Say what you will about Gangsta Rap; sometimes it hits the spot, and nothing else kicks quite as hard as a menacing bass line over fast and furious bars recounting the countless drama filled nights of someone living on the streets of Compton as a soldier. Continuing from where former Compton street legends Dr. Dre, DJ Quik, and WC left off (and where The Game currently blazed a new trail for new school West Coast music) comes an artist that is generating quite a buzz on the West Coast: Nipsey Hussle.
Click for huge resolution picture of album art
His former two mixtapes, creatively named Bullets Ain’t Got No Name Vol. 1 and 2, features copious amounts of gang banging, West Coast street dropping, and references to the wildness of the RSC (Rollin’ 60 Crips) over meandering beats with just the right amount of synths. Delivery is on point, and one can imagine playing this album front to bank while riding in a drop top 67 Chevy Impala in the California sun. If you like his album, buy it! However, Nipsey Hussle did release it for free with the intent for his fans to listen to his new release:
It’s here – after 14 years, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…Part II has been released.
Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, which was released in 1995, took the hip-hop world by storm. It took popular gangsta rap material that was popular at the time and dressed it up with a pinstripe suit and fed it Italian food. The result? A cohesive, dark, and brooding masterpiece of audio cinema, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… painted a picture of sophisticated Mafia-style organized crime with complex, rapidly delivered lyrics. Immediately afterward, Nas, Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z, and other storied rappers from that era retooled their image to fit this new “Mafioso rap” genre. What does this mean for the listener? We had something different to digest – instead of tales of Gangsta riding around town with a smoking blunt (which of course has its own merits), we had story lines, characters, and tales of intrigue, dodging the law, and honor amongst thieves. The influence was similar to how the Godfather revolutionized how people though about crime movies.
How does the sequel match up? Pretty damn well – I would have to say I am impressed.
To describe the hip-hop community’s anticipation for this album would be difficult. On one hand, you have a group of people longing for a successor to one of the best albums of the 1990s. On the other hand, you the classic setup for a mammoth, Kayne-West-styled sophomore jinx. After bumping the CD in my car, at home, and at work while going through my new CD listening habits, here are my conclusion:
Near-classic. 4.5 out of 5.
What surprised me most about this album was how accurately it managed to capture the atmosphere and cinema-quality feel of the first album, even with long time Wu-Tang producer RZA producing only three songs, a deceased producer (J. Dilla) crafting the beats for another three, and a producer best known for West Coast bangers (Dr. Dre) producing two tracks as well. Raekwon and his cohort Ghostface Killah are lyrically ferocious and attack the bars looking to prove themselves worthy opponents in an increasingly tired and mainstream hip-hop world. Concise, relevant skits and movie quotes are dispersed at the right intervals in the album, never becoming distracting and adding an extra dimension to the listening experience that sets the scene for the next song as well as injecting classic Wu-Tang flavor notes into this well-constructed cocktail.
The album starts off with a straight banger by deceased producer: J.Dilla.
This opening track highlights one of the strengths of the album: although a variety of different producers with intensely differently styles worked on the album, it managed to keep a coherent feel with true Wu-Tang flavor. Once you listen to the climatic violins in the background, the melodic chanting, and four of the Clan’s most dexterous lyricists pump out lines such as this:
Deep pockets with the eight on me, sleep with the safe in the wall
The cameras on with the make-up and all
Swap six 45′s, twist reefer in the flicks, papi whoadie ride
Bolt his gun off, from know your horse, she lied
Fly criteria, bury me in Africa
With whips and spears, and rough diamonds out of Syria
Then you know you have a Wu-banger. The next track (Sonny’s Missing), produced by Pete Rock, kicks off the album’s Mafia-themed storyline with Raekwon’s trademark introspective, narrative style spinning a tale of a deadly drug deal gone wrong. Other standout tracks include:
Gihad – produced by one of the most unlikely producers (death rapper Necro), this track actually fits in perfectly with the rest of the album. The melodic chanting reminds me of monks chanting in the 36 Chambers as Ghostface and Raekwon spin a Cosa Nostra tale of a father trying to teach his son a valuable lesson about women and his role in a modern day crime family.
Penitentiary – with its suspenseful melody which never lets up in sneaky intensity, Penitentiary graphically outlines the tale of two prison mates scheming to break out of prison with an elaborate plan fit for a Prison Break episode.
