Tag Archives: New York Hip Hop

My 5 favorite weird Wu-Tang songs

My 5 favorite weird Wu-Tang songs

by Dan-O

Showtime dropped a four part documentary series about the Wu-Tang Clan that is everything to anyone who has a place in their heart for the Staten Island pioneers. I am doing promo for it right now because it’s the last I can do for the MC’s who raised my hip hop mind. In salute to the sharpest swords of Shaolin I wanted to give you five songs from The Wu that are gloriously weird. The point of this grouping is that it is a mix of songs you likely know and ones you likely don’t.

Raekwon featuring 2 Chainz-F.I.L.A. World from Fly International Luxurious Art

When Wu dropped we stared at the cover and listened to the interlude where RZA explained each member like a superhero. Pretty quickly my pick was Raekwon. He wasn’t as bombastic as other options but I love how smooth he is and the weird ways his mind works. F.I.L.A. World is a great example. The first Wu member to rap with Outkast teams up with 2 Chainz on a KILLER Scram Jones beat that feels like it was made for Rick Ross. Everything fits because The Chef fits anywhere a mic plugs in.

Method Man featuring Raekwon-Meth vs. Chef from Tical

Never heard nothing like it. Track is set up like a street MC battle where we are the audience. Method Man spits fire directly against Raekwon verses. The fans always isolate who beat who on what track but no one ever sets it up as a direct contest on wax. The Wu-Tang are all swordsman convinced they can slice through anything so neither had any fear of losing. It’s my favorite Wu member (Rae) vs. the one I give the most guff to (Meth). That is a conversation for another time. This track is not just bonkers it is a necessary listen for anyone getting into The Wu. It shows you how different their talents are and how seriously they take it.

Old Dirty Bastard-Drunk Game (Sweet Sugar Pie) from Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version

Old Dirty was not a clown. Funny how the same kids that watch Heath Ledger as the Joker wax poetic on the brilliant madness of that character but can’t see the genius of ODB. He specifically set out to damage the basic structure of the hip hop album. In 1995, when Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version was released the format for a hip hop song was rigid. R & B was considered soft and you could get called weak for having an R & B hook. It was a reputational battle to be the hardest and that had a lot of cats pretending their way to the finish line.  Dirty declares his love of sweet soul music by singing his off beat love song in the most carefree yet sincere way he can. Yes he does a lot of laughing and yelling and making noises you’ll never hear anyone else make but he loves this genre and understands its relationship to Rap. This is the music his mom played for him and my Dad played for me. We can never lose this soul. Listening to Dirty fake orgasm and turn his grunting into an ad-lib was truly mind blowing for high school Dan. It was like the Joker setting mob money on fire.

Ghostface Killah featuring Jadakiss-Run from The Pretty Toney Album

The Pretty Toney album is a disturbingly overlooked classic. An important landmark in Def Jam’s shift to an R & B-first operation. They put it out with no publicity. Ghost was mad but Ghost is always mad, his focus draws from it. As a storyteller Run is a perfect illustration of his powers.  Most rappers would never write a song where they are running. They only paint pictures of themselves in positions of power. Not only does Ghost charge into the songs concept, he drills down into the details from the opening seconds. His opening bars on this are ” A Yo I jumped from the 8th floor step, hit the ground. The pound fell, cops is coming. Running through the pissy stairwells I ain’t hear nothing, buggin’, ” You interested in this story? Heck yeah. He’s not just scared and admitting it he’s frantic and builds the entire story in 19 seconds. Don’t get so wrapped up in the personalities the Clan has that you forget these are all genius level artistic talents. All time stuff. I didn’t even get a chance to talk about Jadakiss(‘I learned from the OG’s to save everything’ #classic) . That’s how good Ghost is.

Wu-Tang Clan -Hollow Bones from The W

RZA’s genius production is on full display here as he pulls and tugs at a Syl Johnson sample until it screams for mercy. The pain it emits gives Rae, Deck, and Ghost the perfect backdrop to stew in paranoia, threaten, and take drugs to numb the pain. I always love the Wu songs that are tortured and pained like this one. So few 90’s rappers were willing to explain their hood PTSD as in depth as the Clan (I love you Scarface). I wonder how many upper middle class white kids learned empathy for the economically disadvantaged from them? That isn’t a shot. I am so grateful hip hop was there for the Wu to bring them out of the situations they rapped about and even more grateful they could spend these decades teaching us what it was like and how they’ve grown.

