Song Review-Figure It Out by Wiz Khalifa produced by Sledgren & Cookin’ Soul
I love Wiz Khalifa’s first album Show and Prove released in 2006. He was a 19 year old kid spitting fire and I loved his bars. It was not always an easy process watching him become this generations Snoop. By Kush and OJ I’d figured it out like everyone else but I still miss hungry Pittsburgh Sound Khalifa.
It might be weird to write about him now, a lot of important critics have probably pronounced his latest album Laugh Now, Fly Later another Khalifa album to ignore. I like it. It is the first post-monoculture Khalifa album. Laugh Now, Fly Later accepts that the spotlight he was trying to get back isn’t even there anymore. At this point he just needs to do what Curren$y does and focus on keeping his fans laced; the rest is what it is.
Songs like Stay Focused and City of Steel are back in any fans comfort zone. My favorite of all is Figure It Out. I am a documented Cookin’ Soul nut (don’t sleep on Sledgren either). This beat feels like a Caribbean beach. Not only is Wiz in Rolling Papers form when singing the chorus, but it’s about something. The chorus is
“Sometimes things ain’t gon work out
How you think you want it to go
Sometimes you gotta keep going
When you think you can’t no more
Sometimes you can’t depend on
Who you think you can no more
Sometimes you gotta try, gotta try and
Figure it out”
He masters the tone of determined faith and energy while maintaining a meditative level of chill. You can hear him getting mad at people trying to derail him and letting go of that anger. Lyrically you can see it in the end of the second verse. “Goals, set em, achieve em/ Joints smoke em and leave em/ Ten toes, no matter the season/ Hot tub with my feet in/ Living comfortably cheesing.” Figure It Out is the Wiz we need. Every generation needs it’s Snoop; someone to buck the traditional RA-RA chest beating cadence and give you something to ride the speed limit to. For Wiz he’s at his best when he can give you the mood and some verses that mean something to him. I hope he’s building to that place and he can give us his own variation on Blue Carpet Treatment.
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
Song of The Year-Survivor by Mary J Blige
Mary will always have a special place in my heart. When I was away from home for the first time (out of country) in the Army she had one of the three albums I needed in order to survive (D’Angelo-Voodoo, 2pac-Makaveli, Mary-My Life). That was back in 1999-2002 and in 2017 Mary J Blige has one of the best albums this year. Coming out of a bad relationship that left a lot of emotional scars she fully explores them on Strength of A Woman.
The two names that strengthen the project on the production end are DJ Camper and Brandon “B.A.M.” Hodge. Camper gives the thick, knocking, clean backdrop for the greatest Kanye West collaboration in years (his best verse in a long time) Love Yourself. He also orchestrates the lush piano sound behind her blisteringly confessional Set Me Free. While Camper is credited with 5 of the 14 tracks B.A.M matches him (if you count co-credits). B.A.M. maintains the almost Maybach Music level clean luxury sounds but really kicks up the bass to a satisfying level.
Mary’s songwriting is fearless. Several times you hear things that shock you but her voice keeps you on track. It is kind of amazing how good her voice is at this point in her career. Survivor is the best. On it she occupies this strange space of diva crafting an anthem and humble, grounded artist who feels like a member of your family. As glorious as the song sounds she still can’t take any of the credit and gives it all to God. I can’t tell you why listening to this song for the second time made me tear up. I certainly haven’t survived anything interesting. I would guess that just hearing her strength and knowing it was the same determination from Not Gon’ Cry and I’m Goin’ Down, that unchanged intensity and will to pick things up and move on was just too perfect for me. I think we need to start talking about Mary like we do Jay and stop letting her doubt how important she’s been to all of us.
