U-God – The Keynote Speaker album review

So much of the beauty of the Wu Tang Clan is in the versatility of the unit. 9 members (and countless affiliates) offer 9 fresh perspectives at any given time, and the 36 chambers contain deep, labyrinthic sonic experiences. From GZA’s scientific lyrical forensics, to Raekwon’s vivid, sinister cocaina narratives to the flavorful lyricist lounge musings of Tical, there is something for everyone, and the most popular members all have a distinct role.

When it comes to U-God though, there’s never seemed to be the resonant energy or eager expectation to enter the world of Golden Arms. His classic, legacy setting verse on “Da Mystery of Chessboxin” gives off vibes near the GZA, Masta Killa, Killah Priest circle of the clan. His memorable verse on “Cherchez La Ghost” was perhaps the complete opposite. Is it to his credit that he’s able to morph from philosophical to rambunctious as the needs of his fellow clansmen arise, or is it the exact reason he wasn’t able to forge his own niche? Could it be both? Whatever the case, U-God’s “Keynote speaker” attempts to reverse the course of perhaps the most wayward catalog in the Wu canon.

From the outset, the most apparent observation can be made sonically. Wu solos tend to bear hallmarks of the classic group albums beatwise, but because U-God was attempting to stand on his own perhaps, the production here is lacking. If they had to compare, this would be an album full of cutting room floor Wu Tang Forever records. The bland samples, and poorly mixed, mechanical drums create an unappealing canvas that any artist would have to work hard to overcome. Does he?

U-God has always been a strong technical MC, but again, his trademark seems to be a lack of a trademark. He’s all over the place on this album.

In a time where Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Killah Priest and Prodigy, among other 90s stalwarts are still thriving by updating their classic sound for new ears, U-God still hasn’t seemed to find his. Worse yet for him, it’s not until he raises the W that this album delivers. “Heads Up” with GZA and “Mt. Everest” with Inspectah Deck and (Elzhi) are two of the strongest tracks of the album, and the introspective chest thumping “Heavyweight” is powerful, where Golden Arms recalls his ascent “from the strip to a righteous dude”, which no doubt was a byproduct of the Wu’s heavy 5 percenter core.

Beyond those few and far between moments is a project characterized by outright bad hooks and technically precise yet dull lyricism with typical veteran posturing. When U-God says “picture me following them, I don’t follow a trend” on “Days of Glory”, the stubbornness apparent throughout is finally acknowledged. It’s all well and good when an artist doesn’t chase trends, they just have to realize what they offer should be able to stand on it’s own merits. This project can not. If he’s the Keynote speaker his speech left much to be desired.

U-God - The Keynote Speaker album review

Ghostface Killah – Twelve Reasons To Die album review

Arguably Wu Tang Clan’s best lyricist, Ghostface Killah, has released another high concept album, Twelve Reasons To Die, which serves also as the soundtrack for an Italian action movie by the same name. Twelve Reasons tells the story of Ghostface’s alter ego, Tony Starks, an Italian mobster, who is a henchman for the DeLuca crime family, who falls in love with the kingpin’s daughter. The story covers a lot in just 12 tracks, from Starks rise in the DeLuca family to a racy love affair with the Kingpin’s daughter, ending with Starks death and the melting of his ashes into vinyl. Twelve Reasons is produced by Adrian Younge and executive produced by RZA. Younge, who arranged and produced the soundtrack for Black Dynamite, blends that same combination of blaxploitation and therapeutic rhythm, but Ghostface’s established lyrical story-telling is what cements Twelve Reasons To Die.

Twelve Reasons registers in at around 40 minutes long, as the majority of the songs range from 2 to 3 minutes in length. RZA, also narrates the album, which gives Twelve Reasons its blaxploitation feel and sound. Although Ghostface’s last two albums, Apollo Kids and Ghostdini, have been well-received by critics, Twelve Reasons distinguished itself as a great album and one of Ghostface’s best. The album supplements a larger conversation, Ghostface’s Bill Murray- like late career resurgence as an indie favorite, which is ironic being that Ghostface has been signed to various large record companies including, Universal and Def Jam. Its hard to imagine that Ghostface Killah will ever have a number one hit as a solo artist, but much like Bill Murray, he has a very loyal art-driven fanbase. Twelve Reasons, which comes with a comic book if you purchase the deluxe edition, is a high concept album that can’t be describe any other way than indie. Much like any indie album out of New York, Twelve Reasons does not have a breakout hit. In fact, the album is best when listened to from front to back in its entirety, complementing the short durations of each song. Special praise to Adrian Younge, who delivers a throwback to Wu Tang’s iconic heavy beats but effortlessly remains original in each track’s individual sound. If one were to listen to the Twelve Reasons To Die instrumentals albums, the sound could easily be mistaken for 36 chambers or Wu Tang Forever.

