Album Review: clipping. – Splendor & Misery

by Dustin

sm

8.5/10

It definitely seems as if we’ve written about clipping. a lot, but they’re one of the most active and unique rap groups out current. Who can blame us? Anyway…

To say that Daveed Diggs is popular right now would be an understatement. Fortunately, for fans of the Los Angeles based experimental rap trio clipping., he’s not abandoned his work in the world of weird. With an EP (Wriggle) already under their belt for the year, clipping. is back again with a full length followup to 2014’s CLPPNG. Released under Sub Pop Records and popular experimental outfit Deathbomb Arc, Splendor & Misery looks to keep clipping.’s hot-streak of releases at full steam.

With Splendor & Misery, clipping. took a step in a different direction from previous releases. The album follows the story of the sole survivor of an uprising, his life on an interstellar transport ship, and his relationship with the on-board computer. The concept is unique, and provided Digg’s the opportunity to flex his storytelling ability at every turn. He flawlessly maneuvers over the wild production, proving time and time again that he is one of the more versatile emcees in hip-hop. Tracks like “Baby Don’t Sleep” are beautifully unnerving, and it big part of this is Daveed’s vocal control and delivery. All in all, a wonderful vocal performance throughout the entirety of Splendor & Misery.

No home, you’ve been there,
Clearly off safety,
No destination,
No time for waiting,
Saviors are fiction,
Memories fading,
like ghosts, ghosts, go.
(Baby Don’t Sleep)

The production is basically what is to be expected from a clipping. album. It’s abrasive, loud, and fuzzy. The main difference on Splendor & Misery is that the instrumentals tend to be more spaced out than a lot of their previous work. Given the concept of the album, this is completely understandable and sets a well defined mood behind Deveed’s vocals. Atmosphere is the main strength of the production on this album. Though it might not necessarily carry that touch of traditional hip-hop the group is known for, the instrumentation is well execute. Hudson and Snipes rarely disappoint.

Though the album is a fantastic piece of art-rap, Splendor & Misery does have one minor flaw. There was a single moment which did not feel as though it fit the overall sound of the record. “Story 5” . Coming off a long run of incredibly cohesive work, the acapella felt very out of place. Unlike the previous “story” tracks on clipping. releases, it was not a standout track; regardless, It is still a pleasant listen and quite interesting, but in the grander picture of Splendor & Misery it was a jarring shift in sound.

Listeners who go into Splendor & Misery expecting the heavy hitting blend of conventional rap and noise may be in for a bit of a shock. This album is definitely a departure from the norm for clipping. as a group. Splendor & Misery should be approached as a conceptual art album, and not put in the same category as their previous works. Fortunately, for those who find themselves missing the sounds clipping. played with on previous releases the EP from earlier this year is jam packed with heavy, easier to digest songs.

This ain’t healthy to be held to blame,
Once you help me, now you abandon me,
What you’re tellin’ me by not tellin’ me?,
Anything, anything,
I’d give anything if you’d say my name,
Don’t you play with me, it’s an emergency.
(Break the Glass)

Don’t discredit Splendor & Misery for that reason, however. This album seems to be the moment that clipping. really discovered who they are as artists. From a conceptual standpoint this is the groups strongest effort. It was an absolute treat to see them tapping into some hidden potential. They took a risk with a release that is unconventional even for clipping., and it paid off with a solid final product.

East Coast Rapper MCrv Discusses Life as a Working Class Hip-Hop Artist

by Dustin

mcrv-glitched-9-10-2016-5-17-32-pm

The east coast has been a powerhouse in rap for as long as the genre is old. Under the surface, the east coast has developed some of the most unique underground acts of all time. Of these, Definitive Jux was one of the most notable throughout the 2000s. Lead by independent hip-hop star El-P, the Jux crew was consistently putting out their unique brand of experimental east coast rap.

