Song of the year-Just by KA

Song of the year-Just by KA

by Dan-O

I wonder how hard most of the reviewers who now lavish praise on KA yearly work to understand what he is saying? It is VERY easy to get spun into his dimension and float on a sea of jagged found sounds (those out of control jingle bells on That Cold and Lonely) and steady bass without looking down at the one liner revelations he is delivering. I don’t just look forward to KA’s yearly release because he is my pick for best rapper in the world…he messes me up when he drops something.

2012’s Grief Pedigree is the most NY rap album of the last 16 years but I knew exactly what it was out to do, what it meant. Ever since, he has widened his lens, using concepts to speak on life in ways that go beyond gritty street poetry. Every album goes deeper. His newest, Honor Killed The Samurai is about honor, morality and how it survives when met by the savagery of the real world.

Just is the second song with a hypnotic woodwinds loop that other sounds get thrown into. About a minute and a half in he broke my mind with “Unfold my destiny…there’s no one less than me. Behold my labor…there’s no one greater.” I think it is the best summation of the independent grind an artist faces. To look around you and realize others are making millions repeating the same phrase, bouncing around young and joyful and entitled while you work your fingers to the bone for your art; just trying to put the cold nights behind you. I am in no way saying this is how KA feels. I am saying I know many who do, and I would be lying if I told you I hadn’t felt that.

His phraseology is completely his own. If you look at that quoted line, no one in the world would have put it like that (How many rap songs have behold in them?). When you hear the chorus on Mourn At Night listen to the pauses and word placement. It’s just KA in that old man raspy monotone saying “He gone. They Mourn. At Night.”

Maybe Ka is the Tom Waits of hip hop. Hearing Tom Waits for the first time I remember saying “with this voice why does he even NEED to push the lyrics this intricate?” Ka can sound menacing, no problem. He could probably make more money with simpler, more muscular smack talk but he has a personal standard so far above my traditional listening experience.

He gets better every time.

Hearing his new material always enhances my standard.

Weezy Appreciation Week Playlist

Weezy Appreciation Week Playlist

by Dan-O

We don’t appreciate people in the moment. I think that’s ok. The moment can be tricky, you miss things. Wayne has been in the game so long it would be criminal not to look back at all that he has accomplished.

Tha Carter 2-Best Rapper Alive

Known as his best album, it’s one of a select few that shattered the notion of southern MC’s as second class citizens. Don’t get me wrong, southern rap had been dope but because the production and slang were different it was disregarded by a lot of the elites and hard headed old-schoolers. Seeing names like The Heatmakerz & Cool & Dre on a Wayne album was a shock for people and made it so everyone who heard it knew what he was capable of. This wasn’t a homegrown talent only good in his comfort zone. The world was his comfort zone. He was going pop but would end up making pop go Weezy.

On Best Rapper Alive he roars over guitar samples and blusters on an elite level. He swears a blue streak telling other rappers to go F_ themselves in a number of ways tells us he might bet all his money on one football play(#someweezyishrightthere) but when he says “It’s no problem, I so got ’em. It’s just a victory lap baby, I’m just jogging,” with a minute left, you really feel it. He’s not winded or tired he simply takes this beat, destroys it in about five minutes and you can picture him requesting the next beat queued up.

For rap it was a revelation for Wayne it was a Wednesday.

Teenage Weezy-Lights Off

When Lil Wayne was 17 years old when he released Tha Block Is Hot on Ca$h Money. I consider Wayne the best teenage rapper of all time. While Nas gave us Illmatic as a teen he faded back for years before his next project. Weezy was cranking out ill wordplay as a teenager and lacing smash choruses.  I love the whole album front to back and the Block is Hot chorus is stamped on the mind of everyone who lived through the Ca$h Money come up. All that said,  Lights Off has always had a special place for me.

