Mixtape Review-Medicated Consumption by Chris Rivers
Can’t tell you how proud I am that the first Chris Rivers review I did for this site was written not knowing he was Big Pun’s son ( I live in Maine). I was able to talk about his talents and opportunities frankly and without any weird baggage. I have weird Big Pun baggage because Capital Punishment is my favorite rap album of all time and I’ve seen that documentary where Pun pistol whips the love of his life in front of his friends and it was like watching Mickey Mantle pee on America. Almost every day I wrestle with Pun’s legacy and Rivers seems so content with it, so intelligent about the subject in interviews and lyrically. If I ever interviewed him I would just basically be asking him to coach me through to a reasonable mental place; where it’s the best album but the bad reality lives alongside it and doesn’t hurt anymore.
Rivers has been smart enough to build on the natural press release that his lineage creates for him and add dimensions to the picture in your mind. His newest mixtape Medicated Consumption is much better than anything previous. The first song Born For This talks about carrying the torch, the times when the torch wouldn’t pay the bills and most importantly reassuring the listeners I KNOW THIS IS A BURDEN AND I CAN HANDLE IT. I like that Rivers doesn’t segregate his songs into “for the ladies” and “hard stuff for the streets” Medicated Consumption is a fine mixture of smart tough and reflective. He starts Black Box with “Don’t stress let them labor you, just do what you have to do. Remember it’s never what they call you but what you answer too, don’t let your words do more speakin’ than your actions do….” It’s still the dynamic middle of Little Italy Pun flow but used to support a whole different system of ideas.
While Pun always had warmth and humor he lived in an era where men were men and rappers were tough as nails (or at least that’s how they always had to act). Rivers can conversationally discuss real happiness and depression, ups and downs that are internal. The One, for example, is about keeping your mental health amongst the nagging negativity of exterior and interior anxiety. It’s purposeful optimism, horns and The Whispers don’t hurt. They are on nine of the eighteen songs and have the confusing effect a great bassist has. Every song they do with Rivers shines and that’s not a coincidence but placing exactly what they add can be difficult. It’s the musical difference between a fresh hat and a dirty one. You wear a fresh hat and you feel that. Every time Rivers and the Whispers are together he feels the difference.
The most surprising thing for me is that eleven different producers add to the stew of Medicated Consumption but you would NEVER guess that. This feels like it was done in a day with minimal effort and maximum payoff. Rivers invites features NO sane lyricist would. Who wants Cory Gunz near their project after what he did to Wayne? Nitty Scott is so good but a total track killer (she is on my favorite song I Just Wanna Rap). Chris doesn’t care at all. He knows what his dad did to every collaboration and he’s fine with the responsibility to keep that going. I love listening to this mixtape because I feel like Rivers may not have his path in music all the way figured out but he created the soundtrack for having your life right and I need that on Monday morning.
stream or download Medicated Consumption below:
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Tagged 2015 mixtapes, Baby Pun, Big Pun, Big Punisher, Capital Punishment, Chris Rivers, Cory Gunz, East Coast Hip Hop, Medicated Consumption, New York Hip Hop, Nitty Scott, Nitty Scott MC, The Whispers
Mixtape Review-It’s Better This Way by Big K.R.I.T.
Would it be controversial if I said K.R.I.T. would already be a legend in his own time if he was white? Would it be outrageous for me to say that he would be standing next to Drake in sales if he was from New York? Would it strike you as strange to say he would be hotter than Future if he was from Atlanta? I hope not because I believe all of those statements to be true. His newest mixtape It’s Better This Way has more than enough evidence.
His southern accent is too southern for a lot of East Coast cats. His deeply soulful non-trap identity isn’t very Atlanta but the breadth of his abilities is staggering. As a producer he can create something bass driven but minimal, sparkling and striking like Party Tonight or flip a soul sample as adeptly as Kanye in his prime (see Piece On Chain). K.R.I.T. spent his last album Cadillactica rapping his brains out to convince people that his deep drawl didn’t prevent him from being a top MC (the public seems to like a little drawl but not a lot of drawl). While K.R.I.T. does make heartfelt music that at times can be cheesy, isn’t that the natural dark side of all heartfelt music? Hasn’t that been the same thing J. Cole has been wrestling with? The difference is K.R.I.T. has a better ear so his music, at its worst, is still totally bumpable.
