Tag: Hip Hop

Hip Hop Album Reviews, Week Ending Aug. 11, 2017

Hip Hop Album Reviews, Week Ending Aug. 11, 2017

Is it a surprise to anyone that the two best albums of the week are completely independent, meaning not released by a label or outfit outside of the artist’s own camp, and also meaning these artists retain full control over the direction of their projects? It shouldn’t be, but maybe some folks subconsciously think those albums promoted most heavily by the mainstream are the best. In reality the opposite is usually always the truth. The best ones are most often found behind the scenes, away from big commercials and advertisements and such. Anyway, so as not to move too far off course, enjoy our briefings on the latest from Dizzy Wright, Wordsworth, John Robinson and the others, and then check out the music for yourself.

The Golden Age 2 by Dizzy Wright (self-released)

With each new album, invigorated hip-hop soul Dizzy Wright proves he is a man of integrity, something not common in showbiz rap and thus harder to find than your average celebrity-rapper. Still, it’s not difficult to tell him apart from the field, and his message is also not hard to relate to. In fact it’s quite easy to feel. In The Golden Age 2, the sequel to his 2013 mixtape and his third official LP, Wright emphasizes a long spread of honorable values and noble personality traits—generosity and a providing nature, peace and love, mental liberation, positive attitude, gratitude, maturity and the importance of family.

Additionally, he’s gravely troubled by the racial and economic problems in America, the culture of fakeness, and diminishing rapper qualifications in the industry. Later in he shows some city-love to his hometown Las Vegas and describes what life was like for him as a child. While T.G.A.2 is not perfect in that some arguably unnecessary skits get in the way of the album’s procession and though the general structure of the project is nothing new, Dizzy Wright makes it his first priority to send out words that are deeply motivational and deeply inspirational, to help him and us get our mentalities and lives on the right track. (4 out of 5 stars)

 

Our World Today by Wordsworth & Sam Brown (Wordsworth Production, LLC)

It’s come to mean something very special when Brooklyn representer and eMC artist Wordsworth puts out an album. Now on his fourth as the main solo emcee, Words shows no signs of changing course from conscious hip-hop. Our World Today, which enlists good traditionalist Sam Brown for the music (tasty boombap with cool sample incorporation), captivates but also humbles by educating, but not always on comfortable subject matter mind you.

Words’ curriculum includes the divisions, ill preoccupations and distractions in society and the devastating, sometimes horrifying happenings in the ghetto. A native of Brooklyn himself, Words knows a bit about what he dispenses though, to say the least. In the thick of it however, he recalls the small joys and little things that give him and his hope, encouraging goodness, embodying care and showing concern in the process. Our World Today may seldom leave the hood, or The States for that matter, but it’s essential for setting the example of turning an examining eye inward and not always outward. (4 out of 5 stars)

 

Who Told You To Think??!!?!?!?! by Milo (Ruby Yacht/The Order Label)

Milwaukee rapper and producer Milo draws comparisons to buddy emcees Open Mike Eagle and Busdriver, both of whom he’s collaborated with. Also known as Scallops Hotel, Milo, or Rory Ferreira, has established a reputation for quirky cavalier nerd-rap and dry wit in his music, which is also pensive, sarcastic, sardonic and poignant, all to beats that are more will-do than thrill-you in style. The allure is thus in Milo’s poetry and wordplay and not so much on the production end, as is the case in Who Told You To Think??!!?!?!?!, Milo’s third LP after A Toothpaste Suburb (2014) and So The Flies Don’t Come (2015).

This round, Milo is slightly less flatly cheeky than in his previous two as he yet again gives his random uncut train of thought, scattered, somewhat unorganized, and seeming to be barely processed, barely reworded, so as to keep its original rhyme-impact and spontaneity, even if jumbled and attention deficit at times. Without making himself super clear or getting very specific, Who Told You To Think? can sound like much ado about not a ton, but when Milo really wants to get something across, he does talk to us straight, if only briefly. Remember this does feel a bit more serious than the last two Milo albums, and that might be Milo’s most profound effect on Who Told You To Think?—that he’s approached it a little differently than his other works. (3 out of 5 stars)

 

Penelope by John Robinson & AG (Red Apples 45)

Both veteran emcees from the East Coast, rhyme-spiritualist John Robinson (from Scienz of Life and solo fame) and line-slinger AG of Showbiz & AG release Penelope, their second joint project of the year, following They Watching from April. Off indie Red Apples 45, the love-themed Penelope creates an aphrodisiac-atmosphere that is something like twinkling candles, dimmed lights and of course, romantic background music complete with silky song choruses and JR and AG spilling the beans about their fine lady-loves.

