Chiddy Bang – Breakfast (2012)


Breakfast is the highly anticipated debut album from Philadelphia duo Chiddy Bang. After their MGMT inspired single Opposite of Adults became an internet sensation they have steadily been generating quite a buzz and have recruited a sizable fanbase following a number of successful mixtapes and EPs.

This isn’t the type of album that is going to blow you away lyrically. Chiddy doesn’t have any amazing technical abilities and asides from a few clever punchlines, the subject matter rarely strays too far from the cliche topics of girls, partying, weed, haters and “flyness”. This isn’t the end of the world however, he isn’t a bad rapper by any means and chances are you might want to take the occasional break from listening to Aesop Rock and Immortal Technique anyway.

“I got a couple bad bitches, lord pray for me / Look in the mirror, we the shit that they pray to be”

What sets this album apart is the fantastic production from the talented Xaphoon Jones. His production style is derived primarily from indie-pop samples laced with electronic synths. The idea of merging electronica and hip-hop has been attempted (rather unsuccessfully) before by the likes of Blu, Lupe Fiasco and B.o.B. but this might just be the first album that it has actually worked on. The production is very creative and demands the listener’s attention on every song, combined with the incredibly catchy hooks this gives each track an energy that keeps going throughout the album.

Breakfast is exactly what it sets out to be, a fun electro-hop album that sounds great and can appeal to a wide variety of listeners. Essentially, this is what all mainstream rap should be like. At 45 minutes long it is short and sweet, a wise decision as it stops short of becoming repetitive as it may have done if it were much longer, resulting in an easy and very enjoyable listen. Overall, this is a great debut effort from Chiddy Bang and gives us reason to be hopeful for what else they might cook up in the future.

Best tracks: Talking to MyselfMind Your MannersOut 2 Space, Ray Charles
Overall: 80/100

Tournament Update


Well, the top two overall seeds, Andre 3000 and Common, showed that they earned their spots, by handily defeating the upstarts Elzhi and One Be Lo.  The matches in the consolation bracket were a bit less one sided, with each match coming down to a single vote.  Big Boi snuck out a win over Scarface and Del tha Funkee Homosapien just edged out Gift of Gab.  Gab and Scarface will face-off for 7th Place.

The matches up now will determine who gets to compete for 3rd place, with the two losers going against each other for 5th.  I’ll leave these matches up till Friday, and then have the placing matches up from Saturday to Saturday.

 

As always, the matches are posted on the “Tournament” page.

https://reviewhiphop.wordpress.com/tournament/

Angels & Airwaves – I-Empire (2007)


It is not easy to make quality music within the confines of alternative rock. The genre is essentially a go-to medium for angsty tweens, yearning to release their frustration and trivial grievances of their day-to-day lives. With excessively poppy tunes and simple song structure, alternative rock bands cater to their intended audience, a generation of kids that just want some music that relates to their situation. The kids don’t distinguish between the contrived, mass-produced garbage and the legitimate works of art and emotion, and the bands capitalize on this well-known fact. Bands like Nickelback, Creed, and Daughtry are well-known for marketing to the younger, naive audience of this genre. So much so, that it becomes hard to establish a viable, quality alternative rock band.

Enter Angels & Airwaves. Led by singer Tom DeLonge of Blink-182 fame, this band is one of the rare bands that continue to produce quality albums covering all ranges of the emotional spectrum. I-Empire is an album arguably misunderstood by critics. Despite getting a measly three stars out of ten from UK music periodical NME, I-Empire is like a journey through space and time. If it had been created forty years prior, I have no doubt it would have been the soundtrack to the moon landing of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. It is space rock, showing the adventurous, artful side of DeLonge and his bandmates.

The opening, Call to Arms, is a futuristic-sounding anthem, the snare march provided by appropriately-named Atom Willard. The lyrics invoke dreams and fantasy, juxtaposing them with fear and sadness. Already, Angels & Airwaves has proven they are more creative than most alternative rock bands. As the song starts to tire, the album delves into the catchy lead single, Everything’s Magic. Though this sounds like the typical optimistic pop-punk ballad upon first listen, the timbre of the guitar penetrates the expanse of the atmosphere. You almost feel like you could grow wings on the spot and fly. Cue the third song, Breathe. Yes, it’s a love song. No, it’s not a corny display of Tom’s immaturity. Continuing the space rock theme, DeLonge proceeds to open his heart and soul into the song and take you even further on I-Empire’s emotional journey.

