Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Top 10 Underground Hip-Hop Albums

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction...

In the late 90’s, Hip-Hop’s popularity soared and the music infiltrated nearly every aspect of American pop culture. From the non-stop media coverage of the “East vs. West Feud” to the ubiquity of Puff Daddy and his danceable remakes to multi-national corporations realizing the buying power of the “Hip-Hop Generation”and marketing directly to them, Hip-Hop had outlasted nearly every other subculture and established itself as the predominant youth culture by the end of the century.

This explosion can be attributed to many factors: the “old school” fans of the 80’s growing up and asserting their sensibilities on the world around them, record labels and other companies seeing the potential in marketing to this previously ignored demographic, a crop of “Rap Stars” that were not as dangerous and NWA or as corny as MC Hammer, but struck the perfect balance between the streets and the pop charts (the continued success of acts from this era like Puffy, Jay-Z, Missy Elliot, Busta Rhymes and members of The Fugees speaks volumes about how right they got it), and a shift in production from songs that were made by and for a very specific segment of the population (think anything by Wu-Tang Clan or Boot Camp Clik) to songs that were so accessible and fun that everyone from small children to soccer moms could appreciate them if they were played at a cookout (think Bad Boy or Missy/Timbaland).

However, in the midst of this widespread acclaim and recognition, a group of artists from across the United States took it upon themselves to search for “that next Sh*t.” This new breed of “Underground,” “Independent” or “Backpack” MC was more interested in impressing like-minded fans/peers with slick wordplay or telling a compelling story than getting people on the dance floor and their albums on Billboard’s Hot 100.

While this movement can be traced to NYU’s WKCR and the “White Label” (the practice of producing vinyl singles independently to be played predominately by DJ’s, most of which did not include cover art, hence “White Label”) era in NYC, artist from locations as diverse as Minneapolis (Atmosphere), Los Angeles (Living Legends, Peanut Butter Wolf), North Carolina (Little Brother), Rhode Island (Sage Francis) and Detroit (Madlib) quickly rose to prominence and many operate independent record labels that serve as a distribution channel for “Left-Of-Center” Hip-Hop today.

The following list contains the ten best underground/independent Hip-Hop albums released between 1995 and 2010. And while the scene continues to flourish and produce talented MC’s and producers that will no doubt be aided by the low cost of recording now afforded by personal computers and the shift to digital distribution, this list documents the first 15 years of Indy Hip-Hop.

...These albums are that reaction.

La Coka Nostra
A Brand You Can Trust (2009)

Nearly two decades after House of Pain released one of the most universally loved songs in Hip-Hop (1992’s “Jump Around”), Everlast, Danny Boy and DJ Lethal partnered with underground vets Ill Bill and Slaine to release one of the rawest, rowdiest and most diverse albums of all time. Like most rappers/groups that have an enormous crossover hit, House of Pain’s talents were criminally slept on by the industry and fans (Naughty by Nature, LL Cool J and Busta Rhymes also fall into this category), but by partnering with two of independent Hip-Hop’s finest representatives, La Coka Nostra rose like a five headed monster to get the respect all members deserved.

The songs are aggressive (“Bloody Sunday,” “Gun In Your Mouth”) and thoughtful (“Get You By,” “The Stain”), personal (“Cousin Of Death”) and political (“I’m An American”) and the guest list is diverse (Snoop Dogg, Bun B, Immortal Technique, Sick Jacken, Cypress Hill, to name a few) but the cameos all mesh so well with the song concepts that it sounds like one big group pushing a unified agenda throughout the course of the album. “A Brand You Can Trust” represents the rare occasion when a collaboration is truly bigger than the sum of it’s parts.

For more La Coka Nostra check out the “House of Pain Show NYC” movie in the OTHER MOVIES section.

Company Flow
Funcrusher Plus (1997)

Considering that the Hip-Hop landscape of 1997 was dominated by the glossy hip-pop of Puff Daddy, the danceable eccentricities of Missy Elliot and “Nice Guy” rappers like Will Smith, it is hard to imagine an album this at odds with popular sentiment could not only gain a following but have an impact so profound that it had to be re-released in 2009 because new fans could not find copies of the original pressing.

Originally released by Rawkus records in the heyday of the “Shiny Suit Era,” Funcrusher Plus was like a sobering punch in the face that reminded you how groundbreaking and revolutionary Hip-Hop could sound when the samples weren’t obvious, the lyrics weren’t dumbed down and the marketing didn’t overshadow the music. If the album had to be described in one word it would be: “DENSE.” The beats are multi-layered to the point of sounding claustrophobic, the rhymes are full of double entendres and social commentary disguised as inside jokes and the album continues to command fans to reach for the “Rewind Button” a full 13 years after it’s release because Mr. Len, Big Jus and El-P were so far ahead of their time.

