Monday, October 31, 2011

Album Review: Wale: Ambition


The time for Wale has come.  In my earlier post on Wale, questioning whether he really was that good, I answered "No."  I said I would give his new sophomore album Ambition, dropping tomorrow 11.1.11 a chance, even after I hated his mixtape ElevenOneEleven Theory.  But Wale is somebody many people see potential in, and many people listen to Wale for his witty lyrics and the true essence of hip hop he brings to the table.  In a game where everyone is singing on their hooks and "hip pop" is spreading through the mainstream and sweetening up radio waves, Wale is still spittin lyrics with the same cockiness and wit he always has, always living up to the "niggas be rapping" claim he made back on Back to the Feature.  Wale's lyricism was never in question, but his ability to hold one's attention, add another element to tracks through his words and flow, and his mic presence were suspect.  Add that to what many people believe was a less than stellar debut, and an eyebrow raising deal with MMG and Rick Ross, and you get a whole host of pressure for the DMV emcee.

Many assumptions were made about how this album would sound, how much it would sell, what part would Ross play, how would it compare to the other albums released this year, and whether Wale was legit or not.  Wale himself went as far as to call his album "classic" numerous times before the public even heard it, saying ahead of time that his lyrics may go over people's heads....

Yea he said that.  And he believes that.  The cockiness, the arrogance, the gall even.  That type of talk can rub listeners the wrong way and apply too much pressure to your project, setting heights that may be too tall for the album to live up to.  Wale did not see it that way.  Not only was he confident in his product, but he also has said that he has to be confident and cocky, and that "being humble keeps you in the back."  He even said this on his album.  Well the leak came out a few days ago, the album officially releases tomorrow, and Wale is the talk of the town and the net.  What are people saying?  What people think?  What do I think?  Well.........

A track by track review won't let you know how I really FEEL about this project.  As I sat down and listened to Ambition, giving it 5 listens in the first day it leaked, I listened with an non biased ear.  I have been critical of Wale in the past, but I still want good music from him, THATS ALL.  In the end......thats what I got.

The first three tracks really jumped at me, like really really REALLY jumped at me.  Don't Hold Your Applause sounded so melodic yet powerful.  Wale didn't smash the beat, but he rode on it fairly easily.  This beat, along with Double M Genius and Miami Nights, really grab a hold of you from the start, and thats not a feeling Im used to having when listening to a Wale cut.  But was it Wale or the beat?  Hmm.........

I liked the first three tracks, and Legendary is where I came across my first encounter with an emotion that would plague me almost every time I heard a Wale song or feature...........indifference.  The beat was great in my opinion, but not as uplifting and powerful as the first three tracks.  This song needed Wale to add an element to it to make it pop, not "poppy" but to keep you invested.  Wale had lyrics, but his whole delivery and presence on that song was real low key.  Real underwhelming.  The lyrics kept the song from being wack, but I couldn't feel no way about it, good or bad.  Although I was optimistic thinking this would be one of the few times I would feel this way, indifference reared its ugly head again and again.  Tracks like No Days Off, DC or Nothing, Chain Music, and Illest Bitch, tracks that I can admit were not lacking in flow, witty bars, and everything Wale is known for, didn't surprise me, impress me, or do anything to me or make me feel anything.  They honestly felt like Wale.....rapping over dope beats.  I liked all the beats (besides Chain Music) but it didn't mesh with the DC native.  It shouldn't be him just rapping over beats, not when he prides himself on being an artist.  Besides this is an album, not a mixtape.  Not saying those sound like mixtape songs, but they didn't do anything for me.  Good or bad.

There were some tracks I thought were wack, and I knew Wale would have those usual wack tracks that only Wale can think really sound good.  Focused was so laughable...from the struggle hook that Kid Cudi delivered, from that neo-80's pop beat, to the way Wale tackled the song.  Not my taste at all.  I didn't like Slight Work at all, I felt it was cheesy and well it had Big Sean on it so.....yea.  And White Linen sounds like Lotus Flower Bomb part 2 but a little sped up and different lyrics.  Doesn't help that the whole song put me to sleep.

There were some special tracks up here.  Lotus Flower Bomb, although now I'm a tad indifferent to it, is a hit in my opinion.  Great single, perfect way to make a tune for the ladies and not have it come across as soft and sugary like How to Love was.  Sabotage featuring Lloyd is a great track.  The beat really grabbed my attention, Lloyd added a nice vibe with his singing, and Wale merged with the beat to also set a vibe that you can zone to, something I'm not used to him doing.  Ambition is hands down my favorite track though.  I have already gotten into arguments about why Meek Mill's verse is not only the best on that song but the best on the album (Meek really did destroy that song though), but I will focus on Wale, and he sounded real at home alongside Meek and Rozay on that track.  I loved that song.  Wale really drives home his point and the theme of the album without making it sound like he is beating you over the head with it.

