A Quick Artist Spotlight

By Rajin

As you can see by the date of my last posted article, we decided to take last year off. This has made it difficult for me to decide on how to approach my first posted piece in 13 or 14 months, despite the fact that I’ve got a litany of unfinished works in progress. I figured that something fairly short and sweet would be the easiest reintroduction.

I would say that over the course of our hiatus, the underground hip hop scene that I spent 2017 and 2018 raving about has effectively come and gone. It’s no longer the exciting step in the evolution of hip hop that I once saw it as. The entire lane got watered down by wannabe rappers flooding Bandcamp with low-effort projects. Verses were clearly one-take freestyles over lazy production. The rap styles and ears for beats of actual great artists (think Roc Marciano/Planet Asia/Hus Kingpin/Westside Gunn) were bitten and sucked dry by parasites with no true creative vision, creating cheap knock-offs. Cover art went from eye-catching and unique to the same old Google image searches of mafia movie characters with paint splatters on their faces and/or black strips over their eyes, with massive parental advisory logos plastered on. Rappers press 25 copies of cassette tapes, CDs, and 12” vinyl (not even LPs) and sell them under the guise of rare art, charging $100 for a 15 minute project. It’s been a quick but very painful and unceremonious death of a scene that was once luxurious and mysterious. 

Outside of Brown Bag Money/Gold Era-affiliated artists, Rome Streetz, Eto, Rigz, and Ty Farris (who I’m not sure I even consider part of the same scene honestly), I can’t really say I listen to very many underground artists who have risen to prominence in recent years often at all anymore. That said, there have been a few more I’ve found recently who care more about creating good music than they do making money off rich white kids who want to flaunt their “esoteric” music taste on Instagram. So rather than continue exposing myself as a hypocrite and bitching about music on the internet, I’d rather shine what miniscule light we may have on these artists. Absolutely none of them are artists that you haven’t heard of, but I really believe in them and I haven’t had the chance to talk about them on this platform yet.

I would like to start off with Ché Noir. I first heard about her about a year and a half ago, but if I recall correctly her projects were limited so I didn’t have much to dig into. What I did hear was decent, but I felt as though there was a bit of potential she had yet to tap into. I believe part of the reason is because of the beats she was rapping over. Being signed to T.C.F. Music Group, she was getting beats from 38 Spesh, who makes good beats but wasn’t supplying her with beats that I personally feel meshed with her style overly well in my opinion. I kept my ear to her though, having a feeling that sooner or later she’d hit the level I felt she could hit. That point came last summer when she released an album with Apollo Brown called As God Intended. That record clicked with me immediately in ways her previous material hadn’t. Ché Noir’s voice perfectly matched the feel of Apollo Brown’s beats. It was very relaxing and hypnotic, almost betraying the fact that what she was rapping about was supremely brutal more often than not. That album ended up being one of my favorites of last year – and she wasn’t done. A few months later, she released an entirely self-produced EP called After 12. She showed a natural inclination for production, making me really hope that in the future she produces a full-length album for herself. I consider Ché to be the best lyricist of the handful of emcees that I am talking about today, personally. Her lyrics are incredibly poetic and thoughtful, adding a level of poignancy to topics that we’ve heard much about. I honestly think this year was just the beginning for her. She seems like she’s hit a consistent stride, and I see her only getting better as time goes on.

Next is Stove God Cooks. Cooks is a little different than the other artists here, because I’ve actually been aware of him for about 5 years or so now. I recall that he signed to Busta Rhymes’ label The Conglomerate Entertainment a while back and showed up on a few mixtape tracks. I was always impressed by him, so I was curious as to why he wasn’t dropping anything. Fast forward to the end of 2019, and out of nowhere he popped up on Roc Marci’s album Marcielago on the standout cut “Puff Daddy.” Not too long afterwards, there was word that Marci was producing his entire debut album, culminating in Reasonable Drought. This record was another one of my favorites from last year. Roc Marci’s beats are typically quite minimal, which only works with a select few artists at this point in time. Stove God is one of those artists. He raps like a force of nature, driving the pulse of the song himself while the beats generally serve more like soundscapes behind him. The song “Crosses” is one of the most breathtaking songs from last year, from the sample down to how bloodthirsty Cooks sounds over it. He’s also got my favorite verse on the huge cypher track “Frank Murphy” off Westside Gunn’s Shady Records album Who Made The Sunshine, setting the track off on a supremely high note. When people rap on beats without drums nowadays, a lot of them get way too loose with the flow to the point where they sound like they’re just talking. Cooks makes sure the music never loses a sense of rhythm, and keeps things engaging at all times. I think of the artists I’m talking about, he’s the one who’s made the biggest impression on listeners, and while I feel like they all deserve equal notoriety, there’s absolutely a reason why people are paying attention to him.

Finally, we come to 7xvethegenius (pronounced Love the Genius). This is somebody who I saw covered on a bigger hip hop site about a year or two ago, but I didn’t get the chance to check out. Recently, she has signed with Conway the Machine to his new label Drumwork Music Group. The first time I had the chance to listen to her properly was when Conway released the deluxe edition of From King To A God, where she featured on the track “Crack In The Nineties.” To say the least, she absolutely bodied the song. Her verse is not only damn near twice as long as the others are, but more consistently passionate and hungry. On that verse, she demonstrated that she knows exactly how to build a verse so that you’re constantly hanging onto everything she’s saying. She doesn’t give you a chance to tune out because she only sounds more urgent as the verse goes on and forces you to pay attention from beginning to end. Not long after that guest appearance, she released her debut single under Drumwork, “Break Soul.” The same thing applied to that song. Structured as essentially one long verse, the track’s intensity continuously increases with her vocals sounding hungrier and hungrier as it progresses. If I had to try to sell her as a talent based off these two tracks, I would say that she is almost like the concept of momentum personified as a rapper. By the end you feel like you’re listening to some of the most important lyrics you’ll hear all day with how convincing she sounds and how commanding her presence is. Before signing to Drumwork, she had released two projects – 7xve is Love and Self 7xve. Admittedly, I haven’t listened to them yet. I am intentionally waiting until I hear what she does under Conway’s guidance before looking at what she did beforehand so I can judge her artistic development with no prior expectations on what I think her first Drumwork album should be. I’m very excited about her though. I genuinely feel like she could be a star if she’s guided and promoted the right way – the raw talent is more than present.

I don’t want to act like a tastemaker or say that nobody else out is bubbling or making good music via exclusion from this piece. My intention here was just to update any readers we may have retained over the past year of inactivity of who’s caught my ear, and to offer my suggestions if for whatever reason any of them haven’t hit your radar. I’ll be watching their careers with interest, because I’ve been super impressed with what I’ve seen of them already. I’m always looking for more artists to listen to, so hopefully I can find more to talk about as I settle back into writing.

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A Look Back on Rick Rubin & Eminem, a Pairing That Never Should Have Happened

by Dustin

Biases out of the way first and foremost, I will admit that I am not a huge fan of Rick Rubin. I think some of the work he did during a particular era was impressive for its time; however, the legacy after that point in the ‘80s leaves me scratching my head to say the least. Whether it be his part in the loudness wars, or the multitude of artists unhappy with the way he directs talent, it just seems to me as if trouble follows Rick anywhere shortly after he arrives. As such, I’ve wanted to discuss his involvement in Eminem’s career for a while. It was a short lived and bizarre pairing that often gets skipped over when talking about what went wrong in Eminem’s career post-hiatus. It was also one that led to many questionable decisions, the first true flop in Eminem’s career, and likely forever tarnished the long term perception of hip-hop’s highest selling artist.

