Ugly Heroes – Ugly Heroes album review

In a world that is often cruel and unfair, the Ugly Heroes (made up of producer Apollo Brown and rappers Red Pill and Verbal Kent) aim to be modern day champions. The self – titled album Ugly Heroes is a concise one, consisting of 15 tracks. The theme and message are clear as Verbal Kent and Red Pill waste no time laying down their lives and perspectives on each of Apollo Brown’s masterful instrumental. As expected by the fans who know him, Apollo comes with top of the line beats that are forged from excellent sample work. Songs like ‘Take It or Leave It” and “This is Life” are the best examples of Brown’s music both standing out on its own and setting the mood for the gritty rhymes of Kent and Pill.

The two have quite a lot to say. Instead of fancy lyricism or gimmicky delivery, Kent and Pill opt for straight bars to comment on the realities of the world. ‘Desperate’ is a song about the harsh life at the bottom of the social ladder. ‘Graves’ features the two rappers reporting on the lifelong struggle to earn enough to survive. ‘Impaired Judgment’ offers a relatable tale about the two dealing with their inner doubts and issues. ‘God’s Day Off’ features the two MCs at their best lyrically as they both spit about maintaining their efforts towards success despite their human flaws. The album closes with ‘Push’, an inspirational track with line about perseverance and fighting for your dreams despite the circumstances.

This is music with a meaning that most will have no trouble relating to and sympathizing with. It is clear from the concentrated number of the songs, the high quality instrumentation and bleak rhymes that the Ugly Heroes wanted to make an impact on whoever takes the time to listen. This album succeeds on all fronts with only minor gripes. The simplicity of the song structure is disappointing with music coming from such a creative team. Either Verbal Kent or Red Pill will start off with hook following then the next rapper after that. Like I said, it is a small issue that does little to diminish the impact of this powerful project.

Ugly Heroes makes the audience take a hard look at a harsh reality and provides examples to follow in the day to day struggle to make something from nothing. This album is for listeners looking for pure and honest hip hop that pulls no punches.

Jim Jones – Vampire Life: We Own the Night mixtape review

Dipset member Jim Jones adds another mixtape to his extensive discography with the release of Vampire Life: We Own the Night. Sporting a hefty 24 tracks, Vampire Life features more of what is expected from Jones: an honest look at the life in the fast lane of the streets. He doesn’t do much to switch up the formula from previous releases, but if you’re a long time listener to CAPO then this should come as no surprise to you. The mixtape is laced with audio clips of the Joker from ‘The Dark Knight’ film. This plays well with the Halloween feel of Vampire Life along with the selection of beats with tones that lie on the darker side of the spectrum.

Any mixtape with 20+ songs is bound to struggle with a sense of repetition and this one is no exception. It is can be difficult to distinguish between the more mediocre songs and the free styles that Jones includes feel unnecessary. There is plenty of material here for 2 or even 3 separate tapes. What is evident is that most of these songs were aimed at the car and the club. Some of the tracks are clear attempts at repeating radio hits that Jim Jones had been a part of in the past. This works to some degree but in the end, the tape as a whole comes off as more of the same material we are used to hearing every day.

There are some tracks that stand a cut above the rest. ‘Grand Slam’ features Jim Jones at his most creative as he compares baseball to sex in his lyrics. ‘Gangstas Don’t Die’ is built on a great beat with solid rhymes from contributing artist Chris Luck and a catchy hook from Sen City. ‘I Like’ is made for the club and has a based hook by Young Swift that will draw some laughs. ‘Scream’ is a deep reflection on the fun and danger Jones experienced in his past and another solid hook from Sen City (It should be noted that Sen City is a frequent feature and often steals the show with his verses).  ‘I’ll Be Back’ is a perfect song to ride to with another gem from Jhalil Beats and great verses from Meek Mill and Fred da Godson. ‘Goin Thru It’ is an excellent close to the mixtape featuring hard rhymes from Jadakiss, a solid hook from Jones and a haunting instrumental.

Bottom line: if you love Jim Jones and need music to ride to, Vampire Life has more than enough to satisfy your needs. If not, then you aren’t missing out on much.

Havoc – 13 album review

13 is the third solo album from Havoc, one half of the famous rap duo Mobb Deep. Even though it has been a while since the Mobb came together for a studio release, Havoc has made it a point to stay relevant in today’s industry. Clocking in at less than fifty minutes, 13 is a relatively short listen which is in form with Havoc’s previous albums. He has always been an artist who practiced quality over quantity ever since the early days of Mobb Deep and the result is a positive one. 13 comes across as a complete thought as Havoc uses each track to continue his decades long report on life in the streets. The subject matter is a familiar one but he manages to present it in a way that doesn’t feel stale. This has largely to do with the production which Havoc handles almost exclusively himself. Having total control over the sound of 13 gave him the chance to create an album with a purposeful tone and he does just that. With a dry, dark sound and the well-known haunting piano, it is plain to see that Havoc was trying to recreate the old Mobb Deep feel for this project and he succeeds to varying degrees.

