Wednesday, October 21, 2009

October Reviews: The Underground Edition

Refer to previous post for rating system, or refer to any system of 1-5 you want, they are all pretty much the same.

Apathy: “Wanna Snuggle?”


Apathy is not only my favorite emotion; he’s also one hell of an MC. Ap has been bouncing around the underground scene for about a decade, been cosigned by everybody from indie-rap darlings Styles of Beyond to superstars Linkin Park, and has been affiliated with the Connecticut-based Demigodz since their rise to national prominence in the early 2000’s. Despite these powerful connections and obvious talent as a lyricist, song writer and producer, AP’s career has yet to take off beyond the typical “struggling white rapper” and “Wanna Snuggle?” (a reference to a boa constrictor eating a rat) is only his second full-length release in a career that already spans over a decade.

Apathy has been relatively quiet since his 2006 release “Eastern Philosophy” and he clearly has used the time off to perfect his beat making ability as ¾ of the tracks are self-produced. He also had ample time to create concepts and write lyrics that tell intricate stories that deal with issues as diverse as materialism, slavery, the music industry, male/female relationships, 9-5 jobs, his place in Hip-Hop and regular people being pushed to insane acts of violence (the near-brilliant album closer “Victim”). Apathy doesn’t waste listener’s time by rigidly adhering to the typical rap song format (three 16-Bar verses and a hook) by adding endless filler verses and adlibs, instead he gets his point across and ends most songs leaving the listener wanting more, as many of the 21 tracks clock in at well under 2 ½ minutes. This is a blessing and curse, while some of the songs end perfectly, some feel rushed or unfinished and could have greatly benefitted from a third verse or guest appearance. (NOTE: I am not sure if this is Apathy’s fault or I am so conditioned to how Hip-Hop “should sound” from damn near two decades as a rabid fan that any deviation from the norm sends my head spinning).

“Wanna Snuggle?” has several really high points, including the B-Real and Celph-Titled assisted “Shoot First,” the throwback (way back) feel of “Thinkin’” and the previously mentioned “Victim,” however these standouts are separated by too much filler for “Wanna Snuggle?” to be considered an underground classic or even on par with AP’s previous work.

Del the Funkee Homosapien & Tame One: “Parallel UNI-Verses”


“Parallel UNI-Verses” is the perfect name for a collaborative LP from two MC’s that have travelled two strikingly similar career paths at opposite sides of the continental United States. Both Del and Tame-One debuted in the early 90’s to critical acclaim and minimal commercial success, both came from areas just outside of Hip-Hop’s prime breading grounds (Oakland and NJ respectively), both have cultivated a dedicated fanbase by affiliating themselves with talented crews (Del’s Hieroglyphics camp and Tame with NYC’s Weathermen), releasing quality albums on respected indie labels (Hiero Imperium, Eastern Conference and Def Jux), collaborating with the biggest stars in underground Hip-Hop (Deltron 3030, The Gorillas, Leak Brothers, Slow Suicide Stimulus, etc) and constant touring both domestically and abroad. Artistically, the two have similar vocal styles that include off-the-wall lyrics delivered in a laid back tone over experimental beats, this similarity is the main factor in making “Parallel UNI-Verses” an enjoyable trip through the underground from beginning to end.

The entire project is produced by Parallel Thought and the up-and-coming producer provides sonic backdrops that are street enough for hardrocks, trippy enough for backpackers and the perfect accompaniment to Del and Tame’s left-field poetry. The standout track and first single “Flashback” has both MC’s reminiscing about the good ol’ days over a sick beat that will have fans ready to breakdance, write graffiti on the train and look for their Das EFX tapes. Other bangers include “Specifics,” “Life Sucks” and “We Taking Over.”

While the overriding “Back In The Day” vibe may wear some fans out after repeated listening, Del and Tame have produced a dope album and one of the finest LP’s in either MC’s distinguished career.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Reviews October 2009

Grading System: Hispanic Causing Panic Edition
5: Big Pun
4: Cypress Hill
3: Angie Martinez
2: Fat Joe
1: Rico Suave

Kid Cudi: Man on the Moon: The End of Day

Kid Cudi’s debut album does for the depressed what “Illmatic” did for project-dwellers and “The Slim Shady LP” did for white trash, it is the quintessential verbal and sonic embodiment of a mind state that is rarely addressed in Hip-Hop. While casual fans are familiar with Cudi from his anthem-like single “Day n Night” and his newer radio friendly “Poke Her Face” listeners should be prepared for more of the melancholy loneliness of the former and very little of the playful sexuality displayed on the latter. The album is organized to mirror a night in the life of Scott Mescudi and from dusk (the lullaby like “In My Dreams”) to dawn (the triumphant “Up, Up and Away”) the talented MC uses haunting soundscapes, singing/moaning/spoken word and quality guest appearances to convey his message of personal struggle and an impending sense of doom about the world outside of his own head.

