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: Koi Child – Koi Child

by Dustin

koic

8.5/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Dustin

kash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wanna be on Fox News son-ing everybody.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KashJordan: James Blake, for sure.

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!

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

by Dustin

mmrlif

7.5/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome back Mr. Lif.

Apu Rambles: FreeBeat42 (Give the Producer Some)

by Apu

fsfsdf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You know, one that a producer made.

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

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

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

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

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

Artist of the Month: Proof

by Apu

Proof

This April we’re fittingly making Deshaun Holton, better known as Proof, Artist of the Month. Proof is known primarily as the founder of Detroit-based rap group D-12, Eminem’s hypeman and best friend, and the man who ran the battles in the Hip Hop Shop similarly to the character of Future in 8 Mile. He was also a member of the group 5Ela and half of the duo Promatic. He was an instrumental role in establishing Detroit hip hop, being associated with acts from J. Dilla to the Fat Killahz.

He is most known for his roles in the groups that he was a part of, but his talent as a solo artist was undeniable. His first solo album, I Miss The Hip-Hop Shop, had a sound that was grittier, more soulful, and less aggressive than the D-12 material that had been made up to that point. He showed that he was capable of more than just the signature Shady style. The album still had all of the charm and wit that he and D-12 were known for, but he also showed a more reflective side that wasn’t as present on the group material, on songs like “Broken”, the Promatic cut “Nowhere Fast”, and “Love Letters”, dedicating his verses to Paul Rosenberg and Denaun Porter of D-12.

He only kept building creatively for his next album, Searching For Jerry Garcia. Proof created a sound that was only fitting for an album with that title. Songs like “Purple Gang”, “Ali” featuring the late MC Breed, “No.T. Lose” with a bluesy hook courtesy of King Gordy. “Jump Biatch” and “M.A.D.” have a quite unique sound that can only be described as psychedelic rock-rap. This album is also very dark. Much darker than anything else he had put out beforehand. “Kurt Kobain” and “Forgive Me” are the two most notable tracks off the album. They are hauntingly dark songs on which Proof uses the backdrop provided by the producers and his raspy voice to build an atmosphere of melancholy, numbness, and frustration. Much like Tupac, Proof seemed to predict his own death on this album, on more than one occasion.

Genius artists, so retarded,
Broken hearted, my soul’s like an open target,
And I’m ready to leave Earth,
You step to my death, next year on my T-shirt.
No.T. Lose

Proof was not just an ordinary rap artist. He had a vision that became clearer and clearer as he got older, fusing psychedelic rock with a soulful hip hop style reminiscent of Dilla/Slum Village as early as his first solo release, the Electric Coolaid Acid Testing EP. Even songs off D-12’s Devil’s Night like “Revelation” and “These Drugs” (from the limited edition bonus disc) sound like they have Proof’s fingerprints on them, even if they were not produced by him. Being a member of D-12 might have subjected him to the stigma of being an Eminem clone, just one of Em’s boys, but any time he did solo music he quickly broke out of that mold, using musical styles that Eminem has not attempted at length, aside from maybe “Stimulate”.

Proof was also a legendary freestyler. Eminem detailed in his autobiography how Proof once forgot a verse he was supposed to be performing on the air while he was midway through, and he pulled one out of thin air. You wouldn’t have even known if you hadn’t heard what the verse was originally going to be. Back in ’06, he was challenged to make an entire project in 24 hours. Being the quick thinker that he was, he managed to make 22 tracks in that time span, creating the Time A Tell mixtape. And if that wasn’t enough, the mixtape had a level of lyricism that an embarrassing amount of rappers can’t put on an album that takes them 3 months to make. Unfortunately, the mixtape was delayed because of his death. However, it did manage to come out 4 years later as a fantastic posthumous release.

And Proof may be heard again, if D-12 can finally actually make an album. They mentioned that they’ve messed with his vocals to see how he sounds on newer beats. Generally, posthumous material organized by other people end up being used as cash-grabs and get littered with artists who the rapper would never have rocked with (just ask Method Man about Biggie’s posthumous The Duets album). But it’s a different story when it’s the group that you started, which already has the selling point of having the biggest rapper ever as a member, just using your verses to pay homage, isn’t it?

Before I end this article, I would like to add a small personal tribute. I first started listening to Proof and D-12 in mid-2006, just a few short months after his death. The first time I heard him was on “When The Music Stops”, then on “Trapped” off Eminem Presents The Re-Up (which I later found out was just a portion of the song “Oil Can Harry”). I knew he was something special after listening to “Trapped”. Searching For Jerry Garcia is one of my absolute favorite albums. I don’t know if any other rapper has ever attempted the sound that Proof managed to create. He used to speak about being open minded because his father was a musician, and I think that helped him differentiate himself from his group and from other rappers in general.