Final songs “Neva Ends” and “We Been Here” freestyle a bit with the duo discussing some important black history figures and moments and more. With only a couple concepts, the EP is not very long or in-depth but Penelope sure is a cool companion to listen to anywhere and any time you need to relax. (3 out of 5 stars)

 

Manna by Fashawn (Mass Appeal Records)

There is perhaps a small feeling in the air, amongst hip-hop heads in the know at least, that Fresno emcee Fashawn’s Manna studio album (his third) is not as profound as his last, The Ecology (2015). For starters, it comes just two years after Ecology, it’s only a bit over EP-length, and it falls in line with the styles mandated by Mass Appeal Records. It is in fact a lot like its predecessor but Fashawn’s writing and reciting skills make it more or less a success.

As much as he devotes himself to being mic-stylish and braggadocious, and even if he drops an objectionable phrase here and there, he just as often or more finds his deep meaning signatures. Lamentations for the depression of lower class America, praise for black leaders of the past and advocation for friendship coupled with Fashawn’s fine flows over Fashawn-able beats truly make Manna the manna of this man’s life, and that of several hungry fans as well. (3 out of 5 stars)

 

Imperius Rex by Sean Price (Ruck Down Records/Duck Down Music Inc.)

With heavy hearts, fans will listen to Boot Camp Clik and Heltah Skeltah emcee Sean Price’s second posthumous album and fourth LP proper with content nostalgia but also wonderment at what new levels the Brooklyn lyricist might have taken his craft to had he not passed away unexpectedly in 2015. With eager, sometimes enthusiastic participation from many of Price’s rap-friends, and the full support of labels Duck Down and Ruck Down hoisting the new project – Imperius Rex, Sean Price has kept all his past credibility in the rap game but perhaps not as much integrity, when one looks at what he’s rapping about.

Imperius Rex brings rough, semi-intricate bars and some sincere new surprises like the two guest-spots from the widow Bernadette Price, but the subject matter never veers from meat-headed quibbles and brash talk on violence, vulgar gratuitous sex, drug-dealing and the like, the status quo for Price’s brand and niche, if not for Price himself, the worse part being that he is not here to clear the project himself. Possibly the album’s most perplexing line comes in “Rap Professor” when Price states, “this ain’t the same Sean from the last album,” which is halfway true but unfortunately for the not so good.

The focus here is more on antics and buffoonery than on sharp new wordplay and far less on messages, and when one puts it side by side next to the most positive, illuminating conscious-rap out there, it’s merely hardcore spewings and dribble. Even when we do get the same basic Sean Price as before, it is only in the area of muscled insensitive backpack-ery, which is not fun anymore. So at this point, with a host of greater, fresh-faced emcees coming out of the woodwork, Imperius Rex can’t help but be dwarfed by some of its more underground competition and their much healthier rap music options. It pains anyone to face it but this set is best fit for Sean P fanatics only. (2 out of 5 stars)

From rebirth comes reawakening for SkyBlew and SublimeCloud in ‘Destined’ sequel

From rebirth comes reawakening for SkyBlew and SublimeCloud in ‘Destined’ sequel

The life and times of SkyBlew have never been easy. As a child, the illustrative emcee born Mario Farrow was shuffled to and fro from family and friends to foster and adoption homes, sometimes for the better, other times for the worse, but Farrow made it through to healthy young adulthood. To this day, though he enjoys awards and recognition for being Chapel Hill, North Carolina’s preeminent hip-hop artist, the conscious positive SkyBlew, who is also independent, works tremendously hard to reach the audiences that mainstream acts are given access to so easily. In short, he earns all of his accolades. Practiced at releasing multiple quality albums per year, SkyBlew has reached the feat again this year, with the followup to February’s Dreams, Toonami and Jazzier Days, entitled Destined: The [R]Evolution, a June 2017 issue from the visionary rhymer.