There are some real gems on the album. “Favorite Rap Stars” is set to a beat straight out of 1995 and features solid rhymes from Styles P and Raekwon. “Get Busy” has a nice flow from Havoc over a great instrumental while “Already Tomorrow” shows him at his most reflective and creative. Royce da 5’9” absolutely rips the beat in half on “Tell Me to My Face” to the point where Havoc’s rhymes are almost irrelevant. “Hear Dat” sports the most artistic beat on the album and can be considered one of Havoc’s best.

The problems of the album are more big picture issues. Havoc’s rhymes are not bad by any means but some of the songs can run together when the content matter is so similar. This becomes problematic when featured artist come though and outshine him on tracks such as Royce mentioned above. There are other minor gripes. “Colder Days” is a song that goes on for two minutes too long and features the laziest rhyming from Havoc. “Eyes Open” does have a great verse from Twista but the beat itself feels out of place when compared to other songs on the album.

At the end of the day, 13 is another entry in the long running discography of one of rap’s most famous artists. Havoc presents more of what fans love and shows no signs of slowing down in the future.

DL Incognito – Someday is Less Than a Second Away album review

You can always tell when someone loves what they do. They put their heart and soul into their work and create quality product that extends beyond its time. Nothing less can be said about Canadian rapper DL Incognito and his latest album, Someday is Less Than a Second Away. The title may be a mouthful but the concept for the album is a succinct one: a memoir of DL’s past and his determination to build a better feature. At 13 tracks, the total package appears short but is packed with a unified message of love, regret, hope, doubt and determination.

The most striking aspect of DL Incognito’s rapping is his flow. He trades out complex lyricism for bars that ride almost seamlessly along with the beat. There is hardly any fancy wordplay but a simple and transparent deliver which allows DL to get his points across clearly. While some may think of this as a negative, the simplicity helps the audience both understand and connect with the words he has to say. The first track, “Move On [When the Love is Gone]” is DL’s testimony about his love for and progression with hip – hop. “Days Gone” and “Mysterious Ways” are powerful song about regrets from the past and pushing for a better tomorrow. “Grey Hairs” is a great track with inspirational lyrics and hook about living in the now and appreciating every moment. These are only some examples, but rest assured that the other songs on the album follow in the same suit. There are only a few hiccups worth noting. “Super” attempts lyrical gimmicks based on the word ‘super’ that doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the song. DL also decided to include a remix of the first song the album (“Move On”) to conclude the album. It isn’t a bad mix but on album as short as this, it feels unnecessary.

The production exhibited in Someday is especially note-worthy. Most songs are built upon samples of R & B and Jazz songs, giving the album a vibe that harkens back to the original days of hip-hop. “No Rings” especially stands out, being reminiscent of something that Madlib himself would cook up. There are instances where the volume of the beat overpowers the lyrics of the rappers as heard in “Icon” and “Admiration”.  Despite this, it is clear that DL paid careful attention to the instrumentals compiled for the album and the result is a largely successful one.

As a whole, Someday provides a both a break from the gloom of life and advice on rising above pain. DL represents Canadian hip-hop solidly with this latest effort and everyone looking for a little positivity should give it a listen.

N.O.R.E. (aka P.A.P.I.) – Student of the Game album review

Student of the Game is the sixth studio album from N.O.R.E and a testament to his long – running career in the rap world. Those familiar with the album’s back story know that it underwent almost as many name changes as the man who made it. This inability to decide on the album’s name reflects the sporadic feel of the album’s creative direction as a whole. P.A.P.I clearly had big ideas for the project and tried to incorporate all of them, reaching in several directions to get it done. The result is a good product that ultimately lacks focus.

The things that make me and so many others fan of N.O.R.E are his standout flow and honest material. He is who he is and it reflects in his lyrics. He raps about his past, his present, and what he thinks his future will be. Student of the Game is no exception to the rule as he takes time to reflect on his journey coming up through the streets and his rise in the music industry. Songs like “Student of the Game” and “What I had to do” give a peek into this journey. The album has many gems and genuine hits. “Vitamins”, “Camouflage Unicorns” and “Built Pyramids” are examples of N.O.R.E at his most lyrical. “Faces of Death” exhibits a powerhouse of rappers pairing a dream instrumental with no hook and all bars from the rhymers. The closing song, “Dreaming”, is an excellent end to the album with a solid beat from Charli Brown Beatz and amazing lyricism from N.O.R.E, ¡Mayday! and Tech 9ne .

Also in typical N.O.R.E fashion, he has a lot of fun with the music he makes. All of the non-musical interludes are clips of him with various celebrities hamming it up and hyping the album. “Fowl N*gg*z” features P.A.P.I calling out dudes who don’t know how to act over a catchy beat and song structure. “She Tried” is a hilarious song with Lil Wayne that functions as a satire of rap love songs. These pieces lighten the mood of the album but distract from the deeper and more lyrically solid tracks.
With so many aspects of the album pulled from a range of collaborators, duds were inevitable. Student of the Game has more than a few to mention. “Tadow” is a typical trap radio hit that exhibits none of N.O.R.E’s standout style. “The Problem” is built on an unimaginative beat and uninspired hook from Pharrell who is normally a stellar feature, especially on the hook. “Thirsty” and “Only Bad Ones” are other examples of sub – par filler tracks that serve no greater purpose for the album. The featured artists are hit or miss. Large Professor, Busta Rhymes and Raekwon for example, tremendously aid N.O.R.E’s efforts while others like French Montana and Swizz Beats only add lengths to songs.