Rick Rubin served as the main executive producer on two of Eminem’s albums: The Marshall Mathers LP2, and Revival. These two releases came out during the 2013-2017 era of Eminem’s career, which I would argue was an extremely rough time period for the Detroit emcee. To understand why it was so difficult, it’s important to consider the context of the few years before this stretch. Regardless of the criticism Recovery faced at the time, it along with Bad Meets Evil’s Hell: The Sequel put Eminem back on top of the world after stumbling out of the re-launch with Relapse. A key thing to keep in mind during this time is that Dr. Dre was involved in Recovery, but had started to fall away from executive production duties. Just Blaze was often leaned upon in that position during the recording process and he handled it extremely well, but it also very clearly was not a completely Dre guided album. Hell: The Sequel came out the following year with oversight from Mr. Porter, and won over many fans who didn’t vibe with Recovery’s mainstream inspired production. Despite this success, things quickly began to falter in terms of public endearment. The fixation on the Recovery formula was being applied to too many guest features on Eminem’s behalf, and seemingly stunted the Shady Records debut albums by Slaughterhouse and Yelawolf. To put it lightly, fans seemed pissed off with the direction of both his music and the music his label was releasing.

It had been bubbling up quietly for a while, but the sentiment of “I miss the old Eminem” really took hold by 2012. To my personal recollection, I felt as though the guest appearance on Rihanna’s “Numb” was the point that the sound had fully jumped the shark for most people. The next record was going to need to be different if it was going to be received positively.

The next Eminem album cycle rolls around in 2013, and in my opinion this is where things really started to fly off the handle. As a fan at the time, the news releases just felt like they got stranger and stranger. Eminem had dyed his hair blonde again and it looked weird, we were getting a sequel to The Marshall Mathers LP, and for some reason Rick Rubin would be behind the boards as executive producer. Rick at this point had allegedly fallen out with many of his former acts in the rock industry over ego and creative differences, but started to find his way back into hip-hop via Jay Z and Kanye West. The reception to him coming in to handle The Marshall Mathers LP 2 felt very mixed. Rick Rubin certainly had throwback appeal to a lot of older rap fans, but with Dr. Dre playing such a pivotal role in the first release, it was jarring and kind of wrong. Due to the title and some tracks that were genuinely refreshing, The Marshall Mathers LP 2 would ultimately punch above its weight class in terms of sales. Yet, the musical direction started to feel purposeless. The album failed to establish a sound for itself, never mind a sound that felt remotely fitting as a sequel. There was a blend of classic rock samples, Recovery’s pop flavored anthems, midwest speed rap, and Alex da Kid for whatever reason (but that’s another story). And while the creation of all these sounds can not all be faulted to him explicitly, it was clear that Rick Rubin did not have the focus as an executive producer to reign in an artist as chaotic as Eminem; moreover, his own rock based production on the album was extremely simplistic and out of place. “Rhyme or Reason” and “Berzerk” are both fun tracks, but the later cuts brought very little to enhance Eminem’s spastic style around this time. Making matters worse, they opted to turn away from vocal layering and reverb on Eminem’s vocals, leaving him sounding dry and less impactful. I walked away thinking that The Marshall Mathers LP 2 rode an extremely passionate effort behind the mic to being as decent as it was, but the executive direction was not there to make it an iconic release. That’s not to say it was a failed experiment though, I thought the album itself was pretty alright. The important thing is that each one of the minor problems on MMLP2 reared their head again in a much heavier way just four years later when they no longer had the novelty of nostalgia.

Nothing particularly noteworthy happened from 2013 until Revival saw the light of day in 2017, but a few things did point to positives in the future. Eminem released a label collective project to celebrate 15 years of Shady Records, and a soundtrack to tie in with the movie Southpaw. Both were incredibly forgettable, but he was experimenting with new flows and instrumentation with a more familiar dark and dramatic mood. He had also all but moved entirely away from working with Rick Rubin, and by 2015 it felt as though Eminem may have found himself again. He absolutely shredded features on “Best Friend” by Yelawolf and “Medicine Man” by Dr. Dre. These tracks had an urgency and spark behind them that had been largely missing on the second Marshall Mathers LP. I found it really encouraging, but unfortunately come time for Revival, Dr. Dre was taking a break post-Compton and Rick Rubin once again found himself in the executive producer’s seat. This would be both his second effort with Eminem, and an absolute unmitigated disaster.

The issues with Revival started right out of the gate with a botched promotional period, and this blame does rest solely on Shady Records. It was announced as an easter egg in a promotion for Yelawolf’s Trial By Fire, tastelessly undercutting his more immediate release on the label. At this point Shady Records had public issues with Slaughterhouse (in particular, Joe Budden) and it was optically a highly questionable choice. Shortly after, Eminem began his media rounds and they did not inspire a lot of confidence in the project. He sounded very unsure about Revival, speaking about the fact that he hoped it had something for everybody on it. To me and my friends, it felt very ominous and as it turns out, it sort of was. To give credit where credit is due, Eminem did not phone it in or rap particularly poorly on any of Revival’s tracks. I honestly think he showed up rather impressively on a good chunk of the album, and songs like “Framed,” “Castle,” “Arose,” and even “Walk on Water” showed to me that he still had it in him as an emcee. However, every single executive production decision on this album was so bad, that it overshadowed and ruined any positives that could have been gained from it being released. As much as I believe that producers and studio staff should get more credit for taking part in the creation of fantastic music, I think that a producer like Rick Rubin should similarly take a lot of heat for the carnage that was Revival

A good executive producer will help in the selection of instrumentals to set the tone for an album, and to put it frankly the beat selection and flow throughout Revival was bad. There was no attempt at forming a style or lane to take it in, it’s just presented as a schmorgish board of different production. It was hard to sit and just listen to it because it changed gears so abruptly every couple of songs. The funny thing is, it almost would not have mattered if Rick had helped Eminem find a direction for this album, because the audio was so rough on most tracks that it would be physically unpleasant to listen to them regardless. Not only are the already mostly tepid instrumentals mixed to the point of clipping and having no bass, but the vocals are so poorly handled that it was kind of shameful. Eminem sounded muddy or distant on most tracks, and you could hear him moving around to breathe or look at lyrics due to none of the audio being properly leveled. Rick Rubin is known to like a raw feeling to the music he is involved in and if this was his idea of raw then I think that philosophy needs to be thrown away, because Revival sounded like rough demos at best. To make matters worse, Rick’s own beat placements on the album were probably the worst offenders of being out of place. They’re simple, loud, straight up classic rock loops that came across half-baked and way too in-your-face compared to most everything else. Eminem took most of the blame for Revival failing in the eyes of the public, but in the end I think it was the production issues which made it unsalvageable. That sits on Rick Rubin and his guidance of both the creative process and team behind the music. Nevertheless, the damage had been done. Eminem now had a true flop under his belt, and it was clear that the Rubin experiment had properly failed this time.