Madvillian (MF Doom & Madlib)
Madvilliany (2004)

Originally debuting as Zev Love X (of KMD fame) in the early 90’s, Daniel Dumile took almost a decade off and resurfaced in the early 2000’s as the mask-wearing, villianous, oddball, MF Doom. Doom’s creative output in the early 2000’s was mind boggling, every few months he seemed to release another opus (either solo or collaboratively) that was so different from anything else that fans and critics were forced to take notice. While his solo work is obviously noteworthy, it is his collaborations with a wide array of underground producers that allowed MF Doom to truly explore his warped creativity, and this 2004 LP with Madlib is the best Doom/Producer callabo to be released.

While not as accessible as his later collaboration with Danger Mouse (2005’s “Danger Doom”) or bizarre as his solo efforts (any volume of “Metal Fingers...”) Madvilliany represents MF Doom at his off-the-wall finest, with incredible sonic backdrops provided by underground favorite Madlib and lyrics reminiscent of free verse poetry. The subject matter and beats are exceptionally varied but somehow held together by Doom’s over-the-top persona.

While MF Doom has released an astonishing amount of innovative material, Madvilliany stands as the crowning achievement of one of Hip-Hop’s true originals.

Mos Def & Talib Kweli
Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Blackstar (1998)

“Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Blackstar” would introduce the world at large to two future superstar MC’s, one of Hip-Hop’s most respected producers and the label that would make NYC’s indie culture explode beyond the confines of the five boroughs. Prior to the release of this album Underground Hip-Hop was predominantly confined to New York City and college campuses scattered throughout the US, after this release it became apparent that there was a sizable market of Hip-Hop heads unconcerned with how many times a song was played on the radio or what kind of car their favorite MC drove.

The “Blackstar” album served as the formal introduction of Mos Def and Talib Kweli, two MC’s that continue to be relevant well after a decade into careers that span hit singles, top selling albums, movie roles and various business ventures. The album also introduced the masses to the hypnotic production style of DJ Hi-Tek, who would go on to have success with a diverse list of MC’s and singers. Finally, the album served as the first major crossover success for Rawkus records, and while the eventual fate of the label is lamentable, it is inarguable that it helped catapult independently released Hip-Hop further into the public consciousness than any label before it.

The album itself is challenging, but accessible, due in large part to the personalities of the two MC’s and Hi-Tek’s warm production, and stands in sharp contrast to the danceable, cookie cutter hip-pop dominating radio at the time. Standouts like “Respiration” with Common, “Hater Players” and the classic single “Re-Definition” separated this release from the pack of indie releases at the time and elevated all involved parties: MC’s, Producer and upstart Record Label, to new levels of success.

Aesop Rock
Labor Days (2001)
While Aesop Rock had previously released “Float” on Mush Records, “Labor Days” was his debut on the Definitive Jux imprint he would be associated with for the next decade. The combination of Aes’ serpentine lyrics with previous collaborator Blockhead and the production efforts of Def Jux honcho El-P produced an album that is nothing short of amazing.

“Labor Days” is a concept album that masterfully weaves tales of “wage slaves” and examines the soul crushing nature of the 9-5 grind that could only be executed by a true poet that attempted corporate life before coming to his senses and pursuing a career as an MC (as Aes did). Songs like “Daylight,” “No Regrets” and “9-5’ers Anthem” are abstract but convey a clear message, the beats are innovative and completely different from the typical commercial Hip-Hip production and the wordplay is a dizzying concoction of metaphors, allegory and alliteration that sounds cutting-edge nearly a decade after its’ release.

Little Brother
The Minstrel Show (2005)

Released in the fall of 2005, while “Crunk” was hitting it’s commercial apex and a crop of Texas rappers was exposing the world at large to their “Chopped & Screwed” style, Little Brother rose from the underground scene of Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina with their own brand of intelligent, soulful, thinking-man’s southern Hip-Hop.

“The Minstrel Show” held a mirror to Little Brother’s commercially-minded peers and showed them with astonishing clarity how buffoonish they really looked. There are standout tracks like the optimistic “Beautiful Morning,” the comical “Cheatin’” and the lead single “Lovin’ It,” but the album is best digested whole as a cohesive piece of work where the songs and interludes fit together like pieces of a puzzle and the finished picture is a vivid depiction of just how great Southern Hip-Hop could be.