His flow is special, his energy gives me energy. I’m a peaceful man but I could punch through something when this song comes on. As threatening as the lyrics are you won’t notice that many curse words from teenage Weezy. Wiki says his mother requested he keep a lid on it and so the early Wayne conveyed his nastiness through slice and dice metaphor and cackling vocal menace. No matter what my relationship was to Wayne (and I didn’t always like what he was doing because he never seemed to do what I wanted him to do) I always loved the early stuff. Always will.

Tha Carter 3- Phone Home

Take over the world Wayne went triple platinum with Tha Carter 3 which is honestly spotty as an album (I have no need in my life for Mrs. Officer) with highs that changed the way people made music. Rap stars had to look and sound a certain way. As Wayne began Phone Home  whispering “We are not the same, I am a Martian” a collective huh came back. Think of all the rap weirdos that get their origin from oddball Weezy? I’m not going to list them all just think of all the major rap flows with Weezy in them.

Cool & Dre load the beat with trunk rattling thump and Weezy makes it his right away. Could you imagine anyone else in the world making this song?

Mixtape Weezy-No Ceilings-I’m Single

Weezy on mixtapes is just a beast; taking beats and knocking the stuffing out of them. You can listen to him trading off dope verses with Curren$y on Dedication or tearing Banned From TV limb from limb on No Ceilings and feel the freedom. A guy who was raised to rap and does that; did he run himself down with release after release? Meh. I tend to think he was  always testing boundaries while dealing with a label that only wanted mild experimentation.

I’m Single always felt like the very essence of Wayne. It carries all the grossness that Wayne enjoys. It’s slinky and sleazy and sexual but playful, an anthem for people getting it in on the down low. Wayne is the weirdest sex symbol in hip hop history, a wild looking dude on drugs since he was a kid, constantly hurting himself skating but when speaking to a female audience or about a female character he was authentic and convincing. He didn’t change his tone (a la LL Cool J) and the ladies listened and supported him.

 

I could give you so many more. Even the worst Wayne is fascinating because he’s always jumping off the ledge, no safe bets. It took me a long time to value him properly. I had to realize that the expectations I had for him were limiting and he was tossing them aside. He was reckless and it worked because he bet on his talent, his work, to make the weird stuff pay off.

LATE PASS Mixtape Review-Imperial by Denzel Curry

LATE PASS Mixtape Review-Imperial by Denzel Curry

by Dan-O

Everyone should like Denzel Curry. If you’re a hip hop purist than you hate biters, people who can easily be traced into others. Success breeds copying so you can find a lot of rappers in New York who sound like Jay and a lot of yelling Atlanta dudes who sound like Waka (lotta Drakes out there). I dare anyone to look into the history of Florida (Curry is from Florida) hip hop and put Curry under one branch of someone’s tree. He’s totally unique in delivery with a flow that can tighten up to a speed bag pace or loosen up without losing any diction.

Imperial is ten songs with no filler. The hooks are all catchy and usually meaningful (example: This Life). The topics aren’t always what you expect and go in interesting directions while following a clearly understandable perspective. Narcotics sounds like the glint of cold steel and (produced by the Suicide Boys) feels like a trap anthem but it’s about the assumption that he deals with from the police.  It’s menacing as hell and begging you to connect it in your mind to a song about hardcore dealing…but that’s just perception. Another icy banger is Knotty Head featuring Rick Ross produced (like most of the songs) by Ronny J & FNZ. This one is official bluster; twisting weed, not giving an F, doing whatever you want to do…perfect for a Ross feature. Curry also has the line “My pockets on Andy Milonakis” which I can’t get enough of.

Just like Knotty Head fits Ross and creates a great Carroll City connection, Zenith is ideal for Joey Badass.  It’s the species of warped boom bap beauty (from Ronny J x FNZ x Freebase) that any lyricist lives for. The elements are simple enough to give the rapper a clear stage but it knocks hard enough to make a gorgeous song. Joey continues the Method Man-like characteristic of sounding way more dialed in on other people’s songs.  I love that he is a feature killer, it keeps us from forgetting how utterly dope he is.