It’s Better This Way has none of the Mt. Olympus mission statement of Cadillactica. It’s thick and soulful. Can’t Be Still carries that sad blues poignancy that travels back to Smokestack Lightning and how many 2015 rappers can you say that about? Not in a what-is-he-trying-for way but as a natural strength. The cool thing is this is only one of his strengths.
When K.R.I.T. wants to give you a banger he serves it up with intensity and vigor. During the course of listening to the song 86 you can’t help but move and he gives you the pace. He raps fast and shouts the chorus knowing exactly where he wants the speed to land. As big and booming as his grandest tracks are they still fit snugly into the Soulmaster mystique he’s earned over the course of a thousand dope mixtapes and a few really good albums (not to mention a collaboration with B.B. King!). Stylistically he connects the country rap tunes of UGK/8ball & MJG to Chess Records without appearing to work at it.
The parts of It’s Better This Way that really interest me are the off the beaten track songs that don’t fit into banger or soul jam categories. Vanilla Sky is just as captivatingly odd in content as construction. He talks about wanting to find the meaning of life in Africa and debating whether he should hire a driver when he buys his newest nice ride. The song has starved spaces in it pregnant with atmospheric content not usually present. In The Darkness is similarly odd, seeming like cloud rap but both of these songs are good. He’s adding new tricks while not throwing away the old ones which is the definition of progression. Even the strangest feature on the mixtape (Warren G on No Static) makes absolute sense once you hear the song. I always loved that Warren G didn’t put on airs or create a super-gangster persona and I think that actually hurt him in the era he existed in. America was addicted to super-gangsters at that time. Maybe the same is true of K.R.I.T. and that’s why No Static is the easiest, most listenable song on the mixtape. The collective confident ease of two artists who know how to make music fun just overwhelms you.
The title track puts to bed all the questions in my first paragraph. He states clearly “my takeover wasn’t overnight and to be honest it was a gift from god.” Maybe he does have the chips stacked against him but he’s celebrating the victories with a clearer head, knowing he earned them. Whether you like him or not he always has a plan and you can trust it to work out. It’s just better this way.
stream or download It’s Better This Way below:
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Tagged 2015 mixtapes, Ab-Soul, B.B. King, Big K.R.I.T., Cadillactica, It's Better This Way, J Cole, Mississippi, mixtape review, Southern Hip Hop, Warren G
Mixtape Review-Trapzuse by Zuse
Having a non-traditional flow or style is cooler than it’s ever been. Weirdo rap runs strong not just from Rich Homie Quan and Young Thug but IloveMakonnen and down the line. That doesn’t mean that some things don’t still take some time to get used too.
I think it takes a project and a half to really fully get behind Zuse. I’ve listened to everything he’s ever put out, largely because of the massive critical acclaim his uniqueness brings, but his newest mixtape (Trapzuse) is on another level above anything he’s done previously. Half of that has to do with the level of production, which has destroyed my preferred headphones (Metro Boomin produced one of the only songs that didn’t bass-destroy my audio setup). The Drumaticz did three songs and deserve a huge shout out. The production is so good that you don’t even realize Metro Boomin and Sonny Digital are a part of this; they don’t really stand out amongst the great contributions everyone makes.
The other half of why Trapzuse rocks has to do with assimilating my ears to the very authentically reggae flow that Zuse has perfected. Once you tune yourself to it you can catch the tongue twisting alliteration on Chipotle, the chilling murder scenario at the end of I Can’t Wait. His hooks have taken a massive step up and are now in the top tier of available trap. On every song he’s chopping chickens and hitting the hook like a heavy bag but it works. Run To It is expertly sung. His voice actually gets weirder on Trappin On Da Clock as he stretches the first word and repeats it following it with the other three in one bunch (holding the end of the last word until you beg for him to let it go). As hip hop listeners we are used to reggae rap in the KRS-ONE way; the I’m-going-to-do-this-for-a-song-or-two, maybe-a-verse-here-or-there, but-I’ll-come-back-to-the-standard-so-don’t-worry style. Zuse has been polishing this flow for a while, it’s all he does and it shines.