Following this the two would quietly part ways, and Dr. Dre would step back into the executive role for Kamikaze, Music to be Murdered by, and the expansion disc Music to be Murdered by Side B. Reuniting with Dre fixed a lot of the issues that had been plaguing Eminem throughout the years that brought The Marshall Mathers LP 2 and Revival. There was a newfound sense of focus behind the construction of his albums, plus the production choices definitely steered back toward a modern take on what Eminem was known for back in 2002-2003. Vocals were suddenly treated with importance again, receiving the appropriate studio care to ensure they sounded large or impactful. Eminem himself definitely pushed his game after Revival, but I think a big part of that is that Dr. Dre is known for being demanding and pushing his artists. That extra attention to detail was not there during the Rick Rubin era, and it shows. I feel that the allure of working with an older icon can blow up in an artists face, and this was definitely one of those situations. Rick wasn’t with it anymore, and his idea of how to present music was too far removed from both Eminem’s pre-established track record and the general climate of hip-hop at the time to ever be long term successful. It’s too bad that this awkward business relationship happened at a time when faith in Eminem’s music was waning among listeners already, because it drove the levels of distaste through the roof. In my opinion he’s had three great projects since, and still is yet to recover in the eyes of many fans from the damage caused by the stint he was produced by Rick Rubin. It was insane to watch something that simply did not work spiral out to such an immense degree, and nearly cost Eminem his fanbase.

The Rewind – November 2019

by Rajin

The Rewind

I said in my last piece that I no longer want to write reviews, but I do still want to speak on some albums that came out in November 2019, a month I felt was fairly stacked. So instead, I wrote relatively quick recaps of them and stuffed everything together. No quantifying grades or ratings – just scattered thoughts with a varying amount of relevance to the project at hand.

MSM2highlyrecommended

Daniel Son & Futurewave – Moonshine Mix 2 [Brown Bag Money]

Moonshine Mix 2 is the second record that Daniel Son & Futurewave have dropped this year, coming after this summer’s Yenaldooshi. Yenaldooshi was a bit different from what you’d expect from these guys, though it was still another strong addition to an essentially flawless run of collaborative albums. It had eerier production and excessively aggressive vocals, even compared to Daniel’s already confrontational delivery. With that said, Moonshine Mix 2 sees Daniel Son & Futurewave going straight back to basics.

The first tape was produced by Crate Divizion’s Vic Grimes and Phyba Optikz, both of whom are vastly different from Futurewave stylistically. I wasn’t sure what his approach would be, but I was sure he’d deliver (spoiler alert: he did). To me, it sounds like he went for samples that were reminiscent of the original but flipped them in his own way to make them feel like beats you might hear on his previous albums with Daniel Son. It was a really clever way to find a middle ground between staying faithful to the first tape while also giving us trademark Futurewave.

I really don’t know what to say about Daniel Son that we haven’t said a thousand times before. There’s a reason why he’s one of our favorite rappers out right now. On most of this album he supplies us with more of what put him there for us. However, at some points, Daniel plays with his flow in really interesting ways that I don’t think I’ve heard him try before. On “Don’t Spill” he hits us with a double time flow out of nowhere, and on “It’s Facts” he kind of reminds me of Benny on “5 to 50”. Not only does it sound great, I appreciate hearing him take risks like this in an era where people find their comfort zones and bury their feet there.

Just like in 2018, Daniel Son & Futurewave gave us an album that sits far above most of the competition. These guys are on a hot streak that I honestly don’t see ending anytime soon.

oneofthebesthighlyrecommended

Gang Starr – One Of The Best Yet [Gang Starr Enterprises]

I don’t like posthumous music. More often than not, it comes off as a cash-grab by a label or affiliate rather than an attempt at paying tribute to a fallen artist. I can honestly count the number of tasteful posthumous albums that I’ve heard on one hand. Fortunately, this is one of them.

To be fair, this isn’t entirely posthumous. Half of the group is still here, which is directly the reason why it sounds so good. It’s easy to tell that Premier put everything he had into this album. It felt like his number one priority was creating something that Guru would approve of. You can feel the love and sorrow that Premo experienced while making this album just wash over you through the production. The sage burning rituals, keeping Guru’s ashes in the studio with him, putting Guru’s son on an interlude…it all comes through in the music to make for a very touching listening experience. Guru sounds so alive on these songs – it almost makes you forget that he’s no longer here.

I give Premo endless respect for the way he handled this album. He made it feel like Guru was genuinely right there with him. I don’t think I can give any higher praise than that when it comes to a posthumous release.

wwcd

highlyrecommended

Griselda – WWCD [Griselda Records/Shady Records/Interscope Records]

This was my most anticipated album for fourth quarter 2019. I’ll admit I’ve been nervous – I didn’t want to see these guys fumble this deal. A lot of things could have gone wrong.

Fortunately, they ended up giving me EXACTLY what I’ve wanted for the last two and a half years. More, even. WWCD gave me the feeling I had when I heard FLYGOD and Reject 2 for the first time, shortly after they signed to Shady. It was that same sense of mystique and excitement about something special hitting hip hop in the face. There’s no bells or whistles on this record – and that’s the beauty of it. It was signature GxFR grimey and spooky boom bap through and through. Setting aside the quality of the music, the fact that they managed to release an album with this sound, subject matter, and even artwork through a major label with NO concessions is historic.

Daringer’s production, which is what the GxFR sound has been built on from the beginning, is usually fairly simple and almost entirely loop-driven. That isn’t always great if the loop gets grating or monotonous, which is a problem I’ve had with his production on occasion. For that reason, bringing Beat Butcha on board was honestly the best thing they could have done. To my understanding, he supplied Daringer with music to loop, which meant they could be more precise with how the beats sounded while also avoiding sample clearance issues. The results were beautiful; this had some of the best beats I’ve ever heard on a Griselda Records release.

Benny and Conway are two of the best rappers alive today. Indisputably. So of course, the rapping was excellent throughout this album. I have never once heard Benny come with a verse anything short of great, and that doesn’t change here. Conway, on the other hand, releases mixtape after mixtape, all seemingly recorded over the span of a day or two. As a result, at times he can sound complacent to me. Mind you, a complacent Conway will still tear you to shreds on a track. It looks to me like dropping an official album through a major label woke him up though, because this is potentially the best I’ve personally ever heard him. Also, I really wasn’t expecting to hear Westside Gunn rap the way he did here. To me, he’s always been more style over skill – which isn’t a bad thing at all. He really showed out here, though. His flows were tight and he sounded more dialed in than I’m used to, and I loved it.

I have no hesitation in putting this up there as one of my absolute favorite Griselda Records AND Shady Records releases. It might look like I’m overselling it, but honestly, I don’t give a fuck. This was more than worth the wait and I’m still excited about it.

hwh

recommended

Westside Gunn – Hitler Wears Hermes VII [Griselda Records]

As is tradition, Westside Gunn released a new installment to his Hitler Wears Hermes mixtape series around Halloween. This is his second solo release of 2019, coming only a few months after FLYGOD Is An Awesome GOD. Even though this is a mixtape, it’s more developed than FIAAG, which felt like it was somewhere between an album and an EP.

