Music Reviews

Ams Uno – “The Day of Devotion!” – [Labeless Illtelligence Records]

Max Level   4/2/2006   CD, Hip Hop

Representing what looks like an active RI scene, emcee Ams Uno, out of Woonsocket RI, shows off a wide range of hip hop styles on this album, bringing equal parts spirituality, social consciousness, B-boy swagger, and goofing around (sing-songs, fairy tales, and movie clips). Soul and ragga sounds flavor the music in more than one place. The poetry is sharp and crazy no matter what, and the man’s emcee skills are beyond question. Homies DJ Orator, Missin Ellements, Esh, and Gibran support him with good raw beats and creative production. Orator does all the cuts and gets to showcase a bit on #20. A few of the tracks start and/or end with snippets of songs by other artists. #19 is nothing but a short slice of Disney’s ‘Jungle Book?. Maybe you’re already down with the Wooney brand of hip hop, but I wasn’t until now.

Ohmega Watts – “Find, the” – [Ubiquity]

Funkminsta Fulla   3/21/2006   CD, Hip Hop

This debut full length release from Portland’s Ohmega Watts hits ya with uplifting vibe, upbeat production and smooth lyrical flow. The album features fun, bouncy numbers and tracks of pure beauty featuring guest MCs and female vocalists such as Tiffany Simpson on “Your Love.” Production style is lush yet raw at times taking influence from older funk-infused hip-hop yielding a contemporary that is both urban and sophisticated. Grooves would fit well alongside label-mate Greyboy or Tru-Thought’s Quantic who remixed “That Sound” as featured on a 12″ of the single. Notably, there are no lulls in this album’s feel-good dynamic energy – even downtempo reflections like “Mind Power” keep moving. Lyrical flow has been compared to Jurassic 5, production to that of Aim, but the style is distinctively Ohmega.

Bottom line: best hip-hop album of 2005 (all tracks clean)


Jarel, Jneiro – “Three Piece Puzzle” – [Ropeadope]

Funkminsta Fulla   3/21/2006   CD, Hip Hop

Slick sounds that soothe from one smooth Philly cat and his crew… flows with nods to the Roots and hails to Tribe atop of downtempo grooves abound strung tight remind of label’s namesake. Trumpet + keys lend cool jazz feel a la Dig Planets throughout coupled with a pinch of disco de la Sol on “Jneireieireooo!!!!!” and sun infused samba jams (“Sun Walkers”) leaves your ears refreshsed and your love for smooth hip-hop well satisfied.

lang: 3, 6, 14


Dextah – “No Boundaries ” – [Earbugs]

Funkminsta Fulla   3/21/2006   CD, Hip Hop

Downtempo from South Bay local Dextah… beats so chill they veritably beck and call Kruder & Dorfmeister’s seminal K+D Sessions though these selections are well worth lending your ear to. Parts of the album do hint at the dark, leading you to wonder if “No Boundaries” hails from the haunted side of the tracks… lead laden beats not to be tempted nor tempered by lyrical tone. short but sweet, clean as a thizstle.


Kero One – “Windmills of the Soul ” – [Pluglabel]

Max Level   3/8/2006   12-inch, Hip Hop

Local MC/producer raps full of positivity over clean, jazzy backing tracks. Kero One’s lyrics are about moral choices and making the right decisions. He’s not preaching, it’s all told from a personal viewpoint: this is what happens to the young man and this is how he deals with it. What goes on every day in real life isn’t pimpin’ and big bankrolls- it’s going to school, working a job, staying positive, and making music that means something. No, it’s not glamorous in an MTV-video-full-of-half-naked-bitches-and-a-ton-of-bling way, but I bet you can relate to what he’s saying, and that’s all that matters. The beats are dope- not weird at all, just totally funky. Kero One plays real live instruments himself (bass, keyboards) and has a few guests on sax, guitar, keyboards, and vocals. Production help by DJ King Most. All tracks clean. Dig the message!

Third Sight – “Symbionese Liberation Album ” – [Disgruntled Records]

Max Level   2/26/2006   CD, Hip Hop

Local duo Third Sight comes up big on this new one. I don’t know about you, but Jihad the roughneck rapper has no problem leaving me behind in the dust scratching my head. He can be raw when he needs to be, then veer off into ironic absurdity at top speed, and then come skidding back into the parking lot like nothing happened. Speaking of scratching, D-Styles crafts one sick beat after another, and cuts in with sharp scratches of voices and god knows what else. As good as D-Styles is, the quality doesn’t drop off when guest DJ Ricci Rucker lays down a weird strung-out slow nod of a backing track on “The People vs The Fake”, Other highlights: “Run” is a dramatic assassination tale from the shooter’s point of view, Jihad hits the street to work over a human beatbox on “UCP”, and “Rip Mics In Half” shows off some serious skills from a handful of guest emcees.

