Mac Miller- Best Day Ever

I pressed the play button and clutched the little speaker stand in my right hand. The volume is almost as loud as it can be, any louder and the bass makes a terrible popcorn popping sound. I looked right over at her face as she was driving, a simple head nod just to acknowledge that music was playing. Then it hit its peak, the dumb techno background led into its second and best chorus “I don’t…think they want…to interrupt my party…please don’t interrupt my party…we just tryna find somebody for the night.” He hits it once and then again and I lay the speakers in my lap and flail my arms like it’s a two person party. She was mouthing every lyric like they were etched in history and swinging her shoulders, pursing her lips. After the song, “Wake Up” concluded I asked her directly, “I didn’t think you liked Mac Miller?”

She shrugged “I don’t.”

“You were singing along.”

She didn’t even stifle herself by thinking about it as a contradiction.

“Just because I sing along doesn’t mean I like it. I sing along to all kinds of stuff I hate.”

That’s the story of Best Day Ever, the newest mixtape from Mac Miller. After the release of last year’s K.I.D.S., he got a lot of publicity ultimately leading him to be named as one of the 2011 XXL Freshman class. Not bad for a goofy 19 year old kid from Pittsburg. Despite how young he is, he still gets criticized a lot for immature content. What were you writing/rapping about at his age?

Even though I don’t agree with holding eighteen and nineteen your olds against Rakim and Melle Mel for content, Mac does have an introspection issue. His flow is agile, and he’s able to move words in interesting ways, but it’s never really to any particular end. “I’ll be There” is his only real attempt at introspection on Best Day, and it’s a pretty paint by numbers mother tribute, fully equipped with a squeamishly sweet chorus from Phonte. The song sticks out like a sore thumb amidst the fun party tracks, and it feels like something he was obligated to do.

The other problem with this is that the beats are mostly handled by ID Labs who does a lot of the Taylor Gang/Wiz Khalifa sound, and they gave Mac a pretty annoying bunch of techno-oriented beats. The same kind of beats that play in clubs and make me point up at the speakers and say “That’s really somebody’s job?”

His high moments are still fantastic though. Songs like “In The Air”, “Donald Trump”, and the old school “Play Ya Cards” showcase his dexterous flow, and fun, smart wordplay. Still,  a lack of content puts him in an awkward position. Great lyrics can save a bad beat but good lyrics can’t. So as a listener we either need better Mac Miller, or better production. For now this is junk food Hip-Hop that you know isn’t doing anything for you but you can enjoy the moment for what it is.

The resolution may be coming in the future as rumors have it that DJ Jazzy Jeff is doing a full length project with Mac. Sounds like a pairing that could solve each of their problems. Mac would work well in front of some of DJ Jazzy Jeff’s fun, old school Juvenilia bounce. Even though there is some definite room for improvement on Best Day Ever I still recommend downloading it. But only after listening to K.I.D.S. – so you can be as naturally underwhelmed and hooked as the rest of his fans are.

You can download Mac Miller Mixtapes here

http://www.freshmacmiller.com/mixtape/ 

-Dan O.

Pac Div – Mania

Regions erect icons so large that they leer and oppress the younger generation. Every new rap artist in Atlanta is held against Andre 3000, while New York rappers do their best to imitate Jay-z right down to his ad-libs. This is the reason that The Game lost his mind and killed more fictional people on his LAX then Rambo. He wants to be Cube, Mack 10, and Ice-T – or at least stand next to them.

Pac Div doesn’t care about all of that, a trait that might be the most vital in crafting good music. Make the music that you like without any pretense. Pretentious reviewers will marvel at your originality because of this. Pac Div are just three guys who have known each other since High School cranking out fun music. The problem is that sometimes it’s stupid. Their single, “Mayor” from the Church League Champions mixtape gets a lot of MTV Jams play, and rightfully deserves to be mixed in the endless loop of Gucci Mane and Waka Flocka videos. Pac Div make music that is funny to them, but sometimes it’s funny only for them.