Usually, the Hitler Wears Hermes tapes are Gunn’s grimiest and filthiest projects, but this tape went for a smoother, jazzier, more soulful sound. He sounds more at home on these beats than did through most of his last album, which went in a weirder and artsier direction. It seems like this mixtape was more about creating a vibe rather than hard-hitting standout tracks. Half of the songs play like interludes; they’re a minute and some change in length and are mainly driven by the instrumentals, a few repeated lines, and Gunn’s signature ad-libs. That’s not to say there aren’t a fair amount of more developed tracks here, but outside of just a handful, that’s mainly relegated to the tracks with features on them. With that in mind, what this tape has going for it is that the vibe created is really enjoyable to listen to. Hitler Wears Hermes is easily one of the better mixtape series of recent years, and this only works to strengthen that position.

ghettocowbyhighlyrecommended

Yelawolf – Ghetto Cowboy [Slumerican Records]

This record is Yelawolf’s first independent offering, coming less than a year after fulfilling his contract with Shady/Interscope. Apparently he had this album ready for a while, but he decided to instead give Shady an album similar to what got him signed. He re-worked his final major label release into the impressive Trunk Muzik 3 – a tasteful choice in my opinion.

Trunk Muzik 3 came off like a momentary artistic deviation for the sake of sentiment, but Ghetto Cowboy seems more like the logical next step after 2017’s Trial By Fire. This is both a progression from and improvement upon that sound. At times I’ve felt like Yela’s country rap stuff can lean a little too hard into the country side of things, but this album feels incredibly hip hop for how much country/folk influence it has. It’s mainly thanks to the production; while the instruments used sound like what you would hear in country-oriented music, the arrangement and drum patterns make it feel more hip hop than a lot of his other genre-bending work (which can feel more like someone rapping over a country music backing). The end result is a really interesting wild-west outlaw rap album. Ghetto Cowboy isn’t necessarily Yelawolf’s best record (I think Love Story holds that title, despite what I’ve said), but it’s easily his best attempt at blending genres to date.

That about wraps this up…Or it did, originally. Bonus round!

marcielagohighlyrecommended

Roc Marciano – Marcielago [Marci Enterprises]

Yeah, this came out at the top of December. Fuck it.

At this point in Roc Marciano’s career, he has every reason in the world to get complacent. Rather than coast on his legacy, though, he seems like he’s hungry to remind everybody who the mastermind is behind essentially the entire style that underground east coast hip hop artists have been running with for the last few years.

There are a few staples of a Roc Marci album that you’re gonna find here. Pimp talk? Minimalistic production? Slick, laid back delivery? All present. And that’s about all that’s familiar. It feels like Marci is taking elements of his established formula and applying them to sounds he hasn’t played with before. The production on this album is actually portrayed well by the cover art. It sounds like the backing to a crime drama: chaotic and violent at times, luxurious and indulgent at others. He’s always been a cinematic artist, but rather than his typical approach of soundtracking the biopic of a street legend, he took a turn in the “Miami Vice” direction. Granted, he experimented on RR2 and Behold A Dark Horse too. That said, it feels like with each passing album it’s gotten easier for him to broaden his horizons. I can’t say whether this one is better than BADH, my favorite Marci project from last year, just yet. It definitely sounds like he’s more comfortable experimenting than ever, though.

These days, I have a hard time describing Marci’s music because of where he’s been taking it. His primary focus isn’t really on the cold, unflinching soul sample-driven boom bap that he came into prominence with anymore…and I think that’s great. He’s proving that he’s not only talented and influential, but a once-in-a-lifetime hip hop artist. People are still imitating the style he popularized years ago, and less effectively at that. Meanwhile, he’s off finding ways to innovate even further. Roc Marciano is one of the greatest of all time.

Stop

I know I didn’t cover every release last month. Some didn’t move me to speak on them (which doesn’t necessarily mean I think they’re bad), and I haven’t listened to others yet. These just happened to inspire me to write, and I wanted to extend a bit of love towards them. I’m looking to do this semi-regularly, so I’ll try to be back with another one of these in a month or two.

Album Review: Daniel Son & Futurewave – Moonshine Mix 2

by Dustin

MSM2highlyrecommended

Since dropping Moonshine Mix with Crate Divizion a little over two years ago, a lot has happened in Daniel Son’s fast moving career. Having teamed up with the insane production talent Futurewave the pair went on an unbelievable run of three albums, putting rap on notice that the North was a force to be reckoned with. Each record pushed their own limits, budding a reputation as one of the most reliable and dynamic acts in the scene. Though Futurewave didn’t spearhead the instrumentation of the original, their fourth offering was set to be Moonshine Mix 2, a record that barely afforded fans enough time to digest Yenaldooshi from earlier this year before making itself hard to ignore. Few artists have the drive to complete four unforgettable albums in such a short span of time, but if anyone were to do it, it was going to be Daniel Son and Futurewave.

And of course, they did.

Daniel Son has pushed himself to new heights with every release, and Moonshine Mix 2 was no exception to that trend. As one should come to expect, his confidence and attitude behind the mic built up a massive presence leaving no second of any verse wasted. From a pure engagement standpoint, Daniel Son delivered one of the boldest emcee performances of the year with his blunt and assertive style laying down bar after bar of filthy — realistically morbid and cold — life observations. As if that wasn’t quite immense enough, the way he approached flows and rhyme patterns on Moonshine Mix 2 felt significantly more unpredictable than in the past; moreover, it was genuinely exciting to have that uncertainty and built up anticipation between tracks. It’s not like he changed his style fundamentally either, he’s simply refined what he does best to the point of it being jaw-dropping. For an underground hip-hop scene in Canada that has been shaky at times, an artist with the hunger and bite of Daniel Son has continued to be a huge refresher. While it’s been evident for a while that he had something special, this album could be seen as the moment that his track record as a rapper went from impressive to nearly untouchable.

Of course for every leap forward Daniel Son made on Moonshine Mix 2, Futurewave was right alongside with absolutely spectacular instrumentals. Among his peers, Futurewave is one of a small handful of producers that seem to be making an effort to do something inventive and involved with the art of sampling. The beats here felt inspired by the sound of the original Moonshine Mix tape, but they definitely had his signature offkilterness and punch. His sample selection was super varied, yet it flowed perfectly. For example the gritty and oddly disorienting “Pray 4 Me” led into the much more relaxing “Kip Raines,” and even though they couldn’t have been more different, their distinct Futurewave flair made them work together. He’s shown time and time again that he’s one of the best in the business at overseeing full album production, and Moonshine Mix 2 was reflective of that. It’s records like this that people learning to produce should take the time to study, because the way that Futurewave assembles instrumentals is so far beyond the average. He didn’t just take the easy route of basic loops. His production built and fell back in ways that complimented and emphasized everything Daniel Son brought to the table, but left him ample room to let his enormous personality breathe. It was all tied together in such a pleasing way, complete from front to back.

It’s not often that a sequel outdoes its predecessor, but it didn’t come as a surprise that this one did (and the first Moonshine Mix wasn’t a slouch in its own right). These two artists are constantly setting the bar for quality in the underground hip-hop scene. Whether it be Pressure Cooker, Physics of Filth (with the talented Asun Eastwood), Yenaldooshi, or Moonshine Mix 2, Daniel Son and Futurewave have been able to do no wrong. This was a great release, and what’s more encouraging is that they’ve shown no signs of taking the foot off the gas. Much like Roc Marciano, Ka, or the collective of Griselda, there are no direct comparables to what those around Brown Bag have been able to establish as their sound. Moonshine Mix 2, as with their previous releases, stood firm as something unique to itself and special. In the modern hip-hop environment of abundant rapidly available music, being able to stand out based on individuality and pure quality is rare. Not only did they manage to achieve that, but they made it look casual. For those who enjoy grimy, nasty and raw street rap, look no further: this album could very well end up being your project of the year, no doubt.

