Curren$y – Fear and Loathing in New Orleans (2008)

Curren$y is a rapper that, seemingly commodiously, appeals to just about everyone. And with a very respectable discography sporting a copious amount of innovative material, The Hot Spitta’s semi-stardom is well deserved. Among these releases are his mixtapes, some of which are unfairly slept on.

The title of this 2008 release is an allusion to a term coined by Hunter S. Thompson in a book called “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” It refers to a hell of a night motivated by the excessive consumption and abuse of substances. It’s only fitting, seeing as Spitta’s a full-time pothead, as made evident by effortless, yet adroit, laid-back flow and mellifluous lyrics.

Seeing as this is a Curren$y tape, smooth beats are a given. He’s got a history of exceptional beat selection. “It Starts” sparks a promising start with a familiar, appropriate sound. A jet engine, followed by a quick pre-flight briefing from the pilot himself.

Roll something up, like I always instruct y’all to do at the beginning of these tapes… Pour something, if that’s what you do… Get yourselves straight, sit down, roll your windows down, put your foot on the gas, and get into it. I hope you enjoy it, ’cause I enjoyed making it.

A good intro for a better mixtape. “Title Track” offers a perfect sample of Curren$y’s charismatic lyrical ability over a jazz-esque sound, and “Murda” magnifies it as he fires shots at the comical hook-centric rappers of the industry. They also, however, introduce us to his tendency to be monotonous, which some many consider a drawback. “Movie Writers, Business Men, and Gangsters,” is, frankly, a nothing-special generic track, but it features Mr. Marcelo, who comes pretty close to outshining his younger brother. Young Roddy accompanies Spitta on the next track, “Sky Barz,” and contributes a nice verse reflecting on the Fly Society. “World Class Bitches” is a track I knew I would enjoy after hearing five seconds of the ridiculously smooth beat, courtesy of Pharrell/The Neptunes. Curren$y strays away from his usual subject content on the short but sweet, synth-heavy “Lost in Transit,” shedding some much needed light on the relation between the power of outside influences and the neuro-science of early development in the kids of today. Of course, on the next tune he goes back to his signature, cunning braggadocio style. Two stand-out tracks for me were “Come Up,” as the instrumental is borrowed from one of my favorite songs of all time, Camp Lo’s “Luchini,” and “Intergalactic Society,” just for its mechanical obscurity.

All in all, this project is well above average and will give you a taste of Spitta’s well-roundedness but may leave you a little unsatisfied if you’ve already heard his studio albums. My favorite tracks on the album were Lost In Transit, World Class Bitches, Come Up, and Calm Down.

Overall: 76/100

Method Man – Tical 2000: Judgement Day (1998)

Interestingly enough, Tical 2000: Judgement Day was the first sophomore effort from a Wu-Tang Clan member (GZA’s Liquid Swords is arguable depending on stance) and the first time we see a Shaolin fore-bearer follow up a widely acclaimed debut.

A product of its time thematically, Judgement Day is naturally built around apocalyptic allusions and unhinged beats (think Busta Rhymes’ When Disaster Strikes…), ingredients that the Ticallion Stallion traditionally relishes. Indeed, his spliff-shrouded, nightmarish accounts and distant yet rigorous perspectives on the kill-or-be-killed ghetto war zone are as persistent as a haunted grandfather clock’s pendulum.

Tical 2000 : Judgement Day

There is noticeably more emphasis placed  on the latter here, signifying a very lyrical and surprisingly accessible project. Paranoia and the sussing-out of jittery looking corner boys are guaranteed in any case. So the question is: does Iron Lung fashion another legendary weapon?

We get off to a convincing start. Following a short introduction, which serves as a millennium launch procedure, the listener is plunged into a desolate, disease-ridden Y2K full of bleak soliloquies, unnerving descriptions and quiet street menace. The unearthly shuffle of ‘Perfect World’ and the thumping ‘Cradle Rock’ (where Left Eye shares chorus duty and supplies a nonsensical but nevertheless imposing spoken word outro) are like bottled samples of what this environment would probably sound like. From track four onward however, the subject matter becomes progressively conventional and the album’s concept anchored by sound rather than lyrics (a minor quibble considering that Tical 2000 is actually one of the less digressing albums of its kind). Reassuringly, Method Man and co. are accomplished artists and can elevate anything roaming seemingly banal territory to formidable heights. ‘Sweet Love’ is an enjoyable sex romp featuring a well-judged vocal excerpt and an entertaining Streetlife verse while ‘Suspect Chin Music’ is simply one of RZA’s best ’90s concoctions.

The ubiquitous and well-balanced presence of in-house producers bestows a pleasingly gritty, modest variety to proceedings. Erick Sermon, Havoc, Prince Paul and Trackmasters make up the outsiders and each contributes only once. Choppy piano keys, dissonant strings and rattling hi-hats are trademarks of Method Man’s sonic palate and all are executed more than competently throughout. Unfortunately, once the album exceeds its late teens, the acerbic soundscapes begin to drag a little. There aren’t enough truly distinct moments to break through the bulk (‘Retro Godfather’ a sadly brief oddity) and one gets the sense that some moderation would have served the record’s progression far better. Pointless skits cheapen it slightly, but they’re hardly detrimental. Johnny Blaze himself is in very good form and his penchant for gloomy imagery and persistent hooks remains strong (‘Torture’ and ‘Elements’ are both near-masterclasses). True, there’s hardly an abundance of thrilling, deranged performances á la Tical #1 and a slight lack of focus means Tical 2000 doesn’t quite live up to its overbearing title but the gravel-mouthed delivery and increasingly workman-like, scrupulous flow parallel a mostly focused musical backdrop perfectly.

Relief (or variety) finally rears its head again in the form of ‘Big Dogs’, which is equivalent to staggering up a staircase and discovering a low-key party after being trapped in a basement for half an hour. Hot Nikkels and weed-smoking cohort Redman do what they that they do better than anyone – trading goofy, vulgar lines over flatulent funk. Next is penultimate song ‘Break Ups 2 Make Ups’, a spare R&B style jam with a simple guitar loop that shows impressive restraint alongside neo-soul giant D’Angelo’s delicate crooning. We now arrive at the album’s true ground zero and title track ‘Judgement Day’. Picking up where 2 and 3 left off, Meth resumes a prophetic tone and cleverly utilises a detailed countdown as the chorus. The up-tempo beat is strikingly more polished and electronic in feel than its neighbors but still fits the bigger picture with acutely layered arrangements and concludes things authoritatively.

Like many late ‘90s hip-hop albums, Tical 2000 is overlong and coupled with a tracklist padded by novelty spoofs; even so, it’s an unfairly overlooked volume in the Wu canon and few weak moments can be traced. Taken as a mere assemblage of tracks for picking and choosing rather than an adhesive front, it consistently satisfies and a small cavalcade of gems awaits the un-ordained.


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