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.

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KashJordan (of Weirdo) Interview on Hip-Hop, Experimentation, and Social Expectations

by Dustin

kash

The hip-hop collective Weirdo might not be a household name just yet, but they’ve got massive ambitions. KashJordan, a founding member of the experimental “punk-trap” group, took the time to speak with us about these goals, his views on the changing landscape of hip-hop, and the social expectations that limit progression.

Weirdo’s music can be found via their SoundCloud and their BandCamp, Kash’s twitter can be found here, and the interview can be found directly below!

EN: First I’d like to ask a bit about Weirdo. Where did you guys meet and when did you decide to form a hip-hop collective?

KashJordan: I started Weirdo in 2013. I met with Wasif and Davey through Twitter and we made a couple songs together. We shot the video for Red, and I was like let’s call each other Weirdo. At first I hated Wasif and I thought he couldn’t rap. Then he rapped his verse on Red and I was like shit, this is guy is great. I was rapping alone before Weirdo too, but nothing was ever working out like Weirdo did.

EN: For you guys as a group who would you say are your biggest influences musically?

KashJordan: Hmm. I’d say guys like Kanye, Death Grips, Young Thug, Future, and Lil B.

EN: I noticed on your SoundCloud the group is described as experimental. How important do you think experimentation is to hip-hop as a genre?

KashJordan: Oh god, very important. I feel like I’m not going to invent a new sound right now, but I do want to experiment with different sounds, flows, and sub-genres of rap [to] make something cool and new, but also familiar.

EN: Who do you think is the most innovative in hip-hop in the context of pushing the boundaries and creating their own sound?

KashJordan: Hmm. Right now I feel everyone’s sound is collective. Everyone’s sound is borrowed from different things to create their [style]. I haven’t heard anyone lately that’s truly original and brand new… Except Lil B, maybe [laughs].

EN: That being the case, what do you think of the state of hip-hop currently? I spoke with a former Sony A&R who believes artists aren’t pushing boundaries enough, do you agree with that?

KashJordan: I love the state of hip-hop. Everyone is so weird now. Before the hyper-masculinity robbed niggas of expression. I feel like a lot of people are pushing boundaries, just no one is really listening, or holding what they’re doing to a higher standard.

Young Thug for example dresses how the fuck he wants, makes fucking cool-ass music, and has taken flows to a whole new level. Rae Sremmurd doesn’t even rhyme sometimes. Swae Lee’s verse in We is art, it didn’t rhyme at all and still slapped.

EN: I’d like to expand on one of your points there, you think it was important for hip-hop artists to lose the obsession with hyper-masculinity in order for the genre to progress the way it has?

KashJordan: Yes, I do. Rap is riddled with, like, hyper-masculinity, and misogyny. I even used to contribute to that in my older shit. It stifles you. Everyone’s the biggest macho-man they can be, everyone loves women but also hates women, and don’t really refer to them as people but kind of like prized pets and shit. It’s weird.

Niggas can’t express them selves because they’re so scared to break away from social norms of what masculinity is. Hyper-masculinity robs men of being in touch with a lot of emotions, touch, colors, clothes, and even some foods. Dudes won’t eat [something] because its not “manly”. I saw a dude call a bowl of fruit gay [laughs], that shit’s lame now.

EN: Do you hope that yourself, and Weirdo as a collective, can help contribute to this shift away from hyper-masculinity in rap?

KashJordan: Dude, for sure. I’m going to make sure we do. Like, shit’s fucked up and a lot of men are really fucking weird because of societal pressures. I won’t stop until all the homies can eat fruit, wear pink, and not view femininity as inferior (because that pretty much reflects their view on women as inferior). Does that make sense?

EN: It makes a lot of sense. I respect the fact that you’ve got your eyes on the bigger picture and not just your music.

KashJordan: Oh, for sure. Not even just that, I plan on doing a lot with my platform. I’m gonna kick the fucked up prison systems’ ass. I’m gonna kick white supremacy’s ass. I’m gonna kick systematic racism’s ass. I’m gonna kick classism’s ass. I’m gonna kick transphobia’s ass. I’m gonna kick xenophobia’s ass. I’m gonna fix the world, we all gonna be okay after I’m in this. I just gotta get on.

