Maine-bred emcee Spose (Ryan Peters) claims to have made Humans, his third album of 2017, in twenty-four hours but the planning behind it probably took much longer. An exhibition that (on the surface at least) proves the P. Dank crew masters at project execution, Humans is another example of the fine offerings typical of hip-hop’s artistic underground, which is outside the jurisdiction of major labels. Spose’s established style recreation, standard loyalty to the music rules and too few wow-moments pull Humans back from perfection, but melodic hooks, musical beats, good guests and solid concepts place it above the average. Intro track “Humans” is a must listen but the entire ten track set is surely no waste of time either. (3 out of 5 stars)
With all the internal disputes going on with the Wu-Tang Clan recently, anything put out by the group or some of them will not easily match their usual excellence. It’s no wonder then that their new studio album The Saga Continues, which features most of the collective (sans U-God and most disappointingly GZA), is listed on some platforms as a Wu-Tang release, minus the “Clan” end-tag. Is it one of their official LPs then? Short answer—yeah, but unfortunately it’s their worst to date. The Entertainment One album (which by the way could have used a better title) has some decent standalone moments via Raekwon’s nice storytelling skills in “Fast and Furious,” a moment for love in “My Only One” and RZA’s politics-kicking (a series of laments really) in “Why Why Why” and “Saga,” but the majority is typical gangsterdom over basic production from DJ Mathematics. Besides the two close-to-conscious sections by RZA, the Wu crew have completely missed the D.I.Y.-target of actually using their raps for the all important goal of communicating something purposeful. Instead, the task of wisdom-giving is left to two anonymous speakers in their respective skits, defeating the point of the rap-verse as a tool to share good ideas or healthy messages. Once again, this is an eOne Music product and little more than that, a step back from A Better Tomorrow and not good enough to make us forget about Once Upon A Time In Shaolin. (2 out of 5 stars)
If rappers are critiqued mostly for what they say on a record as opposed to what they don’t, then conscious Southern trio Cunninlynguists (Kno, Deacon The Villain and Natti) are still making great product. Yet despite all the soulful poetic wisdom in their layered bars, there is still plenty in the world the men don’t talk about, but we’ll focus on what actually makes it into their lyrics. The group’s sixth studio LP, Rose Azura Njano (APOS Music/RBC Records), is a success to cut to the chase though perhaps not a lot more than that. Like always, the Cunninlynguists’ concentration primarily on smoothness and technique with their broad truisms begs the question – shouldn’t the fellas rap more pointedly on new specific subject matter, in other words get to the nitty gritty quicker without dancing (let alone beating) around the bush with style? Most with a clear honest mind would answer yes. With some variation, Rose Azura Njano is basically the same type of music the brand started with, but it’s a fine type still. The Cunninlynguists might not sound straight-to-the-point enough for some, but their continued attention to politics, the poor, minorities, and social injustice generally speaking is still very admirable. (3 out of 5 stars)
Asian American participation in hip-hop takes stronger hold as emcee Ruby Ibarra drops her debut LP, Circa91, on Beatrock Music. Having released her debut mixtape in 2012 (the Kay Slay-hosted Lost in Translation), the Philippines-born, San Lorenzo, California-raised artist has also accumulated a stack of videos, high profile performances and several article-features on prominent publications, for her career catalogue. All things considered however, it is the fall of the traditional emcee in the mainstream mass-media and its continued evolution in the underground that have helped give a platform to this talented young lady from the East and West.
If you are at all familiar with Ruby Ibarra’s work, you’ll know that it is steeped in authentic rap lyricism, finely developed and filtered, and put to good use. Lost in Translation told of that tale and so does Circa91. With her spunky energy and genuine nature, Ibarra reveals the world of a young girl, now young woman coming of age, having grappled with and now working out her conformity and assimilation issues, though not necessarily to the appeasement of everyone in society mind you. This is in many ways the story of her hunt (and that of many others) for acceptance and identity in America as a member of a dark skinned ethnic minority.
Like the gem that she shares her name with, Ruby shines bright but her heart also bleeds as she relates to us the hard, complex feelings behind the immigrant experience in the US. Some anger at the setup of the system is invariably included in her speech. No matter what though, the beauty in her voice and her end-resolve nevertheless find sanctuary in her love for family and her craft. In short, her path heads toward success, simply because she shows us her real self and is more than open with her emotions. In almost exclusively discussing the clash of cultures between the native and foreign born, Circa91 does not get into much else, but as a concept album of sorts, it excels, and as a debut with flavorful guests and production not to mention important themes and sharp lyrics, it no doubt exceeds expectations and then some. (4 out of 5 stars)
Long Island rapper Hoodie Allen is gonna need that hoodie more so than ever before because he’s just been exposed and he’s getting colder. His new album, The Hype, recalls the same topics and some of the same feelings he sprinkled on tracks from projects previous to the very good Happy Camper album of 2016. Now, Allen interchangeably goes with and against love (like he won’t make up his mind and wants to satisfy both sides of the fight) but mostly goes with the grain of mainstream hip-hop. A Wale feature, soft warm singing, more or less basic rhyme schemes, gleeful preschool-ready chords and teen-geared drum loops, plenty of following along with the trends and nothing that would gather controversy make the project if not break it. The Hype is simply that, hype, for the sometimes promising young man, but Hoodie Allen is going to need something deeper, more multidimensional and more original than this if he wants to start his thirties with great growth in the music. (2 out of 5 stars)
Now that speedy spitter Rittz has proven he’s no fading presence or disappearing act in rap (as far as technical skills are concerned), it’s time to focus most of all on what he has to say, basically his character. The relentless rhyme-killer from Strange Music Inc. releases his fourth studio LP on full steam thanks to his “top of the line,” momentum-making work of 2016. Aided by satisfactory production directed by Seven, Rittz does what he’s best at in Last Call, sharing sad but valuable stories that scarred him, changed him or taught him priceless lessons. Rittz makes this blues-rap motivational in fact, inspiring us to beat the odds and prove the naysayers wrong. In his own case, Rittz will boost and boast of his own set when no one else will and even go in on the competition. The only problem is that he can come off a little too mean at parts, hurling one too many insults at the haters. In just one example, it’s unclear which artist or artists Rittz is alluding to in “Dork Rap” when he impersonates a hipsterish new-age rapper, but his subject of ridicule actually brings up some good stuff, like tofu and vegan friends. Likewise, to eliminate the disease in “F*ck Cancer,” Rittz mentions a few measures to take except for one of the most effective if not the most effective—a whole food, plant based diet that minimizes or better yet excludes animal-derived products. For the most part though and when one takes into account all of the project including the bonus tracks, Last Call is another impressive, even compassionate Rittz set but next time he might want to try the opposite of hard, rough and charging. (4 out of 5 stars)