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Reviews

The Extremities – Re:Fresh album review

Some Hip-Hop fans have a herd mentality that prevents them from finding all they can in the ever growing rap arena. Ever since the genre became commercialized, there’s been a divide between the underground and mainstream, a not so thin line separating them somewhere in the sonic stratus. It seems like the staunchest supporters on either side of the proverbial aisle ignore the happenings on the other. An artist makes a lyrically dense project and he’s hailed as raising the bar, as if lyrical density isn’t the minimum for a successful mainstream artist.

Then we have the problem plaguing beatsmiths…for all the hype and adulation versatile mainstream producers receive as geniuses, unheralded acts like The Extremities are just as deserving. The Nova Scotian DJ duo (Fresh Kils and Uncle Fester) behind 2011’s Mint Condition project return as good as ever with their Re:Fresh album. The duo decided to go the remix route this time, re-interpreting 11 different tracks.

The genius in some of their song selections comes with the realization that some of these MCs are not well-known, so the Extremities’ version of their song has the potential to become the standard rendition. The fluttering synthesizers on “Lift Off”, for instance (remixing fellow canucks The Get By) back the lyrics to tell a story all it’s own. This is not a project reliant on superficial cache, in many cases the beats carry otherwise monotonous lyrics.

The group manages to showcase their versatility while still holding true to a general principle. No matter where the musical focus sways, from moody bass on “Like This” to various jazzy, soulful samples on Ghettosocks’ Recreation, the authentically hip-hop drums underneath are the staple that keeps the project beholden to a focused dynamic.

That’s not to say the composition is lacking on this project, the duo manages to transform what could easily be a break-beat fest into the the kind of lush, progressive album hip-hop needs. Even if the DJs didn’t participate as MCs, they managed to be lyrically expeditious. From Wordsworth and Apollo tackling everyman stresses with a defiant glee on the carefree “Morning After” to the introspection on Ambition’s “Lost & Found”, the project plays like a varied work without feeling like an all over the place compilation. Considering every single track has a different artist, that’s a strong testament to the Extremities’ discernment when selecting songs to remix.

Borrowing elements from Jazz, Electro, Soul and fusing it into a Hip-Hop tour de force, this is indeed a refreshing production project.

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Reviews Talib Kweli

Talib Kweli – Prisoner of Consciousness album review

Perhaps when Talib Kweli recently defended Rick Ross’ reprehensible lyrics on U.E.O.N.O by calling him “misguided” he did so in a glimpse of projection and subconscious self-reflection. Both may have a tad more in common than the average would assume in terms of identity issues, so while Rick Ross’ latest offering is tentatively titled Mastermind, Talib’s is called prisoner of consciousness.

There may not be a more fitting title for this album, as Kweli strays from his typical social commentary and goes for more commercial appeal…but shows he’s very conscious of the line that represents full mainstream accessibility and acceptance and stands far from it.

It’s not as if the Brooklyn wordsmith is less lyrically inclined, his trademark rapid-fire rasp is still in full force throughout the 15 track effort. He still drops metaphors with the deft of LeBron James dropping the ball into the cup, and still relentlessly mows through drums with astounding assonance.

On the Melanie Fiona assisted “Ready Set Go” Kweli openly ponders, “What if I listened to haters and never bothered hittin’ high water marks ’cause the markets flooded with garbage?” in a dazzling display that accentuates his reputation as a top notch lyricist.

The “Paid in Full” inspired “Turnt Up” finds Kweli ripping through those famous drums (augmented with an entrancing vocal harmony) with vigor, staking his claim and preventing the song from being a novelty. On “Push Thru” he outflows Currensy and goes toe to toe with Compton kingpin Kendrick Lamar, he who’s widely considered the best lyricist in Hip-Hop.

It’s not that Kweli has declined in any sense of the word, when he’s on, he’s ON. It’s just that on this album those moments are few and far between. The album spends a notable amount of time trying to grab the fairer sex’s attention. In one instance Talib discusses the highs and lows of courting with R&B ingenue Miguel on “Come Here“, and he tackles relationship issues on “Hamster Wheel”. Each are lyrically dense narratives, but therein lies the problem.

As versatile as Kweli has proven himself content wise through the years, he’s also historically maintained the same delivery no matter the beat. When one is straying from their artistic comfort zone, it’d seem like they’d go all the way. Talib Kweli just doesn’t have the charisma to consistently and engage the top 40 listener. That’s not a bad thing, but it is when you spend the core of an album trying to.