My Thoughts on Current Music Discourse

by Rajin

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While Dustin writing again after being pretty silent for nearly the entire year thus far is a big deal, I’ve had such frequent breaks from writing that I’m not even sure if this one was the longest. Thankfully, this time around it wasn’t due to writer’s block or mental burnout; essentially everything Dustin covered in his piece addressing why he stopped writing applies to me too.

There is something else that’s tangentially related to what Dustin spoke about in his reintroduction piece though. During the site’s hiatus, I spent more of my time observing than commenting. In doing so, I’ve come to really see how horrible some people can be when they speak on certain artists or music that they personally dislike. It’s something I was always aware of, of course, but it’s been driven home to me just how widespread this sort of attitude has been recently. Dustin said something in his article that stuck with me, but for reasons different than what I believe he had intended when saying it.

The people you’re talking to behind the monitor are people too.

In this age of constant accessibility to music and artists through social media, artists have become circus animals. When the routine isn’t what they want it to be, the audience throws peanuts because they think it’s funny. This isn’t a new or original observation, but everything is treated like either unequivocal fire or trash. No nuance, no middle ground. It’s all just perpetuated by lazy hip hop publications on social media, asking fans to drop a shit emoji or a fire emoji in the comments, reply with a .gif of how they feel about something, or whatever else to fish for engagement in the most shallow of ways. And when it comes to the fans, when you can quantify “how right” your opinion is through likes and retweets, it gets really easy to start spouting aggressive, intentionally contrarian, half-baked thoughts because of people mindlessly scrolling and interacting with it. These stupid hive-mind opinions start to spread, artists become easy punching bags, and a lot of the time, music gets reduced to a joke in certain circles. It’s a counterproductive practice, because there are people who put their whole selves into the music, as well as listeners who genuinely resonate with it on a personal level.

It’s become so easy for people to voice whatever opinions they’d like to and not have to worry about the consequences behind their words. Due to the fact that nobody really needs to see anyone else face-to-face in order to instantly communicate with them, a lack of respect has developed over the years that – while not exclusive to hip hop’s artists and audience – pervades the social dynamics between people who engage with music and people who make it. You don’t need to really think about what you’re saying, all you do is send a tweet out to virtual space and go about your day.

I don’t think there very many fans who really treat music like it’s art anymore. Music has been something so accessible for so long now. Not to sound like an out-of-touch old man, but kids are growing up in an era where the idea of spending money on music is an entirely alien concept. And why wouldn’t it be? Why on earth would someone spend money on something they can get for free? Adults who grew up buying music don’t question it so why on earth would an average teenager, for whom streaming is all they know, question it too?

But it’s still a problem, at least in my view. There’s no way that this hasn’t shifted the way music is thought about. I’ve seen somebody actually criticize somebody else for buying vinyl LPs of a few albums that they considered bad – it didn’t even seem to occur to this person that the album was a product that was meant to be purchased. Setting aside how silly it is to criticize a stranger over the internet about how he spends his money, this person couldn’t fathom the idea of financially compensating an artist for the product that was consumed just because it was perceived as “bad”. As though buying a bad album is any different from buying a bad video game or paying to see a bad movie in theaters…yet nobody would bat an eye at somebody doing the latter two.

The change in perception of music from art that’s meant to be paid for to essentially an entitlement is also part of what I believe has fueled the treatment of artists lately. The human element of an artist creating something is lost on people. I think that’s what makes it easier to trash something with no regard for the language being used. The degrees of separation that have arisen with the way music consumption has developed as well as the personal disconnect through social media honestly makes it understandable why things happen the way they do nowadays. Of course, trashing music isn’t a new phenomenon; there have always been assholes out there who are either trying to be funny or are insecure elitist fools who think they need to tear someone or something else down to look good. But at the end of the day, it’s just something that I’ve noticed more of, and it’s been bothering me.

I know it looks like all I’m doing is yelling “SOCIAL MEDIA BAD” in this piece so far, but please don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to chastise anyone or preach. I’m certainly not guilt-free. On sites that I used to visit, I would be just as bad as the people I’m talking about right now. To this day, I can still be pretty harsh against my better judgement. I just try to keep it confined to private conversation rather than public trashing. Even so, I’m sure someone could dig up pretty disrespectful tweets that directly contradict what I’m saying now. So I get it. It’s just something that I feel is worth keeping in mind when discussing art. I’m not saying I want to see people pretending they like something when they don’t. Negative feedback to sub-par music is essential for an artist to grow. Sometimes an album is going to miss the mark. It happens. Artists are people, and people fuck up, no matter their profession. But musical discourse has gone from fairly thoughtful to almost entirely reactionary. It’s disrespectful to artists and frankly pretty boring to engage in as a fan. There are so few people whose opinions I respect or care to hear at this point in time and it sucks.

However, none of this is as egregious as what a lot of “professional” music journalists do. I have very little, if any, respect for the vast majority of them. I want to make something very clear though: I’m speaking mainly about writers at big publications like habitual offenders XXL or more recently The Source, and not necessarily people at smaller blogs (at least not the ones who value thoughtful writing over click-baiting everything the fuck out). Publications without integrity. Writers who will happily trash an artist in reviews that spend more time talking about the artist’s age, past hits, problematic behavior, and promotional buildup than they do the actual music. They drag the artists through the mud in reviews, but they’ll never shut up about them. They’ll cover every move they make, every tweet they send out, every affiliate who gets shot or locked up. They’ll expect these artists to sit for interviews…and then they’ll go right back and write another lazy review with no effort made at showing respect to the person who has supplied them with exposure and ad revenue or his/her creative process. I mean, I suppose it makes sense. People are going to click on the review regardless, so why bother putting effort into it if you’re getting paid either way, right? Plus, if you have a few snappy sentences insulting the artist, you can always rely on somebody to screenshot it and post it on Twitter for extra clicks!

None of this is a secret. It’s fucking disgusting. These writers, being the parasitic scum they are, don’t even hide how obvious it is. It’s getting worse as time goes on. It’s really not that hard to give an album a respectful and thoughtful critical write-up while without turning it into a personal attack, but that causes less of a reaction so that’s obviously out of the question.

On that note, I do want to say that I personally don’t feel comfortable writing reviews anymore. My writer’s block last year was directly due to the fact that I had shifted my focus to writing reviews. The site as a whole had trended in that direction in general, and I struggled to write anything that I felt truly did the albums I was reviewing justice. I don’t have the skill required to break an album into its components, speak about each, then bring it all back together to speak about it holistically. And giving an album a numerical grade seems like it’s very reductionist. Doing so works as a shortcut to people who don’t want to actually read about the album, but rather look for reviewers whose opinions validate their own. I don’t find reviews fun, and at the end of the day I only started posting here because I thought it was fun to talk about music. I am proud of my last couple of reviews, but they were exhausting and I still feel like I could have and should have gone further with them. So I’m probably done with that for the most part.