Nearly seven years after the label was put on indefinite hiatus, those influenced by Definitive Jux are starting to find their own voice in hip-hop. MCrv is one of these rappers. A student of the independent hip-hop scene, MCrv spoke with us on life as a working class rapper, balancing family life, and how he sees his own music.

Read the interview below, and then go ahead and check out MCrv on Twitter, Bandcamp, and Facebook.

EN: I figure we should probably start with the basics to help people learn about you as an artist, if that’s okay with you. How long ago was it that you started rapping, and how did you get interested in it?

MCrv: I started rapping when I was about 15. I’m 25 now… So, ten years I guess. I didn’t really take it serious until I was 20 or 21. It was just for fun with two friends of mine, Dan and Tony. We we bored teenagers, [and] I was like: “lets make a rap song”.

Dan played drums, Tony did bass, and I rapped. They were [just] dumb songs about high school and partying. we stopped after five six songs until I turned 17 and a friend gave me a copy of Hell’s Winter and Labor days and I found out these dudes were making music themselves and rapping about all sorts of shit. I was fascinated. So my senior year of high school (2008-2009) I started learning how to use GarageBand and [my keyboard], and writing lyrics. And [I was also] discovering more artists on Definitive Jux and Rhymesayers, and anyone they collaborated with.

Some of my first ideas were made at the school computers in Manville High. Once I learned I could record at home, I was obsessed with saving for my own studio. [However], before I graduated I got into some trouble with my parents about abusing prescription pills. I left my parents house moved in with my grandparents because there was so much tension; everyone thought I had addiction problems. It was more experimental, but it didn’t matter [because] I broke their trust… It was hard after high school. I ended up doing out-patient rehab before I left New Jersey, and learned a lot about addicts. [I] realized I had potential to end up down that road, but never had the desire.

While all this drama was going on I kept [trying] ideas on my Yamaha keyboard, and recording vocals in Audacity with a ten dollar mic. I would record my beats off the keyboard speakers into Audacity then record my vocals [to] hear my ideas.

Some time went by and I decided to move to New York state with some family after living in New Jersey for 18 years. [Mostly] to start fresh and find some solid ground, since things were rough with my immediate family. I got a job and stayed focused on saving money. Within a year I saved enough money to buy myself an iMac and Pro Tools! I also picked up an Axiom 49 and I started to teach myself how to record using Pro Tools when I was about 19.

EN: That’s pretty crazy, so now have you got yourself a little home-studio setup? I noticed listening to your tape that it was super clean quality wise, moreso than I notice from a lot of rappers on the do-it-yourself path.

MCrv: Yeah, I have my own set up at home, and thank you. I’ve worked really hard to show progress in the quality of my music. My set up is realy simple: two monitors, an interface, an Axiom 49, and I switched recently from Pro Tools to Logic which has been great. I have a mic that I record my rough vocals on at home, but for all my final vocal tracks and final mixing I go to my friend Jim Servedio at his home studio and he puts his ears and hands in… He actually sold me my equipment when I moved to New York six years ago, and he’s been helping me with my mixes and recording ever since. [Jim] has been working with music and studios for almost 30 years, and we have a natural chemistry in the studio as far as what we are looking for sound wise. It hasn’t been easy, but he’s been patient and has allowed me to grow at my own pace.

EN: It’s great you’ve got a bit of a mentor in that regard though; to me, it seems like audio quality holds back a lot of young artists. You’ve already surpassed that hurdle. Moving onto influences for a moment, I remember when I first messaged you we talked about Colors and Sounds having a bit of an early Definitive Jux sound. You kind of came up on artists from that era and roster, correct?

MCrv: I’m [just] really lucky to have Jim. He has helped me so much… I don’t think I would know as much about the actual process of music making if it weren’t for him.

Yeah, I feel like I got really into it all when None Shall Pass, I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead and Depart From Me were still fresh. People started realizing there was more to underground rap than what they previously thought. At least that was my take [on it].

