Think Piece: The Wasted Potential of Yelawolf

by Dustin

yelawolf

Around the time of “Pop the Trunk”, Yelawolf was capturing the imagination of myself and many other hip-hop fans with his unique spin on southern hip-hop. He took the familiar and stretched it out into an ultra-hype angry sound distinctly of his own. Prior to his arrival on Shady Records/Interscope Records, it felt as if he had the potential to be the next star out of the south. Unfortunately for his career, this never ended up being the case. Between poor decisions politically (specifically defending the Confederate Flag with a clear misunderstanding of what it represents), and things going sideways with his sound, Yelawolf eventually petered out and was nothing more than a quick blip on the radar in hip-hop. Thinking about this began to raise some questions for me. Most prominently: is Yelawolf one of the biggest modern cases of wasted potential in rap?

Flash back with me for a moment to the moment Yelawolf first signed with Shady Records in 2011. At this point he had The Arena Rap EP and Trunk Muszik (plus 0-60) under his belt. Very unique sounding projects that were distinctly southern, yet had a spark of untamed craziness which to me felt quite refreshing. His Shady Records debut, Radioactive, was admittedly disappointing but still had moments which showed flashes of the potential he had as an artist. He found his footing again with a series of collaborative extended plays, and really pushed himself to the next level on Trunk Muzik Returns. Trunk Muzik Returns was, to me, an incredible project. It was spacey, southern, energetic, introspective, and wild in all the right ways. After this project dropped, if felt like Yelawolf was on his way to becoming something truly special. He had nailed down a unique sound and most fans were extremely excited, including myself.

Unfortunately, this would prove to be somewhat of a peak rather than his first step to creating something bigger.

Marking the fall from grace was Love Story. Don’t get me wrong, Love Story was actually a really solid album. It had plenty of cool ideas and unique sounding songs, but it also felt like the point that the magic started to fade. Yelawolf began to lose his energy on the rap tracks and focus more on trying to combine country and rap together. Though it was, at times, executed extremely well on Love Story, to me it lead him down a path that would ultimately kill his appeal. While the wild-boy renegade rapper motif felt super fresh and natural, his new sound quickly became forced and uninteresting. Yelawolf no longer had a factor that made him stand out. This becomes painfully obvious on Trial by Fire, which does include a lot more rap-focused tracks; however, the country fusion just sounds so played out, and the excitement isn’t there anymore. He sounds tired, and the songs are tiring to sit through in every aspect from vocals to production. It’s dull, which is unfortunate for an emcee that had been lauded for his abundance of energy just a handful of years prior.

With that reflection out of the way, I think I also need to say that it’s cool if you like the direction Yelawolf has taken. Music is a subjective experience, and I realize that. To me though, as an individual who was a big fan I can’t help but shake the feeling that Yelawolf is wasted potential. He had a sound that took everything lovable about southern hip-hop, and jacked it up on meth to create something so brilliantly unique. He was slaying features, his songs were impossible not to get amped up to, and it so much felt like he was primed to become something amazing. To see him step back and abandon those dirty-south roots to pursue something more rooted in lifeless country based production is disappointing. He’s definitely not the worst artist out there, but it feels like he’s little more than a slightly better Kid Rock. In terms of his trajectory of development, that’s kind of a major bust of an outcome to me

Advertisements

EP Review: Youth:Kill – A Hunter’s Moon

by Dustin

youthkill

8.25/10

It’s that time again – another record has descended upon the world from the hellish mind of Walter Gross. We’ve reviewed a couple of Walter Gross albums in the past; this particular one is, however, slightly different. Instead of a solo record this is a Youth:Kill release, the joint project between Gross and emcee K-the-I??? (known for years of affiliation with Fake Four). It can be a mixed bag of results when a noise producer teams up with a vocalist, but Walter Gross and K-the-I??? are long time fixtures in their respective facets of music. They’ve also got a history working together so if you’ve not heard it already, A Hunter’s Moon should be perking your ears up.

