Ghostface Killah & Apollo Brown – 12 Reasons to Die: The Brown Tape album review

12 Reasons to Die: The Brown Tape is advertised as an “alternate version” of the original album produced by Adrian Younge. At this point, Apollo Brown already deserves a ton of credit for even thinking of remixing 12 Reasons to Die, one of the most impressive underground releases in recent memory. It’s a daunting project if you think about it. First of all, the source material is a concept album, so any good remix will have to retain the story and tone. This is a dark one about an immortal crime boss by the name of Ghostface Killah.

The original is an absolute juggernaut sonically, and the instrumental version is a classic in its own right. Inspired by 70’s R&B and Italian soundtracks from the same era, 12 Reasons to Die was meticulously recorded in Younge’s all-analog, vintage studio. The entire production features live instmentation by Adrian Younge and his Venice Dawn band. The bar is very high here for Detroit Producer Apollo Brown, who was tapped to remix this behemoth. 12 Reasons to Die: The Brown Tape was packaged as an actual cassette tape to go with the initial release of 12 Reasons to Die on vinyl back in April. Copies of this tape were scarce, but Wu-Tang affiliated Soul Temple, the imprint that released 12 Reasons to Die, has given the Apollo Brown remix its own full release, complete with a set of instrumentals.

Apollo Brown has earned this opportunity recognition. He’s built a reputation as an exceptionally consistent producer, and an absolute beast on a remix. When Apollo Brown first signed with his label Mello Music Group, the first thing they did was give him the keys to their extensive library of rap acapellas. For his label debut, Apollo Brown dropped “The Reset,” a whole album of remixes that make you forget you ever heard the original.

On The Brown Tape, Apollo Brown’s alternate takes are brilliant, and completely depart from Adrian Younge’s vision. Check out how Apollo Brown swaps Younge’s spitfire organ for a brooding sample of hazy keyboards and guitar stabs on “Rise Of The Black Suits.” There’s a very different vibe that still works perfectly for the track. Apollo Brown channels a little Alchemist with a searing guitar sample on “Enemies All Around Me.” Go to track 6 right now. “Crying.” For you! Crying for you love this album. Apollo’s samples are melodic, sweet and forlorn; they plead where Adrian Younge is ethereal. Cut tape, and Apollo Brown has actually managed to add layers to the story. The comic-book vibe of 12 Reasons to Die is swapped out for a gutsy, but by no means lo-fi treatment by Apollo Brown, the newest producer to your radar. Check out 12 Reasons to Die: The Brown Tape.

Ghostface Killah & Apollo Brown - 12 Reasons to Die: The Brown Tape

Murs – Yumiko: Curse of the Merch Girl album review

I love concept albums. Concept albums, when properly executed are stand-alone works of art. Because their premise is self-contained, they aren’t bound by context the way other albums might be. With a strong central theme, concept albums tend to by tighter in focus, so pound for pound, they tend to pack a little more intellectual punch than traditional structures. And as far as hip hop concepts, comic book integration has provided some of the most fruitful source material, for example Ghostface Killah’s 12 Reasons to Die with producer Adrian Younge, which dropped earlier this year, and was packaged with a comic book.

Rapper Murs is taking that idea one step further with Yumiko: Curse of the Merch Girl.  The collaborative project began as the idea of rapper Murs and comic book writer Josh Blaylock. Murs, a lifelong fan of comic books, met Blaylock briefly (who happened to be a fan of Murs’ music) at several comic book conventions, and soon after began talking about working on something together. They came up to write a story that could be told through the pages of a graphic novel as well as a hip hop album. Because of the scope of the project, Murs and Blaylock couldn’t secure backing from a record label, so they turned to Kickstarter to let fans fund the production of a full-length album and full-color 100-page graphic novel. In response, over 30,000 dollars was raised to produce Yumiko: Curse of the Merch girl, and the finished product was released to supporters and fans July of 2012. Fast forward to 2013, and now the album has gotten a proper release through a distribution deal with Duck Down Music.

