I’ll spare you any excuses as to why I missed another report on the latest and greatest in rap last Tuesday. Despite a full plate of responsibilities, I’ve still been scouring the Internet for that next record that inspires a full-length review, but the search remains fruitless. In the meantime, Kanye West managed to commandeer the attention of the hip-hop world with the release of new material expected to be found on his upcoming solo project. The details of Ye’s highly-anticipated sixth album, which appears to be titled Yeezus, have been kept close to the chest, but it seems that the rumored June 18 release will hold true. And this past weekend certainly marked the unofficial commencement of Yeezy season. The night before an appearance on Saturday Night Live, West premiered new visuals for the previously-unreleased “New Slaves” at 66 locations, projected onto walls in 10 cities around Europe and North America.
Whoa. Yeezy mad, real mad, Joe Jackson. And though I’m not sure what to make of Marilyn Manson collaboration“Black Skinheads”, the psuedo-Industrial track he debuted the following night on SNL, I think that “New Slaves” is probably a better indication of the direction Kanye is headed with Yeezus. And that makes me happy. There are sure to be those who hate and others who exaggerate the album’s significance, just as there has been with all of Kanye’s projects to date. But you can rest assured that it will be bold, controversial, and a work of unbridled passion, and as long as the passion isn’t misguided, it will likely be great. Whatever the end result, Kanye has certainly proved that he can transform any move he makes into an event, and he will once again command the spotlight of the entertainment world come June 18.
What else has been happening in the rap game while Kanye was walking into poles projecting himself onto walls? Peep:
Back in January, I told you that Sunday School was one of my favorite sleeper projects of 2012. Now, just over a year later, Tree returns with Sunday School II: When Church Lets Out. This time around, Tree is backed by Creative Control and a collective of others who are likely to help increase his exposure at the risk of tampering with the raw, DIY aesthetic that helped make last year’s tape so dope. While Tree handles the majority of the work behind the boards, the fact that he enlisted help from seven contributing producers indicates he’s dedicating more of his time to the pen game. And it shows. This is the definition of grown-man rap, but Tree displays a K.R.I.T.-like ability to drop knowledge without ever sounding as if he’s delivering it from a high horse. Time after time, Tree proves that it’s possible to make meaningful street rap with a fresh approach to trap tales.
Verdict: While there isn’t anything as whiplash-inducing as “All” here, Tree extends his win streak with SSII. The creation of the “soultrap” label comes off a bit corny after some consideration, it’s probably the most accurate description of Tree’s sound. Tree is bridging the gap between generations as well as anyone in the game at the moment, and it’s an important role, especially in a city with a burgeoning rap scene like Chicago. It’s unfortunate that, in playing that role, Tree has probably limited - and may have reached - his ceiling for long-term success in the music industry.
I’m still not quite sure how French Montana got this famous. He parlayed a Max B co-sign, a few decent mixtapes, and some thug credentials into a major label bidding war. That ended in a deal that features the signatures of industry icons Jimmy Iovine, Sean Combs, and William Roberts. It’s even more surprising when you consider that the Moroccan-born Montana - Karim Kharbouch to the government - doesn’t fit the established “New York Rapper” mold in any way, shape, or form. What’s more, he doesn’t rap well. He’s gotten to this point in the game based on “hotness” - an undeniable, feature-based buzz over the past 18 months - despite putting out very little product of his own. Excuse My French - once-upon-a-time slated for a July 2012 release - has been in the works for well over a year now, but has failed to generate a massive single in spite of features from damn near every Billboard rapper. (OK, “Pop That” was huge, but so terrible I didn’t even want to bring it up.) So why am I not surprised that Montana’s debut is expected to top the rap sales charts despite leaking more than a week before today’s in-store release? Because this is the rap industry in 2013.
Verdict: I’ve always appreciated Montana’s ear for good, forward-thinking production, and Excuse My French is no different. Despite the notable absence of longtime-collaborator Harry Fraud on the boards, it’s full of banging beats that are custom-made to bump in the whip. But Montana just keeps getting in the way. He talks about the same four or five things (drugs, cars, girls with fat asses, money, and high-end fashion brands) IN EVERY SINGLE FUCKING VERSE ON THIS ALBUM. Without fail. While his ultra-laidback approach to mic work can be effective on that Mase level from time to time, he has a terrible habit of littering it with intentionally irritating adlibs. And the half-hearted attempts at singing are laughable at best. Though French does his best to shit on a bunch of producers top-notch canvases, I’m happy to report there is at least one occasion when he actually makes a track a little bit better: the hook on “When I Want” ensures that at least one selection from Excuse My French will remain in rotation for a minute. In fact, I think I found my anthem for summer 2013.