EN: Man, you had to go and name drop I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead haha. That’s my favorite album of all time, by far. It got me through a really rough period in life. Anyway, more to the point. You’ve definitely got influences, but your style is very much your own. Is it important for you to develop a unique sound for yourself?

MCrv: That album helped me a lot too! [Particularly] during my teen years and early twenties. “The Overly Dramatic Truth” [off I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead] still brings me back to those feelings.

And yeah, it is very important for me to have a unique sound for myself. That’s what drew me to Def Jux so much. Each dude had their own style [and] their own niche that I could get lost in and appreciate. I study those things, and have found what I like in myself. I [try to] bring [that] out in my music, and find my own signature traits that make MCrv, MCrv.

I still find it fascinating that you were able to dissect my influences based on my music, because anyone who knows me, like my close friends, if you asked [them] “what rapper or label does mcrv appreciate?”, they would say Aesop Rock, Def Jux, or Rhymesayers [laughs].

EN: Ah man, when I heard it the first time I was like this dudes got a super unique sound but at the same time there’s a flavor to this music that I recognize. So I spun it again, and then put on Bazooka Tooth I think and I was like holy shit, he sounds like he could have been a Def Jukie back in the day [laughs].

MCrv: Dude, thats crazy! I told myself when I made Colors and Sounds that this was my Bazooka Tooth [laughs].

EN: Then at that point, because that’s where my music tastes are pretty firmly I needed to talk to you for the site [laughs]. Like, I feel that even though Def Jux was pretty big, you don’t see a lot of the new generation building on that sound. (even thought the indie scene is strong as ever). Would you agree?

MCrv: I would totally agree. I feel I hear a lot of underground and commercial elements mixed together in a lot of the new generation stuff. I feel like there is a lot of risk in the music those [Def Jux] artists put out. There is meaning in their every sound and word. The messages and subject matters are like nothing any other artists have touched. There is a very peculiar way they’ve made music that I really don’t hear in others.

EN: I guess you’re somewhat of a revivalist in that way then, because it feels like that era ended so abruptly [laughs]. So tell me a bit about the process of your album, how long did you work on it and such?

MCrv: [Laughs] That’s a sweet thought… Trust me, I would love to see that label shine through again. I’m no savior though, I just know who I have to pay my respects to because those dudes showed me life pretty much… They taught me about life.

I worked on Colors and Sounds for about a year. I recorded everything at home… I made all the beats first and then wrote each song. [I] rehearsed them at home, and once I knew them well enough I took them to Jims house. We mixed the beats there, [and] then I record my vocals in his booth and we sat and mixed them in together. We’d usually go back a few days later and mix [again], and then once we were happy with [it] we’d do a little mastering.

[Occasionally] I write lyrics before the beat, but most of the time I make a beat then write the song. I enjoy creating the scene first. The little world all this shit is about to be said in, [and] then I just say it.

EN: Was there a particular place the album came from emotionally, or were you creating purely on your drive to make music?

MCrv: I had made eight songs before Colors and Sounds. They were about my depression, my separation from my family, and songs about how I found music and how I made it home. Colors and Sounds was kind of my acceptance of all that, [plus] realizing I got past it and can move on. I was able to deal with my depression with certain songs like “Bangarang” and “When the Heart Unfolds”.

Other times I wanted to have fun and be creative like “Spacemandude – A Galactic Tale” where I came up with a story for “Spacemandude” who’s like a secret-agent-spaceman, [and his] rival “Supreme Cream”.

Then there is an actual love song called “Unexpected Beauty” that I made for my girlfriend, who is also the mother of my beautiful daughter. [This] later led to “Say Grace”, which is the last track on the album. I made [it] for my daughter Ramona Grace.

Emotionally I was everywhere a little bit. Us expecting a child changed my attitude and mindset from focusing on how to feel better about my surroundings and current being, to realizing I’m going to be a father.

EN: Is there a goal for you, as far as evolution as an artist? Do you want your sound to continually grow and evolve with each release?