To find a comparison of sound that most may be familiar with, A Hunter’s Moon is reminiscent of a more raw version of earlier clipping. work. Its harsh instrumental tones are as abrasive as a Brillo pad, forcing the lyrics to pick their pockets of space carefully when attempting to navigate the fuzzy soundscape. While this may sound daunting in theory, the actual listen is immensely enjoyable. K-the-I??? brings the necessary chaotic energy required to keep up with Walter Gross’ evil production. As an emcee, K-the-I??? brought sharp lyrics which still had a distinct amount of dismay behind them. At times falling back into the production before emerging to smack the listener over the head with a rapid succession of thoughts. The vocals are also mixed in such a way that they felt as if they became a part of the noise. Coupling that up with the overall tone of the production choices created a very anxious and tense emotional experience.

Coming into this project may surprise those more familiar with Walter Gross’ solo efforts, as the production is quite a bit different. Though it has his signature crunchy noise feel, its much more stripped back to allow room for vocals. There also was a really interesting hip-hop flair to the instrumentals which maybe isn’t as prominent in some of Walter’s other work. “Kottihood” and “Guilt-Ridden Hate” in particular have a bounce to them one may not normally expect to hear in noise based music as much. Though the production was stripped back, it didn’t fall victim to becoming too simplistic. Walter Gross in all of his enigmatic glory, has also proven to be a master of restraint on this project.

The duo of remix tracks appearing at the end are also enjoyable little listens. The WG-One-Take remix of “Kottihood” stands out as having been an incredibly interesting bonus listen after the joy of the rest of A Hunter’s Moon.

The x-factor in this project is the chemistry between Walter Gross and K-the-I???. To pull off a sound as ambitiously challenging as Youth:Kill’s without it sounding forced, there has to be a good connection between the producer and emcee. This project felt entirely natural. Neither the vocals nor the instrumentation needed each other to be enjoyable, but when combined together they elevated to new heights mutually. Really, that’s the mark any collaborative project needs to try and hit. A Hunter’s Moon was an incredibly sturdy EP. If you’re a fan of either Walter or K-the-I??? it could, and should, be considered a must listen release that will fly under many listeners’ radar.

Rajin Rambles: Wow, I’m Trying New Things!

by Rajin

new thingas

Over the past few months, I have been trying to break out of my musical rut. I kind of felt like, while there’s a hell of a lot of material under my preferred subgenres of hip hop, I was still limiting myself from having a full comprehension of the genre. I already know for the most part what I actively dislike, but there were also certain styles that I was unfamiliar with, but thought I would dislike or wouldn’t click with me, so I just wrote them off. Styles that I guess would be considered to be more “avant-garde” or abstract. I was pretty wrong. This piece is going to kind of serve as a continuation of sorts to a piece I wrote at around this time last year, Hip Hop: My Replacement Girlfriend, just to catch everyone up to this stage of the continuous development of my taste in music (or lack thereof, I’m sure, in the minds of many readers).

I think I mentioned in my piece last year that I had gotten into Run The Jewels and Prof in late 2015, and was just getting into Aesop Rock, so I guess I’ll start there. Since then, I’ve gotten a lot more into Aes’s music; I’m a massive fan of his now. In fact, if I had to re-do my favorites of all-time list [which I don’t really plan on doing unless maybe in a tweet], Aesop Rock would definitely be somewhere in the low teens. As a bit of a loner myself, though not nearly as severely as he, I was drawn to what Aes had to say about how he saw the world. That’s not to mention the way he said it, as we all know, the guy loves to just fly over heads of people with his word choice. However, like with Run The Jewels (and later, El-P’s solo work), I was also fairly intrigued by the style of production he’s used throughout his career.

I think getting into acts like RTJ and Aes kind of signaled my first attempt at exploring past the musical styles of hip hop that I usually enjoy, more so than anyone else I had listened to by then. The Definitive Jux sound was the first style that I had heard that I personally considered to be really “alternative”…sure, there were the guys like The Roots and some Native Tongues artists (mostly Tribe) that I would listen to who were considered alt hip hop in their era, but by the time I entered hip hop fanhood, those sounds had become a lot more commonplace, used by household names. They were traditional hip hop to me. Conversely, Def Jux style is, to this day, embodies that “alternative” spirit. That industrial, post-apocalyptic experimental hip hop sound is so far removed from the sonics of conventional hip hop, yet it fully captures its gritty, rebellious nature.

