Album Review: CURTA – End of Future Park

by Dustin

endoffuture

8/10

Life as an independent artist is one heavy with fraught uncertainty. Finding footing amongst industry giants and a never-ending feed of new music is challenging enough without frequent shutdowns of the few venues which cater to the scene. Many feel nomadic, resulting in a strong urge to return to a fleeting musical home. It was no different emotionally for two CUTRA and 4Digit, so they took these feelings and concentrated them into a project of musical venting. The result, End of Future Park, ended up equal parts mournful and celebratory. It served as a sort of “homage to [a] place which doesn’t exist anymore; never existed; or will maybe exist at some point in the future.” Quite honestly, it was done extremely tastefully.

As with Click-Bait, 4Digit handled the production in its entirety on this release; however, End of Future Park was gloomier and significantly more experimental in nature. The project had an unsettling dystopian vibe, cultivated within the instrumentation by selective use of glitch and electronic elements. In some ways, the production followed a similar formula to some of clipping.’s earlier material by taking the foundations of hip-hop and twisting them with blowed out noise and synthetic heaviness. That’s not to say that it was derivative though, as the production was still noticeably his own flavor. The final track was also created using a curated mix of his left-over production prior to relocating. It may not have been the headliner on the album, but it was a lovely bonus to the total package.

On the vocal end of things CURTA wasted no time in proving he and 4Digit’s chemistry as a team. His exasperated, hyper-observant style complimented the glitchy and dark production wonderfully. He displayed the ability to inspire a painful hopelessness with his lyrics and delivery, similar to an artist such as Joe Horton of No Bird Sing. He isn’t the flashiest or most technically advanced of emcees, yet he always seemed to bring exactly what a track was calling for. His vocals also had an almost live-show quality to them, which was the perfect organic contrast to the heavily computerized instrumentation.

To keep it short and sweet, End of Future Park sounded like a rap concert happening atop a busted motherboard…that’s being said in the most positive way possible, because it truly was a fun experience.

Featured artists were kept to a minimum on this release. There was however a single guest, and he was a rather interesting one. This was of course Milwaukee-based WC Tank, perhaps most notable for his involvement in the production of music videos for Busdriver. He appeared on the track “I’m So Cool” – one of the weirder cuts on the album – and was a fantastically placed feature. While guest artists can feel pointless sometimes, WC Tank was absolutely not one of those cases. He added a pleasant sense of variation that made the full listen all that much better.

End of Future Park was an album that might not be a perfect fit for everyone’s tastes. It felt more niche than the majority of indie hip-hop releases; however, through that process CURTA put together something fully realized and true to itself. Ultimately the narrowed focus allowed for a concise, very enjoyable project. There were a lot of things here that haven’t been explored sonically by many, if any, artists in the past and that alone was quite admirable. The fact that CURTA and 4Digit managed to adventure into uncharted territory and leave with music that very genuinely sounded great was the cherry on top. For someone actively engaged in the experimental and alternative rap scene, this was certainly an album worth giving some extended attention. For those less familiar, it remained accessible enough to not be an intimidating first step into the world of weird. It also certainly posed the question of where exactly CURTA will take his sound in the future. A question that should be met with excitement and anticipation, taking everything into consideration.

Album Review: Walter Gross – The Fra Mauro Highlands

by Dustin

FMH

8.5/10

On January 31st, 1971 NASA would launch the eighth manned mission to the moon, Apollo 14. The three person crew kicked off the 9 day mission from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39, before travelling to the Fra Mauro Highlands on the near side of the lunar surface. This would serve as the last of NASA’s simplistic (relatively speaking) H-Type missions to the moon, as they upgraded to the longer J-Type with Apollo 15. While this particular Apollo mission was relatively understated, its legacy lives on as a success during the booming age of space exploration. An era that had a particular vibe of wonder, and captured the imagination of individuals even outside the realm of science.

