Song of The Year-G.R.E.E.D. by Berner produced by Scott Storch

Song of The Year-G.R.E.E.D. by Berner produced by Scott Storch

by Dan-O

As a hip hop fan I feel like Berner is one of those good friends I check in with from time to time. He’s always doing well. Most of the time having a great time with a killer guest list.  No one has a network like Berner, on his new album (The Big Pescado) he gets guest features from  The Game, Conway, Devin The Dude, Too Short, Wiz Khalifa, E-40, Jeremih, Trey Songz, Ty Dolla Sign, and Snoop Dogg. Even for bay area rappers his last ten years have been pretty staggering from a productivity standpoint (go to his Wikipedia discography for confirmation).

All of Berners best traits come through on his first effort of the new year and my favorite song G.R.E.E.D. has them all firing. He’s a smoker which you will know from the first line “We smoke till were numb and we worship the sun,” a great smoker MC has the opposite personality of a struggle rapper. Berner is wild consistent, assured and relaxed. Thank you weed, that being said, he takes his bars seriously and G.R.E.E.D. being a spin off of Wu’s C.R.E.A.M. maintains the toughness.

The best thing I can say about Berner on this song is that he is so good he earns this beat. Scott Storch did not fall off. This beat takes me back to 2004 it is such a monster. The first thing I thought was “G-unit would have made 7 million dollars with this beat in 2004” but as his verses unfurl I found myself completely satisfied and remembered…oh yeah this is the same dude who put multiple collab albums in the books with B-Real and held up bar for bar. Everybody loves Berner not just because he seems like a great dude but because he’s serious with his opportunities and he took this one. I love this song.


#Bandcampgold-Ephorize by Cupcakke

#Bandcampgold-Ephorize by Cupcakke

by Dan-O

I feel terrible that I just recently learned of Cupcakke. She came through on Charli XCX Number 1 Angel project (one of my favorite albums of 2017) and cleared the field on the final track (Lipgloss). By the time of Cupcakke’s next album Charli had dropped another song with her featuring (off her album Pop 2) and my anticipation had built to a must-hear level.

Ephorize is beyond any expectations I could have imagined.  Anyone who has heard her rap knows that her flow is other worldly, she can do the flow you are used to great rappers of this era doing but she has a few gears beyond that are just staggeringly impressive. I knew I’d get that going in. I was going to get a masterful display of breath control intonation and confidence. I was also going to be diving into a world of sexual description beyond that of which I’m used to. Cupcakke brought what she knew she could do and built on top of it.

Great albums know how important it is to open and close the show. This one is a sublime example.The first track 2 Minutes opens with piano subtle enough to open an Adele single and she matches that, ending a blistering first verse with the line “I done placed so many flowers on different graves/ I tell my dates now, don’t bring a rose.” The second verse ends with an incredibly gripping call to love your own body including one of my favorite lines in the last year “my stretch marks really itch/ my hair haven’t grown an inch/ but I’m still that bitch.” The strength of character in those verses, the surprise of how sensitive and intelligent the concepts are while being roared from a rapper of monumental ability rocks you right off top. The next song is Cartoons which is an example of what I expected going in. Her breath control on this one is like watching one of the all-time great boxers hit the speedbag. It’s mesmerizing and the beat is a perfect chariot for her to ride into that (thank you Turreekk).  The chorus approaches Big Pun levels of delicate kinetic force.

Thirteen of the fifteen songs are produced by Def Starz who strike a balance between intelligent club music, post-modern rap & abandoned warehouse rave music. Def Starz are adeptly aware that the landscape needs to change with the narrator. Ephorize has 2 hardcore emotional break up songs with two very different soundscapes. Exit is about kicking your dude out because he cheats with his ex’s and the beat bounces in a Caribbean way as her anguish morphs into celebratory distaste. Single While Taken charts territory nearby in this scenario she hasn’t broken the relationship off yet they are just fighting while she hunts possibilities, ready to leapfrog to a better relationship. A tense Hitchcockian piano leads in waves of angry bass that her voice chastises over.  Songs that could have easily sounded the same are fabulously different because of the key choices made by the minds involved. So thank you Def Starz.

