Saturday, March 9, 2013

A Few Quick Joints

I've been dealing with technology issues related to a broken laptop for the last several weeks and as such several blog posts I had in mind to write have fallen by the wayside. So, to tide y'all over I've decided to periodically post about new heat to come across my desk every chance I get to get on a computer. Here's a few recent joints I've been really feeling.

Over a chaotic, neck-snapping beat, the Kansas City rhyme spitters trade vicious bars that prove why they're the next big thing to come out of Strange Music.

Drake is batting a surprising 1.000 on the first two singles from his upcoming third album. Showing uncharacteristic aggression that might be justified from the flak he's caught the last few years, Drake seems to be trying to display a different side of himself than the sensitive rap crooner we've come to know.

Ghost brings more of his New God Flow to the first single from his collaborative LP with producer Adrian Younge, Twelve Reasons To Die. Tony Starks never disappoints.

Bloody Kutty and Tecca Nina trade bars like a Midwest Red and Meth on this banger from Kutt's just-released fourth LP, Black Gold.

DB drops some blistering bars related to the predictably bogus Hottest MCs list from MTV.

Enjoy these five new bangers. I'll be back later this week with a little more.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Clock Strikes 13: Ces Cru Concert Review

I'm only like, two weeks late on posting this review but I had a lot going on and had to knock out that year-end series. Strange Music's newest group, the insane lyrical duo Ces Cru, came to my city, Springfield, Missouri, two weeks ago to play a small club show with opening acts from local production crew Win Entertainment. I'm here to give you the breakdown on what the local talent has to offer and how Ces Cru's stage show stacks up next to the near-legendary status of their bossman Tech N9ne's, which is especially relevant since they are about to hit the road for their first national tour alongside labelmates Tech, Krizz Kaliko, Kutt Calhoun, Brotha Lynch Hung, and Rittz. First, let's check out Springfield's own Win Entertainment.

J Rod
J Rod is a 14-year-old rapper who looks 9. It's a somewhat comical sight to see him on stage bouncing around because he just looks so small and young commanding a whole stage by himself. Now, I'm not going to hate on a kid so young. He shows potential with a competent flow and a heaping helping of charisma. His vocal presence leaves a little to be desired, but he really enjoys himself up there and you can't knock that. In a few years, we'll see where he's at. I looked for his music on YouTube, but his name is too generic, couldn't find anything.

Will Abele
Will Abele (pronounced like "able") is someone I had seen back in the summer, playing hypeman to P. Win (who we'll discuss later) as Win opened for Tech N9ne, and later on I saw them both again opening for Stevie Stone. Something has definitely changed since then, because I was completely unimpressed both times. Now, this venue (a small club called the Outland Ballroom) had a better sound system than the Stone show did, and I paid more attention than I did at the Tech show, which may have something to do with it, but it even seemed to be more musically sound than before. His whole steez seems to be "white Flo-Rida" with some of the beats he raps over being complete Europop, so it's very trendy and rather unoriginal, but I'm not mad at the actual performance aspect of it. He has a very sound flow, a good stage presence, and his lyrics are above average. He even performed a slower, more introspective song with Nelly-esque sing-song flow that I actually rather liked. He's definitely improved significantly over the past few months and it was a solid showing for him. Again, no luck finding his music on the 'Tube.

DJ Mr. Kristopher
This kid is just a dubstep/house DJ. He doesn't rap or anything, but he had a good mix of some club tracks mixed with hip hop that had the crowd moving, and was enjoyable to watch. The music itself borderline hurt my ears (not a fan of all this house/Europop stuff) but his music was well-done and it was a good show. Nothing much else to say.

Yung Bar/Newgoon
Ces Cru came into the club to bring out gear to their merchandise booth and sign autographs, so sorry kids, I didn't watch either of your acts.

Mask & Glove
At some point during either the Yung Bar or Newgoon set (I don't know who was who so I don't know who performed second) Ces Cru left the room again, and I approached the stage to check out Mask & Glove. First of all, I found out they were unaffiliated with Win Entertainment and second of all, WOW. Everything about this was dope as HELL. Excellent rapping, commanding microphone and stage presence, no lip-syncing at all (you could see the veins popping out on their necks and their faces turning red as they spit every bar without any sign of vocal weakness, and this was LYRICAL music). It was traditional hip hop, even with an actual DJ doing cuts and scratches, not just playing Mr. Replay. His name was DJ Nick Fury, and while I'm uncertain due to information I've found on them since if he is their full-time DJ, he was VERY good. (They also kept repeatedly pointing out that "this is a real DJ" to the point I almost wondered if they were taking shots at Mr. Kristopher or the other DJs there who didn't even use turntables during their sets.) Anyway, this was EXTREMELY impressive. I don't know where to find their group music, but one of the two MCs, Loogey, has a mixtape you can download here, and here is a track featuring both MCs on Brief's SoundCloud. And I have a YouTube clip:

P Win
As I said with Will Abele, I'd seen him twice prior to this show, once as the opener for Tech N9ne and once as the opener for Stevie Stone. Neither time was I impressed. But, since Will Abele managed to show out and change my opinion of him a little, I had every expectation that P Win, as the most-hyped artist associated with Win Entertainment, might do the same. Well, to make a long story short, he didn't. This is now the second time Win has gotten to be the closing act for Win Entertainment and been shown up by someone that had to go up before him (last time was Springfield's own Playmakers at the Stevie Stone show, also Win Entertainment artists who were in St. Louis opening for Method Man on this night--having beaten out P Win himself for the chance at a local "battle of the bands" event). The thing about P Win is that he's a small, young white boy who is CLEARLY a Stevie Stone fan, as he attempts to incorporate Stevie's flow, stage moves, and Midwestern drawl, and none of this suits his voice or look. For those that don't know, Stevie Stone sounds like this and there are very few that can pull that sound off. Win is not one of them. But, he's a young guy, he enjoys himself on stage, and he's achieving some success so I can't hate, but he does definitely need to find his own sound as a performer if he wants his success to take him to a higher level. He's been invited to tour with St. Louis rapper Spaide Ripper this year (some of you might recognize that name from Scarface's My Homies compilation album), so I guess he's doing alright for himself, but I'm not on the bandwagon. Here's a video of him trying too hard.