The sequel to Sky’s Destined: The Rebirth EP from last year, [R]Evolution is produced by beat prodigy SublimeCloud (Christian Whitson), who also served on the boards for Rebirth. This time we get a full LP with [R]Evolution and song after song of hearty wholesome rap that paints pictures – but keep in mind Sky’s staple saying: he doesn’t rap, he paints the sky, blew! Opening to memory-forming jazz, a “Tin Man” sample from ’70s band America, and of course Sky’s signature positivity, [R]Evolution can do nothing but hook us in atop before it gets even weightier in “Autumn, Lovely Convo!” with wisdom on everything coming at a price, notes on ambition, ATCQ-love and more classic rock sample-strength.

Sky succinctly summarizes the pleasure-from-pain principle in “HM04!” rapping, “I suffered, it made me tougher, through the hate became a lover,” referring to his own growth experience. He shakes his head at a rap game of greatly expanding head counts yet with little compelling material throughout the vast field. Still he stays himself, an aficionado of animation and worldly awareness. Listeners will find at least one loaded line to love per song. The classic metaphor of words as food is reimagined perfectly in “Chill, We Coolin’ Off!” where Sky says:

[I] cook food for thought so, here goes my recipe, psych! You ain’t gettin’ it, I’m thick and they have to but the flow is too much to process like fast foods.

Around claps, light piano and sax, Sky brims with dreams, aspirations and true knowledge but admits “there’s just gotta be more to living than labor and woe, we offer hope to the globe then after, we go.”

Look out because next, SkyBlew will melt your heart, in “Sailor Moon & Stars!” and soul-weaver Donovan and his soft song vocals add an irreplaceable suppleness over this pretty love-piece’s happy piano lines and joyful admissions. Naturally the heat goes up again afterwards. Sky drops some of his heaviest thoughts in “Speak That Breeze!”, this time regarding the terrible effects of negativity but with hope at the end:

Most cast away their dreams ‘cause they fear rejection and failure. Look at the election. That’s proof anything is possible in this nation of idiots, humanity becoming insidious. My city ain’t the prettiest but I still rep to the death. Just give us your all until there’s none left.

Of course SkyBlew knows there are many fabulous people out there but it’s also true that there are enough of the other kind to make a nation as he says, if only a small one at most.

The elegant SublimeCloud and the eloquent SkyBlew make the album’s step down to the close smooth yet impactful still. Hip guitar flicks and drum snaps in “Pen Tama!” move to more committed resolved wisdom from our generous wiz (never dumb) in “Movement of the Destined!” and “Parallel Echoes!” provides the calm cap-off of Sky stating where he’s from, what he’s about, where he’s going and how he’s gonna get there. Sky the “Colorful Dreamer” hasn’t an equal ratio of hard to soft obviously, seeing as how he’s mostly warm and bright, but he makes it work because one – it’s what the game’s been sorely missing – and two – his background and personality have given him allowance to be as such. SkyBlew with incredible help from the gifted talented SublimeCloud firmly takes his place next to the most progressive optimistic emcees of all time thanks to Destined: The [R]Evolution and the rest of his catalog. (4 out of 5 stars)

Mr. Lif and Akrobatik have made their minds up for good in ‘Resolution’

Mr. Lif and Akrobatik have made their minds up for good in ‘Resolution’

The second collaborative LP by Perceptionist emcees Mr. Lif and Akrobatik comes at a darker or as dark a time as their first (Black Dialogue) did back in 2005, when fresh wounds from 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were still bleeding heavily with just about no signs of abating. Along with DJ Fakts One and El-P playing major producer roles on their Definitive Jux debut, Lif and Ak delivered a fine combination of conscious cool hip-hop to enlighten and refresh the people. Twelve years later, Mr. Lif and Akrobatik return together again to release their sophomore in a like ravaged era of war, confusion and economic malaise, this time without Fakts One or Def Jux but with a new assortment of beat makers for the one and only Mello Music Group. It’s safe to say that what they’ve turned out, the Resolution LP, is a clear confident statement set to thoroughly enjoyable music.