 

P.S.

Fame by U-God featuring Styles P from The Keynote Speaker

Wu fans made fun of U-God. I am guilty. If you listen to Keynote Speaker from 2013…he’s not bad. We probably gave him too much hassle the way we did Sheek Louch for not being as good as Styles or Jada. He’s solid and grounded and has had some not good but GREAT verses. Every legendary crew has someone who became the “least favorite” and if you look at them individually, everything looks totally different. This is all to say I am sorry U-God.

 

 

 

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#Bandcampgold-Hiding Places by Billy Woods x Kenny Segal

#Bandcampgold-Hiding Places by Billy Woods x Kenny Segal

by Dan-O

Biographers live in the world of their subject for years. Can you imagine? In depth talks with family, old letters, review of their work, nailing down different periods of life and what they meant. The subject has to be important enough to fuel the biographer. If that spark flames out it’s a world of bad for everyone. I could be the biographer for Billy Woods & Kenny Segal’s new album Hiding Places. Over the past week I’ve been deep in lyric reading and song re-listens pulling at different sections of what it all means. I could do two years research on the end of A Day In A Week In A Year when Woods says:

“I read the play, hatchet job, but you work with what you got/  Life is just two quarters in the machine

But, either you got it or don’t that’s the thing
I was still hittin’ the buttons, “Game Over” on the screen
Dollar movie theater, dingy foyer, little kid, not a penny to my name
Fuckin’ with the joystick, pretendin’ I was really playin’
Pretendin’ I was really playin’
Pretendin’ I was really playin’ “

Pretending to play when you don’t have the money is a central memory for kids of a certain generation. Being able to go full thrust with your imagination and the screen regardless of what was working against you forms the basis of an artist’s mind.  The joy of playing v. the ability to get in the game this is why it connects back to the hack play, dedicating yourself to your art when your art sucks is still pretending to play.

And that is just one fragment of one song. All the songs are built from these incredible impactful fragments that come together to form a singular emotional realization part poetic beauty part violence drizzled in lots of frustration. My favorite song is a minute and twenty eight seconds long. It is called Steak Knives and it is not simply about how horrifying a life of crime is but about how painfully destructive living in poverty can be without the endless fight for money we hear rappers talk about. As Woods says in the song “it’s sick but banalities might as well be death threats/Let it sit/ there’s the threat of sepsis” He opens the song by a roaring fire about to make love to a woman who specifies she does not want a relationship and ends it flippantly acknowledging ,in a passive aggressive way, that he doesn’t have the breathing room to help those not as driven. Second place is steak knives.

All the songs are lyrically rich threatening and evocative. I need to spend some time complimenting Kenny Segal who walked a tight line. Producing for a dense lyricist is a heck of a trap: keep it simple and your doing what most producers could do and it sounds boring, make it weird you might throw the MC off their flow. Songs like Houthi are masterfully open; ready for a lyricist to shine BUT it shifts drops out cuts in and alternates in a hypnotic way that keeps it from being stale. Production is consistent but fragmented. When you think you know a song it undulates in a different direction. Listen to all the subtle changes going on in Spider Hole before the guitar slams in at two minutes and twenty one seconds. Menacing does this sound design disservice. It’s not just menacing its thick and deceptively expansive. Central sounds build neighborhoods to live in.

I was looking for the one line Billy Woods said that scorched my heart and left my eyes Simpson size. These bars define the entire Billy Woods experience and I’ve had them bouncing around my head since the first listen. That moment happens in the first verse of Speak Gently “I’m a bad penny/I’m the feelin’ after you killed ’em and seen the safe empty.” That image is something no MC has ever left for me. Standing in front of a body, mind racing, only to look up at an empty safe all of it for nothing…left with the shame of my actions and the taste of monetary failure. Sick with everything wrong about this world at once. That’s Billy Woods superpower. He’s in total control of that feeling. No hero stuff he’s the viciousness of reality cutting through all the layers of defense you keep in front of it. Every verse makes your eye water like Listerine just before you spit.

