An Open Letter to DJ Booth & DJ Z: Underground Hip-Hop is Not Dead

by Dustin

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On November 27th, 2017, DJ Booth pronounced underground hip-hop dead. DJ Z regretfully informed us that due to the ease of accessing new artists – due in part to streaming services becoming dominant methods of music consumption – that “the underground is the new mainstream.” Of course, he supported this statement with many examples including (and entirely limited to) the fact that Xavier Wulf has a couple tens of thousands of followers on a few social and music media platforms. This article, for lack of a better description, misconstrued the entire of the underground. Below is an open letter that I have written to the publication and author. They may never read it, but these are things that need to be said.

To DJ Z and anyone from DJ Booth,

I’m going to start by explaining to you what “underground” actually is, since you seem to have a gross misunderstanding of the term. It is not a sub-genre label like “trap” or “conscious hip-hop” as you stated in your article. In fact, the artists that make up the underground span a wide variety of styles in the realm of hip-hop; I would be so bold as to say that every single corner of hip-hop has underground artists. You know why? Because an underground artist is simply an artist that exists outside of the mainstream consciousness in music. Claiming that somebody is now in the mainstream because they’ve got a hundred thousand followers on Twitter is absolutely ludicrous. They’re doing quite well in the context of underground music, but they’re nowhere near the mainstream in terms of popularity. No amount of accessibility to music changes that fact.

Let’s look at a bit of a hypothetical situation to make this point more clear. If you went out and took a survey of the general population, most will know of artists like Eminem, Jay-Z, Drake, Future, Lil Wayne, and Kendrick Lamar regardless of whether or not they actually listen to their music. These artists have firmly rooted themselves in the mainstream consciousness. Now, go out and ask the general population who Xavier Wulf is, and I think you’ll be shocked to find out that barely anybody has a clue. In fact, at the time of writing this article, Xavier Wulf does not even have a page on Wikipedia. Yet, you’re calling him mainstream and using him as proof that underground hip-hop is dead? How does one make that jump logically? That’s not a shot at him either, he’s got a large cult following, but he’s absolutely still an underground artist in the scope of hip-hop and music as a whole. You would have to be brain dead to claim otherwise.

Do you want to know why Xavier Wulf – and seemingly the entire hip-hop community – was upset at the claim that underground music doesn’t exist anymore? Because you are discrediting the insane amount of work he, and other musicians of similar stature, put into their careers in order to even have a career in the first place. It’s not easy to make it in music, and writing as if the internet has made it a cakewalk is of the utmost disrespect. Artists like him, Open Mike Eagle, Busdriver, Billy Woods, Uncommon Nasa, clipping., Fatt Father, Aesop Rock, and hundreds of others don’t have well established careers because the internet made them mainstream. They have impressive careers because they work their asses off in the underground to maintain their place; moreover, you’ve also spat in the faces of thousands of dedicated artists who haven’t even established their footing within the underground yet. But by all means, tell a rapper like MCrv, or label owner like Michael at FilthyBroke Recordings that the underground is the new mainstream. They will turn around and laugh directly at you, because it is very nearly the dumbest statement you could make.

The underground is alive, and it’s thriving. Publications like ourselves and many others being allowed to exist and work with so many beautiful artists globally is a testament to this. Stop disrespecting the genre that you eat off of for attention with sensationalized articles with zero supporting evidence. You are letting down hip-hop, and music journalism. The underground community will still be thriving in every single genre of music long after your publication, and mine, are nothing but a fading memory in the distance. You’re not an artist, DJ Z, maybe stop making claims about the world that they exist in, and start taking the time to listen to what they have to say about “the underground.” You might learn something if you open your ears and shut your mouth, just for a second.