Ces Cru
And now for the main event, and they even brought along Tech N9ne's own intro guy Scenario to do his patented "official shit-talker of Strange Music" bit. Any time Scenario is around, you're going to be entertained, the dude is hilarious and an excellent emcee/hypeman and even occasional DJ. Ces were joined by Stevie Stone's DJ P-Caso, and they immediately launched into their patented multisyllabic rhymes, performing nearly every selection from their Strange Music debut EP 13 as well as some older selections from their respective solo mixtapes and their previous full-length The Playground. Again, there were no tricks here, as the Cru spit every syllable without even a hint of a vocal track playing in the background, and although they don't engage too much in the on-stage theatrics and choreography of their label boss, they command the stage in their own way, simply with their tongue-twisting rhyme schemes and incredible flows. Ubiquitous and Godemis each took a solo turn, with Ubi performing his solo track "Swing Set" from Playground and Godi performing a selection from his The Deevil mixtape (unfortunately I can't now remember which one). They had some simple choreography incorporated for 13's "Colosseum", and stunned the crowd with their flows on the tongue-twisting "It's Over" and "Ion Dat". I have to say, these guys may not do the triple-time thing, but there is a lot of double-time rapping and complicated rhymes, and they did not flub so much as a word, and it was impressive as hell to see. Finally, for the closer they performed crowd favorite "4 Nothin'", which is rap performed as a round, something I've never heard anywhere else. This song has the potential to be the equivalent of Tech N9ne's "Stamina" as a crowd-pleaser and attention-getter, and once again there was not so much as a hint of mistake in the performance. Ubiquitous is more of a natural showman than Godemis, but throughout, they both impress constantly with their crowd-moving abilities, and I have every reason to believe they'll bring even more of this to the Independent Powerhouse Tour this spring. Check out the tour schedule here and see if they'll be in your city, this is a must-see.
I leave you with the only song that they didn't perform of those I was hoping to see.

P.S. Download Godemis's solo mixtape, The Deevil and Ubiquitous's solo Matter Don't Money for free to get a feel for what they do. Neither tape is as good as their group material, but they're packed with bars and give more of an insight into their individual personalities than the group work does.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Year-End Series, the Final Chapter: The Best Albums of the Year

As I've said before, I really don't like doing lists. Every time I try it almost sucks the fun out of just enjoying music for me. I don't really do this to feel all smart. I'm not here to be a critic, I'm here to expose anyone reading it to music I think is great; I'm here to shine a spotlight on music I think everyone should hear. And occasionally yeah, I'm here to hate on something and get a few laughs at the expense of something wack, but that's a secondary goal, just something that keeps it fun. So, instead of a structured list of the best albums of 2012, I'm picking one album in each of a handful of categories that I think represents its category best. Here. We. GO!

Anyone who has talked to me about music this year knows how I feel about this album. I've touted it since about a month after it dropped as one of the best albums of the year (because that's how it works: you wait to see if an album has replay value before telling everyone it's the best thing since sliced bread. Shout-out to Life Is Good). Anyway, this is something of an alternative hip-hop album; a full band performing all their own self-produced instrumentals to fast-paced, witty rhymes from the band's MCs, Bernz and Wrekonize (read my interview with Wrek here). It's far from rap-rock or nu-metal, though; the instrumentals aren't heavy at all and are driven by rhythm guitar and percussion--think Red Hot Chili Peppers, not Linkin Park. It's not quite as funky as an RHCP record, but it's certainly closer to it in tone. There is superb MCing on here ("TNT"), humorous posturing ("Hardcore Bitches"), beautiful melody ("Devil On My Mind") and deep artistry (the two sides of the "Due In June"/"June" coin), and exciting, perfectly fitting guest appearances from the likes of Tech N9ne, Ace Hood, Dead Prez, Murs, and Krizz Kaliko to boot. Even these guest appearances don't steal the spotlight from the excellent piece of work ¡Mayday! has put together, as they conform to the ¡Mayday! sound rather than the other way around. Check this out ASAP.
My song: "Devil On My Mind" featuring Liz Suwandi

