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It's August, summer has reached its latter half, and Glaciers has got a whole lot of music to cover this month. Let's get right into it.
Glaciers' Album of the Month for August was immediately apparent upon the first listen to Big Shug's Streetchamp (Babygrande). The only thing here is that while the first half of Shug's sophomore set contains banger after banger, the second half sags, resulting in a record that's frontloaded with its best material. Fortunately, that material is really, really good, and the second-half malaise can be forgiven. Shug is best known for his past affiliation with Gang Starr, a relationship that bears sonic fruit with DJ Premier's excellent production for the single "Play It." But other contributors shine as well, especially MoSS, who produced the bulk of the record. Check out "Hood with That" for proof - this track is like a less spaced-out version of Kool Keith's "I Don't Believe You," as Shug repeats the title phrase over and over, interspersed with lyrical ghetto snapshots. "Leg Breakers" features a rough-voiced Big Twins and a husky Sean Price over a morose piano-laced beat. Overall, Shug tends to bring a certain warmth to his street anthems, in the classic style of EPMD and the aforementioned Gang Starr. But he's also not afraid to call out Nas on the Premier-produced "It Just Don't Stop," reminding him that his beats might be the missing element from his hip-hop formula.
The heavy metal cover case of Magnolius' debut, Ode to Hyde, is a red herring of sorts. The Toronto-based duo's beats and rhymes are actually not that tough at all, as they dip into the sometimes murky world of heady, cerebral, and decidedly experimental world of alt-underground-rap. MCs Liquid Serebral and Dexter Noizulli have voices that tend to flip-flop all over the track over beats that range from circus-rap to downbeat experimentation. Definitely one for the Anticon crowd, Magnolius is at its best on a track like "Autumn.Eighted," full of chants and flamenco guitars.
A pleasant surprise arrived this month in the form of Tallahassee, Florida's Big Lo and his new album, Mindstate: Freedom (So-Lo Productionz). Lo certainly carries a torch for Wu-Tang Clan, from the sped-up soul samples of "Good Music" (produced by Sealy) to Killarmy member Beretta 9's involvement on tracks like "How We Do." Vast Aire also puts in some time on "To Be Strong" - obviously this unknown MC is well connected. And he earns it, both behind the boards and on the mike.
A collaboration between C-Rayz Walz and D.C. producer Sharkey? Not exactly the most exciting concept, based on their combined past output. Walz has always seemed like he has the goods but never been able to bring it, and Sharkey's debut album felt like a poor imitation of RJD2. Well, surprise, surprise, but Monster Maker (Babygrande) is actually a good album. This is hip-hop at the fringes, admittedly, but that's a good thing. Excellent guest vocalists appear on almost every track, singing hooks over Sharkey's complex and textured beats, which dip into rock, funk, and sugary soul to create his own vision of boom-bap. Walz keeps his verses simple and his flow precise ("My Way"), even when he says stupid shit like "When I'm in the club, I come here to party, up jump the body, drink some Bacardi" ("Jumping Off at the Jump Off"). The two also lend their take on the '80s hit "Electric Avenue," all slinky synths and snare cracks.
Mr. J Medeiros, also a member of The Procussions, finds his solo album, Of Gods and Girls, released by the newly refurbished (but a shadow of its former self) Rawkus Records. Medeiros shares some things in common with Moka Only, such as silky soft-funk beats and an utterly laid back flow, but somehow this album never quite takes off. Yes, he's open about his respect for women and recruits people like Pigeon John for support ("Money"), but his flow could use an injection of energy that might help propel it to the next level.
Immortal Technique is back in support of MC Poison Pen, with Pick Your Poison: The Mark of the East (Money Maker Ent.). Poison Pen has been around for a while now, appearing with artists like Vast Aire, The Molemen, Apathy, and MF Doom. But this effort is proof that he doesn't really need anyone's help. The record kicks off with "Who Are You?", which inexplicably and wonderfully samples The Who (this can't be legal, but it works so well). Up next is "Bed Stuy Bestbuy," an ice-cold track featuring an intro by Rasco. Hard, grimy, and quick-tongued, Poison Pen isn't afraid to dive into cheesy '80s rock samples either - check "Stronghold Movement," featuring Breez Evahflowin' and Immortal Technique. Another project he's got his hands in is the re-release of Akir's Legacy (Babygrande), which he executive produced. Bringing the political wisdom of Talib Kweli and Dead Prez, but with a flow like Nas or Rakim, Akir ain't no joke. I think "Mood Music" might sample Hagar-era Van Halen, and that's cool, but check out anthems like This is Your Life (Pt. 2) or "Apocalypse" to see what he's all about.
The new one from Galactic, From the Corner to the Block (Anti), is kind of like an updated version of the Brand New Heavies Heavy Rhyme Experience, except not really as good. The album features a slew of talented MCs like Mr. Lif, Ladybug Mecca, Lateef, and Lyrics Born, who all rhyme over various generic funk tracks created by the band. Galactic is one of those bands usually associated with the hippie-jam band scene, and perhaps they're trying to break out of that. But it feels like the days of albums like this should be relegated to their heyday of the mid-'90s. And even then they weren't so hot.
One of the more interesting July releases that was skipped over last month comes from Shape of Broad Minds, a group consisting of Jneiro Jarel, JAWWAAD, Rocque Wun, Panama Black, and Dr. Who Dat?. Their debut EP, Blue Experience, begins with the single "Let's Go," a sort of futuristic posse cut featuring the talented MF Doom as a guest. But things get really interesting when they get less accessible. The mid-tempo, almost ambient feeling "Electric Blue" stands out, as does the Dr. Who Dat remix of "Let's Go." Next month I'll be covering the full-length here, so stay tuned.
Finally, Jason Goldwatch has directed a documentary about Dilated Peoples called The Release Party (Decon). The film follows the history of the group, who recently fulfilled their contract with Capitol. Their return to the indies is included as a bonus CD with the DVD, featuring seven tracks filled with friends including The Alchemist, PMD, and Defari. Filled with home video, concert footage, weed footage, the group at work in home studios, and interviews, Goldwatch had unprecedented access to the group due to his long relationship with them dating back to his CalArts days. The film sets out to portray the group as an indie-minded entity caught up in the world of the majors, trying to maintain their identity, and that's a fair description. Dilated are favorites of the underground crowd, and they seem to be pretty nice guys despite all this popularity. Hope to hear more from Babu, Evidence, and Rakaa in the near future.
And that's all for this month. Until next time… e-mail with thoughts and insults, and send me yer shit! I'll listen to it. Glaciers is ghost like Casper.
Jonah Flicker writes, lives, drinks, eats, and consumes music in New York, via Los Angeles. He once received a fortune in a fortune cookie that stated the following: "Soon, a visitor shall delight you." He's still waiting.
See other articles by Jonah Flicker.
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