Sincerely,
Dustin
Extraordinary Nobodies

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Think Piece: The Wasted Potential of Yelawolf

by Dustin

yelawolf

Around the time of “Pop the Trunk”, Yelawolf was capturing the imagination of myself and many other hip-hop fans with his unique spin on southern hip-hop. He took the familiar and stretched it out into an ultra-hype angry sound distinctly of his own. Prior to his arrival on Shady Records/Interscope Records, it felt as if he had the potential to be the next star out of the south. Unfortunately for his career, this never ended up being the case. Between poor decisions politically (specifically defending the Confederate Flag with a clear misunderstanding of what it represents), and things going sideways with his sound, Yelawolf eventually petered out and was nothing more than a quick blip on the radar in hip-hop. Thinking about this began to raise some questions for me. Most prominently: is Yelawolf one of the biggest modern cases of wasted potential in rap?

Flash back with me for a moment to the moment Yelawolf first signed with Shady Records in 2011. At this point he had The Arena Rap EP and Trunk Muszik (plus 0-60) under his belt. Very unique sounding projects that were distinctly southern, yet had a spark of untamed craziness which to me felt quite refreshing. His Shady Records debut, Radioactive, was admittedly disappointing but still had moments which showed flashes of the potential he had as an artist. He found his footing again with a series of collaborative extended plays, and really pushed himself to the next level on Trunk Muzik Returns. Trunk Muzik Returns was, to me, an incredible project. It was spacey, southern, energetic, introspective, and wild in all the right ways. After this project dropped, if felt like Yelawolf was on his way to becoming something truly special. He had nailed down a unique sound and most fans were extremely excited, including myself.

Unfortunately, this would prove to be somewhat of a peak rather than his first step to creating something bigger.

Marking the fall from grace was Love Story. Don’t get me wrong, Love Story was actually a really solid album. It had plenty of cool ideas and unique sounding songs, but it also felt like the point that the magic started to fade. Yelawolf began to lose his energy on the rap tracks and focus more on trying to combine country and rap together. Though it was, at times, executed extremely well on Love Story, to me it lead him down a path that would ultimately kill his appeal. While the wild-boy renegade rapper motif felt super fresh and natural, his new sound quickly became forced and uninteresting. Yelawolf no longer had a factor that made him stand out. This becomes painfully obvious on Trial by Fire, which does include a lot more rap-focused tracks; however, the country fusion just sounds so played out, and the excitement isn’t there anymore. He sounds tired, and the songs are tiring to sit through in every aspect from vocals to production. It’s dull, which is unfortunate for an emcee that had been lauded for his abundance of energy just a handful of years prior.

With that reflection out of the way, I think I also need to say that it’s cool if you like the direction Yelawolf has taken. Music is a subjective experience, and I realize that. To me though, as an individual who was a big fan I can’t help but shake the feeling that Yelawolf is wasted potential. He had a sound that took everything lovable about southern hip-hop, and jacked it up on meth to create something so brilliantly unique. He was slaying features, his songs were impossible not to get amped up to, and it so much felt like he was primed to become something amazing. To see him step back and abandon those dirty-south roots to pursue something more rooted in lifeless country based production is disappointing. He’s definitely not the worst artist out there, but it feels like he’s little more than a slightly better Kid Rock. In terms of his trajectory of development, that’s kind of a major bust of an outcome to me

A Beautiful Tribute to Sean Price’s Legacy, Imperius Rex

by Rajin

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Two years from the day of Sean Price’s passing, Duck Down Music released Imperius Rex, a posthumous Sean Price album. P was working on an album with that title, however, he had passed before getting too deep, completing only four songs according to his wife, Bernadette. As such, she took it upon herself to complete the album with what materials she had. She had taken the few songs Sean had fully completed, and fleshed the rest of the project out with unused Sean verses and filled the blanks in with guests. The end product is an impressive collection of songs that feel almost completely like a normal Sean Price album.