It was between those guys and Danny Brown’s Atrocity Exhibition that really got me reevaluating my listening habits. Like I said at the end of last year, I really didn’t expect that I would like Atrocity Exhibition. That album is WAY past anything that El-P or Aesop Rock has done as far as the weirdness or experimental sounds. The fact that I loved that album really made me sit back and think about why I was restricting myself to more conventional subgenres and sounds. At that time I kind of had the idea ingrained in me that I wasn’t somebody who listened to more experimental rap music. I, stupidly, had boxed myself into certain areas of the genre because I had a couple of unfavorable experiences listening to a couple of experimental artists who probably weren’t too great even in the context of alt rap. But even though I had finally begun thinking about it, I still didn’t really try branching out to styles I was unfamiliar with. I’m a creature of habit.

I would have to say that the next artists that could be considered as deviations from the “norm” that I got into were Ka and Roc Marciano, both earlier this year. They were similar enough to what I was accustomed to so it was easy. Now mind you, I’ve always loved Roc Marci as a guest rapper. He’s one of those guys that when I see his name on an album’s tracklisting I instantly get hyped. However, I never really ventured into his solo material until months after Rosebudd’s Revenge was released. Dustin showed me Ka’s Honor Killed The Samurai album shortly after I saw that he was the subject of a bullshit hitpiece by some stupid non-journalist trying to get clicks at the expense of a man’s privacy, livelihood, and reputation. The album was unlike anything I had ever heard. It was the first time I listened to an album where, for the entire thing, it was just stripped back soul samples with no drums and a hushed delivery that bordered on spoken word.

Rosebudd’s Revenge didn’t click instantly the way Ka’s album did, but something about it kept nagging at me to go listen to it again. The production on the album is ridiculously soulful and just as stripped back as far as the drums go, and Roc’s style of lyricism is so casually slick that I had missed much of what he said on first listen. These guys were my first foray into the minimalistic sound, I believe…if not, then they’re at least the first guys I heard who made me love that sound. I’m usually in love with powerful drums in rap beats so it was almost like a shock for me to hear rapping without them, but I got over it very quickly and came to love this kind of style, provided the artist/producer pull it off effectively. These guys appeal to the Wu-Tang head in me, while venturing to the left. I hope that Metal Clergy project happens.

Also, I just want to say, that since getting into Roc Marci’s music, I’ve been hearing the guy’s style in so many artists that it’s ridiculous how little credit he gets for being a pioneer. I listen to music from certain artists after Reloaded came out and it’s like they heard that album and couldn’t help but emulate that style. It’s only getting more obvious as time goes on, too. He’s had a MASSIVE impact in independent/underground hip hop and people don’t realize it.

Anyways, I think around the same time, Dustin wanted to show me milo. He showed me so the flies don’t come, and I enjoyed that a lot. milo was the first rapper who could fall under the “art rap” category that I ever listened to. I was always under the impression that that style of rap music was less focused on lyricism and more on just being weird and quirky…not to mention made to appeal to pretentious hipsters. milo, however, fused dense lyricism with the quirkiness, which helped ease me into accepting the subgenre, as well as erase my unfair preconceived notions of it. It’s not the artist’s fault that some of their fans are pretentious, plus it’s not like Eminem doesn’t have one of the worst fanbases in hip hop. The music is good, and that’s really all that matters.

Dustin had also been telling me forever about Hellfyre Club as a whole, and spoke about how much he loved Open Mike Eagle’s music. He showed me Hella Personal Film Festival and Dark Comedy, neither of which I was too into, yet, I still felt that Mike was very talented and there was just a disconnect between me and the music. To add on to all that, also showed me some of Busdriver’s music (truth be told, I don’t remember if that was before milo and Mike, after them, or in between), which was easy for me because Busdriver has some similarities to Busta Rhymes. In August I revisited those two Mike albums, and while I still didn’t feel Dark Comedy, Hella Personal Film Festival had finally clicked with me. I find that while there are some art-rappers who like to make music that’s artsy just for the sake of being artsy, when an artist pulls it off because that’s who they are it comes across as a lot more natural and less irritating for me to listen to. Just like with anything else. I just had a bias going into it against the subgenre that I’m glad has been erased.