The weirdo superbowl takes place on the fourth track: Plug is Latino when Young Thug comes together with Zuse who sounds even brusquer than usual to counter the high and meandering tones of Thugga. It’s everything a weirdo rap fan could hope for; two mad flow scientists just having a ball.
I love this mixtape front to back but the truly strange thing is that the three best songs are the last three. As it ends Trapzuse feels like it is the prequel to some next project that is even more powerful, focused, catchy and strange. Money Come should be a pretty standard I’m-out-for-this-money song but Zuse throws down! His third verse is as good as any trap verse in 2015 and the chorus has infinite replayability. Till I Die might be the best beat on the project; it just writhes and twitches and bumps while Zuse delivers a muted and heartfelt ballad about staying alive. Post Malone has my favorite feature on my favorite song on Trapzuse. Before we are a minute into On God Post Malone is laughing in the background as Zuse brags about mixing Reggae with rap and confusing the world. It’s fabulous adrenaline altering braggadocio and the essence of Trapzuse. He manages to do all the things we are used to in a way that sounds completely different. The energy is contagious.
Stream or download Trapzuse below:
Mixtape Review-The Cooligan by Scotty ATL
Being cool has nothing to do with style or taste. The icon of cool for a lot of Americans was Fonz on Happy Days but stylistically he wasn’t cool at all. He was set in the forties during the sixties; he looked silly to that audience. What made him cool was trust and reliability. You could always count on Fonz not to dress cool or act cool but to be cool. This is the definition of cool and the mission statement for Scotty ATL’s new mixtape The Cooligan. He wants you to know that not only has he gotten progressively better (this mixtape has some real storytelling happening: see Three Steps Forward) but you can always count on him to be heading in the right direction.
It’s no accident that Killer Mike always shouts out Scotty as a “who’s next” dude. The Cooligan gives you the best version of any kind of song you could like. If you’re a Future/Drake sing-rap guy just load up Neva Switch Up where he spits and sings at top notch levels over a 40-esque piano based beat that KE On The Track could have gotten placed on Drake’s Take Care. Scotty sounds perfectly reasonable next to two of my hero’s, 8 Ball & Devin The Dude, on the epic sex brag song I Needs Mine. Unlike previous projects he doesn’t have to rely on the genius of DJ Burn One, only produces two tracks, and it’s not because the relationship has frayed. Scotty now has more options than ever. Legions of fans are all new and just hearing him for the first time.
The running conversation with a beautiful female voice throughout the mixtape, about giving up the dream and moving on, about people’s faith in you being tested…is a big part of who Scotty is. The last song is Neva Fall Off and Scotty is still talking about family and people around him changing, the world around him switching from poverty to wealth and after all that elaboration he wraps those fears up neatly “they gave me reason and motivation to murder that @$$ be the man in my city and stack a bowl of that cash”. Scotty’s determination is not grim, he doesn’t stew in the negative sides of situations; he announces them and predicts their defeat. Maybe that’s why he gets such great guest verses from people. His reliability stabilizes the sometimes divergent talents of B.O.B on Fantasies and creates the comfort needed to get the very best Cyhi The Prince verse on Ni**a Concentrate. I need to talk about that song for a second. It might be one of the year’s very best collaborations. M16 laces a warm beat with looped background soul cooing and piano keys moving at the right upbeat Bill Withers pace. Cyhi’s verse is funny and personable and charming while Scotty’s (that come before it) is 100% heartfelt. When Scotty says “Everybody actin’ like they trappin'” you know it’s not general (by the tenor of his voice) that he tastes the names on the tip of his tongue but it wouldn’t be cool to say them. So he doesn’t.
