Tag: rappers

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)

Hip Hop Album Reviews, Week Ending June 9, 2017

Hip Hop Album Reviews, Week Ending June 9, 2017

We here at SwurvRadio are not afraid to play hard ball with hard-to-learn rap acts that seem to do the same things over and over again but we’re also honest about where they’re going wrong and how they need to shape up because there’s always something substantial about them that leads us to review their projects in the first place. And being the benevolent sort we are, we only want to tell them and their fans the truth to see them think and hopefully grow. Why butter them up and mislead them, even if only to save face? Again and still, we must also bring up the positives in their features so before we begin to stall, let us start.


Known Unknowns by Billy Woods (Backwoodz Studioz)

The best album of the week, Known Unknowns by NYC rapper Billy Woods, is the typical product one would expect from the alternative underground one from the East Coast and despite not blowing us away with flash, controversy or a bang in the production, all of Woods’ wordplay, clever metaphors and concepts, and interesting assorted music (mainly by producer Blockhead) give K.U. a leg up in the ratings. Smart, left-field art rap is put to use for political and social commentary, making subjects of police at a rap show, the people of porn, rapper rankings and surveillance among several other topics.

The production is lowkey yet quite marvelous for an artistic variety of beats, mixed flavors of music and new sample sources – Nirvana, a few others. Known Unknowns is a geek’s cup of tea though. Instead of all the nerdy scatterbrained thought processes, free-styling and random poetry slams and such, Woods might desire to give his messages – and he has many – directly, to the point and undressed for more effective results, but if you’re looking to spend a good chunk of time to really study lyrics, knock yourself out with this album for sure. (3 out of 5 stars)


Take It Back by Showbiz & A.G. (DITC Records)

As another new offering from the recently reborn DITC Studios set up by none other than NYC’s beloved Diggin’ In The Crates crew, Take It Back is also the latest LP from fine Golden Age duo Showbiz & AG. There hasn’t been a great deal of evolution in AG’s rapping, which still to this day promotes the basic essentials of emceeing, un-rushed, careful, and even though it’s honestly a delight to hear boombap of the smooth agreeable type from Showbiz’ pro hand, Take It Back truly and staunchly takes it back to the heyday of the group. It’s a time capsule, not really a step up.

In the first half, some gangster notes (believe it or not) dissolve later in and open up to friendlier topics of love, traveling and the world, with nice little stories and light wisdom scattered throughout. At the end of the day however, the album is nothing innovative or cutting edge for fans, just some pretty solid rapping from two legends looking to get back in the game after a five or so year hiatus, though they likely won’t get the same places they sat in in the late ‘80s and early to mid ‘90s. (2 out of 5 stars)


The Uncanny Adventures of Watson & Holmes by Blacastan & Stu Bangas (Brick Records)

Seasoned Hartford, CT emcee Blacastan has done it again with producer Stu Bangas, releasing his second collaboration LP with the beatmaker, The Uncanny Adventures of Watson & Holmes, the sequel to their Watson & Holmes album from 2014. Blacastan is no doubt an accomplished rapper and member of Army of the Pharaohs and the Demigodz, with a sizable catalogue of solid releases, but despite that and despite the fierce upright wordplay in the bars topping Stu Bangas’ brutal boombap, there are obvious problems with this Uncanny set, and this is WITH Blacastan playing the rap version of the detective Holmes in one bright concept moment within the mix.

The LP is very little besides weak gangster rap, smothering murder raps and immature barbaric sex rhymes, all in the backpack style of vocalism of course. The lyrics never leave behind those rough coarse textures giving us no deep mission, meaning or message at any point to learn from. Stu and Blacastan both have considerable histories in the music and TUAWH is a decent lesson in intricate advanced rhyme composition but it’s dragging its heels in the past in failing to move forward with greater, useful subject matter. (1 out of 5 stars)

Hip Hop Album Reviews, Week Ending June 2, 2017

Hip Hop Album Reviews, Week Ending June 2, 2017

Since there are two legends (Wise Intelligent and Kool G Rap) releasing albums this week, each with vastly different moral character, this start to June 2017 presents a very good seminar on the dignity-divisions that still exist in the rap music game today. If the veterans aren’t even on the same page as far as scruples and decency are concerned, how can the majority of new artists coming up now be expected to start a movement for more substance, principles and values in the lyrics? A discussion is in order but that’s far from all it will take for a change. Caught in between the two, rising Brooklyn emcee Latasha Alcindor is the middle of the debate with material that favors the artistic and progressive side of the aisle in her latest project. Overall it’s been a solid week.


