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Music Reviews

Robust – “El Foto Grande ” – [GALAPAGOS4]

Max Level   9/30/2007   CD, Hip Hop

Coming on strong from Chicago, Robust is a down to earth emcee who knows what he???s all about: says he???s dope and knows he’s all set to blow up big once the people and the record companies get tired of the mediocre rappers dominating the scene. His style is raw and he sticks to what he knows: raps about rapping, making it in the music business, love, and loyalty. Strong rhymes with feelings behind them. Production by Mike Gao and Nick Sena is good in a sneaky way; simple drum beats with keyboards, guitars, and other musical touches at just the right times. 16 is sort of an instrumental with repeating female vocals but no rhyming. Mestizo adds a few rhymes to 12.

Heavy, The – “That Kind of Man / Coleen ” – [Counter Records]

Max Level   9/15/2007   CD, Hip Hop

This UK band uses soulful grooves, big fat arrangements, and falsetto vocals to create their very distinctive sound: some Curtis Mayfield or maybe Eddie Kendrick-flavored vocals, some loud blues-rock a’ la Led Zep, and sometimes a loop-style hip hop sensibility. Tracks 1 and 2 are big and bad. Track 3 is a laid-back Al Green/ Memphis kind of thing. Don’t even try to pretend these guys aren’t heavy because oh yes they are; drive around with this sucker in the CD player, volume way up and the windows down, and you tell me. Tracks 1 and 2 serve as advance warning of The Heavy’s forthcoming full-length, which is looking to be a straight-up burner, and Track 3 is from a 7″.

DJ Alibi – “One Day ” – [Tres Records]

Max Level   9/3/2007   CD, Hip Hop

Very impressive full-length debut from this Toronto DJ /producer (aka Mikhail Galkin, born in Russia). Hard to believe he’s only about 21 years old, considering his grasp of so many musical styles and the sophistication of his production. The music fuses hip hop with funk, jazz, rock, bossa nova, exotica… Nothing too down and dirty; the vibe is very musical and stays sort of party-like throughout. Alibi plays guitar, bass, and keyboards to enhance the sound where needed. He names DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist–both identified with hip hop, yet both have branched out brilliantly to include other styles–as inspirations, so you know Alibi is on the right track. Looks like a bright future for this young DJ.

Breakdown – “Social Studies ” – [Saving Grace Records]

Max Level   8/5/2007   CD, Hip Hop

This talented MC from Tampa FL isn’t afraid to get personal; many of the lyrics focus on his difficulties and family issues, letting you know how he got where he is. The bragging is a bit more toned-down than we hear from other emcees; Breakdown comes right out and says no way he’s the best or the illest but he’s got something to say so pay attention. Cool attitude. All of the backgrounds and beats are strong. A handful of producers pitch in, and it’s all good; there’s nothing that doesn’t fit just right with the flow. On #4, he checks out the talent at the local club and there’s a happy ending.
Track #16 is unlisted. It’s about 4 minutes of silence followed by 3 minutes of human beat-boxing.

Move.meant – “Scope of Things, The ” – [Wax Paper Records]

loun   6/6/2007   CD, Hip Hop

Listen up, yo! Listen up, yo! Listen up, yo!

What could three college educated twentysomethings have to add to the world of hip hop? Truth be told, not a thing. That’s the good news, if you dare to believe. It’s what they’ve taken from hip hop that matters. Hip hop, along with its amoral siamese twin, rap, has a well known and long history of soaring on (breathe) higher ideals only to come crashing to earth in a blaze of bling and bad living. Move.meant doesn’t care. They’ve seen the top of the mountain, and they’re determined to live there, so they keep their eyes (breathe) higher and their lyrics follow. They don’t berate, separate, or dissociate, no, they abate the hate and create love for their planetmates. While the beats are creative and grooving (breathe) higher, despite being a bit on the safe side, and the DJ’s accents are likewise, the vox makes Move.meant well worth the play. The flow is smooth, thick, and deep, with rhyming and vocabulary worthy of the best rappers. The (breathe) higher education shows its value here. But it’s the message that ices this thick marble cake, with righteous themes from the tragedy of poverty and the difficulty of having healthy relationships, to the awakening of the need to aspire (breathe) higher.

Hip hop’s definitely got a future, but now it looks just a little brighter. Pick a track (no losers), lay it down, and lift your spirits (breathe) higher.

Cap D – “Return of The Renegade ” – [All Natural,Inc.]

