Extraordinary Nobodies Top 15 Releases of 2017

by Dustin

2017-09-18

Well, it’s that time of year again. The end. You know what that means? Lots and lots of tip lists. Being that we’re a blog, we like to get in on the fun and do a top list every year too. More specifically, I like to do a top list. Rajin isn’t allowed, I make him post his on Twitter. Anyway, this list is not exclusive to hip-hop (even though that’s where most of our writing tends to lie), because there’s just too much good music coming out every year for that to be fair.

It’s also in descending order, so you’re going to have to scroll all the way to the bottom to find my favorite album of the year (or just look at the article photo, it might give you a clue). Thank you all so much for your support again this year! See you in 2018.


15. Godspeed You Black Emperor – Luciferian Towers
While Luciferian Towers may not be Godspeed’s best work, it’s absolutely still a powerhouse in it’s genre. The Canadian post-rock and drone group assembled an album that sounds hellishly disorienting throughout its entirety. Certainly a recommended listen, especially for those who dig the outfit’s previous releases. Of note was the very obvious jazz influence throughout the release. Favourite Track: “Anthem for No State.”

14. Willie the Kid & Vdon – Deutsche Marks
Taking influence from individuals like Roc Marciano, Willie the Kid and producer Vdon put together an excellent chamber rap EP. With ultra-luxurious lyrics, decadent vocals, and heavily revered sample driven production, Deutsche Marks was colder than a Michigan winter. Favourite Track: “Black Sinatra.”

13. Veiny Hands – Veiny Hands
Veiny Hands self-titled EP proved to be truly punk to the core, while also not being afraid to have fun with music. The vocals, instrumentation, and mixing felt to be deliciously throwback to early years of punk rock. It may not have been the most complex release of the year, but it would be difficult to find many others more genuine. It was a true spark plug album, and serves as an AED for the dying spirit on dreary days. There isn’t much else that can be said, really. Favourite Track: “Dirty Sheets.”

12. Roc Marciano – Rosebudd’s Revenge
Roc Marciano is the godfather of the aforementioned new wave of chamber rap, and Rosebudd’s Revenge demonstrated further why he’s had such a huge impact on the underground hip-hop scene. On this record Roc Marci flawlessly made an over the top criminal lifestyle sound as lavish and regal as running a fortune 500 company. The frigid and distinctly New York production provided the perfect ambient backdrop to his stories of debauchery and dealing. Favourite Track: “Marksmen (feat. Ka).”

11. Moor Hound – Green
Indie-folk singer/songwriter Moor Hound dropped Green near the start of 2017 and it held strong throughout to remain one of the best projects released. A warm, intimate, and emotional example of just how human the folk genre can be. It truly felt like a one on one session with Moor Hound – exactly as it should be – and could provide comfort even through the hardest of losses. He delivered an invitation to drop personal walls, by putting his own baggage on display for everyone to commiserate with. Favourite Track: “See You Around.”

10. Uncommon Nasa – Written at Night
Conceptually, Written at Night may have been the most interesting album to come out this past year. Focused on the thoughts and artistic outpouring experienced in the dead of night, this release was a collaborative effort between Nasa and his contemporaries. Perhaps its most interesting quality is the fact that the songs became more wild the later into “the night” the track list progressed. Great concept, great execution, and to top it all off the album sounded extremely New York. A recommended listen, especially for the fan of Def Jux early sounds. Favourite Track: “Written at Night (feat. Billy Woods & Quelle Chris).”

9. Billy Woods – Known Unkowns
Another album that appeals to the tastes of the Definitive Jux fans, Known Unknowns was about as east coast as it gets. When a rap veteran like Billy Woods teams up with a legendary underground producer like Blockhead (y’know, that guy who helped make Aesop Rock what he is today), there are going to be high expectations. This release met every single on, and then some. Woods’ delivery and writing style may take a bit to get used to for some, but it’s worth the effort. Trust. Favourite Track: “Bush League.”

8. Oddisee – The Iceberg
The latest installment in Oddisee’s discography packed no surprises, yet still ended up being one of the most formidable hip-hop releases this year. Chicken soup for the soul of individuals that grew up on acts like A Tribe Called Quest, The Iceberg was an attention grabbing album. Oddisee never strays that far from his comfort zone, but he put a lot of flair into his unique combination of technical prowess and socially charged lyricism. Any lack of variation in Oddisee’s sound was made up for in spades by his sheer talent. An excellent hip-hop record to the core. Favourite Track: “You Grew Up.”

7. Jonwayne – Rap Album Two
Rap Album Two saw Jonwayne take the listener to his most vulnerable places. Over whimsical melancholic throwback production he would spill his guts time after time, leaving nothing on the table. It was an emotionally challenging listening, but one well worth trying; moreover, this was a huge leap in quality from the rough around the edges Rap Album One. It was a treat to witness Jon seizing the potential he had displayed in flashes up to this point. Favourite Track: “Out of Sight.”

6. Quelle Chris – Being You is Great, I Wish I Could Be You More Often
Perhaps the closest to being a true one of a kind oddity on this list, Being You Is Great, I Wish I Could Be You More Often was one of the strangest releases in 2017. An enigmatic carnival of personality, invited the listener on an acid trip through his entire being. Off-kilter vocals tip-toed their way around astonishingly creative production to create a beautifully confusing record; more importantly however, it may be the first release of Quelle’s that felt entirely true to his enormous personality. Which, in all honesty, only served to make this album more incredible. Favourite Track: “Fascinating Grass (feat. Big Tone, Roc Marciano, and 87).”

5. Walter Gross – Vestige
While Walter Gross’ name may not ring familiar in the memory banks of the majority, he’s been a staple in the do-it-yourself music community for years and has a massive release history to sift through. Yet, through all these releases, Vestige is the grandest. Existing as a disgustingly tantalizing hybrid between hip-hop, post-punk, and noise, this album was a three headed monster hungry for listener’s eardrums. Favourite Track: “Good Morning.”