The production consistently delivers, however Talib doesn’t always. When it comes to mass appeal in 2013 the cold truth is that there is just more to it than lyrics alone, and Kweli seems unwilling to experiment with his flow or delivery, and that results in a lopsided album. Most artists would accept an album containing a bulk of tracks successful due to their trademark qualities with a few reachers that may not connect, but this is just the opposite.

Unfortunately Talib Kweli’s attempted prison break from consciousness wasn’t entirely successful.

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Reviews

LL Cool J – Authentic album review

Don’t worry, we won’t call it a come back. LL Cool J is perhaps the least talked about of all the rappers who were considered numero uno at one time or another. He had had a long career even before he started appearing long in the tooth in the early 2000’s. His catalog consists largely of novelty 80s records (the kind automatically deemed classic), female songs and a couple tracks where he proclaims those same things make him a greatest of all time candidate.

The problem with that is we’re not sure if he even believes that now…there was never quite an LL Cool J conceit, in that matter he was the precursor to today’s Pop rapper, the kind that talks a big game, is a chameleon with the times but represented commercial pandering more than anything else with his perpetually shirtless antics.

With that in mind he offers Authentic, perhaps as in an authentically disingenuous attempt to swing for the fences and achieve one last moment of musical glory. The 14 track CD seems like the purest type of vanity release, with little fanfare or promotion, and some artists (read: old industry friends) appearing on multiple tracks.

The album is 100% full of blatant attempts at top 40 radio play, with era derivative production and bland if not confusing lyrics ruling the roost. On the ambitiously produced “We Came to Party”, LL calls himself “the oldest man in the club”, and not in a self deprecating tone, moreso like he thought that was some kind of honor. He discusses not selling out and appealing to teenagers on the Monica assisted “Closer” but seemingly does exactly that with multiple stabs at female appeal devoid of personality.

From the sensual “Between the Sheetz” to a Charlie Wilson appearance on “New Love” (where LL uses one of the greatest voices of his time to soullessly repeat a 5 word refrain) LL tries to stick to his guns, seemingly oblivious or apathetic to the fact that music like this is completely trite and entirely dependent to tell mindless fans to enjoy it. The only way a song as confused as “Give Me Love” with Seal (Where Seal longs for love on the hook but LL shuns it in the verses) is for it to be shoved down your throat.

He left those opportunities in the dust over 5 years ago when he left Def Jam and the illusion that mainstream music builds it’s consumers. Perhaps in titling this album he inadvertently exposed the difference between stick-to-your-ribs authenticity and sugary, sick-to-your-stomach music. This is not a good album.

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Reviews Snoop Dogg

Snoop Lion – Reincarnated album review

“There’s so much death and destruction and mayhem in music…we losing so many great musicians and we don’t love ’em while they’re here. I wanna be loved while I’m here and the only way to get love is to give love.”

Listening to the brief intro of Snoop Dogg’s latest lifestyle project Reincarnated, it appears he knows the first thing on the listener’s mind: What is this about exactly?

Calvin Broadus has worn numerous hats over the years, from LA Crip to Pimp to Slangologist to Father/Football Coach, all the while staying remarkably true to himself. He’s like the charismatic actor who doesn’t play a role, he plays himself in the role, and makes sure you don’t forget it’s spelled S-N-O-O-P D-O-G-G.

When news spread that he changed his name to Snoop Lion though, it seemed to many like either a gimmick that would be over as soon as it lost it’s cache or finally a sign of him “jumping the shark’. Why does the gangster rap forefather want to suddenly turn his ever present blunt into a peace pipe?

Is Snoop’s desire to be loved while he’s still here the primary reason for his transformation? The answer is no. This album’s perspective before anything else is genuine, which counts for something. The contentment and belief in his voice can be heard with every Wiz Khalifa inspired croon on the 16 track project.

There are no hypocritical moments, no street songs that can be justified by “duality”, just the new Snoop’s desire to bring music from the heart of Kingston to the rest of the world. The album stays true to itself sonically, going from Summery grooves such as “So Long” and “The Good Good” to Dubstep on “Boulevard”. The production is top notch throughout, setting the tone that it’s not about a rapper doing reggae inspired songs, it’s full on deserving of the Reggae categorization.

Lyrically, Snoop spends most of his time basking in the glory of a simple existence: weed smoke, self awareness and love for himself and humanity. The hook of Lighters Up is the mission statement, as Lion pleads for the listener to “put your lighters up, get high with me, fly with me, ain’t no dividing us”.

