Thursday, June 30, 2011

Album Review: Grieves - Together/Apart

Together/Apart is Grieves' (with the help of Budo on production) first release under the Rhymesayers label. For those that have never heard of the 26yr old Seattle MC, he's one hell of a rapper. You're unlikely to hear more evocative imagery come out the mouth of anyone in the genre. Stylistically i feel Grieves is best compared to fellow Rhymesayers counterparts Dessa (of Doomtree) and Brother Ali. As Brother Ali is fairly well known i'll continue the comparison; both MC's put a large emphasis on introspective and reflective content (Grieves more-so even than Brother Ali), both have distinct and strong deliveries, great flows and the ability to both sing (well, i might add) and incorporate melodies and tempo changes effortlessly into their bar structure.Where Grieves differs is how his self-analytical musings are framed, his content is not delivered conventionally and instead he has a penchant for more abstract writing and imagery packed metaphors.
Swallow that lump inside of your throat
Open up the closet and push aside all the clothes
You believe, and never needed more to be said
To leave you scared of that little gap between the floor and your bed
So you jump, leaping over all over your options
And retreat right back to that bed we call a coffin
To sleep, never actually getting a wink
Due to all the little devils that dance around in your dreams
And attack you, pull you under the bed with their hands
And take away the chance of you ever making a stand
And if anything actually ever went as you planned
That you could retrace the steps you ran
But only if it hits, if it speaks
You could fight it to the death in the streets
You'll grip those sheets in attempt to hide
And figure out that you've been running from the feeling of never leaving alive
As you can see, the writing is complex and at times cryptic but Grieves' delivery and tone is both immediate and relatable and Budo's production (for the most part) complements his lyrics and helps translate into sound whatever mood's being explored. Their are some outstanding pieces of production; Budo's beats are never stagnant, always changing and progressing and his instrumental piece, 'Speak Easy', is one of the albums highlights.

Together/Apart is 16 tracks long and without any filler in sight. To be fair, there are a few choruses and a beat or two that i'm not a great fan of but i'm yet to hit the skip button on one of my listens.

Highlights: Falling From You, Boogie Man, Against The Bottom, Lightspeed
Lowlights: Bloody Poetry (great lyricism but the beat and chorus let it down)

Rating: 8.7/10

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Catch Up Pt.5 (Kendrick Lamar & Black Milk)

This will be the final edition of The Catch Up and should have me up to speed with the genre over the last 3 months. For Part 4 of The Catch Up click here.

Kendrick Lamar
With Kendrick Lamar's upcoming release, Section 80, dropping in a couple of days i've held off listening to any of the leaked tracks except the following two. Suffice to say, i'm anticipating the hell out of this.

HiiiPower (Prod. J.Cole) | 10/10
This may just be the best beat J.Cole has ever produced, it is absolutely fucking phenomenal. Not to be outdone though Kendrick kills it for three verses straight and leaves us with one of the best tracks of the year so far.
My issue isn't televised and you ain't gotta tell the wise
How to stay on beat, because our life’s an instrumental
This is physical and mental, I won't sugar coat it
You'd die from diabetes if these other niggas wrote it
And everything on TV just a figment of imagination
I don't want a plastic nation, dread that like a Haitian
While you motherfuckers waiting, I be off the slave ship
Building pyramids, writing my own hieroglyphs
Download | Lyrics 

Ronald Reagan Era | 10/10
I love how well structured this track is. You have a fantastic little sung intro that (a lot like the production) manages to lay out both a cheery and melancholy mood, a great chorus thats a mix of background ad-libs, samples, sound effects and rap, some real dynamic and emotive production and Kendrick himself who's urgent delivery perfectly matches the movement of the drum track. Every little detail is attended to and it helps to elevate this song to such a high standard.
Download | Lyrics

Black Milk
Anyone searching for some more Black Milk after the latest Random Axe release should be happy with these two tracks here. Both these beats are as good as anything found on that LP.

Ketchphraze - My Detroit ft. Trick Trick & Elzhi (Prod. Black Milk) | 7/10
Ketchphraze. The name saids it all really, no one with a name that horrible is likely to have a verse worth hearing. Trick Trick is also predictably horrible but thankfully Elzhi has a great verse, the chorus gets you hyped and Black Milk produced a real head-nodder.


