J. Cole has grown from Roc Nation underdog to Hip hop prince. Having made a stir this year, J. Cole proves his Hip hop status in debut album Cole World: The Sideline Story.
Cole’s strength lies in his storytelling: “Lights Please,” although a story of sexual passion at its highest, highlights issues of parenthood. “How you gon’ look in yo’ son’s face and turn yo’ back,” J. Cole says, providing a reflective perception on a common problem in today’s society.
“Sideline Story” sneers at the faces of the faithless: Cole attacks with a confident swagger, delivering rhymes that tell of his journey from sideline assistant, to MVP youngblood.
Cole has propelled himself into the spotlight in ways that are comparable to mentor Jay-Z and Hip hop’s egotistic Kanye West. Cole delivers somewhere in the middle, providing hard rhymes laced with reflection on his beginnings and his growth as an artist. His do-it-yourself ethic towards the album is noteworthy: His production is lush, filled with varied samples, intricate chord progressions and electronic percussion that takes from the nostalgic sounds of the ’80s and its present-day contemporaries.
Cole World: The Sideline Story is an impressive debut from J. Cole: He shows an understanding of the conventional side of mainstream Hip hop, while incorporating a new approach that may take a few listens to fully understand and appreciate.
Southern rap heavyweights Gucci Mane and Waka Flocka Flame are known for bringing hyped-up, crunk-laced hip hop to the masses, and although Ferrari Boyz is not their best delivery, it still, barely I must add, gets the job done.
Between the artists constantly yelling their names and what they represent, are rhymes centered around money, cars and cocaine. There is no witty or crafty wordplay present; any word that can be rhymed with the other seems to be the procedure for just about every track on this album.
Most times, Mane is the Robin to Waka’s Batman, especially on the track “Suicide Homicide.” Rapid-fire rhymes supported by chants of “squad” and “Waka,” leave Mane’s verse in the dust.
Contributions from Brick Squad label mates Wooh da Kid, Frenchie, YG Hootie and others are apparent, but do not enhance the songs they perform on in any way. The production is also nothing impressive; filled with imitated high-hat-and-bass sounds that desire to be like the prime cut beats of Lex Luger, these hand-me-down beats from Drumma Boy, Fatboi and other contributors, gets the job done, but doesn’t really leave any resonance with the listener.
This album is adequate; if you’re looking for something significant or worthwhile, just pop in something from either artist’s back catalog. After one listen, you may either feel satisfied or completely distraught with how the album just coasts by, leaving a not as pleasing feeling unlike those felt when listening to Waka’s boisterous 2010 solo album, or Gucci’s well-received 2009 solo album.
If you like being bombarded with constant reminders of the artist you’re listening to, production that imitates rather than originates and rhymes that are lackluster and stale, this may be the album for you. Ferrari Boyz zooms right through, leaving no traces of innovation, and a road full of skid marks.
The first time I heard Chiddy Bang, I was instantly impressed by their sampling of MGMT’s “Kids.” Their unconventional sampling methods, and even sounds, are fresh and different, combining hip hop with so many different realms in music, producing an end result that is successful and satisfactory. This continues to be the case in their latest release, Peanut Butter and Swelly.
Providing listeners with a little snack before their debut studio album Breakfast drops, Chiddy Bang still keeps things spacey, creative and light-hearted in Peanut Butter and Swelly. Rapper Chidera Anamege and his Travis McCoy-esque delivery blends well with the mixtape’s production. A combination of old-school samples (Martha and the Vandellas’ “Heat Wave”) and modern-day synthpop (Matt and Kim’s “Cameras”), Peanut Butter and Swelly captivates in so many different ways, creating a diverse sound that will have you smiling at their unique choices.
In the aforementioned “Heatwave,” guest appearances by newcomers Mac Miller and Casey Veggies and somewhat veteran Houston rapper Trae Tha Truth provide the heat over soulful sounds.
In “Baby Roulette” Train makes a guest appearance, taking a break from talking about soul sisters, and claiming that their love is “super-sized.” Nintendo-esque sounds explode randomly behind poppy synths as Anamege provides the flow.