I wanna be on Fox News son-ing everybody.

EN: Back on the topic of your music for a minute, what’s next for Weirdo? Do you guys have plans for a new album, mixtape, EP, or anything of the sort?

KashJordan: I’m currently in California. I got fed up with my life [so] I quit my job, sold all my shit, and moved here last month. I’m gonna do a little solo thing, but Weirdo is still my backing and shit. Wasif will do the same over in North Carolina. After both our solo joints are out we’ll put out the hardest Weirdo project yet.

Also, I hate the word mixtape right now becauce it turned into a derogatory term. It’s [become] synonymous with being a lame no-where rapper, so EPs or projects is the word I’d use.

EN: What’s your solo project going to be like? Are you thinking of something similar in sound to what you’ve done with Weirdo?

KashJordan: Its gonna be weird. I’ve had this internal complex about how I wanna make fun trap music like Yatchy, Thugger, and Uzi… And then I wanna make deep dark experimental art shit. Neither of those really fit with Weirdo, so the project won’t be like our last joint eh *shrugs shoulders*.

It’ll be my first project alone, even thought I’ve been making music for like three years.

EN: That’s awesome. I’m excited to hear it. Okay, I’ve just got a couple of general questions for fun before we wrap this up. What are your top five favorite albums, all time, across all genres?

KashJordan: From Under the Cork Tree by Fall Out Boy, James Blake’s first album, Toro y Moi’s Anything in Return, Yeezus, and Future’s Monster.

EN: Which artist would you consider to be your dream collaboration?

KashJordan: James Blake, for sure.

Canadian Hip-Hop History: The 1990s

by Dustin

Canada1

During what many would call the “golden era” of hip-hop in the United States, Canada’s hip-hop scene was just beginning to enter its development. Through the very late eighties and early nineties it was nearly impossible for Canadian hip-hop acts to gain exposure. Due to the lack of label support and general resistance, these artists had an incredibly difficult time getting their product placed in record stores; moreover, the fight for airtime on the radio was a losing battle. At the time there were no stations playing hip-hop music, and Milestone Radio’s application for an urban music station was ultimately turned down by the CRTC in favor of a country dedicated station.

This was particularly unfortunate as it would have been the first of its kind in Canada, and provided an exposure outlet for hip-hop artists. Canadians living close to the border could listen in on American urban broadcasts, but these stations rarely, if ever, played music from Canada.

Despite the overwhelming lack of support however, some artists did manage some success during this time period. Most notably Maestro Fresh-Wes (now known as Maestro) managed to enter the Billboard top 40 in the United States with his debut single “Let Your Backbone Slide” in 1989. In addition to this, one of Canada’s first female emcees, Michie Mee, landed a record deal with an American label. A feat which has been incredibly difficult just years early.

Others, such as Dream Warriors, Organized Rhyme, and Get Loose Crew had varying degrees of success in the nineties as well; however, Canadian hip-hop was still failing to garner respect and recognition with listeners. Domestic support for artists was still scarce, and to make matters worse international interest was practically non-existent. Those who attempted full moves into the American market, such as Maestro who moved to New York (and released Naaah, Dis Kid Can’t Be from Canada?!!) saw their careers hit an abrupt standstill.

Frustration was high for any hip-hop artist trying to make it in Canada. Domestic media didn’t seem to care, leaving many disgruntled.

The dissatisfaction with Canadian media would boil over at the infamous 1998 Juno Awards. A hip-hop group from Vancouver called the Rascalz, won best rap recording for the album Cash Crop. Much to their dismay, the award was briefly presented during a non-televised portion of the award ceremony, and they were told to give their acceptance speech in a press room backstage. Citing general frustration and a lack of respect for the genre, Red1 convinced the rest of the Racalz to protest the award.