If you need a succinct explanation of why and how Scotty will take over the world I only need two words. Speed Up. The song features no one and is an absolute smash hit, gets me in trouble at work for how excited I am under my headphones, produced by Black Metaphor. Scotty nails a perfect chorus, stays on beat and owns every inch of it. It’s a song Gucci Mane couldn’t have made. A lot of the drudging dark trap slithers by and doesn’t have an anthem gear. A lot of anthem level hip hop is as cheesy as in flight movie romantic comedy. Speed Up moves like lightning with its chest out, carrying authority and you know what? It’s still cool.
stream or download The Cooligan below:
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Tagged 2015 mixtapes, Atlanta hip hop, B.O.B., Burn One Collective, Cyhi The Prince, datpiff, Dj Burn One, Happy Days, mixtape review, Scotty ATL, The Cooligan, The Fonz
Song Review-Stupid Loud by Black Dave featuring Project Pat produced by Shy Guy
Black Dave has a really unique style and his series of mixtapes, Stay Black, have been a solid blueprint on how to make East Coast hip hop that isn’t awkwardly nostalgic or faking its way into other trends. Stay Black 3 is a tougher mixtape to love because it’s much more heavily trap production inspired (nothing against trap it’s just a well-worn artistic direction); not to mention very chorus heavy. Those misgivings aside I cannot get this song out of my head. I’ve been mumbling Stupid Loud for days now.
Project Pat attacks this song like Godzilla does Tokyo but if you’re venturing into the Trapverse and get Pat you have to know this is his neighborhood. He actually says “My dick a pistol in your gals mouth it went bang” Do you know how much Project Pat I’ve listened too?! How does he still manage to shock me and make me uncomfortable?
While Dave can’t boomerang his voice like Pat (nobody else can either) he gets his bars in. His almost monotone delivery raises the chorus to a new level of catchy; the beat is not minimalist but close enough. If you want a succinct and personable yet thoughtful voyage you should check out Lupe Fiasco-Pharoah Height but if the challenge you face is just vibing away the boredom at a bus stop Stay Black 3 will definitely do. Over time with additional listens I have a feeling it will take its place next to the first two as an interesting step in another direction, imbalanced but full of gems. Jewels that stick to the way Stupid Loud does. The rest will just take time to fit in.
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Tagged 2015 mixtapes, Black Dave, Lupe Fiasco, music that grows on you, New York Hip Hop, Pharoah Height, Project Pat, Shy Guy, Song Review, Stay Black 3, Stupid Loud
Mixtape Review-California Livin by YG x Blanco x DB Tha General produced by Cookin’ Soul
The success of the movie Straight Outta Compton is not just due to the heroism bestowed on N.W.A or the nostalgia we all feel for that exciting time in rap. While the movie stays away from the serious problems (Dr. Dre’s violent history with women) the rough edges are always at least partially visible. The movie owns the objectification of women that N.W.A. trafficked in. It owns that moment where Eazy-E is confused because only homosexuals get AIDS. The uncomfortably incomplete relationship those young men had with gender and sexuality is always a part of the journey for better and for worse.
In saluting that period of West Coast Rap YG, Blanco and DB Tha General put all of these themes on display again. Right from the DJ Drama introduction you can place the beat on Doggystyle. It’s an experience of déjà vu you will have over and over again (we even get the return of renowned fictional radio station WBallz). Driving Like I’m Loco pulls from The Chronic and Cookin’ Soul , the Spanish production team who produce the whole project, know exactly what they are doing by keeping their fingers pressed on your nostalgia button.
The cool thing about this mixture of MC’s is that they all have really weird voices. DB Tha General sounds like a cartoon character losing his mind, he has one gear and it’s the verbal whirlwind of the Tazmanian Devil. YG finally gets to sound the least weird because he does have gears and on Block Party (for example) he sounds cool , confident and in control.
Every song has a line that makes you shake your head and on Block Party its Blanco saying “I’m the bomb; Islamic.” On Mansion Party the first words of the first verse are “Whattup sluts?!” and it’s a bit much. I guess that is part of the journey, these three don’t see the sharp line that divides clever and awful and don’t have much interest in searching for it. They are just seizing fun however they can.
