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

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.

78/100

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