Since then I’ve also gotten into artists like Quelle Chris and billy woods. I was familiar with Chris because I knew that he and Fatt Father are tight…I believe Chris helped to design the cover to Fatt’s grossly-overlooked album Veterans Day. His album this year is hands down the weirdest album I’ve liked. He kind of takes the minimal approach of Rock Marci and Ka on it vocally, but has really weird, trippy, and lush instrumentation all over it. Dustin and I went back and listened to his older material, which was far more along the lines of typical Detroit hip hop, which almost felt less natural to him than the weirder stuff he’s been doing. And billy woods’ Known Unknowns was great. He captures the Def Jux sound that I spoke about loving (thanks to Blockhead and Aesop Rock on production) with a delivery that kind of reminds me of Del tha Funkee Homosapien. It was way off from what I was expecting (I was unfamiliar with him before listening to the album), but I loved it.

And that brings us to today, where (at the time of writing this) I just received CDs in the mail by most of the artists I spoke about here. Now, all of this isn’t to say that my taste has suddenly shifted, or that if you aren’t doing something unconventional that you’re less creative than any of these artists. My taste and primary preferences have remained relatively constant. All that’s happened is that I have been exploring different styles and sounds, usually via suggestions from Dustin, and as a result my palette has expanded to include an enjoyment of music along the lines of the artists I have talked about here. For the most part it’s mainly what I’ve been listening to for the last few months. I just wanted to talk about it, because it has given me new insight into what the music that represents the culture of hip hop can be.

So yeah. I’m gonna keep exploring different corners of the genre, perhaps even stuff that I thought I had pinned down, because what I’ve found in the past few months has definitely not been what I expected in many cases. I recommend other people do too, because I’m definitely not alone in being the kind of person who just sticks to what he likes and doesn’t bother trying something new. I’m kind of glad that something changed in me and I decided to get acquainted with more of the genre, because I feel that if I want to give my opinions on this site, I need to have a complete understanding of it rather than an understanding of a select portion. That’s something I’m gonna keep chipping away at.

Update: Originally I felt like I completed what I was saying, but a few days passed and I realized I had a little more to say. I took a listen to Uncommon Nasa’s new album and sat with it for a little bit, then suddenly understood why a lot of the artists I mention here click with me. It sounds like New York. Everyone who reads this blog knows that I love a New York vibe in my hip hop. It has now occurred to me that a lot of the artists I would have originally considered representative of the NY sound, like Wu-Tang, Black Moon, and Mobb Deep among others, only represent a certain aspect of it. They capture the essence of growing up in and living in the projects, hustling to get by. Guys like Ka and Marci have a similar feel to them but are more abstract about it. The more experimental guys like El-P, Aesop, billy woods, and Nasa represent a different shade of NY. They capture the essence of the cold wind tunnels around towering skyscrapers and overly busy and crowded streets. Both sides feel like work boots, baggy jeans, and hoodies, though.

I’ve kind of felt like this might be the case for a while now, but after listening to Known Unknowns and now Written At Night the obviousness of why I connect with these artists has smacked me in the face and cemented itself in my mind. Clearly, this doesn’t apply for everyone I wrote about here, but it is interesting how the essence of New York can be captured in such vastly different ways. I guess as a resident of NJ I’m a glutton for rap that embodies the east coast.

Album Review: Uncommon Nasa – Written at Night

by Dustin

2017-10-10

8/10

To fans of the now disbanded Definitive Jux, the name Uncommon Nasa probably isn’t terribly unfamiliar. As an engineer he had his hands in the release of some of the labels most notably early works. For those unfamiliar, however, he’s also an extremely talented producer and emcee. Staying true to his roots as a musician, Nasa is a bit of a throwback to listen to. His music embodies the sound of New York’s underground scene, and his many releases show a true dedication to his own craftsmanship; however, this most recent project is a little bit different. Written at Night panned back from Nasa as a focal point and took a highly collaborative approach with other artists.

Though unconventional, this approached payed off in spades when digesting the final product.