Okay, a little backstory on this choice. I've been familiar with Jokerr for a year or so--he popped up on my radar via a somewhat-corny-yet-still-very-impressive video he recorded for a contest through Hopsin's Funk Volume label. Yet, the more material I heard, the more it became apparent he was desperately reaching for attention via a plethora of diss tracks aimed at everyone from the similarly named Tha Joker to Hopsin and Swizzz to Tech N9ne and Strange Music to Psychopathic Records. He demonstrated multifaceted talent, from rapping to singing to producing to engineering on these tracks via his dexterous flow and densely layered vocals. However, the one-dimensional subject matter (the disses) grew tiresome and annoying extremely quickly, and when I checked out some of his actual songs they weren't much more compelling.
This brings me to last night. For no apparent reason I had checked out this guy's Twitter and had seen an older tweet promoting a video from his first all-singing album. On a lark, I clicked the link, and was seriously blown away, so much so that I listened to the whole album last night. We've all heard rappers do the singing bit, and it usually doesn't involve them straying far from hip-hop; they might have some funk, R&B, or even on rare occasions, jazz sensibilities, but the roots are still mostly in urban music (not that there's anything wrong with that). I said that to say this: you're not getting an urban or even remotely hip-hop album here. This album reminds me of a modern-day Broadway rock opera, and Jokerr flexes his very competent vocals impressively on here without overextending his reach. From softer pop-influenced tracks where he actually sounds like Owl City (in the best way possible, on "Where Are You Going") to sadder, rock-tinged power ballads ("Illusions For the King") to dark, twisted narratives of tragic love ("There With You") and even including a cover of "Amazing Grace", this is an extremely gripping listen, and possibly moreso if you're familiar with the Jokerr's rap career already, because this makes his tired disses seem even more elementary.
My song: "Illusions For the King"

This album dropped in late October, following a year of steadily increasing buzz for the Seattle MC and his producer partner. After receiving the coveted honor of being named to XXL Magazine's "Freshman Class" this year alongside the likes of MGK, Hopsin, Future, and Danny Brown, Macklemore capitalized on this by releasing highly popular music videos leading up to the the release of The Heist, and may have had the best 2012 release of the entire Freshman Class. Macklemore doesn't specialize in "yo rewind that!" lyricism, but he does paint vivid lyrical pictures with his skilled storytelling and competent flow, all showcased on songs like the anti-consumerism "Wings" and the comical ditty "Thrift Shop". Lewis also worked closely with musicians that provided the album with live instrumentation, giving it a much more organic, warm feel than the average hip hop album. Macklemore's subject matter could be accurately compared to the likes of Asher Roth, but where Roth had a tendency to be boring and plain at times with his delivery and lyricism, Macklemore is much more compelling, with a more expressive voice and visual lyrics and at times, an endearing sense of self-deprecating humor. A must-hear, for sure.
My song: "Wings"

Dropping just barely before 2012 came to a close, T.I. had people expecting a lot here, and it was something of a make-or-break project: following his repeated run-ins with the law and only one lackluster-at-best release since 2008, he really needed a win here. And he got it. It may not be the epic disc that was his 2006 magnum opus King, and it may not be a throwback to his rough and rugged trap days when his hunger was still plainly apparent, but what it did succeed at was being a very good comeback release. Production was less poppy than No Mercy but still contained plenty of the grandiose instrumentals heard on the likes of King and Paper Trail and plenty of T.I. spitting that T.I. tough talk we've come to know and love from the Atlanta rhymer. Definitely worth the listen. (Also a very dope album cover)
My song: "Sorry" featuring Andre 3000

And finally, the moment we've been waiting for...

Do me a solid and pretend to be surprised by this one, okay? The album of the year could be none other than the studio debut of Compton rhyme-slinger Kendrick Lamar. What can I say about this that hasn't already been said a million times? While it wasn't my personal favorite album of the year, there was no denying the impact with which it landed, nor the quality of the material, as Kendrick guided the listener on a detailed tour of his hometown, narrated with Kendrick's vividly detailed lyrics, dexterous flow, and even character acting through his highly varied voice inflections. He even tied it together with humorous skits provided in the form of voicemails left him by his parents. It was a throwback album in theory while still sounding modern in execution, and in the never-ending battle between Kendrick and his Black Hippy groupmates for the title of hottest MC in the crew, Jay Rock even provided possibly the verse of the year with his scene-stealing turn on "Money Trees" (ya bish). It's difficult to pick just one track as the standout here, as it all sounds even better when listened to as a complete unit; nonetheless, here's my pick for favorite song...
My song: "Maad City" featuring MC Eiht

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Year-End Series, Part 2: Biggest Disappointments

This article is not to point out the wack music that dropped this year. This is to discuss the songs and albums that we just exected more from. The artists we've come to rely on to be dope that dropped projects that simply didn't meet our lofty expectations, or the artists that didn't deliver on promises. Let's go.

10. E.B.A.H. - Tech N9ne

Anyone that's ever talked music with me knows Tech N9ne is my favorite MC. So naturally I have enormous expectations for him to live up to every time he drops a project. And this just didn't cut it. Tech dropped three EPs this year, and only one (Boiling Point) was musically and lyrically what I look for from the Kansas City King. Klusterfuk was a decent piece but had a blah moment or two, and when it's a 6-song project, there's no room for blah moments. Meanwhile, E.B.A.H. basically WAS one long blah moment. The title track was actually pretty good, as well as the "middle finger to the haters" track "A Real 1". Even the bizarre, otherworldly sound of "Earregular" was a solid track. But against those you have the awful single "Don't Tweet This", the mundane sex romp "KJOMD", the cookie-cutter club banger "Rock Yo Head", the abysmal "Boy Toy", and 3 unnecessary and irritating skits (I've mentioned before that Tech N9ne routinely includes redundant and uncreative skits on his projects). Grab the three tracks I mentioned on iTunes and pass on this otherwise.

