Music Reviews

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.

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.

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