#Bandcampgold-The Layered Effect by Andy Cooper
I think The Layered Effect is the best example of a re-engagement with the core values of hip hop. We are exiting a period where anyone choosing to incorporate anything not trap/808 heavy was called “old school” in the most insulting way. The Layered Effect is not old school but it does joyfully acknowledge the Beastie Boys level excitement hip hop had for itself during the foundational phase, that essential energy that powered the takeover of modern music.
Andy Cooper not only dominates the microphone he produces or co-produces every song on the album. He has been doing hip hop for a thousand years (most notably with Ugly Duckling). The school of music Cooper does on this project is (in my mind) quite specific. The pace of feverish underground classics like KMD’s 1991 album Mr. Hood is so markedly different from the sunken melodic trance of today it may be unrecognizable to new ears. The first song (Here Comes Another One) shares that same adulation to spit verses and sets the pace. The Layers interlude puts the samples and the cutting all the classic techniques back on display. Get On That churns and squeaks with vinyl scratches as he calls to the DJ.
Last of A Dying Breed is my favorite beat of the collection, easy soulful succinct and expansive. On it he separates himself from the crabby purists who weaponize nostalgia, “remember back in the days he used to be center stage but then the spotlight fades and shines on a different age. So these kids are going at it and they got some nerve and they talk with such energy and lots of verve. Some old timer wants to put in a word he ain’t given the respect that he think he deserve. Well you’re the last of the Mohicans who hates young cats because they don’t seek him whining that they rude and they tryin’ to diss but dude they don’t really even know you exist.” He is clear on this song that even the greatest have had their time and passed beyond it. Last of A Dying Breed strengthens the resolve of the project, it is proof that he knows what he is doing might not work for all hip hop fans and doesn’t hold it against them. On the next song he (Anything Goes) he claims to be “playing like a Wu-Tang name generator” and in that play he discovers moments of fun and craft impossible to find elsewhere.
Can’t Be Satisfied is fabulous jazz influenced Boom Bap that DJ Premier would adore with an infectious hook that is the second most party friendly track on The Layered Effect. My favorite song is Do The AndyPuppet because it is insane. It starts with a doo wop coo maracas and a stabbing bass line he comes up with a song about people’s adoration of a dance he does where he looks like a puppet. He implores you to join in as voices layer expounding the virtue of it. I believe he describes specifically how the dance is done. Half way through a tuba comes into the song as he coaches you through the motions. It is a song you only do for the joy of it. The world doesn’t necessarily reward this brand of magical nonsense. Magical nonsense is a real part of the history of the music, its why people used to shout motel hotel Holiday Inn and Andy found a smart way to bring it back into the center where it belongs…for him.
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#Bandcampgold-Ephorize by Cupcakke
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.
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#Bandcampgold-G-Worthy (G-Perico & Jay Worthy) produced by Cardo
Can I tell you what separates Cardo from his peers at the very top of hip hop production? The Neptunes make anyone sound cool from Kelis to Timberlake to Pusha and Malice to Britney Spears. Not everyone sounds cool on a Cardo beat. Cardo beats are the pure distillation of hearing Snoop and Dre for the first time, liquid metal cool forming and reforming, with the right host on the mic it sounds invincible. This is why when people don’t know who Cardo is I simply say “He built Wiz Khalifa” without the luxuriously unflappable warm sonic world of Cardo to color his incredible personality Wiz would have been another weirdo in a hip hop world full of them. If you don’t have the right personality to sail on these beats you’ll be caught faking the funk but if you match up it takes you to another level.
If you look at the cover of G-Worthy it looks like it could have come out in 1992. Jay Worthy from Compton and G Perico from South Central reassure us that while Rap destroys what it loves to be and rebuilds to the opposite direction every five years…West Coast Gangsta Rap doesn’t.
The album consists of seven songs that feel effortlessly connected without any visible seams. What has changed is the ability for a Blood like Jay Worthy to rap about B hats and his Brazy life right before G Perico raps about violence from a Crip perspective (Getting High). The music is the glue. Jay Worthy is a solid dude who recently released a full length project with Alchemist so he is used to spitting over genius production. Jay Worthy is a game machine talking pimping or gang life or just generally flossing all over the listener. On the single Never Miss he authoritatively asserts “Take a look at yourself, we getting money On the route with these dames, a little lucky.”
