Album Review: Kuniva – A History of Violence Vol. 2

by Apu

hiv

8/10

Coming back from doing a tour with a couple of his group members and stealing the show more often than not on D-12’s Devil’s Night Mixtape, Kuniva has gone solo again with the follow up to his official debut, A History of Violence. Released about a year later than originally planned, this project was pushed back until 2016 because of his work with D-12.

Before I go any further, I advise all 3 of you who are reading this to check my recap of A History of Violence (Vol. 1). I promise I’m not saying this [entirely] as a plug for views!

The first thing that can be said about this album is that overall, it is much more powerful than its predecessor. It’s evident even from the release of the lead single, “Dear Uncle”, that Kuniva approached making this album from a totally different perspective. It’s more heartfelt, thoughtful, and passionate. There’s nothing here that has the sort of carefree, almost ignorant attitude of “Born This Way” or “Where I’m From.” The entirety of the album is more mature and artistic. The two years Kuniva spent working on this left him a more seasoned artist, let alone emcee.

With this project, Kuniva put a larger focus on songwriting, more so than just rapping and lyricism. In fact, the straight “lyrical miracle” lyrics are less prevalent on many of the songs; for the most part, he opted towards writing songs with a message and focused less heavily on the rhymes and wordplay. That is probably my biggest gripe (well, actually, my only grip) with the album…and even then, it’s not really that big of an issue, because it’s not like Kuniva dumbed anything down, and there were still several instances where he did come with the battle lyricism that he’s known for. He’s shown the caliber of his lyricism on each of his previous projects, and just shifted focus on this. There was less room for it. He had something that he wanted to make sure he got across this time, and didn’t risk sacrificing the message with unnecessarily complex rhymes or metaphors.

The hooks are noticeably stronger, more present, and in many cases more melodic than they were on Kuniva’s previous material, which is artistic growth that I’m personally very glad to see. A stronger hook is what separates a good rap from a good song. He also started playing with his flow a bit. He had shown flashes of implementing double time flows on D-12’s comeback song “Bane” but since then kept it a little simpler on the D12 mixtape. However, from the very first track on this project onwards, we get to hear him weave in and out of different pockets in a way that I honestly didn’t expect. His flow has become crisper, and he’s managed to make it sound as though it’s both more precise and more relaxed at the same time.

Kuniva also started using his delivery to add to the buildup of his verses to give a more dynamic feeling towards the songs. On many of the tracks, he would start adding more of an edge to his voice as the verses went on, which helps keep the listener not simply engaged, but nearly clinging onto the words he’s saying. The majority of this album consists of very personal music, detailing the difficulties he’s had in his life as vividly as the best of them. His delivery matched the pain that is written so well that you would think he was sitting in a psychiatrist’s room recounting it as opposed to just rapping pre-written lyrics into a mic. I firmly believe that Kuniva’s delivery is one of the most impactful out right now. At times on this project his delivery, paired with the intensity of the stories he told in his lyrics, could figuratively kick you in the stomach.

My son’s looking up to me more, watching my every move,
Trying to mimic his dad, I try not to show him my tool,
He’s asking questions now, fuck I’m supposed to do?,
Finally told him what happened to Bugz and Uncle Proof,
The pain of explaining the real, leave you with screws loose,
To be able to watch your homie murdered on Youtube.
(Mama I Tried)

That’s not to say that the entire album is full of heavy subject matter. Songs like “Ride Slow,” “All I Know,” and “Trouble On My Mind” serve as Kuniva’s way of giving the listener something easier to listen to. At the same time, they still manage to capture the [relatively] lighter side to Kuniva’s life, rather than being just filler tracks for people who don’t want to listen to such serious music. They detail Kuniva’s life on the block, largely leaving aside the topics of personal strife and police brutality. They definitely don’t feel out of place though; in fact, they make the album feel more fleshed out. Block Symfany and Mr. Porter do a great job at offering production that flows well from track to track, and making each song settle in well. Each of these tracks, incidentally, are the only tracks with guest rappers on them. I personally feel as though Kuniva’s verses on these tracks vastly overtake the guest verses, who were strong in their own right. I do want to say that I’m relieved that the chemistry between Denaun and Kuniva still exists, and I look forward to the Brigade project that they announced in the outro of “Trouble On My Mind.”

