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Author Archives: Shaka Shaw

Shaka Shaw is the editor-in-chief of Front-Free.com and a freelance entertainment journalist.

Stalley: Ohio [Album Review]

It would be an understatement to say that many fans of the onetime indie stalwart Stalley were surprised at his decision to sign with Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group. While he was no Talib Kweli, Stalley had a penchant for putting just the right amount of heart and intellect into his signature brand of “intelligent trunk music.” At the time, folks were simply unsure how Stalley’s thoughtful, blue-collar approach would blend with MMG’s roster of high-flash, low-substance artists. Pre-MMG tracks like “Address” (produced by Ski Beatz) and his pre-MMG mixtapes sold listeners a sound that was like nothing one would expect to hear from MMG’s stable of producers, known for crafting assembly-line beats that adhere to an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” formula. However, Stalley managed to prove the skeptics wrong with projects like Savage Journey to the American Dream as well as Honest Cowboy, both released through MMG and giving listeners a Stalley unlike what came before, but still not conforming to anything one would expect from the label. Unfortunately, the distinction between what an artist is allowed to do on a free mixtape vs. what an artist is allowed to do on a major label debut is all too clear on Ohio. While the title may lead you to think you’re about to hear a compelling narrative set to music about a place on the map that’s been under-represented in hip-hop to date, what you end up getting from Ohio is a tug of war between ... Read More »

Statik Selektah: What Goes Around [Album Review]

Relatively fresh on the heels of last year’s Extended Play, Statik Selektah gives us What Goes Around, which couldn’t have come along at a better time, ending a summer chock full of robotic-sounding experimental R&B and vapid raps with a little something that sticks to the ribs.  Between his solo LPs and his work with Termanology as the group 1982, Statik’s been dropping fairly consistent albums since 2009, but this most recent offering that shows us at this point growth in his craft as well as the payoff from maintaining a consistent work ethic, presence, and rapport with the artists he links with for projects. Those who would criticize What Goes Around for its length or number of guests probably don’t fondly recall the days when DJ Clue was running the mixtape circuit, let alone Funkmaster Flex‘s highly respected 60 Minutes of Funk series.  Without the blustering self-identification at every turn, Statik brings together some artists who make sense together (Sean Price and Rock on the aptly-titled “Heltah Selektah”) and others who come off as random groupings (Bun B alongside De La Soul’s Posdnuos on “God Knows”), while still strategically giving certain artists their own space to flourish.  For example, Boldy James lays some reflective bars down on “Something To Cry For”, which employs a soulful guitar that’s mournful without being a downer.  Though you might make the mistake of thinking you’re about to hear James reflecting and maybe feeling some regret for past deeds or losses on this song, ... Read More »

Cormega Talks Mega Philosophy, Working With Large Pro and How His Perspective Has Changed

Cormega’s new LP Mega Philosophy is in stores now and its clear ‘Mega has come a long way from his start as a young emcee on “Going Straight Up” from Hot Day’s 1989 album It’s My Turn (which is worth digging up). From his incarceration and label issues to his highly-publicized industry beefs which the media still tries to play up in interviews, Cormega is an emcee who has always persevered and made his own way, giving Hip Hop his best every time he’s in the recording booth. He’s not a man who takes his rhymes lightly, as he once declared on 2009’s “Make It Clear,” a DJ Premier-produced cut from his Born And Raised album. His latest LP finds him working exclusively with longtime collaborator Large Professor. On Mega Philosophy, Cormega presents himself as an artist ready to be judged on his own merit, not by his past associations or an expectation that he sound like what he was creating back in the 90s. Though a listen to the album itself will provide a lot of insight for fans wondering where ‘Mega’s head is at currently, I got the opportunity to build with Cormega and expand on the new project, his legacy and how he’s grown as a man and as an artist. You worked exclusively with Large Professor on Mega Philosophy while Born And Raised had a number of different producers on the boards. How do you think working with one veteran producer affected the sound of the ... Read More »

Skyzoo & Torae: Barrel Brothers [Album Review]