10 Bricks – a true gem of a J.Dilla beat, a Chinese violin is is plucked mercilessly throughout the track as if the strings are going to snap at any moment, and for some reason this beat from the late producer’s archives fits perfectly with the motif and lyrical content of the song – Raekwon, Cappadonna, and Ghostface go hard and do the beat justice with razor sharp precision.
CONCLUSION: After more than a decade, Raekwon shows no signs of slowing down. Even with a huge array of producers and some guest stars sprinkled all over the album, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…Pt II keeps the Wu-Tang Clan relevant with its timeless combination of sharp rhymes, unforgettable stories, and uncanny beat selection.
Sometimes, a mixtape can be a wonderful thing. An unadulterated mixtape often consists of raw, emotional bars over (often) stolen beats. Some of the best mixtapes (a la Drought 3) often draw critical acclaim, press coverage, and are more listenable than full featured studio albums.
Some ridiculously good mixtape rappers: Papoose, Killer Mike, Chamillionaire, Canibius, Joe Budden, 50 Cent, etc…
The list goes on and on. These mixtapes help form an intricate underground buzz for artists both old and new, and can often represent a rapper’s true thoughts and feelings as they are not reviewed and watered down by studio executives who are thinking about the “target audience” and the “return on investment” of a typical studio album. Perhaps this is why studio releases tend to be so dumbed down, boring, or lacking passion. One of Little Brother’s recent mixtapes, they talk about working in a retail hell (i.e. Macy’s):
Smile at the management, wave at the white folks (Hi, Bob!)
Gotta meet a quota, but I don’t know how
And all these broke motherfuckers just tellin’ me the browsin’
Till around eleven, that’s when you see the soccer moms
Spendin’ they husband’s money, that’s how they roll up
Got three little girls, steady fuckin’ up my store
And an eight year old, still ridin’ in a stroller
Around one, the Mexicans come in the store
Coppin’ all the shit that rocked five summers ago
(Yeah, homes!) They gotta be the realest niggaz alive
Buy 400 dollars woth of Nautica and pay for it in fives
They also go on to stereotyping Middle Eastern people, as well as African Americans. It would be hard for me to see this type of free-flowing creativity coming from some of the label executives out there (I’m looking at you, Sony). Another reason why some mixtapes sound better is that some rappers just seem to function better getting blunted with their buddies, writing and recording with abandon, and not having to worry about popular guest rappers, sample clearance issues, and all the other red tape that can make rapping seem like work. Other rappers just like the freedom of repetitively trashing other rappers or discussing their favorite topics without having to think about anybody but themselves.
Let me know if you can think of any other reasons why some rappers don’t seem to go as hard on studio albums vs. mixtapes.
One of the most highly anticipated albums in the hip-hop sphere, Slaugtherhouse, was finally released amongst speculation of delays on August 11th. The Slaughterhousesupergroup, consisting of Royce da 5’9”, Crooked I, Joe Budden, and Joell Ortiz, an interesting collection of long-time rap veterans from different regions of the United States. All these rappers surprisingly have a few things in common:
They are both emotionally driven rappers, with a lot of diss tracks and battle rhymes to their fame.
They have the dubious honor of being popular on the Internet, which does not translate to album sales (ala “mixtape rappers”
They have been connected in the past to famous rappers or labels, in which they have had a massive and public falling out from.
Three are black. (I ran out of things to list for now)
Their first release, the self-titled Slaughterhouse (album), is an eclectic blend of old and new. The menacing beats, rapid-fire delivery, and the hard-hitting lyricism harks back to the days of East Coast Mafiaso rap where fierce battle raps formed the bulk of the material and lyrics, gasp, actually mattered as much as the beats. The new? Managing four diverse personalities and four rappers battling for the spotlight on every song has definitely never been done before. The promotion of the album was done mostly through word of mouth, which of course, meant grassroots level communications via tweets, forum posts, and Facebook feeds. Each artist, ala Wu-Tang Clan, is going to cross promote this album with their own efforts, mostly on the mixtape scene. What is the result of all this buzz, work, and speculation? A pretty damn good album.