9. Broken Promise Projects

This is an issue pretty much every year, but there were quite a few projects mentioned that were predicted to be released this year that never saw the light of day. I'm not talking the stuff of myth like Fugees reunions, D'Angelo comebacks, Andre 3000 solo debuts, or Detox. I'm talking artists that reliably release new music and for whatever reason just didn't this year. Brotha Lynch Hung was supposed to release his long-awaited third Strange Music album, Mannibalector, and although the project finally got a release date for February of '13, that's nearly 2 years since the second installment, without so much as a peep from Lynch or Strange this entire year. Tech N9ne and Krizz Kaliko looked to release their long-awaited rock album Amafrican Psycho before again missing expected deadlines (though we did get a single). Jay Electronica went to all the trouble to tweet a track-listing for his long-awaited debut album, Act II: Patents of Nobility (The Turn) only to almost predictably sit on whatever material he claims to have. Ludacris (perhaps wisely) continues to withhold Ludaversal, which at this point will be a comeback album. Ghostface Killah and Doom teased us with their "DoomStarks" collab, but no new information surfaced. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Hey, artists? Keep promises you can't keep to yourselves please.

8. Welcome To: Our House - Slaughterhouse

To tell the truth, I didn't have the loftiest expectations for this to begin with. I like the rappers involved individually, but together I always felt like it was just forced. However, they can all rap well, and because I think highly of them individually, I figured it could at least be a decent album. Boy, was I wrong. This album has Eminem's fingerprints all over it, and these days that doesn't bode as well as it used to (more on this later). Overrapping, mediocre, poppy production, mostly terrible songwriting, and cheesy, overdone hooks abound on this turd of an album. I would try to point out the songs I liked, and there were a couple good moments, but honestly I haven't touched this since it dropped.

7. Kiss the Ring - DJ Khaled

I had my DJ Khaled phase. When he first came onto the scene he often had a knack for bringing 14 artists together and putting them on a Runners beat with an interchangeable Akon or T-Pain hook and yet making it still sound fun and listenable. I don't know if it's just me or if Khaled is losing his touch, but the magic wasn't happening on this album. Maybe it's because he keeps using the same tired, mundane, dime a dozen pop rappers on every track. Maybe it's because he's still so fixated on making Ace Hood happen. Maybe it's because of his obnoxious Mickey Mouse voice adlibs and his annoying tendency to decide to drop a struggle rap at the worst possible time. I don't know. What I do know is that, barring a few key moments of quality ("Hip Hop" with Nas and Scarface, "They Ready" with Big K.R.I.T., J. Cole, and Kendrick Lamar) this thing came and went with minimal fanfare--and rightfully so.

6. Country, God or the Girl - K'naan

I actually didn't even notice this album dropped till just the other day, and while I've enjoyed K'naan's music in the past (especially his 2009 album Troubadour) this one wasn't enjoyable when I finally listened to it. K'naan has started to sound to me like he's trying too hard, and this album is a blend of the worst parts of the music of Wyclef Jean, the Black Eyed Peas, and Andre 3000. It sounds a bit pretentious and more than a little out of his element, as some tracks barely retain any hip hop influence at all--not that I necessarily have a problem with that but it just sounds forced and alien to me coming from him.

5. Diamond In the Ruff - Freeway

Look, anyone that's still checking for Freeway in 2012 is there for two things: rugged bars and hard beats. We don't ask you for much, Leslie. You nailed it with The Stimulus Package, bring us more of that. But no. Freeway drops Diamond this year and I swear it sounded like a Murder Inc. album in 2002. Take Free off the beats and replace him with Ja Rule and you have Pain Is Love. Sappy, sugary R&B hooks and glossy, overdone beats abound here, and while that sound works for some rappers (I'm no elitist) it doesn't for Free. Pass on this altogether.

4. God Forgives, I Don't - Rick Ross

Say what you want to say. Lacking in lyrical depth, doesn't just lie but does it with the most extravagant, over-the-top and unbelievable exaggerations ever put to wax, was a C.O. at one point. Whatever you want to say, I've heard it all and you're not going to convince me to hate Rick Ross's music...well, until this album. Even though it still had a few excellent tracks ("Sixteen", "Ten Jesus Pieces", "So Sophisticated") this album was mostly oversweetened pop basura. Bring back the lying wannabe drug lord, bring back the guy that doesn't think it's trickin' even when you DON'T got it; bring back the reckless talking, lyrically shallow fat guy. I don't need wannabe-ladies' man Rozay. Also, tell me this album cover didn't kinda bite the 2 Chainz album with the black backgrounds and focus on the chains.

3. Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1 - Lupe Fiasco

First off, props on what was probably the most pretentious album title of the year in hip hop. Could have just gone with Food & Liquor II or The Great American Rap Album, but nah, let's do all of the above PLUS add a "Part 1" to it, thus assuring that it has otherworldly expectations heaped on it to live up to his classic debut's standards, to actually BE a "great" rap album, and to warrant a sequel. Cool. Then let's tell everyone it's our best work yet to add onto the pressure and a return to form from the dud Lasers. And then after all that, let's drop an incredibly lukewarm, actually-still-quite-a-bit-like-Lasers album with preachy, redundant and often overcomplicated messages. Yeah, that'll please the fanbase.

2. Cruel Summer

The G.O.O.D. Music compilation album should've been incredible. I mean, Kanye never fails on his own albums. Even the somewhat underwhelming Watch the Throne had moments of genius, and to be sure this does too. But with the roster he has, that now includes the likes of Q-Tip, Pusha T, Common, and Mos Def, and Kanye at the helm, this should have been epic. Instead, what did we get? A hodge podge of posse cuts involving rappers and artists nobody asked to hear from (Travis Scott, Mase, R. Kelly), a mixed bag of beats, and a remix of a CHIEF KEEF song for crying out loud--and not so much as one solitary verse from Tip or Mos. To be fair, Kanye and Pusha run rampant all over this album on their appearances, and we get standout contributions from the likes of Jay-Z and Ghostface Killah and an absolute R&B gem in "Bliss", but overall this fell well short of the mark we all had set for it.

