Album Review: Eminem – Kamikaze

by Dustin

kamikaze

8.25/10

Since his reemergence in hip-hop nine years ago, Eminem’s career arc has been rocky to say the least. Perhaps lost as an artist, he’s bounced between deliveries, subject matter, and producers while simultaneously finding very little to be a natural fit. His music during this period really struggled to discover its footing completely. Relapse was an interesting idea with smooth production, but faltered in its conceptual execution and consistency; Recovery was a matured and more cohesive effort hampered by a one dimensional sound; The Marshall Mathers LP 2 boasted unreal highs, but suffered as a full listen due to a few really poor artistic choices; and finally, Revival was a cumulative disaster of faults, mixed in with some of the worst studio technical work to appear on a mainstream album. His ability to write pure rap was still clearly alive, but whether or not he could assemble a solid full body of work became a massive question mark. With doubt swirling and the public eye shifting elsewhere, there was only one solution…

…drop a seethingly angry album out of nowhere. Kamikaze.

First and foremost, the production value was an extreme step-up from from the absolute audio hell brought on by Rick Rubin during the past handful of years. Eminem’s performance was no longer burdened by disgustingly muddy mixing, and it saw a return to layered vocals to properly compensate for his relatively weak voice. Thanks to these small studio tweaks, he sounded clear and powerful behind the mic for the first time in ages. The beat choices also felt a lot more decisive and modern; moreover, even though the production credits (which included the likes of Mike Will Made It and Illadaproducer) may throw people off, the overall vibe felt more like an Eminem album than anything from the last ten years. The dark, simplistic, off-kilter nature of the instrumentation allowed for his rapping stay at the forefront of each song, which was refreshing. He’s an artist who has always gotten lost easily in oversaturated production, and clearly this was taken into consideration when structuring this album. The cohesion was also impressively tight, particularly given the awful whiplashing between incompatible styles on last year’s Revival. The only brief changeup was going into the mid-2000s Shady Records sounding throwback on “Stepping Stones;” however, this was purposeful and much less jarring than the hard right turns into Rick Rubin’s 80s rock “samples” that had become commonplace lately.

Eminem as an emcee was supremely engaging on Kamikaze, and it was a shocking treat. For the past half decade he had been in this weird place where he was writing really well, but the substance usually felt forced or non-existent. In addition to that, his delivery had become incredibly wonky, gutless, and rather hard to enjoy. With that in mind, it became obvious straight from the first few tracks that the flows, while still occasionally weird, had been dialed back to being more traditionally on beat. The gutlessness was also solved with the aforementioned return to vocal layering, which really helped his delivery to have some genuine impact. This really allowed for his penmanship to shine though, which was in tip-top condition for the vast majority of the album. His multisyllable rhyme patterns returned to feeling more conversational and less hamfisted, while his wordplay took on much more subtlety. For instance, there was one moment on “Fall” where he lead into a punchline about “Forever” (the posse cut alongside Drake, Kanye West, and Lil Wayne) by borrowing his own flow from 9 years ago. It rolled out so smoothly that it would have been easy to miss until the second or third listen. That sort of rewind factor was fantastic, and made it impossible to not desire subsequent listens. As far as subject matter goes, Kamikaze was significantly more vapid and self-indulgent than either The Marshall Mathers LP 2 or Revival, which was oddly a positive. It seems that in spite of the perception that songs like “Stan” have built about Eminem’s songwriting being grandiose, he’s actually most comfortable in the snide and angry mindset that he captured here. While it was initially a bit of a shock to hear him rapping about hating critics, hating other rappers, knocking people out, guns, and calling Trick Trick, it truly felt like he had allowed his real personality to come out again. Removing the rose-coloured glasses, the vast majority of his best work has always been self-obsessed fury and vitriol. Kamikaze really was no different than a record like the original Marshall Mathers LP in that regard, and it was a fun listen because of it.

The aforementioned “Stepping Stone,” however, was the one track on this album with a much more emotional foundation. Though they’ve not released a studio album since 2004, it marked the official end of D12. “Stepping Stone” went heavily into detail about how Proof’s untimely death tore the collective apart and rendered them dysfunctional even through multiple attempts to recapture the feeling and make a comeback. It was handled incredibly tastefully with Eminem shouldering a lot of the blame, but also being blunt about needing everyone to move past the group so that they can all remain friends. The production, as mentioned, was a throwback to the sound of the label during D12’s hayday. It was a nice touch, and a fittingly melancholy end to a group limping out of years of turmoil.

