Song Review-Special by Gucci Mane featuring Anuel AA produced by Murda Beatz and Cubeatz

Song Review-Special by Gucci Mane featuring Anuel AA produced by  Murda Beatz and Cubeatz

By Dan-O

The reasons you should think of Gucci Mane as a genius lyricist are pretty straight forward: 1. Individuality-built his style on his own not a product of anyone or any other movement (in this way I think of him as the E-40 of Atlanta). 2. Bold experimentation-he’s always folding different talents into his universe and letting them inform it (Lil Uzi Vert, Rocko, Young Scooter, etc). 3-Depth-whether it is how he strings the rhyming together, the uniqueness of the words used or the observations… if you really listen Gucci is KILLING his bars.

Gucci Mane dropped a new album called Delusions of Grandeur which at 18 tracks long gives you all the different forms of Gucci on a polished ready-for-primetime level. Production wise he incorporates Kenny Beats, Tay Keith and J.White Did It into the fold with Southside, Zaytoven, and a bunch of recognizable names. Tay Keith did Sicko Mode, J. White Bodak Yellow, and Kenny Beats took Key! And Rico Nasty to the next level on separate projects. Gucci has always been an amazing talent scout and that continues here. Even Justin Bieber is perfectly placed singing the hook on Love Thru The Computer.

In regard to depth, a line on the song Special really blew my mind. He says “Like Cinderella they think I was born with chedda.” I flinched, and was struck by it…wait Cinderella was scrubbing the floor…we know that as the audience…what is he talking about it? As I thought about it the fog lifted. We know Cinderella’s story as the reader but picture the happily ever after of her life. Any person she meets post-“It’s your slipper!”is not going to know what we know. So she will smile keep her chin up, act stately, and live up to what they think she is. The truth is not even something she has the time to explain, nor does she have the faith they would understand. This mirrors his journey. When Delusions of Grandeur broke people were tweeting things like “GUCCI IS THE GOAT!!” “GUCCI NEVER MADE A BAD ALBUM!” I will tell you that when those mixtapes broke people were calling him disgraceful and dumb BEFORE he got an ice cream come tattooed on his face. I was dismissive of him partly because the wrong white hip hop fans wanted him for their new Flavor Flav. Serious people taught me to get serious about him but I was already suspicious based on killer guest features.

That’s what Delusions of Grandeur is about. Being the best at what you do, the last one standing from a generation with no one left that really remembers how hard it was to get there. No one to stop and say “How cool is it that in 2019 Gucci threw Anuel AA on this track to do a Spanish verse.” It’s a song about being special, not just how cool it is but how bizarre it feels.

 

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Best Albums of 2019 Spotlight: This Is How You Smile by Helado Negro

Best Albums of 2019 Spotlight: This Is How You Smile by Helado Negro

by Dan-O

A man in a yellow shirt with a sloppy 70’s-bank-heist afro greeted us warmly, joking and then announcing he would play his new album from beginning to end. I remember feeling relieved. This Is How You Smile should be heard together. The drum machine that pulsed behind him was connected to a yellow light that blinked as the beat dropped. Other band members picked up violins for songs then put them down and picked up Saxophones. Different sounds floated in and out while this magnetic centerpiece held us all in the palm of his hand. This short Latino oddball named Helado Negro who doesn’t have the best (or worst) voice set the crowd off with every piece of banter. Every hook he sang he dug all the way into. His guitar work settling and relaxing but not boring.

It is hard to recommend the album to new ears knowing it doesn’t have a clear path to head nodding. It’s not like, “Once you get to track two you will be blown away! That thing is a hit! Car commercials here we come!” It’s a rolling musical experience with different genre elements. If I tell someone my favorite song is Fantasma Vaga and they ask what that means…I have no idea. Some of these songs are in Spanish (I listen to a lot of Salsa so this doesn’t bother me at all but some might not be able to connect). My corrected pitch:  This is How You Smile loves you back when you don’t love yourself. When you are sad but not heartbroken or devastated just listless and paranoid…Helado Negro is the voice you need. On Imagining What To Do he implores us to go softly and slowly. That is the same song he says “Winter will be gone tomorrow, just lay inside your dream,” Followed by a soft “Hehe”.