Did you know that Anamege has the Guinness World Record for longest freestyle rap? If you didn’t, “Guiness Flow” will make you a believer as he confidently refers to his noteworthy, Guinness-approved rhymes.
“Jacuzzi (Lost in the Vapors)” and its feel-good synths, beats and chorus are infectious; you will be hooked as Anamege raps about having a good time. “You Think My Old Shit Hard? You Ain’t Seen Nothin'” is a mouthful, but the track is banging. The hook and its bumping bass are great, and when it transitions back to a half-time, dubstep groove during the verses, is amazing.
“When You’ve Got Music” finishes off the mixtape with a guest appearance from The Knocks. The buzzy, drilling synths and minimal handclaps and percussion sounds are absolutely enjoyable, and the matrimony between Chiddy Bang and The Knocks (Chiddy Bang sampled The Knocks’ “Blackout” for a song before) is apparent as everything just flows on this standout track.
Peanut Butter and Swelly shows that the dynamic duo still has what it takes to make eclectic, feel-good danceable music; Anamege’s delivery is something similar to the aforementioned Travis McCoy and party rapper Schwayze; it smoothly creates a narrative about having a good time and enjoying the finer moments of life. A great listen, and definitely something to keep the fans satisfied until Breakfast drops, Peanut Butter and Swelly will have your head bobbing and your feet moving from beginning to end.
Black Rob needs no introduction to the hip hop game; having been a part of it since the ’90s, Black Rob has come up a long way since his debut album, Life Story. Even though a few jail sentences kept him occupied for some time, Black Rob has returned back to the scene with Game Tested, Streets Approved, an album that is explosive, raw and a great way to welcome Rob back at what he does best: rap.
“Welcome Back” says it all in the title; behind eerie sounds and blaring trumpets is the confident Black Rob, banging his chest as he acknowledges his return.
“Can’t Make It In NY” is a description of many events that have occurred in Black Rob’s life in NY, over minimalist beats and sounds.
“Celebration” is the feel-good track off of the album as Black Rob illustrates a picture about having a good time. “Nobody home, everybody in the streets,” says Black Rob, his deep delivery backed by Breyan Isaac’s soulful voice.
“Get Involved” has Black Rob rapping about his luxurious life, talking about different places he has frequented. The piano melody is enjoyable, remaining eerie enough to suit Black Rob’s delivery.
If you had any doubts that Black Rob had gone soft, “No Fear” will get rid of that skepticism; heavy, piano-thumping production and Rob rapping about holding people up, prove that Black Rob has not become timid at all.
“Nothin” ends the album off right with Black Rob prophesying his return to hip hop, while also providing rhymes that still show he is one of raps most fearless artists.
Game Tested, Streets Approved is a strong return for Black Rob; he retains his hard, unflinching swagger, delivering blows that will not go unheard, attacking your ear canals with no remorse. No eerie, creepy production is minimal, but creates the right atmosphere for the album. If you want to listen to an album that is unyielding and never hesitant at getting a certain point across, then Black Rob’s Game Tested, Streets Approved is the album for you.
No worries Weezy, the apology is not necessary. Delivering to the masses an appetizer of what is to come on Tha Carter IV, Lil Wayne’s latest mixtape is nothing deep or dense, presenting itself as a warm-up consisting of quirky, humorous freestyles over the latest Drake and Adele hits that, unquestionably, will provide a few laugh-inducing listens.
Hearing Lil Wayne rap over Kreayshawn’s “Gucci Gucci” is great. “My homies got that white girl, they call it Lady Gaga” raps Wayne, his giddy wordplay standing out on this mentionable track.
In “Marvin’s Room” Wayne puts a thug bravado over Drake’s hit, his intentions passionate and strangely romantic, alluding to Aaliyah’s “Rock the Boat” for backup. “Grove St. Party” features guest rapper Lil B over the Waka Flocka Flame track, his swagged out delivery a perfect fit for Weezy’s.
“Sorry 4 The Wait” obviously stands out for its Adele sample, with Wayne throwing powerful punches and boastfully declaring that he is “ahead of the time.”
Overall, Sorry may not be comparable to the Drought tapes, but it is definitely fun and listenable. Lil Wayne’s delivery is witty and enjoyable, his rhymes layered with similes and metaphors that will provide for a quick laugh, or an instantaneous raise of the eyebrows. All over the place and absolutely amusing, Sorry will have you smiling, keeping you occupied until the next Carter drops.