Slaughterhouse starts the fire with Sound Off! (lyrics), which combine triumphant trumpets, a Voltron reference (again, sparks of Wu-Tang), and a tempo that starts off slow before it blows the lid wide open. Each rappers follows the same template for this song: slow, then bursting into a Twista like explosion – and no one rapper outshines the other – a feat that is impressively shown throughout the album. The One (lyrics)exemplifies some of the experimentation that the album tries – a rolling guitar riff and a grungy, saccharine hook do not detract from lines such as:
I love these freak women
Something in my demin need a KISS, call it Gene Simmons
They wanna ban me like Marlyn Manson
For all the whores in my Baltimore, Maryland mansion
Not exactly poetry, but exactly what you expect from an album titled Slaughterhouse! Microphone’s (lyrics) beat has a distinct Detroit flavor that Royce absolutely kills, and while Lyrical Murderersmay have a meandering hook, the ominous piano keys mixes well with every member of the supergroup, with Joe Budden spitting his best:
Hello hip-hop, I am here, you dyin yeah and I’m aware
A beast so at your wake I’ll cry lion’s tears
And that’s no disrespect to the pioneers
If we ain’t who you tryin to hear
Somethin either wrong with your eyes and ears
Another favorite is Salute featuring one of my often overlooked favorites: Pharoahe Monch. Gotta love that slow, smoked out beat with the organ accents and sporadic bass line:
I judge albums by a myriad of factors, but the Slaughterhouse album is a solid 4/5 and deserves your money. Although you won’t find a huge range of lyrical subjects, for those who appreciate raw lyrics, a cohesive and gritty sound, and the sound of four mixtape legends at their best – Slaughterhouse definitely fits the bill, animal rights activists aside. I am definitely surprised by the chemistry that all four rappers managed to have.
What do you think of this album? Opinions welcome!
RJD2 – The Colossus . You may have heard RJD2′s beats before, but didn’t know it. One of his signature beats, Ghostwriter, has been used for several commercials and showcases his mastery of the art of the hip-hop sampling. The song ebbs, drops, and peaks while utilizing a highly complex drum sample. It never bores, and continually seeks to intrigue.
After producing mostly instrumental albums and for noted underground legends such as Blueprint, he started to gradually move away from movie score tunes such as The Horror and into darker, more introspective tunes that featured his singing voice. Although I personally prefer his strictly instrumental work, The Colossus does a good job of balancing brooding beats with thankfully muted singing and head-knockin’, triumphant tunes such as “Let There Be Horns:”
I love this track because of its visual imagery: notice how the middle of the track contains a furious drum sample which has a distinctive Cuban Jazz flavor. The “interlude” of the track even sprinkles some electric guitar amid trumpet blasts, and smoothly connects the song toward its ultimately thrilling conclusion.
Sound Tribe Sector 9 – Artifact . Sound Tribe Sector 9′s sound often defies definition – it combines so many different types of music together that they can only be fully described by emotions. “Better Day” is spaced out, mellow, and mysterious, with frequent electronic references and a beautiful singer sparsely lending her talents to fleshing out the track. “Somesing” contains some elements of drum and bass along with electronica, but its musical structure is so organic and complex that it’s hard to pinpoint where one genre’s influence begins and where another ends. Wikipedia has even mentioned that this song has a composition similar to classical music.. although I can’t tell. What I do know, however, is that this album is NOT boring, unique, and worth a listen.
Oh No – The Ethiopium . As star producers come and go, Oh No has been in the background laboriously perfecting and mastering his craft of sampling, beat-making, and mixing. The result? The Ethiopium is a funky tour de force of two minute sound bites: a throwback to the old days of producing beat tapes and passing them around your peers, hoping that one of them will find a beat hot enough to rap over. Not content to use guitars, keyboards, and violins in his beats, Oh No taps into the musical tapestry of the music of Ethiopia with traditional Ethiopian instruments and sensibilities, such as the deftly placed chanting in “The Pain” and his creative use of instruments such as the krar. Taking J. Dilla’s style of bite sized, dynamic beats, each track gives you a taste, establishes a theme, then abruptly stops and leaves you wanting more.
With just over a month until his new rock/rap hybrid album Rebirth is released, the idiosyncratic rapper has released a new official mixtape just for us fans: No Ceilings.