Lyrically I could talk about how god damn refreshing the anti-materialism work on Wisdom Teeth is or how refreshing it is to have Crayons acknowledge the closeness and importance of the Trans community and in general accepting all people’s sexuality. I should warn you that Cupcakke says sexual things I didn’t even know existed but she is not a shock MC talking fellatio for your enjoyment. On the song Spoiled Milk T*****s she asks her sexual partner if she can lick his armpit, I didn’t even know that was a thing. Duck Duck Goose is another song where she goes in depth on things I am too bashful to discuss or transcribe but I will tell you she does it with the genuine joyful energy Cypress Hill had when talking about dank. Cupcakke is joyously exploring sex without any shame culling all negative participants along the way.  That is why, to come back to the shape of great albums, the last song has to be Fullest where she kicks the celebration to ten. It is a bass heavy Spanish infused beat she blacks out over clinking glasses to the incredible lyrical gifts she has, the motivating possibilities her life holds now. The album is a journey and the first truly great one of 2018. Someone had to set the bar.

Stream and buy below:

Sample Snitch-Chaka Khan, Simply Red, 8ball, & MJG


Sample Snitch-Chaka Khan, Simply Red, 8ball, & MJG

by Dan-O

So UGK dropped their first album Too Hard To Swallow in 1992 stacked with old soul samples. The sample listing includes Curtis Mayfield, Bill Withers, and the Isley Brothers. I’ve already written a previous Sample Snitch about the Isley connection with UGK. A year later in 1993 8ball & MJG drop one of the scariest debut albums in the history of the genre (Comin’ Out Hard) and on the title track they sample Rufus & Chaka Khan’s Stay along with Simply Red’s Holding Back The Years.

The juxtaposition of smash mouth street content over warm lush soul would come to define Southern Rap. This is the creation of riding music made to bump in Cadillac’s not headphones or dancefloors. At the time the “average” hip hop fan was so used to the east coast brusque tough guy shouting street cred that this was all new. The smooth foundation of Simply Red topped with the brilliant sample of Chaka Khan for the chorus was shaken and altered by 8ball saying things like:

” I gotta come out hard as hell just like the life I lead

Cool, feed on the next brotha’s greed

J-Smooth cuttin’ up, lil’ Hank gettin’ buck

Killers be shootin’ up suckas with no guts

I’m scoping big butts, looking for the payoff

Living like a pimpster, taking everyday off

Riding through the hood with my homies gettin’ smoked out

Fall up in the mall, on a ho stroll, loked out

Cool, calm and collective, comin’ out hard”

He was feeding on greed watching killers shoot people while remaining cool, calm and collective…how? It was a different environment and mentality from the one listeners understood.  The imagery portrayed is still genuinely horrifying. On the song Pimps 8ball has a verse where he gives lessons on pimping and one is

“Lesson three

If you don’t tell dat ho who is boss

Bitchs like to run shit

But end up getting smacked in the mouth

See a real nigga believe in beatin them hoes down

Push they head into the wall until you hear dat crackin sound”

His intonation is so serious and sinister in its joy as he says it that the verse never leaves you. It teaches you a horrible truth about the world that we all need to work to change. It speaks the terror hidden from some neighborhoods. That song samples Love T.K.O. by Linda & Cecil Womack( they went by Womack & Womack).  8ball & MJG made gangsta rap just as ugly or brutal as anyone in history but the sugar of soul and funk (Rufus for example had all songs written by the keyboardist, bassist and drummer so they naturally made songs perfect for hip hop sampling.) made it go down differently. While people were having congressional hearings about Dr. Dre & Ice Cube, Old Dirty, Wu-Tang Clan…Southern Rap wasn’t really in the conversation. Maybe it wasn’t big enough sales wise, maybe the samples made it taste less threatening than it was. Either way, Comin’ Out Hard is the core of a method we still find today.

Rufus featuring Chaka Khan Stay off the album Street Player

Simply Red Holding Back The Years off the album Picture Book

Comin’ Out Hard by 8ball & MJG brings it all together

#Bandcampgold-MacGregor Park by Fat Tony

#Bandcampgold-MacGregor Park by Fat Tony

by Dan-O

The bandcamp description says Fat Tony read a book on Houston hip hop and found out that the first rap single ever released in Houston was called MacGregor Park, which is where the title track and name of this album come from.

The resulting eight track project is one of my favorite finds of the year (as well as one of Bandcamp’s top 20 hip hop albums of 2017). Every beat slams in the way you would hope a Houston, Texas rap album would but in a really developed way. I love the wind instruments on Ride Home, the pounding bass on Swervin’ (a stupendous first track).

