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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!
For better or for worse, BK MC Talib Kweli is back with a new album, Ear Drum (Blacksmith/Warner Brothers). Kweli's problem, at least since his Black Star and Reflection Eternal days, has been taking himself too seriously and working with wack producers. On this new record, he still does a lot of the former and, thankfully, little of the latter. Still, even Madlib sounds not exactly as awesome as Madlib usually sounds on tracks like the opening "Everything Man." "I can't be everything to everyone," raps Kweli here, after a silly spoken word intro. Maybe so, but at least try and be one thing, and not change up your style to match UGK's superior appearance on "Country Cousins." Kweli is constantly overshadowed by his guests, whether it's Jean Grae (the Lords of the Underground-referencing "Say Something," produced by Will.I.Am) or Kanye West ("In the Mood"). West may not be the best MC, but at least he has a sense of humor, talking about "real girls like Rudy with real titties like Tudy." Sophomoric, perhaps, but it's a moment of levity in an otherwise somber affair. The Pete Rock-produced "Holy Moly" is another winner, where TK does loosen up a bit, even calling out producer Scott Storch. The second half of the record features too many forgettable r'n'b-hook ballads, peppered with a few semi-decent tracks. The kicker is the finale, a Justin Timberlake-produced affair, on which he also sings the hook. This is totally uninspired, and I'm not just saying this because it's JT. I kinda like JT. But it sticks to the boring hip-hop formula of verse-hook-verse-hook (this one about "the nature of the world" - trite and obvious) and the beat is a lazy boom-bap, short on both boom and bap. Clearly, Ear Drum far surpasses Kweli's last two solo efforts, but I think it's time for this MC to head back to the lab and find some inspiration.
One of the best new releases this summer comes from a group whose EP was covered here last month. Shape of Broad Minds' debut full-length, Craft of the Lost Art (Lex), is a mind-bending journey through abstract yet engaging beats and rhymes. Lead by Jneiro Jarel, the group consists of singer Roc Wun, producer Dr. Who Dat?, and MCs Panama Black and Jawaad. While the lead single, "Let's Go," featuring MF Doom, is a surefire hit, the more esoteric tracks are what really make this album soar (see "Opr8r"). Spacey but not spastic, futuristic but never forgettable, the beats bubble up from a cauldron of influences ranging from funk to jazz to psyche-rock to broken beat to techno. But the album always remains in the realm of accessible hip-hop - no small feat, considering what usually happens in situations like this. Wanna hear some relationship rap that isn't cheesy? Check out "Electric Blue," with its fractured, shifting beats and low-key tone. The inimitable Count Bass D shows up on the fresh "It Lives On," but this is a group that doesn't need guest appearances. With nary a miss, this is one to check for, even for those with a natural aversion to abstract shit.
Coolzey's new EP, Soixante-Neuf, is both surprising and predictable. The Iowa City-based MC's work is surprising because… well, let's be honest, he's a white kid from Iowa. But the record is predictable in that its quality was foretold by his last EP. The lesson here? Don't sleep on Coolzey and never, ever judge a book by its cover. With a clear vision of beats and rhymes, the EP kicks off with a few Biz Markie and Busta Rhymes samples over a head-nodding old-school beat, before dipping into the dark but dedicated "Funk 69." By the time you read this, Coolzey will have completed a tour with the legendary Sadat X, a fitting step in the road to success for this talented MC.
Not be outdone by his little brother, Oh No, who released a crazy and eclectic album of instrumentals last month, Madlib has returned with the latest installation in his Beat Konducta series, Beat Konducta Vol. 3 - 4: In India, presumably crafted from samples of Indian music. Some of it is obviously so, like the minimalist "Freeze," others less so, like the bumping "Masala." But even in the more traditionally hip-hop snippets, you can hear the source material. It's great to hear Madlib still taking the time out to just do whatever he wants and not let his high-profile work with people like Kweli or Erykah Badu (who he's currently in production with) remove him too far from his experimental crate-digging days. This new volume of Beat Konducta is a testament to his prolific nature.
Strong Arm Steady, a group comprised of Phil the Agony, Mitchy Slick, and Krondon, has just released its debut, Deep Hearted (Nature Sounds). I can't speak for the album as a whole here, unfortunately, but I did get a chance to check out a sampler mixtape hosted and mixed by DJ Babu and DJ Truly Odd. While it would have been much nicer to actually hear the album, if this sampler is any indicator, it's gonna be nice. The production is uniformly good, and all MCs and guests involved sound on top of their game, especially Phil who always seems to bring his best. Check out "The Movement" featuring Planet Asia and "Shoo Fly."