Nametag - S.I.N ft. Quest MCODY & Buff1 (Prod. Black Milk) | 7/10
The Black Milk production and the opening verse by Nametag are the highlights here. Quest and Buff1can't keep the standard up but their verses are still far from shocking.


And that's it for The Catch Up. To check out the previous installment head here.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Album Review: Vents - Marked For Death

This here is the Australian MC's second release, the follow up to his 2008 record 'Hard To Kill', and is fully produced by Trials. Straight off the bat, anyone who isn't a fan of political content in their music need not bother with this record, it has a massive focus on political and social awareness. Luckily for myself Vents' anti-capitalist, atheist, pro-drug use, anti-war, anti-ignorance world views are almost identical to mine. Such issues dominate the content in amongst a reasonable amount of battle rap (the two seem to go hand in hand nowadays).
Cinematic massacres, purges, murders, animal urges
Militarism returns, made a massive resurgence
Unkind is a word just scratching the surface
Got me thinkin that humanity, it has to be worthless
As an MC Vents has a deep voice, aggressive delivery and dominating presence as well as an enjoyable flow...unfortunately none of these ever change up. I find with an MC that lacks versatility that to be enjoyable over a full-length release the productions needs to be impressive, but more importantly varied. Trials work on the boards here isn't particuarly varied but it's not a monotone soundscape either. As for the quality, for the most part it's reasonable enough, with a few real standouts (No Rest For The Wicked is amongst my favourite beats so far this year) and a few disappointments. That said there's no filler on the album, Vents is impressive on every single track and the guest verses all deliver, it's just the monotony that tends to drag the album down and kill a lot of the replay value.

Highlights: No Rest For The Wicked, Falling, The Punisher, Rollin' Balls

Lowlights: None 

Rating: 7.4/10

Further Listening: Check out his debut album, Hard To Kill, an album with a similar tone, similar content and of a similar quality.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Catch Up Pt.4 (Drake Edition)

Part 3 of The Catch Up is over here

In the lead up to his sophmore release, Take Care, Drake has been dropping a few tracks to build the hype up.

Dreams Money Can Buy (Prod. Noah “40″ Shebib) | 8/10
Noah samples the catchy Jai Paul number 'BSTU' to carve out a backdrop for Drakes in your face 'fuck your life, mines better' raps. Drakes' transitions between singing and rapping are flawless as he seamlessly drops in an out of his roles as an MC or vocalist without a misstep.

Download | Lyrics

Marvin's Room (Prod. Noah “40″ Shebib) | 9/10
Both '40' and Boi-1da don't get the praise they deserve for their production, probably due to the fact their beats are not normally as epic or grand scale as your average mainstream 'banger'. I've always said Drake is nothing particularly special as a stand alone MC but he does know how to craft a great song (and album for that matter). Marvin's Room is a great example of both my above points. Every facet of the song works perfectly together to help put you in Drakes exact mood of 'lonely arrogance'.
I don't think I'm conscious of making monsters
Outta the women I sponsor until it all goes bad
Download | Lyrics

Trust Issues (Prod. “40″ and Adrian X) | 8/10
Some more fantastic synth-heavy, 'brooding' production. Only a few bars of straight rapping and a few sing-song melody rapped bars though so be warned if you're not a fan of the singing Drake.

Download | Lyrics

View Part 3 of The Catch Up here

Part 5 (The Kendrick Lamar & Black Milk edition) coming soon.

Album Review: Bad Meets Evil - Hell: The Sequel

Ten years ago a Bad Meets Evil release would have been up their as one of my most anticipated releases ever. Nowadays though Eminem has fallen off possibly worse than anyone else ever before (admittedly he had a long way to fall) and Royce has been mediocre ever since he dropped BE2. Eminem is as expected on the release; a horrid screaming delivery, great flow, decent multi's, some of the worst and most forced punchlines you're ever likely to encounter and pretty much zero actual content. For the most part Royce is actually pretty good but he has his fair share of forced punches as well.

