!

all-real-beneficence

Perfect Navigation”, produced by Ill Adrenaline label mate “Confidence” can only be described as a perfect hip hop track and really highlights the impact great production can have in bringing justice to great lyrics! Confidence shows up again on 4 more of the albums heavy hitters, “Straight Out The Gates”, “Hood Early Years”, “Way We Rockin” and the awesome “Rebel Muzik”. Other highlights for me where “Rulez To The Game” Ft B 1 and Herb Magruf and “Hood Cartel” Ft Roc Marciano.

Perhaps the hardest hitter of all is the phenomenal AG collaboration “All Real” which see’s the D.I.T.C legend deliver a monster of a verse that reminds us all that the veterans still can’t be touched when it comes to this hip hop shit!