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Sit back and relax, this month's edition of Glaciers is gonna be a big one, as the fall season ramps up with more new releases than one can feasibly get a handle on. Here goes nothing:
Glaciers album of the month for October (it actually came out in September, but so it goes) is awarded to Main Flow and 7L's Flow Season (Brick Records). The pairing of this skillful Cincinnati MC and Boston producer is a match made in hip-hop heaven. 7L, coming off the incredibly hot A New Dope with partner Esoteric, really finds his comfort zone with these underground yet accessible beats, based on old school hip-hop, funk, and jazz samples. Check out "Hold Lines," which completely flips the beat mid-song, the soulful "Where I'm From," and the nice big-beat banger "She Like the Way I Talk" to see just what he's capable of. Main Flow, as dependable as ever, continues to work his "everyman" persona as he effortlessly sets his rhymes just behind the beat. On the standout "Recipe," he even sings the hook, but his confident and nonchalant flow saves it from the cheese. He's joined by Cormega on the silky soul-sampling "Forever" and Esoteric shows up for "Top Scholars," but the guest appearances are limited for good reason - Flow holds this album down on his own.
And on the flip side, the worst album of the month handily goes to 14th Century's Gung Fu: The Second Principle (Drunken Mantis Fist Boxing), out on Two Moon/Double Sun Recordings. The MC and his producing partner, Vodka, call Chicago their home, but Century's flow sounds more like Southern California's N2Deep (remember "Back to the Hotel"?) than Common or Kanye. The muffled beats and lo-fi production values don't help this record out at all, and to top it off, the entire album consists of samples from martial arts movies. Excuse me, but Wu-Tang Clan pretty much ensured that any group that tries to do this now just looks like they're biting their shit, so why even bother? This one needs to go back to the lab for some retinkering.
If the last hip-hop you heard coming out of Seattle was from Sir Mix-A-Lot, you can't be blamed - it's just not the first city people think of for rap music. Common Market, consisting of RA Scion and producer Sabzi, are out to change that, with their new self-titled effort out on Mass Line Media. Both practicing members of the Baha'i faith, the two met after performing separately for several years, finding a common interest both musically and spiritually. Their debut is a strong effort, based around Sabzi's jazzy beats, at times reminiscent of mid-career Ali Shaheed Muhammad (see "Connect For"). RA Scion is of the positive rhyme breed, whether he's ruminating on relationships ("Love One") or elevating his philosophy ("My Pathology"). Either way, this is one to watch for.
The marvelous Count Bass D, a resident of Nashville, TN, is something like the Lou Barlow of hip-hop. His albums, hit-or-miss affairs - mostly hits but brilliant even when they miss - often feel like home-recorded 4-track demos that are borne of spur of the moment musical bursts. This works to great effect for him as rapper and producer, in much the way the late-90s output of MF Doom did. The two have collaborated, in fact, on Doom's Mmm…Food. D's new album, Act Your Waist Size (Fat Beats), is probably the best thing the label has released this past year and should definitely be enjoyed beyond the Gnarls Barkley/Outkast set, who will obviously enjoy this work. "Internationally Known" kicks off the record, a mélange of Pharcyde samples, with D rapping "The jury's still out about the best spitter behind the boards / Please believe I'm the rapper with the most chords" over a spiraling piano and drum break. "Case O' Dilla" follows up, a probable ode to the dearly departed producer. For every fleshed-out track, there are also the brief but electrifying instrumentals, such as the cut-and-paste "IMEANROC&RON" and the funky "Apology 1:05." Count Bass D continues to thrive just below the surface of even the underground, and this record probably won't change that a bit. It does, however, add to the enjoyably erratic songbook of this off-kilter MC.
Rockin, beats, beats, beats… LA's Nocturnal Ron resides in the under-underground of hip-hop, producing for the likes of Malkovich and Fat Hed, as well as a few better knowns like Kool Keith. His music has also been featured on various MTV and IFC shows, and it's easy to see why, judging from his new album, Beat Lovers Vol. 2 (Cold Medina). Glaciers of Ice has always maintained that making an engaging beat album is not an easy task, but here's another producer up for the task. Check out the eerie soul sample and trudging beat of "Trying to Sleep," as well as the Wu-style "1984" for proof. At over an hour and 34 tracks long, this is an effort that changes up styles and keeps individual songs brief enough to not wear out its welcome. And for those who absolutely must hear rhymes over their beats, Ali Abnormal (dude sounds kinda like Ghostface) appears on "Habibi Snuck a Gun in the Disco" and the Spankmaster himself spits abstract on "Keith Freestyle."
You've probably heard Detroit's Frank N Dank on one of their many J Dilla collaborations, including his Jaylib album (with Madlib) and Welcome 2 Detroit. The duo has been languishing (if you can call it that) on mixtapes and B-sides over the past few years, due to a busted-up record deal that they had with MCA - in fact, they devote an entire song to it, aptly titled "MCA," one of the few Dilla-produced tracks on their sophomore full-length, Xtended Play Version 3.13 (Needillworks). This is an exciting record, full of beats provided by the likes of Saukrates and some lesser-known names. The sound proves once again why Detroit is such an important city to the new hip-hop movement, and while Dilla played a huge role in this, others are now leading the pack. The mixture of electro, digital funk, and old-school rap that makes up the beats blends perfectly into futuristic, dancefloor, underground club tracks. Yes, F N D are kind of obsessed with fat asses and drinking at the club, but their tag-team flow is so nice. Joined by Lindo P. (on the reggae-tinged "Blaow"), Jeru (the intelligent-thug rap of "Worldwide"), and others, Xtended Play brings the gritty sound of Detroit back to the forefront of relevant rap.
