The Coup – Sorry To Bother You album review

Can music – alone – change the world? This is a question best suited for an artist like Raymond “Boots” Riley.  And his answer would most likely be no… Surely, if any political hip-hop group could have incited global change by now, it would have been The Coup.  Not for lack of trying, October 30th, 2012  saw the dawn of their newest release, “Sorry To Bother You,” and in keeping with their past work,  the album channels and exudes a revved up and revolutionary sound — put alongside a funky, fun and spirited party beat! As ever, they tackle a difficult and controversial subject matter. It’ll be a challenge for most anyone to fight the urge to bop their heads, however, in favor of picking up and starting a revolution. Taking on corporate America and the greedy 1% armed with kazoos and wash-boards is certainly creative, but effective? I guess we’ll see.

 Boots’ wit, timing and the fusion of punk inspired rhythms with just a hint of the more funkedelic side of Motown in the 60’s are some of the high-points of “Sorry To Bother You.”  What really stood out is a peculiar sort of fusion, sounding something like cheer-happy pop songstress, Gwen Stefani meets former experimental rock group, Ween – an unlikely, intriguing and eclectic mix you won’t want to skip over in “My Murder, My Love”.

Where the album disappoints is a lack of consistency.  You may be left hungry for the same adrenaline pumping ingenuity that begins after the first “Magic Clap” of track 1. The momentum of the music slowly fizzles out between gems like “Strange Arithmetic”, an urban take on the same philosophy behind Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall,” and “Guillotine”, an anthem for the other 99%. “Sorry To Bother You” makes you think, makes you move, and makes you want to party, hard.  For those reasons it is successful.


Kendrick Lamar – good kid, M.A.A.D. city album review

For “good kid, M.A.A.D city” a kitchen too full of cooks has served up an all-time positive outcome for the burgeoning talents of rapper, Kendrick Lamar. A feast for both the common and particular ear, this sumptuous spread of contemporary hip-hop has received nothing but praise and rave reviews since its major label release on October 22nd, 2012. Nearly every track is weighted with a unique set of competing personae, ids, and super egos, dished out by a wide assortment of big name producers and guest appearances – Dr. Dre, Drake, T-Minus and Mary J. Blidge to be named among many.

The album in its entirety is cinematic to IMAX proportions. Short skits in the form of voicemail color the subject matter with striking subjectivity, in a way quite similar to “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”. Lyrically and atmospherically speaking, Lamar, Top Dawg, Aftermath Entertainment, and Interscope Records have created a short film, telling the all too familiar tale of an impressionable kid growing up in the rough-and-tumble communities of Compton, California – with a subtle twist. There is more to growing up in L.A. than the glorification of “women, weed and weather,” as in “The Art of Peer Pressure” and “Poetic Justice” we learn that mob mentality and running from gang violence were a very real source of fear for Lamar’s younger self.

The message “good kid, M.A.A.D city” delivers marks the difference between a rapper who has succumb to corruption only to perpetuate it, and Kendrick, who hints at his aim to rise above it, and pass on his wisdom. The voicemail clip in “Real,” seems to sum it up. Lamar’s mother speaks prophetically to her missing son: “Come back a man, tell your story to these black and brown kids in Compton, let ‘em know you was just like them. But you still rose from that dark place of violence, becoming a positive person.”

Beyond the mastery of story-telling, which commands the overall success of this album, the music in and of itself is textured and uniformly enjoyable throughout all 17 tracks of the deluxe edition. The beats take a cue from the neo-soul genre; warm, at times esoteric, laid-back, tuneful and understated, while reminding the ear of an era when music was rebellious and fully conscious. Basslines are velvety smooth, and drawn out, underscoring the busy helium-harmonies and drone-like sound effects which reoccur as a modern motif (i.e. the hook of “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe”).

Lamar demonstrates his flare for voice acting, or a possible tendency toward multiple personality disorder, animating each track with a set of Compton characters, versions of himself at different stages in life and his own torn subconscious, all the while showcasing his talent for lickity split, breath defying turns of phrase.

It is advisable to listen to “good kid, M.A.A.D. city” from start to finish toget the full affect of the album. However, some of the more memorable tracks include “The Recipe,” featuring Dr. Dre, “Poetic Justice,” featuring Drake and sampling from Janet Jackson’s “Any Time, Any Place,” and “Swimming Pools, (Drank),” produced by T-Minus.