I understand that this may come off as needlessly bitter or preachy. But it bothers me how carelessly hip hop gets handled by music media, just because it runs pop culture and is therefore the easiest genre to cover. I’m tired of seeing kids who don’t understand or care about rap music or hip hop culture profiting off of something they don’t know and will never take the time to learn about. And while I’m not getting paid to do this, I know that to a lot of readers, I’m not any more qualified to talk than they are. The thing is, I know that’s not inaccurate. I’m not a voice that can speak on behalf of hip hop. I can’t dictate what hip hop should or shouldn’t be. I’m not a tastemaker, I’m not a gatekeeper. I’m a nerd who grew up fascinated with hip hop culture and rap music. I’m an outsider looking in. I write because hip hop has shaped so much about me, from my worldview to my sense of humor and beyond, and I would like to pay tribute to that. And that’s why it grates on my nerves so much to see people treat hip hop and rappers like they’re a commodity for anybody to get in on. Hip hop deserves respect and it’s about time the people who exploit it for a paycheck realize that, and do better.

Discussing the Crowdfunded Leaking of Eminem’s Music

by Dustin

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Fan entitlement isn’t a new concept by any means, particularly in the music industry, but it does occasionally cross the line into total lunacy. The Eminem fandom has toed that threshold for years upon years, but lately it seems to have spiraled into something quite sinister from the perspective of a collective that believes in supporting the artist: crowdfunded group-buys of vaulted material never meant to be released. Leaks are somewhat of an expected evil for mainstream artists of course, but what makes this different is the individuals behind the process: a group of fans one could rightfully call Stans due to their adoration of the rapper they’re stealing from. Making it even more pathetic is the fact that their idol, Eminem, is an artist who has loudly spoken out about his music being leaked in the past while emotionally detailing how protective he is toward his art.

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For a bit of history, Eminem has faced leak issues in the past as well. Apart from the notable Encore situation back in the day, StudioLeaks ran amok in the early 2010s, releasing a handful of songs from (presumably) 2006-2008. This article in particular isn’t discussing these cases as they were different and happened a long time ago, but something relevant did happen during the StudioLeaks saga. During this particular time period a snippet for a Relapse-era song titled “Nut Up” was released. It wasn’t much, just an underwhelming hook and the beginning to an equally mediocre verse. Nothing much came of it and to most it was likely entirely forgotten; however, earlier this year a group of Eminem fans were presented the opportunity to purchase the entirety of “Nut Up.” Easily enticed by the idea, a group buy was organized through discord with rabid support from the r/Eminem subreddit and other general hip-hop forums. It was successful, at least in the sense that a bunch of entitled fanatics were able to raise several thousand dollars to steal a song from their own greatest of all time. This may have been slightly more excusable had it just been a one-off, unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case.

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Only a couple of months after the “Nut Up” group buy, a few other snippets were released to the public. Among these, a rather questionable song featuring Eminem on a Joyner Lucas cut rumored to be from the latter’s days with Atlantic. Subject matter aside, it was clearly not meant to have seen the light of day presently for one reason or the other. Whether that be due to an artistic choice, contract disputes, or that it was due for future release, can’t be said for certain, but what is undeniable is an Eminem Stan’s inability to leave well enough alone. Yet another group-buy was organized, setting a goal of $1500 to purchase the full version of the track. In an astonishingly short amount of time, pledges from the depressingly desperate and thirsty reached close to a grand. At the time of publication, the crowdfunding effort remains open and growing. All to rob someone else of their property.

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Honestly, it has long since ascended past the point of wack hyper-fans and grown into a legitimate issue.

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Another human’s art is not public property. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been a fan, what their musical output has been like, how rich they are, or how tempting you find that forbidden fruit. Music is an immensely personal form of expression, and nobody is in the position to decide what gets released aside from the original creator. Flat out, bottom line, this type of behavior is unacceptable and it you call yourself a fan of an act while simultaneously jacking their work, you’re a scumbag. Appreciate what you’re given, and learn some respect for other people. If you spend all day posting on an Eminem subreddit and then turn around and contribute financially to theft of his product, what fucking thought process goes through your head to justify that? If it doesn’t amount to much more than “because I want it,” then all of us here would like to leave you with these few parting words: grow up, and support the artists you care about.

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This childish attitude needs to change.

A General Commentary on this Writing Thing

by Dustin

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Hey, hello. It’s been quite a while since Rajin or I have put together any semblance of writing for this website. To be exact, our last published article was all the way back in February of this year. Eight whole months have flown by in the meantime, and it’s been quite an adventure to say the least; however, it would also be inaccurate of me to blame our hiatus on life. To put it bluntly, I think we’ve both been extremely burnt out on the whole process of running the blog. While interacting with artists and shining light on their music never grew stale, maintaining relationships with readers and other writers quickly became as insufferable as humanly imaginable. Quite honestly, I think this particular set of annoyances needs to be aired out for a couple of reasons. Primarily because it irritates me and I feel like complaining, but additionally for the sake of anybody else thinking about starting a blog, podcast, or anything similar as a precautionary tale of some of the trash you’ll deal with.

It gets old.

I will say that although it’s easiest to point fingers at emotionally charged readers (which we’ll get to a little later), dealing with other bloggers and writers can be an experience akin to pulling teeth with no anesthetic. It’s not terribly uncommon to get approached by other bloggers interested in hosting you on their site for a review of a particular album. In concept, it’s pretty cool, music blogs aren’t as prominent as they once were and I do believe that we should support each other. In reality though, it doesn’t seem to work that way at all. For example, I spent a lot of time working on a review for another website only to be told I needed to make it “more positive,” even though that wouldn’t have been genuine to my thoughts. I refused to make the changes, and took my article here to release it on my own. The same guy proceeds to spend the next while alternating between asking me to collaborate “again”, and tagging us alongside every artist under the sun in Instagram and Twitter replies. Having never been involved with his shit in any way, being roped into the attention baiting was incredibly irritating. While I’m sure he had good intentions at heart, that’s not what we’re about and it’s just something none of us were okay with in practice. Mixing bigger problems like this with the standard group of people who want you to write their content for them rather than contribute your own style just absolutely killed the beauty that could be collaborative writing.

Shout out to MJC of FilthyBroke for following through hosting an article of mine at his blog when he was dabbling with it, though, you’ve always been an absolute pleasure to work with. Thanks for letting me be me.

Now, to the readers: I love most all of you from the bottom of my heart. If you’ve ever taken an interest in anything on this site, sent an email suggestion, contacted me on twitter, or any of that, then thank you. Aside from the artists, you make putting time and energy into this so very rewarding; however, a smaller but louder minority have some of the most volatile misplaced anger and musical insecurity, and I really think they need to check how they conduct themselves. Nobody should be sending death threats, defamation of character, slurs, or telling somebody to kill themselves over music discussions. It’s stupid to the point that it becomes more than a routine annoyance than anything serious, but it’s a huge drag. We’re chatting about hip-hop because we adore the genre and want to be able to share it with others in a fleshed out way. Even negative reviews and articles are written because one of us took enough interest in it to want to spend that time talking about it. It’s not an assault on individual taste, and nobody is trying to dictate what you can enjoy listening to. If having someone else validate your personal taste is important in your eyes, I would recommend you shop around until you find a publication that leans your way. It’s that simple, stop wasting your time harassing people on websites that are likely never going to make you happy. It isn’t going to change their content, and your opinions aren’t going to change their mind. What are you accomplishing, really?