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Tagged B.A.M., best albums of 2017, Brandon Hodge, DJ Camper, kanye west, Mary J Blige, My Life, song of the year, song reviews, Strength of A Woman, Survivor
Song Review-Marksmen by Roc Marciano featuring Ka produced by Arch Druids
I don’t think any song on the new Joey Bada$$ album (All-Amerikkkan Bada$$) is as important as him going to Hot 97 and telling them NY radio hasn’t grown. He was correct but I would have changed the ageism laced in his argument. The problem is not that Funkmaster Flex is old it’s that his ear is old. Roc Marciano is only ten years younger than the 48 year old Flex and Ka is only four years younger but they are both a vital part of the character of NY hip hop rebuilding itself in 2017.
Roc Marciano’s album Rosebudd’s Revenge is bigger denser and more fun(as well as experimental) than any project he’s released before. He collaborates with Ka on Marksmen which is a cannon ball sailing at rappers doing throw away music. The interview sample at the beginning about getting better and better is more than a guiding principal it could be a commandment. In this song Roc Marci says “you hit the notes flat, my whistle blow and make the crystal crack” and Ka starts off the song with “To our production, much destruction for our appetite. With steel fist if meal missed wasn’t for lack of might.” Is anyone as careful with each word as these two? Every song they step on together is two artists of a like mind discovering a higher level.
Younger important NY hip hop artists like Your Old Droog and Westside Gunn are ten or fifteen years younger than Ka & Marciano but are painting with the same colors. Age isn’t the problem it is art. Ka and Marciano are artists who create pieces not hustlers making lifestyle music (no shots, I love fun ad-libs). It feels like NY radio (and the magazines) were so wrapped up in the pettiness loop that they forgot about the artistic standard the music is held to. They were calling somebodies flow trash or fire without looking at the song like you look at a completed painting or poem. Their context is trash. Each song these two make hangs in the gallery of their discography and should be reviewed that way. It’s not a movie, it’s a landscape you have to keep looking at to find all the detail in the background that indicates the skill involved, the patience, and the vision.
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Tagged Art, Brownsville Ka, funkmaster flex, Joey Bada$$, Ka, Marksmen, NY Hip Hop, Roc Marciano, Rosebudd's Revenge, song reviews, Westside Gunn, Your Old Droog
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
Song of The Year-Ispy by Kyle featuring Lil Yachty
Rap should have more genre’s within it, some record stores still dump it in R & B. At this point it is crazy to compare J.I.D- The Never Story or Raekwon –The Wild with Kyle, Yachty, or D.R.A.M. In September of 2013 I wrote up a review for Kyle’s song Fruit Snacks & Cups of Patron which became a big earwig for me (snuck its way in damn near every playlist). My review comments on the divide between radio rap and the denser stuff ” The lyricism barely exists here like animals in the desert, surviving without much sustenance. I don’t really mind, I’ll get my lyricism elsewhere. ” This is how you should look at it. Don’t feel guilty that Kyle and Yachty are experts in making songs that dig into you and never leave. Ispy is a damn good time.
The shocking part of Ispy for me is a line early in the song from Kyle. Out of nowhere Kyle says “That’s a real hot album homie, I wonder who wrote it? Oh shit.” Obviously a down the middle shot at Drake on the biggest hit of Kyle’s career. It is a great example of how flat the rap world is now. Drop this song back in the 90’s and switch Drakes diss for an LL Cool J diss, Cool James would use his industry connections to DESTROY both careers and shut down the wave (he did this with Canibus). He could do that because the music industry really had people pulling the strings and if you had experience you could make someone’s situation untenable.
As of now this song is a smash with a great chorus and it pops up on the right blogs, the right playlists so it can’t be stopped. Your favorite rapper breaks things the same way Kyle does, every single is a penny in the wishing well and you just wait to get what you asked for. The guys on top can’t really do much to control what is said about them, the pressure they can bring to bear is minimal even to someone several tiers down. Did Yachty know about this shot when he first got his spot on the track? Doesn’t matter, as long as he keeps supplying fun music you and your dog will bob its head to, he wins.
I’m glad cause sometimes I just want to relax.