Song of The Year-Wolf Mode by Chris Rivers
When talking about Noname a friend of mine made the argument that while her follow up album was very good(Room 25), she will likely spend her career measured against the song Casket Pretty from her first album (Telefone). This isn’t about producing an insurmountable hit. Casket Pretty is a hushed poetic eulogy to all the people who shouldn’t have had to die. It’s succinct, dynamic, and gripping. That song will be something a lot of people never ever forget and when her name comes up that song will be the first reply.
I mention this to say Wolf Mode is that song for Chris Rivers. His whole career has been building to it. Wolf Mode is what makes hip hop more than a financially successful genre it can act as a method of group therapy. He combines multi-speed raw flow excellence with an ease in discussing mental illness that few have. He chides someone for never giving love unconditionally and then hopes they die, and pretty immediately admits he has attempted suicide. This isn’t a sad song where the piano helps us cry with him. This is a bass heavy chant about how tough are skin needs to be, how the trials we have been through have built us scar and scab by scar and scab. With under a minute to go Chris double times “I’d rather have the hard truth than a sweet lie because the hard truth still apply to me…” and he’s nailed it. The gorgeous glimmering jewel that sits in the genres heart. This space is where you can tell it how it really is. The Jonas boys make fun music but you’ll never know if they battled sobriety.
I remember watching the documentary and seeing Big Pun hit his wife with a gun while a room of his associates bowed their head and said nothing. This is the guy who gave me the best hip hop album of all time(Capital Punishment, no arguments). As Rivers came up I always wanted to ask him how he balances those contradicting ends of his fathers legacy. This many years later to have his son spitting about self love and forgiveness, mistakes and how the deep scars mean the most has been therapeutic for me. I’m sure many have “canceled” Pun based on the documentary but River’s new album G.I.T.U. makes an important case that a person with a good heart can fix themselves if they have the time. Pun was robbed of that. I’m so glad Chris hasn’t been.
Stream or download G.I.T.U. below:
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Tagged Big Pun, Capital Punishment, Chris Rivers, G.I.T.U., hip hop, hip hop reviews, Mello Music Group, Noname, Room 25, song of the year, Songs that define a career, Telefone, underground hip hop
#Bandcampgold-Black Beans by Exile x Choosey
The world makes us feel terrible. Mac Miller and Nipsey Hussle are dead. Ogres are in power and they don’t even lie to us about how old evil and full of greed/hate they are. Music is necessary, all kinds of music. Black Beans is a beam of light on the dark days and because of that it holds an important place on my favorite albums of 2019 list.
I have to start by talking about Exile. I haven’t done it enough on this blog. I’ve been debating how I feel about his strengths since Blu linked up with him for Below The Heavens. While other boom bap producers (Daringer, Roc Marciano) are superb at twisting the instrumentation and sample into an evil snarl that suits the goon rappers spitting over them; Exile is the best at optimizing his soundscape for warmth. You can listen to the Intro or the first song (I Did) and none of the production is overly dense or crowded. Exile chooses the right elements and places them properly making great use of background vocals, samples, and background vocals. His production perfectly captures that Rawkus records feeling of hearing Mos Def spit on Respiration from the Black Star album(a Hi-Tek comparison is not a bad one). Black Beans is Exile’s best work in YEARS and his work over the years was impressive before it.
If you think this album is corny I guess you’re right. If you think the loving poetic tribute to heritage at the end of the title track is corny, I’m fine with that. If you don’t understand why Choosey is rapping about the candy lady on his block on Satisfied when he could have fake murdered someone in that verse… it is a natural hip hop reaction. It’s a perfectly adequate short term coping mechanism for living on this scary cock-eyed planet. Shut all those instincts off and listen to tracks 4,5, and 6 in a row. Four is single ready it is called Low Low and the horns are PERFECT, Aloe Blacc nails the hook with pinpoint accuracy and emotion while Choosey paints the scenery of a nice day with a pretty lady. Track five is Show You and Choosey is at his most melodic. The West Coast MC doesn’t need any help on the chorus sing-rapping a hook that burrows deep in my brain to this second. It’s a relationship song without the nasty baggage. He wants to show her what the future can be and never turns into the darker or condescending tones a lot of rappers do when trying for these songs. Track six is so great. You Got It is all hand claps and mixing while Choosey spits fast but seemingly effortlessly. Jimetta Rose is another fantastic guest singer woven into the fiber of the song. You Got It has a noble mission: to get you up and dancing. These three songs get to the heart of celebration that Black Beans is crafted around.