If you are looking for trademark Denzel Curry moments, this project is full of them.  Sick and Tired is dark, frustrated, and paranoid. People are looking at him like a target because he is doing well so he has to protect himself as well as his family from that, not to mention duck the confines of the law. My favorite song on the mixtape is Story No Title where he launches violent disagreement with his peers “How the F_ the rap game become a beauty pageant? Candy @$$ rappers tryin’ to sound like Atlanta b/c they got no identity. I’m off the top like O-Ren Ishii v. Uma Thurman…” It’s a statement to his audience outlining the difference between Denzel Curry and other listening experiences. It’s a story with no title because the title will come later or not, the point is the story and the story is unique. A great title without a good story is a letdown. Curry vows not to be that. Pure Enough also builds on this conversation.

If Tomorrow’s Not Here is a perfect way to end the album. It reminds me of the last song on Goodie Mob-Soul Food (The Day After); thickly soulful, chunky and thoughtful. By track ten (Tomorrow’s Not Here) Denzel Curry is perfectly defined along with all of his fears. Even those of us who are hearing him for the first time on Imperial know exactly who he is and that’s such a brilliant relief.

Stream or download Imperial below:

https://www.spinrilla.com/mixtapes/denzel-curry-imperial

 

Song of The Year-Holy Key by DJ Khaled featuring Kendrick Lamar & Big Sean

Song of The Year-Holy Key by DJ Khaled featuring Kendrick Lamar & Big Sean

by Dan-O

A lot of people consider Khaled any number of things: hilarious, vicious self-promotor, someone who flips on his friends in favor of newer, hotter names. His new album Major Key is absolutely the hip hop light show it set out to be. As talented as he is as a DJ, producer and organizer of the music, I consider Khaled a big game hunter of sorts. He bought a house near Jay-z to get a verse (I Got The Keys) and then texted him in all caps that he wasn’t going anywhere. He leveraged his relationship with Future to get Bryson Tiller on Ima Be Alright.

On Holy Key you can absolutely hear Khaled through text and phone conversations revving these two artists up. Pumping  them with the adrenal fluid of the imagined impact a game changing verse can have on their career; Letting them know that as respected as they are…we really don’t know what their capable of, none of us.  Khaled always has the same pitch: dig deeper and show these MFers who you are.

It works because it’s kind of true.  While Kendrick is known as intelligent with an unearthly flow, people are constantly forgetting 2 things: how weird he is and how mean he is. Big Sean brings the mean right out of him (see Control).  For his part Big Sean is a masterful lyricist who has literally changed the way rappers rap (his biggest problem: worst mustache in the game). On Holy Key (classic Cool & Dre high octane Fast & Furious beat ) Sean is unbelievable, lacing his rhymes tight and furious but always keeping it Big Sean. You won’t find a more head knocking positive rap verse than his opener on Holy Key.

And yes, Kendrick destroys the song again. As focused as Sean sounds Kendrick sits him down with “I ain’t scared of losses no more, I see life in that. I don’t resonate with the concept of love and hate cause your perspective is less effective and rather fake.” He says “F_  mother earth” and he absolutely loves it. Some people don’t just embrace the villain, they have a sliver of them that really draws power from it. That Ty Cobb part of Kendrick is utterly shocking.

You can’t give enough credit to the legendary Betty Wright for this enormous hook. It’s the incredible Hulk of anthems because it’s not just big but lyrical. Hip hop thrives when the biggest names can open up and prove they deserve their spot; blackout on a track and reinforce their stamp.

Concluding thought: if anyone won Major Key it was Big Sean. Yes, he got bested by Kendrick again but that’s not exactly the worst thing that can happen. Being so close to Kendrick on Holy Key speaks incredibly well of him. His lilting sing song absolutely makes Work For It smooth. He puts a tempo in place that is pleasant and then drops BARS so that by the time 2 Chainz and Gucci Mane come in, the song is already a great situation.

I think there are maybe 7 or 8 people in rap who work as hard as Big Sean.

