Thursday, December 27, 2007

Homo Hop

Hip hop, with few exceptions, is a homophobic genre. "Faggot" is still an acceptable slur, and in a culture so obsessed with hyper-masculinity, the idea of showing weakness or not being a wretched pussyhound is totally unacceptable.

There is, however, a burgeoning gay hip hop scene. What follows is a list of some gay hip hop artists, mostly based on what was listed on

Just from glancing at his list, it seems like gay women are more likely to be rappers than gay men. Case in point - King Sincere ( who sounds like a guy. He does the kind of tough gangsta thing that her home city of NY mastered. The stuff on her myspace page is ok, but the recordings are rough and amateurish.

Untouchable - ( - is a brother/sister duo out of Ohio. They do slick booty anthems (ie CatNip), with a lesbian twist.

On the male side of things, there are rappers like Bone Intel ( who does smooth, horndog romantic tracks.

Captain Magik ( is from Cleveland, and has a homo hop anthem, Young Gay and Proud. I'm not into his exaggerated, Marshall Mathers type flow, but then again, that's what a lot of midwest artists sound like.

if you like your gays flaming, check out Sgt. Sass ( who is gay as fuck and proud of it. He's raunchy, flaming, and a lot of fun. They have a mixtape out - "Double S 4 Mayor" - which i'd love to check out. Kind of like peaches meets spankrock.

I checked out a handful of other artists, and while some of them were pretty lousy, most of them sounded just like your typical underground rapper, mimicking mainstream trends on shoestring budget, and offering up a decent alternative to mainstream rap. I don't know how accepting hip hop will ever be of homo hop, but it's nice to see that gay rappers are doing their own thing regardless.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

My 10 Favorite Rap Albums of 2007

By Patrick Taylor

Reposted from
Before I get to my top 10, I have to say that I'm very hopeful about the state of music going into 2008. There were some great releases this year, and the combination of the stagnant record industry and the Imus debacle seem to have reinvigorated hip hop. Hip hop is underdog music, and it is at its best when it has its back against the wall. It got bloated and lazy in the past few years, and the fact that it has gotten kicked in the teeth a few times this year is only going to help it stay lean and hungry.

What follows isn't so much a "Best Of" list. Instead, I'm rating these based on what I actually listened to. A lot of albums came my way this year, and a lot of them were good. Here are 10 that actually had the staying power to remain in rotation on my cd player or ipod:

10. Mos Def - "Tru3 Magic" This disc snuck in right at the start of the New Year, and was an admittedly half-assed affair. I'm pretty sure Mos dropped this just to get out of his label deal with Geffen. There was no artwork, it was full of covers, and on a lot of the tracks Mos mumbled rather than rapped. Still, as half-assed as "Tru3 Magic" is, I can't stop listening to it. Even when he's not really trying, Mos Def still kills it, bridging hip hop, soul, and funk effortlessly. From his reworking of "Liquid Swords" on "Crime and Medicine," to the bedroom soul of "Undeniable," Mos delivers the goods half asleep and with one hand tied behind his back. I can't say that "Tru3 Magic" is a great album, but I also can't stop listening to it.

9. Citizens of Sleep - "Sometimes I Just Can't Get Outraged Over Copyright Law" The best discovery I made as a writer at Rap Reviews was Citizens of Sleep, aka Baraka Noel and the Pineapple Liberation Front. They meld intelligent and thoughtful lyrics with interesting and banging beats. My favorite track on this album is "By Your Side," which samples freak folk duo CocoRosie. The album is available free at www., so you have no reason not to check it out.

8. Percee P "Perserverance" Nineteen years since his first single, Percee drops his debut. His old-school battle rap stye is complimented by Madlib's brilliant production work. I'm hoping his sophomore album comes out sooner rather than later.

7. Pharaoh Monch - "Desire" Pharaoh brings the pain on his second solo outing, melding dope beats, righteous anger, and sharp lyricism. His cover of "Welcome To The Terrordome" is one of my favorite songs of the year.

6. Little Brother "Get Back" This NC duo do just fine without producer/3rd member 9th Wonder. They pay homage to EPMD on the cover, and deal with stardom, label drama, and clothes shopping.

5. Akir "Legacy" Technically a reissue, "Legacy" is a great album by a rapper who is the second coming of Nas. With its raw New York sound and New York lyrics, Akir points hip hop in the direction it should be going, drawing a direct line from the Last Poets to Nas to the future.

4. (Tie) Oh No "Dr. No's Oxperiment" / Madlib - "The Beat Konducta in India" The Jackson brothers unleashed two great instrumental albums this summer, cementing Stone's Throw reputation as the label for avant garde hip hop production. Oh No mixes up Mediterranean psychedelic music for a pastiche that is trippy, funky, and banging. Madlib turns Bollywood inside out on his disc, getting even weirder and more out there than he did on the first Beat Konducta disc. I can't wait to hear some of the Stone's Throw stable rhyming over these beats.

3. J Dilla - "Ruff Draft" This reissue of Dilla's "Ruff Draft" EP is short but essential. From the psychadelic "Nothing Like This" to the gutter stomp of "The $," "Ruff Draft" is banging and brilliant.

2. Jay-Z "American Gangster" Jay returns to his Reasonable Doubt days and kills it on tracks like "Roc Boys" and "Hello Brooklyn." He even lays out his boredom with wealth on "Success," noting "I used to give a fuck/now I give a fuck less/what do I think of success? It sucks." When Jay-Z is on point, there are few rappers who can match him. The production is dripping with seventies soul, and is the first great work P. Diddy has done since "Ready to Die."

1. M.I.A. "Kala" Simply put, "Kala" is a party on wax. It's raucous, celebratory, and mixes hip hop, electronica, and world beats into an irresistible pastiche. She gives nods to African beats, favela bounce, aboriginal hip hop, Bollywood, and old school indie rock acts like the Pixies and Modern Lovers. The result is a product that is truly global, and as fun as it is important. My favorite track is "Paper Planes," which uses a riff from "Straight to Hell" by the Clash. The original was a beautifully sad song in written by a white man (Joe Strummer, R.I.P.) about the plight of immigrants around the world. "Paper Planes" flips it on its ear, turning it into a song by an immigrant that is both joyful and menacing, happy-go-lucky rhymes punctuated by gunshots.

Honorable Mention:

UGK - "Underground Kingz" I'm not a huge fan of Southern hip hop, but "Underground Kingz" is a masterpiece of the genre, mixing skittering drums, syrupy soul, and Bun B and Pimp C's lazy drawls. It's a shame that Pimp C passed so young, but at least he left a solid legacy behind.

Lil' Wayne - "The Leak" This was one of several mixtapes that came out featuring leaked tracks from "The Carter III." Lil' Wayne's throwaways are better than most rappers' a-list material, and songs like "Zoo" and "I Feel Like Dying" were some of my favorites of the year. No one can toss off a one-liner like Lil' Wayne, and even when he's half asleep he's killing it. I can't wait for him to actually drop a proper album. And Wayne, lay off the syrup - that shit'll kill ya!

Wu-Tang Clan "8 Diagrams" If some of the raps on here sound phoned in, it's probably because they were. I think most of the Clan were working remotely on this effort, and it sounds unfocused and uncohesive as a result. Even the levels on the vocals are uneven. However, RZAs gloomy, trippy production makes it worth listening to. It's probably the last Wu album in a long, long while, and its sales are sure to disappoint, but it's brilliant in its own weird way.

Best of the underground:

During my six months as a reviewer for this publication, I've come to appreciate just how large and vibrant the underground hip hop scene is. For every release that gets a lot of press, there are twenty others that come out on smaller labels, and a lot of these are as good or better than what the majors are putting out. One of RapReviews biggest services to the hip hop community is giving these lesser-known releases equal air time, and hopefully turning readers on to some great music they might have slept on. Akir and Citizens of Sleep made it into my top ten, but some of other great indpendent releases that came my way were:

Nato Caliph - "Celph Titled"
Sankofa - "The Tortoise Hustle"
Bless 1 - "Starving Arist"
Aztext - "The Sacred Document"
The Tongue - "Shock and Awe"
TrueBless - "Mission IsPossible"
Mac and AK - "Legendary"
Money Mont - "My Life, My Struggle, My Hustle"

Two to watch for in 2008:

Wale - His "100 Miles and Running Mixtape" was amazing, mixing go-go, indie rock, and classic breaks. He has an album dropping in early 2008, and he is set to blow up.

Guilty Simpson - The dirtiest, grimiest, scariest member of the Stone's Throw crew is also one of their better MCs. The Detroit rapper's debut is coming out in the first quarter of 2008.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

My favorite non-rap albums of 2007

I'll be posting my list of my favorite rap albums of 2007 next week, so here are my picks for the best of the other genres. Sadly, this is also pretty much my list of the only new non-hip hop albums i listened to in 2007. Ever since I started writing for in July, it seems like all I listen to is hip hop. One of my resolutions for 2008 is to listen to more new indie music, and less gangsta rap.

so, in no real order:

Andrew Bird - Armchair Apochrypha - The Chicken raising, violin playing whistler came out with a solid release this year. At his mellowest he can get a little Sting-like, but this still was one of my favorite albums of the year.

1900s - Cold and Kind - Basically an alt-country Fleetwood Mac.

Elliot Smith - New Moon - Rarities and unreleased stuff from his early days. Beautifully sad.

The Field - Here We Go Sublime - I haven't managed to track it down, but I've listened to it online. It's pretty, IDM-ish trancey electronica. I never listen to electronica anymore, and the Field are a reminder of how good it can be.

Deerhunter - Cryptograms. I just got this, so i'm not sure how brilliant it is, but from the first few listens, it sounds like the 2nd coming of My Bloody Valentine, and should suffice until MBV actually put out a new record.

St. Vincent - Marry Me and Feist - The Reminder - Both are beautiful albums by talented female performers.

Arcade Fire - Neon Bible - By far the best live act i've seen this year or this millennium. Their albums don't quite capture the energy they have on stage, but they are still wonderfully audacious, and one of the more exciting and interesting bands around.

LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver - James Murphy is rad. By all rights he should have faded into hipster irrelevance, being one of the main purveyors of a passe genre, disco-punk. Instead he proved that he could actually write great songs. For proof, check out "All My Friends" and "Someone Great". Also rumored to be brilliant live.

The National - Boxer - Sad and gorgeous (or is that gorgeously sad?), Boxer is an actual album, one that demands multiple listened, and isn't nearly as good on shuffle. The National were my favorite discovery this year, and all of their past albums are worth checking out.

I think that pretty much does it for what I listened to and liked in 2007. There were a handful of other releases that passed my way but didn't rock my world. No doubt there were also some brilliant albums I never got to hear. Maybe i can make amends in 2008.....

On a final note, I have to say that I am starting to feel old and out of place in regards to music. The punkier, more energetic stuff that I would have loved as a youth now just leaves me cold; The singer-songwritery indie stuff tends to bore the shit out of me, and I find it really hard to care about the fifth generation of bands inspired by the flying burrito brothers/joy division/ Gang of Four/ slowdive/ whaever other obscure "seminal" band that is only slightly overrated. I love rap, but so much of it doesn't speak to me, and I get tired of having to ignore bullshit offensive lyrics in order to appreciate the beats. In short, I'm too young to retire to the pastures of the mellow and inoffensive, too young to listen to the angry angsty music i used to love, and too "non-urban" to really ever feel a part of a lot of what hip hop is putting out. Yes, it truly is hard out here for a thirty something white guy. As Dr. Evil once said, there is nothing as pathetic as an aging hipster.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Percee P

Percee P :: Perseverance :: Stones Throw Records
Reposted from

(I loved this album, and I have a lot of respect for Percee P. Rapreviews didn't review this when it came out, and it got some unfairly mediocre reviews from the likes of Pitchfork, so I figured I'd give Percee his due).

I first encountered Percee P at a Madlib show last year in Seattle, selling his CDs to people outside the club. Madlib couldnÕt perform that night, but it didn't matter because Percee was absolutely on fire. With J-Rocc providing the beats, Percee attacked the mic, keeping the crowd enthralled with his booming delivery and insane verbal acrobatics.. After that show I was sold on Percee P.

"Perseverance" comes almost 19 years after his first single dropped and almost 30 years after he first got into hip hop as a 10-year-old growing up in the South Bronx. That makes him both old school and old by hip hop standards, which is potentially problematic in such a youth-obsessed culture. Percee's bombastic, battle-rhyming flow relies heavily on verbal calisthenics and wordplay, neither of which are valued as highly today as they were back in 1988.

This works to his advantage in some ways, because there aren't that many MC's today who sound like Percee. His commanding flow and delivery immediately stand out. It reminds older listeners of the rappers they were listening to when they first discovered hip hop. For younger listeners, it delivers an experience that is wholly unlike what the majority of today's MCs are offering. There are no catchphrases, vocal processors, or dance moves on this album. Instead, Percee offers up 18 tracks of relentlessly confident braggadaccio. "Last of the Greats" is the perfect example of his boasting style. While a lot of MCs threaten people with guns, Percee makes it clear that his rhymes are lethal weapons:

"I spit bars that inflict scars
Won't get far before chicks' bras
And pats unzip far quicker than Bronx strip cars
Percee's raps are worse after the first chapter
A nurse will have you before the church pastor
Then the hearse will snatch you
Can, you hear raps that will pierce lungs
Collapsing near death
You gasp for air like the earth losing atmosphere
Get your click bro, or tip toe before I spit flows and rip those
Mouths as big as hippos
That's how shit goes so keep your lips closed"

"Last of the Greats" also sums up the lyrical content of "Perserverance." Most of the tracks see Percee demonstrating his skills on the mic through words and deeds. He switches it up on "The Man to Praise," and "The Lady Behind Me," which outline his history with hip hop, and "Ghetto Rhyme Stories," a cautionary tale about messing with the wrong type of female. Beyond those three songs, however, "Perserverance" is strictly boasting and battle raps.

What makes "Perserverance" more compelling than just revisiting old Big Daddy Kane records is the fact that he is accompanied by one of the best beatmakers of this millennium. Madlib produces the entire album, and his twisted funk is the perfect compliment to Percee's rhymes. A lot of the tracks are made up of Madlib's signature chopped up soul samples, some of which were on display on the first Beatkonducta album. He always manages to keep things from getting pedestrian, and his subdued style gives Percee room to shine. Madlib also mixes it up enough to keep things interesting, and as a result the album never drags. "Legendary Lyricist" has an amazing funk break, "2 Brothers From the Gutter" uses an 8-bit Nintendo sample, and "The Dirt and the Filth" has an ominous beat complete with metal guitars. Madlib brings his insane cratedigging skills and love of music to every track, which makes the beats on "Perserverance" every bit as enjoyable as the rhymes.

The other thing that keeps Percee's relentless flow from getting old are the guest spots. There are some great features on this disc that provide a welcome contrast for Percee: Madlib's stoned monotone, Aesop Rock's stentorian flow, Chali 2na's Cold Crush rhymes, and Guilty Simpson's gutter growl. All of the guests help to balance out Percee's style, and keep the album from getting monotonous.

"Perserverance" is the perfect marriage of old school skills with new school technology and technique. Both Percee's rhymes and Madlib's beats reverently reference the past while looking to the future. I'm not sure why it took 19 years for Percee to drop his debut, but I hope he's already working on his sophomore album. I don't want to have to wait another decade to hear new material from this talented and hard-working MC.

The Aztexts

The Aztexts :: The Sacred Document :: AZT Records
Reposted from

This is the second album by Burlington, Vermont trio the Aztexts. As on their debut, "Haven't You Heard," MCs PRO and Learic and DJ Big Kat are instilling hip hop with a healthy dose of old school sounds.

The album sounds good from back to front, with banging beats provided by Nastee, Dub Sonata, Special Weapon, E Train, and the Touchphonics. DJ Big Kat provides cutting and scratching throughout, which helps to tie all the beats together, and give the Aztexts their own sound. Most of the beats are good, and a few of them are brilliant. "We Back" starts things off with what sounds like a hip hop version of the James Bond theme, over which PRO and Learic swap lines like the Beasties or Run DMC; "Lettin' You Know" is a moody track with pianos and strings, accentuated by Big Kat's scratching; "Keepin' It Live" has a jazzy groove reminiscent of A Tribe Called Quest; "Pay Attention" offers some chopped up funk, while tracks like "Lookin' Out My Window" showcase a mellower, more introspective side of the duo.

One of the best tracks on the album is "Adventures of.." which combines a dirty, bluesy guitar lick with strings, horn stabs, and sped-up vocals. The song showcases the duo's storytelling skills as they relay the story of a night out in a seedy bar:

"The waitress slowly approaches says can I bum a smoke
I look at PRO but we both quit a year ago
But I fear if I say no she'll just walk away so
I take her by the elbow and say well, hon
I don't but what do you say we both go find one?
PRO shoots me a look as if to say fine son
Have your fun, but be sure you're ready when the time comes"

They go on to take out the fake MCs in the club with a microphone massacre like Rakim used to deliver. Eric B. and Rakim are clearly influences on the Aztext, both in their storytelling style and their battle rhyming skills. "Roll Call" even sounds like "Know the Ledge."

PRO and Learic's verbal dexterity also looks back to the golden age of hip hop, when lyricism and verbal finesse were valued much more highly than they are today. It was this type of inventiveness and linguistic acrobatics that made me love hip hop in the first place, and I was happy to see the Aztexts carrying on the tradition. They also score some nice features, including Mac Lethal and One.Be.Lo.

My one complaint with the Aztexts is with their delivery. At times they sound forced, like they are trying too hard to sound hard. Its as if they were imitating Ghostface Killah at his most insane. Maybe it has to do with coming from an area that doesn't have its own distinct verbal traditions to draw from, or maybe it's a case of the MCs trying to find their own voice. To some extent itÕs a matter of taste, but there were definitely several points on this album where I was not feeling their flow.

That said, the Aztexts are a talented group who do a lot right, and they deserve recognition as a force to be reckoned with. Their beats and rhymes recall the glory days of hip hop, when dookie chains and Africa medallions were king. They are keeping the underground vibrant, and are doing Burlington VT proud.

Friday, December 14, 2007

True Bless

Mission IsPossible
Elsewhere Entertainment
reposted from

Maryland MC TrueBless wins the award for least promising album cover of the year. From its groan-inducing title to the drawing of TrueBless wearing a cape, "Mission IsPossible" lacks what the design world calls "quality cues." Luckily, the music is much better than the album cover would suggest. The album sounds good, and even includes a lot of extras like photos and lyric documents on the disc. This is something more independent artists should do. It saves money in printing costs, and gives the consumer some additional value, allowing them to connect more with the artist and the music.

ScholarMan handles most of the production, and does an admirable job. The pronounced snare snaps had me thinking of DJ Premier, and somber soul reminded me of classic East Coast artists like Nas and Mobb Deep. Highlights include "Hot Trax," which mixes chopped vocal samples with bombastic drums; "Melodic Wings," which has a melodic, jazzy vocal sample; and "I'm So Thankful," which has a mournful sped-up soul hook that was almost like a leftover track from J Dilla's "Donuts." The only real dog on here is "Sound the Same," which was produced by Low Key Productions and sounds like the generic, pointless hip-hop that the song is criticizing.

TrueBless proves himself to be a capable MC, clearly drawing inspiration from East Coast MCs like Rakim and Jay-Z, and Midwestern rappers like Common and Kanye. However, where a lot of rappers rhyme about the struggles of the street, TrueBless raps about the much more personal struggles of being a father, losing a parent, and getting divorced. The album starts with TrueBless making his statement of purpose, declaring "Anyone who has ever existed was sent here on a mission. Now I must admit, I still don't know what mine is, but I'm seeking the vision. I'm ready to face whatever to make things right again, and it doesn't matter if I fail as long as I try."