The features on this album definitely seemed to catch a lot of attention on drop day, and fortunately they did not disappoint. Joyner Lucas, Royce da 5’9”, and Jessie Reyez each brought a unique flavor to their tracks. Joyner’s opening verse to “Lucky You,” a bit of a before and after story about fame, matched Eminem’s level of energy perfectly and accomplished exactly what the song needed it to do. On the sillier end of the spectrum, Royce brought much appreciated comic relief to the opening of “Not Alike,” which of course came immediately after the emotional strain of “Stepping Stone.” Jessie Reyez appeared on both of the combination tracks “Nice Guy” and “Good Guy,” where she promptly asserted herself as one of the most fitting singers to perform alongside Eminem. Her humor matched his perfectly, and the chemistry was simply delightful. Overall, the features felt like genuine collaborations rather than random names making a cameo. It was a nice change of pace, and nobody came across as redundant.

There was an additional unlisted feature by Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon on “Fall.” It sounded nice, but there isn’t really much else to be said aside from the fact that he was angry it stayed on the album.

Kamikaze was unapologetically midwest, and for that reason it will likely always be a polarizing album. The speed rap, trap influence, shock value, and hyper-lyrical writing style are all staples of the region currently, and it’s not going to be every listener’s cup of tea. That being said, Eminem did these things extremely well. From start to finish, nothing felt out of place. Even the weaker tracks such as “Normal” were amusing and played a role in making the overall listen more complete. He overcame many of the musical issues he’s been grappling lately, and it reflected itself in a solid project. It wasn’t perfect, but he’s never been the perfect artist. What it was, though, was Eminem’s most natural sounding release in over 15 years after a litany of awkward and confusing detours. Fortunately he seemingly found his way back on track, as Kamikaze was an excellent listening experience.

 

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A History of Obie Trice

by Dustin

obie trice

There existed a point in time where Obie Trice was a highly anticipated figure in rap. The first solo act signed to Shady Records, his “real name, no gimmicks” tagline served as the perfect balance to the alias-focused early incarnations of Eminem and D12. Trading cartoonish violence and shock humor for street experience and cheeky dry wit, he felt familiar but different enough for fans to invest interest in the rising star. Perhaps it should be expected, but this partnership with Shady seems to be the single small snapshot of Obie’s career that lingers in hip-hop’s memory. Reality is, though, that the man has been involved in the scene for over two decades (and counting). A labour of love which would be launched while simultaneously trying to escape the grips of a drug-dealing lifestyle, Obie should be viewed as a true warrior of the craft rather than the poster child for the rise and fall nature of mainstream music; moreover, if one follows his life a little more closely, it becomes evident that he was an artist able to reach people regardless of what level of fame he was currently sustaining.

And like so many others, it all started during the greatest boom in the history of Detroit’s underground.

Though he would go on to state that he had only been taking rap seriously for about five years prior to his Shady Records deal, Obie Trice’s interest in being a rapper stemmed back to his childhood. Initially rapping on a karaoke machine during his early youth, he would eventually transition to making sporadic appearances at Detroit’s legendary Hip-Hop Shop as a teenager in the early 90s. As the rap scene in Michigan began to take off near the end of the millennium, so too would Obie’s involvement in the game. By 1999 he had started to make his first true push in the industry, releasing “The Well-Known Asshole/Gimme My Dat Back” as a vinyl single through No Airplay Entertainment. Riding a bit of buzz, thanks in part to local DJs buying into what the the young talent had to offer, he and No Airplay Entertainment struck gold again in 2001 with the release of “Mr. Trice/Respect.” Detroit had finally become properly conscious of Obie Trice; moreover, local radio stations were keeping these singles in regular rotation, helping him reach a far wider audience than before.

One notable member of Obie Trice’s ever-growing following was D12’s resident weirdo, Bizarre. In display of a shockingly well-groomed ear for potential, Bizarre was an early proponent of Obie’s music. Allegedly, Bizarre heard one of the rapper’s very first singles and absolutely lost his mind at the quality. He promptly had his management get him in contact with Obie Trice, and they became friends nearly instantly. Though it took quite a bit of time, Bizarre would eventually put Eminem and Paul Rosenberg onto “The Well Known Asshole.” They loved it, and eventually invited Obie to come and audition to the world’s largest emcee. He jumped at the opportunity but assumed little was likely to come of it as Eminem had seemed passive in the extremely casual meeting. He thanked Bizarre for having his back and headed home, prepared to maintain on the independent grind if needed.

A few weeks later, his manager gave him the shocking call that Shady Records was considering tendering him a record deal. After bonding with Eminem at a Kid Rock party (which he had been personally invited to by the Shady Records co-founder), he would be added to the label’s roster in 2001, barely two years after his debut vinyl singles.

