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.

Collectors Corner: Sean Price, Raekwon, and Joey Bada$$.

by Rajin

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Not long ago, I was marveling at my hilariously shrimpy CD collection and decided to take it upon myself to revive this very dead section of the site. I’ve got a few items that I thought would be cool to share, both today and in the future. I figured this was also as good a way as any to give my thoughts on newer albums that I liked but didn’t review for one reason or another. Hopefully we can start this section back up with more regular drops, but without further ado, here are the items I felt like sharing.

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First up is the Gorilla Box Set, by the late, great Sean Price. After the unfortunate and untimely passing of Sean Price, Duck Down reissued all three of his studio albums (Monkey Barz, Jesus Price Supastar, and Mic Tyson), packaging them together to make this box set. It was released in for both CD and vinyl. As you can see, this is the CD version. It’s got a lenticular cover depicting what seems to be the scene immediately preceding the image you see on the Mic Tyson cover.

Artwork from each album is shown on each of the three side panels of the box, and the back cover shows an illustration of Sean sitting at a campfire. The CDs come in jewel cases, which is something I’m actually sort of relieved about, because from what I’ve seen before CD box sets often use cheap slimline digipacks/cardboard sleeves.

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Next up is the CD for Raekwon’s latest album, The Wild. Both Dustin and I were in agreement when we listened to this album on Spotify about how silly the album cover looked. It was like a less kickass rendition of the Mic Tyson cover. However, seeing it in the physical changes things entirely. The illustration seems far clearer and less cluttered in print than it is on a computer screen. Overall the packaging is kept simple. There isn’t even a booklet. It’s just a front flap that opens to the CD. That’s fine for me though, for the most part. I’m a sucker for digipak.

This is probably the best non-Cuban Linx album that Rae has released. Rae managed to create an album where he made boom bap sound radio-ready in the current state of hip hop, which is quite impressive. While most of the songs are nothing out of the ordinary for Raekwon at this point in his career, it’s a very enjoyable album that I think will serve as an easily accessible entry point for newer hip hop fans to use in order to get into his style and catalog.

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And lastly, we have the CD for Joey Bada$$’s new album, All-AmeriKKKan Bada$$. On his last album and mixtapes prior to that, Joey established himself as a new school artist who was making gritty boom bap music reminiscent of early Nas, Black Moon, and Smif-N-Wessun. Here, however, he steps out of his comfort zone, using production that is generally jazzier and lighter. He uses this album to express his confusion and, at times, anger, about having to grow up as a young black man in the current climate of America. He seems to come into his own on this album – it is his best release to date, to me.

The CD comes in a sleeve that depicts the American flag made of bandanas. This was the image that he had originally led people to believe was the cover art. It was a cute fakeout, I like the design so I wouldn’t have been mad if it happened. The actual cover is (to my knowledge) an impromptu pose that Joey made on the set of his “Devastated” video. It gives off a sense of carefree recklessness that I think actually betrays the most of the music on the album. I don’t think it fits the overall mood of the album, but the scenery of dirt roads in the middle of nowhere does a good job at portraying Joey as an outlaw, which I assume was the point.

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

by Dustin

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

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

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

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

It gets worse.

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

The single factor of a song about suicide.

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

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


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

http://mindcheck.ca/

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

https://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms

http://healthymindscanada.ca/resources/

Rajin Rambles: I Am Not a Dusthead!

by Rajin

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I love Snoop Dogg’s new “Mount Kushmore” single (which features Redman, B-Real, and Method Man). The production is in a beautiful throwback G-funk style that is impossible to not bob your head to. Each emcee laces his verse with witty rhymes and a slick, grin-inducing vocal performance. It gives you essentially everything that you’d want out of a collaboration with these ’90’s legends.