1. Eminem's Life

Who doesn't at least respect Eminem's lyrical prowess? We may not all like him musically, and sure, he's had a rollercoaster of a career this last decade, including some extremely low lows. But we still just expect more from Eminem than we've gotten lately. He's off drugs. He takes fan criticisms to heart, if his lyrics are to be believed, so we kinda expect his manic, almost comically exaggerated delivery to be calming down some. He's had time to work on his craft, having been 2 years since his last real album. So why, pray tell, do we still get the angry, SCREEEEAMING, ADHD Eminem with the contrived, overdone punchlines and poppy, overproduced hooks? Was anyone out there crying out for Em to work with tough-girl poser Pink, overexposed and overrated-in-every-department hoodrat Rihanna, or "never-gonna-blow-up" Skylar Grey? And seriously, that Skylar Gray track is an abomination. Freddie Mercury is spinning like a top in his grave to hear "Bicycle Race" brutally desecrated by these two. And finally there's the aforementioned Slaughterhouse album. Did you really think Slaughterhouse's fanbase was clamoring for such a blatant Top 40 reach, Marshall? Come on. Do better next year when you drop your next solo because I'm starting to get tired of it.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Year-End Series, Part 1: Must-Hear Songs

I decided it's about time to start my year-end series and see if I can't actually get it finished before the year ends. I don't really like to do countdowns because I can never narrow things down to a certain number. I'll have my 10 or whatever picked out, and suddenly I'll find like 5 more that need to be on there and next thing you know the list has grown from a top 10 to a top 35 or something, and then I'm never happy with the way I ranked them and so on. So, I'm just going to do a free-form list for each category.

Today, I bring you the Must-Hear Songs of Two Thousand Twelve. Disclaimer: This is under no pretense of being a comprehensive list. I find myself still playing catch-up to all the amazing music released this year, so you'll just have to take this as songs that I believe everyone should hear. This disclaimer applies to the rest of the series as well. Enjoy.

In no particular order:

Klusterfuk - Tech N9ne feat. Sassy

Sorry - T.I. feat. Andre 3000

My Remedy - Stevie Stone

One of These Days - Prozak feat. Krizz Kaliko and Tech N9ne

Test You - Nesto the Owner feat. Ces Cru

Loco Motive - Nas

Devil On My Mind - ¡Mayday! feat. Liz Suwandi

Come Away To the Water - Maroon 5 and Rozzi Crane

Straight From the Golden - Large Professor feat. Busta Rhymes

Kill Shit - Krizz Kaliko feat. Tech N9ne and Twista

Vader - King Gordy

Compton - Kendrick Lamar feat. Dr. Dre

Waiting Is a Drug - K'naan

Travel As Equals - Joseph Arthur

Sporadic Brain Matter - JL

Hate Your Family - Irv da Phenom

New God Flow - Ghostface Killah, Kanye West, and Pusha T

Ali Bomaye - Game feat. 2 Chainz and Rick Ross

Pink Matter - Frank Ocean feat. Andre 3000

God of Waar - Dirty Wormz feat. Kabosh

9th Inning - Missy Elliott feat. Timbaland

Ill Mind of Hopsin 5 - Hopsin

Tick, Tock - Chef Raekwon, Danny Brown, Joell Ortiz, and Pusha T

Klick Klack Bang - Ces Cru

Real Cocky - Big Scoob

The Thickets - Big Boi feat. Sleepy Brown

Strange Clouds - B.o.B. feat. Lil' Wayne

Skyfall - Adele

Rella - Odd Future

60 Second Assassins - DJ Kay Slay feat. Busta Rhymes, Jaz-O, Lazyie Bone, and Twista

Same Damn Time - Future

Hands On the Wheel - Schoolboy Q feat. ASAP Rocky

Reagan - Killer Mike

Ten Jesus Pieces - Rick Ross feat. Stalley

Beautiful Death - Ab Soul feat. Ashtrobot and Punch

We Are Young - Fun feat. Janelle MonĂ¡e

Wide Awake - Katy Perry

The Mirror - Kid Rock

Wings - Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

As Long As You Love Me - Justin Bieber feat. Big Sean

1Train - ASAP Rocky feat. Action Bronson, Big K.R.I.T., Danny Brown, Joey Badass, Kendrick Lamar, and Yelawolf

Blood All Over Me - Brotha Lynch Hung

Larry David - Ubiquitous

FreeDoom - Godemis feat. JL and Ubiquitous

Snatch Yo Carties - Bizarre feat. Calicoe and King Gordy

Bully - Shinedown

Let Us Move On - Dido feat. Kendrick Lamar

Strange $ - Kutt Calhoun

 Alright my browser has already crashed 12 times (I'm not exaggerating) in making this list so I'm cutting it off. This was a fantastic year for music and I could probably make another list this size out of songs I forgot, and I still haven't heard everything. But check these out if you've slept on them.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The K.O.D. Epic

Tech N9ne just released his new EP, Boiling Point, the third EP associated with his K.O.D. album and the fourth installment in the collection altogether. With the new release, I took the liberty of sequencing the EPs together into the K.O.D. tracklist to make one cohesive playlist that I refer to as The K.O.D. Epic. The songs fit into the three segments designated on the original album ("Anger", "Madness", and "The Hole") and are sequenced into the track listing to allow for a smooth transition between like-minded songs and to leave all skits intact. Put it all together and enjoy. Also, read my K.O.D. review here.