Though they’ve become a bit of a joke for poor talent management in recent years, Obie Trice would be the benefactor of a flawless slow burn build to hype on the still young Shady Records. A wonderful debut freestyle skit on D12’s Devil’s Night album would be his only real output on the label during his first calendar year as a signee. A taste of what was to come, but little more than that. Throughout 2002, however, Eminem and company would begin a monstrous career push for the man with no gimmicks. Obie was all over everything the label was doing that year. He was promo’d at the beginning of Eminem’s first single from The Eminem Show – an album that also saw him featured on “Drips” – as well as given multiple spots on the original soundtrack for 8 Mile. By the time the summer of 2003 rolled around, fans’ patience would be rewarded. Obie’s debut-album cycle would be kicked off on August 12th, 2003, with the release of the comedic “Got Some Teeth.” Just over a month later, Cheers hit the shelves. The long awaited debut of Detroit’s hidden gem had finally arrived.

No expense was spared on Cheers, as the album was absolutely loaded to the brim with star power. Eminem alone contributed five vocal features and served as executive producer for the release; additionally, Dr. Dre, Nate Dogg, 50 Cent, Lloyd Banks, Timbaland, D12, and Busta Rhymes all made notable appearances. Unsurprisingly, the album performed very well commercially, landing itself in the five spot on the Billboard 200 and eventually being certified platinum by the RIAA a little later. It was well deserved too. Obie held his own, even when faced with performing alongside future legends of the industry. His style was loose and confident, a perfect reflection of the battle born Detroit hip-hop scene. It was also clear that he had seized the opportunity to learn from the experienced individuals around him, presenting his up-and-coming hunger with the finesse of a much more established hip-hop performer. The transition from independent hood artist to being an integral part of rap’s favourite powerhouse was nearly flawless.

Mainstream success is fleeting, however. A fact that Obie Trice would learn painfully in the coming years.

In the period post-Cheers, things started to unravel slightly at Shady Records. Eminem’s mounting drug dependency issues saw the emcee’s brainchild slowly lose its dominance over the rap industry. This was catalyzed in 2006 by the tragic and untimely murder of D12’s Proof. An associate and best friend to basically the entire label, his passing ushered in a terribly dark era for Shady 1.0. In spite of mourning this loss of kin and recovering from being shot in the head himself, Obie Trice did actually manage to put together a solid sophomore effort with Second Rounds on Me. The album was darker, grittier, and more violent than its predecessor, a clear reflection of his mindset at the time; however, it failed to achieve the same level of commercial success that Cheers had enjoyed three years prior. It debuted at eight on the Billboard 200, moving 74,000 units in the first week. Though rap album sales had taken a nosedive that year, the lack of performance was surprising. In the midst of this relative flop, Obie unfortunately also found himself firmly in the doghouse of Interscope head Jimmy Iovine. He would later admit some person fault for this falling out due to his attitude at the time, but not before it ultimately led to him parting ways with Interscope and Shady. Unable to reach a resolution with Iovine, Obie Trice walked away from his major record deal in 2008. He stayed on good terms with his mentor and label mates, but his time as a mainstream presence in rap had come to a relatively quick end.

To his credit, Obie never gave up on the rap game. Though he took a handful of years off, he would resurface in 2012 to relative underground success with his self-made Black Market Entertainment brand. He was no indie darling, but Bottoms Up sold over five thousand first week copies, charted on the Billboard 200, and was generally received quite positively by fans. His follow up, The Hangover, a few years later would be more polarizing, yet it still had a respectable first week sales of over four thousand. These numbers may have been small compared to his time on a major label, but for an entirely independent artist they were actually nothing to laugh at. Obie Trice’s post-Shady legacy is, however, most well defined by his actions outside of his own music. Starting in the early 2010s, he began meeting with the Detroit local government to discuss helping high-risk youth get invested into the arts. A commendable cause for a city in regular turmoil, to be certain.

Obie Trice never seemed destined to be the defining face of any record label, but it is a bit of a shame that he has become largely forgotten. He may have been behind Eminem, 50 Cent, and D12 when it came to general fan interest, but he gave the roster a sense of depth and legitimacy that it simply has not had since his departure. With Obie, Shady Records had four acts delivering genuinely enjoyable albums which were also major commercial successes. They were a force in hip-hop, and for a short period of time, they sat at the peak of the genre. He often gets miscast as nothing more than someone who sold due to affiliation with Eminem, which isn’t entirely the case. He undoubtedly benefited from his boss being the largest thing on the planet, but there was more to Obie Trice as a rapper than that. He was witty, charismatic, funny, and knew when to reel it back and be serious. He understood his strengths and weaknesses, and made up for his limitations by projecting his infectious personality unabashedly. It is a fact that his prominence has dried up and his musical output has declined, but Obie should be looked back on as a superb entertainer. His time in the sun was a brief, but very enjoyable, piece of hip-hop’s illustrious history.