4. Algiers – The Underside of Power
The Underside of Power was damn near an indescribable listening experience, yet at the same time it was obnoxiously good. Though it took elements from gospel, hip-hop, industrial, and post-punk it truly was its own thing, and is impossible to peg into a genre. Here’s some things you should know though: the vocals are powerful, the instrumentation is powerful, and the songwriting is powerful. Seeing a trend? Kudos to Algiers. Favourite Track: “Walk Like a Panther.”

3. Milo – who told you to think??!!?!?!?!
While 2015’s so the flies don’t come established milo as an artist with the ability to be great, who told you to think??!!?!?!?! elevated him to being one of the most powerful young forces in the hip-hop realm. With verbose lyrics, dreamy beats, interesting flows, and oodles of emotional awareness, this album had just about everything one could want from a milo release; however, it’s all been elevated beyond anything he had release prior. In fact, some aspects of this album bolstered some folks claims that milo may be the MF DOOM of this generation. Favourite Track: “sorcerer.”

2. IDLES – Brutalism
Somewhere between old-school punk and modern post-punk, IDLES’ debut album Brutalism was born. Joe Talbot proved to be an excellent channel of anger and societal disgust, throwing hard hitting lyrics around like steel chair shots to the head. The absurdity of topics covered was often hammered home by repeating lyrics with various vocal inflections, and it worked splendidly. The instrumentation on Brutalism swung between hyperactive blind rage and anxious droning, bringing some interesting spins on conventional punk rock ideas. The record was relentless and offered listeners zero time to breathe. Suffocating had never been such a pleasure. Favourite track: “Mother.”

1. Open Mike Eagle – Brick Body Kids Still Daydream
The definitive album of 2017. Brick Body Kids Still Daydream was the perfect blend of frustrated, confused, cheeky, confident, and poignant. Open Mike Eagle created a masterpiece of solidarity for individuals tied to project homes; moreover, his attempts to inspire pride in poorer upbringings were heartwarmingly genuine. Bolstered with quick witted social analysis and wondrous production, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream was the well deserved album of the year in 2017. Favourite Track: “Brick Body Complex.”

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S. Reidy Discusses Until the Darkness Comes, Mental Health Concerns, and Putting in Work

by Dustin

sreidy

Not long ago, we were approached by an artist with an album – a regular occurrence as a music blog. Something was different this time though…the music had a different feel to it. It was genuine, unique, and encapsulated the alternative hip-hop vibe without derivation. After a few weeks (or a month, sorry Shawn) of sitting on the album, it became apparent that a review simply would not be enough. When an up and coming musician drops something as fully realized as Until the Darkness Comes, the most important things that can be said will only come from the artist in question. That’s why we’re here today. To discuss a project, among other things, with an emcee following their own vibe and nobody else’s.

Ladies and gentlemen, S. Reidy:


EN: First and foremost, I’d like to invite you to introduce yourself a little bit. A bit of a self-bio for readers who might be unaware of you as a person. Who is S. Reidy?

S. Reidy: S. Reidy is a rapper from Norman, Oklahoma. He likes to blend hip hop, emo, and indie music, and has opened up for acts like The Palmer Squares, Milo, Open Mike Eagle, and even bands like Walter Etc. He’s also remarkably handsome and has held hands with females on many occasions.

EN: Before we jump into discussing your album, I did want to ask something about coming from Oklahoma. It’s not a state really known for its hip-hop scene. When you were growing up and being exposed to music, what sort of rap was it that you were hearing most predominantly?

S. Reidy: When I was in 7th grade that’s when Soulja Boy was popping off, and man I hated it. I was way more into My Chemical Romance and Senses Fail and stuff like that. But around 10th grade Lil Wayne dropped the song 6 foot 7, and that was the game changer [laughs]. That song was so full of jokes, and personality. Subconsciously I think when I started discovering that, I was destined to become a hip hop artist.

But you know, to answer the question, I was just exposed to all the really popular music. Some dumb study was made recently saying “Rap just took over Rock as the most popular music”, but I honestly feel like it’s been that way for almost 10 years. Especially when that’s what a 16 year old boy from Oklahoma was most exposed to.

EN: You were exposed to popular rap, but do you feel like the other genres you were into really helped shape your sound too? You mentioned My Chemical Romance and Senses Fail, and I know guys like Open Mike Eagle consider their outside influences (They Might Be Giants in his case) to be like, equally as important as the rap they grew up on.

S. Reidy: Oh yeah, absolutely. You can definitely hear a similar brand of white kid angst in my music as those bands [laughs]; however, my sound was really shaped by other genres I listened to once I graduated high school and started listening to more wordy and nerdy artists like Neutral Milk Hotel, Sufjan Stevens, Walter Etc., and stuff like that. Oh, and definitely Pedro the Lion too.

EN: With that in mind, do you feel like coming from somewhere without an established hip-hop sound gives you a bit more of a blank canvas when approaching your own music? Because to me it seems as if you’d be pretty removed from influences and pressures to sound a certain way to fit with the scene.

S. Reidy: It definitely was a strange advantage, but honestly I feel like I’d be making this music no matter where I came from. I’ve always been the kind of guy to do something different just for the sake of balancing out what the norm is.

EN: When I was listening to your album I noticed that – but it also felt very natural to you. Some people seem to really force trying to be “different” just for the sake of it. How important is being genuine in music to you?

S. Reidy: Its everything to me. It’s cliche, but when you take time to really mediate on who you are, and what makes you yourself, everything starts to fall in line, because at the end of it all it’s very clear that you’re the only person who can be you. I didn’t mean to turn the interview into an after school special there… but what are you gonna do [laughs]?