A few songs later, Star of Bethlehem rolls around. This instrumental, two minutes in length, is actually the prelude to the standout song of the album, True Love. I wish they had combined these two songs, because Star of Bethlehem segues PERFECTLY into True Love. Synths and drumming complement each other to form an amazing collage of psychedelic rock. At some point, you start to hear hints of Tom’s voice. You ask yourself: is that really him, or is my mind playing tricks on me? It starts out faint, and gets louder and louder, until you are fully convinced that it is Tom singing. The song gains a lot of energy, This is the album’s apex, their moment of glory. Unfortunately, it quickly delves into the album’s low point.

My only qualms about the album are the songs Jumping Rooftops and Rite of Spring. They feel out-of-place, and Tom’s autobiographical lyrics feel like a lost Blink-182 cut. They’re definitely not bad songs in terms of instrumentation, but something just seems odd about their placement. Nonetheless, Rite of Spring gives way to the last song, Heaven. A sample of The Adventure permeates the air, as you wait to be taken on the final ride. The album couldn’t have ended on a better note, with the adrenaline gushing and the energy running high. Tom moans out optimistic lyrics, and ends it just as well. Please, don’t go, I got you now, are you curious, please stay. 

The main thing about this album that separates it from the other garbage alt rock is the sheer replay value. It isn’t a one-time, listen-to-it-and-be-gone thing. From my experience, it never gets old, and I’ve been listening to the CD rather often ever since it was released in 2007. On the off-chance that you do get tired of the album, their other albums are a bit different and also worth a few listens each.

Overall, the album is a masterpiece of all involved. Along with some awesome music, we get to experience the matured side of Tom DeLonge. Even his voice, which usually sounds like nails on a chalkboard, sounds melodic on I-Empire. I-Empire is certainly the standout album in their discography, though the other albums are worth checking out. With their exploits, including graphic novels and a film (Love, which I highly recommend seeing), Angels & Airwaves are bringing art and creativity to the realm of alternative rock.

Standout tracks: Call to Arms, Breathe, Secret Crowds, Star of Bethelem/True Love, Lifeline, Heaven

Overall: 95/100

Tournament Update


We’re down to our final eight MCs.  Everybody who is left is guaranteed to place, now it’s just a matter of deciding who will place where.

Our first match-up we have features two legendary Dirty South MCs. Atlanta rapper, Big Boi, of OutKast fame, faces off against Houston’s Scarface, who got his start with the seminal group Geto Boys, but went on to have a very successful solo career as well.

On the other half of the bracket, we’ve got two Oakland underground legends facing off in Del tha Funkee Homosapien (Solo, Hieroglyphics, Deltron 3030, Gorillaz) and Gift of Gab (solo, Blackalicious).  Both these guys have been in the game for 15+ years and are still going strong.

The winners of those two matches will face the losers from our Final Four battles for the opportunity to compete for third place.  The losers will face each other for seventh place.

 

Zion I – Mind Over Matter (2000)


Sometimes when listening to an album from over a decade ago, you may feel that it has aged to some extent. The remarkable thing about this album is that it still sounds “ahead of its time” even today and probably will for the foreseeable future.

This is largely thanks to the production which is influenced by trip hop and other electronic music. The use of frantic drum ‘n’ bass style drum breaks gives it a futuristic sound, these are especially prominent on tracks like Inner Light, Metropolis and Elevation.

The album opens with Creation, this atmospheric intro features a reading from the book of genesis and sounds like something out of The Matrix which sets the mood for the following track, Revolution (B-Boy Anthem).
The lead single, Critical features Planet Asia as they trade verses over the Premo-esque beat.
Mysterious Wayz feels like an updated version of Slick Rick’s classic Indian Girl, with tales of a lady “from a land of sand where pyramids dwell and angels blow their breath through seashells”.

In my opinion Trippin’ is the best song on the album. Baba’s social commentaries serve as the best example of Zion I’s ability to combine great music with an intellectual message.

People get stuck / Following the trends
Of a TV generation / But where does it end?

Fools Gold might just be a skit but the way it samples some of the most iconic lines about money by everyone from Rakim to Wu-Tang perfectly sets up the following track, Venus, which is about a woman who exploits men for their cash.
Mind Over Matter finishes on a strong note with One, followed by a remix of Inner Light, both of which are two of the most addicting beats on the album.