Game of Death by Gensu Dean & Wise Intelligent (Mello Music Group)

If February’s BlueKluxKlan wasn’t enough of PRT’s Wise Intelligent for you then you’re in luck because he and alternative producer Gensu Dean just dropped a joint album, Game of Death, on respected label Mello Music Group to boot. This is no doubt the main attraction this June 2nd, with Wise upholding black culture and showing great concern for the health and integrity of hip-hop music on it, as he exposes the escalating phenomenon of wack, bad-influence rappers pushed by the mainstream system. And he does it to Dean’s professionally crafted joints of psych rock, folk, soul and electronica plus enhancing backup sound bites.

Not only an attack on the shady industry model, G.O.D. has a love component by Wise that buffers the criticism and rebuke. Despite lesser rappers’ cowardice, Wise has love for all rappers, even the sucker rappers (can’t really call them sucker MC’s because a lot of them aren’t technically emcees to begin with), since they are the offshoot and result of foundation-laying by him and other Golden Age greats. Also “Ooh Wee (Shakiyla Pt.4)” has Wise depicting sex not lewdly or raunchily but as intimate love-making with his spirit-mate, as involved and meaningful, not simply as f*cking. In a nutshell, GOD succeeds because of neat quick spitting on useful important topics over artistic musical beats. (4 out of 5 stars)


Teen Nite at Empire by Latasha Alcindor (self-released)

Brooklyn artist and rapper Latasha Alcindor, found in workshop, concert, and music by Sammus, Radamiz and others, issues her retail debut during an upswing in her career and at a time when the feminine spark is still very much needed in hip-hop. Teen Night at Empire has all the verve, spunk, strength, spirit, flyness, vocal fashion and yes even fight (the good kind) that Alcindor has developed a reputation for over the last few years in her songs. This new output of emotions and charging resolve is distinct for ‘90s throwback loops atop most prominently then crystal clear, ambient chords later in, no doubt from the greatest that modern studio mastering and expert craftsmanship have to offer. Latasha speaks on typical emcee fare – braggadocio, memories, etc. – but what she has to say in this set are things not extremely dire to talk about, mainly common notes and thoughts from her own life important to her above all else. Teen Nite is still a creative piece though, original LA yet influenced by the greats with some nice creativity on the production end. (3 out of 5 stars)


Return of the Don by Kool G Rap (Clockwork Music/Full Mettle)

There’s not much more to say about Queens Golden-Ager Kool G Rap at this point, especially with a new LP (his fifth solo one, eighth overall) of banal mafioso rap. The gangster emcee from the legendary Juice Crew with Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, Roxanne Shanté, Masta Ace and Craig G (and the rest) is hiding his desire for big money numbers, fame and celebrity in the Return of the Don album with talk about his music not being gangster rap but “reality” rap (*denial*) and one of his guests saying he’ll leave the teaching to KRS-One, plus he’s literally hiding behind a sizable number of big, equally gangster guest-rappers on it. It’s simply nothing more than violent brutal street rap that’s sometimes women-hating and women-using and never deeply intelligent or intellectual outside of the rhyming and spitting craft. More than some skillfully conceived wordplay recited expertly is the only attribute worth studying here – even producer MoSS’s nothing-new boombap compositions are hardly exciting – so the music and the lowdown dirty pastimes and preoccupations do a lot of damage to the dangerously distinguished don on Return. (1 out of 5 stars)

Hip Hop Album Reviews, Week Ending May 26, 2017

Hip Hop Album Reviews, Week Ending May 26, 2017

Aside from the obvious junk albums (*throat clear* Teenage Emotions and Droptopwop), there are five other ones that are way way better. Detroit darkman Esham steps into the light with $cribble, Indy’s Mark Battles sees a new day with Day 2, Wester Nocando severs himself from strictly goofy raps in Severed, Milwaukee’s Renz Young doesn’t quit with More Than Enough and the Indo-Pak and British Swet Shop Boys jump around again in Sufi La.