The features on the album keep the ride smooth (aside from an awkward Miley Cyrus collab). From Angela Hunte’s pleasant vocals on three tracks, to Mavado and Jordan Blakkamoore’s rugged island grumbles, Snoop did a good job of making sure his co-pilots helped represent the hallmarks of the genre in ways that he wasn’t vocally capable.

The fault of this album is most exemplified with his duet “Tired of Running” with Akon. When Snoop’s not praising the almighty, he’s not doing much else. What makes the best Reggae everlasting is the social commentary, and much like in his Hip-Hop career, Snoop treads relatively light on substance here. On an album celebrating spiritual awakening, one would think a song called “Tired of Running” would evoke all types of candor from someone who was a key player in the most violent period in Hip-Hop history, instead it’s a bit of a paint by numbers tale of a person in jail reflecting on their past.

There is nothing wrong with an attempt at substance, especially from a king of the lowest common denominators, but perhaps Snoop Lion can stick around and truly delve into the societal conflict that makes the Rasta life so much of a pleasant alternative.

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Press Releases

Trick Daddy – Dick and Dynamite album review

There’s a lot to be said for Charisma. In a day where anyone can plug a Wal-Mart mic into a laptop and call themselves a rapper, only the most memorable of personas will leave the stain of success on the listening populace. Trick Daddy is one of the few MC’s who will always have the collective consciousness of the streets, billboard hit or not. He withdraws from that earned credit with his mixtape release Dick & Dynamite.

Weighing in at a somewhat sizable 22 tracks, the Dade County Mayor goes the traditional route of sprinkling original works with freestyles over popular songs where he flexes his lyrical muscle. The variety of the mixtape somewhat dilutes it’s collective impact. It offers something for everyone, but perhaps only one group should have been looked out for here: the streets.

On D&D Trick two steps between chest-thumping rhetoric that made him a southern pioneer and a less successful “diamonds and girls” approach. He sounds hungry as ever if not reinvigorated when he firmly plants his flag on the project’s gruff Miami bass soundscape. Over the wondrously ambitious bounce beat of “Wait One Mfn Min”, Trick petitions his ornery guerrilla mentality isn’t a gimmick, warning (that) “since you started shit you gettin it worse”.

Over the “Niggaz In Paris” beat is where he truly shines, delivering the street influenced introspection that’s universally revered and longed for in the genre. It’s as if Trick purposely lured the listeners in with the absurdly catchy bounce then decided to take them to school on “Niggaz in Dade”, where he talks about the dwindling profits and increasing treachery of the drug game, warning “the dope game is done if we don’t tighten up and take this back to the 90s”.

That may be a dubious lament to some, but it’s what Trick Daddy does well, and the listener is better off with him in his comfort zone, as opposed to when he overextends with tracks like “Know How To Treat Her” that’s so trite he might as well use Das Efx wiggedy-wiggedy lyrics within it. It’s not that he doesn’t have the basic concept of how to appeal to the strip clubs, but then again it’s that he has a mere basic concept of radio-friendly records.

Gone are the days of “Shutup”, where he took the most befuddling of choruses nationwide. On the aforementioned as well as “Chevy” you can hear Trick trying to ignite a spark that just might not emit. Charisma will make people listen, but it won’t make people like it, and that’s this project’s fatal flaw. With too many swings and misses, this project definitely doesn’t reach the top of his catalog.

Trick Daddy is at the point of his long career where he should stick to his niche which carries this mixtape. More gritty, resonant music for Liberty City summers and less chasing of hits like a desperate young buck.

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Reviews

Papoose – Nacirema Dream album review

It has been said “remember when” is the lowest form of conversation, because there’s as much likelihood of sparking a sweeping memory lane conversation as a simple yes or no. Relics of the past are not inherently useful, they’re only as valuable as the interest the memory holds today.

Papoose should have taken this to heart when offering his own “remember when” moment with Nacirema Dream. The title may spark memories of 2006 when he was on the cusp of mainstream success and Nacirema was an anticipated release, but Papoose has done nothing here to make this anything but a novelty release.

 Employing a lopsided flow he still hasn’t grasped control over, Papoose trips over himself throughout the 20 tracks.

 He is a quality technical writer with deeper content than the lot of his mid 2000s mixtape peers, and in that pocket he shows what appealed him to Jive records. Musing over the unjust judicial system on “Law Library 8” and dropping knowledge on diseases on the Erykah Badu assisted “Cure”, he gives the listener gems they should be aware of, but his sonic deficiencies overshadow to the point where you’d rather just read a book about what he’s talking about.