EN: So, when someone gets a chance to listen to Until the Darkness Comes, there’s no playing. It’s just an honest to goodness part of Shawn Reidy being put on display?

S. Reidy: Oh yes. It might not be exactly who I am as person at this very moment, but it’s all feelings, stories and emotions I’ve dealt with the past 2 years or so.

EN: Almost like reflecting on a diary?

S. Reidy: Man… I’ve never thought of it that way, but that is exactly what it is. Someone on YouTube reviewed my album and called it musical meandering, which I though was also super accurate [laughs].

EN: Did you set out with the intention of having the record be an open book about yourself, and experiences, or is that what comes naturally to you when writing lyrics?

S. Reidy: You’re nailing all of these questions right on the head [laughs]. I absolutely do, and that goes into what I was saying earlier about how if you can truly sit down and block out all the worlds expectations of you, and just be yourself, you’ll never have a problem trying to be unique.

EN: Is there a particular aspect of the album that you’re most proud of as an artist?

S. Reidy: Oh dude, by far what I’m most proud of is the distinct sound I was able to come up with on this record. All my other projects sound so scattered as far as a cohesive sound goes. This project is my first that really feels like an album.

EN: Do you feel that being hands on with all stages of the album allowed you to achieve that cohesion? Was that the reason you sought to be the driving force behind all stages of its development, from production to lyrics?

S. Reidy: Oh for sure. I recommend it to everyone. Don’t wait for other people and influences to come and change your sound up. Listen to everything, and engulf yourself in it. Find identity in the music you listen to, and don’t just listen to one or two genres. If you love music, then love music, you know? And then you don’t have to rely on a producer or another musician to help you craft a sound. At least that’s what’s worked for me [laughs].

Just also make sure you get hella opinions from your friends and family, because you don’t wanna get too inside yourself either. Find a happy medium. That’s what I’d recommend.

EN: I’m curious about what your construction process was like for this album. Did you approach creating beats with topical ideas already in mind, or did you produce first, and then figure out what would fit?

S. Reidy: Most of these songs I wrote the best first, and based it on a feeling. After the beat was done I wrote all the lyrics to the song in like 10 minutes or so just to get my rawest response I could from the track, and I would clean it up from there. I’ve been writing songs that way for awhile now.

Guess I kind of just gave away my secret recipe [laughs].

EN: Now, obviously we can’t tell people how to enjoy art – but would you encourage people to approach your album as a full listen rather than just picking and choosing songs to play?

S. Reidy: I don’t know if I would encourage people to, but if you like digging into albums there is more than enough here to really sink your teeth into. If you just wanna hear my popular songs you can do that too though [laughs]. But you’re not gonna get the most out of the album that way.

EN: Popular songs aside, what’s your top three songs off the album, and why?

S. Reidy: Woah, jeez that’s hard…I’m sure this answer would change in thirty minutes too [laughs]. For now though, I wanna say: “Galavanting” because of visceral production and the cool lyrics, “Blackout” just because I feel like it’s uplifting without being corny, and probably “Nobody Nose” because of the guitar and the sweet hook.

EN: Is there a particular lyric you’re most fond of on this record? One that maybe stands out to you as some of your best work.

S. Reidy: That’s also so remarkably hard…when I think about it long enough, I think maybe the line “bagged eyes screaming in your pillows till they drip/ Till you find one day you weren’t crazy to begin with.” I think if you had to describe the album in one line it would be that one.

EN: It’s lyrics like that which made it feel to me like you had a lot to say, particularly in the realm of mental health. We spoke about it a bit beforehand, but just how much does it mean to you to be able to speak freely and candidly about those issues?

S. Reidy: You know I was thinking the other day about how almost every song on the album is about mental health one way or another. Depression is something I had to deal with for two years a couple of years ago. As best as I can I like to open up discussions on mental health and try to help people work out whatever they’re going through, as artfully and carefully as I can.

EN: When including mental health as a topic artistically, do you feel it important to actively attempt to not sound as if you’re glamorizing the “tortured artist” mindset?

I ask because having gone through depression myself, some of the music this newer generation of artists produces can be scary. Like, depression has almost become a brand. But then I see artists like you who approach it more candidly (as mentioned), and I wonder if that’s a conscious effort.

S. Reidy: It’s not conscious as much as it is just a reflection of my reality that depression is really ugly. It’s dark, deep, and numbing, at least it was for me.

As far as acts on the other end tend to sway, I never want to be a person to tell someone how to live their life. This zeitgeist of Instagram depression, is worrisome in the sense that if I had seen more of this stuff when I was depressed, I would have felt very belittled. It’s also dangerous because when people who genuinely are depressed might find some hollow fulfillment in stepping into the more glamorous side of depression, and the lines start to blur between what’s real, and what’s the act you’re putting on.
Once again, I’m not trying to tell anyone how to deal with their depression, everyone does differently. But artist and fans need to start approaching these things with a different attitude, because we’re seeing the repercussions of not taking depression seriously right before our eyes.

EN: I think the Lil Peep death in general exposed that blurred line between reality and act, that you just mentioned. People close to him are saying he was “performing like people in the WWE,” and that it was a character. But at the same time, you would have to be suffering from something mentally to be abusing drugs and thinking it’s okay to put on a depression act. The glitz and glamour that a lot of people put behind it, I think, distracts from taking it seriously. Which is a shame because a lot of people are losing their battles with these issues. And even someone like Eyedea who was very blunt about his mental state and addiction issues ended up succumbing to it.

How do you think musicians as a collective can approach things different to help mental illness be taken more seriously?

S. Reidy: That’s a really really good question, and I don’t believe that there is one answer to it.

I think the best catch all solution you’ll find here, is to make music honest to yourself. Don’t compromise hard to digest topics for music that’s easy to listen to. And do what artists are put on this earth to do. Be vulnerable.