Scion has been linking up with various famous-on-the-Internet rap people to help try to improve their “cool factor”, and the latest product of their plotted auto industry takeover is this short, free-for-download EP with Surf School head instructor Harry Fraud. The familiar “La Musica” production stamp has long been a call to attention for Your Humble Narrator, but his most recent effort was underwhelming. On High Tide, an overt attempt is made to link emcees who would likely never collaborate otherwise, and Scion has called upon Fraud to orchestrate these unexpected unions.
Verdict: The EP contains only five joints, but there certainly isn’t much to be excited about. Bronson and Montana trading verses on “Mean” remains the only true highlight and that had been floating around for several months already. The pairing of Earl Sweatshirt and Riff Raff had me amped upon first glance, but it’s shockingly boring, due in large part to a brooding, lifeless production from Fraud. There’s nothing really unbearable here - I mean that as a compliment, given the concept of the collection - but Fraud seems to be in a bit of a drought when it comes to crafting noteworthy beats.
Last year, Twohands released the first 10 of his The Wire-inspired mixes in an incredible USB box set. While I had thought that release signaled the end of the series, I was delighted to find out last week that I had been mistaken. For Look the Part, Dos Manos blends a hand-picked selection of joints spliced with Proposition Joe vocal snippits in homage to late actor Robert F. Chew, who died of a heart attack earlier this year. Twohands maintains that the majority of these mixes are recorded in live form - not surprising given his generation’s lack of basic computer skills - but it does lend credit to the Londoner’s true appreciation for his craft. At a steal for free ninety nine on Twohands’ Soundcloud, it was easy to fit into rotation over the past week.
Verdict: The Lester Freamon of Taiwan hip-hop truly outdid himself with this one. While Twohands has often made efforts to ignore his inner-traditionalist and showcase contemporary artists on his Wire mixes, he really gets the new blood sections right this time. The presence of two Homeboy Sandman joints is a great look, and Action Bronson verses are a welcome addition to any mix. But it’s the expertly-selected Prop Joe audio clips that really give the mix an extra appeal and make the tape more memorable than your typical listening experience, particularly for fans of The Wire. If you’re a fan of the mix, check out Rap Nerds for the rest of mixes as well as some of Twohands’ other work.
Fresh off the success of LEO37’s most recent installment of the Do You Want More?!? concert series, The Blast crew looks to continue the roll into the summer. Now that all four of The Blast DJ’s have feet firmly planted in Taipei once again, there’s plenty more hip-hop heat in store, beginning with more Under Bridge parties in the very near future. As always, it’s The Blast, ya’ll.
I present you with a fact: Getting old is wack. The closer I get to my thirties, the more I know this to be true. Not only does it take me twice as long to get out of bed after an evening of pick-up hoops than it did five years ago, but there is also all this “responsibility” stuff that keeps getting in the way of the important things in life. Interests like hip-hop, sports, the homies, and my cherie amour are too often being relegated to the back burner in favor of lame stuff like laundry, making a living, self-improvement, and other assorted bullshit. It’s not fun. And it’s also why, over the past several months, I’ve failed to live up to my pledge of delivering you the latest and greatest in the hip-hop universe each and every week here at The Blast Blog. To say that my plate is full would be a bit of an understatement, and while I still try to fit in a solid helping of rap music with every proverbial feast, sometimes there just isn’t any room. Not to say that I’ve fallen out of touch; never that. But finding time to put pen to pad fingers to keys with extended thoughts on any particular release is becoming more of a chore. Could it be a lack of inspiring projects? Perhaps, but the optimist in me would like to think that it’s more circumstantial. And as you’ll see below, there are still plenty of exciting things happening in the game each week. So once again, I’m calling upon an increasingly trusted formula to present to you some condensed reactions to the projects that have gotten any burn over the past fortnight. Without further ado…
Rockie Fresh first caught Your Humble Narrator’s attention with the Driving 88 mixtape, released early last year. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who took note, as Rick Ross gracefully swooped in and inked Rockie to a deal with his MMG imprint. While Driving 88 was noteworthy mostly for its production, Rockie held his own on the tape despite a laissez-fair approach to the microphone mathematics. Joining forces with the Maybach Music family seemed to be the right move for another of Chicago’s up-and-comers, but his January mixtape Electric Highway was a dud and he has failed to generate much of a buzz with any of the singles he has dropped since. Is The Birthday Tape - a seven-track compilation released to commemorate Rockie’s 22nd born day - enough to Chi-Town’s Marty McFly back on the road to relevancy?
