Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010 Hiphop Albums: The Best of the Rest

By now it has already been well-documented which albums released over the past 12 months have received the warmest welcome from the finicky Hiphop masses, with the overwhelmingly, undeniable consensus being Kanye’s latest offering – by a long shot.

Ross, Banks, Roots -- they all had amazing albums. This much cannot be disputed as they are all mentioned on everybody's list of top Hiphop albums released this year.

But what’s been missing from these “best of” lists are some of the lesser-known rappers who have managed to quietly release quality music that is noteworthy in their own right, staying true to the main ideals that Hiphop music was originally based on – having fun and paying tribute to Hiphop culture through dope lyrics and fresh rhymes.

Here is the official BC-TW sanctioned list of the best of the rest; the so-called also-rans who deserve their own acknowledgment for their most recent contributions to Hiphop:

15. Big Remo – Entrapment – The North Carolina emcee can more than hold his own among the genre’s heavyweights, bringing his own brand of thug rap to Hiphop via the reliable 9th Wonder vehicle, complete with the requisite soul samples chopped up to perfection juxtaposed with Remo's tough talk.

Standout tracks: The Game (Tre 4); Go; Go Ladies

Notable quotable:

Grab muhfuckas by they throat that’s hating on Remo

And I ain’t D-Bo but I’m on that shit,

I used to hot wire, drive like I own that whip

And get it in in the kitchen, yeah, I’m on that whip.

14. Vic Mensa – Straight Up – This teenager from Chicago debuted a thorough EP, which includes some serious lyrical dexterity along with a nice, competent flow and quality production. The EP is only eight tracks long (including one interlude and one skit) and leaves the listener wanting more, which bodes well for his future.

Standout tracks: Like the Way; Lights Out; Too Hard


"I’m like a wrinkle in time

I would rather make a classic than drop a fuckin single and sign."

13. The Kid Daytona – The Interlude – This full length album deserves all the credit for having one of the most – if not the most – original approach to production for an album regardless of the date. Using interludes from random Hiphop albums for the musical backdrop, The Kid Daytona helps to transform the once short tracks found in between songs to bona fide songs with banging beats that is at once familiar and brand new at the same time. Daytona isn’t the greatest rapper but he is well above average but the beats knock and the listener finds his or her neck nodding knowingly even though it’s all new material. A very clever ploy for an album, and it works to perfection. Test your Hiphop acumen by trying to figure out from where the interludes first originated!

Standout tracks – Fly Lullaby; Padma (So Buttery); Contemplation;

Notable Quotable:

“Gamin' since I came in it, no regrets

Now I chef the flavor shit, hankerchief, no sweat

Throw the stick out there, them bitches go fetch

Pick out gear and play GQ like O Epps”

12. Actual Proof – the Free EP – This 9th Wonder-affiliated duo from North Carolina brings their take on Hiphop to the masses with this feel-good album made up of carefree, refreshing rhymes reminiscent of the Native Tongues, with the majority of the production handled by 9th Wonder’s now-classic vocal sample-inflected head-nodding beats. A simple but foolproof recipe for success.

Standout tracks – Skate Kids; Peace From the Riddler (Enigma); Genius

Notable Quotable:

"You can’t step to him without a mortarboard

While I transform a metaphor, prime optimus

Einstein rockin’ in my rare form."

11. Kev Turner – Soul City Music – This album is boom bap to the fullest, with break beats galore, scratching, and a rapping approach reminiscent of the late 80s/early 90s – braggadocio lyrics, lashing out at fake rappers, employing varying flows throughout, professing his love for Hiphop, and repping this new artist's hometown (Philadelphia). Each track has a distinct swing and bounce to it, giving this album a nice, chill, house party feel to it. Kev Turner is a basic lyricist, but his rhymes are on point and, when combined with the music, make for a very complete, cohesive presentation.

Standout tracks: Ill State of Mind; The Breaks; If Its Cool

Notable Quotable:

“Stopped smoking years ago but it’s hard to turn dro down

Floating on cloud 9, walking on no ground

In the 90s Bo knew it all but what Bo know now?

Bet if he heard this, Bo know that I throw down

Kev’s styles sharper than a samurai showdown”

10. 1982 (Statik Selektah & Termanology) – FreEP – Released on the heels of the 1982 LP, this EP a better, more concentrated version of its predecessor both lyrically and musically, eliminating all the filler tracks found on the other album with a shorter, more condensed format of straight beats and rhymes showcasing Termanology’s brilliant Big Pun-influenced rhyme schemes to no end. Statik Selektah’s DJ Premier-inspired beats and scratches are nothing short of dope.