MCrv: Yes of course, I feel growing and making progress is very important to me. In all aspects really. [From] the actual recording and technical parts, to actually capturing my feelings with instruments, to allowing myself to try new rhyme schemes. I feel I have evolved with each release. Every time I make a new project (or collection of songs) my goal is to not just make it better than what I previously made, but to [also] implement the new things I’ve learned. And also to do some of the things I didn’t fit in on the previous project.

I feel like my evolution has been real natural, and I make what I feel comfortable with.

EN: That’s really admirable, to feel comfortable with the sound you’ve developed but still be focused on evolving naturally. What’s next for you, do you think? Do you hope to release more albums going forward?

MCrv: Yeah, I’ve felt like I’ve developed my own style. I know what my beats sound like, and I know how they could sound if I keep making progress like I intend.

Right now I’m about to record a five song EP I have been working on. A friend of mine helped with some of the instrumentation for each song. I played with some random ideas when I first got Logic, and he would hear what I had so far and add a part. Then I would fit that in, and build the track. I plan on releasing it sometime early fall. Its called Cluttered Souls. Its probably my favorite thing I’ve made so far… there are a couple songs on there were I feel I stepped out of my box and spoke up.

Also I’ve been working on new beats. I’m constantly working on something. I don’t get a lot of beats sent to me. I have a few friends who I have some things in the works with, but nothing really solid. I have a few singles I wanna release too. Just some different things I have been experimenting with. So really I’m just continuing my journey…

I think my next real goal is to make an album. I have one planned out and am very excited to start building solid foundations. I have ideas already rolling, but that’s probably what will consume most of my time after summer is out and the seasons change.

EN: I saw on your Facebook that you do some live shows. What’s that experience like for you as an independent artist?

MCrv: Its been pretty awesome to perform. I’ve done a bunch of open mics around central New York and those have been fun. Its usually really quiet and I’m use to being the only rap act. Most of the time its people singing with an acoustic, singing behind a track, or reading poetry. When I wait my turn to go up I get anxious and excited, ’cause its my chance to change things up and create a new environment for ten minutes. People are pretty respectful. There isn’t a lot rapping, like I said, so its cool to see people listen and nod or move a little to the music even if rap isn’t their thing.

I did an open mic one night in Binghamton and I felt really good about my performance. My only goal that night was to have fun and feel good about my songs. I did just that and it went very well. This dude Chris who writes for the Carousel Paper asked me if I wanted to open for this band, Telekinetic Walrus, so I took that opportunity. That was fun too. I’m pretty private about things. I don’t have a lot of friends I have a few close ones, and if everyone has to work (including my girlfriend) I’m on my own [laughs]. So it was me [with] my backpack, some CDs, and a laptop with my set in a playlist. I met some people and greeted everyone then I sat quietly in the bar drinking a glass of water [laughs].

I don’t drink or go to bars so everyone’s drinking around me and I’m sitting there alone listening to music. When it came time to go up, I introduced myself and interacted with the people. Everyone was really loud [laughs], they were all drinking and socializing. They didn’t know me or what I had to offer so when I started doing my songs it was loud… Not to mention the sound man had no monitors for us to hear ourselves (let alone care about how anything sounded) so it was hard to hear my music.

I did feel really good about my performance and making sure the people were still with me in some way despite the fact they couldn’t care less about what I was doing [laughs]. There were a few people who were really interested and listening to what I was saying though. I had a guy come up to me and thank me for what I did. He told me he really related and heard where I was coming from. We talked for a bit about how much time it takes to make music and all that then asked me for a CD, and a few other people grabbed CDs. Its been a pretty good experience so far. I really focus on performing my best and approaching people with a sincere and clear presence to get them to feel something.

EN: Is it intimidating to put yourself out there, in live shows, as a smaller-scale independent artist?