$cribble by Esham (Reel Life Productions)

Detroit hip-hop pioneer Esham (Rashaam Smith) has some grownup rap for you in his sixteenth LP, $cribble. The acid rap and horrorcore legend makes a musical change for the better and healthier now with motivational wisdom, care, consciousness and straight talk on hard work and positivity but still not without an edge. He’s highly critical of the system and he should be, putting in his sense on the media, schools, rap music today, money and these rocky times for the poor and black what with foul cops and depraved impoverished ghetto-communities (if they can even be called communities in the first place). He doesn’t like what he sees and says so, with real blunt speech, but don’t look for the next best thing in $cribble’s just-to-get-by beats.

On the mic end though, Esham is nice, and tight, and just keeps coming and coming in this never-dull twenty-two song set with lines like “it doesn’t matter if you white or black, it’s all about the way you act” and “you sold your soul for the diamonds and gold, but you the one gotta deal with that” from “Sad” and “the system is corrupt and morally bankrupt” from “Abuse of Power.” Esham no doubt has rough vestiges from his horrorcore past but nothing overbearing and always for a useful purpose. $cribble may be hardly a quick classic – God knows it isn’t based on its music production and beats – but it’s a wonderful time of conscientious revelation for Esham, who is intimately in tune with his conscience at this point. (4 out of 5 stars)

Day 2 by Mark Battles (Fly America/Quality Control Music)

Previously independent, Indianapolis emcee Mark Battles is the creator of boutique rap label Fly America but for his third LP, Day 2, he joined the Quality Control Music artist base. Before the deal, he released a project of the same name actually (Before The Deal, Fly America, 2016), and that is his second studio album officially. Aside from putting his city on the map, Battles is a mature, very proficient man on the microphone and thankfully he’s still that to a great extent on Day 2, despite the indirect major label endorsement (Universal through Quality Control).

With his good upright wordplay, ambition and confidence, Battles raps on experiential wisdom, romance, struggles and mental roadblocks over beats of slow, dream soundtrack quality featuring fine samples and sample-blending. New age singer Tory Lanez makes a prominent appearance (in four of the twelve tracks) though there is nothing much else that’s dying to be reported on guest-wise. In a spot or two, Battles and company descend into some jockish sex raps and overall little new terrain is explored by the Midwest native from a subject matter standpoint, but for the solid new words and music, Day 2 is a fine accomplishment for Battles and the producers. (3 out of 5 stars)

Severed by Nocando (Hellfyre Club)

The time has come for LA, Hellfyre Club emcee Nocando (Jimmy McCall) to release another studio album, and by the looks of or the sound and subjects on the LP, Severed as it’s called, there doesn’t seem to have been a lot or much in the air with regard to happenings to trigger the playful rapper into a spell of music-making, just that the time has rolled around. McCall released his last album and sophomore, Jimmy The Burnout, in 2014, and his debut, Jimmy The Lock, in 2010. Now seems appropriate to drop the third sequentially and chronologically speaking.

For all you fans of conscious reflective rap, you’re in luck. Nocando tries his hand at deep mature lesson-learning and teaching and he comes off more or less convincing but still he can’t shake his natural sense of humor, at times. Most of his pensive, intelligent thoughts spring from relationships with family and friends but McCall momentarily hits on race relations and the various different Lives Matter movements, signs of the times really yet continuously relevant. He ponders the past with an ounce of softness but with some on-guard toughness remaining. In the end he dabbles in his usual vulgarity and the beats are a little thin and unentertaining but props to Nocando for doing something different with style and a small bit of grace. (3 out of 5 stars)

Sufi La by Swet Shop Boys (Customs)

The Swet Shop Boys (Indian American rapper Heems, Pakistani English rapper Riz MC and English producer Redinho) had a good 2016 with their cool Cashmere debut album and now, following their Coachella appearance last month, they are back with more original music in EP Sufi La. A hot banging Redinho beat catches the ear in “Anthem” and Riz and Heems quickly proceed to lace their lines with fun rhymes and wordy cleverness on flyness, braggadocio and other random lyrics, always light and jovial however. There is a big reliance on chorus catchwords but it is fine and appropriate for the dancy exciting hip-hop style the Boys are about. Concepts on the girls in “Thas My Girl,” bird-wording in “Birding” and the parody of money-chasing in “Need Moor” are very nice cuts so the guys still know how to smartly craft and direct their bouncy music and buoyant boyish essence. The satisfying but not overly satisfying Sufi La hits the mark, and this is a group that deserves to stay in the game for some time more. (3 out of 5 stars)