Standout tracks: The Darkest Cloud; Put it Down; Word Up

Notable quotable:

“My heinous visions be painting pictures like ancient scriptures

I’m like Michael Corleone to you Fredo niggas.”

9. Mac Miller – K.I.D.S. – An acronym for Kicking Incredible Dope Shit, this accurately named mixtape features this relatively new Pittsburgh emcee rhyming over mostly all new music from a hodgepodge of unknown producers who rival the sound(s) of any of today’s top beatsmiths. The self-proclaimed “Justin Bieber-meets-Jadakiss” has a style all his own, and the mixtape has a distinctly mid-90s feel to it, ironic considering Miller was born in 1992.

Standout tracks – Nikes on My Feet, Good Evening, La La La

Notable quotable:

“Had the whole regular life, I can tell you that I’m done with that

Trying to build a mill off a couple stacks

Own my own business, investing all I got into these fuckin raps

Willie Parker money, hand it off, then it’s running back.”

8. RapSody – Return of the B-Girl – Yet another 9th Wonder-fueled album, only this one showcases the considerable rhyming skills of a female emcee who can flex a number of lyrical styles with what comes off as the greatest of ease. A healthy dose of uninterrupted, unadulterated Hiphop.

Standout tracks: Young, Black With a Gift (with Big Daddy Kane); U Sparklin’; Cherry Red Hot;

Notable quotable:

“Little league of my own like pitching off the mound

With boobs, fallopian tubes

These dude gon’ know me now.”

7. DJ Premier Presents Year Round Records… Get Used to Us – The long awaited compilation showcasing DJ Premier’s record label Year Round Records and the artists affiliated with the label. Many of these songs have already been released unofficially on the Web, but to many people this will be all new material they are listening to.

Standout tracks: Temptation, Opportunity Knoccs, The Gang Starr Bus

Notable quotable:

“Can’t ball unless you handle the pill, or the rock

Or you drop dimes helping these fiends score at will

Somebody gets killed for not covering the spread

Ill-advised shots, instead of leather it’s lead

Funny how hustling is sort of like a sport

Starts out in the streets, ends up in the court

And then you’re in the press

With no time out just time in with a number on your chest” -- Nick Javas

6. KRS – Back to the L.A.B. (Lyrical Ass Beating) -- This EP is six tracks of pure fire, served up KRS-One style: a continuous flow of venom aimed at all the rappers who KRS feels are bringing down the artform while simultaneously attempting to restore it to its rightful place. And while KRS has been on some preachiness over the past few years, this EP is a happy return to his boom bap roots, waking up the doubters who have been sleeping on KRS, assuming his skills have deteriorated over the years when the exact opposite is the truth.

Standout tracks: Who Da Best; WOLF; TEK-NOLOGY

Notable quotable:

“We that orthodox Hiphop that all of you know

Man, I lived through the ballers, they ain’t ballin no more

The arenas and theaters ain’t callin no more

The budget from the labels ain’t fallin no more

Them big gold cables is pawned at the store

Them cats now thinking ‘yo, what was it all for?

20 platinum plaques, ya still can’t tour

Now listen back to your lyrics, what was that all for?

When you had the opportunity you coulda spit it raw

That’s when you see KRS is on tour

I do a two-hour show and be spitting one more!”

5. Capone-N-Noreage – War Report 2: Report the War – It’s hard to follow up a classic album with another one modeled after the first installation, but War Report 2: Report the War comes as close as anybody who has ever tried it. It is classic Queens music, with violent imagery that is a reflection of the duo's reality. Capone and NORE show they are still hungry to make quality music and dope rhymes, a welcome change from what they’ve been doing [together and separately] over the past few years.

Standout tracks: Pain, Obituary, Thug Planet

Notable quotable:

“I sent a wreath to my foe’s wake, condolences

Emotionless when I’m squeezing, easy to focus, kid. -- Capone

“Apologize, kiss the ring, or we will scrape you

We will face you, then replace you

Treat you like a number 2 pencil and erase you.” -- Noreaga

4. Roc Marciano Marcberg – Former Flipmode Squad member Roc Marciano unleashed this beast of an album after years of paying dues in the shadows of Busta Rhymes and Pete Rock, respectively, and although it barely registered a blip on the mainstream radar, the underground was buzzing big time after one listen to this gem. Roc holds down the entire album -- save for one single guest appearance -- with a steady barrage of grimy street knowledge manifested in his trademark monotone, serious delivery.