Max Level   6/3/2007   CD, Hip Hop

The deep, varied Chicago hip hop sound is all over this. MC/producer Cap D (All Natural) is on top of his game with intelligent lyrics and forceful delivery, dropping serious urban raps over a wide range of beat styles. Guest vocals by One Be Lo, Ali, Iomos Marad, Rhymefest, Cuttness Tone, and Majestik Legend. The production is an unpredictable array of sampled records and fresh studio beats. It could be a bit more focused sonically though; over the course of thirteen tracks, six different producers check in and maybe that’s a couple too many. But when it works it works: #7 has the tension of a midnight street fight about to happen and #8 has perfect production by J Rawls that doesn’t overwhelm the lyrics. Dialogue clips from martial arts and gangster movies add flavor to some of the tracks.

High Priest – “Born Identity ” – [Sound Ink]

Max Level   4/28/2007   CD, Hip Hop

Emcee/producer High Priest (ex-Antipop Consortium) drops a version of hip hop that sounds like it was run through a carnival funhouse mirror before we ever got to hear it. But this is no funhouse; not only is it serious -and I do mean serious- it’s seriously weird. Priest delivers an uneasy, paranoid style of rhyming/ talking, bringing a lot of what seems to be futuristic, government-conspiracy subject matter. Are his lyrics good? Hell, I don’t know– what I like is how the voices are used as just one element in Priest’s dense, crazy scheme of things. The music often sounds like he took a half dozen unrelated records, got some but not all of them synchronized on the beat, and then played them all at the same time. Yeah, it’s good like that; this CD might be setting the new standard for illness in hip hop production/beatmaking. One high point is the mutant loop of cranked-up Afro-jazz on #14.

Om: Hip Hop, Volume One [coll] – [Om Records]

Max Level   2/27/2007   CD, Hip Hop

The Om label, with a history of fine collections, such as those Deep/Deeper Concentration LPs, comes up big in 2007 with this batch of tracks. Many diverse styles, influenced by R&B, reggae, dub, Latin funk, disco, and a few other things, are heard here. Every one of the tracks has something strong going on, whether it’s good production and beats, impressive lyrical flow, vocal harmonies, etc. as well as real creativity and some elements that are, well, just a bit weird. And that last one is the real secret, I think; these artists give you some of the hip hop sounds you expect and they also hit you with things you don’t. Some familiar names pitch in: Erykah Badu guests on one of the tracks by Strange Fruit Project, and the track by E Da Boss features Gift Of Gab and Lateef the Truth Speaker. I can’t really get with the lyrics on the two tracks by The One, just because of his ideas and the way he expresses them, though I do kind of admire the slow dirge feel and clunky beats on his tracks. #9 is an apology to women for the inconsiderate way men treat them. Everything here is worth a listen, and, as any good collection should, this set makes me want to explore most of these artists further.

Busdriver – “RoadKillOvercoat ” – [Epitaph Records]

loun   1/24/2007   CD, Hip Hop

Busdriver returns with 12 tracks of vibrant hip hop goodness, including the recently added “Kill Your Employer”. Busdriver lists John Hendricks of the jazz group Lambert, Hendricks & Ross as his primary influence, and it becomes clear as the songs carry a rhyming and rhythmic complexity far beyond that of the average hip hop release. The songs have plenty of variance in their styling, and they’re all good stuff. Primary targets are the government and the music industry, but Busdriver spreads his attention around, even to himself. the focus is more on the flow than the invectives, and he delivers fast, precise rhymes of intricate rhythms, including a weave through Yes’ “I Get Up, I Get Down”, in which the new lyrics intertwine with the old. The music is more upbeat song than typical hip hop beat, so this record should have appeal even to those who ordinarily eschew hip hop titles. This is an endearing and infectious release that gets better with each listen. The tracks have all been pre-cleaned, except for track 2, which still has “shitfaced” audible. Highly recommended.

Qwel & Meaty Ogre – “Freezer Burner ” – [GALAPAGOS4]

Max Level   10/29/2006   CD, Hip Hop

Qwel the emcee has a lot to say and always says a lot. He’s an emotional dude who sounds like he means what he says, and his literate lyrical flows bring hip hop to some interesting new places. Producer/beatmaker Meaty Ogre is a solid collaborator, bringing mostly rock beats heavy on guitars, many of them of them way fuzzed out. The music and production are right there with the lyrics, offering some different ideas about what works behind an emcee. Somehow the midwest sensibility behind this comes out. Gotta say ‘I’m not crazy about Qwel’s singing on #6, but the song has a wicked rap in the middle, so it’s not like it hasn’t got anything. #8 is a short instrumental. If you’re looking for new sounds in hip hop, check out this intelligent, down to earth album.