So now, a much larger audience will get to experience Yumiko, the tale of a girl who works the merchandise table on tour with her boyfriend’s band. Without giving too much away the story ends with a clash of the cosmic forces of good and evil. Each song in Murs’ album corresponds to a chapter in the graphic novel by Blaylock, and Murs’ lyrics appear throughout the book. With tight integration like this, the album can stand alone regardless if you read the graphic novel. Murs stays strictly on-topic with his rhymes, while still managing to draw some universal parallels between the characters and real life, touching on topics such as, loyalty, materialism, belief in a god or gods, and self-reliance, a theme which is particularly resounding given the highly DIY nature of the album. While fairly short at only 10 tracks, the album makes up for this in lyrical density and through determined musical progression. DJ Foundation creates an evocative yet unobtrusive backdrop for every chapter in story, and sets the tone throughout. The album starts out with mellow boom-bap and builds in intensity up to the finale, a sprawling, techno-infused epilogue, which lets you know the ride is over And Yumiko is a ride that’s every bit engaging as it is entertaining. So hope for more comic book hip hop like this, because the stories that make for enticing graphic novels translate well into satisfying albums in an age where a lot of music that costs a lot more than $30,000 to make so severely lacks meaning or inspiration.

The Caravan – The Caravan album review

“It is not the aim of this record to hypnotize you,” are the opening lines of The Caravan’s latest album. Yet the acoustic sounds of their self-titled track list pull you into Kyle McKenna’s world and show you artistry and political passion from his point of view.

This album explains how much the Caravan’s have a passion for artistry with a blend of pop and old school 90’s hip hop. The Caravan are riding music, made with intentions to provoke emotion and promote awareness to life in Canada. Songs like “The Groove” blend a smooth, old school vibe into a pop record that is nice to dance to. Other like “Flex the Flow” offer clever wordplay and smooth flows to show off the band’s lyrical skills.

In Their broad arrangement of songs lies many messages.

One, the Caravan are serious about music.“First Thing I Do Every Morning” talks about how dedicated McKeena is to rap and his skills. He explains that he wants to be a different type of rapper; defeating stereotypes, unleashing the truth and and making people really feel his music on a motivational level.

Two, The Caravan are serious about their political rights. “What up Steve?” is the most controversial songs on the album, picked up my Huffington Post Canada March 5. The song depicts sharp opinions about the Canadian prime minster, Stephen Harper. The lyrics lash out at Harper for alleged dishonesty, oppression, and the controversial Beyond the Boarder Pact. The song continues to attacks his country’s leaders for greed and power instead of for not thinking about it’s citizens.

Three, The Caravan use their music to uplift the people. In “Words That Makes You Feel Good,” the Caravan talks to their fans. Inspired by Blackalicious’s “Make You Feel That Way,” McKenna talks about how he writes for the heart for people to relate to and find comfort in. You can gauge the groups musical progression as they get more confident and secure in their sound and message every day. The verses explain how the group started rapping and grew to take it seriously. By the end of the song it becomes clear why their audience is growing.

Another song that is fan relatable is “Ghost in Your Heart.” The short one verse track depicts growing up under rough circumstances and struggling to find direction. The “ghost in your heart” seems to represent an inner pain or trouble that grow every day. The song advocates examining this ‘ghost’ and finding yourself in the process.

Rapper Kyle McKenna, guitar and keys player Mike Ritchie and drummer Mark Bachynski all have an exceptional career in front of them if they keep making music that passionately speaks out from the heart. This album is utterly amazing, invoking all kinds of emotions from me as I still revel over the clever way that it was done.

Find more information about the group, including tour dates and album details, on their website.

Blackalicious – Melodica album review

Everything about Blackalicious’s EP Melodica  exudes classic. From Gift of Gab’s complex raps to Chief Xcel’s extremely fresh production, their debut EP should be used as an example for every rapper on how to make a classic album. The production on the album takes elements from every genre, creating a melting pot of sounds that Gift of Gab conforms to in each track.

“Swan Lake” begins with a clash of sounds that sound like the beginning to a rock track, then quickly descends into the smooth sounds of jazz. Gift of Gab’s delivery is also as smooth as honey pouring over the infectious saxophone blares.

“This is a song called ‘Attica Black’. A song about mediocracy, hip hop, and just in general the mediocracy in life. I hope you enjoy our presentation,” explains Gift of Gab at the beginning of Attica Black. The syrupy blues sound takes over and the track begins, pretty much summing up the sound of the 90’s all in one track. Most of the tracks on the album are laid back and soupy, but when Gift of Gab goes hard, he does it well. “Lyric of Fathom” gets in your face with an abrasive attitude and a delivery similar to the early sound of Outkast’s Big Boi. “Deep in the Jungle” also brings the heat with a double time delivery, that shows early signs of the speed rap seen in recent rappers like Ludacris and Twista.

An ode to malt liquor and urban life, “40 Oz for Breakfast” is over seven minutes long with an extremely chill and euphoric beats with hints of piano that creates a creamy sound that moves fluidly around Gift of Gab’s complex storytelling about his life. Melodica comes to an end with “Change” a serene effort that highlights Gift of Gab revealing his insecurities about life and living, something that everyone can relate to.