Our heroes of rhyme pull the pants down on the one percent, corporations, the government in collusion with both and just the greedy, brutal and violent, problematic police included, in ghetto settings especially, where they seem to do most of their dirt. Lif and Akrobatik have energy and conviction, with many relatable messages one after the other, meaning they know what they’re saying to be true. In “Lemme Find Out,” the two raise suspicions of technology and the huge part it plays in everyone’s life, and “When Push Comes To Shove” makes time for the necessary elements of romance.

With no truly dull moments, Resolution does reveal spots not as attention-grabbing as others. The proceeding trio of tracks, “Let’s Battle,” “Free At Last” and “Dirty Drumz,” while good for advancing the spirit of competition, self-determination and real hip-hop, feels more like a connector of the beginning and end than a bridge or bond with material equally awesome as what sandwiches it. The dynamic duo nevertheless manage to make their finale as splendid as anything preceding it. Lif and Ak rap on something everybody’s been guilty of at one time or another – control obsession – in “Grab Hold” sharing that there’s no end or win when you’re trying to grab hold of what you can’t control.

Supported by a calming backdrop of smooth jazz and soul, the last two songs, “A Different Light” and “Resolution,” are beautiful commitments of the mind about surviving hard times in the first and pure thoughts on everything from optimism, wisdom and positivity to compassion, perseverance and care in the second. Instead of junk food rap, try Resolution, which offers healthy artistic beat-creations from the likes of Willie Evans Jr., Synesthetic Nation and Paten Locke and which doesn’t stoop to name-calling, foul play or debauchery thanks to Mr. Lif and Akrobatik’s dedication to spreading the good word and nothing but. The New Year’s celebrations of 2017 are long past but it’s never too late to make a resolution, or a revolution for that matter. (4 out of 5 stars)

Nitty Scott shows diversity of flavor and style in ‘Creature!’

Nitty Scott shows diversity of flavor and style in ‘Creature!’

Robust mami of rhythmic rhyme, Nitty Scott, from Michigan, and Florida… and Brooklyn, returns with her second studio album, Creature, building onto her cool conscious catalog, which includes last year’s Westside Highway Story collaboration with Joell Ortiz and Bodega Bamz, her studio debut The Art of Chill from 2014, and a trio of mixtapes before that. Acclaimed for her authentic emceeing and soul on wax, Scott releases the long awaited Creature on the newly minted Indigenous Digital and in it rides for ethnic pride and independent womanhood on real spit and varying production-treats.

Bumping dance beats, female- and Latin/Afro-pride, just a little Caribbean flavor but plenty kindness for her people paint the top of Creature with colorful hues, if only for a section of the listening public. Scott does as one would expect in songs “Pxssy Powah,” the mildly political “Don’t Shoot!” and the drug-laden “Kaleidoscopes!” She comes with resolve and power though, even if she drifts into filler and braggadocio or sounds like Nicki Minaj in her title track though it’s unlikely that she consciously tried to relive her “Monster”-remake moment in the latter.

Nevertheless, this vibrant Creature has heart and spirit, especially when Nitty Scott is rapping nice and quick. Only some will relate to everything Scott raps about and what greets the ears is nothing very challenging to the status quo. Still, Creature excels because of its array of rap-, song- and music-textures, providing a nice experience if essentially a new spin on select trends. Nitty Scott does well in the satisfying set, but it’s probably wise to not immediately classify this creature as any new species of hip-hop music. (3 out of 5 stars)

Kristoff Krane – “Kairos, Pt. 1” (Album Review)

Kristoff Krane – “Kairos, Pt. 1” (Album Review)

With Minneapolis artist and emcee Kristoff Krane and his music, you either listen casually and then go back to the matrix of big industry rap (the wrong reaction) or… you fall to the floor in awe of discovering another unique, progressive rapper – the correct reaction. A new guardian of rap music, rising from his powerful projects from the mid to late 2000s and into the 2010s, Krane (or Christopher Keller) comes with positivity and useful messages with his “stream-of-consciousness” flowing, and musically and instrumentally he is far from a novice. Krane’s latest, Kairos Pt. 1, is his fifth solo album, released on F I X, and produced by Graham O’Brien. Mostly serious, quite witty at times but deeply philosophical and reflective with spades of metaphors, Kairos 1 finds Krane vastly more allegorical than before but no less sharp or insightful.