 He appears to be a stubborn artist, using the same tired wordplay that made someone create a website ridiculing him. Papoose has an obsession with taking everyday sayings and attempting to flip them with the grace of a popsicle stick writer, and it befalls the entire work.

 With bars like “my rap’s off the wall like a 2011 poster” lurking at every turn, it’s difficult to take Papoose seriously as a rapper. When he tries to tell a story on the sleepy “Pimpin Ain’t Dead”, he mentions that his subject’s “low-rider jeans ain’t low as her self-esteem”. Head-scratchers like that ruin attempts to create a sonic narrative, and in his seven years on the shelf he hasn’t overcome his fatal flaw.

 Even groundbreaking production might not be able to mask the cringe-worthy comments he is capable of, but this album definitely doesn’t put that query to the test.

 Driven by generic, boombap leaning compositions, the album never manages to find a sonic footing, venturing from lo-fiesque breakbeats like “What’s My Name” (featuring Remy Ma), to synthesizer driven cuts like “On Top of My Game” that try to create an event but are let down by weak drums.

The collective mediocrity of the project reeks of an album dependent on throwaways from his 2006 prime that slipped through the cracks of label politics, and bland offerings by a small-time rapper. There came a point a long time ago that even the most avid Papoose fans lost hope for Nacirema dream, but this is perhaps worse than expected. This is an album with no voice, no mission statement, or overriding theme besides being a showcase for an oblivious rapper of a bygone era attempting a comeback but going out with a whimper.

 

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Reviews tyga

Tyga – Hotel California album review

Despite the hoopla about the Young Money/Cash Money cometh signing everyone and their mothers to deals over the past couple years, it still feels like a three headed monster amidst a cacophony of mediocrity. Whether it’s Drake’s compelling identity crises, the million volt wattage of the Nicki Minaj show or Lil Wayne’s dope line lotto act, it’s been hard for any of their other artists to put together any sort of traction to rival the big 3 (random Birdman hits notwithstanding).

Over the past year or so, Compton artist Tyga has raised his profile and planted a flag as the sole member of a YMCMB “B team”. The aforementioned artists all have their endearing traits, and Tyga’s appeal is….still unclear. Tyga’s product is the exact median of the hip-hop universe, not humorously bad, if not humorous or any other emotion. He’s that friend that tweets himself in the studio, let’s you hear his product and while proud that he put something cogent together, you don’t ever expect it to pass his bandcamp..except Tyga’s music has with consistent airplay for his brand of competent mimicry.

Tyga’s rise is largely attributable to the rise of social media and image consciousness. He’s a photogenic, fashionable artist with connections to some of today’s biggest stars, and with that backdrop he’s presented us Hotel California, an album that resembles a hotel in that seemingly everyone has checked in but the owner.

From the outset, Tyga struggles to find his voice. Not literally, as he intently alternates imitating Drake’s brash twang and Wayne’s raspy tidal wave with a decidedly cubby growl. Conceptually speaking however, there is no identity shining through. The album can nearly be cut into sonic halves. One portion of the album is Tyga boasting emptily about being able to “buy” women and such over moody synthesizers and (seemingly the same) sharp 808 programming, while the other showcases paltry attempts at songwriting over airy, sugar coated compositions.

On “Diss Song” (which highlights a trend of the hooks being lazy repetitions of the song title), Tyga takes those who doubted his potential to task, but doesn’t manage to inject any personal quirks in what becomes a generic rags to riches narrative. On “For the Road” and “Show You” he wastes radio-ready hooks by Chris Brown and Future respectively with unfocused game-spitting that amounts to more empty braggadocio.

These trends pervade the album. Tyga barely seems interested in recording, much less writing a good song here. On album opener “500 degrees”, he and a sonically balky Lil Wayne trade bars over a moody arpeggio, and even in his lessened state Wayne manages to beat out Tyga’s unconvincing bars on delivery alone. Tyga doesn’t seem like he’s ready or capable of presenting anything past a marginal product to his social media base, so why should they listen when they can just blog him?

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Press Releases

Ill Bill – The Grimy Awards album review

If there was ever a trophy to be handed out for raw, unpretentious boom bap, Brooklyn Vet Ill Bill would be nominated, so it’s fitting he stake his claim on The Grimy Awards (Fat Beats Records), his personal gritty gala.

On the early standout “Acceptance Speech” Bill pays homage to his career’s influences over Junior Makhno’s shrill symphonic chops. He plows through shout outs, from god to snakes in the grass to “Ace London studios for letting us rehearse when we ain’t have nothing.”