More Than Enough by Renz Young (Vogel Park)

There’s a hidden treasure, and prior to last year a best kept secret, in Milwaukee’s Renz Young, a quick-moving, productive working startup with strong chops and a revolving mind. In 2016, It Was Nice Knowing You was the greeting, or farewell, in album form for the emcee but now there’s more, More Than Enough, from him. The new EP displays Young’s developed flow stamina and articulation as he follows his heart, has some fun and just shares these mic thoughts from the brain of a busy determined guy on the go. What’s the catch? Or the drawback(s) you ask? Not many but Young sticks to typical topics and means with no shocks or whistleblowing and his love for girl-stripping may sound regressive to a few, but they’re nothing at all that should be seen as major offenses to fans looking to support and hear from their man. On top of last year’s album, this might be more than enough from Renz Young yeah but nevertheless some sturdy hip-hop music also no doubt. (3 out of 5 stars)

Hip Hop Album Reviews, Week Ending May 19, 2017

Hip Hop Album Reviews, Week Ending May 19, 2017

Yeah both Snoop Dogg and Biggie (with Faith Evans) have albums dropping today, but if you take a sample of each, you can tell there’s a lot of fluff there. They’re largely intended to be money grabs for Doggystyle Records and Warner Music. That leaves The God Box by rapper/producer David Banner and Renaissance by The Underachievers as the main foci for now. Not bad but also not fab, both have their assets yet not without issues too.

The God Box by David Banner (A Banner Vision)

Member of late ‘90s duo Crooked Lettaz (with Kamikaze) and solo artist David Banner has been quite active since 2000 though after his 2010 Death of a Pop Star collab with 9th Wonder, Banner took time off until starting what has been long coming but is finally here – The God Box, the Mississippian’s sixth LP as an individual act. To unpackage this God Box is to reveal angry rage at racism and racist policy, but with some quieter discussion points as well. Banner has crafted a collection that fluxes and ebbs on various levels musically and vocally.

Banner targets societal racism yet he can sound a bit so himself using the word “cracker” to refer to whites twice or so in “Magnolia” and somewhat irrationally complaining that whites are stealing or taking rap and hip-hop from blacks in “Elvis.” Pretty ridiculous. If you’re dope, you’re dope, doesn’t matter what color your skin is. Likewise skin color just isn’t a factor in how good or bad an artist is. Moving on, we come to Banner’s women studies. He looks at what in women we are drawn to mentally and physically via “Cleopatra Jones,” how good black men should step up to claim their good black women in “Marry Me” and also the case of the fickle girl who ostensibly gets her way with everything in “Judy Blare.”

Next are some tough gangster-ish notes (“Traffic on Mars”), “Black Fist”-raising, more race talk of course (“AK” and “Evil Knievil”) and some wisdom and calls to get on the clean path of life (“Wizdom Selah” and “Burning Thumbs”). Sonically and structurally speaking, God Box is a handsome statue, or silhouette, to behold so to say. By a small margin, this is the most rebellious and conscious Banner has ever attempted to be and he’s pulled it off, even if his material is mostly race focused and much more sociopolitical than socioeconomic in nature. The main problem is that David Banner has framed his issues as white versus black when really they should be framed as racism versus truth issues at the core. Still, The God Box is in depth and dynamic and explores some new hotly charged topics for the seasoned Banner and guests. (3 out of 5 stars)

Renaissance by The Underachievers (RPM MSC Distribution)

For their third studio album, Brooklyn Underachievers AK and Issa Gold really have underachieved in regards to not always keeping honor in their sentiments and not building onto their past work. The new project, titled Renaissance, is worth a listen or two because the guys bring good wordplay and some useful talking points, but there’s a lack of variety in the boom-bap music production and sections in the second half really contradict what the emcees have usually been all about.

Especially at the top and into the midpoint, AK and Issa continue to be about knowledge and using the mind in new expansive ways but in “Any Day,” track ten of fifteen, they begin to truly give us reason to believe they’re still boys instead of young men with lines like “baby, no I ain’t tryna bride-and-groom ya, when I say recruit ya, I’m just tryna screw ya” and “don’t try to test us, we resort to violence.” Later they’re cold, distant thugs and womanizers in song fourteen “Final Destination” as they “load the clip with sixty rounds” and “kick b*tches out like Pam.”

