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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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.

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.

Album Review: Open Mike Eagle & Paul White – Hella Personal Film Festival

by Dustin

HPFF

7.75/10

After kicking off the month of March by winning the incredibly prestigious Extraordinary Nobodies Artist of the Month nod, Open Mike Eagle looked to have a strong finish to the month with his brand new full length album. Having found a home for his unique brand of “art rap” on Mello Music Group, Mike set the bar high for himself with the one-two album-extended play punch of Dark Comedy and A Special Episode Of. You may be asking, “did he follow up these two projects with another exceptional album”? Well, if you had paid attention to the little score at the top you would already know that yes, yes he did.

The album is also titled Hella Personal Film Festival. So yeah, that’s a thing too.

Hella Personal Film Festival listens almost conceptually, with every track being a movie script to some aspect of Open Mike Eagle’s life. He’s always been a very relatable artist, yet this album manages to push that a little further. Though Mike keeps his absurd, witty, and sometimes sarcastic approach to analysis, it becomes obvious right from the opening track that this project will be at times more serious and introspective. There are moments on Hella Personal Film Festival that seem to put him at his most vulnerable, exposing scars and concerns to the listener.

I heard that when you in a fucked up space,
No one can hear you signal help,
I tried to set them straight,
And tell them I self medicate,
All they saw’s a glitchy video,
But then I never show my cards,
Instead I write for stealth,
Blah blah blah, I cry for help,
All this bellyaching’s just to say,
My belly’s hurting after all.
Admitting the Endorphin Addiction

At times it did feel like Mike had lost some of the vocal energy that he had in abundance on Dark Comedy, but the more somber approached fit the subject matter well. His delivery at times felt more similar to Rappers Will Die of Natural Causes than to his newer work, which was a bit surprising at first. Don’t take that to mean that he took a step backwards though, because that couldn’t be less true. Open Mike Eagle’s writing, emotional awareness, and presence on Hella Personal Film Festival has quite clearly progressed. It’s just more closely related to his older records in terms of overall sound.

The album only has two guest features, Aesop Rock and Hemlock Ernst (the rap personal of Future Islands’ Sam Herring) on “I Went Outside Today” and “Protectors of the Heat” respectively. This selective use of guests artists is fairly typical for an Open Mike Eagle album, and both managed to add something to the songs on which they were featured; however, Aesop probably had the more interesting verse of the two with his ever-so-confusing charm. Busdriver also makes a quick appearance at the end of “Dang is Invincible” where he says a grand total of nine or ten words. He’s not listed as a feature, but the voice is unmistakable.

Gotta admit it’s hard to feel good without being narcissistic,
Did the whole tour and didn’t get a parking ticket,
Looked in my heart and there wasn’t no darkness in it,
Feel awesome dude, found some wind to throw caution to!
Dang is Invincible

Production also really has to be discussed for this album as it was a collaborative effort with UK based music producer Paul White. White is perhaps most well known for his work with Danny Brown will on both XXX and Old. He has also provided production for the likes of Homeboy Sandman and Guilty Simpson. As far as the instrumentation on this album, he did a wonderful job at providing beats which compliment Open Mike Eagle’s voice. The sound is somewhat more conventional that most of Mike’s discography, but in this case that is certainly not a bad thing. There is not a single instrumental on Hella Personal Film Festival which feels out of place. They flow into each other very nicely, building a cohesive atmosphere throughout.

If you were looking for powerful booming production though, you wont find it here. It would be kind of questionable to be looking for bangers on Open Mike Eagle album in general because that’s not really his style, but hey, it was worth a mention.

Living from check to check, I keep checking,
Incoming call, directly reject it,
If you want to talk, suggest you leave message,
I check, check, check like every three seconds,
I’m recording right now and I’m checking between takes,
Every notification that my phone machine makes,
I put it down whenever, but it’s never a clean break,
I should get a heavy phone and pretend it’s a free weight.
Check to Check

Basically, if you are a fan of Open Mike Eagle’s previous work it’s not a stretch to say that you’ll enjoy what Hella Personal Film Festival has to offer. It might not be the best jumping off point for a new listener, as it is surprisingly more dense than an album like Dark Comedy (which is probably the easiest album in Mike’s discography to jump into in terms of lyrics and overall sound). If you’re looking for an record that takes multiple listens to fully digest, but still offers some comedic relief, then Hella Personal Film Festival may just fit your taste perfectly.