Wale's bars are on par here, and his message is delivered fairly well.  But does it SOUND good?  Is Wale boring as usual?  My experience with this album was a trippy one, as the tracks I did not feel anything for and was indifferent to slowly but surely began to sound better listen by listen.  I initially wrote Legendary off as sleepy and that it did nothing for me, but by the next day, the lyrics were sticking, Wale's flow sounded sharper, and I started to appreciate the track more.  Same with No Days off and DC or Nothing.  This leads me to another point...

I think this album is a "grower."  You know how Wale do, he's not gonna jump out at you on a track unless you're already a loyal fan.  Loyal fans will have a field day with this album as he gives them those witty lyrics and that thoughtful message he usually gives.  The rest of us will initially come away raving about how dope these beats are.  I mean these beats sound crisp, sharp, powerful, and whatever redeeming adjective one can come up with.  But after continuous listens, this album should grow on you more, and Wale should slowly win you over.  This is actually a good album.  I still have my songs I absolutely don't like, and some songs still haven't won me over yet, but everything I do like about this album did the job for me.  Don't Hold Your Applause, Legendary, Lotus Flower Bomb, Chains Music, Sabotage, and DC or Nothing are all good tracks.  Miami Nights, Double M Genius, and Ambition are all GREAT tracks in my opinion, with Ambition being the best on the entire album.  Wale has made steps in the right direction here, as he still doesn't jump out at you at first listen, but adds enough wit, honesty, and pure hip hop in his lyrics and switches his flow up enough to warm your ears up.  I don't see any reason to say this is a bad effort.

I didn't know what to make of Wale before this album, and I still don't know after listening it.  He has been consistent with the projects he has released far as quality (with More About Nothing being the clear standout) but he has been underwhelming in a majority of his works.  He always has good lyrics and decent flow, yet many people say Wale is boring.  I heard this album, and after my very first listen said if this album was an instrumental album, I'd like it more.  NOW?  I take that back.  I can't take back everything I've said about Wale, he surely hasn't turned me into a fan with Ambition, but I do enjoy it, and I do think he's turning a corner.  I think MMG and Ross are really bringing the best out of Wale and he is going in the right direction musically.  Ambition isn't perfect, it is not amazing, and it is certainly not "classic."  But it is a host of quality good music and thats all I really wanted in the first place.  Attention Deficit was ok, but Ambition is sounding a little better to my ears right now.  Probably his second best effort after More About Nothing.  But I enjoyed this album.  Not telling if he has answered his critics, silenced his haters, or gave his fans a classic album, but I do know that this a  good album.....maybe not one of the better albums of the year, but a good one nonetheless.

Do I think Wale is really that good NOW?  Nah not really, but hey this album ain't bad at all.  I think Wale got a hold of some pretty high caliber beats, did his best to keep you entertained. I recommend you listen and buy it even.  The beats are still the strong point on this album to me, but Wale does play a decent role in building an atmosphere that I feel suits him, his theme, and the music he makes.  Wale fans should be happy, and so should he.  Now if he really expected THIS to be a classic though..........

naaaaah, that aint it bro.

Cop that though.  Whurlin!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Signed or Unsigned? What Matters?

In 2011, many new young rap artists are coming out the woodwork it seems, delivering stellar music, building massive, loyal fan bases, and making their own buzz, side stepping the traditional route of going through a "label."  Acts like Odd Future's Tyler the Creator, Emilio Rojas, Los, French Montana, make it look easy...establishing their own rep in hip hop through self promotion and crafting their brand.  Tyler the Creator had labels in an all out bidding war for him, as they wanted to capitalize off the hype he himself created through his music and controversial antics.  The rapper Hopsin has made a name for himself that although isn't a household name, many people on the internet praise him for his raw lyricism and no nonsense flow.  French Montana has been grinding with his music for quite some time, delivering a host of mixtapes to his fans and flooding the streets with hot songs and features, the whole time doing it independently for the most part.  Los, formerly signed to Diddy and Bad Boy, has carved a lane for himself in the underground and a large majority of his core fans consider him the "best rapper alive" and not @LilTunechi.  Even emcees longer in the game like Immortal Technique, Blu, and Elzhi have put out quality music and received the respect of hip hop fans and their peers as well, and a major record label had nothing to do with it.  This leads to my main question....

Does a major label mean anything anymore?

Its 2011, and record labels aren't as prestigious as they used to be.  Much of that has to do with the artists that have big fan bases but aren't on a major.  Yes you still have your big name record labels, like the heavy hitting Young Money/Cash Money records, MMG/Warner Bro.s, Roc Nation, GOOD Music, Shady, Def Jam still around, and even the least talked about Atlantic has some good artists.  In mainstream, majors still play a huge part in exposure to a crossover audience, and fans still do say "Wow this guy is great!  Why isn't he signed?  Jay should pick this guy up."  But in the grand scheme of things....is it better to be unsigned in today's hip hop?  Do majors matter for real for real?