Some reviews of Twelve Reasons To Die have called the album experimental, but I do not believe that to be the case. I would argue Twelve Reasons is a classic Ghostface album, delivered at the top of his game. Twelve Reasons To Die is a must buy for any legitimate hip hop head. A valid criticism of Twelve Reasons is its lack of commercial or universal appeal, but Ghostface has gotten to a point in his career where his albums represent projects and concepts, rather than influential radio anthems or ghetto sing-a-longs, if you will.

CZARFACE (7L & Esoteric with Inspektah Deck) – CZARFACE album review

Sometime between 1989 and the turn of the century, a very weird thing happened. We called it the 90’s. Many people feel the 90’s were a golden era for rap music, likely due to its ubiquitous appeal that spawned subgenres for almost every disposition. East Coast rap at this time was characterized by a fusion between the elitist haute culture of suburban lament and the rough and rugged unapologetic posturing of urban irreverence. A New York rapper would bring New York to your earphones, not excluding pizzerias, bearded orthodox Jews, brutal police, Rudy Guliani’s smut cleansing, and kung fu vhs rentals. With the turn of the century, music genres seemed to have resegregated to some extent, leaving rap in search for substance and egoist hipsters within their inoculated trendier-than-thou frame.

Czarface is an album that seeks to court and bring back some of that suburbanite energy (and perhaps dollars as well), reigniting a long lost romance between the gritty urban styles of hip hop and rap and the assuring pseudo-intellectualism of bourgie* ambivalence. Inspectah Deck of Wu Tang Clan notoriety teams up with indie, underground veterans 7L and Esoteric and include a lineup of well recognized established players in the East Coast rap game, among them, Ghostface Killah, Action Bronson, Roc Marciano, Oh No, Mr. MFN eXquire, Cappadonna and Vinnie Paz.

By adopting the decade’s style, the album instills a nostalgic air and perhaps points the way to the future. The MCs hop through syncopated soundscapes with lyrics that are hard while maintaining an informed and smart awareness of current events. The vocals are backed by muffled compressed rhythms, relying less on the synthesizer innovations developed in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s (characteristic of the West Coast) and focusing more on the samples and the beat’s pace. Not only are these styles evocative of 90’s hip hop, they are also rooted in the regional origins of rap itself, the East Coast. Your bass will likely be a real four stringed bass, either a studio musician or more likely, a record sample, as opposed to a digital sound-wave manipulation. These are sounds that inspire the donning of puffy coats in winter, walks down concrete jungles, or catching a train uptown.

“Cement 3’s,” featuring Roc Marciano, was for me  one of the strongest tracks. Like the rest of the album, MCs don’t skimp on content and style, words and the rhythms of their sounds. Where style is concerned, a lot of new rap music is characterized by an intentional laziness with respect to the way in which vocals and beats mix rhythmically. It’s a matter of precision and being conscious of the accents, the MC must not reproduce the patterns on the beat so much as complement them. Further, there is a style and swagger that is definitive of doing it right. Fast or slow, without this swagger, content is lost to a clumsy delivery. None of this is an issue with Czarface. MCs spit rhymes that slide off the beat like interlocked gears on a can’t-fuck-with-this machine.

Another strong track is “Savagely Attack.” It features Wu Tang legend Ghostface Killah who’s reference to recent news stories (e.g. the bath salts zombie) seemingly positions the listener in two different times simultaneously, the 1990’s and 2012. The DJ goes full on, old time Wu Tang with heavy emphasis on the first beat and lyrics that stomp over the fourth. Strongly worded cautionary tales, jabs at enemies, and descriptive litanies of victories warn any would be challenger of the dangers involved in testing the lyricist.

I’d like to keep talking about this album, although I’ve more than exceeded the editor’s word count. Let me conclude by saying that Czarface has a lot of potential to lurk in your iPod for years to come. Although taken as a whole, the dampened beats may come off a bit lacking in stimulation towards the end, more than a few songs are choice pickings for a multifaceted cross genre playlist. I would recommend this album for any old timers in past reflection mode but also, it serves as an entry point for newcomers wanting to get a feel for the era that put the last nail on the “rap is a fad” coffin.

