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Home » Author Archives: Jeff Leon

Author Archives: Jeff Leon

Hailing from Toronto, Canada, Jeff is a senior staff writer for KevinNottingham.com. A lifelong fan of Hip Hop culture since the moment he discovered Public Enemy and De La Soul, Jeff is always on the lookout for new and engaging rap, and is willing to talk (and write) Hip Hop to practically ANYONE who will listen. Escaping from Florida where he went to the University of Florida (his thesis on Hip Hop and African culture was well received), he now resides in Washington, D.C., where if he isn't jogging, he's tinkering with his Android phone, listening to copious amounts of music, re-watching "The Wire," and taking out suckas in Battlefield 3.

Diamond District: March On Washington [Album Review]

DiamondDistrict_MarchOnWashington

March on, Washington. March on. Five long years. Let me tell you where I’m coming from. When I first heard In The Ruff, the debut of the Washington, D.C. group Diamond District, it was the fall of 2009 and I was in my senior year of college in Florida. I came across the record on a Hip Hop blog with the reviewer praising the gritty feel, the rugged lyrics and interplay of the three emcees, concluding that the album was an expertly modernized take on NYC’s golden age boom bap… except these guys weren’t from New York. Oddisee, yU and Uptown XO all hail from the DMV, or the District, Maryland, and Virginia, and In The Ruff was their cannon shot to the world to show that D.C., a much overlooked scene in the Hip Hop world, could bang as hard as anywhere else. The album was definitely a diamond for me, and remained in my headphones for a good while. And I was hungry for more. Five years later? I live and work in Washington, D.C., and have been witness to the steady rise that the DMV is having in Hip Hop. Artists like Logic, Fat Trel, Shy Glizzy, Wale (of course) and others are garnering interest outside the DMV. Oddisee, yU and XO have all dropped several solo works, pretty much all of them dope, and left many, me included, awaiting their reunion. And now they’re finally back with March On Washington. Five years. About time. March On ... Read More »

Forgotten Classics: Public Enemy – Yo! Bum Rush The Show

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Simply put, Public Enemy changed my life. That is not an exaggeration. I was in my late teens when I first heard the legendary group and their music guided me throughout my youth. They were that group for me rebellious and fiercely intelligent; the soundtrack to your most tumultuous years when you start getting out into life and begin figuring out who you are and what you want to achieve. P.E. launched my fascinations with Hip Hop, music, history and Black cultural studies, and provided a canvas for my college years. While I was nearly two decades removed from the groups heyday, the music and the message still resonated to me more than anything else Id heard in my life up until that point. Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Terminator X and the Bomb Squad got me listening, thinking and writing. They got me inspired, got me passionate. This is all thanks to their second album, It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. Now, their first record? Wellto be quite honest I kind of slept on it. Public Enemy was originally known as Spectrum City in the early 80s, a collective comprised of emcee/deejay/visual artist Chuck D, Bill Stephney and Hank Shocklee. The trio worked at WBAU, the student radio station of Adelphi University in Hempstead, NY. The group dropped a few early singles, which gained some burn locally thanks to Chucks socially conscious lyricism. But it was a response record entitled Public Enemy No. 1, targeted ... Read More »

Forgotten Classics: Prince Paul – A Prince Among Thieves

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When I started Forgotten Classics back in 2011, I had a master list of albums which I wanted to spotlight. Some I’ve written about, others I’ve yet to cover, but there’s one particular record which has been sitting on the list since the beginning which I feel is time to talk about. It’s a joint that seemingly only the staunchest of Hip Hop listeners who, to put it bluntly, know their shit, know about; a classic amongst classics that never got it’s time to really shine, though it has earned admiration and praise from all who knew the artist and appreciate truly dope work. I’m talking about super producer Prince Paul’s magnum opus, A Prince Among Thieves. Hailing from Long Island, New York, Paul Huston got his start in the mid-‘80s by being a member of arguably the first Hip Hop band Stetsasonic, operating as the group’s DJ. Although the Stet was gaining commercial and critical success with their records, 1986’s On Fire and ‘88’s In Full Gear, Paul wasn’t exactly getting his dues. His role was that of a little brother in the group, getting shunned when trying to help out in production duties and passed over when it came time for the photo shoots and groupies. Though he had talent behind the boards and a twisted sense of humor, it wasn’t until he met up with three kids out of his hometown of Amityville who dubbed themselves De La Soul that he got his chance to shine. De ... Read More »