Human Element : The World’s First Human Beatbox Compilation [coll] – [108 Records]

Thurston Hunger   10/26/2006   CD, Hip Hop

Here’s a spit-kickin’ collection that’ll put a smile on your
ears. Beatbox is probably a lot older than drum machines,
but when it was too expensive to drop some cash for some
turntables, folks like the Fat Boys, Doug E. Fresh, Rahzel
and Kenny Muhammad just dropped their jaws instead. With
cymbals in their cheeks, snares on their tongues and a
gigantic bass drum stuffed in there somewhere, beatboxers
are more than half-man/half-machine, they’re cartoons and
comics and the lips that can sink ships. Stetsasonic and
Scratch of the Roots get things spinning, but I definitely
dug with Kmillion(#3) , B-Shorty(#6), and DOA (#8). Always
cool to catch QBert, who duels the drool out of B-Shorty
on #10. Field trips include a weird visit to southern fried
boogie rock from Kris Jung, and a rasta-muffin-huffin’
conclusion from Boxx. Looks like the project was run by
Fedahi, who run their mouths and game on #12 and cry out
“all the chicken heads in the house scream ‘Bawk’.” Is it a
coup or a coop? Click the Supah Latin enrolls an old school
with some new kids on the box; from their mouths to God’s
mix tape. Just plain fun all around.

-Thurston Hunger

Ammoncontact “With Voices” [Ninja Tune Records]

Mr. Lucky   9/6/2006   CD, Hip Hop

“With Voices” dances on the lines that converge between the genres of hiphop, jazz, world, and electronic music. Carlos Nino and Fabian Ammon make music that penetrates the listener with emotion, combining the necessary elements to stimulate the mind and body accordingly. We hear percussion & programming, synths & strings, singing & rapping, all woven together to create something organic yet simultaneously electronic. The list of collaborators is impressive: Prince Po, Yusef Lateef, Cut Chemist, Mia Doi Todd, Lil Sci, and Sach among others. Each guest brings an element to add to the recipe that Ammoncontact created, usually done subtly enough that you might not notice. But Nino and Ammon have the pots on and are cooking some goods for your musical palatte. There’s something here for everyone tastes. -Mr. Lucky

Oh No “Exodus Into Unheard Rhythms” [Stones Throw Records]

Mr. Lucky   9/6/2006   CD, Hip Hop

Oh No has crafted an album where all of the source material for the beats has been sampled from the catalogue of composer Galt MacDermot. MacDermot is best known for his work in the late 60’s-70’s, most notably his contributions to the writing of the musical “Hair”. After the success of “Hair” MacDermot went on to start a label Kilmarnock Records, continuing to create music that had the theatrical components of a broadway show mixed with the groove of R’n’B & Funk. “Exodus…” contains much of that same crossbreed of theatrics & groove. Oh No cut & pastes a range of sounds that are unique to the ear of the average HipHop listener. True his style owes some of it’s flair to his older brother Madlib & his sometime collaborator J Dilla, but Oh No still puts his own stamp on the production. A number of MC’s contribute to the album, all of whom put forth very solid efforts and truly help color this project with their rhymeschemes and subject matter. Excellent effort all around. -Mr. Lucky

Prince Po “Holla B/W Mechetti Lightspeed” [Traffic Entertainment Group]

Mr. Lucky   8/16/2006   12-inch, Hip Hop

Since ending his collaboration with Pharoah Monch as Organized Konfusion the Prince has bounced around from cameo appearances to “The Slickness”, an album that recieved much-critical/little-commercial attention. Now he is greasing us up for his next full length with “Holla”- a self produced boom bap track under Po’s dancing words. The flipside is a Madlib produced killer “Mechetti Lightspeed”. While “Holla” is a good stand alone track, Madlib’s production brings a bit more of a funky flavor that gets Prince Po wide open. Both solid tracks from a re-emerging rap vet. Keep your ears open for what comes next. -Mr. Lucky

KRS One “Life” [Antagonist Records]

Mr. Lucky   8/16/2006   Hip Hop

Knowledge Reigns Supreme aka KRS-1 aka The Blastmaster aka Lawrence Parker. All are names synonymous with HipHop at it’s purest form. “Life” is an excellent album that reveals the next phase in the rapper’s shining career. Initially I was not that impressed by the album because the first couple of songs weren’t what I was used to hearing from the rapper. “Bling Blung” is a scorching rebuttal to the material rap that oozes out of the radio these days, but the rhyme scheme was so simple and ridiculous that the message was lost to me. The Middle Eastern bump on “The Way We Live” is very tasty but once again KRS-1’s lyrics fall short. Luckily as the album progresses the songs get much better. The Jamaica-inspired “Mr. Percy”, the strings & things coupled with KRS’s lyrical gait on “Freedom”, the distorted-harmonic-rock-approaching drum&bass of “Gimme Da Gun”, etc. Nearly all the songs later on in the album are KRS in his classic form: lyrical titan blasting your eardum. Even the brief Interludes are compelling. The success of this album is due in big part to the production of The Resistance (Dax Reynosa & Dert). They really bring an element to this album that seems to rejuvenate the elder rap statesman. The beats are diverse and rock your head as hard they they rock the crowd. The album culminates in the autobiographical “My Life” where KRS looks back on the life that led him here. -Mr. Lucky