When a musical collective is labeled a supergroup, there is definitely a lot to expect. Random Axe is without a doubt a supergroup, and they confidently wear that label with bravado and unquestionable swagger. Comprised of Black Milk, Guilty Simpson and Sean Price, Random Axe is anything but random. Talented MCs coming together to create a unified album that delivers like a full-force axe, Random Axe’s self-titled debut album is a nice introduction to the group.
From the start, the production is choppy, eerie and somewhat dark, but fits for the hard, dark-humored rhymes of Simpson and Price. “Black Ops” features explosive snares, and a guest appearance from Fat Ray. “Chewbacca” and its spooky, flowy synths, contribute to Roc Marciano’s stream of consciousness delivery, his narrative mysterious, yet effective.
“Everybody, Nobody, Somebody” addresses issues ranging from cultural, to political. The eerie, minimal production on this track, is almost as haunting as the subject manner. “Jahphy Joe” combines cracking drums, theremin sounds and guest appearances from Melanie Rutherford (who lays down a great chorus) and Danny Brown, to create a track that is just absolutely intimidating.
“Never Back Down” showcases Simpson’s ability to hold down a track all by himself. He manages to state his greatness in 47 seconds; effective, and precise, it is obvious that Simpson means it when he says, “My ego’s big,” and defends the statement with such a tough guy delivery, that you can’t help but agree.
“Another One” is absolutely crazy, especially when Trick-Trick spits over it. His delivery is uncontrollable and untamed, a verbal onslaught that is just so hardcore, you might not be able to get through the rest of the song.
Overall, this trio is mind-blowing. Black Milk’s production is minimalist and eerie at times, bringing to mind those such as, J Dilla and RZA. Other times, it can be electro-influenced, grabbing sounds from the realms of Kraftwerk, and specific artists such as Brian Eno. To be able to cultivate a sound like that is commendable. Add in Simpson and Price’s impeccable and intimidating flow, and you have an album that is great in so many ways. At times the group does falter, and some tracks may not stand out as much as others, but the album is definitely listenable. The guest appearances are a great contribution to the album, and the diverse selection brings a different energy to each track. Random Axe’s self-titled, debut album is a warm welcome into their world, and these guys confidently show it off for everybody to see.
Kendrick Lamar is an impeccable lyricist. His flow seems natural, at times striking with a rapid, staccato delivery. Other times, he slows it down, allowing his rhymes to be malleable, and shape themselves into whatever form they see fit. Lamar, along with Odd Future, Pac Div and many others, have put California back on the map for hip hop, delivering a new, refined approach, and implementing some of the lyrical themes common in rap with a fresh, and innovative perspective. Lamar’s latest album, Section.80 is a testament to that statement.
From the very beginning, what stands out and contributes so much to Section.80’s delivery, is its production. Some parts are minimalist; spacey, Kid Cudi-esque chords float over snares and layered vocals, allowing Lamar to deliver bar, after bar, after bar. “Hol’ Up” showcases the perfect matrimony between great production, and great rhymes. Soulful horns provide the melody, while Lamar delivers in a fashion similar to Camp Lo, creating a story through his effortless flow.
“A.D.H.D.” has an old-school, G-funk vibe to it; reverberated synths provide a surreal atmosphere for Lamar’s “high tolerance.” “Poe Man’s Dream” is Lamar’s biographical track; from talking about family problems, to wanting to help out friends, Lamar creates an evocative narrative, and contributions from rapper GLC, makes it even better.
“Chapter Ten” sounds like something out of a Sa-Ra album; distorted, fuzzy vocals, and a non-stop, onslaught delivery from Lamar, will make you wish this track was more than just one minute and 15 seconds long. “Keisha’s Song” describes the life of a girl with an unfortunate situation. Ashtro Bot’s contributions to the track will not go unpraised; something of a modern-day Frank Sinatra, but with a lot more rasp, Bot’s vocals in the chorus are absolutely infectious.