The lyrics are straightforward and range from dead serious to sarcastically comical and the blue collar delivery of MC’s Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh combined with the soulful, beats of 9th wonder make “The Minstrel Show” an easy pill to swallow.

Movies For The Blind (2002)

When “Movies For The Blind” was released in mid-2002 it felt more like a greatest hits compilation than an actual album because many of the songs had been circulating around the underground for several years (the outstanding “Agent Orange” in particular had first surfaced in 1997), however Cage’s visceral, punishing flow combined with production from a who’s who of indie Hip-Hop (Necro, El-P, DJ Mighty Mi, RJD2) made “Movies” an incredible experience for fans not intimidated by the brutal subject matter (mental illness, drug use, violence, explicit sex, etc.).

“Movies For The Blind” is often categorized as “Horrorcore,” but it is a far cry from name dropping Freddy Krueger and listing despicable acts for shock value, rather it is the journey inside the psyche of a man that has been exposed to some of the worst aspects of American society (a childhood filled with domestic violence, adolescent years spent in a mental institution and an adulthood plagued by drug use, relationship issues and a somewhat stagnant career) only to rise and tell his story in a manner so visual and immersive that the album truly lives up to it’s title.

Murs & 9th Wonder
Murs 3:16 The 9th Edition (2004)

“Murs 3:16 The 9th Edition” truly represents how nationwide Independent Hip-Hop had become by 2004. The album combines one of the most slept-on California MC’s (Murs) with a rising producer from the south (9th Wonder) and was released on New York indie heavyweight Definitive Jux Records. “3:16” is short and sweet, only 9 songs and one bangin’ intro was all it took for backpackers from Harlem to Compton to know they were witnessing something special.

9th wonder and Murs both bring their respective “A-Game” to the project as the beats are soulful, but not soft and the lyrics and song concepts are so airtight that if you were not a Murs fan when the CD started, you were by the end of track #3. Mur’s self-effacing humor, everyman persona and ability to tell incredibly intricate stories make the songs instantly relatable and memorable.

This album represents what happens when seemingly disparate styles come together and make something truly unique and interesting, the fact that the duo just released their fourth full-length collaboration (sans Def Jux) and Murs continues to successfully tour the world while 9th produces for some of the biggest names in entertainment is a testament to just how much “3:16” changed the game.

I’ll Sleep When Your Dead (2007)

El-P’s “I’ll Sleep When Your Dead” fully delivers on the promise of his early work with Company Flow (See #9) , is first solo album (2002’s solid “Fantastic Damage”) and his various production credits on his Def Jux imprint. ISWYD presents Hip-Hop in a dystopian future where Big Brother has won and El-P is taking it upon himself to start a revolution.

While the lyrics and song concepts are mindblowing and El-P is able to deliver incredibly varied production that contributes to the overall “sound of what you don’t know killing you” vibe of the project, the album is truly remarkable because it fully realizes the Def Jux aesthetic with all guns not only blazing, but hitting their targets.

There are appearances from other Def Jux MC’s that mesh seemlessly into the overall narrative (Aesop Rock,Cage, Tame One), collaborations with rockers that work amazingly well (Trent Reznor, The Mars Volta), and musical arrangements that sound like symphonies of chaos. ISWYD is the best representation of one of Hip-Hop’s most commercially and critically successful independent labels and truly sounds like Hip-Hop made for the year 3000.

Dr. Octagon (aka Kool Keith)
Dr. Octagon (1996)

Aliases, bizarre lyrics, concept albums, full length MC/Producer collaborations, interesting artwork, being released on an indie label, being hard to find in chain stores...this album started so many trends that are still prominent in underground Hip-Hop that it’s hard to quantify the impact of “Dr. Octagon.”

About a decade after Kool Keith introduced his off-kilter flow and “different” way of thinking with the Ultramagnetic MC’s he linked up with Dan The Automator and combined electronica-influenced beats with a crazy character (Dr. Octagon is a perverted, sexually deviant doctor) and explicit rhymes to make one of the most innovative and unique Hip-Hop albums ever released. Dan The Automator provides soundscapes that are so futuristic they sound as if they were recorded in outer space and Kool Keith/Dr. Octagon’s rhymes are about as “out there” as anything ever recorded.

“Dr. Octagon” is as “different” as anything ever released in any genre of music, but the impact it had on underground Hip-Hop and an entire generation of independent-minded MC’s in undeniable.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Def Jux R.I.P. ????