One may now be asking how this is relevant to music, and Walter Gross is the answer to that question. Though he may not have been an astronaut on the Apollo 14 mission (or even much of a space enthusiast, for that matter), his love of ambient concentrative music lead him to an interesting place of inspiration: the Voyager recordings. Finding himself endeared to the organic beauty of these pieces, he began work on his own out of this world experimentation. Quickly reaching full realization with a 23 minute (50 counting the Stray Signals Cassette Mix) long tape of atmospheric allure, The Fra Mauro Highlands. An album which would suitably see release on the 47th anniversary of Apollo 14.

Though it bares his name, The Fra Mauro Highlands was not the type of project one has come to expect from Walter Gross. It abandoned a lot of the crunchier, abrasive noise elements he’s become known for in the past, opting to try something a little more ambient instead. Once expectations were subverted however, this was a wonderful listening experience. It hit the flavor of desolate space music perfectly, and managed to feel cold while also inspiring a sense of adventure. There was a particular hint of retro-futurism to the tape, to the same vein as a movie like 2001: A Space Odyssey. This was due primarily to brilliant sound contrast constructed by Walter Gross. The entirety of The Fra Mauro Highlands had an underlying subtle ambiance of whooshing and swirling sounds that were distinctly galactic and harrowing. Atop of this there were moments of gorgeously vintage sounding synthetic instrumentation, used sparsely enough to maintain a sense of mechanical exploration through an all encompassing emptiness. It didn’t mess around with precisely divide tracks. Rather, this album was one continuous piece of music that built upon itself, evolving in a natural and off-the-cuff manner.

With all that in mind, there were aspects of The Fra Mauro Highlands carrying Walter’s signature touch. It was an immensely unsettling selection of work, with the emptiness and overall tone having created a strong sense of urgency and apprehensiveness of the unknown. With artistic anxiety being such a mainstay in his music, this familiarity was oddly comforting. It provided reassurance that this is exactly how the project was supposed to make one feel, and not an emotion to be avoided. The “Stray Signals Cassette Mix” which followed the conclusion of The Fra Mauro Highlands rewound things back a little further stylistically, while having maintained the same overall vibe. It wasn’t the star of the show by any means, but it was very good and really provided a feeling of returning home to the established fan of Walter Gross. A return after a fantastic journey.

Much like the Apollo 14 mission itself, The Fra Mauro Highlands will likely go down as one of Walter Gross’ most under-the-radar releases. While it was absolutely excellent, it appealed to a listener base even more niche than his signature barrage of noise. Which is unfortunate, because it was a stunningly beautiful, and somewhat anxious, ambient album. It wore its inspirations on its sleeve, and the ambition was undeniable. Do-it-Yourself music is about pushing limits, catching waves of inspiration, and trying things outside of the box just to see what will happen. Walter Gross did all of these things with The Fra Mauro Highlands. It embodied the spirit of the scene entirely, and should find itself respected as such.

Album Review: LARS – Last American Rock Stars

by Dustin

LARS

LARS/10

That score is not a mistake, nor is it a bad thing (it’s actually incredibly good); all will become clear in due time. Sit back in your easy chair, smoke something, and read on about a super clever project from two mainstays in the Detroit underground.

Veteran emcees King Gordy and Bizarre had been teasing a duo project for a long time, perhaps nearly a decade. Originally under the group name Davidians, the pair released multiple “street single” one-off songs in addition to regularly collaborating on each other’s solo material. In spite of this, it seemed as if the idea of a full length Davidians project had been permanently relegated to the back-burner for both emcees. This changed in 2017, when the enigmatic pair found a home for their collaboration on Magik Ninja Entertainment. The name Davidians was dropped in favor of LARS (standing for Last American Rock Stars), taking on a rocker theme that King Gordy had been toying with for years. Later the same year they released a teaser mixtape called Foul World, and announced Last American Rock Stars as their debut album. The release was slated for early 2018.

Flash forward to 2018, and they followed through on that promise. The record was finally here.

Last American Rock Stars played out like a concept album of sorts. It felt as if one was being brought along for a drug fueled bender lead by two of the wildest scumbags on Earth. Perhaps unsurprisingly the album had an incredibly macabre tone. There was this looming grimness to everything, regardless of how celebratory a song may have been. King Gordy and Bizarre played the role of degenerate rock stars perfectly, as if they were addicted to the party lifestyle to the point that consequences no longer retained their meaning; however, an awareness of the damage being done was always present. King Gordy’s fascination with individuals such as GG Allin showed significantly the the direction of LARS on this project. Ultimately the album captured the qualities that most would attribute to a outlandish-yet-grimey rockstar life: violence, sex, drugs, and criminal debauchery. These themes were presented with a lovely degree of nuance, making them seem fun as hell, but a surefire way to burn out quickly.