The overwhelming, raw sincerity all over the album acts as both a strength and a weakness. It is a strength because it imbues the music with a level of intensity and meaning that goes deeper than what a lot of MCs are offering. "I'm So Thankful" is a letter to his deceased mother describing her death and how her passing has affected him. It is a powerful song that gives us an almost uncomfortable level of insight into TrueBless's life and feelings:

"Your death brought so much pain into my little world
I can't look at pictures of when you were sick
So I stare at the photos of you as a little girl
Tripping off how much my daughters have your eyes
You know it's still hard for me to envision you perishing
Though they say sometimes we lose the good things in life in order to cherish them
I refuse to go to your grave and weep
You're not there
You live through me
My seeds, my deeds
Love eternally"

This intense emotional sincerity can also be a weakness. TrueBless hits that switch over and over again, and sometimes it is too much. At the end of the emotional "Pray For Me," he is literally in tears, declaring "My sons hear me crying at the end of this track. Real men cry! I'm about to lose everything but my mission is still possible. I'm a man standing before you crying, hurtin'!" It is as uncomfortable to listen to as if you were watching the guy cry right in front of you.

Maybe it is unfair to criticize a rapper for keeping it too real. Isn't it better to have artists rapping about real human experiences rather than floss about material possessions, or brag about being a criminal? I think it is, but the fact remains that I wasn't as into "Mission IsPossible" as I wanted to be. I think if TrueBless had added a little more levity to the mix, it would have made his more intense moments easier to appreciate, and given the listener some more musical and emotional variety. As it stands, "Mission IsPossible" is still a solid album by an MC who is clearly keeping hip-hop real and true to its roots.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Andrew Bird

Andrew Bird at the Warfield, December 8 2007

Among the "essential" genres of music that I'd hate to live without, the top three are 80s hardcore punk, golden age hip hop, and delicate, pretty indie folk. My girlfriend hates punk rock and hip hop. Luckily we have common ground with artists like Andrew Bird.
The Warfield was full of a diverse audience that included arty types, older types, a few hippie types, and a bunch of college kids. The show started around 8:30pm with the Handsome Family, who play mellow Americana. They were interesting, but their mellow, quiet music was a hard sell to a polite but apathetic crowd that just wanted to hear Andrew Bird.

He went on around 9:30pm. The stage was set up with a Persian rug and two phonographs in the background, including one that spun. Mr. Bird, dressed in a three-piece suit, took off his shoes and started wailing on his violin. He had a set up where he could record and loop pieces of music, so it ended up sounding as if there were several violinists and not just himself. Feist had a similar set up, and while it is a little distracting, it allows the artists to have a larger sound. I couldn't help thinking that hip hop acts could use a similar set up to make their live shows more dynamic and less like dudes talking over records.

Mr. Bird is an eccentric performer, spazzing out , contorting his body, and generally putting his all into the performance. When his band came out (a bassist and a drummer/organist), they went into his catalogue, doing versions that were different but recognizable. The sound was amazing, and I realized that in some ways it is much more interesting to see a more mellow band like Andrew Bird's than to see a band that uses a lot of distortion. When the instruments aren't covered up by a wall of effects pedals, you can actually hear every note that the artists are playing, and watch them as they put the song together. In this day and age of downloaded files where we are increasingly alienated from the actual people making the music, seeing it live is a reaffirming and important experience. It was also nice being in a packed house full of people who shared the same love of Andrew Bird's music. This wasn't a scenester crowd, or full of people who wanted to get loaded and hear the big hit.

It was a great show, and Andrew Bird proved himself to be a dynamic and talented performer. It made me feel somewhat old that I'd rather listen to mellow chamber pop from the comfort of my assigned seat, but whatever.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Pimp C

Pimp C of the Underground Kingz (aka UGK) was found dead in a Los Angeles hotel room a few days back. The rapper was 33. It is especially tragic that he died now as UGK just released their triumphant comeback, the double disc Underground Kingz, a few months ago after years of label drama and prison drama had shanghaied the group. UGK were one of the originators of Dirty Southern music, coming out of Port Arthur, near Houston, in the late 80s. They had some big hits in the 90s with songs like "Pocket Full of Stones". They helped lay the blueprint for Southern hip hop, with its laid back drawl, skittering beats, and lyrics obsessed with cars and drug dealing. No cause of death has been announced yet, although I've heard that there were prescription drugs found at the site. Southern rappers love their codeine, and its possible he either OD'ed or died of some other drug-assisted causes. It's also possible he had a weak heart, or had an aneurysm, or died from any of the million freaky ways perfectly healthy people can die.

In honor of his death (and the fact that rasputin was having a sale) I picked up a copy of Underground Kings today, and it's pretty awesome. I'm not a huge fan of Southern rap, as it tends to be pretty ignorant shit most of the time (and I mean that out of respect, boys..). There are only so many unapologetic tracks about dealing drugs and fucking bitches that a boy like me can take. Still, UGK do it better than most, and this double disc set is definitely a masterpiece in the genre. What they nail here is the funky, laid back drawl that more East Coast rappers can't approach. This is the music of sipping syrup and staying indoors with the AC - lazy, rambling, and smooth. It's a shame that Pimp C went out so young, but no can say he didn't go out strong.

Ixnay on the Homophobnay

I just got the new Ghostface Killah album, and while the music is pretty good, Ghost's storytelling is riddled with "faggots" and "pussies." It shouldn't surprise me to see evidence that a super-macho culture like hip hop is homophobic, but it does disappoint me.

The word faggot bothers me as much as the word bitch, and for the same reasons. It is unnecessary and excessive hatred directed at a population that already have more than enough bullshit in their lives to deal with. It also proscribes a very conservative and narrow range of acceptable behavior for both genders. Men can't be "pussys" and have to be tough and strong, and women have to take care of their men, not step out on them, and forgive them when they fuck with groupies.

The homophobia on the Ghostface Killah album is grating because it's so persistent, and slings so much hatred at a group who probably could give two shits about Ghostface. Have you seen pictures of Dennis Coles? Not exactly International Male material, and I'm sure the gay population of his hometown of New York have leaner, hotter fish to fry. The whole hyper-masculinity vibe bugs as well. "98% of dudes is pussy" he declares, flipping the whole 5 Per Centers philosophy to be centered around the hard rather than the righteous. As someone who could possibly be described as a pussy, at least by ghost's exacting standards, it's a personal affront.

This comes on top of the lyrics to David Banner's new song "B.A.N." that goes "When there's a pedophile that's lurking round where we stay/ we turn our fuckin' cheek and let them faggots walk away." First off, there is a huge difference between being a pedophile and being gay, and it is my understanding that a lot of men who molest boys would identify as straight, or at least not as being gay. Secondly, the major issue facing the African-American community isn't pedophilia. Pedophilia is horrible, but I think poverty and violence are bigger issues, and Banner is a strong proponent of the "don't snitch" mantra, which lets all of the drug dealers and gangbangers fucking up the communities get a pass.

I shouldn't be shocked that rappers are homophobic. Hip hop is a very masculine genre, and pop music in general is not the place for insights into gender roles and gay rights. Still, it's disappointing to get such explicit proof of the hatred a lot of rappers have towards gays. It's like hearing a friend who has much more conservative beliefs than you go off and let their true colors shine. It makes me feel alienated from the music I love, and drives home the point that I will always be an outsider to hip hop.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Tongue: Shock and Awe

The Tongue :: Shock and Awe :: Elefant Traks
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor

"Shock and Awe" is the debut album by Aussie MC the Tongue, who has made a name for himself in his hometown of Sydney as a fierce battle rapper. The Tongue is one of several Australian rappers I've heard recently, and I'm starting to think that continent can give the U.S. a run for its money as far as hip hop is concerned.

The album starts off with a Middle-Eastern violin and rattling tambourine on "I Know A DJ." The tambourine had me thinking of J Dilla, and the Middle Eastern vibe had me thinking of Stone's Throw artists Madlib and Oh No. The track also has an old school feel courtesy of scratching and cutting on the hook, which includes reworking a classic Ice Cube line to say "It's a great day for genocide/that's the day all the DJ's die." The Stone's Throw connection is made explicit on "Animal Crackers" which features a Dudley Perkins and Georgia Ann Muldrow. The song tackles environmentalism and animal rights from the perspective of the animals over a bouncing reggae beat straight out of the Gorillaz. The environmentalist bent continues on "The Inheritance," a down tempo track that is sort of like "An Inconvenient Truth" set to a beat.

The Tongue stays serious on the reggae-tinged anti-drug song "Forever." The track serves as both a warning about the dangers of drug abuse and an admission of culpability, and is reminiscent of the Streets:

"When we were kids all we used to drink was Coke and ice
Nowadays kids are all about the Coke and ice
This war on drugs is a joke
Since the beginning of time there ain't ever been a dealer that's broke
I don't condone getting high, but condone getting by
Can't you leave me alone while I'm getting mine
I'm, trying to practice my lines
Off a mirror, backstage, no shame, my moment to shine
Saturday nights are live like this life is Hollywood
But just because you feel good doesn't mean you're OK
Keep your eye on the ball like it's croquet
Cos even a president can fall prey to cocaine
We're all chasing a rush, maybe you're chasing a dream, chasing yourself
Or making a bust
Either way I prey you making a buck
I think they'd take less drugs if the rest of us gave more love"

The Tongue abandons the reggae for soul on "The Real Thing" which almost sounds like a B-side to "Roc Boys." He keeps it light on the battle rap track "The Blues" and the flamboastin' track "Good Looking." "Good Looking" highlights the Tongue at his best, spitting rapid fire lines over a stripped-down, funky beat:

"Hey yo second-hand flows like second-hand clothes
Both ain't worth shit like second-hand blow
I never rocked either at a show
And money is time so keep it moving like a second-hand bro
No, I never claimed to be pretty
Humble like the prostitutes working the johns of the city
Humble like a father of three, working three shifts
Back to back so the trio can eat
But in my life the hero is me
And before the credits roll the crowd needs something to see
You're a working bee on the smallest tree
Thinking a working-class hero is something to be
See those destined for greatness, have no patience
We rise to the top like we were weightless
Fire off a heat-seeker, find ya playlist
Biters get burnt just trying to taste this
So spit your excuse out and make your mess
Your home ain't where your heart is - change address
We side-step the bullshit you just put your foot in
This is how you get good looking!"