I don’t have much else to say, so I’m going to cut myself off here. If you think you recognized your own behavior in this article, maybe reflect on it a bit. The people you’re talking to behind the monitor are people too. None of this is really that critical, but at the end of the day, paying a little more attention to conduct both as a blogger and as a reader can go a long way. Rajin, myself, and everyone here sat on the sidelines for quite a while trying to figure out how to proceed, and we’ve decided to keep it alive. At the same time, it’s going to be zero tolerance from this point onward for most of the nonsense discussed here. I really don’t have the energy for it anymore.

On a more positive note to end things: thank you for your patience, and we’re happy to be back.

Much love.

Album Review: ANKHLEJOHN x Big Ghost Ltd. – Van Ghost

by Rajin

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9/10

Since delivering his official debut album in 2017, ANKHLEJOHN has remained one of the most interesting emcees in the current underground scene. He has a tendency to switch things up for each project, an artistic choice that continues to keep him fresh and engaging. He has released countless EPs and mixtapes, each of which has its own identity that sets it firmly apart from the rest of his discography. In June 2018, he released what he touted as his second album, Van Ghost, with legendary blogger turned full-time producer Big Ghost Ltd. Ghost has worked with Ankh before, supplying him with the most dynamic, cinematic beat on the entirety of The Red Room (“Original Man,” a chilling song that features Hus Kingpin). From their very first time working together, it was clear that Ghost had a deep understanding of who ANKHLEJOHN is as an artist. The chemistry that these two obviously had gave way to further collaboration, eventually culminating in an incredible album, inspired by Vincent Van Gogh.

Big Ghost initially made a name for himself as a producer on 2015’s Griselda Ghost with Westside Gunn and Conway. He took a fresh approach to the sound that Daringer had crafted for Griselda and made it his own, resulting in one of my favorite projects to ever be released by the label. From there, he’s continued honing his skill and developing his own musical identity. His distinct drum patterns and ear for samples make his beats instantly identifiable. What sets him apart the most, however, is the way he adapts his production to fit the rapper with whom he is working like a glove. While his sampling techniques generally don’t vary, the sources from which he draws change depending on the style of the emcee he’s producing for. This practice creates an entirely different sound for each project while maintaining an unmistakable production signature. Through his subsequent work with Vic Spencer, Hus Kingpin, and CRIMEAPPLE, he proved himself to be one of the most reliable producers in the game.

With this in mind, to say he outdid himself on Van Ghost would be an understatement. The production on this record is without a doubt the most unique and awe-inspiring music Big Ghost has created thus far. It’s actually quite difficult to describe; while still very obviously boom bap, the aesthetic brings to mind the image of a chapel designed in the era of Baroque architecture. Tracks such as “The Church at Auvers,” “The Starry Night,” and “At Eternity’s Gate” feature elements including pianos, angelic vocals, and harps that sound nothing less than godly, for lack of a better term. The majority of the production work on this album ultimately leaves the listener astounded at how Ghost pulled off what he did. In a moment of sheer brilliance, he bridged the gap between past and present on “Almond Blossoms,” another track featuring Hus Kingpin. The production weaves between sections with harpsichords and sections with bassier, jazzier sounds that recall the luxurious vibe of Cocaine Beach. It’s incredibly seamless, and it is just one of many examples that demonstrates level of creative ingenuity displayed by Ghost throughout this album.

Truly, the only rapper who could have done this production justice is ANKHLEJOHN. Anybody who is familiar with him knows how dramatic his style as an emcee is. The dark, creepy ad-libs that he throws into the mix serve as a stark contrast to the heavenly sounds found among the instrumental backing, and his gruff voice offers an often frightening element to otherwise soothing music. He elevates the already cinematic instrumentation to an entirely new level; on just the first track, which opens with some very melancholy pianos, Ankh soulfully recounts a story of past trauma, before switching to a threatening growl as the beat takes a turn for the horrific. This is representative of his performance through the entire album; he brought the best out of every beat with how he adjusted his vocals to match and compliment the feel of the instrumentals. The production on this album seems to have inspired Ankh to show more variety in his delivery, and as a result, this is potentially his most vocally diverse project to this day. Lyrically, Ankh has always been fairly blunt, and he doesn’t deviate from that here. Some songs serve as violent displays of blunt lyricism while on others he instead opts to drop knowledge, displaying the dichotomy often found within his music. In general, his style felt looser on this project than others, which ultimately served to benefit the final product.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the features on this album as well. Ankh shares the mic on only two tracks, on the previously mentioned “Almond Blossoms” with Hus and the posse cut “At Eternity’s Gate,” and each time it worked wonderfully. The latter is by far the greatest posse cut I’ve heard in years; with a lineup of features that includes Eto, Fly Anakin, and CRIMEAPPLE, one would think the track could never live up to the potential those names alone set. I’m happy to report that it likely exceeds anything anyone could expect.

With Van Ghost, ANKHLEJOHN and Big Ghost crafted the most original rap album I had heard in a long time. The care that went into it is evident even from the surface; each track is named after a Van Gogh painting, and Big Ghost himself painted the artwork in a similar artistic style that Van Gogh painted in. I’m going to acknowledge the obvious: this review is many months late. This is because I honestly had a hard time describing this album in a way that would do it justice. Everything came together in such a unique way. There was no precedent set for it, so I didn’t know what to say about it. In many ways, this album is peerless. You’re unlikely to see another project offer what this one does, in the same fashion that it does. For that reason alone, it’s worth a listen. It is detailed and layered to the point that most people are going to walk away having picked up something that others haven’t. In that sense it hits its mark entirely, acting as an equivalent to a fine painting.

Rajin Rambles: Time to Defend Dust Again…

by Rajin

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Despite what the title may imply, I’m not gonna spend any time or energy speaking about music I don’t like in this piece. I’m sure I’ve done that enough, and it would probably look tacky at this point (it was actually probably always tacky). However, I really don’t like the attitude that I’ve seen some people carry, about the past belonging in the past and being irrelevant. Right now, hip hop is at an “age,” so to speak, where it’s made an incredibly long journey from its roots. There’s very little now that resembles the music that artists like Run-D.M.C. were making when rap music was just first exploding onto the scene.

For this reason, I feel like some “dated” sounding material being released could be constructive. The argument that I’ve seen come up is that we’ve seen certain styles of music done before, so there’s no real reason to see them again. While I understand that point, and even agreed with it to a certain extent until fairly recently, I don’t think it necessarily has to hold true. I’m just barely over half of hip hop’s age and while I don’t have any official figures or statistics, I don’t think it would be inaccurate to say that a huge chunk of the audience is in my age group. I also don’t think it would be inaccurate to make the claim that most listeners in my age group really don’t give a shit about what was happening 30 years ago. While I think it’s irresponsible for writers and media personalities — who are theoretically supposed to have respect and knowledge for the history — to approach hip hop with that sort of attitude, I don’t think I can blame a casual listener for feeling that way. There’s so much music being released these days that if you’re not somebody extremely passionate about it, it’s hard to find the time to both keep up and go back in time no matter how accessible everything is now. The pool of music just continues to grow, which makes the task of wading through it all that much more imposing.

This is why I feel like what LL Cool J is doing on his Rock The Bells radio show is so essential. It offers a quick and easy way to take a look back through the history of hip hop and rap music. You get to listen to the hits that came before your time, and build an understanding of where the music been and how it got here. All coming from someone who everybody recognizes for one reason or another, who also happens to be someone who took part in solidifying this music as something more than just a fad.