What carried through to the live show from the album is the sincerity involved. He is a sensitive narrator and an intelligent one without any pretense or talking down to his audience. Forty seven seconds into Seen My Aura he announces he has no shoes on and is walking on sunburned pavement trying to look cool and the corner of his lip turns in a smirk. The smirk was always there, but I’m glad I got to see it.

I don’t know what you listen to music for. What you hope to get out of it. I think most people don’t even ask that question. My personal answer:  I want to live with someone who is interesting for a while. Whether that is living with Wiz Khalifa in 2011 or Madonna in 1994 I just want to be around someone or some people who are interesting. New perspectives help me build my empathy muscles.  A great album remains interesting through repeated listens because of the things you can find in it. The places it can take you even after you know where it goes. This Is How You Smile is built for years of that.

His bandcamp has three songs you can listen to

https://heladonegro.bandcamp.com/album/this-is-how-you-smile

You can also bump This Is How You Smile on whatever streaming service you use.

Song of The Year-Speedboat by Denzel Curry produced by Rugah Rahj

Song of The Year-Speedboat by Denzel Curry produced by Rugah Rahj

by Dan-O

Very few people do what Denzel Curry does. That is what struck me when I listened to his new album ZUU and heard him rapping with Rick Ross over a crunchy jagged industrial beat. If you are an old school hip hop head you should rep Curry. He can rap. On that Ross collab the Florida MC says “My pastor making dollars like he’s Eric Sermon,” which is a heady EPMD reference. He knows the culture, can rap with anyone, and what he gives is not just a finished product but one with dynamic individual characteristics.

Speedboat is the best. It is crazy fun to listen to and exhibits impressive melodic and lyrical work. The bridge that leads into the chorus is

Pre-Chorus]
Jesus, please deliver us from evil
Please pray over all my people
What you see in life’s illegal
I don’t wanna use my Desert Eagle

The pauses he makes between each word adds even more gravity to the paranoia and violence PTSD discussed. Now check out the 2pac-esque chorus to go with it.

[Chorus]
Big talk, speedboat (Speedboat)
Pray to God I don’t get repoed (Repoed)
Didn’t go to college for a free throw (Swish)
People gettin’ killed through the peephole (Blah)
Have your money up before you go to war (Hmm)
Put the mask on like a luchador (Hmm)
My dawg didn’t make it to 21, so I gotta make it past 24
Big talk, speedboat (Speedboat)
Pray to God I don’t get repoed (Repoed)
Didn’t go to college for a free throw (Swish)
People gettin’ killed through the peephole (Blah)
Have your money up before you go to war (Hmm)
Put the mask on like a luchador (Hmm)
My dawg didn’t make it to 21, so I gotta make it past 24

Think about how much is discussed in that chorus? We talk about college scholarships, robbery, mortality ages in bad neighborhoods. You can feel it all coming after you(hence the 2pac comp). ZUU belongs on the year end lists because Curry is Floridas shining hope for the future. Not that the state doesn’t have talent but Denzel Curry has star power. When he raps it is important every time. That is an important distinction.  Curry can shout, rap, or compose a hook with equal dexterity and he doesn’t owe anything to a co-sign. No movement has him hanging onto it. His work and his voice got him here.

#BandcampGold-Never Hated I Just Waited by Chris Crack

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#BandcampGold-Never Hated I Just Waited by Chris Crack

by Dan-O

Best way to think of Chicago Rap is like one of those old Shaw Brothers martial arts films. Surreal things happen, good and evil magic. Different clans represent divergent schools of thought with powers and weaknesses as specific as they are out of this world. On one side you have Lil Reese, Lil Durk and the pure drill cats. On the other Taylor Bennett, Chance and the sunshine. My clan is the Vic Spencer, Tree, and Chris Crack whome I refer to as the Soultrap team.  The new Chris Crack project (Never Hated I Just Waited) is amongst the purest examples of what makes that school so engaging.