The album opens up the with the title track, which was one of the few songs that was properly completed before Sean’s death. Before the song starts, we are greeted with a preface by Sean’s daughter Shaun (that’s always going to amuse me) doing her signature cover of Sean’s song “Soul Perfect.” Honestly, I can’t think of a better way for the album to start, because Sean bringing his daughter out at a show to do that had become one of the coolest moments to see happen in Sean’s career. The track kind of serves a similar purpose as “Genesis of the Omega” from Sean’s last album, Mic Tyson, where it is just a bar-fest used to get the listener ready for what the album has to offer. It may not be a coincidence that The Alchemist produced both tracks.

Most of the rest of the album has a sort of apocalyptic sound to it. The soundscape laid by songs such as “Apartheid,” “Negus,” and “Church Bells” is eerie, spacey, and threatening. The beats to those songs and several others feel almost hellish, with minor distortion in the instruments used and ghoulish pianos. It is by no means experimental or out-of-the-ordinary (as that would defeat the entire purpose of this being a Sean Price album), but it is definitely a cool sound. I don’t know whether Sean himself had decided that this was the direction that he was going to go in or if that was just the type of production that Bernadette decided to use, but regardless, it was a cool artistic choice. It feels like the next logical step from where Mic Tyson had left off, as that album was definitely muddier, darker, and more Alchemist-driven than his previous two, which had more of a typical Duck Down-9th Wonder/Khrysis-influenced soul-sampling sound to them. Of course, that is still present on a few tracks like “Ape In His Apex” and “Clans & Cliks,” but overall there is a more minimal, creepy atmosphere to the album.

The guests on this album were chosen very well. While most of them were put on the album in order to fill the gaps that couldn’t be filled with more of Sean’s verses, none of them actually felt that way. Coming from who they came from and being done the way they were, it all felt like Sean had personally worked with them for their verses. Aside from Freeway alluding to Sean being dead on “Prisoner” (whose contribution I did not like in the slightest), I genuinely can’t tell whether the verses were done before Sean’s death or after. They did a great job at not talking about his death, but rather just adding to the song in whatever way they would have done under normal circumstances, and most were very enjoyable overall. Also, there were thankfully no really left-field features, which tend to happen a lot on posthumous releases. Everyone featured on this album is someone who I could have seen Sean working with, oftentimes because he’s already worked with them. In my opinion, DOOM came with the best feature verse on the entire album by a long shot, showcasing a hunger that he hasn’t had since Born This Way. It was also sort of fun to see Mrs. Price actually rap on the album too. It’s definitely something I see Sean enjoying, being the family man he was.

I would have to say the most impressive part of this album is how well the songs were put together, considering what they were. As stated earlier, Bernadette Price painstakingly went through verses and hooks that Sean had in the vault for various reasons and chose which ones to put together to create full songs with. On occasion, such as “Dead or Alive” and “Definition of God”, you can definitely tell the verses come from two different sources; on both songs, the first verse would have Sean sounding like he always does, and the second verse had him sounding a lot raspier, almost alarmingly so on the former. However, there are no other times I can think of that noticeably displays a difference. In fact, the verses tend to sound very natural together. If I didn’t already know what the creative process was for this album, I honestly would have thought that more of it was completed before Sean’s death, the verses are placed together that fluidly.

Of course, being that this is a Sean Price album, the content doesn’t offer much more than rapping about rapping and talking about how he’ll slap the shit out of you. As taken from a voice clip used on “Refrigerator P!” Sean says that he is a hardcore emcee and that he’s not trying to reinvent the wheel. While yes, it can be fun to hear a rapper rap, it can get very boring unless you have substantial enough skill to back this up. Thankfully, Sean did. I believe that Sean’s artistic style did play a role in what makes Imperius Rex feel so much like a real Sean Price album. Given what Sean usually rapped about, it may have been a little easier to piece songs together.

As this is a posthumous album primarily consisting of songs that Sean himself did not complete, we feel as though it would be unfair to assign a score to it. This is not technically an official review so much as it is my thoughts on the album and the work going into it. I just wanted to discuss it, not only because I enjoyed the project a lot, but because I am floored at the care put into this project.