Mania does not fall into this category. They make earwig music for you to repeat over and over again while pumping your fist until your loved ones hate you. Creative sampling is part of the equation, and unfathomably catchy choruses are mandatory, but Don Cannon needs to be credited here as well. In the last year or so, he has touched some pretty fantastic projects (most notably Flordian punchline rapper Laws.) The Cannon approved sound is marked by trunk rattling bass, and tracks like “Anti-Freeze”, “SuperNegroes” and “Your Fucking Song” are evidence of this but it’s not a complete description. You can see the makings of “Pharcydian” lyrical teamwork and sound/lyrical diversity in these songs like “Fallin’” for instance. Weed songs like “Take Me High” flow into the deeper, reflective stuff like “Nobody’s Perfect” and create a thumping smoked out party atmosphere that is fun and rough enough around the edges to smell like LA smog. This is more for your car than for the club.

If you think new Lupe Fiasco albums change the world, this mixtape will most likely offend you. If you think Common is the best rapper to ever live, Mania may not be worth the download. I don’t have to defend lines like “pussy as good as peach cobbler” from the “Chief Rocka Freestyle”. I just laugh: it’s a joke and it’s funny. “So we in church/ and it’s the part of the service/ where the old lady speakin’ I’m already thinkin’/ about what’s poppin’ next weekend.” This line from “Saved” explains Pac Div fairly well; these are young, talented, impulsive kids who have a hard time sitting through the spiritual without diluting it through humor. They don’t pray to icons or wait for co-signs.

Every song on Mania rattles and thumps with the precision of great mixing, sharp drum kicks, and deep overwhelming production we normally associate with less lyrical emcees who need the assistance. These three can surf the beat perfectly and cleverly while making everyone wish they had made the beat. It’s so good that the repeated Cannon DJ drops can be excused.

Download this and bang your head and laugh. If you are the type who can let hip hop be fun.

you can download Mania here

http://pacdivdaily.com/mixtapes/mania-2011/ 

-Dan O.

Fabolous- The S.O.U.L Tape

Fabolous has always been two rappers, really. A snarling, battle rapper lacking the ability to say “No” to marketing execs, his discography has ended up as a schizophrenic collection of Street Rap put downs, and syrupy songs “for the ladies”. The romantic side of Fab has always been a matter of contention to Hip Hop fans.  Songs “for the ladies” are rarely successful when you actually try to make a good song, but Fab always seemed to call it in when he’s done them.  The talent was always there, but it always seemed that he was holding back the acidity on his actual albums in an effort to push product. Even if “Breathe” was the best album track he has done, it has only been on no holds barred mixtapes that he could really let loose and push that snide bitterness to the forefront.

Unlike Fab’s last mixtape, the satisfying No Competition 2, he attempts to consolidate his two sides on S.O.U.L. Tape– creating a messy combination of love songs, and boastful raps atop a soundbed of soul samples. Unfortunately, The S.O.U.L. Tape is saved from being a complete failure by only a handful of tracks.  Using fewer punch lines than he has in the past, Fab instead sticks to more conceptual disses and personal narratives. On “Wolves in Sheep Clothing” he addresses fake ballers and gangsters brilliantly- (“First of All Ben Franklin was never elected/ that means them and big bills have never connected.”)  And On “Pain” he gives his mission statement to the listener over a Tupac sample.  His similes and internal rhyme structure are strong as he attempts to explain his musical career choices- (“As an artist I’m just tryin to paint the perfect picture/ But see what waiting for somebody that’s perfect gets ya/ that usually leads to nothin’- like virgin kisses.”) and the one lady song that does work, the amusing “In The Morning” sees lecherous charmer Fab attempting to convince his girl to have morning sex with him.

Other tracks don’t fare as well with this long form approach to verses. Fab is never bad on The SOUL Tape, but much of the rapping is merely adequate, focusing on more travelled lyrical territory. The AZ borrowing “Mo Brooklyn, Mo Harlem, Mo Southside” isn’t really memorable because of Fab or a competent verse from Vado, but a fantastically atmospheric beat, and a feature from the now vindicated G-Unit member, Lloyd Banks., Even after a few listens, the rest of the tape passes by you, the beats and verses hazy, never quite sticking. And when they do stick, it’s not because of good decisions. The final track, for instance, starts off pretty well, but after Fab’s first verse, R. Kelly understudy Ne-Yo douches the track with the most jarring R&B hook I’ve heard in a long time. Taking us back to 2005 in his Bullshit time machine, his cloying, mediocre “soul bearing” hook mares any good that Fab contributes. It is mind bogglingly poor production choices like this that ruin the S.O.U.L. Tape’s worst tracks.