Perico is a star his voice his cadence along with the personal specificity of imagery really draw him to the forefront at all time. The best example is his verse on Ain’t Trippin which starts “Middle finger to e’rybody that’s how I do it. Got the glock in the beamer case a n__ want to act stupid.” He talks about how the police are monitoring everyone and that’s not new, that he can’t tell the visual difference between his enemies and friends cops and homies. By the end of the verse you can feel the waves washing over, the uncertainty hostility and powerlessness of this criminalized system. It’s all done economically in a short verse. He loads up and does it again with the subject of women on the beginning of the next track (Scandalous). I heard all of Perico’s work before and liked it but it is Cardo’s production that made his lyrics vivid enough for me to figure out the allure. I think Perico is the best gangsta rapper since YG and G-Worthy could easily become a group without comparison. Not only do they represent a timeless standard few would dream of comparing against but their singles, while fabulous, are just as good as the rest of their output. They shine at a slow bops pace that they could keep up without a trickle of sweat for ten years. I hope they make more money than they ever hoped as G-Worthy.
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Tagged #BandcampGold, Alchemist, California, Cardo, Compton, G Perico, Gangsta rap, Jay Worthy, South Central, west coast hip hop, YG
#Bandcampgold-Brick Body Kids Still Daydream by Open Mike Eagle
I am so much more excited about BBKSD than my circle. Everyone likes it. People at this point have heard of Open Mike Eagle due to the breakout success of 2014’s Dark Comedy (and 2016’s huge improvement Hella Personal Film Festival). He is officially on the bubble of everyone who follows music and BBKSD shows yet another improvement. That is a good enough take but not from my angle. If you follow the incredible X-Men references in the opening track (Legendary Iron Hood https://genius.com/Open-mike-eagle-legendary-iron-hood-lyrics ). The song is a perfect example of Mike pushing everything to the hilt. He’s always had great hooks and this time they are prettier, better sung, catchier (see Hymnal) the beats are full of strange sounds coming together over his buttery flow. His lyrics take comic imagery and push it 38 degrees to the left so that they become intensely meaningful.
On Happy Wasteland Day he is slick and smooth weaving zombie imagery and the connotation of dystopia into his everyday life “When the king is a garbage person/I might wanna lay down and die/Power down on my darkest urges/Keep my personal crown up high.” As the song goes on his tone gets more and more urgent as the terror of everyday violence punctures the force field. The last verse his voice is post mortem, dead monotone and fading. It is as much an emotional journey as Velvet Underground’s Heroin.
If you’re a strict rap guy who needs BARS just press play on Brick Body Complex which is a sensational set fire to the BS hook with dizzying skill from his pen in the verses “Chi Town in my building code/Stood here for ten million snows/wind chill is all in my bones/ Indivisible in divisible kids and criminals young and old/No radiator my dungeon cold.” That song sets my sensory on overload and it isn’t even my favorite.
I would change nothing on BBKSD but boy do I come back specifically to 95 Radios. Toy Light and Has-Lo created a beat that chimes a spotlight on the verses (Has-Lo destroys verse 1). Mike’s second verse teases fun growing up references but can’t run away from the hard thoughtful personal truth “I miss my old hood/ miss my homies/is lonely/ The radio host is like they know me.” The pain isn’t just in the verse it’s in the delivery, the chorus drips with the visual image of a kid closing his eyes and trying to hear a rap song so he doesn’t have to think so damn much.
When I was in school (trying to become a better writer) teachers routinely told me to ignore what I did well and focus on improving my faults. As a natural antagonist the first thing I did was push even harder on my strengths leaving the rest for later. Sometimes if I pushed hard enough I could accomplish something really surprising and that was the best feeling. Brick Body Kids Still Daydream gives me that feeling for Mike. No one gets to show him his lane.