And as listeners we need to actively pay attention to the struggle of these artists and open up discussions on how we can put all of ourselves in a better situation.

EN: Do you think that the vulnerability could also inspire others to open up to their family and friends about issues they’re experiencing? Given that even underground musicians can be huge role models to their fan base. Especially to younger teens and kids.

S. Reidy: One can only hope man… I just do what I can to the best of my ability and hope that it’s enough. Hopefully our best really is good enough when it comes down to it.

EN: Sort of touching on something topical right now, what are your thoughts on the idea (presented by DJBooth originally) that underground hip-hop is dead due to the accessibility of artists online?

S. Reidy: [Laughs]. Oh that thing huh? You know I don’t have much of an opinion about it honestly. I think I understand what they think they were saying, but if you think there’s no difference between an artist like Drake and WIKI I think your opinions are a little misguided.

But I mean, I can’t change that writers definition of mainstream and underground. It is what it is.

EN: Do you ever worry about a music writer stumbling upon your music and misconstruing things you say? Media coverage can be big, but I imagine it could be frustrating if something was read into entirely incorrectly.

S. Reidy: That’s happened to me before in a super minor way. But honestly I’m not that worried about that kind of stuff, I know in my heart that I’m a good person and if anyone every tries to challenge that based on something I’ve said or did, I have no problem confronting that.

It’s a weird hobby folks have now, attempt to twist things any which way just to ruin someone. It’s pretty lame to be honest. It’s almost of a matter of when they’re gonna come for you rather than if. But I’m 100% prepared for that kind of thing, because once again, I know my intentions, and I never mean any form of harm on anyone or anything.

EN: So you try to be genuine not only in your music and candidness with difficult subjects (such as mental illness), but also in your approach to tour music career?

S. Reidy: I mean, I don’t see any better way of approaching it. I truly believe if you’re a good person, you have nothing to hide. And if people try to chastise you for the life you’re living, just continue being the best person you can be, and the universe always has a way of paying you back.

EN: Does it ever get intimidating opening for more established acts than yourself? I imagine it’s an amazing opportunity, but if I was in that position I would be terrified.

S. Reidy: [Laughs]. Honestly, performing is the easy part. The hard part is being backstage with these artists and acting like I don’t want to take a million pictures, ask them about all their albums, and see if they wanna do a mixtape together. I’m a music dork just as much as I am an artist, so the scary part when performing with these acts is attempting to not look like a dingus in front of my heroes…

EN: Do you ever get the opportunity to soak up any wisdom from them during the process though?

S. Reidy: I mean… I started writing this album after me and milo had an hour long conversation in my garage [laughs]. I wish I could record all the conversation I’ve had with these other artists, because when I talk to them I’m always thinking “these are the words of a person with the mindset it takes to get where they are.”

EN: Do you find that these established guys have a different outlook on things than your average indie emcee who hasn’t quite figured themselves out yet? As in, I guess I mean… Do they speak about things differently?

S. Reidy: I don’t think it’s a different outlook, I think it’s just knowledge.

What I’m learning more about the people I look up to the closer I get to them, is the fact that these are people who have made a thousands of mistakes. But mistakes don’t discourage them, and they’re super happy to make them, because all that means is that they know exactly how not to do what they’re wanting to do. The confidence in yourself to remember what it was that got you where you are. That’s the kind of wisdom I’m working towards.

EN: Say a young artist approached you tomorrow, and they were extremely frustrated with their own music due to making mistakes and not hitting the mark they’ve set for themselves – what sort of advice would you pass on to them?

S. Reidy: [Laughs]… Dude unfortunately I’m terrible at motivational speeches.

My whole thing is, do you love music? Can you not picture your life without creating? Then you don’t need motivation from me. I hate when people tell me they want to make music but they never feel inspired. Like, dude, you’re never inspired? Nothing inspires you? You need to either broaden your horizons, or just admit that music isn’t what you’re supposed to do. I know that sounds harsh [laughs], but being an artist is work, if you aren’t willing to clock in to your job, then quit. You know?

EN: Plus like…do you even think inspiration is necessary to get started in art? For me anyway, in my music production side project, there are times when I’m totally not inspired, but I can still sit any play around with things and try something new. Then when I’m feeling it emotionally, I can really sit down and apply those things. There’s something to be said for just messing around and learning too, don’t you agree?

S. Reidy: Or just listening to different guitar tones for an hour and seeing which one you like more, or trying ever single drum groove you can think of that might compliment the melody of the song. Studio time and creative space isn’t always fireworks and magic, and I think that’s a big misconception among new artists.

EN: Do you think they only see end results from their favorite artists and maybe assume that just happens, without considering all the foundations that are laid first?

S. Reidy: That’s absolutely the problem, or people are just to caught up in wanting to be rockstars that’s they don’t understand that 80% of it isn’t even fun. Not that work isn’t fun, but you have to love it.

EN: Word. I think that’s a valuable lesson that everyone making music needs to learn eventually. So, I do gotta ask, what’s next for you now that you’ve released this album? What steps do you take to keep advancing your music career?

S. Reidy: I’m gonna just keep recording music, videos, do tour, interviews, tweet Anthony Fantano 43 times a day to review my album, and do the DIY thing with it man.

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

by Dustin

Canada1

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

To DJ Z and anyone from DJ Booth,

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,
Dustin
Extraordinary Nobodies

Rajin Rambles: Wow, I’m Trying New Things!

by Rajin

new thingas

Over the past few months, I have been trying to break out of my musical rut. I kind of felt like, while there’s a hell of a lot of material under my preferred subgenres of hip hop, I was still limiting myself from having a full comprehension of the genre. I already know for the most part what I actively dislike, but there were also certain styles that I was unfamiliar with, but thought I would dislike or wouldn’t click with me, so I just wrote them off. Styles that I guess would be considered to be more “avant-garde” or abstract. I was pretty wrong. This piece is going to kind of serve as a continuation of sorts to a piece I wrote at around this time last year, Hip Hop: My Replacement Girlfriend, just to catch everyone up to this stage of the continuous development of my taste in music (or lack thereof, I’m sure, in the minds of many readers).