The concept may have been slightly loose, but it was incredibly ambitious. The chaotic nature of the events depicted on Last American Rock Stars did lead to a confusingly scattered first listen, but once everything settled it was executed quite well. It took two or three listens for everything to come together, but it was well worth the time.

Beyond that, the album just had a lot of things working in its favor. King Gordy is in his prime as a rapper right now, and it felt like he could do no wrong here. If he wasn’t bringing a spastic energy to a track, he was probably using a mesmerizingly smooth flow to dazzle the listener. He was the true highlight of the release, and songs such as “Just Got Out The County,” “California,” and “Rock N Roll” feature some of his best work on the mic in years. Bizarre was more hit-and-miss, but even his weaker verses had merit in their personality and construction of the “last true rock stars alive” theme; moreover, his stronger verses were perhaps his most entertaining since the heyday of D12. The duo had some hilarious lines scatter throughout the totally depraved lyrical content as well, which gave the album a nice sense of range. One of the most memorable moments in this regard is on “Rock N Roll”, where King Gordy boasts about being a mosh-pit starter immediately before attempt to persuade the listener to attend a LARS show because “it only costs six dollars.” Humor like that brought a lot of character to Last American Rock Stars, and it was used sparingly enough to keep everything fresh.

It should also be noted that “can we borrow y’all lawnmower?” is one of the funniest adlibs to ever appear on a rap album. Thank you, Bizarre, you are a treasure.

The featured artists were also cool, and that’s not always easy to find in underground projects. Fury, Monoxide Child (of Twiztid) and Twista had the most interesting verses, but everybody else held their own. It truly felt as if LARS were taking you to meet some of their equally (if not more) trashy friends, and it bolstered the concept wonderfully. The production was also selected and handled in an impressive manner. The blend of trap, rock, and underground throwback beats intermingled more smoothly than one may have expected. The variety did a superb job at giving each song a distinct backdrop and emotional feel. For example, tracks like “Stomp” and “I Believe I Can Fly” could not have been further removed from each other sonically, yet they both sounded perfectly at home on Last American Rock Stars. With all that in mind, King Gordy and Bizarre made excellent selections for a supporting cast and the album benefited from it hugely.

The only real issue with Last American Rock Stars was the mastering. The album got significantly quieter during and after “Lit.” At least, this is true on the Spotify release (the physical or iTunes versions may not suffer from this issue). It wasn’t a huge deal at all, though. The mixing overall is fantastic, and it’s fairly easy to slide the volume up on the later songs using one’s audio player of choice. [Update 25/02/18: mastering was not an issue on the physical copy or iTunes version, this appeared to have been exclusive to Spotify]

The reason Last American Rock Stars was so difficult to assign a score to is the fact there is no frame of reference to compare the album. It sounded like a beast entirely of its own, and the uniqueness was refreshing. They managed to turn a scattered tracklist into a musical cross between The Hangover and Hated: GG Allin and the Murder Junkies. It played through like a journey into a life that most will never live, with King Gordy and Bizarre enthusiastically inviting the listener along for the experience. The album felt dirty and taboo, but also thrilling and adventurous. It forced inhibitions out the window, and aimed to take the listener wherever it pleased. The Detroit duo may have taken a lot of years to finally come together on a project like this, but the wait meant that their potential got to be fully realized. Last American Rock Stars is absolutely a recommended listen, particularly for those wishing to dive into an album that is distinctly true to itself.