Retrospective Review: The Entity, by King Gordy

by Dustin

kgte

The year was 2003, and in the hip-hop world all eyes were on Detroit. With Eminem rising to global mega-stardom, D12 going platinum with Devil’s Night two years prior, and Obie Trice being added into the Shady Records family, the city seemed like an unstoppable production line of rap gold. This remained true under the surface, where a blossoming underground scene was producing a plethora of incredibly talented artists. King Gordy was one. A member of the world’s “largest” group, The Fat Killahz, Gordy was somewhat an unpolished diamond at the time. He was rough around the edges, but full of soul, energy, and had a mind that could only be sculpted in the rough neighborhoods of Detroit. In fact, prior to approaching this album you should drop all preconceived notions of King Gordy. Though his reputation as the “King of Horrorcore” is well established at this point, he was a little different during the time of The Entity.

First and foremost, it’s impossible to have a discussion about The Entity without first talking about “Nightmares.” Track two on the album after an introduction skit. “Nightmares” was, for lack of a better description, the evil-bizarro-world version of “My Name Is.” King Gordy introduced himself to the listener as the Van Dyke and Harper version of Freddy Krueger, and then angrily shouted his name repeatedly so you can’t forget who he is. It is really an incredibly catchy and dark song that’s a blast to yell along with. I don’t know how King Gordy and his camp managed to make something evil so much fun to listen to, but as a way to introduce himself, it was amazing.

“Nightmares” is the perfect track to give a listen if you’re still on the fence about this album. It gives an excellent snapshot of the anger, vileness, and talent King Gordy was bringing to the table on The Entity. The music video is a lot of fun too, featuring appearances from Detroit rap icons and an additional verse which didn’t appear on the album version.

Armed and dangerous, AKs turn your brains to mush,
Mix my weed with angel dust, feds label us notorious.
(Nightmares)

Enough about that though, what about the rest of the record?

King Gordy was overflowing with an equal amount of energy on the rest of The Entity as well. There was not a single track on the entire album where he phoned in a vocal performance, putting his own spin on long-time influences such as Notorious B.I.G. and Howlin’ Wolf. The Entity primarily features Gordy’s hyper-violent angry style, but there were also a handful of very genuinely sad moments. He took a much softer tone on songs such as “No Lights” and “Nobody Hates Nothin” and provided a much needed introspective gut-punch to give the album even more personality. It’s also of note that King Gordy had an incredibly powerful sing-rap style on many of The Entity’s tracks. This is a trait that he’s retained even today, and it something that has really set him apart from many rappers. He had (and still has to this day) an incredibly rare blend of excellent writing and a super expressive, charismatic delivery. Teamed with the instrumentation on The Entity, Gordy sounded like an unstoppable force.

The production on The Entity was dirty, and distinctly Detroit flavoured. Handled by The Bass Brothers, Eminem, Silent Riot, and others such as Hex Murda, the instrumentation is gloriously cohesive and created a unique sonic environment. The way they played with elements of rock, boom-bap, and stripped back guitars, horns, and pianos still sounds fresh almost a decade and a half later. They also suited the style King Gordy was using on The Entity absolutely perfectly by providing the type of room his powerful voice needs to take the lead.

As a side note, the skits on this album were actually really well executed and added something to the overall listening experience. They built up King Gordy, and the world he lives in, to be inhumane, monstrous, and anarchistic. A lot of artists have trouble making skits that don’t detract from the album, but that wasn’t an issue for The Entity. Removing the skits would kind of make the album feel like it had missed something, and they are welcome moments even on repeat listens. The features, though placed sparingly, were also excellent on The Entity. Much like the skits, they didn’t take away from King Gordy’s presence on the album. It’s still undeniably his show throughout.

Or maybe I was just never nothing to you,
Like our friendship meant nothing and I never did nothing for you,
Evidently I been nothing since the beginning,
From out the womb until my funeral, I’ll be nothing until the ending.
(Nobody Hates Nothin’)

Though Gordy would eventually fall out with WEB Entertainment and continue to have an proficient career as a solo artist, The Entity stands as a timelessly heavy debut album. It perfectly captured the character of King Gordy: angry, in your face, and not afraid to say something risque if he knows it will piss the listener off. Street rap fans will take great joy out of the albums rawness and grit; those who found King Gordy later on in his career will enjoy the horrorcore twists on tracks like “Time to Die” and “When Darkness Falls”. Ultimately, it’s the perfect hardcore rap album – a portrait of Detroit’s rap scene at the time – that has been confusingly slept on for nearly 15 years.

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.

Apu Rambles: Hip-Hop, my Replacement Girlfriend

by Apu

rex1

Schoolwork, internet connectivity issues that prolong the time it takes to do said schoolwork, a keyboard meltdown, and other things I can use as weak excuses for my inactivity… none of which could keep me from procrastinating and listening to hip hop. Hip hop has been essentially the only part of my personality that I think is appealing in any way at all. However, believe it or not, there was once a time when I wasn’t into the genre, and hardly knew anything about it at all. Can you believe it?! Well, unluckily for you, this half-assed intro leading into a very long piece about me and hip hop is almost done. It’s story time!

