Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Aussie Hip Hop, mate!

Reposted from www.rapreviews.com
Sceptic and Dseeva “Hip Hop Psykosis” Sub Conscious Records www.myspace.com/scepticanddseeva

Reviewed by Patrick Taylor

“Hip Hop Psykosis” is the debut album by Sceptic and Dseeva, part of Sydney, Australia’s KWITS crew. The album is totally Do-It-Yourself: Dseeva handles all the production, and they released it on their own label, Sub Conscious.

The most striking thing about the disc is Dseeva’s production. He forgoes the standard funk breaks for a colder, stripped-down electronic sound. It is a combination of Lil’ Jon’s aggro synths, El-P’s paranoid sci-fi beats, John Carpenter’s soundtrack work, and 80’s synth pop. The result is music that is ice-cold, unsettling, and a lot more interesting than your standard in-house production. “Beat Em Down” layers organ stabs over ticking hi-hats into something that is straight out of a horror movie; “Anxious” puts a dark twist on the G-funk synth whine; “Survivors Guilt” sounds like Depeche Mode by way of the Magnolia Projects. The overall effect is gritty hardcore rap meets Miami Vice. I’m thinking Rick Ross or the Clipse may want to use Dseeva on their next project, because his beats would be a perfect compliment to the 80s cocaine nostalgia of their rhymes.

Lyrically, the duo follow the mantra “write what you know.” They avoid trying to mimic American gangsta cliches, and instead give a distinctly Aussie spin to hip hop, both with their thick accents and their subject matter. They are all about getting drunk and rowdy, as songs like “Down For A Drink,” Every Man Bleeds,” Beat Em Down,” and “Fucking Oath Mate” demonstrate. I wasn’t that into Sceptic and Dseeva’s more aggro tracks, but then I’m not a fan of crunk, either.

I liked the duo the most when they would take it down a notch and showed a more mature side. On “Last Words,” Sceptic and Dseeva give heartfelt goodbyes to their families before being led off to an unexplained death. “Soul Traders” criticizes rappers who sell their soul to the majors, only to be pimped by their label. One of the best songs on the album is “Still Chilling,” in which the duo describes their relationship with hip hop:

“Out of all the strife in my life
Nothing has kept me sane more than grabbing a mic
It’s a habit I like
Instead of graffing at night
I release what I feel and I’m chilling through the magic of rhyme”

As MCs, Sceptic and Dseeva have a lot of passion, but are clearly still developing their craft. They sometimes cram too many syllables in their bars, and at points their flow is all over the beat. Sometimes this almost works, and they sound as crazily disconnected as Kool Keith. At other points it makes them sound amateurish and unpolished. It’s not the end of the world, but it is noticeable. In the end, I was impressed enough by what these guys were trying to do to forgive them their occasional clumsiness. They offer up an interesting and very Australian twist on their hip hop, and their love and respect for the music come through on every track.

Music Vibes: 7.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 6.5 of 10 Total Vibes: 7 of 10

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Lil Wayne Pt. II

I got a question from a reader about my review - specifically about sound quality issues with "the leak" mixtape. This led me to do a little research, and I discovered something that should have been obvious. The Leak CD that I reviewed is a bootleg made up of leaked tracks from the Carter III sessions. Ergo quality issues. Wayne had been talking about releasing a mixtape of them himself, mid-2007, which is why i was confused. I thought that what he was talking about was the release i had purchased at streetlight for $6.98. He never did, and instead released an EP called "The Leak" on itunes this winter. Some of the tracks have also appeared on other mixtapes. which are mostly bootlegs as well. As to why he would release a Kanye-produced track for free? Well, he didn't mean to. So at least he understands financing.

BTW, he did just get busted for, what, coke and E? Weed? I dunno. In Yuma, AZ, where my uncle just moved. His bail was set for $10,000. Wayne could probably just give them part of one of his chains. Keep your nose clean, weezy!

From Reuters:


PHOENIX (Reuters) - Rapper Lil Wayne was arrested for felony drug possession early on Wednesday when his charter bus was stopped at a California-Arizona border checkpoint, authorities said.

Lil Wayne, whose real name is Dwayne Michael Carter Jr., was arrested in southwestern Arizona on suspicion of possessing cocaine and ecstasy, as well as drug paraphernalia, authorities said. He was being held in Yuma County Jail on a $10,185 bond.