Substance Abuse / Nebz – “Night on the Town ” – [Drive By Pimp Slap]

Max Level   2/9/2006   12-inch, Hip Hop

Side A: Substance Abuse and the legendary Kool Keith tell a tale of going out for a good time but never finding a place to land. Nice slow bumpin’ beat on this one as the guys try to figure out “where’s the party?”. Side B: A dark, tense beat backs up NEBZ and Eso Tre, and the music is perfect for their menacing flows. I can’t really tell what they’re on about, but it ain’t about a party, I do know that much. Simple, repetitive beats on both sides. No tricky DJ cutting/ scratching, all emphasis on the emcees. 3 out of the 4 names here are new to me and I like what I’m hearing.

Mezmer, Nate – “Kill the Precedent ” – [Mad Seven Records]

Max Level   1/29/2006   CD, Hip Hop

Passionate, literate MC out of Davis, CA, challenges the big picture. We all know Bush and Cheney have got to go; Nate’s all over that, seemingly gearing up to take them out himself. After that he’ll go after Clear Channel, and after that the FCC, both of whom get called out several times, as well they should. On a smaller scale, he disses local hiphop wasteland KMEL, and gives props to (I think) Kev at KZSU. We also get some better-than-average MC bragging on a couple of the tracks. Strong production and beats by TOMC3 (Dopestyle 1231), using some crazy B-library material (Jesus Christ Superstar, Iron Butterfly?) to spice up the music. Track 9 slips a bit; I don’t need quite so much information about his ex-girlfriend, and the Moody Blues sample kinda sinks it. But when Nate is all up in your face on the larger social issues, and bragging a bit about his verse abilities, he’s pretty hard to beat.

Reanimator – “Music to Slit Wrists By ” – [Litterthugz]

Max Level   1/26/2006   CD, Hip Hop

The Litterthugz crew out of the midwest (Doug Surreal, Bitch Ass Darius, DJ Device, Reanimator, and Kenny Kingston, to name just a few) scrounge and blenderize old soul/funk sounds, dub, straight-up hip hop, cool jazz, rock riffs, and the contents of your kitchen sink into some of the slyest, dirtiest grooves I’ve heard lately. Reanimator is a perfect name for this guy here, who totes a deeper crate than your average DJ and gives strange new life, over a beat, to music you’ve either never heard or you’ve forgotten about (Wendy Carlos? Jack Bruce? and that’s just for starters…). If you have a thing for well-assembled downtempo grooves, I suspect you’ll dig this CD, as I did. Mostly instrumental, but you may want to scout out the many dialog snippets ahead of time. All clean, too, unless I missed something.

Nine:Fifteen – “Spilt Milk ” – [Candle Wax Records]

Max Level   1/10/2006   12-inch, Hip Hop

Hip Hop fun here. DJ Blake9 puts together three bouncin’ tracks. On top, MC Comel flows in a loose, kinda goofy style. Track 1 has a jazzy vibe with piano, bass, and super-catchy trumpet lines. Track 2 is a funky cowbell-banger, and Track 3 is more laid back than the other two. Instrumental versions on Side B.

Turntables By the Bay [coll] – [Hip Hop Slam]

Max Level   1/8/2006   12-inch, Hip Hop

Your fave Bay Area turntable acrobats mess it up in all styles on this Hip Hop Slam compilation. Tracks recorded 1996-2001, mostly unavailable on vinyl until now. Good stuff: SJ’s Finger Bangerz crew get low and sexy, Invisibl Skratch Piklz show off their world-famous flash, Live Human combines live drums and bowed bass with DJ Quest’s beats/cuts, DJ Flare gets it going on top of a mellow groove bed, DJ Raw B mates with a human cellist? and so much more. Amazingly, there is language on the last track only. Homeboys must be getting clean in their old age.

Macromantics – “Four Facets/Conspiracy Remix ” – [Quaketrap]

Max Level   1/7/2006   7-inch, Hip Hop

Australian MC Romy Hoffman, aka Macromantics, delivers sharp-tongued, rapid-fire wordflow. I’m loving her Aussie accent, it’s a totally fresh sound in rap, but she’s no novelty act. Her rhymes are literate and tough, and seriously I’d put her up against anybody. Side A: the four elements of hip hop. Side B: urban violence. Unusual production by Quake Trap artists Shaggy Manatee (side A) and Yoko Solo (side B). This thing is dangerous.

