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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!
Glaciers of Ice is back this month, a bit late due to some technical problems, but we are deep into the fall season and there are a slew of releases from the underground to keep you balls deep in turkey and Hennessy. Seriously, it's a good combo, try it out. You'll sleep like a gigantic baby.
Album of the month for November… John Robinson is poised for a big breakthrough, as he readies his forthcoming solo record, which is rumored to feature large amounts MF Doom production - pretty much a guarantee of hype, if not high quality. Also known as Lil' Sci when performing with the excellent group Scienz of Life, Robinson's smoky flows are given new life on The Leak Edition Vol. 2 (Shaman Work). This mixtape is just ill. Featuring beats from Madlib, K. Dubble, ID 4 Windz, and Doom, the soulful swing never stops here as Robinson laces every track carefully with his insightful rhymes. "I love you like cooked food, ma, rice and vegetables," he raps over the sultry "Makings of U," a good example of the definitively non-flossed mentality that makes him tick. Guests include Farrah Burns, Invizible Hands, and Edgar Alan Floe.
Hip-hop has gone global - no one is arguing that notion these days. Proof positive from NYC is Indian rapper the 1shanti. The frontman for Dum Dum Project has finally released his debut solo album, India Bambaataa (Flatbush Junction Recordings), featuring guest producers Elite and Bubo, although most of the record was produced and recorded by the1shanti himself. A solid effort featuring rhymes that fall into the "conscious" category without getting overly preachy, India Bambaataa nicely blends elements of Bollywood and world music with Brooklyn boom-bap. The1shanti proves himself a capable lyricist with a Mr. Lif-ish nasal flow who clearly has a firm grasp of hip-hop history.
Who is going to finally reissue the classic Showbiz and AG album, Runaway Slave? Seriously, I am not gonna fucking pay 100 bucks on eBay for a used CD, no matter how badly I want it... Madlib's had a hankering for the DITC member as well, reworking "Fat Pockets" as "Fatbacks" on The Further Adventures of Lord Quas. Well, AG is back with a new solo album, Get Dirty Radio (Look). The South Bronx MC offers up a mixed bag here, mostly due to the variety of producers he's chosen to work with. Some collaborations work amazingly - Madlib's "Frozen" and DJ Design's "Triumph" are both standouts. But some songs feel listless, including (surprisingly) the Lord Finesse-produced "We Don't Care." AG is still a lyrical giant (as well as one in name), as he proves on the spectacular Jake One-produced "If I Wanna": "I double-date by myself, if I wanna/ Me and two chicks, bitch hotter than the summer/ I'm a live nigga, like a bass player and a drummer/ I do an a cappella album if I wanna." Perhaps the failing of this record is simply the high expectations assigned to it because of the legend behind it, but either way, we're glad you're back, Andre.
Well, Rawkus Records is back too, but so far it hasn't been with a bang - The Procussions debut for the label left much to be desired. Things are definitely looking up now with Kidz in the Hall's lively new release, School Was My Hustle. This is smart hip-hop for the college-educated set from these two Chicago natives, Naledge and Double O, but as they claim, they've got "a peanut-buttery flow, tough to swallow" - but in a good way; the beats are nice and the cadence is tight. Taking a cue from Consequence and Kanye West's "'03 till Infinity," itself a reworking of Souls of Mischief's classic joint, the Kidz have made "Wheelz Fall Off ('06 till…)," their own interpretation. They are well aware of their standing in the hip-hop hustle ("Got a degree so they call me artsy"), but this effort should bring the duo some deserved recognition in the coming months, especially if Rawkus is able to recall its '90s days of golden greats.
Mush Records has a new one from LA producer Antimc on the way called It's Free But It's Not Cheap. A wonderfully eclectic affair, this hodgepodge of hip-hop, electro, funk, and punk rock features guest vocalist Anthony Anzalone of the Mean Reds on the ADD-ridden "Cesspool City," and Busdriver on the playful "Bellies Full of Rain." Antimc has toured with Boom Bip and worked with Radioinactive in the past, and his experience shines through his varied, although sometimes overly cutesy, production work. This album feels like the effort of someone more at home with experimental electronics than straight hip-hop, but that paradox mostly works well here.