The theme of Written at Night was relatively loose. Instead of chaining artists to specific topics, the album acted more like a diary of late night thoughts; moreover, there was “lightning in a bottle” feel to this sort of approach which was really quite interesting. The guest appearances often felt rough around the edges, as if the artists caught a wave of creativity in the dead of night and rolled with whatever came out of their pen. This is far from a negative however, and it was a massive part of Written at Night’s charm. It also made the album unpredictable. Even when approaching features with quite distinctive styles such as Open Mike Eagle and Quelle Chris, there was no real way to figure out what sort of direction they were going to take on their respective songs. This unpredictability added a nice sense of required engagement, as if turning ears away from the album for even a moment could result in missing something important.

Uncommon Nasa himself appeared on every song, but his presence was not overly pronounced. This was by design, as (like mentioned earlier) Written at Night was intended to be a collaborative release. Respectably, he kept true to this idea and didn’t force himself into the spotlight on any of the tracks save for the few solo portions at the very beginning. When Nasa did step up to the mic though, he was quite solid. His throwback New York style and enthusiasm toward hip-hop as an artform were evident. His style felt nostalgic, a throwback to the New York underground during the turn of the millennium. Being that this style doesn’t have much presence in rap currently, it was refreshing to hear on Written at Night. He may have a sound that isn’t for everybody, but there was certainly no denying the passion and thought that went into his contributions.

Nasa did, however, make himself very present on the production end of things. Handling every single instrumental on the release. He did a great job given the amount of vocal talent he was producing for. The beats were gritty, and satisfying to listen to; moreover, they were open ended enough to accommodate every artist in a comfortable way. His production wasn’t overly flashy, but it had a character and consistency which kept it engaging throughout the entirety of Written at Night.

Another interesting aspect about this album is that it seemed to gradually get more “out there” as it progressed. While a lot of albums tend to build to a climax, it was certainly a nice touch to have an album centered around late night thoughts and creativity progress in a way similar to the human mental state during the late hours of the evening. This did give the record a bit of a slow burning quality, but also a very satisfying and pleasurable complete listen; moreover, one should expect to enjoy this album more in its entirety, rather than individual songs. It was crafted in a way that lends itself perfectly to a long-form listening session.

At the end of the day, Written at Night was a compilation of likeminded artists coming together to create whatever they felt like creating. It is difficult to fairly score an album with such an open ended concept and variety of voices; however, Written at Night was undeniably solid. Nasa did an excellent job of piecing everything into properly cohesive listen. If you’re a fan of any of the artists on this release there’s probably something for you here. Incidentally, it’s also a good record to pick up if you’re looking for some new artists to dive into. Definitely a highly recommended listen.

Think Piece: Ethics and Standards Versus Hit-Pieces in Music Journalism.

by Dustin

fsfsdf

I don’t consider myself a music journalist. I’m an individual who writes about music with my peers for fun. I write because I love music, I love musicians, and honestly, I love the people I get to interact with in the process of putting together articles and interviews. Yet, I regularly find myself feeling furious when checking in on bigger music publications due to the growing trend of hitpiece articles being used as viewer bait. These articles, attempting to undermine public figures, are very often grossly inaccurate. Taking quotes, song lyrics, satiricle works, and the like out of their original context to support imaginary accusations of wrongdoing.

Honestly, it really needs to stop.

I can admit that artists and critics do place themselves into the line of scrutiny – this is an objective truth to the nature to presenting art or discussions on art in a public setting. Of course, you also open yourself up to having your personal views critiqued, as you have now essentially willingly become a public figure. That’s fine. Again, it’s basically part of the gig; however, it becomes incredibly problematic when incompetent journalists lust for attention so severely that they being publishing unsupported attack pieces on these public figures. This has always been an issue in journalism (hate sells), but unfortunately in the past couple of years it’s become the plague of music journalism.

Two cases in particular inspired this think-piece. Susan Edelmen’s attack article on Ka from last year, and Ezra Marcus’ work of the same vein against Anthony Fantano (TheNeedleDrop) from a few days ago. Both authors showed a complete misunderstanding of the individuals they wrote about, yet attempted to spin them into horrible people for the sake of shock value and click-bait. Another similarity is both articles removed context from their “supporting evidence,” turning it into something completely different to give credence to their slanderous claims. Congratulations, you’re both garbage music journalists. Individuals like Susan and Ezra aren’t the problem alone though, they’re merely symptoms of a much larger problem.