Standout tracks: Snow, Panic, Don Shit

Notable quotable:

"Juggling jums, bubble gum, cum on her tongue

The color of rum, it's the return of the fly bum, hon

Maybe it's just my radiant flesh, or the baby tec that wet up the gray GS, yes

Place ya bets, till I get to taste success, rappers to me is just a waste of breath."

3. Vado Slime Flu – This mixtape confirms what many suspected -- that Vado as a soloist is officially a force to be reckoned with in rap (albeit negative rap). Vado -- an acronym standing for Violence And Drugs Only -- doesn’t rap about his love for Hiphop, but his witty wordplay and choice of beats is more than enough proof that the love is there. It just seems to be lower on his totem pole of priorities, giving way to crack and guns and other all too familiar ghetto symbolism. What separates Vado from the average “crack rapper” is his obvious lyrical skills and penchant for hot rhyme schemes (and his signature adlib "Huuuuunh!"). After two years of being Cam’ron’s sidekick, Vado steps out and easily stands on his own.

Standout tracks – Council Music, Celebration, Wake Up.

Notable Quotable:

“I ain’t the one you wanna walk up to

No dap, I just turn my back on you like a post-up move

Two gats, give you a close-up view.”

2. Gangrene – Gutter Water – This album (created in the tradition and stylings of the Jaylib album) is a sonic masterpiece featuring producers The Alchemist and Oh No who have taken a sabbatical from their day jobs as prolific producers to concentrate on rhyming. Narcotics-inspired music and rhymes with beats as grimy as the album’s name suggests. A win-win situation to be sure.

Standout tracks: Gutter Water; Get Into Some Gangster Shit; Ransom

Quotables: There are not really any significant quotables considering the mediocre level of rapping from these producers, but each member flows well on the tracks, making for a good listening experience. (EDITOR'S NOTE: Sometimes the music weighs heavier than the lyrics. See Dr. Dre for more on this topic.)

1. Skyzoo & !llmind - Live From The Tape Deck – A bona fide classic from the first to the last track. Skyzoo displays his ever-improving rhymes over beats from the underrated !llmind, and the marriage between the two is nothing short of magic. This album could stand alone as either an a capella album or an instrumental album, but together it is just plain incredible. Skyzoo shows us his growth is not a fluke.

Standout tracks: Langston’s Pen, Frisbees, Speakers on Blast

Notable quotable:

"Never be a drought as long as I’m in the front

They lookin around, but couldn’t find it off the jump

I’m cooking it loud and got em poppin off of one

I’m hooking the town, you hear ‘em dropping with a thump

Little more on the edge, they was looking for less

Used to the tap, they was looking for steps

I don’t juice none of that, they mistook it for meds

The root is under that, just say I shook off the regs

When the bass get to beating with the 808 beneath it

Ain’t a lane they could be in that I ain’t already weave in

Take it how you need it but basically what it be is

I could break this into pieces and make me a few believers

Let ‘em know from the go, no they dealing with go-ups

As much as I can throw, everything’s for the lower

One after the other one, then I shake another one

Dish ‘em the opposite and watch how the devil come

Got ‘em sitting in pocket I provide ‘em that what I want

All of this is the obvious, I was just lining up

And now they wanna bring the 90s back

That’s OK, cuz that’s where they designed me at”


Big L – Return of the Devil’s Son

Von Pea – Pea’s Gotta Have It

Willie The Kid – The Cure

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Industry Rule #4081: The Bad Boy Curse Lives On

As is true with life, two things are certain in Hiphop: death and taxes. Only with Hiphop, those two things don’t necessarily come in that order. Especially if you’re an artist who gets involved with Bad Boy Records.

The latest example of the oft-cited malignancy known as a Bad Boy Records contract is still being sorted out, but the short of it is that a former Bad Boy rapper is currently being held without bail for admitting to a 17-year old homicide.

In regard to the careers of artists affiliated with Bad Boy, what happened to this rapper is more of a tradition than it is coincidence. History has more than proven this theory to be law time and time again.

Glaring instances of the career-killing decision of aligning oneself with Bad Boy Records begin with the infamous City College charity basketball game stampede, continue with the murders of 2Pac and Biggie, and is expected to thrive well beyond this latest episode.

Ma$e left rapping altogether in favor of manning the pulpit in a move that seemingly depicted Puffy in a Lucifer-like light, only for Pastor Mason Betha to descend back into the same money- and sex-hungry lifestyle he once practiced before his preaching of the very opposite.

When the smoke cleared, Ma$e ended up losing most if not all of his fans in his series of hypocritical, head-scratching moves that have somehow sustained an Atlanta-based ministry and congregation. But his rapping career – which it seemed he was still trying to salvage – is all but dead.