“Kush and Corinthians” is such a great track; groovy jazz sounds grow and fade out, with different instruments becoming a part of Lamar’s incomplete puzzle, as he reflects on life, and its many mysteries. The soulful vocals from BJ the Mystery Kid are a nice addition too. “Blow My High” is such an out there song, but in a good way. Weird, spacey sounds sporadically appear behind funked-out synths, while Lamar humorously rhymes over it.
“Ab-Souls Outro” stands out with its fast-paced, bebop production, and Lamar’s accurate and precise delivery. Ab-Soul brings an aggressive approach similar to P.O.S. in his rhymes; each one is passionate and heartfelt, hitting you where it counts. Similar to the improvisational keyboards and saxophones in the song, Ab-Soul and Lamar deliver in the same way, some of their rhymes seeming organic and instantaneous, like that of a John Coltrane, or Miles Davis solo.
“HiiiiPoWeR” ends out the album with its enjoyable J. Cole production, and Lamar’s insightful lyrical content.
This album is amazing; it presents itself as something more than just a piece of recorded music. It provides a message, with that message being, “stand for something.” Maybe this is due to Lamar’s upbringing in a world filled with violence and hardship, making a way for himself regardless of his experiences. Where ever the message derives from, it is obviously significant, and allows the album to have something of a concept behind it. The production is flawless; it takes chances, allowing moments to experiment and branch out, resulting in a positive outcome. Section.80 is welcoming and enjoyable, and if you have not heard of Kendrick Lamar, then this would definitely be a great place to start.
AraabMuzik; quirky name, but a monster at producing, and trust me, that is not an overstatement. Anyone who can manipulate an MPC drum machine to do its bidding, while creating various melodies with different samples, all at once, is someone worth knowing about. Abraham Orellana, better known as AraabMuzik, has worked with artists such as, Jadakiss, Fabolous and Busta Rhymes. When he isn’t working with well-known artists, he is creating his own type of music. A mixture of pulsating drum kicks and electro and trance samples, AraabMuzik is a malleable producer; he can just about make anything he wants. This is the case with his latest release, Electronic Dream.
Electronic Dream presents itself as something of a surreal sequence, as it starts off with “Electronic Dream.” Everything you would expect from trance is on here; loopy synths, rapid drum patterns and reverberated vocals, all provide a comfortable welcoming into Araab Muzik’s world.
“Golden Touch” starts off with a pulsating drum kick, followed by an entourage of hi-hats, synths and explosive percussion. “Underground Stream” is the beautiful nightmare of Electronic Dream; staccato synths and thumping drums explode from all directions, creating a world of enjoyable cacophony.
“Lift Off,” and “Let It Go,” will be dance club favorites as they utilize Araab’s formula of pulsating drums, infectious synths and ethereal-sounding vocals. “Lost In A Maze” will actually make you feel like you’re stuck in a maze. Hi-hats attack with full force, while reverberated synths come looming from behind, chasing you as you try to find your way out of Arrab’s musically enrapturing maze.
Electronic Dream is enjoyable; it shows that AraabMuzik can dip his production into just about anything he wants, and he can create something beautiful with it. His chopped up samples and drum patterns are so precise and smooth, that at times you may get lost in the drums, completely forgetting about the melodies that are present. Good for a night of dancing or relaxation, Electronic Dream is a choice you cannot go wrong with.
Freddie Gibbs’ road is layered with evocative imagery; when he delivers, he delivers. His does not hold anything back, and his tough guy attitude never falters, contributing to the dark themes that are commonplace in the world of gangsta-rap. In his latest EP, Lord Giveth, Lord Taketh Away, Freddie Gibbs continues on with his street-smart bravado, teaming up with producer Statik Selektah, and a list of guest appearances, to create a 19 minute mix of ’70s music influenced production, hyper-technical rhymes from Gibbs and contributing bars from an eclectic roster of guests.
From beginning to end, this album does not indicate it was made in a day (which it was); Statik Selektah obviously takes his production seriously, as every beat and every note are synchronized perfectly, allowing Gibbs’ malleable flow to just smoothly go through well-chosen samples. Heavy organs start things off in, “Lord Giveth Lord Taketh Away,” where Gibbs showcases his ability to transition from rapid-fire, to staccato-driven rhymes, in a matter of seconds.