It is an artist responsibility to build their brand, develop a core audience, an image, a signature sound, and make more listeners/DJs/and radio come to them.  More and more rappers are doing this through mixtapes, EPs, individual touring, putting all the pressure on themselves and receiving all the rewards.  Yes, a major record deal would take everything for any aspiring artist to the next level, exposing their product to a wider audience.  But more and more rappers are sticking to their roots, their core fan base, making large sums of money through shows, meet and greets, merchandising, and even selling mixtapes...SELLING MIXTAPES???  Los said it himself that he doesn't need a record deal to be successful, and that him being dropped from Bad Boy turned out to be a blessing cuz now he can direct his career the way he wants it to go, give his fans what they want, and get a larger majority of the profit.  Many people may hear that and wave it off as false, not believing a rapper would rather be independent than to be signed with a major record label the likes of YMCMB.  But its true.

These days, some of the hottest acts in hip hop are either independent or signed to independent labels.  Myself being an artist, I can't say that I am against major labels, as there are clear advantages to being signed.  But being unsigned is not the end of the world anymore.  Rappers have full creative freedom with their music, don't have to worry bout label issues or sample clearances or deadlines.  Being unsigned has a new appeal to it like never before.  I'm sure that rappers still have the dream of having that meeting with Jay-Z like J. Cole did, or signing that dotted line next to Rick Ross like Meek Mill did, or freestyling for Kanye like Big Sean did.  But rappers are also being more practical and productive.  Acts like Kendrick Lamar and Emilio Rojas are coming up in the game, taking hip hop by storm through pure lyricism and unique flow and delivery, and their fans really couldn't care less if they get a major deal or not.

Thats what I think it ultimately comes down to...the fans.  If an artist is comfortable with the core fan base they have made and is living well off that fan base, then more than likely that artist has no real reason to seek a deal.  If an artist wants a larger audience, wants their face on tv and wants to perform on a national stage, he/she may branch out for that deal.  The fans play a role in that regard, and it is ultimately the artist's decision.  But if you ask me, (you didn't) I don't think it matters.  The fans are what matters in my opinion.

I know this blog was a little short, a little less in depth, but hey........fuck it.  Whurlin......

Monday, October 10, 2011

Jay-Z: The Favorites...

At this point in hip hop, longevity has become a rarity in this genre.  While country and rock artist greats are still making quality music and being praised for their trailblazing and legacy, hip hop is all about the "new" generation and whose poppin' now.  Its more about the Tyler The Creator's, the Kid Cudi's, the Kendrick Lamar's or the Freddie Gibb's...and lessa bout the pioneers and innovators of hip hop that define this rap shit.  I hear this all the time...."Nobody checkin' for Nas bruh"..."Nigga who Rakim? This new Ross that shit tho!"...."I mean yea that white boy be spittin, but aye you hear that new Kid Ink tho???"....."Kool Moe Dee???  That some nigga you know or soemthing?"  Hip hop is all about the "what have you done for me lately" mentality, and in a game that is always changing, its is not an easy to task for artists with lengthy careers to stay relevant and at a high level.  Eminem for a lot of years was out the loop, Nas well...to the younger audience (20 and younger) is just another rapper who they HAVE to think is great, but really don't understand what makes him great.  Common is accepted but never discussed in any "hot emcee" or "GOAT" categories.  Ice Cube is performing at the House of Blues, Wu Tang gets almost no respect from this young crowd, and Busta Rhymes has to feature on every hot rapper's track just to keep his name in your mouth, not having a decent album to stand on.  Like I said, longevity in this game is hard to obtain, from a decade to decade standpoint.  If one rapper, if one artist has mastered this art of staying relevant, appealing to all ages and demographics of this thing we call hip hop, its none other than who else....
Jigga has done remarkable things in hip hop.  He has given us so much music, so many memorable songs and cuts, so many sound bites and lulz.  Like all rappers, he has his haters that say from the beginning Jay has been overrated.  That is not my argument today.  Today we going to talk about what has kept him on top of this game for so long, with all generations old and new praising him as one of the best to ever hold a mic.  Not many rappers can say they have the old heads and the young fans both praising them as the "GOAT", but Hov can...and he owes most of that praise to his long and prestigious discography.  Thirteen albums yo.  Really think about that, thirteen albums.  Jay isn't the first or only rap artist to acquire a bunch of albums under his belt, but what makes his albums so special is that we have all heard them.  We all have listened to the  Blueprint trilogies, the Dynasty album, Best of Both Worlds, etc.  We all have opinions.  Hov has stayed on top of the game by giving us a long period of quality music, which seems like isn't going to slow down.  But what do you rank his albums?  What is best one?  Out of all thirteen, where do they fall in place.  I do not know your opinion on the matter, but I know mine....so lets dive into it...

JAY-Z: THE FAVORITES...

13. Best of Both Worlds (with R. Kelly)
 We all know this album some cut...we all know why....and I don't feel like depressing myself by explaining...smh.