In early February of 2010 Definitive Jux records announced a massive restructuring that many fans and industry heads have interpreted as the label closing its’ doors. While this reorganization may be one of the many moves in the storied label’s history that will keep it on the cutting edge of the music industry (Def Jux created a thriving online community, distributed music via an iPhone app and created revenue streams from live shows and merchandise way before the rest of Hip-Hop), the statement from CEO/Artist/Creative Mastermind El-P did not seem so optimistic. Whether or not the label releases any more groundbreaking music in the future, the example it set for independent record labels in the last decade is a marvel both artistic and commercial fronts.

Def Jux rose from the ashes of Company Flow (the NYC underground crew comprised of El-P, Mr. Len and Big Jus) and Rawkus Records (the label responsible for bringing NYC’s bourgeoning indie Hip-Hop scene to the masses). Following the release of the undeniable classic “Funcrusher Plus” in 1997, Company Flow broke up with all members similarly disenchanted with the corporate structure of record labels, Rawkus included. In the late 90’s frontman/producer El-P began to recruit talent and build a buzz for his next venture: Definitive Juxtaposition Records. The name itself was a perfect fit for the new aesthetic being pushed by the artists because the label represented the “Juxtaposition” of so many things. Def Jux releases combined hardcore Hip-Hop beats and rhymes with elements from the art world (high and street), science fiction lure, end-of-the-world nihilism, indie rock and themes and concepts that were at once universal and intensely personal.

Def Jux officially opened for business in 2000 and released more groundbreaking, genre bending and ahead-of-it’s-time music in its’ first few years of existence than most labels release in their entire lifetime. Albums by Cannibal Ox, Aesop Rock and El-P’s solo debut are some of the most universally praised and commercially successful indie LP’s of the early 2000’s. As the decade progressed, Def Jux branched out and released projects from such varied artists as Murs, Cage, Del the Funkee Homosapien, Chin Chin and RJD2 that were all well received by fans and critics. Throughout the decade the label kept core fans satiated with a steady stream of releases featuring the classic, futuristic yet hardcore, Def Jux sound (once described by Entertainment Weekly as “a laser being cut by a buzzsaw”) and an expanding palette of sounds including Hip-Hop from the South (9th Wonder) and West Coast (Murs, Del), instrumental (RJD2, El-P) and an increasingly rock-influenced sound (Cage, Chin Chin). By the end of the decade the “Def Jux Sound” was so progressive and diverse that it became difficult to classify it at all.

Def Jux provided a vehicle for many of the most talented underground rappers/producers/musicians to be heard on a national level for the first time. Aesop Rock, Cage, Murs and C Rayz Wallz were all established artists that reached new artistic and commercial heights once signing with the label. This keen eye for talent, combined with visionary production skills and a tight grip on quality control is what separated El-P from many of his less-successful peers. Supporters of the label were receptive to anything with the Def Jux logo because the label had such a stellar track record.

This track record extended to Def Jux live performances that were not mere underground Hip-Hop shows, but EVENTS. The Def Jux sound was so big and the rappers/DJ’s were so talented that it was hard to contain them in the small clubs and venues that they regularly played. From Aesop Rock’s ability to spit insanely complex rhymes at a dizzying pace to Cage’s charismatic/scary stage persona Def Jux artists, from opening act to headliner, were all well worth the price of admission.

Def Jux was also ground breaking in the way they packaged their material and their emphasis on providing fans with high-quality merchandise. Album Covers, T-Shirts and Posters were not merely promo items, but works of art designed by some of the hottest artists of the decade. Jeremy Fish, Alex Pardee and many others got the chance to create compelling art based on the compelling music. This burning desire to push all aspects of the music, including beats, rhymes, live performances, artwork and merchandise, to the absolute limit may be Def Jux’s lasting legacy.

The future of Definitive Juxtaposition Records is currently unclear, but what is abundantly clear is that the label has given us a decade of consistently ground breaking music that defined the decade for indie Hip-Hop. As the artists, employees and fans of the label take the next step in their evolution, www.fifthroundmovement.com would like to thank them for all of their hard work and amazing musical output and wish them the best of luck in the future.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Top 5 Def Jux Albums

Also available at www.fifthroundmovment.com

*Listed In Chronological Order of Original Release*

Cannibal Ox: The Cold Vein (2001)

Released barely a year into the label’s existence, Cannibal Ox’s The Cold Vein set the standard for all future Def Jux releases and set anxious fans at ease about the direction of El-P’s new label. The production is a combination of space-age soundscapes and hard NYC-inspired beats which laid the groundwork for the the science-fiction/dystopian future/hardcore Hip-Hop the label would eventually perfect on later releases.