Lyrics Born, one of the flagship MC's of the Quannum stable, has a new live album out, featuring performances from his '05 Australian tour. Overnite Encore: Lyrics Born Live! has one glaring problem - Born's live backing band. Live instruments and hip-hop skirt a precarious boundary between innovative interpretation and cheesy funk (unless you're the Roots, and then even sometimes). Unfortunately, good songs like "I'm Just Raw" and "Shake it Off" are rendered into the latter category here. Born's energy is unflagging and his performance seasoned and spirited, but the album just doesn't feel up to the high standards that we expect from Quannum. Three bonus tracks are featured at the end, featuring Del, Pigeon John, and Mistah F.A.B..
An interesting collaboration out of New York this month comes from Belief, a producer originally from LA who's been making his mark in the Big Apple. Vocals on album are provided by a core cadre of talented MC's - Murs, Vordul Mega (Cannibal Ox), Wordsworth, and C-Rayz Walz. Belief's beats are full, lush, and on the softer side of gritty, as exemplified by Murs' turn on the soulful "The Fountainhead," which sounds like a 9th Wonder track with better drums. The reggae-tinged "Justice" is another interesting choice, and here Vordul and Walz flow easily over the syncopated rhythms. Dedication (Green Streets Entertainment) is a solid effort from an up-and-comer who we'll probably be hearing more of in the future.
The newest company to discover the selling power of hip-hop is Scion, which has created a label called Scion Audio/Visual, focused on DJ culture and rap music. How's that for synergy. Two new releases from the car company's music branch are actually pretty good. First up is a 12-inch collaboration betweenEl Michels Affair and Raekwon. They've reworked Rae's "The PJ's" as a live track, and the results are nice: Raekwon sounds as hungry as he did in his Cuban Linx days here, and the beat is a slow-burning guitar and piano-laced gem. Here's an example of a live backing band that works really well (take note, Lyrics Born!). Next up is The Rub's (Cosmo Baker and DJ Ayres) mix CD, Award Tour. These two DJs know their underground hip-hop and electro, judging from the stellar track selection here: Ghostface and Doom's collaboration, Fannypack, Chromeo, The Streets, and Bloc Party are a few highlights from this 28-track mix. A hipster's wet dream, this expertly mixed album grudgingly certifies that Scion has its finger on a lively musical pulse.
Hi-Tek is back on the block with Hi-Teknology 2 (Babygrande), on which this esteemed producer grabs the mike as much he provides the beats. Tek's flow is not half bad either - he may not be a Kanye (and there are those who would argue against his lyrical skills), but he does all right. He's currently a staff producer and talent scout for Aftermath, but he's maintained the big, soulful production style that made he made his name with on the Black Star and Reflection Eternal albums in the '90s. Highlights on the new record include "Keep It" featuring Q-Tip and Kurupt, "Can We Go Back" with Talib Kweli and London soul singer Ayak, and "March" featuring a hyped-up Busta Rhymes. There's the occasional misstep here, such as the syrupy r'n'b sex of "Baby We Can Do It" featuring Nok and Haze, but overall Hi-Tek has created another sure-shot, furthering his rep as one of the current top producers.
The LA underground has long been perched on the most forward edge of the future of hip-hop. Sometimes it can be hard to handle, especially for ears accustomed to the usual boom-bap, but there are those who manage to blend the innovative and erratic with beats and rhymes that are still satisfying. The Beyonders' new album, Time Capsule (Nonfikshen), follows this precise formula. Phoenix Orion and The ParanormL, two staples of the LA underground, have united for this record, employing producer Toby Tones' grimy, post-apocalyptic beats to create their dark hip-hop milieu. From the opening assault of "The Beyonders" to the more laid-back '90s-style "Symphony" (featuring Avatar), the Beyonders spit swift and deft.
And finally, the Bay Area's Prince Ali has surfaced with his first mixtape, Corner Ensemble. Check out the skittering drums of "Fresh Face" (produced by CHIII), which blend perfectly with Ali's rambunctious flow. Ali is working on his debut full-length, Curb Side Service, which will feature appearances by Pep-Love, Souls of Mischief, and Planet Asia. He's obviously got friends in high places, which also happen to believe in his microphone skills, as Opio, Rakaa (Dilated Peoples), and Defari all put in verses on Corner Ensemble. It's easy to see why, as this novice MC proves his worth on track after track here. Drawing more from east coast swagger than west coast saunter, Ali still maintains a decidedly Bay Area identity on songs like "Palm Tree Mind State" or the funk-guitar-heavy "Lunch Pale."
And we're out. Glaciers will be back in December to preview suggested hip-hop stocking stuffers and Hanukkah gifts. 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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