One of the biggest challenges for any foreign MC is finding his or her own authentic voice, making an imported art form their own without merely aping American performers. The Tongue does this by combining beats that reference both golden age hip hop and reggae with lyrics that are unmistakably Australian. He's not trying to be street, ghetto or gangsta; he's just trying to be good. The beats, handled by local producers like Braintax, Spit Syndicate, and Mr. Zux, are consistently good, with the exception of the cheesy love song"The Word," complete with a Rick Astley soundalike on the hook. Lyrically, the Tongue combines the easygoing, good-naturedness that seems to be a national Australian trait with some very deep examinations of serious issues like environmentalism, pollution, and the influence of corporations and industry on the global economy and ecology. The result is an album that is not only great Australian hip hop, but great hip hop in general.

Music Vibes: 8 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 8 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8 of 10

Originally posted: December 4, 2007

Click here to find out more!

Bless 1

Bless 1 :: Starving Artist ::
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor

I'm sick of defending hip hop. I am tired of explaining to people that not all hip hop has violent or sexist lyrics, and that the fun but simplistic ringtone rap doesn't represent the art form as a whole. From now on, I'm just going to tell people to download Bless 1's "Starving Artist" from his myspace page. Bless 1 is a producer/rapper out of Chicago who exemplifies the best of what hip hop can be with his intelligent wordplay, thoughtful lyrics, and jazzy beats.

The album opens up with the mellow "A Place In the Sun." Bless flows effortlessly, making his intricate and complex rhymes seem deceptively simple. The song acknowledges the struggles of living in the hood while looking towards a brighter future:

"Unorthodox pattern of talking, words walking
At a rapid pace chasing greatness now I face
Cheering crowds, replacing troubled men with scowls
In plain view ghetto youths tumbling dotted cubes
Observing the madness as I cruise
We choose to hide internal bruises so healing is impossible
Tackling the obstacles of embracing our brethren
Loving our women and leading our impressionable children
'Til then destruction swallows us whole
Bad odds at birth like born on parole
Unable to compete, CD of life stuck on repeat
Moving with the awkwardness of shackled feet
I build with men who grew up fatherless
On stoops we gathered and shared laughter like the shit had never bothered us
We've gotten over it, the imperial vocalist
Sharing a few, giving my view, quote me on it"

Bless 1's positivity is relentless, but firmly grounded in reality. On track after track, he remains aware of the hardships of life, but intent on moving forward rather than admitting defeat. His philosophy is summed up on the track "Never Give Up," and by the upbeat beats provided by French producer Rhythm From Art. The beats reference jazz, soul, and old school hip hop. The whole album has a mellow groove that it maintains throughout. None of this is going to blow out your speakers, but the beats are consistently good.

As the title of the album suggests, Bless 1 is not one to flaunt his jewels and cars. I'm not opposed to rappers flossing, but it's refreshing to hear an MC who is upfront about having financial difficulties. Living vicariously through Lil' Wayne's ice is well and good, but the majority of hip hop listeners (and humans in general) live closer to Bless 1's income bracket. Bless offers an insightful examination of poverty and the hunger for money on "The Hunger":

"They say the goons carry heavy in June
Making the block boil like a heroine spoon
Chi-town where the winters are cold as Siberia
It takes more than inches of snow to cool the temperature
Stuffing our face, never thought about grace
Sounds great if you've already ate, but we can't relate
Taught by police, thieves and ministers
Praise the dollar and chase it in ways sinister
Deep speeches are lost without a listener
It's hard to open ears of the deaf in my perimeter
'Cuz a stomach that growls is more powerfully loud
Than the voice calming it down
And you ain't gotta live in the Chi to understand the schematics
Bred havoc here for a long while
Influencing my peers and then they start to clown
Run streets until we can't keep up, passing the crown
Off to the youth, suited with flames in their eyes now
But it can never be drowned as long as our stomach pounds with the hunger"

As good as "Starving Artist" is, it isn't flawless. "Return to the Source" with its alto sax is too Kenny G for my tastes, and sees Bless 1 veering from inspirational to cheesy. Also, at ten tracks and 28 minutes, "Starving Artist" is practically an EP by hip hop standards. I was definitely left wanting more. Those minor complaints aside, "Starving Artist" is great album by a remarkably good MC. The next time you hear someone complain about negativity in hip hop, tell them to shut up and listen to Bless 1.

Music Vibes: 7.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 9 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8 of 10

Originally posted: December 4, 2007

Monday, December 03, 2007

Madlib - Nov. 16 at the Independent, SF

I went and saw Madlib at the Independent a couple weeks ago. I love Madlib, and I'm a huge fan of his work and the work of his label, Stone's Throw. I was excited to finally get to see him do his thing, since I had gone to see him last year in Seattle and he had pulled out due to a family emergency.

The show started at 9, and like the old man i am, i got there at 9:05. Baron Zen was spinning some Stone's Throw classics, and that went on, and on, and on. Every once in a while label head peanut butter wolf would come on stage and drink some beer. Finally, at around 10:30 (ie when i SHOULD have gotten there) the Arabian Prince came on and spun some old school tracks. At about 11pm, J-Rocc took over and started playing beats for MED. MED seemed really unsure of himself, and he even stopped J-Rocc midtrack because he couldn't remember the words. If there is one thing I've learned in my years of public speaking, it's that you NEVER let on how nervous or unprepared you are. Just do it - we won't know the difference.

He was joined by Guilty Simpson, who was the highlight of the evening. Guilty is a Detroit MC who is the one hardcore/gutter rapper on the Stone's Throw roster. He is also an incredible MC, and I can't wait for his album to come out in early 08. Percee P came out after Guilty, and kept things going.

I don't know if it was the sound or my mood or the vibe or what, but I was NOT feeling the concert. I've had this issue with live hip hop shows in the past - sometimes it just seems like dudes talking over records. The whole thing was kind of chaotic, disorganized, and lacking. The MCs would be like "yo, put on that one track" then they'd rap for a minute, then demand that we put our hands in the air and scream, adn rap over another track.
By this time it was midnight, and there was still no sign of Madlib. I was tired, cold, and getting claustrophobic in the sold-out club, so I jetted before even seeing him. i was really bummed about the whole experience until i talked to my friend who saw them at a later show in Seattle. She had stayed for madlib, and said he came on at 12:30, and was really meh. See, madlib is an amazing producer and musician, but a very average rapper. In fact, the only thing that makes his rapping work is the fact that most of the time it is sped up as Lord Quasimoto. On this tour, Madlib is just doing his rap thing, wearing chains and bling and shades and looking like an aspiring Jay-z. Underwhelming to say the least. Is it sad that I like the feist show more than the madlib show, and that I'm looking forward to andrew bird? i don't want to give up on live hip hop, but man, I'm not so sure it's my thing.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Repost from Smif-N-Wessun, by the way, is the worst rap name EVER. Not only is it totally dumb sounding, but it got them into a heap of legal trouble with Smith and Wesson. doh!

Smif-N-Wessun :: The Album :: Duck Down Records
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor

To my knowledge, no other genre of music has as many legal problems as hip hop. If rappers aren't getting jail time for probation violations or weapons charges, they are facing lawsuits over illegal samples, suing their label to get out of shady record deals, or, in the case of Smif-N-Wessun, being sued by a major corporation over their copyright-infringing name. I'm not sure how Smif-N-Wessun came to a deal with Smith and Wesson, but on "The Album," Tek and General Steele are back to their old monicker, abandoning the Cocoa Brovas name that they had adopted in the meantime.

"The Album" is their third record as Smif-N-Wessun, and comes twelve years after their classic debut "Dah Shinin.'" Those twelve years show in their flow and lyrical content. Smif-N-Wessun are not just a couple of young bucks boasting and bragging. They don't abandon the gunplay rhymes that made them legends, and revisit those themes on "Gangster's Prayer" and "Stomp Thru." They also take time out to celebrate the good life on "Gotta Say It," and getting high on "I Can't Feel My Face." Still, the majority of the songs showcase the rappers in a more thoughtful, more mature frame of mind.

"Trouble" sees the duo reminiscing about their rough upbringing, from a twin brother who died at birth to a childhood of crime and drama. "P.N.C. 4 Life" is a display of brotherly love; and "Who Gonna Save Us" examines the problems facing African-American's, from the war to Katrina:

"We got casualties unthinkable
How does one survive
When he's living where his water's undrinkable
For years we sat back and watched TV commercials
About what five cents a day could do
And it's been documented
Some gave, some didn't
But in our country some of us couldn't
So what's the use of the organization
If the funds ain't going to the proper destination
We living in the world of technology
Still we do nothing
To stop all these catastrophes"

They even get political, declaring "Obama, I stand beside ya/Gun in hand and body armor." Hip hop may be a young man's game, but Smif-N-Wessun prove that the experience that older rappers have can make their music more meaningful and interesting than their younger counterparts.

Those hoping that the duo would recapture the dark, hardcore NY sound of "Da Shinin'" will be disappointed. The sparse, cold boom bap of their debut has been abandoned here, in part because the Beatminerz weren't involved in any of the production. The closest "The Album" comes to Smif-N-Wessun's hardcore street sound is on "Who Gonna Save Us," with it's handclap beat and guitar flourishes, and "Stomp Thru," which has a piano loop and stomping drums. Other highlights include the dancehall flair of "Gotta Say It" and the synth whine of "Yeah" and "Can't Stop." For the most part, however, the beats are drab and humorless, lacking any sort of personality. It's not that they are terrible, they just aren't memorable, and they leave Tek and General Steele's insightful lyrics hanging. I really wanted to like this album more than I did, but in the end it just isn't very enjoyable to listen to. Smif-N-Wessun are proof that rappers can in fact age well. They just need to find producers that can keep up with them.

Music Vibes: 6.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 8 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7.5 of 10

Originally posted: November 27, 2007

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Jovan MacKenzy Review

Reposted from

I wrote this review last year, and it gets a lot of hits, which means that when Jovan's fans are looking for info about him, they get to my review. That's not exactly fair, since I'm not the target demographic for this, and there is no way I'd like it.