While El-P’s production may take center stage at first listen, mainly because nothing has sounded quite like this before or since, upon repeated listening it becomes apparent that lyricists Vast Aire and Vordul Megilah are more than competent at complimenting the claustrophobic beats with intricate rhymes and genuine emotion. The outstanding “F Word” explains in detail what it means to be stuck in the “friend zone” and shows that these futuristic B-Boys have feelings too. This mixture of futuristic production, head spinning lyrics and actual emotion separated Def Jux from the pack of indie labels in the early 2000’s and firmly established the label as a critical and commercial force to be reckoned with.

Aesop Rock: Labor Days (2001)

Labor Days is not Aesop Rock’s first album, but it is the one that made him a hero to underground Hip-Hop heads, indie rock fans and english majors everywhere. Also, this is the first Def Jux release to take an established underground artist and provide him with the platform to take his career to the next level, a common theme in the legacy of the label (i.e. Cage, Murs and Del Thee Funkee Homosapien).

Labor Days is not merely a collection of songs, but rather a cohesive body of work in which the artist examines the current state of “wage slaves” in the working world of contemporary America. The lyrics are so dense and multi-layered that fans are still deciphering the somewhat cryptic content almost a decade after its’ release. Classics like “No Regrets,” “Day Light,” and “9-5er’s Anthem” display Aesop’s intricate storytelling and gift for bending the English language to his will and longtime collaborator Blockheads’ unique production.

This album was just the beginning to successful and still thriving career including several critically acclaimed albums, EP’s, collaborative projects, extensive touring and production work for both Aes & Block. While subsequent albums like “Bazooka Tooth” and “None Shall Pass” are widely considered classics, it is “”Labor Days” that stands as the best example of Aesop Rock’s musical prowess and Def Jux’s ability to identify and cultivate true talent.

Murs & 9th Wonder: Murs 3:16 The 9th Edition (2004)

By 2004 Murs was already a West Coast underground legend and 9th Wonder’s soulful production was gaining widespread acclaim due to his extensive work with Little Brother and producing “Threat” on Jay-Z’s swan song “The Black Album.” However, Murs 3:16 brought both artists to previously unseen heights of notoriety. 9th’s production is so soulful, warm and organic it’s hard to believe it’s almost exclusively crafted on a computer and Murs’ everyman persona and thoughtful lyrics are so inviting that the album almost dares you not to like it. The record is incredibly short and incredibly powerful, there is not a single wasted bar on the entire album and nearly every track is a fan favorite.

Murs 3:16 is a bit of a departure for Def Jux as there is minimal input from El-P and no guest appearances from the usual Def Jukies, however it represented the first time the label branched out from it’s established artistic/business model and proved it could successfully create and market an album outside of the New York indie scene.

Cage: Hell’s Winter (2005)

Hell’s Winter is the product of taking one of the most talented and troubled MC’s in Hip-Hop, removing hard drugs and shock value from his repertoire and putting him in the studio with some of the most talented musicians in Hip-Hop (El-P, Aesop Rock, Tame One), indie rock (Daryl Palumbo, Jello Biafra) and electronic music (RJD2, DJ Shadow). The varied production allows the MC to be more emotive than on former releases and suits the tortured nature of many of they lyrics perfectly. The album is not only a resounding success in it’s own right, but stands as the crowing achievement of Cage’s long and legendary career.

The Cage on Hell’s Winter is more mature (both emotionally and artistically) than the drug addled horrorcore MC on previous releases. This incarnation leaves behind tales of murder and sexual conquest in favor of soul-baring lyrics about his childhood, the ups-and-downs of being an “underground rap star” and his unique place in the musical landscape. Hell’s Winter showcases a man struggling to leave behind the pain of his past in order to live long enough to enjoy his bright future.

El-P: I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead (2007)

El-P’s ISWYD is the Def Jux ethos come to full fruition. The album starts with an ethereal voice asking an bizarre question and ends with a reprise that sounds like it could have been lifted from a science fiction movie, in between, issues as diverse as the state of Hip-Hop, the end of the world, religion, drug use, relationships, the automobile industry, military service, prison and fame are examined in detail. ISWYD is so solid from beginning to end and the concepts are so compelling that the album deserves a place on any list of the best albums of the decade regardless of genre.

