Reks – Rebelutionary (2012)


Since Reks returned to hip-hop after a long hiatus with the critically acclaimed Grey Hairs in 2008, he has proven to be one of the best and most productive rappers around. Rebelutionary marks his second release in just 3 months following his Statik Selektah collaboration Straight, No Chaser. With that album however, I thought he sounded rather uninspired, not really bringing anything new to the table lyrically and although I’m normally a fan of Statik’s production, it wasn’t his best effort either. Rebelutionary sees Reks team up with Florida producer Numonics to create a much more engaging listen that is arguably his most focused project to date.

As you’d expect with any album with a single producer, musically it is very cohesive. Numonics brings a soulful boom-bap sound that compliments Reks perfectly. He also avoids becoming monotonous which is a problem that can also arise with a single producer, showing his versatility to such an extent that I couldn’t really gather any “signature sound” to his production style asides from the ever-present punchy drums. Despite the quality of this backdrop, the main focus of Rebelutionary is definitely on the emcee.

One thing that has never been questioned is Reks’ ability as a rapper, and sure enough he delivers once again with his trademark aggressive flow and intelligent lyricism. As the title suggests, this is primarily a politically driven album. Reks is no stranger to political subject matter but this is his first time dedicating a full length LP to it. If you are someone who is getting tired of the abundance of rappers that tend to get a bit carried away with conspiracy theories or preachiness when approaching political themes, don’t turn away just yet. Reks’ approach is much more grounded than those, delivering his social commentaries on a wide range of issues such as social injustice, gun crime, police brutality and unemployment, as well as addressing current events such as the cases Trayvon Martin and Casey Anthony. In doing so he effectively paints a picture of how he sees American society without sacrificing any entertainment value to get his message across. There’s also a number of guest appearances from the likes of Jon Connor, Termanology, Knowledge Medina, J. NiCS, Krondon, Sene, Koncept and more. All of these features are used well but nobody ever comes close to outshining Reks.

The only thing lacking is a standout track as good as 25th Hour from R.E.K.S. or the title-track on Grey Hairs asides from perhaps, Gepeto (Reality Is…), thanks to the fantastic beat (which is almost identical to Next Time by Gang Starr). There is no doubt that Rebelutionary is a very well crafted album, with that said, it isn’t the type of album that will blow you away. The quality never really moves above “very good” to become truly great, which is why my rating isn’t higher despite not having any noticeable flaws. Overall though, Rebelutionary is one of the best releases so far in what has been a strong year for hip-hop and another step in the right direction for the rhythmatic eternal king supreme

Best tracks: Gepeto (Reality Is…), Shotgun, Ava Rice
Overall: 82/100

GHOST MC – Super Natural Senses (2012)


From the same label that brought you Atomic Farmhouse. Listen to it here.

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It was a nice surprise when I recognized the instrumental of “Super Naturalness,” which was produced by 9th Wonder for a Jean Grae track. The sample of The Marvelettes’ Uptown resonates nicely with GHOST’s verses, who instantaneously gives off an eery similarity to Domo Genesis of Odd Future, at least in terms of his torpid tone, voice, and flow. This track is all about making his infatuation for making music as well as his affinity for pecuniary gain as clear as can be.

Owners of old records won’t be left scratching their heads at the start of “A Speech of 1000 Words.” I was never a huge fan of crackling, unless it’s used to stimulate an era or trigger nostalgia, as it is in this case. The theme, centered around staying true to himself while still blowing up, isn’t exactly one that is unheard of, but the occasional flurry of insightful lyricism more than makes up for it.

In an unusually pivotal transition from the last track, “50/Fifty” introduces itself as a braggadocio-esque, abrasive, and discordant track. Despite this, and it’s undeniable repetitiveness, it’s still pretty catchy and GHOST comes through with some hard-hitting bars.

“Spittin’ lyrical warfare, that’s why I’m in the booth with camo on.”

His far-from-desolate lyricism is put to work on “Ghost Ship,” as he reflects on dreaming without his eyes closed, among other topics. This extends into the next and final track, “SUNRISE.” The song comes in with a Cool Kids feel to it, and sticks with it. I can’t help but feel a little biased when I say it’s undoubtedly my favorite on the 5-track album.

For Super Natural Senses, in addition to bringing the technical aspects into account, I assessed this EP in accordance with the fact that GHOST is a relative neophyte to the game, and is consequently receptive of a number of contrasting styles, so inaccuracies are inevitable, but at the same time is presented with the pre-eminence that is time, for betterment. I have to say though, despite his sophomoric status, the guy does an admirable job of separating himself from the tasteless unoriginality that is becoming the norm for upcoming emcees, while still making music that has the potential to reach today’s casual music enthusiasts. Keep at it, and to those reading, keep an eye out for GHOST MC in the time to come.