Their decision was discussed at length by artists, journalists, and fans. The context of racial tensions, as well as the lack of exposure for Canadian artists put a spotlight on a genre that was often on the back-burner.

The Rascalz had support country wide for the protest, and ultimately it was successful. The following year the Juno Awards would move hip-hop to the main televised stage. Simultaneously, a new generation of Canadian hip-hop artists began to crop up. Kardinal Offishall, Saukrates and Choclair made their debut efforts in the mid to late nineties, and would cement themselves as mainstays in the genre. Even though commercial success was still relatively rare, hip-hop in Canada as a whole was beginning to grow.

These formative years laid an important foundation, one that would be built upon in the 2000s by the budding alternative rap scene.

Part two (the 2000s) coming soon.

Artist of the Month: Blueprint

by Dustin

Blueprint

It’s time to have that startling realization that it is already May. What a lovely month. It’s finally warm enough to wear shorts without looking as if you’ve got no social awareness, but it isn’t hot enough to be drenched in sweat five minutes into your commute to work. More importantly however, it also means it’s time for another Extraordinary Nobodies’ artist of the month. The most prestigious hip-hop award on our entire website.

It’s also the only hip-hop award on our entire website, but that’s not the point.

The artist of the month for May is independent hip-hop artist, Blueprint. Blueprint has long been associated with many of the independent greats such as Aesop Rock, Atmosphere, and Eyedea & Abilities just to name a few. In addition to his lengthy underground hip-hop career, he’s more recently began to establish himself as an author.

Blueprint very much feels like a hidden gem of the styles established by Rhymesayers Entertainment and Definitive Jux throughout the 2000s. His discography is extensive, and very consistently solid. Around the time of Adventures in Counter-Culture he really began to create a sound quite unique to himself. He often handles his own production, and his instrumentals are really quite nice. He tends to nicely blend a classic boom-bap sound with spacey instruments, which compliments his poetic, near spoken word style of vocal delivery.

Lyrically he’s a classic emcee. Blueprint might not get caught up in over-the-top rhyme schemes or extreme syllable placement, but very rarely does he pen something without reason. With that in mind, he’s versatile enough topically that he can flawlessly switch to classic braggadocio when the music is calling for it.

Ah, whatever the language, Blueprint freaks it well,
From Visual Basic down to Speak & Spell,
I’ll even battle these weak emcees with braille,
Not to be fucked with any emcee can tell.
(Hold Mine)

Blueprint is an important member of the Columbus hip-hop scene. Along with a handful of others, he may be considered one of the flagship artists for the area. Right before the turn of the millennium, Blueprint and a few friends established Weightless Recordings, a Columbus based independent record label which focuses on promoting local music. Though the label has seemingly slowed down in recent years, it still plays home to both Blueprint and Illogic (as well as their group effort, Greenhouse).

His solo discography is also complimented by involvement in multiple hip-hop groups. Most notably he is the emcee in Soul Position alongside well known producer RJD2. As mentioned, he is also a member of Greenhouse (formerly Greenhouse Effect) with Illogic. Blueprint was also at a time a member of one of the more intriguing indie rap super-groups, The Orphanage. The group, consisting of Aesop Rock, Slug, Eyedea, Blueprint, and Illogic, appeared on a handful of tracks but never came together for a full project, and likely never will with Eyedea’s tragic passing in 2010.

I thought that we would go first and you would tell our story,
Maybe make a movie about the Rhymesayers rise to glory,
The classic albums, the fanfare, the world tours,
So it’s kind of weird I’m here now telling yours,
I’ve been losing people my whole adult life,
Never been one to exploit my pain in a song,
I wish this was one I didn’t have to write,
But until I do, I’ll never get a chance to mourn,
So what you’re hearing now is way more than a song.
(Great Eyedeas Never Die)

If you’re not sold on Blueprint yet for whatever reason, his personality might just do it for you. He can often be found on Twitter interacting with fans, discussing music, and talking about ways to stay focused in life. His positivity is seemingly boundless, and he often goes out of his way to thank fans who express an interest in his music or writing. If you’re one of those listeners who have a hard time separating the music from the person, have no fear. Blueprint is about as down to earth as they come.