Cough from all the smoke, I'm tryna stay on fire
So you know if I hate fucking water sprinklers, I don't love the hose/hoes

Nowhere near a toosh, in fact if I jump out a bush
In a sneak attack's the only way I say I am-Bush

Both in the same verse as well. Someone desperately needs to let Eminem know that he can't write a decent simile to save his life.The album's production is hit-an-miss but mediocre for the most part. Bruno Mar's chorus on lighters gets old after around 3 plays and Budden and Ortiz are the only ones half decent on the slaughterhouse joint, 'Loud Noises'. The lack of any real content and the glaring flaws in relation to lyricism prevent the release from having much in the way of replay value. Some decent choruses and the odd Royce verse is the only reason I still play anyone of the songs (Take From Me, Above The Law, Fast Lane) at all really. Those with a fetish for multisyllable rhyme schemes will enjoy the release (really, the rhyming is impressive in parts but just as often forced), most everyone else will find it listenable for a short while (they do both have great flows) and forget about it come years end.

Highlights: Above The Law (Royce's portion anyway)
Lowlights: Kiss, On Everything, Lighters

Rating: 6.2/10

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Album Review: Elzhi - Elmatic

If anyone was ever suited to recreating Illmatic, It was Elzhi (and no, not because 'El' is similar to 'ill'...smh). His rhyme scheme heavy bars and 'street' orientated content, together with his flawless flow are a great match to what Nas was doing in the mid 90's. What ELzhi has managed to do though is pay tribute to the classic LP while putting his won touch to it. Will Sessions did a, quite frankly, brilliant job in recreating the production while adding a Detroit feel to it and some of the intro's/outro's are stunning, particuarly the intro to Represent (man does that get me pumped!) and the outro to 'One Love'. Elzhi himself is pretty much flawless and puts on one of his best performances to date with his take on 'Memory Lane' being one of my favourite tracks of his to date.
So I visited places where spots got shot on a daily basis
Where kids pull triggers with babyfaces
Wait, I must be on the wrong side of the lane trail
Where they rob memory banks and end up in the brain cell
Where all my misery and pain dwell
I'm said to leave out my state of mind before the train bail
Much like the original record there is zero filler and the whole release has a ton of replay value. I'd say the only real mishap is the lone guest verse, Royce's on 'Life's A Bitch'. No one expected him to compete with AZ's classic bars but he could have at least put in one of his better verses knowing the comparisons that were going to be drawn.

Highlights: Detroit State of Mind, Memory Lane, Represent
Lowlights: None

Rating: 9.0/10

More Elzhi: Check out his Black Milk produced debut, 'The Preface'.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

KOTD: Bender v Sketch Menace (Title Match)

Note: Don't read my quick review below unless you've seen the battle or don't care about being spoiled.

Well, I think it's safe to say that pretty much everyone expected Bender to crush but Sketch certainly stepped up to the plate here. I don't feel like this was one of Benders performance even discounting the third round choke. His 2nd round rambled on a bit and all three verses seemed packed with a lot more filler than you'll see in his matches versus 24/7 or Miracle. For all that Bender still had quite a few good punches a nice little extension to his 'sorry player' scheme. Sketch came with a career best performance though, even with the minor slip-ups in each round. He went toe to toe with Bender on the rhyme scheme count and out-flowed and out-performed Bender who's choppy and slow delivery leaves a lot to be desired. His 'Chain of Evolution' punch in the third was a great way to take advantage of all the momentum he'd built up throughout his killer third round. Though it would have been closer, I feel Sketch still would have taken it even without Bender's choke.

1st: Bender
2nd: Sketch
3rd: Sketch

Rating: 7.7/10

Bender vs Arkaic
Sketch Menace/Nebula v Thesaurus/Illmaculate

Album Review: Random Axe - Self Titled

Admittedly, I wasn't expecting too much from this release and was really only looking forward to the Black Milk production. Individually I find Sean Price and Guilty Simpson way too monotonous to enjoy over a whole release, they have their moments but the lack of variation in flow, delivery and content really starts to grate on you after a while. On this release here though I feel like they've managed to avoid that as much as possible. The addition of Black Milk on a number of tracks as well as a couple of guest verses and some fantastic production has made for a great combination and the fact the tracks are on the short side has helped alleviate any real monotony. Both Sean & Guilty had some better punches and schemes than I was expecting and Black Milk put out a performance behind the boards that's not far off rivaling his Popular Demand / Tronic days.

