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Album Reviews

Hassaan Mackey & Kev Brown: That Grit [EP Review]

“Dope beats, dope rhymes, what more do y’all want?” Phonte emphatically asked this at the end of “Not Enough” from Little Brother’s 2005 sophomore LP The Minstrel Show. Kev Brown and Hassaan Mackey imply the same notion with every beat and syllable spoken on That Grit. Kev Brown provides the dope beats and Hassaan Mackey, the dope rhymes, and the listener couldn’t possibly want more! That Grit is a 9-track EP showcasing Mackey’s gritty grammar, touching on all aspects of life in the city, and Brown’s beautifully blemished samples chopped and married to perfect drum patterns and bass lines. Listening to That Grit feels like falling in love with Hip Hop all over again. The EP opens with a behind the scenes look at Mackey rapping, connecting the listener to the music on a very tangible level – anyone who has ever freestyled/rapped (or tried to) with friends huddled up around an instrumental is sure to visualize the setting here, where Mackey is rapping with Brown listening and adlibbing. The duo then jumps right into the aforementioned formula, sharing the beauty and simplicity of excellent beat making and stream of consciousness rapping. On top of the goodness the duo presents, the features (such as Kenn Starr, yU and Grap Luva) are ridiculous wordsmiths, only helping to solidify just how ill this EP is. That Grit is a nearly perfect EP, offering what every Hip Hop head wants: dope beats and dope rhymes. It seems that Kev Brown and Hassaan Mackey ... Read More »

Big K.R.I.T: Cadillactica [Album Review]

Big K.R.I.T. is built on the strength of his mixtapes, and he’s released a great deal of music. Yet Cadillactica is only his second retail album, coming after his 2012 debut Live from the Underground and 2013’s excellent mixtape King Remembered in Time. Earlier this year, listeners got an idea of what to expect from the “Week of K.R.I.T.” series, although only one of those six songs made it to the album. So hop in your terrible used car or turn on your expensive Bluetooth headphones and let’s see what’s cooking in Mississippi. From the drop, K.R.I.T. seems to be concerned with creativity in Hip Hop, particularly his own. He’s chanting “How Bout Let’s Be Perfect” over a syncopated drum pattern that makes K.R.I.T. sound a little off-beat, like he can’t hear the music in his headphones. The first two tracks serve as a reintroduction of all of K.R.I.T.’s production trademarks: synths, occasional blues guitar, traditional southern 808s. On “Life,” he’s shouting a proclamation to make good. The song features a very loud chorus, but everything else seems to be filler for the purpose of making the loud elements that much louder. Speaking of volume, the third iteration of “My Sub” is all about the “big bang” of the 808 bass kicks, because people “can’t twerk to the hi-hat.” No arguments here. There isn’t much to hear though until the guitars come back and the ode to the sublime wonder of the subwoofer culminates. The title track to the album ... Read More »

Black Milk: If There’s A Hell Below [Album Review]

I’ve written about Black Milk a few times before. I jump at the chance to review any album featuring his production. He’s one of the great Hip Hop talents to emerge from Detroit in the last decade. No Poison, No Paradise was released one year ago, and If There’s A Hell Below offers a good chance to see what kind of musical development Curtis Cross has undergone in the span of a calendar year. (This is the part where you listen to the album) Black Milk has always had a knack for creating outstanding beats. He’s never been great as a rapper, though. He’s been good, even hella good, but never great. His first verse on the album is the most polished I’ve heard him. I had to double-check the tracklist to make sure it wasn’t a guest. Man, if this guy ever raps this way over an entire album, I will need to look no further to soundtrack for my funeral. “What It’s Worth” was the first track released from the album and it was an indicator that Black Milk has some challenges preoccupying his mind. He raps about keeping his mom out of the trap and about making his city proud through rap, themes that are noble and tired. I think the album title is a nod to Curtis Mayfield, but I could be wrong. It sure sounds like Mayfield at the end of “What It’s Worth.” The organ and horns that introduce “Leaves the Bones Behind” cede ... Read More »

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 »

Vince Staples: Hell Can Wait [Album Review]

For a long time, rappers have taken their anger and almost turned it on its head. Emcees like DMX and Mystikal took their energy and fury and made it into some of the most entertaining venting music’s ever seen; shouting, screaming and even barking so aggressively you can almost feel their saliva on your face. Long Beach spitter and Odd Future associate Vince Staples takes the funny man act and devilishly warps it. He’s sure as hell angry, but on his EP Hell Can Wait, there’s no humor anywhere to be found. A short mission statement clocking in at just 7 tracks long, Hell Can Wait lets you know exactly who Staples is and what he stands for. He’s a young black man, exasperated by the way society is treating him and his community. One of the more fiercely political projects to drop in recent memory, Vince snarls through every track, barely letting up. Although not pointing any fingers directly at any specific small towns in Missouri, he references police brutality and the plight of the far too large portion of Americans that are subjected to oppression of corrupt law. “Raidin’ homes without a warrant/Shoot him first without a warning/And they expect respect and non-violence/I refuse the right to be silent” Staples raps on the second single “Hands Up” with enough conviction to start a riot. Elsewhere on certified banger “Blue Suede,” he forces you to remember that, amid all the gang warfare and cruelties of the ghetto surrounding him, ... Read More »

The Black Opera: The Great Year [Album Review]