Overall: 68/100

Cynikal – Breakfast (2012)


British hip-hop doesn’t have too much of a history, and has failed to aquire much exposure on a worldwide scale – it is safe to say that Cynikal’s Breakfast is a fine example of why.

It is true that some people don’t fare too well with the English accent, when it comes to rap – but even if you do, it’s not the accent that lets the album down. Vocally, Cynikal has a voice that although is recognisable, fails to be capturing or pleasant to listen to. It is also pretty safe to conclude that singing isn’t one of the rapper’s strongest points, as the nasally use of his voice can only be described as simply annoying. This isn’t helped much by the fact that the hooks don’t redeem the already tiresome lyrics – either being repetitive or weak. The album does feature other vocalists, but the only possible positivity this gives to the album is that the female vocals on “Won’t Let You Down”  does sound a little bit like Rihanna (take that comment as you please). On the bright side, his flow does seem to come into place about halfway through the album, and there isn’t much disjointedness in his delivery.

The thing that made “Breakfast” vaguely enjoyable to listen to, was picking out the corny lines the rapper uses. It was a delight to hear “it’s a pain for me…and that shit ain’t funny”, and I’d also be lying if I said I didn’t laugh every time I heard “sorry I don’t do brunch, that don’t do much for me”. Quite frankly, some of them don’t even make sense ( “coming with the fists of a falcon”…..anyone? Falcons have fists now? Or is that meant to be a reference to something that most people don’t know about?). All in all, this has led me to conclude that Cynikal does resort to just rhyming things for the sake of rhyming. On the other hand, the lyrics could also be seen as a blessing in disguise, because at least they provided some form of enjoyable entertainment.

It is probably worth mentioning his use of British slang – which of course, is understandable, as he draws on the language and culture he knows – though, admittedly I did laugh…again. Not because the slang is funny, but because it seems hard to take this man seriously when he tells us he is “writin’ this with a flippin’ smile”. Most of the record is about how he has reached a new “state of mind” and how he “wants to be something”. Yes, it spells out all the clichés you can think of (the predictable phrase “Knowledge is power”, sampled on “Exhibit A” is only one of many examples. It’s fair to say that the original by Jay Electronica had a better use of samples) and it almost feels like he is trying to convince us that he is not looking for fame and” status”, that he is something fresh and new – it is quite ironic that he has actually just created an album that is an attempt at an already played out style. Just to complete our expectation from this album, “The Struggle” is a storytelling track about a teenage boy who had a bad childhood and leaves to make something of himself – naturally, none of us saw that coming.

The production itself is mainstream friendly, (it sounds like he strives to be like J.Cole, only further supported by his rework of “Losing My Balance”). Not bad, but at the same time, bland, with the exception of, “Travellin'”, which holds a nice enough drum beat and an enjoyable looping sample. Once again, there is a lack of anything outstanding with this element of this music as well. Perhaps the criticism about his predictable use of sample and beats wouldn’t be quite so severe, if there was something more believable or genuine in what Cynikal is saying. Unfortunately, the combination of the two failing factors makes it hard to be forgiving.

Overall, I can’t exactly call this groundbreaking, and I’m not likely to recommend it to anyone. In fact, it appears to be a showcase of how British hip-hop culture is still relatively backward, in comparison to its American counter part.

Best track: Travellin’

25/100

Download Breakfast for free here.

David Dallas – The Rose Tint (2011)


When we’re talking about hip hop, New Zealand isn’t always (well hardly ever) at the forefront of discussion. The fact of the matter is, try as they might, for a small and distant country surrounded by ocean, recognition is bound to come with some difficultly. But Auckland native David Dallas, recipient of the “Best Hip-Hop Album” award for his debut album Something Awesome, and deservedly so, is a promising, driving force in changing that for the better.

His second full-length, The Rose Tint, a release through Duck Down records, does a good job of showcasing just how he plans to do so. Raw, resolute, yet unruffled lyricism, comparable to that of Versis, accompanied by more radio-friendly instrumentals, predominately from Fire & Ice in this one, that provide aid in carrying the album to the broader audience that he much appreciates. In the guest verse department, we have the likes of Freddie Gibbs and Buckshot. Basically, this guy should be on your radar if he wasn’t already. Let’s have a walk-through anyway.​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​

A soulful sample of The Ebonys’s “A Love of Your Own” kicks off the project. In “Start Looking Around,” Dallas states his distaste for some things, specifically a past relationship that held him down, but brings a self-assured, bold attitude.