Now as I was listening to the song earlier and thinking all of that, something occurred to me. I think I tend to give off a vibe where I’m exclusively about ’90’s hip hop/rappers who are currently in their mid-40s. I started to feel a lot like a stereotype – like a nostalgia-hunting “real” hip hop head. In the year and two months of my piss-poor pieces on this site, I don’t think I’ve ever really discussed younger rappers. I go back and notice that at most I’ve mentioned Kendrick Lamar a couple of times, and maybe Danny Brown a few times. Well, to be fair my first article is about Prof, who’s basically the soundtrack to the weekend of a guy in his mid-twenties running around getting drunk and fucking anything that moves. However, most of my pieces tend to talk about and gush over guys who tend to come be from the ’90’s era of hip hop (and primarily from the east coast, at that).

I want to make it abundantly clear right now, in case I haven’t done so yet: I’m not someone who acts as though this generation of rappers isn’t as good as rappers from the ‘90s. My tendency to generally talk about older hip hop artists rather than new ones stems from me listening to them longer and knowing them a lot more in-depth than newer rappers coming out. I also have a habit of being turned onto artists late; I’ve mentioned before how it happened with Run The Jewels.

After all of this, I started thinking about something that comes to mind all the time when thinking about the current state of rap music…although, thankfully it seems like less of an issue as time goes on, so this piece may be rendered pointless in a few years’ time. Regardless, I feel like this fetishization of the ’90’s is pretty counterproductive to the development of the genre. I’ve sort of discussed this in the past, but I want to get a little more specific with it for a moment. People tend to use the stereotypical modern styles of trap and mumble rap that get pushed by hip hop publications for easy clicks as a scapegoat for why they refuse to listen to anyone who came out past the early ’00’s. Not to take anything away from those styles of music, but there’s a whole lot more that my generation has to offer than just that. Demonizing those styles gives them overblown and unwarranted levels of hatred, and it neglects and dismisses the music that other young rappers come with, which is completely unfair.

Take Joey Bada$$ for example. He’s a couple of months younger than I am, only 22 years old. He’s probably somebody that most fans of old school hip hop would love to listen to, since he started his career making rugged boom bap music reminiscent of guys like Nas or Black Moon. Doing this awakened the nostalgia in people, and got people interested in what he had in store to “bring hip hop back” (I don’t know if anyone actually said that, I’m just assuming).

Now, I’ve actually seen criticisms, by fans, thrown at Joey’s new All-AmeriKKKan Bada$$ album because people are talking about how he’s going pop on it. The thing is, he’s not. He’s just setting the more hardcore boom bap style aside to grow into his own artist with the message he wants to spread. He’s maturing. He’s certainly not abandoning that style; he’s just putting a new style to the forefront, and toying with more modern styles at places. But when you mess with the nostalgia factor that attracted people to your music, you risk upsetting them.

You start off with boom-bap. Over time, that changes a bit, and people get upset. They cling onto what they are familiar with, and decry what starts coming out afterwards, as opposed to looking to see what will come next. This is what is happening to Joey Bada$$ (on a small scale, overall his album has been received pretty well. I certainly liked it), and it’s what has happened to hip hop as a whole.

Speaking of younger rappers who may incite some feelings of nostalgia, let’s talk about Oddisee. Oddisee is essentially the spiritual successor to groups such as A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul, with some Black Milk thrown in for good measure. He has clearly studied their styles and adapted them for his own, making music that is similarly jazzy and positive. However, he doesn’t make music that emulates the music that he grew up listening to, but rather, it sounds like the next logical step that those groups would/should take. His music is probably what those groups would sound like if they debuted in 2012. He’s innovating in that style, for better or worse. And that’s not to mention his actual emceeing ability, which is arguably at a higher level than anyone in Tribe or De La, due to the natural progression of hip hop pushing the requirements for being an exceptional emcee further (Important: Please note that I am not saying that he is more iconic or is a better act than Tribe or De La).