Before I really got into hip hop music, I had heard a few songs, but for the most part it was more of what my parents wanted to listen to. So it was classic rock when my dad was driving and pop when my mom was driving. The only hip hop song that I really properly remember is “Gold Digger” by Kanye. I had heard it when it was on the radio once, so it must have been in mid-to-late-2005. None else really stick out in my head, but I do know I had heard some. Those that I did hear, I didn’t really think anything of. They were alright, but I didn’t like them any more than the songs that my dad would play (my mom’s taste in music is garbage). I didn’t really connect with the genre until the summer of 2006.
A friend of mine in the neighborhood who obviously later became a massive fuck-up showed me the song “When I’m Gone” by Eminem. I remember when I heard it, I thought to myself “I’ve never heard a song like this before, what the fuck is this?” It was like a movie in my head, which is something that I had never really experienced when listening to a song at that point in my life. I had never really been so drawn to the lyrics of a song before then. Of course, now, I don’t like the song very much, but back then it was something totally new.

All my life, I’ve been a loser who lives under a rock, so I didn’t know who Eminem was back then. Over the course of the next week or two (or more, who actually remembers details like that?), I was on YouTube looking for more of Em’s music. I think I had found songs like “Without Me”, “Mockingbird”, and “Lose Yourself”. I do also remember hearing “You Don’t Know”, but according to the ever-reliable Wikipedia, that came out in November of 2006, so I guess my memory is hazy on the timeline regarding that. Also, fun fact, I didn’t know he was white until after almost 2 months of listening to loose tracks, after seeing one of his music videos.

Anyways, I was pretty enraptured by the guy’s music. No artist had ever really made music that stuck with me the way his did. Later that summer, I went on vacation to see some family. When I was visiting my mom’s side of the family, I was playing Super Mario Bros. with my uncle and I started telling him about how I liked Eminem. Sometime during that week I was there, he gave me his copy of The Eminem Show, which was the only Em album he felt comfortable showing me at that age, although he still did it with a “don’t tell your mom.” I stuck it in his CD player and started listening to it. I enjoyed the holy hell out of that CD. I must have listened to it 3 times straight while my parents, grandparents, and aunts thought I was playing video games with my uncle and brother.

When listening to it, I noticed that there were other people on the songs. Using the booklet with the lyrics, I matched the voices to the names (I don’t recall the back cover having the features listed so I didn’t know that the songs would have other people on them). I liked them, but the ones who really stood out to me were D-12. I think the only reason I was able to do what many other Eminem fans can’t and actually recognize each member is because I spent so much time staring at the lyrics in the booklet. At first, I didn’t really understand why it said “featuring D-12” but then had the verses preceded with the members’ names…I guess I didn’t put together the fact that they’re a group. Anyways, I told my uncle “wow these D-12 guys are awesome, do they have music out?” Of course, he had the Devil’s Night CD. That one was one that he really wasn’t sure he wanted to let me have. I’m sure a decade later, he regrets it. Too bad.

That CD flipped everything that I thought I knew about the world on its head, then face fucked it.

That is the CD that shaped nearly everything about my attitude in the years to come, and totally warped my sense of humor.

It was that CD.

When I listened to Devil’s Night, it was the first time I had ever heard anything that even approached something that vulgar. I was a kid who was an idealist and thought everything in the world was great. Listening to that album shattered that. I was entranced by how this group of 6 guys was just spewing venom at everything they didn’t like, and at some stuff that they did like. Some people lose their innocence when a loved one dies, some lose it when they accidentally walk in on their parents having sex…I think I lost mine when I listened to this CD. With Bizarre being a member, I don’t think I could have avoided it.

So after that I listened to the rest of Em’s discography, I listened to the other D-12 album, then started looking into Shady Records. I really, really enjoyed Obie Trice once I started listening to him. Cheers is still to this day one of my favorite albums and probably the 2nd best non-Em album to be released by Shady, in my opinion (the first being Devil’s Night). I started looking into Proof’s discography too, and listened to Searching For Jerry Garcia. After hearing a couple of verses by Royce da 5’9” on Em’s music, I started looking into his music. For about a year, I was listening mainly to that little circle of 8 Detroit artists.

Obviously, when you listen to early Shady Records albums, you’re bound to hear more and more of Dr. Dre. That led me to checking out his albums. From there, I started listening to more west coast hip hop artists. I don’t really remember who I was listening to though, because I don’t really listen to many of them anymore, but I do remember that I listened to some Snoop Dogg music. That’s where I really started enjoying the G-funk style present on Doggystyle, which I actually quite recently gained a new appreciation for as being possibly the only style of hip hop from the 90s that still sounds like it could have been produced today. I hold the entirely non-unique and pretty basic, pumpkin spice latte/Ugg boot level opinion that Doggystyle is the best-produced hip hop album of all time. Dre and Daz are geniuses for that.