“Rap Money,” features Dogg Pound member, Daz Dillinger, who compliments Gibbs’ style with his similar, baritone-like delivery. “Affiliated,” is an onslaught of just raw, unrestrained delivery from Gibbs, and guests Reks & Push! Montana. “For real MCs to kill the likes of Lil Bs,” angrily proclaims Reks. Yikes.
Fred The Godson and Termanology shine on, “Wild Style.” The title is fitting for the the deliveries, especially Termanology’s; “I’ll put the grenade in your mouth, and blow your life apart,” rhymes Termanology, his machine gun flow almost as deadly as the images he creates with them.
“Keep It Warm For Ya,” is somewhat humorous in a way; Gibbs, along with Smoke DZA and Chace Infinite, rhyme about their sexual prowess, and how it keeps the ladies coming back for more. “Fix me mac and cheese, you know I’m a fat n***a,” states Smoke DZA, his clever wordplay also hilarious, considering the moody atmosphere Selektah creates on this track.
Lord Giveth, Lord Taketh Away is a solid release, and although it may not be near his strongest release, Gibbs proves that, even in a day, he can create something that looks completely effortless and flawless, proving that he is one of the most solid rappers in the game right now.
To say that Albert Shepard, better known as Blueprint, is just a rapper, would be an understatement. His music pushes boundaries, combining influences and sounds that have recently gained acceptance in the realm of hip-hop.
Founder of Weightless Recordings, and a part of Rhymesayers Entertainment all-star roster, Blueprint has paid his dues to get to where he is now. This road has not been easy though; battling with sobriety, and the desire to challenge the “conventions of what hip-hop is,” as Blueprint puts it, led to a five-year hiatus, where Blueprint developed a new aesthetic on creating music. The end result: Adventures in Counter-Culture, an innovative, unconventional approach.
A personal and artistic transformation, Adventures in Counter-Culture showcases Blueprint’s abilities to weave together synths and drum hits, while using intellectual and progressive lyrics. MVRemix talked with Blueprint about this change, support from Rhymesayers, sampling, touring and the newfound electronic R&B sound that Blueprint had crafted way before Kid Cudi or Drake were around.
MVRemix: Adventures in Counter-Culture was not only a musical journey for you, but it led to you improving your life in various ways. How did the process of making this album help shape you into a better person, and a better musician?
Blueprint: Well, when I first started working on the album I really had no idea about the time and scope of what I was trying to do. I understood that I was going to be bringing together a bunch of different genres of music, but I was really unaware of how difficult of a task that would be. So as I got deeper and deeper into the process it started to hit me–that there was no way I was going to finish it and make it the album it needed to be unless I stopped doing a lot of things I was doing.
So, socially having something that ambitious kind of forced me to take a step back from a lot of the social things I was a part of, and since most of it wasn’t good for me anyways, it made perfect sense. Things I was doing like drinking almost every night, and staying out until 4-5 am–that had to stop. But, the hardest part of quitting that lifestyle isn’t really quitting itself, it’s finding meaningful things to do with your time, so you wont go back to doing it all over again. So, I started working out and riding my bike more. That led me to eating better because I wasn’t going out every night. Because I wasn’t going out every night I had time to start reading again, so I got a library card and read tons of books. All those changes allowed me to put 100% into music again, and not get caught up in the distractions–but they also made me a better person.
MVRemix: When I reviewed your album, I noticed there were certain sounds that definitely reminded me of Kid Cudi, Drake and the more synthy, electronic R&B sound you hear in some of the big hip-hop artists nowadays. You had developed this sound way before any of these artists were even known. Were you skeptical at first of how the sound would be received/ were you reassured when artists such as Kid Cudi, Drake, and even Kanye, became popular?
