Thursday, June 11, 2009

Reviews June 2009

I realize I’ve been gone for a minute but now I’m back and ready to GO HARD with the Fifthround Movement! (I wanted to start off by sounding both cool and tough...mission accomplished)  In the last few weeks I have experienced several CD’s and Movies that I feel the need to write about, and because of the sheer number of releases that will be discussed I am going to assign a rating system to everything in this posting so readers have some frame of reference.  

Examples of each possible score are as follows: 

5: The Marshall Mather’s LP, Grape Jordan 5’s, Season 2 of The Office, The Dark Knight...aka undisputed classics

4: Wu-Tang Forever, Air Max 97’s, Season 4 of The Office, the first Spiderman movie...almost classic, just falls a little short.  

3: Most Mixtapes, Air Stab’s, Desperate Housewives, X3: The Last Stand...not terrible, but definitely an acquired taste.

2: Eminem’s “Encore,” Jordan + AF1 Hybrids, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Ghost Rider...barely tolerable for most, but cool for devoted fans.

1: Anything by the Black Eyed Peas, Sketchers, The Real Housewives of New Jersey, Straight to DVD movies...just effin horrible.  

Eminem: “Relapse”


Devoted fans like myself have been waiting for almost five years for the official return of Slim Shady (“The Re-Up” and that half-assed verse about the Pussy Cat Dolls on the Akon song don’t count) and while “Relapse” is a bit of a mixed bag, Eminem largely delivers.  

The theme of the album is made abundantly clear before you even press “play” due to the title and artwork depicting Shady’s face made of various pills and a “prescription” from Dr. Dre on the cover.  While this level of commitment to the concept of “Relapse” is a little heavy handed, both Em and Dre should be applauded for creating a concept album with cohesive ideas and themes instead of the obligatory collection of random singles most artists present as albums.  And While not everything works (the drug references get exhausting, the party records/singles seem forced) there are moments of unadulterated brilliance (“My Mom,” “Deja Vu” and “Underground” come to mind immediately).  This is technically the best album of 2009, the beats (all provided by Dr. Dre, except the self-produced “Beautiful”) are so rich, multi-layered and fit so perfectly with the subject matter that they leave nothing to be desired and as an MC this might be Eminem at his best, while he doesn’t have as much to say as he did earlier in his career he has absolutely found better ways of saying it.  He uses more experimental cadences, flows, and rhyme patterns than any other rapper and goes as far as changing his voice on several songs.  While this “rapping in voices” schtick angers some fans, it is hard to imagine another rapper being able to pull it off with any degree of success and the fact that Shady can rap circles around your favorite rapper in an annoying voice with questionable subject matter and you still have to listen is a true testament to his talents. 

The one fact that should not be overlooked when listening to “Relapse” is that the man that started his debut album off with a sarcastic “don’t do drugs” has succeeded where 20 years of the “Just Say No” program and America’s “War on Drugs” has failed...he makes drug addiction actually sound scary.  The Eminem that has almost overdosed, been hospitalized multiple times and had to halt one of the biggest careers in Hip-Hop history due to prescription pill addiction is a far cry from the cocky young man that “OD’d on rush, mushrooms and dust / then got rushed to the hospital to get my system flushed.”    While it remains to be seen whether this album actually deters people from abusing narcotics, it does paint a chilling picture of the toll pharmaceuticals take on one’s personal, professional and family lives.  

Finally, assigning a number rating to an Eminem album is nearly impossible because of the uniqueness of what he does.  When grading most albums they are inevitably compared to similar works (Example: this spring albums by Jadakiss, Cam’Ron, Rick Ross and Jim Jones will all be given reviews based on how they compare to each other because the material is similar enough that comparison is possible...this happens whether reviewers and fans do it consciously or not). Eminem’s albums almost exist in a vacuum in the sense that artists that rap like him with regard to experimental flows, outlandish subject matter and a warped sense of humor are usually underground artists with a fraction of the budget and sales expectations of an Eminem-caliber artist.  Similarly, rappers that sell even close to “Marshall Mathers Numbers” (Diddy, Nelly, Black Eyed Peas) make formulaic Hip-Pop with it’s creativity hamstrung by major label politics.  That being said...I give it a 4. 

Company Flow: “Funcrusher Plus”


Underground Hip-Hop heads can finally stop digging through “Bargain Basement” racks and scouring for used copies of this hard-to-find classic as it was re-issued on El-P’s Def Jux label in May (he bought the rights from the now defunct Rawkus and released it in stores and  Originally released in 1997, in the midst of shiny suits, corny samples and the  “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems” era “Funcrusher Plus” established itself as the blueprint for the emerging “Underground” or “Independent” scene.  Along with Kool Keith’s “Dr. Octagon” (1996), this album proved that this new breed of MC could put together full albums and not just “white label” 12-in singles and had appeal beyond college radio (shout out to NYU’s WKCR) and lead to the rise of Rawkus records and the eventual development of El-P’s Definitive Jux as one of the most successful independent labels regardless of genre.  

