Tag Archives: underground hip hop

Song of The Year-Recognize by Bun-B featuring TI & Big K.R.I.T. produced by Big K.R.I.T.

Song of The Year-Recognize by Bun-B featuring TI & Big K.R.I.T. produced by Big K.R.I.T.

by Dan-O

I’ve made the argument that the pop sphere is larger than it has ever been due to the ability to find anything. The gatekeeper role of radio and upper level music executives isn’t anywhere near as important…but I’m willing to make the opposite argument now. I think it is possible that due to trending patterns on social media we have less pop music than we ever have before. What happens is a new album drops (maybe its Eminem maybe its Nicki Minaj) it is just the largest name that week and that album gets blogged about and all caps shouted at by the whole world. So that giant internet information space turns out to be a giant garage with one car parked in it.

So while people were coming up to me saying “What do you think about this Eminem?!” I was shrugging and asking them if they had heard Bun-B’s new album Return of The Trill to blank stares. Firstly, I thought all the hip kids were pro-UGK now…shouldn’t we be supporting? Second, all the criticisms of Eminem’s Kamikaze are resolved within Return of The Trill.  Bun asserts himself without discounting the younger generation.

Production wise Bun linked with his greatest musical partner post-Pimp, Big K.R.I.T. The Mississippi mastermind produces half of the fourteen songs on Return of The Trill. In movies, TV, books whenever the South is portrayed it is either an authentic take or reeks of artificiality. You can tell when you press play if no one involved in making it actually knows or cares about the South. K.R.I.T. makes beats that are deeply southern with gospel flair (see Traphandz) and the same kind of speaker shaking movement peak UGK brought to the speaker.

These beats fit Bun like the perfect coat. On his best lyrical performance (Recognize)  he steps up to the microphone and says “My wordplay is intricate influence significant motherf**kin’ magnificence and my influence is integral charismatic and sensual f**king up your centrifugal. With trill pumping all through my ventricles gladiators and sentinals peep you through the peripherals. I see you p**sy n___as out the optical catch yo ass when its optimal…”  The song is one of the year’s best moments and while the album might get a firm friendly handshake critically it won’t get to be POP and you can justify that in lots of ways. You could say that pop music should be this or that and Bun doesn’t fit those parameters. Whatever.  Return of The Trill isn’t the best album of the year but it’s better than the junk  we spend so much time yapping about.

After you watch the video up top check out Bun breaking down the bars

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#Bandcampgold-Nostrum Grocers-Self-titled

#Bandcampgold-Nostrum Grocers-Self-titled

by Dan-O

Milo seems like a good dude. He lives in Maine with me and when Sorry To Bother You came here he bought out a showing so people could feel Boots Riley for the first time(get that feeling underground has had for years). The news made me feel bad that I don’t listen to Milo enough. He is a great rapper with a lot of interesting & diverse subject matter covered and he produces interesting beats but boy howdy it’s a lot to take in. Listening to Milo is like floating in space in your space suit with the air to breath but naked in the expanse looking for anything to hold onto. I always listen to new Milo albums once and overthink everything for the rest of the week.

This is what makes Nostrum Grocers such a great album. Elucid is a treasure. As a partner in rhyme to one of my favorite rappers (Billy Woods) in the group Armand Hammer they have blazed a fiery path through underground NY hip hop. Elucid is a special dude because he gets so much done with so little visible seam seen. As smart, introspective and personal as his verses get everything he does is grounded in the kind of effort Juggernaut put forth plowing through the Marvel universe. Just like Cain Marko he makes the impossible look easy.

Neither party has to move closer to one another to achieve balance, which just happens naturally. They both love tense twisted soulful production that can articulate the harshness of reality while keeping alive the hope of being human.  Listen to how Milkdrunk switches from heavy drums in the first thirty seconds to strings. It is an important lesson: all things that seem disjointed in the world of Nostrum Grocers will come together and make sense eventually. All the jokes you didn’t hear you will, “Stuck my dick in the outlet, I gotta shine!—Elucid on Milkdrunk”

Where’ing Those Flowers is such a brilliantly strange usage of sampling and a killer verse from Milo. My favorite song is ’98 Geweher. Milo is a gentle hush full of confident funny cool bars and Elucid says “A crime tree grows in the basement, spit shine my spaceship,” dude blacks out on the track, did I mention the hook feels like a classic but you know you’ve never heard it before.