As always, the complete archive of Artist of the Month articles can be found here. Stay tuned for June!

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.

Apu Rambles: FreeBeat42 (Give the Producer Some)

by Apu

fsfsdf

I don’t know if it’s just me being an illiterate idiot or not, but I get the sense that a lot of producers don’t get the credit that they’re due. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been involved in an exchange like the following:

Person: “Yo man check [generic rapper] out, he’s awesome”
Me: “Oh cool, play something for me”
Person plays a song with a mediocre rapper over a beat hot as Satan’s STD-infected dick while taking a piss
Person: “Pretty sick, right?”
Me: “I guess. I thought the guy was pretty whatever”
Person: “Shit, really? The beat is fucking crazy!”

Wow, I should become a playwright, I obviously have a knack for dialogue… Anyways, yeah. People listen to a song and love it because of the work that the producer put in, and the rapper whose name is on the song will get all the credit for the song. This has been happening for basically the entirety of the last decade that I’ve been listening to hip hop music, and might have been happening since even before that. I wouldn’t know though. There aren’t too many people in the general public who’ll say “Wow, I gotta find out who produced this track!” This trend doesn’t apply exclusively to hip hop either, pop music fans are probably the biggest offenders. “Hip hop heads” are different, they love to know who produce tracks because they understand that the producer is an instrumental element of the music that they listen to, pun intended. However, actual “hip hop heads” make up a small percentage of music listeners, and are probably even a small percentage of people who listen to hip hop regularly.

It’s something that I think most people don’t really think about unless they themselves make music (and even then, you’ll get the divas who don’t give a shit and attribute all of their success to their “talent”, which tends to be wailing into a mic over great beats and relying on the engineer to fix the audio).

When it comes to bands, I find that people will praise the band as a unit. Listeners will talk about how ill a guitar solo or drum solo is when it comes on, so even though the lead singer will still probably get the most notoriety, the other members do get their praise at points. Re-read that sentence and ridicule me about how obvious it is that I don’t know shit about bands. When a song is produced by someone other than the artist who “makes” the song and there’s an instrumental interlude, people don’t say “oh shit, listen to what the producer just did”. And I know some people will say “well, playing an instrument isn’t the same thing as producing something with a program so it’s not like it’s as impressive as a band member getting a solo”. Sure, it’s not the same as playing an instrument. That doesn’t change the fact that producing is really hard to do if you want to make actually good, professional-sounding beats to compete with the best of them. You need to be able to come up with catchy melodies in your own head, decide on which instrument sounds will fit the melodies the best, create a drum-line, make sure to fill the beat with sounds so that it doesn’t sound empty and amateur, add more to break up hooks and verses, chop samples in clever ways so they don’t become loops of the original…and that’s just what I know about.

I’m not a producer, so there’s sure to be more that I’m not aware of.

It doesn’t help when people like Lupe Fiasco talk about how producers get paid too much. Remember when he called out “overcharging producers” on Twitter? Sure, some producers charge a lot of money, but is that really any different from a rapper charging a lot for a guest verse? A guest rapper offers what he can to the song, which is vocals, and a producer offers what he can to the song, which is a beat. A rapper who starts getting famous and raps with other higher profile rappers charges more, and a producer who works with higher profile rappers charges more. It’s the same principle. Actually, on second thought, it’s not, because you can make a good album without any guest rappers on it, but if you can’t produce, I don’t really think you can make an album worth shit without the help of producers.

Without producers, rappers would be rapping acapella, maybe with a beat made from hitting a table or something at the most, but overall it would just be mainly vocals. I imagine that would become very monotonous, and people wouldn’t bother listening. There would be a lack of variety that can only come from different beats, and there would be a huge element missing in the emotional attachment of the music to the listeners. There’s a reason why people love listening to beat tapes but nobody really gives a fuck about acapella versions of albums… Unless they want to throw the vocals onto another beat.

You know, one that a producer made.