When it comes down to it, Student of the Game is N.O.R.E’s statement to the public that he has come a long way and does not plan to go anywhere anytime soon. If the album is taken for its good and forgiven for its bad, one can have an entertaining listening experience.

Smoke DZA – T.H.C (The Hustler’s Catalog) album review

With a name like Smoke DZA, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what kind of music T.H.C has to offer. This is the forth tape that stoner rap artist has put forth but is nothing special in the long run. The most striking aspect of the mixtape is the production. DZA pulls from an array of producers (most notably Big KRIT and Lex Luger) to assemble a menagerie of well – crafted beats to rap over. The instrumentals have a jazzy feel for the most part and are skillfully built upon samples. The result is a sequence of tracks to chill and smoke to.

This where most of the praise ends for T.H.C as no rapper’s mixtape can survive on beats alone. The emcee is the main attraction and frankly, Smoke DZA does not bring much to the table. Predictably, his rhymes are about enjoying his greens and he attempts to construct an overarching theme of the hustler’s life. The problem is that the lines that DZA spits lack inspiration and impact. His delivery, structure and rhymes are basic and do little to help the creative angle the mixtape tries to develop. There are exceptions: “Winning” features DZA’s most substantial and meaningful rhymes and “How Far We Go” is DZA at his lyrical best. “Know Better” breaks down the do’s and do not’s of hustling and serves the theme of the mixtape well.

The mediocre far outweighs the exceptional with T.H.C sporting many examples of poor creative direction and forgettable lyrics. “F*ck You Talkin’ Bout” is a combination of simple rhyming and a harsh tone that does not fit in with laid back feeling of the other songs. “Loaded” features a typical trap beat from Lex Luger and the most forgettable lines from DZA. The story remains the same for most of other songs as the music moves awkwardly through the pieces DZA tries to tie together by the end of the mixtape. This leads to the heart of my issue with T.H.C.  It isn’t the subject matter that cripples the tape so much as DZA himself. Lyrically, he provides nothing new or exceptional to the stoner rap genre much less to hip – hop in general. “How Far We Go” does show DZA at his best but he raps alongside Kendrick Lamar who shows us what a true lyricist can do on a groovy beat. This unfortunately causes us to question why we are listening to T.H.C in the first place and not good kid, m.A.A.d city.

If you are already a fan of Smoke DZA and a lover of stoner music, then T.H.C will be more of what you are used to. I cannot recommend this mixtape to anyone listening to DZA for the first time as he offers no compelling reason for new ears to stay invested.

Andy Mineo – Heroes for Sale album review

Heroes for Sale is the first studio album from Christian Rap artist Andy Mineo and a solid step in the right direction for his career. The album sports sixteen tracks, all pulling from different musical genres for creative influence and inspiration. Despite the varied sounds, Mineo’s message is very clear as he raps about living a life according to his beliefs all while dealing with the trials, temptations and troubles the world has to offer. He is a man with “a million flows” as he is able to switch up his delivery depending on the beat and still serve the same truth from song to song. In fact, the variety of sounds and the balance that is struck between them is what makes Heroes for Sale an interesting album to listen to. For example the first song of the album, “Superhuman”, slaps out the gate with a hard, driving beat and sharp lines about faith despite imperfection spitted fiercely by Mineo. The aggressiveness of this song and others like it is paired with slower more pensive songs such as “Caught Dreaming” and “Shallow” giving the whole body of music a well-rounded feel. Mineo does most of the vocal work for the album but the features he brings on do a great job of supporting the self – sufficient artist (the best being ‘of KINGS and COUNTRY’ on “Caught Dreaming”).

Despite all of the good Heroes for Sale has going for it, the album ultimately falls short from what it could have been due to questionable creative direction. Some songs such as “Ayo”, “Wild Things” and “Uno Uno Seis” just feel out of place and distract from the more focused and memorable pieces. Many of the tracks feature beats that go hard but are typical of the same trap flavored instrumentation we are used to hearing on the public radio. And with talent and a message as unique as Mineo’s, ‘typical’ is a word his projects should not have associated with them. Other songs like “You Will”, “Saints”, and “Take Me Alive” suffer from what I like to call ‘Useless Hook Syndrome’ where the choruses do nothing for the quality of the overall song and function for no other reason than to pad out the length of the track. If the more bland singles were removed and good ones shortened, the whole album would have packed a more significant and emotionally charged punch.

Even with these issues, Heroes for Sale remains a powerful statement from a man who is battling daily against his own demons and a harsh society. Mineo is blunt and not shy about bringing the audience through his world and beliefs. I recommend this album to both fans and newcomers who are looking for great music with true conviction.