Another one who you could look at is Jonwayne, who brings to mind Biggie as far as his charisma and vocal delivery go (not to mention his physique). However, he’s got a totally different lyrical style and vibe, speaking on problems that many of us in our twenties can relate to, such as alcohol abuse when things feel like they’re going too fast and you’re falling into a pit (I can personally attest to that). He frames it in a way that no rapper that I’ve heard from the ’90’s has been able to, because that sort of vulnerability in hip hop didn’t fly in that time period.

And then there are guys who don’t necessarily bring to mind older acts. Flatbush Zombies are from the same area that Joey Bada$$ is from (surprisingly, Flatbush), yet they sound nothing like him. They have some NY flavor in their music, but they sprinkle in some trip hop and trap. They have taken influence from tried and true styles and mixed it with what is going on nowadays to create really unique music that could not have existed in the past, while remaining something that I think any old school hip hop fan who doesn’t write off modern music could enjoy. Or there’s Milo, who goes even more into an alternative and abstract direction, with distorted and synthesized keyboards and a laid back yet still slightly aggressive method of rapping.

This list, honestly, could keep going on, but I think I’ve made my point by now. There is a plethora of music still coming out these days by newer, young artists, who are either pushing forward with older styles and innovating in those lanes, or are trying completely new styles entirely. You just need to know where to look, and put in the work rather than dismiss hip hop today entirely. Thankfully I have Dustin, who does the work for me and forces artists onto me.

I don’t know. Maybe what I’m saying is really repetitive. Maybe I’m just a sensitive, triggered millennial snowflake. I certainly don’t want to sound preachy or anything. I just wanted to voice the opinion that this generation has rappers who are truly worth listening to, beyond the obvious picks such as Kendrick Lamar. Most people know this, but all too often I will go onto a webpage talking about an older rapper and will see a discouraging amount of people disparaging current-day hip hop. I don’t think it’s a healthy mindset.

While I’m not at all fan of Lil Yachty in even the slightest, I think he’s well within his rights to say some of the things he says when he gets criticized incessantly. It’s the same as when parents tell their kids “oh you kids have it so easy, in my day…” (I normally tune out after I hear the beginning of that sentence). It seems like people constantly need to be reminded that like all other generations of music of any style, this generation has a plenty for everyone. And like all other generations of music of any style, this generation has plenty of bad music as well. People just don’t like remember the bad music that was released in the past.

I primarily wanted to write this up really quickly today to assuage my fears of being someone who’s musically stuck in the past (that’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with that! Like what you like and don’t be ashamed about it – just don’t be close-minded), but the overarching message I guess I want to get across is that disregarding the new because you think you don’t like it without doing some digging makes no sense. It’s certainly not something that I would want to do, as it would work against me as a contributor to this site, and as a person. By nature I’m a very stubborn, stuck-in-my-ways person, but I try my hardest to be as open as I can be. I think if everyone who says hip hop died in the mid-‘00’s tried too, they could find some stuff that they really like.

EP Review: Spocka Summa – The Progression 001

by Dustin

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8/10

It has been an abysmal month as far as producing new content on Extraordinary Nobodies. Between everybody here drowning under a mountain of work, school, illness, life, more illness, and general procrastination, April has been… underwhelming. This review, for example, was supposed to be released nearly a month ago. Then a bunch of things happen, and instead, it is coming out now. In the middle of April. Yes.

Moving on.

Spocka Summa was introduced to us by Michael at FilthyBroke Recordings. And for that alone we have to say thank you to Michael, because holy shit, this guy is a creative force to keep an eye on. Following a conceptual theme (more on this later), The Progression 001 is an immense listen packed into a short and sweet extended play. It’s even available for free streaming on his SoundCloud. We had no idea what to expect with this record, as (unfortunately) Spocka wasn’t a household name for our writing staff yet. Now he is, and here is a little bit on why he caught our attention.