Note: I was going to embed a playlist but I did this on iTunes and it's too much trouble to create a third-party playlist and then embed it, you can do all that yourselves.

1. Choking From It (Seepage)
2. Seepage (Seepage)
3. Show Me a God (K.O.D.)
4. The Warning [Skit] (K.O.D.)
5. Demons (K.O.D.)
6. Stress Relief (The Lost Scripts of K.O.D.)
7. Uralya (Boiling Point)
8. Blackened the Sun (K.O.D.)
9. Strange Music Box (K.O.D.)
10. Sundae [Skit] (K.O.D.)
11. Check Yo Temperature (K.O.D.)
12. Asshole (Seepage)
13. F.U.N. [Fuck U Niggas] (K.O.D. bonus track)
14. Like I Died (K.O.D. bonus track)
15. Like I Died [Remix] (The Lost Scripts of K.O.D.)
16. B. Boy (K.O.D.)
17. Fire In AC (Boiling Point)
18. Hunterish (K.O.D.)
19. The Pick Up [Skit] (K.O.D.)
20. In the Trunk (K.O.D.)
21. Should I Killer (Boiling Point)
22. 00N9NA (The Lost Scripts of K.O.D.)
23. Pinocchiho (K.O.D.)
24. Bite Me (Seepage)
25. Alucard (Seepage)
26. Horns (K.O.D.)
27. Hunger (Boiling Point)
28. Paint On Your Pillowcase (Boiling Point)
29. Interview With Jason Whitlock [Skit] (K.O.D.)
30. It Was an Accident (K.O.D.)
31. Shadows On the Road (K.O.D.)
32. Trippin' Comin' (Seepage)
33. Heavy (Boiling Point)
34. Low (K.O.D.)
35. Pain Killer (The Lost Scripts of K.O.D.)
36. Messages [Skit] (K.O.D.)
37. Killing You (K.O.D.)
38. Leave Me Alone (K.O.D.)
39. Alone (Boiling Point)
40. Prayer By Brother K.T. [Skit] (K.O.D.)
41. K.O.D. (K.O.D.)
42. The Martini (K.O.D.)
43. Last Sad Song (The Lost Scripts of K.O.D.)

Monday, October 8, 2012

REVIEW: Cruel Summer - G.O.O.D. Music

What up everyone? I know it's been forever since I've done a review but there's been a lot of things going on, not necessarily keeping me too busy, but preoccupying me to the point where I haven't had a real desire to write lately. I also haven't had consistent access to reliable internet for the last few months (my increased presence on Twitter notwithstanding, I have a smart phone, get off my back) so I haven't felt like doing much. But no more. I know the album has been out a few weeks but I really wanted to review this so if you're tired of hearing about it already...cry. Okay, let's get into this.

1. To the World - Kanye West and R. Kelly
Okay, we're really not off to a good start. I don't know how R. Kelly is still taken seriously even a little bit in 2012. This is Kells doing his best Akon impression and singing the most faux-tough guy lyrics ever ("Let me see you put your middle fingers up to the world") that sound like something Eminem wrote in 2004 for Encore and subsequently scrapped. Actually, even Kanye's flow is reminiscent of that era Eminem. The beat, produced by approximately 18 people like most recent Kanye tracks, is extra cheese as well. I don't see me giving this one ANY play again.
Instrumental rating: 2.5/5.0 Produced by Pop, co-produced by Kanye West, Hudson Mohawke, Ken Lewis, Mano, Travis Scott, and Anthony Kilhoffer
Lyrical rating: 2.0/5.0

2. Clique - Big Sean, Jay-Z, and Kanye West
The mumbly singing at the beginning is kind of random...but once the song starts it's immediately a lot more to my liking than the struggle on the last track. There's no track I've ever heard that I've thought "YO THIS NEEDS A VERSE FROM BIG SEAN" but he kind of does his thing on here. Of course, it's for naught once "G.O.O.D. Music's drug-dealing cousin" gets on the mic and delivers one of his better verses in recent memory. The verses Jay gives Kanye on Kanye albums are just clue why that fire was so lacking on Watch the Throne. Kanye really steals the show with his verse, though. He seems to have all but left behind his old backpacker persona in favor of an exceedingly cocky (even by his standards) one, but somehow it works for him; his verses are packed with swagger and braggadocio and it suits the mood of the album excellently. Oh, and the beat is really dope...I don't have much to say in description of it, it's not too complex but it works. One complaint though...Sean both calls himself "B.I.G." on this track and compares his crew to Wu-Tang...chill Sean.
Instrumental rating: 4.0/5.0 Produced by Hit-Boy, co-produced by Kanye West, Anthony Kilhoffer, and 40
Lyrical rating: 4.0/5.0

3. Mercy - 2 Chainz, Big Sean, Kanye West, and Pusha T

For starters, this is more like the Big Sean I'm familiar with. Basic punchlines, basic flow. If this beat wasn't so great his verse would be a real downer (besides the instant quotable, "white girls politicking, that's that Sarah Palin"--this album is chock full of lines like that). Pusha fares better with a more energetic flow and punchlines galore. Then things get weird, with the reggae sample ("Dust a Sound Boy" by Super Beagle) wailing unintelligibly for a few lines before Kanye comes in and the beat abruptly switches to an up-tempo techno. I really wasn't a fan of the change at first, but in time it's grown on me, despite having no apparent relevance to the song other than to make a fairly pedestrian Kanye verse sound more urgent. He manages a great line or two as well though: "don't do no press but I get the most press kit, plus yo, my bitch make yo' bitch look like Precious!" Finally the beat returns to normal for a scene-stealing verse from 2 Chainz...yeah, I said it, loosen up your backpack straps, 2 Chainz is the star of this track. The beat is hard with its heavy bass and dancehall samples over midtempo keys (not sure that "keys" is the right word there but if you don't know what I mean listen to the song).
Instrumental rating: 4.0/5.0 Produced by Lifted, co-produced by Mike Dean, Mike Will, Kanye West, and Hudson Mohawke
Lyrical rating: 4.0/5.0