The disease itself is the shift away from any sort of sense of a journalistic code of integrity.

Let’s take a look at a few of the generally accepted points that appear in most codes of journalistic ethics and standards. These are sourced through Wikipedia, but if you have access to scholarly journals on the same topic, you’ll find that these are fairly well universally accept. Most importantly in this instance are these four:

1) Reporters are expected to be as accurate as possible given the time allotted to story preparation.
2) Public figures are to be reported on without malice, and reports on these figures should be supported with well understood fact (even in the case of a “smear-piece”).
3) Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.
4) Show good taste and avoid pandering to lurid curiosity (in other words, shock-bait news is a no-
go).

As far as I am concerned the moment you publish an attack piece that is baseless, you have just discredited yourself entirely as a journalist; moreover, the publications that enable the spread of misinformed works need to be held responsible. These authors are no longer writing in the name of public interest. They’re writing as narcissists. So interested in drumming up attention for themselves that they’re willing to attempt ruining another human’s career in the process without any semblance of a backbone to their work. The outlets that enable these articles to become published for the shock-value draw are equally as disgusting, throwing out any sense of ethics for a few more clicks of ad revenue.

You are killing music journalism. Good work.

I do recommend that anybody interested in holding authors accountable have a look into the standards of journalism. Wikipedia has a really excellent summary page that will give you a general idea, and I think it would really help to form a foundation when it comes to critically assessing whether or not an article is worth giving serious consideration. Individual reputations can be highly tied to what others write about them; even when proven false, slander articles can be chained to someone’s public image for an ungodly amount of time. Be diligent in what you consume, and the journalists you support. If the publications wont hold them responsible, it’s on us to make the effort.

Album Review: Open Mike Eagle – Brick Body Kids Still Daydream

by Dustin

2017-09-18

9/10

There’s not much that hasn’t been said about Mello Music Group mainstay artist Open Mike Eagle. He’s rap’s every-man, and an artist who isn’t afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve. Since his studio album debut Unapologetic Art Rap at the beginning of the decade Mike has brought his unique take on hip-hop to new levels seemingly every year. His second full length on Mello Music Group, Hella Personal Film Festival, saw Mike take massive strides as an artist and was a wonderful release. A year and a half later he’s back with a brand new collection of works, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream. And, well…it’s really good. Like, really good.

With that in mind, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream is a bit of a different listening experience than one would come to expect from an Open Mike Eagle album. Gone are lines obscured by absurdist humor and hyper-exaggerated storytelling, replaced by emotionally hard-hitting honesty. It can be perhaps a little jarring, yet this sudden shift adds to the urgency of what’s being said on the album. On full listen, it feels if all twelve songs have at least one line designed to hit you in the stomach; however, his depictions of the American projects and ghettos managed to be honest without relying on shock-bait and emphasis on negativity. Mike made a point of showing the listener that through the institutionalized racism, a lot of amazing people and happy memories are made in these situations. That even though America needs to improve its treatment of marginalized individuals severely, those who grew up in the projects shouldn’t be written off as hopeless.

His personal connection to the projects and focus on the emotional aspect of the experience made Brick Body Kids Still Daydream a beautiful yet challenging listen. As it should be.

Mike also added another dimension to his vocal performances on this album. There were still plenty of moments with his familiar sing-rap soft spoken delivery; however, the energy he brought to some of the songs on Brick Body Kids Still Daydream is unmatched by his back catalogue. He sounded more inspired, focused, and confident than perhaps he has in his entire career, and it was a lovely surprise. The only song that really stood out as not exceptional was “Wedding Ghosts”, but even that sounded good and had its place within the tracklisting.