Read another perspective here. It's a Christian rap blog called hipehopegospel. Or check out his myspace page at

I also changed the name of the post from "Christian Rap Still Sucks," which was kind of a jackass title. I still stand by my review, but again, I'm not the target audience for this, in the same way that devout Pentecostals are the target audience for, say, anarcho punk.

Jovan MacKenzy :: Jihad :: Godchaserz Entertainment

Being a devout Christian hip hop fan must be a little like being a hardcore conservative living in San Francisco: there'd be no end of fuel for your feelings of anger, disappointment, and self-righteousness. Everywhere you turn there is someone not just breaking one of the ten commandments, but bragging about it. GodChaserz Entertainment is one of a growing number of labels dedicated to Christian hip hop, and to creating a Christian alternative to mainstream rap music.

The idea of infusing music with Christianity is not exactly new. The majority of Western music composed through the 19th century was religious, and the majority of musicians claim God as one of their primary influences. If you watch the Grammy's, almost every artist who wins a statue thanks God. This is even true in hip hop, one of the most profane forms of music. Most rappers claim to be religious, and at least a couple of them aren't total hypocrites.

I appreciate music that is informed by people's religious views. John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme," Aretha Franklin's gospel-infused soul, and Lupe Fiasco's Islamic-leaning hip hop are all examples of artists who made amazing music from their religious convictions. However, I find music that is explicitly and solely religious to be much less compelling. The difference between a musician who is Christian and a Christian musician may seem semantic, but it is huge. David Banner is a rapper who is Christian. DC Talk are Christian musicians. It's the same on a personal level: I have no issue with people who are religious, but I find it a lot harder to deal with people who are ONLY religious, who quote scripture constantly, who can't put a sentence together without mentioning God. Part of this has to do with the fact that I disagree with a lot of the fundamental religious views, being the San Francisco liberal that I am.

So imagine how I feel about this record, which is essentially 16-track sermon set to beats. Worse still, Jovan leans towards the scolding, judgmental form of Christianity that I find especially annoying. The last thing I need in my life is to have to listen to a pro-life, anti-fornication rapper. "This ain't about me, it's about Jesus and no one else. I must become less so He may become greater," Jovan declares in the title track, before going off on his "Jihad":

"First off I'm a Christian not a Muslim from the Nation of Islam
His bombs only drop on his songs
Keep going I keep flowing like a river
When it comes to this music you know I'm like a trigger
But I'm not shooting bullets I'm only using scripture
Praying that this music will bring truth to its listeners
We at war
Jihad, it's a holy war
My generation's in a stranglehold
Lord we in a stronghold
We need a miracle and deliverance
Lord it's hard when they teaching false gods like Allah
Lord they feeding our kids with this
And no this ain't about bashing Muslims
Cuz the whole world is sick
But Christ still loves us
We forgot about God
We forgot about his laws
We all fall short
We're all outlaws"

Islamic extremism scares the hell out of me, but I am a firm believer that the fire with fire tactic does NOT apply to dealing with religious zealots. It is only going to replace one evil with another, and give even more fuel to fire the flames of religious fanaticism. What better way to prove to the extremists that they are fighting a holy war than to declare holy war on them?

When he is not attacking Islam, Jovan is attacking Christians for not being Christian enough. On "39 Lashes" he lays out 39 modern-day transgressions for each of the lashes that Christ received during the Passion:

"One for idolatry
Two for adultery
Three for the dudes that live every way but holy
Four for the whoremongers
I got thirty-five more
Five for the guys who disobey God's laws
Eleven for the folks cross-dressing
Twelve for the selfish
Thirteen for the thirteen-year-old kid who is still living rebellious
Fourteen for the dope fiends
Fifteen for the crackheads who won't stop smoking
Seventeen for the secular music
I know we got brains, y'all, why we don't use it?
Eighteen for your teens that turn eighteen
In the church raising but still masturbating
Nineteen for the fornicating
Twenty for all of the adult movies and all the porno makers"

He also criticizes the mainstream media with clumsy lines like "[Christ] hung on the cross for hours/so I could care less about Austin Powers." Attacking crackheads, teenage rebellion and masturbators seems way off target, and totally anachronistic. It is also striking that the Christian-centric world that Jovan and a lot of fundamentalist Christian want to create is as restrictive and repressive as the Islamist states that they and the US government are so against. Ironically, due to Jovan's conservative and backwards views, I was as intensely offended by this record as I am by the most violent, misogynistic gangsta rap.

Beyond his lyrics, Jovan is a competent MC who could go toe-to-toe with a lot of secular rappers. The beats are average R n' B infused synth creations, mellow enough to not offend the faithful, and far from banging. The end result is an album that is too heavy-handed to win any non-believing listeners, and not good enough to stand on its own merits as musical work. Personally, I think the world needs more love, compassion, and charity, and a lot less finger-pointing and self-righteousness. Those looking for more God in their should keep looking: I don't think they'll like what they find in "Jihad."

Pitbull Review

Pitbull :: The Boatlift
TVT Records
Originally posted: November 20, 2007

"The Boatlift" is the third studio album by Cuban-American rapper and Lil Jon protoge Pitbull. Pitbull's genius is his ability to meld the thumping riddims of reggaeton with the equally thumping crunk. The result is something that smoothes out some of the rough edges of both forms of music, making a finished product that is less abrasive and easier for non-Spanish speakers to get into. "The Anthem" is a perfect example: It mixes up pounding, stomping beat with some saxophone squawks and Lil Jon's dance floor bark, all perfectly suited for Pitbull's horndog Spanglish rhymes.

He's at the top of his game on club anthems like "Go Girl," whose whistling beat owes a little something to Timbaland, "Dukey Love," the obligatory ode to female posteriors, and the Dirty South weed anthem "Sticky Icky," one of three tracks produced by Lil Jon. Fans of Pitbull and Lil Jon will notice that "The Boatlift" is less crunk than Pitbull's past albums. Lil Jon may be convinced that crunk's not dead, but he obviously realizes the need to develop his sound. Jon's production here is a little less aggressive and less stripped-down than his past work, with more instrumentation and complexity in the beats. That isn't to say he's gone all Neptunes on us, but he has taken it beyond bass, drums and screaming.

In fact, the harder, more street elements of Pitbull's previous work are largely absent here. He perfectly captures the sweat and sex of a crowded Miami hotspot on a Friday night, and leaves the strife and drama of the streets at the door. Given the title of the album, which references the Cubans boatlifted to the US, I thought that the lyrics would be at least somewhat political. However, with the exception of a few bars, Pitbull is far more preoccupied with partying than geopolitics. In fact, almost every song on the album is about women and partying. "Go Girl" pretty much sums it up:

"I party like a rock star
Look like a movie star
Play like an all star
Fuck like a porn star"

He does bare his soul on the R&B-tinged "My Life," featuring Jason Derulo on the hook:

"All I know is the hustle and grind
And all you want is some quality time but
I can't give it to you due to the life that I chose
My heart is so cold to the point that my blood it froze
I might wear diamonds if they really could freeze time
But then again time is money and I needs mine
There I go again being selfish
And here you go again in love and helpless
You mean the world to me baby, you know it's the truth
But I don't know who I love more, you or the booth
These are just some things I need to get off my chest
Sometimes I feel all I can give you is sex
I'm sorry"

Pitbull is clearly positioning himself as an LL Cool J-esque ladies man, especially with the first single, "Secret Admirer." Unfortunately, he is much less convincing as sensitive player than as an oversexed party animal. The smooth jams on "The Boatlift" are unbearably cheesy, and pretty unconvincing seeing as they come on the heels of a bunch of horny club anthems. Pitbull is equally unsuccessful on the lame techno jam "Midnight."

Still, the five lame tracks aren't enough to kill the heat on "Boatlift." Songs like "Poquito," "Get Up/Levantate," and "Ying & the Yang" are infectiously bouncy, and provide a healthy dose of latin-tinged dumb fun. The album is rounded out by some good features by Trina, Jim Jones, Trick Daddy, and Twista. On "The Boatlift," Pitbull continues to prove himself as an MC who is able bridge latin hip hop and Southern hip hop, creating a sound that should appeal to fans from both camps. He may not be the deepest lyricist on earth, and his attempts at bedroom music may fall flat, but he makes a mean soundtrack for a night out.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Mortar: "Sacred Geometry"

Reprinted from

"Sacred Geometry" Mortar, Clandestien Productions/Shogun Distribution
reviewed by Patrick Taylor

Mortar is an Austrailian MC/Producer who is part of Perth's Clandestien crew. "Sacred Geometry" is his second solo outing, following last year's "Mortarshell Symphony." As the title suggests, this is an intricate work that references the Supreme Mathematics, numerology, conspiracy theories, and fantasy epics.

As a producer, Mortar favors dramatic, cinematic beats that fit in well with his dramatic, cinematic lyrics. "The Foundations" is backed by strings and horn flourishes; "Exodus" has a piano riff and metronome tick; "God Complex" has an alternative-rock feel to it, complete with an Alanis Morissette sound-alike singing the hook; "The Answers 2" has a bubbly 80's funk beat that reminded me of the Pointer Sisters' "Neutron Dance." The overall effect is the RZA meets El-P meets the "Excalibur" soundtrack. Sometimes it works, but more often than not the beats, like the lyrics, feel a little too serious for their own good.