Melodica is one of those timeless albums that will go down in hip hop history as something that no matter what the time period, people can always find a track in the album that speaks to them. Whether it’s the perils of urban life or just plain inner insecurities, Gift of Gab puts his problem’s on the table so that we all know that we aren’t alone.

Drums of Death – Blue Waves album review

Immediately intrigued, I turned the volume to louder levels and let the music move over my body. I let every track replay in a loop, almost in a hypnotic trance by mixture of unique sounds and beats.

Born Colin Bailey, Drums of Death, gathers an acute blend of techno, old school, house, punk rock and electronica to create his own distinct sound that has made him a staple in the British club scene. Since his debut in 2005 with Love Songs & Rave Horns he has come into his own, making a signature sound in the midst of a highly conceptual genre. However, it is with his new release Blue Waves, that Bailey has merged both his own musicality and gave a nod to the gimmick nature of contemporary electronica.

Completing a series started in early 2011 with Black Waves and Red Waves, this five track album brings the series to a beautiful close. While undulating melodies married perfectly with the pounding bass on songs like ‘Wave City’ that create the sound that is standard of the genre, it is tracks like ‘Let No Shadow Fall Upon You’ and ‘Transistor Rhythm’ that shows his ability to pick out the subtle nuances of samples and fitting drops almost at perfect timing. This also causes for an even flow to the complete work, allowing no skips and leaving the listener to decide whether to bask in its complex simplicity or move to its driving, forceful rhythms.

While Blue Waves is not typically an album I would pick up as I’m pursuing the local record store, it rightfully deserves a listen. It serves as a wonderful testament to the growth and musicianship of Electro-club music as it moves forward with a new audience with bigger expectations. Plus, it serves as excellent background music for your weekends around the house or it can serve as the soundtrack for a potential weekend to remember.

Lollapalooza Review from a dedicated festie

If you ever wanted to know what beautiful chaos was then the one place for you to check out would be Lollapalooza. Within the magnificent Grant Park, there is another dimension where cell phone service is lost amongst the crowd, everyone is looking for these mysterious people Lucy and Molly, cut off shorts and cut up shirts is the suggested uniform, and literally anything goes. One thing is for sure, everyone Is there to bask in the comfort of some good music. Whether it was basking in the sun at Of Monster’s and Men’s Sunday or swimming in mud at Skream and Benga’s set, people made sure that they made most of their time.

Although Black Sabbath, Wale, Bassnectar and the Black Keys were headlining on Friday, I think the real headliner of the day was the sun playing a full set all day. Still as dedicated as the Lolla crowd is, they raged harder than ever under the beaming sun, really kicking up the energy for Zedd’s amazing set. The German producer played an extremely high turbo electro based set that had the crowd going completely insane with his mix keeping everyone on their feet.

The highlight for Friday had to be Die Antwoord’s South African zef/rave set that was just as theatrical as it was pure genius. DJ Hi-tek donned his infamous prostethetic mask from the “Fok Julle Naaiers”, while pumping out their hit tunes from his PC computer. While half the audience were clearly diehard fans, most were just curious cats making their way over to the set based on the buzz that has been going on in the blogosphere. While confused eyes looked on while they broke into “DJ Hi Tek will fok you in the ass” poured out the speakers, soon Die Antwoord had everyone moving to their vulgar tracks. Yo Landi of course captivated everyone with her helium voice and huge charisma.

Saturday started off as sunny as ever at Perry’s with the growing crowd happily raging to the infectious sound of SALVA and Star Slinger before impending doom began to take over the skies. Before you knew it, rumors of evacuation began and people looked around in confusion until it was obvious that this was real. As waves and waves of people exited Grant Park, there was speculation on whether or not we would return. “What! I’m too drunk to move!” said the guy beside me, which was probably many people’s sentiments.

Alas, the crazy storm cleared leaving us with mud and pent up energy, so we returned back to Grant Park only to rage harder to an unbelievable set from Skream and Benga complete with a giant mudpit at Perry’s and mudslinging. Things got insane when their set ended with “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and angsty people (me included) mosh-pitted in the mud with the essence of Woodstock. With the schedule pushed back people still got to see amazing sets from headliners Red Hot Chili Peppers and the ever enchanting Santigold, as well as the other favorites on all of the stages.