12. In My Lifetime Vol.1
Now Vol.1 is by no means a bad album.  Honestly....outside the Best of Both Worlds collaboration, Jay-Z has given us nothing but quality albums.  Many people have this higher on their lists and I can see why.   After following his debut, Jay-Z re-entered the spotlight and gave fans a different side of him than he did in Reasonable Doubt.  His "Bad Boy" mystique really shined through over the guiding hand of Diddy.  Classic tracks are on this album, like the unforgettable intro A Million and One Questions which so effortlessly leads into the second half Rhyme No More, The City Is Mine, Imaginary Player, the hard and gritty Where I'm From, and my personal favorite, the introspective You Must Love Me.  Jay-Z stepped outside of what at the time fans new him as, and gave him Shawn Carter, the spitta from Marcy.  He had his duds, probably due to the same "guiding hand" of Combs, but this is still a quality album.  My main gripe, is that COMPARED to the rest of his catalog, it just doesn't hold weight.  This album could easily be another lesser artists' top five tho.

Standout tracks: Where I'm From, You Must Love Me, Imaginary Player

11. Watch The Throne (with Kanye West)
Once again this is by no means a bad album.  Actually, its one of my favorite albums of 2011.  Hov and Kanye gave us quality new music and took hip hop by storm this summer.  Everyone was tuned into this album and we remember the night it popped up online as we all listened together and took to twitter with our immediate opinions.  A special night in hip hop that Hov and Yeezy gave us.  The music itself received mixed reviews, but I am on the side that loved this album.  It was a celebration of both artists' long road to success, Hov especially.  Verses like his on Welcome to the Jungle and Murder to Excellence really showcase what has made him ill all these years.  Verses like the one on New Day show us how deep of a man he is behind the mystique he so carefully has crafted.  Verses like his on Otis, bringing back straight up hip hop to the radio.  How he straight up DESTROYED Who Gon Stop Me.  I loved it man.  But its still new, still his latest piece.  My heart wants me to put it higher, but my head knows I can't jump the gun because I've years to sit with his other works, and I need years with this before I say its better than the rest.  Plus it is a collaborative work, so I can't cut out all the great verses Kanye added here, as he did carry some parts of the album where Jay-Z fell back.  All in all, I love it tho.

Standout tracks:  New Day, Welcome to the Jungle, Murder to Excellence, Who Gon Stop Me

10. Kingdom Come
Kingdom Come gets a really...REALLY bad rep in the hip hop community.  Jay-Z's comeback album to the masses was deemed as a weak effort as "he lacked the heart" some would say.  I say otherwise.  I like this album.  It was a fresh, new Hov.  He was in a new place in life, and his music on this album reflected that.  Hov's music always took us on a journey on where he was in life.  At this point, he was refreshed and looking back on where he has come and where he will take us afterwards.  Tracks like Lost One, my personal favorite on the album, I Made It, the heavily praised classic Beach Chair, and Do You Wanna Ride were all great songs.  Hov did have some forgettable content, which is why I can't put it any higher than this, but Kingdom Come is still a QUALITY album.  And in 2006, it was a pleasant change of pace to the nonsense that was being released in hip hop, when "snap" music was emerging as the new trend.  Plus, like he said on the title track, "the boy is back" and he came back strong with a new swag, a new vision, and a new hunger.  It just took a while for it to come together.  Good album tho...

Standout tracks: Lost One, Beach Chair, I Made It, Do You Wanna Ride, Kingdom Come

9. Vol.2...Hard Knock Life
One of Jay's most commercially successful albums and his breakout album into the mainstream, Vol.2 (once again) gave us quality music on top of quality music.  Commercial appeal was at an all time high here, but you never feel like Jigga is sacrificing any flows or bars on this LP even if he says otherwise.  The classic Hard Knock Life by itself speaks as to how big this album was, and how innovating Hov is as a hit maker.  Reservoir Dogs featuring The LOX, Beans and Sauce Money showed how Jay still had them bars on deck and how NY spittas really wreck a track.  Nigga What, Nigga Who with Jaz featuring on it showed us how versatile Jay is with the flow.  Money, Cash, Hoes is a classic street anthem, once again showing us Hov's versatility alongside the hungry DMX.  This album was amazing in that regard, versatility.  A lot of rappers lack that.  Hov can put his mainstream hat on as well as his street hat on (during this time) and walk through both realms easily here.  Fast flow, bouncy flow, slow flow, it doesn't matter to Hov.

Standout tracks: Hard Knock Life, Nigga What, A Week Ago, Money Cash Hoes

8.  The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse
Hov did his THING on this album.  A double disc set, 25 new Hov songs, a whole feast of different styles, flows, and bars.  Hov tapped danced all over the sequel to his critically acclaimed Blueprint.  There are so many great songs on here, Hovi Baby, the commercially explosive Excuse Me Miss, A Dream which was an ode to Biggie, All Around the World, I Did It My Way, Bitches & Sisters, Some How Some Way (my personal favorite), Meet The Parents, the epic Blueprint track (sorry Nas), Show You How...I mean look and listen back to all these songs.  They all are hot, you can turn any of these songs on in your playlist and bump it easily.  That's its strength and weakness tho, as Blueprint 2 felt more like a compilation piece rather than a cohesive album in my opinion.  I can never make it through the actual album, rather I just play the songs from it individually, rarely playing any songs in an any real order.  As an album...it didn't tell you anything, didn't give off anything.  No real journey, just Hov stuntin' on the competition through two discs.  I've said this before, The Blueprint 2 in my opinion was Hov's crack at two hot mixtapes that could be albums.  If this was a mixtape, it would be epic.  But albums have to have a different feel and tone, a different type of crafting.  Great work tho Hov.