I wrestle with what disclaimers I should give listeners about Nostrum Grocers. I fear someone will play these ten tracks and come back to me with “it’s aight…” because they have been conditioned to hear the narrative on the album first time as it trends. Albums are built that way nowadays in the pop sphere. Astroworld is perfectly packaged and the fans get it immediately, they know why it is important. Underground rap is still connected to those times when my friend and I rushed to buy The W first week and bumped it for the next 6-8 months till we knew it left/right/center. Nostrum Grocers tastes the best on its 6th 7th 8th listen when it’s become a part of the fabric of your day.  If you don’t listen to music that way, that’s cool but a lot of us still do. For us this is it.

Stream or buy Nostrum Grocers below:

https://nostrumgrocers.bandcamp.com/releases

 

#Bandcampgold-Albums I Bought from The Mello Music Group sale

#Bandcampgold-Albums I Bought from The Mello Music Group sale

by Dan-O

My favorite underground label in the world had a sale. I was notified that every album they had put out was available on Bandcamp for $4.99. I cracked my knuckles and started surfing, sampling, adding the interesting albums to my cart. I love rap music and I am cheap so I had to filter people out. Now the obvious artist to jump on would be Open Mike Eagle who has a string of critically released albums. I already bought his entire discography last year so I am all caught up on Mike. These are the albums I had either not heard or fully attended but once I locked in on them I fell hard for. Here is what I ended up purchasing.

Portraits by Chris Orrick

Portraits is truly dynamic in its level of poetic frustration. The cover photo makes it clear this is an MC who has been doing this for so long so hard that it has taken its toll, everything has.  The title track opens on thirty six seconds of Nolan The Ninjas beat which grooves with thick drums and horns feeling like a Jazzmatazz song.  This is the sonic world of Orrick who makes no apologies for what he likes to sound like. No trap experimentations necessary he needs Exile, Apollo Brown, Onra and a few others to weave a boom bap that leaves room for his intensity over top. Jealous of The Sun is a great example of how hard his pen goes. The first verse is an immense bummer about how the world is in terrible shape. The second is one of the most scathing indictments of Trump you’ll hear in rap and if that wasn’t enough the outro is a frighteningly apt analogy.

‘And there’s no one to tell us where to run
The day the people of earth got jealous of the sun
Looked up in the sky, filled the air with gas
Lit a match
Said “We are not to be outdone!’

 

If you go to Genius.com Chris gave a real good breakdown of what this song means. This is not a political album that is just the intensity he puts in any subject. Design Flaw is all about accepting how terrible you feel along with what is wrong with you and the L’Orange beat is propulsive while tailor made for Orrick. I will talk more about L’Orange later.  I love Portraits and I want you to love it but be prepared for the ride. Sometimes he’s talking about how much he loves his cat other times he’s blaming Obama for cleaning exhaust to the point where it’s harder to kill himself. The first lines in Escape Plan are “I went to sleep a fifth deep one night when I was twenty-three/Woke up sober, hungover, age of twenty-nine” he’s so honest and so poetically exhausted that anyone who has a connection to those feelings will find a connection to this album.

Stream or buy  Portraits below:

https://chrisorrickraps.bandcamp.com/album/portraits

No Question by Locksmith & Apollo Brown

Locksmith is so real I feel like I know the dude. I have been listening and reviewing him for at least five years (all hail The Green Box) and he is one of those rare dudes who leverages his intellectual strength to not just lash out at the system but GUT HIMSELF. Apollo Brown is an old soul NY hip hop minimalist and the resonant quiet of what he does just took Lock to a deeper place. While the album serves as a declaration that these two are not down with the new trends it lands a dizzying amount of profound statements.  Second verse first song (Advice For My Younger Self).