The final track, “End of the Beginning,” has a small interlude between verses where Kuniva mentions how he’s found that people don’t really know that he’s his own person outside of D-12, and that he needs to show people who he is by himself. The production (offered by Block Symfany and Mr. Porter) help separate him from the devious D12 sound overall, and allow him to develop his own persona through his soul-bearing delivery and lyrics, which have become possibly the most vivid and deep out of anyone in his group aside from the obvious member. If there was something he could have released that would show people what he has to offer, this is it. This is the project that he needed to get people to stop using their bias against his group as a reason not to take him seriously. He succeeded in creating a cohesive project that puts on full display who he is as an artist and emcee. It is not a perfect album, but he has cemented who he really is behind his group persona, and he can keep building from there, which is what the phrase “end of the beginning” seems to imply.

Too often, you’ll see somebody release a sequel to an album and have it be essentially the same thing. No advancement in sound, no change in content…nothing different is offered. It’s basically just an excuse for an artist to not evolve and come with the cop-out of “but…but yeah but this is just the next part, it doesn’t make sense to change anything!” This album is a sequel done right. Kuniva uses this album as an opportunity to expand on what he was talking about in Vol. 1. He carries more of a narrative throughout it, aided by the interludes. It’s almost like he had the first disc serve as the prelude to his life story, where he gave bits and pieces, and he decided to dig deeper on this. While the lyricism may not be as complex, as a full body of work Vol. 2 absolutely dwarfs Vol. 1, and stands by itself as a great project.

Advertisements

Halloween Goodies: Movies for the Blind, by Cage

by Dustin

mftb

Halloween is always a fun time of the year. The kiddos are out in spooky costumes collecting enough candy to become diabetic at eight years old, young adults are out in costumes slutty enough to make a stripper wince, and everyone is generally just out to have a good time. More importantly for this site however, there’s also a huge array of horror themed hip-hop out there to fit the mood of the season. We’re not talking about struggle-Juggalo horrorcore however. What we want to discuss is the artists that went deeper, combining horror elements with conventional hip-hop to create near-movie like albums.

Welcome to Extraordinary Nobodies’ first ever Halloween Week, where we will have a look at four of our favorite horror inspired albums for an entire week leading up to Halloween (though surely you have figured that out by now).

The first album on the menu is perhaps the least Halloween-flavoured of the bunch, but it’s got one foot firmly planted in the horror genre. Cage’s Movies for the Blind, released in 2002, combined shock rap with New York hip-hop in a way not many had attempted. Though he’s probably most notorious for a short lived beef with rap megastar Eminem, Cage’s first two releases are regarded by many as underground classics. Movies for the Blind started it all, and it’s a record that will leave you feeling utterly disgusted in the best way possible.

Lyrically, Movies for the Blind is the ultimate channeling of rage, drug abuse, and mental illness into bar after bar of tantalizingly shocking lines. Setting the tone is an album opener with Cage expressing an unbridled affinity for PCP and destruction. The album doesn’t quit either, with jump-scare like lyrics woven into even the most New York sounding tracks to keep you on edge. No content is off the table on this record. Murder, suicide, and violence find themselves as staples on what is a freak-show of atrocities. Dips into the norm are rare, but when they do happen it serves as a necessary break from the amazingly grotesque images Cage paints with his words.

Blue collar to corporate blessed the unfortunate,
Like when I put my foot down that bitch still aborted it,
Stuck the canister under my jacket like the lucky one,
‘Uh, sir you can’t leave with that,’ bitch this my fucking son!
(Too Much)

Unlike Hell’s Winter, which saw Cage take a more introspective approach to his music, Movies for the Blind lacks any form of self-awareness. It is an album with an emcee at his most unhinged, unloading rage and hate at anyone who will listen. It’s beautifully executed, and forces you to feel a level of discomfort that most horrorcore albums simply haven’t been able to achieve.

His charisma is also undeniable. It gets to the point that he nearly comes across as a sociopath.