Of course when you listen to the west coast, you’re bound to find 2Pac’s music. I had heard and read about 2Pac, but had never really listened to. I think he was the first artist since I listened to Em who had given me the same sort of feeling as Em did. There’s nothing that I can really say about 2Pac that hasn’t been said a million times before, but he did really make music that painted incredibly vivid scenarios, and his delivery would fall on you and cave in your chest. I know that I mainly listened to All Eyez On Me and the Makaveli album, because I liked the production on those more than I did on his pre-Death Row music, probably because it was more like the production I was used to hearing. My uncle later gave me his copy of All Eyez On Me, probably sometime like 2010 when I had already been listening to the album for a while. The 7 Day Theory is actually the first CD I bought for myself…in other words, spent my parents’ money on.

It wasn’t long after that when I sort of slowed down with hip hop. I had started to hear more and more of the crunk/snap music that was dominating the game in the mid-2000s. With social media and the internet not being as popular as it is today, it was a little harder to find acts that didn’t take up all the radio play, so I can understand why the whole “hip hop is dead” thing ended up happening, when it never really died if you take a look back at some artists that were out but not being pushed the way a Lil Jon or whoever else was. I certainly felt like that. I sort of stopped looking for new artists to listen to for a good year. I thought I had tapped into everything that hip hop really had to offer. If only I could beat the living shit out of my younger self.

I forget how, but I discovered Redman, the Wu-Tang Clan, and Busta Rhymes all sometime in mid-2009. I think it was a combination of seeing Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2 and Busta’s Back On My B.S. on the iTunes store, and finally looking up who Em was talking about when he mentioned “Reggie” on “TIl I Collapse.” I saw the cover of Dare Iz A Darkside and figured it looked wacky enough to listen to (fuck you, young Apu…even though that’s still a personal top 5 album).

That album is what got me into the east coast sound. It totally changed everything that I was looking for in the music that I liked. I think the fact that it was dark, which was sort of the sound I was into at the time as a rebellion to the ignorantly happy crunk era, is what made that album click instantly with me. It was almost like Devil’s Night and The Marshall Mathers LP in the sense that it had a lot of humor on it but at the same time it had pretty dark music. It managed being funky as fuck, funny, and witty, yet dark, hazy, and gritty (BARZ!), which to this day is something that really impresses me, because I don’t think there is anyone else who can marry those two sounds the way Red did on that album.

Hearing those guys from the east got me more interested in digging into east coast hip hop. I found guys like Pharoahe Monch, Nas, Biggie, and DMX. There was something about the east sound that I started to really connect with. I think it was the rougher sound, which again, was in such stark contrast to the crunk shit turning trap (which I don’t dislike by any means at all, certainly not the way I do crunk). It was different from the polished sound of the west, where even when the music gets aggressive or dark it does so with a sort of sense of style that the east generally forgoes. I told Dustin recently that it’s almost like the musical styles match the climates; the west is warmer and has more beaches and shit, and the people are wearing summer clothes year round so the music has that sort of style, whereas the east gets a shit-ton colder so people are running around in the streets of New York wearing jeans, hoodies, jackets, and Timberland boots, which is reflected in the rugged sound. That was a massive tangent that didn’t need to be made at all, but yeah.

In 2010 I started going through a horrorcore phase. I discovered Tech N9ne through the Seepage EP, which is some of his darkest material to date. From there, I discovered Brotha Lynch Hung, and I rediscovered King Gordy. Now, until I heard Gordy’s verse on “Horns”, I had thought he was a blues singer from Detroit. The only time I had heard him was on hooks for Proof and D-12, on songs like “No. T. Lose” off Searching For Jerry Garcia, and “I Am Gone” and “Mrs. Pitts” off Return of The Dozen Vol. 1. It wasn’t a too far-off conclusion to come to, as he draws quite a bit of inspiration from blues artist Howlin’ Wolf. How fucking wrong I was. I’m not really into horrorcore much anymore, but I still enjoy Gordy and Lynch a lot. Gordy is to this day one of the most unique hip hop artists I’ve ever heard.

Getting into King Gordy is what got me back into Detroit hip hop. I started listening to his group, Fat Killahz, and then guys like Elzhi and Black Milk (who later ended up getting me into Sean Price, through Random Axe). As time would go on I would become a fan of Danny Brown’s as well. I also tried listening to more southern artists because at one point I felt like I was starting to neglect them. I became a big fan of Scarface.

My taste in music stayed relatively unchanged for the next 3 or 4 years, and that leads into about now. I would start listening to other acts, like The Roots, but I didn’t really focus on expanding. But this is also around the time I started talking to Dustin, and he was constantly expanding his tastes (read: constantly becoming more and more of a hipster). But he managed to get me to start listening to Run The Jewels about a year and a half later than everyone else did. Around the same time, I also started to get familiar with Prof before becoming a massive fan of his, and because of the Rhymesayers connection and a push from Dustin, I’ve started getting into Aesop Rock. I’m still looking for other artists to listen to as well.