Album Review: ANKHLEJOHN – The Red Room

by Rajin

ajtrr

8.5/10

Perhaps as a response to the oversaturation of syrupy pop-trap that has had hip hop in a chokehold for a bit too long, it seems like over the past year underground rap has been making something of a return to what made hip hop so appealing in the early-to-mid-’90s. We aren’t seeing artists trying to recreate boom bap; rather, artists have been capturing the essence of ‘90s rap and adapting it for modern times, effectively resuscitating an approach to the music that appeared to be extinct for two decades. For the most part, artists have been looking to early material by artists such as the Wu-Tang Clan and Nas for inspiration. What we haven’t seen very often, though, is a young artist looking to Brotha Lynch Hung and Esham.

That is, until now.

Hailing from Washington, D.C., up-and-comer ANKHLEJOHN is an aggressive, menacing, raspy-voiced emcee set on creating the most intimidating music you’ve ever heard. In the third quarter of last year, he dropped his debut album, The Red Room. This album is a nice and tight 11 tracks long, and barring the last track “Wetter” (which is a fairly self-explanatory title), it is an unrelenting barrage of threats, violence, and vividly dark stories. While many young artists are making music that could fall under the same descriptions, none do so as believably as ANKHLEJOHN does here. There are times on this record where the listener could genuinely become concerned for his mental well-being, and I mean that in the most respectful and best possible way. Throughout the entire run, the listener is given no time to relax. It keeps you on edge, holding your breath the whole time.

The record features haunting, hellish production that even some of the most unforgivingly brutal rappers would have difficulty approaching. It’s got the same sort of blistering cold atmosphere that you could find on a Mobb Deep album in the mid-’90s. For the most part, the production is very boom bap-influenced, with producers HNIC, Camouflage Monk, Viles, and more utilizing the ever-trustworthy technique of chopping soul samples for a large percentage of the songs here. However, that’s not to say that this record stays in that single lane. “Leonadis” sees Ankh rapping over a fiery trap banger, produced by Montana Eclipz, composed of bells and epic orchestral samples. “Original Man” features ANKHLEJOHN and Hus Kingpin trading bars over some of the most genuinely stomach-churning, anxiety-inducing production I’ve heard in years, courtesy of Big Ghost, Ltd. Overall, the album keeps a very dark, moody, and heavy tone to it, which perfectly compliments Ankh’s style.

Lyrically, ANKHLEJOHN’s strengths mainly lie in his ability to paint vivid pictures, and to come up with face-screwing one-liners. To pair with that, his vocals are, quite simply, absolutely gnarly. Ankh’s got a voice that would not have been out of place in a group like Onyx. However, while Onyx spent most of their time screaming in everybody’s faces waving guns, Ankh chooses to speak clearly and threateningly with a rope in his hands. His vocal delivery is still quite brash and abrasive, but he never raises his voice too loudly. By opting for this sort of delivery, he ends up sounding even more imposing. He seems like he draws from his Brotha Lynch Hung influence to casually rap verses depicting ultraviolent scenarios.

Upon listening to this album, one of the most distinctive features are the ad-libs. We live in an era of hip hop where rappers overuse ad-libs to the point where their music is almost unlistenable in many cases. There’s an overwhelming surplus of rappers imitating tires screeching, gunshots, and voicing otherwise random words and sounds. It could be argued that ANKHLEJOHN doesn’t use any fewer ad-libs than these rappers, however, the way he uses them is infinitely more productive. Throughout the album, you’ll hear him growl “sick, sick, sick” as though reacting to his own lyrics. On a track like “Leonadis” the assorted shouts, screeches, laughter, and other ad-libs make him sound almost like he’s having a schizophrenic meltdown and he captured it on record. I can’t say I’ve heard anyone else use ad-libs in this way, and I absolutely love it.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find this record until a couple of weeks ago, so I’m a bit late, but boy am I glad I found it at all. The Red Room is a definitely highlight of 2017. In this day and age, hip hop needs a little more grit, and even though I’m loving what’s going on in underground rap, I feel the grit is still lacking in a lot of ways. ANKHLEJOHN seems to feel the same way, because he delivered an incredibly raw, gritty, and visceral project with The Red Room. The album is dizzying and beautifully dark, and it’s one that I strongly recommend.

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.

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.

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.