I’m a suicidal failure, look my life’s a failure,
I can’t make it in rap, even my birth’s an error,
Do what I can to catch a quick death,
But I’m meant to be here and that’s the fuckin’ hell I live with.
(Suicidal Failure)

Interestingly, the production on Movies for the Blind is relatively subdue and typical for the underground New York scene at the time. The album featured production primarily by DJ Mighty Mi, but also the likes of El-P, Necro, and Camu Tao (plus a handful of others). With the lineup, it’s no surprise that the sound is so distinctly east coast. Movies for the Blind fools you into nodding along with the gritty production, while throwing lines about suicide and death in your face. The contrast is absolutely wonderful to experience; moreover, the instrumentals are brilliantly cohesive throughout.

Movies for the Blind may not be the ultimate Halloween record, but there are qualities to it that definitely make it a terrifying listening. It’s quite interesting how this album plays out like a series of short snuff films. It’s more disturbing than scary, but it remains as grimy today as it was 14 years ago upon release. Movies for the Blind is also a gem from a time where Definitive Jux and Eastern Conference (the latter of which would release the album) were just beginning to take over the New York underground scene. Whether you’re interested in records from that era, or just looking for something gory to celebrate Halloween, Movies for the Blind remains an underground classic that is wholeheartedly recommendable.

Not for the faint of heart, however.

Album Review: Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition

by Dustin

ae

9/10

If you’re a hip-hop fan and you don’t know who Danny Brown is, there’s a good chance you’ve been living under a rock since 2011. The Detroit emcee is known as quite the character, bringing an insurmountable level of energy to every song he touches. After jumping to Warp Records, Danny has finally released his follow up to 2013’s Old. Atrocity Exhibition.

And yes, that is a Joy Division reference.

On this record, Danny Brown is a rock-star in every sense of the term. He’s a boisterous character with no fear of expressing his affinity for drugs and alcohol; however, the beauty in Atrocity Exhibition is his ability to explore the consequences of the lifestyle he lives. Danny may be one of the few rappers who will boast about his drug use on one track, and then turn around and smack you with the honest truth about the problems this causes him on the next. Lyrically, he is completely on point. Atrocity Exhibition still has the same zany personality that made XXX and Old unique, but it’s also a highly introspective release. His lyrics are upfront and truthful, depicting a lifestyle that many couldn’t begin to imagine.

Everybody say, you got a lot to be proud of,
Been high this whole time, don’t realize what I done,
Cause when I’m all alone, feel like no one care,
Isolate myself and don’t go nowhere,
Smoking blunt after blunt, ’til my eyes start burning,
Hennessy straight got my chest like a furnace,
Drowning frustrations in a ocean of sin,
Thinking irrational, I have no emotions.
(Downward Spiral)

What stands out most about Danny Brown’s vocal performance on this record though is his flow. The man can rap on anything, plain and simple. For example, both the opening track “Downward Spiral”, and the song “White Lines” both have instrumentals that sound as if they should be impossible to ride… Yet, Danny finds a way to make it sound as easy as breathing. It’s really something to behold, and his ability to do this is on display here more than any previous album.

Which brings us to the instrumentation itself.

The production on Atrocity Exhibition is a really a unique experience. Provided by the likes of Paul White, The Alchemist, and a few others, the instrumentation on the album is unlike any other. There are elements to the production which feel distinctly Detroit, yet the overall sound is so off-the-wall that it’s hard to Atrocity Exhibition to any single influence. There are tracks like “Downward Spiral” that feel so heavily influenced by Joy Division (as the title would lead one to believe), and then more conventional instrumental like “Pneumonia”.

In the broader sense, everything works well together even with the vast stylistic variation. It feels hectic in a good way, and that’s exactly what’s to be expected from Danny Brown.

Atrocity Exhibition is special. It’s special first and foremost because it’s a great album, but there’s also something wonderful about seeing Danny Brown realize his potential. His previous releases have all been good in their own respect, but Atrocity Exhibition feels like so much more. It’s the type of album that pushes boundaries without being recklessly abrasive. Its execution is brilliant in the sense that it’s experimental, yet familiar enough to appeal to a larger base.

So my task,
Is inspire your future with my past,
I lived through that shit,
So you don’t have to go through it,
Stepping stones in my life,
Hot coals,
Walk with me.
(Hell for It)

Atrocity Exhibition may feel like a fever dream, but it is one that you will never want to wake up from. As a hip-hop fan, this record is a can’t miss album. Danny Brown has released one of the most engaging, unique, and gritty records of 2016. It’s certainly worth your time, and potentially album of the year material.