This album was meticulously crafted and sequenced with reverence towards Sean’s artistic process. Everybody involved on this album clearly meant for this to sound like what a fourth Sean Price album would sound like, rather than a tribute album with Sean Price vocals on it or Sean Price but artificially updated. I want to salute Bernadette Price specifically for what she did in creating this album. She has, quite frankly, set the standard for posthumous work in my mind, as far as the integrity behind it goes. This is, hands down, the most tastefully done posthumous album I’ve ever heard. No vulture-like treatment of the music (a la posthumous 2Pac and Biggie records) to be seen here. There was no misplaced guest verses, no questionable beat choices, no corny concepts. Mrs. Price did her absolute best to make something that would sound like something her husband would have made, and aside from moments where you can tell the verses aren’t from the same song due to a change in Sean’s delivery, she was immensely successful.

RIP Sean Price.

Think Piece: Logic’s “1-800-273-8255” is More Damaging Than Empowering

by Dustin

logic560

I will be upfront and admit that I am not a Logic fan. I really couldn’t care less about most things that Logic releases. He doesn’t make a style of music I care for, but he’s got some talent and he’s usually harmless enough that he’s not worth bashing either; however, there’s something about one of his new songs that very genuinely seemed….worthy of discussion, to put it nicely. The song is “1-800-273-8255”. If the song title looks familiar to you at all, that’s because it’s the number of the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Unsurprisingly, that’s also where the song sits topically. Logic on this song made an effort as a celebrity figure to “reach out” to fans through his music, and encourage them to get help with their problems. Now, in theory, that would actually be quite an admirable thing to do. Suicide is a very serious issue, and many are afraid to reach out when they’re grappling with the desire to kill themselves. I was once one of these people, and I’ll be the first to admit that music was one of the key things that helped me pull myself out of the hole and get professional help. Hearing an artist be open about their mental issues on record can be an incredibly powerful experience, particularly if they’re one that you admire.

However, something is severely off with the execution of “1-800-273-8255”. Logic has all the desire in the world to help people on this song, but none of the understanding of what mental illness or suicide actually are. To start, the song is mostly centered around a half-assed concept about an individual calling the suicide prevention line. To be blunt, it horrendously twists the issue to be something smaller than it is. Logic’s analysis of feeling suicidal includes: general sadness, occasional loneliness, and wishing friends would text more often. Basically, “1-800-273-8255” flagrantly tip-toes around the idea of suicide as if Logic was afraid to actually talk about it….when it’s supposed to be a song about not being afraid to reach out for help. Right.

Because of this “1-800-273-8255” felt like an artist abusing the social issue of suicide, stripping it down to it’s simplest (and often flat out incorrect) components, and then casting a wide net so that as many people as possible could relate to it. This is unfortunate, as it presented the opportunity for a major artist to speak on something that close to ten million individuals in the United States alone are faced with on a daily basis. Instead, he spoke about things that seven and a half billion people can relate to, and stamped “suicide” on it as a topic in order to appear as if he cares.

In spite of this, you’d think Logic would have been able to redeem himself on the portions of the song encouraging people to fight through their problems…yet he managed to turn that into a total disaster as well. Telling people that they shouldn’t kill themselves because they might experience “the warm embrace of a lover’s chest” (not verbatim, but close enough) in the Alissa Cara segment of the song is an absolute joke. Logic, people who are in a critical enough mental state that they want to end their own lives do not give a single fuck about the fact that they might one day find someone to share life with. You could have taken a moment to congratulate them on making it this long while coping with intense internal conflict, you could have discussed there being no shame in admitting you need someone else’s help, but instead you chose to trivialize the issue again in a way that makes your single just that much cuter. Well done.

It gets worse.