Tony is a no stress listen as master of ceremonies go.  Even when he goes deep he never makes you grab the tissue box for a ham handed tearjerker. He nimbly and honestly discusses fights, food, weed and heavier topics with an earnest pitch in his voice and his pen “..swervin’ alone again back in the day, had no idea of who I really am back in the day made decisions I regretted then lie to your face, blame it all on another man I’m sorry ok…(Swervin’) ” Later when he says “you love me and my flaws I don’t even know why” he’s not sticking the landing of a backpacker line meant to signify how thoughtful he is, rather keeping his music representative of how he feels. While Taydex ,for the first 2 tracks, keeps the beats head nod centric.

I can’t tell you how much I love the Whataburger dedication Drive Thru. Part of this is that I lived in Killeen, TX for a year and now I live in Maine where the fast food options are to be pitied. I kind of miss 4 AM at Whataburger but the dedication Tony has to the song brings it back. Very few rappers are doubling their vocals to shout “Baked Potato!” God bless him for that. We should all shout baked potato more.

The other production force doing great work here is GLDN_EYE who produces the title track, Drive Thru, and Last Night. I don’t know if weird beats come to Tony or if Tony beckons them but GLDN_EYE gets it. Last Night sounds like old Nintendo theme music made into a reggae beat. The beat to Drive Thru sounds like the score for the movie Scarface done by Houston rap legend (my G.O.A.T.) Scarface.

What makes MacGregor Park so relistenable? It is expertly dexterous. The beats are so drastically different not just from what is on the radio but from one another that as an 8 song package it never gets boring to listen to. Tony is hooky melodic and utilizes his voice for as much singing as we are all comfortable with. He has fun, gets serious, gets scary (the park gets scary see the title track) but you always root for him to win. You get the impression that when he does really win he’ll still be eating Whataburger in first class.

Stream or purchase MacGregor Park below:

Song of the year-Desires by Garren Sean

Song of the year-Desires by Garren Sean

by Dan-O

I reap full benefits from the internet. As many are running hands through hair yelling “THIS IS TOO MUCH MUSIC! What do I listen to?!” I am sticking both of my hands as deep as I can in it and grabbing all I can find.  All the publications that I check recommend very different things but the best album that no one is talking about in 2017 is Garren LP by Garren Sean.

He is a Grammy winning producer for Coloring Book (according to Wiki he did Smoke Break w/ Future). Garren is a singer songwriter as well but boy does he produce. The sound of Garren LP is D’Angelo’s Black Messiah album pulled through the finest bay area slap vortex. Amazing basslines and heavy synthetic touches but he pumps in authentic guitar work and instrumentation throughout to broaden the universe.  His hooks are catchy without being intrusive or delicate with the correct understanding of where the song breaks and resumes.

It is a perfect 2017 album in that it doesn’t sound self-released at all. You will hear the burbling waves of Desire and lose your mind or drop your jaw at the construction of Preach with its profound horns and google Garren Sean…good luck. This dude doesn’t have a Wikipedia page.  Don’t let stuff like this overwhelm you, this is what is great about it. Every first click is a new opportunity to love something grown out of the mind of someone you’ve never heard of. The big names are only bigger because of the machine that puts them on your desk (and sometimes the talent). Remember that every big name has their own dungeon family of incredible minds waiting to put out their own content. Garren LP feels like Witchdoctor’s album from the 90’s. Amazing and somehow…overlooked.

Mixtape Review(Mashup edition)-American Godfather by Jay-Z & DJ Skee

Mixtape Review (Mashup edition)-American Godfather by Jay-Z & DJ Skee

by Dan-O

It bothers me that the mixtape revolution which gave us hip hop in its modern form is hard to find traces of. You can still scour datpiff archives but when I throw “Kush and OJ” through my Amazon unlimited search bar it comes back with nothing related to Wiz Khalifa (I have not checked Itunes but Google Play didn’t have it either). The advancements in hip hop mixtapes that caused a need for Freemusicempire came on the backs of brilliant artists who will never end up in anyone’s top five (not because of lack of talent but because they aren’t in the public eye outside of the hip hop base). So I went through my external hard drive for anything with DJ and excitedly came back with DJ Skee’s American Godfather mashup.

2007 wasn’t just important for mixtapes it was important for Jay-z. American Gangster really is the dividing line between two eras. it is the last album by Dopeboy Jay. The album that followed was 2009’s Blueprint 3 which is underrated (in my opinion) but it is  Celebrity Jay on the mic.  His frame of reference was no longer what it was for Blueprint 1. American Gangster has three guest features while Blueprint 3 has TWELVE (Blueprint 1 had one guest and you know who it was). The Jay of 2007 was the same MC spawning new album versions of everything he dropped (example: Grey album & Red album variations of The Black Album) his bars albums charted with the best production and crazy videos at the height of the ROC rosters depth in terms of lyricists beat makers and raw corporate muscle but the mixtape circuit hungered for every written line. Verses felt like commandments.