I think I mentioned in my piece last year that I had gotten into Run The Jewels and Prof in late 2015, and was just getting into Aesop Rock, so I guess I’ll start there. Since then, I’ve gotten a lot more into Aes’s music; I’m a massive fan of his now. In fact, if I had to re-do my favorites of all-time list [which I don’t really plan on doing unless maybe in a tweet], Aesop Rock would definitely be somewhere in the low teens. As a bit of a loner myself, though not nearly as severely as he, I was drawn to what Aes had to say about how he saw the world. That’s not to mention the way he said it, as we all know, the guy loves to just fly over heads of people with his word choice. However, like with Run The Jewels (and later, El-P’s solo work), I was also fairly intrigued by the style of production he’s used throughout his career.

I think getting into acts like RTJ and Aes kind of signaled my first attempt at exploring past the musical styles of hip hop that I usually enjoy, more so than anyone else I had listened to by then. The Definitive Jux sound was the first style that I had heard that I personally considered to be really “alternative”…sure, there were the guys like The Roots and some Native Tongues artists (mostly Tribe) that I would listen to who were considered alt hip hop in their era, but by the time I entered hip hop fanhood, those sounds had become a lot more commonplace, used by household names. They were traditional hip hop to me. Conversely, Def Jux style is, to this day, embodies that “alternative” spirit. That industrial, post-apocalyptic experimental hip hop sound is so far removed from the sonics of conventional hip hop, yet it fully captures its gritty, rebellious nature.

It was between those guys and Danny Brown’s Atrocity Exhibition that really got me reevaluating my listening habits. Like I said at the end of last year, I really didn’t expect that I would like Atrocity Exhibition. That album is WAY past anything that El-P or Aesop Rock has done as far as the weirdness or experimental sounds. The fact that I loved that album really made me sit back and think about why I was restricting myself to more conventional subgenres and sounds. At that time I kind of had the idea ingrained in me that I wasn’t somebody who listened to more experimental rap music. I, stupidly, had boxed myself into certain areas of the genre because I had a couple of unfavorable experiences listening to a couple of experimental artists who probably weren’t too great even in the context of alt rap. But even though I had finally begun thinking about it, I still didn’t really try branching out to styles I was unfamiliar with. I’m a creature of habit.

I would have to say that the next artists that could be considered as deviations from the “norm” that I got into were Ka and Roc Marciano, both earlier this year. They were similar enough to what I was accustomed to so it was easy. Now mind you, I’ve always loved Roc Marci as a guest rapper. He’s one of those guys that when I see his name on an album’s tracklisting I instantly get hyped. However, I never really ventured into his solo material until months after Rosebudd’s Revenge was released. Dustin showed me Ka’s Honor Killed The Samurai album shortly after I saw that he was the subject of a bullshit hitpiece by some stupid non-journalist trying to get clicks at the expense of a man’s privacy, livelihood, and reputation. The album was unlike anything I had ever heard. It was the first time I listened to an album where, for the entire thing, it was just stripped back soul samples with no drums and a hushed delivery that bordered on spoken word.

Rosebudd’s Revenge didn’t click instantly the way Ka’s album did, but something about it kept nagging at me to go listen to it again. The production on the album is ridiculously soulful and just as stripped back as far as the drums go, and Roc’s style of lyricism is so casually slick that I had missed much of what he said on first listen. These guys were my first foray into the minimalistic sound, I believe…if not, then they’re at least the first guys I heard who made me love that sound. I’m usually in love with powerful drums in rap beats so it was almost like a shock for me to hear rapping without them, but I got over it very quickly and came to love this kind of style, provided the artist/producer pull it off effectively. These guys appeal to the Wu-Tang head in me, while venturing to the left. I hope that Metal Clergy project happens.

Also, I just want to say, that since getting into Roc Marci’s music, I’ve been hearing the guy’s style in so many artists that it’s ridiculous how little credit he gets for being a pioneer. I listen to music from certain artists after Reloaded came out and it’s like they heard that album and couldn’t help but emulate that style. It’s only getting more obvious as time goes on, too. He’s had a MASSIVE impact in independent/underground hip hop and people don’t realize it.

Anyways, I think around the same time, Dustin wanted to show me milo. He showed me so the flies don’t come, and I enjoyed that a lot. milo was the first rapper who could fall under the “art rap” category that I ever listened to. I was always under the impression that that style of rap music was less focused on lyricism and more on just being weird and quirky…not to mention made to appeal to pretentious hipsters. milo, however, fused dense lyricism with the quirkiness, which helped ease me into accepting the subgenre, as well as erase my unfair preconceived notions of it. It’s not the artist’s fault that some of their fans are pretentious, plus it’s not like Eminem doesn’t have one of the worst fanbases in hip hop. The music is good, and that’s really all that matters.

Dustin had also been telling me forever about Hellfyre Club as a whole, and spoke about how much he loved Open Mike Eagle’s music. He showed me Hella Personal Film Festival and Dark Comedy, neither of which I was too into, yet, I still felt that Mike was very talented and there was just a disconnect between me and the music. To add on to all that, also showed me some of Busdriver’s music (truth be told, I don’t remember if that was before milo and Mike, after them, or in between), which was easy for me because Busdriver has some similarities to Busta Rhymes. In August I revisited those two Mike albums, and while I still didn’t feel Dark Comedy, Hella Personal Film Festival had finally clicked with me. I find that while there are some art-rappers who like to make music that’s artsy just for the sake of being artsy, when an artist pulls it off because that’s who they are it comes across as a lot more natural and less irritating for me to listen to. Just like with anything else. I just had a bias going into it against the subgenre that I’m glad has been erased.

