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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 »

Busdriver: Perfect Hair [Album Review]

Before Danny Brown coined his cartoonish flow and inflection, before Open Mike Eagle spit off-timed raps over absurd instrumentals, and before Milo referenced Schopenhauer and Latin proverbs, there was Busdriver. One of rap’s most unsung “weirdo” heroes, Busdriver has been pushing rap’s boundaries more than most for over 15 years. As the co-head of L.A. based Hellfyre Club, he’s been an integral part of the art-rap movement of the past few years that’s blowing up the indie sphere in the most nonchalant way. Although his influence may not be apparent due to him never breaking through to the masses, his constantly forward thinking brand of Hip Hop has paved the way for many a left-field emcee. On his 8th official solo album, Perfect Hair, Busdriver once again takes his rightful place as rap’s eccentric professor. And as with most eccentrics, his brilliancy sometimes has to be found within his spurts of mania. Opening cut “Retirement Ode” sounds like a collage of multiple songs crammed into a tight three minutes and 19 seconds. He switches from explaining the monetary costs of the album in three different currencies to explaining to the listener “how sick [he’s] become.” The following track, “Bliss Point,” follows in the same direction with a disjointed beat filled to the brim with sounds that can’t possibly be within the confines of what we normally consider Hip Hop. A fair warning, these openers are meant for the diehard Busdriver fans or the most hardened art-rap stans. The lead single ... Read More »

Sadistik: Ultraviolet [Album Review]

I saw Sadistik for the first time a few weeks ago opening for Cage. As a Seattle artist, he’s not someone who makes it to my neck of the Northeast very often, if ever. He was sort of what I had always pictured him to be: a capable artist with a nimble tongue, but who relies pretty heavily on what sometimes feels like a forced, sentimental melancholy. This can take on various tones, some which are more successful than others. His early work with Kid Called Computer and his LP The Balancing Act were huge favorites of mine. He managed to do something that only a handful of rappers have done successfully – take me to a place where I felt emotional and empathetic in a very honest and beautiful way. Oddly enough, his more celebrated Flower’s For My Father did not sit as well with me. It had incredible beats from many of my favorite producers, great artists for its guest spots and two very close and personal deaths (that of his father as the title suggests, and that of his friend Michael “Eyedea”Larsen) to draw upon for material. However, perhaps due to having too much surrounding him, Sadistik’s flow seemed weak by comparison. It was against the backdrop of Flowers that Ultraviolet fell into the hands of this reviewer. By simply seeing the artwork and reading the press release, it was clear that this album was a departure. The first track is entitled “Cult Leader” and sets the tone ... 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
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)