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Tagged #BandcampGold, BBKSD, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream, Charles Xavier, Chicago Hip Hop, Dark Comedy, Exile, Has-Lo, Hella Personal Film Festival, Juggernaut, Open Mike Eagle, reviews, Toy Light, X-Men
#Bandcampgold-Fuel City by The Outfit, TX
Pressing play on Fuel City by Dallas rap group The Outfit, TX is like discovering Three 6 Mafia for the first time. That is not to say they are doing Three 6, this just has the permissive energy of the best crunk you can think of. I love the beginning of Goin’ Up where the opening verse surges into yelling that takes on a three part shout harmony for the chorus. The Outfit, TX are masters in the art of high and low, whenever they start calm they lull you into a false sense of security they explode out from. They have brilliant songs where they turn all the way up (the first three songs: Big Splash, Phone Line, and Goin’ Up) but they are contrasted by whispery low key effortless swagger (Insumnia) and gorgeous middle ground sounds where the song does a hard bop while they maintain a heightened agitated cool (Dez Bryant, Look Crazy). The last similar group this good at flicking the tempo switch up and down to this extreme was Ying Yang Twins and it’s a favorable comparison. Ying Yang twins were one of those authentically dexterous groups, confident in who they were and so unified in talent you never sat back and thought either of them killed one the other on a track, their verses hung together and formed a real themed work(even when the themes were very closely aligned).
Fuel City is one hundred percent smash hits which is why it is only ten songs. They know better than to wear you out. As ferocious, jarring & scary as Told That Bih is on first listen the song before that is a melodic sex brag mutter so minimal (Outta Control) by contrast you can see the authorship in the ordering of songs. It took years and years of work to get things running this tight. Living in Maine I didn’t know of them until Killer Mike demanded people check them out in an interview. Ever since then I’ve been watching them sharpen their swords in hopes of getting to this level. When you hear the warning that ends the final track (Really Off) lambast the listener for sleeping on them (“I’m a give myself and my N’s our flowers on our own s__t and let you listen to it B#$%* @$$ N_ I ain’t waiting on you N’s applause no mo'” It sounds mad extra but he’s right. In the case of a group with the powerful melodic energy of The Outfix, TX ignoring them has grown them to unimaginable levels. As I listen to Look Crazy for the thousandth time I can’t help but think about the first time I heard their name and thought “that name is dumb” they’ve been making me pay ever since by making songs so inescapably catchy and lyrically throttling I can’t get away from them. In the outro the warning accuses us of making monsters and in a rap world full of junkies and exuberant social media warriors maybe a few monsters are what we need.
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#Bandcampgold-Songs.4. People. Who.Break.Bread by Niko Is produced by Thanks Joey
More than anything else Songs.4.People.Who.Break.Bread is a celebration of leveling up. I have been writing about Niko Is every year since his marvelously perfect 2012 Chill Cosby mixtape. Since that time he has been feverishly releasing material, touring, and playing his position. He’s now Talib Kweli’s right hand man, the kind of guy who can live in a tour bus for months and unfold himself as a lyrical dynamo from a weeded up sleepy state.
Songs.4.People.Who.Break.Bread isn’t my favorite Niko project for the simple fact that I remember release after release that was all him with one or two guests(Brutus is the Reasonable Doubt for Niko) and his ability to breath fire and sew together disparate imagery was all I ever wanted. This project definitely has that. The last song is my favorite: God & the Devil in the land of the Sun is a scare your parent’s banger where Niko fires sneaky sit & think about it lyrics while exactly in the pocket of the melody, the groove. Niko has been doing this so long and so religiously that he fits no matter what beat starts.
Another rewarding aspect of following the development of Niko’s movement is I am as much a fan of his chosen producer Thanks Joey (Joey Creates). Early production was proudly boom bap under Latin Soul samples from the greats (Tim Maia comes to mind from Chill Cosby). Joey has grown with Niko and now while he still can give you beats under that formula he has grown into all other levels. Say U Don’t has voices chanting in the background sampled into a stew of tortured sound while the bass bubbles and thumps. Wildest Dreams sounds like Jungle ambiance over drums that would bring a tear to Timbo’s eyes. These 8 songs are the closest Joey has been to becoming the Latin hip hop stripped down banger scientist version of Swizz Beatz. On 5am @ Walmart he sets a classic hip hop tone that allows for great verses from not just Niko but Mygrane & Murdoc. That song is meant to be a cypher of lyricists so the beat needs to lead from the back and Joey can do it. Joey can do anything.