American Godfather is the single greatest example of that time period in mixtapes. As a piece of classical music The Godfather soundtrack is perfect for incorporation into the hip hop sound. The horn section, the strings all move with a savy Italian grace that had to resemble nostalgia for an era long gone while conveying the shock and loss violence brings. That mournful whimsy in the orchestra sewn into the background adds even more majesty to Jay’s declarations to do it any way he can while taking in the savagery of the dealer landscape. It highlights what he misses by closing himself off emotionally. Since the original soundtrack tells the story of a good man becoming a calculating criminal leader the combination makes a lot of sense.

Listen to Pray go from pristine to gritty until the two mix. That song is a great example of what Skee brings to the table. Listen to the original Pray…he didn’t just weave in clips from The Godfather movie and sample the string section. The bassline on the American Godfather version of Pray is four times as strong.  He not only made it gorgeous with wind instruments but at the same time made it a dirtier head knocker and defiantly hip hop by dropping the beat in as savagely as he could. He made the song better.

The reverence for Jay that I referenced earlier is quite real on this mashup. The “every couplet could be a Tee Shirt” Jay-z pen game is so strong that Skee makes the decision to leave I Know absolutely naked. If you just listen to the story of it unfold in the specific detailed metaphors it signifies a real high point in the characterization within his writing. The only way to get you to focus on that is to rip the Neptunes signature sound out of the song and force you to follow the narrator;  leave you the reverberation of his voice saying “shoppin’s like coppin’ you constantly need it.” Jay is humane enough to paint tragedy onto every participant in the dealerscape because he has empathy for everyone involved. The game eats at him in ways other dealer-rappers never thought of. Jay is at his best when he is on a high level of physical real world details and emotional details at the same time.

Roc Boys being left nude for the world is even more off-putting. That song always functioned as the catchiest party song, the high point single reveling in the fun times of the dealer tale before the falling action.  By pulling out Diddy and the gang on production he leaves it ringing as a hollow moment of celebration that comes off more as a chant the main character is trying to believe but fears the finitude of.

Skee ripped the sample right out of Ignorant Shit and put guitars behind the Black Republicans beat (off Nas- Hip Hop Is Dead because mixtapes have no rules. Black Republicans is a better beat so bring it in.)  DJ Skee like Green Lantern and Don Cannon (Cannon’s redo of Drake’s first album is so much better than Drake’s first album. I didn’t even like Drake before I heard Cannon’s version) had a ceaseless desire to optimize every second of every song.  If you listen to American Godfather in the hopes of hearing everything in the Godfather soundtrack incorporated into Jay’s American Gangster album you messed up. He absolutely turns Success a thousand times better with The Godfather Waltz which binds the venomous distaste of Jay’s verse with the omniscience of Nas. The waltz creates an emotional spectrum that binds those very different emotional places but this isn’t a straight up slap together mixtape (which we see a lot of). Skee makes choices for the better of the project as if he were truly in charge with no red tape in front of him. As if the original album was raw material and he was The Dust Brothers on Paul’s Boutique freakin’ it however he saw fit.

Nino Rota couldn’t have imagined that the thickness and grandeur of his soundtrack would be clipped and repurposed in such a staggering way (even without the movie the soundtrack is an incredible listen). No one will ever convince me that a better version of Fallin’ exists than the one with Nino’s Sicilian Pastorale dialed into the beat making it sharper and meaner and more fun to listen to. It is so epic in the scale of its self-destruction. I think the beginning of The Godfather Finale is what was used for Sweet and it’s another great idea fully realized along with rearranging the order to place Sweet after Fallin’. American Godfather is born from a careful caring vision that guides it.

In 2007 when these kind of well worked visions were available for free I always wondered how many of these Livemixtape gems got to Jay. Did he hear The Billprint or American Godfather?  I never pondered if he would like them. I always hoped someone put it on for him so he could enjoy it. I knew he would love it and be proud of his influence on it.  Jay always thought about what his music would be like if he had been less commercial, he had more than a secret love for Kool G Rap and all the dark regions of hip hop far less flossy and flamboyant than he always was.  How incredible is it that his mark stretches so far people did their best work remaking his music? In my mind Hova hears the shifting going on in Blue Magic as the sample is incorporated and shakes his head like “that was the missing element,”  he heard the title track and got all scrunch faced, bobbing his head, taking nothing away from Just Blaze but DAMN those violins are sharp!