Blueprint: When I first started Adventures it was 2006, it was before Cudi and Drake really existed, and before Kanye had put out 808’s and Heartbreaks, so at that time there was literally nobody doing that and no frame of reference for what I was doing. I could see where the music needed to go, but it was difficult to get people around me to really understand it because there was nobody doing it back then. Plus, this was right after I had put out the 1988 album and the Soul Position album Things Go Better with RJ and Al, so it was a very dramatic musical change for some people. I believed in what I was doing but there were definitely times where I wasn’t sure it was going to work out, so it helped a lot that Cudi, Drake, and Kanye did what they did because they definitely made it easier for me. For the first time, where I was going actually made sense to some people who didn’t get it before because even though Kanye, Drake, and Cudi aren’t doing what I’m doing, they are singing and rapping, and that’s a necessary frame-of-reference for some people to understand what I was doing.
MVRemix: Your philosophy now seems to be, more instrumentation and less sampling, which can definitely be seen on your latest album. Did this mainly develop through wanting to just go against what you were comfortable with doing, or were there artists who also influenced you to move in that direction?
Blueprint: I think it developed mostly because everybody around me was getting sued for samples, and I realized that if I didn’t have any other way of making a good beat then I would probably be next! I started working on doing beats without samples around 2005, actually right after the 1988 album came out, just experimenting and wanting to do something different, but also knowing that my future as a producer could be dependent upon my ability to adapt, and have more than one style of production.
MVRemix: I read in another interview that you had been getting into Kraftwerk, which is a great band. Did their electronic sound have any influence on the songs you wrote?
Blueprint: I don’t think Kraftwerk influenced any specific songs on Adventures in Counter-Culture, but they definitely influence and inspire my instrumental work. They were the first group that made me realize I needed to study to really gain an appreciation, and understanding of electronic music. A lot of people think of electronic music as just dance music, but the history of it has always been a lot more than that.
MVRemix: After a five year hiatus, you came back stronger than ever. Was Rhymesayers supportive of your new sound?
Blueprint: From the beginning they were very supportive. They never told me to go back to my old style, or to do something that would be easier to make or market. They only wanted me to take the music as far as I possibly could.
MVRemix: There seems to be a gap in hip hop where some artists still rely on samples, while others create their own beats/ melodies. You have The Roots, N.E.R.D. and artists on Rhymesayers, including yourself, who seem to want to have their own sound, without relying heavily on sampling. Do you think sampling stifles an artist, or can it help them in a certain way?
Blueprint: There are certain artists who I think just need to have samples in the beats. Cats like Ghostface, MF Doom and the Wu-Tang–cats like that. I think those guys are stifled by not being able to sample as much. But, there’s also a group of people who can create something really unique without it. I think prior to Adventures in Counter-Culture, I was headed down the path of being completely reliant on samples, which is really hard to reverse once you hit a certain point. So, my goal as a producer was to be good at both styles, so that I didn’t have to rely completely on sampling because the sampling laws are getting ridiculous, and artists are getting sued right and left. I’m not at the point where I can afford to pay a lawsuit, so I’ve gotta be careful. Although I can’t really sample like I used to, I still make beats using samples all the time, so I’m still into that style–I just cant do it for myself like I used to.
MVRemix: How has the fan reception been? When I last saw you perform in Austin, everyone was digging it, and I definitely enjoyed your Keytar skills.
Blueprint: So far the reception has been great. Austin was a really good night, and one of the best nights of “The Family Sign Tour.” I’m really happy with how people have responded to the album so far.
MVRemix: Besides working with Rhymesayers, you also have your own label, Weightless Recordings. Are there any new projects going on with either Rhymesayers/ Weightless?
Blueprint: Because of the time I’ve had to dedicate to the new album, I actually haven’t had any time to spend on Weightless this year. The next release should be an instrumental album by producer Latimore Platz, but we’re not sure when that’s going to drop since it’s not completely done yet. Maybe after that we might do another Greenhouse EP and album with Illogic.
MVRemix: Where do you want to see yourself in not just hip-hop, but in music as a whole as you continue to grow as a musician?
Blueprint: As a musician, my goal is to just keep pushing as far as possible, and challenging the conventions of what hip-hop is, and to keep making better and better music.
On album and live, Blueprint delivers a performance that is raw and powerful. One can only imagine the creative thoughts floating in Blueprint’s mind, and if he remains on the road he is on now, hip-hop will continue to change, widening the spectrum, and reinventing a realm that we all have become complacent with. Different, confident and innovative, Blueprint is the breath of fresh air hip-hop needs, and trust me, you will be thankful for it.