For all that the lack of variation in the content does start to wear a bit thin by the albums end. No, I wasn't expecting anything different - battle rap was always going to be the flavour of the day - but neither Sean or Guilty is dynamic or impressive enough to engage with battle raps over a 15 track album. Onto the guest verses where I felt Danny Brown added some much needed energy to the record and Rock put out one of the best verses on the entire release. The rest the album could have done without. Oh, and next time, throw Elzhi on there as well. It's a travesty that Detroits best MC right now wasn't on this and 'Fatt Father' was.

Highlights: Random Call, Japhy Joe, The Karate Kid, Monster Babies
Lowlights: Understand This

Rating: 7.7/10

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Catch Up Pt.3 (J.Cole Edition)

Part 2 of The Catch Up can be viewed here.

In an effort to not hear half of 'Cole World' before it's even released i've held off listening to 'Cheer Up' and 'Lost Ones' for the moment.

How High | 8.5/10
The first few times I heard this track I pegged it as a decent track and nothing more. However, it hasn't lost any replay value in the 15-odd listens i've given it so far and i'm at a loss to pinpoint why. Sure, the track has no real flaws but it has no real highlights either. I think this a case where the sum of the whole outweighs the parts.
Download | Lyrics

Return of Simba | 9.5/10
As the 3rd entry in Cole's series of 'Simba' tracks, 'Return of Simba' lives up to his forbearers. As I've said before, Cole's production is criminally overlooked and this track is as good an example of that as you're likely to find. This track is straight quality, no corny lines or punches here.
‘Cause I only made classics, now what that take? Timing
Cole under pressure, what that make? Diamonds'

Workout | 6.5/10
Th production on this lead single for J.Cole's upcoming 'Cole World' has a lot more depth to it than most give it credit for. Cole's lyrics, on the other hand, are probably as shallow and lacking as we've ever heard from him. The incredibly cliche and overemphasised 4 bar bridges are particularly cringe-worthy. Still, for what it is, it's a decent enough track, mainly due to the production and chorus.

Pt. 2 of The Catch Up can be found here.

Pt. 4, the Drake edition, coming soon.

Album Review: Blue Scholars - Cinemetropolis

With their first full length release since all the way back in 2007, Blue Scholars are back with another impressive record to add to their catalogue. As always the production is the highlight as Sabzi moves into my top ten Hip-Hop producers of all time with a slew of synth heavy masterpieces that sound nothing alike his previous production. Geologic is back in form, as the oft-overcriticised MC adds his Def Jam Poetry-esque style to the LP with more varied content than we're used to seeing from. The political and social activist is still there but the more personal and every-day man behind the mic is more visible than ever. For the first time I can remember Geologic has impressed me lyrically, with more complex and poignant tracks than previous releases.
If it spins on a reel, it's gotta be real
But 'real' in real life just remind us of film
And now you saying something's like a movie when it's real
like a film's much realer than anything you feel
Unfortunately Geologic does lend Cinemetropolis a degree of monotony. The MC has never been known to have a versatile flow or delivery and over the course of 15 tracks it starts to grate on you. A few more guest verses or dynamic choruses may have helped solve this but the album lacks both.

Highlights: Cinemetropolis, Hussein, Anna Karina, Yuri Kochiyama

Lowlights: Slick Watts

Rating: 7.3/10

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Catch Up Pt. 2

Part 1 is here.

Jehst - England | 8.5/10
In 'England', the British MC paints a hauntingly vivid picture of his hometown as he points out societies ills over some grim and mournful production. The whole track has a '1984' vibe without really venturing into conspiracy theory territory.
'An i still got love for the place where i'm livin,
but right now there aint nothin great about Britain'
[Had to remove download link]

Nas- Nasty | 9.5/10
Anyone trying to recreate that early 90's sound, take note, this is how you do without sounding outdated. Nas REALLY goes in here and delivers a fast paced near-flawless performance. Nas is hungry.
'Ayo, late night, candlelight, fiend wit’ diesel in his needle
Queensbridge leader, no equal, I come from the Wheel of Ezekiel
To pop thousand-dollar bottles of scotch, smoke purp, and heal the people'

Download | Lyrics 

Royce Da 5'9 - Second Place (Prod. DJ Premier) | 9/10
This here is the Royce I enjoy. 'Second Place' sounds like something Royce and Preem would have cooked up in the Bar Exam 1 days. No lame punches or corny dick/shit/ass puns just a killer flow, some hard hitting lines and some witty ones. There's even a funny little retort to the often voiced (and valid imo) complaint regarding Royces' Eminem namedropping. I think one of Premo's most overlooked attributes his ability to craft a great hook out of a cut or 2 and a couple scratches and this track here is no exception. I look forward to the final version with Meth and Rae.
[Had to remove Download link, shouldn't have much trouble googling one though]| Lyrics