Recycled beats and poor R&B features aside, you can’t really be mad at Fabolous for trying. As a rapper, it must be difficult for people to talk about you as if you are good only when you aren’t trying to make money. If this tape is any indication, maybe all of the drippy love songs Fab made in the past weren’t commissioned, but because he thought they worked. Thankfully, though, even if he does think sap works on wax, he’s still got infinite punch lines to rely on for the next tape.  There are some definite gems to be found on S.O.U.L, but as a whole it doesn’t really work. It begs for a No Competition 3.

you can listen or download The S.O.U.L Tape here

http://www.datpiff.com/Fabolous-The-Soul-Tape-mixtape.220063.html

– D.L.

Juicy J & Lex Lugar- Rubba Band Business Vol 2.

On paper, Juicy J working with Lex Lugar doesn’t really come as a surprise.  In Lugar’s minimal, sometimes eerie, always bass heavy beats, it’s easy to hear Juicy J’s influence. The cheap lumbering monsters that Juicy J & DJ Paul created in their heyday were less aggressive and slower, but that same sense of intense menace is very much present in Lugar’s work.  It was surprising then, that Juicy J stumbled quite a bit on their first collaboration, Rubba Band Business Vol 1.  That tape saw Juicy J attempting to consolidate himself into Lugar’s faster, more “anthemic” monolith and there were many times where he was simply swallowed by the beats, nowhere to be heard in the din of 808 drum patterns and junk store synthesizers. On Vol 2; however, Juicy J seems to have found his way and is able to maneuver Lugar’s uniformly truck thumpers with relative ease.

Juicy J is 38 years old; He’s been in the game for close to 2 decades. Whether it was creating creeping blob like trunk knockers with heralded goon rap squad Three Six Mafia, rapping about the basics:  women, murder, and drug dealing, or moving into mansions on MTV while accepting Oscars in a bombastic form, It’s really been a weird journey for this southern rapper.  Now, he sounds like a man, approaching middle age, stuck in the inertia of a never ending party. And, as much as some of the tracks get you moving: It’s depressing as fuck.

“You say no to drugs! Juicy J can’t!” is declared at the start of the very infectious “A Zip and a Double Cup”. You get the feeling that he’s actually serious. This isn’t someone who really wants to hang out with women half his age hoping for a quick lay, but it’s all he really knows.  He can say “fuck my liver/ fuck my lungs,” but there’s a weary quality to his voice; he may be fronting this nihilistic attitude, but at this point it really doesn’t sound like “fuck it!” but “I can’t stop it!”. Juicy J sounds most excited and most energized when he’s detailing his most vicious exploits.  When he’s proclaiming that he will leave your house with only its frame, or when he’s chiding a mother for grieving for her child because “it was just business”, he loses that tired cadence in his voice. I don’t really know if that’s sadder or scarier, but honestly, I’d rather listen to him proclaiming himself to be King Kong, than to hear him sadly tell me that he still goes to Sorority house parties.

Juicy J himself performs as competently as could be expected of him. He’s certainly always been a better producer than a rapper, but here are not many complaints to be found. There are some definite highs on this tape, often provided by features. LA stoner rap genius Curren$y delivers brilliantly on the otherwise unfortunate “Paid For Bitch I Own You” where he compares girls he meets to solid gold dancers and declares his reefer to be “Strain Andromeda.” On stand out track “Pills, Weed & Pussy”, a show stealing Project Pat delivers the strongest chorus of the tape thanks to his one dimensional, but always fun delivery, (God bless the way this man pronounces “cigar”) while Don Trip provides a mediocre verse but a nice chorus about cracking skulls in the club

