Friday, January 1, 2010

The RE:Union

After years of rumors and promises of a Reflection Eternal reunion, in 2009 the ball started rolling.  This tape, mixed by Statik Selektah, can be taken as proof of an album finally appearing this year.  It is a mix of old classics, unreleased material, and a healthy portion of new songs.  The newer Hi Tek beats are hit and miss and rarely feel as soulful as they were around the turn of the millennium.  If many of these are album b-sides though, it's not a significant worry.  "Just Begun" is the clear standout early on, as Kweli gets help from Jay Electronica, J. Cole, and longtime collaborator Mos Def.  The beat is one of the most notable as well, with vintage NY sample chopping laid over a slightly unorthodox jazz rhythm.

While most will already have the classic material, the previously unheard tracks make this mixtape a worthwhile download.

Download The RE:Union

Trunk Muzik

Yelawolf kicks off the New Year right with the anticipated Trunk Muzik mixtape.  If the leaks over the last couple months are any indication, we may have already been delivered one of the best mixtapes of the year.  It's no coincidence Yelawolf waited for a January 1 release.  He's making a case for re-branding 2010 as the Year of the Wolf, and if he can translate the critical acclaim he's receiving into popular recognition, hip-hop may be rushing into the future with more gusto than many had imagined possible.

Download Trunk Muzik

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The 25 Best Songs Of 2009

What a year.  I spent a lot of time agonizing over this list, and after two days I've arrived at one with many faults, but one that I'm relatively happy with.  The diversity of rap in 2009 creates many problems for developing a comprehensive list like this.  How does one properly compare and determine the rank of a Mos Def song and a Juiceman song, when they're such different beasts?  For this reason, my personal enjoyment of a song played as large a role as my critical examination of it in determining a rank.  Gucci Mane alone could have a top 25 list this year, but an artist was only allowed to appear once on this list outside of features.  Choosing a single Gucci song to be representative of his entire output in 2009 was extremely difficult.  The song I ended up choosing I found to exemplify the characteristic sound that Gucci and Zaytoven established.  It's also interesting to note that almost half of the top ten this year originated on mixtapes or free albums.

1. “Do You Know” -DJ Quik & Kurupt
2. “Better Believe It” -Lil Boosie Ft. Young Jeezy and Webbie
3. “Doing Just Fine” -Z-Ro
4. “Purse Come First” -UGK Ft. Big Gipp
5. “Popular Demand (Popeyes)” -Clipse Ft. Cam'ron
6. “Womb 2 The Tomb” -Freddie Gibbs Ft. Pill
7. “Feel The...” -G-Side Ft. 6 Tre G
8. “Trap Goin' Ham” -Pill
9. “Shine Blockas” -Big Boi Ft. Gucci Mane
10. “Weird” -Gucci Mane
11. “Cold Outside” -Raekwon Ft. Ghostface
12. “Hussle In The House” -Nipsey Hussle
13. “Gazzillion Ear” -DOOM
14. “Diamonds & Maybachs Pt. 2” -Triple C's
15. “City Lights” -Method Man and Redman Ft. Bun B
16. “Exhibit C” -Jay Electronica
17. “Life In Marvelous Times” -Mos Def
18. “I Got This (Don't Worry)” -Young Jeezy
19. “Make The Trap Say Aye” -OJ Da Juiceman Ft. Gucci Mane
20. “In The Night/While You Slept (I Crept)” -J Dilla
21. “D.O.A.” -Jay-Z
22. “Georgiavania” -Willie Isz
23. “Pop The Trunk” -Yelawolf
24. “On Dat Other Shit” -Playboy Tre
25. “O Let's Do It” -Waka Flocka

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Til the Casket Drops

The third album from the Clipse, Til the Casket Drops is also their worst. Of course, this isn't necessarily a significant comment on the quality of the album, given the critical acclaim for their previous two. The truth is, Til the Casket Drops is by and large a great album, and from any other group it would be considered a substantial success. But for fans of the Thornton brothers, it's hard not to notice that a little something is missing from this newest effort. It may simply be that a series of album delays, and almost half of the album being released as singles dampened the impact upon arrival, but certainly a bit of the edge is gone.