If El-P’s first solo release (2002’s “Fantastic Damage”) represented the fear and paranoia felt by many, ISWYD is what the apocalypse sounds like. The beats are big and immersive, the lyrics are straightforward, but contain complex concepts, the guest appearances (including The Mars Volta and NIN frontman Trent Rezner) actually add to the overall concept of the album and the finished product stands as the visionary artists’ best work to date.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Jay Electronica: Game Changer?

DISCLAIMER: Jay Electronica’s “Exhibit C” is a bananas! For proof of how much I respect the artist and song check out it’s inclusion in my episode of “Cribs”:


“Exhibit C” by Jay Electronica hit the Hip-Hop game like an unexpected uppercut that stunned even the most astute fans of the genre. The beat was simultaneously hard and soulful, the lyrics were personal and technically proficient and there was not a hook or chorus anywhere within earshot....this was real Hip-Hop! What was even more surprising was that this five and a half minute Exhibit was not posted on a website or available only via download, but was receiving fairly regular airplay on the nation’s top commercial radio stations. The song stood in such stark contrast to what is typically played on the radio that listeners from coast to coast were immediately compelled to find out more about this somewhat enigmatic artist from New Orleans, leading to massive numbers of searches on youtube, google and itunes. While “Exhibit C” is undoubtedly an amazing song, it remains to be seen if it’s initial impact will last and it is somewhat arguable if it even deserves the accolades it has already received.

Jay Electronica’s “Exhibit C” is already being celebrated as one of the rare occasions when MC and Producer, Beats and Rhymes, Flow and Concept, Tone and Timing all merge to produce the elusive “Hip-Hop Classic.” However, while this type of relentless wordplay mixed with soul-baring biography is a far cry form the last Black Eyed Peas or Gucci Mane single, it is not completely without precedent in Hip-Hop.” Canibus’ “Poet Laureate II,” Joel Ortiz’s “125 (pts. 1-4),” The Game’s 100, 200 or 300 Bars, Ras Kass’ “Nature of the Threat,” and numerous others have utilized the same concept to similar artistic effect. Jay Electronica does differ from his predecessors in that most of these lengthy displays of skill were relegated to unreleased/mixtape status or buried so deep with album cuts that only true fans would ever get to hear them, they were not the singles that introduced them to the world. It remains to be seen if this trend will continue or if the novelty of listening to hundreds of bars of raw, uncut lyricism will be as quickly forgotten by the “106 & Park” crowd as the latest youtube dance sensation.

Also, most underground/backpack Hip-Hop fans were not nearly as impressed or shocked by Electronica’s display of skill as the rest of the world because they buy and listen to music where the emotion and lyricism contained on “Exhibit C” are commonplace. Unfortunately, most of these releases are available only online and the artists languish in obscurity while mindless MC’s that brag about being hustlers instead of rappers make millions upon millions of dollars. One can only hope that the sudden crossover appeal of a song like “Exhibit C” will help some of these artists and the independent Hip-Hop scene in general continue to expand it’s fanbase.

The beat by Just Blaze is impressive, but hardly groundbreaking. “Exhibit C” represents a bit of a return to the spotlight for the former “Roc-a-fella” producer, but the beat is not “Classic Just Blaze” by any stretch of the imagination. The warm soul sample, mixed with a hard baseline sounds more like early Kanye West or vintage 9th Wonder than any previous work by Just Blaze. Upon repeated listening it is hard to tell if this new sound represents the evolution of the producer to the next phase of his career or simply copying somebody else’s style to regain relevance in the extremely competitive Hip-Hop arena.

The final piece of criticism for the “Exhibit C” Movement is not an indictment of the MC or Producer, but rather of the fans that have embraced this song and already placed Jay Electronica in the Jay-Z, Nas, BIG, Tupac and Eminem category. One of the most commonly heard praises for Electronica is some variation of “that dude can rhyme for a southerner, I can’t believe he’s from New Orleans.” Hasn’t the South produced enough talented MC’s for us to move beyond lowering our standards for rappers born below the Mason Dixon line? Sure, Soulja Boy and OJ Da Juiceman leave something to be desired, but can a region that has produced Andre 3000, Lil’ Wayne (the mixtape Weezy, not the one supposedly making a rock album), Scarface, Little Brother, Ludacris and Goodie Mob really be considered at a disadvantage lyrically compared to the rest of the country? Jay Electronica is a good MC....period.