Standout tracks: All Around the World, Meet The Parents, Blueprint, Some How Some Way, Guns & Roses.

7. Vol.3...Life and Times of S. Carter
Hova the God emerged here on this album.  Vol.2 was Hov's breakout album to the mainstream, but this album was Hov's rise to super stardom.  One of his most debatable albums, many people say that this was a dud.  It doesn't have enough classic tracks, nothing that we can relate back to on this album like his other albums did.  I disagree.  This was Hov at his rawest form, meaning he stripped himself down and gave hip hop fans that gritty hungry Hov they knew earlier in his career, even before Reasonable Doubt.  Jay got back to his hustler roots, and cluttered his bars up with street shit on tracks like So Ghetto, Come and Get Me, Dopeman, and NYMP.  This was a great album and one of my favorites by him, because it was Hov's ode to the streets that made him which attracted my ears to this album.  He also had the HUGE record Big Pimpin here, and the club anthem Do It Again.  It was short, sweet, and to the point.  It had some not so stellar material, like all albums do, but this album is one of Hov's best, and don't you miss Hov on a Premo beat? No? Ok...

Standout tracks: So Ghetto, Dopeman, Big Pimpin, Do It Again, NYMP

6. The Blueprint 3
Once again, a quality album.  Yet Hov can't seem to escape the hate.  Many bashed this album and even went as far to say it was a disgrace to The Blueprint.  Once again I disagree.  Hov has never given us music that wasn't of good or great quality and I personally feel like this album was one of his best.  Not just cuz of the actual songs, but also because of the chances he took and during the time this album dropped.  Hov single handily rid the world of the auto-tune sensation with DOA, teamed up with Alicia Keys to make one of the biggest records of his career and of our generation with Empire State of Mind, kept the "illuminati" spectators guessing with his On To The Next One and Run This Town videos, and took chances on tracks like Hate, Venus vs Mars, and Forever Young.  Not to mention, he still had lyrical showcases on What We Talkin Bout, Already Home, Reminder, and introduced the masses to the heir to the Roc J. Cole on a A Star Is Born while also reflecting on his own path and those of his peers.  In all honesty, there is not a single track I don't like on this album.  I will admit Forever Young and Venus vs Mars are probably the weakest songs, but this entire album can be played the whole way through.  Did I mention how Hov destroyed that Thank You track?  Oh I didn't? Ok.  Also, the production and just flow of the album...let me chill..

Standout tracks: (Damn near the whole album, but Ima chill for yall) What We Talkin Bout, Thank You, A Star is Born, Already Home, Empire State of Mind.

5. American Gangster
Now I know what you guys are thinking.....how can a "conceptual" album based on the movie "American Gangster" starring Denzel Washington portraying notorious drug king pin Frank Lucas be ranked so high on my list...especially after Hov's "prime?"  Did you HEAR this album tho?  This album was a masterpiece to me.    In 2007, during a rap game where everyone started following the same old trends, copying the same old style, a few artists actually decided to put together a unique blend of music to make it standout from all the clutter in hip hop.  The Cool, Graduation, Below The Heavens for example.  American Gangster is no exception.  From the very first track on Pray, you already know shit is about to get real.  Hov not only dove back into his drug story telling that made him so famous, painting the picture of the highs and lows of street life, he also invited the realities of what that life did for him and how he is fairing today in the business world, applying his own hustle to business.  What really makes this album standout, is the soulful production.  We all can agree Hov sounds his best on soulful tracks, and Pray, American Dreamin, Roc Boys, Sweet, Ignorant Shit, Say Hello, Success with his formal rival Nas, Fallin, and American Gangster track prove that not only does Hov still have it...but when he wants to, he make a classic album easily.  The "guiding hand" of Diddy struck diamond here in my opinion.  Hov plus soulfful beats equals EPIC.

Standout tracks:  Pray, Ignorant Shit, Say Hello, Success, American Dreamin, I Know.

4. The Dynasty: Roc La Familia
Seriously guys, this is not a compilation album. I know this was supposed to be the album that introduced us into the era of the Roc, and I know Jay-Z's label mates did a "meh" job on most of the tracks, but seriously...
this is HOV's album.  In my opinion, this probably Hov's best lyrical showing to date.  We all know about the huge record I Just Wanna Love You and how Jay "borrowed" a lot of Biggie's lines (as he does a lot in his career) but Hov blacked out on the inspiring Kanye and Just Blaze beats that popped up on here.  This Can't Be Life featuring Scarface and Beanie Sigel produced by Kanye West is one of my favorite Jay-Z songs period.  Hov and Just Blaze formed the perfect marriage on this album, and words can't describe how much Jigga went in on arguably one of the greastes intros of all time on the Dynasty Intro.  Soon You'll Understand, Streets is Talking, Stick to the Script, 1-900-Hustler, Hov lyrically dismantled every beat.  What more do you want?