Renaissance is a pretty large departure, in decency and growth, from these Underachievers’ last two LPs. It’s not a complete disaster, but the boys bring nothing new to the table with it. Their open mindedness toward experimenting with drugs has been replaced by pretty much just booze and weed only, there is as we’ve mentioned a substantial gangster component disturbingly enough and the vast majority of the songs sound basically the same. Yes the Underachievers have a message or two in store but their careless formula-following and damaging shenanigans do hold them back a great deal. (2 out of 5 stars)

Hip Hop Album Reviews, Week Ending May 12, 2017

Hip Hop Album Reviews, Week Ending May 12, 2017

Well KRS-One is back. That should be enough to get your heart racing, but there’s more. We’re also showcasing David Dallas, B.o.B and Machine Gun Kelly. Every artist except one drops with an independent label this time, so three out of four as safe bets for quality output is not too shabby.


The World Is Mind by KRS-One (R.A.M.P Entertainment)

Legendary emcee from Boogie Down Productions, accomplished solo artist and massively respected educator of hip-hop culture, KRS-One (aka Kris, born Lawrence Parker in The Bronx, New York City) has so much spirit and so much conscious intelligence that he’ll likely be writing/reciting until he’s on his deathbed and that’s a good thing for all of us. Billed as his thirteenth studio album but more like his fifteenth if you count The Mix Tape and DIGITAL projects, The World Is Mind has a number of similar tones and sentiments as those found on the last KRS album Now Hear This (2015) but still more new concepts, sounds and ideas for both fans and pundits.

The high-powered lyricist in Kris needs no warm-up time. After “Show Respect,” it’s off to the races in tracks “Same Sh*t” about common shady trends in society (“I remind you, don’t let the criminal mind blind you, instead let the spiritual mind find you, see I’m you”), “Keep Clicking” showcasing the African clique language and the graffiti/bombing tribute “Out For Fame.” Like the concerned elder he is by nature, Kris gives cautionary advice in “Don’t Ever Stop,” warns of divisive politics in “You Ain’t Got Time” and spreads love, strength and truth with “No Problems.” Right afterward in “You Like Me,” he stresses the importance of unity and harmony and hacksaws toxic, corporate media influence over the public.

Into the end but also through and through, Kris’s verses are impactful and pronounced and as his final acts, he honors the legends of the game who have gone before (“Hip Hop Speaks From Heaven”) and tells of two very differently geared hospital patients, mentally speaking, in final song and title track “The World Is Mind.” Let’s face it. Did you really expect anything less from KRS-One? The man is a beast – the good kind – and while he can get rough and hard-hued in verses here and there, he always comes through again and again with compassion, character and dignity, or “peace, love, unity and having fun” as he’s been known to put it in the past. Yes, The World Is Mind may have production that is less than extremely impressive, and it’s not as shocking or controversial as the man has been before, plus there’s that mixup in “Heaven” in which deceased Beastie Boy MCA is mistaken for Ad-Rock, but who can get enough of Kris, since he’s back in full gear, as relevant as ever and “fresh, for 2017, you suckaaaaaaz!” (4 out of 5 stars)


Hood Country Club by David Dallas (Mean As Music)

Emcee David Dallas from Auckland, New Zealand is definitely another spitter worth checking for, if you appreciate crafty lyricism and inspirational attitudes, lessons and stories. The fast developing, award-winning hip-hop artist releases his fourth LP to a very healthy following and a continued saga of integrity. None of his previous three albums came off major corporate labels, and two (The Rose Tint and Falling Into Place) were actually cosigned by American underground outfit Duck Down Records. His latest, Hood Country Club, is pure Double D from start to finish.

Dallas is committed to working for and contributing to hip-hop in a non-mainstream-media-esque way (see “Probably”) and if not conforming to the masses or the status quo is the price to pay, he’ll willingly put his money where his mouth is (“Fit In”). No stranger to adversity with regard to illness in his family and his struggle to win many fans and a large audience, Dallas tells tales of folks falling on hard times in both “Don’t Flinch” and title track “Hood Country Club” but gets back up to chase his dreams in the “Lose Yourself”-like “This Is It.” “Don’t Rate That” is then a great piece in which Dallas dissociates himself from ignorance, bigotry and close-mindedness.