Two other passengers on the bus, Curtis Stewart and Harold Johnson, were arrested for marijuana possession, said Capt. Eben Bratcher, a Yuma County Sheriff's spokesman.

Border patrol agents stopped the bus at about 11:30 p.m. on Tuesday after a dog alerted them to possible drugs on board, Bratcher said.

The bus, with 12 people on board, had been traveling east from California.

A further inspection found 105 grams (3.7 ounces) of marijuana, 29 grams (1 ounce) of cocaine, 41 grams (1.45 ounces) of ecstasy and more than $22,000, agents said.

Also recovered was a .40 caliber pistol registered to Carter in Florida and authorities were checking to determine whether he broke any gun laws, said Ramona Sanchez, a Drug Enforcement Administration spokeswoman in Phoenix.

This is not the first brush with authorities for Carter, who comes from New Orleans and was proclaimed rapper of the year in August 2007 by The New Yorker magazine.

His previous legal trouble came in July, when he was arrested in New York after being found smoking marijuana and carrying a weapon.

(Reporting by David Schwartz, Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Stuart Grudgings)"

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

"Last Good Sleep" by Company Flow, from their out of print 1997 CD "Funcrusher Plus"

AKA my new favorite song

"Last Good Sleep is a brooding, sad song in which MC El-P rhymes about his abusive step father, and describes a particularly horrible incident. Over a slow, gloomy beat, El-P describes his own ignorance to the situation, and ponders what he should have done.

"At night I cover my ears in tears
The man downstairs must have had too many beers"

The song reaches its climax around the four minute mark, when El-P describes the incident:

So I sunk with the hope that hibernation would cure me
And slept my last sleep while I counted clone sheep
And dreamt about nothing for the last time ever
The ignorance was blissful just a recollection
Of the gift of innocent times from a merciful deception
Woke to hazy landscapes to find my world defied the laws my mind mandates
Patching jugulars with Band-aids
The turn on you laid well above my bed
Were here and only barely through the shock of what her broken face told me"

His conscious chimes in:

"(You should have known what happened)
I was young and oblivous
(He almost killed your mom)
If I knew I could have done something
(You'll never see him again)
Yeah but I see him every night
And cover my ears in tears as he beats his fucking wife"

It is an intense, emotional song that perfectly captures the trauma of domestic abuse, and the powerlessness and guilt that he must have felt for not being able to stop it. It's no the kind of thing you expect from hip hop or pop music in general. It's also horribly depressing, and is one of those songs that can bring you to tears. Goddamn.

Lil' Wayne "The Leak (Tha Carter III Official Mixtape)

Reposted from www.rapreviews.com
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor

I'll be honest - this CD confuses me. It's in a slim jewel case with no information about who released it. The cover has a picture of Lil' Wayne with "The Carter III" written on it, but when I put the disc in my computer, itunes called it "The Leak" (not to be confused with the EP of the same name released electronically in December). It isn't a mixtape, per se � where's the loud cover? Where are the DJ shout-outs? Where's Young Money's commentary? From what I can gather from the Internet, this is a collection of leaked material from the Carter III sessions that Wayne decided to release as a mixtape. What really confuses me is how this fits in with Wayne's other mixtape releases this year, or how these mixtapes work with his business plan in general. Who pays for his studio time? Who pays the producer? How do you make money when you pay Kanye for a beat and then release it on a mixtape? Most importantly, how does Universal, his record label, feel about all of this?

There is no question that Wayne is on the roll of a lifetime. He is going through an insanely prolific creative streak, even by hip hop's album-a-year standards. He has recorded and released a bajillion songs in 2007, and almost as many mixtapes. He has also been on practically every album released last year, offering his croaky voice to artists as diverse as Jay-Z and Little Brother. After labeling himself the Best Rapper Alive a few years ago, he is on a mission to prove it, and he has definitely built up a solid body of work to prove his claim.

Lil' Wayne reminds of the late writer Charles Bukowski. Both men produced mountains of work, and both men seemed to believe that almost anything they put down was worth publishing. Bukowski put out a million books and books of poetry that were all pretty much about him being a drunken asshole; Weezy, by comparison, has laid down hours of music in which he raps about money, jewels, weed, and bitches. From what I understand, he never writes his raps down, and instead free associates his rhymes while the tape is rolling. In the hands of a lesser talent, the end result wouldn't any good, but Wayne makes it work. He manages to make even the most dubious rhyme schemes and lyrics sound good. On "Kush" he raps:

"You can't find me 'cause I'm lost in the music
I'm runnin' this and I can jump the hurdles
I feel like I'm racing a bunch of little turtles
Keep a bandana like the Ninja Turtles
I'm like a turtle, when I sip the purple"

If any other rapper tried to rhyme "turtle" three times in a row it would irritate the hell out of me. With Wayne, it sounds right. While his subject matter may not push the limits, his rhyming does. Lil' Wayne is the master of one-liners and clever twists of phrase, which means that even when he's rapping about nothing it still sounds brilliant.

The centerpiece of the album is the psychedelic drug opus "I Feel Like Dying." The beat is an agonizingly slow reworking of indie-folk singer Karma's "Once," flipping her tale of addiction and codependence into a chorus of "Only when the drugs are gone/I feel like dying." Wayne is at his tripped-out best, croaking lines like:

"I can mingle with the stars & throw a party on Mars
I am a prisoner locked up behind Xanax bars
I have just boarded a plane without a pilot
And violets are blue
Roses are red
Daisies are yellow
The flowers are dead
Wish I can give you this feeling that I feel like buying
And if my dealer don't have no more, then (I feel like dying)"

Out of the 23 tracks on this disc, only a couple are less than stellar. By and large the beats are amazing, and Wayne is totally on point with his lyrics. "Diamonds and Girls" is an ode to jewelry built around a Prince sample; "Did It Before" features a soulful Kanye beat; "Money Ova Here" is pure Houston; and "Zoo" has a sparse and sinister beat, with Mack Maine and Wayne declaring "We just two niggas from the same hood/Fell from the same tree/Cut from the same wool/He the young lion and I'm the young bull/ Welcome to the zoo." Unlike most mixtapes, there is no DJ shouting bullshit over the tracks, and as near as I can tell the beats are almost all original. Because of this, "The Leak" is not only one of the best mixtapes of 2007, it is also one of the best ALBUMS of 2007. If these are Wayne's throw-aways, I can't wait to hear what makes it onto the official "Carter III."

Music Vibes: n/a of 10 Lyric Vibes: 8.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8.5 of 10

Crew54 "Aggressive Soul"

Reposted from rapreviews.com

There is a skit in the middle of "Aggressive Soul" called "Nothing On A Track." Over a generic synth beat, the Vocoder-filtered rappers repeat "I can make a million with nothing on a track." The skit showcases the Texan duo's sense of humor, and their sense of disgust at the state of mainstream hip hop. Their message is clear: hip hop better step its game up.

Crew54 don't waste a lot of time whining about the state of hip hop, though. They are too busy proving by their example that the genre is meant for bigger and better things than ringtones and dance fads. MCs G-Christ and Master Of Self got together with the goal of making feel-good music, and they succeed on "Aggressive Soul." The album name perfectly captures the mood of the disc – soulful and aggressive, banging and smooth.

Like Little Brother, Crew54 are a Southern duo who don't immediately sound like they are from the dirty south. There are no rhymes about grills, candy paint, syrup or hoes, and their beats don't rely on Triggerman or synths. Instead, their production is dripping in soul, with beats provided by King Verse, Remax, Qentic Storm, Zaire, Reeplay, Keelay, Derelict, Eska hines, Alpha 20/20, and Mike & Ike. The beats range from the seventies strings of "Dreams" and "Loyalty" to the mellow R & B of "The Way It Is" to more banging tracks like "Titan" and "Dirty Dirty."

Their lyrics balance out their Texas drawls with the kind of thoughtful lyricism that is more common in the Northeast than below the Mason-Dixon line. On "The Way It Is," G-Christ challenges the scapegoating of hip hop:

"You hear about my generation all the time
Talking to me like I started black-on-black crime
But we've been divided since slavery
Niggas in the house, niggas in the field
That's how it came to be
Our culture's been split down the middle
It's hard to unite when your foundation's brittle"

On "Back At It" M.O.S. gives some insights into the struggles of an aspiring rapper, along with an excellent dis to haters:

"We them brothers on the brink
We them niggas on the verge
A favorite rapper's favorite rapper
That nobody's heard
On a myspace page acting like we 'bout to blow
When it's hard as hell to even get somebody at a show
Dropped a classic on my own
Well, I thought it was a hit
And the twelve folks that downloaded it said it was the shit
Then I linked with G-Christ niggas thought we was crazy
When we banged them on the head with "Beaters and Babies"
When we started getting love, niggas started misbehaving
Acting like we played the game by cheating and point-shaving
Well it's ok, nigga, do what you do
If I was wack as fuck, I'd be mad at us too"

Throughout "Aggressive Soul," Crew54 displays humor, humility, and positivity, three traits that are all too rare in hip hop. They define their sound as "feel-good music," and it definitely makes you feel good. Both their beats and lyrics are hard-hitting and uplifting, combining a positive message with some classic boom-bap. This is a great album, and I'm looking forward to this duo's future projects.

Music Vibes: 8.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 8.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8.5 of 10

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Return of the Wu, sort of

This December, the Wu-Tang Clan released two highly anticipated albums. The first was Ghostface Killah’s seventh solo album, “Big Doe Rehab.” The second was the Wu’s fifth album, “8 Diagrams.” Even before “8 Diagrams” was released, Ghostface and Raekwon were publicly bitching about the RZA’s production. Turns out they were half right. “8 Diagrams” is a drab, humorless album. The beats are sparse, cinematic, and dark, but lack the bounce of earlier RZA work. This is a more morose, pensive RZA, and while the tracks are interesting, they aren’t necessarily a lot of fun to listen to.

The jazzy “Take It Back” is mellow but enjoyable, and “Wolves” is fairly funky. My favorite track is “Stick Me For My Riches,” which is an over-the-top R&B number. In between the good tracks, however, are filler like “Sunlight,” and the embarrassing misstep “The Heart Gently Weeps” which mangles the Beatles’ “My Guitar Gently Weeps,” mostly with the decision to have the Wu SING the chorus. Ugh.

Also, the crew sounds phoned in, which may have been the case. There are tracks where their vocal levels sound off, and it just never coalesces into a coherent product. It’s a bunch of (talented) mcs dropping unconnected rhymes over sparse beats. It isn’t horrible, but it isn’t great, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it weren’t the last Wu album in a long time/forever.

“Bid Doe Rehab” is even more disappointing, and sees Ghostface ending the winning streak that began with Fishscale. Part of the problem is that this is the third album he has released in eighteen months, and he is running out of ideas. He goes for the same “crack tales over soul beats” formula that worked well on Fishscale when it was fresh. Here he just sounds like he is wigged out on too much of his own product, and the result is shrill, frantic, and annoying. The beats aren’t even that spectacular. It’s almost impossible to listen to all the way through without getting a splitting headache, and it feels very inessential. He needs to take some time off, go back to the drawing board, and come back fresh and refreshed.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Radiohead are boring and dumb

The first in a series of snarky music snobbery

For the past ten years critics have been creaming their jeans over Radiohead, and it’s reached a frenzy in the past two months with their seventh release, “In Rainbows.” I give Radiohead props for their unique distribution method, but I think it’s time people start admitting that they don’t actually like Radiohead.

People say they like Radiohead for one important reason: They don’t understand what Radiohead is doing, and therefore assume that it is smart and good (1). If any no-name band had tried to pull some Kid A type shenanigans on the public, they’d have been ignored to death (2). Sixty minutes of glitch that goes nowhere? Hell to the no. But because it’s Radiohead, it gets called Challenging and poor suckers the globe over are tricked into pretending they actually like it. It’s to the point that if Radiohead presented their slavish public with fifty minutes of Johnny Greenwod doing armpit farts while Thom Yorke whined about yellow dogs, all packaged in abstract paintings, people would be convinced it was some deep shit. “In Rainbows” was named one of the best records of the year, but how can you tell if it’s any good? I’ve listened to 2003’s “Hail To the Thief” 53 times and I still cannot hum one track from it.

Don’t believe the hype – just because it’s obtuse and annoying doesn’t mean it’s deep, and you don’t have to like it. I hereby give all of you the power to say that you don’t get Radiohead and not feel like a dumbass. Go spend your money and time on an artist who you actually enjoy, unless you actually enjoy Radiohead, and then you should get therapy.

(1) the fact that they are a pretty good band who are much more interesting than 90 percent of the bullshit released may also be a factor.

(2) I really like Kid A. No, really, although OK Computer is my favorite. I think the bends is overrated, and Pablo Honey is some serious bullshit, though.

Monday, January 14, 2008

My Bad

I've started getting some feedback on my writing both here and at www.rapreviews.com, so I thought I’d own up to some mistakes I’ve made.

The most major is that I attributed a the quote in Jay-Z’s “Success” to Jay, when he was lifting it from Eminem. That’s the damn problem with hip hop – it’s so self-referential that unless you have all the albums and know all the breaks, you end up looking like an asshole. That’s also the problem with reviewing mainstream music when you don’t listen to it. Whatever – I don’t like Eminem, and I’m not going to subject myself to him just so I can catch references other artists make about him.

Second, Godchaserz entertainment wrote some comments on this blog in reference to my Christian Rap Still Sucks post, about the Jovan album they released. I stand by my review, but in retrospect I probably shouldn’t have said it sucked. I feel kind of bad about that. The title of the post is a reference to the “Corporate rock still sucks” shirts that were big in the 90s.

I’ve made other fuckups, but those are two I was called out on.

Also, MF DOOM’s Viktor Vaughn album is pretty good, and Edan’s “Beauty and the Beat” may be the best record ever. It’s pretty much Sgt. Pepper’s meets Endtroducing meets Madlib. If it were a woman, I might want to marry it. It had me doing rap hands on my walk home from work, which is pretty embarrassing considering I’m a skinny white guy.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Oh No - "Dr No's Oxperiment"

Stones Throw, 2007

Reposted from www.rapreviews.com

"Dr. No's Oxperiment" is one of two instrumental albums dropped in 2007 by hip hop's Jackson brothers, Otis and Michael, aka Madlib and Oh No. For years Oh No has operated under Madlib's considerable shadow, despite the fact that Oh No is a talented rapper and producer. It can't be easy having an insanely prolific musical genius as your older brother, but with "Dr. No's Oxperiment," Oh No truly comes into his own. This album was released right before Madlib's "Beat Konducta in India," and actually managed to generate better reviews and more hype, no small task considering how many people worship at the temple of Madlib, myself included.

While his older brother was mining Bollywood for samples, Oh No hit the crates of Mediterranean psychedelica to unearth the sonic elements for this album. The result is exotic but still grooving. It starts off with what sounds like a Turkish woman singing, only to go into a rocking sixties guitar riff. From there it transitions into the tripped out "Gladius," which features a crazy synth notes and handclap beats, punctuated by chopped up chanting. It's bizarre but funky, and demonstrates just how well Oh No is able to spin even the most left field source material into hip hop gold. Songs like "Higher" and "Bouncers" are further proof of Oh No's ability to create funky beats out of unexpected sounds.

The genius of "Dr. No's Oxperiment" is not just that it contains phat beats made from freaky samples; like J Dilla on "Donuts," Oh No is pushing the envelope here, straying from the head-bobbing to create beats that are abstract and beautiful. "Ox Broil" is a gorgeously sad piece with some mournful strings; "Cosmos" is a pensive track that layers flutes, drums, and guitars; "Land Mine" and "Breakout" almost sound like indie rock songs.

Another thing that makes "Dr. No's Oxperiment" so good is how well all of the tracks work together. This album feels like the soundtrack to an unmade movie, with each of the songs telling one part of the story. Also, as experimental and inventive as "Dr. No's Oxperiment" is, it stays grounded in solid beats. It gets a little mellow at points, but there is nothing here that will have you reaching for the "skip" button on your stereo, and you never feel like you need to have a degree in music to appreciate what Oh No is doing.

My only real complaint about this disc is that the tracks are too short. I have the same complaint about all instrumental hip hop albums - rarely does a track hit the two-minute mark, and some are straining to make it much past sixty seconds. I'm used to electronic music, which tends to allow the listener more time to get into a groove without changing songs every ninety seconds. Also, the album ends abruptly, without a closer or closure, and it shocks me every time I listen to it. It's as if the soundtrack's movie ends with the protagonist getting shot in the last scene, with no credits or other signifiers to let you know it's over.

"Dr. No's Oxperiment" further cements Stones Throw's rep as THE label for instrumental hip hop. It's also incredibly funky and entertaining, and I can't wait to hear some rappers dropping rhymes over these beats. Oh No may be Madlib's younger brother, but he is clearly finished living in his brother's shadow. On this disc he has proven that Otis isn't the only Jackson brother with mad skills, and hip hop is the better for it.

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