Further, what does it say about the state of our current media outlets that an intelligent, thoughtful, personal song that was skillfully crafted elicits the kind of shock and awe usually reserved for beef between A-List celebrities or the release of a sex tape? How bad is the the normal state of the radio we accept on a daily basis that a “good” song getting airplay becomes news for Hip-Hop outlets nationwide?

For all of the support “Exhibit C” has already received, if fans do not support (aka “BUY”) Jay Electronica’s album or future releases, the state of radio and video outlets will remain unchanged and as soon as the song runs it’s course your regularly scheduled programming of the New Boys, Lil’ Mama and Rick Ross will continue.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Over and Under Rated January 2010


Master P’s Business Acumen

In the late 90’s No Limit sold an absurd amount of records (in the tens of millions), produced several stars and was instrumental in establishing the “Dirty South” as a hotbed for commercial Hip-Hop. However, all of these achievements pale in comparison to the business sense of Master P.

Master P was able to somehow create one of the most powerful brands in Hip-Hop with some of the worst music ever created in an genre. In retrospect it is hard to believe songs like “Make ‘em Say Ughh,” “It Ain’t My Fault” and “Down For My...” had any kind of cultural impact whatsoever, mainly because they are so bad they are actually hard to tolerate a decade later. While other Hip-Hop moguls like Puffy, Dame Dash, Russell Simmons and Suge Knight may have had more success or lasted longer, they all had the comparatively easy task of selling high-quality music to a fan base that was already accustomed to their version of Hip-Hop.

Also, only ten years after the end of No Limit’s prominence there are virtually zero No Limit classics that still illicit any kind of response from former fans. To test this theory request any song from Mr. Serve-On, Mia X or Kane & Abel next time you are in the club and if the DJ still has it in his collection you will see people rush off the dance floor like roaches with the light on the second the confused party-goers recognize the song.

Aesop Rock

2010 marks the ten year anniversary of “Float,” the Mush Records release that placed Aesop Rock in underground Hip-Hop’s collective consciousness. In the last decade Aes has signed to indie powerhouse Def Jux, released four classic albums and several well received EP’s and side projects, become an in-demand producer, toured extensively and has become one of the central figures in underground/independent Hip-Hop.

Clearly, Aesop Rock’s dense, metaphor-filled and somewhat cryptic wordplay combined with his ambitious beat selection and an affinity for addressing themes far removed from the typical Hip-Hop record, places him miles away from current fan favorites like the New Boys or Gucci Mane, but his insistence on artistic integrity and an ability to spit rhymes that have fans debating hidden meanings a decade after release should place Aesop Rock at the forefront of discussions about the best MC’s of the last decade.

“Good” Sampling and Remakes

Most people bemoan rappers for “stealing” old school records when they sample them to make new hits. These protests often become even louder when the sampled song is not an obscure jazz riff from the 40’s, but an obvious re-appropriation of a big hit from the not-so-distant past that people still remember. However, while using obvious samples from easily recognizable songs is somewhat of a short cut to recognition (if people liked the original, why wouldn’t they like the remake?) sometimes, it works exceedingly well. Snoop Dogg’s “I Wanna Rock,” Jaheim’s “I Ain’t Leaving Without You,” and Styles recent collaboration with Green Lantern are all examples of taking the original and adding some new flavor to make something bigger than the sum of it’s parts...now that’s Hip-Hop.

NBA All-Star Kicks

From Scottie Pippen’s red Flights in ’94 to the Kobe and LeBron variants coming out next month, NBA players and shoe companies bring their “A Game” to All Star Weekend. The unveiling and ensuing rush to get these limited editions is one of the best parts of a weekend filled with boring skill competitions, family-friendly musical performances, athletes behaving badly around strippers and a mediocre pick-up game.


The Knowledge of NBA Fans

The idea of fans controlling the All Star game is a great idea...in theory.

How many times do players that have been injured for the entire season (Tracy McGrady, Yao Ming) or just not that good anymore (Allen Iverson) have to be selected by the fans before the league steps in and takes control? The NBA doesn’t have the kind of rabid, stat-obsessed fans of MLB or the NFL and the overwhelming majority of “NBA fans” would be classified as casual at best (they watch the Lakers vs. Cavs, know the Knicks are horrible and will only go to a game if they get free tickets). This creates a situation where voters pick the only guys they have heard of whether they are averaging 30 points a night or riding the bench with a torn meniscus.

Man vs. Food (Travel Channel)

Some dude travels the country taking food challenges at local eateries. Examples of his exploits include consuming a 14-pound pizza, massive burgers and absurd quantities of chicken wings. Not only does this kind of foolishness promote and canonize the kind of gluttony that has made obesity and it’s related complications the biggest health issue in the United States, the guy usually fails at the challenges.

