Retrospective Review: A History of Violence, by Kuniva

by Apu

HOV

On December 16, 2014, Kuniva released his official debut studio project, A History of Violence. It followed a long stream of mixtapes (Retribution, the Midwest Marauders series, and the Lost Gold mixtape). Unlike the music that was on the mixtapes, Kuniva used all original production (primarily handled by Block Symfany, a production team composed of Rio Da Ghost and T.Boyd out of Michigan), and made actual fleshed-out songs, rather than just long verses and freestyles. Overall, it’s a very solid solo offering. It set the stage for him to grow and dig deeper in his later material.

The best part of this project to me is how Kuniva put it together. It sort of sounds like he sequenced the album very deliberately. The first 4 tracks seem like they’re from the perspective of a younger, more rowdy Kuniva. Those tracks tend to celebrate the street life. It opens up with the posse cut “Michiganish”, featuring Aftermath artist Jon Connor, Mass Appeal’s Boldy James, and Detroit legend Guilty Simpson. It starts things off fairly simply, being a competitive cypher of sorts. The following few songs, “Born Like This”, “Where I’m From”, and “Baileys In Bangkok,” all have a similar sort of vibe. They’re cocky and rowdy. They sound a little ironic and tongue in cheek, almost as though Kuniva was trying to rap the way a younger kid would rap. The content and the way it’s done makes me think he was talking about the street life, from the perspective of a kid living it, rather than someone reflecting on it.

Then comes “Derty Headz”, which is a very powerful song dedicated to fans of his and D-12. It has an anthemic hook and verses that drop all sorts of history about his career. He talks about Proof recruiting him for the group, the beef they’ve had, and the adversity they’ve faced from within since Proof passed. This song is the major turning point in almost every way. Here, flashes of reflection and maturity start to show up. From track 6 onwards, it seems to shift to his perspective now as a man nearly 40 years old after having seen massive success with his group, mournfully reflecting on the hard times in life but looking ahead with a drive to keep moving now that he’s out. “Light Work” and “Where The Hoes @?”, both offer fiery production and strong verses delivered with the hunger and confidence of a man who has seen his fair share of hardship. The title track, which is quite possibly the most personal and poetic song Kuniva has ever released, has him speaking on his past up to the point when Proof was murdered in chilling, almost uncomfortably rich detail, his voice oozing pain over him reflecting on it, and the album ends on “Shoutout”, which sounds like where he’s at now, looking forward into the future with hope after everything he’s been through.

The music on this project is good. There’s no denying that Kuniva is a strong rapper and has been doing nothing but improving since D-12 World. His delivery has become a lot more convincing and his writing has gotten sharper. The production is great too. Block Symfany (and Enrichment, on the title track) were able to provide Kuniva with a backdrop that deviated from the typical D-12 sound. It gave Kuniva the chance to step out of that style and develop his own identity, which is something that he hasn’t had the chance to really do much in the past outside of his Retribution mixtape. I think the first half of the album is a little shaky and unfocused at points, but every song from “Derty Headz” onwards is great. The title track might be one of my favorites of the entire year of 2014, period.

However, what really makes the album good is how it lives up to its name of being a “history”. Kuniva put the album together to actually make it almost like a song-by-song history of his life, from rapping competitively at the Hip-Hop Shop and living in the streets, to when D-12 were at their peak, and ending it with an adult perspective on life. It’s really special, because oftentimes artists don’t do that kind of thing when putting their projects together. You generally hear about Kendrick and the like putting their albums together in a manner like that, but honestly, Kuniva managed to pull off an album concept as well as anybody else. Even if it wasn’t fully intentional, he still clearly had an idea of progressing the sound and content of the project in a way that made sense, as opposed to putting the songs together in an arbitrary order and releasing it onto iTunes. That, to me, is what really makes it good, and not just another hip hop album.

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Album Review: deM atlaS – mF deM

by Dustin

mfdem

6.75/10

Among alternative hip-hop heads, MF DOOM is basically a household name. Though the rapper and producer has been relatively quiet for years, most fans still eagerly anticipate new material from the vaudeville villain no matter how rare. Apart from a handful of features, DOOM’s last release of substance was his production work on NehruvianDoom alongside young rapper Bishop Nehru… Don’t get too excited however, as mF deM is a bit of a tease in these regards. All DOOM instrumentation on this release has been heard before.