“And I tell you, never play it safe and never settle for second
Never hesitate, not even just for a second
Never second guess, if you say it then manifest it
But be careful who you say it to, some people will try to test it
If you think, use reflection, have sex then use protection
If you meet a girl and don’t, then make sure you have a connection
If she keeps it then you’re stuck with that woman, don’t wanna hear it
If she doesn’t then the guilt you’ll feel later will kill your spirit
Make sure you earn some money but money is not your god
Just a means to purchase things, put family before your job
Put God before your family and love before your lust
Protect yourself at all times, put truth before trust
Never fuss with ignorant folks, actions are much louder
You retreat to keep the peace, that does not make you a coward
If you focus on you, you can never go and unfelt
Not a lecture, just a lesson I give to my younger self”

If this was a Big Sean verse the internet would lose its damn mind. Truth is this is just what Locksmith gives you. He ends the industry tirade Litmus with “I’ve been prosecuted and profited from/ Now I just watch with an understanding and stand in my spot ’till it’s done.” My wife really likes this album, it’s not that my wife notes and parses all the meanings and double meanings in rapper verses but when she catches a line she wants to make sure it’s not dumb.  When Locksmith is spitting she can nod her head enjoy the twinkling piano keys on Slow Down and the buttery chorus or she can listen to Locksmith explain (what I have always said) that love is not a gamble but an investment. Whether she listens hard or doesn’t she knows that Locksmith is pounding on every second of No Question so that no one can accuse him of wasting an Apollo Brown beat. This one isn’t fighting for album of the year its right in the pocket of old friend you’ll wear out status.

Stream or buy No Question below:

https://apollobrown360.bandcamp.com/album/no-question

The Night Took Us In Like Family

By L’Orange & Jeremiah Jae

During this process I fell in love with L’Orange and his experimental disjointed and sometimes fractured take on classic hip hop sounds. His collaboration with Marlowe is great, his solo album The Ordinary Man goes hard.  Nothing tickles me like The Night Took Us In Like Family which is his collaboration with Jeremiah Jae. Jae is the perfect orator for a L’Orange beat he raps with a seething calm, the kind born from the anger bubbling when you realize that the world is against you. When the world turns on you some people fold (and that makes sense) others just sneer and think about how amusing it will be when they turn the tables. Jae goes bar after bar on Ice Obsidian which is only one minute and fifty two seconds but is so complete. He always finishes his thoughts no matter how much time L’Orange gives him no matter how oddly syncopated the beat is. Once the microphone is on he steps into things makes it his story.  Listen to how he starts Underworld “Sometimes I feel that the world is going under/ sky full of clouds all I hear is thunder./ Sometimes I feel like somebodies always watching/ waiting for the fall any chance they can hop in.”  One of the oldest tricks in spoken word was if you got on stage and the crowd is still chatty not paying attention put your face to the mic just start the piece don’t yell. Keep your voice low and conversational, whisper it and they will know to stop to listen. The Night Took Us In Like Family is chopped into bits equal parts song, intermission, and everything is perfectly cohesive. Every bit of violence described has a foundation laid around it so the Gangsta Rap aspect of it is never Rambo and always The Wire. With its seamlessness and dynamic shimmer bursting with casual confidence this one is my very favorite.

Stream or buy The Night Took Us In Like Family below:

https://lorange360.bandcamp.com/album/the-night-took-us-in-like-family

Here is the general link for Mello Music Group’s Bandcamp:

https://mellomusicgroup.bandcamp.com/

Operation Doom Discography: Operation Doomsday

Operation Doom Discography: Operation Doomsday

by Dan-O

Operation Doomsday will last because it is one of those instances where an album saved the form as well as the person who made it. The promise of K.M.D. ended with the death of Zev Love X’s brother and group member DJ Subroc who was killed by a car getting across the Long Island Expressway. Zev Love X was crushed and took years off, dealing with depression addiction issues and homelessnes. He came back years later completely obscured by a persona that perfectly fit him. Dr. Doom is the scarred genius of the Marvel universe he is acknowledged by all creators as smarter than Tony Stark or Reed Richards but his pain feeds his anger and his reputation. Doom as a persona gave him the ability to slide into anger and sadness without having to clear a whole track or album for it.