The candy lady verse that starts Satisfied is my favorite of the album because I am corny. It is so unexpected. The first line of the song is “Every hood had a candy lady,” said with a smiling nostalgia. He’s talking lollipops and getting candy out of her hand. Choosey’s mission is to celebrate his shared black and Hispanic heritage. Through the thirteen songs he applies his determination to painting the picture to it’s smallest detail. It’s not just about lowriders, Cadillac’s, and jewelry it is about the people. In that verse he also says “Them cop’s was all in our face saying ‘don’t hang with them bangers’ N_ the gang was the neighbors…” he doesn’t shy away from the violence and terror present in his environment. America knows gangs as large scary groups but Choosey knows them as people and sums it up our national tension quite nicely with, “They hate the fact but can’t deny that we some damn creators.” Choosey knows you think you know his hood. He also knows you haven’t felt the sunshine on your face there. You haven’t kissed for the first time as Salsa spilled out of an apartment window there. Listen to the song Sangria, pour sangria over some apples and cantaloupe (don’t forget diced pineapple) and let Exile teach you how to relax as Choosey brings you where he’s always been.
Stream or Download Black Beans below:
Fight for The Future of Lil Uzi Vert
We complain a lot. All of us do. In Hip Hop, we get mad at youngsters for not doing what the older generations would do. Real rap problems exist: loss of interesting word usage, too much of a focus on ad-libs, drug addiction creating a generation of junked up kids with no goals. Take a moment and acknowledge that Lil Uzi Vert is a strong component in resolving some of these.
At first, Uzi was discounted simply because of the Lil. The Bad and Boujee feature was blistering but Uzi’s audience is his own and real. He has their attention and uses it. XO Tour Lif3 by September 2017 had 1.3 BILLION listens counting all streaming platforms (Wiki info). That song is about suicide mental breakdowns and heartbreak. He helps a suffering generation express acknowledge and process feeling like crap. In and of itself, that is important.
You might have heard he announced his retirement, announced he had label issues. We can’t let any of this happen. We can’t let labels hinder him. We can’t let him fall into whatever took Mac Miller away. I am not just saying this because he means a lot to his generation. I am saying this because I love this genre.
When he dropped the loosey Free Uzi as a youtube video (not on streaming services) it racked up 9.6 Million views but, more importantly, it’s an incredible song. Free Uzi is the Philly phenom exploding with bars, stringing any word he wants easily onto one of raps best flows. The propulsive beat allows him to easily surf while maintaining perfect breathe control. He’s not a mumble rapper, you can hear him saying things like “I remember when them N_’s all laughed at me,” as he dances in a convenience store with his friends. It’s just him having fun and stretching out his legs while breathing fire. It seems like the giant response to Free Uzi pressured his label into letting some more of his music loose.
Conversely, Sanguine Paradise (the first single they let out whatever prison they keep his music in) is a fully fleshed out single ready for the pop charts. The beat is beautiful (very pretty piano that does not slow down the speed of the song) unlike the speedbag flow of Free Uzi, Sanguine Paradise is a more melodic. Every line feels like a chorus.
This dude can dig into mental health, relationships, or just brag on a level where he becomes James Spader from Pretty In Pink, and SPIT. Find 1017 vs. The World mixtape and listen to him trade with a sober Gucci and stand tall. Not anyone can do that. I genuinely think this dude is the light of a new generation and if you don’t understand “the kids” you should listen to him. He’s the best chance you have.
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Tagged 1017 vs the world, Free Uzi, Gucci Mane, hip hop, hip hop reviews, James Spader, Lil Uzi Vert, Mac Miller, Pretty In Pink, Sanguine Paradise, XOTourlif3
Song Of The Year-Young and Invincible by Zacari featuring Lil Yachty
If you are old like I am (old enough to call Mark Wahlberg Marky Mark) and you dislike/can’t figure out new school rap and its value I can help. This song can help. If Young and Invincible was a rap song from the 1990’s it would be a Lost Boyz song dripping with bravado and name brand name checks. Importantly, it would be shouted at us by Freaky Tah and the gang.