Stream or purchase Hiding Places below:

https://billywoods.bandcamp.com/album/hiding-places

FREEMUSICEMPIRE MVP OF 2018 IS ROC MARCIANO

 

FREEMUSICEMPIRE MVP OF 2018 IS ROC MARCIANO

by Dan-O

I was sitting with a table of people I respect. All involved are my age within five years. We were talking about music this year and they launched into how great Eminem is and his beef with MGK. It was difficult to find the words to explain why Eminem is not, in fact, great anymore. Why someone less lyrical like Kodie Shane is a better emcee. He is technically great, no one knows more words and can blow out a show stopping 16 like Em but that’s not what makes a great rapper.

An artist is responsible for not just great brushstrokes but vision. The artist masterminds the color scheme the physical position of characters the looks on their faces. The artist is in charge of what all of that means and adds up to. So what is the sum total of those songs? What do any of his last few albums mean… in Shady’s case very little. Roc Marciano is a study in the opposite direction.

Our newly crowned FME MVP of 2018 released three albums this year. Each handled with a curators eye; three albums with a total of 36 songs which averages to 12 songs per album. Each one shading his story a different hue, taking a step further in creating a full landscape while maintaining a two fisted approach to punch lines that would have made prized pugilist Rocky Marciano proud. Once the landscape was built the album was over and the promise of another was only a few months away. The process is a much better one than the massive data dump of artists like Post Malone/Fetty Wop where the album never ends and doesn’t really feel like it began.

I am the first one to admit I don’t have an objective view of the scene Roc exists in. My favorite lyricist in the world of rap is Ka who is Roc’s right hand man. I still remember Roc’s voice escalating when Combat Jack (R.I.P. the podcast god) told him he didn’t really get Ka. He was passionate about how dope Ka is about as passionate as I am in selling Ka  to those around me who have not heard him. I think of Ka as the only emcee Roc views as adequate competition and seeks to surpass. This year he did it.

His resume: blew Busta Rhymes off a track, did multiple songs with Black Thought and held his own, impressed Royce Da 5’9 so much with his feature that he drew very specific praise from him on social media. Royce talked about his ability to use space, letting the track breathe for a few beats only to swagger back in. In boxing terms Royce has incredible hand speed he never stops throwing meaningful shots. Roc is Sugar Ray Robinson with all-time powerful lines but he comes in close unloads in combinations and gets out; he has a rhythm that keeps you off your toes at all times. That isn’t just flow it’s release schedule pricing and merchandise. You never what is coming from Roc. In 2018 great artists wanted to be on songs to see how real this was in their presence.

Attached to this review will be my list of the 38 flyest things Roc said in 2018 (You will notice songs having multiple entries that is not me being weird Roc is a damn beast). The #1 entry is from the song Wild Oats (off of the collaboration album Kaos he did with the great DJ Muggs) and I think it explains in two sentences the central meaning of his year. “I used to think School was for chumps. Now I’m in Bermuda by the pool with the trunks, books by the bunch, just to think I was a crook once.” Roc Marciano’s process has been a long form explanation of the things he has gone through that lots of his peers didn’t of the bitter determination he uses to overcome adversity but also of the beaming gratitude underneath that bitterness. As the sun shines on his face and he runs his hand over the hardcover of a book he’s reading. It is the gratitude that makes him want to dig for the wildest turn of phrase to boast that growth in his next rhyme. This isn’t a chain or watch brag it’s the maturation of someone who could have been dead or unknown by now. 2018 was Roc Marciano’s best year and for his audience it was a gift. The secret of it all is that he sees it the same way.