First and foremost, Spocka Summa himself on The Progression 001 is a very interesting emcee. He’s got a natural charisma about him that really helps carry his delivery. From a technical standpoint he may not be the flashiest, but his lyrics are solid (and more importantly they stick closely to the concept of the EP, big ups for that) and he has some vocal flair. His storytelling abilities far exceed that of many underground emcees. Honestly, it is hard to analyze his performance on The Progression 001 without spoiling bits and pieces of the story being created. To keep it short, sweet, and spoiler free. He did well. Very, very well.

We’re not going to quote lyrics either, because that would be spoilers. Listen to the damn EP, ya’ bums. It’s not long, and it’s worth it!

The production on this EP is really consistently sturdy. There isn’t anything overly experimental or ambitious, but the beats are very nice. The Last Child (who produced the entirety of The Progression 001) has a sound that blends eastern sounding boom-bap with the west’s lighter sounding beat scene, creating a vibe that nearly anyone could vibe with. The amount of variation in the instrumentation was actually quite surprising for such a short extended play. For example, “001” sounds like something straight from the alt-Los Angeles scene, and then “What the Hell” plays like a soundtrack to a Spiderman boss level on the PlayStation 2 (in the best way imaginable). Despite this wide range of sounds and artistic influences, the production works well together and suits the concept of the project nicely; moreover, the range of flavors help create an incredibly engaging listening environment on The Progression 001.

It’s also notable how the EP progresses sonically throughout its duration. The instrumentation (and in turn, rapping) is much lighter and happier at the beginning. By the end, it has twisted itself into a darker, heavier piece of music. This was a lovely addition to the changing mood, and really helped to drive home the storytelling. The decision to stick with one producer for every song was quite smart.

This EP is additionally coupled with a comic book released on Spocka’s website. The book is only a few pages long at the present, but is an interesting and ambitious DIY effort to extend the story in his music. Similar to much of The Progression 001, it is topically focused on breaking away from technological dependence and the dangers of placing too much trust in multiple forms of media. These concepts are presented in a very interesting futuristic dystopian setting. The visual art is not “professional” levels of perfect, but it’s relatively solid, visually appealing, and quite endearing to see someone attempting to turn their music into a comic.

Plus, if you think about it, hip-hop and comic books have been intertwined forever. From MF DOOM’s levels of comic villain nerdiness to the marvel comic hip-hop cover variants. This is a classic pairing, and Spocka Summa has continued to push that envelope forward.

Overall, The Progression 001 is a very cool EP and the prospect of it feeding into further releases in the future is quite promising. Much like Blueprint’s Vigilante Genesis extended play from last year, the short-format works marvelously for serialized stories. Taking that idea and merging it with a comic book added a little creative flair that helps set this apart from its contemporaries. The Progression 001 is well worth a listen, especially if you enjoy dystopian themed music.

Rajin Rambles: Personal Top 20 Rappers (Part 1: 20 to 11)

by Rajin

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I was thinking sometime in mid-January about how I didn’t yet have a top 10 rappers list, like most other hip hop bloggers do. Naturally, upon realizing this, I decided to make a list and got very carried away with it. I ended up with a top 20 list, and we decided to split up to make it easier to sit through. Here’s the first part of my top 20 list, where I’ll be covering slots 11 through 20.

Trigger warning: There will be rappers whose inclusion (or lack thereof) and placement may be deemed blasphemous by some. Viewer discretion advised.


20. Big Pun

Favorite album: Capital Punishment
Favorite song: “Fast Money”
In Pun’s short run, he was arguably the best lyricist doing it. He was pushing boundaries in rhyme that few had done by then. He was capable of making entire lines rhyme, and he seldom compromised content while doing so. His rhymes would come one after another nonstop; there are rappers a third of Big Pun’s size who don’t have nearly the breath control that he had. All of this isn’t to say that Pun was just an exceptional battle rapper making songs. He was full to the brim with charisma, which set him apart from many other rappers. His mic presence reminds me of a more energetic, livelier Biggie. His style on Capital Punishment would prove that he was as capable of making a horrorcore street tale or a smooth radio hit as he was making a typical lyrical song. By being able to do this, he managed the rare feat of making an album as long as 24 tracks that didn’t feel like it was too bloated, while still keeping a cohesive feel to it. His career was far too short and it would have been interesting to see him develop even more as an artist.