4. New God Flow - Ghostface Killah, Kanye West, and Pusha T
This track was released well before the album dropped with verses from Kanye and Pusha, while the hook was a vocal sample from Ghost's "Mighty Healthy", and it already was incredible. Pusha spits two excellent verses, and not to be outdone, Kanye contributes one of his best verses in recent memory as well over foreboding piano and a dark, spare instrumental. When the tracklist was released and I noticed Ghost listed as a feature, my first thought was "Wow, Kanye is really still carrying on this corny trend of listing sampled artists as a feature like he did on 'Otis' and 'The Joy'?" and forgot about it. When I finally got my hands on the album and played it, I was VERY pleasantly surprised to see the track had been updated with a MONSTROUS verse from Tone himself, in my opinion the single best verse on the album, and it's hardcore as ever too: "bust hammers with pot holders and yo, dead a cow for its fucking leather" are the hardest bars ever to be associated with a Kanye track in my memory. This is an instant classic to me.
Instrumental rating: 4.5/5.0 Produced by Kanye West, co-produced by Boogz & Tapez and Anthony Kilhoffer
Lyrical rating: 5.0/5.0

5. The Morning - 2 Chainz, Chef Raekwon, Common, Cyhi da Prynce, D'banj, Kanye West, Kid Cudi, and Pusha T
A spare beat dotted with electronic blips sets the stage for this posse cut, which is a pretty solid track but unspectacular. Common makes what is curiously his only appearance on the album, but has the misfortune of following a great Raekwon verse, marking the second time on this album a Wu-Tang member has stolen the show from the artists it's supposed to be showcasing. It's honestly like they heard Big Sean say his "crew deeper than Wu-Tang" on "Clique" and set out to prove him horribly wrong. Really, the verses after Rae are all fairly unspectacular, especially Kanye, who rehashes bars he already spit in the previous track which reeks of laziness. D'banj, who is apparently G.O.O.D. but I had never heard of before, brings a competent hook.
Instrumental rating: 3.0/5.0 Produced by Kanye West, co-produced by Illmind, Jeff Bhasker, and Travis Scott
Lyrical rating: 3.5/5.0

6. Cold - Kanye West

Yes, DJ Khaled is credited as a feature on the track listing but if you aren't rapping or singing I want to know what business you have getting a "feature" credit. I blame Diddy for this trend. Actually, I never even heard DJ Khaled's signature ad-libs anywhere on the track...there is an outro by DJ Pharris, but no Khaled that I hear. Anyway, this is Kanye's only go for dolo on the album and he fares well, with a heavy-hitter beat again punctuated with electronic blips. Kanye spits some aggressive ignorance on this track, which is notable for offending both PETA ("tell PETA my mink is dragging on the floor"; PETA publicly criticized Ye for that one) and Theraflu ("Theraflu" was the original title for the song but after Theraflu attempted to distance themselves from the track, Kanye changed the name to "Way Too Cold" before settling on "Cold"). This is nothing groundbreaking but a solid track nonetheless with some top-shelf Kanye smack-talk.
Instrumental rating: 3.5/5.0 Produced by Hit-Boy, surprisingly all by himself!
Lyrical rating: 3.5/5.0

7. Higher - Cocaine 80s, Mase, Pusha T, and The-Dream
I'm going to get a few complaints out of the way right off the bat. First, I hate The-Dream. He's a great songwriter but he's a terrible singer that has no business anywhere near a mic ever, and he stole Christina Milian from me, planted his filthy seed in her, and left her. I'm looking for you, Terius, and I plan to settle this. So you already know I hate this hook because of him. Next complaint is the Brett Favre of rap himself has decided to once again come out of retirement to spit his struggle on yet another track as if ANYBODY in 2012 is sitting around clamoring for more Mase verses. Pastor Mason needs to take his seat and remain in it. Finally it's yet another electronic beat and these are getting increasingly forgettable as the album goes on. Also there's this weird effect that sounds like a baby crying, and I never liked that when Timbaland did it, and he did it better. Pusha drops a pretty nice verse, but with the current of mediocrity he's swimming against it gets lost.
Instrumental rating: 2.5/5.0 Produced by Hit-Boy, co-produced by Kanye West and Mike Dean
Lyrical rating: 2.5/5.0

8. Sin City - Cyhi da Prynce, John Legend, Malik Yusef, Teyana Taylor, and Travis Scott
Massive amount of bass and reverb on this track. I'm not sure who this Travis Scott guy is on the first verse, but he's wack right out of the gate. There's also an obnoxious amount of vocal effects being used in this song, whether it's on the verses, or Teyana Taylor's otherwise beautiful hook. Malik Yusef has a kinda cool spoken word interlude before Cyhi takes over. Now, Cyhi is a decent rapper I guess. He's pretty inoffensive most of the time but he rarely really IMPRESSES me, and that's the same thing here. I'm vibing with the track alright, and Cyhi is just spitting typical Cyhi fare, but then he actually has the nerve to say "she rode the broom on the beach, that's a sand-witch, so I ate her like it" and it was all I could do not to hit skip. A wack punchline usually just makes me roll my eyes, but occasionally you get one of those doozies that about ruins the track...this is one of those times. Anyway, he limps through the rest of the verse before Teyana's sultry voice takes over again--I can't help but think this track would be about 20 times better if it was just her and Malik. Truthfully, I never did hear John Legend on this, but whatever. Maybe I'm not paying enough attention to these tracks to catch the more subtle features; it can be hard to do when there's like 8 people on every other track.
Instrumental rating: 3.5/5.0 These beats aren't terrible but you really do expect so much more from a Kanye project. This one is produced by Tommy Brown, co-produced by Travis Scott.
Lyrical rating: 2.0/5.0 Kick Travis Scott and Cyhi off this and it'd be worth at least a point and a half more.