“Man on the Moon” starts off with the bangin’ “Soundtrack to My Life” which traces Cudi’s evolution from a depressed youth playing with toys alone in his room, to a depressed adolescent with women troubles and finally to a depressed rap star that has to carry around hand sanitizer from getting so many handshakes. This song sets the tone for the album and lets fans know that Kid Cudi is not new to depression, but has actually been depressed at every level of the game. This commitment to a singular theme is rare in commercial Hip-Hop and allows Cudi to produce one of the year’s best albums because of the sonic and lyrical cohesion throughout the entire project (with the exception of the previously mentioned “Poke Her Face” which does not fit into the overall vibe and was clearly included as a stab at radio play and an opportunity to include verses from superstars Kanye West and Common). Following the introduction to the mind of Kid Cudi, the talented musician proceeds to address the down side of the constantly glorified “Rap Life” including, drug use (“Day n Night”), females (“My World” and “Enter Galactic”), alienation from peers (“Solo Dolo”) and the American Dream (“Pursuit of Happiness”).

Overall, “Man on the Moon” does an incredible job of setting a tone and presenting one unified message over the course of 60+ minutes of music. Most of the material on this album will not make it to radio and the overwhelming majority of it is not suitable for the club, however it is absolutely perfect for driving home from the club alone after a night of rejection and discouragement. This kind of “Sky Might Fall” realism may struggle to find a widespread audience in today’s climate of endless optimism sold to us by the government, churches, the school system, the news, self-help gurus and pharmaceutical companies, but it’s hard to argue it’s not a welcome change of pace.

KRS-ONE & Buckshot: Survival Skills

Finally! Every Hip-Hop head’s dream collaboration…in 1995! Boot Camp Clik and Boogie Down Productions have been intimately linked since Black Moon’s second single sampled KRS-ONE’s “How many MC’s must get dissed?” line in the summer of ’93. In the ensuing decade and half, both Buckshot and KRS have remained active in the industry, releasing albums every few years, constantly touring and otherwise thriving in the new internet-heavy/record-label-lite underground Hip-Hop marketplace. While this album might be a little late for most fans and it’s by no means a grand slam, it’s a solid double that scores some runs when the team (read: Hip-Hop) absolutely needs it.

The lead single “Robot” chastises the current crop of autotune-MC’s, and was actually released a few weeks prior to Jay-Z’s “D.O.A.” and the current single “How We Live” features Mary J. Blige in a reunion of early 90’s heavyweights for a song that is lyrically strong but still accessible for today’s Hot 97 listeners. The remainder of the album is solid, if not spectacular. The elder statesmen present numerous lessons to today’s Hip-Hop listeners and fans, ranging from being a good father to constantly pushing the boundaries of Hip-Hop and personal creativity. These songs are better than most of the material on recent releases by either Buck or KRS because of the contrast between the two MC’s vocal styles, KRS’s overpowering bombast is met with Buckshot’s laid back lyricism to create a sonic “Good Cop/Bad Cop” that is especially appreciated during extended listening. Musically, the majority of the beats are provided by up-and-coming producers that find a good middle-ground between early 90’s boom-bap and 2009 radio play that provides the two veterans with a perfect platform to school the 106 & Park crowd.

To be completely honest, this album has very little to offer fans of Soulja Boy or T-Pain, but for fans of golden-era Hip-Hop or adults that are not salivating over the next Kanye outburst, this is a solid listen with the right mix of nostalgia and that proverbial “next sh*t.”

Ghostface Killah: Ghostdini and the Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City

Like most Ghostface releases, this defies classification based on title (one of the longest ever?) and concept (a GFK R&B album, really?) alone. However, once you get passed the Wizard of Oz theme and idea of Ghost over all R&B tracks (something he has experimented with since 1996’s “Ironman”) it’s actually another quality project from one of the most consistent MC’s in the game.

The album features guest appearances by Shareefa, “Radio” Raheem DeVaughn (a nod to Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing”), Lloyd and most surprisingly Adrian Bailon, of Cheetah Girls and Kardashians fame, who absolutely murders “I’ll Be That.” Ghost maintains his normally off-kilter flow and off-the-wall references to address all aspects of male/female relationships from sex (“Stapleton Sex”) to having a child (“Baby”) to begging for forgiveness (“Do Over”) to cheating (“Guest House”) for a great concept album and one of the most engaging albums of the year.
The timing of this album is a bit questionable, coming mere weeks after Raekwon’s critical and commercial hit “OB4CL…Pt 2” but with two quality releases in less than a month the Wu-dynasty may be ready to shine again…protect ya neck.

VH1 Hip-Hop Honors

This year’s edition was pretty entertaining, here are some random musings:

HIGHLIGHTS: Eminem and Black Thought covering LL, Onxy still being angry after all these years, the amusing anecdotes from Rick Rubin, Russell Simmons and other Def Jam staffers, Tracy Morgan actually being funny.

LOW-LIGHTS: Trey Songz being the worst Nate Dogg ever, the rushed and poorly planned finale, The Roots organic live sound not fitting some Def Jam classics.


If Murder, Inc. had to be included, why did they ignore “Holla, Holla” “Put It On Me,” and “Me and You” in favor of “Down A** B**ch” ?

Where the hell were Slick Rick, 3rd Bass, and anybody affiliated with Roc-a-fella?

How sick was Ja Rule’s shearling peacoat?

Where can I get some DMX sweatpants?

By including Rick Ross and not Slick Rick, didn’t they pick the wrong Rick?

Why did DMX do the worst song of his career?

Wouldn’t more cover versions and less original artists have been cool? I can see Meth and Red do “The Roc Wilder” anytime I want on youtube, but to see Drake and Kid Cudi cover it would have been amazing and traditionally that’s what this show is about.