19. DMX
Favorite album: It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot
Favorite song: “Stop Being Greedy”
DMX prays a lot, and barks even more.
But in his early career, there was a hell of a lot of good material in between all of that. He somehow managed to release two arguable classic late-90s hardcore rap (borderline horrorcore) albums in the same year — during a time when Puffy was dancing around and stealing samples that would end up forcing him to pay an obscene amount in royalties — and have them each go multi-platinum. DMX’s music was completely raw and animalistic, which I think was part of the allure. He appealed to the side that most of us hide under our inhibitions; the side that contains the pure rage that most of us are forced to stuff down due to social norms and/or the risk of being put on Worldstar, as well as the wounds that we tend to cover up. Everything about his music was completely genuine. Unfortunately, it seemed like this ran dry by X’s fourth or fifth album, and well-documented drug and legal problems started to get in the way of X’s career. He hasn’t been able to fully recover since, however, that doesn’t diminish the brilliance of his first three albums.

18. Killer Mike
Favorite album: R.A.P. Music
Favorite song: “Reagan”
Mike is essentially the modern-day Ice Cube. His delivery, style of social commentary, and even artistic sound (at least on R.A.P. Music, produced by El-P) is reminiscent of those in Cube’s early career. However, Mike does actually go deeper into politics than Cube ever really did. Given his real-life experience working in elections since his youth, Mike has true insight into the political system that he so often tears to shreds, both in the booth and out. This sets a clear distinction between him and other political rappers, as many just tend to rap about conspiracy theories that they think their audiences want to hear about. Aside from just that, Mike actually knows how to make good music, again differentiating him from most other political rappers. He mixes wisdom with attitude and passion, and creates art that compels you to listen, as opposed to dull lectures over Snowgoons beats. His passion bleeds through his music, and creates one of the more powerful deliveries in hip hop currently. I do feel like he didn’t fully realize his potential until he met El-P, but once he did, he was finally able to take part in something special, both R.A.P. Music, and Run The Jewels (possibly my favorite duo).

17. Method Man
Favorite album: Tical
Favorite song: “The Purple Tape” (featuring Raekwon & Inspectah Deck)
Arguably the standout member of the Wu-Tang Clan on Enter The Wu-Tang, Method Man has had a very distinct mic presence from the beginning of his career. The duality of his delivery, where it’s chill and laid back yet at the same time menacingly raspy, has always been compelling to me. He can rap softly into the mic so he may seem relaxed but it’ll sound like he’s growling at you. That hazy, blunted-out growly style is the perfect complement to Redman’s ADHD. His style is best heard in a group setting where he can just sit back and steal the show on a song, however, as a solo artist, he has had difficulty being able to translate that into full albums. Tical was a classic, and while his other LPs are decent for the most part, they have not lived up to his potential. However, he has remained very consistent as an emcee, with no real declines in his skill to be noted. He can still handily take a track like it’s nothing.

16. Big L
Favorite album: Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous
Favorite song: “Danger Zone” (featuring Herb McGruff)
I don’t generally like the idea of listing rappers with such a small body of work on top artist lists, but I really couldn’t help myself with L (and Pun, for that matter). Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous is nuts. There’s really not any more to say about it. It’s one of my favorite albums. While there wasn’t much to it beyond just straight emceeing, his raw skill was at least a decade advanced. He sounded so effortless the way he slaughtered every verse and his punchlines were hilariously ruthless. If he was allowed to grow, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that he would have been a LOT higher up on this list. Big L was the dictionary definition of emcee to the highest degree.

