Song Review-Bamboo by Skyzoo produced by MarcNfinit
Skyzoo is so gifted that at times he’s too much for himself. At points in his discography his high IQ on jazz meets his high IQ pen and he puts out projects no one can understand. His new eight song project Peddler Themes is Skyzoo in my favorite place.
Bamboo is the most precise example: the beat takes boom bap nostalgia to real trunk rattling levels, the chorus is totally unique, intelligent and catchy while his verse is not just intelligent (everything Sky does is intelligent) the images are vivid not just telling the story but showing it to you. Examine the first verse and how the song opens “And he said, the strap black like fab 5 apparel/Sweet 16 running laps outta the barrel/Said it sing lullabies that’ll wrap you like a carol/Ducking that is like juggling laps with a Camaro” good writing grounds you in the scene with detail and Peddler Themes is full of emotionally rich detail. Skyzoo didn’t set out to make a drug rap album or a drug dealer movie but a painting built from hundreds of careful brush strokes.
That being said Peddler Themes color is still very fun. Just listen to Skyzoo (produced by his old friend Illmind) flex effortlessly on Finesse Everything. I think a lot of rappers at the higher end of lyrical density have a tough time getting out of their own way but when a razor sharp expert stays loose, has faith in the design, and pushes forward the result is usually something exciting and Peddler Themes is absolutely that.
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Tagged Bamboo, Boom Bap, Finesse Everything, Illmind, intelligence, jazz influenced hip hop, MarcNfinit, New York Hip Hop, NY Hip Hop, Peddler Themes, Skyzoo, song reviews
Mixtape Review-All or Nothing: Live It Up by Lloyd Banks
Hillary Clinton and Lloyd Banks are more similar than you might think. In the same way the public looked at Hillary confused for staying with Bill after all the cheating, expecting her to explode in front of us, Lloyd was called out publicly over and over again by his mentor 50 Cent for being lazy and not promoting himself and said nothing publicly. Banks believes in loyalty with no regard for outsiders.
On his new mixtape All or Nothing: Live It Up the first song (Pledge of Allegiance) states repeatedly “Trust nobody that ain’t family, they’ll switch up on you fast.” It’s what separates him from Game, both have virtually the same skill level but Game is an epic self-promoter willing to do whatever it takes to trend. So while 50 Cent might see Banks as lazy, and the average fan will wonder where he goes in between mixtapes (not a promotional tour) on All or Nothing he articulates himself as someone who wants to focus on art the way Hilary just wants to focus on policy. Neither campaign for themselves particularly well.
She is great at the work of government and he’s a great lyricist but neither wants to win the homecoming king/queen of public opinion. Familiar producer names for Banks fans are present here as Tha Jerm gets two songs, Doe Pesci gets three. Even new names sound familiar; everyone just wants to give Banks something that will bring him back to that Born Alone, Die Alone state of being. After all the waiting, the long hiatus, how much rap has changed…Banks steps back into his old sound like he never left.
When he works with guests he is never outshined. Prodigy and Vado get loose over the haunting violin of Mr. Authentic’s Seniorities beat but Banks is better. Joe Budden throws bar after bar at the warped boom bap of Doe Pesci’s Transitions beat and Banks doesn’t bother tacking on extra verses on the back to not get shown up. He’s confident in what he’s doing.
The best songs on All or Nothing: Live It Up are Banks by himself. As the cymbals crash on Bags of Gold (produced by Quis Star) he wraps his words around money and paranoia in a unique rhyme pattern that is amazing to listen to. My favorite song is Miserable; he raps the first verse to a loved one and pledges that his word is all he has, being authentic and reliable means a lot to Banks but not in the way we understand it.
He wants to achieve his personal artistic goals and live up to the high bar of New York hip hop lyricism without being touched by the oily tentacles of industry politics. That’s why he doesn’t opt into big marketing; he just drops it and knows that whoever listens will get more than what they paid for. As he weaves words together at a fiery pace on Holy Water(2nd favorite song) you start to realize that he is driven but its personal and long term . Makes for a great listen.
Stream or download All or Nothing: Live It Up below:
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Tagged All or Nothing Live It Up, Doe Pesci, G-Unit, Hillary Clinton, hip hop, Joe Budden, Lloyd Banks, mixtape review, Mr. Authentic, New York Hip Hop, NY Hip Hop, Prodigy, Quis Star, Tha Jerm, Vado
Song of the year-Just by KA
I wonder how hard most of the reviewers who now lavish praise on KA yearly work to understand what he is saying? It is VERY easy to get spun into his dimension and float on a sea of jagged found sounds (those out of control jingle bells on That Cold and Lonely) and steady bass without looking down at the one liner revelations he is delivering. I don’t just look forward to KA’s yearly release because he is my pick for best rapper in the world…he messes me up when he drops something.
2012’s Grief Pedigree is the most NY rap album of the last 16 years but I knew exactly what it was out to do, what it meant. Ever since, he has widened his lens, using concepts to speak on life in ways that go beyond gritty street poetry. Every album goes deeper. His newest, Honor Killed The Samurai is about honor, morality and how it survives when met by the savagery of the real world.