In 1999 we were used to the confessional conscious rap album we were used to the hardcore NY goon rap album and the glossy Bad Boy shiny suit event music. Doom didn’t want to do any of that. He wanted to stretch his legs and be nerdy. Hey! Is a beat made out of the Scooby Doo Theme song and he does Shaggy’s zoiks in his verse. On Greenbacks he lets all references fly “What a fella! Like Salt, Pepa, Spinderella/I came to spark the deaf, dumb and blind like Helen Keller/If I’m not with George of the Jungle, if he not with Stella/Or either Priscilla, I’m doing dips on Godzilla.” On Go With The Flow he says one of the nerdiest things in the history of rap “That’s quick to whip up a script like Rod Serling.” 100% of Rod Serling references are about him hosting Twilight Zone not his PEN GAME(which was impressive if you check IMDB). Beyond nerding out he just loves rapping, the one liners are efficient concise and packed to unpack. Rhymes Like Dimes is the best example of this. These are some of my favorite one-liners from just this one short song.

  • “keep a pen like a fiend keep a pipe with him.”
  • “Classic slapstick rappers need chapstick”
  • “Only in America could you find a way to earn a healthy buck and still keep your attitude on self-destruct.”

Doom produces every song and Rhymes Like Dimes is a warm and lovely Stevie Wonder sample where he erupts all over the song and lets NY legendary hip hop DJ Bobbito talk crazy at the end and yell “MASHED POTATOES!” It is genuinely fun to listen at him push his talent to without any regard for whether we are catching all of it or tracking all the meanings. Doom lets us listen to him do whatever he wants. He doesn’t just feel as broken as Dr. Doom or as angry he also demands that level of control over his surroundings. Every track is a room in his Latverian lair.

The production is like the dark side of J Dilla. Both take soul samples and mutate them, Dilla made them even more handsome than they were originally while Doom makes them squeak screech and twist until they sound like how he feels (example:Dead Bent) .

When Doom does give you a window into the hole in his heart it is truly profound. The chorus on the title track “On Doomsday! /Ever since the womb til I’m back where my brother went/That’s what my tomb will say/Right above my government: Dumile/Either unmarked or engraved, hey, who’s to say? ” The earnest moments are in a sloppy mountain of pulsing incisive observations, wild jokes, and old tv shows and that feels more real than a lot of the “I love my Mom” rap songs from the 90’s did.

Doom’s last verse on ? absolutely haunts me especially the last line which rolls around in my head all the time.

“By candlelight my hand will write these rhymes ’til I’m burnt out

Mostly from experience, shit that I learned about

Topics and views, generally concerned about

With different ways to come up and earn clout

I take a look at my life and pace the trails

From Tablik and savage females with fake nails to face veils

You out your frame but still bagging ’em too

You know I know, these hoes be asking me if I’m you

Like my twin brother, we did everything together

From hundred raka’at salats to copping butter leathers

Remember when you went and got the dark blue Ballys

I had all the different color Cazals and Gazelles

The “SUBROC” three-finger ring with the ruby in the “O”, ock

Truly the illest dynamic duo on the whole block

I keep a flick of you with the machete sword in your hand

Everything is going according to plan man”

Its deeply genuine but doesn’t need to be. I was blown back by The Finest where he says “MF like Mike Frank Corleone” explaining to my wife how deeply nerdy it is to refer to the middle name of a fictional character. In all the world of Godfather references in hip hop verses I’d never heard Michael’s middle name. I didn’t even know at that time that the M.F. in M.F. Doom Stands for Michael Francis and that reference, the depth of the reference defines his very character.  Recently his fourteen year old son Malachi Ezekiel Dumile passed and it’s hard to hear. Someone who changed hip hop broke the format of thoughtful v. Gangsta into shards by taking his tragedy and articulating it his way is still being beaten back it. Wherever he is I hope he never loses sight of how important his perseverance is to all of us.

EP Review-Skate Life by Black Dave

EP Review-Skate Life by Black Dave

by Dan-O

New York is jam packed with “underground” artists. I throw quotations because some artists choose the stylistic definition of the word and some artists just don’t have what it takes for the spotlight (but really do yearn for it) and are still called underground. Is Rass Kass underground because he chose it or because Dr. Dre found Eminem? That’s a discussion for a different day.