Diehard fans of both Lugar and Juicy J will definitely want to listen to Rubba Band Buisness Vol 2, but like most Trappaholics tapes the fundamental flaw of Vol 2 is it’s far too much and it lacks variety. Juicy J sticks to surface level rapping that usually stays in obscene territories. And while Lugar’s beats are not necessarily stale, they are pretty much the same in form. There are a few more laid back tracks that aren’t produced by him (No ID, Big Germ, and even Juicy J all have their go), but they aren’t interesting enough to break up the flow of steady Lugar bangers. Rubba Band Business Vol 2 may ultimately lack playability in its entirety. There are a handful of tracks that deserve to be dusted off and played again, but as entity, it’s probably not something anyone will be banging front to back in 6 months.

You can listen or download Rubba Band Business vol 2 here

http://www.datpiff.com/Juicy-J-Lex-Luger-Rubba-Band-Business-2-mixtape.226614.html

 

-D.L.

Pusha T- Fear of God

The Clipse have focused on drug metaphors the way TMZ.com focus on celebrity mishaps. It’s what made them: each track functioned as a one-two punch. Pusha T would startle everyone with unexpectedly callous rhymes so focused on the hustle that he had stripped the humanity from them, before Malice came in to color in a bit of sensitivity. Nothing forced, but just a hint of it here and there to let the listener know that moral conflict does exist for them within these deep drug dealer tales. Not even they could predict they would spawn a genre of Jeezys and Rosses all selling fictional white in fictional worlds on wax. Because of his persona,  I was interested to see how Pusha T signing to Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music was going to work. Pusha was always most comfortable when he’s as deeply steeped in drug metaphors as he can be. It’s not going to make sense for Pusha to jump on one of Kanye’s super emotional break up songs. Pusha has to evolve.

On Pusha T’s new mixtape Fear of God he not only performs his role in The Clipse, but Malice’s as well. On the surface it’s him putting “the fear of god” into others MCs who wait for him to spit so they can cop more style but it’s also about his fear of change, fear of failing, fear of being without Malice for the first time. To be honest, this isn’t a mixtape that was produced and intended to live as a “classic”; but it’s an exercise to mark his subtle transition from Coke music to GOOD music. Artists who are trying to craft originally produced mixtapes good enough to be albums are often times unsigned. For an established artist like Pusha T, there is no reason to blow all of your best material on a mixtape.

Experimentation means you understand missteps. None here stick out worse than “Touch It Which” features a horrible Kanye chorus where he whispers “Just touch it, touch it, touch it, touch it, kiss it kiss it.” It’s creepy, gross, and the rhymes are a lame series of sex jokes (“Beat it like Billie Jean”). The beat is repetitive and if it wasn’t so annoying, it would be forgettable. But its songs like “I Just Wanna” with Rick Ross and Ab-Liva where he is most in his element. Lines like “You know what fame is?/Sitting with the girl of your dreams and forgetting what her name is.” Only Pusha would dare to write that.

On freestyles like “Can I Live” and “Cook It Down” (a reworking of “Put It Down”) he exhibits the raw natural mastery of style and flow that we expect from him. The shocking lines are satisfying and in abundance. The G.O.O.D. music stamp; unfortunately, is not just limited to “Touch It”. “Feeling Myself” is similarly annoying, with Kevin Cossum doing an autotuned chorus that the world could have done without. Pusha never even spent that much time developing standard braggadocio. He was much more interested in portraying himself as post-insanity Scarface, while most that took his blueprint to paint their portraits more favorably. On tracks like “Feeling Myself” he stretches out, learning how to floss in the more traditional sense.

The most exciting song for me and one of my favorites from anyone this year is “Alone in Vegas”. It’s a slow thumping, head nodder from boom bap producer Nottz, where Pusha T switches from Scarface to Sam Rothstein alone in Vegas, sadly remembering street money  and half-heartedly acting as if he misses those days. “We just took what we needed and we built on it/ Lord forgive me for the blood that I’ve spilt on it.” It’s a slow serenade where he isn’t asking us to understand. It’s a slowly rolling moment of reflection that gives way to a rambling outro. On moments like these when he’s forced to deliver by himself he finds a deeper level of talent than any of us knew he had. That’s what makes mixtapes like these important. When the album drops and everyone’s talking about it you can say: “I saw it coming on Fear of God.”

you can download Fear of God here

http://pusha-t.com/2011/03/21/fear-of-god/

– Dan O.