It’s weird for me to listen to some of his music as I’ve gotten older and started to understand the gravity of what he was saying prior to his death. I can think of at least 5 different times his death was brought up before it actually happened, most notably on “40 Oz.” and in the video for “Like Toy Soldiers”. There’s a whole new level (well, not really new, since it’s been 10 years [Jesus…]) of darkness and depth to a lot of his music.

Proof is the real reason why I listen to hip hop to begin with. He’s the one who formed the group that flipped my world upside down at age 12. The group that interested me beyond all the rap that I had heard up to that point. The group that introduced me to the darker side of humor and taught me you could say whatever you wanted to. Without him, none of the music that basically raised me would have existed. Who knows what my life would be like?

Rest in peace, Big Proof.

How Hip-Hop Helped Me Deal with Mental Illness

by Dustin

Depressionarticle

I’d like to discuss something that I’ve only ever told the closest people in my life – I struggle with mental illness. I knew something was wrong since my early teens, but I didn’t admit it to myself (and seek formal diagnosis) until I was in my first year of university. After I saw my doctor, I let the stigma surrounding anxiety and depression rule my life. I felt ashamed, and I didn’t think anyone would understand what I was feeling. I held back from talking with people because I didn’t want to be judged negatively. I isolated myself out of fear that one of my friends or family members would find out that I wasn’t okay.

At one point I was sitting alone in my dorm drinking myself to sleep every day, I had stopped attending class, and my workout regime crawled from seven days a week to zero. I gained close to fifty pounds and was placed on academic probation. It felt like I had hit rock bottom, and it was incredibly scary. I was worried that I would end up doing something to hurt myself, and I couldn’t stomach the thought of putting my family through that sort of trauma.

I also knew that depression wasn’t something I could deal with alone, but I still wasn’t ready to ask for help.

It’s the stuff I find hard for discussion,
How the fuck do you explain your own self destruction and still remain trusted?
(El-P – Poisenville Kids No Wins)

In the meantime, I buried myself in music. During the twelve awake hours a day I was spending isolated in a twelve foot by twelve foot dorm room, I nearly always had my laptop playing some sort of music. The majority of the time I was just laying there listening doing nothing else, and it very much became my life.

Hip-hop in particular became home to me, and I started exploring and experimenting with new artists. I really started to get into music by El-P, Killer Mike, Open Mike Eagle, Blueprint, Shad, Eyedea, The Roots, Aesop Rock, and so many others that I won’t even attempt to list them off right now. For the most part, the music just served as a distraction that I happened to enjoy. I found everything from the production methods to writing styles interesting.

More importantly however, these artists were at times exploring dark paces they’ve been, and I felt like I could relate to the music. That’s when it really clicked. Holy shit, I’m not by myself in this. There are other people who are experiencing the exact same thing as me who probably also feel alone.

It took about a year to get to that point, but my perspective changed entirely.

Now if you never had a day a snow cone couldn’t fix,
You wouldn’t relate to the rogue vocoder blitz.
(Aesop Rock – None Shall Pass)

As crazy as it might sound, it really was a bit of an epiphany. The idea of opening up to those close to me didn’t seem quite as daunting. I told family members, I told some of my closer friends, and for the first time in a long time I was honest with myself about the severity of where I was mentally. As you’d expect, the people I opened up to had various reactions. A few withdrew themselves from me, but most were beautifully supportive and remain friends to this day.

Most importantly though, a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I started getting professional help. Not a whole lot of it, due to financial issues, but enough that things started to turn around. I started to pick up athletics again, my grades improved dramatically (though, I ended up dropping out two years later, but not for performance reasons), and I stopped drinking every day.

For lack of better phrasing, I felt like a different person.

Make you wanna sing, clap your hands to it,
Nod your head a little bit, maybe dance to it,
And reminisce about the good times you had to it,
Not sure what I’d do if I never had music.
(Blueprint – Mind, Body and Soul)

Now, I’d be fully lying to you if I said things ended completely happily. Anxiety and depression are still things that I battle with at times. Recently I hit another low. It didn’t last nearly as long, but it was a reminder that these things can linger. The difference now is that I’ve established the support network to fall back on when things get difficult, and it’s become an invaluable personal tool for keeping myself in check. I feel like I owe reaching this point to music.

So what I really want to say is, thank you to the artists who showed that personal side and vulnerability. As much as none of them will probably read this, it helped me accept things about myself that were incredibly difficult to come to terms with. I’m in a much better mental place because of it.