No services underground,
No sound, when I’m calling home,
City broken my brothers down,
Now I’m standing here all alone,
Sun weathered my monochrome,
My hollow bones, David Bowie told me I’m not alone,
I’m overgrown, but these model homes,
Still here if it’s hot or cold,
Still here if my body move,
Still standing on Cottage Grove.
(Brick Body Complex)

Open Mike Eagle has always had a very keen ear for production, and this release is no exception. Though it’s a bit of a sonic departure from the zaniness of Paul White’s instrumentation on Hella Personal Film Festival, the depressive tone to most of Brick Body Kids Still Daydream is exceptionally well done. The beats all fit together quite nicely as well, which is slightly surprising given the variety of influences on the album. From experimental to 8-Bit, the production team Mike rounded up for this album blended a plethora of styles into hip-hop seamlessly. Brick Body Kids Still Daydream sounds incredibly fresh without trying too hard to be different. It feels natural, and it suits Open Mike Eagle’s style exceptionally.

22 grandkids, one apartment,
Turn the stove on cause we done with darkness,
Social workers don’t want sons with fathers,
When they visit, people bite they tongue the hardest.
(Beezeway Ritual)

As an additional note, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream wasn’t very feature heavy which was nice. That being said, Sammus and Has-Lo brought excellent verses to their respective songs and deserve praise for fitting into the album perfectly.

Brick Body Kids Still Daydream may be the definitive Open Mike Eagle record. It’s somber, quirky, thoughtful, and an excellent showcase of his various styles. It’s undoubtedly too early to say anything for sure, but Mike’s ability to continually push himself forward with each new release is admirable to say the least. Whether or not you grew up in the projects, don’t be afraid to pick up this album and give it a listen or two. Relatability will vary with the listener, but the heart that went into the songs is undeniable and an excellent entry point into Open Mike Eagle’s impressive catalogue of work; moreover, this is easily one of the most unique and enjoyable albums to be released in 2017.

Album Review: Apollo Brown & Planet Asia – Anchovies

by Rajin

anchovies

7.5/10

I think the biggest mistake I made last year was sleeping on The Easy Truth, by Apollo Brown and Skyzoo. That album ended up being one of my favorites of 2016. Seeing a couple of months ago that Apollo Brown was teaming up with another rapper, this time being Planet Asia of Cali Agents, for an album called Anchovies (released through Mello Music Group) I made sure not to repeat that mistake.

Apollo Brown has been one of my favorites for a while. He is one of the most reliably dope producers I can think of; while generally not the most unique beatsmith in his technique, style and range, the end product is guaranteed to be soulful and immersive. His beats tell stories, even without vocals. Usually when a rapper and producer make a collaboration album, it tends to sound like the rapper’s vision with that sole producer supplying beats. Yet, the exact opposite is generally true with Apollo Brown. It’s clear that these albums are his show, and on each, he gets the rapper to come with his A-game. Planet Asia, on the other hand, is someone who I am new to. In order to get familiar before listening to this album, I listened to his other MMG release: a collaboration with producer Gensu Dean called Abrasions (which, for a quick one-line review, was quite a solid album with some filler). Based off that album, he seemed to be a talented and straightforward emcee – no frills. Just hardcore hip hop, pulled off effectively. Perfect for what Apollo was going for on this.

Speaking of which, the musical style on this album is very different from what I think most would imagine at first glance when seeing the names Apollo Brown and Planet Asia together. I think the expected product would be something along the lines of Dice Game or Trophies. They must have been aware of this going in, and decided to go for the unexpected. Rather than his typical hard-hitting drums and cinematic soul loops that would theoretically sound great behind Asia’s booming voice, Apollo Brown’s production on this is very stripped down. The drums are intentionally less prominent in the mixes, with snares often completely absent, and dirty, dusty pianos generally taking the forefront on the production side of this. It was a bit of a risk that very much paid off.

Apollo Brown and Planet Asia said that Anchovies would be an acquired taste, and to a certain extent they are right. The album sounds like it belongs to a branch of hip hop occupied by artists like Roc Marciano and Ka. However, I feel as though Anchovies is far more accessible than an album such as Honor Killed The Samurai or even Rosebudd’s Revenge. Where emcees like that are lyrically more esoteric as far as their vocabulary and references, Planet Asia’s lyricism is rooted in more colloquial language, with more of an emphasis placed on witty bars rather than abstract stories and wordplay. In addition, he raps with a more standard delivery and rhythmic flow while Ka and Marci are typically more hushed and sound almost like spoken word. Anchovies draws a great deal from the style that they use, but remains grounded in more traditional hip hop – it ends up sounding like a less cloudy and hazy version of what Conway might do. In having this sort of style, the album ends up being what I consider to be a great place to start for listeners who are trying to dip their toes into that particular facet of hip hop.