On the positive side, Krane has an energy and a charging force that resolves to focus on good and keep moving. On the other hand, his voice here sometimes finds meaningfulness in the meaningless, and the hopeless, expressing the colorfully moving, knockabout thoughts of a worried mind and a restless conscience. The style then pairs like a match made in nirvana with O’Brien’s drum-rackety tracks coupled with airy overlays and echoey voice filtering for a very mixed-terrain soundscape. Krane can be unsettling, and unsettled, same goes for the music. Still, what might be the greatest treasure is the man’s impressive exhibition of flow, his various speeds and cadences, and voice stretching. Technically, he’s challenged his vocal abilities more so here than ever before, as his fluid and seamless yet excitingly articulated delivery is put to exquisite use, in a variety of modes.

What’s lacking is rigidity, but that’s a good thing in this case. Krane and O’Brien’s measures are melded, interconnected with nary a blip or pause. Certain bars and lines are repeated for emphasis, sometimes in a chorus-capacity, other times not, blended and tucked in in such a way that Krane seems to challenge classic rap song structure. Likewise, segues to soft singing sections are super smooth. The album’s several repeated lines — mantras, or recurring thoughts of the narrator in another sense — are very telling. Krane is puzzled by circumstances reiterating the line, “how in the world did it come to this?” and portrays denial with “I’m not my thoughts” but he’s also optimistically directed with the refrain, “till everybody is free,” truly showcasing different mental turns throughout the LP.

A few genius song pieces emerge as particularly stunning, though the entire project shines effusively (don’t get me wrong). The murder of one element of mother nature at the top of “Head Stone” is brilliant and unforgettable – maybe a commentary on climate change even. The mixed thoughts on religion and criminality in “Forgiven Blood” and “Confession” never lead to hardline stance-taking but they equally examine inquisition versus faith, and law-breaking versus rule-bending respectively, recognizing that each side of either duality offers something important to consider.

Like all of Kristoff Krane’s previous releases, Kairos Pt. 1 is thoroughly and incredibly pleasing with plenty to think about, wonderful lyrical wizardry, and a drenching of mood-befitting background music. The fun is in pondering and interpreting, to an emotive soundtrack, the myriad analogies and creative messaging that the rap-and-rapping-expert in Krane has crafted for us. In this way, these talks are obviously not formatted in everyday casual wording or conversation-style speech but what we have is another amazing load of intellectual art-rap from Krane’s free associative mind, an audio amusement park of verbal textures, ideas and sounds, and a great time for those who live and die for advanced hip-hop music. (5 out of 5 stars)

Hip Hop Album Reviews, Week Ending June 30, 2017

Hip Hop Album Reviews, Week Ending June 30, 2017

Five-star album alert! And it’s not because of 4:44, the new album by you-know-who. The end-of-June/beginning-of-July weekend is blessed by Crooked, the new set by fresh LA emcee Propaganda, whose music is the opposite of propaganda as a matter of fact.

Crooked by Propaganda (Humble Beast Records)

Propaganda (Jason Petty) from Los Angeles has never been the type of Christian rapper to namedrop the “Lord” every two or three bars or rap a lot of vague statements of faith. Instead, he opts for profound reflection on the conflicting issues at the center of human existence in his music. In this day and age where emcees of God run the gamut from loosely religious (Kanye West) to joyfully ecclesiastic (Chance The Rapper) to zealously devout (Lecrae and most others) to clearheaded and truly concerned (O’hene Savant), Propaganda is another different breath of fresh air in the field, focusing on the types of core problems that Jesus himself would actually focus on if he were here today.

Prop’s new LP, Crooked, is a multifaceted examination of human troubles and another unique addition to his growing discography. And it’s comprehensive, going through a ton before it’s all over. Going along with the theme of the album title, “Crooked Ways” intros by testifying to incredibly terrible contradictions, tragedies and inconsistencies in society and basically how ridiculous things are currently. Propaganda raps like a highly skilled poet so it’s no wonder he’s excellent at spoken word. “It’s Complicated” does just that on the topics of self-betrayal and refusal to love who we are on the inside in exchange for ugly masks picked by you decide.

