Reality – Life Music album review

Full disclosure: this is a review of a Christian Rap album. I’m not saying that because I’m discouraging anyone, believer or not, from listening to it. However, I think it’s important to bear in mind that blending an openly religious message with secular musical genres can often produce confusing results. That, in a nutshell, is the problem with Reality’s Life Music, and maybe contemporary Christian music (CCM) in general. Christian rap artists have a lot more barriers to overcome than other contemporary Christian musicians. Finding a lyrical message that keeps it real and also keeps it righteous is rarely achieved, and probably why Christian rappers don’t enjoy a lot of mainstream success even by CCM standards. So, by peppering in religious overtones throughout an album comprised mostly of rhymes about a violent criminal lifestyle, Reality really isn’t striking much of a balance.

Reality relates to the listener a number of tales of a rough life in the streets and of his inner struggle. Unfortunately, none of his verses are very self-revealing. For the most part he just uses generalities to describe his struggle and paint in broad strokes a picture of hardship that he rose above through the power of Jesus. Even the title of the album promises a vital look into a life transformed by faith, but Reality doesn’t even make it clear how or when exactly he decided to devote himself to Christian faith. Combine that with weak storytelling, it becomes hard to truly grasp the transformation that Reality obviously wants to convey. Now, I’m not trying to discredit a man’s testimony, but when it’s hard to tell the difference between a rapper who’s lamenting a life of violence and a rapper who’s glorifying that life, I have to take issue with that. Often Reality’s message of positivity only appears on the latter verses of his songs, and by that time, I’m afraid that many listeners will have already written off the content as boilerplate gangsta rap. However, Reality does seem most genuine when he is focusing on his inner turmoil and his grappling with God, particularly on “To The Generation” which was easily my favorite song on the album.

Would I listen to this album if I even if I were a non-believer? Maybe. Reality’s strong voice and solid delivery are enough to keep listeners interested for at least a skim of a few tracks. However, I just don’t think that Reality’s message is going to hit home with Christians, because it just doesn’t deliver honest, impactful testimony. So, if this album is going to seem lukewarm to non-believers, and inauthentic to believers, then who is this album for? That question, in my opinion, sums up the awkwardness of contemporary Christian music, and in particular the confusing blend of ‘holy’ and ‘hip hop’ found in Life Music.

Rittz – The Life and Times of Jonny Valiant album review

After much ado, Georgia rapper Rittz announces himself with a highly foreshadowed debut album, The Life and Times of Jonny Valiant. Since aligning himself Yelawolf’s independent label Slumerica, Rittz has dropped several singles and a lengthy mixtape (White Jesus: Revival) as a run-up to up this debut release. Now, turning to Tech N9ne’s Strange Music imprint, Rittz’s brand of dirty south hip hop hits the big scene.

The debut effort from Rittz is unlikely to disappoint his fans, touting consistent production values and Rittz’s signature rapid-fire rhymes, but it might not so easily win over a casual listener. What limits this album’s appeal is a number of thematic contradictions. And although it’s an extremely polished product, the music just doesn’t make the right kind of impact for an MC’s debut.

As far as the overall sound experience of the album, it sounds really crisp. Rittz’s vocals always come through loud and clear, showcasing the rapper’s blazing fast choppity-chop rapping style. Rittz’s fast but not hurried delivery dices up an inky black backdrop of clean bass tones and tight synths. His rapping competes with the speed and precision of double-time kicks and tick-tick snares. I have to be honest though, I felt the slickness of the tracks losing luster pretty early in the album. Maybe it was the straight up sex jam “Sober,” but I couldn’t help but imagine some of these songs playing out in a beat up after-hours strip club.

Three quarters of the way through the hour-long album, Rittz’s machine gun flow started to wear me down as well. I found myself practically begging for featured artists to come in and break up some of the monotony. While I usually respect the sparing use of features on a solo album, especially a debut, I wish Rittz had given up the mic a little more often. The guest verses from MCs like Tech N9ne, Yelawolf and Big K.R.I.T., are a much-needed change of pace on Jonny Valiant.

His flow aside, Rittz is at his lyrical best when he keeps it strictly personal, like in the song “Interview.” Here he faces down skeptics, critics, and public interrogation in the form of rapped responses to a fictional interview. However Rittz stumbles when the focus becomes less individual and he resorts to glorifying excessive lifestyles filled with drugs, booze and sexual exploits (see: “Sober”). To further complicate things, Rittz seems very determined to remind the listener of his no-nonsense ethos with songs like “Fuck Swag,” and “For Real.”

Ultimately, I couldn’t fully get over these missteps. An MCs debut album is a rite of passage that should make an unmistakable statement representing the sum of everything in the artists life that went into the creation of the album. Not only is Rittz’s statement a little contradictory, the album fails to create a lasting impact musically. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an unbelievably consistent effort from an MC in a debut, and it could probably serve as a great soundtrack for your next drugged driving excursion. Unfortunately, the punch that The Life and Times of Jonny Valiant packs will wear off a lot quicker than the buzz you’re catching to it.