The Media That Refuses to Die: Cassette

by Dustin

cassette

“What is that?” my buddy asks as I pull another parcel from the mailbox, “don’t tell me you’re still collecting music”.

You see, my friend doesn’t quite understand the point of collecting physical media when it comes to music. He sees CDs and vinyl as a waste of money when I’ve already got a Spotify subscription. The argument that I want better sound quality usually shuts him up, since streaming can be questionable at times in that regard.

Unfortunately that argument will not work with this shipment.

My friend remains interested as I rip apart the yellow envelope from Darling Recordings. I explained to him that the album is by a really cool experimental group called FLANCH. He seems interested in the sound and implies that he would like to listen to it once I finish my painfully slow unwrap job; however, his interest turns to confusion as I reveal the contents of the envelope.

He looks at me and his face screws up into an indescribable expression. In a moment of baffled realization he asks the question, “is that a fucking cassette?”

cassette2

Though this may sound ridiculous to some, cassette has seen a huge resurgence in the past couple years via the independent scene. The companies which produce cassette tapes are reportedly having their best years since the 1960s. For example, the National Audio Company reportedly produced over ten million cassettes in 2014 alone. For something once considered defunct this is a huge comeback, and it is almost rooted entirely in the independent music scene.

But why? To help answer that question we touched base with Nick Faidley. Nick is the founder of independent label Darling Recordings, an outfit which has released multiple cassettes (including FLANCH, mentioned earlier in this article). He offered up the following insight as to why cassettes have seen such a heavy revival:

Darling Recordings has turned to tapes for the many of the same reasons as other independent labels and musicians: cassettes are low cost, low hassle, and easy for bands to use on the merch table. For us it’s really that simple. Tapes are affordable at low quantities, unlike vinyl (incredibly expensive) and CDs (large minimum orders), and they can be completely DIY.

Darling runs its cassette manufacturing with a wonderful company out of Ohio called A to Z Audio.

As Nick stated, cost is a huge factor. Unlike major outfits, most independent labels only do limited releases for physical editions of records. These are generally in the 20-100 copies range. The price per unit for limited runs is cheaper on cassette than any other physical media; moreover, a price per unit quote (on a 100 album order) from a Canadian duplication company shows that the difference is extreme:

CD with Jewel Case and Insert: $4.90/each
Vinyl Record with Colour Cover: $9.00/each
Cassette with Clear Case and J-Card Insert: $1.85/each

Cassette is the clear cut choice based on cost alone, and for small independent labels every dollar counts. Perhaps physical media is no longer a necessity with the rise of digital distribution, but fans will always be looking to get their hands on merch. Cassettes are a cost effective way to provide this to fans (whether it be online, in a record store, or at a show). In addition to it being good for the label, cassette releases are generally cheaper for the consumer as well. It’s very much a win-win for those interested.

Though more subjective, there’s also a collectible feel to cassettes that seems to offer up a lot of appeal. There’s certainly a degree of nostalgia involved to a particular generation, but to others they just seem “cool”. They’re just so much different when compared to CDs and vinyl. Cassettes have a particular minimalistic and rugged appearance that seems to draw a certain crowd in. Even the listening experience, though maybe not the best in terms of sound quality, is incredibly unique. The tape hiss, the sound of the cassette deck mechanism, the sudden jarring click when a side runs out…

It’s something that can’t really be compared to anything other music media, for better or worse.

Interestingly, this wave of cassette revival has become big enough that some major labels have started to jump on the bandwagon. A recent example of this is Shady Records re-issuing Eminem’s major imprint debut, The Slim Shady LP, on a translucent purple cassette. To no ones surprise, the re-issue was incredibly popular. It doesn’t seem like this will be a regular trend such as vinyl releases, but it definitely speaks to the size of cassettes resurgence.

For all intents and purposes cassette should be dead, but it’s not. They’ve found their way back into the music scene by carving a niche which no other media can really occupy. What cassette lacks in sound quality it more than makes up for in affordability, making them the ultimate budget merchandise. It’s a revival that maybe no one expected, but it’s working out beautifully for artists around the globe.

So, the next time you see a cassette just remember: your uncle who owns a Mustang from the 1980s with a tape-deck isn’t the only person looking to buy cassettes anymore.