Riding along on super smooth production that’s hardly generic as a pleasant surprise, Prop continues rocking us, with thoughts on the West and the Ultra Right at odds with the rest of the world (“Cynical”), hip-hop music how it was and how it was easier to fall in love with in earlier times (“Slow Cook”), a native’s love for Southern California (“Do Know Wrong”), and the shaky reasons for and results of gentrification (“Gentrify,” feel the light salsa music tinge in the beat there). Next comes a big one, the interlude-like “I Hate Cats.” Propaganda shows how racism and bigotry are like how some people claim to hate cats and think dogs are better, in this outstanding analogy, which really proves how pathetic the phenomenon of hate actually is.

The content never steps down from being as loaded as Prop can make it. “Darkie” looks at the self-consciousness of “colored” people and how inferiority complexes are common in them if embroiled in a white skin preferring culture. The climax of Crooked in many rights, “It’s Not Working (The Truth)” is then a meditation on segregation, poverty and alienation of the powerless have-nots and it also seems to ask toward the end if we will feel better if things do change, a bit nihilistic to this end yes but deep, exploratory and inclusive of both sides of the issue indeed, plus Propaganda might be alluding to the imperfection of a perfect civilization – what would there be to fix, to motivate us to fight for better in life in that situation? The bottom line is there’s a lot of work to be done as things are right now.

Compared to typical mainstream matter, the wind-down of the album starting with “Andrew Mandela” feels like so much more than a wind-down, as its inspirations include civil rights and democracy in the face of injustice, hard motherhood and athlete drug abuse, a truly wonderful change on earth that is yet to come, and the fact that we can’t judge what we’re not or have never been – just some of Prop’s final thoughts in this section. Through CrookedPropaganda gives us the gift that keeps on giving – wisdom, and although he never gets too heavy, he no doubt provides plenty to think about across many a repeat spin. If you really want to know what it’s like to be conscious and caring and hopefully be inspired to become those things yourself, head straight to Crooked. Stay woke everyone. (5 out of 5 stars)

4:44 by Jay-Z (Roc Nation)

How does the average person feel about a classically fine hip-hop emcee who seems to become a bigger business mogul with each successive album? However the media tell them to. “Jigga” Jay-Z is not only that but he continues to make each of his new albums look larger than life via special promotion strategies and release methods. 4:44, Jay’s new album for 2017 and his thirteenth solo LP overall, is the Roc-A-Fella leader’s first to be dropped exclusively on his Tidal online music service since the streaming source opened in 2014, marking a milestone in his music career and a watershed moment in how the face and brand of Hov are shared with and viewed by the public.

Jay’s last album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, was not delivered on Tidal. In 2013, that one was given away as a digital download but only to Samsung customers, forcing folks without Samsung to pirate it in order to listen in before its wide release came some days later. Similarly, 4:44 is being offered only to Sprint customers and those Tidal subscribers who signed up for the service well before June 30. If you wanted to listen to the album on the 30th without having Sprint and without having signed up for Tidal in time, you had to tune in to iHeartRadio at certain time slots during the day and only on that day. Sound exclusive? Yes indeed. Too exclusive for what the album actually offers? Yes.

How and why can Jay-Z keep his art so private, and is it right? Is it appropriate? If it’s not easy to get, won’t few have it in their hands at the end of the day? Maybe but remember that Jay-Z has all the wealth-begotten pull and clout to get the mainstream marketing machine on his side to make anything he issues look like the best thing since sliced bread. He’s doing it now with Sprint to get more paid subscribers to Tidal plus that good Sprint money, just like in 2013, but for that good Samsung money back then. The journey to jump through some hoops to get the new music might have been worth it for Magna Carta Holy Grail but it’s not the case with 4:44. It’s an average album and one might as well wait for its wide release to peep it. At the moment, Jay-Z and his associates are basically just using the idea of a great album to collect more revenue from patrons of their stores, on the web or otherwise. Like it or not, it might be working because of the good to very good reviews it’s received so far, unless the consumer is properly informed that is…

Produced nicely and soulfully by artisan beat specialist No ID, 4:44 has its moments, as cliched as that sounds, however it’s an expectable product from Jay-Z. The forty-seven year old rhymer, businessman, husband and now father of three dangles in front of us a slim ten tracks of casual thoughts and more than some pop culture soap opera clocking in at a little over thirty minutes. Vocally, it never gets very comprehensive or deep philosophically, and Jay-Z, in some of his most laid-back spitting ever, is less spirited than his early-career self. He takes turns saying things appealing to all and other things appealing to only a select few, tapering off toward the end with filler instead of building where the album needs it.