Hell Hath No Fury was such a dramatic and innovative departure from the contemporary hip-hop landscape, that to attempt a recreation on the third go would have been a commercially poor decision, and more importantly an artistic mistake. So it's no surprise when the Clipse add a new dimension to the identities they've created. Right from the start, the Clipse set a new paradigm with the reflective opening “Freedom,” produced by Sean C & LV. The song signals a departure even down to the production lineup, and it's an excellent opener. Whereas Hell Hath No Fury was a brilliantly detached portrayal of the coke game, their newest is far more self-aware, with references to music criticism, the state of hip-hop, personal shortcomings, and most significantly a little bit of guilt begins to creep in. Pusha T's first verse on the album captures this new dimension perfectly.

The next song finds the Clipse in familiar territory with the exuberant arrogance of “Popular Demand (Popeyes).” It's a good transition, but even here the stylistic changes are still present. The song was the last single released prior to the album hitting store shelves, and remains one of the best. Aside from the mediocre, but enjoyable “I'm Good” and “Eyes on Me,” the singles slipped easily into the Clipse canon and are highlights of the album. In truth, everything sounds good to great until the Kanye-influenced trifecta of soft edge mediocrity consisting of “Eyes on Me,” “Counseling,” and “Champion.” They're not bad songs, they just are not up to par with the rest of the album's content. Luckily the album picks up in dramatic fashion with the DJ Khalil produced “Footsteps.” Driven by a moody organ vamp and hard rock drums, the song is the best on the album, and one of the best of the duo's career.

The decision to go with production outside of The Neptunes for the first time seems to have been a good choice. Sean C & LV and DJ Khalil make good contributions, and in fact produce some of the best songs on the album. I would love to see the Clipse work more with Khalil in the future. That being said, The Neptunes were also behind some great tracks even though they produced the lesser ones as well. Ultimately, the album falls flat when it reaches for commercial appeal. It is an understandable move given their history of label troubles, and sale numbers not matching their proven excellence. It's too bad college kids don't buy albums. But as first-week sales reports come in today, it's clear that Til the Casket Drops didn't do it for them either. Perhaps the brothers just aren't meant for the pop market. They're at their best as too-clever D-boys; unashamed rap villains that are hard not to love. If sales drop precipitously next week they may lose their home at Columbia, but I wouldn't be surprised to see them picked up by L.A. Reid and Def Jam. Til the Casket Drops is a good album worth purchasing, but they are capable of much better.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Hello, December

I'm foregoing the usual posting today to take a look ahead.  December will be a busy month, with a lot of positive changes hopefully being made.  I'll be trying to attract more regular readers and growing my viewer base, as well as expanding the content a little bit and developing new regular columns.  I also might put a little work into redesigning the page, but we'll see how that works out.

Being the end of the year and the end of the decade as well, there is going to be a slew of best-of lists that will be interesting and probably infuriating too.  I'll join in a little with my top 25 albums of the year, and what I believe to be the single best hip-hop album of the decade.  Hopefully I will avoid the sort of righteous indignation that arose when Passion of the Weiss unveiled their album listings.  I will also attempt to start doing some more in-depth articles regarding history and culture.  All of this will manifest over the next few months, but a lot will start happening around the middle of December.

The Labels Tryin To Kill Me

Freddie Gibbs returns with a new mixtape referencing the classic Master P cover art.  The 81-track mixtape is a collection of Gibbs' best work, including freestyles and seven new songs, all mixed and kept moving at a rapid pace by DJ Skee.  I haven't even gotten through a quarter of it yet, but it's great as expected.  This tape really just puts Gibbs out there, showing his versatility and his work ethic, as well as his extremely technical rapping skills.  It's a middle finger to labels, a thanks to fans, and a compelling introduction for new listeners.

Monday, November 30, 2009


I'm generally not one for rock/rap hybrids.  The only group that ever did well with this combination was Rage Against the Machine, and perhaps one could include some songs by Red Hot Chili Peppers in that same category.  I was raised on rock & roll and I enjoy listening to it from time to time.  But please, keep rock separate from my rap.  It's not one of those Reese's peanut-butter cup situations.  "You got rock in my rap" is said with some Pusha T type of disgust: "Yiiiuuck."  That's why I initially approached Yelawolf's music with trepidation after hearing it described as "rock-influenced."  I was already late to the party, but I decided to give his music some time to grow on me.  When Maurice Garland posted "Pop the Trunk" almost two week ago, I pushed play on a whim.  I had just seen some pretty good live footage of Yelawolf and I was willing to give the guy another shot (I had heard one song before that didn't really stick with me).  I wasn't entirely sure how I felt about the song, but it became clear that he was an exceptionally talented rapper.  Just days later I heard him kill his featured verse on "Who's Hood?" from G-Side's Huntsville International Project.  I decided it was finally time to download his last mixtape, Stereo.  This is the one that got him the rock/rap reputation, with every song being based around classic rock samples.  It took about three or four listens, but I really like it now, and Yelawolf has definitely improved in the meantime.  It is clear that he has been influenced by Big Boi far more than Lynyrd Skynyrd.