Not to mention, there are countless rappers who have said something along the lines of “I listen to the beat and do what it tells me”. A beat sets the tone, and can elicit a reaction in an artist that helps him or her think of what to write. I don’t know. If I, as stupid as I am, can understand that, I don’t get why Lupe can’t. Maybe he was just in his one of his “I’m gonna rap the ‘Obama is the real terrorist’ line over and over for 20 minutes, the crowd will love that!” moods. All I know is that “Overcharging producers. You’re not the rappers who have rapped on your beats. #Needed2BeSaid” can easily be flipped to “Overpaid rappers. You’re not the producers who have given you the backdrop on which you write, flow, perform, and essentially use to become famous, as opposed to just talking flatly in a vague rhythm with nothing behind your voice. #Needed2BeSaid”. Wait, I think that’s over 140 characters. God damn it.

I imagine it must be frustrating to the producers a lot of the time. Obviously they’re getting paid, and they’re earning plaques and awards for their work on albums. Sure, that’s nice, but I’m sure that if somebody is actually serious about their work, they most likely want to be at least recognized for it. I’ve read some complaints about producers putting tags on their beats. I don’t get that particular complaint. I sure as shit get irritated when DJs get a bit overzealous when tagging mixtapes, but I’m personally all for producer tags. If it’s something like the ones that Bangladesh, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, or Alchemist use, then I don’t think that it should be a problem. Nothing too loud or intrusive (unless you’re Just Blaze, in which case, you fucking deserve to have a loud tag, especially because what you hear after the tag plays is going to be absolutely sick 9 times out of 10). Something that can even add to the atmosphere of the beat (see J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League’s tag on Nas’s “No Introduction”). Or even something that plays almost like a small interlude before the song even comes on, like Mr. Porter’s “You get more for your money when you fuck with Mr. Porter” thing. That sort of thing doesn’t even get in the way of the song that’s about to play, it’s just an introduction. Anything that’s put in the beginning or end of the beat. I personally think that a producer should have a tag on at least one beat that they contribute to a rapper’s album. If there are other beats by the same producer, they don’t really need a tag in my mind (but it wouldn’t hurt). At least one though, so that it’s clearly put out there for everyone to know that that producer worked on the album. Even if it’s a collaboration album between a producer and a rapper, people really are just going to pay attention to the rapper. It doesn’t matter if the name of the producer is next to the rapper’s name, because the one that they hear talking to them is the rapper. If the producer has their name verbally stated on the track, or even just some sound effect that remains consistent throughout the music you work on with various artists, people will hopefully recognize it and make the association between his beats on different albums, and could possibly even start appreciating him.

Hearing the name on the song is a lot more effective than just crediting the producer in the liner notes, especially in an age where people don’t generally buy physical copies of albums.

I don’t want to make it seem like I’m giving producers more credit than rappers for making good music. You’re never going to hear me say that. When I listen to hip hop, I generally check more for what the rapper is saying than I do the beat. I only really pay attention more to the beat when it’s something absolutely mind-blowing, or when the rapping sucks. But the producer needs to provide the canvas for the rapper to be able to write what they write. At the same time, it’s the rappers who ultimately decide what direction they want an album to go in. They add the charisma needed for people to really become invested in the music. They write and recite the words that we all react to. Being a profitable off rapping is probably more difficult to do than doing so by being a good producer basically because of how the market works; rappers are always looking for beats, but if someone hears a rapper who sounds like other people they don’t get taken as seriously as they could. Producers are given a lot more wiggle room generally as far as the sounds they can use. Nobody really gets upset at a producer for making a beat for a pop artist, but everyone gets mad at a rapper for collaborating with the same artist. Ultimately, what I’m trying to say here before going on about 7 different tangents in one paragraph is that good hip hop music is the result of both rapper and producer. They go hand in hand. If one existed without the other, hip hop wouldn’t have become what it did, and there’s nothing that anyone could say against that.

But the rapper gets his due. I think it’s about time the producer does too.