Personal to an extent but politically lacking if not politically truant altogether, the thing has Jay getting tender at various points about his daughter(s), motherhood, memories and something akin to a society in society at the end, but he’s also cynical in rapping about unfaithful fans and traitorous friends in “Kill Jay-Z” and “Caught Their Eyes.” Likewise the rich man in the rap-capitalist cannot escape from his bars. In “The Story of OJ,” Jay raps at no little length about his real estate investments and property values over time, but who’s itching to hear about that besides the Trumps of the world? Shouldn’t Jay be discussing racism and upward mobility there more so than his own business endeavors? Isn’t that what the song title suggests? Also in “Family Feud” are some comments on excessive wealth that are intended to be light but are far from. Jay raps of “no such thing as an ugly billionaire, I’m cute” (wrong) and “what’s better than one billionaire? Two” (wrong again).

At one point, within the stuttering, slow quiet drill-frills and sampled soul vocals of “Smile,” Jay mentions that it’s just the way of the world that there are drug dealers and jewel dealers of blood diamonds and whatever else. He’s saying he’s okay with it, that he doesn’t care too much about it. Talk about laissez-faire. This impartiality to inequality and crime is a turnoff. What’s also a turnoff in an inexcusable way is the famous “4:44”/apology-to-Be-for-messing-around song. It’s all very well and good for what it can do but if Jay did in fact cheat on his wife (it could be a made-up tabloid story), apologizing doesn’t change the fact that it happened. Infidelity is not ok as long as you say sorry afterward.

In short, 4:44 doesn’t have the power, spark or duration that previous Jay-Z albums have, and of course, if Roc Nation is still in bed with Universal or one of the other majors, that goes a long way in explaining its adoration for rags-to-too-many-riches and the other indecencies that are flapped about on the project. Plus Jay-Z is getting quite a bit older, AND he has little kiddos now so he should be more socially responsible with his words than he is here, and if not for them then for the tens, hundreds of millions if not a billion or more he speaks to through the music. So much more good could have been done for humankind had this album contained better messages. (2 out of 5 stars)

Hip Hop Album Reviews, Week Ending June 23, 2017

Hip Hop Album Reviews, Week Ending June 23, 2017

Hip-hop is picking up as June draws toward the end, giving hope for the rest of the summer. Whirlwind wordsmith Jarren Benton returns after his fine sequel to Slow Motion from last year and Vince Staples with his full length sophomore, in not an extremely remarkable week but one that will move us along at any rate.


The Mink Coat Killa LP by Jarren Benton (Benton Enterprise)

Atlanta backpacker Jarren Benton releases his third studio album less than a year after his classic-qualifying independent LP Slow Motion Vol. 2, a glowing highlight of 2016. The new collection, The Mink Coat Killa LP, too comes on the vicious emcee’s indie label Benton Enterprise, LLC, and has the marks, if not all the marks, of a solid, non-major label, self issue – some challenging subject matter and complex wordplay, but Benton frequently falls back on his standard barbarous attitudes and feels all the way through the bonus tracks.

Two reoccurring themes cause some concern. The brutality and money-and/or-gifts-for-sex topics pop up more than once though they maybe shouldn’t at all. When the verbal violence and cold lovelessness are in the forms of Wu-like kung fu sound bites via “The God Intro” or the coined “money over b*tches” idea in “Designer Belts” or even the paying for sexual favors as a relationship centerpiece in “Again,” then there’s obviously a dedication to that overly hard toughness that is ultimately deleterious in overcompensating for fear and vulnerability with too much hardcore aggression and stoicism.