In a moment of complete and total blissful ignorance Logic drops the lyric, “what’s the day without a little night?” Allow that to sink in for a moment, and then consider the fact that Logic is straight up telling people that if they didn’t experience urges to end their own lives, the good times wouldn’t be as enjoyable. Telling a suicidal individual that they wouldn’t enjoy other parts of life as much if they didn’t have to suffer through endless, suffocating thoughts of self-murder is not tasteful. It isn’t raising awareness either. It is attempting to turn a severe mental issue that takes over your entire being into a positive. You can’t do that. There is absolutely no positive attached to feeling suicidal. Suicidal urges aren’t cute, they’re not glamorous, and you’re not helping raise awareness to how crippling they can be by putting a positive spin on it. You could ignore the rest of the song entirely, but this one line of backhanded suicide ideation is enough to get a sense for how ignorantly grounded “1-800-273-8255” is throughout. And once again, the only really function it serves is a cute little quotable to aid the single factor.

The single factor of a song about suicide.

Suicide and mental illnesses are not the same as feeling lonely all the time. They’re not the same as feeling awkward and out of place. They’re not the same as feeling like nobody wants you. These can be smaller parts of the bigger picture, sure, but “1-800-273-8255” chooses to only focus on them. Logic, you’ve turned suicide prevention into an anthem of easily relatable trite that everyone (particularly teenagers) can relate with. You’ve successfully made a very serious, heart wrenching problem into something quickly digestible and consumable as a single on a major label. Congratulations, you’ve successfully exploited and marginalized suicide for a profit.

Ultimately, this song is a poster-child for one of the biggest issues with how we treat mental illness: lack of education. We do need to be open about these sorts of problems, but we need to approach them with a maturity that this single completely lacks. If you really want to make a difference, do some research. Understand the signs of someone who might be harming themselves, or might be planning to in the future. Be willing to listen when someone opens up to you, and don’t judge them if they opt to receive mental help. If this song did happen to help you, that’s great, but overall we need to approach these things more tactfully. We need to tackle them in a way that doesn’t make those affected by suicide and depression feel like their issues are simple to get through. While Logic doesn’t seem to lack compassion, he clearly lacks understanding, and that is just as damaging.


If you or anyone you know is dealing with depression, thoughts of suicide, or other mental illness, here are some resources that may be of use:

http://mindcheck.ca/

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

https://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms

http://healthymindscanada.ca/resources/

Qualchan’s Mixtape: 2017 Freshman Wishlist Edition

by Qualchan (intro by Dustin)

crazyeyes

In our ever growing quest to bring you new and interesting content, we’ve expanded our horizons and enlisted a wonderful artist from Seattle to bring you a guest curated playlist of up-and-coming hip-hop talents. That artist is Qualchan. Qualchan is a unique personality who will talk your ear off about alternative music, ignorant music, the Anticon era, and is finally tuned with various scenes in hip-hop.

With that in mind, who else could even put together the perfect “XXL Freshmen 2017” (come at us XXL, this is ours now) wish-list-slash-play-list? No one. It’s the perfect choice. We’ll let the playlist do most of the talking, but Qualchan has also hit us with a little summary of his thoughts on the artists he’s included in the mix.

Kick back and enjoy.


First of all, the playlist can be found here. Now, onto the rest.

Qualchan. Seattle. I’ve been into hip-hop since ’92. I’ve also been into drugs and DJ Screw since ’03. And I’m bringing you people to watch out for in 2017.

Sauce Walka and Sancho Saucy are my two favorite rappers right now. Coming out of Houston, Texas they bring a sense of excitement and real danger that no other rapper has right now. They are really in the streets. Everyone associated with their sauce factory label are great, especially Sosamann. He signed to Taylor Gang a while back, and had a verse from 21 savage on his latest song. I’m sure he’s going to be doing really big things, and he and The Twinz are going to drip across the charts.

Go Yayo from Fort Worth, Texas is another guy on the come up in 2017. he recently signed to Soulja Boy’s SODMG… So expect to see him punch Chris Brown on Instagram sometime soon.

Famous Dex outta Chicago has been on for a minute, but I think his best period as an artist was the summer and fall of 2015. It was a tough choice between “Back Now” (on the playlist) and “Shooters,” but Famous Irv (just Irv now) brings the heat. Be on the lookout for bro to blow up this year.

