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March is almost done, springtime is here, and we've got so much to talk about. Grab a bowl of oatmeal and a bloody Mary and turn down that Lord Finesse album you've been rocking all winter. It's time for Glaciers of Ice. First, a little catch-up:
LA's Dilated Peoples released their third long-player, 20/20, on Capitol this February. The record continues the Dilated tradition of rhymes traded off by MC's Evidence and Rakaa, and scratches by Beat Junkie Babu. It's a solid record, with a heavy focus on Evidence's more than capable production, but I've never quite been able to fully get into Dilated and I'm not quite sure how to put my finger on exactly why. Rakaa and Ev's rhymes are always surefooted, but sometimes almost too much so, as they never choose to take risks with cadence, tempo, or word choice. Still, it's hard to say anything bad about this record, as it is about any Dilated records. A solid and serviceable effort that doesn't quite have the extra ingredients to push it into top 10 of the year category, 20/20 features guest spots from Talib Kweli, Krondon, Defari, Capleton, and B-Real as Dr. Greenthumb.
Hiphopsite.com and Inhumanz member Pizzo and Abe Froman Showmen member DJ Five released Backpack Thugs 2005 Megamix last month. The idea here is a good one: the tracklist consists entirely of mash-ups of underground and commercial hip-hop. Some examples: Buckshot spitting "No Comparison" over the beat for Cam'ron's "Down and Out", Little Brother rapping over David Banner's "Play", and the Ying Yang Twinz over Danger Doom's "Mince Meat". Sometimes it works and sometimes it only kind of works… but mostly it works. The highlight of the mix is actually the last track, Skillz' "05 Wrap Up." Always on point, quick with words and wit, and a dope MC to boot, Skillz' track covers every notable hip-hop event of 2005, as well as disaster's like Katrina, with amazing dexterity.
Album of the month for March 2006? Ghostface's Fishscale, of course. The album dropped this week, and though all I've had a chance to listen to is a sampler version and various tracks floating around the net, but I'm confident that these tidbits are enough to declare this one of the best of this nascent year. Delving even farther into the soul and r'n'b that Ghost readily admits he'd rather listen to than hip-hop, tracks like "Back Like That," "Charlie Brown," Big Girl," and "Be Easy" pick up where Pretty Toney left off. Ghost's topics, ranging from getting smacked by his mom to cutting coke to love, are emoted from a belligerent yell to a mournful howl - as Sasha Frere-Jones aptly noted in a recent New Yorker article, his voice is almost like an instrument. If you're gonna buy one hip-hop record this year, buy this one. The only Wu-Tang Clan member who truly still has a prolific and relevant career, Ghostface's "give a fuck" banter doesn't mask the raw emotion that bursts through his music.
And the best of the rest… two excellent mix CD's were released by DMC UK this past month. Liam Prodigy's entry in the Back to Mine series is a seriously eclectic mix of songs that are surprising in both his choices and the ease of his mix. Picture QOTSA blending into Public Enemy blending into Dolly Parton blending into PiL and you get the idea. Roll Deep Presents Grimey is the other release, a mélange of the best of the UK's grime scene - Kano, So Solid Crew, Ms. Dynamite, Wiley, and Dizzee Rascal, of course - and let's face it, this mix CD is probably ten times iller than any American hip-hop to come out in the past six months.
Spawned from the same gully soil as everything Def Jux, Slow Suicide Stimulus' debut self-titled LP (Flo Spot) hit the streets in March. The group consists of Tame One (The Artifacts, The Weathermen), and The Dusted Dons - C-Chan, Govone, and DJ Melski. Friends and partners in crime El-P, Mighty Mi, Damu Tao, Yak Ballz, and Vast Aire show up to help with production and guest spots, and resulting mix is grimier than Grime and distinctly New York.
A trio of records was released by Paris' imprint, Guerrilla Funk Recordings. Hard Truth Soldiers Vol. 1 is a compilation featuring artists such as Dead Prez, The Coup, Public Enemy, and Mack 10; T-K.A.S.H. released his own Turf War Syndrome; and Public Enemy returns with Rebirth of a Nation. These last two were almost entirely produced by label-headmaster and Bay area native, Paris, and you're either feeling his pimp-funk production or you're not. Promoted as a throwback to old school PE, this doesn't sound like anything you've heard from these vets before, although the politics and confrontation are still on militant display.
The ever-prolific Madlib released yet another album - and this is not meant as any kind of discouragement at all, Lib, so keep 'em coming!!! - for his longtime home of Stones Throw. Beat Konducta Vol. 1-2: Movie Scenes is another hour or so of Madlib's insanely engaging instrumental production work. At 35 tracks long, there's nary a soggy muffin in the batch. These beats may or may not be used in the future for MC's to rhyme over, but just like Dilla's Donuts (RIP), Beat Konducta is proof that beat albums can be as good, if not better, than your average MC's record.
Apathy's Eastern Philosophy keeps Connecticut in the hip-hop mainframe. The Demigodz member also has a major label album in the works, Bearer of Bad News, due out on Atlantic. But until then, this seriously intense MC, helped along by friends like Ryu (Styles of Beyond) and Celph Titled, has a burner in the works with his debut for Babygrande. There are some unfortunate links to Fort Minor and Linkin Park going on here, as Mike Shinoda shows up as a guest and the FM boys mash-up Ap with Bloc Party… OK, fine, this one is actually pretty dope. I mean, he talks about fucking Meadow Soprano and pistol-whipping her dad. Balls. And the chopped up Bloc Party song ("Banquet") works so well as a hip-hop track.
And finally, two under the radar releases of note: DJ Green Lantern mixed the soundtrack for the And 1 Street Ball video game. It's an interesting selection, featuring Freeway, Devin the Dude, Rhymefest, and The Clipse, among others. Lesser known artists like Stat Quo also appear next to legends like Kool G Rap on this short mix (about 30 minutes long), and overall one gets the feeling that perhaps it would work better if you were actually playing the game to it. And Malkovich Music's Skeletons are leaving the closet, a sleeper/surprise from this member of the LA collective Halifax All-Stars, which includes Fat-Hed and Nocturnal Ron. Dreary but not dismal with the beats, the production here recalls RZA and Muggs. Malkovich's flow is one to listen for in the future, as another quick-witted and intelligent MC is unleashed upon the masses.
And that's all for now, folk. See you next month. Until then… e-mail with thoughts and insults, and send me yer shit! I'll listen to it. 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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