As MC/producers go, Mortar is pretty decent on the mic, and seems much more natural as an MC than a lot of other cats who take a break from the boards to try their hand at rhyming. He has an incredibly thick Aussie accent, which takes a little getting used to, but it is an interesting change of pace. Lyrically, he comes off like a cross between a devout 5 Percenter, a D & D geek, and a paranoid schizophrenic. He rattles off references to metaphysics, literature, history, films, and conspiracies in a relentless rant. Mortar hits his melodramatic peak on "The Taking of Rome." Backed by a chorus of singing women straight out of a sword-and-sandals epic, he delivers lines like "Hail Caesar" with a straight face. The result is the hip hop equivalent of epic metal bands like Iron Maiden and Manowar, only without the screaming guitars and operatic vocals:

"This legionnaire's prayers call for war like Mars
Dragonheart flawless like the Praetorian guard
Armored martyr saint slayer
Barter with Satan
Hades invader
Major spitter
Scripter of victory
The greatest challenger
The man who shot liberty
Damaged with a pen
Keep on retreating until you're beaten in the end"

One complaint artists frequently have about reviews is that the reviewer didn't even bother to listen to their album closely. I want to assure Mortar that I have listened to "Sacred Geometry" over and over and over again. After about twenty spins on my cd player, it STILL doesn't make any sense to me. I'm not sure whether Mortar is a genius or a paranoid schizophrenic; most likely he falls in between somewhere. What I do know is that "Sacred Geometry" is dark hip hop in the same vein as Jedi Mind Tricks and Cannibal Ox, but not as coherent or enjoyable.

Paradox Review

I've gotten a lot of Christian rap to review lately. Paradox is the least offensive of it, although he suffers from being more into getting his message out than in being a good rapper.

Reprinted from

"Role Model" Paradox, Get Gospel Records
Reviewed by Patrick Taylor

The first person thanked in almost every hip hop album ever released is God. Considering they make such profane music, rappers are a religious bunch. They are also a very contradictory bunch, and don't seem to see the disconnect between calling yourself a Christian (or Muslim, for that matter) and glorifying a life of crime, being totally materialistic, and being disrespectful to pretty much every female who isn't a blood relative. It's not uncommon for an MC to go on about dealing yay or capping rivals in one verse and talk about their love of God in the next. Enter Paradox, a Brooklyn rapper who is trying to walk the walk, and create a more positive, more Christian alternative to mainstream hip hop.

Positive is the perfect word to describe Paradox and his music. He opens the album with an upbeat ode to his neighborhood, "Brooklyn." He celebrates love on "Everything Girl" and his religion on "That's A Lot". He avoids scolding or being overly negative. "A bad attitude is bad for your health," he declares on "Let It Burn."
On "Role Model" he rhymes:

"Rappers' all about the hustle
What about the art?
They want to touch your pockets
I want to touch your heart"

He handles production on several tracks, with Rock , DJX-Ray and Tony "Keynote" Sebro contributing to the rest of the album. The production favors pianos and strings, and tries to be as positive and uplifting as the lyrics. The most successful is the upbeat neo-soul of "We Gonna Make It," which outlines Paradox adventures being a performer.

As much as I appreciate Paradox's intentions, and as much as I want to like this album, it is hampered by one major fault: he can't rap. His rhymes are clumsy, stilted and awkward, full of too many syllables and unfortunate word choices. His flow has a rudimentary cadence that went out with BKs and dookie chains. He is clearly more interested in getting his message out than in being deadly on the mic, and his music suffers because of it.

Paradox is full of good intentions, but not nearly as full of skills as an MC. I appreciate his attempt at creating positive hip hop, but he needs to step his game up. As it stands, "Role Model" isn't a compelling alternative to mainstream rap, and will only appeal to those who are willing to put the message before the music.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


Masonic Auditorium
Friday, November 9 2007

The Masonic Auditorium is an oddly glamorous and fancy venue to see an indie-folk artist, and I'm not sure how Feist came to perform there. The 3,165-seat venue was sold out, so perhaps it was a matter of her being too big for smaller venues like the Warfield and the Fillmore. The tickets said that the show started at 8pm, and they weren't kidding. At 8:01pm, the opening act went on. It was a guy with his acoustic guitar, whose name I didn't catch. He played for or five songs of mellow, Iron and Wine-esque folk before ceding the stage to Feist. The petite singer/songwriter sounded amazing, and played for a little under 90 minutes. There was a big backdrop on the stage, on which someone was projecting stencils and stencil puppets. It was an interesting visual for the most part, but got a little cheesy at times, like when the projecter-lady's hands would get involved for some interpretive waving.

One weird thing about the show was how oddly civilized and anesceptic the whole vibe was. The audience remained seated throughout the entire concert, and about as rowdy as things got was when someone lit a joint or yelled "We love you, Leslie!" It was an unnatural and unfitting place to see an artist as intimate as Feist, but, alas, I guess the days of her playing at a tiny club are over. On a more positive note, the sound was great, and she probably wouldn't have been nearly as impressive at the Greek or Slim's or any other venue where the subtleties of her arrangements would have been lost. I was also impressed that the crowd wasn't just there to hear her do "1234" aka the Ipod Nano song. I'm guessing that her next disc is going to have her blowing up, approaching superstar status in the indie-folk circles.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


It was Jay-Z, in part, who got me back into hip hop around 2001. I picked up a copy of The Blueprint Vol. 2 and was really impressed by the beats he had lined up. I was starting to get bored senseless with indie rock, and the hardcore punk I had been listening to was starting to grate. Here was music that was interesting, innovative, and fun.

I just picked up his new album, American Gangster. It's his concept album based on the movie of the same name, but really, it's a throwback to old school hip hop, sans the glitz, hooks, features, and club jams. In other words, it's fucking awesome. I saw him do "Roc Boys" on Letterman with a live band, and he killed it. This is Jay at his best, not trying too hard to shift units or impress people. Even more shocking, it has some great production work by Diddy of all people. Whoa.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Co-Op review

Reposted from, where it was the featured review.

“The Co-Op” DJ Envy and RED Café, Koch records
reviewed by Patrick Taylor

Wikipedia defines a co-op (short for cooperative) as an “autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.” I’ve mostly seen the model applied to health food stores and housing. Now DJ Envy and RED Café have applied it to hip hop.

Or not. Other than the fact that this album is a cooperative effort between DJ Envy and Red Café, there isn’t anything here that has anything in common with whole foods or shared housing. Still, as a duo, Envy and Red work together nicely. Envy supplies a steady supply of glossy, New York beats for Red to work with. Standout tracks include the bumping synths of "What It Be Like," the 80s bounce of "What It Do," featuring a verse by Remy Martin, the reggae of "Ghetto Children," and the Neptunes-lite of "Dolla Bill." He also misfires a few times, like with the melodramatic synths on "Move Like A G" and the uber-cheesy "Shakedown 4 Life."

While Envy sets up some nice shots, Red Café doesn’t always get it in the basket. He is of the Lil’ Wayne school of hip hop, ie. rappers who rap about the same old gangsta bullshit with enough originality and wit to make it sound good. Unfortunately, Red Café isn’t quite as original or witty as Weezy, Listening to him rhyme, I could understand both why he has made such a splash on the mixtape scene , and why he has been shuffled around between three or four record labels. He’s got skills, but he’s not always, shall we say, maximizing his full potential. He’s pulling punches, rapping about the same tired shit when he should be taking it to another level. Take "Invincible," which has a ridiculous chorus:

"Shakedown invincible
Never let a nigga get the best of you
Always keep a chopper next to you
You know, .38 Spesh-u-al
Let it go like (Pow Pow Pow)
Let it go like (Blau Blau Blau)"

Red Alert also frequently indulges in that dubious but popular rhyming style where you just repeat a word or phrase as a rhyme:

"Ocean 11 motion, loking toting Mac 11
Poke him both him and his unborn son
Arm and Hammer man
Oakland 211
Shoot first when I bang I'm the last to run
Matter fact, can't remember when last I run
When last I ran
I rather blam
My hood more like Afghanistan
Goddamn it man"

The major problem with this album can be summed up by the skits, which chronicle the life and death of MC Death Murder Homicide, a rapper who comes off tough on his records but is in fact a total dork who loves Justin Timberlake. The first skit is funny, and I was thinking, “OK, Red Café is commenting about how wack gangsta rappers are, and how lame it is to rap about violence.” However, the Death Murder Homicide trilogy ends with the MC being killed by Red Café for lightly dissing him. I realized that what Red Café was REALLY trying to say with the skit is that phony myspace gangsta rappers are wack, because they don’t really come from the streets like he does. It’s an unconvincing argument, and makes for some unconvincing rhymes.

"The Co-Op" has some good beats and some decent rhymes, but I think that Red Café can do better than this. I respect that he comes from the streets and wants to use that in his lyrics, but he needs to find a more original and creative way to leverage being shot and being in prison. As it stands on “The Co-Op.” he just sounds like a million other rappers doing the same thing, backed by beats that are good, but not good enough to truly stand out.

Sandpeople review

Reposted from

Yet another Portland crew that I wanted to like more than I did. Maybe I'm just prejudiced against white rappers.

“Honest Racket” Sandpeople, Sandpeople Music,
reviewed by Patrick Taylor

This is the third album by Portland’s Sandpeople, an eleven-member collective who have been around since 2004. The group includes Al-One, Ethic, Iam, Gold, Illmaculate, Only, Mo-B, Sapient, Simple, and DJ Spark. Their bio mentions the fact that most of the crew hadn’t even met when they recorded their debut album, “Points of View,” and it was only after recording their follow-up “All In Vain” began that they all were introduced. “Honest Racket” offers up sixteen tracks of underground, Northwest hip hop, adding to a vibrant scene that includes acts like Othello and the Lifesavas.

The album starts off with the crew flying their indie flag high over an industrial beat by Sapient:

"I duck the limelight proudly
If you see me then you probably wouldn't doubt me
When I say there's nothing Hollywood about me
Fucking A-list just a bunch of K-Fed's claiming they made it
Made what? (I made it to the top, dog!)
Shut up, you ain't made shit
Most your fame's derived from luck
Right place at the right time
If you get signed it doesn’t matter if you suck you'll do just fine
Lose your mind thinking you're God's gift to music that speaks the truth
Until your 15 minutes are up and we're like 'Where the fuck did you go?'
Now that we out of the gates our crew makes its case for hardest working
We 10 deep these pens speak but we remain observant
Make ends meet but rent's cheap and music's most important
Now we got heads either nodding or turning towards Portland"

I definitely respect where these guys are coming from. I like the fact that the Sandpeople are DIY and underground, and I appreciate that they go for more honest, thoughtful lyrics. They talk about the frustrations of being young and broke on "Lose It," and on the beautifully sad "Not Alright" they drop lines like "sharpie my existence on the inside of your eye/so you'll never forget the vision in which beauty lies/I'm ugly/or says the two-way mirror." I particularly enjoyed the more psychedelic side of their work. I'm a huge fan of Lil' Wayne's "I Feel Like Dying," and it always makes me happy to see other artists go off in a trippy, drugged-out direction (lyrically, that is).