Slaughterhouse – Welcome to: Our House album review

6 months ago the general public got its first taste of Welcome to: Our House when Funkmaster Flex played “Hammer Dance” on his radio show. Featuring a sample from Korn’s “Falling Away from Me” and production work from AraabMuzik, this song was a surprising single from Slaughterhouse.

Composed of Joe Budden, Royce da 5’9”, Joell Ortiz, and Crooked I, this group is a legitimate powerhouse in Hip-Hop. Each one of these MCs can hold their own and have a flow adaptable to almost any situation.

Almost being the operative word. Eminem is brought on to Executive Produce the album, which ends up hurting more than it helps. Welcome to: Our World shines on tracks that are far from Eminem’s trademark sound, and that allow the other rappers to play off of one another.

“Our House” embodies the issue perfectly. With a verse from Em and a hook from Skylar Grey, the song ends up being a bloated 6-minutes long because of 3 more verses from Slaughterhouse. The beat sounds like it was tailor-made for Recovery and is completely out of place.

That being said, there are plenty of great moments on this album that wisely get as far from the Eminem aesthetic as possible. “Get Up” finds the group rapping over drums that clip aggressively, and a keyboard line that keeps the momentum going. No I.D.’s clever sampling of “Ali in the Jungle” by The Hours does wonders for all of Slaughterhouse, but Royce Da 5’9” absolutely demolishes his verse.

Towards the end of the record is “Goodbye,” which finds Slaughterhouse being surprisingly poignant and emotional. A lot of rappers’ attempts at eulogizing their loved ones comes off heavy-handed, but this track does an incredible job of being honest while not being sappy. Ortiz’s verse stands out as it perfectly engulfs the listener in the whirlwind days before a funeral.

After numerous delays and a huge amount of hype, it’d be easy to dismiss Welcome to: Our House, but the pure talent and natural charisma between the 4 members cannot be played down. That is, when they’re fifth wheel isn’t demanding his presence be known.

2 Chainz – Based On a T.R.U Story album review

Some albums you just have to take it for what it is when reviewing it. As much as I would like to you can’t compare the Chief Keefs to the Nases of the world when reviewing, or else just about everything would get a bad review. I tried to keep this in mind when reviewing 2 Chainz new album Based On A T.R.U Story, and even with no comparisons, the album Is still unbelievably ridiculously bad. I tried, I really did.

The album begins with “Yuck”, a menacing Lil Wayne featured track. Right off the bat 2 Chainz flow is really awkward, where he drags out every word at the end of his verses, which got really irritating after the fifth time. However, Lil Wayne saved the track delivering clever one liners, that he is known for and flowing with the beat in an effortless manner. After “Yuck” comes “Crack.” In this track, 2 Chainz brags about being in possession of crack, and thinks it’s a good idea to add N’s in between words. “I got that Cr-n-ak” and “B-n-ag” are among some of the alterations he made to words.

“Dope Peddler” is lyrically so bad that it is nearly unbearable. Once again, I knew coming into this that the lyrical content wouldn’t be great, but come on…I mean really? “ I said I pull up to that club like muthafuckin ho you don’t know me/ Most of my niggas got gold teeth /Most of my bitches got tattoos /Most of my niggas think cash rules /And I mess up hair dos like it’s a pair of shoes /And I need a parachute when I’m up there.” The best parts of Based on a T.R.U Story are the tracks that feature collaborations. That is probably why most of the singles from the album are the featured tracks, because even he knows he can’t hold his own.

The Sonny Digital produced “Birthday Song” has an epic trap beat that overpowers 2 Chainz, but when Kanye West gives out his verse, you almost forget its 2 Chainz song. “I Luv Dem Strippers” is nothing more than a good song to mindlessly dance to after getting plastered at a club, but sober it doesn’t have the same effect (check out the number of dislikes on the music video…YIKES). Nicki Minaj’s quirky rapping style is refreshing on the beat, making the song bearable. Mike Posner croons on “In Town” giving us the ear candy of the album with an infectious voice. 2 Chainz attempts to show his soft side talking about crushing and blushing, which is a refreshing break from the incessant talk of “Big booty hoes” on the rest of the album.

The album ends with his single “Riot”, which makes for a good high energy party song, was the first single from the album. All in all, this debut left me wondering what exactly Kanye was getting at when signing him to G.O.O.D music. Maybe this is all a good joke and we are all being Punk’d, but something tells me it’s not.