Of course there is Dallas’s usual raps on strength, swagger, ambition, hard work and the like, but with his sharp writing and delivery and fresh, well mastered music sounds, Hood Country Club is a heck of a tape to play. Not a lot of what is here can’t be found in some way, shape or form in the rest of the David Dallas catalogue, but the all new original rhyme-verses and just the compositional artistry therein will blow your mind pretty well once again. Hood Country Club is one country club experience you don’t have to be rich or well connected to join in on. (3 out of 5 stars)


Ether by B.o.B (No Genre/Grand Hustle/Empire)

Now that rapper/producer B.o.B (Bobby Ray Simmons, Jr.) seems to have purged most if not all of the commercial/pop substances from his body (of work) with albums Underground Luxury and Psycadelik Thoughtz, he is now set to regain his listeners’ trust with both his fourth LP, Ether, and last year and the year before’s conscious, four-part mixtape series Elements – WaterFireEarth and Air. This fifth element-advancing Ether project is B.o.B’s first studio album independent of a major label since the Decatur experimenter boogied on out of the Atlantic Records’ stable sometime late in 2015. Already the progressive change is starting to be felt, albeit gradually and in doses.

Ether does show some mainstream stigmas midpoint where guests Young Thug, Young Dro, T.I. and Ty Dolla $ign pop up for a trippy druggy ballad in “Xantastic,” a dumb drowner in “Tweakin’” and “f*ck shit” in “4 Lit” where all the boys get to hit but the rest is a fascinating and admittedly enjoyable mixture of fine enlightened B.o.B thinking and new eclectic production blends, which should get more appreciation now since they arguably didn’t get enough on Psycadelik Thoughtz.

B.o.B admits that he knows people are upset at the musical directions he took in the past, but he seems to not care much, and he’s honest in dealing with celebrity, trying to keep his head and having a hard time coping with being different. All the while he keeps his feet on the ground. The first big political hitter comes via Big Krit and Simmons’ talk for justice and against oppression in “Peace Piece.” The next is “Substance” with signature B.o.B commentary on the food, entertainment and drug industries. Overall, he’s got a somewhat chilly disposition for the most part over the whole album. A disproving B.o.B in second to last track “I Know” very much goes along with the trend. Still, Bobby Ray get lighter in “Big Kids” with CeeLo and Usher for some wisdom on the attitudes we keep and how adults are more or less big kids playing with the world like a toy. It’s really a relief that B.o.B is off Atlantic and Ether is sound enough assurance that the man is just about back on track. (3 out of 5 stars)


Bloom by Machine Gun Kelly (Interscope Records/Bad Boy Records)

If you’re gonna try to surpass the success of your last album, it’s best to use more lyrical substance and even more sobriety to perfect it than Machine Gun Kelly, Interscope Records and Bad Boy have done with MGK’s third LP, Bloom, the followup to the Cleveland rapper’s 2015 sophomore General Admission. Notwithstanding it’s brighter, cleaner cuts (the happy and inspirational yet nonspecific and under-detailed “Go For Broke” and the general motivator “At My Best”), it’s disturbing that this album-update from the part-punk rapper lets us know that he is rather drug-obsessed, more than likely a byproduct of his recent (wild?) forays into high fame and celebrity.

MGK is just stoned into oblivion, under the influence (maybe life-threateningly so, see “Can’t Walk”) and almost out of his mind from substances for virtually all of the album. If not that, then he’s partying like an animal or sexing like a certified freak and beyond, possibly suggesting breaking open skin during the act with guest Camila Cabello in “Bad Things” and making a sex tape in “Moonwalkers” featuring DubXX. I wonder when we all get to watch the final cut. Just kidding. In the three cuts to curtains, MGK stretches himself with some amateurish singing in the soft, lightweight closing-songs where he really sounds like he’s letting himself fall victim to his addictions and distractions, especially in “Rehab.” Quite alarming. With Interscope’s sketchy record of late with rap at least, the type of product we get with Bloom is completely expectable from the major. Let’s just hope MGK doesn’t owe them many more albums at this point. (1 out of 5 stars)