I’ve left out a lot of the artists that I listen to, primarily because I’m a scatterbrained fuck, but that is basically the main gist of it. Hip hop has basically shaped me into who I am now. I don’t think there’s much that I have a passion about the way I do hip hop. The more time goes on, the more I that passion grows. For the longest it was about how I connected to the music. Then I started to take into account lyricism. Lately I’ve been getting very into the production side. Not in practice, since I’m nowhere near creative enough to do that, but just listening to things as closely as I can to hear how things are put together. I think that’s why recently I’ve gained such an affinity for Just Blaze, aside from the fact that he makes killer beats. The way he pieces some of his beats together amazes me sometimes. I’ve always liked him, but the more I try to dissect in my head what he does, the most I find what he does to be so impressive.

But yeah. I’m basically pussywhipped for hip hop. I don’t see myself losing the passion I have for it any time soon. Fuck it, I’m about to go listen to some right now.

The end. Thanks for wasting your time reading this.

Apu Rambles: You’re All Boring, Stop Putting Out Music Please

by Apu

beat

First of all, I have to give a big, big shout out to Prof for retweeting what I wrote about him and making my dick feel less small than it really is. More people read that article in 3 days than I originally thought would visit our site in a month.

Dear Diary,

I’m just sitting here eating my Little Bites brownies before I head off to the gym and I thought I’d try writing what I hope is a pretty quick little entry in Apu Rambles. I’m really fucking sick of people in hip hop (not necessarily just rappers but singers who are essentially a part of the culture and/or genre, but I guess I’ll say rappers from here on out because my fat fuck self is too lazy to write 5 syllables when I could just write 2) not having a personality in their music. That goes for people in both the mainstream and underground, however, I find that this problem does run more rampant in the underground. Of course, a lot of rappers in the mainstream have to rely on only personality because they can’t fucking rap (*cough* Future *cough* Young Thug *cough*), but strangely enough I come across more underground rappers than I do mainstream. Maybe it’s because my dad’s car’s speakers are dicked and my cheap-ass dad won’t do shit to fix it, leaving me to have to blast music through my phone’s speaker while putting myself at the same risk of death as people who text and drive.

So I don’t listen to the radio and I spend a little too much time on the internet, being the chick magnet that I am. Anyway, the point is that the whole personality thing bugs me.

I’m not gonna call any names out or anything in a negative way, because I don’t want to alienate any readers who may be fans of rappers I’m talking about (and basically make it so Dustin wasted $30 or so on the domain name). I just want to say, to me, technical skill isn’t everything. Some fans like to run around claiming that their next favorite underground rapper has the best flow, most complex rhymes, most mind-boggling metaphors…sure, I do enjoy them a lot. I mean, how couldn’t I? Eminem is my #1 favorite rapper and right now he’s probably one of the most technical rappers who has ever lived. But he still has a vibrant personality in his music. Just listen to the Bad Meets Evil song “All I Think About” if you think differently.

Honestly, if you don’t do something differently from the 30 other rappers I could find in the suggest videos column, then I’m not going to really care about how technical you are. Show me personality. Personality is fucking everything in life, even when it comes to shit like this. That’s why no matter how fucking terrible my submissions to this website are, I at least have a personality that isn’t like the typical millennial piece of shit who writes articles on the internet like “10 Reasons Why You Should Put Yourself Above Your Boyfriend” or “12 Ways I’m The Guy Every Girl Says She Wants But Doesn’t Date Because I’m So Clearly A Beta Male With No Confidence” or whatever the fuck else my generation spews out while expecting the older generations to actually respect us, so my shit is at least a little bit more enjoyable (at least, I would like to think. If not, well, at least I’m not getting paid for spreading my filth across the Internet). It’s especially important in an art form like hip hop, where it seems like everyone (including my shitty self) feels like they can do it.

So many underground rappers claim that they’re bringing the 90s back or whatever. REAL HIP HOP. The thing is though, I really don’t think they are. When I think the 90s, what I hear is guys like Wu-Tang, DMX, Onyx, or Heltah Skeltah with a rugged sound who rap with conviction. Busta Rhymes being catchy as shit with bouncy beats and a loud, fun as fuck voice that makes you want to yell along with him (“NEW YORK! JERSEY! PHILLY! B-MORE! D.C.! VIRGINIA! ATLANTA! EVERYBODY RIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIISE!” is very fun. Yell it at the top of your lungs at some neighborhood kids, then again while you’re in a high-speed chase away from cops for causing a disturbance. You won’t regret it). Nas with a rich, soulful sound. Redman with the funky beats, slick delivery, and witty jokes that makes you grin when you listen. In other words, they put themselves into the music.