Don’t let that discourage you though as this project also has an emcee delivering brand new bars. This of course is Minnesota native and Rhymesayers Entertainment signee, deM atlaS. DeM draws influence from a wide variety of musical artists, and really has the potential to create a unique sound. He’s young, but he’s already got a vocal presence on the mic that can’t be matched by some veterans.

So what happens when pairing him with production, albeit previously released, by a hip-hop legend? You get a release with some really lovely highs.

deM atlas seems to be at his best on this tape when utilizing his singing voice. There’s something about deM that feels similar to Camu Tao’s later works at times. On tracks like “Grbge Trsh” he’s energetic, expressive, and stays engaging by conveying emotion excellently. There are many moments on mF deM that are in line with this stylistically. “Nervosa” and “Its Over, Im Dead” being two of the key high points. Even when not singing deM maintained his vocal presence over the majority of this release. When he’s on his game, he’s an absolute pleasure to listen to and super unique.

Unfortunately consistency seemed to be an issue.

Tracks fell flat during moments when deM slipped back into a more conventional delivery; moreover, there were times where he felt quite derivative of other Minnesota based rappers. These songs are still quite listenable, but the stood out as a step below some of the other material being offered up over the course of the album.

To put it in the most cliche way possible, the production is what it is. There’s not really much more to say about these instrumentals that hasn’t already been said, since they’ve been available since the beginning of time itself. Some are fantastic, some are fairly repetitive; basically there’s nothing out of the ordinary for DOOM production.

deM’s voice worked quite well on most of the beats, but it definitely felt as if he was forced to carry the album due to the instrumentation being fairly played out. As a full listen, this album will feel much more fresh if you’re not familiar with MF DOOM’s production catalogue.

Perhaps deM atlaS didn’t “find himself” on this project, but he did a good job of creating songs that are pleasant listens. His potential definitely shows, and deM seems like an artist to watch going forward. Don’t let the score at the top of the page put you off of listening, either. It seems like the kind of album that will have a decent amount of replay value, even if not the most consistent.

Album Review: clipping. – Wriggle

by Dustin

wriggle

7.25/10

You might assume that involvement with the critically acclaimed Hamilton would keep Tony Award winning actor and rapper Daveed Diggs from being involved with clipping for the present. Fortunately, assuming that would be completely incorrect! Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, and Jonathan Snipes joined forces once again to craft Wriggle, a six track extended play follow up to 2014’s CLPPNG.

Strap yourself in…

As one would expect with a clipping. project, Wriggle is abrasive. Though the instrumentals feel less noise heavy than their last full length projects, it’s significantly darker in tone than CLPPNG. Wriggle at times sounds absolutely evil, yet it has some of the groups most accessible work. Hutson and Snipes did an excellent job at setting up the atmosphere of the EP, creating a tightly cohesive twenty minutes of unnervingly addictive and angry instrumentals.

Look at all the folk runnin’, marathon,
Like they ain’t got baggage, carry-ons,
Killin’ is the best medicine, diagnosis,
Got death on his breath, halitosis.
(Shooter)

Diggs comes in on this project as sharp as ever. His development as a rapper shines on the tracks “Shooter” and “Wriggle”. As usual, he flawlessly flows atop of the harsh and dense instrumentation. At times his furious rapid fire delivery was on full display, particularly on the aforementioned title track “Wriggle”. His more poetic writing style took a bit of a backseat here (aside from on the track “Our Time”), but it didn’t hold his performance back. There’s not much else to analyze about his performance on Wriggle, aside from the fact that it is consistently very good.

Rarely does Daveed Diggs falter while working with clipping., and that holds true on this project.

She stops by the window of the Walgreens,
Her mascara a mess of a mask,
Gonna pull out a tissue but instead pulls out a phone for a text,
And the flask rattles round in the purse,
A reminder that medicine is already there for the taking,
And the snap when she puts the cap back,
She’s convinced is the sound of her heart breaking.
(Our Time)

Wriggle also boasted an impressive list of features for a short project. Those familiar with Deathbomb Arc affiliated artists will be excited to see another Signor Benedick the Moor collaboration (along with Antwon) on the track “Back Up”. Cakes da Killa, Nailah Middleton, and Maxi Wild also provided their efforts to the tape. With Wriggle clocking in at a modest twenty minutes in length, there was the potential for a poor feature to stand out; however, every artist brought something worthwhile.

