» LATEST FEATURES
LITERATURE» Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
MUSIC» The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
MUSIC» Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
It's not even July 4th, and already Los Angeles has been way too hot. Things have cooled down a bit temperature-wise, but the hip-hop I've been getting in the mail has been mostly fire… with some ice thrown in just for good measure. Here's your early summer guide:
The RZA has returned, this time in his Bobby Digital guise. Digi Snacks (Koch) finds the hippie of 8 Diagrams joining hands with old school Wu-Tang grit. "Long Time Coming" is full of the esoteric mathematics RZA does best, the spiritual meeting the visceral, over a beat that borders on cheesy but somehow sounds dope. Elsewhere, the record is buoyed by beats, rhymes, and instrumentation from John Frusciante, David Banner, Inspectah Deck, and Beretta 9. Whether you're frustrated or fascinated by RZA's experiments, it's always worth a listen.
Shaya's background is one of pain and physical abuse, but these trials seem to have only made this Santa Rosa, CA-based MC stronger. Fallen Awake (Interdependent Media) is an album that will probably be slept on, but those who discover its shining qualities will be better off for it. Through songs like "Impeccable Concepts" and "Sleepers Anthem," Shaya takes one step closer to his stated goal of creating "thinking man's music." The excellent production from The ARE (ooh, "Run it Down" is nice!) and E&J Beats doesn't hurt, either.
Who the hell is Presto? Well, he's a backpacker producer who's managed to get a bunch of top-notch MC's to grace his decidedly '90s-sounding effort, State of the Art (Concrete Grooves/Fat Beats). For example, the descending bass and floating piano line of "Conquer Mentally," featuring the talents of Sadat X, OC, and Large Professor - not a bad lineup for a relatively unknown beat maker - feels like something straight out of '92. The jazzy guitars and sultry vocals of "What's What," featuring a perplexingly subdued Fatlip, is another prime example. This is all well and good, and clearly Presto's got talent and equipment to spare. But all this doesn't make the album the most interesting or urgent of the first half of this year.
Duck Down has been one of the most consistent hip-hop labels of the last few years, returning from its '90s heyday with excellent releases from Buckshot and 9th Wonder, Sean Price, and now, from the other half of Heltah Skeltah, Rock aka The Rockness Monster. The bass-voiced MC released Shell Shock, his official mixtape, a few months ago, in the midst of a legal battle against an attempted murder charge. It's a sprawling affair, appropriate for the mixtape format, that proves his mettle as an MC up against the currently more popular Ruck (Sean Price). "300 B.C." features Black Moon members Buckshot and 5FT playing off the movie Sparta, while "Tempmurda" riffs on Snoop's "Murder Was the Case" as Rock recounts his own tale. Other guests include Smif N Wessun, Ruste Juxx, and Verbal Kent.
Normally, I'm not feeling the indie-rap/indie-rock hybrid hip-hop. But Envelope has won me over with Shark Bolt (Weightless). The album is not indie rock in terms of production, all of which is masterfully and soulfully handled by fellow Ohio native Blueprint (Soul Position, Greenhouse Effect). But when he name checks Elliot Smith, names a song "Daydream Nation," or talks about having a crush on Kathleen Hannah, how many hip-hop heads are gonna know who he's referring to? He doesn't give a fuck, and that's a good thing. He's a talented MC with a melodious cadence a brain full of observations and experience to relay. If he gives in to Atmosphere-style songs about the ladies and dysfunctional relationships every now and then, so be it.
J DaVeY is a group comprised of vocalist Brook D'Leau and producer Jack Davey. They are releasing two EP's this month, The Beauty in Distortion and The Land of the Lost (Interdependent Media). This is definitely more electro and r'n'b than hip-hop, but Davey's beats do have a Dilla-esque funky clap in their boom-bap. Fans of the Soulquarians, Gilles Peterson, Slum Village, and Sa-Ra will dig this for the production, while those who appreciate unorthodox but quality vocals ala Martina Topley-Bird in her Tricky era will like the singing.
RMXXOLOGY is the title of the new electro remix collection from Delicious Vinyl. Classic tracks like Young MC's "Bust A Move," The Pharcyde's "Runnin'" and "Passin' Me By," and Masta Ace's "Slaughtahouse" are remixed by the likes of Eminem, Peaches, and Aaron La Crate. The results are sometimes boring but, more often than not, invigorating reinterpretations keeping the key recognizable components of these songs alive.
Snowgoons have returned with Black Snow (Babygrande), a hard-edged, darkly tinged album packed with guests. This German production team makes beats that stay on the grimy side, perfect for MC"s like Ill Bill, Apathy, Smif-N-Wessun, RA the Rugged Man, and Killah Priest. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Lazy-voiced Detroit MC Dante serves up Roaming Empire this month on his own Havoc Pro label. With kind words from fellow Motor City rapper Guilty Simpson boosting his ego, the record should please fans of slightly experimental indie rap. Songs like "3 Hours Later" feel delightfully scattered as a dusty beat switches pace every other verse. "Winnie Cooper" seems to be some kind of Wonder Years nostalgia rap. But the best moments come with the weird waltzy time signature of "Squawk and Roll."
Finally, we have Factor's Chandelier (Fake Four Inc.), a beat album from this Canadian producer who's managed to snag some high-profile guests like Moka Only, Sadat X, and Awol One. It's dark and kind of dreamy, sort of what you'd expect from a beatsmith from up north tuned into the indie scene. But it's also pretty damn good. Songs like "One Record" display a soulful side, while the MC's bring a grittier vibe to their contributions.
The forgettable list for this month contains the following wack material. J the S, of Boston residence and consonantal name, seems to think uber-cheesy synth beats are the way to go on When in Rome…. He should be thrown to the lions for this paltry effort, which not even Joell Ortiz can save (sarcastic? yes). So apparently he's the shit in Beantown, but this record is just shit. Not much better, but winning by a nose hair is Dipset member JR Writer's Politics and Bullshit (Babygrande). No amount of aping Cam'ron rhymes can save this MC, and while using Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl" as a backdrop for a song titled "Uptown Girl" (natch) is kinda fly, the rest of the album suffers from a greater malaise than I can try and remedy here. I got other things to do anyway.
OK, that's all for now, so until August… 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.
» MEDIA DOWNLOADS
» GOT STICKERS?
--> Send an with $2 in PayPal funds to cover postage. Don't worry, we'll load you up with enough to cover your town. Then just be patient. They will arrive soon.