Curren$y & Alchemist- Covert Coup

Every track on Curren$y’s new mixtape Covert Coup starts with short tight samples looped into deep, dark, sneaky music. It’s the same kind of beat that Alchemist has thrown behind hard as nails rappers like Mobb Deep for years. This time, though, it’s not Prodigy’s anti-flow of pain and fearlessness that barks over the backdrop; it’s a smug, loose, New Orleans drawl that doesn’t gently tip toe over the beat. It’s the voice of someone with no time to waste who rips bar after bar; images clever enough to match the fragmented beauty of the beat. He just goes for maybe two and a half minutes or so, and then stops, no hook. The songs are named after either his or Alchemist’s favorite line from the track (“Success is my Cologne”, “Scottie Pippens”, “Double 07”) and then he just lets the beat play.  If you listen closely, you can hear him underneath it all. He’s not rapping, he’s just mumbling- maybe chanting way behind the music…Jet Life, Jet Life…Jet Life, Jet Life. It doesn’t feel like a creative ad-lib that he is stamping the song with. It feels somehow like the focal point of his artistic presence.  An artist so centered in who he is that this skill, this achievement of a track is just…Jet Life.

Being both a fan of Alchemist and Curren$y, I was very skeptical as to how this would work. . The fear was that with Alchemist these tracks would be so muted they would bore the most devoted listener. A rapper this fearlessly Southern in not just content, but intonation over a producer who makes a very specifically grungy and stark East Coast, dirty Timbaland boots music can sound like two things that shouldn’t be in the same room. The result, happily, is the opposite. Alchemist proves that he can make his sound work for any really skilled artist and Curren$y proves that he leads the song no matter who is producing it. A lot of credit has to go to an artist like Curren$y who works with great producers and proves that he has a good ear for his own sound. He knows better than I do when he’s not taking a risk at all.

Covert Coup is offered as a free EP, but it’s not. Both Alchemist and Curren$y create a ton of music. Alchemist is not only handing out tracks for everyone’s album, but puts out his own records quite regularly. Unlike other producers that do this; however, his quality rarely slips. Curren$y put out two albums last year (Pilot talk 1 and 2) and another mixtape, Return to The Winner’s Circle, this year. Covert Coup is ten tracks deep, which could easily be considered an album, but for artists as proficient as these two it feels short. Calling it an EP acknowledges that they probably could have done ten more.

“Full Metal” is probably the most devastating track in terms of smashing you with mind-bending bass and completely unique content. Curren$y opens with “Ugh, I call my brother sun cause he shine like/ noon time, Alaska on the turnpike/maneuvering my GT5, my nerves is ice.” The imagery is completely his own; I have never heard any rap artist lyrically talk about the way the sun looks at noon in Alaska. It’s not deep or spiritual but it’s a fresh image that paints a picture of a thoughtful person even while layering Braggadocio.

All of the features are impressive.  Fiend, who is beginning to sound like Rock from Heltah Skeltah, is especially notable; but no one comes close to Freddie Gibbs who has one of those magical moments where he feels like the future of Hip Hop. His speed rap alliterative stripped down gangster persona fits perfectly over Alchemist’s grimy murk.  But even as Gibbs has his moment, you can almost see Curren$y nodding his head in the background unworried. His verse on the track works in Cobra from GI JOE and Cobra Kai the villainous organization from Karate Kid. He’s playful while being somber, and so when he throws control of the track to Gibbs, it’s because he’s the closer but everyone fits. He is never outshined; no one is ever more interesting.

Nothing is more re-listenable than Covert Coup. No beat will hook you like “Ventilation” Or “Full Metal”. A thousand different lines will stick sideways in your consciousness. Download this tape, so you can imagine me with headphones waiting for the bus and muttering Jet Life over and over again.