“Now I’m up in my zone feeling like a motherfucking cyclone, I can do whatever I set my sights on”

“Take a Picture” is one of the more notable songs on the album, centered on his soon-to-come ascension into the spotlight. Freddie Gibbs puts forward a well-written verse in “Caught in a Daze” which to me is reminiscent of a laid-back Curren$y track (all of them.) Admirably, even in such a nonchalant track, Dallas seems to enjoy making use of his wit while crafting rhymes. “Nothing to Do” features Pieter T on the chorus, and revisits the desolate relationship that David had the unpleasant task of having to endure. “Til Tomorrow” is perhaps my favorite song on the album, for its catchy (some credit to Ratatat for that) and optimistically succinct nature. “Ain’t Perfect” continues the relative optimism, and leads on to “Sideline” with Che Fu. This one will be resonant among angst-filled teens, as it highlights the frustration Dallas had in adolescence with being in his prime, but too afraid to step out of his safety zone. “Postcard” is a dedication to his father. Dallas says he’ll make it big for him, the same dad who thought that hip hop was a temporary fad. Upon listening to “Make Up,” one thing I’d finally noticed is that Dallas’ verses are quite authentic and imperviously uninfluenced by some other well-known rapper, which many other up-and-coming emcees have an inclination to do lately. Following through with this, he finishes off with “Ain’t Coming Down” alongside Buckshot.

In conclusion, The Rose Tint consists of well-written verses, memorable choruses, and is gift-wrapped and readied by David Dallas’ unswerving flow. David possesses a certain steadfastness for his music, and this is audibly recognizable throughout the album. So, the question it ultimately all comes down to… Worth a spin? My answer would be yes.

Best tracks: ‘Til Tomorrow, Ain’t Perfect, and Sideline.

Overall: 91/100

QuESt – Fear Not Failure (2012)


If I asked a group of hip-hop fans to name their favorite rappers that debuted within the last five years, there’s a good chance the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Freddie Gibbs, Blu and Big K.R.I.T. would be mentioned a few times. One rapper that deserves to be added to that list is QuESt. In his short career the Miami emcee has proven incredibly versatile, being equally comfortable rapping over 70’s soul samples on ‘Distant Travels Into Soul Theory’ and more traditional hip-hop beats on ‘Broken Headphones’.

For his latest offering, QuESt is using dubstep influenced production which suits his style perfectly. Generally, I’m not a huge fan of this but when it’s done properly the results can be worthwhile. Compared to this year’s other successful elctro-hop album, Chiddy Bang’s Breakfast, which was much more upbeat and party orientated, the sounds on this are more atmospheric and occasionally downtempo, but it still packs a punch with powerful drums over deep, wavy basslines (you will need headphones to fully appreciate this). I can’t think of many other rappers that would suit these beats but his flow (which is somewhat reminiscent of early Jay-Z) is flawless and he has the ability to switch pace in the blink of an eye to keep up with he varying tempo of the beats.

The title, “Fear Not Failure” serves as an underlying theme throughout the tape, as he explores the idea of overcoming fears and learning from your mistakes. This is exemplified by the following quotable at the end of Nothing to Fear;

Even if god came down and said “You know what, this isn’t gonna work out, you should just quit while you’re ahead”, I’d probably still take my chances.

This leads perfectly onto the next track Gambler, which is about doing just that, taking chances even when the odds are “slim to none”. This attitude comes across in a resounding display of confidence, resulting in a level of charisma few can match. Throughout the tape, QuESt delivers thought provoking lyrics and clever punchlines over a wide array of instrumentals, which manage to remain cohesive yet significantly different from one another. FNF is brought to a close with Darkest Before Dawn, which is probably my favorite song on the tape and features another spoken word segment that sums up the concept behind it;

Don’t be afraid to fail. Failure doesn’t keep us away from what we desire in this world. Fear does. Fear is the absence of love. The absence of trust. The absence of belief. It is fear that destroys us. To embrace failure is to embrace growth. It is fear, not failure, that holds us back.

The following bonus track feels almost unnecessary after that conclusion, not to say there is anything wrong with it. It might just be a mixtape, but with all original production and the absence of a hosting DJ, Fear Not Failure feels like a complete album, and is one of the most creative and genre-defying projects I’ve heard in recent years. If you want to hear something new, you certainly won’t regret downloading it for free over at hotnewhiphop.