Been a minute since you've heard from Stones Throw? Probably not, as this LA indie label has proven to be one of the most prolific of the past few years. Head honcho Peanut Butter Wolf has a new compilation and companion mix CD out now, in conjunction with the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim programming. Chrome Children, sort of a follow-up to the Danger Doom record, is 19 reasons why Stones Throw is so ill. Beginning with Oh No's "Oh Zone," winding through some excellent Dilla produced tracks (Madlib's "Take it Back", Dilla's own instrumental "Nothing Like This", and Guilty Simpson's "Clap Your Hands"), and ending up with some of the more experimental faces of the roster - Aloe Blacc, Baron Zen, and Young Jazz Rebels - this is a compilation with few misses. The companion mix features some songs from the comp and a few remixes - check out Madvillain's "Meat Grinder (Chromefaced Children Remix") - as well as some rarites, like Jaylib's "No $ NoToke." Yes, all the usual suspects are back here, but they still sound extra nice.
Last month, Glaciers extolled the virtues of Chicago's Wade Waters, and why should October be any different? Dark Water, their official debut (Wandering Soul Records), picks up where their recent mixtape left off. Featuring excellent soul-sampling production from Analogic, Speaks, and Shuko, SoulStice and Haysoos are joined by an all grown-up AZ ("Speak on It") and former Terror Squad member Cuban Link ("Rock Solid") for their lead singles. The rest of the record is solid hip-hop from the underground, but no nerdy mind before body shit here. That's not to say that Wade Waters' rhymes aren't intelligent, because they are - listen to the nuanced call-and-response rap on "Back in Time" - but the two MC's inject every word with emotion and poignancy. Don't sleep on this one.
The revered New York group, Juggaknots, is back with their first album in 10 years. Breezly Brewin, Buddy Slim, and Queen Herawin, are a brother-brother-sister team who had a failed deal with East/West Records back in the early '90s. Fortunately, Bobbito managed to release their debut on his Fondle 'Em Records, introducing them to the world. Since then, Breezly's appeared on Prince Paul's A Prince Among Thieves, and the whole group has collaborated with the now defunct Company Flow as Indelible MCs. Use Your Confusion (Amalgam Entertainment) finds the three MC's taking a break from their jobs as school teachers to reenter the rap world, helped out by a slew of guests (Wordsworth, Slick Rick, Sadat X, and J-Treds, among others). The New Jack beats of "Namesake" find Breezly's unmistakable voice, detailing the origins of Juggaknots, from their Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito radio days to the present. And if you need your posse cut fix, "Crazy 8's" features a slew of MC's, reminiscent of Rawkus/Lyricist Lounge days of yore.
Canada's hip-hop superstars, Swollen Members, are back with a new record called Black Magic (Battle Axe). While perhaps not a household name amongst hip-hop heads of the USA, this group has won multiple Junos in their homeland and claims the title of best-selling hip-hop group in the history of Canada. Not too shabby. The group has also apparently cultivated deep California roots. Their new record features production by Dilated Peoples crew member Evidence, as well as appearances by Phil Da Agony and Planet Asia. From the east coast, Alchemist, Ghostface, and even Everlast are present. But the brunt of production comes from their own Rob the Viking, who easily holds his own among the top producers of the genre. Madchild and Prevail are both talented MC's, even if they look like a bunch of herbs on the album's inside cover, making what Kool Keith might call "mad faces." Nevertheless, Swollen Members is heading out on a monster tour with your mom's favorite hip-hop group, Black Eyed Peas, so I'm sure we'll be hearing a lot more from them in the near future.
Some small faces this month… Chicago MC Verbal Kent releases Move with the Walls (Gravel Records). Kent survived a near-death experience a few years ago - his throat was slashed in an alley - and his new record attempts to deal with some of the aftermath of that. Featuring Ill Bill (Non Phixion) and production from Oddisee, Move with the Walls is a solid effort. San Francisco's Big Rich's first solo album, Block Tested, Hood Approved (Koch), presented by E-40, hits streets this month. Guests? San Quinn, E-40, Hell Rell, Sheek Louch, and Mistah Fab, to name a few. This is real Bay area hip-hop, ranging from hyphy to club to street, and Rich, who's been rapping since he was a kid, details a life of hustle and flow over the course of the 70 minutes of this record. Lexicon, a little-known group from Los Angeles, is releasing an iTunes-exclusive EP, The Rapstars (B.E.A.R./Alpha Pup). Things get better after the rap-rock, Geto Boys-sampling opening track "Big Money." The MC's, Oak and Nick, rhyme over a dance-punk backdrop ("Junk Food"), as well as keeping things a bit more traditional, on the heavily-syncopated "Bangyahead." And finally, Psyche Origami has a new 12-inch out on ATF Records, "Get Gassed Up." This trio (Wyzsztyk and DJs Dainja and Synthesis), calls Atlanta their home, but the sound here has more in common with Ya'll So Stupid than Outkast. This is a welcome departure, as the three songs on this single give life to the theory that striving for sounds from the "golden age" of hip-hop still bears fruit. Check the title track and "Check Out Line," featuring Bambu and Jmil of Collective Efforts, to see what these underground MC's are made of.
That's all for this month. Glaciers will be back in November to preview what's to come to keep you going through the Thanksgiving holiday. So 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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