 

#BandcampGold-Blue Moon by Essence

#BandcampGold-Blue Moon by Essence

by Dan-O

I was so excited for my wife to see Essence perform.  The show was set up so acts work on different stages and trade off in a round robin.  Each performer had several sets. After the first Essence set my wife gave me the description of Maine’s most important rapper that I always carry with me.  My wife has one of these best friends: marvelously sweet, smart and great. Much smarter than she knows, much more attractive than she knows but doubts herself and suffers from the anxiety in her head. She said when Essence performed it was like watching Brother Ali come out of that friend.

It’s still a great way to frame her new project Blue Moon.  She is dynamic ,in delivery, with the spirit of a spoken word slam poet; every word takes its place as vital to the core of the whole. The first spoken bars on Blue Moon are “co-dependent on the figurative attachment, the one getting high on the balcony of the equator with feet…dangling off the timeline between you and me.” Her state of being as an artist presumes you know what all that means or have the willingness to unpack it patiently.

Blue Moon doesn’t have stock concept songs you’d expect to hear on a rap album (even a Maine rap album). Four of the seven songs are under three minutes but it’s still a dense listen. As a writer this was always a criticism I faced. People would read my stuff and furrow eyebrows while muttering…”it’s a little dense”. After a while I started taking it for the compliment it is. I give it to Blue Moon in the same way. Unseen is haunting, not just because of the ghost related chorus. In two minutes and seventeen seconds she covers loneliness, heartbreak and the dimensions you discover in people you get close to along with the difficulty in relating and comprehending what you’ve seen in them.

My favorite song is Resistance because, on the sly, Essence is fantastic at hooks (Blue Moon is kind of a great situation for Maine rap chorus’s. Not only is Essence great at hooks but she features Renee Coolbrith and Kristina Kentigian who are incredible singers, but never put out enough solo content. The combination of her talent and theirs in 7 songs means Blue Moon is always catchy enough to offset its depth.).  Resistance merges the deep conversation about our generations approach to relationships with a chorus that sticks in my head.  She’s no longer a poet or a rapper on Resistance she becomes a chant that lives in your experience. It’s the kind of song that makes you forget the process of listening to a song and think about your own life.

ChrisPaul did the production for all the songs other than Needs and the beats are dusty and minimal. Honestly, all the production in the Maine rap scene (for my ears) feels dusty, broken and post-Anticon underground. This is why the song Anniversary Essence did with big muscular production team OHX (collab with KGFREEZE) and Give (another KGFREEZE) push her in a totally different direction where she can showcase the sharpness of her sword with humor and wordplay.  This isn’t a knock on Blue Moon, the paranoia you feel from ChrisPauls In And Out beat totally makes sense for the content being covered. If most Maine hip hop production is aggravatingly self-importantly underground with its tongue stuck out at likeable melodies… Blue Moon smartly uses that to match the warmth of remembering those you love and the utter chill of not having them with you anymore(she also goes out of state for beats a lot).

That night, at that show, I awkwardly introduced myself and told Essence that a year and a half from now she would be light-years from where she is now. If you listen to Blue Moon and compare it to her 2014 project The Root of It…I’m looking ok on that.

Check out Blue Moon yourself:

https://essence1.bandcamp.com/album/blue-moon

#SpotifyTidalAppleMusicgold-Songs.4.People.Who.Break.Promises by Niko Is

#SpotifyTidalAppleMusicgold-Songs.4.People.Who.Break.Promises by Niko Is

by Dan-O

As dominant as the genre is, it suffers. Post- Kid Cudi it shifted from being a musical form crafted by hustlers and drug dealers to drug addicts going through the crash/rebirth cycle. It reignited things for a while(giving a different perspective) but these aren’t cocaine addicts shouting and twitching this is an era of depressants, codeine in your cup. The music is slow and sleepy and melodic; full of tearful confession thinly masked by anger. It gets old.

On the positive side that dominance is in no small part due to the embrace of weirdness. The thriving oddity of “internet rappers” with funny hair, tight pants and all sorts of nonsensical cadences.   The previous generation was all straight faces and similar brags, a tightly wound culture ready to bust loose.