* That’s the technical spelling!

DJ Mathematics drops new album, The Answer, the year of Wu-Tang’s 20th anniversary

Just in time for Wu-Tang Clan’s 20th anniversary, DJ/producer Mathematics gets ready to release his highly anticipated album – The Answer, the follow up album to his 2005 release – The Problem.

Since the creation of the Wu-Tang Clan in 1993, Mathematics has been a member of the group as their DJ and also the creator of the famous Wu-Tang symbol seen world wide. A fixture in the hip hop industry, Math has not only been producing hits for the group and their solo albums but also created the theme song and original music for the Wanda Sykes’ show on the Fox network, Wanda At Large.

Eager to feed his fans some music, Math is releasing a mix-tape this week, Prelude To The Answer, to give the public a taste of what they can expect to hear on his upcoming release – The Answer. Math expresses his dedication to his fans, “I’m excited about the album and can’t wait for it to drop, I put a lot of time, sweat and energy into this project and hope that overall my musical growth and development reflect in the finished product.”

Expect new music from all the members of Wu-Tang, including unreleased lyrics from Ol’ Dirty Bastard and of course all tracks are produced by Mathematics on The Answer. The album will be in stores April 16th.

Bonnaroo 2013 Festival Scheduled Line-up

Definitely favouring a more urban feel than previous years, Bonnaroo 2013 is definitely seeming to be one of the year’s most appealing festivals. Manchester, Tennessee is now used to putting on the prestigious festival event, with the White Castle in Murfreesboro being amongst the best staff to advice you about the various precautions to take in planning your trip. Buy your tickets today when they’re first released to the public, as I’d be extremely surprised if they didn’t sell out.

Click here to purchase Bonnaroo 2013 tickets.

Some of the Hip Hop/Electronica highlights at the 2013 Bonnaroo include:

Wu-Tang Clan, Kendrick Lamar, Nas, R. Kelly, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, A$AP Rocky, Porter Robinson, A-Trak, Earl Sweatshirt, Big K.R.I.T., AraabMUZIK, Action Bronson

And lets not ignore the other performers of other genres, hardly to be sneezed at:

Paul McCartney,
Mumford & Sons,
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers,
Björk,
Wilco,
Pretty Lights,
Daniel Tosh,
The National,
The Lumineers,
David Byrne & St. Vincent,
Passion Pit,
The xx,
Grizzly Bear,
Animal Collective,
Of Monsters and Men,
ZZ Top,
Beach House,
Cat Power,
Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes,
Jim James,
“Weird Al” Yankovic,
Tame Impala,
SUPERJAMS:
Soul SuperJam ft. Jim James with John Oates, Zigaboo Modeliste (of the Meters), Preservation Hall Jazz Band and more TBA!,
Ed Helms Bluegrass Situation Superjam with special guests
Boys Noize,
Glen Hansard,
Gov’t Mule,
Gaslight Anthem,
Portugal. The Man,
Wolfgang Gartner,
Billy Idol,
Sam Bush & Del McCoury,
Dwight Yoakam,
Foals,
Local Natives,
Matt & Kim,
Dirty Projectors,
Trombone Shorty,
John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension,
Noam Pikelny & Friends,
Amadou & Mariam,
Alt-J,
Father John Misty,
Baroness,
The Tallest Man On Earth,
Walk The Moon,
Preservation Hall Jazz Band
The Vaccines,
Paper Diamond,
Holy Ghost!,
Divine Fits,
Mike Birbiglia,
Purity Ring,
Swans,
Frank Turner,
Allen Stone,
Cults,
Lee Fields & The Expressions,
Fatoumata Diawara,
Two Gallants,
The Sheepdogs,
Four Tet,
Calexico,
Japandroids,
Death Grips,
Conspirator,
Wild Nothing,
John Fullbright,
Django Django,
HAIM,
Killer Mike,
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti,
Clockwork,
twenty | one | pilots,
Reptar,
DIIV,
Milo Greene,
Lord Huron,
Futurebirds,
Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit,
Charli XCX,
JEFF The Brotherhood,
Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors,
Sea Wolf,
JD McPherson,
Trixie Whitley,
Deap Vally,
Patrick Watson,
Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers,
The Stepkids,
Aoife O’Donovan,
Bombino,
Bernhoft,
Matthew E. White