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


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

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

Bibio – Ambivalence Avenue (2009)

Avant-garde, idiosyncratic, uplifting, and at some points, disheartening. These would be the words that best depict Bibio’s outlandish take on music, heavily influenced and slightly emulatory of Boards of Canada. Though he is not by any means an artist to spearhead an entirely new movement, he constructs his own identity extremely well.

Steve Wilkinson’s 2009 release, Ambivalence Avenue, is his first with the reputable Warp Records. With this comes slight alteration of his music, abandoning his previous style, which may have been considered tedious by some, and taking a new, experimental approach. With no lack of articulating ability, he ventures through a number of genres and generations of music, creating something unconventional and unexpected in a deeply digitally woven, yet nostalgia-spawning way.

The album starts off with the title track, which serves a crucial role of introducing us to many of the ambient, euphoric, and seemingly re-occurring sounds this album has to offer. Those sounds celestially contrast with others that sport electronic basslines, through exceptional transitions. The title track leads on to “Jealous of Roses,” a track with a beautiful 70’s feel to it, and a coalesce of funky samples. The more gritty, yet equally satisfying tracks, like “Fire Ant” and “Sugarette,” could easily be possible Madlib or Dilla cuts. “Haikuesque (When She Laughs)” sports a bit of low-fidelity folk. “Lover’s Carvings” is host to an uplifting atmosphere, although the first minute or so was, in my opinion, a little dull. Soulful is “Abrasion” and even more so, “The Palm of Your Wave,” which both muster feelings of great despair. “S’vive” brings a more choppy sound, and “Cry! Baby!” is another especially saddening and touching song. The album comes to fitting close with the eccentric “Dwrcan.”

In conclusion, from harsh, 8-bit moments to halcyon, soothing tunes, Ambivalence Avenue is a work of art. It’s most definitely worth a listen (or ten.) Although there wasn’t a track that I didn’t enjoy, stand-outs on the album were Jealous of Roses, Fire Ant, and Haikuesque.

Overall: 91/100

Koncept – Awaken (2012)

Koncept, of Brown Bag AllStars, is a thought-provoking, confident, class act. Upon hearing some of his material, it becomes evident that, like most underground acts, he receives far too little recognition for his talent.

Throughout his contemplative new album, Awaken, Koncept ventures through a variety of concepts, giving us a sense of his poise, while at the same time, a more sensitive side. Production is handled by J57, The Audible Doctor, and Marco Polo, among others. And featuring names like Royce Da 5’9″, Sene, and Soul Khan, the guest appearance department is equally impressive.

Following the title track is “Watch the Sky Fall,” which, with a soulful vibe, gives us an introduction to Koncept and his background. You can’t help but be reverent, as he further gives a vivid breakdown of his experiences on “Save Me,” telling of his father, who chose heroine over him. “Too Late,” sports a number of voice samples, including one of Eminem in “Lose Yourself,” which is appropriate, seeing as the theme of the song is based on missed time and opportunities. The single, “Aspirations,” is an uplifting song about living the hip hop lifestyle, and features an incredibly well-chopped sample, in addition to Soul Khan, who offers an extremely catchy chorus. Although, his more avid fans know he could have just as easily killed a verse. Another ten points for the far from cliche music video. Sene doesn’t fall short on the next track, “Getting Home,” on which Koncept reflectively informs youth about the dangers of street life and drugs. “Narcotics ain’t happiness, you can’t clone a smile,” he says. The feel of “Understanding” can get fairly repetitive, and is the one track I didn’t enjoy as much as the others.

“Driving in these circles ’til my gas run dry, and who the fuck told you that a man can’t cry?”

In conclusion, if you’re in search of aplomb, originality, and quality hip hop, Awaken may interest you. Take an interpretive role and give the album a listen. My favorite tracks on the album were Aspirations, Getting Home, and Save Me.

Overall: 85/100

Laws – 5:01 [Overtime] (2010)

Floridian and 2012 Freshmen Candidate, Laws, is an emcee who is conspicuously sincere and genuine. Unfortunately, this seems to be a gradually decreasing group in hip hop. With his fairly unique flow, insightful lyrics, and reasonable audacity, the “sarcastic Brazilian bastard” brings something new to the table, exhibiting a sizeable amount of talent. Vocally, he’s comparable to Talib Kweli, and so his intonation and approach may take a little getting used to. However, in the words of Laws himself, “making any comparisons is weak.” See him as himself, and no one else.

5:01 (Overtime) is an engaging, extended re-release of Laws’ 4:57PM mixtape. Laws points out on an interlude that 4:57PM was the time he would leave from work back in the day, which really wasn’t too long ago at all. Additionally, Laws states that on 4:57, he was quite unsure of himself and where he was going in life, but now that he’s more poised, he feels he should “finish up what [he’d] started.” This shows his loyalty to his fans, and his dedication to making music, if nothing else. The album features various other up-and-coming artists, such as Emilio Rojas and Big KRIT, as well as Funkghost, Jay Rock, and Mason Caine, among others.