Smoke DZA – Rugby Thompson album review

Sometimes, when it comes to stoner rap, the only people who will enjoy the music are stoners. This isn’t the case for Smoke DZA’s signature marijuana-praising raps. For Smoke DZA’s latest album, Rugby Thompson he enlisted east coast beat maker Harry Fraud to produce the album in its entirety. This latest effort shows Smoke DZA’s growth from just another weed rapper to rapping about different content. Where this would hinder the versatility in many other albums, Harry Fraud’s soulful production brings something different with each track. The features on Rugby Thompson compliment his style well, getting verses from the likes of OFWGKTA’s Domo Genesis, A$AP Mob’s A$AP Twelvyy, Action Bronson, Schoolboy Q and fellow Jet Life member Curren$y.

Flowing right into the title track, “Rugby Thompson” acts as a time capsule for the 90’s with a vintage beat and a vintage flow and a smooth delivery that creates a track that is comparable to riding on a cloud. Probably the most refreshing aspect of the album, is DZA’s ability to switch up his flow from syrupy stoner rap to high energy double time style as heard on “New Jack”. The chopped and screwed “Ashtray”, serves as musical codeine with Smoke DZA’s dragged out verses coupled with Domo Genesis and Schoolboy Q’s unapologetic hard hitting verses. Harry Fraud also shows off his chopping and screwing skills in the mystical track “Rivermonts.”

Although Kenny Powers is not the best song on the album, it is understandable why it was a single judging by its radio play ability. The infectious hook and the upbeat production can please general audiences. The switch off verses between Action Bronson and Smoke DZA in “Turnbuckle Music”, are enjoyable as they are effective with the track giving up a street video with the in-your-face delivery that is evident throughout the song.

The album comes to an end with the extra terrestrial sound with Smoke DZA spitting verses in a delivery that is similar to Earl Sweatshirt’s. When explaining this track Smoke DZA said “This Outro is like the end of Rugby Thompson and the lead into my next endeavor. We took the Christopher Walken skit from Poolhall Junkies. So, it marks the end of this and the beginning of George Kush Da Button: The 2nd Term, which is the next album.” If the growth from Smoke DZA’s previous album Rolling Stoned to this one, then George Kush Da Button: The 2nd Term will most likely not disappoint.

Danny Brown – XXX review

One of the most talked about artists in the Hip-Hop/Rap game has just dropped his latest effort XXX. The 30 year old lyricist  Danny Brown almost signed with G-Unit, but with his unique look, it didn’t happen. Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson loved the music, as he should.  XXX takes us in to the dirty and unclean world of the poor in the city of Detroit. XXX is a truly unique listening experience for many of the right reasons. Truly something we haven’t heard in the world of the genre.

Danny Brown’s lyrics are described as unclean and dirty. A lot of the record is crazy, lewd, and in your face. His love for the ADHD drug to make you focused, Adderall can be heard in the track “Adderall Admiral.” The opening few lines in the track really do express his love, “Eating on an Adderall, Wash it down  with alcohol. Writing holy mackerel, Actual all factual.”  The track “Die Like A Rockstar” is a grim look at drugs and the stars the died who had drug problems.  Another standout on the record lyrically, is “Pac Blood.” Some of the most in your face, hard, uncensored lyrics ever. Talking about the Pope, the Virgin Mary, and the infamous Sarah Palin in unflattering ways.

The production value isn’t Grammy winning material, but still complements the wacky, honest lyrics. Nothing over the top like some of the music that is out in the main stream, but enough to get you replaying the record. The beats on the record serve as a soundtrack to the lyrical content that Brown spits into the microphone. He absolutely kills it on some of these tracks like “Radio Song” and the drug anthem “Blunt After Blunt.”

XXX delivers something special, and is really something to give a serious listen to. It’s not everyday you hear stuff like this in music. Danny Brown is an artist to watch in the future. If anything deserves to be at the top of your must get records of the year, totally get XXX.

Danny Brown’s XXX is now available on Fools Gold Records for free!

The Game – The R.E.D. Album review

Its been a while since LAX and Doctor’s Advocate. Now The Game is back in full gear with The R.E.D. Album. In my opinion, The Game is one of the few last great rappers of the genre. Underrated doesn’t even describe it. Game teams up with top tear talent on this record, not to mention his affiliation with Dr. Dre and Aftermath Entertainment. It’s the first time back in with the group since 2006. With all that, The R.E.D Album is top notch and here’s why.

This record is full of personal, emotional stories. Stories about record label drama like the track The City. Tons of  true, honest lyrics as The Game proves that good rappers are still around in the main stream. Some of the best lyrics I’ve heard on a rap record in a long time. It’s rare to hear this kind of material in the main stream. To many fake artists out there in the main stream.