Finally Sunday had arrived, and although people were starting to feel the soreness from two days of nonstop partying, it was the final day to enjoy everything Lolla had to offer. A blaring sun promised an amazing day ahead, and Nadastrom got the crowd going with his Moombahton beats, shortly after Little Dragon came on stage while the sun was in full force. While most stood in the shade to enjoy her sultry jazz influenced voice, the brave ones stayed in the middle to enjoy it. Although the sun had dried up most of the mud, there was still a pretty thick amount of the stuff right smack dab in the middle of Perry’s, people took advantage of it, especially for the craziness that ensued during Doctor P’s heavy dubstep set.

Dubstep reigned that day with another excting set from Canadian duo Zeds Dead with their go-to MC Omar Link hyping up the crowd with the bass heavy dub-rap. The real treat for electronic fans came at night when the anticipated set from Justice blew minds with their heart pounding amazing grainy electro sending shock waves and lightening through the feets of a throbbing crowd. A perfect way to end one of the most chaotic and amazing weekends ever. Perry Farrell, I can’t wait to see what you do next year.

MMG – MMG Presents Self Made Vol. 2 album review

In recent years, music collectives have been put in the forefront of the music industry with groups like YMCMB, Good Music, OFWGKTA, ASAP Mob, and Raider Klvn taking over the hip hop industry. In 2008, Maybach Music Group is Rick Ross’s addition to this trend, leading artists like Meek Mill, Wale, Gunplay, Stalley and more recently R&B crooner Omarion. Displaying their talents on Self Made Vol. 1, the first album shot Meek Mill into stardom, gaining him success on singles “Tupac Back” and “Ima Boss”. Now the hip hop collective is back with another volume to their Self Made series, rightfully titled MMG Presents: Self Made Vol. 2.

“Power Circle” features the entire Maybach Music Group sans Omarion, and is heavy on quality lyrical content, which may surprise people who are only familiar with Maybach Music Group through their tracks that constantly talk about drug dealing and women. The six minute track gives everyone a chance to shine, but the real standout on this track isn’t even a part of MMG. When Kendrick Lamar closes out the track, you almost forget about all of the other verses that were featured.

The singles from Self Made Vol. 2 aren’t too much to write home about with the Rico Love produced “Actin’ Up” acting as a high energy club banger and “Bag of Money” being a hip hop ballad of sorts featuring the auto tuned squelch of T Pain.

Everyone has their place in the Maybach Music Group, with each artist on the label bringing something different to the table. Stalley brings the lyrical content with the haunting track “Fountain of Youth” being an ode to his struggle coming up. Wale’s excels in delivery, with hard hitting one liners and changing up his flow within the middle of a track to keep it fresh, as seen as the party anthem “I Be Puttin’ On” featuring Wiz Khalifa, French Montana and Roscoe Dash. There was some speculation and criticism when Rick Ross announced his decision to sign Omarion to MMG, but it is evident why this is a good choice on “This Thing is Ours”, with his R&B vocals adding a polished sound to the normally hard sound of MMG’s music.

Gunplay brings pure street with no chaser to the MMG group, warning “I’m a shark out the tank, I don’t bark I just bite/Keep the K all day, don’t walk up on me I’ll pull that knife” on “Black on Black”. Self Made Vol. 2 was definitely a step up from the previous effort, this time focusing more on content than flashy tracks to keep people’s attention. Fans of MMG, will appreciate this work while new fans might be gained for those who questioned MMG’s skills.

Kid Ink – Up and Away album review

In the past year a new genre called “swag rap” made its way into the forefront. This type of music isn’t too much about the lyrical content, as it is about a hot beat coupled with an infectious hook. A “swag rapper” is usually identified by having a body covered in tattoos with some hip skater boutique clothing. Kid Ink fits this description exactly with his debut album Up and Away falling into the category of what I would consider “swag rap”. Kid Ink’s hype began when his mixtapes began to hit the blogosphere and the industry began to buzz about him. The shining spotlight really landed on Kid Ink when he was revealed as being a part of XXL’s 2012 Freshman class. His debut album was his time to raise his star and let it shine to show the world what this inked up artist was really about, but the star just ended up being pretty dull and unnoticeable by the album’s end.

The album begins with a bass heavy, synthesizer filled effort titled “No One Left”, the hook is contagious and will have you singing along by the time the track ends. The album continues with “Is It You”, which has a nice melodic beat that will capture you. This would have been a much better single than “Time of Your Life”, which doesn’t seem to be very memorable. As the album progresses, it becomes evident that the production is starting to sound pretty repetitious in each song. The constant bass and synths end up mashing together to one big hour long track that talks about clubs, women and liquor. The only stand out track from the bunch was the trunk rattling anthem called “Neva Gave a Fuck”, which features a sassy female voice repeating the word “bumping”.