Since then I’ve also gotten into artists like Quelle Chris and billy woods. I was familiar with Chris because I knew that he and Fatt Father are tight…I believe Chris helped to design the cover to Fatt’s grossly-overlooked album Veterans Day. His album this year is hands down the weirdest album I’ve liked. He kind of takes the minimal approach of Rock Marci and Ka on it vocally, but has really weird, trippy, and lush instrumentation all over it. Dustin and I went back and listened to his older material, which was far more along the lines of typical Detroit hip hop, which almost felt less natural to him than the weirder stuff he’s been doing. And billy woods’ Known Unknowns was great. He captures the Def Jux sound that I spoke about loving (thanks to Blockhead and Aesop Rock on production) with a delivery that kind of reminds me of Del tha Funkee Homosapien. It was way off from what I was expecting (I was unfamiliar with him before listening to the album), but I loved it.

And that brings us to today, where (at the time of writing this) I just received CDs in the mail by most of the artists I spoke about here. Now, all of this isn’t to say that my taste has suddenly shifted, or that if you aren’t doing something unconventional that you’re less creative than any of these artists. My taste and primary preferences have remained relatively constant. All that’s happened is that I have been exploring different styles and sounds, usually via suggestions from Dustin, and as a result my palette has expanded to include an enjoyment of music along the lines of the artists I have talked about here. For the most part it’s mainly what I’ve been listening to for the last few months. I just wanted to talk about it, because it has given me new insight into what the music that represents the culture of hip hop can be.

So yeah. I’m gonna keep exploring different corners of the genre, perhaps even stuff that I thought I had pinned down, because what I’ve found in the past few months has definitely not been what I expected in many cases. I recommend other people do too, because I’m definitely not alone in being the kind of person who just sticks to what he likes and doesn’t bother trying something new. I’m kind of glad that something changed in me and I decided to get acquainted with more of the genre, because I feel that if I want to give my opinions on this site, I need to have a complete understanding of it rather than an understanding of a select portion. That’s something I’m gonna keep chipping away at.

Update: Originally I felt like I completed what I was saying, but a few days passed and I realized I had a little more to say. I took a listen to Uncommon Nasa’s new album and sat with it for a little bit, then suddenly understood why a lot of the artists I mention here click with me. It sounds like New York. Everyone who reads this blog knows that I love a New York vibe in my hip hop. It has now occurred to me that a lot of the artists I would have originally considered representative of the NY sound, like Wu-Tang, Black Moon, and Mobb Deep among others, only represent a certain aspect of it. They capture the essence of growing up in and living in the projects, hustling to get by. Guys like Ka and Marci have a similar feel to them but are more abstract about it. The more experimental guys like El-P, Aesop, billy woods, and Nasa represent a different shade of NY. They capture the essence of the cold wind tunnels around towering skyscrapers and overly busy and crowded streets. Both sides feel like work boots, baggy jeans, and hoodies, though.

I’ve kind of felt like this might be the case for a while now, but after listening to Known Unknowns and now Written At Night the obviousness of why I connect with these artists has smacked me in the face and cemented itself in my mind. Clearly, this doesn’t apply for everyone I wrote about here, but it is interesting how the essence of New York can be captured in such vastly different ways. I guess as a resident of NJ I’m a glutton for rap that embodies the east coast.

Think Piece: Ethics and Standards Versus Hit-Pieces in Music Journalism.

by Dustin

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I don’t consider myself a music journalist. I’m an individual who writes about music with my peers for fun. I write because I love music, I love musicians, and honestly, I love the people I get to interact with in the process of putting together articles and interviews. Yet, I regularly find myself feeling furious when checking in on bigger music publications due to the growing trend of hitpiece articles being used as viewer bait. These articles, attempting to undermine public figures, are very often grossly inaccurate. Taking quotes, song lyrics, satiricle works, and the like out of their original context to support imaginary accusations of wrongdoing.

Honestly, it really needs to stop.

I can admit that artists and critics do place themselves into the line of scrutiny – this is an objective truth to the nature to presenting art or discussions on art in a public setting. Of course, you also open yourself up to having your personal views critiqued, as you have now essentially willingly become a public figure. That’s fine. Again, it’s basically part of the gig; however, it becomes incredibly problematic when incompetent journalists lust for attention so severely that they being publishing unsupported attack pieces on these public figures. This has always been an issue in journalism (hate sells), but unfortunately in the past couple of years it’s become the plague of music journalism.

Two cases in particular inspired this think-piece. Susan Edelmen’s attack article on Ka from last year, and Ezra Marcus’ work of the same vein against Anthony Fantano (TheNeedleDrop) from a few days ago. Both authors showed a complete misunderstanding of the individuals they wrote about, yet attempted to spin them into horrible people for the sake of shock value and click-bait. Another similarity is both articles removed context from their “supporting evidence,” turning it into something completely different to give credence to their slanderous claims. Congratulations, you’re both garbage music journalists. Individuals like Susan and Ezra aren’t the problem alone though, they’re merely symptoms of a much larger problem.

The disease itself is the shift away from any sort of sense of a journalistic code of integrity.

Let’s take a look at a few of the generally accepted points that appear in most codes of journalistic ethics and standards. These are sourced through Wikipedia, but if you have access to scholarly journals on the same topic, you’ll find that these are fairly well universally accept. Most importantly in this instance are these four:

1) Reporters are expected to be as accurate as possible given the time allotted to story preparation.
2) Public figures are to be reported on without malice, and reports on these figures should be supported with well understood fact (even in the case of a “smear-piece”).
3) Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.
4) Show good taste and avoid pandering to lurid curiosity (in other words, shock-bait news is a no-
go).