First thing to know is that Chris Crack is nuts. He releases a lot of projects. You know the journey you’re going on by the album titles alone. His discography includes albums called: Being Woke Ain’t FunCrackheads Live Longer Than Vegans, and of course….Titty Milk & Cookies. If you are a very serious person who is offended easily this might not be your guy. He’s my favorite kind of insane person because he isn’t reckless with his music at all. You can press play on anything he’s done and it is solid. Never Hated I Just Waited is way above solid because it has a seamless flow from song to song, wild stand out verses/lines, killer guest performances from people I do not know(except Droog we all know Droog), and doooopppee hooks.

It isn’t a long album (out of 15 songs only 2 of them are over 3 minutes) but the short songs really accomplish a lot. The two wildest things said on the project Chris reserves for short songs (under 2 minutes). On the entrancing twisted soul sample driven Just Tell Me I’m Cute his first line is “Ask me if she gettin’ fat I told her trust her gut.” Which is so wrong I kind of love it.  The booty music tribute No Parking In LA starts with “We drink champagne and I put molly in my chili,” Crack knows how to shock you even when you feel accustomed to his style. On Smoke Causes Cancer he makes fun of vegans wearing leather boots and calls out a particular F_boy to the point where the last name has to be censored. I just imagine Chris Crack half lifted yelling “You a F_ Boy like Eric Stephenson!” and the producer/engineer being like “You can’t say his name!” and he’s like “Awright, beep the last name but… F_ that dude!”

I need to thank Chong Wizard, SC, August Fanon,  Fortes, Wazasnics, and all the other producers that fed Crack these beautiful beats brimming with brilliant samples from  the sample on Women Cum First that makes the Gzus Piece hook even better to the fanstastic Stone Cold Steve Austin clip at the end of the Your Old Droog collab Todo Rosado. Never Hated I Just Waited represents the Soultrap clan with its balance: funny, disgusting, thoughtful, sad, and hardcore. You might find yourself having a chorus stuck in your head and not even remark how weird it is that the hook is about bringing your gun to work like Gilbert Arenas and tucking it by your penis. If you listen to Crack and like him you just found someone you can listen to for a long time.

Stream or download Never Hated I Just Waited below:

https://chriscrack.bandcamp.com/album/never-hated-i-just-waited

Song of The Year-Whipped Cream by Ari Lennox


Song of The Year-Whipped Cream by Ari Lennox

by Dan-O

I’m impressed with Dreamville. It’s a talented roster of artists from J.I.D. to Cozz to Bas and Ari Lennox but talent is all over the place. Talent doesn’t surprise me.  Any rap label headed by an artist runs into the same problem: ‘you can be big but not bigger than me’.  J. Cole struck gold with J.I.D. and struck harder with his next album(Dicaprio 2) giving him full spotlight. It takes a real emotionally intelligent person to understand those ‘Is J.I.D. Better than Cole?’ headlines are working In your favor. It is a deeply talented roster but more impressive than that, one where all the artists are growing in different directions together. Not many labels can lay claim to that space and growth at the same time.

The new Ari Lennox album Shea Butter Baby is a masterstroke. When I recommend it to people they snap their fingers and say ‘I heard of that…’ because the title track was on the Creed II soundtrack(I feel like it featured during the sensational sex scene. TESSA THOMPSON IS THE G.O.A.T).  The album itself is brilliant because executive producer (producer or co-producer of 8 out of the 12 tracks) Elite figured out that this album shouldn’t sound hot, fresh and new. Ari Lennox needs to feel like someone you’ve spent your whole life listening to. The kind of soul that always lives in the grooves of your bones and just needs to be let out. By the third listen of the album I felt like it will be playing in the background at a BBQ for my birthday in ten years. That’s the kind of music this is, thick bass horns keyboards and lots of stage for our star to perform on.