For many, Yelawolf's music will be an acquired taste and some just won't like it.  It is different than a lot of what you're hearing, and while that held me back at first, it's ultimately what makes his music so interesting.  The authenticity is also incredibly refreshing, and he's got good people behind him with cosigns from the likes of Killer Mike and Slim Thug, and one of the nicest band websites I've seen (still in development).  I'm looking forward to hearing his upcoming Trunk Muzik mixtape, and I think there are good things in his future.

"Dirt Road"
"Pop The Trunk"

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Week 12 Update

Last week I had a 13-3 record, which I'm pretty happy with.  This will be a shorter post than usual since it's been a long day traveling.  I'm just going to list the games and give my predictions without any extra discussion.  Have a good Thanksgiving.  I'll be watching football most of the day:

Green Bay @ Detroit
Oakland @ Dallas
New York Giants @ Denver
Tampa Bay @ Atlanta
Miami @ Buffalo
Washington @ Philadelphia
Seattle @ St. Louis
Carolina @ New York Jets
Cleveland @ Cincinnati
Indianapolis @ Houston
Kansas City @ San Diego
Jacksonville @ San Francisco
Chicago @ Minnesota
Arizona @ Tennessee
Pittsburgh @ Baltimore
New England @ New Orleans

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Trap Tuesday: Waka Flocka

The name itself speaks volumes of nothing, like a lot of his music.  But just like the music, the name is strangely enjoyable.  There's something of a visceral connection to the music that Waka Flocka creates.  There is nothing deeply interesting about it, but it is able to incite an energy something along the lines of heavy metal, and I think the two are quite similar.  Although more attention is still paid to lyrics than in most heavy metal songs.  A member of Gucci Mane's 1017 Brick Squad, Flocka takes cues from Radric Davis in content but has established a very different style.

As his name has become more prominent, owing recently to the video for "O Let's do it," many have begun to question the merits of the music he makes.  I think it is a valid conversation to have.  I value the musical output of a number of Atlanta-based artists far more and would much prefer to see artists like Pill break into the mainstream market first.  However, I do appreciate some of his music and certainly feel that it has a place in this genre.  I'd also like to point out that Waka Flocka is one of the few to bring a unique sound to rap in recent years.  The fact that his music sounds quite different is part of what seems to be gaining him both so many supporters and detractors.  Mark me as a fan of some of his songs, but I can't align myself with either camp yet.  However, I would argue that his music has value.

Watch the video for "O Let's do it," and it is easy to see that the music is created in the context of getting an audience hyped.  It's hard not to feel the energy in the song, and even harder to sit still when listening to it.  The song, like a lot of Flocka's material, combines elements of crunk, snap, and trap music, synthesizing some of the popular elements of Atlanta's music culture.  The fact that it is so rooted in this culture makes it a far more organic and authentic expression of populism than the carefully manufactured fun of LMFAO's shit-tastic "Shots." It's meant for a party atmosphere, but I would argue that its unique sound makes it transcend that designation.  However, the simple fact that it is party music will make some question its worth.  Critics making this argument seem to have forgotten the importance that similarly themed songs had on the development of rock and roll.  "The Twist" for example, is completely asinine but Rolling Stone named it one of the 500 greatest songs of all time.  While it is repetitive and simple, it had an undeniable energy and played an important role in the development of rock.  One can also look to some of The Beatles' early material, with songs like "Twist and Shout" serving a similar purpose.  The point is not to say these songs are the same; Chubby Checker and The Beatles had a lasting impact, while I find it unlikely that Waka Flocka will.  It is important, though, to point out the similarities when arguing about a song's "worth."  Those early 1960's dance tunes were an expression of a changing youth culture that defined America in the following decades.  "O Let's do it" is a similar expression of a shifting southern hip hop culture.