Album Review: Flatbush Zombies – 3001: A Laced Odyssey

by Dustin

3001

7/10

This review is late. So very late. It would have felt wrong to ignore this album, though, so here we go…

3001: A Laced Odyssey is the long-time-coming debut studio album from New York based hip-hop trio Flatbush Zombies. This debut would come nearly three years after releasing a couple of mixtapes which stirred up quite a bit of buzz and helped establish a loyal fan following. Somewhat spectacularly, 3001: A Laced Odyssey sold 28,000 units in its first week. This may not sound like a lot, but for a self-released independent record it is wonderful.

You may now be asking yourself, what did this album do to be able to sell so well? And the answer is, lots of things! Most importantly the Zombies as a group established their sound on this record. While their mixtapes were well received, they were fairly chaotic. 3001: A Laced Odyssey is an incredibly cohesive album on all fronts. As a group, the three rappers build off of each other in more of a team-like fashion than fans have seen before. Even the production meshes beautifully from track to track.

This new found tightness is no doubt a product of the artistic evolution Zombie Juice, Erick the Architect, and Meechy Darko.

Zombie Juice perhaps shows the most signs of growth as an artist on 3001: A Laced Odyssey of the three group mates. Juice, at times, has been the victim of critical panning for not being able to keep up with his group-members in terms of flow or vocal presence. Fortunately, he definitely seemed to work hard at correcting these errors on this album. There are still times where Juice feels slightly weak on a track next to Meech and Erick, but the difference is not as noticeable here as it was on the Flashbush Zombies’ mixtapes.

Every day, live it like it’s it for me,
Black on black in time with my roots this is my ghetto symphony,
Shout out to my fam and my homies, we making history,
Never had a degree, but the streets made me a sicker breed.
(Zombie Juice – The Odyssey)

Erick the Architect displayed progression as both a producer and vocalist on this album. His instrumental work was solid, and probably his most most important contribution to the project as a whole. The beats are smooth, rely less on sampling, and fit together very cohesively. It was clear that he had direction when constructing the atmosphere for 3001: A Laced Odyssey. His writing still may not be the best of the group, but Erick has strengthened his vocal delivery which was a pleasant surprise.

Streets full of wolves so my appetite grew
I was hungry for this rap shit way back in high school
(Erick the Architect – A Spike Lee Joint)

Meechy Darko did about what you would expect if you’ve listened to other Flatbush Zombies’ music. His verses are punchy, gritty, and sinister sounding. He did a good job at scaling back his ultra-gruff delivery when needed, as 3001: A Laced Odyssey is a smoother sounding album than previous Zombies material. He didn’t show as much improvement as Erik or Juice, but this isn’t necessarily an issue as he was the Flatbush Zombies member with the strongest vocal presence prior to this release.

My only mission is to burn in hell and not in prison,
That’s why I’m spitting shit that make Jesus question religion,
This fan told me her parents said I sound like the devil,
To me I sound like a poor black kid from the ghetto.
(Meechy Darko – The Odyssey)

3001: A Laced Odyssey is not without its flaws. For example, Meechy Darko’s attempt at shock humor felt a little forced occasionally. That’s not to say that he should have avoided it entirely as subtle horrorcore influence has always been present in Meech’s writing, but there was the odd moment where these lines felt out of place relative to the song. As mentioned earlier, Zombie Juice also came up short on a few tracks; however, none of his underwhelming moments really stood out as terrible.

The absolute worst part of the album is probably the multiple minutes of fan messages on the last song. Admittedly it was cool for the first listen, but after that it felt like a nuisance. It would have been better suited as a whole separate outro track rather than part of a song, entirely for skipping purposes.

These things considered, 3001: A Laced Odyssey is an all-around solid debut album. For new fans, it’s a focused listen that serves as a wonderful entry point into the Flatbush Zombies’ catalog. Those who have followed the group since their mixtape material might be surprised by the more relaxed sound, but that hopefully will not deter them from listening. There are most definitely still areas that the group could improve, but 3001: A Laced Odyssey has laid a sturdy groundwork for future albums.