Album Review: milo – who told you to think​?​?​!​!​?​!​?​!​?​!

by Dustin

whotoldyoutothink

9/10

At times it feels as if no independent hip-hop artist’s stock has risen as much in the past three years as milo. A protege of sorts to Busdriver and Open Mike Eagle, milo’s rise in the alternative scene was met with some speed-bumps; however, after the collapse of Hellfyre Club, he’s seemingly risen from the ashes as one of the best young emcees in rap, period. With the release of 2015’s so the flies don’t come, milo showed that he had the ability to truly reach his potential as an artist. Following this, he would slip into the shadows to work on his next project, while also sharing a couple of short releases under his highly experimental Scallops Hotel alter-ego. Two years later milo has reemerged with his latest piece of work, who told you to think​?​?​!​!​?​!​?​!​?​!.

who told you to think​?​?​!​!​?​!​?​!​?​! is an album with a sound entirely unique to itself. While it does clearly keep one foot in the roops of hip-hop and rap, there’s also a very clear effort on milo’s end to be his own artist. There’s an impishly playful (and sometimes coy) nature to the way milo rattles off bar after bar; moreover, it’s the type of album where the humor and poignancy is not made overwhelmingly apparent. This sort of subtlety makes who told you to think​?​?​!​!​?​!​?​!​?​! an incredibly addictive listen. milo kept his writing as sharp as ever though, bringing a unique wit and thoughtfulness to each song. Each verse listens as if milo is beside the listener spilling everything he feels. Happiness, sadness, love, you name it.

If there’s a weak point to note on this album it’s milo’s hooks (or lack thereof), but honestly this seems like an aesthetic choice and didn’t really detract from the listening experience at all. Just don’t be surprised if a hook is a single phrased repeated for a break in the song. Fortunately it works well with his style, and his selection of live vocal effects keep things interesting.

Perhaps one of the main reasons who told you to think​?​?​!​!​?​!​?​!​?​! is so enchanting is that it’s as complex of a listen as one wants it to be. The evolution of milo’s style has taken him to a place where his music is lyrically challenging, yet soothing and easy to consume. Compared to some of milo’s earlier works, who taught you to think is easy to vibe out to if the listener doesn’t feel like focusing too heavily on the content; however, there’s more than enough going on to feed the lyric obsessed on many subsequent listens. These seem like contradictory statements, but milo did an excellent job of balancing these aspects.

The features on who told you to think​?​?​!​!​?​!​?​!​?​! were a lovely assortment of frequent milo collaborators. Of note are Busdriver, Elucid, and Deathbomb Arc associated Signor Benedick the Moor. Though Busdriver stole the show as far as feature go with his hyperactive energy, everyone brought their best. There’s not much else that can be said, aside from the fact that the features really added a great extra dimensions to the songs on which they appeared.

The production is absolutely fantastic. Handled by a variety of different producers easily recognizable by fans of milo and his close peers (such as DJ Nobody and Kenny Segal), who told you to think​?​?​!​!​?​!​?​!​?​! is a close knit collection of Los Angeles beat-scene inspired glory. The blending of jazz and soulful easy listening samples boast an impressive soundtrack behind milo’s vocals. There’s also a wonderful usage of negative space on this record instrumentally. Nothing is overwhelmingly busy or dense, but at the same time it manages to be strong enough that it could stand on its own. This album hits that rare equilibrium of the artist and the production complementing and elevating each other, rather than one stealing the show all on their own.

Regardless of if you are a fan of milo currently, who told you to think​?​?​!​!​?​!​?​!​?​! is an album worth investing some time into. He’s an excellent young artist armed with one of the most unique sounds in hip-hop currently. Between this and so the flies don’t come, it is quickly becoming apparently that he’s come into his own and realized the potential that many fans saw in his earlier releases during the Hellfyre era. If you really like the release, be sure to support the artist. milo is independent in every sense of the word, and every cent counts.

Put your money on the green horse for rap.