“Dirty” is an adjective that was used in a lot of the promo for Anchovies, and it really is probably the most apt description there is. The album sounds like the soundtrack to slouching against a wall smoking a cigarette in an empty alleyway behind a bar at 2 A.M. Asia’s voice and his generally somber delivery gives a feeling of cynical (and at times, emotional) reflection. This album arguably sounds like a spiritual successor to Dice Game (which, incidentally, Planet Asia was featured on)…it’s almost like this highlights what it’s like after the game when everyone’s dispersed and you’re left by yourself. It’s fitting, then, that Guilty Simpson shows up on “Nine Steamin,’” a song that is kind of reminiscent to that album.

Some songs, such as “The Aura,” “Duffles,” and “Deep in the Casket” have a bit of a jazzy, noir film kind of vibe to them, where you could imagine them behind black and white scenery. The majority of the album, however, is a little more soulful and reflective. Songs like “Speak Volumes,” “Diamonds,” and “Tiger Bone” sound sort of like what RZA would have made during the Wu-Tang Forever era with the soul samples, but far more minimal. The minimalism on this album is definitely its defining trait, and it’s pulled off wonderfully. Apollo did a great job at making sure that no matter how bare-bones the music was, it still felt full and warm to listen to.

If there is one thing that I can say I am disappointed by, it is the fact that after you get acclimated to the style of music being made here, the songs become a little predictable. If you, like me, listened to each of the singles before the album dropped, then there are likely few surprises offered to you. Apollo Brown keeps it consistent with his production, and Planet Asia does what he does lyrically and vocally. That’s not to say that it gets repetitive or the music is nonessential, and there are a few tracks that do break that mold and add a bit of depth, namely “Pain,” “Get Back,” and “You Love Me”. It’s just that the listener can pretty accurately guess what will happen on each track once they’ve heard a few. The two of them have enough talent, though, that while the predictability may hold Anchovies back as a whole from reaching its full potential, the quality of the actual music present is not diminished by any means.

On Apollo Brown’s albums, I often find more enjoyment in the beats than the raps. His production is captivating almost 100% of the time, making it’s easy for a rapper to just become a voice that compliments it well but ultimately gets tuned out. Even if the production is great, if there are emcees involved, I personally can’t call an album better than just “pretty good” if they don’t grab my interest. Sure, you can be a good rapper, but if you just serve to fill in the blanks on an impressive beat tape you’re not offering enough for the listener, or at least one like myself. With that being said, Planet Asia is not one of those emcees. He’s got witty lyrics, a distinctive delivery, and most importantly, a commanding presence and charisma. If anything, this album might be the first time I felt that it wasn’t overwhelmingly directed by Apollo. Asia felt like he had much more of a leading role, as opposed to the supporting role that the emcees generally take. Perhaps it was due in part to how minimal the beats were, but Asia’s vocal presence and clever lyricism made his mark on the album in ways that a lot of emcees don’t get to over Apollo Brown’s production.

Overall, I found Anchovies to be a great album. It is definitely one of the best efforts that I’ve personally heard this year. I appreciate and very much enjoy the sound that these guys decided to try out. Despite my criticism of the music getting predictable in the context of the album, there is no filler at all. This is an album you can’t resist but listen to the full way through. It sounded natural, and not pretentious and over-ambitious, which would have been easy given the style. My favorite tracks are probably “Diamonds,” “Dalai Lama Slang,” “Pain,” and “Get Back”. Obviously I will have to sit with it for a little longer, but as it stands right now, this is one of my favorite Apollo Brown albums; I’m not deep enough into Planet Asia’s catalog to speak on it from his side, but I’m certainly going to remedy that. I recommend this album to anyone who likes hip hop in any capacity, because it may offer a glimpse into a style that not as many people are exposed to, while not being a challenging listen.