Baba Zumbi presents himself as an incredibly well-rounded and versatile MC. Not only does he have some of the most poetic and though-provoking lyrics on the west coast, but he also possesses great technical ability. With his energetic flow and impressive rhyming schemes it really is criminal how underrated he is.
There are a number of standouts but every track is up to standard, resulting in a level of consistency few albums over 20 tracks have ever been able to match. This makes Mind Over Matter one of the most unique and entertaining underground hip-hop albums of the 2000’s.

Best tracks: Trippin, Critical, Koncrete Jungle, Inner Light
Overall: 95/100

Jazz Addixx – Oxygen: Refreshed (2007)


Ever since the days of A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul, the combination of hip-hop and Jazz has always been a happy marriage, this album is no exception.
Oxygen: Refreshed is a revised version of their 2005 album Oxygen, featuring some new tracks and slightly different mixes.
Consisting of MC Mudd, DJ Ragz and DJ Boom, Jazz Addixx create an album that captures an old school vibe in a modern sound while remaining innovative, pushing the boundaries of what you would expect in a jazz rap album.

Most of the production is handled by Mudd, with scratches provided by the two DJs. Instrumentally, the jazzy sound is captured  by the usual array of horns, piano and drums, but also features electronic elements to give it a modern sound. The samples are layered, incorporating the superb DJ scratches, a practice that has become noticeably less common in recent years which adds to the nostalgic feel of this record.

This isn’t just an album where the production outshines the rapping either. Mudd displays his proficient lyrical abilities throughout the album and his laid back delivery flows seamlessly over the jazzy beats which compliment each other wonderfully. Each track runs smoothly into the next, resulting in a very cohesive album and there are no fillers to be found, even the interludes add to the experience. Many of the lyrical themes focus on hip-hop culture itself, with odes to the genre such as H.I.P. – H.O.P. and Something Ya Live standing out.

What I like most about this album is that is has in abundance what many others these days are missing; a simple feel good “fun factor”. It doesn’t take itself too seriously or go near heavy political topics but with its positive lyrics and mellow production, it’s a perfect album to just chill out and relax to. Oxygen: Refreshed truly is a breath of fresh air (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun), using the traditional formula of the MC and the DJ to create a brilliant throwback to the golden age of hip-hop.

Best tracks: H.I.P. – H.O.P., Dope, 1200 Jazz
Overall: 92/100

Brother Ali – The Bite Marked Heart (2012)


The Bite Marked Heart is the latest EP from rhymesayer Brother Ali. With its release coincided with valentines day, it consists of 7 tracks dealing with both the positive and negative aspects of love. If you have listened to Ali’s other work you will know that he’s one of the best at discussing the particular topic. With his ability to give honest, heartfelt insights of his past experiences without getting all soppy like others tend to do, he could easily make a career giving relationship advice if he wasn’t a rapper.

It opens with Shine On, which features the beautiful voice of Nikki Jean. This takes the form of a narrative story over the soulful beat, as he pretends to be a waiter just to interact with the young lady for a brief moment before getting caught out; “I’m sorry, I don’t really work here… awkward”

Electric Energy tells the story of a man who sleeps with multiple women but still feels empty without real love. As the title suggests, the beat features funky electronic synths.

I’ll Be Around is the first of two tracks produced by long-term collaborator Ant and features Phonte from Little Brother along with a chorus from Stokley Williams. This has a nice chilled out vibe before the following I Can’t Wait sets up the second half of the EP in a more somber manner.

Years reflects on his failed marriage which ended in divorce after 10 years. In comparison to Walking Away from his 2007 album The Undisputed Truth, which was extremely critical of his ex-wife, this is much more forgiving as he acknowledges his own part in their troubled relationship.

I was just so hungry for affection
that the first time another gave affection I was in the trap
I let her stand in for you
trynna recapture the magic that I knew
thats why I fell for it
because when she held me in her arms I pretended they were yours
I don’t fault you for being mad at me
we were family, I put you through a tragedy
Can’t blame you for losing sanity

Backed by the piano-driven beat produced by Ant, this has a deep personal significance which really shows through and is probably my favorite song on the EP.

Haunted Housebroken is about cheating and deceit, before The Bite Marked Heart closes with the song of the same name. This is more positive than the previous three, ending on an optimistic note about his new found love and is the only one that could truly be described as “romantic”.

Overall, Brother Ali serves up a brilliant account of love and heartbreak through a mixture of storytelling and introspectiveness. Backed by the production skills of Ant and Jake One, The Bite Marked Heart is not only a welcome addition to Ali’s impressively consistent discography but one of the most concise narratives of love and breakup ever seen in hip-hop.

Best tracks: Shine On, Years, I’ll Be Around
Overall: 87/100