Niko Is comes armed against the former and abundantly engaged in the latter. He’s been weird since the beginning, certainly on drugs but more inclined towards mushrooms and hallucinations than the slow personal misery of purple (just my reading of the situation through lyrics, I do not know this dude).

On that journey from Brazil to Florida he also seems to have digested loads of Gangstarr, Das Efx, Redman, etc. Even as he dropped a surprise album that begs “You want weird, I’ll give you weird?!” he sets aside a lot of time to whip out his samurai sword flow and clear the area of all living things (example: The Land of Leche &Miel).

Songs.4.People.Who.Break.Promises seems on a mission to shatter the storyline of the typical rap song. My favorite song is Houdini where the chorus comes earlier than you think and bookends with Niko hitting the melody perfectly as it melts into a soul sample.

Niko has a perfect collaborator in Thanks Joey (Joey Creates) who shares a deep love for Brazilian Soul and soul in general while never ever sacrificing the fist-thumping BOOM that impressive basslines and drums give a hip hop song. Just listen to Mundo; where Niko name checks Jeet Kune Do, raps a bit in Spanish, and it really doesn’t matter if you are understanding everything. The bassline is amazing and Niko throws his voice everywhere, delivering every line like it is the all-important last one. It’s because of Joey that this music feels warm and tropical and as weird as Niko makes things it is always stabilized by the lush landscapes he stands in front of. You feel the sun on your face and can almost see the palm trees, all before you realize he just said “The Batman of rap, I need a four foot Asian to tap dance on my back, cause I’m stressed out(Morena).”

Niko has always had a wandering mind; surreal, humorous, sick, and violent. Lyrically I always thought of him as everything you think about… unedited. Niko Is leaning more towards personal and poignant this time around. Leave Another Day is a real front to back story infused with the frustrations of losing a romantic relationship. He laments them being good on paper but not in the present and it’s no joke. The song is actually pretty spooky.

Songs.4.People.Who.Broke.Promises is a marvelous showcase of the experimentation you can indulge in when you prize your fluidity. After all, this is a dude who shined bright right alongside Action Bronson before he was a cooking show star. Even though Niko & the gang stylistically aim to surprise you, they always manage to do it.

Songs.4.People.Who.Break.Promises

apple link:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/songs.4.people.who.break.promises/id1136381680

Spotify link:

Tidal store link:

http://tidal.com/us/store/album/63227145

Song of The Year-Winner$ by Scotty ATL featuring Cyhi The Prince produced by Toomp

Song of The Year-Winner$ by Scotty ATL featuring Cyhi The Prince produced by Toomp

by Dan-O

If someone asked me (no one ever asks me questions this specific) who the next hip hop mega-star from Atlanta will be I would answer Scotty ATL. I’m not saying he’s going to be a name; he’s already a name for people who love hip hop (hasn’t released a subpar project in YEARS). I think he’s heading for “my grandmother knows who he is” status. Winner$ is a great example of why he is that name for me. He just doesn’t ever waste an opportunity.

Here he gets a beat from the production architect of the trap sound (Toomp is so damn slept on) and a fire breathing game changer of a guest verse from the rap machine Cyhi The Prince (If you like what Kanye has been doing just grab as much Cyhi as you can get) and the two forge an incredible melody they never break out of with a hook so gorgeous you could just put the song on repeat.

This comes off of Scotty ATL’s mixtape EP Home Sick which is absolutely great. In five songs he shows that he can do the languid mumble hop that dominates the radio (Let’s Go Swim) give you classic trap(Plug on The Low featuring OJ Da Juiceman) and strip all that away to give you his heart in a show stopping way (My Mind Lately).

Winner$ is a great example of why Scotty wins. He always gets the very best out of his collaborators without giving the outward impression that he is trying to sink their battleship. He’s able to ramp up his sound while maintaining its earnestness. Home Sick is stadium rap but it’s still just Scotty with no pretentious genre-shifting airs or faux depression. I’d rather listen to Winner$ than Ultralight Beam but I like my sh_t mean any-damn-way.