Collective Efforts – “Medicine ” – [Arcthefinger Records]

Max Level   7/19/2006   CD, Hip Hop

Positive, soulful raps and beats from this Atlanta GA collective. Quite a bit of singing too, with smooth vocal harmonies, in addition to the raps. Everyone in the CE crew shares production duties, they add some live instruments, and invite a few guest emcees, DJs, and producers. #12 has a tense vibe, other than that it’s pretty smooth sailing with uplifting lyrics and good wordplay on top of soul-flavored beds. A very well put-together record and a sound you can’t help liking.

Typical Cats – “Civil Service ” – [GALAPAGOS4]

Max Level   7/1/2006   CD, Hip Hop

Chicago’s TC crew bring social commentary, sly observations, and a bit of bragging in their raps. As with all the good crews, each emcee has a different strength, and they each have room to shine. Qwel is brash and excitable, Denizen Kane is cool and observant, and Qwazaar flows somewhere in between. Put them together and a strong team of lyricists emerges. DJ Natural kicks in solid soul-jazz-funk-inflected beats, and there are a few live instruments (guitar, keys, and bass) in the mix for added flavor. The bass, especially, ups the funk factor where it appears. Kid Knish provides scratch action. Early on, ‘Easy ‘Cause It Is? stands out as a major banger, and the CD ends on a high note with ‘Before Before?, featuring a deep groove and possibly the record’s best vocals from the three Cats.

People Under The Stairs – “Stepfather ” – [Basement Records]

Max Level   5/16/2006   CD, Hip Hop

Super-fresh beats and lyrics from San Pedro rap duo. Thes One and Double K do it all, including beats/production/scratches, a few live instruments, and they bring some serious mic talent. You want raps about rockin’ the party, getting high, and pretty ladies? Here they are. You want old school legends? P.U.T.S. name-check Biz Markie, Donny Hathaway, Billie Holiday, and many more. They’re also ill enough to mention Donald Duck and Earl Scheib, and then go out for waffles. Nutty dialog snips and obscure pop music samples are sprinkled throughout these tracks. Thes One says it’s “off the chain like a chandelier” and I agree. My fave tracks: “Pumpin” is just that; like your head feels if you chug a few Rockstar drinks. “You” manages to be honest and sweet and in your face all at the same time. Sounds to me like hip hop is in good hands.

Cut Chemist – “Garden b/w Storm, The ” – [Warner Bros.]

Max Level   4/30/2006   12-inch, Hip Hop

Two very different flavors here. Side A: a smooth Brazilian-flavored track, featuring traditional instruments (berimbau, drums, whistles, etc) and a little bit of scratching to give it some extra spice. The track gradually develops a big thumping beat and keeps that going until the end. Portuguese vocals by Astrud Gilberto on this one. Pretty sweet. Side B: raps by Edan and Mr. Lif over a crunchy disco beat and various sample, turntable, and electronic effects. While I usually dig DJ Cut Chemist’s beats and production, this particular track doesn’t do much for me. Side A is my pick.

Mekalek – “With Percee P and Fedd Hill ” – [Glow in the Dark Records]

Max Level   4/11/2006   12-inch, Hip Hop

Two tracks from the upcoming full-length by producer/beatmaster Mekalek of Time Machine. On the P side, Rhyme Inspector Percee P (NY) hits hard with his aggressive, rhythmic, rhyming style. Mekalek’s beat is big and busy, full of keyboards and percussion, but doesn’t overpower Percee’s delivery. As if anything could. On the F side, the Fedd Hill crew (RI) shows us what time it is, in the cover photo and on their group track. Mekalek sets up a simple, moody beat giving Pone, Jahpan, and Trens lots of room for their perceptive, socially-conscious lyrics. All the pieces fit perfectly on this strong track. Track 4 on the P side is untitled and sounds like a messin’ around, behind-the-scenes thing. Track 4 on the F side is a megamix appetizer of tracks from Mekalek’s ‘Live and Learn? record, scheduled to drop on us around May or so. The mixtrack is fun to hear but probably not good for radio, being many short snippets kind of glued together.

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