Zacari got together with Lil Yachty to create an anthem in the spirit of this generation. It’s cool and convincingly effortless with an big juicy out-sized stretched autotune hook. Teddy Walton gives the entire Run Wild Run Free EP its sound, its vastness but on this song he is aided by Gubeatz & IAMNOBODI. The tempo is a strange combination of anthemic and bass driven booty music.
Lil Yachty comes through with a fabulous floating guest verse. Yachty is so much better on guest verses (my theory: Yachty reads all the garbage written about him and tries to make albums that “prove critics wrong” which is a bad way of doing things. When he is guesting he creates with no pressure. When he created his Lil Boat mixtape it was pressure free which is why it is still his best project. STAY CENTERED YACHTY!)
Zacari really does represent what I like about this generation of music. He’s weird, emotional, and his lyrics pay off because he connects to what he’s talking about. On top of that he’s an expert vibe creator with beautiful hooks. It’s different but when you clear your expectations and kick back it is really quite dope.
#Bandcampgold-Cover Art by Anderson Paak
If you didn’t know who Anderson Paak was after summer 2015 I don’t think you’re a hip hop head. When Dr. Dre came out of his cave August 7th 2015 to release Compton everyone in hip hop noted it. Thumbing through the sixteen tracks listed Paak was on six of them. I know that I let out an audible “Who the F#$% is Anderson Paak?!” That is when I found his bandcamp. Once I heard Venice I knew to pay attention to Malibu.
Now he is climbing to the top of the world. He was on Saturday Night Live playing his own drums, he was on Marc Maron talking about this covers album from 2013. I remembered having dug into that project post-Compton and threw it back into the mix. If you haven’t heard his explanation on Maron: Cover Art aims to reverse the polarity of musical manipulation. While historically black artists like Jackie Wilson get their music made into Elvis hits he wanted to take very white very good music and put the funk back in.
His cover of Seven Nation Army sold my wife on the project. The original reclaimed a good deal of swagger that post-Radiohead rock had lost and Paak by keeping the guitar parts splashy and the vocals as smooth as Brenton Wood singing Oogum Boogum (if you don’t know this song you need to) it actually raises the overall stakes on how pimpish this song is. The other high point is his cover of my favorite Beatles song (Blackbird). While Paak can get super funky and joyously silly he knows a precious moment and how to care for it. Blackbird finds the groove with fingersnaps and he gives it his absolute most concentrated effort vocally.
We love that Paak is talented can play instruments sing and rap but its way more fun that he is nuts on top of that. This dude took Neil Young’s Heart of Gold and threw rap verses on his cover of it (Nocando, himself & milo). The final product is mad weird but valuable and interesting. Cover Art is a short form introduction to the capabilities of Paak with nasty bass lines (MAPS!) and signature flair ever-present even while doing other people’s music; people who couldn’t be more different from what Paak’s music turned into. If you listen to the Maron WTF interview that’s his real secret, he’s so nuts he can sit across from an old crunchy dude like Maron and talk classic guitar rock until he’s comfortable. Year before that he was on Snoops podcast passing a blunt comparing the discographies of overlooked soul legends. If you like music Paak will get you somehow. He’s everywhere.
Stream or download Cover Art below:
Song Review-10 Piece by Curren$y & Wiz Khalifa produced by Dame Grease
The mixtape era taught artists how to sell themselves post-music industry collapse. When Wiz & Curren$y dropped How Fly they outlined their rap and lifestyle values without any A & R influence or board meetings to approve. They sent it right to us. The duo were all about girls, video games, weed, laughing, loyalty and not a lot of unnecessary stuff outside of it.
I’m glad they got together to break bread over fabulous production and check in on where they are. Curren$y says “We control the town from the couch.” Wiz says “Now we fathers, know that God got us.” I think reviews will come in saying the project is fine. Both of these guys are prolific and that bores reviewers but they have amazing chemistry and share values that trace back to Snoop. They would always prefer to be peaceful. Wiz even ends the song warning that gang life isn’t “the vibe”. On top of that they are growing older and not hiding it. They wear their collective maturity as an honor like old gunfighters who have survived terrible upheaval.
