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
Free Album Review-Fuck The Money by Talib Kweli
At his worst Talib Kweli is still a tremendous talent. He’s just an unlistenable unlikable one. In the very lowest stages of his career you would find him stiff and professorial; determined to teach you how OPEC really works. At his best he is how he is now on his new free release Fuck The Money.
I’m not here to make the case that he’s changed. The case is pretty straight forward; Talib has such a keen eye for talent that he needs that chemistry with people to push him. The right chemistry. Javotti Media has a bunch of artists he’s very happy to work with. If you listen to him on the Combat Jack Podcast describe the strengths of each artist, he does so with passion and vigor the kind not naturally apparent during the Blacksmith start up. Let me use Niko Is as an example. During that interview he called Niko one of the best freestylers he had ever seen and that is very much Niko’s style. He’s loose and relaxed, winding words into a thick soup of sometimes silly yet thoughtful imagery. Not only does Niko show up alongside Kweli and Ab-Soul over an Alchemist beat on The Venetian, anyone who heard Brutus knows that this sounds like a Niko song. One of the best beats on Fuck The Money comes from Thanks Joey, Niko’s primary production partner in crime. The joy and fluidity of Niko’s style(and team) warms and inspires Kweli to go harder and have fun doing it.
I’m not trying to take credit from Kweli here. It’s an amazing listen. Miguel shows up to demolish the hook on Echoes yet our narrator doesn’t see the status difference between Miguel or Kendra Ross who does the hook on Baby Girl. Ab-Soul’s verse is dope on The Venetian (I still think Niko runs that song) but so is Casper Nyovest on Fuck The Money. Part of what makes Kweli special is that when he hears a new artist bubbling over with talent he doesn’t get resentful or jealous, he gets excited. My favorite song is probably He Said She Said where he gives you the trials and tribulations of a new artists journey the rise (“he adored by all them bloggers, they describe him down to his boxers”) and fall (“They celebrate in his self-destruction it makes for excellent copy”) without ever getting a chance to let the music speak. The song shows empathy for the new artists that he’s dealing with. It doesn’t hurt that Farhot crafted a Stakes is High sounding banger of a beat that will destroy your car speakers while making you feel great.
Kweli sounds so damn comfortable. Whether he’s namechecking Niko while he screams crazy talk from the couch (Gratitude) or reuniting with Styles P on Fall Back. The production team does not want any part of laid back neo soul. This music is exciting. The title track is also produced by Farhot and its nasty helping push Kweli into double time splendor. Amadeus produces three tracks including the trap sounding Nice Things which comes off well.
So yes Fuck The Money is partially great because less concept and more joy is better than the other possibilities but…it does have a concept. It’s his evidence for each hip hop head that when you are putting together your own personal hall of fame in your mind, you can’t judge that greatness by awards or sales. If you think Jay is great because of his success you’re missing all useful criteria for judging skill. Kweli really is one of the greats and I’m glad he’s letting people know in a way that best suits him. Hell I knew it that night he played a pool hall round my way and killed it by himself in a leather jacket. He went longer than any hip hop act I had seen at that point and I left thinking he could have gone all night. Some people just have it in their bones and they love the infinity of word choice. Kweli is like that.
Add Fuck The Money to your cart using the link below and go through he check out process. You won’t have to add credit card info since its a free purchase. They will email you the file.
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Tagged Ab-Soul, Alchemist, Amadeus, Blacksmith, Brutus, Casper Nyovest, Combat Jack Podcast, Farhot, Free Album review, Fuck The Money, Javotti Media, Kendra Ross, Miguel, Niko Is, Stakes Is High, Styles P, Talib Kweli, Thanks Joey, The Venetian
Song of The Year-Sadderdaze by CJ Fly featuring Ab-Soul produced by BrandUn DeShay
If you told me at the beginning of the year that CJ Fly would put out a mixtape (Thee Way Eye See It) so considerably better than the one Joey Bad@$$ would put out (Summer Knights) that it would feel like the difference between winning and losing…I would have believed it. The first thing I did when Joey dropped 1999 (https://freemusicempire.com/2012/09/15/joey-bada-1999/) was listen to as much of the Pro Era crew as I could get a hold of. In my mind the order went Joey, Capital Steez, and then CJ Fly.
Sadderdaze and really the whole of Thee Way Eye See It proves CJ Fly is the #2(R.I.P. Capital Steez that dude was fantastic). The tape has an impressive production list including: Statik Selektah, Cookin’ Soul, Cy Fyre, and of course BrandUn DeShay who is having a fantastic year. He’s getting to that stage where you realize it’s his beat and you give a deep satisfied sigh. This track makes glorious usage of elements from Jay’s Friend or Foe off of Reasonable Doubt.
CJ is more naturally melodic than Joey and utilizes that skill fully while doing a great job of carrying that laid back Pro Era cool. At the same time he smashes the track. For his part Ab-Soul slips from instagram to Zimmerman talk working Friend of Foe lines into his verse, this is the high level of lyricism we saw from Soul last year.
Sadderdaze feels really important every time I hear it and that might be because it brings you back to hearing Friend or Foe the first time but more than that it proves how deeply talented this roster is. No matter who believes in them or doesn’t the Pro Era is here and we should all take a seat.