As far as I am concerned the moment you publish an attack piece that is baseless, you have just discredited yourself entirely as a journalist; moreover, the publications that enable the spread of misinformed works need to be held responsible. These authors are no longer writing in the name of public interest. They’re writing as narcissists. So interested in drumming up attention for themselves that they’re willing to attempt ruining another human’s career in the process without any semblance of a backbone to their work. The outlets that enable these articles to become published for the shock-value draw are equally as disgusting, throwing out any sense of ethics for a few more clicks of ad revenue.

You are killing music journalism. Good work.

I do recommend that anybody interested in holding authors accountable have a look into the standards of journalism. Wikipedia has a really excellent summary page that will give you a general idea, and I think it would really help to form a foundation when it comes to critically assessing whether or not an article is worth giving serious consideration. Individual reputations can be highly tied to what others write about them; even when proven false, slander articles can be chained to someone’s public image for an ungodly amount of time. Be diligent in what you consume, and the journalists you support. If the publications wont hold them responsible, it’s on us to make the effort.

Album Review: Apollo Brown & Planet Asia – Anchovies

by Rajin

anchovies

7.5/10

I think the biggest mistake I made last year was sleeping on The Easy Truth, by Apollo Brown and Skyzoo. That album ended up being one of my favorites of 2016. Seeing a couple of months ago that Apollo Brown was teaming up with another rapper, this time being Planet Asia of Cali Agents, for an album called Anchovies (released through Mello Music Group) I made sure not to repeat that mistake.

Apollo Brown has been one of my favorites for a while. He is one of the most reliably dope producers I can think of; while generally not the most unique beatsmith in his technique, style and range, the end product is guaranteed to be soulful and immersive. His beats tell stories, even without vocals. Usually when a rapper and producer make a collaboration album, it tends to sound like the rapper’s vision with that sole producer supplying beats. Yet, the exact opposite is generally true with Apollo Brown. It’s clear that these albums are his show, and on each, he gets the rapper to come with his A-game. Planet Asia, on the other hand, is someone who I am new to. In order to get familiar before listening to this album, I listened to his other MMG release: a collaboration with producer Gensu Dean called Abrasions (which, for a quick one-line review, was quite a solid album with some filler). Based off that album, he seemed to be a talented and straightforward emcee – no frills. Just hardcore hip hop, pulled off effectively. Perfect for what Apollo was going for on this.

Speaking of which, the musical style on this album is very different from what I think most would imagine at first glance when seeing the names Apollo Brown and Planet Asia together. I think the expected product would be something along the lines of Dice Game or Trophies. They must have been aware of this going in, and decided to go for the unexpected. Rather than his typical hard-hitting drums and cinematic soul loops that would theoretically sound great behind Asia’s booming voice, Apollo Brown’s production on this is very stripped down. The drums are intentionally less prominent in the mixes, with snares often completely absent, and dirty, dusty pianos generally taking the forefront on the production side of this. It was a bit of a risk that very much paid off.

Apollo Brown and Planet Asia said that Anchovies would be an acquired taste, and to a certain extent they are right. The album sounds like it belongs to a branch of hip hop occupied by artists like Roc Marciano and Ka. However, I feel as though Anchovies is far more accessible than an album such as Honor Killed The Samurai or even Rosebudd’s Revenge. Where emcees like that are lyrically more esoteric as far as their vocabulary and references, Planet Asia’s lyricism is rooted in more colloquial language, with more of an emphasis placed on witty bars rather than abstract stories and wordplay. In addition, he raps with a more standard delivery and rhythmic flow while Ka and Marci are typically more hushed and sound almost like spoken word. Anchovies draws a great deal from the style that they use, but remains grounded in more traditional hip hop – it ends up sounding like a less cloudy and hazy version of what Conway might do. In having this sort of style, the album ends up being what I consider to be a great place to start for listeners who are trying to dip their toes into that particular facet of hip hop.

“Dirty” is an adjective that was used in a lot of the promo for Anchovies, and it really is probably the most apt description there is. The album sounds like the soundtrack to slouching against a wall smoking a cigarette in an empty alleyway behind a bar at 2 A.M. Asia’s voice and his generally somber delivery gives a feeling of cynical (and at times, emotional) reflection. This album arguably sounds like a spiritual successor to Dice Game (which, incidentally, Planet Asia was featured on)…it’s almost like this highlights what it’s like after the game when everyone’s dispersed and you’re left by yourself. It’s fitting, then, that Guilty Simpson shows up on “Nine Steamin,’” a song that is kind of reminiscent to that album.

Some songs, such as “The Aura,” “Duffles,” and “Deep in the Casket” have a bit of a jazzy, noir film kind of vibe to them, where you could imagine them behind black and white scenery. The majority of the album, however, is a little more soulful and reflective. Songs like “Speak Volumes,” “Diamonds,” and “Tiger Bone” sound sort of like what RZA would have made during the Wu-Tang Forever era with the soul samples, but far more minimal. The minimalism on this album is definitely its defining trait, and it’s pulled off wonderfully. Apollo did a great job at making sure that no matter how bare-bones the music was, it still felt full and warm to listen to.

If there is one thing that I can say I am disappointed by, it is the fact that after you get acclimated to the style of music being made here, the songs become a little predictable. If you, like me, listened to each of the singles before the album dropped, then there are likely few surprises offered to you. Apollo Brown keeps it consistent with his production, and Planet Asia does what he does lyrically and vocally. That’s not to say that it gets repetitive or the music is nonessential, and there are a few tracks that do break that mold and add a bit of depth, namely “Pain,” “Get Back,” and “You Love Me”. It’s just that the listener can pretty accurately guess what will happen on each track once they’ve heard a few. The two of them have enough talent, though, that while the predictability may hold Anchovies back as a whole from reaching its full potential, the quality of the actual music present is not diminished by any means.