You can download Covert Coup here

http://covertcoup.currensyspitta.com/   (they email you a link)

-Dan O.

Elzhi’s- Elmatic

Nostalgia is a tricky thing. While it can be used as a reference point by artists to extend and offer their own ideas, it can also it can be a leaning post for lazy artists attempting to piggy back our collective consciousness for chance to be noticed.  It takes a lot of hard work to actually create something artistically worthwhile that is steeped in familiar material.

In a shout out on Slum Village alumni Elzhi’s reimaging of Illmatic, Detroit legend Houseshoes heralds the project. He says that it makes sense the Elzhi has recreated Illmatic, and… he’s kind of right.  Elzhi sounds a little like Nas during that time period, and while Nas may have been one of the first purveyors of Alternative hip hop during a time when Hardcore was king, Elzhi has been one of the few artists competently carrying the torch that Nas helped light. But even if Elzhi is the most reasonable choice for this task, the “cover album” is a relatively new thing in Hip-Hop. Beck can recreate a classic rock album and no one will flinch, but once you start to rebuild a classic Hip-Hop album, maybe THE classic Hip- Hop album, it’s easy to fail: even harder to prove that you aren’t style biting.

Thankfully, Elzhi avoids these trappings effectively. By using a live band to recreate the beats, and using the original material as more of a spring board for his own rhymes and concepts, Elzhi makes Elmatic his own.  Whether Elzhi is reminiscing about his upbringing and influences on “Memory Lane” or weaving narratives about intimate physical and mental violence in his home city On “Detroit State of Mind” Elzhi may use the spirit of the tracks, but it never really feels like he isn’t being true to himself. His ideas are much more microscopic than Nas’, even when he, infrequently, lifts the original lyrics (Rapper’s I monkey flip ‘em/gorilla stomp ‘em /I’m out here with the dealer’s pumpin’.)

Up and coming Detroit soul band, Will Sessions provides competent recreations of all of the Nas beats.  The band doesn’t just slavishly stick to the original sample loops and drum patterns, but attempts to play them as a live band would, stretching them and adding extra flourishes. The crisp organ stabs and double bass plucks on “Represent” are an interesting reworking of the murky sample used by DJ Primer, while the cleanly recorded and mixed Jazz piano on “The World is Yours” is simply a pleasant touch.  Instrumentals are also extended with mixed results.  “Life’s A Bitch” is stretched, with a clearly Miles Davis inspired trumpet solo and bits of “Yearning for Your Love” by the GAP Band. One the other hand, tracks like “One Love” are uninterestingly extended and it feels like Elzhi and the band were just trying to beef up the tape’s run time.

Elzhi’s a pretty good rapper, and even though he may not always reach Nas’ lyricism, he certainly comes close.  There are plenty of little gems to mine; “My Soul Caliber is like Namco” for instance, will have nerds chuckling and quoting for a few months, and even if concepts don’t always work (the transportation puns on “Memory Lane” may elicit a few groans) they don’t really cause the project to falter. If the goal of this exercise was for Elzhi to tie up the loose ends between the Alternative Hip hop of the 90’s and the Underground hip hop of the last decade, he’s done a very nice job.  Nas’s classic was extremely influential to both the sounds and the words of the underground scene, and Elzhi’s Elmatic encapsulates this fantastically. Elmatic is not a gimmicky project at all. It is the work of an artist using his influences as a reference to engage his audience in a new way, looking back at the past, but not leaning on it.

You can download Elmatic here

http://elzhi.com/

-D.L.

Waka Flocka Flame- Benjamin Flocka

Waka Flocka Flame is the quintessential Goon Rapper.  An incompetent lyricist with a simple flow, Flame is an unflappable hook machine with a decent ear for beats. In 2010, he found himself on many 2010 year end lists with Flockaveli, an intended mixtape – turned – album, that proved that once again many Hip hop heads were ready to forego hot lines and slick flows for Crunk style beats and ignorant fun.