As a side note, Cakes da Killa’s “Hot Fuck No Love” appearance may be one of the most sexually graphic verses since Gangsta Boo rapped on Run the Jewels’ song “Love Again”. It fit absolutely brilliantly on the song for this very reason.

The only real downside to Wriggle is that it is short. This is completely reasonable though, as clipping. announced a full length album to come later this year via Sub Pop and Deathbomb Arc. Wriggle serves to hold fans over, and it does that job well. The twenty minutes of gritty, angry, hyper-sexual, and violent lyrics offers up plenty of content to digest in the meantime.

With that in mind, if you approach this expecting something overly substantial you might be disappointed. As a collection of songs leading up to an album release though, clipping. has remained as interesting as ever.

Album Review: FLANCH – FLANCH

by Dustin

flanch

8.75/10

Enter FLANCH, Peter Timberlake and Ben Peterson’s music and visual project. The sixth release on Darling Records, FLANCH is an ambitious project to say the least. It took risks to create something that could stand alone as unique.

These risks were certainly worth taking.

Topically, FLANCH is rooted in stressing confusion brought as a byproduct of social changes; moreover, there is a strong emphasis on how this impacts the individual at a multitude of levels. Primarily the focus seems to be on the conflicting nature of losing ones religion after being deeply entrenched in its values. There’s also an apparent battle between the diminishing religiosity and an active lust for hedonistic pleasures (relative to the previously rooted religious values) in the individual.

No discretion, and no protection,
Just hold your breath and hope for death,
Before the soul’s possession.
(graace)

It should also be noted that this intersection of belief and non-belief is quite personal. Peter Timberlake, the main producer behind FLANCH, was a devout Christian for many years before entering his currently faithlessness. Though the vocals were provided by a plethora of artists, Timberlake’s message and vision was not lost.

To add to the thematic richness of this album, blurring lines between the offline and online worlds are also explored. FLANCH observes how the internet as a creation has completely changed the way we live and the way that interpersonal connections are made; however, there is also an awareness that it’s far easier to be allured by smoke and mirrors. When exploring these places it’s not in a negative tone, but rather caution towards something not fully understood.

I met you online, and I like your pictures,
But I don’t know if you’re a real person,
Don’t play with my heart anymore.
(tender)

While these thematic elements are quite expansive, they do not get lost within each other. FLANCH does an amazing job at finding balance by blending elements together. The end result was a spectacularly cohesive album. FLANCH is the type of album that will warrant more than a single listen to digest everything that is happening at once. Fortunately the music is absolutely addictive.

The production on FLANCH is really quite magnificently terrifying. The futuristic and experimental nature of the instrumentation leads to some beautifully off-kilter moments. Fitting of the topics at hand, FLANCH sounds audibly anxious, lost, and haunting. At times the production feels near other worldly, like the alien offspring of electropop and experimental glitch-hop.

The vocals, provided by an array of guest artists, were also quite interesting in the overall picture of this album. Vocal performances playing off of the religious themes felt suitably larger than life. At times the vocals stepped away from the human and were edited to feel genderless, synthetic, and mostly robotic. The sonic dichotomy was utilized creatively, with vocals placed together in a way that played amazingly well into the topic of on-and-offline worlds melding.

It should be mentioned that the singers and emcees on this project really helped make it special. It feels like their talent could be easily lost in everything else that was going on with this album, so it felt important to give them their credit as well. FLANCH seemed to be as much a collaborative project as it was a debut for FLANCH as an outfit.

FLANCH packs an insurmountably thick sounds into a short listen. The music is out of left field, wondrous, and emotional. The album is thematically engaging, and challenging enough to keep the listener coming back for more. Admittedly it might not click for everyone, nor does it seem like it’s supposed to; however, what FLANCH has delivered may hold up as one of the most creative, outside-the-box projects of the year.

