Song of The Year-Westbrook by J.I.D. featuring A$AP FERG produced by Christo
It’s exciting when a new voice comes into full bloom for the public. In March of 2017 when J.I.D. put out his album The Never Story the underground publications sang about it and didn’t stop until the end of the year. It was that dope indy film that didn’t have the budget to be as deeply entrenched in the culture as it was. What I love most about J.I.D. is that he got that bubble up and decided his next project needed to ratchet up the effort/efficiency/entertainment value. He’s a clutch player. Dicaprio 2 is so good that at times it feels like being trapped. Despacito Too and Mounted Up have smash mouth minimal production feels so as to leave you face to face with the man mountain of syllables (feel free to spread this description of his ability). When he has help he’s superb. Whether it is Bj The Chicago Kid, 6lack or Method Man he finds enough space to sacrifice for his guest and they shine.
A single line from a single verse really messed me up. That is on my favorite song from Dicaprio 2, Westbrook. The beat chimes like Christmas then stomps your speakers as Ferg brings perfect sneering energy on the hook but at a little over halfway through the song J.I.D. says
Live life like a baby that was dead at birth
But came alive and f—ed the nurses
Throughout the verse he is chuckling to himself just plunging into the depths of his sick mind and dumping it out. I can’t lie I was very excited by how deeply inappropriate this is. This is a hip hop thing connected to the feeling NY had when Nas claimed he went to hell for snuffing Jesus. We weren’t excited to see smug old Jesus finally get his it was the discovery of a new voice, a new mind we can connect to who might be weirder than anyone we know. Similarly, no unringing this bell; this kid got Joey Bad@$$ and Meth together and wrecked it next to both of them. You can read other reviews to hear where he’s from what his social media footprint is like. I’m old and not going to waste space. I just want to pull up a chair and watch the young man spin this cadence till the whole world rings with it. Dicaprio 2 feels like being trapped in a place your body won’t let you leave.
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Tagged 6lack, A$AP Ferg, Atlanta hip hop, Bj The Chicago Kid, Christo, Dicaprio 2, Dreamville, J Cole, J.I.D., Method Man, Nas, song of the year, The Never Story
ThrowbackThursday-Love In, Love Out by Cormega
For a while whenever someone was at my house and said they wanted to hear Nas, I would put on Cormega. This wasn’t a slight at Nasty Nas at all, in Maine Nas was known and quite respected but the depth and importance of the surrounding dudes was not. Not enough hip hop kids knew who AZ or Mega were (although in NY things were different I’m sure). Fifteen years ago Cormega put out The True Meaning and I absolutely blasted it. An independent album with production credits from Buckwild, Alchemist, Large Professor, & Hi-Tek it is clear that the industry always understood the skill level of Cormega.
If you know Cormega now you might have heard more recent albums like 2014’s Mega Philosophy or 2009’s Born and Raised which are grown man intelligent in a way that literally made Chuck D proud. The difference in 2002 Cormega is Love In, Love Out. Maybe five rappers in the history of the genre are as good at writing betrayal as Cormega. He wrote about going from loving shout out on One Love to left out of The Firm so much that he was able to mature into his understanding of the situation. While 2001’s The Realness was full of blistering accusations and gloriously well executed line crossing by The True Meaning Cormega was master of all three dimensions of his situation. In a disciplined thoughtful tone he says “I was never jealous of you, in fact I was proud of you. I smiled when I heard you on Live at The BBQ. I respect you as an artist though I’m no longer fond of you.” But the emotion is bubbling underneath. When he immediately follows “I gave you love from the heart unlike the people surrounding you.” That statement is knowingly loaded.
Love In, Love Out is bravely a showcase of real situations pulled through a composers mind and sharp tongue. When The True Meaning came out I played Verbal Graffiti over and over again for the absolute forest fire flow, he crackled and snarled as he opened “I’m like a panther in the dark silent when I strike the paper, like a dagger in your heart when I write I leave a mark.” It went along with the stories people told me about him in the military. I would talk Mega and someone would say “I saw him on the subway with two crackheads! One was beautiful but the other one…” his street credibility was mythical for those of us outside of New York.