Standout tracks: DYNASTY INTRO, This Can't Be Life, Soon You'll Understand, I Just Wanna Love You, Streets is Talking.

3. The Black Album
It is no easy task to put this album at number three, as on any given day you ask me, I may tell you this is my favorite Jay-Z album.  Everything felt complete.  The album was probably Hov's most cohesive work ever, and it would have been the perfect way to end a career.  Hov also acquired some of his best production here and gave fans some sure fire classics that we all love today.  Encore, What More Can I Say, the epic PSA, Moment of Clarity, My 1st Song, Lucifer, all these songs and more.  Hov was honest, reflective, and during a time when it was supposed to be his last album, he was both joyful and humble.  At some point, you actually began to feel who Shawn Carter the man was creep out on this album.  I listen to is to this day, and still takes me back to '03 and thats an achievement in its own right.  A masterpiece.

Standout tracks: Encore, What More Can I Say, 99 Problems, PSA, Allure, Lucifer, Moment of Clarity.

2. Reasonable Doubt
 Many people claim that if you do not think that Reasonable Doubt is Jay-Z's best album, you are either a young person that does that know the impact it had on rap, or you do not know listen to music and just scim through it (lulz).  While I am only 21 years of age, making me six years old when this album released in 1996, I still listened and appreciate the music on this album.  And it was great all the way throughout.  Jay's quick tongued delivery is a gift and it flares through this album. The jazzy undertone, the brutal honesty of the pit falls of street hustling, the timeless material is almost unmatched by anything else ever released in hip hop.  Many people hold this up to the Illmatics, Paid in Fulls, 36 Chambers of hip hop and some say its even better than those.  That is not my case to argue.  With classic tracks like Can I Live, Dead Presidents, Can't Knock the Hustle, Politics As Usual, D'evils (my personal fav), the lyrical bombardment of Brooklyn's Finest with the late great Biggie, Coming Of Age....I really can name this whole album in all honesty.  There are not many timeless albums in hip hop, but this is definitely one of them.  One of the most timeless and classic hip hop albums ever in my opinion.....

Standout tracks: the whole album, get mad.

but I say that to say this...

1. The Blueprint
Blueprint is my hands down favorite.  On any give day, depending on how I'm feeling, I may say either Black Album, Reasonable Doubt, or The Blueprint is my favorite Hov LP, interchangeably.  However, The Blueprint usually wins.  Words can't describe how much this album changed the game.  It layed out the "blueprint" of what albums should during a time where no one was tapping into the sound Hov did.  Enlisting Kanye, Just Blaze and Bink to help make this masterpiece with him, giving us the dream collab on Renegade with Eminem, the hard hitting and classic diss track Takeover taking shots at Prodigy and Nas, the classic trakcs, from the Ruler's Back all the way to Lyrical Exercise.  This album had an impact on the game, rappers, fans, myself included.  Changed the way I saw and would hear music.  My favorite Jay-Z album.

Standout tracks: the whole album, fuck it.

But how do you rank all of Jay-Z's album?  Did I get it wrong?  What's too low, what's too high?  What points did I miss?  What do YOU think?  Let me know and please continue to support my blog and be on the look out for more posts.  And sorry, no videos this time.  Do your own research.

Whurlin...

Thursday, October 6, 2011

*Unsigned* Album Review: L!VE, Diggy- The Early Late Show With L!VE & Diggy

Another review from your boy Sound.  This time I am going to shed some light on unsigned artist L!VE and his partner in crime Diggy, as they delivery the mixtape The Early Late Show.

http://www.datpiff.com/LVE-The-Early-Late-Show-With-Lve-Diggy-mixtape.236328.html

The Early Late Show is a tape consisting of everything hip hop heads love.  Ol skool beats, scratchy flows, grimey lyrics, shifty and slick wordplay, with a tongue in cheek like wittiness all packaged in a free mixtape.  This duo, though at first glance a strange pairing, seem to really work well together, delivering an array of different tracks.

1st track in, the intro is just a warm up, showing off the lyrical prowess of both rappers and their flows.  Songs like Disrespect really show how devoted they are to their lyrics.  "Make good music, Cyhi."  L!VE really stepped his lyrics up on this tape, in my opinion outshining his partner Diggy in other tracks as well, like the track Short Notice, Dumb Hard, providing great one liners and a good lyrical showing.

Deeper tracks like Still My Girl, Mad At Me Interlude, and Sleep Tight really show the introspective side of both artists, and Diggy tends to sound more comfortable in that lane.  Sleep Tight really steals the show, surprising it would be the last track as I felt that track the most.