Warhol.ss is also from Chicago. He brings an upbeat and wild energy, and the visuals for “Speed Racer” are great! Cole Bennette really brought his “A” game to this one. It’s such a great song.

Thouxanbanfauni is the only Atlanta rapper I really fuck with right now. “Who U Testin” goes in.

Usually by time I get to Ski Mask the Slump God, the weed and ‘tussin have kicked in. “Gone” is the perfect song to get lost in. He & smokepurpp are both from Florida and are really blowing up right now. ‘purpp’s “Ski Mask” gets me super hype before work.

If none of these guys make it onto XXL’s Freshman list, then I am done.

Apu Rambles: The Wonder of Rap Groups (and Their Possible Shortcomings)

by Apu

wu

I’ve always found rap groups to be interesting. And with that I’ve just won the award for the most generic opening sentence in a written piece for January 2017.

Music made by a good group (keyword: GOOD) can be the coolest thing you hear all day. It’s crazy hearing vastly different personalities colluding, bringing different perspectives, styles, and presences to a track while completely complimenting each other. Many times it can be more exciting to listen to a group than a solo artist; the constant change in performers keeps things fresh in a way that may not always happen when listening to a solo artist. You don’t know which group members will be on which track, or what each member will bring to the table. There’s a support system in the form of friendly competition, where each member pushes the other to go above and beyond, leading to some rappers having the best verses of their careers on group songs. And group music is different than posse cuts. While posse cuts can bring together huge rappers to make great songs, the vast majority of the time, there’s not nearly the sort of unity and fluidity that there is on group music when the mic is passed.

It’s a simple fact. Hip hop would not be where it is now if it were not for rappers forming crews and making music together. Whether it be the earlier years with Sugarhill Gang introducing hip hop to wider audiences, to Run D.M.C., the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, NWA, Geto Boys, the Wu-Tang Clan, Onyx, Westside Connection… The list goes on and on. They were a staple of hip hop in the golden era, and remained to be a driving force in hip hop well into the ‘00s.

I don’t know why they were so big in the formative years, especially compared to now; maybe having a crew onstage helped hype crowds up while performing more effectively than having just a single rapper, leading to better shows and subsequently wider acclaim and greater success. Perhaps that’s why rappers still go up onstage with hypemen, even when they may not need one to help out when the main performer needs to take a breath. Whatever it may have been, there’s nothing quite like seeing a group together. There’s also nothing quite like seeing a group implode after the first album or two because of success changing the approach to making music, causing chemistry to fade and beef to ensue.

I personally think that the biggest contributing factor to a group’s greatness is chemistry. There has to be a foundation for the sound that a group will use, especially when members develop themselves as solo artists with sounds that deviate from the group sound. Take, for example, the Wu-Tang Clan. RZA created that dark, soul-sampled boom bap with Enter The Wu-Tang. However, given that Wu always meant to branch out to become solo artists, the following solo albums each had a different tone from the debut group album. Tical was more bassy and smoked out, Return To The 36 Chambers was muddier and more twisted, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx was more piano and string-driven resulting in a Mafioso tone, and Ironman was more driven by R&B and lighter soul samples. Aside from Liquid Swords, which was fairly similar in tone to Enter The Wu-Tang, they all had their own sound to them to reflect the personality and charisma of each member outside of the group.

However, when they reunited to do Wu-Tang Forever, they went back to a similar style as Enter The Wu-Tang: heavy soul samples and more classic boom bap. Sure, the sound had advanced, but the overall tonality still screamed Wu-Tang as a whole, as opposed to more Raekwon or Ghostface. They had the production base offered by RZA, which meant that other producers like 4th Disciple or Inspectah Deck had a blueprint to follow.