Up and Away is fine to throw on if you are throwing a party and want to get a gyrating crowd going, but if you are looking for a memorable album with some kind of variety then this one can be passed on. Hopefully, for Kid Ink’s next effort he steps out of the box and uses some groundbreaking production to separate himself from the slew of other “swag rappers” that have appeared in the industry.

Usher – Looking 4 Myself album review

Usher has been known to reinvent his sound time and time again, and evolve with the sounds of the ever-changing music industry. Usher began experimenting with dance music with tracks like “O.M.G”, “DJ Got Us Falling In Love” and a collaboration with David Guetta. Looking For Myself is his seventh studio album, and it is evident that he is digging deeper into exploration of the dance music genre with productions from EDM kings, Diplo and Swedish House Mafia. Although the album is heavily dance music infused, he still stays close to his R&B roots with some of the tracks on the album.

Usher starts off the album by continuing where his single “O.M.G” left off by collaborating with Will.I.Am again, this time singing on his electro-hop beat. The beat is straight bass with no chaser, and provides a fitting platform for Usher to further explore the world of EDM. Diplo slows things down with sexy electrifying beats that mesh perfectly and showcase the fact that Usher hasn’t lost his vocal range that made people fall in love with him.

With the dubstep craze taking flight into the depths of the mainstream, it comes as no surprise that the Danja produced “I Care 4 U” appears on the album. Dubstep heads might find this irritating, but Usher fans will probably find this new sound refreshing. “Lemme See” brings some hard hitting hip hop flair with Usher crooning accompanied with Rick Ross spitting a gruff verse
Usher also sticks his foot in and tests the indie waters with “Looking 4 Myself”, collaborating with Empire of the Sun member, Luke Steele. Usher shows that he knows the right dance producers to work with by using Swedish House Mafia produced track “Numb”. Where some artists fall short and come with a generic “dance” sound by using over-used producers, Swedish House Mafia brings the richness to the track and match perfectly with Usher’s soulful voice to create an uplifting piece that everyone can appreciate.

Artists who want to maintain longevity in the industry should take some lessons from Usher. As long as Usher continues to reinvent himself as the industry continues to reinvent itself, Usher will always remain relevant. He proves this once again with Looking 4 Myself.

Big K.R.I.T. – Live From The Underground album review

For avid hip-hop fans, Big K.R.I.T. had arrived long ago; showcasing his soulful skills on independently released mixtapes like 2010’s “KRIT Wuz Here” and this spring’s “4eva And A Day”.  For the rest of us, K.R.I.T.’s debut album “Live From The Underground” is a brief introduction to the Mississippi native who slings laid-back verses over Southern blues infused beats.  While the rapper may have signed to Def Jam, “Live from the Underground” stays true to its anti-mainstream roots as K.R.I.T.’s everyman-appeal and modesty shines throughout the album.

Produced entirely by K.R.I.T. himself, “Live from the Underground” is as introspective as a rap album will get.  With a thick layer of blues guitars, expressive horns and hooks from the likes of B.B. King, K.R.I.T. paints a picture of everyday struggle while modestly pushing through hardships.  The artist takes risks venturing off into a multitude of subgenres and coming out unscathed: West Coast G-funk synth lines displayed on “Money On The Floor” and “Don’t Let Me Down”, lazy reggae chords on “Pull Up” feat. Bun B and Big Sant, and Southern R&B-tinged gospel vibes on “Cool 2 Be Southern” and “If I Fall.”

K.R.I.T. really excels, however, when he rhymes over soulful, bluesy beats.

The album’s standout track, “Praying Man”, featuring the blues legend B.B. King, delivers a powerful image of slavery and oppression.  K.R.I.T. flexes his storytelling abilities here as each verse involves a black person being saved from his oppressor by the elusive “Praying Man”: “And I been wounded for some miles, so I decided to rest my head, I guess they let me go cause they assumed that I was dead, Smiled and said ‘Son hop in this wagon and get settled’, He offered me a ride and drove me far away from my oppressor, forever “

If there is anything to negate K.R.I.T.’s socially conscious efforts, it’s the jadedness found in his voice.  Usually void of real emotion, K.R.I.T. speaks as if he’ll take no pity or joy.  That’s easily forgivable though based on the harsh realties he raps about.  Plus, his self-produced beats bring enough emotion to the table that calling him on his verbal tone would be faulty.  “Live From The Underground” may not be new or perfect to some but is an honest and genuine stepping stone for an artist on his way to something big.  K.R.I.T. stands for King Remembered In Time and only time will tell where the big man takes his conscious efforts.