Just be sure to give it more than a single spin (you’ll want to anyway).

Artist of the Month: Open Mike Eagle

by Dustin

OME

Have you ever found yourself sitting at home wishing you had music in your library that you could really relate with? Not just emotionally, but also in terms of the small day to day things you want to tell people, but don’t because you’re afraid of boring your friends with another complaint about your kids smearing pasta into the couch? If this is something you’ve been looking for in music, look no further than the Chicago-born-Los Angeles-based Open Mike Eagle.

Also, he is Extraordinary Nobodies’ featured artist for March 2016! So, if that’s a deciding factor for you, now you know that you’ll enjoy his music.

Finding his beginnings with Project Blowed and Hellfyre Club, Open Mike Eagle now delivers his unique brand of any-man rap through Mello Music Group. His sound has evolved since he released his full length solo debut in 2010, Unapologetic Art Rap, but one thing has remained consistent: Mike is not afraid to put a musical spin on the small aspects of life that many will find themselves relating to easily. Perhaps most impressive is that he manages to take these things, which may seem banal, and turn them into entertaining music.

It’s something that seems rare for rappers to do, focusing on the small experiences that are often overlooked. At the same time, it’s refreshing and makes Open Mike Eagle seem like one of the most down to earth artists out.

G-g-get up and dance,
G-g-get up and dance,
I w-w-wipe my son’s ass,
And get shit on my hands,
Qualifiers

Putting the quirkiness aside, he is also talented at grabbing listeners through common struggles. Student debt, concern over the current social climate, and general anxieties are topics that frequently find their way into Open Mike Eagle’s music. He’s personal, but in a tasteful way.

‘Cause I was studying brine shrimp and parasites,
And learning how to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit,
With thick glasses and everything,
Supposed to have big cash when I’m seventeen,
From working in research labs with acetylene torches,
And a flying Porsche with leather wings,
But looking back I wasn’t too clever,
Cause I grew up to be the smartest broke dude ever .
Rent Party Revolution

It should also be noted that his production choices are generally fantastic. You won’t find big production in Mike’s work, the beats are generally somewhat simple in nature; however, they’re weird, buzzy, and suit his sound perfectly. Though he uses a variety of producers on his projects, fans will recognize names like Oddisee and Exile in the production credits of Open Mike Eagles work.

In fact, he even gave self producing a try on Time & Materials, the collaborative effort between Mike and follow whimsical rapper Serengeti. Though he won’t be producing his next full length album, he showed promise and raw talent as a producer.

Cause people want you to join ’em in a bad dream,
Miserable motherfuckers are quick to start a tag team,
I was pretty close to tapping out, they almost had me.
Bright Green Light

His music is very much alternative, and a lot of the time he’ll switch from straight rapping to songs that feature a singing-focused delivery. Is it perfect? Nope, but he does make it work with his music very well. He’s not afraid to step outside of his comfort zone and try something different (such as creating a concept album like Time & Materials with Serengeti). His releases feel cohesive, yet they all manage to have a distinct flavor.

It’s a good flavor, but one you wouldn’t expect, like pistachio ice cream. Open Mike Eagle’s music is pistachio ice cream. You heard it here first.

I’m far away from my house, wrote this song in the hotel room,
On a day of the show, got canceled, now this room feels like Bellevue,
Jupiter’s got twelve moons and there’s life forms on a couple of them,
Give a fuck if my plans fell through, if I’m deep purple or pale blue.
Big Pretty Bridges (3 Days off in Albuquerque)

Give him a look, at the very least you can say you tried something new. Isn’t that what music is all about?