The host stuffs himself to the point of exhaustion, usually resulting in what he calls “The Meat Sweats” and does not coming close to consuming the amount that would result in a free T-Shirt or a polaroid picture on the bulletin board. Haters that like watching unmitigated failure (like myself) should skip this exercise in futility and watch the New Jersey Nets instead.

Rapers with Hard-to-Pronounce or Buffoonish Names

Rappers that are trying to blow-up should have names that are easy to pronounce and are not embarrassing to say in public. Wacka Flacka Flame, Ab Liva, Pharaoh Monch, Plies, Rza, Gza and Titty Boy do NOT fit into this category.

Motion Controllers

In late 2009 both Sony and Microsoft announced plans to release Motion Controllers for their respective home consoles. These peripherals will come out a full four years behind the release of Nintendo’s Wii and will most likely be met with compete apathy from consumers. Anybody with a burning desire to play video games standing up swinging a remote control wildly like a broad sword in their living room has been playing the Wii since 2006 and has no need to buy another silly controller for other video game systems.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Things to Look Forward to in 2010

Alice in Wonderland in IMAX

IMAX movies in 2009 were a decidedly mixed bag that included the GOOD (“Watchmen”), the BAD (“A Christmas Carol”) and the WILD (“Where The Wild Things Are”). The most anticipated IMAX release of 2020 is undoubtedly Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland.” The combination of Lewis Carol’s dark fairy tale, Burton’s visionary direction and a stellar cast including Johnny Depp, this seems sure to be the first commercial and critical blockbuster for the new decade.

Air Jordan Spiz’ike Black/Cement Colorway

Most hybrids from Jordan Brand are weak interpretations of classic kicks that usually lose what made the originals cool. These are the rare exception as they retain the best design elements of the AJ 3-7 and come in arguably the best colorway in Jordan history.

Eminem: Relapse 2

“Relapse” was incredible. “Refill” was pretty much a waste of money. “Relapse 2” has the potential to be the best album of 2010. With production by Dr. Dre, The Alchemist and Just Blaze, darker subject matter and by all accounts Eminem leaving the silly accents and bathroom humor behind in favor of the sick lyrics that made him an underground hero a decade ago, “Relapse 2” has fans from 8 Mile Road to Rodeo Drive salivating for another dose of Slim Shady.

House of Pain: St. Patrick’s Day Tour

House of Pain is following a stellar 2009 (sick Adidas collabo sneaker, La Coka Nostra album, Rock the Bells tour) with a 5-Date tour of the Northeast the week of St. Patrick’s Day. Get ready to Jump Around because this will be sick night of early-90’s, dirty whiteboy, hooligan hip-hop if they come to your town.

Iron Man 2

Comic book fans were psyched for this movie before the trailer emerged in late 2009, after seeing the initial salvo from Marvel/Disney’s marketing campaign fans could not effin’ wait for May, 7th 2010. Replacing Terrance Howard with Don Cheadle seems like a sizable upgrade and including Scarlet Johansen and Mickey Rourke seem to only add more fuel to the Iron Man fire. Hopefully “Iron Man 2” will be the kickoff for a summer of blockbusters that will help us put the dismal 2009 summer movie season behind us.

Rock The Bells/Paid Dues Festival 2010

2009’s best Hip-Hop tour will be back for another summer in 2010. Performers have yet to be announced but with a stellar track record for providing both commercial and underground Hip-Hop heads with more than their money’s worth...look for this to be THE ticket to get for summer 2010.

Super Bowl XLIV

The last few NFL post seasons have been kind of lackluster for the casual fan, but with parity appearing to be a thing of the past and the emergence of several “Super Teams” (Saints, Colts, Chargers) and a few surprising underdogs (Bengals, Cowboys, Ravens) this season, Super Bowl XLIV and associated playoffs should really be spectacular entertainment for casual and hardcore fans.

Wu-Tang Saga Continues

2009 marked one of the biggest comebacks in Hip-Hop history as the once mighty Wu-Tang Clan reclaimed dominance in the rap game by releasing stellar albums, buzz worthy mixtapes and near constant touring. 2010 should continue this run with the release of “Wu Massacre” by Rae, Ghost and Meth and several other projects planned for the new year. We can only hope Wu-Wear will re-launch soon.

Even More & Better Content from www.fifthroundmovement.com

In the new year, look for better movies, a twitter account and a constant stream of blogs/vlogs to continue the movement into the new decade!