The LOX mounted a heavily publicized campaign to leave Bad Boy Records after they disagreed with Puffy’s direction for the group, which was originally formed based on hardcore rhymes and street ethics but had been transformed into Hip-pop music complete with the infamous shiny suits accompanied by the familiar, watered down themes of money and sex that that Puffy helped make popular.

The LOX got their wish and was granted their release, but not after Puff made off like a bandit with the rights to their individual and group publishing. Hence, the aforementioned taxes.

Not ironically, while there have been numerous albums released featuring the three rappers that comprise the group, there has yet to be a new album released under the LOX name since 2000. Hence, the aforementioned death.

All three rappers remain relevant and for the most part successful, but the days of the LOX as a group are pretty much over with. Another casualty of Bad Boy Records.

And the list quite literally goes on and on.

Rapper Shyne, who found himself defending his boss by shooting a gun at the alleged offenders of Puff’s famed ego, was ironically left to defend himself when the case went to trial and Puff did everything to separate himself (and his multi-million dollar defense team) from Shyne.

A decade later, Shyne is living in Homeland Security-imposed exile in his native Belize as a devout Hasidic Jew, all but confirming the death of his recording career despite signing a lucrative contract with Def Jam almost a year ago.

To be sure, none of this is coincidence.

Loon, another former Bad Boy rapper, is now a converted Muslim decrying his experience in the music industry -- an experience that began with Ma$e and ended with Bad Boy Records. Death.

In the meantime, Puff has severed all ties with most if not all of the folks who helped get him the hit-making reputation – including and especially many artists and groups who were once signed to Bad Boy -- that he still has to this day. As a result, those same artists are still reeling from not being associated with Puff. Further irony considering it was this same association with Puff that once helped them attain the success they no longer enjoy. More death.

Puff also ventured into the reality television business, creating contests for both an R&B and a rap group, with the winners of each being “awarded” with Bad Boy recording contracts. And while there was some success in the short term, these two groups are no longer together. However, each member of each group is still under contract to Puff and Bad Boy, which means any and every time they attempt to release new music, Puff gets a [large] percentage. Taxes.

Two exceptions to this rule are Mary J Blige and Usher, both of whom are the recipients of Puff’s guidance during the inception of their careers. Despite a few non-Bad Boy related setbacks, each have emerged relatively unscathed with their careers well intact to this day.

However, the other, overwhelming evidence is more than enough to support the idea that involving one’s career with Diddy will probably mean bad news in the long run.

Yet and still, after all of these disasters for bad Boy signees, popular and successful artists are seemingly not deterred one bit and continue to align themselves with Puff.

Ironically, Rick Ross -- who is currently being managed by Diddy -- willingly boarded the Bad Boy bus just months after it was made public that he was formerly a corrections officer (Hiphop’s cardinal sin that is on par with rule nombre uno) despite five straight years of him touting a false, felonious, cocaine distributing past. So even though he dodged a career-threatening bullet, Ross still decided that letting Puffy guide his career was the best thing for him. So far, the results have been undeniable. But as we see with G-Dep, the statute of limitations does not apply to being involved with Bad Boy Records.

Jay Electronica most likely looked toward Bad Boy's past when deciding his own future by signing with Roc Nation and Jay-Z after months of being courted by Puff, which included recording a song with him.

When he was spurned, Puff showed his true colors by igniting a Twitter war of words against Jay Electronica with claims of being led on. But as history shows, Electronica most likely made the right move by removing Bad Boy from the equation.

In the end, Puff wins. His net worth stays on the rise and he is more and more successful each year [in non music-related ventures], but the fact that in 2010 Bad Boy's main artist is Diddy himself speaks volumes as to the priorities for Bad Boy Records.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Ghostface Killah: Apollo Kids Album Review

There isn't too much to say about Ghostface Killah -- the consistent and reliable rap artist and prolific lyricist who on Tuesday will release Apollo Kids, the ninth solo album of his accomplished 14-year career -- that hasn't already been said.

By now, we know what to expect -- soul samples galore chopped up to perfection and vivid story telling with lively tales of ghetto grandiosity accompanied with the requisite braggadocio boasting his inimitable self confidence.

Classic Ghostface music, plain and simple.

So imagine the level of anticipation from his fans when it was announced earlier this month that he would name his latest album after one of his greatest and most popular songs that appeared on arguably his best album, setting the stage for the listener to expect yet another in a long line of impeccable albums from Ghostface.

And Ghost doesn't disappoint. When he actually gets the chance to rap, that is.