I am not one of these dudes who will write this paragraph about why Skee should have had a larger profile, gotten a bigger chance with bigger artists. Would Skee have given Ross some dope beats? Sure. Art is not sports. What you do is what you achieve; the Grammys is NOT the superbowl.  I love that hip hop has legend levels and if you’re on the bunny slopes you didn’t recognize WC holding the uzi in Friday. You’ve never heard Del Tha Funkee Homosapien rap about bad hygiene.  Whenever a popular rapper does a commercial someone says to me “Isn’t it terrible what they are doing to hip hop?!” and I smile.  That is the hot take from the bunny slopes and I get it. Consumerism has done a number on so much of our art and entertainment but not hip hop.  They don’t know how many levels we have that are protected by how much you care to know it, how much of your time you want to spend following it. Our firewalls can be cracked but pack a lunch.

To be clear this is not a mixtape of its time. It is not something you needed to have been there in the culture of its release to enjoy. This is something you could send to Danny Brown or Yachty or Uzi Vert and they would get it. They would bang their head like you will upon listening. The answer to “who did this?!” is in the same madman who played Ray Manzarek to Game’s post G-Unit Jim Morrison and gave him the canvas to paint all his malevolence on. He was there for Glasses Malone, Crooked I, Bishop Lamont and so many serious West Coast rappers best mixtape.  A solid gold first ballot mixtape hall of famer whose ad-lib created waves of relief for me and American Godfather is important to him. It would have had to be, to be done with this much care. To go seventeen tracks deep instead of a tight nine or ten. It’s careful in its construction and spiritually connected to the work of the original which is how it never seems weird that it is incorporating two movies into the world of a rap album.

I am not making the case that things were better in the era where mixtapes became more than freestyles. I never wanted to see the mixtape take the place of the album (I always liked the street clothes v. business clothes difference). I loved that mixtapes were a playground for everyone involved. Any idea that was off the marketable path, an image gamble, or outside the budget could be explored. Never anticipated that the label as we knew it would die and be washed away and the mixtape would be the only remaining path. The era of forced independence has made me look back on the formative content. Boy am I glad we built a second house before the first one washed out.

Stream or download American Godfather below:


Song Review-Figure It Out by Wiz Khalifa produced by Sledgren & Cookin’ Soul

Song Review-Figure It Out by Wiz Khalifa produced by Sledgren & Cookin’ Soul

by Dan-O

I love Wiz Khalifa’s first album Show and Prove released in 2006. He was a 19 year old kid spitting fire and I loved his bars. It was not always an easy process watching him become this generations Snoop. By Kush and OJ I’d figured it out like everyone else but I still miss hungry Pittsburgh Sound Khalifa.

It might be weird to write about him now, a lot of important critics have probably pronounced his latest album Laugh Now, Fly Later another Khalifa album to ignore. I like it. It is the first post-monoculture Khalifa album. Laugh Now, Fly Later accepts that the spotlight he was trying to get back isn’t even there anymore. At this point he just needs to do what Curren$y does and focus on keeping his fans laced; the rest is what it is.

Songs like Stay Focused and City of Steel are back in any fans comfort zone. My favorite of all is Figure It Out. I am a documented Cookin’ Soul nut (don’t sleep on Sledgren either).  This beat feels like a Caribbean beach. Not only is Wiz in Rolling Papers form when singing the chorus, but it’s about something. The chorus is


“Sometimes things ain’t gon work out
How you think you want it to go
Sometimes you gotta keep going
When you think you can’t no more
Sometimes you can’t depend on
Who you think you can no more
Sometimes you gotta try, gotta try and
Figure it out”

He masters the tone of determined faith and energy while maintaining a meditative level of chill. You can hear him getting mad at people trying to derail him and letting go of that anger. Lyrically you can see it in the end of the second verse. “Goals, set em, achieve em/ Joints smoke em and leave em/ Ten toes, no matter the season/ Hot tub with my feet in/ Living comfortably cheesing.”  Figure It Out is the Wiz we need.  Every generation needs it’s Snoop; someone to buck the traditional RA-RA chest beating cadence and give you something to ride the speed limit to. For Wiz he’s at his best when he can give you the mood and some verses that mean something to him. I hope he’s building to that place and he can give us his own variation on Blue Carpet Treatment.