LA-based MC, SumKid Majere, draws from a wide array of influences. Born in Chicago, he spent formative time in North Carolina, Atlanta and NYC before landing on the West Coast. His debut effort, The Lil Folk (VJC Recordings), is best represented by the lead single, "Ninjas and Flies." Combining the stuttering flow of the Project Blowed crew with dark Def Jux-style beats, Sum sounds confident and unique, clearly a lyricist not interested in jumping on bandwagons. While the album lacks any certifiable repeat-play anthems, tracks like "The Foxworthy" certainly indicate a steady presence of a versatile MC who feels as comfortable referencing Simon and Garfunkel as he does Aceyalone.
Speaking of Ace-1, the LA vet has a new album out on Decon called Lightning Strikes. It's been a while since Acey's put out anything really good, and this "dancehall-inspired" album, produced by Bionik, isn't exactly raising the bar for this former member of Freestyle Fellowship. Full of electro-reggae beats, Lightning fails to electrify. Acey attempts a Caribbean cadence over the cheesy, lilting rhythms that comprise the backdrop, but the pieces just don't' fall into place. It's too bad, really, since he's such a talented lyricist and has one of the best voices in hip-hop. If you miss the dance of All Balls Don't Bounce and Accepted Eclectic, this album just might make you feel worse.
Georgia Anne Muldrow and Dudley Perkins are at it again, this time as G&D. Having previously collaborated with DJ 2Tall earlier this summer, the two have concocted The Message Uni Versa (Look), an album full of typically funky and wonderfully head-scratching hip-hop and soul. But the word "soul" is misleading here, as the type of music these two unique voices make is simultaneously reminiscent of classic Motown and full of the type of indie-style beats that producers like Madlib craft. Muldrow handles the majority of the production, and excuse me for my ignorance, but who knew she was such a presence behind the boards? Her beats are slinky and full, referencing producers like Dilla while retaining her singular vision. She and Perkins share vocals, he rapping and practicing his chant-sing, she letting her voice gleefully rise above the fray. Aside from the inclusion of several silly and unnecessary skits, this one's a keeper.
Last year saw the release of Baron Zen's At the Mall, a quirky album of '80s electro-rock mayhem from Stones Throw head Peanut Butter Wolf's high school friend, Steve Helmer. Out this month is a collection of remixes of songs from the album, put together by producers including Arabian Knight, Madlib, James Pants, and PB Wolf himself. The results are interesting but stay generally within the realm of '80s electro sounds, a fact acknowledge by Wolf in the press release. I personally recommend checking out the original versions first, but anyone interested in alternative dancefloor material should check this release out as well.
Sporting a Too Short flow, Spear of the Nation is releasing his solo effort, Spearitalk this month on NatAural High Records. Maybe it's because both are from Oakland, but this MC seriously has that Short Dog drawl. Suits him well, actually. The lead track, "Black Love," sets things off nicely with guest vocals from Wu-Tang's Tekitha and some live instruments, and the rest generally follows suit. Spear is also a member of the group Lunar Heights, but he can clearly hold his own on his own.
Another Stones Throw release, another Madlib Invasion - another project saved by Madlib, to be frank. Percee P finally releases his solo debut, Perseverance, this month. Percee doesn't rap on beat, he raps all around beats - slightly ahead, slightly behind, but always keeping things interesting with his warm voice and flow. This Bronx-born vet calls LA home these days, and it's good thing, judging from Madlib's sick production. "The Man to Praise," "2 Brothers From the Gutter" (featuring Diamond D), and the cut-and-paste sample interludes are all ill. One misstep is "Ghetto Rhyme Stories," where Percee spends too much time spelling out "bitch" over an A-plus Madlib beat.
For those of who have been waiting for Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt. 2… keep waiting. Polluted Water (Babygrande), the new release from Rae's Icewater crew, is a serious disappointment that makes one worry about the quality of future projects. With the exception of "Do It Big," featuring Busta Rhymes, and "Hip-Hop Tribute," featuring Rae, the only things that MC's Polite, Stomach, Paulie Caskets, and Donnie Cash prove are that they have silly names. Even with the clout that backing from the Wu should provide, the weak beats and reliance on cheesy romance songs (including one with Jagged Edge) bogs this album down in the mud.
Not sure what's up with Babygrande this month, but another strike out comes in the form of N.O.R.E.'s Noreality. This is club-hop at its worst: cheesy synth beats, silly songs about cunnilingus and shoes (although songs about actually giving a woman pleasure are far and few between in hip-hop), and guest appearances from Jadakiss, Kanye West, and Three 6 Mafia that don't boost this album at all. It's too bad, since N.O.R.E.'s actually a talent on the mike. He's gone the independent route, but his last Neptunes-produced single was better than anything on this new joint.
D.C.'s Panacea should add some credibility to the sorry reinvention of Rawkus Records with their new joint, The Scenic Route. MC Raw Poetic rhymes nice over K-Murdock's sultry, soulful, jazzy beats, keeping everything cool and laid back, although moments of hype are scattered throughout. This is Golden Age-influenced hip-hop, and the duo keeps things sincere without being cheesy over the varied textures and soundscapes that comprise this record.
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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