Frankly, the album follows a trend that rap album fans are well familiar with by now. The savage, sometimes adolescent tough guy talk rules in the top three fourths of the project only to get to a few recycled messages of weight in the bottom fourth but even after that, two rough-’em-up bonus tracks revert to low level beastliness. Benton brings up Flint, for the infamous water crisis of course, in “$30k Mink” and elsewhere and presents the thought of “overthrowing the government that rules with an iron fist” in “Ill N*gga.” Those are fleeting moments in their respective songs however.

The conscious ending quarter is good but doesn’t last long and should have distributed its intelligence in earlier parts. Benton strolls down memory lane in “Passenger Side” to show love to hip-hop greats who inspired him, he rejects personality flaws in “F*ck Everybody,” and “Mental Issues” ends it with some decompressing and venting with prescription medication being one of those questionable targets. Some might say this section ends as fast as it comes on and really rappers have hit on this conceptual terrain in the past. It’s still relevant though.

For as much of a gifted emcee Jarren Benton is at this time, his Mink Coat Killa LP is a default to and over-reliance on backpack typicality with very little innovation if any. The former Funk Volume artist has shed even more original funk from his nature and kept the volume of rap-ruthlessness at his regular high setting. As a backpacker, Benton is still unique enough, with a recognizable voice and for the fact that he does put consciousness next to his destructo-rhymes, though he rarely juxtaposes, blends or mixes them, quartering them off into their own sections instead. Mink Coat Killa is thus satisfactory, just barely, but now, in the prewriting phase, Benton must be smarter and more conscious of how brutish and obnoxious he has a tendency of getting so that the fresh, smart, conscious side of him in his verses doesn’t go from endangered to extinct. (3 out of 5 stars)

 

Big Fish Theory by Vince Staples (Def Jam)

Long Beacher and Def Jammer Vince Staples’ debut LP, Summertime ’06, got sparkling reviews across the board in 2015 and his sophomore, Big Fish Theory, is eerily and quickly getting the same, thanks to the mainstream press’s obeisance to the commercial mastermind behind B.F.T. Remember that the album comes from Def Jam and Def Jam pretty much takes strict, direct orders from its owner, the corporately structured Universal Music Group. Vince may squeeze out a few okay lines here and there but he’s largely and regrettably an unoriginal instrument set to reconvey a few common contrived rap sentiments on Big Fish.

There is talk of experimental production in the album and it is accurate talk yet the LP mainly features a dancy, bouncy sonic-likeness. The topics on the other hand leave more to be desired. Vince makes inequality not a character issue or economic issue but rather a color and race issue with the race-baiting of “Crabs in a Bucket,” rapping about battling whites and talking black oppression briefly there; then it’s money and aspirations in “Big Fish,” the confusticating life where Vince crashes a sports car and charges a premium for the d*ck in “Love Can Be…,” and then the expectable trials and tribulations of love in “745.”

At one point in the middle, in “Yeah Right,” which features Kendrick Lamar, the proverbial waters that our “big fish” swims get a bit deep, with Vince admitting his wariness of pretty girls, with heavy allegations against them, and the criteria that we judge other people’s success by there – well layered stuff for center-of-the-album material. Production-wise, Big Fish maintains its avant garde integrity to the end, but since this is your usual major-label release, the head-scratching oddball statements still pop up on occasion. It’s apparently cool to Vince and his crew to do the same thing again and again in “Samo,” one of his examples being to put his dudes through college, in business and with your mother as Staples so eloquently puts it, not really (*sarcasm alert*).

The rest unfolds nearly identically, with speech that might mean something but just sounds problematic. Vince Staples may drop the loaded line of “tell the one percent [and government] to suck a d*ck because we on now” in banger “Bagbak” but also thinks the next Bill Gates (his model for greatness?) could come from the ghetto of all places. In much the same way, there are notes of technical realism in “Rain Come Down” when Vince gabs on about “never needing a girl to love me” but it’s also just cold, heartless and un-engaging. The music has a good sum to offer but Vince and his casual, slightly dull spitting and his habit of making act-a-fool comments leave a Big Fish Theory that would have been able to stick in the memory had it contained better messages and sharper vocal delivery. (2 out of 5 stars)