MCrv: Initially it was. A lot of that was because all my music and performing falls on me. I would be nervous because I had doubt’s like “what could one dude doing all this on his own have to offer people”? But once I got more comfortable with myself and people’s reactions when I perform, I realized there was nothing to be afraid of except not continuing to grow as an artist and overcoming [those] fears.

I mean, certain aspects are still intimidating. I’m not very well known or anything. When people go from listening to a song or two, then all I hear is talking during my performance, it kinda crushes you a bit… But, I try not to let it discourage me too much. Plus there are usually a few people who really are paying attention. All I can do is my best, and appreciate the time I get.

Which I do, very much [laughs].

EN: As a working class rapper, do you find it hard to balance other responsibilities while also finding time to work on your art?

MCrv: Yeah, sometimes it is difficult to balance everything. My girlfriend and I both work full time. The days she works late it is just my daughter and myself at home. Once I’m outta work I make sure the house is picked up, my animals are fed and watered, and I make sure my daughter is happy and full at all times.

Its been a bit of an adjustment since I’ve become a father. I could have plans to work on a beat or write and if Ramona needs to be fed, or she just simply wants me to hold her I put my music aside until I feel she is content. I wouldn’t trade any of it for anything though.

It’s hard work coming home from a job, raising a family, and trying to build something that’s going to last a lifetime (or at least hope it does), but it’s all worth it. I feel all the responsibility and pressure has helped me grow as a person. I have been able to value my personal time, and the time I have with my family. Once you find a routine (and make changes to that routine as new things arise) that sense of fulfillment is like no other. At least that’s what I’ve come to learn.

I’ve always been pretty disciplined with my music making and managing my time. Ask any of my friends [laughs]. They haven’t seen me in two months because I’m focused on my next project. I write myself lists of what I need with each song, and ideas I want to incorporate so I don’t have to think about it as much when I’m not working on them. Any little thing I can do to help keep organized I try to utilize.

EN: I respect that so much, the determination to still put in work musically while making sure your daughter comes first. That’s something I can never say anything bad about. Okay, now I’ve gotta ask the question I ask everyone as we wrap this up. Who are your five dream collaborations, dead or alive?

MCrv: I appreciate that man, thank you.

[Laughs] I’ve never thought about that much. I’m always like “my heroes don’t wanna fuck with me” [laughs]. Aesop Rock for sure. I always dreamed about him rapping on one of my tracks when I felt I was ready. I don’t think I’ll ever be ready [laughs].

I would also love to do a song with Blueprint. He’s been someone I listen to and followed for years. 1988 was an album I rapped along to when I really started taking song crafting more serious.

MF DOOM as well. I love all his music no matter what alias.

I would really love to do a song with Busdriver. That dude has the craziest beats and flows and I feel like that would be a challenge.

Blockhead would be another one for me. He use to make beats for Aesop, and has made great instrumental projects and other collaborative albums that rock.

EN: Ah man, I know I said we were closing it up but I have to ask this too because I’m a huge Busdriver fan and I see so little discussion about him. What’s your favorite album of his? I’ve been in love with Perfect Hair since it dropped, and Temporary Forever is a classic.

MCrv: Oh man, I really love both those albums. RoadKillOverCoat is probably my favorite album by Busdriver, [it has] so many great songs. Thumbs was great as well one of the best albums of 2015 hands down.

EN: Thumbs was dope too! I actually bought the cassette release of it, it’s pretty sick. Alright man, it’s time for the final question, but first I’d just like to really thank you again for doing this. If you had to describe what you bring to the table as a rapper (to convince someone to listen) what would you say?

MCrv: Well thank you my man for taking the time to get to know me a little, and [for] taking interest in the music and process. I very much appreciate it, its been fun having you throw questions at me.

To answer your question, I would have to say change. I usually write about things I’m going through or circumstances that need to change or evolve if you will. I am always striving to make natural progress with what I have in this life, and change is a part of that on a constant basis. I feel each song I tackle something I’m adjusting to, or I am accepting about the world or myself.

