The following are technically “Reviews,” but because they are all so hot, I’m not going to bother assigning any kind of grading system. However, with the exception of Kanye and Lil’ Mama’s foolishness, it was a great week to be a Hip-Hop head!
Jay-Z: The Blueprint 3
“The Blueprint 3” is Grown-A**-Man-Rap at it’s best. Where Hova faltered by going over his audience’s head on most of “Kingdom Come,” he gets it right for the overwhelming majority of BP3. The beats provided by Kanye West, Timbaland and Pharrell are some of the most complex and multi-layered in the history of commercial Hip-Hop, but somehow all retain enough classic boom-bap to appeal to everyone from backpackers to hard rocks. Lyrically, Jay-Z holds it down as fans would expect, but definitely updates his style for 2009 and shows that he’s an older, wiser and more polished artist than he was when the original “Blueprint” was released in 2001. He still addresses beef with other rappers, but instead of calling them out by name or threatening to “see them outside” in his adlibs, he weaves an intricate metaphor of how most of his foes have taken themselves out of the game before he had to (“Thank You”) and then attacks the state of the entire music industry in the lead-off single “D.O.A. (Death Of Autotune)” with a track so powerful and convincing you could pretty much put autotune/ringtone rap in the same category as throwbacks, X5’s and Jaz-O, of things Jay completely deaded the first time you heard it.
The two commercial joints, “We Run This Town” and “Empire State of Mind” are poppy enough to be played on Top-40 radio, but the verses contain enough dope lyrics to keep Hip-Hop heads hitting the rewind button, no small feat indeed. The album continues with several nods to Hip-Hop’s next generation with collabos with Drake, Kid Cudi and J. Cole that all hold their own and illustrate just how relevant Jay-Z is in today’s music scene.
Like most Jay-Z albums, it’s difficult to pick standout tracks because they are all so good and the varied production, subject matter and overall vibe make it difficult to compare tracks, however they all fit together into one incredibly cohesive album that is one of the best of 2009 and one of the best of Jay-Z’s illustrious career.
Raekwon: Only Built for Cuban Linx...Pt. 2
In the summer of 1995 Rae’s OB4CL was such a vivid and visceral depiction of New York’s drug trade that herbs thought they knew how to import, package and distribute narcotics after one listen to “The Purple Tape.” The album cemented Wu-Tang as THE crew of the mid-90’s and paved the way for superstars like Jay-Z, T.I., Rick Ross and The Clipse to turn tales of drug dealing into massive record sales.
However, that was a decade a half ago and a lot has changed since OB4CL hit the streets. Here is an abridged list of things that have happened since that dude got his “Meat Lumped” : the internet, social networking sites, the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the Boston Red Sox broke the curse...twice, Jay-Z’s entire career, cassettes of any color have become totally obsolete and CD’s are on their death bed, Sony released Playstation 1, 2 and 3, Joe Budden got punched in the eye and ODB passed away. Despite all these changes, Rae manages to not only stay relevant but make one of the best albums of the year.
Where the original was the unified vision of Rae and The Rza (with Ghostface and other Wu-Tang members in supporting roles), the sequel is an eclectic mix of the best of Hip-Hop in 2009. Producers as diverse as J. Dilla (R.I.P.), Necro, Pete Rock and Dr. Dre provides sonic backdrops that don’t only compliment the vivid storytelling of the lyrics but actually make “RZA Beats” as good (if not better than) The Rza. And where the only non-Wu appearance on OB4CL was by a young Nas, Part 2 contains vocals from Slick Rick, Beanie Sigel, Busta Rhymes and Jadakiss & Styles P (judging by the quality of multiple Wu/Lox collaborations one has to wonder what would have happened if The Lox aligned themselves with Wu-Tang instead of Bad Boy in the mid 90’s).
Despite all the guest appearances and sick beats, the stars of the show are still Rae and Ghost. Raekwon’s intricate storytelling is offset by Ghostface Killah’s unique flow and wordplay for a combination that is unrivaled in Hip-Hop.
OB4CL is another Wu-Banger (I probably haven’t used that term in 10 years). Get your Wu-Wear out of the closet and support real Hip-Hop...Suuuuuuu!
Murs: Highline Ballroom 9/10/2009
Murs is arguably the best underground/independent artist of the 2000’s, he releases near classic albums on a yearly basis, is arguably the best lyricist in west coast history and his collaborations with 9th Wonder have attracted fans from all over the world. The fact that an artist of this caliber, with dozens of unbelievably good songs and an incredible stage show has to perform a half-empty ballroom is proof that there is no justice in the world.
Murs’ stage show is as bananas as any of his albums. He performed for over an hour with no hypeman, no special effects and nobody else’s material (a rarity today). His set was very “Murs 3:16” and “Murs For President” heavy, but also included lesser known cuts, older songs and his scathing diss of Rick Ross for stealing the “Biggest Boss” beat.
This show was live Hip-Hop at it’s best: great venue, show started on time and the performer shredded for over an hour of nothing but fire. Add the fact that Murs is so humble that he hangs out at his merchandise booth before the show (I shook his hand!) and takes pics with fans as soon as he gets off stage and you have one of the best underground rap experiences of 2009.