Vast Aire – “Pegasus/Red Pill ” – [Chocolate Industries]

Max Level   1/7/2006   12-inch, Hip Hop

Vast Aire, Harlem’s finest MC, is the king of artful menace. No surprise that he’s cutting up rivals and posers, but check the weird sci-fi and culture bombs he drops while doing it. Side A, a solo by Vast, goes old school, looping 1975’s “Love To Love You Baby” groove. Side B has a modern electronic throb, and brings Vast and another MC named Karniege in equal measure. Big Vast is always stylish and worth checking out. No disappointment here.

Qwel & Jackson Jones – “Dark Day ” – [Galapagos 4]

Max Level   1/7/2006   CD, Hip Hop

Qwel from Chicago has got to be the illest emcee going; if there’s anyone digging deeper with words I’d like to know who it is. When this cat expresses something it’s not going to be less than like a hundred words long? rhyme after rhyme after rhyme coming at us in waves. True to the record’s title, this is a dark trip, an ongoing fable about people blindly worshipping at the Tower Of Babel while the people building it are wising up, asking questions, and losing hope. There’s music too: Jackson Jones makes beats so good I hardly notice they’re there, which in my mind is a high compliment. I mean anyone can put some loops together and hope an emcee can do something with it. But Jones’ work adds real force to the words without calling attention to itself. Flutes, guitars, bells, crunchy beats, explosions, basically you name it. Qwel is given inspired backing upon which to soar.

Olive Green – “Doo Bad Hustle, the ” – [Candle Wax Records]

Max Level   1/7/2006   7-inch, Hip Hop

This joint straddles the line between hiphop and rock. Side A has a sweet funky beat with nasty bass riffs and electric piano providing the bed, while Candle Wax main man DJ Blake 9 does some fine cutting on top. Sampled voices keep reminding us how funky this track is. Side B is more of a guitar-fueled rocker- a high-powered instrumental incorporating a few slices of movie dialog. DJ King Most does something or other on this track. If your taste falls firmly on one side or other of the hiphop/rock dichotomy, there’s something here for you. But I’m betting most people will dig both sides of this.

Cannibal Ox – “Cold Vein, the ” – [Definitive Jux]

Max Level   1/2/2006   12-inch, Hip Hop

Two poets from Harlem with angry, intelligent, beautiful word-ism. They craft serious urban epics with their deep story-telling. It’s so far beyond the cliches that pass for rap these days that it’s not even the same genre. El-P, ex-Company Flow, assembled the backing tracks, and they are perfect for what’s going on here. The beats are sick, hung over, lurching, with sliced-and-diced jazz riffs and sounds we have never heard before getting piled up thicker and thicker until they’re strong enough to support the weight of what the MCs are laying down. It’s the end of the rap world as we know it, and nobody feels fine.

NMS – Imperial Letters of Protection – [Ninja Tune/BigDada.com]

Hunter Gatherer   1/2/2006   CD, Hip Hop

NMS stands for Nephilim Modulation System and is comprised of Bigg Jus (formerly of Company Flow) and Orko Elohiem. This release, their second effort, was released 10/18/05 by Big Dada, an offshoot of Ninja Tune.

I was very excited when I picked this CD up from my mail slot saw the UFOs blasting peasants on the cover, the alien on the CD (judging from the height and nose, I believe it to be a Type B Grey), and the reference to Nephilim. Nephilim are a race mentioned in ancient texts thought to be either the offspring of fallen angels and human females (based on a loose reading of the Bible) or extraterrestrials (by wishful-thinking UFO buffs). Goliath and Gilgamesh were both Nephilim.

Then my heart sank as I opened the CD insert and realized that this is a Political CD with a capital P.

These guys believe that the White House was controlling the planes on 9/11, one of the most idiotic and dishonorable statements I’ve ever read. The rest of the writings on the insert read like a LiveJournal entry written by a college sophomore shortly after buying a book of Tom Tomorrow cartoons at Borders and reading it over a caramel Frappuccino at Starbucks.

The back story on these guys is that they moved from NYC to Georgia after 9/11 where they issue their abstract hip hop with the hope of raising the consciousness of the masses.

Listening to the CD it is clear that the musicality is secondary to the message that they want to get across, and the music suffers for it. The beats are angry and loud with tinges of metal or jazz. Samples from the news and other spoken sources are dropped in giving some songs a Negativland sort of effect. The rhymes are powerful but too far down in the mix for how fast they are rapping. The production is a little rough in parts, and it’s generally hard to make out more than half of what is being said with the exception of the occasional expletive.