When I finish a song I feel grounded. I feel like the person I know I can be, want to be, and will be as long as I continue to learn and make adjustments (change) when necessary. I’ve always been a dude to make plans with set times and deadlines. That works to a degree, but there is always a natural flow of things and left turns to be made when least expected.

Album Review: Ka – Honor Killed the Samurai

by Dustin

HKTS

8.75/10

It seems as if Ka has been on a roll since his debut solo album release in 2008. The gritty Brownsville emcee has totaled three solo albums (prior to Honor Killed the Samurai), two extended plays, and a collaborative album under the name Dr. Yen Lo. All have been met with positive critical reviews, and have garnered him an impressive underground fan base. As mentioned, he’s recently released Honor Killed the Samurai. This is his first full length solo album since 2013’s The Night’s Gambit, but he’s kept fans eagerly anticipating it with collaborative efforts and a handful of singles.

It’s finally here however, and it definitely lives up to the standard Ka has established throughout his discography.

When approaching any of Ka’s work, it should be expected that you will have to rewind and replay tracks multiple times to catch all the little details. This is true for Honor Killed the Samurai. With the focus being primarily on story telling lyrics, it isn’t the type of album that one can digest quickly. There is a lot of meat to chew on, and honestly this makes it quite wonderful to revisit. Ka’s presence on the album is most similar to that of a spoken word poet.

I strained to obtain so I could give more,
Most dangerous when there was nothing to live for.
(Conflicted)

Additionally, the production on Honor Killed the Samurai provides a splendid backdrop. The instrumentation feels relatively minimal; however, it’s quickly evident that it was the perfect choice for the overall feel of the album. There’s a degree of consistency to the production that creates a wonderfully cohesive environment behind Ka’s vocals. Though the production is minimalistic, it is a beautiful simplicity. All the tracks sound smooth, there is not an abrasive moment in the duration of Honor Killed the Samurai.

At the end of the day, Ka is the definition of a rapper’s rapper. Those obsessed with storytelling and complex (yet coherent) rhyme schemes will fall in love with this album. He’s immensely talented at painting a vivid scene, and he oozes technical writing ability. That being said, if you’re looking for an absent minded listen (which there is absolutely nothing wrong with), this is not the album for you. The focus is so narrowed on vocals that the listener has to be prepared to pay attention. It’s a rewarding listen, but not an easy one.

So I stood on mine, during the hoodest time,
Was a nightmare, felt like life here was as good as dying,
We was born in the thorns, few arose,
Once a town’s noose, now in soundproofs pursuing golds.
(Mourn at Night)

In a moment of stunning unprofessionalism, it seems fitting to close this with a statement aimed at the New York Post. If you cannot separate the music of a highly regarded story-teller from their personal lives, that is your issue. Do not attempt to write a smear piece on the artist. Simply because Ka writes about things street relate (perhaps things he’s seen, or grown up around), does not make him any less of a firefighter. He’s doing a job most are not brave enough to do, and should be celebrated as such. Not shamed for producing art that many love.

To the fans who voiced their displeasure, kudos. The author at the New York Post showed so little journalistic integrity, and it was beautiful to witness fans standing up for an artist over an injustice. Hopefully those who stood up for Ka also go out and support this project. Honor Killed the Samurai is very much worth the purchase.

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.

Apu Rambles: Sex, Money, & Drugs

by Apu (yeah, he’s alive)

rhh

Well shit, it’s been a while. I’m sure most of the readers of this little blog here were pretty happy with not having the site polluted with my awfulness for the last 3 months or so…I really just didn’t have any motivation to write anything. Maybe it’s because I mentally checked out after school ended, and now that I’m back in a course I’ve got more activity happening in my brain, thus creating the desire to write. Although the more likely explanation for my writing tonight is probably liquor. Regardless, I’ve got something new for you to read and roll your eyes at. Although it might be shorter than normal so there’s that.