Niko has worked with other producers who have done great work but any Niko fan ends up wondering, why not just all Joey? Joey is so good. So that is what we get(and have gotten for a while). U Could Be My Gal is Joey’s prettiest work with finger snaps and gentle cooing looped as the beat knocks. The first Bandcamp tag is “bossa nova” the second is “hip hop” and it makes sense. At this point Joey could use nothing but Astrud Gilberto samples and give you the hardest hitting hip hop album of the year. Songs.4.People.Who.Break.Bread is a better showcase of Joey’s growth and expertise in his field than Niko. Niko understands at this point. He’s proved his bars all over tracks with legendary mc’s (Styles P, Kweli, Action Bronson) and reliably put out albums where the concept is simply that Niko Is dope, albums that work better than fancier concept albums from major artists.
Songs.4.People.Who.Break.Bread is an affirmation that as a team they are officially staples and it is known outside of Florida, outside of the weird subset who feverishly repped him. When Chino XL comes onto Spanglish in Outerspace and rips into Woody Allen and Usher in a masterful scene stealing verse you can see the long haired stage crusher smiling, not at all feeling uneasy that he just killed on a track but excited that he gets to be on it with Chino (F*CKING) XL. He lives a life where Kool A.D. will give him a verse now and he got there through his loving monogamous relationship with the beat. You can call him an energy guy but ever since he’s been around Kweli….Kweli has sounded totally re-energized (see Carmen off Niko’s Brutus LP). That is Niko and it is Joey and it’s appreciated.
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Tagged #BandcampGold, Bossa Nova, Brutus, Chill Cosby, Chino XL, Kool A.D., Murdoc, Mygrane, Niko Is, Songs.4.People.Who.Break.Bread, Styles P, Talib Kweli, Thanks Joey
#BandcampGold-A Common Wonder by Amerigo Gazaway, Stevie Wonder, & Common
Amerigo Gazaway is the best mash up dude in the world right now because when he picks two artists he doesn’t just jam them together he weaves them together. He’s paired Fela Kuti with De La Soul, Mos Def with Marvin Gaye all in ways that made you see the musical link between those artists and appreciate their skill set to a greater degree. Midway through a Gazaway mash up you wonder why you didn’t see it in the first place.
Gazaway’s strength is that he makes bold choices that pay off through deep knowledge of both artists discographies. A Common Wonder pulls heavily from 60’s Stevie in key moments; laying the foundational I Used to Love H.E.R over I Was Made to Love Her and most surprisingly finding a way to make Signed Sealed Delivered (I’m Yours) and The Light seamless dance partners. Innervisions is the current critical go to for “best Stevie Wonder album” and it gets some play in interesting places. Common’s best verses from Chi-City are ferocious and perfect over the funky synthesizers from Living In The City, The Innervision intermission drops in an interview Com did with Rap Radar talking about his relationship to Stevie. It is classic Gazaway in the sense that it provides a meaningful connection between the two while making it clear that while Visions is one of the best Stevie songs ever he doesn’t need it and can use it on a skit.
Young Stevie didn’t have any of the problems Neo-soul did. While Neo-soul seemed to all move at the same tempo and represent as relentlessly earthy (I love Neo-soul but everything has problems) young Stevie brings undeniable kinetic energy to the sonic space he fills. You can hear Love of My Life change for the better as the pace pushes Badu and Common making the song better. As an MC Common has always been a difficult one for me, his best work stands alongside the best to ever happen in the genre but bad Common is horrible. Gazaway finds the verses, the songs that show a real three dimensional beating heart. When you hear The Sixth Superstition you’ll hear Common better than you ever have before and that’s the benefit of a great mashup for the MC, it throws a different light on verses we took for granted.
I had to perform at a very important event, commemorating a very important man and before I spoke I shut myself away from everyone and just listened to A Common Wonder. Someone asked me what I was listening to, I went into full pitch mode and a day later they were in my face about how great the project is. A Common Wonder is a tide that lifts all boats and I am sure that person I pitched is now off somewhere else pitching another friend.
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