Of course, having that base meant that the subsequent group albums (and even solo albums) were prone to the flaws that came with the failures of RZA. Being that RZA was the de facto leader of the group, him losing beats in a flood ended up creating issues for Wu as time went on. After that, RZA’s decision to change his production style with his Bobby Digital persona made The W and Iron Flag sound off-putting. By the time A New Tomorrow came around, RZA sounded totally uninterested in making music; it seemed he would rather score movies and help Cilvaringz be a cunt.

But he was still the leader of the group, so they had to follow him.

It was a similar situation with D-12. D-12 has two members who produce: Mr. Porter and Eminem. While Proof was the spiritual leader of D-12, as well as musical when they were doing mixtapes and features, Eminem clearly led the group on the albums. Devil’s Night sounded almost like it could have been called The Marshall Mathers LP 1.5: Introducing D12. That’s not nearly even close to being a bad thing – that album is a classic to me. However, it did end up being a bad thing for them on D-12 World. Most of the songs that Eminem produced did not follow a D-12 kind of style. They were like less-gangster G-Unit beats, much like Encore’s production. The only possible exceptions to this are My Band, Bitch, and Come On In (which ended up sounding more like a Mr. Porter beat). Mr. Porter’s beats were perfectly suited to D-12, and showed a potential evolution in their sound from Devil’s Night that could have been very cool, as it was grimy but sillier and jazzier at the same time. Em’s leadership, however, prevented that sound from being explored more aside from songs that Em wasn’t even on. Had he passed leadership to Mr. Porter, the album may have sounded more like Barbershop and I’ll Be Damned and less like Leave Dat Boy Alone and Get My Gun.

While pure democracy in a group would likely lead to no progress at all, one person can’t be the leader for the entirety of the group’s albums. There needs to be a constant passing of the baton. Otherwise the leader may end up running the group into the ground. It seems RZA has finally understood that, because he’s given Ghost the wheel for the next Wu album. Given Ghost’s artistic style with live jazz instrumentation on fairly recent albums like Twelve Reasons To Die I & II, Sour Soul, and 36 Seasons, it will likely be a breath of fresh air for the group, rather than the aimless plodding of RZA’s production on A Better Tomorrow. I’m personally expecting it to be their best in 2 decades.

Groups without chemistry just don’t work. I already know I’m gonna get shitted on by underground hip hop fans, but I personally don’t think Slaughterhouse is demonstrates good group dynamic. Each member is a very talented emcee in his own right (although fuck Joe Budden for life for beating a woman into having a miscarriage). However, there is no feeling of unity among them. Every song that they do sounds like a posse cut. As I stated above, a posse cut can be cool, but if you’re gonna be a group, you have to sound like a unit. It’s weird too, because Joe Budden and Joell Ortiz do back and forth every once in awhile, but they don’t sound natural doing it. Nearly every song either boils down to a cypher that may or may not have a hook in it or an emotional track with each member just saying their piece and not trying to tie themselves into the rest of the group; oftentimes the verses may only share emotion in common and can be about completely different things which throws off the mood of the track. A group needs to have chemistry, otherwise it just doesn’t work. Unfortunately, Slaughterhouse doesn’t have much of it.
Slaughterhouse are also too similar to each other, which oddly doesn’t help their chemistry.

Another part of what makes some groups successful is the roles that members play. When Slaughterhouse do music together, everyone does essentially the same thing in a song. There’s no variety. You need some rappers to be the tough talkers, the more grounded members, and what is quite possibly the most important role: the clown. It can get tiresome to hear so many rappers talking about similar street subjects all the time; you need an ODB to your Wu-Tang Clan or a Sean Price to your Boot Camp Clik (RIP to both) to add some comic relief. The role that guys like them played helped to distinguish the groups from most other hardcore underground groups.

Everyone wants to be the toughest or most lyrical, and people get lost in the mix of everyone else trying to do that. When you put together a group of people trying to be tough or lyrical, that effect may get even worse. Throw a clown in there (who still has skills, mind you), and suddenly your presence becomes more impactful. You have someone who can still spit with the rest of the members, but is spewing clever, witty one-liners and creating a different reaction than the listeners get from listening to the other members. But it’s a fine line; you have too many members who clown around and you’re viewed as a comedy rap group, nothing to take seriously. So a group needs to be diverse, but still maintain similarities enough to where there’s still chemistry.