Kanye West - Mama's Boyfriend | 9/10
Apparently this isn't the final version but seeing as it doesn't sound unfinished and may not be released in the future I've decided to post it anyway. You can tell why this was left off MBDTF, it has a more 'See Me Now' feel to it. The production is fantastic with the backing vocals really bringing the track to life. The heartfelt first verse does a great job of capturing both childish resentment and love, and the irony-laced contrast of the second verse juxtaposes well against that backdrop.
'I drew a picture of her that'll make her proud
but the door is locked and the TV up so loud
I scream out 'I aint goin to sleep no time soon
and when I do, i'm sleeping in my mama room' '
While in another artists hands those line might come across as corny Kanye has knack for infusing such sincerity in his delivery that such words are, excuse the gushing, transformed into touching personal insights.
[Had to remove download link]

Co$$ - Only When I Dream ft. Sene & Aloe Blacc | 9/10
Wow, what a killer track. Love the beat, Aloe contributes a great hook, Co$$ has one of the years best verses and though Sene is completely outshined it can't be said his effort is anything approaching weak.

Next Part coming soon. For Part 1 of The Catch Up head here.

Album Review: Drapht - The Life of Riley

The Life of Riley is the Australian MC's 4th release and he's continued to develop his sound with each album he puts out. Trials is on deck as the producer half of Brothers Grimm and continues his run of the last few years with another string of fantastic beats. On this release Drapht continues to move away from the battle rap multi filled style of his 'Pale Rider' days but he continues to improve his song structure and put forward more insightful content than he was capable of in his younger days.

What you're left with is some great production well complemented with dynamic hooks and an MC with a unique voice and versatile and varied content. As a whole the release is a successful cross-over album that'll garner commercial appeal while still appealing for the most part to his core fan-base.

Highlights: Sing It, Down, Good Morning
Lowlights: On and On, Murder Murder, Air Guitar (great lyrics, horrid beat and hook)


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Catch Up Pt.1

 Over the next few days i'll be posting the majority of the best tracks released in the last few months since i've been away. Without further ado:

Copywrite - Luscious ft. Jakki Da Mota Mouth | 8/10
This is a ten minute long punchline bonanza over Tyler The Creator's 'Yonkers' beat. Copywrite goes nuts on this, plain and simple.
'I'm on E, waiting for her to go down like the price of gas'
Jakki doesn't really have the presence for minimal production such as this and the fact his verse his 5 minutes long and comes after a killer Copywrite performance only emphasises this.

Lupe Fiasco - Airplanes | 10/10
This may become Lupe's most underrated and overlooked track to date. It may lack a little of the energy of B.o.B's version but the lyricism is enough to give me goosebumps and the second verse is one of Lupe's best, fullstop.

'My departure from the norm, the parch thats more warm
walks on from the marching of your armies and the dropping of your bombs
The walking on the waters now stomping on the pond
The ripples now a wave
It can’t be peaceful with a pistol in your face
You can’t beat the people so you picking on they place
I jump to defend I’m wage with a page
My pen’s mightier than them and I got missles on the stage
This couch is for the cowards and stretchers for the brave
And I happily lay upon the bed that I have made'

Download | Lyrics

Brown Bag AllStars - See Again | 9.5/10
This tracks an analysis of the forum poster and internet viewer mentality as it relates to music. Surprisingly the song is neither bitter nor does does it brand everyone as haters. It's full of humorous but valid observations, great production, a great chorus and some great writing. 
'God bless the hand that you click your mouse with'
Download | Lyrics

Bobby Raps - Riff Raff | 9/10
Bobby Raps is an 18yr old newcomer i've recently discovered. Loving the production with the stretched-out vocal sample. Delivery could use a little variety but his flows on point as his rhyme scheme game.

Mr. J. Medeiros - Neon Signs ft. Stro | 9/10
Medeiros is one of the genre's most unique unknown artists. Some fantastic metaphors and imagery in here and a killer effort from Stro on the hook.

Part 2 coming soon.