And now we have Benjamin Flocka, the 2nd mixtape of 2011 from Flame.  After Salute Me Or Shoot Me 3, a soupy mess of limp conflicted gangsta clichés and tagged up club bangers, Flocka attempts to center himself by returning to what he knows best:  insanely fun, addictively scream-able hooks over minimalist, trunk knocking beats. Tracks from Salute Me or Shoot Me 3 are here in a less tagged form.  “Clap” produced by Southside Beatz is mixed more professionally, the gothic synth lines brought to the forefront over its simple Dirty South drum pattern. Waka’s nursery rhyme, earworm chorus is free of the tags, disorienting drops, and demands to “Turn that back!” that made it a less cohesive song the first time around. Still, many of the tracks that were recycled from Salute Me Or Shoot Me 3 do not fare as well. “Watch My Power Spread” is still too long a slog and the chorus is a 8 bar load of bullshit about wearing red and green clothes, it’s cumbersome and unwieldy- even as Bricksquad crew member Wooh Da Kid drops his best verse to date.

The new tracks make the best argument that Flame may be able to still eke out an existence in Hip Hop without Lex Lugar constantly holding his hand. UK Beatmaker Southside Beatz handles some of the better production on Benjamin.  Standout track “Kill The Parkin’ Lot” is monolithic, with its hard driving, bass drum heavy beat and it’s fantastic chorus, while Murky strip club night banger “Spazz out” is close to delivering the same satisfaction as Flockaveli’s single “No Hands”.

Like some of the best of Waka’s output, it’s a decent addition to his goon rap persona, but ultimately non-essential.  He still feels like he’s featuring on his own tracks, providing the hooks and the irrelevant 16 as he’s easily lapped by almost every feature on the tape.  Papoose delivers both the best and worst lines on Benjamin Flocka (I’m crowned like the heights were the Jewish live? Yuck) and many of Waka Flocka’s faceless crew are starting to evolve. (Most notably Slim Dunkin, and Wooh Da Kid)

It’s hard to make an argument that Waka Flocka will be as relevant to hip hop more than he was last year. Beyond being hated by the “pure” rap fans, Flockaveli seems like the benchmark, and every other tape after it may be decent, but will never reach the same recognition. His unapologetic apathy towards evolving as an MC means that everything that comes out after will most likely see diminishing returns.  The honest truth is that if he’s not growing, and everyone around him improves and finds their voice, Waka may find himself merely a feature on future Bricksquad endeavors- forced to scream their hooks.

You can listen or download Benjamin Flocka here

http://www.livemixtapes.com/mixtapes/13339/waka_flocka_flame_benjamin_flocka.html

-D.L.

Big K.R.I.T- Return 2 4eva

DJ’s try to bolster their reputation by building stables of emcees that they helped discover. This does two things, it increases their reputation by putting an important artist on and, it ensures that when they put together a compilation album they have enough people to throw on massive posse tracks with air horn…a lot of air horn. DJ Khaled has Ace Hood, DJ Kay Slay has Papoose, and so on, and so on. In New York City, if your demo gets in the right hands you can find your niche.

That’s not how it works in Mississippi. Even after years of Southern Rap chart domination, most people think of Atlanta and Texas as the major points of interest. Most Southern rap artists end up with no publicity, making music on their own: completely on their own.

Where discovered artists can get an inflated sense of self-worth, a do it yourself MC/producer like Big K.R.I.T (King remembered in time) will get the opportunity to craft his signature sound without outside meddling. If he wants a beat to feel like UGK and Outkast mixed with 8ball and MJG no one is there to question it. When K.R.I.T. Wuz Here came out last year, and hit the top of everyone’s “mixtape of the year” lists, he was signed to a record deal and now he has put together the follow up.

The least interesting part of his rise to prominence is the off- putting comparison some make to T.I. I’ve read this many times, but have never gotten any details, just that he sounds like T.I. and that’s it. The only good guess is that we still deal with a lot of confusion in how to understand these artists. The only other major rap star from Mississippi is David Banner who sounds nothing like K.R.I.T. so the T.I. reach comes from the fact that TIP has always been lyrical and the best example of a “new school” “lyrical” southern rapper. This is incorrect, because they have little in common in subject or sound, and people like me who think too much find strained comparisons like this insulting to an artist who is obviously not being listened to properly for his own music.