What New York doesn’t have is enough rappers like Black Dave. All the radio personalities have personal favorites but a lot of the NY MC crowd feel like the hip hop equivalent of Shoegaze rockers staring down at their feet dispassionately while giving you a dab of trap, a dab of horrorcore, a dab of comedy and it all doesn’t add up to anything spectacular or different. As a composite it’s safe; and you get to tell everyone you like a rapper who does a little bit of everything (Jack of all trades, master of none).

Black Dave makes music that’s immediate. You know exactly what he’s trying to execute as the song starts and that’s partially due to a must-listen flow that stands in front of any and every beat. The other part is the song composition. Look at the difference between the slim, trim jazzy morning wake up song Turkey Bacon Smoke where he lays back and walks you through the verses and the boom-bapping bark Respect The Intellect where he asserts his individuality “You should do what you supposed too and know the game before somebody try to coach you.” It’s a real talk proclamation that artists should know their music thoroughly before they seek major label success. Know what principles you need to fight for, the ones that define you before you enter the system and it naturally tries to change you.

For a five song EP Skate Life possesses some pretty elegant mood changes. Not only can he assert the foundations of the NY hip hop sound on Respect The Intellect he can make his sultry hitting on you song (Foomie) catchy and head nodding with each line delivered as if from a smirk.

His Chorus work is as impressive as ever; just listen to the anthemic hook on Be Quiet. You can almost see the stadium goers standing and screaming. This all might seem like old news to Black Dave fans. Dude has several dope mixtapes that express these attributes. Skate Life is important because it confirms that Dave’s best music isn’t a rare occurrence. For so many NY rappers waiting for their best work is like whale watching. Dave can drop great listenable 15 track mixtapes or 5 track EP’s. Imagine what a real retail album would sound like?

Stream or download Skate Life EP below:

From The Inbox-Bona Fide by Kid Sean

From The Inbox-Bona Fide by Kid Sean

by Dan-O

The distinction between hip hop and underground hip hop is a real stylistic divergence. It’s not really about sales figures. Artists like B.O.B. and Wiz Khalifa came up independently through mixtapes but they were always pop artists. You can listen to teenage Wiz belt out Pittsburgh Sound and think “MAN this is a radio hit.” Artists naturally create at differing levels of digestability. This is why UGK was always underground even as they were platinum. The music was still hard, lyrical, emotionally complex and felt too inappropriate for pop rotation.

While I love both forms I still have a weakness for underground hip hop. No inbox entry has carried the underground mindstate better than Bona Fide. High Life should be a typical smoker anthem and while it’s subdued behind a peaceful hook the instrumentation is rich and chunky. Sleezy E pipes in horn blasts at the right time. Kid Sean did not put together a collection of songs all fighting to be the most listenable. Instead we get a unified project where the tracks flow into each other. Even the real hard work stress talk on Rain Drops is accompanied by masterful minimalist production (thank you ThoVoBeats) and a chorus full of familiar hip hop images and personal memories.

So it’s not a depressing lean induced confessional or a crunk club project. Bona Fide is an emotional and reflective mixtape that never crosses into being needy. On the title track he says “love is key open up this beautiful mask” but it’s after a blistering salvo “calculating all the times I was hated on they had no faith. I stay bona fide traumatized equalize your inner mind you could die tomorrow not knowing so live more sleep less.” I don’t just love the standard of intelligence that Kid Sean brings to his verses (although I do very much love that), I love his deep abiding discipline to the mid range tempo. All of the hooks are stick in your brain sing a long good but none of them are begging for approval or widespread understanding. None of the beats stretch themselves outside ideal underground jazzy bass filled backdrop.

Bona Fide is the grand child of Digable Planets debut album; A grandchild come down to earth with no determination to stay; still drifting on If I Could (the high point of the mixtape) into visions of music and different lives. It never betrays how charming and smart it is while at the same time making sure never to bother you with how much of each quality it possesses. I think the kindest thing I could say about it is that I don’t always listen to Bona Fide but I’m always glad I have it loaded up. It makes me happy knowing I could listen to it at any time.

Stream or download Bona Fide below:

http://www.datpiff.com/KiD-SEAN-Bona-Fide-mixtape.620193.html