The first song, Swag Surfin’, brings us back to a simpler time when Wayne was busy redefining the mixtape game. The song has no chorus, no guest stars, and no fancy beats – just Wayne going hard with lines that make you rewind the track and play it back as you say “did he really just make that analogy?”
“I mean her bitch, she never met her best friend’s sister
I leave her pussy Micro-soft like Windows Vista”
The above line sums it up pretty well. Other standout tracks which are played over some of the hotter beats of recent times:
Ice Cream – over a clap heavy beat and his traditional slow drawl, Wayne kills this beat. Notable line which highlights a return to his earlier stream of consciousness raps: “Im eatin, yous a waiter / Pistol on my hip, Tomb Raider”
D.O.A, Run This Town – better than Jay-Z’s original songs on The Blueprint 3.
Break Up – another Bangladesh beat and Wayne is completely on point here, as well as a rare guest appearance by Short Dawg and Gudda Gudda, who both shine here.
Banned from T.V. – a standout track.
Overall, this mixtape sidesteps some of the follies from his recent offerings, with less emphasis on guest stars, less distractions with the autotune machine, and more street-level, clever bars. Because Lil’ Wayne explicitly wants this album shared for free, download No Ceilings wherever you can, as long as it is for free because he has a “ton of music” and this is what he does for his fans as stated in the skits.
I haven’t posted in about a month due to mainly work related concerns, but during that time I’ve had the luxury to listening to a new, full album during my job activities as I grind along. Amazing how quickly the day can fly by when you’re steadily digesting and thinking about new music!
Lately I’ve been listening to many albums which are entirely instrumental, and do not contain any lyrics. However, all of the albums I’ve listened have strong hip-hop influences, and also borrow elements from jazz, trip-hop, and other related genres. I find it amazing that producers can have such a vast amount of skill with a wide variety of instruments, in which they use to convey a huge range of emotions. Not only that, but these songs often retain the ability for a rapper to easily rap their lines over the music due to their bass hits and melodic structure.
Here are some recent highlights, with some quick thoughts that don’t quite constitute a full review:
Blockhead - Music by Cavelight. During my recent travels to the trip-hop and instrumental scenes, I stumbled onto Blockhead’s offerings. His debut album Music by Cavelight is a medley of haunting and unique instruments with a distinctive hip-hop flavor.
Nomak – Muziq and Foto. Nomak is a little known, Japanese hip-hop producer who has been garnering praise worldwide (especially in Eastern European countries). He makes strong use of instrumentation such as piano chords and violins to produce spiritual and calming beats which seem to shimmer in your head as your listen to them. Muziq and Foto often takes advantage of lacing three or four separate melodies on top of each other to create a strong harmonious effect, such as Wind Beat and Ample Energy (two of my favorite songs in the album).
Uyama Hiroto – A Son of the Sun. Uyama Hiroto is another Japanese hip-hop producer, on Nujabes‘ label no less. Artistically, it is a bit similar to Nomak and Nujabes’ hip-hop beats, but Hiroto refines some elements in this album that clearly showcases his own unique talents. Strong jazz influences are seen throughout the album, as well as hip-hop influences. For example, the lead track “81summer” contains strong swing and cool jazz influences when you listen to the piano fill in the notes between bass hits. The voice that can be subtlety heard in the background is a skillful use of sampling, which makes the voice more of an instrument than for any vocal purpose. Lastly, the violin can be heard riding the beat, much as a rapper would flow along with the melodies presented in the song.
For those who have been following Jay Rock since 2006, we know what we’ve come to expect: hard lines, hard beats, and tales from the streets from Compton, CA. However, with the recent release of his new mixtape 30 Day Takeover, The Game soundalike is making a name for himself on the West Coast scene.
Featuring 30 raw and hard tracks, Jay Rock has expanded his repitore and sharpened his delivery and wordplay while displaying a wider range of emotion than shown before. A solid album that can be played from front to back on the iPod or in the car – I give this album a 4.5 out of 5.
Some standout tracks include:
The Takeover – Jay Rock flexes his vocals here and sets the tone for the rest of the album
Plenty Money – A nice West Coast G-anthem
Mandatory – K-Dot and Jay Rock are becoming quite the West Coast duo, especially with standout tracks such as this one
What’s my Name – I’m sure West Coast veterans will identity this iconic beat, and Jay Rock does this track justice