No, he doesn't sing on R&B tracks, as he has been known to do on occasion. However, Apollo Kids features a whopping 14 guest rappers on nine of the concise 12 tracks offered on this recording that just barely exceeds 40 minutes of playing time.

But after getting over those mental hurdles, the album promptly jumps into that good old Wu-Tang sound we all fell in love with nearly two decades ago, and the distraction of the prospects of a short album quickly fades.

One listen to the gem Superstar, a duet with Busta Rhymes, following Purified Thoughts with GZA and Killah Priest, and it's clear that Ghost is back!

Unlike past Ghost opuses, this album is devoid of skits and interludes, quickly launching into one banging track after another.

By the time we get to the fourth track, Ghost is in prime crime story-telling mode, humbly rhyming first to clear the way for Joell Ortiz (who has had one hell of a 2010) and a song-stealing and near flawless verse from the ever-improving Game ("I son/sun n*ggas like it's daytime").

Also worth mentioning is 2getha Baby, the album's lead single that features Ghost rapping over those ever elusive horns that I’ve been missing from Hiphop.

But the crowning moment of musical achievement comes from In Tha Park, a duet with Black Thought that is also a fitting ode to Hiphop in the form of a veritable checklist of true school Hiphop-isms ("linoleum breakdancing, Rust-Oleum cans"), complete with a very suitable MC Shan sample.

(Editor's note: It's refreshing to see a rapper of Ghostface's stature not be intimidated of teaming up with and possibly getting outshined by Black Thought, one of the most severely underrated rappers of all time.)

Ironically its on the three-year old song How You Like Me Baby (the Pete Rock-produced song formerly known as Chunky that was a mainstay on mixtapes) where Ghost is at his best, waxing poetic with his words of "wizdom" and effortless styles and flows:

“I came to play no games so stay in ya lane, and the ratchet’s on ya brain and fuck entertainment, y’all, the big spender rocks a robe in November, I never broke bud I throw my trees up in the blender!"

Without taking anything away from this heatrock of a song, it's too bad Pete couldn't have blessed Ghost with a previously unheard beat, considering the obvious musical chemistry these two have.

A curious duet with Jim Jones is the album's lone official misstep, seeing as though 1) Jim Jones is a below average rapper/sidekick who, over the years, has lost much of his musical appeal, 2) Ghost and Jim have never worked together before, 3) the track is a saccharine neo-R&B song that will probably never gain momentum in its presumed destination -- the club. Never mind the fact that the cheesy-sounding song wouldn't have even made the final cut for Ghost's excellent R&B-influenced opus released last year.

And maybe it's a budget thing but Ghostface has eliminated from this album the traditional presence of at least one high-profile, critically acclaimed producer. Hell, there aren't even any Wu-Tang producers associated with this project. No RZA, no True Master, no 4th Disciple. Not even past collaborators J-Love, Bronze Nazareth or Mathematics make an appearance.

Instead, Ghost employs the sounds of lesser celebrated -- but still very much able -- beat makers like Frank Dukes (3 tracks), Scram Jones and Sean C & LV, among others. Ghost has more than proven his ability to make quality music independent of Wu-Tang producers, but ultimately it's still not quite the same as hearing Ghost spaz on a RZA beat.

Despite the overwhelming amount of rappers on this album, it's never a bad thing to hear new rhymes from some of the core Wu-Tang Clan members, and, after some years of musical futility and legal snafus, a rejuvenated-sounding U-God is very much welcome on the song Ghetto, where he rhymes about the neglected portion of society ("run up in ya crib with 12 black brothers that'll die just to live").

Raekwon -- who continues with his recent streak of dope verses since the release of his album this year -- and Cappadonna and Theodore Unit member Trife Da God are all in attendance, and none disappoint in the least. Even Red and Meth join in on the fun, trading verses with Raekwon and Ghost on the Jake One-produced Troublemakers, the album's final song.

But just like that, the album’s over. No skits, no outro, nothing. Just an abrupt ending.

After listening to the album, the listener is left with a couple of certainties: 1) Ghostface is still well in his prime, miles ahead of many of his rapping peers, crafting complex rhymes with ease, and 2) Ghostface is either losing his love for rapping or he’s letting lazieness get the best of him.

Because in 2010, with just 12 tracks, the album had either better be a classic a la Illmatic, or it had better have limited to no features that take away from the lyrical wizardry that make his fans some of the most loyal in music.

Perhaps Apollo Kids is just one part of a larger marketing plan for a quick follow-up to this album much like More Fish was released months after Fishscale, but somehow that just doesn’t seem likely.