Although this tape does a lot of things (showcasing devotion to hard spittin, spirited fun, and a female cut) Sleep Tight is the only track that gives you a real piece of both artists, showing their true potential from an artistry standpoint.  More tracks like this will only help both rappers expand on their music and grow into their own.

All in all, its a pretty short and easy listen.  Nothin sounds awkward or out of sorts.  The tape mostly consists of freestyles, with L!VE stealin the show and Diggy tagging along.  Both rappers do struggle though, and in different scopes.  L!VE has lyrics, its evident.  But his flow doesn't come off as clean as it could, and my main gripe might be his delivery, which really gets stale and fades behind the beat at times.  I have heard him rap before, and although his lyrics are improving at a fast rate, his voice and lack of inflection is really stifling his verses, in a sense that he raps real monotone most of the time.  I know he wants to come across as a "too cool for these niggas" type of emcee, but his flow and delivery will need to improve if he wants anybody to WANT to hear his verses and really have them stick in their head.  Diggy suffers from the complete opposite. His flow is.....okay, and he has really strong delivery that really carries him, like on tracks like A Night Out, Disrespect, and the introspective shit like Sleep Tight.  His lyrics however, are laughable in too many spots.  And I don't mean laughable like he sayin some funny shit, I mean laughable as in "this can't be serious can he? Oh he is? Oh.."  While L!VE really comes strong lyrically, Diggy really rides on cruise control on half of this tape far as rhymes go.  He has some good bars, but he really relies heavily on his delivery and presence, so people may actually feel he stole the show in some regard.  It all depends on what you look for.  But hey, maybe thats why they work as duo.  One got lyrics, one got flow, put them together, and this is what you got. I can't be mad at that.

This tape was an easy listen like I said, but it left me wanting more.  It didn't take me anywhere, tell me anything, or make me feel...anything.  A Night Out was dope, so were some of the freestyles.  On my mixtape, I switched it up and had joints where I was goin ham, joints for the whip, girl joints, and introspective shit too, but I still attempted to take listeners on a path in each song, whether its painting a picture of my woes living in the ghetto, or me whurlin through my hood with my boys, I still take you with me through my words.  Outside of tracks like Mad At Me, Still My Girl, and Sleep Tight, L!VE and Diggy didn't evoke anything out of me.  Even there freestyles were just leaving me wanting more, as both of their flaws really kept me from wanting to dive into their verses.  This tape sounds and feels like a build up tape to something more, and I hope it is.  If its for show and prove purposes, then it really served its purpose as the duo do rap all over this tape.  But I would like to hear them do more.  I don't need a tape all of deep tracks, but just something that will make me WANT to hear it again.  I'ma Boss by Meek Mill is not a deep track what so ever, but because  most listeners can feel Meek through that song and he is able to make them feel a certain type of way, that song easily gets spins in damn near any setting, and it really makes you wanna shout all the lyrics at the top of your lungs in the club like you're a boss.  Not much on this tape that does that for me.  Bright spots here and there though, and the tape shows the promise of this duo.

There is no telling where L!VE or Diggy will end up in their music careers, but if this tape is a sign of things to come...although I hope they do grow more and become much better than this, this is a good place to start and I have no doubt there will grow into their own.  L!VE in my opinion really has a lyrical edge that in the right lane, listeners will love to listen to and quote him for days.  Overall, this tape is pretty cool.  I can see myself listening to this a couple times, but I want more...I need to see something better than this.

But hey what do I know, this is just my opinion.  Ya'll should go download the mixtape and judge for yourself cuh.  Let me know what ya'll think, or even better, let L!VE know himself on twitter @LIVE_Rap and tell him what you think.

Also, be sure to check out his new mixtape comin November 1.  And it looks like L!VE actually does improve in his flow game.
See? Aite though, WHURLIN!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

*Unsigned* Album Review: Rishi P- Take A Look Inside

Every once and a while, I like to take the time out to listen to unsigned artists I feel have a talent that goes unseen by many, shedding maybe a little light on them and their music.  Today, I present to you my JBTV brother, and a talented, passionate artist......Rishi P and his album "Take a Look Inside."



