FREEMUSICEMPIRE MVP OF 2018 IS ROC MARCIANO
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
- “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
- “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
- “My B__ like Tracy Ellis Ross, don’t ever sell yourself short.” —Dolph Lundgren
- “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
- “Why you sweatin’ me then and questionin’ who I’m in bed with? For the record, your breathe stink.”—-The Sauce
- “Might need a hot air balloon to get a real view of my hairdo.” —-Aunt Bonnie
- “Shit I ain’t playin’. I sit down and eat at P.F. Chang’s then leave without payin’.” —-Consigliere
- “Who else since Prince can fit my Trench?”—White Dirt
- “The Mercedes ain’t rented. B— I was saving up to get it.” —-CVS
- “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)
- “Watching Harlem Nights on Chartered flights.”—White Dirt
- “My shining bright might turn the night into day. I’m a Viking I might bite your face.”—Bohemian Grove
- “You n_’s just follow we changed the business model.”—-White Dirt
- “Fox fur on my evening coat. I gave these heathens hope.” —Respected
- “I prefer shrimp and lobster, my posture like Kevin Costner…”—Wormhole
- “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
- “My shine still flow from behind a blindfold.”—Shit I’m On
- “I was clean when Max B was singing off key.” —-The Sauce
- “Every half a bar is worth a Jaguar.” —Aunt Bonnie
- “I blast the chrome all you see is ass and elbows.” —Bohemian Grove
- “I leave ya pockets with Bugs Bunny ears.”—Happy Endings
- “I’m with that white girl I’m in that sunken place.” —Bohemian Grove
- “If I was you and mad at me I would be too. “—Sampson & Delilah
- “The Bentley mint green I need a pinky ring.” —Rolls Royce Rug
- “Life is a jungle not a jungle gym.”—Wild Oats
- “You was never sturdy a little birdy told me this. I said you can’t compare goldfish to Moby Dick.”—The Sauce
- “…speak for the voiceless. I spent last weekend eating with lawyers the cheese ain’t good enough reason to be exploited.” —-Sampson & Delilah
- “Always had a scheme to get by in the crème Fila.” —-Amethyst
- “My tall thing like Lena Horne in a leotard.” —Wild Oats
- “All my shit is tailored all your shit is whatever.” —Dolph Lundgren
- “Lookin’ self-absorbed in the Porsche, Fire lines they thought I wrote these lines with a welding torch.”—Wild Oats
- “They gentrified the game, that’s when the god came.” —Aunt Bonnie
- “You see my neck we could never be neck and neck.” —Wormhole
- “No matter the platform the ho’s gon’ clap for ’em.” —Rolls Royce Rugs
- “Listen Sugar Tits, just choose a pimp.”—Wormhole
- “…but still this shit is not by force it’s by choice.” —Rolls Royce Rugs
- “For what a Phantom costs I’ll blam at your thoughts.” —Shit I’m On
- “Prior to my first release they said the East was done.” —Kill You
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Tagged Behold A Dark Horse, Black Thought, Busta Rhymes, DJ Muggs, Freemusicempire MVP 2018, Ka, Kaos, MVP, New York Hip Hop, Roc Marciano, Royce Da 5'9, RR2: The Bitter Dose
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