The best adjective to describe “Funcrusher Plus” is DENSE.  The beats are multi-layered and utilize more samples, sound effects and voice snippets per song than any group since Public Enemy, clearly foreshadowing the “buzz saw being cut by a laser beam” sound that El-P would perfect in the early 2000’s and later refine to produce the classic “I’ll Sleep When Your Dead” (2007) and the lyrics are so packed with metaphors and double entendres that long time fans are still figuring them out a dozen years after it’s original release.

While the re-issue of this classic is light on the extra’s usually accompanying similar releases (no expanded liner notes, no remixes, no non-album tracks like “End to End Burners” or “Patriotism”) the album is presented exactly as it was in ’97 (with some subtle re-mastering) and is an absolute “Must Listen” for any fan of underground Hip-Hop...respect the architects.  

Cage; “I Never Knew You (INKY)” EP 


Released as a free, download only, warm-up to for his upcoming “Depart From Me” (July 7th, Def Jux), INKY is 5 songs of the “new” Cage.  While older fans might be disappointed because the new material sounds nothing like “Agent Orange” or “Suicidal Failure” it definitely builds upon the direction he seemed to be taking with 2005’s “Hell’s Winter” and indicates that “DFM” will continue to defy easy categorization.  

All 5 tracks have sonic backdrops that are rock-oriented and lyrics bordering on impressionist poetry, rather than hitting the listener over the head with explicit detail.  This may indicate that “DFM” is going to be an even bigger departure from traditional Hip-Hop than “Hell’s Winter,” but does not mean Cage fell off, but rather has grown as an artist in ways most major label rappers are never allowed.  INKY is a solid appetizer, look for a full review of the entrée in early July.  

Busta Rhymes: “Back On My Bullsh*t (B.O.M.B.)


I’m not sure exactly when Busta got off his bullsh*t because I thought 2006’s “The Big Bang” was fire, but apparently his label/fans/himself thought it was time to get back on his bullshi*t.  While I have read many negative reviews claiming he is still, in fact, off of his bullshi*t, I have to disagree and firmly state that he is 100%, unequivocally, on his bullsh*t.  

All kidding aside, this is a typical Busta album.  They highs are pretty damn high (“Respect My Conglomerate,” “Hustler’s Anthem ’09” and “Kill Dem”) and the lows are pretty low (“Arab Money” and the 7 or 8 filler tracks usually included in all his releases).  The album itself is not bad and can be played beginning to end on a road trip or during a workout without anything truly awful coming on, but the marketing leaves nothing but questions: why did 2008’s heat rock “Throw The Water On ‘Em” not make the final cut and how did and album containing the smash “Arab Money” (my personal feelings aside, this song was a problem a few months ago), get released to such little fanfare and promotion?  If B.O.M.B. sells poorly it might be time for Bussa Bus to find another label to get the sales/notoriety  he deserves.  

Method Man & Redman: “Blackout” Commemorative Package

“Blackout”: 4

“Blackout 2”: 3

“Packaging”: 3.5

What’s better than listening to two 40 year old guys talk about smoking weed for $9.95? How about listening to the same two guys when they were 30 talk about smoking weed for only $4 more!

At $13.95, this Best Buy exclusive is a bargain.  It contains the original “Blackout” album (1999) a cool box, a small poster and the new “Blackout 2.” There is not much left to be said about “Blackout” ten years after it’s release.  Two talented MC’s got together and released a full length collaborative album (this kind of thing is constantly announced on radio and websites, but rarely comes to fruition) that is solid from beginning to end and ranks up there with the best solo work either legendary MC has done.  

“Blackout 2” is a solid, if unspectacular follow-up. There are a few bangers (“A-Yo,” “City Lights” and “Never Heard Dis B4”), some filler and guest appearances that range from awesome (Rae and Ghost on “Lockdown”) to boring (Ready Roc and some other dude).   Overall, it’s not bad and fans of Johnny Blaze and Funk Doc should check it out to see how the two legends have remained relevant over 15 years since they both hit the scene.  

Slumdog Millionaire


I was interested in this movie because of all the accolades it received on the awards show circuit.  After finally seeing it, I can say it was alright, not great.  It was pretty entertaining but in no effin way better than “The Dark Knight” or “The Wrestler.” If you like watching people struggle (I do) and have an uplifting outcome (I don’t), you need to check out this Oscar winner.

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