We’re halfway through January and already there is a perfect scoring album in the running for 2017, in addition to a few solid contenders. Rap activist and antics-maker Dan Bull released a new collection of outstanding breadth, suburban Atlantan Kyle Lucas of Marietta, Georgia came with a powerful punch of consciousness, BK to CT transplant Day Day P delivered his messages straight from the heart in his debut, and grime pioneer Wiley recognized his status atop the ranks of underlings spawned from his unique sub-genre of hip-hop. The fine joints just keep rolling in from these and other artists.
Hip Hop Hooray by Dan Bull (self-released)
Topping the list of this week’s best hip-hop albums is the new LP by the long-established, comedic nerdcore emcee Dan Bull, from Bromsgrove, England. Dan released his first studio album Safe in 2009 and has since been an outspoken artist in the areas of video-gaming, politics, society in general, autism (which he has) and personal struggle, as exemplified particularly well in Safe’s story of a man fraught with inner demons. The title of his new masterpiece is Hip Hop Hooray, an obvious homage to the Naughty By Nature anthem, but also a fun extensive ride through the happy, funny, serious and compassionate corridors of Dan’s awake mind-frame.
Dan is super clever and highly witty with his vocabulary-intensive stanzas and one can tell instantly from listening to the project that he has tremendous talent and skill at infusing complex rhyming into his storytelling which he delivers with the utmost crispness. True to its promotional descriptions, Hip Hop Hooray features Dan in a very upbeat, tongue-in-cheek light in the first half then a more pensive, philosophical tone in the second, but still with a lot of spirit and energy.
So culture-conscious of his homeland, Dan exaggeratedly pokes fun at the pretentious giddiness of rugby-excitement in “Rugbuggery” and he’s playfully self-deprecative on the stereotype of poor dental hygiene among his British kinfolk in “British Teeth.” In “Sellout,” he punches through the track with hit-making stamina, comfortably content at being counterculture. The time-traveling “Toys” goes to Dan’s youthful fascination with toys and the imagination it brought him then and now. In “Can’t Be Arsed,” he again jabs himself kiddingly for his propensity towards laziness over cool jazzy sax frills. He famously says “eff it to effort” but eventually decides, “eff it, I’m doing it.” The irresistible silliness just keeps flowing in the supremely rapped “Wiggly Willy.”
For his serious material, Dan is just as varied in subject matter as before. He relates the destructive feelings of self-harming and violent personalities in “I Hurt Myself” and moves to softer themes like friendly feline companionship in “Stroking A Cat” and acceptance of natural appearances in “How To Smash Your Mirror” before getting uncomfortable again in “Look At The Elephant,” a healthy caring dose of reality that brings us up close and personal to all the ugly issues surrounding human life on earth at the moment. Riskily taking a deliberate stance, the pro-life “I’m Going To Be A Daddy” explores the anxieties of coming to grips with having a baby but looks on the bright side as well.
Dan Bull is masterful in Hip Hop Hooray and has used that album name responsibly, crafting such perfect work to categorize under the title. Even when it seems that Dan is not being completely serious or when he’s straight up goofing off, there is always a hidden meaning behind what he says. The last track “F*ck Everything” is a good example. Bull’s latest album is no doubt 2017’s first true five-star album for its magnificent vocalism, its fun lively new production and its unflinching ability to mesmerize. It’s best not to judge Hip Hop Hooray by its cover art. You might have reservations about it since Dan strikes a fabulously girlie pose for it but believe me, the contents are amazing.
5 out of 5 stars
Almost Famous, Almost Broke by Kyle Lucas (self-released)
A Marietta, GA native, Vonnegutt member, and past signee with Outkast emcee Big Boi’s Purple Ribbon Records, Kyle Lucas is so true to his background and where he comes from that he named his debut album from 2015 after his very hometown. Marietta, Georgia: The Albumboasts advanced lyricism, brilliant consciousness and contemporary production and the same is true for Kyle’s new EP, Almost Famous Almost Broke, with just a little more bite than the former.