The intro explains it all.  "This is all true."  The stories, the pain, ups and downs, its all from real life experience.  From the 1st track all the way to the last, you can feel Rishi P's angst, his distress.  Rishi P's strength's is not only his story telling, but the feeling that bleeds through his words.  Many unsigned artists feel the need to just show and prove with the technical side of rapping, usually making mixtapes full of freestyles attempting to showcase "I'm better than you."  Rishi P may or may not be better than us, but that really takes a back seat on this tape, which actually sounds like an album.  Rishi opens up his mental door for all of us to enter.  The brutal honesty about himself really drives this project.  The track "I'm Sorry" is not only reflective on his alcohol abuse and the poor choices he's made, but also has an eerie undertone of worse things to come.  The beat and the hook really set the mood, and Rishi's lyrics really pull you in.
Other songs get even more personal and dark.  Unique beat selection help form the backdrop of a dark, confusing road that Rishi P is asking us to tag along on.  She Should Know is a vivid story, vivid in the sense that Rishi uses his words as a brush to paint a picture, often showing emotions of his own regret leaving the side of the woman he speaks of, and also a sudden rage at himself.
Bars of Pain further addresses the challenges he faced.  Uncontrollable binge drinking, his recklessness and destruction of relationships between people he cared about, even the contemplation of suicide.  Shit gets real here, but this also provides an ol school hip hop feel.  This is pure straight spitting, no holds barred, no rules, not big elements on the beat, just Rishi goin in on his pain, attacking it head on. Tracks like Keep It Real (get a twitter bro), Free My Spirit and Tear It Up are of the same family, putting on lyrical clinics while also bringing back a classic hip hop feel.  Do not forget that Rishi P is a lyricist, as he shows that in both tracks.  But soon as Dreams comes in, you hear a warm but also dark and cold story about Rishi and his loss of his father.  In my opinion, the most personal track on Take a Look Inside.
Pain killers, nightmares, visions of suicide, fear of failure all show their faces in this song.  You almost feel like Rishi is on the brink of self destruction.  Songs like this is what make artists like Rishi P so relatable and so easy to connect with.  Not only can you feel his pain pour on the track, but you can also feel FOR him.

Things aren't always dark in Rishi's life.  His ode to hip hop on Alone With You so how much devotion he has to hip hop as it proves to be somewhat of his salvation from the woes life brings.  Its a bright spot in not only his life, but on this tape as well, as it really lifts your spirits to Rishi shed light on whats good in his life.  Hip hop is not perfect though, as he acknowledges its only an idea, concept, MUSIC.  Its not quite the substitution for an actual person.  But still, he is able to tell hip hop about his personal demons and regrets, which eventually lands in our ears, and that speaks volumes.  

Changes is probably the darkest song on this tape.  Nah, it is, definitely is.  Rishi sounds like he has finally reached that boiling point.  Tracks like these usually get a bad rep, for being too honest about a person's inner demons.  However I like it, because you can clearly hear the struggle of a man trying to find some way to live with......well, himself.
This tape is filled with heart wrenching songs, from the title track Take A Look Inside, to I'm Sorry, She Should Know, Bars of Pain, and Dreams.  Very reflective dark material, yet the tape finishes on somewhat of a high note on Moving On, as Rishi explains to us that through all his problems, his tragedies, and his internal suffering, the darkness is clearing, and he is moving on to better things.  His brutal honesty is what makes this whole tape/album.  All the lyrics come from his heart.  He prides himself on his lyrics, and although his flows can be better, the beats are sometime cheesy and damn near laughable in quality, and his hooks are pure struggle in some spots (the singing on Moving On was not up to par), they all serve a purpose.  On other albums this would be a hindrance, but on Take A Look Inside, they so how unorthodox, dark and twisted Rishi P is a MAN.  Don't leave this album thinking about Rishi P just as a rapper, but take into account the stories he told you, the pain he shared, the tears he shed.  Rishi P takes you on an epic journey, also reminding us that we ourselves have our own journey, and if he can make it through everything he has and still see light through the grey skies, than we can as well.

I like this album.  From a technical standpoint, its flawed in many areas.  But the main question I ask myself when I listen to music is "Does it make me feel the way it WANTS me to feel?"  My answer this time is yes, as Rishi P made me really sit down and take in everything he has gone through, building an emotional connect using his music.  Thats a true gift, a true talent that a lot of rappers lack.  There is a lane for rappers like Rishi P, and I hope he sticks to that lane and makes the most out of his talents.  Be sure to download or stream the ENTIRE album on his site http://www.thefnspot.com/takealookinside and check out his soundcloud and youtube pages here : http://www.soundcloud.com/riship http://www.youtube.com/riship85.

Also, feel free to get to know the man himself on facebook http://www.facebook.com/riship85

Standout tracks: I'm Sorry, Changes, Dreams, She Should Know, Bars of Pain, Take A Look Inside.
Be sure to check out this album and let me know what you guys think.  Also, if you are an artist and you would like me to listen/review your album right here on my blog, contact me on twitter @tokyo757 and send me some links.  I am always willing to shed some light and help out anyway I can.  Until then, hold Take A Look Inside for a while.  But stay away from knives though.

Whurlin...

YoungArcader x Random Thoughts interview

Here is another "Random Thoughts" interview provided by a colleague of mine Random, featuring artist YoungArcader. Random sits down with YoungArcader to talk about music,money,and video games.  Be sure to follow both Random and YoungArcader on twitter, @random757 and @YoungArcader.  Support support support!
 

Mass "Random Thoughts" Pt. 1

Every once and a while, I will attempt to side step my own thoughts and opinions and bring readers something new to hold on to.  Featured in this post, independent musician Mass sits down with interviewer Random to discuss his career,aspirations,and other important matters.  Be sure to follow interviewer Random on twitter @random757 for more artist interviews and many other exclusives.