Album Review: Nocando – Severed

by Dustin

Severed

3.5/10

Those who have followed Los Angeles’ amazing alternative hip-hop scene will recognize the name of Hellfyre Club. Through the early 2010s, Hellfyre Club was an independent powerhouse that played home to a mass of independent mainstays. Busdriver, Open Mike Eagle, milo, VerBS and Anderson .Paak are just a few of the names to have been associated with the label’s roster alongside rapper and founder, Nocando; however, things started to go awry for the label in 2014. Dozens of fans didn’t physical copies of releases ordered through Hellfyre’s Bandcamp and took to review boards to voice their concerns. Additionally, tensions between milo and Nocando allegedly began to boil over when the label failed to compensate the young artist for his album A Toothpaste Suburb. This lead to the departure of most of the outfit’s main acts, such as Open Mike Eagle, Busdriver, and milo himself. The trio would release a free “farewell” EP, The Catcher of the Fade, with a handful of ex-Hellfyre Club musicians (with no involvement from Nocando) before moving onto greener pastures to continue crafting their art.

While the majority of the former members never spoke out against Hellfyre Club personally, there was a clear distancing from Nocando and the label. Busdriver once mentioned over Twitter that the vision of the label had died and that it was time to move on. The label sat in static, halted to indefinite hiatus after the release of Nocando’s 2014 album Jimmy the Burnout. Like most things however, Hellfyre Club was not allowed to stay as a memory. In early May of 2017 the label would see its first release in over three years with the very quiet release of The Life I Live EP by Cadalack Ron.

Flash forward less than a month, and Nocando has decided to release his first album in three years, Severed, under the Hellfyre Club moniker as well.

As an emcee, Nocando really doesn’t offer up a lot of versatility or creativity behind the mic. He’s pretty decent at what he does – which is a very punchy, sometimes crude, and simplistic throwback approach to rap – but seems to confine himself to his comfort zone. This really does not change on Severed either. Nocando does what he’s always done, and after a while the verses begin to feel like a bit of a homogeneous blob. He’s got an incredibly grating, gruff delivery on this release that feels incredibly out of place on some of the production. It’s as if Nocando is angry for the entire duration of the album, even when the overall tone of a song is nowhere near that emotion. He attempted to make up for a lack of personality by sounding aggressive, and to be honest itt did not work at all.

To make matters worse, nearly every feature outshone Nocando on this record and most of them weren’t even that interesting. Slug dropped a really nice verse on the song “Useless” (which also had one of the best instrumentals on Severed), which is well worth hearing. Aside from that though, no one really stood out. They just happened to be better than a very underwhelming lead emcee.

On a more positive note, the album art is really cool. But also, Severed feels much more focused than Nocando’s previous work. For example, Jimmy the Burnout felt like an incredibly scattered release. It listened more like a up-and-coming rapper’s debut mixtape than a studio album by a veteran underground emcee. Severed on the other hand, while boring at times, is quite cohesive. There seems to be an attempt at establishing an overarching sound for the album, which is something Nocando has struggled with in the past. It was a a bit of a surprise, but most certainly a pleasant one.

Unfortunately this has more to do with the production than his rapping. The instrumentals on Severed are actually pretty cool for the fast majority of the album. There’s a lot of trap flavor to the production, and tracks such as “Villain” certainly have a unique sound. What really is a bother however, is the absolutely dreadful mixing on this tape. The vocal volumes are all over the place from track to track. For example, “Useless” is significantly louder than its follow up song “Villain”. Add in frequently cracking “s” sounds and instrumentals that are way too quiet, and you’ve got a release with technical issues so severe that it detracts from the listening experience. Not good. The departure from Daddy Kev as an engineer was a very poor decision.

Overall this is a pretty weak release that ultimately feels unnecessary. Outside of the context of his once amazing underground collective, Nocando is just another rapper. He’s at his best when surrounded by talent with more charisma than himself, such as his group work with Busdriver as Flash Bang Grenada. On his own, he lacks the ability to create a great album. This was much of the issue with Severed. It was just so overwhelmingly generic and poorly handled. It’s a shame too, because there did genuinely seem to be some good ideas behind the album, Nocando just dropped the ball when it came to executing them in a way that makes for an enjoyable listen. He’s failed to address his shortcomings as a rapper, and they’ve only began to compound and worsen.

It’s hard to see the appeal in Severed unless you’re a big Nocando fan or desperately clinging onto the nostalgia of Hellfyre Club. A label that should’ve been allowed to rest permanently after the mistreatment of fans and artists around the time of its initial demise.

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Artist of the Month: Open Mike Eagle

by Dustin

OME

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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