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Tagged Ab-Soul, Brandun Deshay, Capital Steez, CJ Fly, Friend or Foe, Jay-Z, mixtape reviews, New York Hip Hop, Pro Era, Sadderdaze, Thee Way Eye See It
Chance the Rapper-Acid Rap mixtape review
Acid Rap is a startling first listen. I guess the prerequisite is being able to enjoy the playfully childish nasally delivery Chance the Rapper brings to every song. If you do, every verse comes out as an amorphous blob that seems like it could end and become a chorus at any time. The power in the project is that feeling of the unexpected hanging over every moment of every song. He rhymes words with each other like a juggler adding more balls, like AZ circa Do or Die. The difference is that AZ was going in on street life from a D-Boy perspective. The lyrics Chance puts up on Acid Rap are a mixture of scattered and personal, “Wore my feelings on my sleeveless, my weed seedless, my tree’s leafless. I miss my diagonal grilled cheeses, and back when Mike Jackson was still Jesus (Acid Rain).” On the same song he says “Lately my verses seem not so versey.” Acid Rap is very conscious of how different it is, how new this is not only for Chance but for the listener who is used to the 16 than the hook.
After the first listen I remember thinking “I can’t believe I got this for free.” If you google reviews for Acid Rap you are entering a realm of overwhelming praise. This is a 19 year old rapper who shows enough skill on this mixtape alone to be considered a top tier lyricist. A lot of critics have made Kendrick Lamar comparisons and while Chance is the closest (outside of Ab-Soul) to master that fluid Bruce Lee flow, the differences are important. Kendrick wants to speak for a generation, Chance wants to speak for himself and make fun music. He doesn’t exist as an anti-trap or drill figurehead. He doesn’t just shout out Fat Trel and others on Acid Rap he tweets Waka Flocka lyrics cause he honestly likes them. As great as his previous mixtape 10day was it was full of experiments, some that worked some that didn’t. Everything here works. The reggae/sublime feeling NaNa produced by Brandun Deshay still feels like something Chance and Action Bronson can comfortable fit into. Most of the discussion about how different this project sounds should come down to Chance and his amorphous blob lyrics, while the beats carry off-sequence signatures it always feels like they exist that way for Chance rather than the other way around.
This mixtape is the art pick of the year; it’s lyrically impressive and good natured. In the same way that Killer Mike made a conscious play for the spotlight when he put out R.A.P. Music that’s what Chance did here. He got all the important guest features you’d want(guest verses are amazing, Twista kills Cocoa Butter Kisses and Noname Gypsy says “the only time he loves me is naked in my dreams” fantastic) and production from Jake One, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, and Blended Babies. Its an easy pick for mixtape of the year and the day it dropped I listened to Juice four times and sang it out loud in a public bathroom(I am that dude).
I don’t think it is the mixtape of the year, it never lets you relax. While everything Fiend lays down on Lil Ghetto Boy feels like a hook nothing on Acid Rap does. It requires a level of attentive listening that is admirable but limiting. It’s beautiful though and what I enjoy most about it is how honestly anti-violence it is. He talks about how unsafe Chicago is from all angles, the police, how easy it is to get a gun, and the summer bringing out the violence. Chance is never coming at you like the caged puppy commercial asking for your help, he’s just brave enough to admit that the violence scares him. He’s brave enough to talk about it on overwhelmingly sad songs like Pusha Man (which ends with him sharing that feeling of fear with the audience) and on social media/interviews. He knew exactly how good this tape was; the day after it dropped he was spelling his ad lib for new listeners. Make no mistake Acid Rap is his come up and if you’re not in on it now; get ready for his exposure to find you wherever you are.
Stream or Download Acid Rap below:
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Tagged 10day, Ab-Soul, Acid Rap, AZ, Brandon Deshay, Bruce Lee Flow, Chance the Rapper, Chicago Hip Hop, Kendrick Lamar, Killer Mike, Noname Gypsy, R.A.P. Music, Twista
Song of the year-Book of Soul by Ab-Soul
When I was deployed to assist an infantry training unit in the early 2000’s the Nas v. Jay debate was at its literal height. Stillmatic had just dropped and Blueprint had already changed the way beats were made. The entire platoon broke in half and made different cases. The moment that stands out was one kid, passionate as he could be, in his brown undershirt saying “Look man Nas is just better…” he put up a single finger and silenced the debate following it with “Listen to this.” He played track six on Stillmatic, it’s called Rewind. The song is a Boyz in Da Hood style gun down retaliation tale but spat backwards. That kid let the song make the case that Nas has a non-linear artistic mind that will always go places Jay’s won’t. No one on the other side had a way to respond when the song was over. I’m not saying the debate was over, I hope it never is.
I like the idea that a single song is powerful enough to make an artists case or stamp his legacy. If I put my finger up in the air and hit play on a song to make the case that Ab-Soul is a top 5 mc, it would be the song Book of Soul off this years fantastically complete album Control System. Produced by Tommy Black, sonically it falls neatly into the TDE soundverse: Heavy chords, ambiance and background oooing. The lyrics are downright staggering going from the literal scars of skin disfigurement to the loss of a lover and friend that leaves him unable to read her obituary. So many quotables in this song and a great moment where he admits he’s not going to stage a cry for this song (even though he’s earned one). That’s not what Ab-Soul is about, this song while heartfelt just represents a dimension; he is rebellious and political, and gross. He seems to binge and purge concepts and phrases all the while growing stronger by the bar. I’ve gone on too long, just play the song…you’ll hear what I’m talking about.