It is deeper than album of the year considerations. These guys left an imprint on the world of hip hop and I’m not sure we take enough time out of our day to think about it. The old heads know both of these dudes can SPIT so they get feature requests from the very best. The new kids know these guys have been successful over a long period and seek to know to understand how. Listen to 2009 you’ll get closer. Along the way you get to enjoy two great technicians.
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Tagged 2009, Curren$y, Dame Grease, hip hop, How Fly, Jet Life, reviews, song revew, song reviews, Taylor Gang, Wiz Khalifa
#Bandcampgold-New Breed by Dawn
I am strangely protective of Dawn Richard place in music. I have never heard a Danity Kane song and really only got into her when she took her career by the horns solo. In casual conversation I frequently tell people she is MY Beyonce. Her dedication to dance pop is unwavering with sonic landscapes and giant sized hooks that fill every inch of space. It makes me very hostile when her newest album New Breed is not spoken about favorably. I think it is the best album of 2019 as of this date.
When I was growing up a lot of us thought dance pop was kind of dumb. Post-Ray of Light the genre moved to a template that was slick and impersonal. As a youngster I was always chasing music with individuality stamped into it. It didn’t have to be smart. Curren$y could brag about sipping a pineapple mojito as the sun sets in Milan and I was glued to the speakers. This is what New Breed gives me that makes it untouchable.
Dawn has given us ten songs about personhood. The intro (The Nine) is masterful as the first line introduces us to the street she lived on growing up showing us her watching My So-Called Life hanging out with friends. It’s only a minute and twenty four seconds with powerful vocal backing creating a chant about childhood that sets the pace for the album. The third song (Spaces) opens with her speaking to us about losing that foundation as she moved up in the ritzy circles. Everything moves and thumps as her voice shows almost unknowable form. Every second matters. The end of the song trails into a clip celebrating New Orleans. Then we get Dreams And Converse which is my favorite song of the year so far. It has bounce that she irons out into creases. Dawn can pump out dance bangers that are more fun than anyone else’s and over time as you think about them they mean more. This song is about strapping up to find your dreams. When she says “I think we should be reckless baby, don’t care if they notice, live life on the surface,” she is laying it out. Fear no ones judgement and let this music help you in that effort.
This is the paragraph where I say she hates Diddy because he ripped her off. She covers this on Vultures/Wolves. To be honest, other people care way more about that than I do. We all kind of hate/respect Diddy (loved him in Get Him To The Greek!) but we understand he is likely terrible to work for/be around. If he wasn’t, G. Dep and Carl Thomas wouldn’t have gotten used like napkins. So if you ever hear anyone who worked first hand with Diddy dissing the socks off him just nod knowingly and respect it. Take in Dawn’s Wolves and don’t feel like you need a special take, she ain’t lying.
The other favorite song I keep coming back to (besides Dreams and Converse) is Sauce. I love that the term sauce is catching fire in hip hop lingo. Flavor is so personal and Hip Hop/R & B allows flavor to shine so you can listen to Migos or Saba and its yours. You don’t have to taste any flavor you don’t like. Find your sauce. Dawn kicks down the door of the song with the opening line as the sample moans and song crackles with analog fuzz she says “It’s the weekend and I’m looking forward to you coming in more ways than you hoppin’ in your car to come and see me believe me.” She cleans her home and puts on his favorite panties. An erotic song is only really good if it makes me feel uncomfortable. This is Janet level seduction, talking about dirty sheets in a hush tone that doesn’t try hard just imposes plans. All the while the 808’s chop and the sample moans. The world of that song expands every time you hear it.
Maybe they think the reclaiming of personhood is corny. Maybe they hate her spoken word on the opening of We, Diamonds. Maybe they remember her as the Danity Kane girl and just don’t study that hard. None of it matters. My favorite flavor doesn’t have to impress opposing pallets. I just wish they could get out of it what I do.
Stream or download New Breed below: