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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Major Updates on Sunday

I’ll be out of town for Thanksgiving, and I likely won’t have internet access until I get back Saturday night. Regardless, I’m working hard at putting the finishing touches on a number of reviews and updates, and I’ll be spending some quality time with my laptop down in Portland.


Thanks for your patience,



EDIT: unfortunately, college apps are a priority right now, so like usual this will take a little longer than expected.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Assorted Hip-Hop Reviews, Part 2

Part 2 for hip-hop, although I’m not sure if I’m going to continue to organize by genre. Not every album fits as nicely into one specific category. Regardless of how I post them, more reviews will be up in the coming days, and of course more updates to archives.


Black Milk- Album of the Year (2/4)


There has been a lot of hype surrounding Black Milk’s latest. Some have compared it to the work of the late J. Dilla, and while such praise is more than a little excessive, Black Milk’s production skills are undoubtedly great. His beats are lively and occasionally even beautiful, while similar in style to J. Dilla and Madlib. However, Album of the Year is held back by Black Milk’s below average skills as an emcee. He doesn’t have anything interesting to say, and his pop culture metaphors get tiring quickly. He also likes to name drop his influences and friends in the industry, and of course there’s a fair amount of bragging. Again, nothing he says is particularly interesting or original, and his flow is as generic as can be. A quality emcee could really do something with these beats, but Black Milk and his guests (including a disappointing Royce da 5’9”) prevent Album of the Year from coming anywhere closing to living up to its name.


Rhyme Asylum- Solitary Confinement (3.5/4)


Solitary Confinement is an album made for fans of hardcore hip-hop by fans of hardcore hip-hop. There is no deep meaning or relevancy to most of the lyrics, and it doesn’t really shock or offend in the way that hardcore emcees like Vinnie Paz or Ill Bill (who is featured on the album) can. Instead, Rhyme Asylum have created an album that is hardcore purely for the sake of being hardcore, and it succeeds because it sticks with that mentality to the end. This is niche hip-hop, ripe with senselessly violent one-liners, and again this is exactly what this kind of rap is about. Few hardcore hip-hop albums are as entertaining as this one, and if you’re into violent rap with raw beats and lyrics you should give Solitary Confinement a listen.


Diabolic- Liar & A Thief (3/4)


Diabolic was first introduced to hip-hop fans through battling in the New York underground and appearing as a guest on Immortal Technique’s Revolutionary, Vol. 1. It’s been nine years since that album, and Diabolic’s debut is now here. There are few surprises, but Liar & a Thief is a solid hardcore rap album, heavy on both violent and political lyrics. Diabolic’s braggadocios rhymes are appropriately violent and profane, as one would expect from hardcore hip-hop, and the tracks where he focuses his lyrics more towards that nature are far more entertaining than the political songs. The aforementioned Immortal Technique (who also guests on the outstanding “Frontlines”) has been doing this kind of political rap for years, so  it’s unfortunate that Diabolic’s political lyrics are far too similar to what Tech has been releasing for some time now. There’s really nothing new or particularly insightful here, and as such the politically charged moments are mostly boring. Regardless, Diabolic is a solid emcee who knows how to battle, and that comes through on Liar & A Thief. If you like hardcore hip-hop, chances are you’ll enjoy this one.


B.o.B.- The Adventures of Bobby Ray (1.5/4)


It’s hard to say exactly what The Adventures of Bobby Ray is. At times, it tries to be lyrical and intellectual, while it just as often completely discards any attempt at intelligence in favor of pop rap club bangers. On the surface this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, both extremes are an integral part of hip-hop. The problem is that B.o.B. switches between the two at the most inopportune times. He attempts conscious lyrics only to abandon his craft before coming up with anything new or interesting, and he switches back to his pseudo-intellectual rap before the beats really get going. It doesn’t help that B.o.B. has a pretty limited flow, and his voice often gets in the way of the generally decent beats on the record. The Adventures of Bobby Ray is not a good album, even ignoring its inconsistencies. B.o.B. simply doesn’t show enough skills on the mic to warrant a full album, and his debuts suffers as a result.


Killah Priest- The 3 Day Theory (3/4)

the 3 day theory[2]

After releasing what seems like an endless amount of poor mixtapes and albums over the last few years, it would be easy to write off Killah Priest. This Wu-Tang affiliate showed incredible potential on GZA’s classic Liquid Swords, but that was back in 1995. Since then, Priest has been more miss than hit, especially when it comes to choosing producers. That makes it all the more surprising that The 3 Day Theory is actually worthwhile. The beats are interesting for a change, the guests are varied and plentiful, and Killah Priest actually sounds interested in what he spits. The lyrics are much more personal than anything Priest has done in some time, as he reflects on his past and his love of hip-hop, and his voice is lit with the passion of veteran artist finding love for his craft again. The 3 Day Theory is a very solid album as a whole, and while not every verse hits the mark there’s a lot more good than bad. This is one of the better hip-hop albums of 2010, as well as one of the year’s biggest surprises.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Assorted Hip-Hop Reviews #1

I’m in a hip-hop type of mood right now, so hip-hop goes up first. Plenty more of these will be up in the coming days.


Eminem- Recovery (2.5/4)


Eminem’s second album in as many years is just about the exact opposite of Relapse, the hardcore concept album that alienated a large portion of his established fan base. Recovery is essentially pop rap, full of catchy hooks, straightforward lyrics, and a few well known guests. While the songs are consistently catchy, far too many are skippable diversions at best. The subject matter is more personal, often more literal, but Em’s apologies and promises for the future get repetitive. On top of that, the pop star guests are outdone by the ones that aren’t given a “featuring” credit. Liz Rodrigues supplies the chorus for “25 to Life” and “Almost Famous,” and it’s a shame that Liz or a singer of her talent couldn’t have replaced Pink or Rihanna on their featured tracks. However, with all it’s problems and inconsistencies Recovery’s saving grace is Eminem’s genuine honestly. There is passion in his voice, and you know that he means what he says. This is the type of undeniable passion that is missing from mainstream rap today, and it gives Recovery a necessary human element. For every ten minutes of boring filler, there is a song like “Space Bound” or “Love the Way You Lie” that reminds the listener of the power in Marshall Mathers’ voice and lyrics. If Eminem can channel that passion into a more consistent album, then he might be able to truly get out of the “comeback” phase.


The Roots- How I Got Over (3.5/4)

how i got over

Emcees often write about the golden age of hip-hop, reminiscing of the days before the art of rhyming became commercialized. Many greats have taken us back to the time and place of hip-hop’s finest hour, but few have managed to return us to the state of mind one feels when they first fall in love with the genre. The latest album from The Roots achieves the latter. How I Got Over is a true breath of a fresh air, not just in terms of lyrics and beats, but in terms of the passion and love for hip-hop that bleeds from its core. This is a hip-hop album through and through, and it’s something any fan of the genre, young or old, can fall in love with.


Atmosphere- To All My Friends, Blood Makes the Blade Holy: The Atmosphere EP's (3.5/4)

to all my friends

While technically billed as a “double EP",” To All My Friends… is as long as a full length album, and it’s one of the best hip-hop releases of 2010. Much like other Atmosphere EP’s, the songs are more single based and generally more upbeat. There is no concept tying the tracks together, and as such it feels like listening to an extended Sad Clown EP. Fortunately, that’s a good thing. Slug and Ant have done some of their best work outside of Atmosphere’s major releases, and it’s great to hear the more fun and playful side of Atmosphere side for longer than four or five songs at a time. Also true to from are Slug’s outstanding lyrics. He keeps it simple on To All My Friends…, but every word is necessary and used with meaning. “The Best Day” is an example of this, as well as the highlight of the 12 tracks, as it’s hard not to relate to Slug’s storytelling. Sometimes a simple song reminding you that everyone goes through their own shit is just what you need to get through the day.


Drake- Thank Me Later (1/4)

thank me later

Now I’ve heard it all. I’ve listened to thousands of rap albums since falling in love with hip-hop, but I can say with absolute certainly that I’ve never heard a professional emcee have this much trouble staying on beat. Rhythm is an essential part of rap, and Drake doesn’t have it. Drake’s problems with flow are similar to an amateur just learning to rap. It’s ridiculous that a major recording artist would have trouble staying on beat and actually rhyming. However, this is just one of the many problems with Thank Me Later. The beats are generic mainstream garbage, the singing is handled entirely with repetitive auto-tune, and Drake tries far too hard to sound like a conscious lyricist. He says simple things in complex ways, and his metaphors are often laughable. Please, don’t buy into the hype. Maybe Drake deserves some credit for avoiding the sexist clichés and offensive subject matter popular in mainstream rap these days, but I refuse to believe that hip-hop is in such an awful state that simply not rapping about cars and hoes is enough to justify legitimate praise. There are plenty of underground emcees (and a few mainstream ones for that matter) who avoid those clichés, all of which are better than Drake.


Kid Cudi- Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager (2/4)

man on the man 2

It’s interesting that Cage is featured on Kid Cudi’s sophomore album, as Cage’s Depart from Me is exactly what The Legend of Mr. Rager reminds me of. Much like last year’s Cage album, this is slow melancholic hip-hop/indie rock hybrid from an artist learning to create music without drugs. Cudi is clearly a creative artist, and there are as many interesting ideas here as on the first Man on the Moon, an album ripe without potential and largely devoid of execution. However, Cudi still isn’t a good rapper or a good singer, and his talent limits what he can do with his creativity. Cage’s aforementioned Depart from Me executed similar ideas in a much more effective way, in part because Cage is a strong enough emcee to pull of different types of rap. Cudi isn’t. Man on the Moon II makes for a frustrating listen because of this. There are plenty of talented emcees who don’t have the creative mind of Kid Cudi, but without flow, coherent lyrics, or a singing voice that doesn’t rely on studio effects, his ideas fall flat.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

R.I.P. Michael “Eyedea” Larsen

On October 16, 2010, one of the my favorite artists and musical heroes tragically passed away at the age of 28. Michael Larsen, known to the world as Eyedea, was one of the biggest talents and most honest lyricists in hip-hop. He won numerous battles, including Scribble Jam in 1999 and Blaze Battle in 2000, and was half of the duo Eyedea & Abilities.  I had a strong personal connection to his music, and his untimely passing has hit hard. Below are some of my favorite songs, freestyles, and battles from Eyedea, a true emcee who will forever survive through his rhymes.










Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Album Review: Kno- Death is Silent

First thing I want to post is my review of this masterful work of art. Right now, this is my album of the year. I have a ton of other assorted reviews. Not sure how I’m going to post them since I’ve gotten so behind, but this one is type priority and deserves its own post.


Kno- Death is Silent (4/4)

death is silent

Kno, best known as the producer behind the underground hip-hop group CunninLynguists, refers to himself on the haunting track “Graveyard” as the “emo Primo.” While “emo” is used almost sarcastically, Kno’s description of himself isn’t far off. His talent as a producer rivals DJ Premier, although Kno’s beats are of darker nature and often drift closer into DJ Shadow territory. Needless to say, the beats on Death is Silent are fantastic. Each beat is layered with clean samples building and changing in the most interesting and subtle ways. Kno uses slow keys, vocal samples (often from films), and instruments that come and go at the most opportune time. Everything is simple, and yet few producers can achieve such beauty in their beats. Kno’s attention to detail is astounding, as every element of his beats is used to absolute perfection. Everything is so clean, so smooth, and so beautiful.

However, Death is Silent is more than just beats. Kno also raps on just about every track, and he is aided by some welcome guests. Deacon and Natti from CunninLynguists have multiple verses, all of which rival their best from A Piece of Strange and the Strange Journey albums. The immensely talented Tonedeff also shows up for a verse, as does Tunji from Inverse, Thee Tom Hardy, and Substantial. It would have been interesting to get a verse or two from someone outside of the usual CunninLynguists guests, but considering the quality of the verses it’s hard to argue.

Even Kno himself delivers some great verses. His flow is often methodical, coming across at times as a poor man’s Evidence, but he stays on beat and holds his own. In his lyrics, however, is where Kno truly shines as an emcee. He crafts his wordplay with the same attention to detail that he gives to the beats, creating the same type of “every word is necessary” lyricism that have been perfected by underground artists like Atmosphere and Aesop Rock. Kno’s lyrics are often stories, told vividly and even deceptively. He’ll start out with something typical and then take it a completely different direction, forcing the listener to go back and think about every line that has built up to the end. Rhythm of Rain might have his best verse, and is a perfect example of Kno’s deceptive wordplay. What starts out as a sexual metaphor turns into one of the darkest and most beautiful verses imaginable. Again, Kno’s mediocre flow may turn off some listeners, but those willing to dig deep into the lyrics will find that Kno’s talent is not restricted to beat making.

Death is Silent is a monster of an album, dark and beautiful in equal measures, and is absolutely essential to any fan of hip-hop. This is one of the best albums of the year, and it earns my highest recommendation

Thank You Microsoft

for finally updating your stupid bricked software so I can post again. More updates coming soon.