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This month's edition of Glaciers of Ice will come in two parts: this is the June edition, and the July edition will follow shortly thereafter. Beginning in August, Glaciers will be arriving at the start of the month to preview releases to come, instead of recapping the previous month. So let's start off with June, and it's been a banner month…
Babygrande has been on fire this year, and this month has not seen the label slow down one bit with its quality releases from MCs tried, true, and new. 7L & Esoteric's new album, A New Dope, is part of this parade of excellent hip-hop, as this Boston-based duo has created a surprisingly innovative record, notable for Esoteric's croaking flow and 7L's electro-influenced beats, more Kraftwerk than James Brown. Check out "The Most," "Get Dumb," and "Dunks are Live, Dunks are Dead," and you'll understand that this is a group not afraid to go beyond your typical funk and soul samples to mine the depths of a record collection for the perfect beat. "Perfect Person," Eso's self-produced relationship track, even employs the Twin Peaks theme music as its sampled base. With only one guest spot (Kool Keith shows up on "Daisycutta"), the record rides solely on their strength, and fortunately, it's ample. The second record in Babygrande's June madness is the return of Lord Jamar. This former Brand Nubian member, the deep and silky voice next to the gritty roughness of Sadat X and Grand Puba (both of whom appear on this album), is back on the scene with his first solo record, The 5% Album. Now, obviously, this is a record based upon the teachings of that offshoot of the Nation of Islam, a group to which many emcees belong (Wu-Tang Clan, Busta Rhymes, etc.). While at times it feels a bit heavy-handed with the relentless spouting of the tenants of the 5% Nation (and some ideas seem a bit dated, such as the notion that women are secondary to men…), this is a vibrant album, due in large part to the excellent soul-heavy production from Preservation, as well as Jamar himself. Guests include Raekwon, Prodigal Sunn, and the sons of GZA, ODB, and Jamar (!!), and check out RZA on the standout "Deep Space." Jamar has spent the past decade acting in films and shows like HBO's The Sopranos and Oz, but his debut proves that hip hop's been close to his heart throughout the years. And for some real battle raps, pay attention to "Advance the Game," a hard-hitting track that finds Jamar calling out the materialism of the commercial hip-hop world ("How many times can we rap about cars and chains?")
Ammoncontact, the production duo of Carlos Nino and Fabian Ammon, have been part of the LA underground for some time. The two have crafted a soulful record of hip-hop, With Voices (Ninja Tune), that varies between the experimental, tribal end of the spectrum ("Earth's Children," featuring singer Mia Doi Todd) and straight bangers ("Worth It," featuring Abstract Rude). Other guests that show up include Sach (formerly of The Nonce), Lil' Sci, Brother J (from X-Clan), and Cut Chemist, the last two who appear on one of the standout track "Drum Riders."
Detroit's Dabrye should be more famous than Eminem. This talented producer melds the dark, minimal sounds of techno with the boom-bap on his new LP, Two/Three (Ghostly). But don't be scared off by that description if you're a strictly hip-hop head. Dabrye's beats come close to the apocalyptic terror-sounds that El-P has got locked down, but they never lose the essential rhythm and essence of good rap music. His instrumentals are engaging and experimental, and never outstay their welcome. And for the non-instrumentals, it's safe to say that Dabrye has assembled a wet dream of guests: MF Doom, Wildchild, Vast Aire, Beans, and the late, great Jay Dee are just some of the voices who show up to help out.
KRS-One hasn't really put out a really good album since Return of the Boom-Bap, his debut solo record. There are those that will argue this point, and granted, "Step Into a World" from I Got Next has become a hip-hop classic, but it's been a while since we've heard the full potential from this vet. Fortunately, Life (Image) showcases an MC who has come full circle. While still addressing his storied history and passion for hip-hop, Kris also let's loose, and the results are his best work in a long time. From the opening track, "Bling Blung," where he incorporates an imitation of bells into his rhymes, to "Fucked Up," a track that wouldn't have sounded out of place on Boom-Bap, this is an album to reaffirm the Blastmaster's place in music history.