A.F.A.B. has only seven tracks but is completely explored in topics. In “Cellar Door,” Kyle is hurt by a traitorous girlfriend but harbors the thought of a reckless response thinking, “I’ma go f*ck all your friends, get revenge, now we’re even.” That might be the most controversial inner-kerfuffle and temptation on the disc, but the point of the line is not that he recommends the reaction but rather it is to convey how upset he is. Onward, Kyle grieves over-reliance on mind-altering substances, spits venom at his critics and an ex-girl, backstabs backstabbers, pulls a chick from the spot and gets political in “All My Rich Friends Are Sad,” pinning down bad police, faulty clergy people, war hawks and still those critical of him there.
This album is perhaps a moment of venting like never before for Kyle, and just to let you know, the last two songs are even more loaded than those at the top. It’s there that Kyle reaffirms his stance in favor of great notes over bank rolls and brain food over fake news.
4 out of 5 stars
Easier Said But Done by Day Day P (self-released)
Brooklyn-born, Connecticut-raised emcee Day Day P, aka Sunny Hasselhoff, delivers a brand of hip-hop he can truly make a career out of in his Easier Said But Done LP. Smartly lyrical, loyal to tradition and authentic to the emcee-craft and with a fresh real perspective, confidence and a clean clear delivery, Day Day is reflective and honest and comes from the heart with his confessions on courtship, family and friendships, figuring his way through young adulthood and life all the way through. His nods to hip-hop dignitaries Souls of Mischief and Joe Budden are just as refreshing.
Day Day doesn’t run with a weak gimmick but rather holds onto the unbreakable basics and excellent essentials of rap in Easier Said But Done, which of course is easier witnessed than replicated for viewers and for Day Day much easier than being a fake copycat rapper, because it’s au naturel and what he really feels in his heart and soul. The teasing album will have you begging for more by the end, but fortunately, it looks like this artist has plenty more good stuff in the bank for further on down the road.
3 out of 5 stars
Godfather by Wiley (CTA Records)
Hip-hop veteran from East London, Wiley, aka Eskiboy or Godfather of Grime, has finally embraced the heavy second title bestowed upon him in his eleventh and “final” album Godfather, but if he’s made aware of the real rating of this LP instead of just being buttered up by some major publications’ glowing reviews, well then he might just be convinced to comeback to improve on the too familiar-sounding, self-flattering project.
Wiley has jumped around on several labels since his solo album Treddin’ on Thin Ice arrived in 2004, taking turns on all of XL Recordings, Boy Better Know, Big Dada, Asylum and his own Eskibeat Recordings. Several retail sites suggest that Godfather is self-released; however further research says that it is a product of indie label CTA Records with distribution from Warner Music Group (as Wikipedia indicates). The second explanation is more likely than the first in this case.
Godfather never deviates from Wiley’s traditional brand of macho wall-bangers of overly energetic fraternity raps and braggadocio with some slang of Caribbean influenced patois in accented Afro-UK vernacular. Say hello to grime music in its purest form, unadulterated and yes, grimy as ever. It’s hard to tell a subgenre of hip-hop to be something it just is not at its core, but it would help Wiley to expand outside of his niche to have even more positive influence outside of his current circle. He does have the skills and abilities to do so after all so why not?
The execution is on point here and there are in fact lines of motivation and inspiration in a handful of choruses, but for the most part, Wiley and his boys have noticeably chosen pumping, pounding power, speed and force of voice over substantive messages and diversity of concepts, formula over innovation and evolution.
2 out of 5 stars
It should be stated once again that no matter what rating is given to a project, the fact that any one is reviewed and rated at all really says something about the significance of it and its artist, especially when the origin of the commentary is from a serious, dedicated and unbiased source, whose reference points for critique are derived solely from models of substance and originality and not from figures indicating who is the most popular or who fits the mass media mold closest. Also, it’s much more important to be honest in examination than sugarcoated, so the artist is not in the dark about how their most ardent fans feel. After all, the reason for making music is to advance the art, not to bloat sales numbers.