Love In, Love Out represents the parts of Cormega’s legacy to rap I feel most rewarded by. The introspective person bound by his ethics, wounded by betrayal and brave enough to elaborate on all conditions of it; not just his hurt and being wronged but the respect he will always have for what the person was. The ethical man using all his strength to hold back the panther part of him that wants vengeance, at this point in listening that feels like The True Meaning.
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Tagged #ThrowbackThursday, Alchemist, Born and Raised, Buckwild, Cormega, Hi-Tek, Large Professor, Mega Philosophy, Nas, song reviews, The True Meaning
Bandcampgold-Packs by Your Old Droog
The most important thing to note when you hit play on Your Old Droog’s new album Packs is that this is not a freak occurrence. As special as the album is and as gifted as Droog’s flow is…New York has been bubbling for a while and now it is to be reckoned with.
Droog is clearly a part of the new three dimensional NY goon rap scene; stylistically a mixture of Ruff Ryder Anthem toughness and Purple Haze era Killa Cam. Roc Marciano is an example of this with his winding wordplay and unflappable screw face. Westside Gunn has a voice and content horrifyingly & intensely engaging (doesn’t release bad songs EVER).
Droog is actually way less crazy than some of the other names mentioned. He’s a Ukranian-American kid from Brooklyn who loves hip hop more than anything. He sounds like early early Nas, in love with storytelling (see My Girl is a Boy) with a flow so smooth that Packs might be the most listenable rap album of 2017.
Most artists want their full length debut to act as a call to arms for their audience but if you press play on the last song, Winston Red, it gives you a road map to the kind of album this is. Droog doesn’t even feel he should have to do that. He imagines his audience as intelligent with pre-existing high standards. On Winston Red Droog casually tosses off “…won’t put it out till it’s some sh_t we really want to hear.” Even when he trips down memories of poverty and declares he “went from welfare to wealth everywhere” he does it in pocket, voice locked in like early Nasir. Not a hint of desperation. He is the kind of MC that doesn’t reach for lines he just goes and feels like he could keep blowing as long as you need him too.
The element of Droog’s music I find most relevant is the complete lack of sarcasm or irony. Packs is one of the few albums you’ll hear a 3rd Bass namecheck next to a Nas namecheck and not as a mean joke. Droog really lives the art. Hip hop is full of too much wink wink nudge nudge faux gangsta imagery closer to Riff Raff than G Rap. Droog never says anything that isn’t in pursuit of the best verse for his street music. He jokes and namechecks but he’s not playing you. Listen to Grandma’s Hips and you’ll understand the earnestness, and witness one of the only times Danny Brown didn’t murder someone on their track. Rapman is another highlight with a great beat by 88 Keys. I would love to ask him about referring to Lyor Cohen in the song as Lex Lyor, this no doubt has to do with Lyor’s creation of the 360 deal. The production throughout is as smooth and jagged as the orator and Droog has his hands in the mix.
Droog seems like one important feature verse on a superstar track away from being everyone’s new favorite rapper.
Bandcamp link below:
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Tagged #BandcampGold, 88 keys, Cam'ron, Fat Beats, Killa Cam, Lyor Cohen, Nas, Packs, Roc Marciano, Westside Gunn, Your Old Droog
Song Review (Missed It Edition) –More by Cormega produced by Large Professor
Cormega did a full album with Large Professor last year aptly titled Mega Philosophy and it was just too much for me. Mega has been through ups and downs in his lengthy career (part of The Firm down with Nas, out of The Firm enemies with Nas) but his content has never ever been suspect. Any era of Cormega music is rock solid. Upon first listen…shockingly…Mega Philosophy sounded too stuffy and preachy and high handed. It was the Combat Jack Show interview, they played a lot of the album, that made me revisit it.
When I did I found out how limited my first thought was (this is why I would never ever write a one listen review). Mega Philosophy is a little over thirty minutes long and super heavy. Its fruits and vegetables but we need to eat our fruits and vegetables. Anytime an artist tries to lyrically reach as high as they can, analyze life beyond the first and second levels of awareness, it can be called heavy handed or preachy. What if nothing was preachy or heavy handed? What if songs like More didn’t exist? Would we be better off for not using hip hop to discuss economic inequality, self-image, or race? Absolutely not.