Forgotten Classics: Da Grassroots – Passage Through Time

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“Take it back to Grassroots…” In the late ‘90s, Canada’s Hip Hop scene was undergoing a renaissance, returning from years of being on the backburner. Poised to explode in the late 1980s with emcees like Toronto legends Michee Mee and Maestro Fresh-Wes gaining attention at home and abroad, cosigns from major American rappers like KRS-One, and a pioneering Hip Hop radio program known as The Fantastic Voyage hosted by deejay Ron Nelson at Toronto’s Ryerson University, several stumbles sidelined the rise. Lack of attention by the American public and dismissal as a fad at home, as well as lack of a true Hip Hop radio station in many major markets, Toronto, in particular, kept the scene north of the border very low until 1998. That year, a legendary collaboration between several prominent Canadian emcees — Rascalz and Checkmate out of Vancouver and Toronto artists Kardinal Offishall, Thrust and Choclair — changed the game. The track, called “Northern Touch,” reenergized the community, bringing dope rhymes and a much-needed spotlight to listeners on talented emcees and producers who aren’t from America. It didn’t take long for other local artists to shine, and one of the most stellar crews present during this rebirth was Da Grassroots. The trio of Mr. Attic, Mr. Murray and Swiff had been producing for Canuck rappers throughout the ‘90s, with a string of singles and close connections within Toronto’s Hip Hop scene. In 1999, they dropped their one and only record, a compilation known as Passage Through Time, ... Read More »

Latyrx: The Second Album [Album Review]

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2013 has certainly been an intriguing year for long-awaited returns. Eminem with MMLP2. Deltron with Event II. Well, add Latyrx to the list. The duo of Lyrics Born and Lateef the Truthspeaker, part of the solid Bay Area collective Solesides (or now known as Quannum Projects) just dropped their first record in 16 years. Simply known as The Second Album, the record follows up on their 1997 forgotten classic, The Album, a terrific work which thumbed its nose at the rap trends of the day and had both emcees exploring life over soulful and experimental beats, some contributed by DJ Shadow and Blackalicious’s Chief Xcel. Though both emcees have had considerable solo careers since, they felt it time for a reunion, and The Second Album has them commenting on the state of Hip Hop, media, life, death, and more, with contributions from Busdriver, Gift of Gab, Zion-I’s Amp Live and others. It’s been over a decade, so of course the duo has to make a grand entrance and on “Arrival.” They do the damn thing nicely, coming with a large and anthemic vibe, perfectly set up by Jel of Anticon. Lateef declares, “Seize the moment, collectively own it, victory is waiting for us, arms open. We have arrived!” There are claps, shouts and cheering as Lyrics Born steps up like an energized reverend, presiding over a wild congregation: “It’s an awesome time for those of us who felt marginalized, compartmentalized, or felt like we led nominal lives,” he reveals, “or ... Read More »

Oddisee: The Beauty In All [Album Review]

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Getting a new project from Oddisee is like a visit from an old friend: Always welcome, and a guaranteed good time which you won’t easily forget. The Maryland producer and emcee has built an impressive catalog, providing stellar soulful and inspiring music to vibe with. Though I loved People Hear What They See, one of the finest listens of last year, I’ve been itching for another instrumental record like his sublime 2011 record Rock Creek Park. Well, now there’s The Beauty in All, an all-producing, no vocals record which has Oddisee delivering strong compositions. The Beauty in All begins auspiciously with “After Thoughts,” a late-night burn. Driven by probing synths and piano keys, this one is a thinking man’s listen. It’s confident and assured, quiet but inquisitive. It puts you into a mood, and sets you up nicely for what’s to follow, before dissolving into a neo-soulish interlude which is upbeat and cool; quite an opener. The album follows it up with “In My Day,” which is fleet in sound and cocksure in mood, strutting with its steady and lean drums and the minimal tambourine accents. It’s Oddisee stretching his legs, getting into the music, and showing you that he’s got this covered. It’s easy to get lost in this record. Oddisee keeps matters cool and focused, and creates jams with different moods and feelings. “Fashionably Late” begins uneasily before breaking into a tempestuous and slightly hazy rumination with a descending melody and piano keys which dart around before breaking ... Read More »

Forgotten Classics: Zion I – True & Livin’

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True and Livin’ is my comfort record. The third LP from the Bay Area duo Zion I is that go-to joint, perfect for throwing on and vibing. It’s a steady record with soul, substance and infectious tracks which have remained on my playlist for a long time.  It’s a record which definitely needs more shine and respect, and an easy selection for this edition of Forgotten Classics. Zion I, the duo of emcee Zumbi and producer Amp Live formed in Oakland around 1996 and wasted no time getting to work on creating dope, socially conscious tracks with a strong Left Coast feel. They began releasing several mixtapes in the late ‘90s before dropping their 2000 debut Mind Over Matter. The record was critically acclaimed, and the first major shot from a promising duo. The next LP Blackwater Slang 2.0 hit in 2003, further pushing the snappy and smooth beats of Amp Live and the lyrical depth of Zumbi, getting us prepared for what would come next. Dropping in April of 2005, True And Livin’ is a top-flight listen. Zumbi and Amp knock it out of the park, broaching topics such as hometown pride, issues of gentrification, violence in the Bay, the state of Hip Hop and race relations in America with contributions from guests such as Del Tha Funky Homosapien, Talib Kweli, and Gift of Gab. From the moment you press play, the jams will make you feel and get you nodding ya head. The first song on the record, ... Read More »