Return of 4eva masters a level of contradiction that made albums like Me Against The World so artistically unique. The pimp songs are followed by humble songs about believing in yourself; the baller songs have distinct anti-baller retorts just a few tracks away. It took a while for me to try and figure out what was more impressive the production or the lyrics. I ended up ignoring the question and just enjoying the music. He’s always been a superb MC, and at this point the music is almost as innovative.  It takes that UGK, Deep Texas, sneaking prominent bass line and gives it a spotlight behind the most well placed soul samples. The songs have that slow rolling smoker feeling you get from Wiz, Curren$y and the gang, but turned up and stuck in the old Geto Boys south. The anthems jump and smile at you like Outkast, The “Return of 4eva theme” is a great example, especially since an Outkast line from Ms. Jackson is used for the chorus. The song is probably my favorite of the year thus far but not even my favorite on this mixtape if that makes sense.

“Rotation”, “My Sub” and “Time Machine” are dedications to the music  he listens to while riding in the vehicle in which he reminisces. “My Sub” is brilliantly catchy and minimalist, with enough bass to live up to its chorus. American Rapster is an affirmation of his character starting the verse “They say that money makes the world go round/you never lost till you lose your crown/ and they don’t love you till your underground…” Lightly chanting voices in the background give way to the beat and become one with it- there is gospel in a lot of the production, it doesn’t just sound like UGK or Outkast: it sounds warm, and soulful, and spiritual, and its intended that way. It makes perfect sense for one of the most personal and engaging MC’s in the world to somehow make Ray Charles Hip-Hop that can brag, boast, and cry with the same breath, in the same bar.

The features go something like this: Bun B never lets you down, Chamillionaire really bites into the concept, David Banner is terrible, and I am almost as tired of Raheem Devaughn as I am of Ludacris and his lyrical decline.

“Songs like Shake It”, “Player’s Ballad”, and “Get Right” are effective and fun but are about fun and the joy of having it. Too much rap about the good life makes a person as invested in his music as K.R.I.T. go the other way. There is a three song point in this mixtape where it can’t be compared against others. There are other mixtapes this year that have made incredibly catchy and fun riding music, but from track 18-20 there is nothing like Return of 4 eva.  “Naive Individual Glorifying Greed & Encouraging Racism” is further evidence that K.R.I.T. never overdoes anything. Using sparse and gorgeous pianos and horns alike, he knows the place every sound should begin and end. Lyrically, he’s aggressive “I don’t want to be another nigga trying to sell you something/ don’t know shit but try and tell you something/ Tap dance if you want him too, could have fed the hungry/but he bought those jewels.” It’s not just a song attacking the industry but one of those rare songs that seem to be attacking his own player instincts: his own songs. It’s these layers of earned depth that leave you impressed. “Free my Soul” builds on the piano and lets it predominate, he sings and stops the fun pace of the album dead in its tracks in order to connect with the listener about the difficult balance between spirituality and Hip-Hop as an industry. This song and “The Vent” that comes after it, are songs I don’t want to describe: I want you to hear them. Posting lyrics would not do proper service to how they are delivered, how dense and tender and resilient each second is. I will leave you with a quote that pretty well says it (from Free My Soul) “I don’t rap I spit hymns/ my God’s bigger then them…” When you go 21 tracks deep without a track I have to skip, you win. And when your high points are unmatched you earn a lot of fans. People like me.

You can download Return of 4eva at

http://returnof4eva.com/  (they shoot you a link)

-Dan-O

Welcome to Free Music Empire

Welcome to the first post at Free Music Empire, a site devoted to reviewing the latest Hip Hop mixtapes.  Over the last decade, Mixtapes have  become a dominant force in  the genre, rendering the scene a digital mess of Datpiff uploads and blogs. Aside from a few reviews here and there, we here at Free Music Empire have noticed a large gaping hole in music criticism that we hope to fill. Our tastes at FME range from the most ignorant Goon rap, to the Alternative Hip Hop scene so, hopefully, we will suggest something for you.

Thanks and good reading!

D.L and Dan-O