As I may or may not have talked about at some point in any one of my fairly insignificant additions to this blog, I started listening to hip hop music around the time of Youtube’s creation. It was pretty good for me, as a person who had next to nobody to discuss hip hop music with. I spent a lot of time on Youtube looking for more music to listen to. At the beginning, I spent my time listening to a lot of Eminem and D-12. Over the next couple of years I did branch out to others like 2Pac, Nas, and others who I could list if I didn’t want to just shut up and get on with my story. While viewing videos (which were usually just audio with stills of incorrect album covers) by the artists I was listening to, I would find myself going down into the comment section. I started to notice a certain pattern in the comments to the artists I was listening to. There would be one comment that would almost always pop up. It’s a statement that I have nightmares about that involve knives, lube, and Mountain Dew. It’s what you’ll probably see coming from “real hip hop” heads. It’s toxic.

“He raps about real life and struggle, not bitches, drugs, and money like everyone else does!”

Jesus Christ, I hate myself for just typing that.

Now, I’m not going to lie and say I didn’t agree with that for a period of time. For a good 3 or 4 years I had that same sort of mindset. But now that I’m not a shitty 15 year old kid anymore, I realize how stupid it is to not listen to some rappers or songs because they’re not meaningful.

NOT EVERYTHING NEEDS TO HAVE MEANING TO IT.

Crazy, right?

I don’t know. I guess I understand the reasoning behind the idea that music needs to be deep. A lot of the time when I’m in a shitty mood (so most of the time) it’s nice to listen to something with a message behind it that I can relate to. Actually, it’s also pretty nice to listen to a song that I can’t relate to, but can still feel bitter over. It sort of validates the way I’m feeling or the way I think I’d feel if I were in a certain situation. It creates a sort of bond between listener and artist that makes the listener feel like he or she (hooray for gender equal descriptions!) is less alone. I get it. I’ve felt that, plenty of times. It’s definitely something that should be encouraged, as it’s almost a more intimate bond than any friendship or other sorts of relationships can create, because it’s your own raw emotion that you can feel and express without any fear of judgement from others, since there’s nobody else involved in listening to a song. I can’t tell you how often I will sometimes randomly just get misty-eyed for no reason, just because I’m still not the most mentally healthy person in the world and I hear something in music that triggers a raw emotional response.

However (I’ll say it again for extra emphasis since I’m terrible at getting my point across with all the tangents I can’t help but take), that doesn’t mean that all music needs to have a meaning to it. Far from it, actually.

Remember when I did that article on Prof and mentioned how I was going through shit? One of the reasons I gravitated towards Prof almost exclusively for 4 months or so is because he made a tone of ignorant music that I could just listen to, chill to, chuckle to, and ignore my pain to. Sure, Prof releases a lot of emotional shit. “A Month From Now” still puts me in a trance every time I listen to it, and it’s been at least 3 months since I first discovered it. But a lot of the time, I’ll throw on “Apeshit” or “Roughneck” when I’m feeling shitty instead. I don’t need to constantly be reminded how fucked up my mood is by listening to a song that matches it. Sometimes I need to just listen to something that has absolutely nothing to do with anything, just because it’s fun. How does keeping myself down with sad and dark music help me in any way move on?

Whatever happened to “laughter is the best medicine”? Does that suddenly stop applying when it comes to hip hop? This genre is absolutely incredible and I’ll love it forever, but I swear, some of the fans are just fucking idiots. It’s like they want to wallow in their own misery with the artists they listen to, or reinforce the fact that the world is totally and completely screwed and that we’re headed towards destruction (a topic that I can probably talk about forever, but doesn’t apply to this piece much more than that one sentence).

I don’t know where this “ugh this has no substance” mindset came from, and I wish I did. Not everything needs to make you think. I don’t really care if my opinion on this matter makes me come off as even stupider than you all probably already thought I was, but I’d rather read if I wanted to think (and trust me, I read plenty, I love reading). People can tell me that’s retarded all they want, because I’m sure that those same people probably don’t fucking read to begin with. If I’m really, really sad, I’ll listen to something that I can relate to, something powerful that’s cathartic for me to listen to. But if I’m just feeling down like normal, I probably want to listen to something that’ll get me in better spirits and uplift me.