Just is the second song with a hypnotic woodwinds loop that other sounds get thrown into. About a minute and a half in he broke my mind with “Unfold my destiny…there’s no one less than me. Behold my labor…there’s no one greater.” I think it is the best summation of the independent grind an artist faces. To look around you and realize others are making millions repeating the same phrase, bouncing around young and joyful and entitled while you work your fingers to the bone for your art; just trying to put the cold nights behind you. I am in no way saying this is how KA feels. I am saying I know many who do, and I would be lying if I told you I hadn’t felt that.
His phraseology is completely his own. If you look at that quoted line, no one in the world would have put it like that (How many rap songs have behold in them?). When you hear the chorus on Mourn At Night listen to the pauses and word placement. It’s just KA in that old man raspy monotone saying “He gone. They Mourn. At Night.”
Maybe Ka is the Tom Waits of hip hop. Hearing Tom Waits for the first time I remember saying “with this voice why does he even NEED to push the lyrics this intricate?” Ka can sound menacing, no problem. He could probably make more money with simpler, more muscular smack talk but he has a personal standard so far above my traditional listening experience.
He gets better every time.
Hearing his new material always enhances my standard.
Mixtape Review-Drunk Uncle by N.O.R.E.
I am a pretty passionate hip hop head. I hate pet peeve artists I’ve never met worse than family or friends that have slighted me, but I’ve never really had an opinion on N.O.R.E. Never been able to call him wack because he swings in on tracks and destroys his guest verse (example: What U Rep on Prodigy’s H.N.I.C. album) but N.O.R.E. is too funny to be hardcore and too hardcore to be backpacker. Not living in New York, I never found a way to care much about him either way; one thing was for certain: all the best rappers love this dude. If you need clarity on why just listen to the first episode of his new podcast Drink Champs where he is hilarious and intuitive while pushing his guests for the juiciest stories. This is a dude you’d want to hang out with whether you are Nas or me.
That is not enough to survive in hip hop as long as N.O.R.E. has. He’s stayed profitable since 1997. Imagine how many great lyricists have fallen completely off in that time. His new mixtape, Drunk Uncle, showcases all of the reasons why he’s still here and valuable. N.O.R.E. has a hall of famers ear for beats. He knew that beat Butchrock gave for the song Queens needed Kool G Rap on it the same way he knew the DJ Mustard beat We Don’t needed Rick Ross & Ty Dolla Sign. The purpose of the mixtape is to draw a line in the sand between the old heads spending all their time complaining about what rap is and the thirsty new kids who don’t care about the history. N.O.R.E. stands right between the two sides calling on old friends like Swizz Beatz, Dame Grease and SPK for production (Jadakiss, Fat Joe and Nature on verses) but also reaching out to new schoolers like A$AP Ferg, Dave East, Rick Ross, and Ty Dolla Sign. He still has that club hit skill set, a song like Buckets (with French Montana & Manolo Rose) screams night club with glasses in the air.
N.O.R.E. fits everywhere. He grinds out a face scrunching hardcore gem, handling all verses, on Get Money even over that simple hard-nosed beat he throws in some left field humor that grabs your attention “Don’t play with me I’ll get you popped on your hover board, throw you in the river with the manatee’s…” somehow he sounds like he fits over Mustard standing next to Ross. I was shocked that after hearing his collaboration with Killer Mike & Sleepy Brown I wanted a group to form. Mike and N.O.R.E. share a rollicking don’t give a F__ attitude. Sleepy Brown is absolutely dope, still the southern Nate Dogg without a doubt.
My hope is that this is a sampler plate and he has more surprises to come. The mixtapes best moment, the song Moments, illustrates how maturity and old age might give us a more interesting spread of content from N.O.R.E. while we all loved his jovial songs about oral sex in 1998, at this point it’s great to hear him build introspection without falling into high handed backpacker talk. He lists moments in his life that are important; bid in jail, wedding, convo w/ Jay and one of them is “the birth of every one of my kids”, he says the line originally was “the birth of my first kid” but he changed it (he said this on his legendary Rap Radar podcast interview). I love that he changed it; that his team pushed him to change it. That means he doesn’t have a team of yes men, he has people keeping him fresh and it means he’s really considering what everything means and how it can be taken. I hope Drunk Uncle really does get a buzz going because I’d love to hear what N.O.R.E. could do to rap now.
stream or download Drunk Uncle:
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Tagged Butchrock, Dame Grease, DJ Mustard, Drink Champs podcast, Drunk Uncle, Jadakiss, Killer Mike, Kool G Rap, mixtape review, N.O.R.E., New York Hip Hop, Noreaga, NY Hip Hop, Rap Radar Podcast, Rick Ross, Sleepy Brown, Ty Dolla $ign
Song Review-R.I.P.C.D by Flatbush Zombies produced by Erick Arc Elliott
The easiest way to gauge the dopeness level of 3001: A Laced Odyssey by the Flatbush Zombies is to pay attention to the interludes. Listen to the gorgeous piano driven two minute suicide song Fly Away or the soulful head nodding Smoke Break interlude. These are precisely placed and carefully crafted; the interludes are the typically the last ratty concern of most hip hop albums; a funny joke, an angry voicemail from an ex (exception: the Lox had fabulous interludes/skits). They usually feel useless but EVERYTHING on 3001 belongs.