Simple and Sapient provide all of the beats, and most of them are on point. They particularly excel at infusing an electronica quality to their work, perhaps a remnant of Simple's days as a trance DJ. They also layer in a lot of different types of instruments, like the acoustic guitar and xylophone on "I Don't Care," the drum, bass, and organ on "Group Home," and the horns on "The Air We Breath." Some of the tracks are too mellow or generic sounding for my taste, but for the most part they do a good job on the knobs and turntables.

It was impossible for me to keep track of all of the MCs, but not all of them are genius on the mic. There are a few of them whose flow has an exaggerated, forced quality that I just can’t get into. I call it the Eminem disease where MCs try to ape Marshall Mathers' when he's being VERY SERIOUS. It ends up sounding too much like play-acting, and not enough like rapping.

The Sandpeople have a lot going for them, but “Honest Racket” doesn’t quite manage to harness their magic. The end result is an album that is decent but not great, made by a crew who are more exciting because of their potential than their output to date. Still, I’d rather listen to a crew like the Sandpeople, who are at least trying to take rap in an interesting and positive direction, than suffer yet another gangsta crew bragging about crimes they haven’t committed and jewelry they can’t afford. “Honest Racket” may not get heavy rotation on my stereo, but I’m going to keep my eye on Portland.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Nas has done it again...

According to, Nas is planning on naming his upcoming album "Ni**er." I'm not sure if that is how it will be printed on the album, or if that is just what the label is calling it. One Brooklyn politician is already threatening Universal with legal and monetary actions.

What's rad about this, besides the fact that it is more blatant controversy-pandering by Nas (oh he of "Hip Hop is Dead"), is that the album will be impossible to ask for or talk about. We can't say "Nas' new album 'Nigger'", and you can't pronounce "Ni**er". Very Prince-like. I'd love to think that Nas is trying to engage the public in a conversation about what that word means, but really, I think he is just admitting his increasing cultural irrelevance and making a bold move to sell more records.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Lance Hahn 1967 – 2007

Lance Hahn died this week at the age of 40. He had been ill for some time with kidney disease, and finally succumbed to it. Lance was a fixture of the SF punk scene for years. His band J Church was named after the Muni line that serviced SF’s very punk Mission district. He worked at Epicenter, the volunteer-run (and defunct) record store. He wrote regular columns in MaximumRockNRoll, and had been working on a book about anarcho punk bands. His label, Honeybear, put out stuff by J Church as well as other bands.

I used to see him around in the late nineties. He was a well-fed guy with long hair, and he was instantly recognizable. I had a few J Church CDs, and while they’ve never been my favorite band, I always admired his prolificacy and handle on a pop song. Hahn was a punk lifer who was in it for the long haul.

Here’s a fact – Shitty things happen to good people, especially shitty medical things. I’m sorry Lance died so young, but he definitely did not waste his time here on earth.

Dev Rocka

Reposted from
“Night Shift” Dev Rocka, Good Hands Records

By Patrick Taylor

“Night Shift” is a compilation from Philidelphia producer Kevin Devine, AKA Dev Rocka. Dev provides the beats, with rhymes by Reef the Lost Cauze, Planet Asia, Maylay Sparks, and Killah Priest. It is a great introduction to a talented producer, as well as a solid album.

Dev constructs his beats using his trusty MPC 2000 and turntables, mixing a nice, fat drum sound with samples. The result is classic East Coast hip hop: hard beats, cinematic instrumentation, and an overall feel that is as coldly beautiful as the East Coast itself. His music pays homage to masters like DJ Premier and the Rza, without sounding derivative.
The best way to describe “Night Shift” is classic hip hop as only people from the region that invented the genre can produce. The South may have bounce, and the West Coast may have G-funk, but only the East Coast can truly bring the cinematic boom-bap epitomized by artists like Mobb Deep, Gangstarr, and the Wu.

The raw beats are complimented by raw rhymes from a stable of rappers both well-known and relatively new to the game. Maylay Sparks sums it up on "Relax":

"I try to write something different
Not about the drinks or getting spliffted
Exemplify why I'm really gifted
Mic cord stay twisted around my arms dropping realistic
Shit to quench your thirst like mystic
Don't forget that it's a privilege to be involved in the music business"

One of the album's finest lyrical moments comes in "Vocab and Knowledge," when Drac calls out fake gangstas:

"Hundred dollar sneakers, nothing in the bank
Acting like a gunner when you fronting with a shank
Thinking like the masses your ass is grass is a catastrophe waiting to happen
So start strapping on your thinking cap and crack a book
A little vocab and knowledge to scholar from crook
In case you hadn't noticed
Somehow it's uncool to act like you know what you're talking about"

There are a lot of rappers who put out albums with ten different producers, so “Night Shift” is a nice change of pace. In a way it makes more sense sonically for a single producer to work with ten different rappers. “Night Shift” doesn’t feel like a compilation, and works well as an album.

The only real problem I have with “Night Shift” is that it is in danger of being slept on. With so many high-profile hip hop albums coming out this Fall, a little-known producer’s album doesn’t have good shot of making a dent. That’s a shame, because “Night Shift” is one of the better releases this year. Fans of “real” hip hop better check this out, because it is destined to be regarded as an underrated classic in ten years.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Bad Brains

When I was an angst-ridden adolescent first getting into punk 20 years ago, I had to scour to find bands to check out. I didn’t have the internet, none of my friends were into punk, and so I was left to explore this genre on my own. I really wish I had come across the Bad Brains debut back then, instead of now.

Simply put, this is a classic album, and an essential hardcore album. It ranks up there with Minor Threat’s eps, the Circle Jerks “Group Sex,” the Germs debut, Black Flag’s early stuff, Discharges 1st ep, etc. etc. The Brains were/are melodic and fast as hell. They could also play their instruments, which is a novel idea. I put this on my headphones and it gives me the same jolt that I used to get in my teens listening to the Descendents or Minor Threat. Maybe it’s a little pathetic that a grown-ass man could still tap into his teenage angst, but fuggit. As a side note, it’s also weird to me that the music i get nostalgic about is hardcore punk. I wonder what my kids will think of it?

Insane Poetry

Reprinted from
nsane Poetry :: Fallen From Grace :: Long Range Distribution
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor

On the intro to "Fallen From Grace," the fourth album by SoCal underground rap crew Insane Poetry, MC Cyco makes it clear that being an underground legend is hardly a lucrative prospect. He describes working 12-hour days at a bullshit job to pay the bills and alimony. He presents "Fallen From Grace" as a last-ditch effort by a man on the edge of financial ruin and insanity, one last chance to make it in the rap game and prove to himself and the haters in his life that he truly is a rapper. It is a startlingly emotional plea, and adds an element of rawness and honesty to the album.

Insane Poetry's 1992 classic "Grim Reality" laid out the template for horrorcore, and they don't stray too far from that genre on this disc. "Kill You," "Boyz In A Box," and "Murderland" all invoke horror film imagery to describe life on the streets. However, just as on "Grim Reality," Insane Poetry is aware that the grim has to be balanced by the reality, and there are a lot of tracks devoted to describing the realitiesof life. This is where the album shines the most, with Cyco stepping in like an elder statesmen. On "The Game of Life" he warns young rappers about the danger of flirting with gangbanging:

"I'm in the struggle between life and death
So I have to take wiser steps to avoid putting my life in jep
Now that I'm older I had to harness my fury
Took the chip off my shoulder
The world has gotten colder
So fuck that killer talk too many niggas caught slipping
Gang banging when they spitting
Not realizing the friction
Ambitions of a rider
Until the hot slugs burning inside them
Killers mashing off you hear the burning tires
Peeling off after the shots rang out
Scene bloody Clorox can get the stains out
Blew his brains out while getting blamed from a chicken in his Monte Carlo
Don't look startled when that heats drawn
And the reaper comes in the form of slugs"

It is these non-horrorcore tracks that make "Fallen From Grace" worth checking out, and keep it from being monotonous and boring. Cyco barks out his rhymes in a cadence that reminded me of Tupac, minus the sensitivity. He makes his connection to Pac clear in the title track:

"Here come my magnum opus
witness my fall from grace
as the camera focus
I spit it all in your face
What the fuck you figure
Reminiscing of the great Pac and Machiavelli
The specialist specializing in doom
I am the great knowledge that was buried in King Solomon's tomb
Follow me and just swallow this shroom
And let your brain cells ride to the dark side of the moon"

The true star of the album is Jason "JP" Pearl, who handles production. He offers up seventeen tracks of future funk that sound as good as any West Coast producer has to offer. Highlights include "The Game of Life" with its creeping guitar, "Black Widow" with its spacey take on "Love to Love You," the farting funk of "Heartless," and the triumphant keyboard stabs of "Revenge." JP may not have the budget of a Dre or Timbaland, but it doesn't show in his beats. I love West Coast G-funk, and Insane Poetry serves it up in spades.

"Fallen From Grace" isn't the classic that "Grim Reality" is, but it is a solid album by longstanding underground legends. I don't know if it will cure all of Cyco's financial worries, or free him from the drudgery of his day job, but it should prove once and for all that he is a rapper to reckon with.

Bangers and Cash

Reprinted from

Spank Rock and Benny Blanco :: Bangers & Cash :: Downtown Records
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor

One of my favorite albums of 2006 was "Yoyoyoyoyo," the debut by Spank Rock. Spank Rock embody the Baltimore sound: equal parts hip hop, electro, Miami bass, and electronica, all distilled through a little hipster irony. The album was an ode to partying, sex, and having a good time. On this EP, producer Armani XXXchange steps aside so Benny Blanco can have a chance at the boards. Blanco and MC Naeem Juwan go to their roots, paying homage to the 2 Live Crew while giving that dirty Miami bass sound a facelift.