“Are you ready to die for what you believe in / I’m ready to die for what I believe in.” The chant at the end of “God Speed,” the second track on The Black Opera’s latest offering, The Great Year, is eerily empowering and actually believable. Conviction is a characteristic that is not highly regarded as essential in today’s musical landscape, but The Black Opera keeps conviction at the forefront, embedding each track with socially pointed and spiritually minded lyricism that certainly builds a case for such a powerful mantra. The tone of The Great Year is primarily serious, but somehow the listener is able to take it all in without feeling he or she is being preached to, perhaps the conviction with which the duo shares their message is the key to keeping it palatable. There is no doubt that the vehicles the lyrics travel on, provided by a wide range of eclectic producers, create an auditory ambiance conducive to openness, which also makes the message more acceptable and accessible. Lastly, Black Opera’s subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, use of satire introduces just enough comedy to help us to laugh at the ridiculousness found in American society without becoming depressed. Each time I listened to the album, I couldn’t help but think that The Black Opera is a carrying on the essence of Black Star. I kept thinking to myself, “If Yasiin and Talib started a label, The Black Opera would be the first act to be signed.” ... Read More »

Dilated Peoples: Directors Of Photography [Album Review]

Dilated Peoples has been a staple in Hip Hop since before I even had a pair of headphones. However, once I truly got to delve into Hip Hop, Dilated as a group seemed to disappear. We saw Evidence drop a number of solo albums and solidified his name as the best emcee/producers in the game; soon after, Rakaa dropped his debut album; and DJ Babu continued his Duck Season series while producing for the likes of Defari, Evidence, LMNO and more. Evidence did many interviews hinting at a new Dilated Peoples album the past few years and now, in 2014, Directors of Photography is a reality. I’ll start this off by saying Dilated picked up right where they left off. Their past projects and the eight year gap between Directors of Photography and their last LP has led to this. New relationships created in that time frame are seen on this album with production from 9th Wonder, vocal help from Vince Staples and the album being released through Rhymesayers. The album starts off with an intro and “Directions” where the crew reintroduces themselves, reminding the listener that they’re back. Lyrically, Dilated does what they’ve always done, using wordplay and personal anecdotes to get their point across. Evidence, coming off of his Step Brothers project with Alchemist, continues to elevate his game on the mic. The chemistry that Ev and Rakaa have keeps the record interesting as it’s beyond clear that these two have mastered their style over the years they’ve ... Read More »

Diamond District: March On Washington [Album Review]

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 »

Bishop Nehru & MF DOOM: NehruvianDOOM [Album Review]

MF DOOM is 43 and Bishop Nehru, at 18, isn’t even half his age. When that clicked for me, I wondered if this would be a weird parody of a father-son relationship. DOOM is certainly out-there enough for that to occur. According to an interview with Exclaim, Nehru said that DOOM only removes his mask to sleep. It’s a coup for Nehru to get the DOOM co-sign. I’ve cheated by listening to NehruvianDOOM first, and I’m going to use that privilege to tell you to listen to the entire album. It’s back-loaded and there are some weak tracks at the start that may make you want to flip it off. The project starts with cobbled together vocal clips over a lilting sort of beat, a not-too-spooky intro that calls back to MM…FOOD. I was surprised to hear DOOM rapping, even if it was just on the hook. With the sequel to Madvillainy en route to Detox status, I didn’t think DOOM was doing anything besides studying occult tapestries with ex-communicated Tibetan monks. Shows what I know. Nehru, on the other hand, will probably develop a fake rivalry with Joey Bada$$ sooner or later as they sound somewhat alike. On “Mean the Most,” Nehru busts out a “Girl I wanna be your man” sound over a trumpet-centric beat that sounds just a little sharp or otherwise off-key. It wasn’t something I wanted to hear again. “So Alone” follows immediately. The janky, hollow beat and Nehru’s questionable singing (i.e. poor man’s Slick ... Read More »

G-Unit: The Beauty Of Independence [EP Review]

G-Unit was full of surprises this past summer. After reuniting on stage at Hot 97’s Summer Jam, 50 Cent, Lloyd Banks, Tony Yayo, Young Buck and new member Kidd Kidd quickly began releasing new music together. The Beauty of Independence is the group’s first official offering since their fallout in 2008. While they announced plans for a new project, it was unknown as to when it would actually drop. As the anticipation steadily grew, the group quietly released the EP via digital outlets on August 24th. Putting years of animosity aside, The Beauty of Independence is a true depiction of the cohesiveness the group has finally seemed to master. Despite The Game’s absence, the core of G-Unit never lost grip on their ability to rap fluidly as, well, a unit. Even newbie Kidd Kidd effortlessly rhymes over the bass-and-kick heavy production with a certain level of comfort. The EP opens up with “Watch Me” as all members aggressively rap and proclaim their return: “G-Unit in the house!” It’s the perfect opening track that asserts the group’s reunion is no fluke. Carrying over the same attitude into the next track, “I Don’t Fuck With You” is pretty self-explanatory. Each member plays off each other’s audacious lyrics as 50 Cent rallies the pack on the hook. “Digital Scale” finds the group rapping about illegal activities as a means of hustling – classic G-Unit grittiness. The bold production infiltrates into the next song on the EP, “Dead A Pussy Nigga.” Lloyd Banks shines on this track, showcasing ... 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)
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
Lazarus: Open Heart Surgery (feat. Bizarre of D12)
Clay James: Kool Water Intro (Music Video)
Git x 1Mt: Lifestyle of an Artist
Microphone Check 1-2, 1-2
Donwill: Bad With Names Episode 8: 2014 Wrap Up (feat Von Pea)
Donwill: Bad With Names Episode 7: The Fun of Feminism (ft. Tatyana Fazlalizadeh)
Donwill: Bad With Names Episode 6: The Honor Roll (ft. Mike Baker & Tap 10)