With where hip hop is now, I strongly believe that there could be some benefit in revisiting styles and sounds without tailoring anything to 2019. It’s clear that there’s room for anything in hip hop. We have seen boom bap, a style that most people consider to be outdated, make a powerful comeback in the last few years. Granted, it isn’t generally the type of boom bap you would see in the ‘90s. It still exhibited a bit of evolution; at this point, boom bap today is far from being “throwback,” and I find it a little annoying when it gets relegated as such (I can’t say for sure, but this more than likely contradicts stuff that I’ve said in the past). It quickly picked up where the ‘90s left off, and is now sonically something very different than it used to be. It feels like a natural progression, but it doesn’t necessarily bring anything from the past back.

I would love to see someone from the ‘80s come out and make something that sounds like what they were making back then, but brought into 2019. Kool G Rap is still around out-rapping people over 30 years into his career, but that’s not necessarily what I’m talking about. I want to hear something like EPMD rapping over funk samples and bringing back the feeling they had on their music before their first breakup, or LL shouting boasts over loud minimalist production. I feel like it could be interesting to see music like that released in this day and age. Such a large portion of today’s rap fanbase has no idea what hip hop sounded like before the ‘00s. I find that gaining an understanding of what happened in the past could add to one’s overall understanding of the music in general — at least that’s how it’s worked for me. Re-examining what’s happened in the past could open up new pathways in the future, possibly to styles that hadn’t happened in the past due to technical limitations and such. In a way, I feel like it would almost be like taking a few steps back stylistically to attempt a net movement forward. At worst, it would end up just end up reinforcing that the past should stay in the past.

You kind of see that with artists, in a way. I’m going to use Cypress Hill as an example. They came onto the scene with a very dark, hazy sound, courtesy of DJ Muggs drawing from psychedelic rock as a source of inspiration and samples. This remained the case, for the most part, through their first four albums; their formula was seldom changed. They essentially just made the same sort of music for four albums (which isn’t a criticism – those are four of my top five Cypress Hill albums). However, by the time Skull & Bones came out they largely abandoned everything that they had built their brand on and moved on to other styles. They messed with the current trends going on in west coast hip hop at the time as well as, regrettably, nu-metal. In the years to come, they would also try out reggae-influenced sounds, and even have an album without any Muggs production at all. Cypress Hill decided that they wanted to try new styles out after spending the better part of a decade using what was essentially the same style, and that’s fair. An artist/group is at full liberty to make whatever creative decisions they want to. Last year though, they decided to go back to their roots for their latest album, Elephants on Acid. This saw them returning straight to their Temples of Boom days of making dark, murky, and psychedelic music. They felt more at-home making this sort of music than they had in 20 years. From here, they can go in whatever direction they want to, but it’s clear revisiting what was familiar revitalized them for the most part.

I feel like this same sort of thing could go for rap music as a whole. The genre has been exploring many different sounds for decades now, and I feel like the time may be right for it to take a second and revisit its roots. While in general, music has become a lot more complex and detailed since the days I’m talking about, I believe it would still be worth exploring.

I don’t know. These are just some stray thoughts and I don’t think I really even said anything here. But I’ve felt like this for a while now. For the first half of January I was listening to almost nothing but ‘80s rap. I wanted to get familiar with the history of rap music and see how it developed. See how regions outside of New York developed their own sounds. Observe how rappers who would be considered vets by the early ‘90s had to adjust to the rapid innovation and change in the landscape, and compare that to how vets do it today. So much has been left in the past with no trace of it around now, which is understandable enough. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that in a time where accessibility is at an all-time high, it seems like the history of hip hop is focused on less than ever; for that reason, I feel like it wouldn’t be the worst idea to try reminding people where things started. I’d like to see some older artists show everyone what gave new artists a platform to begin with.


Final edit: Dustin

Album Review: Daniel Son x Asun Eastwood x Futurewave – Physics of Filth

by Dustin

pof

9.25/10

The current East coast boom bap revival has certainly been interesting to say the least. It’s seemed like a rap fan’s dream, yet has seemingly flown under the radar beyond Roc Marciano’s smooth pimp rebirth of New York. That’s not to say it hasn’t been fun to witness that sound sinking its hooks into the ears of listeners, because it definitely has been, but it’s lacked the snarl 90s dope boy emcees tended to carry. Roc and his offshoots have all leaned heavily into a buttery smooth coolness, and — by no fault of his own whatsoever — it has gotten slightly monotonous at times. The climate has been perfect for a mould breaker to come along and present something with vigor and attitude. Shockingly, three such men have arisen out of the frozen North and banded together to create something monumental. Physics of Filth, a project consisting of the ever powerful Daniel Son and Futurewave combo, while throwing in the king of raw potential in Asun Eastwood for good measure. Basically all the ingredients for an unforgettable feast, the likes of which the Canadian hip-hop scene has never seen.

Oh yes, the audience ate well.

As a pair, Daniel Son and Asun Eastwood are incredible to a degree beyond comprehension. While both are fantastic emcees solo, they elevate each other to new heights on the same track. They balance one another out, with Asun’s calm coolness providing the exact foil Daniel Son’s hyper aggressive bite called for; however, there also seemed to be the perfect amount of competitiveness between the two to create a spark. The clear desire to not be outdone was evident, and it became exciting to try and predict who would push themselves the furthest on any given song. Topically the album was as the name and cover implied, immensely grimy drug dealer rap. Certainly a topic that has seen its fair share of play in hip-hop, but rarely is it done to the level of Physics of Filth. Asun and Daniel are quite talented writers when it comes to cheeky lines and unique phrasing. With that amount of flair, they were more than able to keep the content fresh and engaging. Coupled with a delivery match made in heaven, they were able to put on a near flawless performance on this release.

There was also the Futurewave factor to consider. Recently it has felt as if there is genuine reason to consider Futurewave as one of the best active producers alive, and Physics of Filth did nothing but bolster his impressive portfolio. He’s seemingly mastered the art of percussion, as the beats on this album hit hard enough to make the forefathers of boom-bap scrunch their faces. The sample selection spanned a wide variety of genres and were brought together seamlessly to create this intensely gritty atmosphere; moreover, his work found a way to boost the already undeniable chemistry of Daniel Son and Asun Eastwood. Even more impressively, he did so without repeating the sound established alongside the aforementioned Daniel Son on Pressure Cooker earlier the same year. It was similar in the sense that it was also a treasure trove of modernized 90s hardcore hip-hop, yet also clearly its own very unique thing. Frankly, Futurewave’s production performance made it impossible to simply shrug him off as a faceless man behind the boards because he was an integral part of the record’s DNA.

Physics of Filth was for all intents and purposes the total package. Enjoyable collaborative albums are not an easy feat to pull off naturally, yet when the stars align they can be something truly special. That’s what happened here. It would have been easy for Futurewave’s production acumen to serve as a crutch, propping up otherwise mediocre verses. Asun Eastwood and Daniel Son are not just any old rappers however, and their desire to live up to the standard each instrumental set was spectacular. Physics of Filth listened like the product of three budding elite talents holding a genuine excitement to be working together, and the interpersonal respect was audible. While the aforementioned chemistry was certainly important, this release would not have been what it was without the enthusiasm it carried. It could have simply been a solid side project, and that would have still been wonderful. Instead, it ended up being perhaps one of the best group releases in the better part of a decade, and one that would be a shame for any hip-hop junkie to not at least try once.


.Final edit: Emily – Preliminary edit: Rajin – Additional direction: Isaac