Whipped Cream, specifically, is what resonates. Her hooks are always very specific and strange. To start the song with the hook and have the first lines be “I’ve been eatin’ whip cream, having vivid dreams of your face…” differentiates the Lennox experience while the music sounds like the definition of the genre. Shea Butter Baby is classic but it is very now. The short interludes at the end of songs speak about abusive relationships and perceptions of yourself through others eyes. She manages to be funny, sexual, and human at the same time. My favorite part of Whipped Cream is when she says, “Your deceivin’ receivin’ not givin’ head @$$.” She sings it too quickly to fully grasp then sings it again. You can hear the smirk as she mocks this ex but also the real hole that hasn’t refilled. Ari Lennox has songs about making love but none that are frivolous. Everything she sings is part of a three dimensional balance she seeks to achieve. Even as she sings about his inability to give oral pleasure she’s not venomous. She wishes she didn’t care but she does and it’s because that’s who she is. I love this song but if you listen and love it you need to do the whole album. You need to hear how happy she is to be naked and alone in her new apartment on New Apartment. You need to hear how Whipped Cream’s end feeds into the triumphant saxophone that begins Static.

#SampleSnitch-Curren$y and Jay Worthy ride with The Stylistics

#SampleSnitch-Curren$y and Jay Worthy ride with The Stylistics

by Dan-O

The Stylistics are a huge marker in whether you’re talking to a real R & B person. Anyone who has ever heard music can monologue on the importance of Stevie Wonder or Marvin Gaye. Those are pop stars. The self-titled 1971 Stylistics album is better than any single album Otis Redding ever released. It is in the upper strata of the genre but it’s not common knowledge. The group had a brief but critical run where the impressive falsetto of lead singer Russell Thompkins Jr gave us ‘People Make The World Go Round’ ‘Betcha By Golly, Wow’ ‘Break Up to Make Up’ so many chart toppers.

I’m assuming producer LNDN Drugs found Pay Back Is a Dog off 1973’s Rockin’ Roll Baby with a lot of excitement in his fingers. Wouldn’t surprise me if it was Curren$y’s idea to sample it. He’s been spitting over dope old school soul music for longer than we’ve had reality television. Either way, that sample is the spine of the lead track Payback from Jay Worthy, Curren$y, and LNDN Drugs collaborative album Umbrella Symphony.

It makes sense to sample The Stylistics whenever you can because Philly soul is a producer’s genre. Thom Bell and Kenny Gamble (who produced Pay Back Is A Dog) are amongst the best producers in any form of music. When you lift and loop you get the high notes and the vocal harmony but you also get the lush orchestration behind it. Both MC’s live for Atmosphere. Jay Worthy is coming off a collaborative album with Cardo and G Perico that was 100% slow head nod G-funk. Both Mc’s are imposingly consistent and greatly enriched by the environment Thom Bell put together in 1973 ( LNDN Drugs definitely got the drum kit working for some additional touches).

This isn’t a soulless business move where a sample gets snipped clipped and used for hits. This is three artists paying direct tribute to the groove. Making sure a new generation understands Kanye wasn’t the first genius producer and Prince wasn’t the first important male falsetto.

The original

Payback

My 5 favorite weird Wu-Tang songs

My 5 favorite weird Wu-Tang songs

by Dan-O

Showtime dropped a four part documentary series about the Wu-Tang Clan that is everything to anyone who has a place in their heart for the Staten Island pioneers. I am doing promo for it right now because it’s the last I can do for the MC’s who raised my hip hop mind. In salute to the sharpest swords of Shaolin I wanted to give you five songs from The Wu that are gloriously weird. The point of this grouping is that it is a mix of songs you likely know and ones you likely don’t.

Raekwon featuring 2 Chainz-F.I.L.A. World from Fly International Luxurious Art

When Wu dropped we stared at the cover and listened to the interlude where RZA explained each member like a superhero. Pretty quickly my pick was Raekwon. He wasn’t as bombastic as other options but I love how smooth he is and the weird ways his mind works. F.I.L.A. World is a great example. The first Wu member to rap with Outkast teams up with 2 Chainz on a KILLER Scram Jones beat that feels like it was made for Rick Ross. Everything fits because The Chef fits anywhere a mic plugs in.