It’s almost sad how much people hate to listen to lighthearted, meaningless music. People will essentially dismiss artists like Lil Wayne, not because of skill levels or anything (I’m not the biggest Wayne fan in the world but the man can fucking rap), but because of the type of music he makes. People talk about how he doesn’t make real shit, and it’s all vapid, and shit like that. Well, my question is, why the fuck do you care? So what if he makes vapid music? How does it affect you as a person, when you just have the option to not listen and choose something else instead of complaining?

And it’s not even really about that, either. What really amuses me about the hatred of new-school hip hop is how these so-called old-school fans, these “real hip hop heads”, say that the only hip hop that’s good is the deeper shit, and that’s why new shit sucks. These fucking mongoloids seem to forget that hip hop was founded on celebratory music. It was music that people danced and partied to. Shit, break-dancing is supposed to be one of the main pillars of hip hop, isn’t it? To my knowledge, the socially-aware aspect of hip hop didn’t become something that was really widespread until the late ‘80s. Before then, it was primarily partying, having a good time, bragging about how good you are, and topics of that sort. Why is it that hip hop can’t still occasionally be about that just because something new was introduced to it? Now, the keyword here is “occasionally”. I’m not saying that the only hip hop that’s worth a shit is empty nonsense. I’m just saying that that sort of music should be able to co-exist with the realer shit, too.

Somewhat related, I would like to also ask…why is it that rappers who sound like they’re being lyrical as shit and socially conscious by essentially just rhyming a lot and using metaphors that reference current social issues, while actually saying nothing but gibberish, get so much more praise than those who are upfront about the fact that they say nothing of importance? I personally find when a rapper is talking irreverent shit about having fun to be better than when a rapper just rhymes a lot of nonsense while trying to sound deep. At least the fun rapper is actually saying something, as opposed to masticating the English language until it becomes almost caveman-like just to fool people into thinking that they’re really good at rapping. They’re not trying to pretend to be anything that they’re not. They’re just having a good time while the “lyrical” rappers are just acting like they’re fucking messiahs to the people, because that’s how their audience treats them for being able to relate something to a truck running over people in France while rhyming every other word, even if they’re made-up words. Hip hop fans for some reason have got some over 4 hour long Viagra hard-ons for rhymes that sound intelligent while being unintelligible, and they need to get over it. But again, a topic of discussion for another time.

All I’m saying is that life isn’t all about staying paranoid and keeping up with the latest conspiracies that rappers are coming up with to try to make themselves seem smart (I’m looking at you, Immortal Technique). There are several aspects of life, and one (or more) of those aspects is enjoying yourself. At the end of the day, being alive really has absolutely no reason behind it. The least you can do is embrace and enjoy the absurdity of life. In our modern society, I believe part of that is listening to absurd, vapid music. All you’re doing is removing yourself from a part of your life that is pretty essential to living with at least somewhat decent mental health. You’re not fooling anybody by listening to so-called “smart” music.

I really don’t know where to go from here. I’m on the verge of writing about how life is essentially meaningless so there’s no reason why music can’t be meaningless as well, but I feel like that’s a pretty bad idea, so I’ll sign off and send this to Dustin. I think I’ve made my point, but if not, I’ll do a tl;dr version of it right here: Stop being a pretentious fuckwad and enjoy some music to party to. It’s not a bad thing to actually enjoy yourself, you delusional masochists

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.

A History of Canadian Hip-Hop in 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.

Authors Note [March 17th, 2018]: This article was originally intended to be part of a series back in 2016. This series never happened; however, with the creation of our “Hip-Hop History” section of the site this article has seen a few edits and been moved into this category to better organize our articles.

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!