The strength of California Livin’ is that it acts as a sampler plate for these artists. It’s only thirty four minutes total (thirteen tracks with 4 interludes and an intro). It also doesn’t hurt getting a Fiend feature to go along with this weird voice combo platter. The G Thang track he appears on is pulsing and smooth perfect for the International Jones character to resurface for the chorus. Nipsey Hussle gives one hundred percent on LA Confidential. A track as snarling as LA Confidential with gunshot booms and 2pac looped is a wonderful environment for Nipsey. When he says “We don’t never say nothing about that big s—t we did we just see each other and nod and you know what it is” that’s about as West Coast conceptually as possible. Even the fun bravado songs are full of silent signals reflecting god knows what. As joyful as California Livin is its full of subtext about violence, gender, relationships and the nature of our nostalgia; it carries more with it then its length or tone would let on. If you loved Straight Outta Compton, this might be your companion piece.
stream or download California Livin below:
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Tagged 2015 mixtapes, Blanco, California Livin, Cookin' Soul, DB tha General, Doggystyle, Eazy E, Fiend, gender, mixtape review, sexuality, Straight Outta Compton, The Chronic, west coast hip hop, YG
Mixtape Review-Candy, Diamonds & Pills by Gangsta Boo
Gangsta Boo has been insinuating this point for years in interviews but let me just state it frankly. Do not compare Boo against other rappers; male rappers, female rappers it doesn’t matter. She has lived an entirely different journey; a better comparison would be against the legendary horror director George A Romero. Like Romero she is the architect for a style that practically dominates today. While Romero gave birth to the zombie craze that has swept up all media and made Robert Kirkman more important than his actual comic books; Boo started the deep dark crunk that became trap that became drill that became Yeezus and so on and so on. Her new mixtape Candy, Diamonds & Pills is about that journey but like Night of The Living Dead at its core it is about identity and character.
At ten songs it never feels short and each song drips with tension and hostility. Sonically a zombie is around every corner whether it’s the scratched repetition of Boo saying “Itching” on Itching or the maniacal laughing throughout Kill Bitches. Her flow always finds its way with both feet planted on the ground, no matter how crazy the production behind her is. Her voice is frustrated but reassuring, melodic and jagged at the same time. This isn’t to give the impression that Candy, Diamonds & Pills is a thoroughly heavy experience. It still has Can I Get Paid which is a top notch stripper song all about butt cheeks and orgies; a welcome addition to the Three Six Mafia stripper song library(Interestingly Can I Get Paid is from the strippers perspective).
The same way Romero needs the best set designers and special effects people, Boo needs Beatking and Stunt N Dozier. Out of the ten songs, the intro and outro are spoken messages from Boo so they don’t count, Beatking produces four and Stunt N Dozier do three. Both have worked with her before and seem to be raising their game from beat to beat. Beatking does Gimme Something which has that stabbing-scene-from-Psycho sound stretched and weighed down with bass. He also gives us Kill Bitches which has a distorted whine of a horn along with a flood of bass. At the same time Stunt N Dozier Meet The Devil will drive you crazy and make you want to smash things. It’s just evil. Gangsta Boo sails on the soaring and crash of strings “them weidos on the internet in my comments talkin’ that big s___ I don’t lose sleep on that nonsense ya’ll playing checkers I’m playing chess. You gon’ f__ around get your nose bus’ I ain’t talkin’ bout from this cocaine my fist be some angel dust.”
That verse is really important. The outro is a passionately delivered explanation of her place within the Three 6 Mafia legacy. At its core, Candy, Diamonds & Pills is her chance to acknowledge that while the internet gives way to millions of negative voices all shouting negative things to bring you down (especially women) this won’t work on Gangsta Boo. She won’t ever sit back and watch her legacy be wiped out; not because she’s Southern and isn’t respected like East Coast MC’s, not because she’s a woman in a male oriented industry. Her voice will always remain louder and more powerful than her detractors; like Killer Mike she doesn’t spit rhymes she roars them.
Stream or download Candy, Diamonds & Pills below:
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Tagged 2015 mixtapes, Beatking, Candy, chicago drill scene, Crunk, Diamonds, Gangsta Boo, George A Romero, Pills, Robert Kirkman, Southern Hip Hop, Stunt N Dozier, Three 6 Mafia, Trap, Yeezus, zombies