Method Man featuring Raekwon-Meth vs. Chef from Tical

Never heard nothing like it. Track is set up like a street MC battle where we are the audience. Method Man spits fire directly against Raekwon verses. The fans always isolate who beat who on what track but no one ever sets it up as a direct contest on wax. The Wu-Tang are all swordsman convinced they can slice through anything so neither had any fear of losing. It’s my favorite Wu member (Rae) vs. the one I give the most guff to (Meth). That is a conversation for another time. This track is not just bonkers it is a necessary listen for anyone getting into The Wu. It shows you how different their talents are and how seriously they take it.

Old Dirty Bastard-Drunk Game (Sweet Sugar Pie) from Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version

Old Dirty was not a clown. Funny how the same kids that watch Heath Ledger as the Joker wax poetic on the brilliant madness of that character but can’t see the genius of ODB. He specifically set out to damage the basic structure of the hip hop album. In 1995, when Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version was released the format for a hip hop song was rigid. R & B was considered soft and you could get called weak for having an R & B hook. It was a reputational battle to be the hardest and that had a lot of cats pretending their way to the finish line.  Dirty declares his love of sweet soul music by singing his off beat love song in the most carefree yet sincere way he can. Yes he does a lot of laughing and yelling and making noises you’ll never hear anyone else make but he loves this genre and understands its relationship to Rap. This is the music his mom played for him and my Dad played for me. We can never lose this soul. Listening to Dirty fake orgasm and turn his grunting into an ad-lib was truly mind blowing for high school Dan. It was like the Joker setting mob money on fire.

Ghostface Killah featuring Jadakiss-Run from The Pretty Toney Album

The Pretty Toney album is a disturbingly overlooked classic. An important landmark in Def Jam’s shift to an R & B-first operation. They put it out with no publicity. Ghost was mad but Ghost is always mad, his focus draws from it. As a storyteller Run is a perfect illustration of his powers.  Most rappers would never write a song where they are running. They only paint pictures of themselves in positions of power. Not only does Ghost charge into the songs concept, he drills down into the details from the opening seconds. His opening bars on this are ” A Yo I jumped from the 8th floor step, hit the ground. The pound fell, cops is coming. Running through the pissy stairwells I ain’t hear nothing, buggin’, ” You interested in this story? Heck yeah. He’s not just scared and admitting it he’s frantic and builds the entire story in 19 seconds. Don’t get so wrapped up in the personalities the Clan has that you forget these are all genius level artistic talents. All time stuff. I didn’t even get a chance to talk about Jadakiss(‘I learned from the OG’s to save everything’ #classic) . That’s how good Ghost is.

Wu-Tang Clan -Hollow Bones from The W

RZA’s genius production is on full display here as he pulls and tugs at a Syl Johnson sample until it screams for mercy. The pain it emits gives Rae, Deck, and Ghost the perfect backdrop to stew in paranoia, threaten, and take drugs to numb the pain. I always love the Wu songs that are tortured and pained like this one. So few 90’s rappers were willing to explain their hood PTSD as in depth as the Clan (I love you Scarface). I wonder how many upper middle class white kids learned empathy for the economically disadvantaged from them? That isn’t a shot. I am so grateful hip hop was there for the Wu to bring them out of the situations they rapped about and even more grateful they could spend these decades teaching us what it was like and how they’ve grown.

 

P.S.

Fame by U-God featuring Styles P from The Keynote Speaker

Wu fans made fun of U-God. I am guilty. If you listen to Keynote Speaker from 2013…he’s not bad. We probably gave him too much hassle the way we did Sheek Louch for not being as good as Styles or Jada. He’s solid and grounded and has had some not good but GREAT verses. Every legendary crew has someone who became the “least favorite” and if you look at them individually, everything looks totally different. This is all to say I am sorry U-God.