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It's been a few months since the last Glaciers column, but we're back with some new releases for February, as well as a couple of records that came out around the holidays that shouldn't be overlooked.
First up is the third installment of Hi-Tek's Hi-Teknology series (Babygrande). The producer, formerly a partner with Talib Kweli in Reflection Eternal and now a member of the Aftermath team, hasn't packed this release with quite as many stars as past volumes, but it's strong all the same. Hi-Tek hasn't renounced his smooth, r'n'b-soaked beatmaking, although at times it does border on schmaltz. "My Piano," featuring Ghostface, Raekwon, and Dion is nice, despite a cheesy vocal melody and piano line, and "God's Plan" is an unsentimental but moving tribute to the late Tupac, featuring Young Buck and Outlaws. Other guests include relative unknowns like Rem Dog, Push Montana, and Chip the Rippa. But the sign of a truly good producer is the ability to include but not rely on guest MCs, and Hi-Tek still seems to have it.
I was completely and utterly prepared to dislike Yak Ballz' new album, Scifentology II (Scifen). He's always been my least favorite Weatherman, sounding uncannily similar to his mentor, the superior Cage, and when I saw him play live a few years ago, it didn't leave much of an impression on me. But man, this album is nice. From the opening distorted guitars of "Blind Faith" (which turns out to not be the shitty rap-rock it threatens), to the '90s jazz-bass of "YBTV," to the spacey "Trust is a Timebomb," Yak delivers. Yes, he could have done without "A Billion Ways," featuring the emo vocals of Peter Toh, but overall this album is surprisingly good. Yak's nasal flow, pop culture references, and quick wit should endear this one to the underground crowd.
Straight outta St. Louis, Stank has a new mixtape available, Black Boy Shit Vol. 1, for download in anticipation of his debut album that will be released on Vista Music Group/Universal. I hope the proper album will be more interesting than this mix. The beats are run-of-the-mill faux-orchestral production alternating with G-funk throwaway tracks. Several songs, including the syrupy "Shining," show some potential, though. Stank himself sounds belligerent and forceful, but his money-hoes-thug-themed raps don't really do it for me.
Mike Ladd is back with Nostalgialator (Def Jux), a fast and furious journey through the off-kilter hip-hop only he is capable of. Originally released on K7, El-P's forward-thinking imprint seems like the perfect fit for Ladd. Starting off with Beastie Boys-style vocal distortion, the album soon hits its stride with "Black Orientalist," one of the most traditional hip-hop tracks to be found here, continuing in leaps and bounds with the spoken word "How Electricity Really Works," name-checking Bill O'Reilly (among others) on the way. Ladd is insanely creative, never content to let his music be pegged into one category. But he makes it work, and his long artistic and collaborative background can be felt all the way through this excellent effort.
A Cannibal Ox reunion doesn't seem to be in the stars, but the next best thing comes on the new album from Mighty Joseph, Empire State (Urchin Studios). "Blood Sport," one of the better tracks on the album, finds Vordul Mega reunited with partner Vast Aire. Aire, along with partner Karniege, comprise this pair of big Js, who have crafted a dirty, creative, ominous, and banging underground classic. The lesser-known Karniege easily holds his own with the better-known Aire, as the two trade verses over a bevy of hype tracks. Check Karniege's Black Moon reference on "Burr," Murs' guest spot on "The Dark Ages," and the quality production all the way through. Don't sleep on Mighty Joseph.
Another Joe with a notable release this month is Mr. Joe Budden. His new mixtape, Mood Muzik 3 (Amalgam Digital), reveals an MC who is geared up and ready to go in anticipation of his forthcoming full-length. Budden sounds like Kool G Rap in his better days, but much of his success hinges upon his choice of backing beats. Sure, it's kinda cool to hear him rap over Metallica's "The Unforgiven" ("5th Gear") or Gerard McCann's "Cry Little Sister," also the theme song from The Lost Boys ("Thou Shall Not Fall"). But tracks like "All of Me" or the opening "Dear Diary" are where Budden's lisp and endless flow show why he's had the success he has. Of course, the proper release probably will pale in comparison to this mix, but let's see if Budden can prove this formula wrong. Oh, and he shouts out Tim Dog, so respect is definitely due.
Nicolay, producer extraordinaire best known for his Foreign Exchange project with Little Brother member Phonte, is back with a new solo album, Time: Line. This collaboration with rapperKay also features guest turns from Oh No Soulfruit, and Chip Fu, sounding nothing like his Fu-Schnickens days. It's a dreamy, soulful, ethereal affair, sounding more like a classic soul joint than modern-day hip-hop. Overall, this is a very good thing, as Nicolay's arrangements are lush and textured. The one thing that it may lack at times is that vibrant boom-bap, but a close listen to the crackling drums on songs like "Tight Eyes" quickly dispels that. Kay is an able rapper, but it's Nicolay's determination to be more Curtis Mayfield than Curtis Jackson and elevate the art that makes his work so interesting.
I'd love to review the new Kool G Rap EP here, Half Klip (Latckey), but the label only saw fit to send me a sampler of clips, so I can't really do justice based on a minute of each song. That being said, from what I can hear, despite production from Premier, Marley Marl, and Domingo, G Rap still doesn't sound as good as his Live and Let Die days. He still spins tails of murder, crime and street antics, but there's just something missing here from what made him one of hip-hop's finest. Of course, this is a huge step up from his other recent endeavors, but it's not enough to make me want to go out and buy this album. Anyone who gets a chance to hear the whole thing, let me know what you think.
Finally, I can't really say enough good things about EMC, a group consisting of Masta Ace, Wordsworth, Punchline, and Stricklin. Their new album, The Show, is a triumph of easygoing beats and lithe rhymes. Punch and Words are both Lyricist Lounge affiliates and Ace is a hip-hop veteran familiar to any true head (not sure exactly who Stricklin is, but dude sounds good). With a definite late-'90s style and mood, it's good to hear underground that's not overly nerdy and still maintains the excitement and tension.
OK, that's all for now, so until March… 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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