Xzibit – Napalm album review

There is a sonic sort of desperation which can be heard throughout Xzibit’s latest album release, “Napalm.” After a six year foray into the acting and entertainment industry, the former Pimp My Ride host returns to the urban music scene with something he considers to be explosive. Anyone would agree “Napalm” is certainly destructive, and will no doubt be revered for consistently maintaining that the state of hip hop has not budged since 1994; it will please many old school hip hop fans to know that misogyny apparently never goes out of style. But after listening to the album in its entirety, one may start to recognize in Xzibit an unsubtle front for sadness in the form of extreme anger. In both lyrics and execution, “Napalm” is violently emotive. It seems this rapper- turned-host got smacked around one to many times by a baffling epiphany: in reality the hip hop world won’t be still, blue with bated breath, just because one of its own decides to leave orbit for a while.

As ever, Xzibit’s flow is fully charged, aggressive and not a spot cleaner than thick, curdled and grimy. For that alone this album can be commended and recommended to fans of this particular style – reminiscent of DMX. For the most part, the tracks have weak hooks, and the production leaves a lot to be desired. There is barely a memorable melody line to be found amid its bone rattling bass lines. The sole track with just enough pop appeal and potential for a techno-revamp to perhaps catch on at clubs and bars is “Up Out the Way,” featuring E40.

Where “Napalm” disappoints the most is an overall bad attitude which rings thematic throughout all 21 tracks of the Deluxe Edition LP. This particular ego trip goes beyond spitting redundantly about a puffed up lifestyle. The money, drugs, women and violence masks a much deeper vendetta. Xzibit is downright paranoid (bordering on homicidal) over the encroaching competition of the opposite coast. He is bitter about being abandoned and ignored by his former crew of collaborators. At one point he goes as far as to declare that he is not about pushing a positive message with his music at all. The whole thing proves an odd set of obstacles to be facing a man who proclaims to have “Everything.”   Everything, as it turns out, are a bad few years of ratings followed by a good-enough plan b for Xzibit to get by on.


Mackelmore & Ryan Lewis – The Heist album review

In the last few months alone Urban music has succumb to the effects of evolution in a huge way. Frank Ocean came out of the closet, Drake graduated from high-school, and Kanye West gave up on revamping Kim Kardashian’s hopeless wardrobe collection. While not quite obliterated, ignorance in the form of intolerance has been perpetuated to lesser degrees among Hip-Hop, R&B and Rap diehards and artists alike. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “The Heist” is a fearless 15 track compilation which boots the momentum of progress in Urban music to revolutionary speeds. The philosophy behind their debut album is something a lot more individuals should subscribe to, covering topics from senseless homophobia to mindless consumerism. On October 9th of this year The Heist was released on CD and made available for digital download on the independent Macklemore label.

Ben Haggerty (a.k.a. Macklemore) and Ryan Lewis have preserved an unparalleled type of independent song production throughout their partnership, and through “The Heist” have continued a tradition of bringing their fan base something truly unique to chew on. Possibly one of the most refreshing aspects of the album, among many, is a rare complexity and full-bodied orchestration, complete with brass and strings. The classically trained Macklemore members and instrumentalists, Andrew Joslyn (Violin), Noah Goldberg (Piano), Owour Arunga (trumpet) and Zach Fleary (Rhythm) bring a surprising spritz of whimsy to a number of the tracks– notably, ‘Thrift Shop,’ ‘Can’t Hold Us,’ and the fully instrumental and fittingly titled track, ‘BomBom’.

Macklemore has been celebrated for his candidness, and amid the insights of The Heist he passes on a mix of evolved cultural observations and mature self-reflexive wisdom. The lyrics of the first track alone, ‘Ten Thousand Hours’, read like a self-help book minus all the frilly encouragement. Sampling from the little known brilliance of folksy and tender-voiced, Mary Lambert in ‘Same Love’ demonstrated a real shift toward what may, hopefully, become a growing trend in Urban music. “The Heist” is genuine I.N.D.E.P.E.N.D.E.N.T. SH*T hustled from most every angle, and I for one hope Macklemore and Ryan Lewis never sign off on the sale of what immense soul their music has forged for us all.