How was I to know? I turned my nose up at the Zombies from day one lumping them in with the NY trap movement. When the hype for their new album broke I turned up my nose even higher, they must all have it wrong, their interview on the Rap Radar Podcast made me reassess their whole catalog. They were thoughtful, authoritative and sharp, not at all how my mind had constructed them. After going back to their mixtapes it turns out I love everything they’ve ever done.
I have to appreciate producer Erick Arc Elliott who laces a tonal wonderland on 3001. R.I.P.C.D is a great example of a beat that is haunting, striking and minimal enough to be perfect for the emcee. It leaves space for Juice and Meech to go absolutely nuts with lines like “I want their head like Isis…I sit in silence speak in tongues and burn bibles.” These guys grew up loving Biggie but preferring the really messed up imagery, the moments where you were like “Did he just say that?” R.I.P.C.D is a song that well represents the album, it’s a smart commentary on the digital music age and what we lost but it’s also hardcore as hell with a dope beat. A win-win for rap fans like me.
Song Review-Dudley Boyz by Westside Gunn featuring Action Bronson produced by Alchemist
Have I told you how much I love Westside Gunn’s Flygod album? It has the same crushing sense of hardcore content with a twist of dark humor that Sean Price was so great at creating. In addition, it features production by Alchemist, Statik Selektah, & Roc Marciano while the album is mostly produced by Daringer (10 out of 18 tracks) and it all sounds magnificently consistent. Flygod sounds like the attentive child of peak-Havoc Mobb Deep production. I have no idea who Daringer is but he lays these beats cold scary and twisted (examples: Shower Shoe Lords & Free Chapo).
This is a perfect sonic landscape for Alchemist to drop into. He plays the optical illusion of the very simple beat that feels enormous while Bronson goes nuts yelling “I’m all suede! Everything a spaceship!” Not to be outdone Westside Gunn bops into the song with his off-kilter flow and declares “grenade launcher lookin’ like Manute Bol, lookin’ for loopholes fell asleep in the law library, me and Larusso.” As convincingly in-your-face violent as Gunn gets (rolling dead bodies in rugs, AK in the backseat) he’s still having fun and smiling at you through these references. No one who makes a Manute Bol grenade launcher reference is without humor. In the song 55 & A Half he talks about having “visions of Sean Price” and while he’s not the most technical master of ceremonies (some of these rhymes come a mile away) I’m just so happy to have a New York movement (no matter how mainstream it gets or doesn’t) with a mission to keep this hardcore NY sound so icy you can see your breath with headphones on. Between Gunn, Marciano, Bronson, Smoke Dza, & Ka something really nice is developing. It might remind you of the good old days but it’s a little sillier if you catch the jokes.
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Tagged Action Bronson, Alchemist, Daringer, Flygod, New York Hip Hop, NY Hip Hop, Roc Marciano, Sean Price, Song Review, Statik Selektah, Westside Gunn
Song Review-Heard Dat by Smoke Dza produced by Harry Fraud
When a sound is described as “nostalgic” no part of that is complimentary. They are inferring that it spins its wheels by replicating an old sound that we all miss and want back without moving at all into the future. It gets tossed around far too much by hip hop hipsters who write for notable tastemaking websites to describe just about anything that doesn’t fit the narrative they have tried to create. Smoke Dza has already gotten that review for his new 9 song project with Harry Fraud He Has Risen and will definitely find it written again. I am likely much more up in arms about it than either of them.
He Has Risen is not the celebrated sound of the day. It is not muddy, depressed, hedonistic, or weird for its own sake. The funny thing: Smoke Dza was considered an oddity at the outset of his career being a Harlem rapper with a very southern delivery and running with Curren$y. Rap has gotten so much weirder that on this album he’s being framed like Joey Bad@$$…as a golden age throwback.
Harry Fraud is a genius. The sharp jazzy influence on Heard Dat never waters down the thickness of the Fraud sound it just swims overtop of it. Amidst the gooey chunks of bass Dza stamps down on every word declared. Dza doesn’t fit into the conscious rapping genius or trap groupings but he snarls and moves the crowd. He’s better on this than on Dream Zone Achieve. Together they give you a nine song bridge leading from Ghostface to Wiz Khalifa, from the era hip hop heads grew up on to the one Kendrick is setting the pace for. The last time these two sounded this good was on 2012’s Rugby Thompson, which for my ears is an off-the-grid classic.
Maybe this sound is underground… if that’s true you should really ask yourself if the difference between underground and the other option is simply having any appreciation for the history of the art. Is any hint of jazz or soul going to push that nostalgia button? Is cold, dead isolation the new popular sound? If that’s the case long live the underground.
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Tagged Curren$y, Dream Zone Achieve, Harry Fraud, He Has Risen, Joey Bada$$, New York Hip Hop, Nostalgia, NY Hip Hop, Rugby Thompson, Smoke Dza, Song Review