Album Review: Blueprint – Vigilante Genesis

by Dustin

VG

8/10

How suitable that we’d close out May with a review of a new Blueprint project. Blueprint, of course, was our featured artist at the start of the month. The veteran underground emcee has teamed up with longtime collaborator Aesop Rock to deliver this brand new EP, Vigilante Genesis.

Though it weighs in at a modest nineteen minutes, Vigilante Genesis is anything but short on content. Rather than being a collection of assorted songs, this project is basically a miniature concept album. Taking elements from hip-hop culture and the murder mystery genre, Vigilante Genesis follows a story of a graffiti artist looking to bring justice upon those who mistakenly murdered a fellow tagger. Each track adds a piece to the tale, building a world much like an old-school story-based radio show.

When these greedy motherfuckers try to take what I love,
I write ‘greed’ in red ink, let it drip like blood,
Punk-ass security, they circle in shifts,
Seemed like five minutes but I time it at six,
And I done come too far to go out like a bitch,
So I chill behind a dumpster, hit my target, and dip.
(Vigilante Genesis)

Putting the story aside for a moment, Blueprint as a rapper shows up as sharp as ever. He felt very engaged in the story, providing a fitting first person narrative to match the tone of the story. As a general rule Blueprint is quite charismatic on the mic, and this is true for Vigilante Genesis. His writing was sharp, but at the same time never detracted from the concept just to complete a grander rhyme scheme. He’s straightforward in all the proper ways, which lead to a simple-to-follow listen.

Abstract has a longstanding place in hip-hop, but the route Blueprint took definitely worked most efficiently for this kind of concept.

He tearing up like “oh shit, I thought you was dead”,
Nah man, you and your mans killed the wrong kid,
I could kill you now for the sake of revenge,
Or you can come with me and tell the cops what you did.
(Ten Paces)

Aesop Rock provided the production for Vigilante Genesis, and those familiar with his instrumental work would be able to recognize this instantly. The beats feel like they could fit seamlessly within either of his last two solo releases. The production matches very well with Blueprints vocals, and maintains consistency throughout the entirety of the EP.

Aesop did a lovely job at setting the mood, and Blueprint knocked it out of the park with his slick story telling.

As a whole, this is a can’t-miss EP if you’re a fan of Blueprint’s work. Perhaps it’s a little bit of an adventure away from what he usually does as an artist, but he pulls it off well. General hip-hop fans will most likely enjoy this tape as well. The story is easy to understand, but interesting enough to hold the listeners interest; moreover, this is probably Blueprint’s most accessible tapes in terms of overall sound. Give it a listen, it may just be one of the top projects of 2016 by year’s end.

Album Review: Koi Child – Koi Child

by Dustin

koic

8.5/10

Australia may not come to mind when talking about hot spots of hip-hop, but perhaps that’s about to change. The land of Vegemite and Milo has produced one of hip-hop’s most exciting new acts, Koi Child. They aren’t your stereotypical hip-hop outfit though, in fact they’re far from it. Originally two separate acts (Kahikoi and Child’s Play) Koi Child is a seven man outfit consisting of emcee Cruz Patterson, saxophonists Christian Ruggerio and Jamie Newman, trombonist Sam Newman, drummer Blake Hart, bassist Yann Vissac, and Tom Kenny on the keys.

Though this self-titled release is the debut record by the group, they’ve been turning the heads of fans and musicians for the past couple years. More specifically, they caught the attention of Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker. After being invited to open for Tame Impala at select Australian shows, Koi Child also landed Parker as executive producer for this project.

Interestingly, as a side note, it was apparently recorded in some degree of isolation on an island… An island that had to be reached by packing all their gear by boat. It’s quite the unique backstory, to say the least.

The effort was worth it though, as the end product was quite special.

One of the big reasons this album is special is the instrumental work. Live instrumental work seems to be vastly underused in hip-hop; however, with Koi Child being stacked with talented instrumentalists, it can be found in abundance in their music. At times the ensemble wasn’t afraid to let the vocals take the back seat and have all the focus be on the instrumentation. These instances of pure instrumentation set a gorgeous atmosphere for the listener, and did not detract from the listening experience in any way.

