The rap game has been bombarded by interesting releases over the past several weeks - and I hope Summer Sessions has found comfortable position high in your recent rotation in the midst of all the bangers - but more pressing issues commandeer this here space for today.
It’s a big week in The Blast circles. Things get cracking at 1001 Nights on Friday night, as LEO37 heads a packed line-up of talented local musicians into the fifth edition of the continuing Do You Want More?!? live series. As usual, Serp will heat things up and handle the intermissions between Leo and his band’s stacked showcase, one which will include appearances by a handful of Taiwan’s most promising hip-hop acts. The change of location brings with it some intrigue, and the the new venue looks to be an ideal setting for the DYWM format. 1001 Nights be the spot this Friday night.
And that’s not all. On Saturday night, The Blast, in conjunction with OIT, Nabiis, and Libre, proudly present Only Time Will Tell, a multidimensional, collaborative artistic endeavor exhibiting the work of Optimist, Stuey, and Noe. Anybody who has ever put tread to the streets of Taipei should be familiar with these names from their numerous open-air displays, as well as last year’s successful Optimistuey project, Time Flies in Taipei. With Noe joining in on the rawkus, the required gallery space has been increased, and this summer’s showing will take place at The Base. The Blast DJs will be on the 1’s and 2’s for the gallery’s opening party this weekend from 3:00 to 9:00 pm. Come out and enjoy the festivities. Until then, it’s The Blast, ya’ll.
Nearly halfway through 2013, we’ve reached undoubtedly the biggest week in hip-hop music so far this year. Of course, the big news is the leak of Kanye West’s sixth solo LP Yeezus and its official arrival in stores today. Not to be outdone by his longtime protege, Jay-Z just announced the release date for his upcoming project Magna Carta Holy Grail (strange timing, no?). In a video that finds Hov surrounded by a hip-hop Brill Building of legendary rap producers, it is revealed that Jiggaman’s latest project is only weeks away, slated for an Independence Day release. And if major moves by two of rap’s most visible visionaries doesn’t quite do it for you, there has been plenty of action on the subterranean circuit. Besides the arrival of Summer Sessions Volume 2 last Tuesday, we’ve also been blessed with new studio records from J. Cole, Action Bronson and Harry Fraud, Statik Selektah, Lord Quas, and a resurgent Mac Miller over the past 7-day period, as well as notable action in the mixtape game including all-new material from Problem, Young Dro, and a super-sleeper from ATL youngbloods Migos.
But with a such a smorgasbord of new music to listen to, the true main course comes courtesy of Smells Gucci who returns with the fourth annual Summer Tape. Much like previous versions - and not dissimilar to Your Humble Narrator’s own Summer Sessions compilation - the 2014 edition is filled with bangers custom made for your upcoming summer cookout. Joints like Overdoz’s "Taking Me Down" and Mighty Network’s "She Roll With Me" seem tailored for shenanigans in the sunshine, and I’ve previously displayed my fondness for inclusions such as Rocky’s "Suddenly", Bronsolinio’s "Morey Boogie Boards", and Rozay and ‘Kiss on "Oil Money Gang" in this very space.
At the risk of spoiling some of next week’s column, I’ve got to say that it’s comforting to rely on the consistency of Smells Gucci’s yearly rap curation in the midst of some disappointing major label releases. Hit the link below for a free download. I ♥ Tuesdays: Steady keeping your deck hot for the summer season. Until next Tuesday, it’s The Blast, ya’ll.
Ladies and gentlemen, I ♥ Tuesdays is proud to present Summer Sessions 2013. With the official start of summer only weeks away, and the Taiwanese climate beginning to rear it’s ugly head, Your Humble Narrator once again decided to play DJ Khaled in hopes of adding some proverbial propane to your upcoming BBQ parties. This year’s Summer Sessions is a compilation of not only some of my favorite joints that I’ve mentioned here in my weekly columns, but also other random selections from the past year which seem fitting for any summer occasion, be that a solo smoke cruise to a poolside pow-wow. I’ve included tracks that span a wide variety of regional and sub-cultural movements within the hip-hop genre in hopes of shining some light on the current industry landscape. Hate it or love it, hip-hop lives. Embrace it.
More than anything else, this is a fun pet-project. My goal is that Summer Sessions can open some eyes for those who question the validity and value of modern day rap, and at the same time consolidate some favorites for those who continue to support the culture through its ongoing evolution. The response I got from last year’s tape was amazing, and I’m hoping that the 2013 rendition of the Summer Sessions series will add some knock to your iTunes playlist for upcoming months. Many thanks to those of you who assist in building The Blast movement, both here on the blog and at the various live events around Taiwan. This is my way of saying thanks for the continued support. Enjoy.
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.