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

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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.

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

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

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

Gensu Dean – Forever EP (2012)


Mello Music Group have been making a name for themselves in recent years as one of the most prominent independent hip-hop labels, with a number of promising artists and critically acclaimed releases they have already been compared to the likes of Rhymesayers and Stones Throw Records.

One of the most exciting artists to come of out the Mello umbrella is Texas based producer Gensu Dean. He uses the vintage SP1200 (as used by legends such as Pete Rock and J Dilla) to create soulful beats with skillfully chopped samples and gritty drums.

“Forever” features rapping from hip-hop veteran Large Professor, who rides the beat with ease and displays impressive lyrical prowess.

At the fork in the road I took the right route
Now it’s lights out for all that bullshit dudes be tryna write about
Hip Hop is serious it come from the streets
Can’t fuck wit’ the felons then run to the police

The song was originally released in 2010 but has been reworked for MMG’s 7″ Series, although the year has just begun I can safely say this is my favorite track so far.

The EP includes the standard version as well as a remix and instrumental. “Forever” is available for free download on bandcamp and will also appear on his debut album “Lo-Fi Fingahz” which is due out on Feburary 28th.

Overall: 93/100