The spirit of competition will always go down as something that seems to have been lost in the sauce when it comes to Hip Hop in the Internet age. In an era where eating off of rap is becoming more and more difficult, sharing the marquee with another artist isn’t always the most appetizing option on the table. It’s when two emcees disregard all of that and go in together on a project that Hip Hop fans should take note and see that the art can sometimes supersede the business and egos. That being said, Barrel Brothers has been a long time coming. After years of moving within the same New York rap circles and collaborating on records here and there, Skyzoo and Torae finally linked up for the oft-promised collaborative project. The similarities between the two Brooklyn emcees run deep; both have healthy discographies of very solid projects that exhibit a great ear for production (managing to enlist the likes of DJ Premier, 9th Wonder, Marco Polo and J Dilla on various projects) and an unwillingness to compromise on lyricism while still keeping the music fun and innovative. Barrel Brothers is the pudding you’ll find the proof in. Skyzoo said on the A Dream Deferred project that Spike Lee was his hero and he’s definitely brought that onto the sound of this album as well with production that infuses a heavy jazz influence, from the lonely horn on “Intro” to the triumphant horns and plodding percussion on “Memorabilia.” For ... Read More »

Onyx: Wakedafucup [Album Review]

It’s pretty hard to believe that after all this time, Onyx is still angry. It’s especially difficult to believe the threats and rage are coming from Fredro Starr aka the guy who played “Q” on TV’s Moesha or his cousin Sticky Fingaz, who you might remember from either FX’s Blade series or movies like the abysmal House of the Dead II: Dead Aim. These will be the reservations you will hear from people before going into giving this a spin. However, lest we forget, this is also the same Sticky Fingaz who shot up the Source Awards in 1994 during a performance. We also can’t expect these gentlemen to still be running around and stealing chains in 2014; just write great songs about it. Regardless of what you go into a 2014 Onyx album expecting, there’s a niche that Onyx worked very hard to establish that they can’t legitimately stray away from with regard to the music. On Wakedafucup, Onyx links up with Germany-based production team Snowgoons, who have also worked with the likes of M.O.P. and La Coka Nostra on equally grimy projects in the vein of what some would categorize as “NY nostalgia.” For an album featuring production from only one team, the beats come together in a way that is cohesive without sounding repetitive, conjuring a gritty sound without using the same elements to produce it every time. “Whut Whut” is the first full song after the intro and gives listeners the feeling that they’re about to ... Read More »

Top 10 Albums of 2014
Top 10 Mixtapes/Free Albums of 2014
Top 10 Slept-On Albums of 2014
Top 10 EPs of 2014
Albums / Mixtapes Instrumentals New Singles Sponsored Releases
Ben Boogz (of 2 Hungry Bros): Soleil (feat. DJ M-Tri)
MarQ Spekt & Blockhead: Devil’s Island Storyteller (feat. Sadat X)
RIZSELFMADE: Dat Made Life
Hassaan Mackey & Kev Brown: That Grit [EP Review]
Big K.R.I.T: Cadillactica [Album Review]
Black Milk: If There’s A Hell Below [Album Review]
Stalley: Ohio [Album Review]
Ras Kass Talks Blasphemy LP, Working with Apollo Brown and Longevity in Rap
D.S. Interview At 90.5 FM [Video]
Artist Spotlight: RF3RD
Otis Brown III Talks The Thought of You, Jazz & Hip Hop’s Symbiosis and Donald Byrd
RIZSELFMADE: Dat Made Life
Lazarus: Open Heart Surgery (feat. Bizarre of D12)
Clay James: Kool Water Intro (Music Video)
Git x 1Mt: Lifestyle of an Artist
actress
British Producer Actress Embarks on Short Tour – Win Tickets!
Paid Dues
Win Passes to see Lil Wayne, Ab-Soul and more at Paid Dues Fest in Los Angeles!
Microphone Check 1-2, 1-2
Donwill: Bad With Names Episode 8: 2014 Wrap Up (feat Von Pea)