9. The One - 2 Chainz, Big Sean, Kanye West, and Marsha Ambrosius
"This must be the obligatory inspirational track," I thought, as the choir vocals and lyrical piano melody played and the sultry voice of Marsha Ambrosius began wafting from my speakers. "This is where they tell us how they all worked so hard to get to the top and no one can take it away and you can too and other such uplifting talk." And then suddenly the Floet croons that she's "got a pistol on my hip and it's gonna be some shit, if you want then bring it on, see I'm a motherfucking soldier" and my jaw about hit the floor. Already Marsha has delivered the most hardcore bars on the entire album outside of the Ghostface Killah verse earlier. Anyway, Kanye mostly just brags on his verse, comparing himself to Michael (Tyson, Jordan, Jackson, AND Phelps). Big Sean delivers a verse that even he sounds bored with, but it's not TERRIBLE, barring the "my weed loud, I need a hearing aid" line he sneaks in there. 2 Chainz closes out the rapping with a verse you'll either love or hate, depending on your general feelings toward 2 Chainz, for me it's forgettable. James Fauntleroy brings the track to a close with a sung outro.
Instrumental rating: 3.5/5.0 Produced by Kanye West, co-produced by Hudson Mohawke, Twilite Tone, Anthony Kilhoffer, Mannie Fresh, and Lifted, because apparently it takes half a dozen people to make a slightly above average beat these days.
Lyrical rating: 3.0/5.0

10. Creepers - Kid Cudi
I'm a Cudi fan, but I really couldn't get into this track. The beat has kind of an annoying clapping rhythm that carries on the whole song, and Cudi is mostly shooting blanks lyrically with lines like "if I had one wish it'd be for more wishes, duh, fuck tryna make it rhyme". Come on Scott. There's not much else to say about it; Cudi being the only one besides Kanye to have a solo track, this should've been so much better than it was--something I'm finding myself saying a lot.
Instrumental rating: 3.0/5.0 Produced by Dan Black
Lyrical rating: 2.0/5.0

11. Bliss - John Legend and Teyana Taylor
Right off the bat, where have the beats like this been the whole album?! This is easily the best beat since "New God Flow" and possibly the best instrumental on the album. It's very orchestral and cinematic, and it's laced with the beautiful vocals of Legend and Taylor, singing of a "Bliss"ful love. This is excellent material here; every rapper on G.O.O.D. Music has just been showed up by the label's two songbirds.
Instrumental rating: 4.5/5.0 Produced by Hudson Mohawke (oh and look, he made a beat more complex and BETTER than all the rest, and completely by know what they say about too many cooks...)
Lyrical rating: 4.5/5.0

12. Don't Like - Big Sean, Chief Keef, Jadakiss, Kanye West, and Pusha T
This is easily the most infamous track on the whole album. First, there's the obvious complaint that Keef himself is wack as a rapper. Then, there's the controversy about the culture of violence that Keef glamorizes and the very public ignorance he displayed with the spotlight this track gave him. Then there's the rant Keef tweeted about how he didn't need Kanye's help to blow up. Then there's the horrific diss track Chris Brown put out to Drake over this beat...I'm holding these guys indirectly responsible. Finally, and least offensively, there's the somewhat ironic fact that Keef, easily the worst rapper featured on the album and not a G.O.O.D. Music artist, is responsible both for the album's most popular catchphrase ("that's that shit I don't like") and one of its most successful singles. As for the rest of the artists, we get a solid verse from Pusha, a decent verse from Kanye, a surprisingly dope verse from Sean, and finally an unusually raspy, even by his standards, verse from Jada. Jada didn't deserve closing duties on this--his verse is the most forgettable outside of Keef's. Sean really went in here, this is his best contribution to the album and he steals the entire show on the song. Beatwise, again, this is an outside producer who contributed a fat, pounding beat that is among the best here.
Instrumental rating: 4.5/5.0 Produced by Young Chop, co-produced by Kanye West, Twilite Tone, and Noah Goldstein
Lyrical rating: 3.0/5.0

Instrumental rating: 3.6/5.0
Lyrical rating: 3.3/5.0
Composite rating: 3.5/5.0
Honestly, I feel like I may have been a little overly generous. This album is simply drowned in mediocrity; you expect SOOOO much more musically from a Kanye album and the MCs, despite notable contributions from Ghost and Rae and the consistently solid but still unspectacular Pusha T, mostly fail to deliver anything powerful. And where in the world were Mos Def and Q-Tip? The best songs were the singles we all had heard before it even dropped...other than the addition of "Bliss" I was very underwhelmed by the album tracks. Still, it's not a complete loss, it has enough going for it to make it worth hearing, and a few tracks will certainly get repeat play--but overall it was a letdown. Purchase at your own risk--you'd probably be best off simply downloading the best tracks on iTunes and passing on the rest.