Production comes from none other than the Grammy award winning trio J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, along with 9th Wonder, M-Phazes, and others. Just hearing the names, you can foresee this line-up delivering. Most beats make use of the stellar synths that we’re so accustomed to hearing from Laws’ past releases. Let it be clear, however, that not all of them were created solely for Laws.

Lyrically, it’s evident that complexity is lacking, but Laws competently makes up for it with his poise, sometimes bringing up and boasting about being the first lyrical MC of Brazilian-American upbringing. Fortunately, he doesn’t go over the top, and even pays his respects to Big Pun, the first Latino rapper to go platinum (on “Overtime” for instance.)

He raises a few pragmatic ideas throughout, relating to concepts like social class, along with a few religious references on “Believer,” but frankly, some of these ideas get drowned out because of the mediocre chorus, just as other great tracks get blurred out by less lyrically imposing, prosaic tracks. However catchy they may be, they unfortunately take away from the overall tone of the album. “Hold You Down (Remix)” was a standout track. Rojas and KRIT kill their respective verses, with Laws on the chorus, as well as spitting what could arguably be the best verse of the album. He makes an interesting allusion to the different elements of hip hop in the lines “I’mma snap and get up in some four element shit/Break you off while you dance/Scratch your face up, tag your place up/Wrap you from the waist up.” Another great track is “Shining,” which, having been produced by 9th Wonder, incorporates violin/alto sax samples.

“Five seconds from fame, a minute from legendary”

All in all, do not sleep on this if you’re in search of a fast-rising talent. That is, if you’re willing to gamble. Laws will either reel you in upon first listen, or will take some getting used to. My favorite tracks on the album were Shining, Runaway, and Hold You Down

Overall: 74/100

Masta Ace – A Long Hot Summer (2004)

Masta Ace is an accomplished New York veteran who hails from the super-group, Juice Crew, and is commonly referred to as one of the pioneers of hip hop. He is recognized by those who know his music best as one of the most consistent of all time, with two illustrious, classic albums and the rest, remarkable works, to say the least. “Devoted” and “influential” would be the ideal words to describe Ace. He has inspired and paved the way for numerous artists, including Eminem, who was, and still is frequently criticized for “stealing” Ace’s flow. His dexterity in vivid story-telling is also commendable, and another skill that should land him a substantial status within the hip hop community. A real definitive quality Masta Ace possesses is that he although his confidence shines, he’s far from egocentric or narcissistic, and doesn’t try being someone he’s not, which may be why he recurrently calls out those who do. Despite all of this, he’s always been universally underrated and given far too little acknowledgment throughout his career.

Prominent are the revisions Masta Ace underwent throughout his career, which had begun in 1988. Starting off, he was a very vivacious, self-motivated MC, who had just begun building up his mainstream appeal. He later got exactly what he wanted, with the more radio-friendly Sittin’ On Chrome (with The I.N.C.) rupturing the face of the hip hop charts and reaching Billboard’s Hip Hop Top 20 list. 2001 and on, he goes to his more self-effacing, humble approach, redolent of earlier stages of his career, on Disposable Arts and A Long Hot Summer.

A Long Hot Summer is, in my opinion, a masterpiece, and Ace’s best release to date. The concept album took many by surprise because of a line from “No Regrets” off of Disposable Arts, leading many to believe it would be his last album.

Each interlude and song is extremely well-crafted. From the first track alone, you can easily recognize that with his reflective style, Ace will utilize his story-telling skills to the fullest, and speak on whatever topic he feels necessary. And so he does. The album ventures into various subjects, including New York, defiance, politics, fame, his fans, a very special woman, the rap game, and the state of the music industry. It’s handled by a large range of producers, including 9th Wonder, Marco Polo, and even Masta Ace himself. The judiciously soulful beats put forward a jazzy vibe, especially on “Beautiful” which gives you the feeling of a warm summer day. The production fits Ace’s pensive style and smooth flow quite well, projecting the emotion and impeccable fervor he puts into each verse. “Brooklyn Masala” is a standout track with it’s infectious rhythm, and again, Ace shows why he’s considered a literary craftsman. There are exceptional guest verses from Edo G, Jean Grae, and The Beatnuts, among others. The overall lively album comes to a pessimistic close with “Revelations,” in which Masta Ace wonders why he’s putting so much effort into making music if no one is there to appreciate it, while instructing industry puppets to feel ashamed.

When you reach a certain age, life is not a game
I was in the fast lane, I was out for speed
But now I got more than one mouth to feed

All in all, A Long Hot Summer isn’t completely and utterly flawless, but it comes pretty damn close, setting a prominent distance from some of the inchoate releases of today, that are often flooded with more filler than quality music. It’s a crime to sleep on an album that offers the essence of golden age hip hop so impeccably. My favorite tracks on the album were Beautiful, Bklyn Masala, and Oh My God.

Overall: 97/100