Castle: Gasface [Album Review]

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“Man, you come right out of a comic book,” a voice says in the last few seconds of Gasface, the debut of Castle, and it’s a good way to describe the artist and his Mello Music Group debut. Hailing from North Carolina, Castle (whose name more than likely originated from The Punisher) has worked with artists like Has-Lo and Quelle Chris, and produces as well as raps. On Gasface (word to MC Serch), Castle brings frank commentary, struggle and a bit of off-kilter humor to matters. Castle makes a strong introduction on the opener, “Fool’s Errand,” which sounds like an aural rise to glory. The beat compliments himself as he speaks of his determination to be an emcee you’ll be checking for: “The fact is, I try to write shit to enthrall cats, maybe with some luck I’ll get misfortune to fall back,” he tells us. It’s an uplifting listen and keeps your attention as the next listen “No Prep Time” goes in. No matter the title, Castle’s ready as the production is grungy and all around dope, accompanied by punchy drums. Castle’s gravelly voice adds to the mix as one moment he is concerned with putting out the best music he can and the other he’s checking out chicks on Twitter: “’Everybody raps and everybody makes beats!’” he says, paraphrasing every naysayer on the planet in a hilarious voice, then shutting them down: “Yeah, that’s cool dude, but everybody ain’t me.” You certainly believe it. Gasface moves at a ... Read More »

Forgotten Classics: Latyrx – The Album

latyrx

One of my earliest Hip Hop obsessions was with the Northern Cali collective Quannum Projects. Originally known as Solesides, the group all met up at the University of California at Davis in the early ‘90s, which included the duo known as Blackalious, DJ Shadow and DJ Zen (aka prominent music journalist Jeff Chang). Blackalicious and Shadow were particular revelations for me, Blackalicious with their intelligence, positivity and eclecticism seen in records like Nia and Blazing Arrow, and Shadow’s ominous masterpiece Entroducing… taking over my life and playlist for a good while. Digging deeper into the roster, I stumbled onto emcees Lyrics Born and Lateef the Truth Speaker, known together as Latyrx. Their woolly debut, The Album, is one record which is not totally forgotten, but an often overlooked classic which definitely needs some recognition. Formed around 1992, Latyrx was a striking union. A founding member of Solesides/Quannum, Lyrics Born brought soulful sounds and thoughtful rhymes while Lateef brought spirituality and spitfire lyricism; both artists shared a desire to create more experimental Hip Hop. Latyrx took a few years to formulate, as both emcees issued individual singles, and around 1996 finally dropped their first track together, a B-side to Lateef’s single “The Wreckoning” simply called “Latyrx.” And a hell of an introduction it was. Leery, lo-fi and spacy thanks to DJ Shadow’s production, “Latyrx” catches your ear simply due to one aural trick: for the first third of the track, both emcees rhyme at the same time, creating a cacophonous mix ... Read More »

Homeboy Sandman: Kool Herc – Fertile Crescent [Album Review]

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Homeboy Sandman is most definitely an emcee’s emcee. The Queens native has gained respect and praise from all corners for his impressive lyrical skills and thoughtful ruminations on the state Hip Hop, society and life, along with his deep respect and admiration for Hip Hop music and culture. Fresh off 2012’s excellent LP First of a Living Breed, Sandman is back with the long awaited EP Kool Herc: Fertile Crescent, an ode to the old school. Named for the pioneering deejay whose Sedgwick Avenue parties in the early 1970s South Bronx provided a Fertile Crescent for the culture which would soon be known as Hip Hop, the EP has Sandman tearing up the mic to ‘60s and ‘70s-inspired productions provided by R. thentic. With eight tracks on the EP, Sandman wastes no time getting to work. The record opens with “My Brothers,” toting a late ‘60s psychedelic rock sample propped up by a simple and effective cowbell.  Sandman calls for a mental awakening for all of his brothers to realize their power, potential, and intelligence. With lines like “I wish the bulb atop your head would flicker,” Sandman dreams of an end to ignorance, vanity, and self-destruction seen in the African American community as well as in Hip Hop, making for a promising start to the record. Kool Herc is definitely a no-frills record, but in not in a bad way. The beats are mostly unobtrusive, allowing Sandman to shine, and though it takes a minute to get used to ... Read More »

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