The cover of the disc is an homage to "As Nasty As They Wanna Be," and four of the tracks sample the Miami raunch kings. "Shake That" opens with Luke and Crew declaring "Welcome to the fuck shop!" before Naeem raps:

"I got a dollar for you push it put your ass up on that pole If your friend over there lick it then you might earn $20 more How your knees don't bend with your hand flat on the floor? See the sweat drip to your kush from your doody hole"

The beat, like all the tracks here, is all groin-punching bass, handclap beats, hi-hat snaps, and synth flourishes. It's booty-shaking and brilliant. Speaking of booty-shaking, "B-O-O-T-A-Y" is an adrenaline rush that mashes Miami bass with electro glitch and a siren to create a frenetic ode to the female posterior.

The best track is "Loose," an ode to hotties with naughty bodies at the club. The lyrics manage to both diss and pay homage to hoochie mammas:

"She a hoochie watch the miniskirt ride up Dimes and pennies twerp get it hotter Hootchies wanna get on the guest list Eat a small dinner so they fit in their dresses Fuck a meal go for bills big breasted Shoot it like gas I'm serving dick for breakfast Pussy pop she like three things The club, money, sex, yes just like hip hop Did a full strut when we pulled up Said she liked D's I said "These nuts" Ain't that what you want A Hilton and a Trump Making sex tapes get dick get cum All this money make a bitch go dumb Coke on the table make the bitch go numb She ain't nothing but a hoochie mamma Hoodrat, hoodrat, hoochie mamma"

Amanda Blank contributes a verse defending the ladies, but lines like "I fuck to bust nuts, fuck a man's respect/I rap for money to spend and to keep my panties wet," would hardly impress bell hooks.

"Pu$$y" mixes things up with its screwed vocals. "Bitch!" is the oddest track on the album: It samples the signature expletive from NWA's "A Bitch Iz A Bitch," but mashes it with ambient synthesizer chords, a house beat, and a chorus that has a Trent Reznor sound-alike repeating "Cop Killer." It's bizarre, but kind of awesome.

Or rather, it would be, except for the fact that "Bitch!" is repeated about fifty times during the three minute track. I get that they are riffing off of 2 Live Crew, I get that they like sex, drugs, and partying, but it gets old and childish. The song titles read out "Shake That. B-O-O-T-A-Y. Loose. Pu$$y. Bitch!" Come one, guys, really? At a certain point, if you look like an asshole, and you are rapping like an asshole, you are probably an asshole. Spank Rock seem to want to dabble in old school uber-sexism with hipster irony, but it's still the same old bullshit that wasn't ok when Uncle Luther was doing it.

"Bangers & Cash" sounds amazing, and based on the beats alone would be the ultimate party record. Benny Blanco has truly updated the Miami Bass sound for this millennium; it's just a shame they couldn't update the lyrics as well. I don't want Spank Rock to stop making songs about fucking and partying; I just want them to do it a little more intelligently.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Othello Review

My review of Othello's album is below. I actually pulled some punches in my review. I REALLY did not like this. At first, I liked the live music and the fact that it referenced classic East Coast hip hop. But the more I listened, the more I hated it, to the point that it would make me angry when it was on. The problem is, the music is fucking cheesy, and the whole thing has this hippy/christian vibe that I can't get with. I got into hip hop as a way to get AWAY from hippiedom. In general, I am not a fan of "conscious" hip hop when it becomes cheesy, lite-jazz bohemian bullshit. So. Not my cup of tea, but then I think the Roots are boring as fuck too.

"Alive at the Assembly Line" Othello , Hip Hop Is Music

reposted from

Seattle-born, Portland-based Othello is the musical child of A Tribe Called Quest, the Roots and Talib Kweli. He combines positive lyrics with jazzy, sometimes live beats to create music that references the classic late-90s Rawkus days while trying to find its own niche. “Live at the Assembly Line” is his second album, following up on last year’s “Classic.”

Production is handled by L Mind, Stro and Mr. Jay of the Procussions, and D-Minor and M-Phazes of Wax Reform. Some of the beats are programmed, but a lot of them feature live instruments by Othello’s band the Black Notes. The live music is the best aspect of "Alive at the Assembly Line." I'm a drummer, and hearing live drums on a track sounds amazing. They are warm, funky, and miles better than the cold, trebly synth beats too many producers are rocking these days.

I have two issues with this disc. One is that while I like how the music was recorded, I don’t actually like the music itself. It's too jammy, jazzy, and neo-soul for my taste. That isn’t to say that it’s bad, but definitely not my cup of tea. The other issue I have is that while I appreciate Othello’s positive, conscious lyrics, his rapid-fire flow make it difficult to understand what he was saying, and what I did understand didn’t blow me away. "We all face rough times ahead/Steady being pushed until we find the ledge/Step back and smooth it out," he rhymes on "Smooth It Out," and it sounds like the same message I've heard 100 times from 100 other "conscious" rappers. Don’t get me wrong, he is nice on the mic, but his mellow, upbeat flow just didn't move me.

I’m happy that there are artists like Othello creating interesting and positive hip hop music. He is a talented MC with a nice sound that should appeal to fans of golden age, jazzy hip hop. However, while I'm glad “Alive at the Assembly Line” exists, and while I can appreciate it on an intellectual level, I don’t actually enjoy listening to it. Keep doing what you do, Othello, but forgive me if I take a pass.

Shep Dog Review

"Underground Strong + Pimp N' Ho Mixtape" Shep Dog, Intrinz INK Records

Reposted from

Shep Dog is a 50-year-old homeless man who was discovered by Intrinzik and Joe Dank spare-changing outside of a Circle K. Shep was an aspiring rapper, Intrinzik and Joe Dank own a label, and a beautiful friendship was born. Intrinzik evidently saw the perfect clown to exploit - one part ODB, three parts Rudy Ray Moore, and ten parts "Bum Fights." Shep raps exactly like you'd expect a 50-year-old panhandler to rap: badly. His lyrics are limited to bragging about getting pussy, fucking your mother, being underground, and being from Fresno. Did I mention he likes pussy and fucking your mother? Because he does. A lot. It isn't clever, it isn't funny, and it isn't enjoyable to listen to. Shep may be getting paid, and obviously is a willing participant in this debacle, but the whole thing has an exploitative vibe to it. Shep may think he's in on the joke, but the project is designed to laugh at him, not with him.

Shep mercifully only squeezes out 8 cuts, but the disc is rounded out by 23 by-numbers gangsta rap songs by a bunch of rappers you've never heard of and won't be hearing about and time soon. This doesn't add any potential value to the disc, unless you are into generic, bombastic synth beats and lines like "When life's a bitch, I give it a tampon." There is no reason for this to exist, and even less for anyone to buy it.

Nato Caliph

"Cipher Inside" Nato Caliph, F5 Records,

Reposted from

Nato Caliph is such an understated and low-key rapper that he makes Cormeaga or GZA look like Busta Rhymes. Nato doesn't spit his rhymes, he mutters them under his breath and without exerting any extra energy, as if he were ordering a cup of chamomile tea at a coffee shop. The St. Louis rapper is about as far from Nelly and the St. Lunatics as you can get, both in his delivery and his lyrics.

I'll be honest: the first time I listened to "Cipher Inside," I was not feeling it. I thought it was boring and preachy, and I couldn't get over the fact that Nato was calling for revolution in tone more fitting for the library than the microphone. The more I listened to the album, however, the more it grew on me. A lot of it has to do with the confidence in Nato's delivery. He speaks softly because he doesn't need to yell - He KNOWS he's right.

The first line he drops spells out his mission statement: "A bunch of words to a beat mean nothing if they're only helping you." Nato does his best to make every line count, and to use hip hop as a positive force. His lyrics are thoughtful, intelligent, and on point:

"They tried to put us against us and you fell for that
Nothing hurts us more than black on black
I've learned new laws so I could properly break them
Stay close so I could properly shake you
I'm better than this
Divine Allah radical on the federal's list
It's a trip
Mastered self so I could swim in the pit
I don't get in where I fit in
I fit in where I get in
You dissing me? The bottom line is you're ignorant
Because I provide music for the soul and food for spirit
With King Tut delivery and Garvey lyrics"

There is no cursing on this record, and unlike Master P, Nato doesn't use this as a publicity stunt, saying the same tired garbage without the profanity. Instead he tackles subjects like racism, black unity, and the war. One of the most powerful songs is "Death Recall," which is a eulogy to the deceased, whether it be Nato Caliph's family, friends, unborn children, or even black leaders who are no longer with us. This is NOT just Nato pouring beer on the curb for his fallen soldierz. He goes for something much more deep and personal:

"I'm bringing back my unborn seed that I didn't give a chance to
Grow up intelligent, pretty, or handsome
And I know it takes two to decide
I pushed the issue
At the time I had too much pride
I really miss you."

Nato can come off preachy at times. He's like an older brother telling you to act right, and it's not always something you want to hear. He manages to be right on enough of the time to make his peachiness palatable, and he instills his message with just enough humility to not come off arrogant or self-righteous. That isn't to say he's suffering from low self-esteem, which is clear from "Commencement Ceremony”:

“I'm from a city where we separate the more real from the realer
The only light out of this black hole is true skill
We watch movies with no substance
And eat food just the same
And wonder why a bad body can't support a bad brain
I'm beyond doing my thing
I'm watching you do me now
So peep how
I'm the calling and the redail"

The beats, provided by DJ Crucial, Kenautis Smith, Stoney Rock, Tech Supreme, and Lyfestile, are generally as understated and quietly powerful as Nato's rhymes. Many of them are built around piano and string samples, and while there are a couple uptempo numbers, this is not an album for the club. A few of the tracks suffered from recording issues, but for the most part it sounds very good, and is head bobbing if not banging.

"Cipher Inside" is one of those records that grows on you the more you listen to it. Nato Caliph may not be the most energetic rapper, but he has a quiet determination that is hard to resist. He has created an album that is the perfect antidote to flashy, shallow hip hop, and one that deserves attention.

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