On Apollo Brown’s albums, I often find more enjoyment in the beats than the raps. His production is captivating almost 100% of the time, making it’s easy for a rapper to just become a voice that compliments it well but ultimately gets tuned out. Even if the production is great, if there are emcees involved, I personally can’t call an album better than just “pretty good” if they don’t grab my interest. Sure, you can be a good rapper, but if you just serve to fill in the blanks on an impressive beat tape you’re not offering enough for the listener, or at least one like myself. With that being said, Planet Asia is not one of those emcees. He’s got witty lyrics, a distinctive delivery, and most importantly, a commanding presence and charisma. If anything, this album might be the first time I felt that it wasn’t overwhelmingly directed by Apollo. Asia felt like he had much more of a leading role, as opposed to the supporting role that the emcees generally take. Perhaps it was due in part to how minimal the beats were, but Asia’s vocal presence and clever lyricism made his mark on the album in ways that a lot of emcees don’t get to over Apollo Brown’s production.

Overall, I found Anchovies to be a great album. It is definitely one of the best efforts that I’ve personally heard this year. I appreciate and very much enjoy the sound that these guys decided to try out. Despite my criticism of the music getting predictable in the context of the album, there is no filler at all. This is an album you can’t resist but listen to the full way through. It sounded natural, and not pretentious and over-ambitious, which would have been easy given the style. My favorite tracks are probably “Diamonds,” “Dalai Lama Slang,” “Pain,” and “Get Back”. Obviously I will have to sit with it for a little longer, but as it stands right now, this is one of my favorite Apollo Brown albums; I’m not deep enough into Planet Asia’s catalog to speak on it from his side, but I’m certainly going to remedy that. I recommend this album to anyone who likes hip hop in any capacity, because it may offer a glimpse into a style that not as many people are exposed to, while not being a challenging listen.

Album Review: milo – who told you to think​?​?​!​!​?​!​?​!​?​!

by Dustin

whotoldyoutothink

9/10

At times it feels as if no independent hip-hop artist’s stock has risen as much in the past three years as milo. A protege of sorts to Busdriver and Open Mike Eagle, milo’s rise in the alternative scene was met with some speed-bumps; however, after the collapse of Hellfyre Club, he’s seemingly risen from the ashes as one of the best young emcees in rap, period. With the release of 2015’s so the flies don’t come, milo showed that he had the ability to truly reach his potential as an artist. Following this, he would slip into the shadows to work on his next project, while also sharing a couple of short releases under his highly experimental Scallops Hotel alter-ego. Two years later milo has reemerged with his latest piece of work, who told you to think​?​?​!​!​?​!​?​!​?​!.

who told you to think​?​?​!​!​?​!​?​!​?​! is an album with a sound entirely unique to itself. While it does clearly keep one foot in the roops of hip-hop and rap, there’s also a very clear effort on milo’s end to be his own artist. There’s an impishly playful (and sometimes coy) nature to the way milo rattles off bar after bar; moreover, it’s the type of album where the humor and poignancy is not made overwhelmingly apparent. This sort of subtlety makes who told you to think​?​?​!​!​?​!​?​!​?​! an incredibly addictive listen. milo kept his writing as sharp as ever though, bringing a unique wit and thoughtfulness to each song. Each verse listens as if milo is beside the listener spilling everything he feels. Happiness, sadness, love, you name it.

If there’s a weak point to note on this album it’s milo’s hooks (or lack thereof), but honestly this seems like an aesthetic choice and didn’t really detract from the listening experience at all. Just don’t be surprised if a hook is a single phrased repeated for a break in the song. Fortunately it works well with his style, and his selection of live vocal effects keep things interesting.

Perhaps one of the main reasons who told you to think​?​?​!​!​?​!​?​!​?​! is so enchanting is that it’s as complex of a listen as one wants it to be. The evolution of milo’s style has taken him to a place where his music is lyrically challenging, yet soothing and easy to consume. Compared to some of milo’s earlier works, who taught you to think is easy to vibe out to if the listener doesn’t feel like focusing too heavily on the content; however, there’s more than enough going on to feed the lyric obsessed on many subsequent listens. These seem like contradictory statements, but milo did an excellent job of balancing these aspects.

The features on who told you to think​?​?​!​!​?​!​?​!​?​! were a lovely assortment of frequent milo collaborators. Of note are Busdriver, Elucid, and Deathbomb Arc associated Signor Benedick the Moor. Though Busdriver stole the show as far as feature go with his hyperactive energy, everyone brought their best. There’s not much else that can be said, aside from the fact that the features really added a great extra dimensions to the songs on which they appeared.

The production is absolutely fantastic. Handled by a variety of different producers easily recognizable by fans of milo and his close peers (such as DJ Nobody and Kenny Segal), who told you to think​?​?​!​!​?​!​?​!​?​! is a close knit collection of Los Angeles beat-scene inspired glory. The blending of jazz and soulful easy listening samples boast an impressive soundtrack behind milo’s vocals. There’s also a wonderful usage of negative space on this record instrumentally. Nothing is overwhelmingly busy or dense, but at the same time it manages to be strong enough that it could stand on its own. This album hits that rare equilibrium of the artist and the production complementing and elevating each other, rather than one stealing the show all on their own.

Regardless of if you are a fan of milo currently, who told you to think​?​?​!​!​?​!​?​!​?​! is an album worth investing some time into. He’s an excellent young artist armed with one of the most unique sounds in hip-hop currently. Between this and so the flies don’t come, it is quickly becoming apparently that he’s come into his own and realized the potential that many fans saw in his earlier releases during the Hellfyre era. If you really like the release, be sure to support the artist. milo is independent in every sense of the word, and every cent counts.

Put your money on the green horse for rap.