The most interesting beats come toward the end of the CD on Seraphim Revolver (10) and Hold The Atmosphere (11).

What NMS spends 50 minutes trying to convey with their apocryphal, political rhymes, Stevie Wonder manages to say perfectly in just ten words: Sleepers keep on sleeping/’cause it won’t be too long.

Language: 2-5, 8-10, 13

Instrumentals: 7 (with vocal sample), 12 (careful: it tracks immediately into the MF word on 13)

–Hunter Gatherer

Edit 2/3/06: Corrected the band name and then checked myself.

Insomniac – “Polygonal Planet ” – [Soothsay]

Max Level   12/23/2005   CD, Hip Hop

This instantly recognizable MC probably does stay up all night writing his intense rap poetry, then he brings it hard and fast with a menacing deadpan delivery. The rhymes don’t exactly rhyme most of the time; Insomniac is more about alliteration and word association (…freakish zebra elitists steeped in sequins, keynote speakers…), and he’s a master of syncopating words and phrases over a beat. Check his unreal abilities on “Why Try It” for example. Reminds me of a fighter who jabs, jabs, jabs. In “I’m Serious” he puts on a wanna-be thug character, threatening to step up and take your chicken nuggets if he ever catches your sorry ass at McDonalds. The only thing I’d personally skip here is “T.P. Emergency” and its scatological detail; just not my kind of thing. Spex and Raggedy Andy make jazz/exotica flavored beats, and 5 different DJs cut up voices, etc for added color.

Life Before 40 [coll] – [Low Life Records]

Hunter Gatherer   12/18/2005   CD, Hip Hop

For their 40th release, the UK hip hop label Low Life Records decided to issue a retrospective of their previous 39 releases and title it Life Before 40. It is a double CD with the second CD containing the songs on CD 1 remixed by their resident DJ Kam. This was released 10/1/2005.

Braintax, the owner and life force of Low Life Records, is all over this compilation, rapping on 4 of the tracks and providing beats for 7 of them. He’s not from London, he doesn’t need an American accent to rap strong, and he wants you to know this.

Jehst stands out with his track (3) City of Industry, a rap about a post-industrial wasteland with a haunting violin sample. He also raps later on track 8 about the joys of having ‘money in the bank and sneakers on my feet,? a worthy goal for anyone to have achieved.

The label was started way back in 1992, and they are on their 40th release only now, 13 years later. That should give a good indication of their commitment to only releasing quality music.

Play any of these tracks (but watch the language if not in safe harbor) and enjoy the ride. This is an excellent summary of a very important independent hip hop label from the UK.

Language: CD1: 2,4,5,6,7,9,10,12; CD2: 2,3,5,8,9,10,11,12,13

Misogyny alert: CD1: 5; CD2: 10 ‘bitches’x1000

–Hunter Gatherer

Time Machine Tm Radio [coll] – [Glow in the Dark Records]

Hunter Gatherer   12/18/2005   CD, Hip Hop

Released in June 2005, this is a hip hop sampler from the Glow In The Dark label with the conceit that it is a radio show. The hosts are Washington DC’s Time Machine which is comprised of Mekalek, Jaysonic, and Comel. We added their 12″ EP Grime Machine earlier this year.

The CD has the feel of a mix tape, except the songs are back announced and there are features like a mini interview? with Celph Titled (introduced as the Rubix Cuban) before he goes into his (non-FCC compliant) rhymes. Another feature is a Mekalek Mixshow in which he mixes a few (non-FCC compliant) tracks together in tracks 10 through 14.

As a result, many of the tracks have an intro or outro that won’t make much sense if played along with the song because it will sound like someone is back announcing other songs. This happens on tracks 1, 5 (intro and outro), 8 (outro), 10 (intro), 13 (outro), 14 (intro),16 (outro), 19 (outro). It’s a shame that these weren’t marked off as separate CD tracks.

A good part of the charm of this CD is the way the music flows together. But even picking and choosing individual tracks will still yield some very worthwhile underground hip hop.

I think that Time Machine is cleared to start doing grave shifts.

19 is a particularly chill instrumental

Language: 4 ‘fuck,’ 11 ‘fuck’ ‘motherfucking? ‘fucking,? 15 ‘shit,? 16 ‘shit? ‘fuck,’ 17: ‘motherfuckers?

–Hunter Gatherer

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