Ironically (on an album named Grimy) these reflections are where the album shines. Bill can certainly hold his own in a no holds barred cipher, but the lyrical funnel cloud his free-association flow creates pales in comparison to the openhearted, borderline vulnerable recollections and analyses that set the project apart from the typical 100-boasts-a-minute boom bap CD. “Paul Baloff” is a strong song in a vacuum, yet in the context of such a thoughtful album that and a cacophony of other overly sinister content falls short.

Over El-P’s venomous bass guitars on “Severed Heads of State”, Bill verbally acknowledges his artistic ascension by noting it’s “time to clean our house and take our corner back, put a message in the music –this is more than Rap.”

The album features legends of production, who pillar dusty drums under sophisticated samples and provide a strong sound scape for Ill Bill’s weathered growl.

On “When I Die”, he delivers on a majestic Pete Rock backdrop to discuss appreciation for his grandmother and uncle Howie, who he notes as the namesake for his record label. DJ Premier comes through to receive his own roses-while-you-can-still-smell-them moment on the thumpy “World Premier”, and DJ Muggs and Large Professor also provide vintage boom bap with “Power” and “Acid Reflux/Canarsie High” respectively.

Features wise, the Awards’ guests are beacons of “griminess”. Vinnie Paz and Lil Fame help turn up the energy on “120% Darkside Justice” and “Vio-Lence”, and Cormega and OC come through on the aforementioned “Power”, which is both introspective and motivational.

Power” is an example of another tone this album takes successfully, as tracks like “Canarsie High” and “Exploding Octopus” which discusses over-consumption and reliance on electronics, displays Ill Bill’s penchant for analysis and observation (most importantly) with solutions.

They say with age comes experience, but Bill is proving that it’s not just experience, but the ability to meaningfully articulate them that grows with age. The Grimy Awards is a versatile excursion through Ill Bill’s mind that in itself is worthy of award consideration.

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Reviews

The Demigodz – Killmatic album review

As much as Hip-Hop artists talk about their groups being like families and sports teams, The Demigodz are as close to both as Hip-Hop gets. First reaching notoriety as a 4 man group from Connecticut, the group has experienced more lineup changes than many in Hip-Hop history, so many that the two founding members Reflex and Open Mic haven’t even been members since 1994 and 1997, respectively.

No matter how many MCs have waved the Demigodz flag however, they all stay beholden to one objective on Killmatic: ripping the mic relentlessly.

Over the triumphant Rocky-sampling horns of “Demigodz Is Back”, Ryu, Celph Titled and surrogate leader Apathy set the stage for the 20 year old brand’s debut album (!) with an onslaught of no-nonsense bars, and the listener may never feel like their figurative “neck” is footless for the next 56 minutes.

Currently a supergroup comprised of the aforementioned trio as well as fellow underground stalwarts Esoteric, Blacastan, and Motive, Killmatic aims to feed the bar hungry hip-hop consciousness and they cook up a smorgasbord. With wittiness typified by lines like Celph Titled’s “The bitch worships my nuts, I guess she’s sack-religious”, the Demigodz shine over the unabashedly boom-bap, sample centric soundscape provided primarily by Apathy. DJ Premier helped with scratches that range from Inspectah Deck to clips from Scooby Doo, and produced the menacing “Worst Nightmare”.

The album’s guests fit right into the ongoing cipher, with Termanology delivering an invigorated verse on “Never Take Me Out” (sample: “talk is cheap but your face is expensive”), Panchi representing for NYGz over “DGZ x NYGz”’s hypnotizing synths, and a rapid-fire RA the Rugged Man fresh from whatever nether world he’s been in to remind “Nubian sisters” he’s “the Caucasoid germ your daddy told you about” on the wonderfully depraved “Captain Caveman”.

Although KILLmatic flows well with a one-mic-fits-all chemistry, it’s not without faults. With such a thick roster (and the features), getting a couple of them to delve outside their comfort zone and discuss more than their mic superiority shouldn’t have been as much of an issue as it was. For instance, a vocal sample at the end of “The Gospel According To…” discusses police brutality, but neither that song or the next discuss the topic in depth. The tone-setting Biggie vocal sample on “Just Can’t Quit” doesn’t seem to set an actual tone for the song. The hooks and scratches seem to be mere interruptions to the lyrical proceedings.

Perhaps a stronger focus on songwriting and more substantive diversity could have lifted this to neoclassic status, but nevertheless the album is a strong effort and a long, long time coming.