Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Repost from rapreviews.com. 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
source: www.RapReviews.com

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Jovan MacKenzy Review

Reposted from www.rapreviews.com

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 http://www.myspace.com/jovanmackenzy

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
source: www.RapReviews.com

"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 Rapreviews.com

"Sacred Geometry" Mortar, Clandestien Productions/Shogun Distribution www.shogundist.com
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 Rapreviews.com

"Role Model" Paradox, Get Gospel Records www.getgospel.com
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.

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