15. Xzibit
Favorite album: Restless
Favorite song: “Losin’ Your Mind” (featuring Snoop Dogg)
Xzibit is one of the first rappers I started listening to once I started listening to hip hop. From the first time I listened to him, I found myself drawn to his voice; since I was just starting out with hip hop, I had never heard a voice on a song as gritty and raspy as his. Xzibit was always one of the edgier west coast rappers that I’ve heard. It was almost like he was an east coast rapper who just happened to rap over Mel-Man’s Dr. Dre’s style of production rather than boom bap. Xzibit very rarely spits a weak verse. He always comes with a raw power and conviction in his voice, and he’s got a great knack for hilariously aggressive one-liners. His choice of production tended to be a bit spotty; while he would end up with plenty of songs over killer beats, his albums would always have several songs that came up short with their production. Regardless of the fact that he never did that classic that he was very well capable of making, he is a great and far-too-underrated emcee.

14. El-P
Favorite album: I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead
Favorite song: “The Full Retard”
Since this is just about rappers, I won’t talk too much about El’s production (at least not yet…*wink* [or not]). However, I will say that El’s diversity as a producer is directly reflected in his rapping. He is an immensely creative emcee. His lyrical style is such that a listener can hear what he says and take a different meaning from it than the next person who hears it. He keeps things open-ended and words his lyrics in very unique ways. The progression of his style from his days in Company Flow to the Def Jux days was interesting to see, as he went from someone who was very influenced by EPMD’s style of rapping (particularly Parrish) to someone who started ignoring conventional pockets and just rapped the way he wanted to. That style got too chaotic at times on Fantastic Damage (if there’s a pun there it wasn’t intended), but he refined it and perfected it by the time I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead was released.

As El’s career progressed with Run The Jewels, his mic presence started to change. Perhaps it was a result of recording with Mike, who has the dynamic voice he has, but by their second album he had developed a tangible cockiness in his voice that makes it almost impossible to not enjoy any of his verses on their brag tracks, and it’s only becoming more prevalent.

13. Nas
Favorite album: Illmatic (shockingly)
Favorite song: “Represent”
There isn’t very much that needs to be said about Nas, honestly. He started his career out with what a great number of people would argue is the most legendary and essential hip hop album of all time. Even if he had released terribly weak albums like I Am… and Nastradamus for the rest of his career, that would still be enough for him to be comfortably placed in top 25 lists at the minimum. However, he has still released a handful of great albums aside from Illmatic, and to this day sounds hungry when he pops up on guest spots. His work speaks for itself.

12. Busta Rhymes
Favorite album: When Disaster Strikes
Favorite song: “So Hardcore”
From the start of his career, as early as “Scenario”, Busta Rhymes has been a legendary guest artist. It seems like every year he’s featured and throws everybody for a loop over how easily he makes taking over a track seem. He’s got an off-the-wall charisma and a delivery that can go from wacky, to smooth and carelessly confident, to as big and powerful as his gut arms at the drop of a dime. And that’s not even mentioning his wide variety of flows that never fail to catch listeners off guard. As an emcee there are not many who can out-rap Busta Rhymes.
Busta is one of the greatest rappers without a top-to-bottom classic to his name. For somebody who has a reputation for stealing the show every time he’s on someone else’s song effortlessly, he tends to be unable to translate that to full-length solo albums. They generally have a lot of great songs interspersed with dull, meandering songs, which leads to albums that are overlong and bogged down by filler. However, that’s not to say that all of his albums are bad; his first three in particular are fun listens and generally embody everything that people love about him. With a bit a tweaking, each of them had potential to be a classic album.

11. Kool G Rap
Favorite album: 4,5,6
Favorite song: “Blowin’ Up In The World”
I wasn’t alive during Kool G Rap’s prime, while he was recording with DJ Polo and even his first solo album, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was considered the best rapper ever at that point. He had studied the quintessential lyricists at the time like Rakim and Big Daddy Kane, and upgraded basically everything to become a whole new monster. The tricks he was pulling with his lyricism and his flows in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s were so intricate that in 2017, the age of the underground rappity rapper overcompensating for mumble rap, I can feel more astounded by what he was doing than what is going on now in many cases. His gritty, soulful delivery is what sets him apart. He’s got a deep voice and it very much added to his presence, especially on the mafiaso rap he started delving into as a solo artist. His commanding presence made it incredibly easy to believe that crime lord character.