The production is perfect right to the tee. With names like Cool & Dre, DJ Khalil, DJ Premier, and Veteran Producer Pharrell Williams all give their special touches to each of their respective tracks. Cool & Dre produce one of the stand out tracks on the record. “Red Nation”, featuring the sample of Kernkraft 400’s hit trance/dance hit “Zombie Nation.” This song hits hard, and is one of my favorite tracks on the record. Another stand out would be the deep track “Ricky”, which features samples of the film Boyz n the Hood.

Tons of collaborations with the elite artists in the world of Hip-Hop and Rap. Artists like Snoop Dogg, Drake, Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, Young Jeezy, and Nelly Furtado just to name a few. There is a little bit of everything on this record to please the fans of the genre.

In the end, The Game and his team released a phenomenal album that has plenty of replay value. I really recommend this to anybody who loves real rap. Three years in the making, joining back up with Aftermath Entertainment proved to be all worth it. The Game is back!

CBC’s Hip Hop Summit Concert Review – March 29, 2011

The Canadian music industry is an odd duck. It has a lot of benefits that our neighbours to the south could only dream of, but, it also comes with some unfortunate pitfalls. In my last post, hip-hop producer Fresh Kils put it perfectly:

“The joke about Canadian musicians is that no one gives a shit about them until they export themselves somewhere else.”

While that may not necessarily be an industry issue, it’s certainly not one being helped by the Junos. With exception to Meagan Smith (New Artist of the Year), all of this year’s broadcast awards were given to internationally recognized and popular artists. And that’s not to say that the Arcade Fire or Neil Young weren’t deserving, but what about Said The Whale or Matthew Good (winners of New Group Of The Year and Rock Album of the Year respectively). Why wasn’t Canada’s national upcoming talent showcased where people are more likely to see it?

And if that’s the case for your average pop or rock artist in Canada, its twice as bad for hip hop. Even with a big celebrity like Drake hosting the Junos, the Rap Recording of the Year award was non-broadcast.

That’s why when I had the chance to go to the CBC Hip Hop Summit concert in Toronto, I was ecstatic. On the bill was enough Canadian hip-hop legends and up-comers to make anyone turn their head. Maestro Fresh Wes, Kardinall Offishall, K-os, Saukrates and Shad were just a few of the crowd that graced the stage.

The whole thing kicked off with Classified and “Oh Canada” from his 2009 album Self-Explanatory. With everyone standing to attention and bobbing their head patriotically, he moved onto his duet with Maestro Fresh Wes on the (fitting) “Hard To Be (Hip Hop)“.

Michie Mee took the stage soon after and brought a few more people to the floor with her old school/ reggae style, complete with a dance breakdown. As someone who had never heard that much of her stuff, she made a big impression on me. She had a great sound and definitely knew how to work a stage.

Kardinall Offishall was next and he went the extra mile to get everyone to their feet. Surrounding himself in the crowd and getting us to chant the chorus with him, Kardinall belted out his ode to Toronto aptly titled “The Anthem“. Cadence Weapon threw the audience for a bit of a loop with his unique style (including screaming into a FX heavy microphone) but, with the help of Shad, showed that he’s just as capable to pull out the big hits with “Baby (I’m Yours)“.

Other notable moments included Skratch Bastid with a DJ set and a breakdance circle, K’naan stopping by to perform “Take A Minute“, and the Dream Warriors belting out the eclectic “My Definition“.

As great as everyone had been, the last 20 minutes was definitely when show came to it’s full potential, including Shad and K-os joining the Maestro onstage for “Let Your Backbone Slide“. Not one to disappoint, the original Can-con hip-hop icon was dressed in full suit and cummerbund as he tore through the ’89 classic.

The big number done, all of the night’s artists came back out for a freestyle session that was more fun than anything. Even Buck 65, who had been hosting the night and strictly stayed off the mic, was coaxed into the circle.

Then, as Kardinall dropped what was supposed to be the final rap of the night, the DJ played back the hook from the Rascalz hit “Northern Touch“.

I can honestly say that of all the shows I’ve been to, I’ve never seen anything like it. Led by former Rascalz member, Red1, and backed by track contributors Kardinall and Choclair, the stage came alive. The MCs were shoulder to shoulder rapping right in our faces as the dedicated crowd hit them with every word. It was a surreal moment that I think will be remembered for a long time to come.

And we need moments like that to sell Canadian artists to Canada again. While the concert had an excellent calibre and energy in the artists, it seemed as if the crowd that night was a little hesitant. At moments, I even felt that some of the greatest hip-hop artists in this country were struggling with their own home crowd.

So do yourself and this country a favour; support Canadian hip-hop and make people care. We’ve got to appreciate what we’ve got here at home.

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If you’re dying to get you’re fix of hip-hop and you live in the Toronto area there’s an event running all day today at the CBC building with performances, break-dancing and, at 6pm EST, the concert being broadcast. If you’re not so lucky stay tuned to CBC Radio 2 who will be broadcasting the whole event over the airwaves also starting at 7pm ET.