Groups are wonderful for hip hop. They’re a healthy mix of competition and brotherhood. I wish there were more groups out now; you’d think that with the increased usage of the internet in hip hop music that there would be more groups linking up from city to city, but for some reason that’s not the case. These days it’s always a wonderful treat to see a group either reunite, especially if they haven’t done music in years. With things in hip hop seeming to go back to the way they were (that’s a topic for another time, I don’t feel like opening that can of worms for the basement-dwelling stuck-in-the-90s hip hop nerds to feast on), perhaps we’ll see more groups being formed.

Exploring Other Genres: Sunbather – Braneworld

by Dustin

braneworld

8.25/10

A while back we started a segment called “Exploring Other Genres” to offer fellow hip-hop fans an accessible outlet to a variety of interesting music. More relevant to the here-and-now, our first piece in this segment was on Poor English’s self-titled debut EP. The feedback we received was overwhelmingly positive, and multiple people asked if we could recommend something similar. By coincidence a few weeks later, Poor English’s drummer Tyler reached out to us about another group that his band-mate Joe is involved in: Sunbather. Sunbather just so happened to have a thirty-something minute album out called Braneworld. Featuring sound distinctly different yet similar to the wondrous pop-punk tunes of Poor English, we were certainly interested in giving it a spin.

We fell in love with the album. In fact, it has been on regular rotation ever since.

As mentioned, there are similarities between the Poor English project and Sunbather’s sound on Braneworld; however, to not approach this album as a brilliant standalone work would be doing it a disservice. Sunbather’s sound is a little more punchy, marginally heavier, and a touch more dense. The way instrumentation is layered on this album is really gorgeous. The guitar work weaves in and out of riffs and licks, dipping between the hyperactive and laid-back in one swift motion. The rhythms are delicious, and provide a powerful driving force behind the leads. Sunbather create a “wall of sound” within their music at times. It feel bigger than it probably should, but it is excellent.

Every moment on Braneworld flows into the next seamlessly. The change-ups within songs are frequent enough to keep one guessing, but smooth enough that they’re nearly easy to miss. At the macro level, each track moves into the next without hiccup. At no time did it feel like the song progression was off. Given that album arrangement is one of the things it seems many artists fail at, it was refreshing to listen to one so skillfully laid out.

To put it more simply the transitions are super slick, period. End of discussion.

Though the album is distinctly rock, its quite interesting to see the band show their influences in other genres at time. For example, the song “Daily Dreams” has a distinct folk spin to it, and “Knucklehead” featured some synthetic sounds similar to that of the underground electronic punk movement. These forays into other musical realms broke up the album nicely, yet somehow sound cohesive in the overall scope of Braneworld. Perhaps more importantly, these moments are used quite sparingly. The band doesn’t become predictably experimental throughout the course of the album. It feels more like an adventurous treat at times, rather than part of the albums overall atmosphere.

It should be mentioned that the album atmosphere is, in fact, really well established. There’s something particular about it that just makes everything work together in harmony. To take a bit of a writers cop-out in lieu of better descriptive words: you will instantaneously understand upon listening.

If you’re still not convinced, look at it this way: Braneworld is rock-n-roll for the working class. In times of relative despair internationally, their music feels soothing. Sunbather brings a sense of wonderment to a rock scene that can, at times, feel way too cookie-cutter. Sunbather’s music also radiates a powerful sense of emotional awareness. The happy songs will lift you, and the more sad songs will offer musical solidarity. The vocals and instrumentation play together in a way that makes it nearly impossible to avoid being smitten with their tunes. It’s honest music, and every song feels heartfelt. There’s no attempt to achieve a level of robotic perfection, and the music is better for it.