That being said, Koi Child’s resident emcee certainly added something special to the album as well.

When Cruz Patterson was allowed to take center stage he often ran away with the show. Though his vocals were often drowned in an unconventional psychedelic reverb, Patterson’s lyrics and delivery were very reminiscent of old-school hip-hop (perhaps aided by throwback references to artists like MF DOOM and DJ Premier). He fit in seamlessly with the funky jazz sound provided by his band mates. It should also be noted that his energy on the mic was undeniable. Every bar was delivered with a captivating passion and excitement, which was clearly needed to keep up with complex instrumentation backing his rhymes.

It’s been a while since I looked into the future,
Write myself a letter, say “hey man, you used to,
Love MF DOOM and watch cartoons,
You’d be eating Frooty Loops in the afternoon”.
(Adventures for the Capsule)

To get too critical of this project would involve significant nitpicking, but perhaps it would be fair to say that the group played it too safe at times. It doesn’t take away from the album at any level, but it seemed as if Koi Child could have the ability to produce an even grander sound. Admittedly, this is less of a criticism and more a comment on what they could create going forward. The potential they displayed was incredible, and it’s easy to imagine them being capable of putting out something groundbreaking in the future.

With that being said, if this does happen to be a one-off effort from the group, there certainly will not be any disappointment either. The end product was beautiful, atmospheric, and worthy of high praise.

Album Review: Mr. Lif – Don’t Look Down

by Dustin

mmrlif

7.5/10

Mr. Lif, one of the earliest members of the now defunct Definitive Jux record label, has been on somewhat of a hiatus… His last solo release came way back in 2009, but the time is finally right for his return to hip-hop. He has found a new home on the independent powerhouse Mello Music Group, which plays host to his fourth solo album, Don’t Look Down.

Lif has a reputation of quality, with all of his prior releases receiving critical acclaim. While many musicians lose a step when being away from their art for an extended period of time, Don’t Look Down continues this trend of excellence from Mr. Lif. The underground veteran has seamlessly picked up where he left off, delivering a pleasurable listen.

Don’t Look Down may not knock your socks off, but you will not walk away from it disappointed.

Well I’m sitting at my table now, hands crossed, blast off,
Thinking about some opportunities that I had passed on,
Hindsight is 20/20, thinking isn’t helping any,
Drinking will just serve to end me.
(Everyday We Pray)

Lif’s rapping was really enjoyable on this album. His writing is as strong as ever, and can be quite unique in structure. He’s not afraid to switch between poetic approaches, personal analysis, and even to delve into the more abstract. Don’t Look Down is the type of album that deserves multiple listens, if for no reason other than to digest the lyrics. As is the case with most emcees who came up in the same scene as Mr. Lif, his style can be pretty dense; moreover, Don’t Look Down has relatively quick pacing, so there will undoubtedly be things you miss on the first play-through.

That is to say, if the record doesn’t click with you on the first listen, don’t be afraid to give it another chance. It may only be 36 minutes long, but Mr. Lif packs an incredible amount of content into this running time.

I used to look up at night and see the sky,
Now I am the sky,
Now the planets I,
Used to use a telescope to see,
Are a part of me,
I’ve got Saturn in my arteries.
(Don’t Look Down)

Some of the production on this record is very reminiscent of the early 2000s Definitive Jux sound. “Whizdom” in particular has a wonderfully unorthodox instrumental. It manages to be head-nodding and addictive while simultaneously sounding like an ink-jet printer grinding out a thirty-two page university paper. That being said, Don’t Look Down does take on a more conventional approach at times as well. There is enough variation to keep the album sounding fresh throughout while not losing cohesion.

It should also be mentioned that every single instrumental compliments Mr. Lif’s vocals nicely. He clearly had a concrete direction in mind during beat selection, and it shows in the final product.

While Don’t Look Down may not exactly be comparable to I Phantom, it is a glimpse at a more mature Mr. Lif and should be approached with that in mind. It’s a very easy album to enjoy. Don’t Look Down is short, content dense, and while it’s certainly alternative, it still seems like an easy album for new listeners to jump into. For longtime fans, it will be a pleasure to hear new material after a long hiatus, especially since he delivers so well with this release.

Welcome back Mr. Lif.