Best tracks: Darkest Before Dawn, Alone Tonight, Nothing to Fear, One Way
Overall: 89/100

InVerse TangENT – The Reality Tape (2011)


When listening to an unsigned and unknown group for the first time, you have no expectations or preconceptions, so you could be in for a pleasant surprise or a lackluster experience that won’t stand out among the thousands of other aspiring rappers out there. For me, this mixtape falls somewhere in between.

According to their bio, D.C. based InVerse TangENT, strive to make music that the common man can relate to. They manage to do a decent job of achieving this, with subjects including relationships, dealing with the death of a loved one and struggling financially. However, it sometimes comes across as corny and occasionally a bit on the preachy side. The main problem is that it doesn’t really bring anything new to the table. Although it may be a bit harsh to expect anything innovative from a debut mixtape, they regularly fall into the cliches of complaining about the state of mainstream hip-hop, which has become almost obligatory for underground rappers these days. Coupled with bland production, this results in it having very little replay value for me.

Musically, it’s rather inconstant to say the least. There are a number of good tracks but just as many terrible ones that should never have left the studio, with ‘Uncensored’ and ‘I Get On’ being the lowest points of the tape. Some of the hooks are also pretty bad, with the painfully autotuned ‘Rollin Like a Baller’ and ‘She Ridin’ sounding completely out of place and more like something that escaped from a DJ Khaled album. In my opinion, ‘Talk of the Century’ is easily the standout track, with Buttafly G, Soulogik, Philasophikal and J Spitz trading verses over the menacing beat. This is a good demonstration of the group’s chemistry and provides a glimpse of their full potential. I feel that AlgahRhythm and Buttafly G stood out as the best members throughout the album, usually outshining the others on any tracks they appear on, sadly they only feature on less than half the songs respectively.

It isn’t all bad news though, if you ignore the flaws there is some solid rapping to be found and judging by the more successful tracks, this group certainly has potential and their hearts are in the right place, even if it doesn’t always satisfy from a musical perspective. You can stream and download The Reality Tape below via their bandcamp.

Best tracks: Talk of the Century, Simply Gesture, Always Remembered, Time Will Tell
Overall: 67/100

Sabzi – PARTHENIA (2011)


Blue Scholars and Common Market. On the Northwest scene, they are viewed as some very prominent acts, both capturing the essence of Seattle hip hop. What’s great about these groups especially, is that they’re very relatable. As Geo says on the title track of the album Bayani, “two students skipped a class, went and crafted an album.” The adroit Sabzi, also known as Saba, handles production for the two, and also has quite the solo career.

Being a jazz-trained pianist, he already possessed a background in music before he turned to turntables. Sabzi says perhaps the biggest influence on his music is the thoughts and perspectives of the youth that he works with in high school and college workshops. He’s also been known to sample Indie music, and even Bibio, whom I happened to review last. He stays devoted, continuing to produce sprawling creations that incorporate these extensive musical influences for his fans.

If you haven’t yet familiarized yourself with the Seattle scene, Sabzi’s latest digital release, PARTHENIA, will provide an adequate introduction, at least to the instrumental aspect.

The album stars off with “Hydroq B,” which hints at the mechanical quality that will be present throughout, while also proposing an ambient soundscape that would be best suited for sweltering, slow summer evenings. This leads on to “Purbasha,” a more energetic track with airy abstractions. “Chronique” abides to the chill-out essence, with an eery synth floating around at various times. What’s easily noticeable about this album, even this early, is that transitions between tracks are unwrinkled. The short but sweet “Me¢hani¢a£ Inse¢ts” paves the way for “Larkeeee,” which features a loopy synthesizer line that weaves through a xylophonic melody. The synths play an important role in this album, deepening and highlighting the resonance of other elements of the music. Next is “ur a hella flake, bro,” which, if you’ve heard Blue Scholars’ latest release Cinemetropolis, may remind you of “Fou Lee,” as it features the same abrasive breathing. “Quimbara Wang” and “Trailer Park Bazaar” continue the obscurity, while bringing in some timely bass instrumentation and percussion. “Colossal Mass” oddly separates itself from the other tracks, even if it follows the same approach. The album comes to a fitting close with “SPECTACULAR.”

In conclusion, this is an instrumental project that is unique from the norm and offers music that is sound all the way through, and never dull. My favorite tracks on the album were Purbasha, Larkeeee, and ur a hella flake, bro. You can purchase and listen to PARTHENIA on Sabzi’s bandcamp.

Overall: 84/100