More is the best example of what Mega Philosophy is for someone that missed it. He spits fast and intelligently over a simple knocking baseline and light harp strings. At the end of the song when he says “I’m here to help repair you” his voice sounds sharply and reliably authentic. He really felt the weight of an entire community on him when he delivered these songs and they bear that strength. So if you’re looking for music to purchase pull yourself out of the new release section and dive into Cormega.
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Tagged 2014 albums, Conscious rap, Cormega, East Coast Hip Hop, intelligent rap, Large Professor, mega, Mega Philosophy, Nas, NY Hip Hop, The Firm
Mixtape review-Trappers Alley 2: Risk vs. Reward by Boldy James
At times it feels like Rakim and Big Daddy Kane split the rap world in half. During all the Nas interview interludes on the new Boldy James mixtape Trappers Alley 2: Risk vs. Reward it was all I could think about. Rakim was the prototype stone faced rappers rapper. Calm, cool and changing the rap universe with every verse that is who Nas grew into, that’s what Guru(from Gangstarr) aimed for. While Big Daddy Kane was still changing rap and blowing doors down he made sure it was stylishly, with slick clothes and exciting live shows. He is the blueprint for the east coast player/big time lyricist Biggie and Jay became. On the surface you would think that over time these differences would fade and everything would be everything, but the rift is still there. When Nas went looking for rappers to sign how could he not love Boldy James? Boldy can’t stop rapping and his biggest fault in the past has been that his delivery is so dry his music doesn’t pop like others with wilder deliveries or crazy ad-libs.
On other projects the stark minimalism of the production and the dry bars lulled me into sleeping on Boldy, I’m not going to lie. Even Rakim needed those bouncy dance beats to contrast his flow. Boldy is starting to get beats with more pop to them as his spotlight shines. On Trappers Alley 2: Risk vs. Reward it’s an all star production lineup of Black Milk, JMSN, TM808, and Go Grizzly (not to mention guest verses from Prodigy, AZ, JMSN, and Kevin Gates). Noided pops and crackles with Superfly soundtrack feeling, Big Bank sounds like one of those oddly gorgeous Zaytoven beats, and 2 Craps in A Missout is Black Milk feeding James just enough sound to serve him well like Madlib did for Freddie Gibbs on Pinata.
Production changes are not the story. Boldy James is still the story. Over the course of 20 tracks his verses are everywhere (he can’t even tolerate a rapless intro, he just has to spit). His hooks are big time, Costcos has an undeniably catchy snicker in its delivery. 3D delivers a triumphant THIS IS MY TIME hook on Realist and Boldy manages to temper his braggadocio with paranoid drug talk and family.
Boldy sounds just as comfortable rapping with Prodigy on Off The Wall as Kevin Gates and Snootie Wild on Moment In Time. On first listen this felt like Boldy’s I’ve-found-ATL-production project but over repeated listens I have been left in awe of his love of wordplay, like on Moment in Time when he uses Snooties name to start an avalanche of related rhyming words in his verse. Trappers Alley 2 is not about Boldy James finding the better production he needs; it’s about him finding the bigger production that we need as an audience. By the time you get to the last track (Confessional Cathedral) you get the feeling that he’s rap music’s Ray Allen. He could shoot like this for years and years and on his last day his form would still be perfect. He loves the craft and the discipline in a way a lot of more popular contemporaries can’t lay claim too. Nas recognizes that, the way everyone did when he laid his Live At The Barbeque verse for Main Source.
stream or download Trapper’s Alley 2: Risk vs. Reward below:
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Tagged AZ, Big Daddy Kane, Biggie, Black Milk, Boldy James, Go Grizzly, Jay-Z, JMSN, Kevin Gates, mixtape review, Nas, Prodigy, Rakim, Ray Allen of rap, Snootie WIld, TM808, Trapper's Alley 2: Risk vs Reward
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.