If you’re reading this and you think you’re dealing with something similar, remember that you’re not alone. I know that it’s really easy to slip into mental isolation, and there are still times where I have to really force myself to not purposely cut people out as well. I can’t stress enough how much simply opening up to someone supportive can help. Take advantage of whatever resources you have. It’s never easy, but I believe it’s worth the fight in the end.

Apu Rambles: I Just Sold Out

by Apu

Sellout

So I was on Twitter a little while ago, and I saw Tech N9ne tweet out one of those “instead of a picture, I’ll post a screenshot of words” Instagram posts, because I guess fuck the ability to use something like TwitLonger or something. The basic gist of the post was “The people who are upset with you changing are comfortable with remaining stagnant” which is something that Tech has been sort of saying ever since basically The Gates Mixed Plate. Ever since that album, Tech has sort of had elements to his music that, to certain fans, may seem like he’s catering to the mainstream. He gets backlash from his fans based off of the people who he chooses works with and the sound of a few of his songs. I had retweeted the message with something along the lines of “I wish more people thought this way instead of being too afraid of their idiot fans to change at all,” and earlier today I felt as though 140 characters was not enough to thoroughly explain my thoughts.

Now, make no mistake. There’s a lot of artistic decisions that Tech makes that I can’t bring myself to behind. Tech does make a lot of music that he likes to defend by saying “I’m a partying dude, so I’m gonna make party music!” The only problem is, most of this “party” music, at least the songs that came out after The Gates Mixed Plate, tends to be dry and forced. Before and on Gates, the party songs he made had a much more carefree sound to them. They were simpler and catchier. Songs like “Caribou Lou,” (obviously) “Yeah Ya Can,” and “Let Me In” had a more natural, loose feeling to them than nearly every party song since hasn’t had. “No K” is the only one I can think of that feels more like those songs. Also, “Dwamn” is quite possibly one of the worst songs I’ve ever listened to. That shit doesn’t make me want to move or party or anything. It’ll probably be what I play when I get the balls to kill myself. He seems like he’s trying way too hard to make music to party to, and honestly, I don’t know of anyone who really parties to songs like “Dwamn”. Plus, he and Travis O’Guin signed that guy who sounds like a poor man’s The Weeknd (and is a culprit of a portion of what I talked about in my last rant, You’re All Boring, Stop Putting Out Music Please. Just read that so I don’t have to go too deep into detail about why I dislike him). I like essentially all of the music I’ve heard by The Weeknd. To be fair, that adds up to about 4 or 5 songs, but still, it’s not like I’m biased against that style of music. He just can’t pull it off because he sounds like he’s Justin Timberlake on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse after inhaling helium. I’m not entirely sure if that turns women on but I’m sure that if I were to ever fuck to one of his songs I’d probably have the erectile issues of a man 30 years my senior. Or an internet porn addict, since apparently watching too much internet porn may lead to erectile dysfunction…not that I would know from firsthand experience or anything… But yeah, in recent years Tech has definitely been making decisions that are sort of questionable to me. Wow, I ended that almost like a high school paper with the concluding sentence and everything to sum up what the body paragraph was about. I should write an email to my old English teachers and tell them that they actually did teach me something and end the paragraphs in that email with concluding sentences to drive the point home.

I’m fairly certain I know what some of you may be thinking, but I’m not criticizing those songs and Diet Weeknd for being indicative of Tech N9ne selling out. My issues lie with Tech and Strange trying to almost guilt their listeners into liking them or blaming us for not being suited for the music, when I’m pretty sure I’ve made it clear that I enjoy party music and it’s just the music being bad. Tech wanting to branch out is a totally fine thing. I actually encourage that. I want to see artists be more ambitious. I want to see them succeed. Tech has been rapping for way too long to not see success, and I’m very glad it’s finally coming to him. I’m happy that he has the opportunity to work with artists who he’s always wanted to work with. That’s all great to me. In order to get to where he’s gotten and stay there, though, he’s had to make some compromises in his music. He’s made music that sounds like it was made to fit into the current landscape of mainstream hip hop. However,just because a rapper has decided to make music that sounds like they’re trying to get a bit of radio play doesn’t mean that they’ve gone soft or they’re selling out or anything. If that’s selling out, then what the fuck was Biggie doing with songs like “Hypnotize” or “Another” on his second album? He followed up a rough, rugged debut album with a double album where there was at least 3 songs on each disc that sounded like it was an attempt for radio play. And even his debut had “Big Poppa” on it!