Verdict: In short, no. Rockie’s sleepy style grows - pardon the pun - tired in next to no time. What once seemed to be his strong suit - an ear for progressive soundscapes - has become a detrement to his overall appeal. Kudos to Rockie for trying new things, but the EDM-infused production on The Birthday tape is not an ideal match for the lazy lyricism found throughout.
Chicago upstart fits the bill of the successful Internet emcee in 2013, and in the post-Kendrick rap landscape, it’s no surprise that Chance has damn near every major label hot on his heels. The 20-year-old was a surprising exclusion from XXL’s Freshman Class this year, but he’s hoping that Acid Rap will help to prove his viability without the assistance of magazine covers. There is a certain vulnerability in his lyricism - no shocker that makes him much more approachable than a lot of the top youngbloods with a more aggro approach. The raspy, sing-songy flow isn’t the easiest to digest, but it will certainly help Chance distinguish himself from the crowd. Still, with little more than a sleeper mixtape on his rap resume, Acid Rap will likely go a long way to deciding Chance’s chances of success in the industry.
Verdict:Acid Rap oozes with professionalism despite Chance’s limited body of work, right down to a loose narrative and thinly-veiled social consciousness. The aforementioned drawbacks of Chance’s uncharacteristic delivery are largely masked by smart song structures and consistently excellent production Chance is well on his way to being one of the industry’s next stars, and Acid Rap is a huge step leap in the right direction.
The successful rapper-slash-producer is a dying breed, but alongside K.R.I.T. and Tyler, J Cole looks to carry the multi-wicked torch lit by legends like Pete Rock, Dilla, and Q-Tip. With the backing of Hov and his Roc Nation imprint, Young Jermaine once seemed like the next sure thing for hip-hop crossover success. But following a run of really good mixtapes and the release of a platinum single, Cole’s studio debut Cole World: The Sideline Story was considered a sizable disappointment despite debuting as the number one record in America. For all his talents, Cole struggles to portray the level of charisma that necessitates an emcees widespread success in the present day industry climate. Now, in preparation for his upcoming sophomore effort Cole Summer, Cole has released the second half of his Yours Truly mixtape series. If Jermaine hopes to make the leap to household name, he needs to prove that he has the “it” that has been missing from past efforts.
Verdict: Most of the six tracks on Yours Truly 2 are really good. But the EP offers an interesting examination of the crossroads Cole appears to be at in his career: He’s unquestionably at his best when he crafts genuine, heartfelt joints with borderline-nostalgic appeal, as he does on most of his newest tape. Unfortunately, when attempting to make the type of track that fits into present day radio/video rotation, he stumbles. While I’d never call Cole’s talents on both the mic and the boards into question, I’m beginning to doubt he has what it takes to ever get a sniff at rap superstardom.
OK, so I have a bit of a soft spot for Kurupt. Not only were his overtly misogynistic verses some of the most memorable from my formative years, but he’s also always had a knack for great guest spots and out-of-the-blue collaborations that work to perfection. But alas, time has not been so kind to no-so-Young Gotti, to the point that even his Wiki header points out his struggles to remain relevant. His latest attempt to reclaim some shine was released last week after almost half a year of delays and features collaborations with some longtime friends as well as a few of the West’s new breed.
Verdict: COTDAMN TURN IT OFF THIS SHIT IS TERRIBLE! The only time Kurupt is bearable on MBP is when he shamelessly attempts to recreate the classic DPG sound of years past, and even that is a stretch. Songs like “Weird Party”, on which Kurupt attempts to find his way somewhere close to “the box” in 2013, are indefensible and just plain sad. For the sake of his own artistic legacy, I hope Kurupt has plans to hang up the mic in the near future. In fact, right now seems like a great time.
This Saturday night, Tainan once again becomes the one-and-only destination for Taiwan’s true hip-hop heads as DJ Two Hands hosts The Blast’s own LEO37 for the latest in his Make Room monthly party series. Fresh off touring Canada, Leo looks to make a grand reenterance to the domestic scene with his signature blends of the old and the new. And as usual, Two Hands is sure to deliver the finest Golden Era hip-hop along with some funk and dancehall classics sprinkled in for good measure. Hopefully some of the records highlighted in this week’s column will provide fodder for contentious debate conversation inside Tin Pan Alley come Saturday night. Until then, it’s The Blast, ya’ll.