38 Fly things Roc Marciano said in 2018

  1. “I used to think School was for chumps. Now I’m in Bermuda by the pool with the trunks, books by the bunch, just to think I was a crook once.”—Wild Oats
  2. “I’m like Huey Newton sitting in the king’s wicker chair with the pistol near. My face is chiseled into silverware with care.”—-Amethyst
  3. “My B__ like Tracy Ellis Ross, don’t ever sell yourself short.” —Dolph Lundgren
  4. “Don’t be a dick you know I’m sensitive. Don’t let me catch you talkin’ shit about my mamma biscuits bitch!” —-The Sauce
  5. “Why you sweatin’ me then and questionin’ who I’m in bed with? For the record, your breathe stink.”—-The Sauce
  6. “Might need a hot air balloon to get a real view of my hairdo.” —-Aunt Bonnie
  7. “Shit I ain’t playin’. I sit down and eat at P.F. Chang’s then leave without payin’.” —-Consigliere
  8. “Who else since Prince can fit my Trench?”—White Dirt
  9. “The Mercedes ain’t rented. B— I was saving up to get it.” —-CVS
  10. “I rap with my nose up with my tux and my glass of mimosa ‘oh you think you know so much'” —Kill You (laughs afterward)
  11. “Watching Harlem Nights on Chartered flights.”—White Dirt
  12. “My shining bright might turn the night into day. I’m a Viking I might bite your face.”—Bohemian Grove
  13. “You n_’s just follow we changed the business model.”—-White Dirt
  14. “Fox fur on my evening coat. I gave these heathens hope.” —Respected
  15. “I prefer shrimp and lobster, my posture like Kevin Costner…”—Wormhole
  16. “You came when the culture was dead. I shocked the game so it rose from the bed. Frankenstein with the bolts in his neck.” —CVS
  17. “My shine still flow from behind a blindfold.”—Shit I’m On
  18. “I was clean when Max B was singing off key.” —-The Sauce
  19. “Every half a bar is worth a Jaguar.” —Aunt Bonnie
  20. “I blast the chrome all you see is ass and elbows.” —Bohemian Grove
  21. “I leave ya pockets with Bugs Bunny ears.”—Happy Endings
  22. “I’m with that white girl I’m in that sunken place.” —Bohemian Grove
  23. “If I was you and mad at me I would be too. “—Sampson & Delilah
  24. “The Bentley mint green I need a pinky ring.” —Rolls Royce Rug
  25. “Life is a jungle not a jungle gym.”—Wild Oats
  26. “You was never sturdy a little birdy told me this. I said you can’t compare goldfish to Moby Dick.”—The Sauce
  27. “…speak for the voiceless. I spent last weekend eating with lawyers the cheese ain’t good enough reason to be exploited.” —-Sampson & Delilah
  28. “Always had a scheme to get by in the crème Fila.” —-Amethyst
  29. “My tall thing like Lena Horne in a leotard.” —Wild Oats
  30. “All my shit is tailored all your shit is whatever.” —Dolph Lundgren
  31. “Lookin’ self-absorbed in the Porsche, Fire lines they thought I wrote these lines with a welding torch.”—Wild Oats
  32. “They gentrified the game, that’s when the god came.” —Aunt Bonnie
  33. “You see my neck we could never be neck and neck.” —Wormhole
  34. “No matter the platform the ho’s gon’ clap for ’em.” —Rolls Royce Rugs
  35. “Listen Sugar Tits, just choose a pimp.”—Wormhole
  36. “…but still this shit is not by force it’s by choice.” —Rolls Royce Rugs
  37. “For what a Phantom costs I’ll blam at your thoughts.” —Shit I’m On
  38. “Prior to my first release they said the East was done.” —Kill You

Song Review-Bamboo by Skyzoo produced by MarcNfinit

Song Review-Bamboo by Skyzoo produced by MarcNfinit

by Dan-O

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.

Mixtape Review-All or Nothing: Live It Up by Lloyd Banks

Mixtape Review-All or Nothing: Live It Up by Lloyd Banks

by Dan-O

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:

https://spinrilla.com/mixtapes/lloyd-banks-all-or-nothing-live-it-up

 

 

Song of the year-Just by KA

Song of the year-Just by KA

by Dan-O

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.

Mixtape Review-Drunk Uncle by N.O.R.E.

by Dan-O

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:

http://www.datpiff.com/NORE-Drunk-Uncle-mixtape.771328.html