Sidenote, “Big Poppa” has to be one of my favorite songs ever. I forget the specifics because I was anorexic at the time so there’s not much that I remember from late 2012 – mid 2013 (too much info?), but me and one of my best friends at the time had a ton of fun just randomly quoting the song at the most inappropriate times. We ruined a fair amount of actual deep discussions by doing that. Unfortunately, he found himself a girlfriend and broke off his friendships with everyone who wasn’t his girlfriend’s friend, because he’s beyond whipped to the point where he’s lost his own self and essentially become a second vessel for her incredibly controlling, spoiled, entitled, and whiny personality… and that’s not just me being jealously girlfriendless or misogynistic. I’d hang myself with a cheese wire before I let myself be that fucking pathetic. Even the girls who we hang out with feel the exact same way as I do about them. But still, we had some good times being idiots.

So yeah. Just because something is radio-oriented doesn’t make it a bad thing. What’s the point of making music if nobody is going to hear it? For the love of the music? How are you supposed to do something for the love of it if you can’t eat and support yourself so you’re in a position to afford the luxury of loving it in the first place? I swear, it’s like hip hop fans don’t take into account anything at all if their favorite rappers don’t do exactly what they want them to do. If a rapper DARES to try something new, then fuck them! The rapper’s selling out! He’s not the same! I want to hear the exact same album being made again and again because that’s the only way I know that he’s staying pure! Underground only! No pop singles, no radio play, I want to keep the music all to myself! No exposure, only sellouts get exposure! Selling out isn’t hip hop! Jesus Christ, it’s just music. Maybe it’s because there is an overabundance of bullshit and fans don’t want their favorite rappers to get involved, but honestly, it’s not like you’re going to lose your job just because a rapper you listen to made a radio single or two. Open your fucking mind up a little bit.

Now, it’s a different story when a rapper decides to just become some bubblegum act like it seemed like Ludacris was doing for a few years before he put out Ludaversal (which ended up being his best album out of the last few he had released). Don’t do what Redman did on Reggie (although I guess he had a decent excuse; he didn’t want to give Def Jam the sequel to his biggest album so he just gave them that and left the label). I’m also not saying you should compromise your actual ability on the song. But if it’s just a song or two on your album with a sound that’ll get the public at large listening it shouldn’t matter, especially if the rest of the album is nothing like the singles, but is instead some sick, raw shit. That way you can even trick listeners who think they’re going to get more of what they heard on the singles, and introduce them to some really good music that they wouldn’t have heard otherwise. And if you really put the effort into doing so, you can make a poppier single still sound really good. You can also format your album it in a way where it’ll still make sense for it to be on your album. You can have it be surrounded by songs that help the transition a bit…there’s plenty that can be done if the proper thought goes into it. Like I said before, just look at what Biggie did and you should probably be fine, since the singles on Life After Death were pretty fucking poppy compared to the rest of the album, but the album overall is still considered a classic.

And then we have these bitter old rappers talking about how much hip hop sucks nowadays. Of course, not everyone is like that; DJ Premier once said something along the lines of “I’m into boom bap. That trap shit, that’s cool, the kids can do that and I respect that, but I’m not doing that”. That’s the right way to think about it if you ask me…not that anybody did…nobody asks me anything…Anyways, the way Premier is going about it is how everyone should go about it, in my opinion. The OGs expect the newer rappers to respect their way of doing hip hop, while they bash the newer rappers’ way of doing hip hop. Why would a kid ever respect an old man ranting about why they suck? It makes absolutely no sense. It’s even worse because the OGs aren’t doing anything to help the kids. Old rappers: stop talking about what’s so wrong with kids doing hip hop these days. You’re going to do nothing except make the kids disillusioned with what you did. No kid is going to want to be like a grumpy old man. They’re going to do shit their way and put less stock into what you did because they don’t like you as people. Guys, if you’re so concerned about the state of hip hop, why don’t you take an up and coming rapper under your wing and mold them into something that could be really special? They could take the best of what’s going on now and under your tutelage they could implement some of what made old school hip hop so amazing and create a fucking classic. Case in point: Kendrick. untitled unmastered. had the whole “I mixed jazz with trap” thing going on. He blended the old and the new and made what will probably end up being the best project of 2016. Only difference is that Kendrick never really had an OG take him under his wing before he started doing the shit. But still, he’s a pretty good example of what could happen if the new and old collaborated instead of stayed at odds with each other. Come together. Push forward. Help make current mainstream rap better, cover more ground. Don’t just stay stuck on “yeah the underground is all that’s worth listening to” when a lot of underground artists (not all! Lots of rappers from the underground are fucking incredible) are just retreading the roads that you paved, staying stagnant and not innovating the way that you did.

I’ll end it on that sickeningly, disgustingly positive note, because I don’t want to ruin the moment. Bye bye!