Speaking of his which, G Rap wasn’t just an innovator as far as flow went. He is essentially the originator of mafiaso rap. He was the one who opened the flood gates for rappers like Raekwon and Biggie to come and start telling the sort of crime stories that they told. I feel like, just because he has slowed down his output, he doesn’t get much of the credit that he deserves among people my age, which is ridiculous. Kool G Rap is in the styles of more rappers than you would think.


That’s it for now. Stay tuned for the rest of the list, coming in a week or so (depending on when Dustin decides the site could use another fluff piece out of me that contributes nothing to our growth).

EP Review: CURTA – CLICK BAIT

by Dustin

clickbait

7.75/10

CURTA is a two man band consisting of CURTA on the mic and 4Digit on the instrumentals. Are you confused yet? Don’t be. Much like many assume Slug’s stage name is “Atmosphere” (poor Ant), the same situation happened with CURTA. People saw an emcee jumping around on stage an it was assumed he was the only one under the namesake. So he adopted the name, and his excellent producer took on the title of 4Digit for easier crediting. It’s a beautiful compromise, and they do create all CURTA music together as a team. Truth be told, the music is a thousand times more notable than the slightly tricky name situation for one simple reason: it is really good. Their new EP – coming via FilthyBroke and Hello.L.A – is no exception to this either.

Also, it’s called CLICK BAIT, which is potentially the most culturally relevant album name in the last couple of years.

The production on CLICK BAIT is its most intriguing, and difficult to describe, feature. The overall vibe is inherently hip-hop, but the instrument selection is some sort of delectable electronic chaos. It feels reminiscent of Hellfyre Club’s sound through their early 2010s reign, or perhaps the long lost sonic cousin of 2005 Definitive Jux. It is strange. For instance, the song “Sky High” featuring Serengeti’s alter-ego Kenny Dennis (which should be noted as an amazing feature) has an instrumental that sounds like an acid trip through the scariest carnival imaginable; moreover, every single track on CLICK BAIT has a beat that is equally as interesting. On a short listen like this, that is a wonderful thing to be able to claim. It makes the overall listen feel much more fleshed out than one would expect from a six track release and aids in listener engagement.

With such involved production, there is always a worry about the emceeing on top of it; artists run a very real risk of their voice getting lost behind the lush backdrop. This is not the case on CLICK BAIT however, the rapping is charismatic and manages to blaze its own trail. This is a band, after all, and they’ve got the chemistry to back up that label.

With that in mind, the rapping on CLICK BAIT isn’t going to blow you away with technical prowess or hyper-intricate eight syllable rhyme patterns. Nor are you going to find disgustingly catchy hooks on this project. Let’s be honest though, that style of delivery would be way too boring over 4Digit’s darting electronic production style. Instead, the CURTA style is one of a smooth-yet-strained emotional punchiness. His intensity matches that of the instrumentation, the lyrics hit surprisingly hard, and very rarely does he misstep. His rap style shares similarities with that of an artist like Soul Khan, and has a palpable tension behind every line. His rapping is the exact style this sort of music calls for, and the complimentary nature between instrumentals and their paired vocals is a delight.

As with most EP releases, the only real issue with CLICK BAIT is that it is a bit of a musical cock-tease. The songs plow full steam ahead, but never quite take flight like you would see in a long-play album. This isn’t a criticism of the music itself, quite the opposite actually; the tracks on CLICK BAIT are so enjoyable that it is nearly disheartening when it ends. As mentioned, this is standard drawback for any really good EP, but it is worth noting nonetheless.

At the very least, this small packet of music from CURTA is more than enough to spark interest in the duo. It might end just a little sooner than one would like, but every moment on the release is enjoyable and well worth the listen.