A Reflection on Definitive Jux

by Dustin

In February of 2009 El-P would take to the internet to announce the permanent hiatus of Definitive Jux. A label which he co-founded after a falling out with Rawkus Records, where he previously was signed as a member of Company Flow. Definitive Jux would quickly establish itself as a powerhouse in the independent hip-hop world through many critically acclaimed releases at the start of the millennium.

Definitive Jux had an extensive discography over eleven years of operation. Today, in a celebration of life (in the loosest sense), we will take a look at four of the most important releases from the label. These are not necessarily the best records to come from El-P’s underground giant, but those which had a special significance.

thecoldvein

Cannibal Ox – The Cold Vein

According to a barely comprehensible letter written by Vast Aire about his beef with El-P in 2009, Cannibal Ox were not officially signed to Definitive Jux when The Cold Vein was released (though the validity of this statement can definitely be brought into question); however, it was the album that established the label as a major player in independent hip-hop.

It pushed boundaries in terms of production and vocal deliveries. The Cold Vein sold more than the label had predicted (over 60,000 copies as of 2012) and ended up being widely regarded as an underground classic, making it the foundational record in the Definitive Jux discography.

The greatest shame is that Cannibal Ox would go on to never release another album on the label. The group spiraled into dysfunction between 2002 and 2003, and eventually dropped from Definitive Jux. Vordul Mega began struggling with mental health and substance abuse issues, and Vast Aire began lashing out at members of Definitive Jux for various reasons (many of which were proven to be false) until sometime in 2011.

The group finally self-released their sophomore album fifteen years after The Cold Vein, yet it ultimately fell short.

Labordays

Aesop Rock – Labor Days

The Cold Vein was the album that really started it all, but Aesop Rock’s Labor Days would be the release that proved El-P’s label would not be a one hit wonder. Boasting gritty alternative-New York style production by Aesop Rock and longtime collaborator Blockhead, the concept album about America’s working class would far exceed label expectations.

One single from the album, Daylight, would be such a hit that it spawned an extended play sharing the same name the following year. Labor Days was the album that kept momentum rolling for the label, and pushed them forward into a string of critically acclaimed albums from multiple artists through the early 2000s.

Perhaps as importantly, this was Aesop Rock’s full length debut on Definitive Jux. Even though his final album release on the label would come in 2007, Aesop was perhaps one of the most prominent members on the Definitive Jux roster. Where Cannibal Ox would slow to a stop following their debut, Aesop Rock continued to put out quality releases on the label that sold respectably.

Illsleepwhenyouredead

El-P – I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead

I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead‘s release was an important transitional moment for El-P’s sound, but also for Definitive Jux. Unfortunately it would mark the beginning of the end for the label. I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead would ultimately spawn the final run of releases from big name artists in the New York collective. Aesop Rock, Rob Sonic, and Cage would all also contribute one final album a piece. Along with a few small scale albums and regional releases (often shared with other independent labels), these would be the last albums of Definitive Jux.

I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead was also co-founder and figurehead, El-P’s, final album on the label. Even though it didn’t set Definitive Jux up for success like The Cold Vein, propel the label forward like Labor Days, or mark the end of an era like King of Hearts, I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead serves as an important part of the label’s time line.

Kingofhearts

Camu Tao – King of Hearts

Though Camu Tao’s King of Hearts was not up to the same standard of quality as I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, it is arguably the most important release in the Defintive Jux catalog. This would be the final release for the label, but more importantly the final release for Camu Tao. Having passed away after a battle with cancer, this album would be a sampler of unfinished snippets cleaned up by El-P following Camu’s death.

To put it politely, the album is incredibly rough; however, behind the roughness it seemed as if he was onto something with the sound. The amount of genre blending on the King of Hearts album is almost overwhelming. There are moments that sound electronic, hip-hop, and there even seems to be a significant amount of alternative rock influence.

As unfortunate as the circumstances were leading up to its release, King of Hearts serves as a fantastic bookend to the Definitive Jux era. Even in its unfinished state the album encompassed everything the label encouraged: it was innovate, off-kilter, and didn’t try to follow anyone’s lead.