DJ Spinna has never been one to allow himself to be pigeonholed. This DJ/producer has worked with the likes of Mos Def, De La Soul, and Mary J. Blige in the past, and he's just as comfortable crafting a silky house beat as he is piecing together a hip-hop track. His new effort, Intergalactic Soul (Shanachie), starts off strong with contributions from Alphonso Greer and Phonte (of Little Brother), whose flow sounds like it was meant to go with Spinna's jazzy beats. From there the record is really a matter of taste, as it dives into new-soul ("Where's Your Love," featuring the lovely voice of N'Dea Davenport), and breezy house ("Living My Life," featuring Trish Angus). Spinna's talent and clout as a producer cannot be challenged, but some of the cheesier vocal deep house here can be.
The underground shows a lot of love to Louis Logic. Yes, he's a talented MC and isn't afraid to express his love for a band like Death Cab for Cutie as much as an OG like Rakim. But his new album with J.J. Brown, Misery Loves Comedy (Fat Beats), is a bit too heavy on the relationship rap, rendering it as something of a heartbreak and sex concept album. Logic's flow always sounds like he's smiling, and while by no means do I think he needs to get hard to gain appeal, there's a kind sarcastic cadence to his voice that can get mildly irritating. That being said, this is an original and creative work that is worth checking out and deciding for yourself.
One of Wu-Tang's in-house producers, Mathematics, is back with another album of instrumentals called Soul of a Man (Nature Sounds), his first to be entirely sans MC. Even a record of hip-hop instrumentals from a master producer such as this can get to be a bit boring at times, but his skills behind the boards make you wish he had been on board for Method Man's last album instead of the commercial stable he had working for him. It appears that there are no song titles, here but skip ahead to the classic rock-influenced track three and the Shaolin movie-sampling track five for that old school Wu-flavor. Let's hope the RZA enlists Mathematics for the next Wu-Tang album (we're keeping our fingers crossed…)
And speaking of the Wu, a new DVD has hit the streets called Legend of Wu-Tang (Sony Legacy). This is a collection of every video ever made by the Clan, from "Method Man" to "Uzi (Pink Ring." Some of these videos will bring you back to the days of watching Yo! MTV Raps and Rap City after school, anxiously awaiting a new video from the Wu in those pre-Hype Williams days. The most amazing thing about watching these videos now is how incredibly gritty they are. In the early years, in videos for songs like "C.R.E.A.M." and "Can it All Be So Simple," you can actually see the breath of the members of the group as they filmed super-low-budget, out in the cold air of NYC, with nothing but their crew and a couple of cameras. By the time of Wu-Tang Forever, the budgets dramatically increased, resulting in the silly special effects of "Triumph" - the highlight being the RZA with over-sized bee wings on his back. A series of videos from The W and Iron Flag follow, and while they regained some of their footing and got rid of the overwrought digital effects, nothing matches the pleasure of seeing the Clan standing around a garbage can fire spitting lyrics in Shaolin, as they did in the early days. Also featured on the DVD is a previously unreleased documentary called Enter the Wu-Tang, with some revealing interviews with the group from around the time of 36 Chambers.
And finally, let's talk Busta Rhymes. Here's another example of why, over and over again, the mix tape is better than the companion album. Busta's, The Big Bang, released by Interscope in mid-June, has its moments, but overall is a disappointing release from a talented artist who should have delivered more from his union with Aftermath. His collaboration with DJ/producer Clinton Sparks, New Crack City, on the other hand, is 33 tracks of exciting, vigorous, hungry Busta verses over an array of ill beats from Mr. Sparks. Even the album tracks included here sound better in the context of Sparks' raw production. Check out the stand-out track, "Survival" (is that a Phil Collins sample I hear??), as well as appearances from the Flipmode Squad (Rah Digga, Spliff Star, Papoose) that outshine anything they've done solo or on Busta's prior LP's. In between tracks, Busta is all braggadocio and bravado, sounding like a man whose been caged by his major label efforts and can finally unleash here. This should have been Busta's Aftermath debut, but I'm just glad we have this to listen to instead of the official. Get familiar!
That's all for this month. See you in a week, and until then… 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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