Since everybody is a unique snowflake who has value in their own special ways jfkdlajklfdjalkfjkl;dajl (sorry about that, I pressed my hand down on the keyboard as I ran up to vomit after typing that), they bring something in their music that nobody else has. You don’t get that with most underground rappers nowadays. You generally get rappers who have absolutely no originality at all… Look at all the Eminem, Lil Wayne, and Drake biters there are. Even The Weeknd is starting to have his style bitten by R&B singers. They’ve got no power or personality behind what they’re saying, they’re just adopting what someone else has done or they sound totally empty. It’s either that, or they rap over beats that they think are “old school boom bap” but are actually just painfully obviously programmed drums over opera samples that sound decentralized in the way that the sound comes out of the headphones. And the way they rap is just as bad. No vocal variety, no musicality, just flat rapping. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I can’t see a reason why anyone would want to listen to anything like these kinds of rappers. I can’t find anything that these guys add to my playlist that’s anything that I’ve either not already got or would even want.

Another thing, why the fuck have producers stopped using drums? Jesus Christ, these fucking idiots think that just because the Atlanta scene uses claps that everyone can, so they throw claps behind some classic rock samples and listen to it thinking the shit sounds good. It doesn’t. What made me really realize this is when I was listening to a new song by Ca$his (you forgot and/or never knew he existed, amright?), produced by Eminem, that was posted on a forum that I frequent. The melody and everything is pretty fucking nice, right? Shit sounds like it could really knock…but it doesn’t. There’s no drums, it’s just claps. For some reason Em skipped past basically all the drum options and (I can only assume) thought “ay bro this shit hard” in his drug-addled mind and gave it to Ca$his, probably because it sounded like most other shit that got plays. Comparing that to this newer song which sounds more like it was produced sometime around The Marshall Mathers LP 2, or later, made me understand how much the impact of the drums can transform a beat completely.

See the difference? It sounds tougher. It sounds meaner and compliments Ca$his’s (sort of outdated) gangsta attitude and style more than that weak-ass shit in the first song. It fucking hits harder, even though the melody of the older one sounds like the song should hit harder. Most importantly, the sound of the drum fits this beat more than that clap or whatever the fuck was used fit the first one. You know why? Because the shit wasn’t a dirty south beat. Claps don’t work on beats that aren’t dirty south. Look, hip hop producers from the East, West, and Midwest. We get that Atlanta ran shit for a long time in the mid 00s. That doesn’t mean you have to adopt their style. The producers from Atlanta know how to make the claps work, because they know how to make the surrounding music fit them. You fucking don’t. Get back to using actual drums because the shit sounds way stronger on the style of music that you’re producing. Or maybe it doesn’t and I’m just hearing things, in which case, leave a comment below and I’ll be sure to slit my wrist to take myself down a notch. Not too badly, just to let a little bit of blood flow out before I bandage myself.

But I don’t know, I think I like guys like DJ Premier so much still to this day because his drums are powerfu. I didn’t like Royce much on PRhyme (circling back to the personality thing, I thought that he just sounded like he was reading off his paper rather than rapping with conviction, but that’s just me…see? It all connects!), but holy shit was Premo’s production on that some of my favorite production work in a long time. Those drums on “Dat Sound Good” and “Wishin’” are to die for. So yeah. If you’re gonna make an East or West beat, just put a fucking snare, trash can lid, or fucking cowbell on it or some shit. Usually those drums will resonate more naturally with me than claps do. I’ve always believed that you know a song is good when you can feel the shit in your testicles, not when you have to think about why it’s a good song. It should work similarly when making the music. Don’t be a bitch. Make your music with your testicles, not with your brain. If the drums are stronger and you know it, don’t think too hard about what will fit in more, especially because most people aren’t as neurotic as I am and don’t worry about the drums that are being used.

Now don’t get me wrong or anything, this isn’t me yearning for a better time in hip hop. I’m not some old head crying about how music sucks nowadays and the only good that has ever happened in hip hop happened 20 years ago. That’s a harmful thought process. It holds the genre and culture back. If everything stayed the same, then hip hop would have died out a long time ago. It’s natural selection; in the changing music climate, the genre needs traits that keep it alive. Keeping the genre alive with whatever gets plays and keeps people thinking about it gives people more room to make different styles behind what’s currently hot. Plus, there was really shitty music back in the day too. I guess there’s just more now because everyone is running to set up a home studio and just putting out whatever the fuck they want without thinking about whether it is any good or not. Technicality is great and all, but when it comes to standing out in my ears, I just like some more soul and personality. Something that hits hard and causes a reaction.

Okay, so it’s time to go to the gym and listen to music that isn’t boring as shit, with hard drums, so that I can lift weights that make me feel like a monster… Even though they externally make me look like a lazy bitch, because for some reason I feel like a person of my size should probably be curling more than 35s.

Love, Apu.