Retrospective Review: The Entity, by King Gordy

by Dustin

kgte

The year was 2003, and in the hip-hop world all eyes were on Detroit. With Eminem rising to global mega-stardom, D12 going platinum with Devil’s Night two years prior, and Obie Trice being added into the Shady Records family, the city seemed like an unstoppable production line of rap gold. This remained true under the surface, where a blossoming underground scene was producing a plethora of incredibly talented artists. King Gordy was one. A member of the world’s “largest” group, The Fat Killahz, Gordy was somewhat an unpolished diamond at the time. He was rough around the edges, but full of soul, energy, and had a mind that could only be sculpted in the rough neighborhoods of Detroit. In fact, prior to approaching this album you should drop all preconceived notions of King Gordy. Though his reputation as the “King of Horrorcore” is well established at this point, he was a little different during the time of The Entity.

First and foremost, it’s impossible to have a discussion about The Entity without first talking about “Nightmares.” Track two on the album after an introduction skit. “Nightmares” was, for lack of a better description, the evil-bizarro-world version of “My Name Is.” King Gordy introduced himself to the listener as the Van Dyke and Harper version of Freddy Krueger, and then angrily shouted his name repeatedly so you can’t forget who he is. It is really an incredibly catchy and dark song that’s a blast to yell along with. I don’t know how King Gordy and his camp managed to make something evil so much fun to listen to, but as a way to introduce himself, it was amazing.

“Nightmares” is the perfect track to give a listen if you’re still on the fence about this album. It gives an excellent snapshot of the anger, vileness, and talent King Gordy was bringing to the table on The Entity. The music video is a lot of fun too, featuring appearances from Detroit rap icons and an additional verse which didn’t appear on the album version.

Armed and dangerous, AKs turn your brains to mush,
Mix my weed with angel dust, feds label us notorious.
(Nightmares)

Enough about that though, what about the rest of the record?

King Gordy was overflowing with an equal amount of energy on the rest of The Entity as well. There was not a single track on the entire album where he phoned in a vocal performance, putting his own spin on long-time influences such as Notorious B.I.G. and Howlin’ Wolf. The Entity primarily features Gordy’s hyper-violent angry style, but there were also a handful of very genuinely sad moments. He took a much softer tone on songs such as “No Lights” and “Nobody Hates Nothin” and provided a much needed introspective gut-punch to give the album even more personality. It’s also of note that King Gordy had an incredibly powerful sing-rap style on many of The Entity’s tracks. This is a trait that he’s retained even today, and it something that has really set him apart from many rappers. He had (and still has to this day) an incredibly rare blend of excellent writing and a super expressive, charismatic delivery. Teamed with the instrumentation on The Entity, Gordy sounded like an unstoppable force.

The production on The Entity was dirty, and distinctly Detroit flavoured. Handled by The Bass Brothers, Eminem, Silent Riot, and others such as Hex Murda, the instrumentation is gloriously cohesive and created a unique sonic environment. The way they played with elements of rock, boom-bap, and stripped back guitars, horns, and pianos still sounds fresh almost a decade and a half later. They also suited the style King Gordy was using on The Entity absolutely perfectly by providing the type of room his powerful voice needs to take the lead.

As a side note, the skits on this album were actually really well executed and added something to the overall listening experience. They built up King Gordy, and the world he lives in, to be inhumane, monstrous, and anarchistic. A lot of artists have trouble making skits that don’t detract from the album, but that wasn’t an issue for The Entity. Removing the skits would kind of make the album feel like it had missed something, and they are welcome moments even on repeat listens. The features, though placed sparingly, were also excellent on The Entity. Much like the skits, they didn’t take away from King Gordy’s presence on the album. It’s still undeniably his show throughout.

Or maybe I was just never nothing to you,
Like our friendship meant nothing and I never did nothing for you,
Evidently I been nothing since the beginning,
From out the womb until my funeral, I’ll be nothing until the ending.
(Nobody Hates Nothin’)

Though Gordy would eventually fall out with WEB Entertainment and continue to have an proficient career as a solo artist, The Entity stands as a timelessly heavy debut album. It perfectly captured the character of King Gordy: angry, in your face, and not afraid to say something risque if he knows it will piss the listener off. Street rap fans will take great joy out of the albums rawness and grit; those who found King Gordy later on in his career will enjoy the horrorcore twists on tracks like “Time to Die” and “When Darkness Falls”. Ultimately, it’s the perfect hardcore rap album – a portrait of Detroit’s rap scene at the time – that has been confusingly slept on for nearly 15 years.